SPANK GOLD: And You Sure As Hell Can't Sing: Pick Of The Year 1994
Let's clarify the chronology a little here. Younger Than The Stones: Pick Of The Year 1993 was recorded some way into 1994: driven not so much by a desire to mark the passing of 1993, as a desire to win an argument I'd had in a pub with Lou. It might have been as late as March, in fact - I believe I hadn't heard one of the tracks on there (Aimee Mann, if you're curious) until it came up on a Sean Hughes radio show in early 1994. This tape, on the other hand, was made at the end of the year, as God intended, and all the other ones since have been made that way.
Lou's always had a theory that these compilations are a reliable indicator of my state of mind at the time I record them, and he suggested to me some time later that this one must have been made during some sort of low patch. Listening to it now, it's certainly a bipolar collection of tunes, with happy poppy things rubbing up hard against the noisy and the miserable. People who were on everyone's list back in 1994 - you'll know them when you see them - sit alongside bands that I heard once on the radio and investigated further out of curiosity. Here's what it all sounds like to me now, anyway.
1. TRANSGLOBAL UNDERGROUND – Jatayu (from International Times, Nation) (video)
I sort of rediscovered the joys of nighttime radio back in 1994. Was it because Radio 1 was going through its big reinvention as 1FM? Was it because I was conscious of entering my thirties, and wanting to keep in touch with what The Kids were listening to? Or was it because if I turned the radio up at night, it drowned out the sound of the rodents that had infested my flat? I guess we'll never know. But I certainly remember hearing Transglobal Underground for the first time on John Peel, and enjoying this track enough to buy the International Times album. Never heard anything else of theirs since, though: I see that they've just released a compilation, so that might be something to look into. (Meanwhile, follow the video link above to see film #14 in The Felix Project: after last month's YouTube banning of Elvis Costello's This Offer Is Unrepeatable, I'm keeping the #13 slot empty as a protest.)
2. THE STONE ROSES – Driving South (from Second Coming, Geffen) (video)
TOILET SHAME OF STONE ROSES BASSIST! I've mentioned a few times now that I was in the same class at school as Mani from the Roses. One time after gym, we accidentally went home wearing each other's trousers, and the next day we went into a lavatory cubicle together so that we could swap our kecks back again. So that's my big Mani story, really. Twenty or so years after that day, the Roses' long-delayed second album finally hit the shops to a general sigh of disappointment. But when they unapologetically rocked out, as they do here, it made up for the record's dull bits.
3. TRICKY – Ponderosa (from single Ponderosa, 4th And Broadway) (video)
If it wasn't John Peel I was listening to on the wireless, it was Mark Radcliffe, who'd inherited Peel's old ten-till-midnight slot. I think this explains the large number of singles on the 1994 tape, because Radcliffe was more about playing new releases than discovering unsigned bands the way Peel did. I ended up buying a few of these singles without ever going as far as buying an album - though that doesn't apply to Tricky, as his album didn't come out till 1995. We'll be returning to him then, if that isn't giving too much away.
4. SHANE MACGOWAN AND THE POPES – Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway (from The Snake, ZTT) (video)
I've blathered on about my personal history with The Pogues before. A few years after Shane MacGowan stumbled out of the band, it was a relief to see that he was still capable of writing decent songs and singing them in a listenable manner. He only managed it once more after that (on 1997's patchy The Crock Of Gold), but The Snake was recorded at a time when it wasn't immediately apparent that all his talent was about to be permanently pissed away. Sure, this is a cover version - Gerry Rafferty, no less - but MacGowan gives it his own personal stamp, and I'm not just talking about his cheeky rewrite of the final line.
5. FRENTE – Accidently Kelly Street (from single Bizarre Love Triangle, Total) (video)
Not just a single, but the B-side of a single. Remember those? Frente's cover version of New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle was a pretty little thing in its own right, but the other track on the CD single was even better. Unfortunately, the video here is of the original version of Accidently (their spelling), rather than the stripped down acoustic radio session that actually made it onto the tape. I half considered trying to sync up the acoustic version with the video, but I'm already behind on the China videos without adding more into the in tray.
6. G. LOVE AND SPECIAL SAUCE – Cold Beverage (from single Cold Beverage, Sony) (video)
Another single - this one was definitely a Radcliffe selection. I wasn't inspired to check out any other records by G. Love And Special Sauce after this one, fun as it is: but when we visited Australia back in 2003 and were looking for a band to see live, they were the only ones in Sydney that looked even vaguely interesting. They were fine.
7. OASIS – Slide Away (from Definitely Maybe, Creation) (video)
Well, this is all very predictable, isn't it? I never really subscribed to the Oasis vs Blur wars at this stage in their respective careers: my Mancunian roots probably led me to believe that the Gallaghers had the edge, but both bands were probably close to their best in 1994. Liam definitely had one of the great rock voices back in those days, which helped distract everyone from noticing just how much stuff Noel stole from all over the place in his songwriting. Without wishing to spoil the suspense, Oasis will appear on every compilation between 1994 and 1997 and then never be seen here again.
8. BLUR – This Is A Low (from Parklife, Food) (video)
Meanwhile, after this appearance from Blur, you won't be seeing Damon Albarn round these parts again until 2008. Which is a bit shit, admittedly. There was always a small but vocal minority which insisted Blur would emerge as the ultimate winners of the Blur/Oasis wars, and that certainly turned out to be the case. Oasis may have caught the short-term zeitgeist beautifully, but history's shown Parklife to be a much better collection of songs than Definitely Maybe - it's one of those albums where, looking back, I could have picked any one of half a dozen songs for use on here.
9. VAN MORRISON – Moondance/My Funny Valentine (live) (from A Night In San Francisco, Mercury) (video)
Oh, the video's all to cock for this one, I admit. There are a few vids of Van Morrison doing his best-known tune on YouTube, and plenty of rubbish covers: but the swinging version on Night In San Francisco owes a huge amount to its backing band, and Van knows it. "Is this band hot?" he yells at the end: well, yes, it is, and a lot of that's down to the man Van insists on calling "Jeergie Feeyam!" after every organ solo. The late digression into Valentine is just the icing on the cake. A piece of trivia that nobody else will care about: the jukebox at my old local in Manchester always used to fade out long records automatically after eight and a half minutes, which meant that this one just came in under the wire.
1. SOUL COUGHING – Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago (from Ruby Vroom, Slash) (video)
Some time after 2001 or thereabouts, I was travelling on a plane and looking at the track listings for the in-flight audio. When I saw this Soul Coughing song listed, I had to put on the channel in question to see if they were kidding or not. Sadly, it looks like someone had belatedly decided that a song with the opening line "a man drives a plane into the Chrysler Building" probably shouldn't be played on aircraft any more. Which is a pity, because in their time - which to be honest, was no more than the duration of the Ruby Vroom album - Soul Coughing were a cracking little band, combining beat poetry and sampling in ways nobody else had even dreamed of. If I was compiling this for in-flight use, I could always go for the equally fab Screenwriter's Blues as a replacement, except that's been equally corrupted from its subsequent use by Chris Morris.
2. TERRY HALL – Forever J (from single Forever J, Anxious) (video)
Don't get me wrong, I like Terry Hall just fine: I've got bags of time for the Specials and Fun Boy Three, and Hall's excellent collaboration with Mushtaq came incredibly close to making it onto POTY 2003. So why is this obscure single from 1994 the only time he's ever appeared on one of my compilations? Is it the rare chance to hear him in relatively upbeat voice, playing off against the gloomy lyrics we associate with him? Is it the rock-solid pop sensibility of producer Ian 'Lightning Seeds' Broudie coming though? Or is it because while I was making this tape, I was in the middle of a doomed romance with someone whose first name started with J? I guess we'll never know. Again.
3. PUBLIC ENEMY – Hitler Day (from Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age, Def Jam) (video)
Like any nerdy whiteboy fan of Public Enemy - and I think even they would admit these days that that's their core demographic - I think they work best when they throw in some rock noise over the beats. Hitler Day delivers just that, along with a sledgehammer-subtle message about how if there's a holiday celebrating what Christopher Columbus did for America, we might as well have one for Hitler while we're at it. (At one point, when I couldn't find a video on YouTube for the song, I was toying with the idea of doing something with that Downfall clip: count yourselves lucky.) Muse - for God's sake, don't make me type out that title again - was probably the last great collaboration between PE and legendary production crew The Bomb Squad: neither party's pulled off the same combination of sheer bloody racket and focussed intensity since.
4. PORTISHEAD – Biscuit (from Dummy, Island) (video)
This might have contributed to Lou's theory that I was a bit miserable at the tail end of 1994. Though to be fair, everyone was playing Portishead back then. Contrary to the popular cliche of the time, I never personally attended a dinner party that used Dummy as a soundtrack: the closest I ever got was hearing this very song being used as inappropriate warmup music for a comedy gig at the Clapham Grand. Anyway, in an album full of downtempo wonders, the slowed-down Johnnie Ray sample on Biscuit makes it a standout. Which reminds me, is there a dodgy copy of To Kill A Dead Man available anywhere on the internet? [googles] Hooray!
5. SPEARHEAD – Hole In The Bucket (from Home, Capitol) (video)
If I'd been doing these things back in 1992, I'm pretty sure that a track from the Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy album would have made it on there. Two years later, when their head honcho Michael Franti started up a new band called Spearhead, I recall being deeply disappointed that he'd ditched the metal-bashing noise in favour of a band that played tunes on instruments, the big jessie. Don't worry, I grew up a few years later. And in the meantime, at least I recognised that Franti's lyrical gift still hadn't deserted him, with songs as cunningly constructed as this one. Perhaps if I'd caught Spearhead live before 2005, I might have embraced them more fully back then.
6. JIMMY PAGE & ROBERT PLANT – Since I've Been Loving You (live) (from No Quarter, Mercury) (video)
I was never a Led Zeppelin fan, not really. Sure, I'm old enough to have been aware of their work as long as I've been buying music, and I've got the 1990 Remasters compilation gathering dust on my CD shelves to prove it. Here's the thing: Remasters has the Zep version of Since I've Been Loving You on it, and it's barely registered on my brain, whereas the Page & Plant reworking for MTV Unplugged has been a favourite of mine for the last 15 years. Listening to the 1970 original now, the unmistakeable thwack of John Bonham's drumming kinda flattens the dynamics out of the song: the newer version has a lot more light and shade to it. Plus, Plant's voice appears to have hit some sort of peak in 1994: when I caught him live at Somerset House in 2006 he couldn't hit the high notes like he used to, but twelve years earlier he had the balance of power and passion just right.
7. NEIL YOUNG – Piece Of Crap (from Sleeps With Angels, Warner) (video)
How old was I in '94? Early thirties? Well, I guess I still found swearing big and clever back then. (Yeah, like things have fuckin' changed now.) Mind you, Piece Of Crap led to me buy my first ever Neil Young album, so it certainly did its job as a single. Plus, you know, sensitive ecological message and all that shit.
8. SUEDE – The Asphalt World (from Dog Man Star, Nude) (video)
Suede released five albums in their career: four of them are represented on POTY compilations. (Let's face it, nobody liked 2002's A New Morning.) Dog Man Star got a rough ride at the time for its musical excesses, such as this nine-and-a-half minute monster - although apparently if guitarist Bernard Butler had had his way, Asphalt would have been twenty-five minutes long with eight minutes of guitar solo in the middle. You can see why he quit the band shortly after... although it's those very excesses that make this one interesting for me, especially what remains of the orgasmic instrumental buildup to the final chorus. I'd still enjoy Suede post-Butler, but they'd never be quite the same again.
9. THE DIVINE COMEDY – Tonight We Fly (from Promenade, Setanta) (video)
The Divine Comedy were, I suppose, my biggest musical discovery of 1994. Fifteen years later, as Neil Hannon goofs off with his delightful side project The Duckworth Lewis Method, it's fun to go back to the record where I first made his acquaintance. Promenade is an album with the words 'Listening To Too Much Michael Nyman For His Own Good' metaphorically stamped all over it, but as the same applied to me at the time, that was no problem at all. Plus, if I was forced at gunpoint to come up with an epitaph for myself, the final verse is as good as anything else I know: "And when we die, oh, will we be that disappointed or sad? If heaven doesn't exist, what will we have missed? This life is the best we've ever had."
Regardless of the optimism of Hannon's conclusion, I still appear to have just wrapped up an album review with a paragraph about impending death. Maybe I was a bit depressed back in 1994. I promise I'll have cheered up in time for 1995. Being a monkey, and all.