Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Best Songs You've Forgotten or Never Knew

I am an adamant believer that boredom is a myth.  There is always something to do.  If you're like me - an "indoors man" - that something is preferably in the comforts of your air-conditioned home and involves some form of media.

That leads me to a post I've been meaning to write for a long time, as it's a topic that has long interested me.  I grew up in maybe the heyday of radio popularity.

I remember as a kid - probably in the early 1980's - getting my first "headphones" for my birthday.  It was a radio (which my mom bought from Thompson Hardware in town) - no cassette player - that would rarely come in.  I recall biking around the neighborhood and just drifting from station to station, content if I could just find a radio station that actually played music to come in.

A few years later, I saved up my money and bought a Soundesign cassette player from Kmart.  Here is the exact brand and model too!  I recall the first tape I ever bought, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor to listen to on it.  I was close to buying 4 by Foreigner - as my cousin Kent had rocked out to "Urgent" and "A Girl Like You" when he and his family visited us from Colorado.  The second tape I ever purchased, this one from Hardware Hank in Red Lake Falls, was Thriller by Michael Jackson.  Everything changed for me, though, when I bought my third cassette: Pyromania by Def Leppard.  I became fascinated by them because one of our neighbor's Wade Schultz, had a Pyromania T-shirt, and it was the coolest cover I had ever seen.  The album itself, which every track is excellent, had me hooked.  I loved the tape so much that I took my Soundesign speakers I had bought from good old Larson Music in TRF and taped them to the handlebars of my red and white BMX to blast "Photograph," "Too Late for Love," and "Rock of Ages" across the neighborhood wherever I biked.  The good old days!

Of course, this was at the beginning of the hair band trend in rock music.  I would soon fall in love with Quiet Riot, though Mom would never let me buy their album Metal Health because it had a "bad" song: "Love is a Bitch."  She did, though, let me get Van Halen's 1984, despite the offensive cover of an angel smoking a cigarette.  But Mom loved "Jump," so apparently it was okay.

That had me hooked.  Soon I was listening to KJ 108 and Power 95 and Q 98 every chance I could get.  I avoided the trendy, pop heavy XL 93, Magic 96, and Y 94 as much as I could.  Except for XL 93 who had a rock block show Saturday evenings where they actually played hard rock and heavy metal.  I was interested in one band they had on one night, Hollywood Trix, who was leaving for LA soon to try and make it big with the likes of Guns N' Roses, LA Guns, Warrant, Ratt, and so on.

I even recorded a couple of their songs, one of which was "Redrum."  Little did I know that my brother-in-law was the lead singer of the band!  Small world.

Since I grew up in the heyday of radio, I had many songs ruined because they were literally played too much by the four or five radio stations I listened too.  This didn't apply, though, to my favorite band, Def Leppard.  Their massively successful follow up to Pyromania, Hysteria, which came out in 1987, once had four songs playing at the same time on four different radio stations that I listened to!

So songs like "Money for Nothing," "Everybody Hurts," "In the Air Tonight," and "Born in the USA" just became overplayed so much that I couldn't help but grow to hate them.

But there were some truly excellent songs that I loved that no one ever played - or weren't even released as singles.  Here is a list of the best songs that I think few people have ever heard of or songs that people just plain forgot about.

"All Night Thing" - Temple of the Dog from their self titled, and only, album.

Temple of the Dog was an old fashioned "super group" of the grunge era, even though the bulk of the band (made up of former members of the band Mother Love Bone as a tribute to their lead singer, Andrew Wood, who overdosed.  The members went on to form the bulk of Pearl Jam.  They joined forces with Wood's close friend and former roommate, Chris Cornell, frontman for the band Soundgarden).  Their album is a classic, but "All Night Thing" stands out to me as it is so unlike anything either Pearl Jam or Soundgarden have ever recorded.

"Welcome to the Boomtown" - David + David from Boomtown.

Thought this song and album came out in 1986, I didn't actually buy it until my senior year when my taste in music became much more eclectic.

I believe this was featured on Miami Vice, which always liked to feature up and coming musical groups.  There is just something about this song that captures the emptiness and commercialism of the 1980's.

"Fire in the Sky" - Ozzy Osborne from No Rest for the Wicked.

I've never been a huge Ozzy fan.  I blame Mom for this.  As one of the first albums I bought when we moved out to the farm in 1984 was Bark at the Moon by Ozzy.  Mom listened to it, and she actually liked it!  That about ended by love for Ozzy and his over-the-top Alice Cooper-esque musical style.

But I did get Osborne's No Rest for the Wicked as part of a tape club I was in.  I wouldn't have normally bought it, but when you have to select 10 cassettes from a list of 50, your options are limited.  So I found myself with this album, which actually is pretty solid.  I think it's the first one to feature the excellent guitar work of Zakk Wylde.

"Fire in the Sky" is the story of a little kid who has this imaginary world in his head that he built up to protect him.  That concept appealed quite a bit to me as a tubby, awkward kid.  But then something goes wrong for the young man and his imaginary world ends up in flames.  I always imagined the young boy being bullied in school or angered by his parents divorce.

"Breathe a Sigh" - Def Leppard, from Slang.

The '90's were brutal for my favorite band.  This is ironic because I really thing that the 1990's music - known as grunge or alternative - was the best ever made.  I will take the work of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, Blind Melon, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Nirvana . . . Just killer music compared to the commercial and synthetic stuff churned out in the 1980's.

So when - in my opinion - the best of the hair bands, Def Leppard, tried to release their version of a "grunge" album in the mid 1990's, it was a bitter disappointment.  However, I think it is one of their actual best albums.  The songs are well crafted, not nearly as commercial and over produced as the songs on Pyromania, Hysteria, and Andrenalize.  The songs are more sophisticated, but as heavy as the songs on High N' Dry.

The sad fact, though, that Leppard couldn't quite transition all the way to the more harder style of grunge.  As a result, they did have several ballads on the album.  In the '80's and early '90's this worked great for them: "Love Bites," "Hysteria," "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad," "Two Steps Behind," and "Miss You In a Heart Beat" were all huge top-ten hits for the band.

But those ballads all pale in comparison to the ballad, "Breathe a Sign" on Slang.  Had this song been released in 1988 it would have sold a million copies and been played every hour on the hour.  But since it came out in a time when no one cared about the hair bands and their whiny ballads anymore, the song was ignored.  But it's some of Leppard's best work.

"Speed of Light" - Queensryche Operation Mind Crime II

One of the best albums of the late '80's was Queensryche's concept album Operation Mind Crime.  I was thrilled to discover that 20 years later, Queensryche was releasing a sequel.  Though the songs don't hold up to the original, this song does.

Operation Mindcrime, of course, is the story about a group of political extremists who want to overthrow the government via assassinating key political and religious figures.  The main assassin is the protagonist of the story.  At the conclusion of Mindcrime, he is arrested and sent to prison.

The sequel opens with him having served 20 years and being released.  This song is the moment when he realizes who much the world has changed since 1986.  I can just imagine him standing in the middle of Times Square and seeing how the world now moves at the speed of light.

"Everything's Ruined" - Faith No More from Angel Dust.

Faith No More is more known for their hit "Epic" than the follow up to that album.  But the track "Everything's Ruined" is a great metaphor for materialism and parental pressures to fit in.  This is a surprisingly intelligent and sophisticated song.

"Three Strange Days" - School of Fish from School of Fish.

I first head this song as I was driving around with some friends pondering if we should go to the state hockey tournament or not.  I didn't know it at the time, this would have been early in the grunge movement - early 1992.  I heard this song and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  If I still hear it from time to time, I am brought back to the moment I first heard this song.

"I Want You" - Third Eye Blind from Third Eye Blind.

This song - as far as I know - was never released as a single from one of the biggest albums of the late '90's.  You will certainly know the big hits from this album - "Jumper," "Semi-Charmed Life," "Graduate," and "How It's Going to Be."  But this might be the very best song on it.  I love how it captures - in a very haunting way - the relationship between the two people in the song.

"Not Enough Time" - INXS from

This was INXS's last hurrah was they were one of the bands - like Def Leppard - who had their world crushed by grunge.  But this song, had it been released a decade earlier, it would have been as huge as "Need You Tonight" or "Never Tear us Apart."

"Misty Mountain Wonderland" - Fleming and John

I first heard this when I was shopping in American Eagle in 1994.  I was struck by the song because I thought I was listening to a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop."  Then before I knew it, I realized I was actually listening to a Christmas song.  I was blown away, and I have never forgotten the song.

It is also one of the most interesting covers I've ever heard.  Fleming and John take Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop" and arrange it to "Walking in a Winter Wonderland."  The result is brilliant.

"Thorn in my Pride" - The Black Crowes from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

One of my favorite bands has always been The Black Crowes.  But the grunge era wasn't kind to them either as their old school blues and funk rock style would have been better suited for the 1980's. However, this song is so cool and original I never tire of hearing it.

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