I fell for Radiohead on a rainy, late summer day in 1994. It was the day I bought Pablo Honey, which was probably one of the first dozen CDs I owned. The songs clicked with me immediately and seemed to be full of unrequited love and self deprecation, which is the stuff adolescence is made of.

I’ve been thinking about you, so how can you sleep
These people aren’t your friends, they’re paid to kiss your feet
But they don’t know what I know, and why should you care
When I’m not there

Radiohead has probably denounced Pablo Honey and ‘Creep’ in particular a million times over since then, claiming it was all just a joke, but it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. It felt like we were meant to be together.

At this point it’s hard for me not to refer to the entirety of the lyrics on that album because there were so many that I latched on to. I think it’s still one of my favorite albums of all time, in part because I don’t really think I had heard anything like it before.

However, I know I would list The Bends as my favorite Radiohead album because it went far beyond the way I saw them after Pablo Honey. After I got a little sick of Pablo Honey‘s depressed guitar wallowing The Bends seemed to soar beyond guitars and lyrics, towards 1996 and the future. It had promise.

OK Computer was spacier, but I still liked it. I think it still had some great lyrics, even if things seemed to be getting a little fuzzy. I’ve got nothing against songs about cars and aliens, but they’re further along the spectrum of what I can relate to.You could sing along to it though.

Though I spent a lot of time with those first two albums, a big part of the way I felt about Radiohead was influenced by connections between me and other people in the years after those albums came out. I lent my copy of The Bends to a girl in my art class that I had a crush on and never saw it again. (My only hope is that she liked it as much as I did.) One of the first close friendships I had after moving to Montreal was solidified in part because of our use of random song lyrics (lots of Radiohead) in conversation. One of the best memories I have of another close friend is taking her to see Christopher O’Riley play his versions of Radiohead songs in a church during a crazy thunderstorm one long, hot summer. This is the way that Radiohead was woven into my life.

I remember meeting lots of people who would talk at length about how much they loved Radiohead after OK Computer and Kid A came out. I’d always tell them they should listen to some Catherine Wheel. My point never got across though, and it was becoming more and more obvious to me that whatever people seemed to like about OK Computer wasn’t what I had liked about Radiohead from the beginning.

I never even bought Kid A. I remember hearing some things from it and just finding it weird, cold and distant. Maybe this was the point? At any rate, it was like trying to cuddle with a robot. There was no emotion there anymore.

Now when people talk about Radiohead, it just kind of makes me sad. As a band, they’re kind of empty to me. I don’t see what makes them so popular at this point. It’s not that I begrudge them fame and critical acclaim, it’s just that I simply don’t get them anymore.

This brings us to the playlist, which contains some of my favorite Radiohead songs, and a few covers. These are some examples of songs that I particularly enjoy. The lyrics are strong and the melodies are simple, or in the case of the ‘Karma Police’ cover, the melodies are complex and the lyrics are missing. It ends with what’s probably my favorite Radiohead song ever, ‘Talk Show Host’.

You want me, well fucking come and find me
I’ll be waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches
And nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing


Morrissey & The Smiths

The last First Impressions post was really no indication of the way the series will be set up. If the original explanation seemed scattered and vague it was for good reason. I intend for these posts to be kind of all over the place.

Today though, I want to give you some snippets of my first exposure to Morrissey and The Smiths.

This video doesn’t really make any sense, but I don’t think it needs to. It was 1994 and Morrissey is in a hallway of swinging lamps. I’m willing to bet that this is the first Morrissey song I ever heard, and it makes me wish every karaoke bar carried his whole catalogue. I’ll take something like this over I Will Survive anyday.

As for The Smiths, I’ll set another scene for you: It was Election Day 1994 (always in November, for those of you not in the US) and I set up a blank tape in my stereo to record the 20 minutes of radio I’d be missing when I walked with my mother to her polling station. Matt Pinfield had promised to play The Smiths, followed by a debut by Oasis (Definitely Maybe was brand new, and they were featuring it that week). Up until that point I think I only knew The Smiths by reputation.

I was pretty into Oasis at that point. The ad in Spin magazine for Definitely Maybe had a 1-800 number you could call to hear clips of the album and I would call it from the pay phone in the church parking lot on the nights I was forced to attend.

I remember coming home and listening to these two songs together and realizing how easy The Smiths were to like. It’s only now that I see more lines drawn between the two songs (two bands from Manchester, two melancholic songs about marriage).

The rain falls hard on a humdrum town, This town has dragged you down

There’s no need for you to say you’re sorry, Goodbye I’m going home

The Smiths got to me with their wordy lyrics and jangly guitars, and song titles that sounded like the answers to questions people were asking me all the time. I fell for them pretty quickly after that.

As for the few bonus tracks on the playlist, I’ve included Radiohead‘s live cover of The Headmaster Ritual a song “about when we were younger, but we didn’t write it”, because it makes me wish Radiohead would devote themselves to being a Smiths cover band from now on, (just my opinion, I know).

And a few songs best enjoyed as you sink into your bed at night, into the utter loneliness. Enjoy!

The Smiths – Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Nine Inch Nails – Something I Can Never Have

The Rolling Stones

So, for the first installment of the First Impressions series I chose, for some reason, to tackle a giant band with an appropriately giant discography. I obviously have not listened to everything this band has ever put out, but this is about first impressions after all, and I feel like I’m pretty qualified to talk about that at this point, since a few things have been impressed upon me.

Several months ago I decided to give The Rolling Stones a proper listen. Up until this point I had only come into contact with them incidentally. In doing this, I learned the following things.

1. I’m probably never going to get over the fact that I consider Mick Jagger to be a sleazy old man. In some ways it’s not his fault. After all, I came of age when he was in his fifties, and I’ve never been the type to go for older men. It seems that a big part of The Rolling Stones‘ music is sex powered, but that’s kind of lost on me. In some cases I’m able to look beyond a singer’s age to a time when they were around mine in an effort to help me channel their sex appeal, better understand the music, and in most cases really get into it. However, a dirty Rolling Stones song only succeeds in grossing me out.

Let It Bleed is a great example of this. I can’t deny that it’s a great, sexy, bluesy song, but the minute I hear the word ‘cream’ come out of Mick Jagger‘s mouth I honestly don’t want to have sex again for a long time. I kind of doubt that was the original intention.

These are sexy songs at their root though, and there’s still hope for them. I’m not really interested in a love song as sung by The Rolling Stones, because I don’t get any passion from that. But I can certainly get behind someone like Jesse Malin, an artist whose work I really enjoy, singing about a girl breaking him up with the corner of her smile, as he does in his cover of Sway.

2. Overexposure. How can a new listener start from zero when the discography in question contains something like Gimme Shelter, a song whose opening notes make someone my age think of a thousand movies where the main character is either “arriving in the Big City” or “just trying to get back home”? Or Sympathy For The Devil, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Woman, Satisfaction… please. We’ll never get these songs out of our heads and they are now anchored to images they never should have been anchored to. At this point it’s no longer music, it’s soundtrack. I’m not against music as soundtrack outright, but in this case, it’s been done to death. (Oddly enough, in researching this topic, I discovered that while The Rolling Stones allow their music in films, they rarely allow them to appear on the soundtracks. Whatever they were going for with this seems to have failed, in my eyes.)

The above link actually relates to a use of a Rolling Stones song in a film that I really enjoyed. I had obviously heard Ruby Tuesday before, but there’s something lovely about its use in The Royal Tenenbaums (start at 3:40, unless you want to watch the whole clip) that made me want to listen to it again on its own. It might be the idea of listening to it on vinyl in a tent.

3. This last point is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but as far as I’m concerned, the biggest problem with The Rolling Stones is that they’re just so old fashioned. I’m not saying that their songs have not stood the test of time, but I am saying that a lot of their original versions aren’t as edgy and relevant as they may have been when they were new.

Play With Fire is one of their songs whose original version is really quite good. However, I’m pretty partial to the renewed life this song is getting from a lot of contemporary female artists. It takes on a whole new life this way. Sure, a boy can tell you messing with him is like playing with fire, but coming from The Dum Dum Girls, for instance, it just means more. They might just burn you alive.

And as long as we’re talking about girls covering The Rolling Stones and breathing new life into them in the process, I’d like to throw in Tori Amos‘ cover of Angie, which has a soul all its own.

Listen to the songs mentioned in this post (and a bonus cover) in the mini-playlist here.

Because so much of what The Rolling Stones did occurred before I was born, I’m never really going to understand their relevance first hand. However, I do acknowledge that they wrote some great songs, I do enjoy listening to them at times, and I know they have influenced many of my favorite artists. That’s why I seem to prefer them filtered through these artists. I don’t think I’m supposed to completely ‘get’ them, and I am totally okay with that. While part of the thrill of hearing a song you love is imagining it was written for you, I’m more often than not going to feel like they never made music for me, but they made it for some other people and I can get behind that.

first impressions

Hey, it’s March!

I’ve decided to launch a new series of posts this month that I’ve been thinking about writing for a while now. As a starter, I recommend you read this really interesting blog post that I came across over a month ago (and the second comment, which I especially enjoyed).

Done? Back when I read it it got me thinking a lot about first impressions. They’re a big part of how we perceive things and your first exposure to an artist, be it something you read or the first song of theirs you heard, has had some effect on how you’ve viewed them.

A big part of what I enjoy about listening to music and dissecting artists full catalogues, is developing what can be best described as a personal relationship with the songs and using it to draw my own map or diagram of the artist. Personally, I feel like I drew these maps to some artists on my own, which is to say I made up my mind without a lot of outside influence. With other artists I had more work to do, stripping away a whole lot of hype and bla bla to find whatever was under there and decide whether it was even worth listening to.

I’m planning to explore this idea more during the month of March and beyond by sharing some stories about discovering music in many different ways. I’m calling this series First Impressions because that’s the original inspiration, but I plan to branch the idea out in all sorts of directions. I’ll be talking about forming first impressions as well as trying to erase them, which I’m finding is not entirely possible for everyone. I want to talk about chronology too, because I am also very interested in artist’s paths and how the perception of them changes depending on when they came into your life. How much of a difference does it make in your perception of an artist if you discovered them as their career was emerging, as opposed to finding them in the middle of their popularity or after they had “peaked”? There are so many tangents to explore, and so much of it has to do with image and whether you choose to believe what you read or what you hear. Are you eavesdropping on the collective, or are you having a one on one conversation?

I’m interested to hear what you have to say about things too. Do you remember when you first heard someone who became very important to you? What made you want to hear more?