So this might be a shock to many of you, getting this year’s edition so shortly after the printing date. Yes my friends, I actually worked ahead on this year’s Top 20. I started compiling the lists and whatnot at the beginning of November. Imagine if I took other aspects of my life as seriously as I do this thing. I’d have focused on my schooling, gotten some degree in mathematics. and would have worked in computers designing chips and ended up in a commercial dancing in a funny red suit. Then again, maybe not. Anyway, this list was designed using the Evil Empire’s Publisher, but not the ’97 version. Screw Gates and his updated software.
A Year on the (Non) Cutting EdgeI feel like a broken record here, but for the third Top 20 list in a row, the year in music has left a lot to be desired. When I say that the music I listened to the most this year was ska-rock and anything that featured a horn section, you know 1997 wasn’t the greatest year to be popping discs into the C-D player. I guess I would call 1997 the Year of the Horn for me.
But what was it the year of for the rest of the country? Well, the top-selling album was the Spice Girls Spice, and the teens in Hanson sold a bunch of records too. (Gosh, isn’t “MMMBop” catchy?) So I guess it could be the Year of the Teenybopper.
Then there were the generic guitar bands like Tonic, Matchbox 20, and The Verve Pipe all over the airwaves, so perhaps it could be called the Year of the Bland.
Then there was the whole “Electronica” wave with The Prodigy and The Chemical Brothers (Look out friends! Here comes some more of those Block-Rockin’ Beats. I’m soooo scared!!!). Perhaps it could be called the Year of the Same Rhythm Track Over and Over.
So where does that leave the second biggest-selling artist of the year, Jewel? Well, hopefully homeless in a van again in five years, if we’re lucky.
Basically, picking out this year’s list was quite difficult. At one point, I even considered just making it a Top 15. But I knew that would be cheating you, the devoted reader. So in these pages you’ll get the small cream of a very crappy crop, plus a few new features.
And now, as promised, the Green Day story, in a few paragraphs, for those who haven’t heard the whole thing. (Everyone else, skip to page 3.)
Green Day’s record company had a release party at a NYC club called Don Hill’s. The guys decided to play sometime around 1:00 a.m., so I moved up the front, not expecting the crowd to mosh I was wrong. At the end of the second song, a couple of people fell on me, and as I fell onto the stage, I put my hand through a beer bottle. A piece of glass went right through my ring finger. I stood up, pulled out the glass, then freaked, thinking I had lost a finger. The band stopped the show, and the ambulance arrived quickly. I still have some nerve damage, but I can type at full speed again. And I’m semi-famous, as my injury made it to a couple of websites. A month later I saw Green Day again, without hurting my finger. They all signed my E-R wrist band, and inspected the scars to make sure I was okay.
Quite a year, eh? In some respects, one that was REALLY cutting edge. In 1998 I hope to cut my other hand on one of the Spice Girls.
1997's Top Twenty Albums20) Half Japanese - Bone Head
Jad Fair is weird and he can’t really sing. If you’ve heard Half Japanese, you know this. If you haven’t heard them, you probably don’t want to—once you get past the odd lyrics about zombies, vampires and monkey hands, you find some even odder stuff. But the guy knows how to write about love—“Song of Joy” is hands-down one of the sweetest songs about that four letter word. So good, in fact, that it’s on the album twice. The cover of Primal Scream’s “Movin’ on Up” is a nice bonus too. Best Tracks: “Song of Joy” (both versions), “Celebration,” “Movin’ on Up”
19) Paul McCartney - Flaming Pie
If Paul McCartney making the list isn’t an example of how weak it’s been, I don’t know what is. The post-Beatles Anthology hype machine (of which I was an unwilling part) scored Pie a big chart debut. But when I went back to listen to the album after six months away from it (except the 1000 times my boss played and sang to it...sorry Sal), I was surprised to find some real decent songs. “The World Tonight” is one of the most modern-sounding singles Paul has made this decade, and the supposed “off-hand” recording of the album gives it a relaxed feel. Heck, I don’t even mind Steve Miller’s presence on two tracks. But damn, somebody get this guy an editor for those songs that clock in over five minutes. Best Tracks: “The World Tonight,” “Heaven on a Sunday,” “Young Boy”
18) Imani Coppola - Chupacabra
If this album had come out during the summer instead of October, it might have appeared even higher on this year’s list, because it gets better with every listen. Coppola is a 19-year-old student at SUNY Purchase, but I don’t think she’ll need to go back to school once this album really breaks. An intriguing mix of witty sampling (Donovan's “Sunshine Superman” plays a prominent part on the single “Legend of a Cowgirl”) and her string playing (guitar AND violin) makes it a true sonic pleasure. And it’s hard not to like a song about schizophrenia (“It’s All About Me, Me, and Me”) with a hook big enough to catch a shark. Best Tracks: “Legend of a Cowgirl,” “Naked City,” “It’s All About Me, Me, and Me”
17) Smash Mouth - Fush Yu Mang Only 1998 will tell if these guys are trapped in One-Hit Wonderland for all eternity, but I hope not. There’s no denying the greatness of the retro-ish “Walkin’ on the Sun,” but “The Fonz” is also just a joy to crank up when you’re driving. Some of the tracks fall into the standard lets-play-it-fast-but-with-a-ska-beat category, but this is not a band that I’m looking to for ground-breaking, landmark from—I’m looking for fun. Best Tracks: “Walkin’ on the Sun,” “The Fonz,” “Nervous in the Alley”
16) Letters to Cleo - GO!
Ahhhhhhh...that’s the sound of pure pop going down like a nice, big bottle of water after a three-mile run. After a weak sophomore effort (how many times have you heard that in this decade), Cleo bounces back with 11 pop ditties that clock in under 35 minutes, just the way an album should. If “Co-Pilot” doesn’t become a big hit, there is just something wrong with the world of music today. (Well, we all know there is, so it’s not a stretch to say that.) Listen to singer Kay Hanley’s voice at the beginning of “Find You Dead,” and then fall in love with her like some pre-pubescent 7th grader. Best Tracks: “Co-Pilot,” “Find You Dead,” “Anchor”
15) Cherry Poppin’ Daddies - Zoot Suit Riot As I’ve said, it’s the Year of the Horn, and this band is no exception. The Daddies like their swing, and they like to play it steaming. Frontman Steve Perry (NO, not THAT one) is just a madman live and on record. You’d think he grew up in the ’40’s, not the ’80s. And it’s hard not to like a band that includes a guest horn section called The First Church of Sinatra (“Come Back to Me”). Oh Sherrie, get me my suit, ’cause Vegas here I come. Best Tracks: “Zoot Suit Riot,” “Brown Derby Jump,” “Here Comes the Snake”
14) Matthew Sweet - Blue Sky on Mars You would think with Mars’ high profile this past summer this album would’ve taken off on the strength of the back cover art (of the planet) alone. I read a few reviews of Blue Sky that slammed it for, of all things, Sweet playing lead guitar on almost all the songs. Umm, hello there, he writes great pop songs. I’m not looking for Yngwie Malmsteen, I’m just looking for the hook, which he again provides in spades. “Come to California” ranks with his best, and “Missing Time” is a great album closer. Best Tracks: “Come to California,” “Missing Time,” “Where You Get Love”
13) that dog - Retreat From the Sun
Here’s the only band on this list that has broken up this year (quite an honor, eh?). I can see why they did, though. When you’re on your third album at a major label (with the previous two not making a blip on the radar), you again produce fine work, and still no one cares, it might be time to give it up. Anna Waronker increased the poptastic quotient in her songwriting, and came up with gems about losing love (“Retreat From the Sun”), finding love with punk rock kids (“Minneapolis,” “Long Island”) and bondage (“Gagged and Tied”). I’ll miss ’em…and I’m jealous of Anna’s boyfriend. Best Tracks: “Never Say Never,” “Minneapolis,” “Retreat From the Sun”
12) Catherine Wheel - Adam and Eve This English quartet’s last album was filled with some of their poppiest songs ever. So for the follow-up, they take a 180 degree turn, dive into some Pink Floyd-ish territory, and make their finest album to date. Songs like “Phantom of the American Mother” and “Future Boy” are just big, long, bombastic tracks that these guys have the nads to pull off. Rob Dickinson sings as if he’s living through all the songs (especially on “Satellite”), so having Pink Floyd’s producer and a track that ends with a door slam (umm, can we say Floyd’s “Have a Cigar”) doesn’t take away from another English powerhouse. (See #’s 11 and 5) Best Tracks: “Phantom of the American Mother,” “Satellite,” “Delicious”
11) Oasis - Be Here Now
Coming in second only to the Spice Girls for the most stupid things reported about a band in 1997, Oasis survived all the drugs, breakups and aborted marriage attempts to come up with album that almost collapses under its own weight. I’m not saying it’s bad, but sometimes you wish someone had been in the studio with Noel Gallagher AND a stopwatch and cut off some songs at four minutes. That said, “D’You Know What I Mean?” could clock in for a few more minutes (time now: 7:45) and I wouldn’t mind. Nothing like a great big dumb rock anthem to kick off an album. And Noel can still write a fine ballad (“Don’t Go Away”). Best Tracks: “D’You Know What I Mean?,” “Don’t Go Away,” “My Big Mouth”
10) Green Day - Nimrod Yes, I still like them, even though typing this year’s list went a little bit slower. And yes, Green Day have broadened their sound for this album (horns on “King for a Day,” harmonica on “Walking Alone”). And yes again, Billie Joe Armstrong writes some great tunes. “The Grouch” is a fine song for anyone watching the vigor of their youth slip away, and “Nice Guys Finish Last” is so true, so very true. And finally yes, “Hitchin’ a Ride” does sound like a Stray Cats song, but who cares? Best Tracks: “King for a Day,” “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
9) Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape
Here’s a joke with no punchline: What’s a more stable job, being a Foo Fighter or being Winona Ryder’s rock star boyfriend? Dave Grohl must either have bad B.O. or be one stern taskmaster. Two of the Foos have departed in a period of six months. It’s not like that matters, because the Foos are Dave’s baby, and he treats it well. This album features a little more power-pop (“Monkey Wrench,” “Up in Arms”), but the Nirvana-like crunch is still there, too (“Enough Space”). While most of the lyrics deal with Grohl’s divorce and new girl (one of those lovely Veruca Salt ladies), the look at Kurt Cobain in “My Hero” shows his love for his former bandmate. Best Tracks: “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero,” “Hey! Johnny Park”
8) Mark Eitzel - West
Mr. Eitzel has the tendency to be, well, a little melodramatic on stage and record. This record continues Eitzel’s self-pity tour, but his writing and producing partner Peter Buck brings out the best in him. Heck, “In Your Life” is almost a happy song. The backing musicians (including members of Screaming Trees, Young Fresh Fellows, Los Lobos and Pearl Jam) provide the perfect accompaniment in Eitzel’s finest moment. Best Tracks: “In Your Life,” “Free of Harm,” “Stunned and Frozen”
7) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Let’s Face It
The Northeast kings of touring have finally made an album that’s as great as their shows. The group spent a good deal of time making this record, and it shows in the tight arrangements, songs that actually ARE songs and especially in Dicky Barrett’s vocals—it’s not screaming and growling, it’s singing. A band that deserves their success. Best Tracks: “Noise Brigade,” “The Impression That I Get,” “1-2-8”
6) Graham Parker & The Figgs - The Last Rock n Roll Tour
Whoever thought of pairing these two for a Fall ’96 tour should get a medal or a hug or something. Think about it: Parker has always been bitter, and The Figgs, I’m sure, were bitter about being stiffed a second time by a major label. An overview of Parker’s career is rocked up along with Chuck Berry and Prince covers, pushing Parker to become even more intense than usual. You shoulda been there, but enjoy this document instead. Best Tracks: “Turn It Into Hate,” “Local Girls,” “Around and Around”
5) Radiohead - OK Computer I never thought Radiohead could top The Bends, and they haven’t. They’ve actually moved somewhere to the left of that album—longer songs, oblique lyrics—and made it work. This is one of two records this year which I could call “progressive rock” without insulting the band. Singer Thom Yorke conveys a hundred different emotions in every song, taking you to a different place each time. “No Surprises” is a beautiful lullaby that I would use to put other people’s kids to bed. I can’t wait to see what they do next. Best Tracks: “No Surprises” “Let Down” “Lucky”
4) Reel Big Fish - Turn the Radio Off This album actually came out in 1996, but you’d have to be living in Southern California to have seen it in the stores. I’d be the first to admit that this is not a traditional critics’ choice album, and it offer nothing new in the ska-rock field. But it does offer this—FUN, and lots of it. Listening to tales of how the radio sucks (take your pick on this album), how they’ll do anything for a girl (“She Has a Girlfriend Now”), drinking (“Beer”) and all of these in the same song (“Everything Sucks”), it’s hard not to feel 14 and innocent again. Best Tracks: “Sell Out,” “Everything Sucks,” “Trendy”
3) Everclear - So Much for the Afterglow
Anyone expecting a re-hash of "Santa Monica" won’t be disappointed: the single "Everything to Everyone" borrows from the same book. But let’s face it, before you heard the song 30-thousand times, you most likely cranked up "Monica" whenever it came on your car stereo. Afterglow more than delivers the goods that song hinted at. Frontman Art Alexakis (the man with the unpronounceable last name) takes them into poppier territory, with Beach Boy-esque harmonies (the title track), horns ("One Hit Wonder") and even a banjo ("Why I Don’t Believe in God"). The album’s two centerpiece songs—"I Will Buy You a New Life" and "Father of Mine," which has Alexakis’s most powerful autobiographical lyrics to date ("Daddy gave me a name/and then he walked away")—are worth the purchase price alone. Best Tracks: “Father of Mine,” “I Will Buy You a New Life,” “Everything to Everyone”
2) Pavement - Brighten the Corners After the helter-skelter approach of Wowee Zowee, Corners sounds like the true follow-up to their 1994 masterpiece, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The opening blast of “Stereo” and its questions of Geddy Lee’s puberty are misleading for what comes afterwards is an album of mid-tempo gems. “Shady Lane” and “Type Slowly” are some of the—I hate to say it—prettiest songs this great band has recorded. The guitar interplay on “Transport Is Arranged” should bring out the best in air guitarists everywhere and the fact that Mr. Malkamus’s often indecipherable lyrics are clearly printed on the inner sleeve is a special bonus. Best Tracks: “Shady Lane,” “Stereo,” “Type Slowly”
1) Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind I think not even the staunchest Dylan supporter (which I was for a long time) expected an album as good as this. Often when heritage artists put out albums that contain even a whiff of the greatness shown in their younger years, critics will bend over backward to claim, “It’s their finest album since blah blah blah blah...” But this time the cliché is true: Time Out of Mind is Jakob’s father’s best album in 23 years. Like that album (Blood on the Tracks), Mind features many songs about love, but this time Bob is in a more wistful mood. Songs such as “Standing in the Doorway” and “’Till I Fell in Love With You” present some of his most stirring descriptions of love and the joy (and pain) it causes. Bob also takes a look at his own mortality in “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” which foreshadowed his health scare earlier this year (the album was finished before he went into the hospital). And for those Dylan-haters, yes, his voice is still creaky, but he sings with a conviction that shows he still cares about his art, something I thought he’d given up on at the beginning of this decade. I look forward to what’s next from Mr. Zimmerman. Best Tracks: “Standing in the Doorway,” “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” “Million Miles”
1997's Top Twenty Singles
Even the extreme hype for POP and the PopMart tour couldn’t take away from greatness of this song, one of U2’s best melodies to date. And who doesn’t like sucking on their thumb?
19) Imani Coppola - “Legend of a Cowgirl”
Like a breath of fresh air, Imani comes riding in on her horse onto the radio with a great Donovan sample in tow. The best song with a violin solo on this list. (Actually, the only one.)
18) Chumbawamba - “Tubthumping”
I got knocked down the second time I heard this song from the Band Most Likely to Never Be Heard from Again. Then I got up again, and promptly forgot who they were.
17) Sublime - “Wrong Way”
The late Brad Nowell, the creative force behind this band, had a good ability to describe the people and ways of Southern California in two minutes or less. Here’s another example of that.
16) Pavement - “Shady Lane”
“You’ve been chosen as an extra/In the movie adaptation/Of the sequel/To your life.” This is a line in this song, and I still ponder daily what it means.
15) Oasis - “D’You Know What I Mean?”/“Stay Young”
Clocking in at “Hey Jude” length (over 7-and-a-half minutes), “D’You” is just a big, dumb, pompous anthem. But only Oasis can make songs like that work. They also have the knack for putting some of their best songs on the B-sides of singles—“Stay Young” is better than most of the tracks on Be Here Now. And it clocks in at under 5 minutes, which is also a plus.
14) Smash Mouth - “Walkin’ on the Sun”
Who would’ve thought that a tale inspired by the L.A. riots with a keyboard sound transported from 1965 would be such a big hit? And who wouldn’t want to the world sing in perfect harmony?
13) Veruca Salt - “Volcano Girls”
It’s hard to not like a song with a great guitar riff and a Beatles reference in the lyrics. Plus, they’re so darn cute. (Look to your right...)
12) The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - “The Impression That I Get”
Now come on, really, they must have knocked on wood at some point. Nobody is that lucky for that long.
11) Squirrel Nut Zippers - “Hell”
My only question is this: Will the Zippers have a career afterlife? They will if they can write anymore songs as witty as this one. Okay, another question: In hell, does everybody have to wear red like the people in the video?
9) Matthew Sweet - “Come to California”
Matthew, if I had the money, I certainly would. But for now I’ll enjoy this song that Mr. Sweet says is about “a bitch.”
8) Beck - “Jack-Ass”
Beck’s been touring away on the same old album for 18 months, but at least this very pretty song got the exposure it deserved because he was out on the road for so long. Of course, I still don’t know what the heck it’s about.
7) Blur - “Song 2”
Whoo-Ooh!!! This song doesn’t make me feel “heavy mettle” (I swear, that’s what the closed caption in the video says), but it’s still hard to believe that these are the same guys who did “Girls and Boys.” And no, this song doesn’t appear in Starship Troopers.
6) Buck-O-Nine - “My Town”
A great tale about being a teenager (or a bit older) on the streets of San Diego that applies to almost any hometown. Except for the lyrics about the ocean, I guess.
5) En Vogue - “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
Here’s an admission: I’ve always liked En Vogue. Some people like Bryan Adams, some like Amy Grant. This, my friends, is my guilty pleasure. And these girls really sound like they mean it on this tune. Who, in their right mind, would cheat on any of them?
4) Foo Fighters - “Monkey Wrench”
Okay Dave, I know you don’t want to be my monkey wrench. But could you at least let me know what your definition of ‘monkey wrench’ is? Actually, that’s besides the point. The lyrics could be even more inane, and I’d still love the riff.
3) Pavement - “Stereo”
This song brings the rock in too many ways to list. And poses the question, have any of them really met Geddy Lee?
2) The Offspring - “Gone Away”
This song is leaps and bounds beyond anything these “Self Esteem” guys have done before. Singer Dexter Holland sings as though he’s really lost someone dear to him, and that clinches its greatness.
1) Reel Big Fish - “Sell Out”
A record business tale that everyone can understand. If you don’t feel like standing up and skanking to this one, you must be in a wheelchair, or over 50.
Other Musical Stuff From 1997
COMPILATION OF THE YEAR
The Replacements - All for Nothing/Nothing for All
This two-C-D set (one “hits,” one unreleased material) proves that these guys are one of the greatest bands ever, and that’s not including the first four years of their career. I could ramble all day about how great songs like “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “I’ll Be You,” “Left of the Dial” and “Skyway” are, but I’d rather talk about the treasure chest of unreleased material. As a matter of fact, the 18 songs on the second C-D make a better album than almost anything released in ’97. If you’re a fan, or don’t have a Replacements C-D in your collection, get this now. Drop this piece of paper and run, drive, or take a subway to your nearest record store. Really, I mean it. Go right now. I’ll wait ’till you get back.
You back? Okay then, I’ll continue. Also worth checking out in this year of fine compilations: The Cure - Galore, The Dead Milkmen - Death Rides a Pale Cow, The Pixies - Death to the Pixies.
DISCOVERY OF THE YEAR
Sublime I hated, I mean absolutely despised, this band when I first heard them. I took “Date Rape” too seriously, and then thought “What a bozo” when frontman Brad Nowell died of a heroin o-d in 1996. I hated them even more after I suffered through one of the worst interviews I’ve ever done with the two remaining members. But I guess persistent radio play can win anyone over. “What I Got” is basically a plea from a man who has love, but also knows he’s got some serious problems. I still think Brad’s a bozo, but he did leave behind some great music, and maybe enough of an example that stupid people will maybe put down the smack someday.
CONCERT OF THE YEAR (Tie)
Prince, The Artist, TAFKAP, whatever he calls himself
MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada 10/24/97
Whatever his name is now, the Purple One is still funky, very very funky. You know that an artist has a truckload of good tunes when he does most of them in medley form, and still doesn’t have time to play all of them in a two-hour-and-15-minute show. If being “emancipated” makes him this devoted to his concert performances, then the world has become a better place. He promises to party until 1999 with his Jam of the Year tour. Go if you can, no matter the price.
The Figgs & Egghead. Coney Island High, New York, NY 11/7/97
Power-Pop-Punk at its finest, on the same bill. It was almost enough to almost make me believe in God. I can sum up the show in three words: Bring the Rock. ’Nuff said.
777-FILM Is My Friend
10) Welcome to Sarajevo - A look at the war in Bosnia with chilling real footage. A film that proves Woody Harrelson can act (if The People vs. Larry Flynt hadn’t confirmed that already).
9) Year of the Horse - Neil Young & Crazy Horse on the big screen, directed by Jim Jarmusch. Doesn’t get much better than that.
8) When We Were Kings - This movie was worth waiting over 20 years for. I’m not a boxing fan, but this film about the “Rumble in the Jungle” between Ali and Foreman is great document of the time and charisma of Ali.
7) The Ice Storm - ’70s flashback # 1: Kevin Kline redeems himself after the awful In & Out in this film about the “typical” American family falling apart in one night. Christina Ricci shows she’s more than just Wednesday Addams. Actually, she shows enough in this film to put my thoughts away for 10 to 20.
6) Con Air - Stupid, yes. But an action film that stars Steve Buscemi, John Malkovich and Nicolas Cage it seems that much smarter. And they blew up a casino making this. How cool!!!
5) Boogie Nights - ’70s flashback # 2: Porn has never looked so good...umm, well, you know what I mean. And this is the same Marky Mark Wahlberg who gave us those “Good Vibrations” with that Funky Bunch. Go figure.
4) Good Will Hunting - Robin Williams in a straight, non-comedic role in a film written by the kid from The Rainmaker and the guy who doesn’t get the girl in Chasing Amy? Yes, it sounds like a disaster on paper, but this is one of the sweetest films of the year. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who both star in the movie, might be up for a screenwriting Oscar for this one.
3) The Full Monty - Hmm, another movie about nudity, but this time it’s funny. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like this tale of atypical strippers in industrial England.
2) L.A. Confidential - This most revealing part of this film: Kim Basinger can act. A well-crafted mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat (literally) for over two hours.
1) Face/Off - John Woo + Nicolas Cage + John Travolta = One great action film. It took someone from outside Hollywood to show how an action film should be done—with intelligence and without a constant stream of silly one liners (of course, there are some one liners here, but they work).
A Few Questions With...REEL BIG FISH
SR: Do you think about the irony of radio stations playing “Sell Out” a lot?
Matt Wong, bass: Actually that song wasn’t aimed at the radio stations. It was aimed at kind of mocking the people who don’t really know what the term sellout is and just use it.
Tavis Werts, trumpet: Yeah, all the kids who go ‘Oh, I don’t like that band anymore, you know. They’re getting played on the radio, they’re on MTV, and this and that, so they’re no good anymore.’ The band is still the same, so we’re kind of making fun of them. It still makes it ironic though.
MW: Let me give you the inside scoop. Selling out is when you change your music, or change whatever you do, just to get paid, even if you like it or not. We haven’t changed our music. We’ve been playing the same kind of music for years. We just happened to get lucky.
SR: Do you think it’s because of the current musical climate? Because people seem to be getting into a lot of ska.
TW: Yeah. We had really good timing. That’s what it comes down to.
SR: “Walkin’ on the Sun” has become so recognizable to people, and that song has been so big for over four months. Could you have ever imagined how it would ingrain itself into people’s consciousness?
Steve Harwell, singer: It’s weird. People are comparing that thing to like one of those timeless hits, you know, that you’ll hear 20 years from now. That’ll just be played on the radio and you’ll hear it forever. And I hope they’re right, you know. I definitely enjoy it. We worked hard on the record...but I’m ready for the next one now...It’s so surreal to us right now because so much is going on so fast there’s no time to really think about what’s happened. We get asked question all the time about how it feels to be famous now. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know how it feels, because I don’t know what being famous feels like.’ I’m still me, and I know that we work hard. I feel blessed.
SR: Do you worry about being labeled a one-hit wonder?
SH: No, not at all. Because I know what the band is capable of doing. I know we’re gonna top “Walkin’ on the Sun.” I know that we probably already have stuff in the works that’s capable of doing it.
THE MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES
SR: So the record has gone gold (Ed note: It’s now platinum), how does that make you feel? Dicky Barrett, singer: (laughs) I didn’t even know that. I honestly did not know. I think that’s cool. I have two other gold records. The Kiss My Ass compilation, and for Clueless. (jokingly) And I feel responsible for those two. I’ve heard about gold records since I was little, you know? The old Joe Walsh song (starts singing “Life’s Been Good) “gold records on the wall/write me a letter/maybe I’ll call...” So I don’t know, it’s cool. It’s good. Umm, edit that. (we both start laughing) Take a razor blade to that piece of nonsense, will ya?
PAT DINIZIO OF THE SMITHEREENS
SR: Do you ever think that what you’ve done might influence bands [that have hits today]?
PD: I remember while at the Gin Blossoms studio in Tempe, Robin [Wilson], the lead singer, came by with photos of me and him at in-stores and autographed stuff and a set list from a show in 1987 that he stole off my monitor. So it’s obvious that they must have been fans or hopefully we inspired them somehow. You hear that about a lot of groups that sort of have some element of The Smithereens sound in theirs. Like The Lemonheads, for example. I think Oasis listened to The Smithereens, quite frankly. Listen to “Supersonic” and you’ll see what I mean.
GOO GOO DOLLS
SR: You may not want to, or are not able to talk about all the legal difficulties you had over the past year... (They battled with their record and publishing companies throughout ’96 and ’97)
John Rzeznik, singer-guitarist: Yeah, we had some monstrous legal problems that needed to be sorted out. And they never could be sorted out until this year because we never sold enough records. We weren’t in a position where we could take care of our bad record deals that we signed 10 years ago. We were in, what we felt, was a grossly unfair record contract with Metal Blade and we did everything we had to do to get out of it and we got out of it. They’re going their way and we’re going ours.
SR: At least you didn’t have to go through a George Michael-like battle.
JR: We didn’t have enough money to go through a George Michael-like thing.
Robbie Takac, bassist: And I believe George Michael lost anyway, so... (laughs)
JR: You can only afford to prove a point in court when you have the money to. That’s the one thing I felt really disillusioned about. Justice, or whatever, in this country is really only afforded to the people who have the money to pay for it. A guy like O.J. Simpson can get away with murder because he has money. Or a guy like George Michael can go and fight a court case and take six years off from making records because he’s got tens of millions of dollars to begin with. The chasm between what is right and what is legal is vast, you know.
SR: There have been a lot of people who are in, or were in, your position that have gotten signed to a really crappy deal and get ripped off for millions.
RT: I think we had the luxury last year—even though we didn’t make any more of our records—we had the luxury to go out and play shows for a lot of people. So we basically spent a few months building up a war chest, if you will, to make sure we had enough to cover everything that to be needed to be covered. I think a lot of bands have really bad deals who just can’t afford to get out of them.
JR: The record business, by its nature, is a predator-prey relationship. And they buy and sell people’s dreams. (laughs)
RT: Yeah!!!!!! (laughs)
JR: But now we have good people who can take care of all that shit-work for us.
SR: “My Town” kind of paints a neat picture of hanging out in San Diego. Do you think it gives a good impression of the city?
Steve Bauer, drummer: I think so. It gives the vibe.
Jonas Kleiner, guitarist: Yeah. I like the song a lot because it seems to come from a real special place in our hearts.
SB: Awwww. (laughs)
JK: It’s so nice. (laughs) John [Pebsworth, the singer] wrote the lyrics, and he lives by the beach [described in the song]. And I think with the way he writes songs we all really relate to them. It just has this great vibe. I just love it, really, because it’s a very happy vibe, and it’s a good-feeling kind of thing.
SR: Would you say San Diego has played a part in shaping what the band has become?
SB: I think so. I think it’s just the area and that the people are generally pretty mellow. When we come home from tour—we’ll visit every major city in a month—coming home to familiar surroundings, just kicking on it the beach the day after you get home, is the best therapy you could have.
SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS
SR: People have been playing the hell out of “Hell.” Do you worry about people getting sick of one song?
Tom Maxwell, singer-guitarist: I preemptively worry about it. I worried about it before it ever happened. Once Mammoth came to us and said it was breaking on so-called “alternative” radio, I started worrying. Because I think it’s a very perverse system, especially for our band. Of course, I wrote “Hell,” I’m really proud of it and I think it’s a great song. All that’s hunky dory, but it’s one of 12 great songs on a great record, I think. In no way is one song going to be able to represent the talent and diversity of this band. It can’t! I’m not even the best singer in this band by a long shot. I do my little thing in the band and I’m only one facet of what we have to offer in terms of songwriting and vocals and musical expression. You and I have heard plenty of really good songs that have been so overplayed that we can’t help but hate them. And I really am afraid of that. I really don’t want that to happen. But I don’t have any control over that!
LETTERS TO CLEO
SR: When you started writing for this record, were you looking to do anything different?
Kay Handley, singer: We didn’t go out of our way. I think ultimately the album sounds like us, but it’s more spare than our last album, for sure.
Michael Eisenstein, guitarist: It’s more spare in terms of the number of overdubs we did. But I think it’s more textured.
KH: It’s my favorite album we’ve done to date.
ME: When we first started working on the material for this record, we wanted it to be drastically different from the stuff we’ve done before. Clean guitars and not this overwhelming rock sound to it. But then half way through the writing of it, maybe even earlier, we realized that we can’t just not rock!!! (laughs) We must rock!
KH: (laughs) We must!!!
ME: It’s what we do best, and we can’t help it!!!
SR:This record to me sounds like, I don’t want to say mature...
Anna Waronker, singer-guitarist: It’s okay, you can say that.
SR: Okay, it sounds more mature. It sounds like—
AW: A departure—
SR: Yes, a departure. It has a bigger “production” sound to it. It that something you were looking to do?
AW: Yeah. The whole thing about this record that I found is that we wanted to do everything differently. We wanted to challenge ourselves, and we wanted to push ourselves. That’s how I approached the songwriting, and that’s how we all approached our playing and the making of the record by hiring a producer, which we had never done before. And just by really going for it.
SR: Do you feel that you succeeded?
AW: Yes. I think that if anything, all you can ask for is that you’re happy with your finished product. It’s really hard to be [happy]. I think that regardless of whatever problems or difficulties we have, when we come back to it, we’re all very happy with the record. It sounds great. I’m really happy about that.
SR: When I first listened to this album, all I could think of was that it was—and I hate to use this term—that it was a “concept” record, because all the songs sort of link together. Was that something that just happened, or did you set out to do it that way? I hope you're not offended by the word “concept,” by the way.
Rob Dickinson, singer-guitarist: No. I think that once you have things that link, and you’re kind of towed along with that fact that things don’t necessarily stop and they just kind of segue into something else, you automatically think of all of those progressive rock albums of the ’70s. (laughs) All we set out to do was make a record that encouraged people to sit down and listen to the whole thing. And I think that because some of the things we write about tend to have similarities from song to song tends to provide a link as well. We didn’t set out to make a story, but I was quite struck with having a beginning and an end. As to what went on in the middle, we weren’t really sure. We didn’t plan for it. But we are glad that people will listen to it all the way through.
SR: Yeah, that’s exactly what happened to me. Especially after the last album (Happy Days), which seemed to have the more concise and poppier side of the band, where on this album you stretch out a bit.
RD: I think that this is the purest record for us in that we didn’t set out to satisfy anyone except ourselves. So we picked from all our favorite little eras of the band, whether it be tender little moments or loud moments, and we just put it all on. If we set out to make any kind of record, it was a record that people wouldn’t access individual songs. Once they put it on, they’d look up 45 minutes later and realize it was over. I thought people should be making proper albums, where the whole thing stands up as a piece of work, like a mini movie or something.
OBSESSION OF THE YEAR ...AGAINYup, it’s Miss Garofalo, for a second straight year. I ran into Janeane again at a Figgs show, where she watched them Bring The Rock. I also saw her do standup twice and saw her on the street twice. And I now know where she lives. (No, I did not purposely follow her home. We happened to walking the same way.) She’s still funny and cute, and has a great musical taste. So enjoy these new pictures I downloaded for this year. I know that I sure did.
This year’s list took 40 hours, two computers, two copiers, 1000 pieces of paper, 4 liters of Diet Coke, 2 ham & cheese omelettes, 133 staples and 150 pieces of gum to complete. Whew.
The Section to Thank People Without Whom....
First up, thanks to Mary Greenfield, the first copy editor I’ve employed to eliminate the typos and general bad use of our language that have plagued the list in the past.
Many thanks to the publicists who let me bug their artists with many stupid questions, especially Jason & Carleen, Mary Melia, Sage Robinson and Kevin Kennedy.
Thanks to the artists who answered all the stupid questions, especially Dicky Barrett of the Bosstones, who must be sick and tired of talking to me by now.
Also thanks to Ira Robbins. Even though he likes a certain Canadian artist, I still have learned a good deal from him about how to improve my writing skills.
I dedicate this list to the bands that didn’t survive this year: Jawbox, R.E.M. (the Bill Berry edition), Hoodoo Gurus, that dog, Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr. and Redd Kross.
And to Egghead. and their often-postponed box set.
And to Hammie, for the cult of Scrabble and the cover art.