Rock History 9: Surf Rock & California Rock

Stepping a little outside the alternative rock focus of this site I have decided to do a series of playlists and short articles outlining the history of rock music. In this project, I have used a broader, more expansive definition of rock music than some would have, but I also recognize I could have gone deeper still into many genres and subgenres. I also recognize that there is overlap and, sometimes, disagreement about where a band fits in. Still, if you go on this exploration with me I think you will gain a great overview of rock history. Enjoy and feel free to follow the website (www.alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com) and/or the Facebook page (@musicalternativereality) to get all the volumes as they come out.

Surf Rock & California Rock: In spite of the fact that the vast majority of Americans lived nowhere near the ocean and had never been surfing, surfing and surfing culture caught on in the 1960’s as a national fad and soon surfing, surf clothing, surf slang, and things related to the beaches and California were in fashion. This phenomena led to the rise and widespread success of surf rock. Surf rock basically was a genre, created prominently by American bands, that took elements of the British Invasion and combined them with the vocal harmonies that had often been used in folk rock. Later, as the surfing fad passed, Surf Rock gave way to California Rock; a related genre that de-emphasized surfing and played up elements of California culture and more traditional lyrical themes.  This shift from Surf Rock to California Rock saw the music become slicker, more polished, and more produced, but used many of the same musical elements as new bands reshaped the genre and some other older surf rock bands adapted their sound.

Surf/California Rock: Listen To The List – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1awwc6CsCGep0CV9JfDSW5

  1. “Wipe Out” – The Surfaris
  2. “Miserlou” – Dick Dale
  3. “Pipeline” – The Chantays
  4. “Hawaii Five-O” – The Ventures
  5. “Surfin’ USA” – The Beach Boys
  6. “Surf City” – Jan & Dean
  7. “Surfer Joe” – The Surfaris
  8. “Califonia Dreamin'” – The Mamas & The Papas
  9. “California Girls” – The Beach Boys
  10. “Sidewalk Surfin'” – Jan & Dean
  11. “Do You Believe In Magic?” – The Lovin’ Spoonful
  12. “Happy Together” – The Turtles
  13. “Get Together” – The Youngbloods
  14. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys
  15. “Monday, Monday” – The Mamas & The Papas
  16. “Dead Man’s Curve” – Jan & Dean
  17. “She’d Rather Be With Me” – The Turtles
  18. “Summer In The City” – The Lovin’ Spoonful
  19. “Darkness, Darkness” – The Youngbloods
  20. “Never My Love” – The Association
  21. “Good Vibrations” – The Beach Boys

90’s Albums Revisited: September 1991 – Part 2

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones.  So click the link to explore the month:

This Month In History – September 1991 – Part 2: The name St. Petersburg is restored, replacing the city’s Soviet era name of Leningrad with its original name. The senate began its confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. The tabloid television program The Jerry Springer Show debuts.

Author’s Note: So many great and important albums came out in September 1991 that this month will be the first of only a few months in the decade that will get two postings for a total of eight albums. Here is the first half of them.

September 1991 – Part 2: Trompe Le Monde/Solace/Ebbhead/Use Your Illusion https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3kFCyasnNFCFhPtZX8O8rH

“Trompe Le Monde” – Pixies

The last album from The Pixies original run, Trompe Le Monde was released just as many of the acts that were inspired by them, and who would come to dominate the 90’s, were releasing their breakthrough albums. While the sound The Pixies helped to pioneer was about to breakthrough to the mainstream, The Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde would not be a commercial breakthrough for them (although I have wondered if the album had been released three or four months later if the success of Nirvana and the rise of alternative rock might have improved their fortunes) and not too long after singer/leader Black Francis would leave the group for a solo career. Thus, Trompe Le Monde would be the last Pixies record for 22 years and the last the band would ever record with bassist Kim Deal. The album was something of a return to the noisy sound of their earlier records after the increased experimentation of Bossanova and contains favorite songs like “Alec Eiffel”, “U-Mass”, “Planet Of Sound”, “Motorway To Roswell”, “The Sad Punk” and their alternative rock hit cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On”. While Trompe Le Monde is not viewed as quite the classic that Surfer Rosa or Doolittle is, much of that is because the shock of the new is not as strong, but it is a great listen and was a fitting way to end The Pixies first chapter.

“Solace” – Sarah McLachlan

Solace was Sarah McLachlan’s second album and shows that both her haunting and atmospheric voice and her unique blend of alternative rock, folk, and pop was already largely formed. Indeed, Solace would be her breakthrough album in her native country of Canada, where she would have hits with both “Into The Fire” and “The Path of Thorns (Terms)”. The album also features the excellent opening track “Drawn To The Rhythm” (a personal favorite of mine by her) and “I Will Not Forget You” (a different song than her later hit “I Will Remember You”). In truth, nearly every song on Solace is strong and it is easy to see why the album made her a star in Canada and paved the way for her worldwide breakthrough with her next album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. If you enjoy McLachlan’s later, better-known albums then Solace will likely please you as it established the sound and pattern of those later, more successful albums, only with slightly less gloss and production.

“Ebbhead” – Nitzer Ebb

Produced by longtime collaborator Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode and superstar producer Flood, embracing more traditional song structures, and released right as Industrial music was entering the mainstream consciousness, Nitzer Ebb’s Ebbhead was perfectly positioned to break through to the masses. Yet, it didn’t. The album did expand the band’s fan base, especially in America where MTV even gave the album a little love, but it didn’t make Nitzer Ebb into stars. The album is a really good listen, if a little uneven, for fans of harder-edged synth music and contains great tracks like album opener “Reasons”, the near-hit “Family Man”, the pulsing “I Give to You”, the slow-burning “Ascend”, and the Nine Inch Nails like “Godhead”. However, Ebbhead doesn’t have the roaring guitars and huge hooks needed to capture all of the new Industrial music fans brought into the fold by Nine Inch Nail’s rise, while at the same time the album is too harsh and uncommercial for Depeche Mode’s more casual fans. Thus Ebbhead, while a really good album that should appeal to already existing Nitzer Ebb fans or to the more open-minded fans of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, still falls somewhere in between the sound of the music being made by those two giants enough to miss mainstream appeal. That doesn;t mean Ebbhead is bad, just that it still falls into the original meaning of “alternative” rock more than the new mainstream definition of that term that was emerging in 1991.

“Use Your Illusion” – Guns ‘N Roses

There is no easy or short way to summarize Guns ‘N Roses Use Your Illusion, a two album attack released by the band just as the rock scene that made them stars was being replaced by the rise of grunge and alternative rock. Guns ‘N Roses, unlike almost any of their 80’s “hair metal” peers was able to survive this transition, at least for a time, because the reckless and nihilistic spirit of punk had always been part of their sound and because they were such big stars at the time that their momentum couldn’t just be stopped. Guns ‘N Roses released the two albums – Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II – separately but at the same time that showed the growing divide inside the band between the bluesy, classic rock meets punk sound favored by most of musicians in the band (especially guitarist Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan, who was from Seattle and had been part of the same music scene that had spawned Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Nirvana before he left for Los Angeles) and the more ambitious glam and pop tendencies favored by singer Axl Rose. In theory, with two albums, Guns ‘N Roses could have split the two styles between the two records, but they didn’t and each record is a hodgepodge of styles that sometimes sits side by side uneasily. It is also unquestionably true that the two albums need some editing down. In fact, there is easily one album of material of high enough quality that an album could have been released that could have, perhaps, rivalled the dirty genius of their debut album Appetite For Destruction (in fact, I gave it a go in a separate post: https://alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/23/albums-re-imagined-use-your-illusion-by-guns-n-roses/). However, to make it a strong single album the band would have needed to have chosen one path or the other (my attempt chose to create a gritty, bluesy album modeled more after the sound of Appetite For Destruction at the expense of most of the more ambitious moments Axl favored) or at least divided the styles between the two records. Still, even if the Use Your Illusions are flawed and bloated one can’t argue that there are some amazing songs. Hits like “You Could Be Mine”, “Don’t Cry”, “Civil War” and “November Rain” are classics, while deeper cuts like “Bad Obsession”, “Dust N’ Bones”, “Breakdown” and “You Ain’t The First” are great songs in their own right that recall the earlier sound of Guns ‘N Roses, even as “Estranged”, “Coma”, and “My World” showcase Axl’s broadening interests. In a real sense, the two Use Your Illusion albums were the last hurrah of 80’s rock but there is enough venom here to be of interest to fans of the rising alternative rock scene as well.

Rock History 8: Hippy & Psychedelic Rock

Stepping a little outside the alternative rock focus of this site I have decided to do a series of playlists and short articles outlining the history of rock music. In this project, I have used a broader, more expansive definition of rock music than some would have, but I also recognize I could have gone deeper still into many genres and subgenres. I also recognize that there is overlap and, sometimes, disagreement about where a band fits in. Still, if you go on this exploration with me I think you will gain a great overview of rock history. Enjoy and feel free to follow the website (www.alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com) and/or the Facebook page (@musicalternativereality) to get all the volumes as they come out.

Hippy & Psychedelic Rock:  Many people, especially young people in the 1960’s, felt that major change was needed. It was this belief that fueled much of the passion and energy of the Folk Rock scene. However, rather than trying to work within the current system to orchestrate change in society, the Hippy movement wanted to start over and create a whole new culture and way of life. Hippies felt that the American Dream and the traditional American lifestyle had failed and wanted to experiment with a whole new way of living. This experimentation included open relationships, drug use, communal living, environmentalism, rejection of war, anti-commercialism, and many other ideas.

Hippy Rock was the music associated with the Hippy movement made by bands who were part of the movement or were closely affiliated with it. Just as Hippies were living experimental lifestyles and trying to break the rules, Hippy Rock was trying to be experimental and break down the “rules” of rock. These bands added distortion, guitar feedback, and other psychedelic flourishes like carnivalesque organs or production tricks to create music that was seen, for the time, as being quite experimental in nature.

Some of the themes of protest that existed in Folk Rock also carry over here as well. This can be heard especially clearly in the song “Ohio” which was written, recorded, and released within days of the Kent State Massacre, where National Guard troops opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University in Ohio.

Hippy & Psychedelic Rock: Listen To The List – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6Iob7mQ1DVH1id9FdkX2V8

  1. “My Generation” – The Who
  2. “Somebody To Love” – Jefferson Airplane
  3. “Ohio” – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  4. “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
  5. “Me and Bobby McGee” – Janis Joplin
  6. “Friend of the Devil” – Grateful Dead
  7. “Teach Your Children” – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  8. “People Are Strange” – The Doors
  9. “White Room” – Cream
  10. “All Along The Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix
  11. “Magic Carpet Ride” – Steppenwolf
  12. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” – Iron Butterfly
  13. “White Rabbit” – Jefferson Airplane
  14. “Piece Of My Heart” – Janis Joplin/Big Brother & The Holding Company
  15. “American Woman” – The Guess Who
  16. “I Can See For Miles” – The Who
  17. “Hello, I Love You” – The Doors
  18. “Woodstock” – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  19. “Purple Haze” – Jimi Hendrix
  20. “Sunshine Of Your Love” – Cream
  21. “Born To Be Wild” – Steppenwolf

90’s Albums Revisited: September 1991 – Part 1

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones.  So click the link to explore the month:

This Month In History – September 1991 – Part 1: The name St. Petersburg is restored, replacing the city’s Soviet era name of Leningrad with its original name. The senate began its confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. The tabloid television program The Jerry Springer Show debuts.

Author’s Note: So many great and important albums came out in September 1991 that this month will be the first of only a few months in the decade that will get two postings for the same month for a total of eight albums. Here is the first half of them.

September 1991: Nevermind/Badmotorfinger/Blood Sugar Sex Magik/Pretty On The Inside https://open.spotify.com/playlist/14YCugB8DzKxvafoDbx4t0

“Nevermind – Nirvana

What can you say about Nirvana’s Nevermind? It was the album that started a revolution in rock music and brought the underground and alternative into the mainstream. Yes, bands like The Pixies and Jane’s Addiction helped to pave the way and other Seattle bands like Soundgarden and Alice In Chains had found some limited success, especially with the metal crowd. However, nothing that those bands achieved were any indication of the sea change that was about to happen. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a revelation and a revolution. It’s blend of punk, metal, and indie elements (combined with Butch Vig’s radio ready production) hit Generation X just as they were coming into their own and it was a perfect match. Soon not only were Nirvana rising up the charts and reshaping the sound of mainstream rock but their success brought many of the Seattle peers with them. Pearl Jam’s Ten had been released a month earlier and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger also came out in September of 1991 and those three bands made the variations of the “Seattle sound” that came to be known as grunge popular and paved the way for the success of Alice In Chains’ Dirt a year later. However, Nevermind is so much more than just “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Songs like “Come As You Are” and “In Bloom” helped to shape the sound of grunge with their bass-driven, murky feel, while “Lithium” makes clear Nirvana’s debt to punk. Nearly all of the songs that weren’t hits are great too. “Drain You” and “Lounge Act” are fan favorites that rival the hits, while “Breed” and “Stay Away” show off the band’s ferocity, especially that of new drummer Dave Grohl. Nirvana even show off their more pop-oriented side on “On A Plain” and their moody, softer side with “Polly” and the haunting closer “Something In The Way”. If somehow you don’t know the record give it a listen. Nevermind is historically important, but more importantly, is a damn good listen.

“Badmotorfinger” – Soundgarden

Soundgarden was one of the key bands to help create the murky, bass-driven sound of grunge rock and had already found some degree of success with the heavy metal crowd ahead of Nirvana’s breakthrough success. The fact that Badmotorfinger was released the same month as Nevermind (and was easily Soundgarden’s best album to this point) brought even more attention to Seattle. Soundgarden and Nirvana did have some things in common in their sound but where Nirvana leaned toward punk, Soundgarden leaned toward metal with touches of psychedelia. This fusion can be heard on the first single, the thrash metal meets Zeppelinesque squall of “Jesus Christ Pose”. The band followed this up with the sludgy riffing of “Outshined”, a song that practically defines the sound of “grunge”. However, Badmotorfinger is a much deeper and more varied record than those two hits. Third single “Rusty Cage” is a personal favorite that combines the best elements of the first two singles, while songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Mind Riot”, and “New Damage” continue to form the basis for Soundgarden’s sound and reputation. Soundgarden is no one trick pony though on Badmotorfinger as “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” continues their psychedelic experimentation while “Face Pollution” showed they too had some punk roots. Along with Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten released the previous month the Seattle scene was about to take over.

“Blood Sugar Sex Magik” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers had been laboring for almost a decade in the seedy Los Angeles underground/alternative music scene before they released Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Indeed, the Chili Peppers’ unique combination of rock, funk, and hip hop had brought them critical praise and a rabid fan base over the years and the band was part of the rising group of alternative bands that were hinting that change was on the horizon. That said, the Chili Peppers had not had any real mainstream success yet. Part of the reason for that was because the band had been forced to deal with an array of bad luck and self-inflicted wounds that included worsening drug addiction, a rotating cast of drummers and the death of original guitarist Hillel Slovak from an overdose. However, 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik would be the second album played by what would become the classic band line-up (and the first album to be made by the same four members as the previous album). The album got the world’s attention with the funky rock of “Give It Away”, a song that was reminiscent of the group’s classic funky sound while also evolving into something that would be the unique sound of this classic version of the band. Other key tracks like “Suck My Kiss” and “If You Have To Ask” were similar. Blood Sugar Sex Magik offered so much more though than the funky, rap-infused party rock they were already known for. Producer Rick Rubin coaxed singer Anthony Kiedis into singing more and there are several fragile and pretty ballads including the massive hit “Under The Bridge”, the self-incriminating “I Could Have Lied”, the carnivalesque “Breaking The Girl” and the lovely tribute to their fallen friend Slovak on “My Lovely Man”. And that is only about half of the tracks on this sprawling masterpiece which was one of the first albums to capitalize on the album length available during the CD era. In one other note, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers have no direct connection to what was happening in Seattle, it was the Chili Peppers former drummer Jack Irons that suggested a young surfer named Eddie Vedder to be the singer for the newly formed Pearl Jam a few years earlier.

“Pretty On The Inside” – Hole
Hole came from the same Los Angeles underground music scene as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and, of course, would later strongly become associated with Seattle when their lead singer and centerpiece Courtney Love married Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain a few years later. Pretty On The Inside is Hole’s debut album and it is quite different from the sound of the two hit albums they would later release; one of which was strongly influenced by the sound of NIrvana and grunge and the other by the layered, slick and distorted sound of the Smashing Pumpkins. Pretty On The Inside however is much more in the realm of noise rock and is more indebted to bands like Sonic Youth, The Pixies, or The Breeders. Indeed, while Love is already establishing her lyrical themes of angry and/or mistreated women either suffering at the hands of men and their expectation or taking their revenge on them, Pretty On The Inside is a noisy, blustery album that buried what melodies it has in distortion and noise. It is not for everyone but songs like “Teenage Whore”, “Babydoll” and “Pretty On The Inside” are great examples of the very non-commercial sound that Hole was trying to achieve, while “Starbelly” is a very interesting sound collage experiment that steals its opening riff from Neil Young and literally plays a clip of Fleetwood Mac in the middle of the song. Pretty On The Inside is not a lost classic but it is an interesting listen for those inclined to this kind of rock and shows that Love and her bandmates already had the sonic chops before her connection to Cobain or Corgan.

24 To Fight For: Stone Temple Pilots

24 To Fight For: Stone Temple Pilots

Listen To The List: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3fAmy4U9JaQMNBrTJyezqj

Imagine if you had to choose a desert island playlist for a band you really love. Imagine if for some reason you were going away and could only take a single 24 song playlist with you for that beloved group and those would be the only songs by that artist that you could ever listen to again. What would you choose? What 24 songs would you fight for and say that these songs are your personal favorites and/or the best that the artist has to offer. That is the premise of my 24 To Fight For playlists. For this project I will choose my personal favorites from an artist and make the tough call of ranking those songs from #24 to #1 (trying to NOT let the fact that some songs may be overplayed influence me but basing them on my original feelings are much as possible). This is my list and I would love to see you play along and make yours too! What songs would you fight for?

#24 – “Days of the Week” – From the album Shangri-La Dee Da 

“Days of the Week” is a lightly psychedelia-kissed pop song. On this song Stone Temple Pilots manages that tricky balance of creating a light and breezy musical sound and having it counterbalance a fairly angst-driven lyric to create a tension within the song. 

#23 – “Down” – From the album No. 4 

Stone Temple had started life as a latecomer to the bass-driven Seattle sound that came to be known as grunge. However, over their next two records the band moved further and further away from that sound and wove in a variety of other sounds and styles. Their fourth album, appropriately called No. 4, ended that trend and moved STP back firmly into grunge and hard alt rock territory and “Down” was the song the reintroduced this side of the band to the world, and for good reason, as “Down” comes along with all the delicacy of a bulldozer. Great rock tune.

#22 – “Creep” – From the album Core 

“Creep” is a grungy dirge of a ballad complete with bass guitar high in the mix and a dark and self-incriminating lyric that marks it as being of its time. “Creep” also has a chorus that is undeniably hooky even while reveling in its nihilism and at least a touch of folk and blues to give the song its own sense of personality, tie it into the rock’s history, and raise it above countless other less-accomplished grunge dirges.

#21 – “Pretty Penny” – From the album Purple 

A largely acoustic, alternative folk song that has echoes of masters from all over the rock spectrum. “Pretty Penny” weaves together elements from The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Nirvana, and while it never rises to the level of the best of those artists “Pretty Penny” is something of a unique piece of music in the STP canon and was a minor radio hit as well.

#20 – “No Way Out” – From the album No. 4 

Stone Temple Pilots album No. 4 was released in 1999 at the height of the nu-metal craze that found bands blending elements of alt rock and hip hop. Bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and (soon) Linkin Park were the hottest bands around. STP never fully jumps on the nu-metal bandwagon but strong echoes of the dynamics and sound of that style are present on their hit song “No Way Out” and it works really well.

#19 – “Dead and Bloated” – From the album Core 

While STP was criticized in some quarters for being bandwagon jumpers to the grunge sound (a charge that may have a little legitimacy on their debut) the fact is that they arrive fully formed. “Dead and Bloated” kicks off their debut album Core and is a great grunge/metal hybrid rocker in the same vein as grunge masters like Alice In Chains or Soundgarden. Plus, it has that great a cappella opening.

#18 – “All In The Suit That You Wear” – From the compilation album Thank You 

Originally written for the soundtrack to a superhero movie STP decided to pull the album from the soundtrack at the last minute when a different song was chosen to be released as the soundtrack’s lead single. Although written in the early 00’s the band consciously decided to try and write and perform the song like something that may have been on their grungy debut album Core and you can definitely hear that harder, more direct sound, although I think “All In The Suit That You Wear” still has a little too much quirkiness to it to have actually been written during the Core era. That’s okay though because it is this balance of the old and new that makes the song work. STP eventually included it on their Thank You greatest hits compilation as a new song for fans.

#17 – “Meatplow” – From the album Purple 

“Meatplow” opens up STP’s second album Purple and immediately announced that this album would be more than the metal-tinged grunge of the debut. “Meatplow” still connects fairly strongly to the sound of the first record, but it also has a touch of the psychedelic and much more of a pop core than almost anything on Core. Scott Weiland’s vocals are some of my favorites too.

#16 – “Pop’s Love Suicide” – From the album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop

I think most STP fans prefer their heavier, more grunge-oriented sound, but I always have loved their fizzy and fuzzy glam and pop influenced side just a little more. It’s not that I don’t love their more traditional grunge rock sound because I do, but other bands did it first and, in my opinion, did it better. “Pop’s Love Suicide” has a fuzzy glam stomp to the rhythm section and Weiland’s vocals are drenched in irony and miles away from the earnest growl of the Core era. 

#15 – “Atlanta” – From the album No. 4 

“Atlanta” is one of Stone Temple Pilots most beautiful and unusual songs. The song is a flowing and lush melancholy ballad that sounds almost exactly like a lost classic from The Doors. Although there are plenty of other reference points to suggest STP were influenced a lot by the psychedelic hippy music scene of the 1960’s, “Atlanta” sounds like nothing else in the STP discography so it still comes as a pleasant surprise.

#14 – “Sour Girl” – From the album No. 4

Much of Stone Temple Pilots album No. 4 returned to their heavier roots, eschewing much of the glam, pop, and psychedelic flourishes of their more recent work. However, “Sour Girl” was something of an exception as it is a breezy pop rock song with a catchy hook and vaguely Beach Boys-styled harmony on the chorus.

#13 – “Art School Girl” – From the album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop 

“Art School Girl” is an STP song that is probably fairly divisive amongst fans of the band as in many ways it is a prime example of the fizzy alt glam of their third album; a record that divided  fans. The song is, at heart, a silly pop song about the ridiculousness of the “hipster” scene told through the eyes of a man who seems on the edge of losing it trying to keep up. The song shifts back and forth musically between quirky pop and a glammy stomp and between irony and anger in its emotions. It is schizophrenic and really good.

#12 – “Middle of Nowhere” – From the album Stone Temple Pilots (2018) 

Stone Temple Pilots second eponymous album (in a row) was their first with new lead singer Jeff Gutt who joined the band following the deaths of both original lead singer Scott Weiland and his replacement, former Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. Those are big, big shoes to fill but on “Middle of Nowhere, the first song on the album and Gutt’s first chance to shine, Gutt proves he is up to the task, sounding enough like Weiland to fit in with the band, but unique enough to leave his own mark. The rest of the band is in fine form too and sound reinvigorated by the chance to put the constant stress of Weiland’s drug issues behind them and start over. “Middle of Nowhere” marks a new start for the band and is a great and overlooked track.

#11 – “Piece of Pie” – From the album Core 

“Piece of Pie” was not the hit that several of the other songs from Stone Temple Pilots debut were but it is one of the best examples of the sound of the band at that stage. “Piece of Pie” is rooted in the bass-driven, murky and heavy sound of Seattle grunge and sounds like a fusion of Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam. That fact could make the song derivative, but in this case STP uses those touchstones as a starting point to make a great song of their own.

#10 – “Dancing Days” – From the compilation album Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin 

Stone Temple Pilots cover of the Led Zeppelin classic is both a faithful tribute to the original and a superb STP song at the same time. I personally like it better than the Led Zeppelin version and, as a personal favorite, it makes my list of STP greats.

#9 – “Unglued” – From the album Purple 

“Unglued” is one of those great rock songs that manages to be both really heavy and really catchy at the same time. This is a hard trick to pull off and have the song really click with fans that fall on both sides of the spectrum but “Unglued” does it. It bops along with hooky abandon while also having a sense of punk propulsion and a sense of 90’s alt rock nihilism that STP weaves together perfectly.

#8 – “Vasoline” – From the album Purple 

Built off of a big, fuzzy riff that foreshadows STP’s later more psychedelic work but still rooted in the grunge-fueled alternative rock of their debut “Vasoline” was a huge hit that also suggested that STP was more than the grunge carpetbaggers that many critics, possibly unfairly, accused them of being. I liked the first album but when I heard this single I knew I could really love them.

#7 – “Big Empty” – From the album Purple 

“Big Empty” was originally on the soundtrack for the movie The Crow (one of the best soundtracks of the 1990’s) and was pulled as a single from that album while simultaneously being used as the pre-album release single for Purple as well. The song is a fairly unique 90’s alternative rock take on the blues on its superb, emotion-filled verses before it segues into a fuller, more classic STP-sounding song on its chorus. To this day “Big Empty” remains one of the band’s signature songs and is a classic of its era.

#6 – “Interstate Love Song” – From the album Purple 

“Interstate Love Song” is probably Stone Temple Pilots biggest hit and, for many, their greatest song; the song that carries their legacy. It makes sense. Not only was the song a massive hit but its fusion of arena rock, southern rock and alternative rock gave it a sound that could both be popular in the 90’s and become a part of the canon of classic rock as well without feeling out of place. That is quite a feat as the zeitgeist of the 90’s worked against anything that smacked too much of commercialism, careerism, or classic rock. The reason “Interstate Love Song” works is that it managed to use those elements without feeling like any of those things. It was a great song then and deserves its place among the rock and roll classics.

#5 – “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” – From the album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop

“Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” was a hit, but it should have been even bigger. The song rushes along with a punk-like pace while weaving in the glam rock and psychedelic influences that pepper the entire Tiny Music album while also have a strong sense of pop melody under the noise. Then, just when you really get into the flow of the song it ends abruptly with its hard stop and leaves you wanting more. Excellent.

#4 – “Lounge Fly” – From the album Purple 

This is a song that might be much lower on many other people’s lists but I have always loved the percussive drive and rhythmic groove of the “Lounge Fly”. While it is a few years too early to be part of the nu-metal craze that fused rock and rap (nor does it really sound like that scene either) it does seem to use the flow and rhythm of rap as an influence. In fact, “Lounge Fly” seems to use rap in a way that is almost unique within the rock world, finding a natural crossroad that is similar but quite different from attempts to blend the two genres both before and after.

#3 – “Sex Type Thing” – From the album Core

Stone Temple Pilots excellent first single is the often misinterpreted “Sex Type Thing”. A song that was meant to show the disgusting and brutal nature of rape from the rapists point of view was sometimes misunderstood by those who were not really paying attention, but the lyrics are effective and Weiland’s vocals create a sense of a sick man out of control. Behind him the rest of the band rock with a fire that fuses punk and metal in a similar way to grunge rock but, unlike much of the rest of the Core album, doesn’t really sound too much like their Seattle contemporaries. “Sex Type Thing” is a fiery rock song filled with anger, excellent riffs and a driving beat.

#2 – “Big Bang Baby” – From the album Tiny Music…Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop 

Built off a growling bass line provided by Robert DeLeo “Big Bang Baby” is the epitome of the sound of Tiny Music – fuzzy, glam rock filtered through the prism of 90’s alt rock and fueled by Weiland’s drug addiction, which was spiralling out of control at the time and giving the music a real sense of madness. “Big Bang Baby” is almost the sound of a man spiralling out of control; the song slightly picks up its tempo and becomes increasingly manic as it goes on before arriving at its end. I love it and think it is underrated and overlooked by many in spite of it being the lead single and a medium-sized hit.

#1 – “Between The Lines” – From the album Stone Temple Pilots (2010) 

The first of STP’s two self-titled albums was their last with Scott Weiland. It was hailed at the time as a comeback of sorts after his years of battling his demons and drugs (those drugs being demon number one). “Between The Lines” sounds and feels like classic Stone Temple Pilots and walks the line between their harder rocking sound and their psychedelic flourishes is superb fashion. Lyrically, the song is about the rush of a good relationship and has the clever and knowing line, delivered by the supposedly now clean Weiland: “I like it when you talk about love/You always were my favorite drug/Even when we used to take drugs”. Sadly, this didn’t prove to be true, but you can’t help but feel that Weiland really meant it, was even feeling it, when he sang the song as it has such a positive tone and a sense of triumph to it, all while the band rocked out with a sense of renewed passion to one of the best melodies they have ever written. It is my favorite STP song.

Rock History 7: Folk Rock

Stepping a little outside the alternative rock focus of this site I have decided to do a series of playlists and short articles outlining the history of rock music. In this project, I have used a broader, more expansive definition of rock music than some would have, but I also recognize I could have gone deeper still into many genres and subgenres. I also recognize that there is overlap and, sometimes, disagreement about where a band fits in. Still, if you go on this exploration with me I think you will gain a great overview of rock history. Enjoy and feel free to follow the website (www.alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com) and/or the Facebook page (@musicalternativereality) to get all the volumes as they come out.

Folk Rock: The 1960’s were a decade of upheaval, tumult, and change.  The Civil Rights movement was in full swing as African-Americans all over the country finally demanded equality and justice.  Vietnam began and expanded and as it did so the war became increasingly unpopular, especially amongst the younger generation that was being drafted and sent to die in a faraway country for vague idealistic principles that they didn’t always agree with. Riots swept across many of America’s urban centers. Popular leaders – from John F. Kennedy to Robert F. Kennedy to Martin Luther King – were assassinated.  The Hippy movement, with its rejection of traditional social norms, the Vietnam War, and its embrace of free love and drugs, swept across the country.  Everywhere you turned the fabric of traditional American society seemed to be under attack.

Change, much of it driven by the younger generation, was everywhere; yet there was no soundtrack for this moment. Motown was too clean-cut, not to mention this was still an America where black musicians couldn’t speak out and always be heard. The British Invasion bands were not American and therefore less concerned and somewhat ill-equipped to deal with American politics and social movements. Corporate Rock, popular only a year or two earlier, seemed to be from a whole other era and was terribly out of step.  Young people wanted to protest and be involved and they needed music that matched that. To meet that demand people looked back to the folk songs and protest music of the Great Depression to find a model.

Here was music that spoke the truth to power, was simple and direct, and placed an emphasis on the message more than the melody.  Intellectual students on college campuses and liberal Bohemians in the big cities began to embrace a new version of folk music patterned on the model from the 1930’s and soon a new generation of singers and songwriters began to sing of protests, social change, and other fears, along with romance and heartbreak.  As time went by this brand of folk music expanded from being a voice and an acoustic guitar to became slicker, prettier, and more commercial, but it remained about the message. Ultimately, Folk Rock expanded its audience from a core group of fans to become one of the mainstream genres of the time.

Folk Rock:  Listen To The List – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0lSQHUEme2wnionIXBZSl1

  1. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” – Bob Dylan
  2. “Blowin’ In The Wind” – Peter, Paul & Mary
  3. “Sit Down Young Stranger” – Gordon Lightfoot
  4. “There But For Fortune” – Joan Baez
  5. “The Sound Of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel
  6. “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” – Phil Ochs
  7. “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
  8. “Peace Train” – Cat Stevens
  9. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” – Bob Dylan
  10. “Black Day In July” – Gordon Lightfoot
  11. “This Land Is Your Land” – Peter, Paul & Mary
  12. “When I’m Gone” – Phil Ochs
  13. Turn! Turn! Turn!” – The Byrds
  14. “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio” – Joni Mitchell
  15. “Sundown” – Gordon Lightfoot
  16. “Like A Rollingstone” – Bob Dylan
  17. “Wild World” – Cat Stevens
  18. “Mrs. Robinson” – Simon & Garfunkel
  19. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” – Joan Baez
  20. “American Pie” – Don McLean
  21. “We Shall Overcome” – Pete Seeger

90’s Albums Revisited: August 1991

In 90’s Albums Revisited we will look at four key albums released month by month starting in January 1990.  As this is an alternative music site I will generally focus on albums that would fall under the “alternative music” umbrella, but I may stray into the mainstream world on occasion. Also, for whatever reason, the month of December is consistently a thin month for new releases so I will fill out the list for that month by including albums from earlier in the year that I originally did not include and will indicate these releases as such when I do this. I hope you enjoy this journey, may you revisit old favorites and find some new ones.  So click the link to explore the month:

This Month In History – August 1991: Tim Berners-Lee releases files that describe his idea for the World Wide Web and WWW debuts on the internet as a public service sparking one of the most important changes in history. The Greek cruise ship Oceanos sinks off of the coast of South Africa. Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev survives an attempted coup to depose him by Communist hardliners in the USSR in large part because of resistance to the hardliners from the Russian people led by Boris Yeltsin; Gorbachev resigns as the head of the communist party soon after which opens the door to free elections and the end of communism in Russia. Major league baseball pitcher Wilson Alvarez throws a no-hitter in his first-ever MLB start.

August 1991 – Listen To The Albums: Ten/Metallica/Leisure/Fear

August 1991:

“Ten” – Pearl Jam

The Seattle “grunge” rock scene had existed since the late 1980’s and all of the other bands that would soon make up grunge’s “Big 4” – Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains – had already all put out albums prior to 1991. None of those albums though had made any real impact on the mainstream though, even with Soundgarden earning a Grammy nomination and Alice In Chains getting some notice in the heavy metal world. The truth is that the timing just wasn’t right yet for the mainstream to accept their sound and style. Nirvana would be the band to break through and bring the alternative into the mainstream, changing rock music in the process. It would be Pearl Jam though, with their ties to both the sound and mythology of classic rock, that would help to make alternative rock’s time in the mainstream more lasting. Ten was Pearl Jam’s debut and it rode Nirvana’s success and helped to make the Seattle sound a full-blown movement with massive radio and MTV hits like “Alive”, “Even Flow”, and “Jeremy”. However, Ten was far deeper than just the hits. Songs like “Garden” and “Once” helped establish the bass-driven, murky sound of grunge, while “Once” and “Why Go” helped to firmly establish the connection between punk and grunge. Elsewhere tracks like “Black” and “Release” would connect Pearl Jam back to the classic rock of the 1970’s while also showing that Pearl Jam could write powerful rock ballads, a trait that they would become known for. Nirvana would be the band that brought the alternative to the mainstream but Pearl Jam’s Ten was the gateway for many rock fans to get there.

“Metallica (The Black Album)” – Metallica

Metallica’s self-titled album, known generally as the “Black Album” because of its nearly all black cover, is not an alternative rock album. Indeed, Metallica was at the forefront of 80’s heavy metal. However, either through a shrewd understanding of how the music scene was changing or very good luck, Metallica began to change their sound. In August of 1991 alternative rock was still a rising tide in the underground that had not yet broken so Metallica’s self-titled album made a play for the mainstream by keeping elements of their metal past and combining them with a more mainstream rock feel that would help them expand their audience without losing many of the older fans. This formula would prove to be incredibly successful, so much so that Metallica would become massive mainstream rock stars and the “Black Album” would spin off hit after hit. Thus, while Metallica is not alternative rock (at least not yet, their next two albums would weave alt rock elements into their mix and earn those albums and the band the somewhat scorning nickname of “Alternica” by longtime fans) I felt I could not discuss August of 1991 without a conversation about this album. Metallica crossed over with the driving semi-metal riffs of the instant classic “Enter Sandman” and followed it up with the angsty rocker “The Unforgiven”. The band’s crossover potential was then fully realized when they released the full-blown rock ballad “Nothing Else Matters” before keeping rock fans engaged with two more hit singles in “Sad But True” and “Wherever I May Roam”. The album does not disown Metallica’s past though with songs like “Don’t Tread On Me”, “Through The Never” and “Of Wolf And Man”. Metallica, likely inadvertently, even made music that feels connected to the rising underground music (most likely because bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden shared some of the same influences as Metallica) with the bass heavy “The God That Failed”. Metallica’s Black Album is one of the key rock albums of the 1990’s and is one of the few that can say that without being truly indebted to the alternative rock underground.

“Leisure” – Blur

Blur eventually made their name as one of the leading bands of the Britpop movement where they would help invent the genre with their sophomore album Modern Life Is Rubbish and become the witty, white-collar rivals to Oasis’ blue-collar appeal. However, all of that was still in Blur’s future. For sure, there are elements of their Britpop future here, but on their debut album Leisure Blur is exploring the dance/rock elements of Madchester bands like Stone Roses and Happy Mondays as much as they are looking back at classic British rock like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Kinks. Both of the hit singles, “She’s So High” and “There’s No Other Way” are melodic songs that fall comfortably into the current Madchester craze of the time, as does the third single “Bang”. Other album highlights include the fuzzy shoegaze rock of “Repetition” and the slow burning “Sing” which foreshadows the sound that bands like Coldplay, Travis, and Keane would find success with. Leisure is not overly original but there are still many quality tracks to make it a worthwhile listen and the filler is pleasant enough to not sink the album, in particular “Birthday” which at least hints at Blur’s future.

“Fear” – Toad The Wet Sprocket

Toad The Wet Sprocket’s third album Fear was their commercial and critical high point. On Fear Toad move beyond their R.E.M. influences and make them into something warmer, smoother, and more mature than their previous work. The album’s second single “All I Want” (ironically almost left off the album as the band felt it was weak and a B-side at best) is a warm thank you to a lover for the safety and security they offer. “All I Want” is more direct than most of Toad’s music, but it is that very directness that makes this song so appealing and turned it into a hit. The follow-up hit “Walk On The Ocean” uses a mandolin to create a song that seems both unique and nostalgic all at once and is a highlight on an album that is strong throughout. Other standout moments include the failed first single “Is It For Me?” and the harder-edged anti-rape song “Hold Her Down”. Fear is an album that still shows its key influences, notably Toad still uses prominent and interesting bass lines and excellent counterpoint vocals, but they never really sound or feel like R.E.M. here, having found a way to make these songs their own. As the title suggests Fear is an album that explores the anxiety and tensions found in the modern world and often doesn’t like the answers it finds, but those darker undercurrents set up the concluding song “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted” where singer Glen Phillips unironically lists the small joys that make life worth living. It could seem sappy or clichéd but because of the issues dealt with on the album beforehand, the song just feels like a warm and reassuring coda to a very good album.

Rock History 6: Motown – The Women

Stepping a little outside the alternative rock focus of this site I have decided to do a series of playlists and short articles outlining the history of rock music. In this project, I have used a broader, more expansive definition of rock music than some would have, but I also recognize I could have gone deeper still into many genres and subgenres. I also recognize that there is overlap and, sometimes, disagreement about where a band fits in. Still, if you go on this exploration with me I think you will gain a great overview of rock history. Enjoy and feel free to follow the website (www.alternativealbumsblog.wordpress.com) and/or the Facebook page (@musicalternativereality) to get all the volumes as they come out.

Motown – The Women:  I covered an overview of the history of Motown in my previous post that looked at the men of Motown and I won’t repeat that here. However, a quick reminder that Motown, and many of the other labels that focused on African-American artists, were labels that primarily focused on singers and singing groups and often used in-house musicians. With this emphasis on singers, Motown music was the one genre that supported female artists on an equal, or at least a near equal, footing as their male counterparts. In fact, Motown music had a host of successful women who were key in the early days of rock and who would serve as an inspiration to a whole generation of women who wanted more opportunities and recognition. Of course, these female artists also had a major impact on later genres and musicians, both male and female.

Motown – The Women: Listen To The List

  1. “Please Mr. Postman” – The Marvelettes
  2. “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
  3. “You Can’t Hurry Love” – The Supremes
  4. “Needle In A Haystack” – The Velvelettes
  5. “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
  6. “My Guy” – Mary Wells
  7. “Respect” – Aretha Franklin
  8. “Baby Love” – The Supremes
  9. “A New Girl” – Debbie Dean
  10. “Nowhere To Run” – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
  11. “Chain Of Fools” – Aretha Franklin
  12. “You Beat Me To The Punch” – Mary Wells
  13. “Walking In The Rain” – The Ronettes
  14. “Every Little Bit Hurts” – Brenda Hollaway
  15. “That’s What Boys Are Made For” – Tammi Terrell
  16. “Stop! In The Name Of Love” – The Supremes
  17. “Dancing In The Street” – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
  18. “Helpless” – Kim Weston
  19. “He Was Really Sayin’ Something” – The Velvelettes
  20. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” – The Supremes
  21. “Think” – Aretha Franklin