In 1995 I moved to Wellington, ostensibly for university, but in reality it was to start an enormous CD collection. Most of that collection has now been replaced by vinyl – and/or Mp3s. That’s because 1995 is closer is more than 20 years ago now. But at the time I was buying up music, having a blast.
I took the small handful of CDs that I owned (well, it was probably around 100 or so) and I added to that collection. Weekly. Not a week went by that I hadn’t bargain-hunted something I needed. I was in a city with so many music stores – almost none of them are around now. I’m still in Wellington. I still purchase music pretty much weekly, it’s mostly now from just the one store. It’s mostly on vinyl. I will still buy CDs because I do still play CDs in the car. But back then, over 20 years ago, it was exciting to find a brand new CD by some old band; to be turned on to new music, to discover old favourites that you had read about, borrowed, heard a friend’s copy perhaps. I started buying up all the hip things of the time – Portishead, Oasis, these were groundbreaking artists (or at least it seemed). And I was also buying Greatest Hits albums and CD copies of albums that my parents still owned. I was out on my own in the world – so I needed my own copy of the music that had helped to shape me. But I also needed new things. Weekly. Almost daily. It was, most accurately, an addiction. A sickness.
But so much of the music that I consumed in 1995 stays with me. And just lately I’ve spent some time with five of my favourites. I wanted to tell you about them. Maybe you can share some of your favourites from the year you left home – to travel, to work, to move into your own place because you were married…
1. Tricky, Maxinquaye – This album followed on from Portishead’s Dummy for me. Dummy was all new, a completely new sound. Maxinquaye followed on – and though the first three Massive Attack albums still get a spin reasonably regularly, and I can listen to Dummy now and then, Maxinquaye has never dated. But I did rediscover it this year by splashing out for a copy on vinyl. The CD long gone, the album not on my iPod, I had to hear it again. And it’s really a perfect record. Not a dud track on it. And though Tricky would go on to all sorts of weird and wonderful music (and a more intense and beautiful record, in many ways, is Pre-Millennium Tension) this has certainly aged well, gracefully, almost so as you would not notice. It still feels fresh and vital and real. But for me it is a record of that time, in that I’ll instantly think back to my lecture-dodging days; they seem a world away from where my sleep-patterns are at now.
2. Throwing Muses, University – Another that I purchased on vinyl more recently – this album saw Throwing Muses tour New Zealand universities as part of the Orientation Week. Perfect, given the album’s title. It was Sam Hunt that told me check this band out. I’d read the name, I’d heard about them – but the tip came from Mr Hunt. And when I say that Sam told me, he also told whoever else was listening to him at the Student Union Cafe on one of the first days of that first term in 1995. He finished his set – I was a huge Sam Hunt fan then (still am) – by telling the audience that Throwing Muses were a must-see; that Kristin Hersh wrote amazing lyrics. He was right on both counts. First was the gig. I went in blind. I hadn’t heard any of the band’s music. It was magical. I stood at the front, transfixed. Hersh is a hypnotic performer, that snake-like bob and weave. Next day I bought University. And it’s – to this day – a car favourite (alongside its follow-up, Limbo). But I’ve fallen in love with it all over again on vinyl. Spinning Snakeface – a song I once played in a band. I own everything by Throwing Muses, all Hersh’s solo albums and 50 Foot Wave too. So this was the start of something significant in my life. An introduction to one of my favourite songwriters and one of my favourite bands.
3. Ginger Baker Trio, Going Back Home – The album was released in 1994 but I discovered it in 1995, from the pages of Modern Drummer (and I doubt there was a copy in NZ until 1995). I was a Ginger Baker disciple. After school my afternoons were taken up bashing the drums in the back room of the house, The Cream Of Eric Clapton turned up as loud as it could go on the old Series 9 turntable. Thrashing out versions of White Room and Tales Of Brave Ulysses, tea-towels tucked over the tom-toms, my mum allowing this din to pulse through the house while she was in it; my parents so amazing in their support/toleration. And so when I read about Baker making a trio-jazz album I had to have it. Well, the album is wonderful. A favourite to this day. And one that introduced me to a star-trio: Ginger working with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden. I already had some albums in my collection featuring those players. Since picking up Going Back Home I have plenty more. Including two as part of the Ginger Baker Trio – while it lasted. Here’s a sample track. I love this album – Frisell’s unique phrasing some space-age amalgamation of country and jazz, Baker may not – in the strictest sense – be any real sort of jazz player (despite his oft-quoted training) but I love his playing on this album (and on so many of the records he made around this time, including BBM’s Around The Next Dream). And Charlie Haden is one of the great bass players as far as I’m concerned. Long periods go by between listens these days but I always feel like I’m catching up with a long-lost friend when I hear Going Back Home. It is, in that sense, like going back home. Everything’s as you hope it will be, and how (and where) you left it.
4. Prince, The Gold Experience – Okay, so he was not, technically, Prince – he was still an unpronounceable squiggle, or TAFKAP and that all weighed (very) heavily on how people heard (or didn’t hear) the music. He was also – part and parcel with the name-change – pumping out music, leftovers, spare ideas and, in and around the throwaway material and double-baked but still served luke-warm albums and EPs there was The Gold Experience. An album I’ve never fallen out of love with, an album that’s always on my iPod and that I listen to probably more than any Prince album these days. The band was killer, there were great songs, there was sexiness and sassiness and funk. There were great pop songs. And I remember, after paying full price, finding this album for $5 just weeks later. So I bought six copies of it and gave them to friends and family members. I just wanted people to hear this album. And I still love it. Great opener, P-Control. And I think that Shhh is one of his best songs; just a great performance too. Those drum fills (from Michael B). And on The Gold Experience Prince reminded whoever did listen to it that he’s a stunning guitar player.
5. Natalie Merchant, Tigerlily – Hooked on the MTV Unplugged series, I had watched the 10,000 Maniacs one because it featured a track with David Byrne. I bought Tigerlily when it was released because even though I appreciated what 10,000 Maniacs had been doing I couldn’t really go along for the ride but I did like Natalie Merchant’s voice. And songs. The world was going nuts to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill – although I wasn’t! And as a result we got a lot of nobody-hacks singing their diary. Record companies signed up the likes of Paul Cole and Fiona Apple and Tracy Bonham to either make the same album endlessly, or make it once or twice and disappear. Natalie Merchant never made the same album twice. She recorded old folk songs, she wrote her own material that felt like it came from many years earlier; from a different world to the pop songs her material sat alongside. I found Tigerlily just last year – having not listened to it in at least a decade. And it’s become something of a “new” favourite. It started with the song that was thrashed, Carnival. What an incredible piece of music that is – given that it’s perceived as just a wee pop song. Everything works on that song, and everything in it is working for the song. That groove, the guitar line and a perfect vocal.
So there are five albums that make me think – instantly – of the year I left home. The year I started buying CDs as if they were going out of fashion (well, only about a decade off, I guess…) But who knew, back then, that we’d be here now sharing music with just a simple click and drag.
What about you and the year you left? Maybe you were 15 or 18 or 30. Maybe it was 1986 or 1968. Maybe it was just last year – so you downloaded a whole bunch of things off your dad’s hard-drive before you left, or more likely, helped him to load his iPod one last time before you packed up your laptop and headed out…