Posts Tagged ‘The Cars’
Nobody listens to Tom Petty studio albums any more.
This is a cruel and (semi-)unusual thing to say about (A) an artist I like very much and (B) an artist who has sold more between 60 and 80 million albums (accordingly to a Google search of the “Tom Petty has sold” abstract). However, I have a hunch that this is more-or-less the truth.
Anecdotally, Tom Petty has two albums that standout in his back catalogue from a commercial perspective. This random website “has my back” on this claim: http://tsort.info/music/ajer5p.htm
The first is 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes. Popular music website Wikipedia says this album “built on the commercial success and critical acclaim of his two previous albums”. This is a fair comment. It featured the breakthrough single “Refugee” which itself featured a video of Petty wearing a denim jacket and rocking out (or trespassing) in a warehouse alongside the rest of the Heartbreakers. This stuff sold in pre-MTV America and one could suggest that Petty managed to perfectly straddle two distinct archetypes of the day: new wave dorkage such as the Cars and singer/songwriter dorkage such as Neil Young. I’m not saying he sounded like either/or but somehow, he managed to amalgamate rock and anti-rock in the late 1970s by being straight-forward. And yet, his music was completely commercial and he had interesting hair. These are only partial reasons why Damn the Torpedoes is important although at a scant nine tracks, it’s also very short.
1989’s Full Moon Fever is the second of two albums that “rise above” (in my mind) the rest of Petty’s discography. This is a Tom Petty solo album and Wikipedia makes another very astute observation: “The record shows Petty exploring his musical roots with nods to his influences”. I like how this comment is footnoted in Wikipedia; as if an editor is going to swoop in and refute it by suggesting that “Petty was actually resting on his laurels and potentially on cocaine when he wrote this piece of junk”. Anyway, the biggest hit on this album was “Free Fallin'” and that song featured a video with a memorable cast of characters including a snarling Robert Smith lookalike and assorted yuppie scum.
Fast forward to 1993 and MCA releases Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Greatest Hits. Every music fan born between 1976 and 1982 seems to own this album (along with Portishead’s Dummy, Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory and the Trainspotting OST, for what it’s worth). Greatest Hits has sold more than 10 million copies and to date, it is Petty’s top seller. Based on this hard fact, we can deduce that people love Tom Petty singles and (probably) love Tom Petty concerts but perhaps they’d prefer to focus on Tom Petty singles rather than Tom Petty studio albums.
There are other artists like this and you see LOTS of people owning their most prominent best-of albums. In this category, I’d place:
– The Eagles’ The Greatest Hits (1971-1975)
– Echo and the Bunnymen’s Songs to Learn and Sing
– Bob Marley’s Legend
– Morrissey’s Bona Drag
– New Order’s Substance
– Queen’s Classic Queen
– Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits (1974-1978)
Even if you never owned them and/or hated them, these are all albums and album covers you’d likely recognize if you’ve spent any time in record stores or enjoyed snooping around your friends’ CD collection while they were in the bathroom or outside smoking.
Anyway, it is my believe that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits cemented Petty as “a great singles artist” and while his subsequent full-lengths (either solo or with the Heartbreakers) have typically sold reasonably well, there tends not to be any sustained buzz or chatter about any of them beyond the year they were released.
So let’s talk about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Greatest Hits even more, OK?
I think Amazon user G. Chance captured the majesty of Greatest Hits perfectly in his comments about the cassette version of this album: “I have loved this CD for as long as I have owned it. It is missing some of his good songs, but overall it is a perfect set of his hits. This CD is a great way to introduce yourself to the magic that is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.”
Well put, G. Chance! Although are you talking about cassettes or CDs? Please advise.
Greatest Hits runs 18 tracks and 65 minutes, which is kinda perfect. It’s long enough to make for a great listen while driving or working out. It’s also an unusually upbeat collection considering Petty has a ton of melancholy moments in his discography (and he “did” that style quite well). It also features the annoyingly-1990s trend of “exclusive bonus tracks!” which is has mercifully been rendered meaningless by the digital age. But still: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is still as awesome as it ever was and the Thunderclap Newman (who?!?) cover “Something in the Air” is totally fine.
Speaking of the digital age, can we use COMPUTERS to determine which of the 18 songs on Greatest Hits is legit “most popular”? Only one way to find out: see which track has the longest Wikipedia entry (obviously!)
Footnote: Wo (sic) has sold more albums: Tom Petty or Eminem? from Yahoo! Answers. Worth a read.
Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story is a new book coming later this month from Geoff Pevere. You might know Geoff from his movie column in the Globe and Mail or his past contributions to the Toronto Star, CBC and various book shelves. You might know Teenage Head from the radio or from history or maybe you don’t. After all, from what I can tell, Teenage Head are a bit of an anomaly in the annals of Canadian popular music. Too punk to be categorized as classic rock and yet too revivalist to be fully embraced by the punk crowd, the Teenage Head story is rooted in energy, loud guitars, interesting hair, bad management, the streets of Hamilton, a riot, a car accident and a staggeringly consistent discography that holds up (and possibly improves) as the years pass.
Geoff was kind enough to spend a little time with me on Facebook, answering questions about his book and sharing a few thoughts on why the band left such an impression on him both as a music writer and, more importantly, as a music fan.
Cam: Thanks again for taking the time. I was born in 1977 so I was a kid during the prime Teenage Head years but I’ve always thought they were really under-appreciated in the broader sense. First question: how long did it take you to write the book and when did the idea first come to you?
Geoff: The book took about a year exactly. I was approached by Jason McBride of Coach House books. He asked me to pitch an idea for their new Exploded Views series — short books by authors on subjects they’re obsessed with — and I almost instantly said ‘Teenage Head’, a band I first saw in 1978, saw more times than any other band and a band that created a noise that’s been ringing in my ears for 35 years. I too always thought they were way, way, way under-appreciated, despite the fact their underground legend persists to this day.
Cam: It always seemed like they didn’t squarely “fit” anywhere. Q107 has no issues playing “Let’s Shake” to this day but they’re not a Q107-type band. They did the whole punk Larry’s Hideaway/Last Pogo thing but they weren’t really a punk band in the textbook sense (in my opinion). Is that part of the appeal do you think? Where does your obsession stem from?
Geoff: It’s true. They didn’t really fit anything, unless you call “pure, simple, three-chord, balls-to-the-wall white-guy, blue-collar” rock a category. Which I guess it is, but not in the insanely label-driven music business, which was especially insanely label-driven in the punk and post-punk era. All I know is, when I first heard the song “Picture My Face”, which sounded to me like a bubble-gum song played by the New York Dolls, I was in for good. They came along just in time to get swept up in the whole punk thing, but really they were a glam-rock, almost proto-metal outfit of the Alice, Iggy, Slade, Mott stream. What got me instantly and totally were the hooks in the songs — eargasmic — the precision of the playing the ferocity of the performance. Canada didn’t know what to do with them, radio didn’t know what to do with them, the recording industry didn’t know what to do with them, and you had to go and see them live to fully appreciate just how original, intense and powerful they were. This just wasn’t supposed to happen in this country, and it was so fucking good the fact it happened in this country only seemed incidental: these guys were as good as rock music got. Period.
Cam: Yeah, for somebody who only discovered them in retrospect, much that’s written about the early days paints the picture of a totally different band live. When did you see them for the first time? Based on their albums at least, I always thought they were closer to Cheap Trick than the Sex Pistols.
Geoff: Cheap Trick is a totally valid comparison. But where Cheap Trick kinda tilted more toward the commercial metal side, Teenage Head tilted more toward the tighter sonic structure of punk. But in terms of a highly refined, amped-up pop sensibility, absolutely. When you consider that Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death was one of those albums that Teenage Head wouldn’t exist without, you get the idea. I think I first saw them in Ottawa, where I was going to university. And from the first night, I was committed. The songs were so good and insanely catchy, you actually left the bar with them in your head — not something you could say of a lot of so-called ‘punk’ acts of the time. And in order to hear those songs again — I’m talking before any vinyl or radio play — you had to go back to another live show. Fortunately, those guys gigged like a machine (ed: a small, small sampling).
Geoff: You know, it occurs to me that another apt comparison is The Replacements, but Teenage Head were way more consistently tight, melodic and consistent overall than the Mats.
Cam: I can see that. Kind of that bar band feel. It’s kind of a vague question but do you think as a Canadian band (from Hamilton!), they should have been bigger in a commercial sense? Especially with a track like “Something on my Mind”, that sounds like a totally multi-format hit to me. Every bit as good as the Cars or whatever else was huge power-pop-wise at the time. It seems like for Canadian “new wave” bands of that era, there was a limit. Teenage Head, the Spoons, Blue Peter,… they all seemed to get to a certain level but it’s kinda like there was a brick wall in the industry at that time.
Geoff: I don’t think there’s any question that if they had been able to get any consistent traction in the studio, working with a label and producer they were comfortable with and who knew them, they might have made a might big commercial impact. But they got bounced between labels, had no consistency in their studio experience, were poorly managed and for all that prevented from concentrating on writing and recording in a manner that would have yielded more great songs like their early ones — “Picture My Face”, “Top own”, “You’re Tearin’ Me Apart”, “Disgusteen”, “Let’s Shake”, etc. All you have to do is listen to the sessions recorded Daniel Rey and Marky Ramone with the band in 2003 to hear what might have been. That being said, it’s an incredibly legacy simply because it transcended all the shit they had heaped on them. Despite it all, we’re still talking, writing and listening to Teenage Head nearly four decades after they first roared out of the Hammer.
Cam: Yeah, I think it speaks both the quality and timeless of their music, and the lack of infrastructure in the industry at that time. It always seems like they could’ve been pushed harder in the 1950s vein and been Canada’s straight-up answer to the Stray Cats (which would’ve been awful from a marketing perspective).
Cam: I’d also like your take on why we’re seeing this flurry of books about Canadian punk with efforts from Don Pyle, Liz Worth and Sam Sutherland in recent years. Why now? There doesn’t appear to be an obvious catalyst with the exception of a general “passage of time”. I remember there was a wave of CD re-issues for the Mods, the Diodes, etc. maybe 10-12 years ago but kinda quiet since then. It’s pretty wild how undocumented a lot of this stuff was, considering there is still clearly an audience for it.
Geoff: Why now? That’s a totally good question. One of things I’ve noticed about cultural history in this country, and especially pop cultural history, is that it always has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the closet and held up. Traditionally, our official approach to pop cultural history is very conservative, predictable and boring: CBC, the Junos, boomer nostalgia, etc. Or, for fuck’s sake, hockey. Lots of the more raw artistic enterprise this country has excelled in — improv comedy, comic book arts, horror movie making — has gone largely ignored until a certain geek boiling point is reached. I also think that when it comes to punk especially, that younger listeners who weren’t around for the ground zero first wave have an enormous curiosity that might even outstrip those of the original participants. This is partly because rock music as a formidable cultural force — one that could actually presume to be changing the world by changing its fashion — is now gone and because of that more romantic than ever. There is nothing more romantic, idealistic and irresistibly attractive than punk, the last real rebellion rock music can lay claim to. Which brings us right to the doorstep of the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the absolute final act of mythical rock romanticism. And, as you know, he was a huge punk worshipper.
Cam: I agree that romanticism about rock music, at least, is gone. If only because everything is so densely documented these days. By sheer volume of content available online (for free!), there is no real effort to being a music fan these days so I think stuff that is devoid of all those trappings is extra appealing. I mean… half of Teenage Head’s catalogue is out of print. Curious. How much time did you spend in Hamilton when you were writing the book? I went to university there and I think that’s partially where my fondness for the band comes from–they do kind of embody a “we’re from Hamilton and we’re OK with that” spirit. I think that’s one of their greatest attributes: there really is very little pretense with their music and there is a real sense of joy and spirit that most bands can’t capture.
Geoff: One of my favourite Hamilton quotes (which I heard more than once), goes like this: ‘Toronto didn’t know shit about punk until Hamilton drove down the highway and showed it how.’ I spent quite a bit of time there doing interviews for the book and I really came to appreciate what a proud, distinct, no-bullshit kind of place it is. And Teenage Head never let anybody forget that’s where they were from. If there’s anything distinctly Hamiltonian about them, it probably has something to do with the blend of work ethic, no-nonsense approach, sense of humour and firm commitment to having a really, really good time. Yeah, their website needs work, their back catalogue needs rescuing and re-release and their legacy needs some kind of formal structure in which to be protected, promoted and developed. How I hope all of that happens, If I had a secret agenda in writing the book, it was getting more Head out there.
Cam: I haven’t seen them since Frankie passed. What are your thoughts on keeping the band going w/o him? It’s obviously a different band w/o him.
Geoff: I think Pete MacAulay, the current singer, does a really great job, and he does so by not trying to be Frank. He’s an old school glam-rocker bantam rooster type with a different voice and approach to showmanship. Plus he came to the band as a lifelong fan. I think bands should stick around as long as they want to, and as long as people want to see and hear them. But what I’d really, really love to see some old unreleased recording released, some old live stuff released, and maybe some new solo recordings from Gord Lewis, perhaps backed up by all those countless younger musicians he got hooked in the first place.
Cam: I remember there was a band called the Vapids during my McMaster campus radio days that had an EP called the Teenage Head EP or something (ed: it wasn’t an EP). And even that was 15-20 years ago. You can see the patterns of generations discovering and keeping the band afloat.
Cam: Final-ish question: what was something surprising about the band you learned while writing the book?
Geoff: I think the most suprising thing is generally how unsuccessful they think they were. Surprising to me at least, considering the fact that with very little radio support, a totally inconsistent recording and management history, and almost no acknowledgement by our official guardians of national culture, they have managed to become legendary, and only moreso as time goes on. I always suspected that my obsessive enthusiasm was shared (I didn’t know just how widely) but was surprised to realize how the band itself felt they’d failed. Like (frig) they did.
Cam: Yeah, I’ve talked to Gordie a couple of times in that past and I always got the feel that he was surprised that anyone would want to talk to him. Again, it’s all kind of endearing to (ahem) “got no sense” of what their legacy actually is. Hopefully the book will help!
Geoff: There’s no justice in rock and roll Cam but there’s always idealism and hope. So even though I should know better after all these years I still cling to them both.
I recently reconnected with a high school friend via Facebook, fueled by some past CompletelyIgnored.com pieces. The conversation veered from Dire Straits (within a broader musical universe), the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, ghostwriting, re-casting the Traveling Wilburys, people’s expectations of U2, Roy Orbison’s legacy and how Steve Winwood used to be really popular amongst little kids.
For the sake of this transcript, he shall be “Snake” and I shall be “Fox”.
Here is the conversation…
Snake: Last night, I was watching the Everly Brothers playing with Chet Atkins and friends, wondering how it was that neither Mark Knopfler nor Dire Straits are in Cleveland. It’s a very short arc of thought. I’m a Rolling Stone junkie, but the most I care about RS covers are when they don’t put a legendary and recently deceased musician (Clarence) on it.
Fox: Dire Straits probably would be remembered completely differently if it wasn’t for the “Money for Nothing” video. Rightly or wrongly, he’s always going to be “that guy with the head band who hung out with animated movers” to a lot of people.
Snake: I hate getting nerdish on this like i used to have about Gary Carter being left out of the HOF for seven years inexplicably. Look at the body of work he (ed. either?) put out in the 80’s. His Prince’s Trust presence (he and Clapton on guitar, Elton on keys, Collins on drums)….see, here I go. i think it’s because Dire Straits broke up after the ’92 tour, and his early solo stuff leaned too Celtic at times and was a little underwhelming to have broad commercial success. Perhaps I’d also question who he influenced musically.
Fox: Ooh, here’s another theory: did Mark Knopfler get overshadowed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers from late 1970s to early 1990s? Think about the similarities! Both appeared mid/late 1970s, hard to classify (not “classic rock”, not New Wave but enjoyed by hard rock fans, some punks, little kids, critics, etc.), moved seamless into the MTV era by using innovative videos to distract from the fact their singers were weird looking. Petty got the eventual long-term recognition, maybe because he was American and Knopfler wasn’t?!? Parallel: Carlton Fisk overshadowing Gary Carter. Fisk made the HOF in his second year while Kid had to wait six. Makes no sense on paper based on their stats. I’d suggest this was largely fueled by the conscious/subconscious impact of the visual of Fisk waving that ’75 WS home run fair (a series his team DIDN’T EVEN WIN!!) in countless MLB video packages. The true crime is Ted Simmons arguably had a better career than either of them and he was off the ballot in his first year, collecting a scant 3.4 per cent of the vote. Check it: http://bit.ly/1dNH92n
Snake: I resented all the defacto glamour that Fisk got because of that homer. Maybe because Gary played the first part of his career in Montreal? But he was me clutch in New York and was a better defensive catcher.
Fox: Yeah, I think the Carter/Montreal thing was a factor. Similar rationale maybe explains why Dave Winfield was a first ballot HOFer and Andre Dawson took eight tries before he got in? Anyway, I’m working on a kick-ass Bob Boone / The J. Geils Band analogy. Will advise.
Fox: I had no idea Knopfler wrote Tina Turner’s “Private Dancer”. Would’ve been (strange) if Dire Straits had done that tune instead (shudder)
Fox: I know. Hadn’t thought of that in a while. Haven’t ever heard him sing it. I imagine it as a pretty straight forward straights tune that has a long instrumental finish. Like a bonus track from making movies.
Fox: Best line from the Wiki entry: “Mark Knopfler considered that they were not suitable for a male to sing“… no (guff)
Snake: He also produced Dylan’s Slow train and played a bunch on Infidels. “Sweetheart Like You” and “Precious Angel” are two or my favorite Knopfler riffs. Knopfler should also get actual points for being part of the Jerky Boys (ed. -style) prank call tape. I gotta hire you first guy! Mark, Mark Knopfler!
Fox: (Darn), forgot about those! Cant recall if I promoted my former blog The Reset Button on Facebook? A recast Travelling Wilburys with Knopfler in the Harrison role?
Snake: Ric Ocasek? That’s Elvis Costello now.
Snake: Check out a song called “When the Beatles hit America” by John Wesley Harding. Very cool line about it sounded a lot like ELO…
Fox: Hmmm. I think you need somebody more obscure in the Jeff Lynne role. less famous than everybody else… but still massively popular within the context of THEIR ELO. Nick Lowe?
Snake: Was reflecting last night while rewatching Rattle and Hum that (it) was the first rock and roll I found myself that I didn’t know if my parents would like. I remember getting the cd single of “Angel of Harlem” at the Towne and Countrye Music World. And then wanting to know who Charles Manson was, and what the hell that meant about stealing the song from the Beatles. It propelled me down that path. Getting the Wilburys tape at 11 was equally significant. A devoted Beatlemaniac, Dylan disciple, and worshiper at the alter of rock and roll.
Snake: Ryan Adams? Though too antisocial.
Snake: Have you watched the Harrison movie? There’s great footage of them messing around in the kitchen writing. Then recording. They were just hanging out.
Snake: How about Tweedy and Jim James?
Fox: Like the Jim James suggestion. Physically, that could work and he’s got that “oh ya, the guy from THAT band” thing going on. I’ve never gone too deep with U2 beyond hearing the singles really but I’m assuming Rattle and Hum is kinda vexing for the fans? They were in basically a no win situation following up The Joshua Tree so whatever they did would seem secondary. But still, does anybody really care about any of those songs anymore? Aside from “All I Want is You” (think that was that album?!?) which was one of the latter singles from the album and yet the one with the biggest legacy. From y’know, weddings ‘n (stuff).
Fox: Will definitely try to track down that Harrison footage. Seems like one of the few legit “super groups” that was at all authentic. And pound-for-pound, has to be the best from a critical/commercial perspective.
Snake: Good call. I remember reading that while The Joshua Tree was massive here and Rattle… a let down, in England, it was the other way around. It really was no win for them. Black and white was kind of pretentious and I recall people thinking that it was kinda naive that they were discovering all this music that had long been around. I don’t feel that way. They were reverential and clearly raised on rhythm and blues. It’s absolutely worth watching. Jim James also works as an Orbison replacement. Because of the high voice.
Fox: In fairness, every video during that era was (A) either black and white (B) shot in an empty arena or bar. Often… both! See: Simply Red “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”. Basically, it was essential to have at least one janitor in your video. Unrelated, is there a reason nobody under 55 ever talks about Roy Orbison? I mean, seriously. Best voice, awesome songs, weird image, died young… seems like it’d be a natural for hipsters to namedrop in lieu of Johnny Cash or even Willie Nelson.
Snake: See also that Roy Orbison and friends video, Black and White Night. Empty stadium is a great call. I picture a Bon Jovi video. “Hey let’s save money and record the sound check!” Roy wasn’t cool. At least, I didn’t think he was so much. Maybe the high voice. Johnny have the finger and wore black. Willie smokes weed. Roy had the shades. But was he blind? I feel like he fell into the golden oldies hole of the 70s/80s. Rock and roll fans got bored of their heroes until they got older. I don’t feel like country goes out of style for country fans. Roy also was very one dimensional. Those other guys are outlaws. Roy was the odd man out of the Wilburys too. They just loved him and wanted to be around him. Fanboys.
Fox: Also, in hindsight. think how strange it was that in 1987-1990, music being marketed to little kids (i.e. us) included Roy Orbison, Steve Winwood, Willburys, the Rolling Stone “Steel Wheels”. These were bands that had been around over 20 years already and still in the Top 40. You’d NEVER see that today for a rock band with maybe the exception of the Chili Peppers and (I guess) Foo Fighters.
Snake: It was the baby boomers kids. That was just the pop music at the time. All the heritage acts that came up with new material of any value got their exposure. Remember that the industry likes predictability. They were marketing at us via our parents. Or am I makin this up as I go.
Fox: Yeah, Roy was soft-spoken, quite effeminate, quite possibly blind (or going for a blind look). Remember the “tough” Roy Orbison single “I Drove All Night”? He still sounded wildly precious over top that bad 1980s production (a great song BTW… and obviously, a black and white video)
Fox: Just saw the IMDB for the Harrison doc. Wow, totally missed that. Never heard of it. Was it “a big deal” when it came out? Normally pretty clued into this stuff.
Fox: You’re also right about marketing to baby boomer kids via actual baby boomers. I mean, record execs were all “hey, the keyboard player from the Spencer Davis Group… these eight-year olds are gonna eat this (stuff) up!!!”
Fox: Ha! Maybe he’s cooler than I thought. The missed opportunity for his publicist was “In Dreams” appearing in Blue Velvet. Between that, Nick Cave covering “Running Scared”, Wilburys and Mystery Girl plus that b+w special, he was on the comeback. And then he died.
Snake: It’s really wonderful. Can’t say enough good about it. Doesn’t feel like Scorsese. Kinda like no direction home. If you subscribe to Beatlemania as the one true religion (or if you just thought George was awesome) watch it. Was on the box when it came out and I got the DVD for my birthday. There is a lot of insight into that in the movie. You’ll eat it up.
Fox: Will definitely check it out. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a music doc and really know nothing about GH besides the basic and the Weird Al parody “This Song is Just Six Words Long”.
Snake: I remember the first time I heard “Roll with It”. He was so cool. Plus back in the high life was a great album. He was really young with the Spencer Davis group and was still young and hip in the 80s. He had an album called arc of a diver in the early 80s with a great song called night train. Think too about how the boomers would love the whole concept of back in the high life. Also, a great great cover of that tune by Warren Zevon. Love Winwood.
Fox: I had Back in the High Life and Roll With It. Both on cassette from Columbia House!!! My Winwood arch…. 1986-1989: love him when I was 9-12…. 1990-1993: quit music fandom to become a full-time sports nerd… 1994-2001: MLB goes on strike, get really into indie rock, pretend that I never knew Winwood existed (much less owned the albums)… 2002-present: get burned out on indie, listen to only 1960s music for two years, read somewhere Jimi Hendrix was scarred (senseless) of Windwood’s musical chops, realize the Spencer Davis Group were awesome.
Snake: He was a fascinating guy. It’s awesome.
Snake: That’s a wonderful arch. Very funny.
It’s about three decades too late to be fishing for cred by quoting Marshall McLuhen, right?
Nevertheless, his “medium is the message” concept continues to ring true across all phases of society. And in the case of popular music, the mediums kinda suck when you think about it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Whether you get squirrelly over vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks or cassette tapes (we’ve been hearing about this supposedly-pending cassette renaissance for forever), the reality is physical manifestations of music have always been mere vehicles. Accordingly, the message is the message and the medium is just something you store on your BENNO.
Now, this is the stage in the essay where vinyl purists tell me how music sounds “warmer” when played on a turntable. That’s fine. Have your moment….
Ok. So speaking personally (and from the heart), the music lover in me has no issue whatsoever acknowledging the fact I haven’t purchased music in hard copy form for at least 3-4 years as of this writing. And really, I have no imminent plans to do so any time soon… or ever again.
Sure, I do miss trolling the stinky walkways of Sonic Boom or shoehorning visits to Amoeba Music during every California pit stop. However, progress is progress and I now revel in making iPod playlists and wondering where the (heck) all the MP3s are on my hard drive.
So I’m positioning this as a eulogy of sorts to every record, cassette and CD I ever owned. To effectively put bookends on an era lasting (ballpark) from 1984 to 2009, here are my best recollections as to my first and last albums in each medium and some self-inflicted nostalgia with regards to the ownership of each.
First vinyl record: Van Halen – “Jump” 7″
Purchase year and retailer: 1984, A&A Records at The Shops on Steeles and 404 (ne: Markham Place)
My family did enjoy deep cuts from Sandra Beech and Sharon, Lois & Bram back in the day (note: the former’s performance at German Mills Co-op Nursery School Play Day 1983 was worthy of an At Budokan-type box set) but I will always “Jump” as the first piece of recorded adult music I ever owned. Which is ironic since the lyrics to “Jump” are pretty juvenile (especially the “Go ahead jump/Might as well jump” part). More background: my sister was heavily into Cyndi Lauper at the time and requested a 7″ of the noted women empowerment anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. As a means of keeping the peace for my folks, I was able to choose a record as well and opted for “Jump” for some reason. A curious choice because while I thought the tune was completely OK and was fairly impressed with David Lee Roth’s dexterity in its video, I don’t really remember being completely in love with the song. In hindsight, I perhaps should have opted for the Cars’ “You Might Think” although in fairness, that probably would’ve been largely based on the fact that Ric Ocasek turned into a lipstick during the video.
Last vinyl owned: Talking Heads – More Songs about Buildings and Food
Purchase year and retailer: 1999, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
The vinyl resurgence hadn’t quite kicked into full force in the late 1990s and thusly, you could still get a ton of nicked-up old records for next to nothing during this time. I really wanted to own the song “Artists Only” so I picked up this album for less than $1, even though I didn’t own a record player. Years later, I splurged on the CD and gave this vinyl version to my friend Mike although I seem to remember this record and Teenage Head’s self-titled debut sitting in my office for at least a year. Beside some office supplies.
First cassette: Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody
Purchase year and retailer: 1988, Columbia Record and Tape Club
I’m going to write a full essay or two about record and tape clubs someday. They were kind of ubiquitous at the time and no doubt were responsible for a bulk of the Spin Doctors’ records sold, in general terms. The 12-for-a-penny deal was tantalizing although obviously a bit of a scam that preyed upon the lazy and dim-witted, since you were on the hook to buy 8-12 more albums (at wildly inflated prices) over the next year. Letting your kids enter a record club was somewhat comparable to letting your kids own a pet: they would promise to do the legwork but ultimately, you’d end up with a whole lot of dog crap. Case in the point: the unexpected comedy of my Dad unsuspectingly receiving a cassette of Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova on cassette plus a bill for $18.43. Oops! Me and my sister shared a club membership in 1988. Because she was a year and a half older, she got to choose all the cool records: Def Leppard’s Hysteria, INXS’ Kick, U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, etc. From what I recall, I chose such gems as Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life (was this album about drugs BTW?!?), Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (could you imagine a 10-year old listening to this in 2013?!?… different times) plus Rick Astley’s blue-eyed soul masterstroke Whenever You Need Somebody. Not sure why I didn’t get Chicago 19 as one of my choices, as I quite enjoyed the power ballad “Look Away”. I still do, actually.
Last cassette owned: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
Purchase year and retailer: 1998, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
As mentioned, Cheapies had a ton of cheap vinyl and it also had a bin (some would call it a garbage can) full of orphaned cassette tapes that were missing their liner notes, cases or both. These retailed from anywhere between $0.10 and $0.50 although I bet if you asked REALLY nicely, you probably could’ve had them for free. I managed to fish the incredible debut from the Jesus and Mary Chain out of this rubbish pile and to this day, it remains in my Top 10 albums of all-time True story: I once listened to this cassette on a speeding motorboat. Please email me for the extended version of THAT extended version of that exciting story.
First CD: Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Purchase year and retailer: 1995, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, downtown Toronto
I was fairly late to the CD game but I did eventually get a five-disc changer in advance of Sonic Youth’s 1995 show at the Warehouse in Toronto. I purchased Washing Machine alongside Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (fairly cool) and Sponge’s Rotting Piñata (uncool) to christen the device. The album was pretty solid and the concert was great. Helium opened, much moshing ensued and me and my buddies chatted briefly with Brendan Canning (then of hHead, later of Broken Social Scene).
Last CD: The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir – Shyfolk
Purchase year and retailer: 2009, eBay
Early 1990s CanCon indie is a weird black hole in the Internet. Some cool YouTube videos have surfaced but there is a ton of cool music from that era that now seems wildly obscure considering it was fairly popular at the time. Ergo, the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. These guys’ good-to-great albums lapsed out-of-print rather quickly so their music is a bit challenging to track down in hard copy form. I’ve managed to acquire three of these (1992’s Superior Cackling Hen, 1995’s Shyfolk and 2000’s best-of/rarities set 1985-1995). Shyfolk was the last of the three I purchased, on eBay for around $4.95 and quite possibly the last piece of physical music I ever own. Bye.