Tied to the Nineties
By Paul Laird @mildmanneredmax
In December of1991 I was 18 and I left home to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). That meant that I wouldn’t be able to listen to any music, other than hymns or classical, until December 1993. Fortunately I came to my senses after about 9 months and was back home by September of 1992.
Here then are the records that defined 1991 for me up to the start of my months in the cultural wilderness.
When you grow up with the idea that a God is real, that He is watching you, that He has created you sick but demands you be well and with the idea that sex outside of marriage is the sin next to murder then you are probably always going to develop an unhealthy attitude towards matters sexual.
Here is what a Church pamphlet on the standards expected of teenagers had to say on the topic of masturbation;
Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body.”
Imagine then the conflict when I heard “I Touch Myself” by Australia’s Divinyls. I was seventeen.
You do the math.
It made me feel all peculiar.
After Madonna I think this song was the most important part of my sex education. God bless them.
There was a girl in my year called Janine. She had a school satchel that was covered in band badges. Dozens of them. One of them was for a band called Spacemen 3. I didn’t know who they were or what they were. I did know that I really liked Janine. I asked her to make me a tape of the Spacemen and the next day she delivered it.
I asked her if she wanted to go “out”. That meant a trip to the McDonalds on Kirkcaldy High Street before sucking face in my bedroom while listening out for my parents approaching the bedroom door.
When I eventually got around to listening to the tape I did so while lying in bed one night. My bedroom had a skylight and as I lay looking into the black sky the dreamy, slightly psychedelic, haze of “Recurring” seemed to be the perfect soundtrack to my life at that exact moment.
What is curious is that I can listen to it now at any time of the day and it sounds like…the perfect soundtrack to my life at that exact moment.
I can’t just pretend he doesn’t exist in order to please and appease the more aggressive elements of the progressive movement. I was brought up to believe in the power of forgiveness and the healing power of repentance. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
We all have our views on his views. My view? He’s tired and has grown ugly. But this is 1991 and, frankly, he is the only person that really matters to me at this point. I am a bit awkward, a lot uncomfortable, lonely, confused and acne ridden.
“Kill Uncle” isn’t a great record, for most Morrissey fans it is seen as one of his weakest (and it faces a fair bit of competition for that title) but it does contain some moments of real joy like the rockabilly swagger of “Sing Your Life” and the Madness-esque “Our Frank”. Sure it also contains the line “Your boyfriend he, went down on one knee, well could it be, he’s only got one knee” but that’s still a better piece of writing than Weller’s “English Rose”.
This was also the album that soundtracked the first Morrissey solo tour and, believe me, that tour was a riot of bodies and passions and obsession and fanaticism the likes of which only teenage One Direction/BTS/Justin Bieber disciples can really understand.
While much is made, rightly, of the fusion of dance and rock on Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” it would be a mistake to think that it was the first such record. Five months before we all got “Loaded” The Farm had arrived with their own wonderfully curious and curiously wonderful mix, mess and magnificent blend of woozy guitar riffs and electronic beats and breaks.
It was a huge hit, particularly for a record like this by a band like The Farm, and it reached number one in the charts. That success arrived as a result of the top ten single “Groovy Train” which even now, some three decades later, will fill dance floors up and down the country…well, it will certainly do that at any wedding party for people of a particular vintage.
It was a baggy record in more ways than one. Adored by the floppy haired and even floppier attired Joe Bloggs brigade because of its equally floppy grooves. While the critics might leave the big love for The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and The Inspiral Carpets when it comes to “Madchester” it would be a mistake for the rest of us to dismiss the Scouse sounds of The Farm.
Hello boys and girls…welcome to De La Soul is Dead.
This was the death of da inner sound y’all as evidenced by the less than subtle cover art.
Following on from the success of “3 Feet High and Rising” was never going to be easy but De La Soul make it sound effortless with one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. Smooth delivery, awesome beats, wildly funny and with the sort of production values normally associated with a Busby Berkeley dance routine.
There are people who dismiss hip-hop for a variety of reasons…some more honest than others… and while people like what they like and the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same thing I think it is safe to say that anyone who dismisses this record is probably not the sort of person you want to be associating with.
It’s that good.
Remember a minute ago when I told you that “De La Soul is Dead” was worth losing friends over? Remember?
Well, strap yourself in because if you find yourself in conversation with, a relationship with or married to someone who suggests that they might not enjoy this album…it’s time to move. Move on. Move away. Just move.
Even your own children.
You have to have standards.
3rd Bass is a hill worth dying on.
One of the few white hip-hop acts to find acceptance on the scene, along with the Beastie Boys, because of their skill and respect for the form. There are rhymes here that are so sharp you could use them in the kitchen of Sukiyabashi Jiro.
Just listen to something like “Portrait of the Artist as a Hood” and tell me that it isn’t one of the finest songs, in any genre, you have ever heard.
I dare you.
I double dare you.
Samples, loops, beats, breaks and rhymes…it’s perfect.
Yes, there is the community activism.
Yes, there are the five dollar shows that allowed their audience to be as inclusive as possible.
Yes, there are the ten dollar CD’s that ensured the band could make a living but that fans could afford to contribute to that.
But none of that matters if the songs are no good.
Fugazi were not about virtue over quality, they were fine musicians and wonderful songwriters. They drew inspiration from rock ’n’ roll, reggae, hardcore and forged something unique from all of it. While a lot of attention is given to 1989’s “13 Songs”, “Steady Diet of Nothing” is just as much of a delight.
One of those rare moments when you hear something and cannot think of a single thing that it sounds like despite it feeling entirely familiar.
I could hear old soul records and hip-hop and dance and pop…but I had genuinely never heard anything quite like this before. I’m not sure that I have ever heard anything quite like it since. It’s easy, too easy, to see the nineties as Britpop vs Grunge but the truth is, as ever, less pure and less simple. It was a time of great experimentation and of great leaps forward as much as it was a rose tinted look back at the past. Massive Attack were the great leap forward.
You wanted “Screamadelica”.
Write your own list.
The presence of Johnny Marr made this an album I had to purchase, that’s what Smiths fans did. They bought anything, and everything, that had even the remotest connection to any member of the band. Often when that purchase was as a result of something Morrissey recommended the results were, at best, varied. But when it came to Johnny…whatever he was involved with would be good. Often better than good.
“Don’t Try This at Home” is littered with career highs for Bragg. The aching beauty of “Tank Park Salute”, the best song The Smiths never wrote in “Sexuality”, the presence of Michael Stipe and Peter Buck on the country charms of “You Woke Up My Neighbourhood”, the cover of Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” and the beauty and tragedy of “God’s Footballer” all combine to make this a masterclass in how to make a truly great album.
The greatest indie record label ever?
The boys in Stone Island will bellow about Creation…and with good reason, sadly none of those good reasons are the reasons they are bellowing.
Rough Trade whisper the winsome fops of the early eighties…and they might be on to something.
Mute bleep the kids who understood, before the rest of us cottoned on, that electronic music was real music.
For me the answer is Sarah for a whole variety of reasons, most of them involving things entirely separate from the actual bands and music. No albums, only singles. The artwork. The names. It was like the record label I would have set up if I had any talent or work ethic.
The Field Mice are, perhaps, the Sarah Records band.
Shimmering where others wanted to glare.
Whispering where others wanted to howl.
“For Keeps” was their first album proper and, tragically, their last. It is a precious and delightful thing. A moment of beauty in a world full of ugliness.
A certain type of boy who likes to suggest that they don’t just listen to music made by four white blokes with the same haircut will use the presence of a Motown greatest hits or knowing the words to “Tainted Love” as evidence of their love of soul music. But they don’t actually care about soul music, it just fits with the narrative of being a “Mod”.
I could go on…but I won’t.
Lisa Stansfield is one of the very best soul singers the UK has produced.
Her voice is a thing of beauty.
“Time to Make you Mine”, “Change”, “Symptoms of Loneliness and Heartache”, “Soul Deep” and more could all have found their natural home at Stax, Atlantic or Motown and wouldn’t have sounded any better than they sound here with Lisa.
One of the greats.
All of which brings us to December 1991 when the now 18 year old me left home, left behind my Walkman, left my records, left my family and friends and headed for East Grinstead to enter the Missionary Training Centre in preparation for 2 years of sharing the Gospel.
Dear God please help me.