"Brackish" by Kittie, 1999

Monday, November 18, 2013

(First of all, I want to say how proud I am of myself when I know the year, or can figure the year, for these songs I'm blogging without having to look them up. That was the case with this one.)

So, Kittie. What can one say about Kittie? "Real" metalheads agree, for the most part, that Kittie sucked. I don't care much what "real" metalheads say, and I cared even less back in 1999. At the time, I was just starting to get into metal and post-hardcore, mostly via Helmet's best two LPs, Meantime and Betty. I don't know if it's true, but to me Page Hamilton invented stop/start post-hardcore that these girls (yeah, girl; Kittie's average age when they formed in 1996 was 13 or so) so adequately borrowed, establishing them as the silliest (to most listeners) band in the Nu-Metal (puke) scene.

I suppose because I was coming to metal and post-hardcore from the place I've mentioned before--one of fandom almost exclusively of bands with female lead singers--Kittie was an obvious entree to heavier, chunkier stuff for me. This song in particular is probably my favorite off their debut LP Spit because of the excellent screams (though many don't approve of her screams, I think they're perfect in that they're not typical Cookie Monster because she is a girl, and it makes them that much more compelling) and the ridiculous (in a good way) drum machine stuff in the final breakdown*.

*This song has been released in various remixes. The version in this video puts the drum machine breakdown in the middle someplace. The version on the CD I have has it at the end, which I prefer.

"Both Hands" by Ani Difranco, 1990

Saturday, November 16, 2013

This was the first Ani song many of us heard, way back when, and many of us heard it when a female friend--one with a partially shaved head and shit-kicker boots--made us a tape and mailed it to us from Barnard. Come on, I cannot be the only person who first heard Ani under those circumstances.

I forget about Ani most of the time. In the mid-1990s or so, after I'd seen her play live a few times and memorized every word of her 1990 eponymous independent debut, she took on band members and a funkier, more polished sound that I just didn't love. But it was I think earlier this year, 2013, that I put on "Both Hands" again, for the first time in probably twenty years, and I still knew every amazing word.

"Blame It on Your Heart" by Patty Loveless, 1993

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I didn't grow up listening to country. Unless you count the several Grateful Dead songs that could rightly be called country, and that one Old & in the Way CD I had, I didn't like anything that was remotely country music until probably this song*.

In July of 1993, I was nineteen and living at home for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. Three years earlier, in 1990, I--along with many, many other teenage boys of a certain cloth--fell in love with Samantha Mathis in Pump Up the Volume. It stands to reason, then, that when a little movie called The Thing Called Love, starring Mathis as a struggling singer-songwriter in Nashville, turned up on the TV after its fairly dismal theater release, I stuck with it. "Blame It on Your Heart," as performed by River Phoenix and Mathis, comes up for a couple of important scenes. It stuck with me. I found it had been released as a single by Patty Loveless, and I bought the CD, probably with my Columbia House membership.

I'll include both versions here. Loveless's is obviously insanely better.

*Okay, I liked "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," but only 'cause it was a story song about some crazy shit.

"Beestung" by Kristin Hersh, 1994

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kristin Hersh, founder and leader of Throwing Muses and solo artist, was my absolute favorite--my unhealthy obsession with Juliana Hatfield notwithstanding--for probably about seven or eight years. In compiling this list, though, I found that most of her songs, with and without Throwing Muses, just didn't hold up to my ears the way they once did. I still love them, and I still think most TM albums are as close to perfect as an LP experience can get, from their eponymous debut to Limbo. However, except for "Beestung" and one TM track (which I'll write about later, fear not), they didn't pass the crucial test the every song on this list has passed: constant listening.

"Beestung" proved different, and I don't know why. In fact, while I was listening to this list, as I whittled it down from too many to just a little too many, every single time "Beestung" was about to come on (that is, with an iTunes playlist on shuffle, when "Beestung" would pop up as the track about to start, but in the one and a half seconds before it actually did), I'd be like, "Oh, this song. This song will never make the final list. I'm sick of it already and it hasn't even started."

But every time, I was wrong. Every time, that piano would come in, with it's simple and repetitive little two-finger riff, and I could feel myself swelling. If I had a degree in neuroscience, I'd study why some songs make me swell. This one makes me swell, and I never get sick of it while it's on. For years, it wasn't a song I would ever choose to put on, and for years I'd skip it on shuffle during that one and a half second delay before the piano would begin, but once it's on, I don't want it to end.

"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.