Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Music of the 90s - Novocaine for the Soul

At the opening of 1990, we have, comfortably or not, moved from vinyl to compact disc. And hey, I admit I embraced it. The potential for “higher fidelity” and longer albums caught my attention. Part of the problem is, the record companies were so afraid of change that when they finally jumped into the water, they did it half-assed. They eventually realized the potential of making millions more dollars on properties they already owned and could repackage it so people would double and triple-dip. But that was later. For now it was only the records companies producing compact discs of classical music that were trying to take advantage of the technology. Not for for rock. I remember buying the first Elvis Costello album, My Aim is True, on CD expecting it to sound unbelievably clean and clear. Because my vinyl copy was pretty worn out. Holy crap was I disappointed. It sounded muddy and not nearly as good as my worn out vinyl. Another time early on I bought a CD where you could actually hear the needle drop onto the vinyl to record the CD. Wow!

Also, we lost many good traditions and rituals when we lost vinyl albums. Sure, we lost a lot of great large album art to reproductions less than 1/4 the size. But when I bought an album I would sit on the floor next to my bed listening to the album over and over. During which I was reading and analyzing every inch and letter of the album cover and liner notes. I learned song writers, musicians, record producers, recording studios and everything else that drew me in, creating a more complete experience of the music. It did make a difference. Also, let’s face it, there are few albums where we love EVERY song. Now we just hit the skip button or take those songs out of the playlist all together. But listing to the vinyl, we let it play through our less favorite songs. We didn’t break the spell. The only time we stopped was to turn the album over. At least during the onset of the CD, some record companies made an effort and provided booklets in the case with that information. It was very welcome, but it just wasn’t the same.

I got my first CD player as a graduation gift from my parents in the fall of 1986. They said I could have a class ring or the CD player. Well… My first CD was First Circle by the Pat Metheny Group. An undergrad had turned me onto Metheny in my junior year. From there I went in to a little jazz phase. And I needed it, it helped me see other venues in the absence of the rock music of my “youth”.

Musically the 90s started a little weak for me. In 1990, only 10 albums caught my attention throughout the year. That continued to be the average throughout the decade. But it was better than nothing. Even more, some of the music was truly fantastic. The 90s gave us The Sundays, Seal, Barenaked Ladies, The Cranberries, Diana Krall, Oasis, Ben Folds, Sarah McLachlan, Fountains of Wayne, and the beginning of solo careers by such as Neil Finn (Crowded House) and Colin Hay (Men at Work).

Also different this decade is that for some of the artists listed, many had only one or two good albums. For example, to me no matter how popular Barenaked Ladies got, their first album, Gordon, is the only really good one. It was downhill from there. For the most part, gone were the days of following an artist through their career. Sure there are a few exceptions (Fountains of Wayne, Diana Krull, Colin Hay).

The 90s were the eighth of the record producer being the real star of songs (no longer albums). With the magic of digital recording even the most average singer can sound like a dream. And the record producer would call all the shots, from picking out the songs, to making the instrumental arrangements. The singer just had to just stand there and sing. The singer had become a marketing tool. Because then would come the music video to hype the only average song. And since it played on the radio, the general public were fooled into believing “hey, this must be good because it’s on the radio”.

Here are some of my highlights of the 90s:
  • Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic and Blind - The Sundays
  • Seal and Seal II - Seal
  • Woodface - Crowded House
  • Fear - Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • Gordon - Barenaked Ladies
  • Harvest Moon - Neil Young
  • Talk - Yes
  • (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? - Oasis
  • A Few Small Repairs - Shawn Colvin
  • Breathe - Midge Ure
  • With a Twist - Todd Rundgren
  • Imaginary Day - Pat Metheny Group
  • Try Whistling This - Neil Finn
  • Painted From Memory - Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach
  • Transcendental Highway - Colin Hay
And again, a lot more.

Just before the 90s I moved here to Lafayette. My record store of choice was Raccoon Records. My apartment was practically across the street from it. It was a great, privately owned record store that tried to carry what Lafayette wanted. From the symphony orchestra patrons to the cajun and zydeco listeners. They held on as long as they could. And that was longer than most. It was a true loss when they closed their doors.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite songs from Colin Hay. Hay was the guitarist and lead singer for the Australian band, Men at Work. His solo albums are phenomenal. His guitar playing is fantastic and his voice is a little haunting. If you decide to listen, I hope you enjoy.

What’s next: The “Oughts”, ordering over the internet, and digital downloads.

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