Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Feel Bad Hits of the 90s

While driving home last week from our trip to Virginia I decided to play DJ on my Spotify while in the passenger seat. I eventually settled in to playing downer hit songs from the 90s. Before I had tried to keep the mood light with some cheesy 80s tunes my wife and I could sing along to, and on an overcast day in Delaware, the Purgatory of states, my wife said she wanted the 90s instead. So I put on "Crucify" by Tori Amos and we were off. We talked a lot about how so many hit songs of that era dealt with minor key emotions, whereas the pop of the 80s and the pop of the 21st century has been all about partying and Reagan-era self-affirmation. Why were we so depressed in the 90s? That period of time looks like a golden age compared to the shit we are mired in now.

Inspired by that DJing I made a playlist, and here are some highlights for your weekend consumption.

Paula Cole, "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone"

Cole would have a bigger hit with "I Don't Want To Wait," but that song hewed a bit too close to the adult contemporary formula. This one has a cool backbeat and some dark, reverby guitar. It's meant to be a kind of critique of traditional gender roles, although the lyrics are probably a bit too heavy handed. That said, the lyrics mean a lot less than the mood, which is damn near perfect. The kind of inner chill I get from a Smiths song on a February day is present in this song.

Sarah McLachlan, "Adia"

Sarah McLachlan was the 90s answer to Carole King (that is a huge compliment coming from me.) This lament of lost love embodies the draggy feeling of heartbreak so perfectly that I would find myself about to break down and cry behind the wheel of my Mazda Protege while driving through the Omaha suburbs in the summer of '98 when this was all over the radio. And I didn't even need a montage of abused animals behind McLachlan's music to get me to that place.

REM, "E-Bow The Letter"

In 1996 REM put out New Adventures in HiFi, their last with Bill Berry and their last truly great record. They were big enough at the time that they could put out a song with a John Cale-worthy drone and still get airplay out of it. The sound is one of dread personified, "Aluminum Tastes Like Fear." Patti Smith coming in at the end is a wonderful surprise.

Counting Crows, "A Long December"

Counting Crows are one of those bands who will be destined to be a metonym for a decade. When folks want to evoke the 70s all they have to say is "Foghat" or "Humble Pie." When they want to refer to the 90s, they just have to say "Counting Crows." Their first record was solid front to back, a kind of ersatz The Band filtered through Prozac. The second one was spottier, but "Long December" was a keeper. It actually came out in a December when I was working at the rubber parts factory over Christmas break from college to get some extra scratch. When it came on the radio in the injection press room where I toiled over the machines, it meant far more to me than it should have.

Eels, "Novocaine For The Soul"

I get emotional thinking that once upon a time songs like this were on the radio. Or at least they were in Omaha in 1996, where there was a vibrant music scene multiple quality radio stations. It still sounds great and fresh today. The lyrics, of course, evoke depression pretty accurately. This song came out when I was in a bit of a down time (my friends later said they almost did an intervention), and it kind of helped me steer into the skid, so to speak.


Terry said... Bright Eyes?

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I didn't really start to dig them until the early 2000s. Although I could have put Blue Moon Ghetto in there.