Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Wednesday Night Lights: 1992's Influence on Music

This is quite long, I'm sorry for that. Once I got going, I couldn't stop. Also, I've linked primarily to Wikipedia articles for consistency of style.

It seems that I'm on a roll with music lately. The other day I was listening to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks' new album, and there were some bits and pieces of it that reminded me of Nirvana. That got me thinking back to when I first heard Nirvana. Well, not first heard, but when I first bought Nevermind on casette. That's right, I bought Nevermind on casette.

This was 1991/1992 so portable CD players existed, but they were iffy. You were better off with a portable casette player since the CDs tended to skip. A lot. So if I was trying something out, I'd get it on casette. Nevermind came out in September of 1991 (is that really 17 years ago!?) and I had heard/seen "Smell Like Teen Spirit" a bunch.

No one knew who they were; not me, not my friends. I already was listening to Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam. Without knowing it, I was already keying into the Seattle sound, aka "grunge."

I decided "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a strong enough song that I would pick up the album. A friend was coming into town that weekend, and we swung by a record store on the way to my place. I picked up the casette, having no idea what lay in store for us.

To show how dorky I am, the weekend was spent listening to Nevermind (the casette didn't have the hidden track that's on the CD, so the auto-reverse would just flip the tape over and we'd get the other side) over and over and over and over again while we played Super Mario Bros. That was basically it.

The album was brilliant. I couldn't get enough of it. My roommates and my friend...? They had their fill. Thankfully for them, I could listen to it in my trusty Sony Walkman.

In early 1992 (see, I'm bringing the title of this post in) Nevermind hit #1. Music was changing. The grunge music was in full swing, causing a ton of Seattle-based bands to get signed to record deals so that labels had a grunge artist in their list. I bought a lot of that music, and I won't even try to list it all.

Even outside of Seattle, you had releases from bands like San Diego's Stone Temple Pilots, who had a definite Seattle or grunge quality to their music. I was in my third year of college, and music was hugely important to me. I was in bands, playing guitar, singing, doing all the things that I thought would make me a rock star (except actually working hard at it, of course).

On top of Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, there was the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, and they both got me thinking about 1992 again. And I was curious what was released that year and what sort of influence it had. I came up with a short list of, in my opinion, hugely influential in music.

In addition to grunge, there was Rage Against the Machine (RATM) with their self-titled debut. This didn't sound like any of the Seattle music. This was quite different. And it had a lot of say. Even today, sixteen years later, I can listen to the first RATM machine and became angry due to the content of the lyrics. Highly politicized, RATM caused controversy wherever they went:
"At a 1993 Lollapalooza appearance in Philadelphia, the band stood onstage naked for 15 minutes with duct tape on their mouths and the letters PMRC painted on their chests in protest against censorship by the Parents Music Resource Center. Refusing to play, they stood in silence with the sound emitted being only audio feedback from Morello and Commerford's guitars."
Sca-core band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones released their first full-length album More Noise and Other Disturbances. I saw them for free at the student union, and can safely say that was the craziest show I've ever been to.

While I didn't come upon the album until much later, Gordon from the The Barenaked Ladies came out in 1992. And I'm not ashamed to admit that the Barenaked Ladies are my favorite band. I saw them on a whim in 2000, and metaphorically kicked myself for missing out on the band for so many years. Although to be honest, I probably would have hated them at the time.

It was all good, 1992 foisted a full Right Said Fred album on us, and Color Me Badd had a #2 single with "I Wanna Sex You Up" (sorry, no links...I can't bring myself to do it). This was the type of stuff that was burning up the charts prior to grunge. I, for one, was glad that grunge came along.

But what about the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy? Who the heck were they? Well, frontman Michael Franti has gone on to form Spearhead, and like RATM, use his music to bring awareness to political issues that are often overlooked in the United States. But there's more. The album Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury introduced us to the work of a young guitarist named Charlie Hunter.

Hunter is a jazz guitarist, and one of my favorite musicians. He plays an eight-string guitar (although now I see he's moved down to a seven-string) and performs both the guitar and bass lines on the same instrument simultaneously.

Here's where things get funky, Hunter's 2001 album Songs from the Analog Playground featured the vocals of a young songstress, Norah Jones, who of course went on to win a Grammy for Best New Arist with her 2002 alubm Come Way with Me. When I first heard "Don't Know Why," I couldn't figure out why her voice sounded familiar. Then I figured it out. I had heard it a year earlier.

If not for the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (who I found through the Alternative Tentacles album Virus 100, a compilation of Dead Kennedys cover songs) we might not have heard of Norah Jones. Considering the talent level of Hunter and Jones, it's likely we would have heard of them regardless, but the connection is there.

Jones' Come Away with Me hit #1 on the charts in 2002, ten years after Nevermind hit #1. Things had changed over those ten years, not least of all Kurt Cobain's tragic suicide. My own musical tastes had changed to allow in artists like the Barenaked Ladies and Norah Jones. What albums from 1992 resonated for you? From 2002? What musical connections do you know about that are kind of cool and funky (if not obscure)?

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  • At 3:32 PM, Blogger andrew the a/v guy said…

    Strange I should read this post today because I was just listening to Pavement's Crooked Rain CD (whose first release Slanted & Enchanted came out in '92, with Stephen Malkmus being in that band) on my way to work.

    For me 1992 was huge, I left my engineering job to open an independent toy store, and coincidentally 2002 is when I started my third (and final, according to my wife) career in the public library. I was working in a college alternative radio station in 1992, on a Saturday morning program called the Acoustic Cafe, an "unplugged" mix of all types of acoustic-based music - alternative, classic rock, blues, jazz, old & new. With a young child and starting a new business, my budget for purchasing new music was almost nil, but I did purchase Nevermind and also R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People. R.E.M was my favorite band of the 80's and I think that Automatic was the last album that I really liked from them. 1991's Out of Time (with the song “Losing My Religion”) was their tipping point, just like Nevermind was for Nirvana – thrusting them in the public eye, for good or bad.

    Nirvana's Nevermind was released on a Geffen label, after the band decided to part with the small, but influential, Sub Pop label. Sub Pop has done a good job adjusting to the change in music. They started out embracing the Seattle grunge scene with bands like Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney & Nirvana in the early 90's but over time they have evolved, and many bands on the label today have an acoustic/indie sound (the Shins, Iron & Wine, Dntel, the Postal Service, Band of Horses, Kelley Stoltz). Most of today's Sub Pop bands are a far cry from those in the early 90's but the label saw the need to change and made change work for them. R.E.M.'s debut label "I.R.S. Records" didn't adjust so well. They were a cornerstone of 80's new music, with bands like Wall of Voodoo, the Go-Gos, Fine Young Cannibals, General Public, Camper Van Beethoven, and many more, but as their bands jumped ship to larger labels, they didn't (or couldn't) adjust, and are no more.

    Evolve or die. Maybe libraries need to listen.

    Oh, I wish I still had my I.R.S. T-shirt!

  • At 10:36 PM, Blogger John Klima said…

    Apparently R.E.M. was hugely influential on Nirvana's sound. If you never saw The Seven Ages of Rock (a BBC production), episode 6 (Left of the Dial) talked about this connection. I know I'll mis-quote this, but Kurt Cobain really liked Michael Stipe's/R.E.M.'s song writing style and tried to incorporate elements of it into Nirvana's sound.

    Cobain and Stipe became quite good friends, and Stipe was one of the last people to talk to Cobain before he killed himself. Stipe was trying to interest Cobain in coming to GA to work on a collaborative project. From the way Stipe spoke of it, the project was getting Cobain away from Seattle and into safer confines more than actually creating music.

    My brother went to the Universitry of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (1983-89), and saw R.E.M. perform more than a dozen times. He would go on and on about how amazing this band was. I tuned him out since I was listening to REAL music like Motley Crue and Metallica.

    I never got into Sup Pop like I did with SST or Alternative Tentacles. I did have Nirvana's first album, as well as some Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone from Sub Pop, but didn't care for most of their stuff. I never liked Mudhoney and couldn't understand what the deal was. :) That's cool that they've been able to change and update themselves with the times.


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