The Connells have been making great pop records for almost 15 years now, and are in my Top Five of bands criminally overlooked during that time span. 1999 has been a year of change for the band, so I gave singer (and burgeoning thespian) Doug MacMillan a call in November to get an update on the band, and what it was like to act with “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
SR: First, I wanted to ask about what’s happened since [drummer] Peele [Wimberley] left. Did you ever have any doubt about the band continuing at any point?
DM: Oh yeah. That was October of last year, and he had actually said something to me [about leaving] one or two times before he actually quit, over a period of a couple of years. So he had always thought about wanting to quit, but couldn’t find a good time. He was interested in trying some other things musically. We didn’t know what we were going to do, so we played the last couple of shows with him around here. The last show was at the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill, and we didn’t know if that was going to be it, even though we had started talking to some other people. We tried to figure out if we were going to record again, because by that point Mike [Connell] already had written a bunch of songs. Steve Gottlieb from TVT [the president of the label] had said to Ed [Morgan, their manager], “What can I do to get these guys record again?” So we said to just basically help us out so we could stay at home and write some songs and do demos. So we did that, and we had Jon Wurster from Superchunk play on most of that stuff.
SR: He’s a great drummer.
DM: He is. In the meantime, in January, my wife and I had a son, Charlie. And now I’ve become Mr. Mom two days a week. And around that time we were getting geared up to record, and we weren’t getting the best feedback from TVT on the demos, even though we seemed to like them. We just had a lot of weird communication problems with them. So just before we were heading into the studio, they started talking to Mike about maybe trying to collaborate with other people songwriting-wise. It was very 11th hour—we had already booked studio time at this point. We were going to go into Dreamland [in Woodstock] with Lou Giordano, and had done two weeks of pre-production with him already. Basically the week we were supposed to go into the studio they dropped us. I imagine if some of their ideas had come up earlier in the writing process, this would have been a totally different story. So that’s what happened. You know, I feel worse for the people at Dreamland than I do for us [laughs], because that’s five weeks of income down the drain for them. That was pretty shitty thing, but at least we worked out an agreement with TVT so we get to keep the rights to these new songs, which everyone seems to like a lot. Now we can move ahead and take it to a new label, hopefully pretty soon. And now we’ve got a new drummer, Steve Ritter.
SR: How did you hook up with him?
DM: Steve was in a band called The Picture Made, and they were one of the original releases on Mammoth Records, which was originally Black Park Records, our first label. We did a show with them in Kansas City one time, and we watched them play, and they watched us. That was basically it—there was nobody else there. And we just thought they were good, so we maintained a relationship with them. We toured the East Coast together, but eventually they broke up. Steve now lives in Missouri, and when he found out that Peele quit, he was a little persistent about calling and asking about the opening. We knew he was a great drummer, but he lived in Missouri, he had a family out there and a business too, so it didn’t seem like it could work out. Then we had these dates on the horizon for the fall, and we were stuck without someone who could fill in. So we called Steve, and he dropped everything and came out. It’s been a blast playing with him. Stylistically he’s different from Peele. It funny, when we had our “audition” with him, it was kind of a joke because we knew how good he was, he was singing along to every song—he knew them inside and out. So he’s been a real boost.
SR: It’s almost like having a big fan join the band.
DM: Yeah, but even more so like having an old friend join. Every time we put out an album, he would call one of us and talk about it. Having him in the band, it’s a different kind of feel for people who have seen us a lot. At first they probably don’t know what to make of him, but after a few songs everyone seems to like him.
SR: Has this rejuvenated the band? Has it inspired any new music?
DM: Oh yes, definitely. The new songs we have been playing aren’t really that new at this point, but I think Mike has taken a stab at writing some other music. We’re doing at least three or four of these new ones at every show. And we’ve been doing some older songs we rarely did because everything seems a little bit different.
SR: And is being a dad changed your rock n roll lifestyle? (Laughs)
DM: You know, when I come off tour, I have to totally flip-flop my sleeping schedule to go along with the baby’s. So whenever he takes a nap, I take a nap. It’s awesome. I was never a nap guy before, but now I’m taking like two naps a day.
SR: There’s nothing wrong with naps.
DM: Oh man, it’s a whole kind of different sleep. It’s like you’re tripping or something.
SR: Well, let’s get down to some serious business here, your latest acting job, the Melissa Joan Hart movie Drive Me Crazy.
DM: Oh yeah…
SR: I actually saw the movie! I saw a press screening of it. So what was it like being in such a teen-oriented movie?
DM: Well the woman who produced the movie liked Bandwagon [Doug’s first film], so she got John [Schultz, Bandwagon director and Doug’s friend]. He knew what it was going to be from the get-go, all about Melissa Joan Hart. It’s not too hard to figure out what kind of movie it was going to be. I was on location in Utah for a week, and it was bizarre. It’s a whole totally unreal world on a movie set—everyone works totally long hours and just sleeps when they can. It’s sort of like being on tour!
SR: So what’s it like putting on a lab coat to play a chemistry professor?
DM: That was great, and they did weird stuff to my hair. I only had a few lines, and only did a couple takes. And just so you know, that is a real bong I’m holding in that scene, with real weed in it. The guys that made it in the prop department were stoners, and when they first showed it to me, I said, “Boy, this thing looks like it could work.” And they said, “Oh yeah, it works.” So I smelled it, and I could tell there was reefer in there. I loved that slightly subversive element. There are some pretty funny scenes in that movie. I know it got some harsh write-ups, but I think it’s entertaining.
SR: Okay, let’s get down to your Top Ten list of stuff of this decade.
DM: This is in no particular order. I don’t know how many I’ve got either.
SR: That’s fine. We enjoy no particular order.
DM: Okay. First is Vanway, Dicking Around, which is their new album.
SR: And where are they from?
SR: Is there a label you can give me?
DM: High Impedance Rock and Roll Records.
SR: Okay, next…
DM: The last Arches and Aisles (Sub Pop). That’s one of my favorite records of the past two or three years.
SR: A very enjoyable band.
DM: Next is Mayflies USA—this is a song—“I’ve been Down with Peter Green.”
SR: Peter Green?
DM: Yup, a great song. Next is Time-Life’s Treasury of Folk Music.
SR: Time-Life? How many CD’s is that?
DM: Two or three, I think.
SR: And did you order that off the TV?
DM: Most definitely. It’s a folk music album with very little folk music— there’s no Bob Dylan, for example.
SR: Well, that would be a problem I think…
DM: Next is Nirvana, In Utero (DGC).
SR: A great record.
DM: Ummm, [The Replacements] All Shook Down (Reprise) was in the ’90s, wasn’t it?
SR: Yes it was.
DM: Okay, that’s on there. Another song, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” (Reprise)
SR: Well, it actually came out in late ’89, but we’ll give that one to you.
DM: Okay. Now this is a weird one, this is a compilation, or a collection, whatever you want to call it. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Live at Max’s Kansas City (ROIR). It came out in 1996. How many is that so far?
SR: I think that’s eight.
DM: Okay. Let’s see, American Music Club, San Francisco (Reprise).
SR: Mark Eitzel is a fine songwriter.
DM: Yes. Next we have Gold Bond Medicated Powder.
SR: From the non-musical world there, but a necessity if you are on tour I imagine.
DM: It’s one of my all-time favorites. Oh, and one more: Suicane Gratifaction by Paul Westerberg. I really like that. I think that might be it.
SR: Well that’s one diverse list. Thanks for sharing it.
I grew up a Top 40 kid. Any major hit from 1974 to 1984 is buried somewhere within my skull; those lyrics have taken up memory that could have gotten me into a better school, maybe even propelled me to a graduate degree and a successful career that pays me gobs of cash. Alas, that’s not the case. I’ve got my overburdening debt and “It Never Rains in Southern California” to keep me company now. However, in 1984 I drifted away from the joys of hearing Casey Kasem counting ‘em down to the devil’s music—the local AOR station (that stands for Album Oriented Rock). Everyone thinks of that time as when cookie cutter radio became the norm. That may be, but my station, PYX (as in picks) 106, out of Albany, New York was a little more adventurous during my prime listening hours of the evening. This is where I first heard R.E.M., Talking Heads, Joe Jackson and The Smithereens. The first tune I heard from these Jersey guys wasn’t their first hit, “Blood and Roses,” it was “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” The first time I heard that song—during which I probably should have been doing homework—I was hooked. It had that immediacy of all my pop favorites, but it also had some balls. Jim Babjak’s guitar solo is still one of my favorites of all time. I never went out and bought Especially for You that year. It took until 1989’s Smithereens 11 for my fandom to kick in. When Especially was reissued in 1992, I was in the position to get free records all the time from record companies, so I took advantage and got my friendly Capitol Records rep to send me the whole collection. Especially for You became especially lodged in my C-D player, and it’s rewarded my pop memories every since. It’s even created some new ones too.
29) Steely Dan - The Royal Scam
When I became an AOR listener, I also got exposed to older groups whom I had never heard before—who were Led Zeppelin, The Who, Little Feat and The Allman Brothers Band anyway? And who the heck was Steely Dan? “What kind of guy would call himself that,” I thought. But Steely Dan and the witty, exquisite sounds of co-founders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker became a staple of my room. I liked them even more once I realized that Fagen was the same guy who sang that odd ditty called “I.G.Y.” The double album Greatest Hits became a staple of my homework time listening. I would work hard for the length of a side, then take a break when it was time to flip the album over. The first CD I bought with my own money—way back in 1987—was A Decade of Steely Dan. But by the time I went to college, the only non-greatest hits Steely Dan album I had heard all the way through was Aja. My sophomore year my friend Dave Hoffman turned me onto the wonders of The Royal Scam. Dave told me (and forgive me Dave if I misquote you here) that he loved listening to this album at a really loud volume in the dark because it “totally filled the room.” So one night decided to see for myself, borrowing his copy of the album and listening to it loudly when I crashed at a friend room’s while my roommate’s girlfriend was in town. Dave was right—and I was even sober!!! Songs like “The Caves of Altamira” and “Don’t Take Me Alive” just came at my ears from everywhere at once. The topper was the title track—I actually felt a bit scared by how perfect it sounded. I went out and bought The Royal Scam the next week, and have let it fill up many rooms in many different apartments since.
28) The Grateful Dead - Blues for Allah
Ladies and gentlemen, my hippie roots are showing. Yes, for those of you who didn’t get to spend quality time (ha ha) with me in college, let me admit in public that I went through a big Deadhead phase of my life. I think it must have been a genetic thing—my two cousins who lived closest to me started following The Dead in the early ’80s, and all I could think was that I could never imagine seeing a band more than one night in a row. But then along came 1987’s In the Dark. Wasn’t that catchy little tune “Touch of Gray” everywhere? After hearing that old age lament a few times, I went out and bought the cassette. It became a must-have when I would ride along in my friends car, and I would buy beer for us 17-and 18-year olds because I had a cheesy mustache that made me look 20, at best. Once college hit, I found plenty of people who were into the Dead, and my floormate Brian turned me onto to hundreds of concerts from over a 20 year period. In 1989 I saw my first Dead shows, even seeing back-to-back stops on their stadium tour. One of my live favorites was called “Franklin’s Tower,” and that came from an album called Blues for Allah. With the resurgence in interest in the Dead, the band got the money to reissue many out-of-print records on their own label. Blues for Allah was the holy grail of sorts, and I snapped it up when it came out. Allah is an odd mix when put in context with their other studio albums of the ’70s. These songs were a bit more spacey than the folky Workingman’s Dead, and it wasn’t a bid for more mainstream rock acceptance like Shakedown Street. This was the disc you could listen to in a darkened room doing…umm, stuff, and picture yourself at a really good-sounding Dead show. The eclectic mix of instrumentals (“King Solomon’s Marbles,” “Sage & Spirit”) and very trippy medleys that open and close the album encapsulated everything I liked about the Dead. But by 1990 it was obvious things were getting out of hand, so I stopped going to Dead shows. And year by year I started weeding out the over 120 shows I had on tape down to just to a select few. But occasionally when I feel like eating some granola and slipping on some sandals, Blues for Allah is right there, like a smelly friend looking for a miracle.
27) Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
While I was growing up a Top 40 kid circa 1982-1985, the station I listened to played a odd mix of straight ahead rock songs with a healthy dose of this new music called rap. FLY 92 out of Albany turned me onto the rhymes of Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang and one of my favorite one-hit wonders of all time, Newcleus. But when I started listening to white boy classic rock, I moved dramatically away from that type of music. If it didn’t have a guitar, it was crap was my mindset up until a fateful night in January 1989. I was rooming with my friend Dave (that Steely Dan guy) as we worked our winter break away at the college radio station. One rare night when we were both home at the same time, Dave insisted that I listen to two things that I openly disdained—rap and Frank Zappa. First up was Frank, and I realized that something cool was going on. (I ended up buying my first Zappa album a month later, the first of 54 Zappa albums so far). Then Dave dropped in the cassette of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. There’s a line in “Don’t Believe the Hype” where Chuck D says, “I said I was a timebomb,” and damn, this album was THE bomb. The collage of sounds and the rapid fire lyrics all of which I didn’t quite understand were a shocker to me. I never thought that I could wean myself off yet another guitar solo from Dickey Betts, but Public Enemy opened up my ears and eyes. Dave, thanks for playing those tapes…
26) Hüsker Dü - Warehouse: Songs and Stories
There’s a music cliché of sorts that applies to Hüsker Dü for me—the first album you hear from an artist will always be your favorite. One of the most common complaints you’ll hear from music fans is that a particular album “just isn’t as good as their first one, dude.” Warehouse: Songs and Stories was the last album Hüsker Dü made, but it was the first one I bought. After being exposed to Bob Mould’s first solo album, Workbook, I started playing Hüsker songs on the air in double shots, and “Could You be the One?” was the song that made me blow out speakers. Since that song was on Warehouse, it was the one I had to buy first. I eventually picked up the rest of the catalog over time. I know that other Hüsker albums like Candy Apple Gray and Zen Arcade have more critical acclaim, but putting on Warehouse transports me back to the first time I ever played it (very loudly I add), in my very first apartment. Since that time, Warehouse has been there to help me drive through cold early morning hours and hot summer nights, but most of all, it’s helped me to clean. Whenever I do a major cleaning job of any apartment I’ve lived in, Warehouse is what gives me the energy to scrub the toilet, SOS the oven and wipe off the microwave. As for the actual songs on Songs and Stories, they rock, even though the drums sound like they were recorded through a tin can.
25) R.E.M. - Life’s Rich Pageant
Life’s Rich Pageant is the album that saw R.E.M. began their takeover of mainstream rock. They did this, simply enough, by making a mainstream rock album. Producer Don Gehman made John Mellencamp’s finest albums, and that rock solid sound is all over here. Gone are the mumbles, but not the odd lyrics (“Bury Magnets/Swallow the Rapture”…huh?) from Michael Stipe. Peter Buck turns up the guitar a bit more, while Mike Mills and Bill Berry just thrash on songs like “Begin the Begin” and “These Days.” And Berry’s drums punch through with a clarity that was lacking on Murmur and Reckoning. Pageant also has my favorite R.E.M. song of all time, “Fall on Me,” which should have been their breakthrough hit, instead of “The One I Love” the following year. And how could anyone not like an album that closes with a cover song as goofy as “Superman?” The little twangy musical bridge in it still makes me giggle today.
24) Elvis Costello - King of America
Does everyone go through an Elvis Costello phase in their life? I believe so. As a matter of fact, I have gone through two of them myself. The first was in 1989 when I started playing DJ full time at my FM college station, and at the time I didn't have a clue as to who 75% of the artists were. So I started playing what I knew, which was any new wave-type music. I ended up playing lots of Costello, and in the process stumbled onto two records that stood out the most—1983’s Imperial Bedroom and King of America. I had heard Costello’s razor blade and whiskey-scarred-throat version of The Animals “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood” when the album had first come out, but that song is an anomaly in a stack of great original tunes. The album’s opener, “Brilliant Mistake,” is one of Costello’s finest achievements, in which he comes face to face with his own faults and dashed hopes of success. The other highlight is “I’ll Wear It Proudly,” which sticks a bitter knife in the idea of love, and twists it a couple of times for good measure. And Costello’s choice of musicians (done with producer T-Bone Burnett) such as James Burton (guitarist for the other Elvis), drummer Jim Keltner and bassist Jerry Scheff is yet another brilliant move. Who says Elvis needs The Attractions to be good?
23) Bob Dylan - Blonde on Blonde
Well, there’s not much I can write that already hasn’t been published about this landmark double album. One thing I have always wondered is how many people haven’t picked up this album when they’ve been looking for that “Everybody Must Get Stoned” song (not knowing its proper title). And I wonder how many used copies of this album have still some seeds stuck in the gatefold. Blonde on Blonde makes the cut above many Dylan albums for me because two of my favorite songs of his, “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” are included, showing me how important the use of parentheses can be.
22) The Clash - London Calling
Wow. How do you sum up an album as sprawling and diverse as this one, where the biggest hit from it (“Train in Vain”) isn't even listed on it? How do you sum up an album that goes from semi-punk to rockabilly to a lounge song, within the first three cuts? There is just no way I could do this feat justice. Thousands of words have been devoted to London Calling so far, and will continue to be written into the foreseeable future, because this is the kind of album critics will pontificate about all day. My memory is a bit clouded on this, but here’s an example of how deep this double album is. At my college station there was a dot system in effect, where blue dot songs where the strongest cuts, then gold dots, then green dots. Out of 19 songs, 13 had these different-colored dots next to them. For a comparison, most records had three to four dots, max. The thing that amazes me about this album about how effortless it sounds. Some bands have tried to mix up punk, reggae and ska, but it almost always ends up sounding like crap. These four lads just easily hopscotch from genre to genre, making their own sound each time. I became so hooked on this album at one point in my college DJ days that I played one song off it each airshift for at least two months. My favorite track (as of this writing, it changes every couple times I listen to it) is “Death or Glory”—I think only Joe Strummer could pull off a line like “He who fucks nuns/Will later join the church.” And I’m so happy this band never did a reunion tour. Apparently Johnny Rotten just didn't have enough songs sampled by rappers, or he could have turned down the cash…
21) Rolling Stones - Let It Bleed
Rock Critic Cliché # 27: The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street is their finest album, and one of the best albums ever. Okay, great record, I will give you that, but I think the Stones were at their peak in 1969. Of course, that peak was overshadowed by Altamont, but Let It Bleed is undeniably one of the best rock records made, period. There are no throwaways, and the tracks run the gauntlet of rock—blues (“Love in Vain,”) country (“Honky Tonk Women” via a hoedown for “Country Honk”) and even orchestral/ progressive/overblown (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”). The Stones were in that pocket that few bands approach where everything they do is working on a higher plane. At the end of one wild decade (at least that’s what the history books tell me), how bold is it to start of an album with a song, “Gimmie Shelter,” where the chorus is “Rape/Murder/It’s just a shot a way.” Perhaps the Stones were the original gangsta rappers. A must have for any collection.
20) AC/DC - Back in Black
If you want to know how to play hard rock, start and end with this album. Dumb lyrics, big riffs, screaming singer—the three crucial elements to making loud music are all in full effect here. I am sure that every person that is reading this right now has sung along to “You Shook Me (All Night Long)” either in a bar, or in a car or at a boozed-filled party. Do rock riffs get any better than “Back in Black?” Nope. Just think, this was AC/DC’s first album with a new singer. Their first singer had died just the year before, which was also when they had broken through in the U.S. Most people would crumble under that kind of pressure. But to borrow an old baseball saying, they stepped up to the plate and planted one deep in the right field seats.
19) The Kinks - The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society
I was never a big Kinks fan until the past year. I knew the hits, I picked up the Come Dancing album which had their best of the late ’70s and early ’80s and I saw them shortly after my high school graduation, and they rocked. But that was it. Flash forward 12 years, and my friend Mike—who is the biggest Kinks fans I know—is putting together a compilation for his small label. He somehow convinces The Figgs—who are also huge Kinks fans—to contribute to this collection, with a cover of “Johnny Thunder” from Village Green. I listen to this cover incessantly, and figure that if one of my best friends and one of my favorite bands like one album this much, I should check it out. So one day after work I pick up Village Green, and listen to it one Sunday afternoon (pun not intended). Rarely does an album stop me in my tracks and make me listen to it again immediately, but Village Green was one in a thousand. How had I missed this album? It’s a beautiful, soulful, loving—and at the same time—hateful picture of a time that I’m vaguely aware of. I’ve never been to England, but I feel like I’m get an aural history of the UK’s 20th Century ups and downs in less than 40 minutes. It’s a shame that this album disappeared from sight in the U.S. after it was released. Village Green is one gem that shouldn’t be overlooked.
18) Neil Young - Tonight’s the Night
Unfortunately, Crazy Horse aren’t billed on this album, but they should be, as they serve as Neil Young’s companions down some of the darkest territories a major artist has explored. Tonight’s the Night was Young’s reaction to the death of two close friends from drug deaths. It was so dark that it took over two years before it was released, and only then at the prodding of a few musician friends who heard it one night at Young’s ranch. In an interview about 20 years ago, Young described this album as one that’s not meant to be put on during they day—and that’s better warning than any parental advisory sticker. Young and Crazy Horse would get high, drink tequila and play pool until midnight when they—in Young’s words—“got right out on the edge where we felt wide-open to the whole mood.” It’s a mood of darkness, with no light at the end of the tunnel. The playing just barely holds together at times, as if the musicians were a bunch of garage band boys who’ve had too many beers one night. The highlight comes on “Borrowed Tune,” where Neil barely stays in tune, accompanying himself on the piano, playing a song that sounds vaguely familiar. Then he reveals in the lyrics that he borrowed the song from The Rolling Stones because he’s “too wasted to write my own.” It’s just a chilling and stunning examination of the power drugs hold over people, and the friends who are left behind trying to make sense of it all.
17) R.E.M. - Document
R.E.M.’s breakthrough album was delivered at the perfect time. The greed of the era (Gordon Gecko, where are you now in the IPO era?) and the political bullshit (Iran-Contra and Reagan’s presidency) of the time must have gotten to Michael Stipe, because these songs are not shrouded in mystery like on Murmur. Right from the get go, Document tackles the problems of the period, with the opener “Finest Worksong” serving as a call to arms for those who are tired of the bullshit (“The time to rise has been engaged”). It sounds like a band going to war, with Peter Buck’s guitar sweeping in like an airplane while Mike Mills’ bass and Bill Berry’s drums rattle like gunshots in front of your face. The political examination continues with “Welcome to the Occupation,” a not-so-veiled jab at the Gipper’s Central American policy, and “Exhuming McCarthy.” Each song crackles with intensity—no note or instrument is wasted here, as Steve Berlin’s (Los Lobos) sax playing takes things up a notch on “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Fireplace.” Even when things get a bit silly (the cover of Wire’s “Strange” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”) there’s a method behind the madness. Document doesn’t just focus on national and world politics; “The One I Love” rips into the politics of love—a point that most folks at the time just seemed to miss. This album was the first new one I bought when I hit college (I picked up the newly issued on CD White Album just a few days before classes started), and I can’t think a better way to start off four years of higher education than with forty minutes of a musical higher education.
16) Big Star - #1 Record
The legend of Big Star has grown to mythic proportions throughout the ’90s. Almost every group that has a hint of a sweet pop sound (The Bangles, Matthew Sweet, Gin Blossoms) ends up saying Big Star was an influence, or someone will toss the name into a record review offhandedly (as in, “…this album is a bouillabaisse of pop sensibility, mixing in dashes of Big Star, the Raspberries…”) to sound like they are more knowledgeable than the Trouser Press Record Guide. It makes me want to beat some writers upside the head with the Webster’s College Dictionary that sits at my desk. Anyway, the attention showered on Big Star now (a reunion that gave birth to a live album, a tribute album and the theme song to That ’70s Show) is certainly well deserved. The three opening tracks on #1 Record—“Feel,” “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “In the Street” are as perfect examples of the way pop-rock songs should be done as anything released in the ’70s. Singer-guitarists Alex Chilton and Chris Bell knew how to write top notch material, and the performances come off as slick, but not passionless. Big Star also benefited from the CD revolution, when #1 Record and their second album, Radio City, were reissued on one disc in Europe in 1987. That version had two songs cut off for time reasons, but the 1992 U.S. version featured both albums in their entirety, making for a 24-track, 73-minute excursion into the best power-pop has to offer. That makes one mighty fine bouillabaisse…
15) Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Ah, depression, self pity, booze and drugs—that’s a winning combination when you’re trying to make a quality album. Layla’s got all of these in spades. Eric Clapton couldn’t get the woman he wanted, who just happened to the wife of his friend George Harrison, so he fell into drugs, drinking and one of the best one-shot bands ever. Keyboardist Bobby Whitlock sings with such gusto on “Bell Bottom Blues” and the cover of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” you’d think HE was the one with the lady problems. And I’d have to leave my desk and pick up Roget’s Thesaurus to find more superlatives for Duane Allman. His sterling lead and slide work pushes Clapton’s playing to new heights. Layla was the only album I listened to when I was depressed about my problems with opposite sex in high school and my first couple of years in college—and yes, I listened to it hundreds of times, the pathetic loser that I was (fill in your own quip here). But hearing someone else articulate his pain and spread it over four sides of vinyl is the perfect remedy—even better than Prozac. The post-Unplugged mania turned me off to E.C. for a long time until this past year when I saw him play a benefit show at Madison Square Garden with Bob Dylan and Sheryl Crow. After a mediocre set from Crow, Clapton and his band broke into “Little Wing,” complete with Crow singing the high harmony parts nailed almost 30 years ago by Bobby Whitlock. It’s musical moments like this that make life worth living, I am convinced of that. Saxman David Sanborn blew his best solo ever, as if the spirit of Duane Allman had been channeled through him. Clapton responded with a solo that can best be described as otherworldly. It was as if Clapton dug deep within himself to relieve that pain of 1970, and perhaps his tragedies over the past decade, to prove that he’s still got some artistic edge left in him.
14) The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
Now I can you saying to yourself, “What the heck is this album doing here? What about all those other great Stones records?” Well, this isn’t a list of what I think the most influential albums of the past 30 years are—it’s just a bunch of records I love. And Tattoo You does something to me; I can’t quite put my finger on it. “Start Me Up” and “Hangfire” make me think of listening to the radio while visiting my uncle and aunt in Massachusetts, where they had (cue angelic sounds) cable. The lyrics to “Waiting on a Friend” I’ve actually used to communicate with the opposite sex (not that successfully, however). I didn’t buy this album until 1990, but I became hooked by the all-ballad side two, and I can’t help reminiscing about living in a tiny on-campus apartment and cranking this album up. It still amazes me that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards could write a song a sweet as “No Use in Crying,” which is in my top five of all-time Stones songs. Of course, every album the Stones have made since this one has been shit, so Tattoo You looks even better over time.
13) Prince & the Revolution - Music From Purple Rain
Do you remember your first concert? I do, like it was yesterday. Prince and the Revolution on March 30th, 1985, at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. It was just a couple of weeks before Around the World in the Day was to be released, but I didn’t care about that—I was going to get to see all the great songs from Purple Rain played before my eyes. This was big achievement for me. I convinced the family to let me ride three hours in a car with two people they didn’t know to pick up a third they did to go to the “big city” for this concert. It was everything I had hoped for, and most shows since then have barely captured the energy Prince displayed that night. (If you’d like to see the show, it was filmed for the home video Prince & the Revolution Live.) I remember feeling so dirty the first time I listened to “Darling Nikki,” which sounds absolutely tame 15 years later. “Purple Rain” to this day gives me shivers up the spine. When I finally saw Prince (or The Artist) for a second time in 1997, it was so fitting that the second song he did was “Purple Rain.” It was a homecoming to the first album (outside The Beatles catalog) that I had memorized every lyric to. Sometimes I still dream of a courtyard with an ocean of violets in bloom…
12) Soul Asylum - Hang Time
I’m convinced there is something in the water in Minneapolis that helped produce great bands like The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Jayhawks and these lads in Soul Asylum. Dave Pirner, Dan Murphy, Karl Mueller and Grant Young went on to great commercial success five years after the release of Hang Time, but they never again approached the artistic heights of this album. The first two singles, “Sometime to Return” and “Cartoon,” are shining examples of how guitar rock should be done—great riffs, fast pace and big hooks. And each song has one outstanding lyrical couplet: “Throw away your calendar and saddle up your salamander” (“Sometime to Return”); “If you’re crying in your beer, you’re gonna drown” (“Cartoon”). Any album with two songs as great as these would deserve a place on this list, but Hang Time offers even more gems. “Down on up to Me” and it’s stuttering guitar announce the bringing of the rock, while the use of piano and timpani to drive “Marionette” was a fine choice by the producers, Lenny Kaye and Ed Stasium. Hang Time is also, hands down, the best used disc I have ever purchased. If more of today’s guitar-driven bands only listened to this album, the world would be a better place.
11) The Beatles - The Beatles (The White Album)
This is the rarest of Beatles albums—one that has grown in popularity over time, and in critical acclaim as well. If you took a poll of people around my age and asked them their favorite Beatles album, I think a majority of them would say this one. Here’s a few reasons why: 1) The “Birthday” factor. How many people hate having “Happy Birthday” sang to you? Raise your hands. That’s right, everyone. So over the past 15 years this song has become the birthday anthem—played at bars, on the radio, at parties, etc. People have picked up this album just for “Birthday,” and ended up liking the rest of it. 2) The AOR factor. As rock radio became more regimented, some of the songs that “didn’t test well” were dropped out. The White Album came along just as progressive FM radio was taking root, and the diversity of songs was tailor-made for the format. So those people who were in charge of tightening the reigns on DJ’s dropped most of the pre-Revolver fab four, and played the songs that “rocked” more, like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” 3) The Deadhead factor. The Grateful Dead did plenty of covers, but their pick of the Beatles catalog began and ended with this album. Many of those Deadheads who had acoustic guitars ended up learning how to play “Dear Prudence,” “Blackbird” and “Rocky Raccoon,” making those songs standard for when someone brought out a guitar to go along with some bong hits. There are my unscientific reasons why The White Album is so popular today. Thank you very much.
10) The Who - Who’s Next
Here’s the album that’s gone from being close to the top of the heap, down because I started hating it, and now back up again. Who’s Next was one of the first 10 discs I bought in 1987, and I listened to anthems like “Baba O’Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Behind Blue Eyes” very loudly at home and at college. But then I spent one summer at my first radio job, where I heard every classic rock song in existence every four days or so. Bands that I was neutral about—Boston, Journey, Kansas, Boston, BTO, Styx, Bad Company, REO Speedwagon—I starting hating with a passion after about a month. I never needed to hear a Led Zeppelin song again, and even my love of The Who had turned into ambivalence. This was a drastic turn of events my friends. I just seen the reunited, somewhat bloated Who a year before, and was just starting to get into the early gems of their catalog. I figured my love affair with the Who was over. But in 1995 MCA Records started reissuing The Who catalog, and the following year they got around to releasing Quadrophenia, which I got for free. After one night of listening, all those memories of hearing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” over and over again started to dissipate. I picked up the reissue of Who’s Next, and learned to love one of my favorite albums all over again. The groundbreaking synth parts on “Baba” and “Fooled,” the amazing piano work of guest player Nicky Hopkins on “The Song Is Over” and “Getting in Tune” and the way Pete Townshend yells “Beep beep!” in “Goin’ Mobile” sounded fresh again. And who knew The Who could have a commercial renaissance via commercials? This may soon turn me off again, but for now I’ll enjoy The Who while listening to them in my new Izusu while I bring home my new Gateway computer after I’ve seen the video of Summer of Sam.
9) Talking Heads - Little Creatures
I know many people would raise an eyebrow at this selection over Talking Heads albums like Remain in Light and Fear of Music, but I have a deep sentimental attachment to this album. Little Creatures was the first Heads album I ever bought—I knew all their hits that were played on the radio, and I had taped Stop Making Sense from a friend. But when I heard “Road to Nowhere” for the first time on the radio, something clicked. I had to get the album that had that song. So a few days later I picked up Little Creatures, and listened to it every day on the school bus. The simplicity of the songs, which was a far cry from the tricky rhythms of Remain in Light, struck a chord with my pop radio ears. I even got used to the fact that my tape had a defect where the left channel would drop out during the end of “Walk It Down,” only to return for the final notes of the song. (When I bought the disc three years later, I was so surprised to hear what was happening in that other channel.) Even the illustrated cover art by Rev. Howard Finster entertained me for hours. David Byrne and company tried to replicate the simple song formula on their next album, True Stories, but it didn’t come close to capturing that same spirit.
8) XTC - Skylarking
Post-Beatles pop songwriting doesn’t get much better than this priceless piece of art. A shining example of how conflict can drive creativity, Skylarking was produced by Todd Rundgren (that “Bang the Drum All Day” guy). He drove this English trio, well, nuts with his perfectionism and odd production ways. Singer-bassist Colin Moulding even attempted to quit the band at one point. But both producer and group made it through the trouble to create XTC’s finest moment. Every note is perfectly placed, every harmony is dead on in this loose concept record about a day of moving through the English countryside. It’s still hard to believe that “Dear God” was first left off the album because singer-guitarist Andy Partridge that it was “too clumsy.” Fortunately this error was rectified after it was released as a B-side to the song “Grass” and turned into an unlikely hit, forcing their record label to stick “Dear God,” onto the album.
7) U2 - The Joshua Tree
At some point in a band’s life—if they’re lucky—they’re poised on the edge of greatness, either artistically or commercially. U2’s point was after the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope tour in 1986. Their previous album, The Unforgettable Fire, had been their biggest to date, and they had wowed the world at Live Aid. They then conquered much of America as headliners on the Amnesty tour and with the live version of “Bad” from Wide Awake in America. I remember that summer thinking that I couldn’t wait to hear the next U2 album, and I wasn’t the only one. So when I heard “With or Without You” the first time, I was somewhat disappointed. This slow, building love song didn’t grab me at first. But I was sure I was going to buy The Joshua Tree the week it came out, and it rocked my world. From the atmosphere of “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Running to Stand Still” to the joyfulness of “Trip Through Your Wires” to the guitar assault of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” The Joshua Tree delivered the goods on all accounts. There are few songs that contain the emotional wallop of “One Tree Hill,” which was written as a tribute to one of their roadies who died. You can feel Bono’s pain and sorrow in every word he sings. I saw them two weeks after the album came out, and it still ranks as one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. It’s rare to be able to see a band at the top of its game, but in 1987, U2 were the best band in the world. Even though constant airplay took the shine off some of the tracks, The Joshua Tree is the perfect example of a band reaching for the brass ring, and not letting it go.
6) Dire Straits - Making Movies
When Brothers in Arms was released in the summer of 1985, the only Dire Straits song I knew was their previous hit, “Sultans of Swing.” “Money for Nothing” seemed to be everywhere eventually that year (along with the Miami Vice theme by Jan Hammer), and even though I couldn’t get my MTV even if I wanted it (we had no cable), I did want Brothers in Arms. It was a Walkman favorite as I entered my junior year of high school. It was that semester where I struck up a friendship with a guy in my gym class. The two of us were surrounded by freshman, and in the world of high school politics you can never sink that low to speak to someone. So one day during a game of basketball we started talking about bands we really liked, and he mentioned Dire Straits. I told him how I loved Brothers in Arms but didn’t know anything else. The next week he brought in two Dire Straits albums (on vinyl, ah, those were the days), Communiqué and Making Movies. I taped them that night at home, and I distinctly recall not doing my homework that night because of the power of Making Movies. These songs were like movies—with long cinematic instrumental passages and thorough descriptions of characters wronged by love. And what makes it all work is the instrumental interplay between Mark Knopfler’s guitar and the guest keyboards of Roy Bittan of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. If I had to pick one particular guest shot on any album that rises above the best, it’s Bittan’s work here. His piano playing helps to drive “Tunnel of Love,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Skateaway” to mythic heights that amazing guitar work can’t do alone. I may have forgotten the name of the guy from high school gym class, but I’ll never forgot what a good deed he did by giving me that copy of Making Movies to tape.
5) Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen was the first artist to whom I became totally devoted. Every single release this guy put out between 1982 and 1992 I picked up, whether it was a single, a compilation appearance, an EP—I bought everything. My love of Bruce has waned over the years, especially with the lengthy waits between albums and the lifeless crap he put out on Human Touch and Lucky Town. But Born to Run has always been near the top of my favorites list. You could read any issue of or any book put out by Rolling Stone and read all about how it’s part of the American dream, what it brings to music…blah blah blah. It’s just a darn good rock album. And if I thought my Bruce fixation would ever completely go away, that was shot down by seeing him with the E Street Band this summer at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. “Born to Run” that night was as good as music gets—it fucking rocked. It was one of those rare concert moments that remind me why I got into this line of work in the first place.
4) The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me
11 songs, 33 minutes and 34 seconds. That’s the length it takes to achieve perfection, which The Replacements did in 1987. Pleased to Meet Me includes the best song of the ’80s (in my opinion), “Alex Chilton.” It also has one of the best ballads of that decade (“Skyway”) and one of the most chilling songs about suicide ever written (“The Ledge”). And you know what? All the other songs are great too. If you own it, you know what I mean. If you don’t, stop reading and go buy it right now. Now please excuse me, as I have to go air guitar to this album. It’s too difficult to write as I air drum and guitar after each sentence I type.
3) Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Live Rust
Neil Young released a career retrospective in 1978 called Decade, but if you want the essence of his music, get this album. Half acoustic, half electric and a loose concept about a boy growing up through rock n’ roll to place it all in context, Live Rust contains all the best facets of one of rock music’s finest artists. And I never would have heard it if it wasn’t for my friend Cliff playing the tape over and over again in his Honda as we cruised over the roads through lovely Columbia County, New York. So now you know who to blame for my Neil Young fixation.
2) Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks
Depression, bitterness, spitefulness and sorrow—that’s the list of emotions I experience every day (just kidding). But that’s also the gamut of emotions Bob Dylan lets seep through Blood on the Tracks. If you’ve been dumped and want to feel better, listen to this album. You’ll be glad you didn’t have it as bad as Dylan, or the characters in his songs. This is also one of only two records I’ve ever bought while stone cold drunk. I was 18, I had facial hair, and the Pizzeria Uno in the mall was incredibly lax about asking for ID. My friend Cliff (the Neil Young fan) and I drank a whole lot, then decided to go shopping. Right around the corner from the restaurant was a record store (as we used to call them back in the day), and I stumbled in looking for something big to buy. Unfortunately, the first thing I saw was the Woodstock soundtrack (which I wisely sold later on when I was sober). But as I wandered around the racks, I saw this violet cover with a very fuzzy painting, which was of Dylan. Of course, at the time it looked a whole lot fuzzier. Impressed by the cover art (and the pretty, pretty colors), and knowing one song, “Tangled Up in Blue,” I made my purchase. I really don’t remember much about the rest of that night, but somehow I arrived home in one piece, and fell asleep as “Simple Twist of Fate” played on. Back to the music: It’s really good, really, really good. I wanted to use another word there, but I seem to have forgotten any synonyms for “good.” Damn lack of brain cells….
1) The Beatles - Abbey Road
Sgt. Pepper gets all the acclaim and Revolver is a close second, but in my book Abbey Road is far and away the best Beatles album. And just like the White Album, I have a few reasons to back it up: 1) The use of the synthesizer. Dr. Moog’s electronic keyboard creation ended up being overused on many records of the ’70s, but the Fab Four used this new musical invention perfectly, letting it compliment the other instruments in tracks like “Here Comes the Sun” and “Because.” 2) The comeback factor. The first song recorded for Abbey Road was “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” back during the horrific Get Back/Let It Be sessions. Even after all the tensions that eventually caused the breakup, these guys pulled it together to make an amazing album with the quality musicianship Beatle fans had come to expect. 3) The development of George Harrison. The quiet one had written some good songs before (“Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), but no one except Lennon and McCartney can say they’ve written two songs as good as “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” that landed on one album. There’s isn’t a time that I’ve listened to Abbey Road where I haven’t picked up something new, some note or vocal part or lyric that I’m amazed by. I never owned a copy of the album until it was issued on CD in 1987, and I remember going to the radical “CD only” store in Ithaca on a Monday night at midnight to pick up Abbey Road and Let It Be. I stayed up late and listen to the album twice because it sounded so crisp and clean compared to way it did over the radio. There is nothing quite like a band going out on top.
Cheap Trick - At Budokan (1979)
Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy (1989)
Bob Mould - Workbook (1989)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Southern Accents (1985)
The Replacements - Let It Be (1984)
Scruffy the Cat - Moons of Jupiter (1988)
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
Tom Waits - Big Time (1988)
Young Fresh Fellows - The Men Who Loved Music (1987)
Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (‘) (1974)
Dave Derby’s musical career has taken him from a band that had a modern rock hit (The Dambuilders) to playing in Lloyd Cole’s band, The Negatives, to his own project Brilliantine, which has featured a who’s who of the New York and Boston music scenes. My path crossed with Dave this year when he was employed as a writer at the company I work for. Now he’s focusing on a master’s degree in the wacky and changing world of new media. As the only person I know who grew up in Hawaii and toured the world extensively, Dave seemed liked a natural choice to have a truly diverse Top Ten list. So one night we sat down at a Village coffeehouse to chat about that list and his music. We really started talking once I realized the place sold beer too.
DD: Ah, cookies and beer.
SR: Yes, this is the way it should be. So this list is your Top 10 shows of all time. First up is…
DD: Polvo at the Tiki Room in Boston in 1991.
SR: So I’m not sure who Polvo is—I have heard the name.
DD: Well, they were sort of an indie rock band when they started, but then they became more of a progressive band as they went on. Their first record (1992’s Cor-Crane Secret, Merge) was incredible. I got turned onto them through a friend of mine who was booking at the Middle East, and he was like, “Check this tape out.” And I listened to it, and I was completely blown away. I eventually became friends with them. I liked their later records, but it just didn’t have the same kind of charm as their earlier records. That first show I saw was really incredible.
SR: Sometimes there’s nothing like seeing a band for there very first time.
DD: Yeah, and there were only five people in the audience because nobody knew who they were. Years later people would say to me, “You were at that first Polvo show?” Next is Blumfeld, a German band, which we actually opened for in 1995 at this place called Insel der Jugend, which is this youth island in Berlin.
SR: So what does a Berlin youth island consist of?
DD: It’s used to be a club in the old East. It’s a place where a lot of bands used to play and hang out—it was just a little island in the middle of a river. We played this festival there when they did and they were incredible. They put out three records, and one came out in the states, L'estat et Moi, which means “the state and me.” I heard all this stuff about them in Germany, and at the time they were one of the few bands that sang and wrote lyrics in German. I don’t speak German, but it was just so powerful.
SR: A lot of German acts would sing in English, right?
DD: Yes, because a lot of Germans were scared that if they wrote lyrics in German, they would be taken apart. Their music was pretty Sonic Youth-derived, but still, it was pretty exciting. Next is the Pogues at Toad’s Place in New Haven, Connecticut in 1987. I lived right around the corner from the club at the time. They were amazing.
SR: It’s hard to go wrong with a performance from Shane McGowan.
DD: Next is Alex Chilton, he played this ridiculous show for no money, and this was before all the Big Star reunions—it was around 1987 at the Morse College Dining Hall at Yale. The show was really bad for about 80 percent of it, but the 20 percent that was great was just fucking incredible. He was just playing these weird instrumentals, and everyone had sheet music in front of them, trying to follow along. And they were really bad. Then he’d just be like, “Okay,” and break into “September Gurls” or something like that. And the crowd was just saying, “What?” It was like he would give in to what people wanted to hear.
SR: The only Alex Chilton show I have seen was exactly like that.
DD: Let’s see, next up is a show I saw earlier this year, Danielle Howe at Fez. Just in terms of a show that really left a mark one me—it was just so weird.
SR: What made it so weird?
DD: Well, she tells these stories in between songs, she does the performance art-like stuff. She’s really for real—she’s a poor southern girl and she tells these really great stories about where she lives and what she does. She would go on these tangents, like, “You all up here New York think you’re living—you’re not living! You’re all doing some sort of high-tech camping. You’re paying a lot of money to stay in this tiiiiiny little place.” And then she would go into this completely unrelated song. It was one of the weirdest things I’ve been to. And a lot of people I’ve talked to who went to that show have had the same kind of reaction. It made me realize that I didn’t have some sort of lapse of judgment about that show.
SR: With something like that, it’s good to have a point of reference.
DD: Without a doubt, one of the greatest shows I have ever seen was Nation of Ulysses in 1992. Completely fucking blew my mind.
DD: Well, I was just totally unprepared for it. They had their whole thing of playing in suits with their anarchist sayings—it was so super high intensity and very tongue-in-cheek and silliness, a joke taken way too far. Their albums never matched up to the live shows—those were just explosive. We were on the same bill as them that night, and thank god we went on before them. It was the second-to-last show at DC Space—I think Fugazi was the last show there the next night. I saw a friend from high school I hadn’t seen for years at the show, and we were talking when Nation of Ulysses started playing. And he was like, “Let’s get out of here. This band sucks.” And I was like, “I can’t leave.” It was like, “I can’t be friends with you anymore if you don’t like this.”
SR: It was a defining moment of sorts.
DD: Yes, everything they said was so preposterous and over the top. Next on the list is X at the Agora in West Hartford, with Billy Zoom, in 1986.
SR: Was that close to the end for them the first time around?
DD: Ain’t Life Grand had just come out, but that wasn’t that good of a record They were just a really great band with him. It just seems that they started to lose it just around then. Next is Willie Nelson, Blaisdell Auditorium in Honolulu, Hawaii, 1980. Fucking incredible—what else can you say?
SR: It’s hard to go wrong with Willie.
DD: I just remember that “Whiskey River” was so incredible. I was in eighth grade and I went with my parents. I always liked country music, but at that point I was starting to get into “rock.” When I saw him do that song, I though, “This rocks fucking harder than anything I listen to.” (Laughs) That same year I went to see Fleetwood Mac at the same place.
SR: Now that selection is a little bit surprising to me considering the rest of this list. I’m interested to hear why. This must have been the Tusk tour…
DD: Yes, it was the last show on the Tusk tour, and they had been touring for a couple of years. At that show they played for hours. They played everything— even old Peter Green-era songs, and just went nuts. It was over-the-top. I remember thinking, “This is like a circus.” All the members each had their own little solo spotlight—Mick Fleetwood came out did his little solo with the drums attached to his body. It was really a study in over-the-top dynamics. I think this is way beyond my guilty pleasure. Especially Lindsey Buckingham—at the time I guess I thought it was okay, but what was up with that hair and those vests?
SR: That hair was particularly bad! (Laughs)
DD: And last on the list are Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson in 1973 in Hawaii—my very first concert. During the Johnny Cash tribute this year, I got to interview Kris Kristofferson, and I told him that was the first show that I ever saw. And he said, “Yeah, we got really sick at that show.”
SR: Not too many artists would remember a concert that took place that long ago. What kind of stuff were they doing at that time?
DD: I don’t really remember, but I know that I did hear all the songs I wanted to hear.
SR: Well, that is one pretty diverse list.
DD: It’s a pretty crazy list. It’s pretty skewed to shows I saw a long time ago. I was thinking about all the shows I saw when I was living in Boston, but all of them kind blend into one another in my mind.
SR: Now that we have your list, I wanted to ask you about your record that came out this year. Normally I don’t tell people when they’ve made the list, but your album [Brilliantine’s My Life and the Beautiful Game] made my Top 10.
DD: It made your Top 10? Well that’s alright. You’ve got one weird Top 10 then.
SR: Yes I do. It’s nestled in between Fountains of Wayne and Los Lobos.
DD: Wow, that is great to be there. That’s weird.
SR: So you finished the record a while ago. Do you listen to it now and second-guess what you did?
DD: Well, I started to do so after I read the review in Time Out.
SR: What was the review like?
DD: Well, I think it was kind of a mean review, and didn’t give it any benefit of the doubt. I think it kind of skirted around the issue that he wanted to say, “It’s not as good as the live shows.” Well, it was meant to be different from the live shows.
SR: I think that would be obvious…
DD: He was accusing me of some things I actually deliberately did, and saying they were bad. But they weren’t bad, they were decisions I actually made to sound that way. I guess if you don’t like it, just say it. There was something very deliberate I was trying to do—it was very thought out. There were things I have second-guessed. I guess that ultimately I would liked to have made a record with some money and in a real studio. I do know that sonically, it could have been a little bit more diverse. In the review, the guy said that “Brilliantine should make a live record,” which is funny because that was exactly what I was thinking. Actually Lloyd [Cole, who has been a member of Brilliantine] and I talked about that for a while to try and make that happen. Who knows, maybe I will make a live record someday.
SR: Every time I’ve seen Brilliantine, it’s a completely different lineup. The guy that designs those rock origin trees would have a field day with your band!
DD: It is pretty amazing how many people have been in Brilliantine. I recently dropped some gear off that I’ve had for a couple of years to Dave Ryan, who used to play in the Lemonheads, and I realized that even he’d been in Brilliantine.
SR: Can you give me an estimate of how many people have been in Brilliantine?
DD: Well, the first shows I did were just me and a drum machine—they were terrible.
SR: (Laughs) Terrible? Why?
DD: Well, when I started out I wanted to make an indie-pop version of Big Black. (Laughs) [Producer Steve Albini’s first band—which also started with a drum machine.]
SR: What the heck were you smoking?
DD: Then I saw that Scottish band with a drum machine, Bis, and they had these incredible drum programs, which is what I tried to do...So I think there have been about 15 people in the band.
SR: That is a lot of musicians.
DD: Oh yeah. Another thing about the record is that—more than any record I’ve ever made—people who get it, and really like it, they really like it. I might be really flattering myself here, but I think that it’s got a subtly that’s easy to overlook. There are songs that are deliberately delivered in the way that’s playful and almost snide, but they’re really true and sometimes really sad sentiments expressed on the record. The people I know who really like it, some of them are really depressed people.
SR: Well, there you go! Count me in that bunch. I find myself listening to the album a lot late at night while I’m using my computer or surfing the ’net. It’s really quiet, not something I could listen to at work.
DD: It’s funny, a song like “Better Life,” is so sad, but it’s so true. I know so many people who have gone through this change where their live this rock and roll fantasy thing, but then feel they have to settle down into this better life. One that is more normal and happier.
SR: And sometimes that’s not what happens when they do settle down.
SR: So you’ve told me before that this was your fun kind of gig—will there be more Brilliantine music in the future?
DD: Yeah, I think so. It’s become even more of a release now that I’m going to school. I’m having a lot more fun with music than I was while ago.
Top 10 Headlines from The New York Times that Would Make Great Album Titles
1) Ladies and Gentlemen, The Roast Chicken
2) It Wasn’t Pretty, And It Wasn’t Close
3) Who Was that Ladle?
4) How to Find New Love and Trouble after 40
5) The Man Behind the Naughty Chuckles
6) Reconsidering the Radish
7) Pork With a Pedigree
8) In a Swedish Town, Girls will be Girls
9) Good Fortune by the Cupful
10) The French Concoction
Top 10 Things I Hope to Do Before the Millennium Starts
1) Drop the Chalupa.
2) Punch someone in the face who says—when I reply to a question—“Is that your final answer?”
3) Walk through midtown New York looking up at the buildings while carrying a couple of shopping bags and block a tourist from catching their train/airplane.
4) Walk around and tell strangers “I see dead people” until I’m arrested.
5) Announce to the world that I’m retiring from show business so I can try to have a baby.
6) Drive around Brooklyn acting like a scrub.
7) Start a new website called ipo.com that will inform stock investors when the hottest initial public offerings are happening.
8) Form an exploratory committee to determine the viability of my run for the Senate in New York.
9) Make an IPO for ipo.com, and become a paper millionaire.
10) Stop making stupid space-filling lists.
10 Headlines I Hope I Don’t Write in 2000
1) Poison releases symphonic record entitled S & P, plays Nassau Coliseum to support album’s release.
2) Greg Kihn—Latest subject of Behind the Music.
3) Matchbox 20 to release two albums simultaneously.
4) Creed, Bush and Third Eye Blind kick off world tour.
5) Kansas signs to Arista Records, plans new album called Just Like Supernatural.
6) U2 reveals Popmart Two tour—plan to take 200-foot mango on the road.
7) New Elastica album delayed 10 more years.
8) Puff Daddy tapes MTV Unplugged episode.
9) 11th single released from Shania Twain’s Come on Over—with eight different remixes.
10) Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst makes Broadway debut in Death of a Salesman.
"What Did You Say? I Can't Hear You"
2) U2 - Civic Center Hartford, Connecticut 5/9/87
3) The Replacements - Lost Horizon Syracuse, New York 3/16/89
4) R.E.M. - War Memorial Syracuse, New York 4/11/89
5) Paul McCartney - Madison Square Garden New York, New York 12/11/89
6) B-52’s - Ben Light Gym, Ithaca College Ithaca, New York 2/4/90
7) Neil Young and Crazy Horse - RPI Fieldhouse Troy, New York 2/9/91
8) Sugar - Roseland New York, New York 5/7/93
9) Paul Westerberg - Saratoga Winners Latham, New York 8/9/93
10) Nine Inch Nails - Rochester Auditorium Center Rochester, New York 8/27/94
11) Goo Goo Dolls - Lost Horizon Syracuse, New York 6/22/95
12) Sonic Youth - Lollapalooza, Randalls Island New York, New York 7/29/95
13) Radiohead - Mercury Lounge New York, New York 10/2/95
14) Ramones - The Academy New York, New York 2/29/96
15) Wilco - Mercury Lounge New York, New York 12/9/96
16) The Figgs - Coney Island High New York, New York 11/7/97
17) Bob Dylan - Tilles Center, C.W. Post Brookville, New York 1/30/98
18) Pearl Jam - Madison Square Garden New York, New York 9/11/98
19) Buffalo Tom - Bowery Ballroom New York, New York 12/12/98
20) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - Brendan Byrne Arena, East Rutherford, New Jersey 8/1/99
This year’s list took 20 rides on the F train, 4 ham, egg and cheese sandwiches on bagels, 6 sesame bagels with butter, one container of rice, 5 apples, 11 pieces of gum, 2 bottles of water, 18 and a half bottles of Diet Coke, 8 Starbucks’ Iced Teas, 1 can of Ginger Ale, 2 Frosted Strawberry Pop Tarts, 20 Chicken McNuggets, 1 turkey sandwich, 3 chicken sandwiches, 12 double cheeseburgers, 8 extra large fries, 14 pieces of sugarless peppermint Bubble Yum, one box of Cheese Nips, one can of cashews, four batteries, one James Bond movie and six Rolling Rocks to complete it . Whew.
The section to thank people without whom...
Special thanks to Dave Palmer for creating this year’s amazing cover. We’ve come quite a long way from inking during senior week, eh? Maybe someday you’ll get to work on an animated show or something. Oh, wait, he already is—some kids show called Blue’s Clues. I’m not sure if anyone watches it though.
Special inside thanks to teabags, liking Radiohead as much as the next guy, the theme of the day, ringing the bell, “that’s not too gay, is it?” & “caddy motherfucker,” “where are my pants,” “jackassss,” “Headphones!,” dot-com, Speonk, “taint,” Better than Hessel and the white devil.
Shout outs and props given to: Mike, Doug and Dave for sitting for the interviews, Stacy for the watchful copy eyes, and to anyone who’s had to listen to me bitch, whine, sob, complain or watch me act severely depressed over the past 18 months. In 2000 there will be less whining, I promise.
Things that made this year good: The Mets playoff run, The Braves being swept, Soul Asylum at Tramps, Granny Smith apples, the multiple airings of Batman on WB and Cartoon Network, Iced Tea at Starbucks, 5:00 AM at Johnny Mack’s, “April Fools” at April’s, Homicide marathons every holiday on Court TV, all-night Undressed marathons on MTV, memory loss after wedding receptions, hanging with The Connells and JG in the same night at the Mercury Lounge, elevator number-six and 15 days of Double-O-7.
And, as always, I thank you.