Saturday, December 06, 2008

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


This was the year of change. Bill Clinton rode to the White House, ushering a new optimism that was soon replaced with the old realism of the world, when the World Trade Center was attacked for the first, and unfortunately, not the last time. Czechoslovakia became Slovakia and the Czech Republic separate in the so-called Velvet Divorce and Brian Mulruny resigned as Prime Minister of Canada.

In February, new Attorney General Janet Reno order ATF agents to storm the Branch Davidian compound of cult-leader David Koresh, in Waco, Texas and she hadn't even officially started the job yet. And in what will be a harbinger to come, several bombs go off simultaneously in Bombay, India, killing at least 300 people.

This was a big year for the information age as the World Wide Web was created at CERN.

In sports, Monica Seles is stabbed in the back by a crazed fan and the Buffalo Bills lose their third straight Super Bowl, this time by the vastly-improved Dallas Cowboys, 52-17. The Chicago Bulls won a three-peat by defeating the Phoenix Suns and Joe Carter's homer led the Toronto Blue Jays to their second consecutive title by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

The year was noted for what was hoped to be a final breakthrough in the struggles for peace in the Middle East , when Israeli Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin and PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed the infamous Oslo Peace Accords. Future years would prove that all the signing did was to give acceptance and a world stage to the arch-terrorist Arafat, as it not only did not usher in an era of coexistence, but an era of more bloodshed and pain.

Hero – David Crosby

Not a lot has been written about David Crosby's 1993 album “Thousand Roads” and it's a shame. Known mostly for his work with the 60's-generation hippy movement, Crosby was still able to produce inspiring music – even after CSN & (sometimes) Y joined the nostalgia-circuit. With the help of Phil Collins, still relevant in '93, Crosby released perhaps his most compelling work. Now sober for the first time in many, many years, he seemed to take a hard, critical look back at what he had, what he lost and what he needed to do to survive. In doing so, he wrote the song “Hero,” which is told as a fairy tale to his impressionable young son – who things of him not as a flawed, imprisoned man – but as a dad and a hero. The hard to find video (the first one I could not find on YouTube) paints the story magnificently as well and has stood up against any classic Crosby has ever written.

Hey Jealousy - Gin Blossoms

Gin Blossoms guitarist Doug Hopkins wrote this about his old girlfriend, who was attempting to reconcile with. The band named their debut album New Miserable Experience as a reflection of their relatively unpleasant new experience of life in a band. During work on this record, lead guitarist Hopkins, a severe alcoholic, was fired and replaced with Scott Johnson. Hopkins had a lot of personal problems and struggled with alcohol abuse. When the band recorded the album, Hopkins was in bad shape, so they fired him. After this became a hit, he got even more depressed and committed suicide on December 5, 1993. The Blossoms broke up in the spring of 1997, and each band member moved on to his own project. However, which has often been the case in rock and roll, the Blossoms have recently announced that they are currently writing new material and expect to release a new album by mid 2009.

Everybody Hurts - R.E.M.

While many of the songs that lead singer Michael Stipe sings are indecipherable, he sang very clearly on this, however, because he didn't want his message getting lost. Most of this song was written by R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry. He quit the band in 1997 shortly before recording their album Up . After that album, the band almost broke up, but decided to continue as a trio. Berry never returned to the band and became a farmer. In an interview, Berry said that this was an “anti-suicide song. I wanted to reach out to people who felt they had no hope.” While Berry wrote this, he did not actually play on it. A Univox drum machine took care of that for him, while the string arrangement was done by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. The Nevada legislature commended R.E.M. for "encouraging the prevention of teen suicides," noting this as an example.

Creep Radiohead

Radiohead released "Creep" as their debut single in 1992, and it later appeared on their first album, Pablo Honey . During its initial release, "Creep" was not a chart success. However, upon re-release in 1993, it reached number two on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks. The band began to dislike the song, as fans attended their early gigs primarily for the performance of "Creep". As the band began to shift from the post-grunge style of Pablo Honey to more experimental alternative rock during the mid-to-late 1990s, "Creep" was played less frequently at gigs and in 1998, the band dropped the song from setlists altogether. It would not be played live again until 2001, and has since appeared sporadically in the band's live sets. "Creep" is regarded by many as one of Radiohead's biggest hits, and has been used in various media as well as having been covered by a number of musical artists. Thom Yorke says this is about being in love with someone, but not feeling good enough. He describes the feeling as, "There's the beautiful people and then there's the rest of us.” According to Yorke, the song was influenced by the Hollies 1974 hit “The Air That I Breathe” and he credited songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood along with himself accordingly.

I See Your Smile - Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan had a hell of a year in 1992. Born Gloria MarĂ­a Fajardo on September 1, 1957, she became one of the most wildly successful Latin and pop singers in recording history – first with her band the Miami Sound Machine and then, as a solo artist. Since her breakthrough hit “Conga” in 1985, she had amassed 14 top 10 singles by the time 1990 rolled around. While touring in support of Cuts Both Ways on March 20, 1990 , near Scranton , Pennsylvania , Estefan was critically injured, suffering a fractured spine when a speeding semi-truck crashed into her tour bus. Surgeons at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York permanently implanted two titanium rods to stabilize her spinal column. Her rehabilitation required almost a year of intensive physical therapy, but she achieved a complete recovery. Soon after her recovery, her hometown of Miami was devastated by Hurricane Andrew. Using her ordeal as an influence to many, Estefan soon became a hero to her throngs of supporters as she donated the money she received from her huge hit “Always Tomorrow” towards the cause of healing and rebuilding the lives of her community.

What's Up - 4 non-Blondes

4 Non Blondes consisted of bassist Christa Hillhouse, guitarist Shaunna Hall, drummer Wanda Day and vocalist Linda Perry. This was their only hit. The band picked the name, 4 Non Blondes, after an incident in a San Francisco park where the band members were having pizza. Apparently, a family was walking by, and their little boy wanted to grab some left over pizza to feed the birds. He was told by his parents, "No, don't touch that, that's dirty from all the birds and people around here,” and they proceeded to give the band members a dirty look. The family was supposedly "very blonde", so they decided to call themselves 4 Non Blondes. Perry left the band in 1995 to begin a solo career, and the remaining members disbanded soon thereafter. The band started in San Francisco in 1989. Their first rehearsal was supposed to be on October 13th, but they had to cancel practice due to the San Francisco earthquake. Founding guitarist, Shaunna Hall, became an official member of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic in 2007, making her the first female band member in the bands' 35 + year history.

No Man's Land - Billy Joel

Billy Joel's last pop album, River of Dreams , presented a much more serious tone as a whole, dealing with issues such as trust and long-lasting love; it was rumored that the themes of trust and betrayal, particularly certain lyrics from the songs "All About Soul" and "The Great Wall of China", stem from Joel's legal disputes with his former manager and ex-brother-in-law, Frank Weber, who reportedly embezzled from Joel and used dubious accounting practices to cover it up. “No Man's Land,” taken from this album is another of his long, impressive list of songs that capture the middle-class culture of America . As a young boy living in the suburbia of Long Island , he developed his perspective of the sprawling suburban flight of American cities in the post-war era, and beyond.

No Rain - Blind Melon

Blind Melon bass player Brad Smith wrote this about a former girlfriend. In the November, 1993 issue of Details magazine, he explained: "She had a hard time with depression. I was telling myself that I was writing it about her: how f--ked up she could be, but how intelligent she was and why she was so unhappy and how much she needed me to be happy. And I realized I was writing it about myself at the same time. I needed her just as much. She would sleep even when it was sunny outside and she'd complain that there wouldn't be any rain, because that would give her an excuse to stay in." This song was also noted for its video featuring the "Bee Girl" (played by Heather DeLoach). Thematically, the video suggested a social outcast eventually finding a supportive community through trial and error. Two years after “No Rain” put the band of the map, and against the advice of lead-singer and frontman Shannon Hoon's drug counselor, Blind Melon went on tour in support of their second album, Soup . Hoon was found dead on the band's tour bus of a cocaine overdose on October 21, 1995 in New Orleans . Even so, the band came back to record another album in 1996, but officially disbanded in 1999. Of course, that only meant that the stage would be set for a comeback one day and on April 22, 2008 , the band released For My Friends on Adrenaline Records.

Ordinary World - Duran Duran

Duran Duran were one of the most commercially successful of the New Wave bands and a leading band in the MTV-driven "Second British Invasion" of the United States, in the early 1980's. Following their breakthrough album Rio (featuring the hit single “Hungry Like the Wolf”), the band's faces were on every magazine cover across the globe. Although very much considered a “pretty-boy band,” they did have a great deal of talent. Mixing Simon Le Bon's soft-voice with melodic hooks – as well as style, Duran Duran dominated the music charts. However, as their fans matured, their album sales faltered and by the late 80's, they were relegated to “remember-when” status. However, that all changed in 1993. Showing a remarkable maturity in style and substance, the band hit the charts again in a big way with the release of what was known as The Wedding Album (the actually album was simply titled Duran Duran , but the cover art featured the wedding photos of the band members' parents). “Ordinary World” is the last song of a trilogy written about the death of Simon Le Bon's friend David Miles in 1986. The first was "Do You Believe in Shame," followed by "Out of My Mind" and "Ordinary World." They all deal with the grief and loss he experienced after the death of his friend. Le Bon had been evasive about the inspiration for the lyric, but revealed its true source as part of an interview included with their 2004 Live from London DVD .

The Red Stroke – Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks was at the time the hottest singer in the world. Following the enormous success of his third album Ropin' the Wind , he went right back into the studio and recorded the follow-up, The Chase , which also went through the roof. In 1993, Brooks, who had criticized music stores which sold used CDs since it led to a loss in royalty payments, persuaded Capitol Records not to ship his August 1993 album In Pieces to stores which engaged in this practice. This led to several anti-trust lawsuits against the record label and ended with Capitol shipping the CDs to the stores after all. However, despite the delay in shipping the album to certain stores, In Pieces was another instant #1 success, selling a total of about 10 million copies worldwide. “The Red Stroke,” taken from this album, is a beautiful piano-based melody that abstractly and powerfully portrays passion and love through colors and art. It has always been my favorite GB song.

Bonus Track

River Of Souls – Dan Fogelberg

By the early 90's, Dan Fogelberg was no longer a household name in the music industry. Although very popular since the mid-to-late, he had not had a chart single in 3 years (1990's “Rhythm of the Rain” went to #3 on Billboards AC charts, nor a Hot 100 hit since 1985. However, he was still selling out crowds and wowing audiences (including ones with me in attendance) with his soft, clean and brilliant masterpieces. River of Souls turned out to be his last studio album of his heyday (he released one more studio recording, Full Circle in 2003) and although, like it's most recent predecessors, failed to make a huge dent, captured the incredible talent that he was. It was clear that his greatest songwriting period had long since passed by the time, but he still managed to tell a great story and catch a good hook. If for no other reason, I recommend River of Souls just to say goodbye to this legend, who died from prostate cancer last December at the age of 56.

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