Part eight, and we’re nearly there.
Countdown: 1990s: Tracks: 60-41
To recap: 200 it is, simply as I have far too much to even try and cull it further. There are things missing, I’m sure – I’ll have committed a cardinal sin somewhere and have neglected one of my favourite bands, no doubt! – but then there a few deliberately missing as it will be easier to deal with them in the albums list, as I simply cannot pick a particular song.
[Note: This was initially written in 2009, and has been left “as is”. I’ve considered changing it and updating it, but at least for now I’m not touching it.]
The first moment, perhaps, where we realised Radiohead were not your average rock band, or indie-grunge wannabees. This, one of the first singles from The Bends (as a double A-side with High and Dry), had a swirling fog of electronic effects sweeping around the track from the start, and the strange, reverbed piano stabbing through the bass-heavy rock made for a distinctive track. God knows what Thom Yorke was on about for this song, but it is still a fantastic song and a pointer towards the experimentation and plaudits that were to come…
The First Big Weekend
The Week Never Starts Round Here
The first work I ever heard of this band (thanks to John Peel, obviously), back in my late teens this lengthy tale of a heavy weekend out on the lash with your mates before you have any real responsibilities in life, not surprisingly, rang true to me in a big way. The backing is lo-fi and cheap as hell, but frankly, like all Arab Strap songs, it’s all about the beautifully observed lyrics and situations by Aidan Moffatt, of which this is by far the best he ever wrote. Also of note: the balloons unleashed during this live version (at their last show) are amusingly incongruous!
A fiercely independent and, frankly, a bit odd, this band were. In fact, perhaps a little too out-there at times for the metal mainstream. Success, other than favourable reviews, eluded them, sadly, as a result, but their back catalogue still stands up well. The odd song titles and flat-out refusal to print lyrics/explain backgrounds to songs would have made them stand out enough, but their mash-up of influences – hardcore, progressive metal, thrash, sometimes all at once – frequently made them sound unique. This track is here above the others simply as it’s the first I heard – while their best material was on their last album in 2000, this track was more than enough of a standout to get me hooked – bone-dry riffs and raw production, along with Karl Middleton’s unusual vocals, not to mention the chorus that leaps out at you and throws it’s hands around your throat until you pay attention…
Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck
A track that possesses an extraordinary groove (thanks to the ultra-clean production, the ultra-tight drumming and Paul Raven’s bassline), this was, perhaps what is really meant by the odd “groove metal” term. Like the rest of this album, basically it is thrash metal with industrial textures, rather than really being industrial metal. But fuck quibbling about genres, this track rules. Obviously the instantly-recognisable, anthemic chorus helps, but how could we forget the chugging riff, either? Having influenced fucktons of bands since, Tommy Victor never really got the respect he deserved, either…
The Boo Radleys
The song that first got the Boos widespread attention, this was an epic track that really did defy attempts to categorize it, merging 60s-esque rock/pop, jazz, soul, shoegaze…and was a truly brilliant, inventive song – a world away from the throwaway pop of Wake Up! Boo that made them pop stars for a fleeting moment. Criminally it was hacked down for it’s appearance on Giant Steps, and even further for the single edit, so here’s the full, majestic six minute version from Glasto in the nineties.
While Superunknown made them rock megastars, Badmotorfinger was their breakthrough, and it was thanks to singles like this. The grinding verses give way to the burst of light that is Chris Cornell’s soaring chorus, and did the band ever get better than this? I think not.
A perhaps little-known industrial band from Detroit, I first stumbled across this band in an article in Alternative Press in the late-90s, and swiftly picked up their first album Author of Pain (it took a while longer before I could get hold of the special edition, the remix album or the second album, all of which I obtained in the end). An unusual artist, really – a fair amount of the album was at the chill-out end of industrial, with the odd flare-up into dancefloor rage, most of the vocals done by guest vocalists…this track, however, was a little different. Jesse McClear himself did the vocals for this track, which is slower-paced but built around a dense meshing of samples and beats, with a ghostly female vocal weaving through it. It’s sublime, much as the rest of the album is (Good luck in trying to find a legit copy now, though, seeing as the labels that released it in the US and Europe both went bust many years ago now…).
Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine
The final, climactic track on Rage’s incendiary debut, this was the most nakedly political track on an album stuffed with politics. “Anger is a gift” goes the repeatedly whispered refrain, and they ain’t wrong. An explosion of sheer fury and injustice, this song did a lot to reignite the cause of Leonard Peltier, an American Indian activist jailed for the murder of two FBI agents in the seventies whose conviction has been repeatedly called into question since. It’s also possibly the best Rage ever got musically, too.
All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors
You Can Never Tell
Turning Into Small
Shoegaze, but not as we know it. For starters, this lot were from New Jersey, and while the album I picked up (this one) bore a passing resemblance to My Bloody Valentine in their drenching of just about everything in effects and reverb, they used far more in the way of electronics, from what I can tell. The first track, You Can Never Tell is a glorious three minutes or so of dreamy vocals and guitars that ebb and flow across your ears, and twelve years since I first heard it, I’ve still never worked out a single word of the lyrics. Perhaps this all-but impenetrable sound and image (the liner notes told me nothing) was one of the things that had me so intrigued. I was also more than a bit surprised to find one of the band is nowadays part of dÃ¤lek.
Destillat (remixed by VNV Nation)
Plainly and simply one of the greatest dancefloor remixes I’ve ever heard, VNV Nation turned what was a so-so single into a track teeming with life (and an absolutely slamming beat) such that this version has now completely eclipsed the original – oh, and ten years on it’s still packing the dancefloor.
It is rare that sheer, seething rage can come across in an instrumental track, but Numb manage that here. A track of otherworldly samples, grinding, metallic samples and dark, dark ambience simply explodes into brutally heavy and dark drum’n’bass to spectacular effect. It needs to be listened to very loudly indeed, though, to fully appreciate it.
Morning Dove White
This dreamy, blissed-out track was the opening track from the band’s only album, produced by Andrew Weatherall, and boy, it showed. The whole album is imbued with a kind-of comedown feel, in a similar way to the much-more lauded Screamadelica, but what that album didn’t have was Dot Allison’s sultry vocals. This first track almost sounds as if she recorded when sleepy (and her voclas are recorded in such a way that it sounds like she is singing to you and you only), but the whole track just sounds unbelievably sexy. The band fell apart after this album, and for me Allison’s solo work has never come close to this.
Type O Negative
Love You to Death
While Black No.1 may get the popular plaudits, for me it was always the opener from October Rust that was the Drab Four’s truly brilliant moment. An aching gothic ode to lust and desire, their trademark black humour was set aside for once for a deadly-serious track, the stately piano intro and Pete Steele’s deep, deep vocals setting the stall nicely – even if, let’s be honest, the lyrics gave away a little too much information, eh…?
The Shape Of Punk To Come: A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts
It’s never ceased to amaze me that this track seemed to take a while to catch on. Brutal, angry, political hardcore that was somehow wildly accessible, despite being also experimental like much of the album it came from (by this point Refused were unafraid to introduce electronic and acoustic interludes). The fact that it was lauded by just about every other punk or metal band subsequently may have added to it’s appeal – a true word-of-mouth hit, perhaps. Whether that was the case or not, this remains an utterly awesome track that even canned crowd noise on the final mosh-down can’t detract from.
The Young Gods
Kissing the Sun
The first Young Gods album I bought, indeed, the first TYG material I bought at all was the single for this. A mix of elegant, swirling ambient, and brutal industrial metal, and at points both at once, only this band could ever have carried this off. A unique band who remain endlessly listenable, even after twenty years-plus, and they’ve still not made a bad album yet, either.
Little Black Dress
Of his solo material (as opposed to his work with The Virgin Prunes), all most people will remember is the admittedly sublime Angel from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, however the album that this came from had a couple of other cracking tracks (actually, much of the album is worth a listen if you can track it down nowadays). And this is one of them: a wonderfully sleazy, lounge-rock drawl about a girl and her dress.
Music for a Slaughtering Tribe
It’s sad, really, that it was all downhill for wumpscut from the very start. This was the first single, and the opening track for his debut album, and it is still an extraordinary track. Pounding, thumping industrial beats with the lyrics and samples all derived from the titular film/story, and the result is frankly a bulletproof track. Shame much of the rest of his career was never as good – particularly in this post-millenial decade, where Rudy R’s work descended into dreadful parody.
This just about squeaks into this list – the album it comes from dates from the 90s – just – so as far as I’m concerned it counts. And this track is perhaps at the cusp of “old-school” industrial meeting 90s industrial – a startling upgrade of the Clock DVA sound with a crisp 90s sheen (even if the graphical work on the video looks dated), the brooding bassline and growled vocals married to the stabbing keyboards. The extended version is even better.
Alice in Chains
Man in the Box
The grunge legends big breakthrough, it certainly didn’t sound a lot like anything else at the time. The lumbering pace of the intro and verses (with Layne Staley’s vocals floating across the top), don’t initially seem to add up to most, but it’s when the soaring chorus kicks in that you suddenly click. It is something special (and was extraordinary live last week, too).
Mogwai Fear Satan
One of the two titanic tracks that are the lynchpins of Mogwai’s debut album, this is the hurricane of three chords, feedback and added flute that closes the album and stands alone as a contender for the finest post-rock track ever written (and, let’s be honest, it’s probably heavier than many metal bands were at the time, too). The band have made a few attempts to better this (Christmas Steps and My Father My King certainly spring to mind), but really, it’s best left alone. In addition, this track has to be heard live to be believed (one of the loudest and most intense ten or fifteen minutes of live music I’ve ever seen).