Posts Tagged ‘1992’

(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.)

Last week, while flipping through my photo library, I came across pictures from just prior to our move last year from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, when we were sorting through the collected ephemera of two lives and deciding what to take and what to toss. Among the latter: cassettes I made in the late 1980s and early 90s to listen to in the car. (I know: How quaint.) The above tape, from sometime in late 1992 or early ‘93, was one.

For those who don’t recognize the songs on Side A, they represent Paul Weller’s 1992 eponymous solo debut in full, with the closing “Kosmos” spanning onto Side B. My stereo setup had the ability to fade in or out when recording to tape, so I might have done that here, but since the song also fades out and in, who knows? I may have made use of one of the natural stop, cut out the five minutes of recording groove (see Wikipedia’s entry on the album for more on that), and kicked off Side B with the 30-second reprieve that closed the album. The remainder of the second side consists of Jam tunes, most likely lifted (for expediency’s sake) from Snap! and Extras.

Paul Weller’s solo debut, which followed his days with the Jam (1976-82) and Style Council (1983-89), has never been far out of my reach since its release. In some respects, it laid down the blueprint he’s followed ever since, mixing heavy soul with jazzy touches, self-reflection and self-recrimination. It opens with the propulsive “Uh Huh, Oh Yeah,” which sets the stage: “I took a trip down boundary lane/trying to find myself again…”

Though he’d been to the top with both the Jam and Style Council, by the end of the ‘80s he seemed in danger of teetering into oblivion. This Coventry Live article delves into that fall from and return to grace, but to cut to the chase: Instead of giving up, he formed a band, hit the road and self-released a single (“Into Tomorrow”) that turned enough ears to land him a record deal.

The urgency that drives the performance coupled with the philosophical/questioning bent of the lyrics equals Paul Weller at his best, and defines the album in total. Another high point: “Above the Clouds,” which is one of my favorite Weller songs.

The early ‘90s were a time of CD singles laden with bonus tracks, of course, and Weller released a few in support of the album. (They were hard to find in the States, but I managed to locate most.) In 2009, however, a deluxe reissue made those long-ago efforts moot by gathering them all together alongside alternate mixes and demos, plus a cool cover of “Abraham, Martin & John.” It’s well worth the expense.

Of those bonus tracks: My favorite was and is “Everything Has a Price to Pay.”

(The two studio albums that immediately followed, Wild Wood and Stanley Road, are equally essential to my ears, as are a smattering of his latter-day albums, including 22 Dreams, A Kind Revolution, True Meanings and this year’s double-disc live opus, Other Aspects.) 

Here’s the track listing of the original release:

(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.)

There was a harvest moon last night. For those who don’t know what that is, the Oxford Dictionary definition describes it as thus: “the full moon that is nearest to the time of the autumnal equinox.” An equinox occurs when Earth’s equator aligns with the center of the sun, which happens twice a year. One marks the start of spring and the second marks the beginning of fall. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox almost always occurs on September 22nd or 23rd; and this year it’s early morning of the 23rd. 

The term “harvest moon” itself dates to the early 1700s, if not before, in England, and Oxford credits it to the “country people.” With days growing short, farmers made use of the moonlight while harvesting their summer crops.

Anyway, last night, by the time I left work, cascading clouds in the night sky blocked my view of the moon, yet I felt its power and heard its vibrations thanks to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album, which he released on November 2, 1992. The lore behind it is well-known, at least among Neil fans: Recording Ragged Glory with Crazy Horse in 1990 and reaching for electric nirvana on their subsequent tour left him with tinnitus. Rather than risk permanent damage to his hearing, he downshifted to a softer sound – and delivered one of his best albums.

He saw it as a sequel in style, mood and personnel to Harvest, his much-loved 1972 album, although the same could also be said, to varying extents, of Comes a Time, Hawks & Doves and Old Ways, among other outings. It did well, too, peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard charts, going double-platinum, and winning plaudits from critics and fans alike.

Accented by acoustic guitars, harmonica, and backup vocals supplied by fellow travelers Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and (half-sister) Astrid Young, the 10-song set is a contemplative affair that mixes brushstrokes of reality with hues of the heart. “Unknown Legend,” the opener, was written for the Comes a Time album, and tells the story of a woman in a diner who once lived free but is now dealing with the responsibilities of adulthood. 

“From Hank to Hendrix” tells the story of a couple’s relationship that may or may not last despite the years (“from Marilyn to Madonna”) they’ve put into it. (“The same thing that makes you live/can kill you in the end.”) Many folks like to read what inspired specific songs, but to me inspiration matters less than the result. And the result here is memorable.

The title track, on the other hand, is a celebration of a long-lasting, loving relationship – maybe even the same one. “But now it’s getting late/And the moon is climbin’ high/I want to celebrate/See it shinin’ in your eye/Because I’m still in love with you/I want to see you dance again/Because I’m still in love with you/On this harvest moon…” 

“War of Man” is another stirring track:

Another favorite track of mine is “Dreamin’ Man,” which sports a lilting melody and lyrics that spin a disturbing tale about a stalker: “I park my Aerostar/Dreamin’ man/With a loaded gun/And sweet dreams of you/I’ll always be a dreamin’ man/I don’t have to understand/I know it’s alright…”  

As Nicolette and Astrid sing behind Neil at the end, “He’s got a problem.”

One possible inspiration (though it’s just a hunch on my part): Robert John Bardo, the stalker who killed My Sister Sam actress Rebecca Schaeffer on July 18, 1989. Neil would have been exposed to stories in the newspapers and on TV, I’m sure. But, again, it matters not. The juxtaposition of the dreamy with the sordid is meant to jar, and make us think.

What else? Neil flipped the normal routine of albums for Harvest Moon, touring the songs first and then releasing them. We saw him in March of ’92 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., from the back of the balcony. Everyone roared for the opener, “Long May You Run,” but murmurs began soon after he launched into the second of eight unfamiliar songs in a row (seven from the future Harvest Moon and “Silver and Gold”). It was a great night.

The track list:

tickets_large_x2

My first concert, the Kinks at the long-gone Philadelphia Spectrum, was in 1983; the last was this past Friday when Diane and I saw Natalie Merchant at the Keswick Theatre in the Philly suburb of Glenside. In between I’ve been to more shows than I can count. I haven’t saved the ticket stubs from each and every one, as many fans do, and those I’ve kept are generally the result of happenstance, not purpose. They were tossed in drawers and forgotten about until our recent move.

But I have saved memories of most, which I thought I’d share in this space from time to time – some posts will be long, others short, and a few may even include links to YouTube videos. (If only camera-equipped cell phones were available back in the day….) And what better way to start than with one of my favorite shows by one of my favorite bands…

First, though, let me return to this past Friday, when we saw Natalie Merchant. Prior to the concert, I participated in a project to commemorate next year’s 20th anniversary of her solo debut, Tigerlily: I stepped in front of a camera and shared my memories of the album as well as my favorite song from it. (I doubt that my contribution will make the final cut, but let’s hope.) As we were getting ready – lighting, sound, etc. – I mentioned to the young woman overseeing the process that I’ve been a Natalie fan since 1986 and The Wishing Chair, the major-label debut of her old group, 10,000 Maniacs. What I didn’t say: time and circumstance kept me from seeing them for years. And years.

Which leads me to September 17, 1992, when 10,000 Maniacs performed at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia as part of an ActionAIDS/World Cafe benefit billed as a “Five-Star Night.” They followed Happy Rhodes, Jeffrey Gaines, Shawn Colvin and Live, an overtly U2-influenced group from nearby York, Pa. Marshall Crenshaw emceed the evening.

And Diane scored us great seats.

Now, that late-summer’s eve fell 12 days before the release of the group’s Our Time in Eden album; and if any song from it was being played on the radio, well, I may or may not have heard it – my memory is foggy there.

What I do remember: the concert. The lights showered the stage to reveal Max Weinberg of the E Street Band behind the drums and not the group’s regular drummer, Jerry Augustyniak, who was at home recuperating from a broken collarbone. A horn section was there, too – the JB Horns, I believe. Within seconds, or possibly simultaneously, an unfamiliar, uptempo tune kicked in – and Natalie skipped from the wings to stage center, hands clasped behind her and a wide smile across her face. “These are days you’ll remember,” she sang upon reaching the microphone…

It was the start of a magical, mesmerizing set, accented for me by the sweeping “Stockton Gala Days” (introduced by Natalie as “fast becoming a campus favorite everywhere”) and the gloriously sarcastic “Candy Everybody Wants” – the “hey, hey!” bit was (and remains) infectious. Another highlight was “Hey Jack Kerouac” – and, in a few months, I’d thankfully own that performance and two of the night’s other songs, “Eat for Two” and “My Sister Rose,” as they showed up as bonus tracks on the British CD single of “Candy Everybody Wants.”

All the while, during those fast numbers, Natalie swirled, twirled, whirled and danced with abandon when not at the microphone. I don’t remember her speaking much between songs, save for the band introductions, the “Stockton Gala Days” intro and right before the night’s finale, when blue light bathed the stage. “We’d like to take you back to 1967,” she intoned as the first notes of “To Sir With Love,” Lulu’s pop masterpiece, floated forth.

We saw them two more times the next summer at the Mann. Both shows were equally good – my jaw dropped at guitarist Rob Buck’s pyrotechnics during “Don’t Talk” – but it was that first time that comes to mind whenever I think of them in concert.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote up the show here.

And here’s the group with Max Weinberg on drums performing “These Are Days” from a week or two later, at Carnegie Hall in New York:

And here’s “To Sir With Love” from the same show:

(It should be noted that 10,000 Maniacs are still a working band, and released the very good Music From the Motion Picture album last year,)