jon_chaisson: (Mooch writing)
[Note: This year's A to Z Challenge will continue last year's theme of music, though this time I'll be expanding on it by tying it in with my ongoing Walk in Silence project as well. This means that I'll be posting various songs that tie in with 80s college radio as well as songs that have affected me personally in one way or another. Hope you enjoy!]



The Cure's "A Forest" was one of the songs played the night I discovered college radio in late April of 1986. I've already touched on that evening, so I'll expand a little further on what happened afterwards...

I was still looking for jazz down on the low end of the dial at that time, but after that night, if it came in, I'd look for that station (WMUA, UMass Amherst) and see what they played. Sometimes they played more stuff that sounded neat, other times they played stuff that I just couldn't get into, depending on who was deejaying that night. I also figured there would be a possibility that the station would go off the air come May, when school let out. Since it was so late in the semester, I figured I'd listen to it when I could, write down a few things they played, and go from there.

This is when I found a copy of Ira Robbins' Trouser Press Record Guide at my local library (they're still going strong online here if you're curious), which helped open me up to all sorts of other alternative bands. Since The Cure was a band I'd heard of before that night in April (I remembered seeing the video for "Let's Go to Bed" way back in the early days of MTV), I chose them as the first alternative band to follow. As it so happened, they were releasing a compilation that May (Standing on a Beach - the Singles), in which the cassette version contained a handful of rare b-sides, so I jumped on that album as soon as it was released. And thanks to the Trouser Press book, I knew which further Cure albums to look for. The next purchase I'd make would be the ...Happily Ever After cassette, which was their second and third albums (Seventeen Seconds which featured the full version of "A Forest", and Faith) packaged together for the US Market. It took me a few years, but by 1988 I had the Cure's entire US discography in one format or another.  The Cure would remain one of my favorite alternative bands for quite a number of years, mostly due to the dark moodiness of their early albums up to and including Disintegration.  The dark atmosphere inspired many of the weirder scenes in my early writing attempts, and also inspired quite a few of my lyrics and poems around that time as well.

Meanwhile on the radio front, a new rock format was rising. At the time it was called "progressive" or "new music", stations with a small but significant reach (and mostly in the low 90s FM band) that had chosen to forgo the pop music formats and be more creative and adventurous with their music. There were two in my area at that time: WMDK 92.1 out of Peterborough NH (later to be taken over by alt.rock radio pioneer WFNX in the early 90s), and WRSI 93.9 out of Northampton (which featured Rachel Maddow at the time). These were the only commercial stations that played the more commercial-friendly modern rock of the time.  While they would play some of the more well-known bands such as INXS, REM and Crowded House, they were also playing lesser-known bands like the Smiths, the Cure, and Depeche Mode. Well--at least they were lesser-known bands by backwoods New Englander standards, because most of those bands were the darlings of college radio in that neck of the woods.  They were perfect stations for music fans like me, who needed a change from the increasingly-bland pop and rock being played out there.

During the summer of 1986 I was still listening to popular rock stations, but by the time autumn came around, I was ready for a new semester of college radio.

Overview

Dec. 18th, 2012 07:42 pm
jon_chaisson: (Mooch writing)

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.



In a fascinating way, this short documentary (about 20 minutes long) touches on some pretty important points in my trilogy, so I'm kind of glad that I think I got it right. ;)
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Here's the last wave of great tracks from one of my favorite years in alt.rock. Enjoy!

Yet more tasty music goodness lies within )
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Continuing last night's music post, here's the middle third of a great year for music, May to August...

Another huge onslaught of videos for your enjoyment )

Coming up: September to December 1998
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This obscure little number is found at the end of Side 1 of Was (Not Was)' 1983 album Born to Laugh at Tornadoes. I'd never heard of the song until I heard PJ Harvey's version from the 1997 Lounge-a-Palooza compilation, but it's one of my favorite covers. It's a damn spooky song and it makes sense that Was (Not Was) got the Velvet Fog himself, Mel Torme, to sing it, as it sounds like one of those mood pieces he and Sinatra did so well back in the day. I do like how PJ Harvey was able to keep the torch sound in her version and also give it a trip-hop spin a la Portishead.
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Yes, that riff totally sounds like the Spencer Davis Group, doesn't it?

This track came out in 1992 from the House of Love's third album Babe Rainbow and really didn't do anything anywhere, but it's a great song nonetheless. By that time, most of the commercial alternative stations had jumped on the grunge bandwagon, leaving a lot of the great Britpop behind. The House of Love had been around since the late 80s with minor hits like "Christine", "I Don't Know Why I Love You" and "Marble" (a b-side given a new life on the US Modern Charts), but by 1993 they'd moved on. Hearing it now, though, it's a solid party rocker that should have had a lot more airplay than it did.
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What--you were expecting some other song? ;)



I will say this--the movie is pretty painful to watch, not so much for the acting but that the dialogue is pretty horrid, mainly due to too many rewrites. It's a film out of time--it's a pretty decent old school "let's put on a show in the barn" musical mashed up with a roller disco theme (it was also inspired by the 1947 Rita Hayworth movie Down to Earth).

On the plus side?

--Gene Kelly hoofing it.
--Electric Light Orchestra.
--The Tubes!
--Don Bluth cartoon sequence.
--I first learned about the nine muses of Greek mythology in this movie.
--I learned the name came from not Citizen Kane but a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem.
--I learned about how album covers are made and how they can be reproduced for sales purposes.
--It's actually a pretty decent soundtrack.
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I will totally fess up here--this was the first band I ever went to see live (they opened up for Loverboy at the Worcester Centrum), and I was completely obsessed with their debut album from 1983. I loved the interplay between the Felix Hanemann's synthesizers, Randy Jackson's intricate guitar work, and Guy Gelso's thunderous drumming, and this song definitely had that EPIC sound that drew fans. It all might sound a bit dated now, but if you put that aside, you'll actually hear some pretty damn good prog musicianship there. There's even a few tracks that, if they were arranged and mixed slightly different, could easily be Porcupine Tree songs.

Before my foray into Top 40 music and well before discovering college radio, for a time I was into the straight-ahead stuff you'd hear on rock stations. Along with the classic rock, you'd hear the occasional hair-metal/hard rock stuff. A lot of it went by the wayside--mostly for good reason--but some of it actually wasn't too bad. It was lightweight fun, something to listen to that you didn't have to take too seriously...a lot of arena rock was like that. Zebra didn't get too much airplay other than this and a few other songs ("Tell Me What You Want" from the first album, and probably "Bears" from the second one), and they were a little too serious to be taken lightly. This wasn't your typical throwaway hard rock, it was prog-metal a way. The lyrics might have been a bit bland, but their musicianship was pretty impressive.
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I just remembered that I'd wanted to use this song for the letter T, so I'm adding it here. This is a 1993 acoustic version of the original 1974 single.

Sparks is one of those bands that you know about but you're not sure if you actually know anything by them. If anything, you may remember "Cool Places", a song from their 1983 album In Outer Space, which had Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos sharing vocals. Or lacking that, you might recognize the band as the two Mael brothers--the pretty-boy singer Russell and the weird-looking, pencil-mustachioed keyboardist Ron--and their quirky videos in the early days of MTV.

I never really paid too much attention to them until just recently when I saw the above video on YouTube. I was familiar with the song through the Siouxsie & the Banshees cover from 1987's Through the Looking Glass. After that I started downloading more of their earlier albums, and I'm glad to say I'm quite happy I did--they're extremely odd, but they're damn fine songwriters and a lot of fun to listen to.
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Porcupine Tree is one of my Top 10 favorite bands. They're a fascinating group that's not quite prog, not quite hard rock, not quite alternative, but they're absolutely brilliant. Singer/songwriter Steven Wilson is a great and understated guitarist who rarely uses his ax to show off; more to the point, he uses it to paint an aural landscape.

This is one of their early singles from 1992, edited with its b-side (part 2) and its follow-up remix single (parts 3 and 4). Sure, the drug-themed narration (it's from a 60's documentary about LSD) and the opening guitar lick is indicative of Pink Floyd (one expects to hear "Another Brick in the Wall Part 1" at some point), but it's more than that. You've got Richard Barbieri's ethereal keyboard washes, Colin Edwin's sublime bass lines, and Chris Maitland's artistic drumming. By eight minutes in the track shifts direction and becomes a driving rock track, playing off the narration's mention of an LSD trip gone bad. By the time the track winds down again, so does the narrator's subject, coming down from his high and reclaiming his control.
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(time to catch up on my meme here...)



A track from Sing-Sing's first album that came out in 2002. A project created by ex-Lush guitarist/lyricist Emma Anderson, it only lasted for just shy of ten years (disbanding in 2008) and released just two albums and a handful of singles. One of my favorite tracks of that summer, it featured on two of my compilations and was definitely on heavy rotation.
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I loved Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine when it came out in 1989...it was like listening to Front 242's Belgian "New Beat" techno, with the anger of Ministry (minus the metal influence), the moodiness of the Cure, and the atmosphere of 4AD bands, specifically This Mortal Coil. This track in particular could have easily made it onto TMC's Filigree and Shadow.

This track popped up while [livejournal.com profile] emmalyon and I were talking about our train and bus escapades while we were in college. It got me remembering how I'd plan on heading home for the weekend every now and again. There were two main reasons for this...one was to see my then-girlfriend Tracey, obviously. The other was to visit the family (and, of course, do a bit of food-mooching or at least grocery shopping, as well as doing my laundry for free). I always planned it out to spend as much time as I could with the family and friends, so I'd always head out on Friday night, either after my last class or after I had dinner at the school cafeteria. I'd jump on the T and head either to North Station (taking the Green Line all the way in) or to Porter Square (switching at Park Street to the Red Line and heading up to that stop). I'd often have a backpack as well as a big gym bag--the backpack usually carrying my homework or my poetry notebooks and whatnot, and the gym bag carrying my dirty laundry. Also in the backpack was my walkman and a few tapes to listen to while on the trip.

Most of the time I'd use the trip to think about things. I was a pretty moody bastard at the time and listening to the stuff I listened to then didn't exacerbate said moods...more often than not, they'd amplify them. Pretty Hate Machine was on heavy rotation at the time, so I'd find myself writing some pretty angry and stark lyrics and poetry. I was in that typical college-age "not where I want to be" funk that everyone gets, and even though I knew very well that it was of my own making, I still let it get the best of me.

Thing is, this was actually cathartic for me. I also knew that my anger and frustration was in my social and academic situation in college, so I'd bring the emotions to their logical endpoints just to get them out of my system; that way, I'd return to sanity by the time I headed back on Sunday afternoon. By the time the train rolled into North Station, it would be early evening, and pulling into the city at night was always something to look forward to. I'd head back to the dorm with food and clean clothes and a MUCH better mood.
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I've said this many times before...I loves me some Hooverphonic. Blue Wonder Power Milk is one of my go-to albums during writing sessions. "Renaissance Affair" wasn't a single, but it was used in a handful of commercials like the VW Vapor in 2006. This one came out while I was working at the HMV in Solomon Pond Mall, and you'd hear me playing this one in the back room constantly (along with Dishwalla's And You Think You Know What Life's About, which came out on the same day). There were a lot of good releases out in 1998, and that was also a good year for creativity for me. I was headlong into writing The Phoenix Effect at that time, and experiencing a resurgence in my poetry as well. I'd pretty much gotten past the frustration of the 1995-96 failures and setbacks and was aiming forward at this point. I was also taking quite a few roadtrips across the state, both to comic stores and to various Boston hangouts. It was a good year for me.
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Garbage's self-titled debut album came out in August of 1995, right about the time I moved back home. WFNX had been starting to play "Vow" and "Only Happy When It Rains" (the first two US singles) earlier that summer and both went over well, despite their completely different sounds. "Queer", the third single, was an extremely weird, clunky song that didn't have the rock drive of the other two singles, but there was something about it that drew fans to it. Maybe it was Shirley Manson's slinky delivery (and her creepy-sexy performance in the song's video), maybe it was because it was so different from so much else out there. It definitely gave me the impetus to buy the album from the RCA Music club that autumn.

Extending on my previous post about the alt.rock of the mid-90s...as I'd mentioned, by this time the genre had become pretty much the mainstream rock of the moment, at least until the rap-metal and the Girl Power pop arrived later in the decade. It was kind of interesting to hear the commercial alt.rock of Garbage, Dishwalla, Collective Soul, and Tonic on the mainstream stations, leaving the college radio stations scrambling for the next phase of alternative--the "true alternative" of noncommercial rock. College radio was pretty much slim pickins for a few years there in the mid-to-late 90s, as they were playing mostly alt.country and the quirky art rock of local bands. Many of those stations were running on the old late 80s-early 90s rule of "if it's on a major label, we shouldn't play it", and that caused a lot of college stations to extend their sound even further--many college stations now played multiple genres like rap, jazz, outsider, and so on. As long as it wasn't the mainstream, it was okay to play.

I think it wasn't until at least 1999 or 2000 when college radio returned to the alternative sound, and even then it wasn't the same as the old days of the 80s. The multigenre sounds of rap, folk, and everything else had finally made itself known by then. The halcyon days of 80s college radio were definitely over, and a new kind of college radio was arriving.
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Most people know The Verve Pipe for their track "The Freshmen" and not much else, but their Villains album was in heavy rotation on my cd player in the spring of 1996 when it came out. I've always felt that the other three singles from the album--"Cup of Tea", "Photograph", and the title song--were much stronger tracks than the one that ended up being the major hit (a song I tend to call "one of those Dawson's Creek type of tracks" because it has that high school melodrama feel).

The spring of 1996 was a major shift for my life. I'd moved back home with my parents a few months previous in August of 1995 and trudged my way through the rest of that year by working at various places like the Leominster Sony Theater and then at WCAT. Around that time I also started hanging out with Kris, one of my friends from high school. She and I were in the same boat, stuck in a small town and feeling aimless, so we got each other through the doledrums by hanging out, going to shows and going on road trips. Our lives were so pathetic that on New Year's Eve of 1995 into 1996, we went to see Jumanji in the theater and hung out at a friend's house playing pool...and none of us noticed the clock passing midnight until at least a half hour later. We all decided right then that 1995 truly did suck ass on multiple levels, and promised ourselves that 1996 would be infinitely better.

Kris and I spent a good amount of time listening to this album and others (mostly Spacehog's Resident Alien, Ben Folds Five's self-titled debut, and Radiohead's The Bends) on our rides through New England. We took trips to Northampton and Amherst, up to Keene, and sometimes even out to Salem. Eventually she moved out of town and we lost touch for a number of years, but we both moved on and moved ahead. By the end of 1996 I'd been hired by HMV, owned my first car, and began writing The Phoenix Effect. It would be another eight years before I too moved out, but I was at least moving in the right direction.

This was an interesting time for alternative rock...it had finally broken through into the mainstream just a few years previous with grunge and so on, and now all the more radio-friendly alt-rock bands came out of the woodwork: Sophie B Hawkins, Sarah McLachlan, Third Eye Blind, and so on. These songs would show up on those 90s shows like Dawson's Creek and Felicity as mood music for a melodramatic scene, and they'd end up on the charts. "The Freshmen", a track that was actually much older than the album (it had showed up in a rougher form on a 1992 EP), got major airplay because of those shows.

I for one didn't really mind the selling-out of alternative rock, as there was quite a lot of it out there that still wasn't getting played on the radio. Other alt.rock fans out there hated it, of course, and considered that the genre had sold out. By the last 90s it had faded back into semi-obscurity to be overtaken by rap-metal, Girl Power, and boy bands, but it left its mark. You can still hear elements of alt.rock in the rock music of today.
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I met my friend Rob my sophomore year in college. He lived down at the end of my 4th floor hallway at Charlesgate, his room facing what was then called "The Pit"--an inner alleyway/parking lot/stable roof behind the main building. He had a succession of roommates--one who didn't get along with him, another who dropped out, and a third who was only temporary since he wanted his own room.

Rob was the guy who introduced me to Negativland with their Escape from Noise album, specifically with this song. We hit it off well as we were both obsessed with 80s college rock at the time...he was big on Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, and we both shared a love for The Cure and Bauhaus. We were also both writers. He was majoring in writing while I was a film major, but we both often found common ground in talking about the stories and poetry we wrote.

One of my fondest memories is when he and Colin and I, after staying up way too late after going to see Oliver Stone's The Doors downtown, had decided to make good on our threat to videotape silly goings-on at Charlesgate. It started with me behind the camera and filming Rob in the hallway and heading into his room. Once Colin arrived, Rob threw on The Doors' classic track "The End"--itself used in a pivotal scene in the movie we'd just watched--and proceeded to make an extremely bizarre and silly video of the two of them lip-syncing it. Goofy goings-on included Rob attempting to really sing, Colin doing an interpretive dance, Rob eating a sandwich in time with the song, and other goofiness. It ended with Colin tripping over something on the floor and falling on a cup (which Rob had purposely dropped not three minutes before, which was caught on video) and cutting his hand open. Long story short, Rob and Colin headed to Mass General while I headed to bed (I had to wake up stupid-early the next day), and they videotaped even more weirdness in my absence. A few days later Rob and I tacked on one last thing to the production, with him doing a hilarious melodramatic interpretation of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and the video was finished. We called it 413, which was Colin's room number.

I unfortunately no longer have a copy of the video (last I knew, our mutual friend Lissa had my copy, and Colin had the only other copy), but I always say that that was probably the best visual production I'd ever made, better than the film projects I had to make for classes.
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Michael Penn's debut album March came out in the first week of September of 1989, just as I was heading off to college. I'd been looking forward to going to Emerson for most of that year. Part of it was because it was a Massachusetts school that focused on mass communications (at least much more so than some of the other colleges I'd been checking out. Part of it was that I wasn't just escaping the small town I'd grown up in...I was heading to The Big City. Mainly, it was for me to make my attempt at a writer, possibly a filmmaker, possibly a musician, in this place.

I won't say I failed miserably, nor will I say that I was a smashing success...but it was definitely a learning experience. There are still some events that took place back in 1989-1995 that I'm finally coming to terms with, or putting into perspective to learn from them, and that's twenty years ago. Most importantly, what I see now that I didn't see clearly then was that I'd avoided a hell of a lot back then. What if I'd stood up to my roommate that pissed me off so much? What if I'd broken it off with T instead of dragging it on for close to four years? What if I'd just said no instead of letting JA be such a bad influence on me? What if I'd stopped feeling so damn sorry for myself because I couldn't find friends like the ones I'd had my junior year in high school? What if I'd transferred to UMass Amherst instead if I felt so damn out of place?

What if I were Romeo in black jeans, indeed.

But that was then. I've gotten over all those what-ifs and moved on. I actually learned quite a bit in college, despite my less than stellar grades. I still can't speak a sentence of French without making a fool of myself, but I can pick up a lot of a conversation. I might not be a filmmaker, but I learned out to have an eye for visual cues and how to tell a story. I might not be a musician--at least not in the way I'd envisioned--but I was in two bands and have over a dozen tapes and at least 30 or so songs under my belt, and recording digitally is something I can do on my own at any time now.

It took me a long time to get over moving away from Boston in 1995. I was so damn angry, mainly at myself. For not doing the best I could. For being such a pushover. For being so easily influenced by things and people. I was pretty much starting over from scratch.

On the other hand, I faced my fears and failures directly. I would make visits to Boston on an almost monthly basis, right about the same time I was working at the bank and was about to start working at HMV. I'd stop by all my old haunts: the new and used record stores, the old dormitories, the apartments, the restaurants and parks. I'd get a little nostalgic, sure, but it was part of my healing process--that I could still face all my old haunts without feeling like an idiot that I was no longer living there. Especially when all the Emerson buildings I knew ended up being sold while the campus moved to the corner of Boylston and Tremont.

The last time I spent any significant time in the Boston area was with [livejournal.com profile] emmalyon when we stayed at a hotel near the Boston Garden in 2005. Things had definitely changed, even then, with a number of buildings gone or remodeled, stores closed, and so on. It's no longer the Boston I lived in, but that's a good thing. It's been long enough that it's like visiting a new area for me again. I'm seeing new things, remembering old things, and having a lot of fun doing it.
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I missed posting yesterday due to having been traveling all day and being up since 5am Friday. I'm figuring this coming week's music is going to be music that I equate to the years I lived in the Boston area.

Grant Lee Buffalo's "Mockingbirds" from autumn 1994 was in heavy rotation on WFNX, right about the time I'd moved out to Allston, so I always equate this to the year I was living out there. Plus, the opening line "Davis Station at last, finally we meet" reminds me of Davis Square in Somerville, about three blocks from where we're currently staying.

Davis Square is a smallish yet somewhat trendy area and the next-to-last stop on the T's Red Line. The Somerville Theater is there, where I used to go see a lot of indie movies, and the Spike & Mike cartoon festivals. Down the street on Elm is the Rosebud Diner, which I wrote about in one of my first articles for the Berkeley Beacon (Emerson's old college paper, named after the intersecting streets it used to be at). I remember going to a cartoon festival up there with a few friends and playing Chinese Fire Drill on the Red Line on the way back (switching cars at every stop).

In the autumn of 1994 I was still working at the Brigham's Ice Cream that used to be on Cambridge Street, though I'd be leaving that job soon enough to work at the Sony Theatre in Somerville. Moving out to Allston was kind of a good idea, considering it was cheaper to live with roommates, as well as being out in the sort-of-suburbs instead of in Back Bay, which was becoming more and more expensive. Back then, the T still cost about 75 cents a ride, and I would buy a monthly pass to get around town. Those were lean years all right, but it also had its fun moments, as my writing habits really started to kick in then.
jon_chaisson: (Hard Day's Night--John)


I'm very choosy when it comes to mashups...but CCC is by far my favorite of the mixers, because he's absolutely brilliant. His forte tends to be mashing up Beatles songs, and he does it REALLY well, such as the above, which is my favorite mix of his. The main music track is Ride's "Leave You All Behind", the vocals are the Beatles' "Anna (Go to Him)", and in the long coda of the song he even throws in the guitar solo to The Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and the Beatles' "Hey Bulldog".
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This was most likely the first song to completely blow my mind as a kid. It just screams EPIC.

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