THE WOOF 200 FOR 1993
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but right now it’s just a sliver, peaking out through a crack in the wooden slats of a suspicious looking shack somewhere in Midwest nowhere. What follows are songs 30-21, littered as they are with stark, moody ballads and some serious minded lyrics. The following 10 tracks could probably be cobbled together to make the soundtrack for a low budget flick about worn out love and desperate people doing desperate things and nobody would be the wiser. Oddly enough, they made up a significant portion of the soundtrack to my life circa 1993, so maybe I shouldn’t think of them that way. I mean, just what *was* I doing back then?
Like their previous entry “Dreams” back at #180, I’m in awe of how simple this song is while somehow sounding grand. I suppose it’s the underlying orchestration that gives it that feel, but whatever the reason The Cranberries came out of the shoot really mastering their sound, built around the sweet vocals of Delores O’Riordan. In particular I love that haunting background work she does, both with the echo she provides the various verse sections and the sliding scales she performs come chorus time. Credit also to the boys in the band for essentially subjugating their own musical egos for the sake of crafting the song. I’m not a musician, but I feel like I’d have a hard time fighting the urge to flash out more than guys like this manage.
Of everything in Pearl Jam’s ever expanding catalogue I’ve always thought this was their most accessible song. It retains all the elements you’d expect from the band but somehow manages to almost sound mainstream. The heavy acoustic guitar carries it along with an assist from the electrics which for once provide comfortable shade rather than completely blocking out the sun. Eddie’s in fine voice as well, turning in one of his better vocal performances, infusing the song with plenty of emotion but without his usual ventures into needless excess. He comes to the brink right before the mini guitar solo midway through, but it feels earned here. There’s a reason this is played on classic rock radio as much as any other song in the band’s history. Just feels weird leaving it at #29. If you had asked me to do this list back in 1993 it was probably a top 10.
Simple. Elegant. Poignant. Margo Timmins’ vocal performance here rules the day. A nice companion to Sarah McLachlan’s “Ice Cream” (#147) and like with that song, little more need be said.
Third and final entry from blues maestro Ian Moore. This one is probably the least flashy of all the tracks on his debut album at least in terms of guitar histrionics, but it also carries the strongest and most obvious message. Musically it also finds a sturdy pocket thanks to the steady march of the bassline, which propels the track and provides this weird tension that they somehow manage to carry throughout. Of course Ian rips off another masterful solo, as is his want. Love his low register vocal work here too, which I think is the thing that initially drew me to this one. By the way, the sound quality sucks, but here’s a link to the actual music video which was directed by a very young Ice Cube. Talk about crossing genres.
I had not heard of this band until 2013 when I stumbled upon a new release from that year while checking out some prog-rock website. Soon after I was stunned to find they had a deep and rich catalogue that stretched all the way back to the early 90’s, basically making them Dream Theater’s lesser known cousins to my ears. When it came time to do this project I pulled a couple of tunes from their ’93 debut Wounded Land and discovered this beautiful track. I played it and played it and played it again, to the point where as the countdown was coming together I kept pushing it further and further up the list. No single song gained as much during the process as this one and there’s a part of me that wants to push it even higher into the top 25, but for now this is where it lands. Again it’s the simplicity that does me in, although the orchestration here is really quite full sounding. Vocalist Damian Wilson has a sweet gentle delivery on this light ballad, highlighted by a breezy chorus that is simply magnificent. One of those special songs I played for Darlene one night without mentioning it and she immediately took to it. She gets it.
Second entry from Big Head Todd, this one with a ton more grit and balls than the gentler “Brother John” back at #39. It takes a little while to get there, but Todd Park Mohr lets it all hang out vocally coming down the home stretch after a suitable build. I had the pleasure of banging this one out one night while jamming with a friend’s band and it was a total blast. One of the aspects I love about this tune musically is the way the guitar underneath the early verses (sounds like it might be a dobro actually) almost sounds like it’s being played in a circular fashion, with a big sweeping wipe of the hand. Then there’s the scorching solo in the last minute, Mohr showing his abilities in about every way imaginable. This song has just such a righteous groove. Too much to love.
Part prog-rock, part hair metal, Lillian Axe were a band that were impossible to label, which led to them slipping through the musical cracks despite being one of the more talented and thoughtful acts of their era. Here they deliver a harmony-rich acoustic ballad that doubles as an ode to a friend’s suffering. I don’t often highlight lyrics because while they are no doubt important they often mean many things to many people so me trying to explain their significance would be pointless. But here the message is pretty clear and definitely worth your attention. A gorgeous song on every level.
First things first, this album most people remember as a 1994 release (if they care to remember that sort of thing) but anal retentive me knows it initially came out in 1993 before being released a year later when radio got ahold of this single, hence it’s placement on the ’93 countdown. Legend says the album was put together by vocalist Ed Roland as a demo of his songwriting to shop to artists after growing frustrated at not getting anywhere as a performer himself. The song became an unexpected rock radio smash and Collective Soul the band was born. It’s got one of those instantly recognizable riffs that comes to that weird stop/start point which is just ready made for radio. The recording is pretty rich for a demo (Roland claims they did no re-touching after the fact), although the band would get tighter on subsequent releases. Admittedly the guitars are a little muddy here, but they work for the song. It was inescapable in 1994 and became one of those albums that people always used to come into Tower trying to find because they didn’t really know who it was. Always a fun guessing game for a music store clerk.
This rambling title track to Phish’s ’93 album Rift is the one that actually got me to set aside my preconceived notion about the “hippy band” and give them a listen. It’s got a rhythm and pace that feels like rolling down a grassy hill where you’re not really in any danger but you’re also not in any sort of control, which for some reason I find appealing. The ultra-clean guitar work is really stellar here, again something I wasn’t really expecting to find in the band because I figured it was all just lazy stoner stuff (what can I say, I was jaded at 21; who wasn’t). It’s a quirky, galloping trip, but one I have found over the years I never tire of. I never would have guessed that back in 1992.
It feels like every other song on this part of the countdown is some sort of ethereal, haunting, stripped down ballad, which says something weird about my state of mind back in the those days, although I’m not sure what. The queen mother of that genre, at least to my ears, is Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval (who barely edges out The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler). She has the sweetest, gentlest voice I think I’ve ever heard, displayed with perfection on this mostly acoustic track. This one gives me the literal chills, the spooky cello sliding in underneath straight from some dark, dusty indie film that Sam Shepard probably would have starred in. Or maybe Billy Bob Thornton, if he’d been a bigger name back then. Anyway, sweet and haunting was Mazzy Star’s stock in trade and this is their masterpiece.