"Beautiful John" by Madder Rose, 1993

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Madder Rose, an oft-forgotten but quintessential early 90s band, significantly informed my tastes in music in college. When I first heard Madder Rose, I'd already moved away from my high school tastes--which had been very much of a late 1960s/early 1970s vibe, including predominantly the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and whatever the New York-area classic rock station would play. Along with most American teens, I'd heard and loved Nirvana's "Nevermind" in 1991. I wasn't the quickest to abandon my classic rock stuff, though, and enter the modern era, relying on bands like the Black Crowes and the Spin Doctors--both of whom had one foot (at least) firmly planted in sounds I found comfortable and familiar. But by 1993, I was getting someplace new.

In the summer of 1993, with a year of college behind me and a job delivering pizzas, I spent many late nights at Tower Records on Long Island, with a pocketful of tip cash. That tip cash, being above and beyond my hourly wage, I saw as CD money, and it was that summer that I did the most work to really grow my collection, probably more than before or since. That summer I focused on a certain type of band, though, one that became my mainstay of music for the next year at least: indie rock bands with female lead singers. If a band had a female lead singer, I'd probably buy their CD. It was a simple as that. I found Velocity Girl, Zuzu's Petals, the Sundays, Throwing Muses, Belly, Juliana Hatfield, Bettie Serveert, and Madder Rose using this method.

So, the song itself. It's an anomaly among Madder Rose songs, in that, though the lyrics are kind of dark and creepy, it's super poppy: a two-chord (one-->five) progression, if you can call that a progression, with frequent and very melodic and simple guitar solos. Much of this album is darker and more angular, implicating the heroin use the band seems to have enjoyed for so long. Melodic guitar pop was in 1993 still a very new sound to me, having come to modern music through more aggressive-sounding punk rock, and while "Beautiful John" is informed by punk rock to a degree, it has as much in common melodically with nursery rhymes as it does with CBGB.