Archive for the ‘1987’ Category

As occasionally happens even in the best of times, though a more frequent occurrence since the pandemic hit, I had a fitful night’s sleep on Thursday, with every descent into dream-laden REM sleep disrupted by jagged imagery. The next morning, as a result, I sought out sounds to cleanse the unquiet residue clogging my mind: one of my favorite Van Morrison albums, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, and the three studio albums that followed it: A Sense of Wonder; No Guru, No Method, No Teacher; and Poetic Champions Compose.

I should mention that, although released in March 1983, I didn’t buy Inarticulate Speech of the Heart until the latter days of my college years, though why I can’t say for sure. I picked up Moondance on cassette in January 1983, so liked at least some of his music, and David Fricke gave Inarticulate Speech of the Heart a rave review in Rolling Stone’s April 28th edition the next month. Perhaps it had to do with me being knee-deep into my Lou Reed phase at the time and/or being distracted by high-school graduation, and then seeing Crispin Sartwell’s negative review in the July issue of Record magazine: “Listening on Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, like listening to inarticulate speech, is a frustrating and ultimately unrewarding experience.” Whatever the case, as I said, I didn’t pick it up until a few years later, when I spent my summer and winter breaks working full-time in a department store – and many lunch or dinner breaks flipping through the racks at the Listening Booth in the same mall.

In many respects, it taps into the collective subconscious; as Fricke observes, “It captures in a simple phrase that desperate expression of pain and need, as well as the floundering over words inadequate to communicate one’s joy over a new love or a gorgeous country sunrise.”

The same delay between release and purchase isn’t true for Van’s next studio album, A Sense of Wonder. Released in the spring of 1985, Rolling Stone’s Parke Puterbaugh lavished it with praise in the pages of Rolling Stone in its May 9th issue and Ric O’Mitchell did the same in the May issue of Record magazine. I subscribed to both, so reading those reviews is probably why I picked it up on LP along with, on cassette, Van’s classic Astral Weeks on the 17th of the month. (Friday was also payday, of course!)

By year’s end, I was raving about its lyrical and soulful acumen with the poet John Haag, who was one of my favorite professors once I reached the Penn State mothership in State College. I frequented his office for one-on-ones quite often, and our conversations routinely diverged to topics beyond poetry. He was high on the album, as well, and like me impressed with how Van quoted the poets and philosophers of yore within metaphysical (and melodic) meditations on this thing called life.

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher was next on my aural adventure. Released in the summer of 1986, it quickly became another favorite – and another that Haag and I discussed once autumn came and classes resumed. David Fricke primarily focuses on the yin-yang dynamics at play in the 12-song set in his Rolling Stone review, as Van’s bitterness at “copycats” seems at odds with his quest for serenity. To me, however, his search is powered by his recognizing the rancor within; the discordant pieces fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, if you think about it.

A few years later, my father borrowed a low-tech gadget from a workmate that enabled one to transfer Super 8 home movies to VHS; it required one to position the projector in front of a gadget that then reflected the moving images into an internal lens that, in turn, captured the pictures on videotape. When I discovered that an external microphone could be used to add sound, I created a soundtrack to match the reels, then recorded to the videotape while the film was captured. No Guru’s “Foreign Window” accented our 1970 visit to London and Buckingham Palace – and, when I hear it now, I see those images in my head. (About 10 years back, I had the original Super 8 footage digitalized and then re-did the soundtrack, swapping out many of the songs due to having a much larger library to pick from – but “Foreign Window” remained.)

By the time Poetic Champions Compose was released in September 1987, I’d graduated college and was working as an assistant department manager in the same department store where I’d previously whiled away my time as a sales associate. If memory serves, it was among the first CDs I purchased after splurging on a CD player. Jimmy Guterman’s review in the December 3rd edition of Rolling Stone accurately summarizes it: “Like Neil Young — another restless veteran who has been prematurely blackballed, only to persevere — Morrison follows his muse wherever he likes. And every time, those who have committed themselves to the journey have been rewarded.” 

Anyway, after those four servings of yearning, meditative music – and also due to having little sleep the night before – I fell asleep with ease Friday night, and stayed asleep until the next morning, when a certain feline fellow patted me on the cheek to inform me that it was breakfast time.

Such is life in these odd times.

Beneath my desk is a box that, for the past 14 months, I’ve used as a footstool. Inside it are some hundred-plus bootleg CDs, including quite a few Springsteen sets that have become moot due to his ongoing archival releases, as well as some Neil Young concerts and assorted other oddities, such as this one on the TMOQ bootleg label. It’s a pristine soundboard recording of the early and late shows at McCabe’s Record Shop in Santa Monica, Cal., on May 24, 1987.

Unlike what the CD cover claims, the night’s participants were L.A.-area bands Downy Mildew and Love Tacos (of whom I can find no information); the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn; Opal; Peter Case; Natalie Merchant; and “Mystery Twins” Michael Stipe and Peter Buck. The single CD doesn’t present either show in its entirety, however. Substantial sections are edited out to fit the proceedings onto one disc. As a result, it’s something akin to a best-of.

Due to that, the participants featured on the CD aren’t one and the same with the night’s acts. Steve Wynn, Natalie Merchant, Downy Mildew’s Jenny Homer (misidentified as Jenny Holmer) and Charlie Baldonado are on it, as are Michael Stipe and Peter Buck, and Opal’s Kendra Smith. Wynn is afforded a large portion of the spotlight, but Natalie Merchant and the Twins get their due, too.

Cross-collaboration occurs quite often. For instance, Natalie is joined by Homer and Stipe for a cool rendition of “Hello Stranger” – you can hear the intro to it at the end of the “Don’t Talk” clip above; and Stipe and Buck are joined by Natalie, Homer and others for a fun mashup of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Sunday Morning.” 

Kendra Smith and Natalie Merchant join forces on Opal’s “Hear the Wind Blow”…

And here’s Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant on the “Wheel of Fortune/The Counting Song,” which I often ended compilation tapes with back in the day:

Unfortunately, those are the only clips I can find on YouTube from the night’s two sets.

For those curious, here’s the night’s lineup in full:

Early Show:
Downy Mildew: The Big Surprise; Floorboard; Your Blue Eye; Hollow Girl
Love Tacos: Border Patrol; Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White; Torn Away; Pleasure
Steve Wynn: Merritville; Drinking Problem; One More Cup of Coffee (with Bob Forres)
Steve Wynn and Russ Tolman: Galveston Mud; Solitary Man
Opal: Rocket Machine; She Moves Ahead; Magick Power
Natalie Merchant: Don’t Talk (with Downy Mildew’s Charlie Baldonado); Hello Stranger (with Michael Stipe, Jenny Homer and Baldonado); The Wind, the Wind (a cappella); Verdi Cries
Michael Stipe and Geoff Gans: The One I Love
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Welcome to the Occupation; Disturbance at the Heron House; Finest Worksong; Maps and Legends
Michael Stipe: Harpers; Damaged Goods (with Buck and Merchant)
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Leaving on a Jet Plane-Sunday Morning (with Wynn, Merchant, Homer and others)

Late Show:
Downey Mildew: The Kitchen; Floorboard; The Big Surprise; Hollow Girl; Your Blue Eye
Love Tacos: Border Patrol; Torn Away; Pleasure; Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White (with Peter Buck)
Peter Case and Peter Buck: Walk, Don’t Run; Baby Please Don’t Go; A Million Miles Away; Blue Eyes
Steve Wynn: 50 in a 25 Zone; How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?; Killing Time; See That My Grave Is Kept Clean (with Buck)
Steve Wynn and Russ Tolman: Galveston Mud; Solitary Man; Stage Fright; Too Little, Too Late (with Kendra Smith)
Opal: A Falling Star; Rocket Machine; Supernova; Magick Power
Natalie Merchant: The Fat Lady of Limbourg (a cappella); Don’t Talk (with Charlie Baldonado); More Than a Paycheck (with Homer and Smith); Hear the Wind Blow (with Baldonado and Smith); Hello Stranger (with Stipe, Baldonado and Homer); Verdi Cries
Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe: A Campfire Song; Wheel of Fortune/The Counting Song
Michael Stipe and Peter Buck: Stretch My Hand; The One I Love
Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills: Spooky; Disturbance at the Heron House; King of Birds/Finest Worksong; Fever; So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry); Red Rain

I should add that the shows have been bootlegged beyond my early TMOQ release, which is stamped No. 189; as evidenced by the artwork, the clips above come from bootlegs of the original bootleg. (From what I’ve read, the complete shows made their way into the collector’s world in 2006 – long past my bootleg-collecting days.)

Be that as it may, the single disc – regardless of how or where you find it – is a delight. The sound is perfect; and the performances are a lot of fun. Fans of any of the featured performers are sure to enjoy it. 

The track list:

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Released on April 1st, 1987, Suzanne Vega’s second album, Solitude Standing, is a near-perfect gem that time has yet to – and will likely never – tarnish. Its poetic power is matched by mesmerizing melodies with perfect arrangements. 

The opener, “Tom’s Diner,” is one highlight.

The first time I heard the song wasn’t on the album, however, but via a Fast Folk LP a year or two earlier while deejaying the Folk Show on WPSU. It’s a different recording, but still a cappella, and still a richly detailed portrait of an everyday occurrence – catching coffee inside a diner before heading to work. “There’s a woman/on the outside/looking inside/does she see me?/No she does not/really see me/cause she sees her own refection.” It captures humanity at its essence.

The song became an unlikely hit a few years later after two British deejays added a Soul II Soul beat to an unauthorized remix that Vega’s record company then embraced and officially released.

The remix isn’t on the original album, however. Instead, the LP continues in the vein of the original “Tom’s Diner,” featuring a succession of vivid pictures of life internal and external. One of the most memorable is “Luka,” which reached No. 3 on the pop charts – a true surprise given its subject matter. She based it, she’s said, on a real little boy she knew, though she doubts he was abused. (And here’s some trivia: Shawn Colvin provides backing vocals on the song.)

The title tune is another brilliant turn, with Vega’s poetic lyrics equaled by the deft backing of her band, who – as with many of the album’s other songs – are credited as co-writers. (Side note: I never knew there was a video for the song until this morning. It’s quite cool.)

Along with offerings by Tracy Chapman and 10,000 Maniacs, the album helped spur the folk-rock/urban folk/singer-songwriter resurgence of the late ‘80s and early ’90s.

“Night Vision” is another favorite:

The track listing:

For those who aren’t familiar with Opal, which is one of the great lost rock bands of the ’80s, they were the precursor to Mazzy Star (“Fade Into You”). They released a few EPs and one LP, Happy Nightmare, Baby, which is where these two songs hail from.

The album is long out of print and not available on the streaming services, but is well worth tracking down. “Soul Giver” is just tremendous –

And “Supernova” is, too.

For anyone who wants to check out the album as a whole, someone uploaded it to YouTube: