5.23.2017

Songs from my Senior Year


I recently saw one of those "Songs From Your Senior Year" posts, and I realized I had it pretty good with regard to that specific and disproportionately impressionable window. Had I graduated only a year later (class of 1993) the background of my memories would be the minor key grinds and harangues of grunge and all the po-faced navelgazing that came along with it.


I say this as an unapologetic fan of both grunge and po-faced navelgazing. I mean only that I escaped high school just ahead of such things moving from the alternative stations to the mainstream. I was hanging from the skids of that last "Cherry Pie" helicopter as it took off from the American embassy. 

That's not why I decided to blog this up, though. That happened when I realized 
that my memory has been tricking me over the years. I have frequently attested to four songs ("Touch Me" by Cathy Dennis, "Groove Is in the Heart" by Dee Lite, "Pull me Under" by Dream Theater, and "Connected" by the Stereo MCs) coming out out my senior year. They didn't - the first two came out before it and the other two after it. And yet I have "memories" of each of these songs as senior year songs.


That motivated me to look up what exactly did come out my senior year. And here we are: 15-ish tunes I'm happy came out my senior year in high school.

 
My criteria: (a) the song in question had to come out between July 1st, 1991 and June 3oth, 1992, (b) I had to like it then, and (c) I have to like it now. This puts out of consideration a lot of what I was actually listening to in '91-'92 (the high water mark of my Doors phase) as well as stuff I only discovered later (De La Soul, Pavement) or no longer find so much fun (Red Hot Chili Peppers - okay "Give It Away" is still pretty cool - Indigo Girls, Tori Amos etc.) 

American lives come with certain rituals, and senior year is one of them. These are songs that augmented or punctuated mine, either at the time or via the seductive power of annotated nostalgia.

Presented in chronological order.



"Poundcake
- Van Halen
(7/ 91)


My friend's wife somehow never heard the song until last year and mentioned how the lyrics ruin an otherwise kick-ass tune. I disagree for two reasons: 1) Van Halen lyrics are almost always stupid, so that shouldn't influence anything. And 2) How the hell do you improve lyrically on "give me some of that UNH-HUN! UNH-HOWW-UNN...!"? You can't. Even if you could, why would you? 


The Sky Is Falling and I Want My Mommy 
- Jello Biafra with Nomeansno
(7/91)

Not a song, no, but this was a highly anticipated release for me that summer between junior and senior year. I was a complete Jello Biafra nut at this time in my life. This one hasn't aged as well as something like Last Scream of the Missing Neighbors, Jello's collaboration with D.O.A., but thanks to tracks like "Ride the Flume" and most especially "The Myth Is Real, Let's Eat" ("Panic! Panic! War on Drugs! But you can buy beer at a gas station! What goes on is not what we're told to see"), it still speaks to me across space and time. 




Switching gears now:


"Love of a Lifetime"  
- Firehouse
(7/91)

Here's every prom / dance I ever went to in high school, followed by every wedding reception I went to after high school. Something to be said for achieving this. When this came out it was like "Oh, this is what all those bands were trying to do." Ditto for "When I See You Smile," except this Firehouse one seems a little less likely to be used in dentist commercials. (Not entirely, just less.)

For the record, I thought this was super-cheesy when it came out, but I understood the hair metal world into and for which this was created. Understanding didn't lead to appreciating it so much - that came later. Sort of. I more appreciate it as a sensible but completely dated accessory to my senior year. Not that this is impassioned defense of Firehouse or anything - I'm just happy it was there. And still out there.


Switching gears again:


"I'm Too Sexy
- Right Said Fred
(7/15/91)


So sexy it hurrrrts...

Amen, bruh. It was either this or "Baby Got Back." Both kind of occupy the same space in the pop cultural milieu. Your life wouldn't be any worse without either of them, but they definitely get people going and chances are that like elections you've been metaphorically swept along with one or the other at one point in your life. 

Maybe that's not sound criteria for what constitutes an enduring work of art - or a sound system of government for that matter - but for the dubious worth of pop effluvium, it's not a bad place to start. It amuses me that this sort of song and sentiment - so obviously ridiculous and harmless and fun - became some kind of angry self-empowerment for emotional basket cases in the 21st century.

Achtung Baby 
- U2
(11/91)

This was so huge back then. Deservedly so - every tune is a classic. "Even Better Than the Real Thing" was my favorite at the time and maybe still is. The Edge's guitar sound is just so awesome. 

Bono's "Fly" persona and the band's whole ironic-multimedia-overload approach confused many, but it made total sense to me at the time. I don't think this was any special insight on my part, just right place right time, I guess. Like the Beatles with psychedelic rock - and a tad too self-conscious of that comparison for some - U2 dove into electronica and the house scene in the UK and elsewhere with all their creative and financial fury.


Decades later, Apple released their new iPhone with a free U2 album included and the internet raged for days. Ungrateful wankers. Bono missed the ultimate chance for an "Am I buggin' ya? Sorry - dinnae mean to bug ya!" Rattle and Hum joke, and the rest of us just felt old and in the way. 


More Noise and Other Disturbances
- Mighty Mighty Bosstones
("released 1992.")

Another full album selection. The Bosstones were great fun back then, prior to their national (and international) breakthrough. One of a handful of local-ish bands (Phish being another) that I got to see a few times before they hit it big. At one show Dicky Barrett threw me a beer. (Some cheap stuff in a can, I forget. That was his schtick back then, throw beers out to the crowd.) I remember heading to Thayer Street (where a lot of Rhode Island suburbanites bought their "underground" music, back then) to buy this the day it came out, and the entire tape was done by the time my friend and I got back home. Short and sweet.

It's a great album, though, still holds up quite well, and it's even better as the second of the one-two punch that starts with Devil's Night Out (1989). Favorite track? Not sure - they're all personal faves - but "They Came to Boston" conveys the band's appeal pretty well.


"November Rain
- Guns n Roses
(2/92)

This is more of a placeholder for the whole Use Your Illusion(s) experience. G'n'effin'R were friggin' huge in the early 90s. By the time Kurt Cobain and Axl Rose were shouting at each other at the '92 MTV Music Awards, the end was nigh, but for a few months of that year, this video was played every 5 minutes, and the airwaves were cluttered with "Don't Cry," "You Could Be Mine," "Civil War," and, especially, "November Rain." 


Pretty sweet tune, though, context or no. That dude crashing inexplicably into the wedding cake is one of my favorite all-around music video moments. What the hell, dude? What are you up to? Riddle for the ages.



(3/17/92)

Sampling music was really going gangbusters in '92. It didn't start then, obviously - the first time it crossed my radar (perhaps) was "Wild Thing" by Tone Loc in '89, but it didn't start there, either, that's just when I began to notice. I didn't realize this En Vogue tune was sampling James Brown's "The Payback" riff and thought wow, that's a great groove. Is that Prince? i.e. I was an idiot.


(I similarly had no idea that another memorable '92 tune, Neneh Cherry's and Michael Stipe's "Trout" was sampling "The Pusher." Let's just issue a blanket statement on ignorance of any/all sampled material in the '91 to '92 range.) 

Anyway - awesome track. I've heard "Free Your Mind" and maybe one or two others but am otherwise En Vogue deficient. (i.e. I'm still an idiot.)


"Ghost of a Chance"
- Rush
(4/92)

My friends and I used to occasionally bring a few six packs up to this sand dune in the middle of the woods in Burrillville, Rhode Island. We had our entire NW corner of RI mapped out for warm weather drinking spots; you had to. This sand dune one we called Star Wars, and whenever I hear this tune, particularly this little bit here (hope I synched it up right) I am instantly transported there. 

The sand dune doesn't exist anymore, and most of that circle of friends I never facebook-connected with in the 21st century. I don't feel wistful about it or anything, just there's a lot of misty impermanence and dreaminess in that riff for me. I can see that 17 year old looking out at those dunes, maybe even looking at me through some wormhole. Beautiful song all around. Alex Lifeson remains totally underrated. Not just for this but while we're here.



"Remedy"
- Black Crowes
(4/92)

I often see these sorts of memes, let's see if I can get it right:


"Dad, what's it like to graduate in a year that doesn't offer up one of the greatest songs in the history of Rock and Roll?"
"I don't know, son, I'm Class of 1992."

The sort of rock and roll the Black Crowes pursue so diligently on The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was pursued many times before it and would be pursued again in the years to come (Ryan Adams, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, White Stripes, many others) but good lord is it agreeable. Particularly Side 2. I'd never claim it was leading the pack of Most Underrated Side Twos in Rock and Roll History. Unless it was in front of Congress and my hand was on a stack of bibles and hydrography charts.



"Friday I'm in Love"
- The Cure
(5/11/92)

I got in on the Cure and whole 80s alternative scene courtesy of a friend's older brother, who more or less berated me into it. I was aided and abetted by this though by WBRU which at the time was still an "alternative" radio station. Anything I ever knew about 10,000 Maniacs or Love and Rockets or Peter Murphy or even REM came about because of one or both of the above; by the mid-90s these sort of distinctions in radio made little difference. Within the context with which I greeted this new tune from the Cure, though, it made all of it.

Not that it matters for this tune. I mean, Monday you can fall apart, BRU can break your heart, Thursday doesn't even start, it's Friday. You know the rest.

"Jump Around"
- House of Pain
(5/5/92)

Another one whose longevity in such a variety of subsequent contexts commends it to a stature I'd never have guessed at the time. Always thought it was fun, though. When the Cypress Hill version became popular I resented it. Don't ask me why. I sometimes pick meaningless hills to die on. I've gotten over it, but if you asked me in the 90s why I didn't just relax and like Cypress Hill it's because I thought - for some reason - that House of Pain was getting hosed.

This and "Hip Hop Hooray" by Naughty By Nature were big at Lambda Chi Alpha in the spring of 1993. In case that ever comes up on Jeopardy.


"So Whatcha' Want"
- The Beastie Boys
(6/2/92)

I remembered the Beastie Boys as the "Fight for Your Right to Party" guys, and I was resistant to their reintroduction into my life by friends earnestly preaching their new gospel when Paul's Boutique came out in '89. I held out until the early summer of '92, and this is the song that did it. Check Your Head was probably in near constant rotation from that point through the next few years.


I don't listen to the BBs so much these days. I kind of lost my taste for them. Beck, too. I'm sure it's only temporary. I'll always be in the mood for this song, though.


Singles
Motion Picture Soundtrack(6/92)


Here's my obligatory "and then grunge happened" entry. (Also, RIP, Chris Cornell - how horrible.)

A couple of quick bullet points relating to the sudden appearance of this genre and its complete makeover of popular radio:

- I first heard Nirvana at a bowling alley. Someone who worked there put in Nevermind and played the whole thing. I don't recall it having much of an impression / no Marvin Berry in the backroom frantically calling his cousin. It's a great record, though, no doubt. I remember listening to this a lot driving home from tennis practice. I'd be curious if this is a real memory (vs. an implanted one.)

- I first heard Pearljam on the radio right after WHJY premiered the brand new Kiss song "Domino." I wasn't really a fan of Kiss at the time (that came later) but I like that dichotomy now, grunge being the popular nomination for what killed the sexist dinosaur of cock rock. (A death that may have been exaggerated.)

- I was at the Lollapalooza (Great Woods, MA) where this incredible-to-picture-now line-up played. The girl I was with got caught up in the festivities and took a handful of acid. This was not a girl who regularluy did such things, and now she wasn't just tripping - she was Ozzy Osbourne-level tripping. I spent most of the rest of the show making sure she didn't wander off into the cosmos - or worse. During the Chili Peppers set, everyone swarmed around us - we were watching the show from a blanket towards the back of the lawn - and tore up the planking from the perimeter and made a huge bonfire. I remember looking over and seeing the wall of flame reflected in her hockey-pucked eyes. I never put on a lifejacket again.

- Shortly after arriving at URI in the fall of '92, my friend's weird-ass cousin left his plaid shirt in my dorm room. It was the perfect color/ texture, everything. I tried getting ti back to him via my friend, but neither of them ever came back to Rhode Island, and so I more or less inherited it. I wish I had a picture of it - you'll just have to trust me when I say that in the era of plaid shirts tied round your waist, I had a pretty awesome one.

As I was typing these words, my friend sent me this. Timely! I was just getting to it. The Singles soundtrack was essential in the summer of '92. The movie hasn't aged as well as the soundtrack; my favorites are "Would?" and "Seasons", probably, but the whole thing's great. Grunge produced a lot of annoying trends in its Hullabaloozification of the musical landscape, but it injected a generous number of legit classic (and kick-ass) tunes into the musical ether. Probably (he said begrudgingly) even more than hair metal. If you quote me on that, though, I'll deny it.


- Sonic Youth
7/92


I think Goo was probably the high point of my Sonic Youth fandom - that's one I counted down the days for its release, the summer of 1990 - but Dirty is still a solid record 35 years later. "Sugar Kane" still sounds new to me - Sonic Youth really have a timeless quality to so much of their stuff. 

Well, I only stayed current through Washing Machine. I really should do a chronological listen-through one of these days, but those early records are really rough. Not the case with Dirty. (or Goo or Sister - all three are classics.) 

Great tune. And finally:



"Jesus Built My Hot Rod
- Ministry
(7/92)

Ministry had a bit of cross-over cred in '92 with "New World Order" and "Just One Fix" in heavy rotation on MTV. And this one, of course. Al Jourgensen got on my radar via his collaborations with Jello (particularly The Last Temptation of Reid - what a classic that record is!) and my friend was a big Butthole Surfers fan, so I already knew who Gibby Haynes was. Anyway, they were never much for the spotlight and never (to my knowledge) had a "hit" again, not that they needed one. The Butthole Surfers scored an improbable hit with "Pepper" a few years later, but for my money their greatest contribution to the world was "Goofy's Concern." The album that's from just misses making this list, but man did I listen to that a lot over the course of my freshman year at URI.

Gibby's still up to some weird shit. So's Al - outspoken as ever

~

Well that's all she wrote. Somewhere over the course of the summer of '92, my buddy Kevin showed me the Beatles and "Stash" by Phish, and those two bands dominated my musical thinking until Oasis (and subsequent Britpop) a few years later.

Thanks for reading. At the very least, you've got a Dog Star personalized playlist for yourself - go forth and preach the gospel.

8 comments:

  1. Lee Ranaldo's guitar lick on the Sugar Kane chorus one of my all time fave licks ever.

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  2. (1) "I was hanging from the skids of that last "Cherry Pie" helicopter as it took off from the American embassy." -- DSO keeps raising the bar in the best-sentence-ever-written competition. Glorious!

    (2) That Cathy Dennis video is painful. Great, but painful -- she's so vastly the worst dancer on that stage that you kind of feel bad for her. I also have to report that apparently I have developed an early-nineties nostalgia at some point. Had no idea that was there! Makes sense, though.

    (3) Dadgum, I love "Groove Is in the Heart." Now THERE'S some shit I'd never have admitted in high school.

    (4) I will always and forever know "Pull Me Under" as the intro music for the Rick Emerson Show, which was a radio show out of Portland I used to listen to via podcast. Great song; I should probably listen to more of these guys' stuff.

    (5) Okay ... well, we share the same senior year, and I kid you not, I have a memory of "Connected" being part of that year, too. I must be thinking of something else, but I'd have bet money that was from either '90 or '91 (as in my case, it's a football-team memory, and I didn't play senior year). I dig that song, regardless of when it appeared.

    (6) "Poundcake" may have been one of the final Van Halen songs that I paid much attention to. But boy, that sucker was EVERYWHERE at the beginning of that school year. I can see your friend's wife's point, but I side with you: as is, those lyrics say the unsayable, plain as day for all to hum along with.

    (7) I had to actually hear "Love of a Lifetime" to remember it, but I have no clue how I managed to forget it. Haven't been going to enough weddings, I guess! Never did go to enough dances, either, for that matter.

    (8) I do believe the sound system of government should be required to play "I'm Too Sexy" once per day. Oh, wait, you probably didn't mean "sound system" in that way. But anyways, there ought to be such a thing.

    (9) I once tried to write a career-spanning blog post about U2 and simply couldn't do it, because all I was doing was writing "this song is awesome" and "Adam is awesome" and "Larry misses a beat sometimes but is mostly awesome" and so forth. I didn't even get to "Achtung Baby," which is handily one of my all-time favorite albums by anybody.

    (10) Unless you were there, I doubt you have any understanding of how massive the release of "Use Your Illusion" was. Just a god damned two-disc colossus, striding the landscape with impunity. And EVERYONE loved "November Rain." My friggin' Dad kinda dug that song! MY DAD!!!

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    1. (1) Thanks! I appreciate when you highlight my own personal favorite lines - I must be on teh right track. I love this image, by the way - if I knew how to animate, I'd recut the video for "Cherry Pie" to turn it into this scenario, with the whole song taking place from the skids between the embassy and the aircraft carrier.

      (2) and (3) Agreed all around.

      (4) A few years before "Pull Me Under" my buddy put a song of theirs "The Tse-Tse Jam" on a mix tape (I think that was the name, without googling) and I thought it was cool, but then IMAGES AND WORDS was several levels beyond whatever it was they were doing. Great metal album. That's the only one I know, though.

      (5) That song is so goddamn cool.

      (8) Unrelated to Right Said Fred but did you know Operation Ivy in high school? "Sound System" was always getting played at parties and in friends' cars. Great tunes.

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    2. (8) No sir, I'd never heard of them until you mentioned them. But boy, that one song sounds like it probably had a serious influence on some of the bands who rolled around later in the nineties. Ahead of their time!

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  3. (11) I have to admit, "Ghost of a Chance" ain't half bad. I don't think I'd ever heard it before. It definitely has a picturesque quality to it; I can absolutely imagine that being fantastic memory-fodder.

    (12) I was all about some Black Crowes for about a year. Give you a guess what months that year spanned...

    (13) I hated The Cure back in those days. HATED them. All the hippie girls were into them, which annoyed me for some reason I couldn't even make an effort at understanding. I avoided hippie chicks like they were the plague. Oh, what a mistake... Ol' 1992 Bryant was a dipshit. Anyways, about two years later I heard this song again and was like, "OHHHHHHHH shit, NOW I get it."

    (14) I also hated hip-hop during these days, but even I thought "Jump Around" was fucking great. And so it is.

    (15) Same goes for "So Whatcha' Want." But the Beasties always managed to squeeze into the part of my brain marked HARD ROCK.

    (16) I remember hearing about the '92 Lollapalooze lineup and my mouth just hanging open, the envious body to which it was attached doomed to be eternally butthurt that there was no way to get to there.

    (17) I pretty much missed out on Sonic Youth. I always knew OF them, but never heard much of their stuff. I'd never heard "Sugar Kane" until this very moment. Pretty good stuff, that!

    (18) I cannot for the life of me remember if I got into grunge because of "Singles" or got into "Singles" because of grunge. I was hella into both though (says the guy who lives a few miles from the Ampitheatre where Cornell and Soundgarden recently played one of their last shows, but who somehow managed not to find out about it until day-of and could not get out of work to go). For the record, "Sugar Kane" sounds new to my ears, too; I'd totally have believed if somebody played it for me and told me it was from some hot new band.

    (19) Ministry has always been a mystery to me, in a similar manner to how Sonic Youth has been. This song, though, which I am hearing for the first time, kicks a great deal of ass. Reminds me a lot of Rob Zombie, which is a thing I never mind. But I think maybe this came first, which makes me question everything I know!

    (20) What a wonderful post! Thanks a bunch for this one; it was both a blast from the past and a blast from a past-I-never-knew.

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    1. (11) Glad to hear it! One of us... one of us...

      (12) I somehow managed to see those guys 3 separate times without really meaning to. They were awesome each time. I really need to sit down with their whole catalog one of these days. "Southern Harmony" is one of the best.

      (19) Totally on Rob Zombie. Gibby Haynes and Al Jourgensen came first but not by too much. They all came out of the same pool/ reaction to similar stimuli, I think.

      (20) That is exactly what I was going for! As always thank you, sir.

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    2. (11) I remain resistant, but marginally less so. Never say never, though.

      (19) Makes sense. Fascinating!

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