Sunday, December 10, 2006

My Favorite Albums of 1996 and What I Think of Them Now...

For some reason I thought I needed to chronicle my favorite albums of the year in 1996. I really have no idea what spurred this…I was 14-years-old and hadn’t even started writing for the school paper and wouldn’t for at least another year. I’m sure the idea of actually even having my own opinion was quite new to me.

As a build up to my own year-end lists for 2006, we’ll take a dive into what was the mind of a terribly (find the portrait of the listmaker as a young artist) short-haired freshman at Notre Dame Harper Woods High School. I played soccer (one of only three freshman on the JV team) took keyboarding class and had my locker covered with pictures of Nirvana (probably…I can’t remember specifically).

  1. Nirvana “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah”

The first and only record I ever bought at a midnight sale. My dad stayed up watching Monday Night Football and through some kink in the cosmos I convinced him to drive me to Dearborn Music to buy this record. It’s really hard for me to believe that ever happened. Anyway, the record is pretty dullsville nowadays. I’ve heard far more interesting stuff on live Nirvana bootlegs. But it was still exciting to hear the live version of “Aneurysm” played all the time on 89x radio.

  1. That Dog “Totally Crushed Out”

I still love this record like a mother would her firstborn. “Totally Crushed Out” is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s a record that seems to perfectly capture what being a teenager truly is like. I’m truly thankful they opened for the Foo Fighters live and completely regret not seeing them open for Blur.

  1. Rage Against the Machine “Evil Empire”

I still dig it. Sure, I don’t play “Evil Empire” that often, but this is still the band at their peak. Live they were the closest thing to a riot as I’ve ever seen. Meaty middle of the album has lyrics I still think are brilliant:

“Revolver” – “hey revolver, don’t mothers make good fathers?”

“Tire Me” – “I wanna be Jackie Onassis, I wanna wear a pair of dark sunglasses”

“Down Rodeo” – “Fuck the G ride, I want the machines that are makin’ them”

Amidst a flurry of letter writing to the likes of the Foo Fighters, Super Stinky Puffs and any other band I could find an address for, Rage Against the Machine is, to this day, the only one to send anything back. I got a copy of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” on 7” and two copies of “No Shelter” on 7” for absolutely no charge. Sub Pop (while not actually a band) did send me two Eric’s Trip pins, some Supersuckers guitar picks and a handful of rocketship “Powered by Sub Pop” stickers. Maybe some Fastbacks matches too. I will never not like Rage Against the Machine.

  1. Melvins “Stag”

I think I just liked this because it was a Melvins record and I had seen them live. As far as Melvins albums, I’d still rank it somewhere near the top. The smell of the CD booklet, along with Nirvana’s “Unplugged in New York” can still bring a wave of memories o’er me.

  1. Soundgarden “Down on the Upside”

Again, I think I liked this because I’d seen them live. “Pretty Noose” and “Blow Up the Outside World” still rock. But I haven’t listened to this one probably since 1996. And the rest of the songs on the record…besides “Burden in My Hand” I couldn’t even remotely guess what they sound like. Oh well.

  1. Various “Songs in the Key of X”

The Foo Fighters’ cover of Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park” was glued into the DiscMan with dinky six-inch tall speakers next to my freshman year of high school bed. Filter’s “Hey Bro” and Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” were worth getting excited over too (this disc would be my intro to Nick Cave). Looking back though, the coolest thing about this CD is this secret little trick hidden in it. The back cover has a warning that says “This compact disc does not fully conform with Phillips’ “Red Book” specifications, in that the “pre-gap” may not play on all CD players.” The thing is, once track 1 starts playing, if you manually rewind the song on your CD player, you discover "Time Jesum Transeuntum Et Non Riverentum (Dread the Passage of Jesus, For He Will Not Return)" by Nick Cave and the Dirty Three, and a version of The X-Files theme by the Dirty Three. (information easily stolen from Wikipedia, where you can blame someone else if your info is wrong). Apparently Blur’s “Think Tank” album and They Might Be Giants’ “Factory Showroom” also use this hiding method. Good for them.

  1. Presidents of the United States of America “II”

Ok, now this one feels a bit embarrassing. I believe it came out on President’s Day (or was it Election Day? they were oh-so wink-wink). I managed to catch these guys live on way too many television shows…SNL, Mad TV, Letterman and even their special MTV performance live in front of Mount Rushmore. Man…I was 14, I should’ve been masturbating more. Or just doing anything more productive than memorizing these schlubs’ performance schedule. This is the only album on the list I do not currently own. I haven’t owned this in probably 8 years. I remember liking the song “Mach 5” but have to refer to to remember “Volcano” or any other titles. And I guess one of the dudes from PUSA is claiming the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” rips-off its melody from “Tiki God” off this album. I will be willing to say in a court of law that I never played the disc for Jack White and that I doubt any one else he knows/knew ever owned it. I will also be willing to say in a court of law that the two-string basitar and three-string guitbass is still a pretty sweet idea.

  1. Smashing Pumpkins “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”

Has everyone else in the world said this would’ve been behooved as a single album? Can I join that club? I sold this one years back but somehow bought (?) another copy. I probably only ever listened to disc 2 twice and one of those times I’m certain I fell asleep. As much as I may dislike Billy Corgan, I will never not like “Tonight, Tonight” as it is a perfect example of how to use a string section in rock music. “Jellybelly” and a few others could easily fit on the “Gish” album which I do truly love. Jimmy Chamberlin gets no respect as a demon on the drums. As I listen to this now, I do feel a bit nostalgic. Aw…memories. Fuck ‘em. The artwork I still appreciate, maybe even more so now.

  1. Mudhoney “Superfuzz Bigmuff + Early Singles”

So I had this internal clause that I would include great records that may not have been released in 1996, but that I had only first heard that year. There is no way you can be a teenaged American male and not think this collection is divine. Believe me, I’ve tried. Just accept it.

  1. the Stooges “s/t”

My uncle Jack had lent my older brother his LP copy of this album along with the Flat Duo Jets “I’ll Have a Merry Christmas Without You” single in hopes of inspiring him (my brother was playing upright bass at the time…I’m not sure if that had anything to do with his selection of lending material). Anyway, my brother pretty much ignored whatever was on the records. When uncle Jack stopped by to pick them back up, he seemed astounded “You’ve never heard the Stooges?” What was I supposed to say? I was thirteen. I remember him dropping the needle on “1969” and probably “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. A few months later my first true jam session would be in the attic on Ferdinand with Jack on guitar and me on drums for “1969”. Not much later I would buy this on CD and my life has never quite been the same.

Now as I look back, I guess it would also make sense to figure out what records from 1996 I would now put in my top ten.

The obvious omission is Beck’s “Odelay”. I think I was a little too into the “rock” to quite understand what Beck was doing back then.

At the same time, I can’t figure out why I left Nada Surf’s “High/Low” off my list. I actually bought that record at the time and played the shit out of it. Yeah, “Popular” was a funny little novelty, but I could not get enough of the punk wonder “Sleep”. Saw them on MTV’s “120 Minutes” and when they said they would always jam out on the second Stooges album I was excited, if only because I too knew who the Stooges were.

While I still have never owned a copy, Sloan’s “One Chord to Another” was inescapable at the time. Listening to Canadian 89x radio meant 10% (or is it 30%) of the playlist has to be Canadian artists. “The Good in Every One” always kinda fooled me into thinking I was hearing something from the ‘60s. It’s still just as good this day and a definitive document of 90’s rock and roll.

“A Small Circle of Friends: A Germs Tribute” is one of only a handful of tribute records I’ve listened to more than once. From the Melvins blustery twist on “Lexicon Devil” to that dog’s comedic restructure of “We Must Bleed” to sound exactly like their own song “Old Timer” and the Monkeywrench’s sloppy endless take on “Shutdown” it has everything I was into at the time. Add Hole (as the Holez) doing “Circle One” with actual Germ Pat Smear guesting and Flea (Red Hot Dildo Peppers) with an inspired hippie bongo trip-out on “Media Blitz” and I’m hard pressed to come up with a tribute record that holds up more than this. Necessary.

Lastly, 1996 was justified by my eventual discovery of Weezer’s “Pinkerton”. I’ll quickly admit that I didn’t get into this record until after the fact (sometime in 2000/2001) but can clearly remember riding around in the passenger seat of Frank Heinrich’s whateverthefuckpieceofshit he drove listening to Weezer non-stop. He was a dorky senior who inexplicably didn’t think it was verboten to hang out with a freshman. He loved “El-Scorcho”, the only single off the record with a curious fast food drive-thru video that was quickly forgotten by MTV. My favorite has become “Tired of Sex” a self-deprecating self-affront on lead singer groupie-dom that it’s a little depressing. But not before one of the catchiest basslines in recent memory grabs your head, shakes it, spits Jell-O down your throat and bites your shins.

“Pinkerton” would quickly be ignored and only years later achieve its current modern forgotten classic status. A lot of people my age went through the exact same experience of rediscovering Weezer years after they’d passed it off as lame. In a weird way, that’s also the reasoning behind digging up this list and blabbing about it here. It’s an interesting window into my old self. Slightly embarrassing, wholly therapeutic and all in a form of self-honesty that I adore.

1 comment:

Victoria said...

This is so true about the Pinkerton! It took me 4 years to appreciate the record as a whole thing without ffw tracks sometimes.

I really enjoy your essays and writing. I do hope you have a book ready for publishing anytime soon.