One for Friday: The Weakerthans, “Tournament of Hearts”

weakerthans

One of the gifts of discovering a deep and abiding love of music right around the time a necessary transition to adulthood looms is the sudden access to a dazzling universe of sonic art that can provide a vocabulary of self, set to a fierce backbeat and slashing guitar chords. When I was still struggling to articulate who I was at my spinning core, I could find songs that resided close enough to my internal self that they were like displaced autobiographies. When I played them—especially as part of a radio playlist—they were declarations of identity.

As my journey of existential restiveness progressed from the urgency of youth to the shrugging casualness of middle age (presumably soon to the panicky regrets connected to looming mortality in old age), I found less need for songs that mirrored my state of mind. That’s a good thing, especially since there aren’t that many rock ‘n’ roll songs about what a pain in the ass it is to refinance a mortgage. But I can readily place myself back in the eddy of teen (and post-teen) angst when the right song comes along. “Tournament of Hearts,” by the Weakerthans, is the right song.

The emotional crescendo of the lyrics involves climbing atop a table scattered with empty beer bottles to yell out a lament of personal inadequacy. While that blast of  could have been enough, the song is spotted with details that were poignantly familiar from my time growing up in the Upper Midwest: the 50/50 raffle, the gathering hall filled with farmers, the thought of trekking home on snowy roads. (The Weakerthans were Canadian rather than, say, Wisconsinites, but, hey, they’re basically the same.) Even the bit about peeling away at the label on a beer bottle is spot-on.

Released in 2007, this song wasn’t there when it spoke directly to who I was. But I remember well enough to make “Tournament of Hearts” resound.

Listen or download –> The Weakerthans, “Tournament of Hearts”

(Disclaimer: Unlike other entries in this series, I believe the album that houses this song, Reunion Tour, is available for purchase from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner than compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. So let the sharing of this mp3 be encouragement to go out and buy the full release rather than encouragement to be a cheapskate about it. And buy a few more records while you’re at it. Your soul will glow a little brighter. Although I believe this humble act of sharing should fall under the tragically eroding concept of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday: E-I-E-I-O, “Hey Cecelie”

love thang

When I was first committing myself to the happy tasks of music fandom in my teen-aged years, I never quite understood why there wasn’t more excitement over local and area bands. This was well before the internet put practically every song a few swipes or keystrokes away, so the main conduit for hearing new music was still the radio. And this was also the era when radio stations were largely under local control, rather than answering to some corporate behemoth that based all programming choices on bloodless focus group determinations and heavy-handed record company persuasion. If the local commercial rock ‘n’ roll station wanted to play a record, all they needed to do was slip it over the spindle and drop the needle. No exterior clearance required.

So when those handful of songs did make the rounds, I took a heightened interest. If a natural reluctance was overcome, the song must have been a beaut.

“Hey Cecelie,” by E-I-E-I-O, is a beaut.

The Milwaukee rockers signaled their romping, county-tinged sound with the Old MacDonald evocation of their band name. Across a pair of albums (and a later reunion effort) they were largely unsung contributors to the cowpunk movement, the meager traction they had undoubtedly hurting a bit because they were from a state that was, of course, lousy with actual cows.

“Hey Cecelie” deserved to be their breakthrough hit, or at least a celebrated standard locally. Built around a iron-clad hook and deliciously yearning lyrics, the song roars forward. It’s a grabber from the thunder-rumbling first moments. And it just gets better as it goes on, wrapping up in a tidy three-and-a-half minutes. It bears repeating yet again: it’s a beaut.

Listen or download –> E-I-E-I-O, “Hey Cecelie”

(Disclaimer: I admittedly haven’t dug too deep, but I believe the bulk of the E-I-E-I-O discography to be out of print, at least as physical objects that can be easily procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. If not, let this act of music sharing be an enticement to buy the band’s music rather than a substitute for such an act of commerce. Even so, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my litlte corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request. Also, go support a local band. It’s good for the soul.)

One for Friday: Big Audio Dynamite, “Just Play Music!”

90

In this weekly feature, I invoke my days at college radio station quite a bit, especially those from my first year as an undergraduate. I mean it with utter sincerity and not an ounce of hyperbole when I celebrate everything my time on the left end of the dial has given me. That wonderful extended experience includes a hitch as the staff advisor to a college station several years later, in the sweltering not-so-wilds of Florida. But there was something different about my time at WWSP-90FM, located in the heart of Central Wisconsin. That’s partially attributable to the early go-round in radio corresponding to a highly formative time, to be sure. There’s something more, though. I believe there’s magic there.

Luckily for me, I get to dip back into that place of happy wonders every now and again. A few years ago, some intrepid friends of 90FM launched an annual fundraiser inviting station alumni to come home and play on the radio for a couple hours apiece. I listened enviously to the first few editions of this event, unable to justify the travel from distance perch in North Carolina. Little did I know that I’d have a home address back in America’s Dairyland before long.

This weekend is 90FM Reunion 5, and I’ll be attending for the second year in a row. Few things feel so right to me as sitting in that particular broadcast booth, filling the airwaves with music that moves me, thrills me, represents me. When I plunked down in the air chair at around this time last summer, it was immediately comfortable, even though it had been around fifteen years since I’d last commandeered that board.

I’d love to offer up a single song that represents the totality of my 90FM experience, but there’s no such thing. It was the exuberant variety, the rampaging wildflowers of an ever-changing music scene, that thrilled me the most. Instead, here’s a preview of my playlist for Sunday, when I engage in a sort of homecoming. If all goes according to plan, this will be the first song I humbly offer up to the listeners.

Listen or download –> Big Audio Dynamite, “Just Play Music!”

(Disclaimer: I’ve previously shared a track from the 1988 album that was the original home to the above song. At the time, it looked to me — somewhat improbably, I will admit — that the record is question was out of print. I believe that to still be the case. However, I am fairly confident that there must — must! — be a Big Audio Dynamite greatest hit compilation that includes this track, so it probably can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. Let the shared track be enticement to do so rather than a replacement for commerce. Although I believe sharing this song in this space in this way should could for fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday: The Rainmakers, “Spend It on Love”

rainmakers

I mean it with complete sincerity and accompanying appreciation when I insist that the Rainmakers were the perfect band for the student-run radio station where I spent my collegiate years. While I and my cohorts were committed to the rebellion of carrying our playlists away from the straitlaced material found elsewhere on the dial, we weren’t really prepared to run that far.

The band from Kansas City, Missouri operated with a Midwestern earnestness that we could relate to in our little Wisconsin college town. The songs were earthy but polished, pointed but jaunty. They had a way with a hook and wrote lyrics that detailed the travails of modern existence with a plain spoken quality that easily stirred knowing nods.

The lack of fuss in their approach allowed the band to get away with the occasional sentiment that I think we may have otherwise found unbearably cheesy. While the Rainmakers exhibited a raucous sense of humor from time to time, irony wasn’t part of their arsenal. So when “Spend It on Love” was released as the lead single from their 1989 album, The Good News and the Bad News, we took it at face value.

I took to the message of “Spend It on Love,” contrary to my more typical instinct when I was hovering around the age of twenty. (It surely helped that the lyrics direct some ire at the U.S. government’s tendency to appropriate dollars to militaristic endeavors rather than the sort of programs that help the neediest member of the citizenry, so there was a little fight-the-power to the song.) As I get older — and we trudge through a new mini-era of weaponized bigotry — I find even greater value in what the Rainmakers are saying here. And I marvel that the assertion of offering love and support can be so radical as to be genuine protest rock.

Listen or download –> The Rainmakers, “Spend It on Love”

(Disclaimer: I believe most of the Rainmakers’ catalog to be out of print, at least as physical items that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said shop, even if the band is one of many from that timeframe that have reunited to once again operate as a going concern. I submit this track with the belief that doing so should fall under the principle of fair use, but also as encouragement to explore the music of the Rainmakers and, for those who chose to, support the band fiscally in whatever way makes sense to you. Maybe pay band leader Bob Walkenhorst to come play in your living room. Regardless of the lack of malice in my intentions, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday: Freelance Hellraiser, “A Stroke of Genius”

xtina strokes

So, in my digital collection, I have a couple versions of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.” Sort of, anyway.

I’m not sure if mash-up artists have an abiding weakness for the first chart-topper from the young woman who would go on to star in Burlesque and refine gentle diva-dom on The Voice. Maybe it’s actually me who embarrassingly swoons a little any time Aguilera’s vocal track is laid atop the music of some mainstay single of college rock coolness. As I conceded earlier this year when I shared a track dubbed “Dirty Bottle,” when this particular set of sung lyrics is laid atop music that tickles my inner being, I find it fairly irresistible.

“A Stroke of Genius” (which I sometimes see styles as “A Stroke of Genie-us,” but come on) melds Aguilera’s vocal track with the downbeat layered guitar shuffle of the Strokes’ “Hard to Explain.” Crafted by the remix artist Freelance Hellraiser, it’s flat-out perfect.

By now, we should be living in a world that’s interconnected enough for an enterprising promoter or program producer to see to it that this derivation of song gets recreated live on stage by the proper artists. That’s not to much to ask, is it?

Listen or download –> Freelance Hellraiser, “A Stroke of Genius”

(Disclaimer: As I noted previously, I believe the very nature of this track means it is made for sharing, with the artist who created it — albeit not the artists who created the material he used to create it — unable by copyright law to collect royalties on it. I think. Unless he cleared things with the original creators at some point. It’s all too confusing, really. So I’ll just make my usual statement about a willingness to promptly and happily remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual of entity with due authority to make such a request. And then I will quietly recede, capped by a close parenthesis.)

One for Friday: Mental As Anything, “Thinking Out Loud”

mental
The eighties, man. It was a time.

Crossing over from my relatively sheltered experience with music into the vast open tundra of college radio was joyful and astonishing. It was freeing, intimidating, exhausting, and enlivening all at the same time. When I complain about the difficulty I have today in keeping up with the onslaught of new media offerings, I must also recall there was a time when I fervently wanted more, more, more.

But I needed some entryways. The shelves of the radio station’s music library were stocked with mystery. Once I crossed over from the more famed college radio mainstays — R.E.M., U2, the Cure, the Smiths — I was immediately confronted with obscure bands with inscrutable names. So if one of them had somehow crossed into my consciousness previously, they became critical to my ongoing self-education.

I’d never heard any music from the Australian band Mental As Anything before crossing into the station, but I remembered reading a review of their 1987 album, Mouth to Mouth, in Rolling Stone. That was enough. As I got my bearings, I circled back to that album repeatedly, as if it were the sturdy pole in the center of the roller rink while I was learning on greased skates.

I’ll admit that the buoyantly glossed-up pop sound of this particular album contributed to the sense of safety, especially if I was rebounding from, say, the scariness of Ministry’s “Stigmata.” I could be a fragile, fearful fellow in my cultural explorations. While still providing something sparkly and new, the fine fellows in Mental As Anything also offered cozy comfort.

Listen or download –> Mental as Anything, “Thinking Out Loud”

(Disclaimer: I’m not digging deep on this, but I believe Mouth to Mouth to be out of print as a physical object that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner than compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. This one track from the album is offered here with that understanding and the corresponding belief that it impedes no fair commerce. That typed, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday: The Scruffs, “She Say Yea”

scruffs

I turn now, as I do on occasion, to the stockpile of songs I once gratefully downloaded from a blog called Little Hits. The page is long-gone, lost to the misty whims of digital media. But at the time I discovered it, the procession of sonic obscurities was a wonderland. It was like stepping into an alternative version of my own college radio history. I recognized the sensation of songs that were personal treasures, but all but unknown outside of one cultural cluster.

For me, those sorts of songs were delivered by bands like Kingmaker, the Cost of Living, Sicilian Vespers, and Couch Flambeau. For the author of Little Hits, it was a completely different set of acts, but the songs sounded just as good. Before they showed up in one of the blog’s posts, I don’t believe I’d ever heard of the Scruffs, a power pop band out of Memphis that releases one album, in 1977, under their original iteration. (No bands truly die anymore, so revival outings followed decades later). I didn’t know it, but this was a band I always needed.

Thanks to the blog, “She Say Yea,” the B-side to the band’s debut single, was right there for the taking, and I immediately burrowed into my brain. This was exactly the sort of track that I loved to drop into a radio shift playlist, especially in the heavy heat of a sunny summer day. That makes it just right for today.

Listen or download –> The Scuffs, “She Say Yea”

(Disclaimer: As is the case with any of the Little Hits songs that I wheelbarrow over to this space, I believe the Scruffs track to be out of print in a way that allows it to be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensate both the proprietor of the store in question and the original artist. Since I’m well aware of the rules, I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)