Friday, 23 May 2014

A Music Journey: From Men at Work to Radiohead to Amon Tobin

The Personal Adventure and Evolution of One Man's Love of Music

by J. Albert Barr

"Without music, life would be a mistake." - Friedrich Nietzsche

I often tell people whom I'm engaged in conversation with over the topic of music that "it is the very blood that flows through my veins". Music means everything to me! I've had this ardent feeling about music since I was a kid, since I can remember my mother bringing vinyl records into our home and playing them on our ridiculously huge, 70s country stereo; a stereo that looked like it came straight out of a gaudy, honky-tonk, mahogany-enclosed home circa-1970, with big "Loretta Lynn hair" and awash with rhinestone glitter to boot. That beastly addition to our living room was one tall mutha, and I remained shorter than it until I was on the cusp of teenhood! It had a turntable on the right side of it, and a bar on the left. The respective compartments opened like a castle's draw-bridge, and below them in the center of this honkin' piece of furniture was a faux-fireplace that included a synthetic log-formation, featuring a central, rotating plastic cylinder painted to look like a log, with an interior-light used to simulate fire and flickering embers. I think it remained in our family (i.e. in my parent's home) until around the time of the millennium, which meant they had it for about 25 years. By that time it had long since earned its dubious right to be called "classic kitsch".

Before I started buying my own records in 1982 when I was around 14 years old, my mother pretty much dominated the musical selection in our home. She would buy country albums by the likes of George Jones, Don Williams, Kenny Rogers, The Kendalls and Dave & Sugar. This, of course, appeased my father, who was only a fan of country music - liking very little rock 'n' roll, and unequivocally hating everything else, musically speaking. I remember the cheesy 1976 C.W. McCall novelty-hit, "Convoy", being a veritable "cultural event" at the Barr household - my father was a truck-driver, of course. However, my mother did like a fair amount of rock music, and especially pop music, so she'd also bring a lot of that kind of music into our home, to which my father paid little to no attention to, naturally.

Most of the pop-rock records that my mother bought in the 70s and early 80s were the very popular K-Tel records that featured Top 40 hit songs. You couldn't escape the flood of K-Tel commercials on television. We had many of these records in our home when I was growing up. And, ironically, it was through these K-Tel records that I was first exposed to several great bands and artists that weren't really known for scoring a lot of hits. In fact, I can remember one specific K-Tel double-album that featured a bunch of bands that I would later count among my favorites: Certified Gold - 1981.

Aside from the big commercial hits that appeared on this collection, such as "Funky Town" - Lipps Inc., "Reunited" - Peaches & Herb, "Lost in Love" - Air Supply, "Ah Leah" - Donnie Iris, "Seven Year Ache" - Rosanne Cash (a song I still love to this day), and "Stars on 45" - Stars On, there were some by artists whom had not scored many, if any, hit singles before, like "I Got You" - Split Enz, "Take Me To The River" - Talking Heads, "Brass in Pocket (I'm Special)" - The Pretenders (though they would score two more Top 10 hits after this one in the ensuing years), "Making Plans for Nigel" - XTC, "Echo Beach" - Martha and the Muffins, and "Money" - The Flying Lizards. These were "new wave/college bands" that managed to achieve enough airplay on the radio and record sales to make the Top 40 (if not the Top 20 or 10) in America and/or Canada. It was these latter "hits" that transfixed me, especially, as I was just entering my teens. Gradually, I would seek out other material from these particular artists.

That's not to say I didn't love much of the more commercial, typically Top 40, stuff - I most certainly did. Some other K-Tel titles I remember my mother buying (several as Christmas/Easter/birthday gifts for me and my brother Jeff) and playing a lot were: Radio Active - 1982 (an album I got for Easter in 1982 that officially, and importantly, introduced me to the music of The Police by including "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" in its track-list; as well as featuring other songs I quickly came to love: "Time" - Alan Parsons Project, "Private Eyes" - Hall & Oates, "Night Owls" - Little River Band, "Our Lips Are Sealed" - The Go-Go's, and "Rapture" - Blondie); Full Tilt - 1981 (this one had personal favorites such as "Turning Japanese" - The Vapors, "Drugs in my Pocket" - The Monks, "Midnight Rocks" - Al Stewart, "More Love" - Kim Carnes and "Carrie" - Cliff Richards); Wings of Sound - 1980 (for better or worse, this was the album I heard my first Bob Dylan tune from; the Slow Train Coming single that signaled Dylan's controversial "born again phase" in 1979, "Gotta Serve Somebody"). This album also featured great songs like "Dream Police" - Cheap Trick, "Cruel to be Kind" - Nick Lowe (a much beloved tune for me), "Hold On" - Ian Gomm (he actually co-wrote Nick Lowe's aforementioned hit song, and the two used to be band-mates in the 70s English pub-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz!), "Please Don't Go" - KC and the Sunshine Band (hands down my favorite song of theirs), "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" - Rupert Holmes (yes, this cheesy tune still holds a fair amount of nostalgia for me, and was wonderfully used in the outstanding 2003 film, American Splendor), "This is It" - Kenny Loggins (as mainstream as he was, this "Yacht Rocker" did have four or five great singles to his credit, in my opinion, and this is one of them), and, finally, the disco staple "Ring My Bell" - Anita Ward.

In 1980, I officially discovered The Beatles! This was in great part thanks to a 1978 film about the band's early years that I watched on television, and a downstairs neighbor and friend of my mother's. She had a couple original pressings of early Beatles records that she allowed me to listen to. They were titled, respectively, Twist and Shout (a Canadian version of The Beatles 1963 debut album Please Please Me) and Something New (an altered version of A Hard Day's Night). I especially loved the former album. In 1981, I received a copy of the Beatles compilation, Reel Music, a collection of songs featured in the five films the band made, from "A Hard Day's Night" in 1964 to "Let It Be" in 1970. It was a Christmas present from my parents, and I played that album a lot, especially digging the classic psychedelic track, "I Am the Walrus". However, it wouldn't be until the late 80s that I would finally become an official "Beatles fan" wholesale, thanks to a small 1987 indie film called Five Corners, starring Jodie Foster.

While the plethora of K-Tel albums were filling up the brass record-holder in our living room with pop/rock, there was still the occasional country album making its way through the front door. One particular country act that first made it big in the early 80s was, of course, Alabama. Their 1980 debut, My Home's in Alabama (which featured the classic tunes "Why Lady Why" and "Tennessee River"), was an instant hit with country music lovers. And even some listeners more prone towards pop/rock music started noticing this tuneful combo that sported a few rock influences in their fresh "new sound", as far a country music was concerned at least. And so it was actually their sophomore effort, Feels So Right, that my mother purchased and brought home for us to listen to on the turntable. This terrific album spawned such huge hits as "Love in the First Degree", "Old Flame", and the beautiful title track. And for the first time, Alabama began achieving cross-over success as well, with both "Love in the First Degree" and "Feels So Right" cracking the Billboard Top 40 on the pop charts; the former actually peaking at #15. "The Beatles of country music" continued their phenomenal success with subsequent albums like Mountain Music, The Closer You Get (this album has my absolute favorite Alabama song on it: "Dixieland Delight"), and Roll On. Every single released off these albums hit #1 on the country charts, and they even managed a couple more "pop hits" until they stopped beginning with the Roll On album. They kind of lost me after 1985, because I found their later songs didn't have the distinctive hooks and quality their first six albums had, although they'd continue having amazing success right up to the early 90s before it finally waned, and other country acts were dominating the genre, like Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, George Strait and Alan Jackson.

And so it was, for me, personally, in 1982 that my own musical journey would officially begin with the purchasing of my very first 45-single record with my own money. That 45-single was none other than the corny, but insidiously catchy and well-meaning, Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder smash-hit, "Ebony and Ivory"! I absolutely fell in love with this song during the spring of that year. It was at this time that I started listening to the radio by myself, instead of what I was used to prior to that; that is, listening to whatever my parents happened to be listening to on our stereo. I finally received my very own small radio and tape-deck, and would incessantly listen to the radio in my bedroom. And when I heard a song that hit my aural sweet-spot, I would tape it on one of the cheap blank cassettes I had bought for only a couple of bucks at the Zellers department store at the nearby shopping mall in my area of town in Saint John. I had been taping at that time in 1982 songs like: "I.G.Y" - Donald Fagan, "Industrial Disease" - Dire Straits, "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" - Christopher Cross, "What If We Fall in Love" - April Wine (a nostalgia-heavy song that instantly evokes a time when I started collecting comics and even making my own, using characters I had created, while listening to songs on the radio like this one), "'65 Love Affair" - Paul Davis, "Heat of the Moment" - Asia, "You Drive Me Crazy" - Shakin' Stevens, "When I'm With You" - Sheriff, 'Love's Been a Little Bit Hard on Me" - Juice Newton, "Steppin' Out" - Joe Jackson, "Pass the Dutchie" - Musical Youth, "Whatcha Gonna Do" - Chilliwack, "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" - Chicago, "The One You Love" - Glenn Frey, "Pressure" - Billy Joel, "You Can Do Magic" - America, "I Ran (So Far Away)" - A Flock of Seagulls, "Make a Move on Me" - Olivia Newton-John, "Words" - FR David (this delightfully saccharine song would become the second 45-single I would ever buy), and lastly, because it was, after all, my favorite song of 1982 (keep in mind I was an impressionable 14 year-old boy at the time!), "Eye of the Tiger" - Survivor.

Late in 1982, I discovered the American Top 40 weekly radio show with Casey Kasem. It aired every Sunday afternoon on Saint John's CFBC radio-station. I listened to the program week after week hearing all the contemporary hits of the day and learning many tidbits of pop music history from Mr. Kasem's between-song monologues. I absorbed a lot. I even began writing the entire Top 40 down on loose-leaf paper in early 1984! Music nerddom had taken me over for sure by then. One of the big hits that took radio by storm around the end of 1982 was Hall & Oates' first single from their album, H2O. The song's title was "Maneater", and it completely mesmerized me with its brooding saxophone riff, haunting, urban melody and production, and Daryl Hall's solid, dramatic vocals about a sexually ferocious vixen. These were not exactly "politically-correct" times; not that that was a bad thing, to be sure, considering what has transpired since in our, now, ridiculously hyper-sensitive-leave-no-specialty-group/individual-behind mentality and defensive, narcissistic culture. I recorded the tune right off the radio on my little tape-deck and played it incessantly. At the time, I really felt it was the greatest song I ever heard! That is, until I heard The Police's "Every Breath You Take" six months later in mid-1983!

Having very little money to purchase even a 45-single, I didn't procure many during 1982, but instead collected most of my favorite radio hits on the accumulating number of cheap blank cassette tapes I managed to get. It wasn't until I started delivering newspapers around the neighborhood that I would obtain enough money to buy my very first full-length album in early 1983. That album was Men at Work's colossally popular Business as Usual; a hugely successful debut album that spawned two world-wide #1 smashes in "Who Can it be Now?" and "Down Under" (both 80s standards/classics to this day). It felt fantastic to have in my proud possession a 33 1/3 record that I paid for myself. And how I loved that record! I played it and played it over and over again, falling in love with every single aspect and nuance of its ten tracks, vocally, melodically, instrumentally and stylistically. At night, when I got ready for bed, I would slide the table I had my small record-player on, next to the bunk-beds my brother Jeff and I slept on. I was on the top bunk and would lean over the side to flip over to side-two of Business as Usual when "Helpless Automaton" (a Devo/Gary Numan-influenced ditty composed by multi-instrumentalist, Greg Ham) ended on those great New Wave chords by lead guitarist, Rod Strykert. Aside from the big hits off this wonderful album, Business as Usual also featured outstanding tracks like the romantic "I Can See it in Your Eyes"; the chugging-bass-heavy "Underground", which was punctuated by Greg Ham's solid sax-playing and Colin Hay's assertive and vacillating baritone/falsetto vocals; the quirky, hyper rocker, "Be Good Johnny", which showed Colin Hay's vocals at their most eccentric and droll; the Police-influenced "Catch a Star", with its Andy Summers-style reggae and harmonics sound (a personal favorite of mine); and, finally, the album's crowning achievement, in my opinion, the magnificent "Down by the Sea", a seven-minute whooshing, atmospheric opus with spectacular guitars from Strykert again, booming drums from Jerry Speiser, and arguably Hay's best vocal performance on the album to boot. I still consider Business as Usual one of my all-time favorite albums. And the Men managed to hit the mark one more time, as well (before self-imploding two years later with the wholly uninspired and dull Two Hearts album), with their solid sophomore effort, released later in 1983 (despite having been recorded, and "in the can", since the end of '82), Cargo, spotlighted with two of '83's finest singles: "Overkill" and "It's a Mistake"!

About three months after I had obtained a copy of Men at Work's memorable debut album I heard The Police's "Every Breath You Take", and I was overwhelmed by its instant awesomeness! No song, including the then superseded "Maneater", had ever had such an impact on me on the level that magnificent song did. More so for its utterly hypnotic music and vocal performance from Sting (who quickly became my first real musical hero, just as I turned 15 years of age) than its fairly basic, if disturbingly dark and menacing, lyrics (which still packed a considerable wallop, because of the conviction in Sting's voice), it became my absolute favorite single of that year, and remains in the list of my all-time favorites, period. At the beginning of June '83, The Police's fifth (and as it turned out, unfortunately, their final) album, Synchronicity, was released. I went to the local mall to eagerly buy a copy and proceeded to play the album endlessly, and for the first time, ponder carefully over the, at the time, unusual lyrics that were filled with "big words", big ideas, social issues and literary references I was hitherto not familiar with (but was determined to learn about in due time, thanks to the album's seeming behest). I won't delve too deeply into the many themes and social concerns depicted all through Synchronicity's eleven incredible tracks, because I've already done so last year (which I recommend you check out) when I wrote an article commemorating the album's 30th anniversary, but suffice it to say that no other album in my entire life, thus far, has impacted me more than this masterpiece (and I've been terrifically impacted by many more albums, to be sure, on one level or another)! Needless to say, I instantly became a HUGE Police fan, and subsequently, over the course of the next several months, collected their four other proper albums and devoured hours listening to them and absorbing them!

It was understandably around this time in 1983 that I began buying rock magazines, especially ones featuring my new favorite band, The Police, of course. I plastered my bedroom wall with posters of the band! However, there were other popular acts that magical year in music that I very much liked, if not loved, and I increased the frequency of 45s in my collection too. Some of them were as follows: "Hungry Like the Wolf" - Duran Duran, "Mr. Roboto" - Styx, "Overkill" - Men at Work, "Don't Cry" - Asia, "True" - Spandau Ballet; and full-length albums like Thriller - Michael Jackson, Reach the Beach - The Fixx, Kissing to be Clever - Culture Club, and Seven and the Ragged Tiger - Duran Duran. I also continued to record many songs on those cheap cassette tapes, which would feature such great hits I was enamored of, such as: "Always Something There to Remind Me" - Naked Eyes, "Africa" - Toto, "It's Raining Again" - Supertramp, "Come on, Eileen" - Dexy's Midnight Runners, "1999" - Prince, "Allentown" - Billy Joel, "Our House" - Madness, "Dirty Laundry" - Don Henley, "Lawyers in Love" - Jackson Browne, "Major Tom" - Peter Schilling, "Heart to Heart" - Kenny Loggins, "In a Big Country" - Big Country, "Modern Love" - David Bowie, "Sexual Healing" - Marvin Gaye, "Der Kommissar" - Falco, (I much preferred Falco's original German-version over the English-version by After the Fire) "She Blinded Me With Science" - Thomas Dolby and "Everyday I Write the Book" - Elvis Costello and the Attractions (my official introduction to this brilliant artist and band!). And too many more to mention. It was a year in music that I have not forgotten to say the least! And being a young teenager, not yet beset with older adolescent problems, social pressures and world concerns outside my immediate microcosmic world of Saint John, New Brunswick, I enjoyed pop/rock music for simply the face-value immediacy of the slew of great hook-laden tunes and colorful accompanying videos that added a striking visual stimulus, a face to these wonderful songs that filled the airwaves day in and day out to the carefree wonderment of my inundated senses and developing sensibility.

As the ensuing years passed during the 80s, I discovered other great artists and bands, while continuing to follow established favorites like The Police/Sting, The Fixx, Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Hall & Oates. In 1984, I got Tears for Fears' fantastic, synth-heavy first album (actually released the year before), The Hurting. I had heard the single, "Change" in '83, before I obtained its parent album, but didn't really get to know it well until I began listening to The Hurting, which I had in heavy rotation, because I was utterly blown away by it. The clinching moment I knew I had to get a copy of the album was when I heard "Pale Shelter" at a Thrifty's shop in the Parkway Mall around the spring of '84. That important album became my absolute favorite that year. And the timing for this crucial album in my life was apt, as I turned 16 that year, and those pesky adolescent problems (self-consciousness, raging hormones, peer pressure, parent clashes, monetary paucity) kicked in with a vengeance! The Hurting truly became a personal soundtrack for me, whose angsty synth-sound and emotional histrionics did indeed hit close to home. Another important discovery during '84 was INXS. Their fourth album, The Swing, had been released that year, and when I heard its stupendous second single, "I Send a Message", I was instantly smitten! I also enjoyed the first single, "Original Sin", too, but didn't appreciate it until I absorbed The Swing, which would become my second favorite album of 1984.

While following the American Top 40 on CFBC radio, I started noticing that I was pulling for songs that weren't climbing the countdown very high, much to my puzzlement, because, to me anyway, these were superb songs that deserved a higher placing. These remarkable tunes included: "It's My Life" - Talk Talk [#31](hands down one of my favorite songs of 1984, and my official discovery of what would become one of the bands I love the most!), "Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly)" - Icicle Works [#37], "Wouldn't it be Good" - Nik Kershaw (an amazing song that wouldn't even crack the Top 40 in America, peaking at #46, though it would become a Top 10 hit in my native Canada, and was my #1 song of the year!), "New Song" - Howard Jones [#27], "Pride (In the Name of Love)" - U2 [#33], "Stranger in Town" - Toto [#30], "Don't Let Go" - Wang Chung [#38], "What in the Name of Love" - Naked Eyes [#39]. And a few wonderful singles that didn't even hit the Top 40 that I loved: "The Ghost in You" - Psychedelic Furs [#59], "Smalltown Boy" - Bronski Beat [#48], "High on Emotion" - Chris Deburgh [#44], "It Doesn't Really Matter" - Platinum Blonde (my favorite Canadian hit of the year, which didn't chart in the States), and the aforementioned INXS singles "I Send a Message" [#77] and "Original Sin" [#58]. Granted, there were many bonafide "hit songs" that won me over completely as well in 1984, such as: "Nobody Told Me" - John Lennon, "Cruel Summer" - Bananarama, "Talking in Your Sleep" - The Romantics, "Stay the Night" - Chicago, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" - Yes, "99 Red Balloons" - Nena, "Hold Me Now" - Thompson Twins, "Jump" - Van Halen, "When Doves Cry" - Prince and the Revolution, "Say it isn't So" - Hall & Oates, "Don't Answer Me" - Alan Parsons Project, "New Moon on Monday" - Duran Duran, "Blue Jean" - David Bowie, "Borderline" - Madonna, "Eyes Without a Face" - Billy Idol, "Head Over Heels" - The Go-Go's, and even, admittedly, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" - Wham!, just to name a choice few.

By the summer of 1985 my world view, priorities and interests changed by sheer necessity as I became 17, and that much further away from my much missed childhood. Music, for me, was becoming more than just mere, personal entertainment, it was taking on, for better or worse, a more worldly sense of importance as I applied it to not just my own insular life, but more objectively towards the rest of the world. In other words, I was now seeing music in terms of an "art form" of human expression, and a way to possibly change the world, which I was already noticing was in apparent trouble, regardless of my utter lack of informed understanding and cultivation; I quietly observed the people around me, both young and old, and I followed the news and pondered what I was seeing, even from a distance, thanks to the widening of media and technology that was advancing at a quicker pace. Earlier albums like Synchronicity and The Hurting, with their sense of social consciousness awoke something in me, and I even started writing songs along the lines of what I heard from The Police and Tears for Fears. Hearing my first XTC album in 1984, their excellent 1982 opus English Settlement, was a watershed moment for me as well. And all of this was exacerbated by my getting Sting's outstanding solo debut album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, and Tears for Fears' stunning sophomore effort, Songs From the Big Chair - two more of the definitive albums of my youth. These albums, their substance-filled hits (at least in the context of their being relatively "commercial" in production), as well as the equally fantastic non-singles, were a revelation for me and my ever widening purview, despite my still considerable naivete and inexperience. The point was that my trajectory of taste, opinion, and stance was set; there was no turning back for me. I was made privy to the label known as "college rock", and it provided a discernible alternative (before "alternative rock" was coined, and bandied about, at the turn of the 90s) to the mainstream, more overtly commercial, stuff. Music was now my 'soapbox" to express both my individuality, taste and worldview, regardless of the contrary opinions I would inevitably encounter. And make no mistake about it, I would be taken to task more than once for taking music "so seriously", but I didn't care. Conviction was a new concept I gradually incorporated into my personal constitution.

Through the rest of the decade, I would increase my music collection, and overall music knowledge, steadily. I began reading album reviews and articles in Rolling Stone magazine, Musician, Creem, and Music Express (a great Canadian music mag). I took it all in like a massive sponge. In 1986, I continued keeping close tabs on the Top 40, as well as the Top 200 album, chart, although I stopped writing it down and curtailed my listening to Casey Kasem every Sunday, and actually purchased an occasional Billboard Magazine issue. I sensed my friends were humoring and tolerating my incessant rants on the great music I was listening to, while trying to turn them on to some of it. Many of the bands and artists I was discovering were done in almost complete isolation. Bands like China Crisis, Level 42, OMD, Lone Justice, The Blow Monkeys, The Dream Academy, The Box, Tim Finn/Split Enz/Crowded House (my brother Jeff, though, became a fan of the them), and the Pet Shop Boys were artists that I basically listened to completely on my own. with very few, if anyone else, showing any genuine interest in them despite my constant endorsements. I was always promoting band after band in high school to little avail, even to my own girlfriend at the time, funnily enough. Most of my friends listened to hard rock/heavy metal, which was fine; my best friend did as well, and he basically gave me my "heavy metal education" as I became acquainted with the loud sounds of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Raven, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P. and Quiet Riot (two bands my own brother was into for a bit during his "metal phase")), The Rods, Killer Dwarfs, The Scorpions, Helix, Kiss, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, Lee Aaron, The Plasmatics, Accept, Merciful Fate, Venom, etc, etc. Ultimately, it wasn't my cup of tea, comparatively speaking, but I learned to really like some of it, actually.

The albums that were ruling my rotation frequency during these latter years of what would truly be my "formative decade" in the 80s were: So Red the Rose - Arcadia, Crush, especially, and The Pacific Age - OMD (I would finally engage their more appreciated earlier releases several years later, and they eventually became one of my all-time favorite bands; even seeing them live at The Phoenix in Toronto in 2011!), Escapade - Tim Finn, Punch the Clock - Elvis Costello and the Attractions (my first Costello album, and by the time Spike came out in '89 I was a full-fledged fan, singling out his 1982 masterpiece, Imperial Bedroom, as my favorite album of his after getting my first precious copy of it in 1990), Please and Actually - Pet Shop Boys, Shelter - Lone Justice (and a little later I got their solid self-titled debut album, which most fans and critics agreed was far superior to Shelter, but the latter album was my first taste of the band), The Joshua Tree - U2 (another all-time favorite of mine), Crowded House's eponymous 1986 debut, as well as their phenomenal 1988 follow-up, Temple of Low Men (each were my favorite albums of their respective years), The High Lonesome Sound - Tim Scott (a lost gem of an album produced by Crowded House mainstay, Mitchell Froom, and an album I would never have known existed had it not been for the fine ladies at A & A Records, in Saint John's McAllister Place mall, who turned my attention onto it; they were a big part of my musical education, as I hung out there a lot between 1985-1990), Now and Again - The Grapes of Wrath (one of Canada's best bands at the time), Mending Wall - Chalk Circle (yet another fine Canadian band I was really into then), Broadcast - Cutting Crew, The Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden - Talk Talk (two supreme masterpieces!), Cloud Nine - George Harrison, Full Moon Fever - Tom Petty, Flowers in the Dirt - Paul McCartney, Diesel and Dust - Midnight Oil, Chris Isaak - Chris Isaak, Nothing Like the Sun - Sting, Frank - Squeeze (they would become another favorite of mine, and when I finally got their 1981 album, East Side Story, in 1991, I was totally blown away by it), Fate - Hunters & Collectors, The Trinity Session - Cowboy Junkies (an achingly beautiful and atmospheric album from one of Canada's best bands of that period), Mysterious Barricades - Andy Summers (still my favorite of his), Sunshine on Leith - The Proclaimers and Blind - The Icicle Works.

By the end of the 80s, I was also doing a lot of backtracking by picking up best of's or greatest hits from many acts from the 50s, 60s and 70s like: Buddy Holly, The Doors (who would eventually impact my life wholly in 1991, thanks in great part to Oliver Stone's biopic on them, or rather on Jim Morrison, predominately), The Mama's and the Papa's, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Who, The Monkees, Jefferson Airplane, Herman's Hermits, America, The Eagles, E.L.O., Olivia Newton-John (granted, she never released a truly great album, but she did have some wonderful singles,...and I always had "a thing" for her too!), Steely Dan (they would eventually become yet another all-time favorite of mine, and I gradually collected most of their proper albums), Al Stewart, and the Bee Gees.

In regards to The Beatles, I had mentioned earlier that an indie film was the final catalyst that sparked my love, nay obsession, with the Fab Four. I had seen the little known Jodie Foster film, Five Corners in 1989 (a film I proudly have in my current collection). During the film's opening credits I heard a Beatle tune I had hitherto not been familiar with, but was instantly enthralled by it! It was "In My Life". I was bound and determined to learn what album it appeared on and to procure that album posthaste. The song's parent album, of course, was 1965's folk-rock masterpiece, Rubber Soul! After finding and buying a copy of the album on vinyl at good old Backstreet Records on Germain St. in uptown Saint John, I was utterly beside myself with unbridled amazement over just how incredible Rubber Soul was to finally hear! After that...the deluge with everything Beatles related! The rest of their proper albums, books, movies, rare releases, posters, you name it, I was obsessed! It would be, in fact, their 1966 groundbreaking magnum opus, Revolver, that would become, and still is, not only my favorite Beatles album, but one of my Top 5 all-time favorites! Incidentally, their most famous masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was the very first compact disc I ever bought.

Another highly significant musical discovery I made during the late 80s was the one and only R.E.M.! Like most other people in 1987, I was transfixed when I heard "The One I Love". I enthusiastically sought out and purchased the 45 release of the band's first official "hit song", and it became a year-end favorite of mine. However, I wouldn't make my first R.E.M. album acquisition until late the following year when their first compilation, Eponymous, was released, particularly after I heard, or rather saw the video for, "Talk About the Passion", on MuchMusic. I loved the tune, which I learned originally appeared on the band's much celebrated 1983 debut album, Murmur (at least among critics, college students and fans of non-mainstream artists like R.E.M. were during most of their 5-album run on I.R.S. Records, before signing a mega-deal with Warner Bros. in 1988). After being so impressed by what I heard on Eponymous, I finally decided it was time to explore R.E.M.'s entire catalog up to that point just as their Warner Bros. debut, Green, was released. From the murky mystery of the marvelous Murmur; the Southern mix of upbeat paean and dirge-like melancholy on Reckoning; the scarred overcast aura of Confederate ghosts and tuneful tales of the American breed on Fables of the Reconstruction; the call-to-arms, social urgency of Lifes Rich Pageant; to, finally, the thunderous, political grievances set ablaze on Document, I was wholly captivated by each album, and they became my new favorite band, which was fervently reinforced when Out of Time arrived in early 1991 and then their quick follow-up, which many cite as their supreme masterpiece, including myself, the truly magnificent Automatic for the People!

As the 90s kicked in, there was a pronounced sea-change in what I was then listening to. And this became quite apparent when I picked up a copy of The Sundays' debut album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, and it became my favorite album of 1990; an album whose tone and aesthetic was completely different from past "albums of the year" for me. I was also now listening to The Replacements, 54-40, Depeche Mode, The Mission, Living Colour, Lloyd Cole, The La's, Sam Phillips, Indigo Girls, Graham Parker, Prefab Sprout, The Tragically Hip and Blue Rodeo (the latter two, admittedly, enjoyed considerable commercial success in their native Canada, but without compromising themselves artistically). By this time, I had all but abandoned Top 40 radio and the like (only occasionally acknowledging and liking something in the immediate mainstream). My tastes were finding themselves more and more "left of center and in the fringes". But this was also a rather easy transition for me to make due to the glaring fact that Top 40 radio at the turn of the 90s was in a terrible state, as it was then dominated by hedonistic "hair bands", and vacuous pop/dance-music. And most of the artists whom I enjoyed throughout the 80s had, by then, passed their peaks, both artistically and commercially. I needed something new and fresh and vital (as did those who shared my particular tastes, though I didn't really know too many of them, personally).

Of course, as we all know quite well, rock 'n' roll (and popular music, in general) got a major shot-in-the-arm when Nirvana, and Grunge music, literally exploded onto the scene in late '91/early '92! This was symbolized by Nirvana's zeitgeist, second album, Nevermind, dethroning Michael Jackson's, ultimately disappointing, Dangerous album from the top spot on the Billboard Top 200 album chart in 1992. Then the proverbial floodgates blew open with the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, etc, and other "alternative artists", such as Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, Sugar, Liz Phair, Jane's Addiction, The Pixies, The Breeders, Jeff Buckley, Pavement, The Beastie Boys, Concrete Blonde, The Jayhawks, The Stone Roses, Blur, Suede, Morphine, Bjork, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, My Bloody Valentine, Lush, PJ Harvey (perhaps my favorite female artist), The Lemonheads, James, Matthew Sweet, Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, etc, etc. These kinds of artists ruled the industry (and I ate it up, voraciously!) until just before the end of the decade (and millennium) when suddenly boy-bands, pop divas, and rappers usurped the airwaves and album charts.

With each passing year throughout the 90s, as I thoroughly enjoyed the great contemporary, mostly alternative, artists, I also found the time and money to eventually give my ever-expanding attention to past artists I had yet to fully check-out, or was just belatedly learning of their existence. These artists included (and some of them are now among my all-time favorites) The Jam, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Patti Smith, The Modern Lovers, Television, Bob Dylan (his trilogy of mid-60s masterpieces: Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, are unsurpassed for their lyrical brilliance and towering influence), Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, Van Morrison, Nick Drake, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Marianne Faithfull, Roxy Music, The Velvet Underground, The United States of America, Lucinda Williams, Love, Brian Eno, The Smiths, Scritti Politti, Husker Du, The Stooges, The Fall (Mark E. Smith is a true original!)., and, quite significantly, The Beach Boys; having purchased my first copy of the legendary Pet Sounds in 1990, and then Endless Summer on vinyl in 1996, I was obsessed and enthralled with the brilliance of Brian Wilson by the time I fortunately saw the man in concert performing Pet Sounds in its entirety with his new backing-band in 2000! I was beside myself with unbridled excitement in 2004 when Wilson, at last, released the most anticipated album in rock history: Smile! I was hardly disappointed by it. It blew my mind with its incredible beauty, performance and arrangement!

During the 90s I also embraced Classical and Jazz music. In Jazz, I discovered the amazing music of Miles Davis (Bitches Brew was the first Jazz album I ever heard, and I'm glad it was), John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Herbie Hancock, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck. In Classical, many of the greats (Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Bartok, Mendolsohn, Satie, Holst, Wagner) and their famous compositions are now among my all-time favorites. As well, Blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Junior Kimbrough and Charles Caldwell. I also came to appreciate some World Music, or music heavily influenced by it; none more so than the mesmerizing works of Dead Can Dance, especially their 1985 album Spleen and Ideal, 1987's Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (my personal favorite), '93's Into the Labyrinth, and 96's Spiritchaser. And even avant garde music by the likes of Nurse with Wound, Philip Glass and Diamanda Galas. The soundtracks to films such as Naked Lunch, Vangelis's Blade Runner and Jan Kaczmarek's Total Eclipse were characteristically playing as I wrote many a journal entry.  

Perhaps the most significant band for me to come out of the 90s is Radiohead. Their break-through single from 1993, the self-loathing anthem, "Creep", was in my Top 10 favorite songs of that year, but it wasn't until the unexpected majestic throttle and sigh of 1995's incredible, The Bends, that I was completely sold on this amazing band. And when they unleashed OK Computer unto the world in July of 1997, I was dazzled beyond measure, to say the least! Instead of alienating me with the, initially challenging and surprising, eschatological, electronic-based Kid A in 2000, I was even more smitten with them, particularly after Amnesiac briskly followed to nicely cap the band's thrilling transition from "alternative rock band" to "electronic wizards of the post-historic age". As good as these prior masterpieces were, and still very much are, perhaps their ultimate magnum opus is 2007's flawless, In Rainbows. Radiohead are indeed my favorite "active band", and I impatiently await their next, likely great, artistic move.

As was "college rock" in the 80s, and "alternative music" in the 90s, the millennium brought about what is known as "indie rock",and I have, no doubt, followed that scene since I was introduced to the single greatest radio show I've ever listened to, Brave New Waves, around 1996 (sadly, the show ended its 23-year run in 2007). The frequency of shows that I heard increased exponentially by the millennium, and the show's host, Patti Schmidt, turned me onto many, many great new underground bands and acts like: Stereolab, The High Llamas, Yo La Tengo, The Apples in Stereo, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Quasi, Sleater-Kinney, Unrest, Archers of Loaf, Squarepusher, Trans Am, Slint, Flying Saucer Attack, Mogwai, DJ Shadow, Kid Koala, Jurassic 5, Tortoise, Pell-Mell, Jim O'Rourke, Destroyer, Guided by Voices, June of '44, The Magnetic Fields, etc, etc. I further discovered on my own such fantastic artists, such as: Broadcast (now one of my all-time favorite bands; and I'm still reeling from the tragic death of their lead-singer and co-writer, Trish Keenan in 2011), The Fiery Furnaces, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Badly Drawn Boy, Air, Doves, Elbow, My Morning Jacket, The Knife/Fever Ray, Camera Obscura, Deerhunter, April March, Neko Case, Pram, St. Vincent, Goldfrapp, Hot Chip, The National, TV on the Radio, Wilco, Ladytron, The Shins, and the wonderful Fleet Foxes. In recent years, I got into some French pop from the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, France Gall, and Francoise Hardy; also France's unforgettable "Little Sparrow", Edith Piaf, and the marvelous German cabaret singer, Ute Lemper. I also got into Krautrock too: Kraftwerk, Can, Cluster, Faust, Neu!, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze (whose 1972 groundbreaking, Irrlicht, has become an all-time favorite). And just in the last couple of years I was introduced, by a great friend of mine, to the phenomenal drum 'n' bass, electronic/DJ music of Amon Tobin! A truly brilliant Brazilian artist whose albums from 1997-2002 (Bricolage, Permutation, Supermodified and Out From Out Where) are particularly stunning pieces of work! He's been a damn fine addition to my always expanding music collection.

Listening to music both new and old, well-known or obscure, commercially accessible or polarizingly challenging, highbrow or lowbrow, has enriched my life immensely. It has entertained me, enlightened me, moved me, soothed me, galvanized me, informed me, inspired me, influenced me, angered me, and confirmed me. I've had an always fascinating synesthetic experience with music, where its aural stimulus, both vocally and instrumentally, would trigger other senses and feelings in me, and lend themselves to past times and places, moods, auras, and such, awakening things that were dormant, or revisiting time and again feelings and frames of mind and body that feel refreshed every time a piece of great music enters my ears and disseminates through me entirely. Music is the necessary soundtrack to everything both good and bad in this life, and I'm eternally thankful for it.

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