All in all, as I remember it, 1992 was a good year. In the spring, Diane and I flew the friendly skies to Californ-i-a, where we toured Hollywood and Beverly Hills, explored Haight-Asbury and Fisherman’s Wharf, and mined for gold in the hills of Nevada City. (That’s me, in San Francisco, above. I was 26.) And, in the fall, we saw one of my Top 10 Concerts of All Time: 10,000 Maniacs at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia.
In between, and before and after, we saw many good-to-great shows, beginning in January with John Mellencamp at the Philadelphia Spectrum and ending with…well, my memory’s blank. The early ‘90s have blurred together for me, and rather than list an act we may have seen in 1991, ’93 or ’94, I’ll share the certainties: Neil Young at the Tower Theater (from the very last row in the balcony); Bruce Springsteen and the Non-Street Band four times at the Spectrum; Shawn Colvin at the TLA; and Graham Parker with Lucinda Williams at the Trocadero. We also took in Billy Bragg, Nanci Griffith and others at the WXPN Singer-Songwriter Weekend at Penn’s Landing – unlike their mid-summer fetes nowadays, it was free.
Of the uncertainties: the Tin Angel, which is slated to close next month, opened its doors that year; and the Chestnut Cabaret was still open. I’m sure we saw shows at both venues. The Keswick Theater in Glenside was open for business, too, and we definitely saw a show or two there…though who, I can’t say. The Valley Forge Music Fair was another favorite concert stop – provided there was someone we wanted to see, of course. (And we did see Trisha Yearwood there on her Hearts in Armor tour…but that could have been 1993.)
Diane and I, by then, were also in the sandboxed universe of Prodigy.
In the wider world, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in April; riots in L.A. erupted in April after four LAPD officers were acquitted of using excessive force against Rodney King; Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show and Jay Leno was named as his replacement; the siege at Ruby Ridge in Idaho helped spark the antigovernment/militia movement that culminated in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing; and Bill Clinton won that fall’s presidential election.
Oh, and there was one other important event this year: Bob Fest!
And, with that, today’s Top 5: My Top Albums of 1992.
1) 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As I mentioned in this Top 5, I pretty much played this, the studio swan song of the 10,000 Maniacs with Natalie Merchant, nonstop – well, as close to nonstop as possible. It’s everything I love about music: It’s poppy, rocky, bright, light and deep, with melodies that soar and lyrics that, if one listens to them, mean more than most. The juxtaposition of the jangly with the profound is something I adore.
2) R.E.M. – Automatic for the People. Released on October 6th, the same day as Our Time in Eden, this classic offering from R.E.M. is just that – a classic. “Hey, kids, rock ’n’ roll…”
3) Neil Young – Harvest Moon. So, perhaps, my memory is playing tricks with me: Although I remember playing Our Time in Eden nonstop…this low-key classic from Neil Young, released on October 27th, received much attention from me (as did R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, for that matter). Of note, in typical Neil fashion, he toured with the album long before it was released; when we saw him in March, he pretty much played the entire album with just a smattering of past favorites.
4) Lucinda Williams – Sweet Old World. Above, I mentioned having seen Graham Parker and Lucinda in concert this year – one of the more unlikely pairings we’ve witnessed, really. Guitarist Gurf Morlix was with her, and he was just phenomenal; and by the time she and the band left the stage…well, I have no memory of Parker, who was the headliner. Which speaks volumes, given that I remember quite a bit about Lucinda’s set – “Hot Blood,” especially.
5) Suzanne Vega – 99.9F. Up until this point, Suzanne was a somewhat conventional urban folkie. On this album, however, she expanded her straightforward sound to include electronic textures and seductive rhythms. The title song is a masterpiece; and the album is, too.
There were quite a few other solid albums released this year: Juliana Hatfield’s solo debut, Hey Babe; Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town; Tracy Chapman’s Matters of the Heart; Robert Cray’s I Was Warned; the Lemonheads’ It’s a Shame About Ray; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On; Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience; Trisha Yearwood’s Hearts in Armor; the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall; Keith Richards’ Main Offender; Shawn Colvin’s Fat City; Paul Weller’s debut; and Neneh Cherry’s jazzy Homebrew. Here’s “Move With Me” from it:
California Dreamin’ – I may have had the exact same shirt you are wearing in that photo.
Don’t recall you mentioning your Cali journey in other posts but we both know my memory ain’t that reliable. Any chance you made it onto some studio lots, maybe to a show taping or two? Hit up some clubs? Tourist traps? I won a trip to L.A. in 1998 for the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards (I was an employee at the time) complete with Paramount Studios VIP tour and other really cool sights and sounds. Wife and I took LOTS of pictures but lost film before we had it developed.
Like your list of albums a lot BUT…
Restricting myself to the taste and genre parameters you’ve established with your favorite albums of 1992 (and in general i.e. not a lot of pop, metal or rap), I have to ask what about k.d. lang’s Ingenue, which had a huge impact on my life that year and remains one of my favorites? Or your girl Juliana Hatfield’s debut Hey Babe? Or Annie Lennox’s wonderful debut Diva?
That was my favorite shirt for the longest time!
As for our California sojourn – we did the Universal Studio tour, but no TV tapings, and checked out the Walk of Fame. Stayed with wife’s family in Beverly Hills, which was great (really liked them). What I remember most: the smell of orange blossoms (at least, I think it was orange blossoms) was everywhere. We also went in search of the Hollywood sign, and got pictures of us on a road with it in the background. For San Fran, we stayed with friends just outside of the city – rented a car there. I remember making a right onto a road with a steep decline – and turning back. It looked like I was about to drive off a cliff! We do have loads of pictures of everything, including one with some acid-addled guy in a knight’s helmet who, after Diane took a picture, demanded we pay him because he was in the frame. (Maybe I’ll do a followup at some point, or use a few in another context.)
I considered Juliana for the top 5, but – though that’s a great debut – I don’t think it’s her strongest work, and definitely not the strongest of the year. As for Annie, I have mixed feelings about her – have had them since her days with the Tourists, actually. I want to like her, but…eh.
That was about the time when I made a concerted effort to get into rap. Neneh Cherry, obviously, has some nods to hip-hop on Homebrew and her first album, which I also liked, and I enjoyed some P.M. Dawn – but, all in all, I’ve never been able to get into it. I remember buying an Ice-T CD (Original Gangster) and just shrugging my shoulders. I wanted to like it, but didn’t.
Automatic for the People, what a terrific record!