1997

This was a tough year for me, in terms of album selection. Many people in the related Facebook group in which we post and discuss these lists decry 1997 as the worst year for new music in the ’90s. I don’t know that I’m prepared to agree.

I am absolutely confident in my top three, and pretty set on my top five. It’s possible that the top ten could be different, for sure. After that, it’s sort of a crap shoot, though there is definitely a rough cutoff at twenty, thirty, and forty, but within those segments, ranking the albums is basically impossible.

I don’t think I went to many shows this year and don’t have a lot of distinct music-related memories. One that does stand out is that I listened to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Lets’ Face It repeatedly and possibly exclusively as I studied for the bar exam. I also saw Everclear perform at Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago and got my copy of So Much for the Afterglow autographed. I remember I won a raffle for a free ticket to their upcoming show. Internet research says that the show was weeks later at Metro, and I don’t remember if I went or not.

A show at the Metro that I did attend was Monaco. I was so excited to see Peter Hook live and up close! I had seen New Order in 1988 but it was at an outdoor amphitheater and I had not yet developed a full appreciation of his bass prowess. It was a thrill to witness him with his bass slung by his ankles and playing memorable and distinctive lines.

Another Metro show was Echo & the Bunnymen, on their first reunion tour and likely the only one with original bassist Les Pattinson. I had never seen the Bunnymen before, so this was also a big deal for me. Ian McCulloch chain-smoked nonstop throughout the entire show. That was honestly what I remember most about the concert.

The List

Top Ten

1 Built to Spill – Perfect From Now On

2 Yo La Tengo – I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

3 Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

4 Pulsars – S/T

5 Old 97s – Too Far to Care

6 Michael Penn – Resigned

7 Jayhawks – Sound of Lies

8 Tobin Sprout – Moonflower Plastic (Welcome to My Wigwam)

9 Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

10 Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow

Next Ten

11 That Dog – Retreat From the Sun

12 Cornershop – When I Was Born for the 7th Time

13 Smoking Popes – Destination Failure

14 Catherine Wheel – Adam and Eve

15 Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain

16 Frank & Walters – Grand Parade

17 Weakerthans – Fallow

18 Grant McLennan – In Your Bright Ray

19 Dinosaur Jr – Hand It Over

20 Outrageous Cherry – Nothing’s Gonna Cheer You Up

Third Ten

21 Beulah – Handsome Western States

22 Grandaddy – Under the Western Freeway

23 Apples In Stereo – Tone Soul Evolution

24 Muffs – Happy Birthday to Me

25 Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West

26 Tanya Donelly – Lovesongs for Underdogs

27 Matthew Sweet – Blue Sky on Mars

28 Number One Cup – Wrecked By Lions

29 Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Let’s Face It

30 Sleeper – Pleased to Meet You

Fourth Ten

31 Monaco- Music for Pleasure

32 Pavement – Brighten the Corners

33 Oasis – Be Here Now

34 Echo & the Bunnymen – Evergreen

35 Bottle Rockets – 24 Hours a Day

36 Steve Earle – El Corazón

37 Whiskeytown – Stranger’s Almanac

38 Bettie Serveert – Dust Bunnies

39 Centro-matic – Redo the Stacks

40 Morphine – Like Swimming

The Rest

41 Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind

42 Quasi – R&B Transmogrification

43 Future Bible Heroes – Memories of Love

Venues

My first concert was, as far as I am concerned, the Beach Boys at Chicago Fest in 1980 or 1981. The first concert I actually attended intentionally was New Order (and the Sugarcubes and PiL) in 1988.

I love going to concerts. It’s such a privilege to watch the artists you admire perform in front of you. Hearing a beloved song being played in the moment, watching the musicians create the sounds that mean so much to you, being a small part of the existence of that song at that time and place – it’s almost a religious experience.

Some of my favorite concert memories, in no particular order: Henry Rollins angrily crouched on stage after someone threw a boot at him; Bernard Butler going full guitar god at a Suede show; Ben Carr dancing; discovering the Front Bottoms; seeing Peter Hook up close; Gordon Gano wearing a leather jacket in 90+ degree weather; Billy Bragg’s charm; a mosh pit at Best Coast; the “Ladies” bathroom plate on Anna Waronker’s guitar; the guy from Red City Radio ending his set by saying “Fuck it, let’s go see Slayer”; talking to Mike Joyce of the Smiths; seeing the Chills; the Essex Green doing a medley that included New Order’s “Age of Consent”; Green Day before they were huge; the Cure’s impressive professionalism; an angry Jeff Tweedy; the Flaming Lips playing along to a video projection of Steven Drozd playing drums; seeing Johnny Marr; Doug Martsch’s guitar playing; being feet away from post-REM Mike Mills and Peter Buck; the rumpled urbanity of Luna; Robyn Hitchcock covering “Desolation Row”; a stroke-recovered Scott McCaughey; discovering Spiritualized; meeting Pete Shelley; J Mascis’s wall of Marshall amps; Neutral Milk Hotel at sunset; Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell telling the crowd “you’re lovely”; either Corin Tucker or Carrie Brownstein slipping and falling on her ass and barely missing a note; Morrissey’s live version of “Angel, Angel, We Go Down Together”; Social Distortion’s sweaty intensity; the Rickenbackers of the Bottle Rockets; Robert Forster’s gentlemanly manner; Cracker’s David Lowery heckling the crowd (back); Ian McCulloch chain-smoking through an Echo & the Bunnymen show; the brothers Reid arguing on stage while playing guitar.

Washington, D.C.

The 9:30 Club (F Street location)

WUST Radio Music Hall

GW University Lisner Auditorium

The Bayou

RFK Stadium

Baltimore

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Hammerjacks

New York

Tramps

Roseland Ballroom

The Knitting Factory

Tower Records (East 4th Street)

The Fez Under Time Café

Chicago

Metro

Aragon Ballroom

The Riviera

The Vic

The Elbo Room

The Bottom Lounge

The Empty Bottle

The Subterranean

The Double Door

Lounge Ax

Lincoln Hall

Schubas

Thalia Hall

The Hideout

Sleeping Village

Old Town School of Folk Music

The Cubbie Bear

Soldier Field

Pritzker Pavilion

Harris Theater for Music and Dance

Park Grill

Tribune Tower Plaza

Tower Records (Clark Avenue)

Virgin Records

House of Blues

Humboldt Park

Douglas Park

Union Park

Navy Pier

Taste of Randolph Street

West Fest

Skokie’s Backlot Bash

Wicker Park Fest

Square Roots Festival

Space

Out of Space

World Music Theatre

Portland

Doug Fir

Mississippi Studios

Revolution Hall

Crystal Ballroom

Wonder Ballroom

Moda Center

Polaris Hall

Aladdin Theater

Star Theater

Dante’s

Coffin Club

Other Cities

Minneapolis

First Avenue

San Diego

Music Box

Seattle

Bumbershoot

Paramount Theatre

Olympia

Capitol Theater

Siblings

I love it when siblings are in the same band. It’s notable in the first instance when two or more siblings decide to pursue the same art form; when they collaborate in the same project, it feels like fate. There is something magical about the music sibling make – that is music you should take seriously.

These are my favorite sibling bands, in no particular order.

  • The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • The Breeders
  • Cornershop
  • The Blasters
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • Oasis
  • Tegan and Sara
  • Throwing Muses
  • Yuck
  • The Connells
  • Animals That Swim
  • The Beach Boys
  • Close Lobsters
  • Trash Can Sinatras
  • Sahara Hotnights
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (in on a technicality)
  • The Tyde
  • Marshall Crenshaw
  • Evans the Death
  • The Kinks
  • The Frank and Walters
  • El Goodo

1992

I belong to a Facebook group dedicated to 1990s indie and alternative. The moderator will periodically select a year and provide a spreadsheet of all the albums released in that year and then you have two or three months to submit your ballot, which is a list of up to the 50 best albums of the year, with the top ten ranked. He then scores and compiles the ballots. A ranking from 11-50 earns an album one point. A ranking from 1-10 will give an album from two points (#10 ranking) to 11 points (#1 ranking). When he is done with the math, he posts the entire list of albums that received at least one vote, album by album, as decided by the participants.

I have been a lurker in the group for a while. I decided to participate in the most recent voting, which covers 1992. Even though I don’t believe in top ten lists or rankings. If anything, this exercise proved my misgivings accurate. I think you can at best separate albums into tenths (top ten, next ten, etc) and even that gets difficult as the albums decline in quality. More minute distinctions are impossible.

1992 was the year I saw two of the best concerts of my life. One was the Rollercoaster tour: Spiritualized, Curve, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I saw them at GW University in Washington, D.C., with my best friend from high school, Meetul. We were both JAMC fans, and he liked Curve; neither of us knew the first thing about Spiritualized, the opener. Well, Spiritualized stole the fucking show, with a mind-blowing performance that converted me into a fan right then. I don’t even remember the Curve portion of the concert, and while the Mary Chain was excellent, it all paled next to Spiritualized.

The other was Social Distortion at the 9:30 Club, also in D.C. Touring behind their best album, the band packed the small venue and delivered a blistering set of material. I was at the very front, the stage being about waist high, and I had a close-up view of the whole show. At one point, I turned around to see behind me and learned that a large mosh pit had been going on inches from where I stood. Social Distortion had one guy on security, who stood off to the side of the not-large stage in almost comical fashion; he was surprisingly efficient in preventing fans from making it up there – that was almost a show in itself.

The List

Top Ten

1 Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head

2 Luna – Lunapark

3 Jesus and Mary Chain – Honey’s Dead

4 Spiritualized – Lazer Guided Melodies

5 Heavenly – Le Jardin de Heavenly

6 Vulgar Boatmen – Please Panic

7 Cracker – S/T

8 Catherine Wheel – Ferment

9 Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray

10 Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted

Next Ten

11 Morrissey – Your Arsenal

12 Jayhawks – Hollywood Town Hall

13 Beat Happening – You Turn Me On

14 Magnetic Fields – The Wayward Bus

15 Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – 1992: The Love Album

16 Chills – Soft Bomb

17 Guided by Voices – Propeller

18 Ride – Going Blank Again

19 Cure – Wish

20 Social Distortion – Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell

Third Ten

21 Buffalo Tom – Let Me Come Over

22 Frank and Walters – Trains, Boats and Planes

23 Kitchens of Distinction – The Death of Cool

24 Church – Priest = Aura

25 Magnolias – Off the Hook

26 Material Issue – Destination Universe

27 House of Love – Babe Rainbow

28 Bettie Serveert – Palomine

29 Boo Radleys – Everything’s Alright Forever

30 Damon & Naomi – More Sad Hits

Fourth Ten

31 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Are You Normal?

32 Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union

33 Seam – Headsparks

34 Michael Penn – Free-For-All

35 Magnapop – S/T

36 Grant McLennan – Fireboy

37 Mighty Mighty Bosstones – More Noise and Other Disturbances

38 Sugarcubes – Stick Around for Joy

39 Young Fresh Fellows – It’s Low Beat Time

40 Eugenius – Oomalama

Last Ten

41 James – Seven

42 3Ds – Hellzapoppin

43 Sugar – Copper Blue

44 Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience

45 Jawbreaker – Bivouac

46 Jonathan Richman – I, Jonathan

47 They Might Be Giants – Apollo 18

48 John Wesley Harding – Why We Fight

49 Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

50 Yo La Tengo – May I Sing With Me

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