Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

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A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

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I Really Want This! Sweet Relief: A Benefit For Victoria Williams – Various Artists

 

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Back in ’93 I was given an album to review that became a best friend of sorts. Surprisingly it was a compilation record (which usually just don’t stand up due to inconsistency) of songs by an artist whose music was only known previously to musicians and music geeks, but it knocked me over. One song after another caught my imagination with vivid imagery and music that could be both morose and uplifting within the same moment. It was brilliant, which is something you usually can’t say for a record recorded by “various artists.” However, what holds it together is the artist to who the album was benefiting – Victoria Williams.

“My sister got bit by a copperhead snake in the woods behind the house” is the first line that pops out the old speakers as Soul Asylum breaks into “Summer Of Drugs” and I as listener was hooked. By the time Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) sings “Frying Pan” I’ve decided I want to play guitar.  By the conclusion I’m looking for a bullhorn so I can tell any and everyone within earshot that they have to listen and buy this record. Williams’ songs are so detailed in character that songs feel like you’ve both read an exceptional short story and listened to a new musical experience. Despite the different styles of the various artists performing the songs, the original vision of the songwriter herself remains potent and shines through any genre leaping in the album itself.

If you don’t know the story, Williams star was on the rise when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Having been bogged down with debt from increasing medical bills a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt rock and beyond joined forces to help her and others out. The Sweet Relief Charity Fund was set up to help musicians in need of expensive health care.

More than 20 years have gone by and Pearl Jam is still playing their contribution “Crazy Mary” live, and my CD still has a home within twelve inches of the stereo. So, you can see my love for this record runs deep, and I want a vinyl copy… I just didn’t think that one actually existed. That is until the other day when I just started putting album titles into the discogs search engine and… oh my, it exists. But damn… only in European used stores that would raise the price with shipping to over a hundred bucks.

So, I hope that it gets re-issued on vinyl eventually or that the ghost of Ed McMahon shows up at my door with an oversized check.

Sweet Relief can still be purchased at your better record stores on CD and has two follow up LP’s.

Sweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation – The Songs Of Vic Chesnutt

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And

Sweet Relief III: Pennies From Heaven

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Check them out, give ‘em a listen, and maybe you’ll want to drop a few dollars to a worthy cause.

P.S. – Here’s a video of Victoria Williams covering the great Sam Cooke

 

The Beauty Found In Power-Pop & Introspection or Best Coast – California Nights

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The early days of Best Coast were filled with simplistic images of happy places and troubles no bigger than a rival for someone’s affection or a need for the sun. Not that there is anything wrong with that; after all Best Coast was providing the kind of indie-pop, garage, lo-fi, reggae influenced tunes that kept us northerners warm all winter.  It was a return to the myth that California is the place of adolescent dreams come true, and no one will argue that once wrapped in a sonic blanket watching a fire burn.

Still it has been five years since the Best Coast debut Crazy For You and one can only live in dreams for so long? Eventually there is a reckoning…

Right?

The answer is California Nights. Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill bottles. Actually, dare I say it, it seems Cosentino has grown introspective and the guitar work of multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno has risen to match. No longer are songs restricted to the quick “pop” length of two three minutes, but now the sound sometimes goes all ‘shoegaze’ and rides a guitar riff for all its worth. To some extent, the title track itself conjures more images of brit-pop than anything that could come out of a California night.

It isn’t all happy smiles as the sun sets to the west, there is anger and melancholia in the air as opener “Feeling OK” rightfully has you questioning the validity of such a statement. The song at its heart reveals that “OK” isn’t a satisfactory resolution to any question worth asking – especially one as loaded “how are you.” Even if one is asking it of themselves.

The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it more. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself. It’s worth every cent spent and more.

You can pick this album up at your local record stores or get some special packages from the band site – here.

My Story of RSD 2015 or Insanity Blooms Eternal

Over ninety minutes early and the line is more than one hundred deep. The old roomy and I meet and catch up as some dude directly in front of us chain tokes his way into the sonic abyss that is Record Store Day 2015. Music geek conversations drift through the air only interrupted by my backfiring joke at the length of the line.

“Maybe everyone is here to pick up that One Direction record…”

“I am!” says the woman just two people ahead. Her boyfriend starts laughing at my dumbfounded look.

I think to myself “I haven’t actually met a One Direction fan over the age of twelve” but I hold my tongue; after all, it isn’t even 9AM and pissing people off shouldn’t happen so early on a weekend.

The line moves forward in a civilized manner, which seems rather odd considering that I’ve had vinyl literally rain down upon my head during past RSD’s. Seriously, it is an odd sensation when a bunch of seven, ten and twelve inch records start smacking your cranium. Mild pain followed by anger and a quick burst of panic because you just don’t want any of this very sweet vinyl to get broken.

As usual, there is that group of people trying to look through the bins of records while the people behind them are giving them the “pick your record and get the fuck out my way” stare. It would be amusing if I wasn’t trying to get my hands on the same record as … well, the guy in front of me who just grabbed the last Otis Redding record that my fingers were reaching for.  Fortunately, I do get my hands on some of the stuff I wanted.

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The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan in gatefold cover with coloured red and white 180 gram vinyl

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The Dandy Warhols – Eponymous – first time on vinyl in double gatefold cover and white vinyl to boot

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George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers debut without bass as it was originally recorded. Also on blue vinyl

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Ride – OX4: The Best of – In glorious 180 gram red vinyl with a double gatefold cover

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Yeah I missed out on Social Distortion, Joan Jett, Small Faces and as mentioned, Otis Redding, but still had a pretty good time despite the competition and jockeying for best vinyl position. I jump into the vehicle and head for the elderly mall on the west side of the city figuring maybe I could grab some of what I lost out on. When I arrive the employees are praying mallrats will finish the free coffee they had for their customers. I manage to pick up a couple of the 7 inch’s I missed out on, namely Alex Chilton’s “Jesus Christ” and the Lemonheads/Gram Parsons split “Brass Buttons” on pink vinyl.

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Now, I’m looking at the clock and considering the likelihood of finding a few things at some record stores I’ve never tried before.

Do I really want to spend more?

It’s the best haul I’ve managed but the little music geek in the back of my brain is whispering, “find more… you must find more…”.

Then I remember, I have stuff on the way… other awesome pieces of vinyl in transit from places abroad.

Afterall, if you look around in the right places, any day can be a record store day. Yeah, right, who am I kidding, I’m heading to another record store.

#1 in so many damn ways… Big Star – #1 Record

History is fluid and changes with interpretation and the times that follow. So, something that was once dismissed or missed can be re-examined and pulled into the light in a way that perhaps it wasn’t before. Such was, is and may forever be the story of how Big Star and their debut #1 Record are considered.

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It is one of the planets greatest rock ‘n’ roll records, and still almost no one beyond critics and hipsters has truly given it the time of day. Sure Rolling Stone has it in their 500 Greatest Records of All-Time, but that doesn’t really result in the kind of record sales and recognition that should be afforded this band.

Obviously, the information is out there, in different formats and many stories told; so I’m just going to point out a few in hopes that you see an opportunity to get yourself some great music.

First, if you have access to Netflix than you can catch the Big Star biography Nothing Can Hurt Me. It is a great examination into the history of Big Star, and also offers an awesome soundtrack of alternate takes from Big Star and their principle songwriters Chris Bell and Alex Chilton.

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Next there is a new biography on Alex Chilton named A Man Called Destruction. It is pretty eye opening and well worth the read.

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Finally, the one album I was here to tell you about on this day, #1 Record. While it would be easy for me to sit here heaping praise, it is easier to just point out its influence. Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Lemonheads, Wilco and much of the 90’s alt rock pantheon were influenced by #1 Record.

Some of the songs you may recognize from are:

“In The Street” – It became the theme song to That 70’s Show.

“The Ballad of El Goodo” – Has been covered numerous times by acts such as Evan Dando, Mathew Sweet, Counting Crows, Zeus, Wellspring and Wilco.

“Thirteen” – Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, and I’ll just add, one of the most amazing songs ever.

Anyway, your opportunity is that as vinyl goes, there have been some recently released re-masters that are available. First a little company called 4 Men with Beards was given permission to re-release #1 Record on 180 gram black vinyl. I haven’t found an exact number printed, but it must be at least sizable enough to fill demand.

The second release is a little more exclusive, Newbury Comics with permission of Big Star’s record label Ardent have released 1000 copies of #1 Record on translucent gold vinyl. Trust me when I say, it is awesome!

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In fact, that is kind of my point; #1 Record is one of the greatest albums one can have in their collection. If I printed my version of the top 10 records of all time it would be among them. More importantly, if I was to take off my critic hat and just list my favourite 10 records, again it would sit amongst the top. In fact, it just might be a contender for number one.

Inspired in Part by Record Store Day – Playlist April 12/15

“Amphetamine: – Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three

Such a great frickin’ driving song if you want to get yourself a speeding ticket… by the way, I don’t recommend the ticket…

“Hoover Dam” – Sugar

I had a review half written called “the Return of Peanut Girl,” but I never finished it. Anyway, Copper Blue sounds awesome on vinyl and you can find it at your better record stores.

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“Deathly” – Aimee Mann

Any excuse to put Aimee Mann on a playlist is a good excuse. Still haven’t heard back from her… I’m guessing she doesn’t read my blog.

“Coming Home” – Leon Bridges

Soul music has a new champion and his name is Leon Bridges. Keep your eyes open folks, this guy is for real!

“Sliver” – Nirvana

Still bummed about missing my shot… maybe another will show up in 10 years.

“You Really Got Me” – The Kinks

After the disappointment of the new Van Halen live, I couldn’t even bring myself to play one of their songs. So here is something way better.

“The Lovecats” – Tanya Donelly & Dylan In Motion

Donelly is awesome and the Cure are awesome, so getting two for the price of one. Now if Robert Smith could cover “Feed The Tree” we… just kidding.

“Someplace” – Nick Waterhouse

He hasn’t put Holly out on Spotify, so I went with “Someplace” from his first record. I will be talking about Holly in the upcoming weeks. Spoiler – it is AWESOME! Buy it here!

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“Ain’t Messin’ Round” – Gary Clark Jr

Just because I wanted to stay in that rockin’ soul vibe.

“My Mind Is Rambling” – The Black Keys

A seven inch split is coming out in Record Store Day of the Black Keys and Junior Kimbrough, so I thought why not throw a Black Keys cover of Junior just for the hell of it. Besides – it fits.

“Touch Me I’m Sick” – Mudhoney

Turns out fictional band Citizen Dick (see movie Singles) is releasing “Touch Me I’m Dick” for RSD 2015. Can’t wait to hear it! Anyway, here is the original song that led to that play on words.

“Everyone Knows” – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

Jett has a double album being released for RSD, so I put her in the mix… because she is a rock god and I need no other reason.

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“Machine Gun Blues” – Social Distortion

I am so looking forward to getting my hands on that first Social Distortion record next Saturday.

“Alex Chilton” – The Replacements

Another 7” being released this weekend is reason enough… I miss Chilton.

“Back In Your Head” – Tegan & Sara

Um are you picking up on a theme that surrounds a certain date that has rare vinyl being released.

“Runaway” – Del Shannon

I’ll be doing a review on this guy soon.

“I’d Run Away” – The Jayhawks

Read a rather depressing article on these guys recently. Awesome band that can never seem to catch a break…

“The Cuckoo” – Kristin Hersh

Leader of the Throwing Muses and incredible singer/songwriter in a varied solo career (check out Hips & Makers if you need proof) she also has a 7” of “The Cuckoo” coming out on RSD.

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“Brass Buttons” – The Lemonheads

Yep. A split 7” of the Lemonheads and the original Gram Parsons tune is arriving on Saturday.

“Jesus Christ” – Big Star

Only reason I put a Christmas song on a April playlist is because of RSD… irony is, the original release of this song was on a record that had nothing to do with the holiday season either.

Playlist March 15/15

Here it is… A Playlist out on the Day I planned for…

Playlist #3 – March 15/15

Enjoy!

  1. “FOH” – Superchunk

I wrote about them and this song a couple weeks back. It’s the kind of tune that has such a good ‘riff’ that the lyrics cease to matter, which isn’t a bad thing considering it is a bit of an inside nod to music techs (roadies) and crews. Still, you just gotta love that fan made video.

  1. “Have Love Will Travel” – The Sonics

Was reading Paste (I think) a while back, and there was this playlist for the 50 Best Garage Rock Songs ever. This was the number one song on the list and they put forth a really damn good argument for this being the first punk band ever. Regardless, I’m looking to by this stuff on vinyl now.

  1. “Happy Ways” – Joe Walsh

While this song appears on a Joe Walsh record, it is actually the band Barnstorm and doesn’t feature Walsh on vocals at all. It also stands way outside his usual work in terms of song construction. Each piece of the band has stand out moments in this tune that was said to be influenced by music coming north from Mexico to California.  To my ears, this song stands out as rather timeless and I always imagine it being covered by an eight or ten piece band with horns.

  1. “Evangeline” – Matthew Sweet

Like everything on Girlfriend there is a sense of playful desperation hidden within this quest for love. Sweet’s characters never quite get it right, but remain optimistic somehow. Perhaps it is naivety that keeps things light, or just the nature of this record, but a couple decades after its release it still seems to hold its youthful soul.

  1. “Rhiannon” – Best Coast

Somehow Best Coast manages to sweep away the entire ethereal mystic evening nature of this song and turn it into a Sunday stroll on the beach. Weird thing is, it actually works. Rather than ‘Rhiannon drifting into the sunset, she seems to skip away to play in the waves. It’s a different interpretation unlike anything I would have expected. Very Cool!

  1. “Over at the Frankenstein Place” – Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick & Richard O’Brien

Despite being an important part of a large picture, I love this song as a standalone piece. It captures my imagination and just makes me all warm inside. Buy vinyl here.

  1. “Fade Into You” – J. Mascis

A most amazing cover of the Mazzy Star classic, it was the single that got away last Black Friday/Record Store Day.  Having never given up on it, it may make it into my collection at some point… soon.

  1. “Hannah & Gabi” – The Lemonheads

The first cover song I learned how to play on my beaten up old 12 string a few years back. Just a simple little song about loves lost and the confusion found as relationships end. Honest in that it really finds no resolution.

  1. “Brill Bruisers” – The New Pornographers

Saw these guys do a quick set down at Sugar Beach in September. They did an awesome cover of ELO’s “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” along with the title track from their amazing record Brill Bruisers.

  1. “California Sun” – The Ramones

What can I say, my kids were Watching Curious George (sequel) the other day and this song was a big part. Besides, I’ll use any excuse to include the Ramones on every mix I do.

  1. “Baby Six String” – Dressy Bessy

Dressy Bessy is on my bucket list of bands to see before I go the way of the Dodo. All it took was one listen to their debut Pink Hearts, Yellow Moons back in 1999 to make me a forever fan. “Baby Six String” is from their 2003 eponymous record, and rumour is, a new album and tour will be happening soon. Check them out.

  1. “The Root” – Kim Deal, Morgan Nagler

Something about Kim Deal has always screamed “coolest person on the planet” to me. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Pixies, the Breeders or her solo stuff, there is always an element of some twisted riff that makes you want to pogo all over the dance floor. Love that she’s selling vinyl singles from her own web site.

  1. “Hailing A Cab In Hell” – Viva Viva

Couldn’t resist putting these guys on after Kim Deal… I mean come on, they have an ep called What’s The Kim Deal?, how could I resist? Besides, they’re heavy garage ‘riff-age’ gets me throwing my hair around every time.

  1. “Whenever You See Me” – Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

When three young brits sound both out of time and modern at the same time, you have a pretty awesome combination. Style jumping and instrument swapping can make them a little hard to pin down, but it sure is fun to try.

  1. “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky” – Johnny Cash

My dad and I didn’t agree on much… pretty much nothing… except that Johnny Cash was frickin fantastic.

  1. “10 Million” – Gina Villalobos

Another artist on my bucket list, I became a fan the first time I heard her play this song. Ever since I’ve been ordering stuff direct from her sight – here.

  1. “I’d Run Away” – The Jayhawks

‘Alt-country’ before the term went both in and out of style, this song is from their best album Tomorrow The Green Grass. Oddly they were Minneapolis peers of Husker Du, Soul Asylum and the Replacements.

  1. “Skyway” – The Replacements

Just a beautiful song for a cloudy day, by a band that helped create the whole ‘alt-rock’ movement of the 90’s. Legendary!

  1. “Committed” – Jenny & Jonny

A fun album of duets by the boyfriend/girlfriend combo… it doesn’t feel like duets at all, but rather a bunch of great songs with two individual vocalists having a great time doing harmony together.

  1. “Thorn In Her Pride” – King Khan and the Shrines

As far as I’m concerned, this would be the band I’d want to play at a very large party. They rock, they swing, and they make you want to dance.