FFWDing to the Best Part: “Grace, Too,” The Tragically Hip (1994)

Finally, I have returned to Neurotic City … sorry for the delay folks. Let’s play a little word association game. If I say, “97X *BAM* … “ what do you say?

I hope it is “… the future of rock and roll.” If not, I may not be able to be your friend (kidding). It was 1994 and I was driving a red Geo Storm, delivering pizzas for a pizza giant, and I was listening to 97X late one Friday night – and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

What was it? The simple drums from Johnny Fay? The interplay between the guitars from Paul Langlois and Rob Baker? Gord Sinclair’s bass? It had to be the brilliant combination of all of these, because the musical interlude at the start of the song is a good 40+ seconds – and I hung through that to hear the haunting vocals from world-class vocal enigma, Gordon Downie. And you know what? I am so glad I listened to the whole of the song “Grace, Too.”

As you may have noticed from my prior articles, I take my rock on the heavy side, driven by guitars. But that isn’t the case on this one. Yes, there are heavy guitar parts (1:08 – 1:30 and 2:19 – 2:33 among others) but not until a minute in … what was it that kept me listening this long? Was it Downie’s piercing voice served with a side of maple-syrupy madness that only his true brand of crazy can muster? Seriously, this man’s stage presence, thoughts, and his actions are not normal, but are 100% awesome – check out any video from That Night in Toronto on the YouTubes.

The thing is, this is the question that has always surrounded The Tragically Hip for me -– what kind of band is this Canadian import? Listen to their songs: “Blow at High Dough,” “Courage,” “Poets,” “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “50 Mission Cap,” “Ahead By a Century,” “Thugs,” and others. Report back to me when you have a good classification for these Canucks. Some call it Canadian Rock -– I prefer heavy folk.

But let’s get back to the problem at hand (I feel a YouTube rabbit hole opening) — the best part of “Grace, Too.” If you don’t want to listen to the whole song (big big mistake), skip ahead to 3:30 and listen through to the end. Here you get a crescendo that builds from the final chorus -– a cacophony of guitars, bass, and drums, highlighted by Downie’s shrieks. This right here is The Tragically Hip. An amalgamation of styles, sounds, and emotions that can help try to bring some sort of definition to this interesting band. Hopefully the link takes you to The Tragically Hip channel on YouTube so you too can find yourself falling down this rabbit hole of sound.

 

No dress rehearsal — this is our life.

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FFWDing to the Best Part: “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour (1988)

Even today, 25 years after this video debuted, you know exactly what song you are listening to when Vernon Reid chokes out that guttural guitar riff after Malcom X talks of speaking in a language that “everybody here can easily understand.”

Look at that guitar — the neon green, the neon pink, the neon blue, the neon purple, and the white. Look at Vernon Reid’s jacket — white with more bright colors accented by the neon pink BMX pants he’s wearing. Look at Corey Glover’s bodysuit (not too close though) — it’s bright and attention-grabbing. Look at Corey Glover’s hair – shaved on the sides, long and braided on top, accented with beads well before the Williams sisters made it popular. Look at the video — clips from famous moments in history spliced throughout the driving chords and outstanding singing.

Look at these things as one or on their own, one thing is for certain — Living Colour rocked this suburban boy’s world in the late ’80s. I can remember the first time I saw this video on MTV, I sat there and stared like the little girl in the video — mouth agape. Living Colour presented a major shift in my heavy metal paradigm. I was perfectly happy with my own little sphere of heavy metal, I saw no need to branch out — but this single video did that. Once I saw this video, I had to have the cassette (and boy, did I play the hell out of it).

This band, born from CBGB (the music club, that some may recognize from a line of clothing), introduced me to a world I had heard of, but didn’t know could rock. Living Colour seamlessly blended funk (find “Elvis is Dead”), hip-hop (check out “Funny Vibe” – a groundbreaking video in its own right), hard rock (listen to “Open Letter To A Landlord), and heavy metal (as you will hear in this video and in the song “Middle Man”). Thing is, while combining all of these musical influences, Living Colour was presenting an adept social commentary surpassed by few others.

Enough about me and my absolute love of this band — let’s get to the best part of the video for “Cult of Personality.” Let’s go back to that guitar riff (0:10-0:12) — you know it’s Living Colour, but this guitar riff would ring hollow if it weren’t for the rest of Vernon Reid’s work in this masterpiece. Skip ahead to the three-minute mark. This is where Reid screeches into 53 seconds of the best guitar solo you may ever hear. Reid stumbles around the stage in a way that decries how adeptly he is playing that guitar, all the while Glover jumps around in the background with his hair flailing. Once Glover breaks in at 3:54, you don’t even realize that Reid has taken you on a guitar odyssey that you need to listen to 1,000 more times.

Yes, look close at this video, because you are seeing a one-of-a-kind band — not just because of the color of their skin — but because of the way they rock.

 

FFWDing to the Best Part: “Orange Crush,” R.E.M. (1988)

Jangle pop … jangle pop –- let the term sink in for a moment. According to the all-wise Wikipedia, jangle pop is an offshoot of ” … alternative rock from the mid-1980s that ‘marked a return to the chiming or jangly guitars and pop melodies of the ’60s’.”  The entry continues to attribute jangle pop to a late ’70s band out of Athens, Georgia named Pylon –- an influence that bled over to fellow Athens band R.E.M.

Why the definition of jangle pop? Honestly, I can see R.E.M. falling in this category, thanks to songs like “Stand” and “Shiny Happy People,” both of which give off a rather 60s Byrds-ish vibe. But not this song – not the neo-protest anthem “Orange Crush.” Most of you may know that the title of this song is a reference to Agent Orange, and some of you may know that lead singer (jangler?) Michael Stipe said that this song was about a soldier in the Vietnam War; hence the neo-protest label.

No matter the subject, no matter the label, Orange Crush takes the jangle out of R.E.M. (not completely — is it possible to remove the jangle from Michael Stipe’s and Mike Mills’ voices?) and injects a nice, heavy dose of guitar and drums. What’s that, you say? You only have about five seconds to get the essence of this song? Then skip ahead to the 2:42 mark and play it through the 2:47 mark.

This segment has it all; Mike Mills’ thumping bass, Bill Berry whacking away at the drums, and Peter Buck diving in with a solid guitar riff. Add on top of all this, Michael Stipe working a megaphone in the background and you have a great grab from this song, but that is the first couple of seconds. There is anger, there is intensity, and then … there is jangle. Stipe and Mills bring the vocals back with a heavy dose of a jangle duet. Turns out, these two could sing a duet with Slayer laying down the music and would make it sound a bit happy. Nevertheless, this five-second interlude shows the range that this jangle pop band had, they could open it up and let the guitars and drums rip when they wanted to make a point. That said, you just can’t take the jangle out of those voices.

FFWDing to the Best Part: “Hunger Strike,” Temple of the Dog (1991)

Courtesy of new guest poster Mark in Chains

Hey! You got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You got your peanut butter in my chocolate! And the commercials would lead you to believe that this was the birth of the Reese’s peanut butter cup. This is how I felt the first time I heard Temple of the Dog … you got your Soundgarden in my Pearl Jam – and I love it.

I have a confession to make — I don’t like Nirvana, never really did. There were some interesting stereo battles in the Fightmaster household growing up, as my brother (the denizen of the bedroom next to me) and I would see who could play their special brew of Seattle’s finest louder. Werk Road was dominated by a battle of the bands between Pearl Jam and Nirvana, with neither of us relenting.

But I digress. Let’s take a look at the best song to come from the eponymous Temple of the Dog album — “Hunger Strike.” Ask yourself, what is it about this song that is awesome? Hold that answer and let me explain to you what I feel is the best part.

You want the 90s? You want to feel grunge? Fast-forward to the 2:50 mark. This superchunk of awesome starts with a Mike McCready guitar solo that is kicked off by a terrifying puke face. That said, the orchestra of grunge choreographed by McCready, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament that flows from 2:50 through 3:22 is pure, unrelenting angst that sounds just so damn good. Throw in the brief crooning of Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder and the pounding drums of Matt Cameron, and you have grunge distilled to its essence: anger, power, metal, and melodic wailing. Speaking of wailing, don’t cut this segment short; proceed on through the 3:36 mark so you can hear the beautiful voice play between Vedder and Cornell. This segment should be put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a definition of grunge.

Other highlights include the 2:30 mark, for two reasons. Reason one: it shows you what drove a majority of my ill-fated fashion choices of the early 90s. Reason two: it shows that Cornell is not only a gifted singer, but he is also a fine guitar player. The final highlight is a feature of every Pearl Jam video of the era, the Eddie Vedder crazy face. From 1:42 through 1:51, Vedder’s face contorts to levels of crazy only he can achieve. Seriously, I’m a 40-year-old father of four and I can’t find the Vedder crazy face unless I go off my meds for a month.

Ladies and gentlemen, two great tastes that taste great together: Temple of the Dog.