Album of the Week, March 27: Robert’s Desert Island Discs

RBHSJDIDBadgeToday’s entry is something a little different. As I was looking over the almost 200 albums I have featured over the years, I asked myself the question that drives the famous BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs: If I were stranded on an island, which discs would I be sure to have with me?

The task proved more daunting than I imagined, so I established a few guidelines and started over. These parameters made the selection a little bit easier.

  1. Original, legitimate releases only: no bootlegs, re-issues with bonus tracks, or any other chicanery to pad the offerings.
  2. Enjoy every track: If this is all I ever get to listen to, it had better be great. A perfect test case is Rubber Soul: it’s an unquestionably brilliant album, but if I had to listen to Michelle or Girl more than once a month, I’d throw myself into the shark-infested waters.
  3. Balance, balance, balance: I tried to embrace the breadth of my tastes and represent a good cross-section of the artists I love.
  4. When in doubt, favorite artists win: My collection includes several acts represented by one great album. In order to represent the artists whose whole catalogs I appreciate, I dropped the one-only artists. That included the hard decisions to eliminate Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, London Calling, Rumours, Blood On the Tracks, and I Am A Bird Now.
  5. Greatest hits: I pondered banning these as a corallary to rule 1, but decided to take them on their own merits. As it turns out, I didn’t wind up with any of these on the list, although I looked closely at a couple. In the end, rule 2 trumped them.

I set my album allowance at 13. Why that number? I could say that it represents the bad luck of being stranded on a desert island, but honestly trying to get to eight — the BBC number — was maddening. My list, my rules, so if this Gilligan-adjacent experience includes a weatherproof sound system, it has room for 13 discs.

Without further ado, here they are, in the order in which I finalized their placement on the list.

Richard & Linda ThompsonShoot out the LightsHIGH RESOLUTION COVER ARTShoot Out the Lights (1982, Hannibal) Richard & Linda Thompson
Surprising no-one, I’m sure, this was my first choice — brilliant lyrics, stellar playing, solid band, two of my favorite artists on one disc. Harrowing but hopeful, it captures the human spirit better than anything else for me. Linda delivers some of her best vocals and Richard some of his finest solos. If I had to pick 25 songs to take to the island (please, no!), at least four of them would be from this album.

DifferentKindofLoveSongA Different Kind of Love Song (1983, Appleseed) Dick Gaughan
Another easy choice for me, with some of the best protest music ever written. Gaughan is in fine voice and his guitar work is impeccable. It’s a collection of often dark songs with a shining heart beating at its core. The title track sums things up brilliantly, and inspired me to write an essay for Michael’s blog on the importance of looking at the darkness if we want to get to the light.

AbyssiniansAbyssinians (1983, Topic) June Tabor
June Tabor had to be on the list, but picking the album was tricky. This is my favorite by a narrow margin, and includes a stunning cover of a Waterson song, so it won the day. As Elvis Costello has famously observed, if listening to June Tabor’s voice doesn’t move you, give up music. (Bonus fact: She has worked as a librarian and restaurateur, so she covers the bases of my passions nicely…)

Robyn_Hitchcock_-_I_Often_Dream_Of_TrainsI Often Dream of Trains (1984, Hannibal) Robyn Hitchcock
Another artist I had to have on the island, but a tougher choice. The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight and the Egyptians’ Element of Light are co-equal with this disc for me. It came down to the essence of the album. The spare setting of Trains lets Robyn shine through in all his eccentric glory.

LastWordThe Last Word (1992, RNA) Gregson & Collister
Another nice package, with two of my favorites on one album, both at the height of their powers. Clive Gregson’s observations about life and love are timeless, and this set includes a couple of tracks written with Boo Hewerdine, another favorite. Christine Collister has a wonderful voice that sometimes gets over-emphasized on her solo discs. Here, the production is flawless.

MitchellC&SCourt and Spark (1974, Asylum) Joni Mitchell
One of the few commercial successes on my list, it’s a little jazz, a little pop, a little folk, all tied together by the singular talents of Joni Mitchell. It also features her finest vocals, not as airy and bright as her earlier work and not as Cohen-adjacent as her later. All of that, and songs about David Geffen and James Taylor! What could be finer?

Til_Tuesday-Everythings_Different_NowEverything’s Different Now (1988, Epic) ’til tuesday
A sentimental favorite, this is an album I play when I’m feeling lost. It’s a powerful look at relationships and how they go wrong — and right. It landed at just the right time for me, providing insight and outlet as I worked through my own issues. Aimee Mann found her lyrical voice, presaging her later solo work. The band is crisp and smart, lending power to the songs. This is as close to flawless as 80s pop gets.

yaz-you_and_me_bothYou and Me Both (1983, Sire) Yaz(oo)
Speaking of 80s pop… A quick look at my Songs of the Day reveals my fondness for the music of my teen years. As I’ve aged, my favorites tend to be the more obscure music, especially synth-pop and smart dance tracks. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke perfected both. Their brief collaboration as Yazoo (Yaz in the States) turned out two fine albums. This is the better of the pair by a safe margin. Creative synth work, good lyrics, and Alison Moyet’s rich, wonderful voice — magnificent!

FogelbergInnocentThe Innocent Age (1981, Full Moon / Epic) Dan Fogelberg
Not quite the first album I ever bought — an honor that goes to Helen Reddy’s Long Hard Climb — I consider this the launch of my serious music collecting. It’s also a great collection of songs, singer-songwriter magic at its most compelling. Fogelberg gets pigeonholed as an AC balladeer, but his songs could rock, jig, or soar as well. This beautiful song cycle, created as a cradle-to-grave series, shows off all his talents to great effect. A sentimental and musical favorite, packed with hits.

watersonlOnceinaOnce In A Blue Moon (1996, Topic) Lal Waterson & Oliver Knight
The only reason the extended Waterson family shows up this late is that it was nearly impossible to pick one album. While a stay on Waterson:Carthy island would be delightful, Rule 3 demanded a choice. In the end, a dash of Rule 2 combined with the fact that Lal Waterson is one of my favorite songwriters ruled the day. A brilliant set of songs told in her distinctive style with sympathetic support from her talented son, it’s one of the rare albums that I’ll sometimes put on repeat. As an added bonus, Some Old Salty wraps up the album with a good old family sing-along, sneaking some talented relatives onto the island. Family runners-up included Martin Carthy, Bright Phoebus, Norma Waterson, and Red Rice.

Fairport_Convention-Liege_&_Lief_(album_cover)Liege & Lief (1969, A&M) Fairport Convention
Another tough choice. Fairport belonged on the list (although the Richard Thompson double-dip almost got them cut), and What We Did On Our Holidays is my favorite of their albums. This is a close second, however, and Rule 3 brought it home. A pioneering disc, creating the trad-rock genre, it shows the band at the peak of their powers and adds more traditional British music to my island mix.

FearingIndLulIndustrial Lullaby (1997, True North) Stephen Fearing
Another Rule 3 decision, made with great difficulty. I encountered three very different modern folk talents in the same year (1993) and they form a musical trinity for me. Stephen Fearing, Patty Larkin, and Ellis Paul have unique voices but could easily share a stage. (I’d pay to see that!) Since they weren’t here to play rock-paper-scissors, the decision came down to the sheer poetry — lyrical and musical — of Fearing’s album and its astounding cohesion.

TriffidsCalentureCalenture (1987, Island) The Triffids
I had five albums left on my list, and the Triffids dark masterpiece won the final spot. This album is the least like anything else on the list (with Yaz coming in a close second), a strong rock sound with a uniquely West Australian perspective. Urgent and compelling from start to finish, it’s one of the strongest Rule 2 albums in my collection. It didn’t hurt that the title refers to hallucinations caused by too much time at sea.

There you have it, my island playlist is complete. Before I close, I’d like to acknowledge the many amazing artists that bring me musical joy who stayed safely on dry land: The Bats, Peter Blegvad, Nick Drake, the Finn Brothers in all their incarnations, Jethro Tull, the extended McGarrigle – Wainwright family, Stephin Merritt and his many projects, Oysterband, R.E.M., Spirit of the West, those mentioned above, and many more. I’m VERY glad that I don’t have to make this choice as anything but an interesting exercise.

Finally, a note of farewell to my Album of the Week feature. I truly enjoy writing these pieces — and there are certainly more albums to explore — but the limits of my time, collection, and budget demand closure. It seemed fitting that I bookend the regular features with two Richard & Linda Thompson albums and close out these posts as my Jukebox celebrates its fifth anniversary. I will continue my Song of the Day every weekday and Saturday Time Capsules; I may also add an album now and then as inspiration strikes.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the music of my island is calling…

Advertisements

Song of the Day, January 18: Will She Just Fall Down by ’til tuesday

tiltuesWelcomeFallAfter a strong new wave debut, ’til tuesday showed real growth and confidence on their second outing, Welcome Home. Warmer and richer, the sonic palette is more diverse. Singer Aimee Mann expands her vocal and lyrical range and the band provide a rich musical setting.

One of the standouts is Will She Just Fall Down, a sad story song of the sort Mann would explore more thoroughly in her solo career. Short and sweet, the song explores the singer’s relationship with someone who can’t quite get the hang of everyday life. Mann balances caring and frustration in just the right balance, giving the track real heart.

Enjoy this smart song today.

Song of the Day, January 15: ‘J’ For Jules by ’til tuesday

tiltuesJulesToday’s song is the centerpiece of ’til tuesday’s bittersweet masterpiece Everything’s Different Now. While singer and principle songwriter Aimee Mann has made it clear that the disc is not exclusively about her breakup with Jules Shear, this one clearly relates to those events. Sad but not despairing, it charts the end of something important but holds out hope for future happiness. It’s telling that Mann offers well wishes to both Shear and herself in the chorus, working hard to exorcise the darker aspects of the end of the relationship.

You know I’ll miss you
And thus it begins
But I’ll release you
And thus it continues
Someday we’ll be happy again

Featuring one of her strongest early vocals, it’s a low-key masterpiece with great emotional resonance. Enjoy this magnificent song today.

Album of the Week, November 23: Everything’s Different Now by ’til tuesday

Til_Tuesday-Everythings_Different_Now RBHSJDIDBadge’til tuesday was formed in Boston in 1982, by singer / lyricist / bassist Aimee Mann, late of the Young Snakes. She was joined by drummer Michael Hausman, guitarist Robert Holmes, and keyboard player Joey Pesce. The quartet took the town by storm, winning the 1983 WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble and quickly landing a deal with Epic records. With a slick but distinctive New Wave sound and Mann’s earthy vocals and smart lyrics, the band got a lot of early press and  a nice push from the label. Their first single, Voices Carry, was inspired by Mann and Hausman’s breakup just before recording the album. Dark and haunting but carrying a human warmth with Mann’s delivery, it became a hit [#8, 1983] and a mainstay of 80s radio. ’til tuesday wasn’t interested in repeating a formula, however successful, and their second release, Welcome Home, found Mann writing more of the music herself while the group pursued a richer, more complex sound. Critics loved it, but the public was less interested. Pesce left the group, replaced by Michael Montes. Struggling with pursuing her artistic vision while satisfying label expectations, Mann found herself in the midst of another breakup. Her two-year relationship with singer/songwriter Jules Shear came to an end just as she began writing tracks for the band’s third — and final, as it turned out — album.

Title Everything’s Different Now
Act ’til tuesday
Label Epic Released
1988
Producer Rhett Davies
U.S. Chart  124 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Everything’s Different Now
  2. Rip In Heaven
  3. Why Must I?
  4. ‘J’ For Jules
  5. (Believed You Were) Lucky [#95]
  6. Limits to Love
  7. Long Gone (Buddy)
  8. The Other End (of the Telescope)
  9. Crash and Burn
  10. How Can You Give Up?

While Mann has stated firmly that not every track was inspired by the circumstances with Shear, some clearly are (see track 4…), and she has said that it is the most intimate of her early work. Ironically, it’s also her most collaborative, with a number of writers from outside the band pitching in. The result is a heartfelt breakup album that is also powerfully human, blending personal pain with universal themes to create one of the best albums of the 80s and a launching pad for an amazing independent career.

Things kick off with the only ’til tuesday song not written by Aimee Mann, the album’s title track. Penned by power pop rising star Matthew Sweet with Jules Shear, it’s a stirring farewell to a fading relationship. Mann turns in one of her best tuesday vocals, showing off a range she seldom explores and making the most of the emotional energy. It’s followed by one of her own best songs, Rip In Heaven, written with British bassist and singer Kit Hain. Painfully honest, it also charts an ending, reflecting on the contributions both partners make on the path to dissolution. Wrenching and anthemic at once, it’s a small pop masterpiece. Continuing in the reflective tone, Mann allows herself some space to grieve in Why Must I?, a nice look at coping skills — or the lack of them — featuring the fine lyric “Other people get by with either bourbon or God.” This opening trio is a strong statement of purpose, three different, equally compelling looks at endings.

The next track is the most clearly related to Mann’s personal circumstances, the wistful, moving ‘J’ for Jules. With an unflinching, open spirit, she unpacks the relationship with a mixture of sadness and hope, believing “Someday we’ll be happy again,” apart rather than together. Side one wraps with a rare Mann/Shear songwriting credit, (Believed You Were) Lucky. Another reflective piece, this takes a second person view, wondering why a departing partner couldn’t find their own value in the relationship. The pair work well together tying up the emotional weight of the side.

Side two opens with a bit of a departure, the story song Limits to Love, which looks at a self-destructive young woman and the point at which those who care for her must step back. It’s great pop track that changes the focus of the album but still fits the overall tone. Things get personal again with the Mann / Hausman composition Long Gone (Buddy). A darkly introspective song, it finds Mann singing about the difficulties of letting go. With a slow build and a soaring chorus — also featuring some nice vocal work — it picks up the energy musically while hewing to the contemplative feel.

Mann composed The Other End (of the Telescope) with Elvis Costello, a surprising pairing that works extremely well. (Costello enjoyed the song enough to rework it on his later album with the Attractions, All This Useless Beauty.) Mann’s wistful humanity nicely tempers Costello’s barbed wit, creating a perfect I-guess-I-never-really-knew-you song. Their voices blend beautifully, making this a highlight of both careers. Crash and Burn finds Mann and Hain crafting a brilliant post-New Wave anthem, featuring a stirring keyboard line and a bold vocal. With determination, Mann insists on breaking away from the darkest parts of the dissolving relationship. Biting but very human, it’s a perfect conclusion to the break-up themes. How Can You Give Up? adds a cautiously optimistic coda to the proceedings, offering hope for a future love even amidst the rubble of the previous. It’s a smart move, making the most of the album’s overall humanity and giving a welcome bright spot that still resonates with honesty.

Lyrically, Everything’s Different Now is a strong leap forward for Aimee Mann, presaging her future solo work. Musically, she and the band continue to move away from their New Wave beginnings into an early Indie Rock with Power Pop elements. It’s a potent sound that brings all their talents together in a tight, cohesive mix. Darkly personal and reflective, passionately universal in theme, this ten song journey is compelling, sonically satisfying, and ultimately cathartic.

FURTHER LISTENING: Inspired by this more personal work, Mann dissolved the band and began a solo career, slightly delayed by contract problems with Epic — her first of several battles with labels that led her to become a pioneer in independent releasing. All three ’til tuesday discs are worthwhile; Voices Carry is the least consistent but still a distinctive New Wave disc and Welcome Home is a wonderful set of songs by a group growing together. The compilation Coming Up Close features sixteen songs and provides a very good overview of the band’s work.

Mann’s solo work is centered on her smart, often wistful lyrics, quietly earthy vocals, and distinctly melodic song craft. All eight albums have wonderful songs. The finest is Lost In Space, another cohesive, literate meditation on the human condition. Her strong but somewhat inconsistent first two discs — Whatever and I’m With Stupid — are summarized nicely on Ultimate Collection, which also features some rarities and other gems. All the other albums are quite worthwhile, with Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo and @#%&*! Smilers rising above the pack.

Song of the Day, July 25: Everything’s Different Now by ’til tuesday

TTDifferentToday’s song is Everything’s Different Now by ’til tuesday, the title track from their brilliant third — and final — album. Singer and writer Aimee Mann used the disc to exorcise her demons following her breakup with singer/songwriter Jules Shear. This apt track serves as a clear mission statement for the set, laying out her need to work through her feelings and move on.

Everything’s different now
And when I look in the mirror and talk to myself
I can’t pretend it’s the same

Mann is in particularly fine voice, making rare extended use of her higher range to achieve the emotional resonance that makes the song ache.

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, May 3: The Other End of the Telescope by ’til tuesday

tiltuesTelescopeToday’s song is The Other End (of the Telescope) by ’til tuesday. It appears on the band’s masterpiece, the 1988 breakup suite Everything’s Different Now. Singer and principle songwriter Aimee Mann demonstrated just how much her talent had grown since the band’s debut as she crafted a series of tender, tragic, bitter, and heartbreaking songs. She collaborated with a handful of other writers, most notably Elvis Costello on this track.

Mann’s knack for irony was not fully clear at this point, and most of the album is open and heartfelt. Costello’s knack for irony is well known and merges perfectly with Mann’s growing confidence as a writer. The result is a flawless track of regret and farewell. Costello later tweaked the lyrics and included his own version on the album All This Useless Beauty.

Shall we agree that just this once
I’m gonna change my life
Until it’s just as tiny or important as you like?
[…]
I know it don’t make a difference to you
But oh, it sure made a difference to me
You’ll see me off in the distance, I hope
At the other end of the telescope.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, March 13: Long Gone (Buddy) by ’til tuesday

tiltuesLongGoneToday’s song is Long Gone (Buddy) by ’til tuesday. It serves as one of singer and writer Aimee Mann’s most cathartic moments on the band’s magnificent breakup album Everything’s Different Now. Resting in a quietly wistful pop setting, she lays her feelings bare. The loss of her recent love has left her bereft and confused and she struggles with the urge to pursue it one last time. Even though she knows that things are irrevocably broken, she’s muddling through the stages of grief and trying to land in the healthiest place.

It’s not that I’m frightened of being alone
It’s just that I know what a burden this grief can be
Everything happens for something, I know
Can’t understand for the moment what this could mean
That love is gone
That love is blind
That love is so unkind

Enjoy this powerful, emotional song today.

Song of the Day, August 7: (Believed You Were) Lucky by ’til tuesday

Today’s song is (Believed You Were) Lucky by ’til tuesday. It appeared on the band’s swan song, 1988’s perfect breakup album Everything’s Different Now. A marvelous fit for that disc’s theme, it’s a song of resignation. Singer and writer Aimee Mann presents a perfect narrative of disappointment and regret, trying to find a way to reconcile the end of something that held so much promise. Ironically, the song is co-written by Jules Shear, with whom Mann had just broken up.

I can’t be appointed
Keeper of the flame
Without two to carry
It won’t burn the same – oh
It seems obvious to me
But then again, could be
You just never felt that way

I wish you believed in life
Believed in fate
Believed you were lucky
And worth the wait
’cause life could be lovely
Life could be so great

Enjoy this wonderful, sad song today.

Song of the Day, February 28: Coming Up Close by ’til tuesday

Today’s song is Coming Up Close by ’til tuesday. The second single from their second album, Welcome Home, it helped set the stage for Aimee Mann’s more reflective later solo work. It’s a bittersweet song about a relationship beginning to fracture.

Coming up close — everything sounds like welcome home, come home
And oh, by the way, don’t you know
that I could make a dream that’s only half awake come true
I wanted to say —
But anything I could have said
I felt somehow that you already knew…

Framing this brittle chorus is a story of a drive taken by the two lovers. It ends,

I went back to my hotel room on the highway
and he just got back in his car and drove away.

Told in small details and big emotions, it’s a perfect package. Sadly small on chart success, it peaked at #59 on this date in 1987. Enjoy this great live version of the song today.

Song of the Day, December 5: Why Must I? by ’til tuesday

Today’s song is Why Must I? by ’til tuesday. It’s one of the tracks on the band’s brilliant song cycle about dealing with the end of a relationship, 1998’s Everything’s Different Now. Writer and vocalist Aimee Mann skillfully lays out her inability to cope with the situation coupled with her resultant doubts and frustrations. It includes one of my all-time favorite lyrical statements:

Why must I take it so hard?
Other people get by with either bourbon or God…

Short, bittersweet, and to the point, this is a perfect example of how to pack a pop song with meaning and personality. Enjoy this wonderful song today.

RBHSWebComics

all contents © Robert Hulshof-Schmidt

Weekly Top 40

The Weekly Top 40 1955-2016

Major Spoilers

We know you love comics. We do, too.

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Greatest British Songs

The best songs from British bands and artists

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

%d bloggers like this: