July 11, 2008

"Turn It On"... turn on the Top 40 grunge recordings.

"Turn It On" by the Flaming Lips is #40 on the countdown, put together, with video, by Jac, who's in his mid-20s and thus experienced the grunge era in his formative years. Was grunge important to you? Did you pick up your guitar and play it?

What counts as grunge? Per Jac:
My basic definition of grunge is music that was made mostly in the '90s, drawing on the early punk and heavy metal of the '70s-'80s as far as dynamics and tone quality (namely, loud and distorted), but drawing more on the songwriting of the '60s. There's usually a loose, lazy, "Anyone could play this" vibe, and there are rarely any instruments other than guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.
He's only giving us 5 at a time, on Fridays, but I love the first 5 choices. And I'm allowed to love this stuff. I didn't experience during my formative years, but my son Jac played it, and just as he liked my 60s music, I liked his 90s music. I loved having the bands practice in my basement, and I loved being the adult that was happy to drive teenage guys to concerts — including that one Jac mentions in the discussion of #36 ("Everything Zen").

There is always some poignancy to looking at things from the past, but there's a really hard twist of that feeling at #37 — "Feel the Pain."

52 comments:

Revenant said...

As someone who was of prime grunge-listening age during the early and mid 90s, and who still admits without regret to having joined the herd who purchased "Nevermind"... I'd just like to say that there is no such thing as a "Top 40 grunge recordings" list. There is barely a top 10, really.

Grunge was one of the more unfortunate things to happen to alternative music. There were a lot of great and varied bands around until Nirvana hit it big. Five years later it seemed like everything was fuzzy guitars and whiny man-children. It took nearly a decade for things to improve again.

(PS: What the hell is Tool doing on this list? They're always been considered a metal band of some description or other)

Simon said...

I must confess that while I'm roughly John's age, I had totally the opposite reaction to "grunge." It struck me as a slightly less obnoxious permutation of punk, which I found in every way and on every level repulsive. It was bubblegum pop for malcontents, I thought, and a crutch for people who didn't want to practice their instruments. I wanted elaborate, I wanted ambitious, I wanted interesting, I wanted interplay - I wanted music that either painted on a big canvas or did something interesting enough that it grabbed attention regardless. In different ways, everything from the Beatles, the Floyd, Yes, Tori Amos, classical music (broadly-defined), to Metallica satisfied. Punk, however, struck me as the evil enemy of ambitious, elaborate, interconnected music. On the other hand, I found and still find music that is self-consciously complicated or technical as unappealing as music that is self-consciously monochrome.

I've been far more interested in what Grohl did with the Foo Fighters than anything Nirvana did -- which, so far as I could ever tell, seems to amount to stealing one of Geordie Walker's riffs and persuading a generation of guitar players that a bad attitude and a fuzz pedal are substitutes for musical talent and practice.

And to add insult to injury, I've written this post while listening to Tom Petty and Toto. Take that, Punk!

rhhardin said...

#40 Tiffany Echkardt (real audio) recorded her first album in a laundromat, for the acoustics.

Folk/Country/Blues, though.

(Girl Guitar, 1996)

real audio player may ask to download an older codec than modern players come with.

Bobby Meachum's Aunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Althouse Cohen said...

revenant: Based on your comment, I can assure you you'll hate the rest of my list. I'm going to stretch the definition of grunge like you wouldn't believe.

MadisonMan said...

Was grunge important to you?

No.

Bobby Meachum's Aunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chuck b. said...

Grunge was just after my time, insofar as the music of my youth is concerned. I remember having the option of seeing Nirvana open for Sonic Youth at a nightclub in San Francisco, and I think instead I picked Cecil Taylor at a jazz hall in Oakland.

It seems like grunge was the last time music exerted a mass influence on fashion. Doc Martens, at all that. Grunge was also kind of the end of quality pop music, wasn't it? Not all of it was good, but much of it was surely better than what we have now. Grunge killed hair metal, and it's a little funny that Britney killed grunge.

The grunge era was also a heroin era. It seems like those come around every 20 years.

I have zero sentimental attachment to the music of my youth. What vinyl and CDs I had left, last year I sold at a garage sale (all the proceeds of which went to buying a fancy treadmill--ha!--which I still use quite dutifully). One guy bought all of my music for $100.

knoxwhirled said...

Grunge killed hair metal

thank you, grunge

gophermomeh said...

We missed the grunge wave. Emo was the genre of choice for our daughter – as I recall, it was primarily Weezer – and on vinyl! She’s always had a good hear for music – we’re still sharing cd’s back and forth. Thanks for sharing the list – I’m curious to hear more…

The hs band thing never took off, thought there’s a bass collecting dust in her room. I always liked that our porch was a primary gathering place for the gang – we had kind of an open door/drawer policy – plenty of food, movies and pop. It’s an easy way to keep an eye on things and it was always a lot of fun - and still is, when they stop by on breaks.

And, yeah, the concert-taxi, too…

P. Rich said...

Althouse. You are so...musically misguided. I think the mommy hormones overwhelmed your hearing discrimination. I hope so, anyway.

Methadras said...

I liked grunge, but it had no discernible effect on me.

Chip Ahoy said...

Your maternal music-related recollections are most touching.

I got a lot of "GO OUYSIDE AND PLAY! AND QUIT RUNNING IN AND OUT!"

Mum was always so concerned about my vitamin D absorption, bless her.

Saul said...

Kurdt would have cringed at the Foo Fighters... in fact Kurdt's ability to see into the future (and the Foo Fighters) may have prompted his suicide...

Grunge was certainly welcomed at the time, given the dirth of any interesting mainstream rock.

I also enjoyed the first wave of punk. I was a full fledged prog rock/dead head, Springsteen fan in 1977. But I'll never forget the first time I heard the Sex Pistols. They fit right in, and are still the best rock band ever.

"We only needed one record." Johnny Rotten.

Why?

"We got it right the first time."

Padre Steve said...

The grunge years were the best years for Country Music! I tuned out of pop and rock and became a Country convert!

sbutler said...

At 27, grunge was some of the first music I really enjoyed listening too. I played my Nirvana Unplugged cassette in the car so often I used to call it "Nirvana Underwater". And Sixteen Stone will always be among my favorite albums, even if the rest of the Bush recordings were rather lackluster.

I miss my army green, BUSH/MASH-style t-shirt, usually warn with the requisite flannel. I wore it to tatters.

Enjoying the list. Unfortunately, I'll never remember to check back for the other 35 unless someone reminds me (hint, hint).

AllenS said...

Every once in a while, I'm reminded just how old and out of touch I am with the latest/current/once upon a time fad.

Anthony said...

Oddly, grunge and the whole 1990s alternative scene was almost my second formative-years music even though I was a late-teen and college kid in the late 70s and early '80s. Frankly, I loved it. It seemed like a complete back-to-basics rebirth of rock music.

The hard rock of the 1980s mostly bored me. You had the hair/pop metal which was too formulaic for me, and the rest of it was sterile, overproduced Bon Jovi type stuff. This new stuff was ballsy and played by people who didn't care what they looked like and didn't care if you cared what they looked like either.

I moved to Seattle in 1985 and so was here when it really took off but I was too old for it to really affect me, save for giving me a lot of new stuff to listen to. Bush, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice in Chains, Smashing Pumpkins. . .still got 'em all. Never much cared for Pearl Jam though; they were/are just too pretentious. Must bookmark that link so I can check back.

Zachary Paul Sire said...

Aside from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, nothing else from this "era" resonates. I was 13-16 during the time and remember listening to that album with the naked baby on it over and over and over again.

It was so short lived and hardly influential to future music genres or styles though. The band Nirvana was...but what else mattered? It seems bizarre to do a list about it...and to spread it out over 8 weeks!

But I like the JAC blog so I hope he proves me wrong and convinces me the list is worthy. I do love lists.

Revenant said...

I'm going to stretch the definition of grunge like you wouldn't believe.

For shame!

Anthony said...

Interestingly, most of the tracks on Nevermind were recorded in Madison. Most were eventually re-recorded in LA (I think), but one of the Madison recordings made it on the album.

I'm listening right now to Garbage who also did their recordings in Mad-town. Shirley Manson apparently hated it there though.

Jim said...

The best piece of advice I ever got was in the liner notes of that Flaming Lips album "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart."

It said, "Please play all tracks at maximum volume."

Ann Althouse said...

On spreading it out over 8 weeks: Consider that there are video clips, and a post with more than 5 wouldn't be good. Who wants to watch more than 5 music videos anyway? And it is really worth watching them. They're quite enjoyable, and we're lucky to be able to get to them so easily with YouTube.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Thanks for posting this. I remember my daughter was a big Pearl Jam and Green Day fan and I liked them too. Many of these clips remind me of the songs of my formative years.

Rocking at the Filmore West to endless guitar and drum solos and listening to some of the best musicians ever in live concerts (Altamont and Woodstock). Led Zepplin, Golden Earing, the incredibleAlvin Lee with Ten Years After and this not so good recording at the 67 Montery Jazz Festival that I attended. She came onto the music scene like a meteor with charisma AND talent. Meteors unfortunately don't last too long.

Looking forward to the rest of JACs clips.

John Althouse Cohen said...

As for the fact that I'm spreading it out over 8 weeks: Remember that I'm just one person, and I have a full-time job, and the job isn't blogging. If I were working at a magazine, I'm sure I'd be churning out "The 100 greatest ____" lists every week. But it's just not worth it for me to write and give away free content any more rapidly than my chosen pace.

Jac is a slooow blog. Glacial, premeditated blogging is my thing.

However, if anyone wants to show that this would be better done in one shot, you're free to make your own list of the top 40 grunge songs, including commentary on each song, and put it all in one blog post. Feel free to send me the link -- I'll gladly post it on my blog. Then at the end, we'll compare the lists and see which one worked out best. :^)

ricpic said...

Grunge was the expression of suburban kids' longing to be authentic, which they equated with all things anti-suburban.

Simon said...

ricpic said...
"Grunge was the expression of suburban kids' longing to be authentic, which they equated with all things anti-suburban."

Authentically what?

ricpic said...

Authentically authentic, what else?

blake said...

Ah, yes, "real" is a code word for "something really horrible that nobody in their right mind would seek out".

I like Simon's comments, though. They could've been made by a big band fan about rock 'n' roll. (And were!)

michael farris said...

I enjoyed my brushes with the punk ethos in the 80's immensely, even while regretting that I was too old and too self aware to really go into the lifestyle whole hog.

But I never got into grunge, it was too ... heavy and murkey and all the things I'd always hated about rock (that punk in it's fire and bleach purified minimality usually sidestepped).

the Rising Jurist said...

Grunge was definitely important to me. I was 14 when Nevermind and Ten came out, and they both pretty much blew my mind. After that, it was a steady diet of Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.

Recall that the competition at the time was pop like Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton, and rock like Skid Row and Guns N' Roses. Grunge was a salvation.

blake said...

Michael Bolton

"I celebrate the guy's entire catalogue."

Dr Dre's Underpants said...

Yo, Michael Bolten is fo'rizeal
motherfucker.

somefeller said...

For purposes of this discussion, I'm thinking that JAC is defining grunge in a pretty broad way, so as to make it cover the whole early to mid 1990s harder alternative rock scene and culture. That's how one can include bands like the Flaming Lips and Smashing Pumpkins in the mix, because while they were definitely part of that culture, they weren't really grunge bands per se. He could have called it a list of the Lollapolooza Generation or something like that, but just putting it all under the grunge label seems user-friendly.

With that being said, I think one thing is clear. The grunge era was the last great era of rock and roll, wherein rock culture and general popular culture were pretty much intertwined. I don't think one can say that about the anemic indie-rock scene, and the rise of everything else from hip-hop to mainstream country to electronica has eliminated rock music's ability to be the prime mover of youth culture.

One aside, during that era a friend of mine had a little catchphrase to make fun of those who were a little overly into the scene. He'd say "hey, slacker, how's the grunge?" as a little joke when someone would walk by in a little too much flannel. Well, I guess it was a lot more funny after a few drinks in 1992.

John Althouse Cohen said...

For purposes of this discussion, I'm thinking that JAC is defining grunge in a pretty broad way,

Yes, I am purposely defining it very broadly to have an interesting list. The idea of a list of 40 songs where everything sounds exactly like some narrow definition of "grunge" sounds really boring to me.

so as to make it cover the whole early to mid 1990s harder alternative rock scene and culture.

Not really -- there's plenty of '90s alternative rock that I've specifically excluded from the list.

That's how one can include bands like the Flaming Lips and Smashing Pumpkins in the mix, because while they were definitely part of that culture, they weren't really grunge bands per se.

Where are you getting your definition of grunge from?

Seems to me that a definition of grunge that excludes the heavier songs from early Smashing Pumpkins is just a plainly incorrect definition.

Bobby Meachum's Aunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
somefeller said...

JAC says: Where are you getting your definition of grunge from? Seems to me that a definition of grunge that excludes the heavier songs from early Smashing Pumpkins is just a plainly incorrect definition.

Most musical definitions of grunge I heard during that era (from what I recall) didn't include Smashing Pumpkins, because their music had a somewhat neo-psychedelic sound to it, even in its harder moments. Basically, their music didn't have enough obvious Black Sabbath or punk influences to make them a true grunge band. Again, that's from what I recall from the music commentary of that era, and I'd tend to agree. There was a different musical aesthetic between Smashing Pumpkins vs. Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc. Now, that may be the sort of "narrow definition of grunge" you are avoiding, but from a standpoint of musical style, that distinction does have its place.

But all those bands were all part of the same larger cultural zeitgeist, and that's what I think is key here and is what you are correctly pointing at.

Bill White said...

I still remember the moment at a Halloween party in 1991 when I first heard the opening chords of the first track on Nevermind. I was 25, single, flush with money from my first big job, and was just a few weeks from growing a goatee and wearing flannel & hiking boots :-)

The music really turned my head and I stayed inside to listen to a few more songs from the album, then I bought a copy the next day. I'd played guitar and bass in a band through the 80s that played a lot of original tunes ranging from bluegrass to punk, but I'd never heard that sort of exciting harmonic creativity from a band.

Bill White said...

Shameless self-promotion: our band was Steel Teeth; we played from 1982 or 83 to 1990. Complete mp3s of selected songs are available at the link.

vbspurs said...

Grunge, hmm. I like punk (in fact, I adore it), but whereas punk is anarchistic towards society, grunge is self-destructive.

I loved Nirvana, but I can't say it affected me as a genre.

(Simon, I can't believe your opinion of punk!)

John Althouse Cohen said...

Most musical definitions of grunge I heard during that era (from what I recall) didn't include Smashing Pumpkins, because their music had a somewhat neo-psychedelic sound to it, even in its harder moments. Basically, their music didn't have enough obvious Black Sabbath or punk influences to make them a true grunge band.

I'm not convinced. How are the heavy, screaming, power-chord-driven, drum-bashing choruses of Smashing Pumpkins different from those of Nirvana or Pearl Jam? Can you describe any particular difference based on musical elements? I don't see any. I would recommend giving another listen to Gish and Siamese Dream if you think they didn't have heavy-metal-inspired riffs. Oh, and Mellon Collie wasn't influenced by early heavy metal?! I wouldn't trust the musical opinion of anyone who thinks that. It's a lot more heavy metal than most post-Bleach Nirvana songs.

And I don't see your point about Smashing Pumpkins being "neo-psychedelic." For one thing, it's not so easy to distinguish between psychedelic and early heavy metal. Jimi Hendrix was as psychedelic as anyone, and I consider his music very continuous with heavy metal. Just because there are different terms (psychedelic vs. heavy metal, alternative vs. grunge) doesn't mean there are distinct entities. Does "psychedelic" mean flashy guitar solos? In that case, you'd need to say that Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and AIC aren't grunge either.

Again: (1) it's fine with me if my list goes outside a narrow definition of grunge -- I'd be disappointed if it didn't. But (2) even if the question were what counts as the narrow definition, I don't see any basis for saying that one thing counts as "grunge" and another doesn't. It's not like "grunge" is some established academic term like the classical, romantic, and modern eras in classical music.

And even those aren't agreed on! Are Beethoven and Schubert classical or romantic? Are Debussy and Mahler romantic or modern? THERE IS NO ANSWER. IT'S JUST MUSIC. ENJOY IT.

You mention musical commentaries of the time. I read a lot of magazine articles, etc., about rock music at the time. I don't remember strict definitions of grunge. You know what I remember? In every single interview with any band or musician, they'd always say they hate genre labels and people should just enjoy the music. If you disagree with that, you won't like my top 40 grunge list.

somefeller said...

JAC, I'm pretty familiar with the work of Smashing Pumpkins, and you're right, they were very metal-influenced. In fact, I remember one contemporary review I read for "Siamese Dream" (I think it was in Spin) complaining that they had apparently been listening to too much Metallica. My point was simply that Smashing Pumpkins, while being one of the most important bands of the 90s alt-rock scene, often wasn't considered a grunge band per se by a lot of people who were into music in that era, any more than the Red Hot Chili Peppers were. And while I'd agree there wasn't some sort of master list of what was grunge and what wasn't (how could there be?), I do recall a lot of music journalists and fans debating what was a grunge band and what wasn't. At some points, it got to the level of point-scoring and nitpicking, kind of like a pop culture version of the "can anyone rightfully be called a neoconservative if they weren't a leftist student at City College in New York in the thirties and forties before they turned right?" debate. For that matter, with regard to another one of your examples, a lot of people didn't consider Alice in Chains to be a real grunge band, because they originally marketed themselves in the metal scene and their original fan base overlapped a lot with the West Coast metal scene and the type of people who liked to listen to a very non-grunge Seattle band - Queensryche. I remember articles to that effect around 1991-1993. I'm not saying that approach is a good one, and in fact I think it isn't. However, it is one that's there, with regard to what the grunge scene was in the 90s, vs. other music scenes of that era.

In any case, I thought I'd made it clear that I like what you are doing and that you're rightly focusing on the bigger musical and cultural picture of that era, and you're using the word "grunge" in a broad manner rather than the narrow way it often was used, and that's fine. I may be wrong here, but I'm detecting a little hostility here (i.e.: "THERE IS NO ANSWER. IT'S JUST MUSIC. ENJOY IT." and "You know what I remember? In every single interview with any band or musician, they'd always say they hate genre labels and people should just enjoy the music. If you disagree with that, you won't like my top 40 grunge list.") that seems a little misplaced, since I'm saying that the broad cultural zeitgeist approach that you seem to be employing is the right one to use, regardless of what label it is given.

somefeller said...

One more thing, however. Your list better include "Only Shallow" or some other selection from My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" CD, or a very well-articulated reason for why that record isn't on the list. If it doesn't, my support for this project will turn to sharp opposition. :)

Bobby Meachum's Aunt said...

Bobby could always say whatever he wanted in my house. I was not afraid of words. They are just words. Just as long as he did not take our lord Jesus our saviors name in vain. But not everyone can do that.

John Althouse Cohen said...

somefeller: I don't think anything's "misplaced." Obviously, I meant what I wrote or else I wouldn't have written. Dissecting whether this or that is "grunge," to the point where people are saying that Tool and the Smashing Pumpkins, is antithetical to just about every interview with any band I've ever read. I've never seen a band interview where they wanted their music to be confined by labels. It's just a useful framework for making the list, but I'm becoming increasingly bored with the quibbling over whether the songs fit into the narrowest possible definition of grunge. If you want a list of songs that fit the narrow definition, I recommend making your own list and sending it to me. I'll link to any such lists, and we can see which ones make for more interesting listening.

John Althouse Cohen said...

*wouldn't have written it

John Althouse Cohen said...

As for "Only Shallow," well, I'm not going to reveal anything on the list before it's posted, but I'll just say: keep checking in every Friday.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Oh, and of course I meant "to the point where people are saying that Tool and the Smashing Pumpkins aren't grunge."

John Althouse Cohen said...

Also, just to be clear, I see no basis for excluding Alice in Chains or Smashing Pumpkins from any definition of grunge even if the labels mattered. Again: what is this based on? What's the musical difference between these bands and any other supposedly "grunge" band? If you're excluding AIC from your definition of "grunge," you're whittling it down to something so miniscule as to be meaningless. I mean, if that does refer to anything real (which I don't see how it does), can't we just say that that would be "grunge 1" in the dictionary, and the much more interesting, diverse range of music that I'm calling grunge would be "grunge 2"?

blake said...

Now, now, labels are obviously useful or you would've called your post "the Top 40 recordings by artists from my youth that I've gathered together arbitrarily."

That may be true but it doesn't necessarily get the point across.

Beethoven was proto-Romantic. Classical early in his development but a driver of Romanticism. Debussy was Impressionist. Mahler was late Romantic.

This does not (and should not be considered to) describe their music in such a way as to completely encompass it. All it does is put them in a particular context.

That musicians hate to be labeled is hardly the point, and somewhat pretentious to boot.

Sigivald said...

The real reason Smashing Pumpkins aren't "grunge" is that they're not openly or secretly trying to be Melvins. I don't see how you can be grunge unless you're Melvins-influenced.

Smashing Pumpkins was really more of a New Wave thing at the start, says La Internet. (And, seriously, compare with early Cure and tell me otherwise.)

I don't care if they don't want to be "defined by labels"; if we're going to say "X is grunge" or "X is the Nth best grunge song", we have to define the terms, and include or reject.

(Otherwise we end up with Jethro Tull as a "Heavy Metal" band, and that will not stand.

For my next trick, I'll prove that Birchville Cat Motel is synth-pop.)

John Althouse Cohen said...

somefeller: You wanted to see "Only Shallow" on the list -- here ya go.