Saturday, January 21, 2006

Party Like It's 1995

Why am I up so late? Because, mere days before the semester starts, I am in the classic mudhole of making last-minute but drastic revisions to syllabi that I thought I had finished weeks and in one case months ago. I think all the changes will help—I'm mostly pruning, to keep viewing and reading loads more manageable—but I'm also driving myself crazy, and there's gotta be a better balance.

Having put the syllabi to bed for the night, I spent a couple of extra hours on a musical thought experiment. A group of my friends in Ithaca, ring-led by Ann, got into a habit during the last semester I lived there of exchanging mix CD's once a month around a mutually agreed theme. I haven't been able to participate since I moved, because a) I've been a scatterbrain and typically shaky correspondent, and b) my CD burner has been on the fritz since October.... and actually, here's a question to all y'all out there. When a CD/DVD drive in a laptop stops being reliable, does it make sense to buy an exterior/portable drive to take its place, or is that a big pain in the ass? I tried to get my regular, internal drive repaired while it was still under warranty (through December), but Best Buy couldn't ever find a problem with it.

Anyway, the most recent theme for the CD Club was "1995"—auspicious for me, since I graduated high school and started college during that year, making it the kind of year where you remember a lot of music. Despite the heroic efforts of the past three hours, I'm still being foiled by the temperamental burner, which is only accepting the dread CD-RWs (???). And I just got an e-mail from Ann saying that, actually, the 1995 exchange has come and gone, and they're already on their next CD.

I suck. But I did try. Here, for your own enjoyment and/or horror, are the tracks I would have crammed onto my disc. I tried to avoid big gimmies like "Gangsta's Paradise" and "You Oughta Know" and the CrazySexyCool jams, but since I think I've established by now that I don't often stray far from Top 40 zones (even less then than now), I tried not to fill the whole disc with the radio-ready R&B dance tunes that were my main dish that whole year. Honorable mention, though: I hate that I don't own a copy of Skee-lo's "I Wish," and that iTunes doesn't seem to carry the song.

Anyway, this is what I'd come up with, but since it was tougher than I thought, let me ask you.... what would you put on a 1995 time-capsule CD?

1. "Baby (All-Star Party Mix)" by Brandy - That's a decoy link, cuz iTunes only has the acceptable but inferior radio edit of the song. So glad I used to buy CD singles! It will just have to burn your soul that my bomb opening to this CD is for my ears only, at least until I fix this CD-drive situation.

2. "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness came out at the end of '95, even though "1979" wasn't released as a single till '96. Still a killer hook, or slide, or whatever that "bum bum bum bum bum bum bum WWOW WWOW" bit is called. Again, I never professed to know anything about music.

3. "Brown Sugar" by D'Angelo - Though he seems to be turning into the Ben Affleck of neo-soul with alarming speed, going to pot in more ways than one, we still hail the glory days of D'Angelo, don't we?

4. "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By" by Method Man & Mary J. Blige - Like the Biggie song further down on this list, this is one of those songs that gets me right out of whatever I'm doing and right on my toes. It only takes those first two notes. Surprise plays on the radio are like cosmic gifts.

5. "Dead Man Walkin'" by Bruce Springsteen - The Boss' spare and haunting title cut, give or take a final "g," to one of 1995's best American films. I won't hurt you by saying too much about the song that stole Bruce's Oscar (he at least got nominated), but here's a hint: think "blue corn moon."

6. "I Think I'm a Mother" by PJ Harvey - I really tried to avoid being so g***amn predictable by picking PJ, but when her best-ever album came out in 1995, it just wasn't in the cards to leave this out.

7. "I Like for You to Be Still" read by Glenn Close - One of my favorite poems, certainly my favorite Neruda, read brilliantly by Close on the Il Postino soundtrack. Ignore that Amazon calls the poet "Pablo Nevuda" all the way through the track listings, and you'll just feel better.

8. "Shy Guy" by Diana King - More famous later on for her dancehall cover of "I Say a Little Prayer" on the My Best Friend's Wedding soundtrack, Diana King kicked it in her trademark bare feet for this cut from the Bad Boys soundtrack. It doesn't feel like a dance song at first, but watch how it fills the floor. Great re-mixes on the CD single, but I went with the standard radio edit, which also appeared on Diana King's own album.

9. "Ladder" by Joan Osborne - For me, one of the great underserved artists of the 1990s was Joan Osborne, who became so synonymous with "One of Us" that way too few people noticed how wild and rich the Relish album really was. Early Recordings is a blast, too, but I had the whole '95 thing to stick to.

10. "The Modern Things" by Björk - Of the many consummate pleasures offered by Björk's music, one of my favorites is how you sometimes don't notice that she's switched from English into Icelandic, and you suss out these totally nonsensical English lyrics that are actually fully credible, because is there any phrase Björk wouldn't sing? "The Modern Things" is a fun song, but its most fun attribute is when she appears to wail the words "Chairman Mao!" in different pitches and cadences as a sort of call-and-response refrain to herself. Even though, obviously, she doesn't really.

11. "My Funny Valentine" by Chaka Khan - One of the most oft-recorded of all the famous standards, but I still love Chaka's typically Chaka rendition the best. No one is less scared of his or her own crazy-ass upper register than Chaka Khan is. She will just happily let fly with that s**t, whenever. And I dig it. (From the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack.)

12. "One More Chance/Stay With Me" by the Notorious B.I.G. - Does any song require less justification than this one? The only explanation anyone should need is why he bothered with the album cut when this radio remix was so delicious. Waaay better than Welch's grape, and a close rival to T-bone steak. (Yeah, I said it!)

13. "Tell Me (6 Karat Hip Hop Mix)" by Groove Theory - Apparently, I was all about the remixes in 1995, even though I'm usually not. What's amazing to me about this song is that if, like me, you love the original version, it proves itself so adaptable to remixes of almost any genre: R&B, Hip Hop, House, Reggae. Whither Groove Theory?

14. "May This Be Love" by Emmylou Harris - As the world turns, there is never a nanosecond when Emmylou Harris isn't cool, though she hits particular heights of cool every now and then, like she has lately by singing the Golden Globe-winning song on the Brokeback soundtrack. She hit another peak in '95 with her Grammy-winning Wrecking Ball album, where, among other feats, she does an incredible rendition of a Hendrix staple, nailing it even more strikingly than Me'shell NdegéOcello did later on the Bitter LP.

15. "Waiting in Vain" by Annie Lennox - Plenty to love on the Medusa album, but I'm especially partial to the way Annie's never-wavering voice can make even plaintive, very nearly sadsack lyrics like these sound so emotionally commanding. Extra points for popping up later in Jane Campion's underrated film In the Cut.

16. "Always Be My Baby (Jermaine Dupri Mix)" by Mariah Carey, Da Brat, and Xscape - Finally, a remix that's available on iTunes, but only because Mimi put out that remix CD a couple years ago, to help gobble up output obligations on her recording contract. In my experience, even people who hate Mariah often like this song, but don't even rain on my parade if you feel differently.

17. "Outside Looking In" by Michael Nyman - End this with an orchestral soundtrack suite, a nine-minute killer by Michael Nyman that girds the climactic sequence of the movie Carrington, when nothing more eventful is happening than the artist Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) sitting outside after dusk - on a stoop, I think - looking inside the lit rooms of a house, where people are in love with people other than her.

Now, don't forget your instructions. Quid pro quo, music fans who are older than 11...



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's now clear to me, at long last, why we were meant to be friends. Is it our intellect? Our interests in film, theatre, and high culture? No, my friend. It is that we both love to shake our moneymakers to "Shy Guy" by Diana King. One of the most underrated tracks of the 90's. (And "Tell Me" by Groove Theory would also make the list.)

What we REALLY need, Nick, is our own DJ-ing night at some retro club.

9:49 AM, January 21, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just going by what I have from 1995 on iTunes:

1. "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins. What you said.
2. "Chili Hot" by Us3 (from the Get Shorty soundtrack).
3. "Black Steel" by Tricky feat. Martine (from Maxinquaye). Brilliant "cover" of "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" by Public Enemy. "It occurred to me the suckers had authority."
4. "Nice Dream" by Radiohead (from The Bends).
5. "The Buick" by Moonpools and Caterpillars (from Lucky Dumpling). The bounciest, happiest song in the entire world.
6. "Sick of Myself" by Matthew Sweet (from 100% Fun). I love that it just refuses to end.
7. "Bonnie and Clyde" by Luna (from Penthouse). Another great cover.
8. "Natural One" by Folk Implosion (from the soundtrack to Kids). Few songs will cause booty-shaking in poor old goatdog, but this is one of them.
9. "Vertigogo" by Combustible Edison (the only good thing to come from Four Rooms).
10. "San Diego Zoo" by the 6ths (from Wasps' Nests). Stephin Merritt is a genius, and this song is catchy as hell.
11. "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" by Chris Isaak (from Forever Blue). It was great even before Kubrick chose it for Eyes Wide Shut.

1:14 PM, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Okay, oh my God. 1995 was the year I went to live in England; it's also the year I spent the summer in Greece. So 1995 was a big "oh, I get it--I can drink some wine and also dance, and my GPA really won't suffer" year for me. Which means that it was also a big dance music year for me. Let's see what I can remember:

1) the "Tawlk Tawlk" song, which I believe was called "Another Night," by Real McCoy. I listened to this in a weird alleyway in Turkey with a guy I would have married had he been unattached. He might really have been one of my soulmates.

2) "C'Mon Ride It (the Train)" by Quad City DJs (as far as I can tell--who knew who that song was by when we were dancing to it in England.)

3) "Rhythm of the Night" by Corona

4) Basically every song from Different Class by Pulp, but especially "Common People," "Sorted for E's and Wizz," and "Disco 2000"

5) "Wonderwall" by Oasis

6) "Jungle Boogie" by Kool & the Gang

7) "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield.

Now, I know that 6 & 7 are from further back than 1995, but 1995 is when we were playing them all the damn time because of Pulp Fiction and my roommate Kari's Monday evening radio show composed entirely of movie soundtracks. Plus, I had a total crush on the son of a preacher man, so I thought this was fate. It wasn't; he was awful. This was before the trip to Greece; thank God I met the guy referenced in #1 there.

8) "A Million Miles Away" by the Plimsouls (reread the note on 6&7 and know that I saw Valley Girl for the first time in 1995).

9) "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails. Yes, OK, I KNOW, I'm not playing fair. But 1995 was the year that I lifeguarded evening master swim a lot, and one night my coworkers (one of whom was an ex-boyfriend) put on the multi-mix NIN single and just left it on. Though I was sort of frustrated that I had to listen to it again and again, it was actually a pretty good song to have to hear again and again.

10) "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio. When this single came out in the UK, my French flatmate bought it and played it over and over and over and over until I told her to stop. We went through this many days in a row. It still brings a sentimental growl to my throat.

11) "Who the F*** is Alice?", this song that was popular in England right about the time I showed up there. People used to like to sing along: "Alice? Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?" I remember that once there was some graffiti about a girl named Alice in one of the corkboard carrels in the Exeter library, and I remember pencilling under it, "Who the f*** is Alice?"

12) "That's Just What You Are" by Aimee Mann. I remember listening to this song in the car of the guy who used to give me rides home from school for breaks.

I can't think of the others right now. If I do, I'll put them up, thereby further embarrassing myself. Heh heh.

1:26 PM, January 22, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

(Please don't let my craziness have killed others' responses to your question. Sorry, guys!)

7:20 AM, January 23, 2006  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...

Thanks, Nick, for reminding me about "Ladder" -- a song that disappeared into the wastelands of my brain long ago, but that really shouldn't have. (I'm also kicking myself for letting "St. Teresa" -- another Joan Osborne fave -- slip away from me).

I don't have a 1995 list, but if I did, I'm quite sure it would have to include "Vow" by Garbage -- if only for the speaker's wholly unironic assertion that she is "Like Joan of Arc coming back for more."

The Presidents of the United States of America: "Peaches." A chorus like "Movin' to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches": what's not to love? (See also "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "Dare I eat a peach?").

Poe: "Angry Johnny." Clearly, Poe is actively angry.

Everything But the Girl: "Missing."

Weezer: "Buddy Holly." (The Blue Album is still their best work, if you ask me).

So now I sort of do have a list.

12:55 AM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...


Wasn't 1995 the year that ODB affirmed (in one of the most comical couplets I have ever heard) that "Me and Mariah/go back like babies on pacifiahs" (remix of "Fantasy")?

I suppose I really have to give him credit for finding a rhyme for "Mariah" that was not "pariah."

1:02 AM, January 24, 2006  

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