Can you stand another “best this” or “best that” for 2008? I promise mine will be different. But, like most of my stories, it’s kind of a long story … in fact, I’m going to post this preface to it now …
And, tomorrow, I will follow this blog entry up with my RAVE review (complete with pictures, links and video) of a new band that has totally rocked my musical world and hopefully, by this time next year, will be a household name like it deserves to be (consider this a teaser) …
So … Part One:
My daughter Dana tells me my mind is really closed when it comes to music. I’m not sure I agree with that. I think that, simply, I know pretty clearly what I like and what I don’t like, and at my age, life is too short to waste with music I don’t like.
Back when I was her age (you know, the prototypical Paleolithic era when we listened to albums and I collected 45s and I moved UP to 8-track tapes when I got my first car, a used ’72 T-bird with 100,000 miles, a sun roof and an 8-track player), I happened to be a fanatic …
My favorites, aside from the Beatles, were reasonably eclectic, especially after about 1974 when I got my first taste of WNEW-FM in New York and started working as an intern down at the WNYU radio station after school and during the summers.
In my teens, my tastes ran the gamut, artists such as Stackridge (see previous blog entry), Todd Rundgren/Utopia, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, NRBQ (though that was more of a college acquisition), the Stylistics, Aztec Two-Step, America, Stevie Wonder (especially the early 1970s albums like “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”), Lindisfarne, Steely Dan, Tim Moore, the Roches, Wendy Waldman and my favorite band of that era, Gunhill Road.
I knew every song on the Top 40 between approximately 1964, when I got my first transistor radio (Paleolithic alert) through about 1990, when I got pregnant and had a baby and all of a sudden my listening “me time” morphed into stuff like “Sesame Street” and Raffi’s “Baby Beluga,” a non-ending loop tape of Richie Havens singing “Indian Prayer” which always lulled her to sleep, and a few other made-for-the-wee-ones cassettes.
Don’t get me wrong, I still listened to a lot of my mix CDs, they just became more and more re-organized collections of my old favorite songs of the previous two-plus decades rather than constantly-updated new mixes.
It wasn’t until Dana took over the mantle of “expert on all things music” as a ‘tween that our household once again became an arbiter of modern musical taste to be reckoned with.
She makes me look like an amateur when it comes to sussing out new music, and I’m often the beneficiary of that: though I first played her Aimee Mann back in the mid ’90s, she took that and ran with it … Mike Viola and the Candy Butchers, Kate Earl, Jenny Lewis with or without Rilo Kiley, Jim Boggia, the Hush Sound, the Cardigans, possibly Fountains of Wayne (which I am convinced I discovered before she did but whatever) … all are songwriters/bands I might possibly have heard without her but it’s unlikely, that are among my very favorites now.
But Moxy Fruvous I found without Dana, and actually from my husband Wayne, who received the recommendation on my behalf from friends who knew my musical tastes and said something along the lines of “SHE HAS TO HEAR THEM.”
So from about 1998 until the band’s still-heartbreaking “hiatus” just after the turn of the millennium (ha) which I think I have to accept is a full-fledged breakup now, their music pretty much dominated my car CD player (OK, OK, tape player. I admit it, I came kicking and screaming into the technological era. But I DO have a car CD player now).
Occasionally without Dana but usually with her in tow as possibly the youngest Fruhead of that era, we saw the band at least 10 times in that span. Most of the shows were close to home (the Birchmere in Alexandria, the Herndon Festival which I believe was the last time we saw them, even at some Borders shows during their “Thornhill” tour) and others were a little farther afield (the dear departed Bottom Line club in New York on New Year’s Night in … well, I guess it must have been 1999).
Moxy Fruvous filled every hole in my heart a band needed to fill. Incredibly versatile musicians, terrific songwriters (all of them), four great voices which blended seamlessly either as leads or in harmony, with some of their best songs being a capella (their 1993 tune “Gulf War Song” may be the best song ever written though sadly I can’t seem to find a live version of their performing it on YouTube).
But to top it off they were perhaps the best live band I had ever seen (NRBQ might have given them a run for their money). You never knew what they were going to play, and they never played the same set (making the “stagedive” for their set lists a hard-fought battle and we have one or two in our scrapbook because no one wanted to tear it out of the hands of a 9-year-old). They had the most eclectic collection of covers their add to their huge oeuvre of originals, which is part of the reason why devoted Fruheads with the means and the wheels would go see them every time they played because each show was unique.
Plus their chemistry onstage, their “banter,” was mesmerizing. They were just musicians and artists having fun, riffing on the political and topical stories of the day, and each other, and the fans.
When they broke up I wondered if another band would ever come along that, in my opinion, could fill that hole, a young band that was fresh and fun and had fantastic songs AND versatile musicians AND great voices AND such an energizing stage chemistry that you would want to see them again and again and again …
And now I’ve found one …
That is my teaser for my top musical discovery for 2008, to be given the big reveal and tons of GotMiLB blog love here this time tomorrow …
So once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I was a teenager. I know, I know, I can hardly believe it, either.
I was obsessed with music for as long as I can remember, sleeping with a transistor radio (remember those?) under my pillow until I got my own room when I was 13, a converted den at the front of the apartment, where I could actually keep my clock-radio ON all night and not bother anyone.
It was constantly tuned to WNEW-FM where I could always count on being turned onto new and awesome and obscure bands I’d never heard of before, particularly when my all-time radio hero Vin Scelsa was on air.
I’d keep a pad and pen on the nighttable next to my bed so that if I heard something I loved at, say, 3 a.m. I could scribble it down and track it down during daylight hours.
One night/morning in 1974 or 1975, one of the DJs (and I couldn’t swear but I would bet it was Scelsa) played three songs – “Fundamentally Yours,” “Pinafore Days” and “The Last Plimsoll” — that woke me up and sent me scrambling about for paper and pen. They were the first three tracks from an album called “Pinafore Days” by a group whose name I couldn’t quite understand. Stag Rich? Stack Rich?
I found the album the next day. It was by a group from England called Stackridge and the LP (remember those too?) had been produced by George Martin, who had had a little success with another British band a few years earlier.
I brought home the record, tore off the cellophane, and the vinyl basically did not leave my turntable for the next few months.
To this day, 30-plus years later, “Pinafore Days” (which was released in the UK earlier under the name “The Man In The Bowler Hat” with a few different tracks) remains one of my top 5 “Desert Island Discs.” In my opinion, it is one of the most brilliant, tuneful, innovative and hook-laden pop masterpieces ever.
I lived in New York City and had remarkably tolerant parents when it came to humoring my desire to go to concerts (well, within reason) but as far as I know Stackridge never came through New York, or if they did I somehow missed it in my regular scouring of the Village Voice concert listings.
When Stackridge broke up in the late 1970s, with five albums to their credits, I realized that I would never get to see them play and for the next 30 years that has always made me really sad. From what I heard and read, they were not only remarkable on record, they were one of the best live acts around and had a real cult following in the UK (not unlike my beloved Moxy Fruvous here in the US and Canada).
Two of the original members of Stackridge, however, Andy Davis and James Warren, reformed as a group called the Korgis and had a pretty huge hit with the song “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime,” which was featured in the soundtrack of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
In the last few years, however, several of the key original members of Stackridge have reunited – Davis, Warren, Crun Walter and their lead singer and flutist Mutter Slater (on whom I had a huge crush) – and the band has been recording and playing a lot of gigs in the UK. Thanks to the magic of YouTube I’ve finally gotten to even watch them for the first time.
They even have a FACEBOOK PAGE! (I don’t think I can link that here but if you’re on Facebook, just do a search for Stackridge and it won’t be hard to find).
And now, rumor has it, they are tentatively planning to come stateside in the spring of 2009. I don’t know when and I don’t know where (though there is some word of an appearance at Austin’s SXSW festival in mid-March) but wherever and whenever it is, I will find a way to be there.
Now, if I could just find a way to get my other all-time favorite group, Gunhill Road, to reunite for one show, my life will be complete.