20 years ago today — Five Great Records

Today is October 5, 2013. On this date in 1993, a slew of good records came out. Five of them I would call “great”. I might even call each of them “essential”. In 2012, I used the “20 years ago today” feature a bunch of times, and I haven’t used it very much in 2013. So we’ll take a quick look at five great records that came out 20 years ago today. I didn’t buy them all on the release day, but I did buy them all. Eventually.

In alphabetical order by album title:

Anodyne by Uncle Tupelo

Anodyne by Uncle Tupelo. Before there was Wilco and before there was Sun Volt, the notoriously volatile Jeff Tweedy was in the alt-country band Uncle Tupelo with Jay Farrar. And they were great. They released four albums, and Anodyne was the last. While they were touring with the album, the relationship between Tweedy and Farrar went from “strained” to “hostile”. They quickly went separate ways, and each of their bands found more success than Uncle Tupelo ever did. Wilco is by far the more successful, but Tweedy is by far the bigger asshole.
Here’s one of the standout tracks “Chickamauga”. A Farrar song.

Gentlemen by Afghan Whigs

Gentlemen by Afghan Whigs. Aside from being a great album, this is a legendary album cover. This Cincinnati band formed in 1986 and released six albums between 1988 and 1998. Since then, they’ve broken up and re-formed twice. They were in the right place (Sub Pop Records) at the right time (early-to-mid 1990s) to ride the wave of grunge into mainstream success. While they weren’t the first band to have mainstream major label success after getting started on Sub Pop, their story is kind of special. After Nirvana leapt from Sub Pop and made a ton of money for the Geffen Group, other majors were in a hurry to recruit other Sub Pop bands. The Afghan Whigs found themselves as the subject of a major label bidding war, and they ended up signing with Elektra Records. Their contract even included an option for a major studio motion picture. Not a motion picture soundtrack. A motion picture. That option was never exercised. Gentlemen was a terrific success, but the next album Black Love was a commercial failure. That bubble burst and it was also the wrong time for indie bands to be on major labels. Label execs Mo Ostin and Lenny Waronker left Warner Brothers in 1995 after being at the helm for decades. They correctly feared that new WB owners/management would stop giving a damn about little bands. And there were similar stories at other big labels. All of the majors who had gobbled up little bands hoping to capitalize on the grunge fad realized that there would never be another Nirvana. So anyway, Elektra didn’t do much to help the sales of Black Love, and when the album wasn’t moving units, both band and label became angry. They parted ways, and frontman Greg Dulli ended up undergoing treatment for clinical depression.
Gentlemen was both the best and the most commercially successful album for The Afghan Whigs, and here’s one of the best songs from it:

Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you. This ain’t about regret. It’s when I tell the truth

Laid by James

Laid by JamesThis Manchester band formed in 1986 and have released a total of 12 studio albums. Laid was their fifth album, and although they had achieved some success in the UK, it was the first album to chart in the US and the only of their twelve albums to achieve gold status by the RIAA. It was the first of many collaborations with the legendary Brian Eno. The album’s title track was a massive success and it’s the sole reason for the album’s success on this side of the Atlantic.

And here’s the line from the one song from the one album that everyone remembers, even if they forget every other great song by this band:

This bed is on fire with passionate love. The neighbors complain about the noises above. But she only comes when she’s on top

Painful by Yo La Tengo

Painful by Yo La Tengo. The legendary indie rock trio from Hoboken, New Jersey formed in 1984, and they’ve been active the entire time. With the same lineup for the last 20 years. They’ve released 13 studio albums, and it’s pretty fair to say that their sound has changed and evolved over the years. I’m not the biggest fan of the stuff they’ve done lately, but I adore the 1993-2000 years and the four albums that came out in that era. Chief among them is the hazy, dreamy, feedback-laden Painful. And this is one of my favorite songs from what is probably my favorite YLT album.

This is everything that makes Yo La Tengo awesome. Or at least what made them awesome.

Finally, the best for last.

So Tonight That I Might See by Mazzy Star

So Tonight That I Might See by Mazzy Star. The psychedelic dream pop band from Santa Monica, California founded in 1988 and put out two spectacular albums –1990’s She Hangs Brightly and 1993’s So Tonight That I Might See— followed by a mediocre one –1996’s Among My Swan. They disbanded for many years, then reunited at some point in 2011 to record a couple of songs that eventually ended up on the much-anticipated new album Seasons of Your Day, which came out last week. The first side of the new album is great, but I can’t stay focused on the second side. It’s still a good record, but after waiting 17 years for this, I was hoping for something better. It’s hard for me to decide whether She Hangs Brightly or So Tonight That I Might See is my favorite album, but “Fade Into You” is my favorite Mazzy Star song. I strongly urge you to check out the incredible cover of the song done by the Baltimore shoegaze band Thrushes:
“Fade Into You” as covered by Thrushes

but above all, this live performance video from a Jools Holland special, which I’ve shared at least 5 times on this blog, is perfect.

Even if Hope’s hair is a mess, this song and this performance are perfect. Just a spectacular song about loving someone who is incapable of loving you back. Not “unwilling”, but “incapable”. Whether the other person is damaged by drugs, past relationships, or emotional instability, the other person just can’t return the love. And although it’s bad, you keep going back to it. It’s breathtaking and heartbreaking. And perfect. “Fade Into You” was the only Mazzy Star song to crack the Billboard top 200, but Pitchfork Media named it the 19th best song of the 1990s.

Click on the above album artwork to be taken to the respective pages to buy the albums from the amazon store.

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

3 responses to “20 years ago today — Five Great Records

  • wjpurdy

    Laid was 20 years ago? Why am I asking this question so often, lately?

  • wjpurdy

    Oh, and you need to rethink your take on YLT’s last 10 years (especially Fade, which is every bit the equal of the 10 years of output that preceded it. A truly stellar band.

  • wjpurdy

    The video for “From a Motel 6” is amazing. I had never seen it before, which is sort of amazing given the amount of music video I consume (and have consumed) on an annual basis. Had I seen it 20 years ago, YLT would have been a favorite band of mine a lot sooner.

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