A Week of Fridays: Sugar, “A Good Idea”

This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”

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I owned this t-shirt once. You can tell this one is not mine because it hasn’t been worn to tatters.

I took my time getting through college. I didn’t want to leave. Sure, a certain fear of the so-called “real world” was partial inspiration for the dragged feet, but I also had an inner sense that I had more to learn, both from classes and from my leadership role at the college radio station. It was only toward the end of the standard four years that I understood my job was to consider the ways in which all my experiences fed into each other, the ways what I gleaned from my academic pursuits could inform my student broadcaster experience and vice versa. Armed with that motivating philosophy, I’ve no doubt I got more out of my last three semesters or so than I did from all the rest of my schooling combined.

My long goodbye also provided a few useful symbols of closure, led by the release of Copper Blue, the debut album from the band Sugar. I suspect most who give their hearts fully to college radio look back at their time on the left end of the dial with a certain wistfulness over their near misses, by which I mean those bands and artists that stopped creating new music right before that FCC operator license was signed. (That used be a requirement for being a DJ, kids. I was licensed to play Bongos, Bass & Bob songs on the radio, dammit!) For me, the band whose absence from the scene pained me most was Hüsker Dü. Yes, I got to enjoy fine solo work from individual band members, including breakup songs that rivaled anything on Blood on the Tracks. Still, I wish I’d gotten a chance to stand in front of that trio as they careened through a blistering set.

If I couldn’t get a new album and tour out of Hüsker Dü, at least I got Sugar. Following his time in Hüsker, Bob Mould made a pair of solo albums that were fantastic (the first, Workbook, is a flat-out masterpiece). But he claimed he longed for the give-and-take of a band, and three was clearly a comfortable number for him. Copper Blue arrived the fall of my second senior year and provided the propulsive soundtrack I needed. I’m pretty sure I sacrificed a chunk of my hearing at one of their live shows. I’ve always felt it was a reasonable trade-off for a fierce desire fulfilled.

Listen or download –> Sugar, “A Good Idea”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the 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.)

A Week of Fridays: The Smithereens, “Top of the Pops”

This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”

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(Image credit: The Smithereens official website)

Other bands meant more to me personally and yet others were more dominant on the WWSP-90FM airwaves, and yet no artist better defines the sound of my college radio station during my time there than the Smithereens. They were amazingly consistent. Grab any of the four albums or one flat-out great EP that sat in the music library by the time I graduated and there is smart, crisp, tight music to be found there. It wasn’t risky or daring or out to reshape the sonic landscape. Instead, the band was fully invested in the no less daunting task of absolutely mastering the classic rock ‘n’ roll songwriting and production that came before. Maybe more than any other band I regularly added to my playlists at the station, the Smithereens were committed to making music that felt thrillingly timeless.

In that commitment to rock solid music-making, the Smithereens were perfect for radio. While they were so spot on in selecting their singles that the Smithereens are one of the very few bands that may be best incorporated into a music collection with a “best of” package, they provided rewards across every record side. Without deviating dramatically in their core sound, they had a song for every spot in the set, every mood the DJ was trying to convey, from a riveting jolt to start off a show to a somber, lovelorn ballad to close out a late shift before powering the transmitter down for its nightly four-hour nap. The music was also more accessible — more friendly — than a lot of what got pitched to college radio stations, which probably put it a little out of step with the prevailing sentiment among our broadcasting brethren across the country. For us, perched in the middle of a relatively sedate Midwestern community and more committed to serving our audience than challenging them to the point of potential ostracization, it fit in just right.

That hint of safety to the music also meant that the Smithereens were one of the few bands figuring prominently on our charts that could also take up residence in local jukeboxes. At least the album Blow Up, released during my senior year, was deemed acceptable enough for such an honor. Since this was back in the days before digital interconnectivity meant that practically any song could be dialed up in any bar, it was a big deal to be able to flip past the Steve Miller and REO Speedwagon CD covers to find that one disc that had a twin back at the radio station. I logged a lot of hours at Butter’s Brickhaus, sometimes wearing a softball jersey adorned with the establishments logo, and I’d almost swear that practically every visit was accompanied by I or one of my cohorts feeding a buck into the jukebox to get at least one song from the Smithereens into the mix, usually “Top of the Pops.” We might not have controlled the full playlist in that place, but we understood the value of incorporating a request here and there.

Listen or download –> The Smithereens, “Top of the Pops”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the 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.)

A Week of Fridays: Too Much Joy, “King of Beers”

This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”

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I’ve written about Too Much Joy’s Cereal Killers before, detailing my chilled-to-the-bone quest through the record stores of Stevens Point, Wisconsin on the day of its release, desperate to get my hands on a copy only to find it had quickly sold out everywhere. The local proprietors were ill-prepared to meet the demand drummed up by the outsized affection showered on the band by the college radio station that served as my most stable home. I don’t know how many of the purchasers who got ahead of me were listeners and how many were fellow staffers fully indoctrinated into the caustically cunning commentary of the punk-inflected quartet from Scarsdale, New York. Either way, I’d like to think that those of us at the station who first grabbed ahold of Too Much Joy as the tippled troubadours of our collegiate experience helped the band move an awful lot of product in our humble, Midwestern town.

After the Cereal Killers piece at Spectrum Culture went up, it was noticed by Too Much Joy lead singer Tim Quirk, who tapped out a simple tweet that I treasure like a family heirloom.

Even with that authoritative vote of confidence, I feel like my words will always be inadequate in expressing what that band meant to me. It was the ideally-synched soundtrack to the most important stretch of my life, when I forged the relationships that are most enduring and basically locked into the person I am. In the same way punk music validated youthful anger and goth rock provided a safe mirror for gloomy outsider kids, Too Much Joy gave me a permission slip to be myself, to trust my instinct to meet the world with a raucous cry of wry dissatisfaction.

Nearly any one of the songs off of Cereal Killers could be offered up here as a digital echo of countless radio spins from twenty-five years ago. I opt for “King of Beers” because it may very have been the one we sang along to most loudly, most often, our slurring harmonies themselves a testament to the complicated truths of the song. I wasn’t the only one who found insight there.

Listen or download –> Too Much Joy, “King of Beers”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the 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.)

A Week of Fridays: The Primitives, “Sick of It”

This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”

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My copy of this poster is long gone, I’m afraid. The one pictured here is available for purchase on eBay.

Tracy Tracy hung over the beat up old mattress in my college bedroom. Well, she was there in one of my college bedrooms anyway. I was never one to aggressively fortify my own music collection with extra copies of records or CDs that came into the station, believing all that material to be prime for on-air giveaways. Posters, though, were a different matter. Those were fair game, and I had off-campus housing to decorate. So when the release of the second album by the Primitives, Pure, was accompanied by the arrival of a gigantic poster — measuring roughly three feet by four feet –I was quick to claim it.

There’s no denying that a certain helpless crush I nurtured provided some motivation for putting a larger than life version of the Primitives’ lead singer up on my wall, but I swear it was an entirely disconnected joy in the band’s music that provoked my to tack it to the paneling in my room of residence in the house I shared with enough fellow station toilers to stock a basketball team. The Primitives’ debut album, Lovely, was a glistening presence in the new music rotation when I started at the radio station, and it set the standard for what great pop music should sound like on the left end of the dial. If anything, I liked Pure, released in the fall of my sophomore year of college, even better. Like its predecessor, the album sported a single — in this case, “Sick of It” — that was just about perfect.

Pure also holds a nifty distinction in the annals of WWSP-90FM, one that practically carbon dates it to its time. When I showed up at the station, almost everything we played was still off of records. There was one CD player and a fairly dismal cluster of CDs in the corner, a collection that never seemed to grow in number as sticky-fingered DJs figured out how easy they were to smuggle out of the station. By one year later, the situation was shifting. We still tried to get vinyl copies of everything from the labels that serviced the station, but they were increasingly disinterested in acquiescing. For a while we were doubling up where we could, putting in both CD and vinyl record copies of new releases and letting the on-air staff decide which format they used, with a surprising number maintaining loyalty to the act of setting a needle in place. That cut into the airplay of the albums that we possessed only in the CD format. Pure was one of those releases, and it became the first album without a vinyl copy on premises to top the station’s weekly chart. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was enamored.

Listen or download –> The Primitives, “Sick of It”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the 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.)

A Week of Fridays: Violent Femmes, “Fool in the Full Moon”

This coming weekend, I will take to the airwaves of WWSP-90FM, my college radio alma mater, as part of their annual reunion weekends. It will be my first time presiding over a radio program in nine years and my first time on 90FM in over fifteen years. I commemoration, I’m devoting this week to slightly displaced “One for Friday” posts, touching on each of my five years as a student broadcaster. To borrow a line from Robyn Hitchcock, “I didn’t write these songs; they wrote me.”

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Image nicked from eBay. I wish I could say this was mine, but my skulking around on stage with Victor DeLorenzo before the show was entirely unsanctioned.

 

My inaugural year at WWSP-90FM was a whirlwind. I was atypically forthright in inserting myself into the station culture, holding down at least two regular weekly shifts during my in my first semester and landing a spot on the executive staff during my second, becoming the rare freshmen to achieve a place with the leadership team. Maybe best of all, that executive staff position was Assistant Program Director, which at the time entailed extensive work with the the new music coming into the station. Right when I was at my most voracious in learning about the college rock that had me completely enthralled, I was officially charged with listening to just about every new record — and they were largely still records then — that came into the station.

Though I didn’t officially have the job yet, I think of the true starting point to that portion of my 90FM experience as the winter break of the 1988-89 academic year. I knew the station would be shorthanded during the break, so I came back to pitch in. When we finally got into the communication department mailroom, there was a tower of boxes waiting, largely comprised of the releases labels were prepared to push when semesters got underway coast to coast. I don’t remember every last gift we unwrapped that day, but I know 3, the fourth full-length album from Violent Femmes, was among the treasures.

An absolutely fantastic album, 3 was certain to be played a lot on 90FM, but it got a further boost when, shortly after the spring semester got underway, our college programming board announced that the Femmes would headline a big spring concert in Berg Gym, officially coming to humble, little Stevens Point to kick off their first tour in several years. This was an entirely unexpected choice for the University Activities Board, which had previously favored the likes of Quiet Riot and Paul Young for live music. With the excitement around the concert — and a certain obligation to support a selection we appreciated with as strong of a promotional push as we could muster — 3 handily became the station’s biggest album of the spring, which was no small feat considering those early months of 1989 were full to bursting with exceptional new music.

Of course, spring in Central Wisconsin is a more a measure of the climate than the temperature. On the day of the concert, a massive blizzard hit. We spent most of the day worried that the band was going to cancel. But then, they’re Wisconsinites, too. We should have know a little snow wasn’t going to stop them. By late afternoon, I was standing on the stage as cables were run and amps were placed, chatting with Victor DeLorenzo as he showed off his Tranceaphone, the washtub topped drum that provided the distinctive rhythm sound of the band. It felt, wonderfully so, a whole lifetime away from where I was one year earlier, the promise of a transformative college experience already fulfilled. WWSP-90FM wasn’t the reason I chose the college I attended, but it was the reason that choice was one of the best I ever made.

Listen or download –> Violent Femmes, “Fool in the Full Moon”

(Disclaimer: Usually, I do my best to make sure the songs I share are unavailable for physical purchase. For this week, I’m scrapping that rule. Instead, I actively urge anyone who enjoys the shared track to treat it as a tantalizing sample and to go out and buy the full-length album on which it resides, preferably from your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I’m thrilled to be going to my favorite this Sunday. I will gladly and promptly remove the 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.)

 

A Week of Fridays: Midi, Maxi & Efti, “Bad Bad Boys”

The simplest way for me to express how important my friend Rhienna is to my life is to include a link to a picture of the little dog we wouldn’t have if not for her. I’m endlessly impressed by the exuberant passion she brings to the things she enjoys. She doesn’t just love, she adores, and it’s wonderful to watch in action. I truly wish I could borrow some of her ambition, energy and fearlessness, especially around Sundance Film Festival time. She’s also the only one of this week’s contributors who can claim to have seen me struggle to recapture remnants of my high school French on relevant terrain.

When I was first approached to write this post, I was tied with feeling like I had all the options in the world (it’s true; I did) and not knowing where to begin. Sometimes, a clean slate feels too open–where are the rules I’d usually complain about, the constraints that I’d ask for exception to?

In today’s era, where one can acquire digital copies of almost anything (from using a YouTube transcriber to create an mp3 off of a video, to file sharing sites and communities), it’s hard to say what is Out Of Print. Generally, we think of something out of print as a book that a publisher is no longer making, or a film on moratorium (god I miss using that word). For the music industry, it’s different: a new label may pick-up an old release, while a small label might only do a limited run of a given EP.

About a year ago, I became obsessed with digging back into the vault of 1990s. I had just started up a DJ night playing exclusively 90s music, which became a perfect excuse to get pretty dang nostalgic for, effectively, the first decade of music I was actively seeking out and purchasing myself. Strangely, the 90s are a polarizing decade that few people are enthusiastic about (yet?): 80s Nights are as common a favorite hangout of old punks and bachelorette parties alike. But the 90s? A decade of hammerpants and backwards overalls? A harder sell.

A lot of my favorite 90s songs had maintained their stay in my library collection, but so many songs had fallen to obscurity by an aging, attention-deficit brain. I had been randomly going through YouTube channels, remembering that Robyn of “Call Your Girlfriend” was the same Robyn of “Show Me Love,” that T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli were all gorgeous and also kind of ridiculous at the same time, and that, contrary to what you’d expect, Tone Loc actually was popular in the 80s. I don’t remember what reminded me, but suddenly, the thread of a song popped into my memory, and I had the vaguest, most where-does-this-shit-get-stored moment wherein I tried to access exactly why I was picturing Rosie Perez in a waitress uniform, like, wiping down some tables and singing along to a Jam.

With the help of the internet, I realized that the image of Ms. Perez came from Untamed Heart (which I haven’t watched since I was young enough to not be annoyed by Christian Slater), and the song she was working her hips to was “Bad Bad Boys” by Midi, Maxi & Efti.

According to the Interwebz, Midi, Maxi and Efti were Ethiopian refugees that arrived in Sweden in the mid 80s, and released a self-titled album in 1991. Sisters Midi and Maxi along with their friend Efti were influenced by African music; though they wrote the lyrics, their music was composed and produced by other contributors (including the men behind Army of Lovers). Their self-titled LP was released in the United States in 1992.

“Bad Bad Boys” has a refrain that makes you want to hum it all day long (except I’m pretty sure no one really wants to get busted chanting the words, “bad bad boys come with me” at any point in their existence), and though dated, the repetitive beat and layered musicality is, frankly, the tits. The lyrics, however, are another thing (fuel to the fire if you watch the video and watch dour-faced pre-teens sort of unexecitedly beckon Much Older Boys). My favorite guilty pleasure is the moment where Efti breaks it down: “Hi it’s me if you know what I mean/ my name is Efti…/ don’t be negative/ just be positive.” I mean, I’ve been trying for twenty years to figure out “what she means” and I still have no idea, but I’m charmed nonetheless.

“Bad Bad Boys” has since been remixed a few times, which is pretty charming. But the original edit (as far as I can tell) is known well enough (or solid enough) that it won’t clear a dance floor, though it’s easily the kind of song that gets dropped off of all kinds of Best Of the 1990s lists. Did everyone but Rosie Perez forget about the hip-shaking power of this dub track? Maybe Midi, Maxi & Efti were destined to fade away into obscurity, but I like to do my part and play their track every so often to give them some much-deserved recognition.

Midi, Maxi & Efti, “Bad Bad Boys”

Disclaimer: This song is posted and shared with the understanding that it is out of print and therefore unavailable for purchase in a way that will provide due compensation to both the artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I will gladly remove it from the interweb if requested to do so by someone with due authority to make sure a request.

A Week of Fridays: The North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative, “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?”

I can think of no better way to explain why I think so highly of Rachel Esser than to share the text she sent me, reporting on her progress in writing this guest post: “I wrote a whole thing for a Bearobics song, but then I remembered ‘Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en.'” Rachel takes special pleasure in anything that can honestly be described as “bonkers,” and especially enjoys movies in which people slice off someone’s face in order to use the resulting nasty sheet of skin as a mask, a quality that would frankly be disturbing in anyone but her. Coming from Rachel, this is somehow adorable. It is her superpower. One of many, actually, as I can also attest that she’s a phenomenal professional collaborator, one of the best, most insightful I’ve ever worked with. Even so, nothing is more memorable than the way she helplessly says, “He’s amazing” in a happy, tiny voice at the moment the monster shows up in any given horror movie.

Every once in a while, a group of celebrities comes together for disaster relief or to fight hunger and disease. But once upon a time, such a group was created to fight the most insipid of troubles…Halloween. And thus, The North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative was born. The collaboration happened in 2005 and featured the likes of Beck, Peaches, Arcade Fire, Karen O, Feist, David Cross, and even Elvira.

Okay, so they weren’t really trying to squelch the fun of tradition of trick-or-treaters everywhere. The group recorded and released “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?” on Vice Records to raise money for UNICEF. The product was the brainchild of Adam Gollner (We Are Molecules) and Nick Diamonds (Islands, The Unicorns). The song was a response to “other benefit songs’ misguided, somewhat patronizing attitude, and Western-centric worldview.” And I truly couldn’t agree more. (You should hear me when “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” comes on the radio.) That, and it’s just good. It entered my large and ever-growing rotation of Halloween music seven years ago and it hasn’t left since. It’s one of the highlights of my favorite time of year.

The North American Hallowe’en Prevention Initiative, “Do They Know It’s Hallowe’en?”

Disclaimer: This song is posted and shared with the understanding that it is out of print and therefore unavailable for purchase in a way that will provide due compensation to both the artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I will gladly remove it from the interweb if requested to do so by someone with due authority to make sure a request.