One for Friday — Voice of the Beehive, “Don’t Call Me Baby”

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Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1988, Voice of the Beehive released the album Let It Bee. The band is best known as a showcase for sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland, transplants from California who settled in London in part because they felt the U.K. music scene would be more amenable to the breezy, buoyant pop music they wanted to create. After the toe-dip of a couple singles, Voice of Beehive delivered their debut full-length, punnily swiping its title from the Beatles.

If the music was touched by vintage girl group sunshine, the lyrics often told a different story. Largely penned by Bryn, they exhibited a take-no-guff feminism and a bracing willingness to offer reportorial assessments of the indignities heaped upon women. Let It Bee includes a track titled “There’s a Barbarian in the Back of My Car,” which is about an accurately dismal an assessment of the male half of the specifies as exists on a pop record.

In its particulars, “Don’t Call My Baby” is fairly standard tale of romantic woe, with a caddish paramour deploying terms of affection to one woman while another is “waiting in the car.” But I’ve always heard the declaration of the title as broader, essentially declaring independence from any lousy dude who tried to diminish the singer in any way. It’s a revolt against sexism that happens to have a killer hook. That may not be the most accurate assessment when the track is given a literal reading, but I swear that’s the spirit that imbues it.

Listen or download —> Voice of the Beehive, “Don’t Call Me Baby”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that the Voice of the Beehive catalog is out of print in the U.S., unavailable in a physical form that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner than compensates both the original artists and the proprietor of said shop. This track is being shared in this space with that understanding. Also, I still believe in the legal concept of fair use and believe this qualifies. Even so, I 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 — Soul Asylum, “Sometime to Return”

soul asylum

Thirty years ago, in the spring of 1988, Soul Asylum released the album Hang Time. In the Minneapolis regional of the nineteen-eighties tourney for the hearts and minds of college radio kids, Soul Asylum was doomed to never finish better than third place. The Replacements had the sublime songwriting of Paul Westerberg, and Hüsker Dü expertly snapped together pop gracefulness and hardcore fervor like Lego blocks. Soul Asylum played with thunderously throbbing heart, but they suffered from comparisons. Their immediate peers felt like they were refining the boundaries of rock music in thrilling ways, flinted with danger. Soul Asylum just based out good songs.

Sometimes, though, they based out great songs. Most of those are housed on Hang Time, including “Sometime to Return,” which served as a single. It was a slightly risky choice for an emphasis track, because the portion of the lyrics that intoned, “Picked it apart for hours and hours and hours/ Of turning, tossing and looking and listening/ To you and all the fucked up things you do,” required the distribution of a radio edit, at least for those stations invested in playing nice with the FCC. In my experience with circa 1988 college broadcasters, seeking out the spare disc in the library was occasionally one task too many. Some songs can’t be denied, though. It helps, of course, if the song seems to address the romanticized misery that often comes with living on the cusp of one’s twenties. Even nonsense like “Throw away your calendar/ And saddle up your salamander” can sound profound.

If Soul Asylum couldn’t best their most notable Twin Cities brethren in the nineteen-eighties, they demonstrated how some races that appear to be sprints are actually marathons. Hüsker Dü and the Replacements were both effectively done as going concerns as the nineteen-nineties launched (The Replacements’ All Shook Down, from 1990, is really Westerberg’s first solo album, and everybody knows it). Soul Asylum, on the other hand, lasted long enough to release new music after Nirvana and their fellow Pacific Northwest bashers changed everything. Soul Asylum’s 1992 album, Grave Dancers Union, went triple-platinum and yielded a Top 5 single.

Listen or download —> Soul Asylum, “Sometime to Return”

(Disclaimer: I believe Hang Time to be out of print as a physical item that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of the store in question and the original artist. “Sometime to Return” is almost assuredly included on any and all Soul Asylum “best of” compilations, and they are a band that is probably well-served by some popularity-based curating. So I’m sharing this not to impede commerce, but to encourage it. And I think it qualified as fair use. Even so, I 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 — Let’s Active, “Every Dog Has His Day”

let's active

Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1988, Let’s Active released the album Every Dog Has His Day. It was the third full-length from the band, following a debut EP. Every one of those releases was a major hit on college radio, largely because of the involvement of Mitch Easter, a hero on the left end of the dial because of his role producing the earliest R.E.M. records. That success didn’t spread, though, and Every Dog Has His Day was an album preoccupied with the gap between acclaim and commercial riches. Combined with the more burnished sound found in its grooves, the album plays like one last swing at the pop stardom piñata.

The title cut is the prime example, wryly supposing parades and cheering children will eventually arrive.  “Look around/ This land of mirth/ When we came back/ They gave us the keys to Earth,” Easter sings, resignation and the faintest tinge of lingering hope in his voice. The year before, his former collaborators from Athens released a single that broken them into the Billboard Top 10. Meanwhile, Let’s Active was reaching the end of their run, adored by the faithful and ignored by everyone else. Two years after Every Dog Has His Day, Easter dissolved the band. There was never another record.

Listen or download —> Let’s Active, “Every Dog Has His Day”

(Disclaimer: It’s not clear to me how much of the Let’s Active discography remains in print, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist the the proprietor of said shop. If they’re out there, get them. Every last one is worth having. As much as anything else — including many albums that have surge in prestige since then — Let’s Active’s music is the sound of college radio during its heyday. Although I believe sharing this song in this space constitutes 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 Wonder Stuff, “Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More”

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In my first year at the college radio station, practically everything felt like a discovery. It was as if I had been plopped down inside a magical mine of modern music and anywhere I swung my pickaxe was likely to reveal a glittering vein of tuneful, offbeat perfection. My personal knowledge base was limited enough that I couldn’t always accurately discern between material that was new versus that which was simply new to me, but that didn’t necessarily matter, as long as I was wise enough to speak carefully when the studio mic was turned on.

Still, I maintain a special affection for those acts who officially debuted at the radio station at about the same time as me. The U.K. band the Wonder Stuff released a couple singles before their first full-length arrived, in the latter half of 1988, but I’m not sure if those crossed the Atlantic. They certainly never made it into the glorious transmitter-equipped den of college rock I called home for five years. So when their debut album, The Eight Legged Groove Machine, hit our Heavy Rotation shelf, I was there to eagerly spin it, secretly relieved to have a band that put me on even experiential ground with my broadcast brethren. That it was rollicking affair, stacked with tracks perfectly suited for bursting into notice in the middle of a set, was a happy bonus.

Several months later, when the band’s sophomore release, Hup, hit the station, I was already an old hand. And the Wonder Stuff’s 1991 album, Never Loved Elvis — complete with a lead single ideally suited for our America’s Dairyland locale — allowed me to accurately claim I’d been listening to the band’s music for years. As proof, I’d retrieve their first album from the music library and confidently drop the needle on “Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More,” sagely intoning, “I know their new stuff is good, but you’ve got to hear this.”

I suspect that particular fandom journey was a common one for scruffy college radio kids like me, especially in the era before digital connectivity put access to new music as close as an ever-present handheld communication device. I can get nostalgic about plenty of things from my student broadcasting days, but few match the extended evolution of knowledge about the bands that meant little to practically anyone outside our rarefied cultural sphere.

Listen or download —> The Wonder Stuff, “Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More”

(Disclaimer: For some reason, I’m always especially flummoxed in my attempts to discern the availability of older Wonder Stuff releases, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop at the original artist. Regardless, my sharing of this track should be viewed as encouragement to commerce that supports musicians and record store owners and personnel, not as a replacement for such capitalistic interaction. Although I feel I’m adhering to the legal principle of 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 an individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — Last Town Chorus, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”

last town

There was a time when one of my household charges was to collect covers. As chores go, it’s not bad. With a clear imperative to seek out novel versions of familiar songs, I scoured the internet in the hopes of finding material that was unique and fun. This task was mostly undertaken when there was a true free-for-all out there in the digital wilds, with emerging artists finding that a nicely crafted cover was of the best ways to distinguish themselves from the masses uploading Garage Band files onto MySpace pages. As a result, I have loads and loads of covers strewn about my computerized music collection, and everyone once in a while a great one shuffles up.

Last Town Chorus was essentially the creative outlet of singer/guitarist Megan Hickey. And it was a cover that briefly brought Last Town Chorus to prominence when her stately, spare version of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” was featured in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was Hickey’s pass at a different early eighties hit that hooked me, though.

In covering Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” Hickey essentially pulls the same trick as she did with Bowie’s classic, but it’s a good one. The song is slowed to an agonizingly slow pace, with a ruminative pedal steel guitar and Hickey drawing out the lyrics to accentuate the heartbreak embedded in them. It does what a great cover should: It reveals something new about the song, or at least offers a reminder of some aspect that might have gotten lost after years of repetition.

It seems Hickey is largely retired from music these days, but some cursory research shows she still know her way around a cover.

Listen or download —> Last Town Chorus, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”

(Disclaimer: To my knowledge, this cover version wasn’t dropped onto an official release that could generate revenue for either the original songwriter or Hickey, so I’m sharing it here with the belief that doing so won’t steer anyway away from engaging in proper commerce. Even so, I will gladly and promptly remove the 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 — Frightened Rabbit, “Oil Slick”

Frightened-Rabbit
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I wrote about Frightened Rabbit only once. When I was regularly churning out copy for Spectrum Culture, I put in to detail the ingenuity of a track from the band’s sterling 2013 album, Pedestrian Verse, as a contribution to the recurring Monthly Mixtape feature.

This is what I wrote:

The closing track off of Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse, their fourth full-length
overall and major label bow, is a lean, emotive affair, ending the fine record on an
appropriately contemplative note. Even better, it has a touch of meta playfulness that
undercuts any self-seriousness that could trickle in. Lead singer and chief songwriter
Scott Hutchison uses the oil slick of the title as a metaphor for his own gloppy, gooey
feelings that can ponderously darken his songs, noting, “Only an idiot would swim
through the shit I write.” Hutchison has noted that he originally intended Pedestrian
Verse to be relatively free of relationships songs, until a break-up during the creative
process thwarted that plan. “The Oil Slick” comes across as his cleverly abashed way of
acknowledging his own inability to steer clear of the lovelorn pining that has long been
the lifeblood of pop music.

Those words still encapsulate a fair amount of the appeal I found in Frightened Rabbit’s music. The open-hearted poignancy of Hutchison’s songwriting was a wonder. At a time in pop music when it often felt like artists were holding themselves back, hiding within the affectations of studio tricks or arch, ironic posturing, Hutchison always seemed to be right there in the lyrics of his songs. It’s precisely that quality that made the witty meta flourishes of “Oil Slick,” and other similar intellectual playfulness, feel like avenues to deeper understanding rather than guises that pushed the listener away.

Listen or download —> Frightened Rabbit, “Oil Slick”

(Disclaimer: I haven’t checked, but I suspect Pedestrian Verse and the bulk of the Frightened Rabbit discography remains available as physical items that 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. I’m sharing this track as an encouragement to engage in precisely that commerce rather than a replacement for such an action. This strikes me as fair use. However, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove the file if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — Lyle Lovett, “L.A. County”

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Since I invoked Lyle Lovett in yesterday’s album review, it seems an appropriate time to return to him in this weekly act of music-sharing. Lovett first entered into my little cohort of favored artists with the release of his second album, Pontiac, in 1987. It was a wildly egalitarian time for country music, with fifty different songs topping the Billboard country chart in 1987 and forty-nine achieving the same feat in 1988. All comers were welcome, from venerable acts to peppy up-and-comers. And yet Lovett made only meager headway, despite a classic country sound, sharp songwriting skills, and a look that was, to put it mildly, memorable.

So Lovett was starting to be celebrated in other quarters. Rolling Stone touted his craft, and the one commercial radio station in my town with an ounce of daring was giving modest airplay to the song “If I Had a Boat.”  That track is so masterful that it alone should have prompted me to part with my money to secure a copy of Pontiac. I’m ashamed to admit it instead took me several years before I started properly fortifying my collection with Lovett’s terrific efforts.

Pontiac did eventually get its honored place on the CD shelf, and I took great pleasure in soaking in its earthy charms. And since I came to it after some of the later albums, digging deeper into the tracks that never got a push (according to most sources, Pontiac yielded five singles to murmuring indifference of country radio) gave the sense of finding a fundamental beginning that eventually evolved into the more complex offerings that we felt could nestle in fine on our college radio playlists. The jaunty “L.A. County” is a dandy example.

Listen or download —> Lyle Lovett, “L.A. County”

(Disclaimer: As I’ve shared previously, I believe a sizable chunk of Lovett’s discography is currently unavailable in a physical form 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. That’s dismaying to me, and I hope I’m wrong. If my feeble detective work did lead me to an erroneous conclusion, let the sharing of the above track serve as a prompt to go and snap up some of Lovett’s albums. There’s fantastic songwriting to be found on each and every one. Although I believe sharing the file above constitutes fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this song 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.)