For reasons having to do with the alphabet, I’ve been listening to the band Blancmange this week. They are generally filed under “80s Anachronisms” with other synth/voice duos, but I think they deserve better: All three of their vintage albums — Happy Families (1982), Mange Tout (1984), and Believe You Me (1985) — are magnificent. (A spate of recent reunion albums, some featuring only one member, is another matter.) The sound is High Eighties, to be sure, but one of the best specimens thereof, and the songwriting is both sturdy and imaginative.
This song from Believe You Me is a great example of what Blancmange were capable of. 34 years later — Jesus, is that right? I guess it is — it still sounds pretty great to me.
This week I found myself listening to Biz Markie’s I Need a Haircut and was struck by this song:
I got curious about the source material, which turned out to be a Donovan song called “Get Thy Bearings.” In fact I own the album it’s on, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, but somehow had never really noticed it. I am now ashamed. This has to be Donovan’s funkiest song, with a loose, hypnotic, irresistible groove:
Great find by the Biz, or maybe his DJ and cousin Cool V. A tip of the hat to them, and to Mr. Leitch, who never quite gets the respect he deserves — even from those of us who ought to know better.
As fate would have it it, this song came up on the ol’ bathroom iPod yesterday, the very day that JC turned 77. 52 years after the first VU album, he’s still out there doing his thing — there he is on the Instagram, futzing around in a recording studio. Cale won’t quit as long as he’s vertical, and I for one take comfort in that.
So I just saw this video for the first time in… hmm… 35 years? Hard to believe it’s been that long since the golden age of MTV, but that’s what the math says.
I never forgot this song, which is a four-minute blast of relentless forward momentum that always gets me hyped. But I had forgotten about the video, which is a perfect visual analog: The camera never stops moving, the people never stop running. Ah, all that youthful energy…. Watching it makes me feel 17 again for a minute. Or four.
Of course after seeing this I had to run out and buy the album, which was not that good. It had one other catchy track and the rest was filler. After that Belfegore disappeared into the crevices of history, never to be seen again.
But they had four glorious minutes, which is enough.
A tweet from Matador Records today alerted me to the fact that Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was released on this day in 1994, making it 25 years old.
At the time, this was an album that took me by surprise. I was one of the few in my peer group who hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid on Pavement’s first album, Slanted and Enchanted. In historic perspective Slanted is a great record — I stand corrected on that one — but still I approached Crooked Rain with some skepticism.
It didn’t last long. Crooked Rain is a masterpiece right from its opening seconds, in which a loose, shambling agglomeration of guitar and drum noises starts, stops, starts again, and eventually resolves itself into a towering, monumentally catchy riff. From there it’s off to the races:
And I don’t necessarily want to get into a whole thing about Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain today — it’s one of my all-time favorites, and I don’t have time to do it justice. (You can read good, lengthy takes here and here.) But it’s just the leading edge of a wave of stuff that will be turning 25 this year, including Pulp Fiction, Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and a whole bunch of great albums:
Laurie Anderson: Bright Red/Tightrope
The Beastie Boys: Ill Communication
Beck: Mellow Gold
Frank Black: Teenager of the Year
Cake: Motorcade of Generosity
Gang Starr: Hard to Earn
The Jesus & Mary Chain: Stoned and Dethroned
Love and Rockets: Hot Trip to Heaven
G. Love and Special Sauce: G. Love and Special Sauce
The Roots: Do You Want More?!!!??!
The Silver Jews: Starlite Walker
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange
That Petrol Emotion: Fireproof
They Might Be Giants: John Henry
Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne
Ween: Chocolate and Cheese
Holy hell, that’s a lot of great music for one year, and all over the map too. Anyone who wants to talk trash about the 90s will have me to contend with — you know where to find me.