THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
If you’re wondering why it’s taken me almost an entire month to get the latest chunk of the countdown up, I have no satisfactory answer. My show has opened and closed and I’ve had more than my share of free time with which to get it done. I guess I just wasn’t “feeling it”, so I let the thing rot for a while. Sorry about that. But inspiration (or at least enthusiasm) finally hit and here we are, picking things up with songs numbered 80-71 on my drawn-out trip down memory lane. See you in August for part 18! (Kidding. I hope.)
It’s kind of hard for me to classify this band of Germans, as their sound is something out of the 80’s Euro-scene that I never paid much attention to and am therefore woefully unqualified to align. I hear bits of Billy Idol and Simple Minds, although I feel like there’s another major band from that era that this song ties to (Crowded House maybe? I’m at a loss). Anyway, this is a tremendous builder that starts with a gentle little swing of a guitar bit, and an incessant drum loop that is quickly joined by a low vocal that totally grounds things for the song’s first half. There’s a moody breakdown (can’t really call it a guitar solo) at about the 2:40 mark before things start picking up steam coming down the back stretch. The tune was the band’s lone “hit” Stateside (hit #13 & #21 on the Billboard Modern Rock Radio and Mainstream Rock Radio charts respectively), which I think is where I first heard it. Man, I really wish I could pinpoint who this makes me think of.
The final track from Billy’s ’93 album River Of Dreams, I remember thinking upon its release, “wouldn’t it be kind of cool if these were in fact the last words he ever wrote?”. Of course at the time I thought the idea ludicrous because he seemed to have plenty of years left in the tank. Little did I know that he would more or less retire from songwriting and focus on touring (and a bit of classical composition). He’s recorded a few covers for various projects in the 23 years since then, but for all intents and purposes these are Billy Joel’s last words. Which of course makes me sad, even if I do absolutely love the song. Once again his mastery of melody is in fine display as this song kicks along at a robust but easygoing pace, seeming neither hurried nor labored. Lyrically he paints a wonderful picture (although damn him for promising “there will be other words some other day”) and goes out with one of his better vocal performances on the album, this song really hitting his vocal range happy place (he strained a bit in other places on the record). Of course there’s a tremendous story about the song from the man himself (there always is), so check that out too.
Another poignant tale torn from the relationship examining album I’m Alive. Jackson’s vocal performance here is so warm and comforting that I just want to curl up under it with a cup of tea and take a nap. Lyrically he seems to gather a bit of blame for the failed marriage while at the same time trying to make sense of his part in it. I think one of the things that drew me so much to this album was the deeply personal nature of it, particularly given Browne’s previous inclination to get overtly political. It’s not that I ever had a problem with that approach, but rather this work I found more interesting (especially at that time in my life when I was myself still seeking who I was as I entered real adulthood). Again, his voice is so beautifully suited for the subject matter.
Song number two on the countdown from Seattle’s unloved genius of a band, Sweet Water deliver a thunderous opening salvo, starting with a chorus built on a monster riff before yanking back on the reigns in order to deliver the initial verse, toying with a dynamic that would soon become all the rage. Verse complete, the guitars squeal into action for a dynamic little fill before resetting for the next round of lyrical musings. Meanwhile the drums on this track are just crushing, the guy clearly letting out some pent up aggression with each snare attack. Halfway through things take a trippy turn into acoustic territory where vocalist Adam Czeisler really shines. Soon after we get a blistering guitar solo that continues raging on in a myriad of interesting little bits as the vocals return. These guys knew how to write a fucking song, man. Their lack of success still makes me bitter.
So while I’m pretty sure I heard this tune a time or two back in the day, it certainly didn’t make enough of an impression to warrant inclusion in the top 100 when I first started cobbling together this countdown. But I got reintroduced to it thanks to my lovely ladyfriend during the sort-and-rank phase and it just kept climbing with each subsequent listen. At first it felt a little too slack for me, but the more I listened the more I heard. For such a simple melody coupled with pretty repetitive lyrical structure, the song has a lot going on, what with the jangly acoustic base, the mild orchestration lingering in the background at times, as well as the haunting vocal chorus (most likely synth generated). It’s amazing the stuff that flew under my radar back in the day given the amount of stuff I was listening to.
John Hiatt is a brilliant lyricist (and overall songwriter) which is why is stuff gets covered so much, and this song is another prime example of his genius. The juxtaposition of a girl’s Barbie Doll collection and family dysfunction (Violence? Substance abuse? Depression? All of the above?) created some fantastic passages as well as the fabulous title. Musically the song benefits from some fun arrangements, including the middle-eastern inspired guitar work and the rambling bass work. Once again Matt Wallace’s thick production does so much to heighten Hiatt’s work. It’s a shame they didn’t work more after this.
I know what you’re thinking: “Winger? WINGER?! IN THE TOP 100?!?!” Actually yes, for the first of three entries I might add. Now hear me out. In 1993 when most of the hairbands that Kip & Co. called brothers were slinking off to the dark corners of the music landscape in hopes of finding an “edgier” sound, Lars Ulrich’s favorite dart board targets went the other way, instead retreating into a more acoustic based sound that at times hinted at a deep appreciation for Crosby, Still & Nash of all things (although without the intense harmonies). This song is the most blatantly representative of that style shift (much of the album had plenty of electric guitar), which seems to fit it’s lyrical content nicely. The sound would be something that Kip Winger would explore more deeply in his 00’s solo work (highly underrated if not completely overlooked). The band, who were all seasoned session musicians when they formed in ’87, matured pretty quickly beyond “Seventeen” even though the music world at large never really noticed, or at least refused to give them credit for it. This is a beautiful tune (although admittedly their “raw acoustic sound” is still pretty slick) with a thoughtful message. Don’t sleep on Winger and their album Pull, it was a hidden gem in a year of upheaval.
Speaking of 80’s bands seeking a new sound and new relevance in the early 90’s, Duran Duran made a huge comeback in ’93 thanks in part to a couple of uncharacteristically moody singles that managed to somehow sound totally like Duran Duran without exactly sounding like 80’s Duran Duran. Successful transition, I guess? If you’ve been reading this blog regularly then you can probably guess that this kind of electronic-based pop/rock isn’t quite my thing, but I can still find myself enjoying it in select instances. I like the slow dance beat here and Simon Lebon has always been an interesting vocalist to me, slotting in with George Michael as a guy whose pipes I just really enjoy despite my general preference for gritty macho belting. A brother’s gotta diversify.
After the crazy mad success that was Pump, the hype for Aerosmith’s ’93 follow-up was off the charts. Personally I found Get A Grip to be a bloated disappointment, especially with the lazy trio of “CrazyAmazingCryin'” (which I vividly remember SNL so beautifully skewering). But the first single was a rightfully massive hit thanks to Joe Perry’s cool circular riff and Joey Kramer’s drumbeat-to-wake-the-clinically-dead. I mean, this song is all sorts of big, loud, and stoopid, and I couldn’t love it any more as a result. The video though? Wow. Let’s just say that the only thing more disturbing than a half-black Steve Tyler with a zipper up his middle and holding his naked junk is the fact that in the 20+ years since he’s managed to get weirder. Great solo from Joe though (of course). (Let me add an Honorable Mention to “Deuces Are Wild”, from the Beavis & Butt-head album and a better song than anything else on Get A Grip outside of maybe “Eat The Rich”.)
One of those stray country songs that managed to crawl out of the Honorable Mention bin into the actual countdown, this is just one of those catchy things that I just can’t seem to shake no matter how hard I try. To be fair, Billy had a leg up with me thanks to his brief stint in Fleetwood Mac as one of a pair of replacements for Lindsey Buckingham for 1990’s excellent Behind The Mask album. There were a number of great tunes on that album and Burnette was a big part of the reason why. I was a little bit surprised (although not THAT much) when his debut came out as a pure country album, but follow your heart, I guess. Besides, it’s pretty clear this is what suits his vocal style best, as he’s got a natural twang that serves this material kinda like a redneck Glenn Frey.