Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite Songs of 1990
The next year in our ongoing Favorite Songs Mixtape Series is 1990, a glorious year for me, where music was the unchallenged center of my universe thanks to moderate financial liquidity, untethered personal freedom, and a general lack of notable obligations and/or distractions. Again, so many songs left out. But a mixtape is a mixtape, rules are rules.
26 "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns" | The Cramps
The United States would be a much cooler place if we all just acknowledged the Cramps as our official ambassadors of pop culture and let them run roughshod over our moral landscape. Imagine sexual inhibition in every town, monster movies and Russ Meyer flicks in every theater, wild 50's and 60's rockabilly on every jukebox, and trashy garage bands plugging in as far as the ears can hear. You'd also be encouraged to freely adopt a fantastic pseudonym for yourself as demonstrated by Cramps co-founders Lux Interior and Poison Ivy. I could openly and proudly call myself Pickled Priest in public and people would willingly refer to me that way. Oh, and of course, campy ravers like "Bikini Girls with Machine Guns" would be radio hits that everybody would sing loudly from behind the wheel of their Buick Rivieras or Chevy Impalas and nobody would turn a judgmental eye to the mention of a machine gun in the lyrics. In this world, we've got other things on our collective minds.
Had all the violence and liquor within close reach,
But all bars, pills, and three-ways lead me back to the beach
25 "She's On Drugs" | The Jazz Butcher
The distinctly British stylings of Pat Fish and his creative vehicle, The Jazz Butcher, eluded me until I finally wised up and put his posthumously released 2022 LP, The Highest in the Land, on my Top 25 Albums of 2022 list. Discovering his prolific back catalog slowly but surely has been a real treat, like discovering a great author twenty novels deep into their writing career—you just want to settle into a comfy chair and catch up. Fish's run of excellent albums in the 80s continued into the 90s with the release of Cult of the Basement. Even a cursory review of his life's work demonstrates that Fish was never in one place or one style for long, but even he knew the value of the occasional jangle-pop single and "She's On Drugs" is a lost period gem deserving or more widespread recognition. About a smitten guy watching, and eventually watching out for, a free-spirited club girl who is presumably American and inarguably on drugs, there's little beyond its insistent "Hey sha-la-lala" hook that's conventional, yet the whole escapade is a hoot, as lyrics like We're all living in a world of poetry / Eating polyester and committing adultery will attest.
24 "Forgive Me Darling" | Robert Ward
I consider Robert Ward's 1990 album, Fear No Evil, to be among my favorite records of the 90s, mainly due to the fact that it sounds unlike anything else released at the time. It was a retro-blast of shimmering R&B, possibly transported here by a modified 1981 Delorean. The truth of the matter is that the album's origin dated back some 30-years, to a time when Ward founded the Ohio Untouchables, a long forgotten soul band most famous for playing on Wilson Pickett's first single, the Falcons' soul classic, "I Found a Love." The band eventually morphed into the Ohio Players a decade later, years after Ward left the group. Bum luck. Meanwhile, Ward played on some Motown cuts in the 70s and then seemingly dropped off the face of the Earth, presumed dead by R&B aficionados. Almost 20 years later, he strolled into a guitar shop, ran into an influential fan who knew and loved his past work, and ended up scoring a record deal with blues label Black Top. In 1990, we got Fear No Evil, a modern recording featuring some new material and re-recordings of a few of his best songs, all of which sound like lost soul treasures to me. "Your Love is Amazing," "Fear No Evil," and "Strictly Reserved for You" appeared, freshly recorded, with Ward's distinctive guitar-playing reintroduced to a brand new audience. His licks, funneled through an old Magnatone amp, were transporting, each reverberating and then drifting into the ether in time to make room for the next one. His guitar work emerges from a steady build of horns on "Forgive Me Darling" and the effect is magical. What's cool is that the song is more of a bandstand vamp than it is a song, a mostly instrumental affair with Ward wailing the title plea every once in a while. A welcome return I didn't know I needed until the moment it appeared.
23 "Who Were You Thinkin' Of?" | The Texas Tornados
Is there any situation that wouldn't be made better by an accordion? Funeral? For sure. Coming out of a coma? Of course. Wedding? Duh. The accordion could solve all the world's problems if given the chance. It's a known fact that nobody has ever committed suicide, genocide, or applied pesticide while listening to someone playing an accordion. It can't be done. And war? Please—no match for a judiciously squeezed accordion. The Texas Tornados were the Tex-Mex version of the Traveling Wilburys and featured a who's who of Texas roots music: Doug Sahm & Augie Meyers from the Sir Douglas Quintet, Freddy "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" Fender, and crucially, Flaco Jimenez, perhaps the greatest living accordionist at the time of this record's release. This was the group's first album and to this day its spicy border blend gives me a jalapeño pepper kick of pure joy. "Who Were You Thinkin' Of?" is the perfect example of what made the group's chemistry such a hoot. With Flaco pumping and fingering his squeeze box (I told you this stuff was hot), a classic tale of betrayal unfolds that somehow still sounds like a party in the Tornados hands. I particularly enjoy the self-effacing realization that You got more out of it / Than I put into it / Last night. If ever there was a tell that someone is thinking of someone else during a routine Tuesday night tryst, that's it. Sure, it hurts, but rub some accordion on it and you'll feel better.
22 "Golden Blunders" | The Posies
A poorly veiled homage to the Beatles Abbey Road classic "Golden Slumbers" that was so catchy Ringo covered it two years later to complete the circle of the song's life. I don't recommend seeking out his version of the song either—as if Pickled Priest readers need to be told to avoid a 1990's Ringo Starr record. Nonetheless, hard as it is to believe today, there was still a vein of rich power-pop left to mine back in 1990s and the Posies were one of those bands who struck gold. They managed to find a way to make the tried-and-true format sound fresh again. I played "Golden Blunders" so much back in the day that I burned out on the song sometime in the mid-90s, but golden nuggets have a way of retaining value and I'm happy to report it's back and it almost shines brighter than ever in 2023.
21 "The Ship Song" | Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Has there ever been a more fitting last name for an artist? With all the mysterious darkness and fluttering bat wings a creepy cave promises, Nick's brooding vampire persona seems the natural musical equivalent. He's always been equally capable of delivering menace and romance and the latter is evidenced on "The Ship Song" from 1990's The Good Son. One could argue successfully that Cave's ballads are some of his greatest songs, from "Into My Arms" to "Love Letter" to "Straight to You," there's a dramatic urgency underlying his entreaties that sounds like the fate of the world is at stake. "The Ship Song" is no different. Its chorus is as epic as true love feels, "Come sail your ships around me / And burn your bridges down / We make a little history, baby / Every time you come around."
20 "Obscurity Knocks" | The Trash Can Sinatras
One of the most underrated Scot Pop bands of the 1990s (not a bold claim) was the Trash Can Sinatras, who could absolutely nail a swooning pop hook to the wall. Their debut record, Cake, was as sweet as the title promised and the prophetically titled "Obscurity Knocks" was one of those melancholy—not quite infinite sadness—tracks that chronicles that awkward transition from hopeful youth to directionless adult. Never has that feeling sounded any better.
19 "Twice As Hard" | The Black Crowes
Everything about the Black Crowes debut was just about perfect. The album cover sported that Stones-esque rock 'n' roll bad boy feel, with 80% of the band looking away from the camera as if it would steal their souls if eye contact was made. Great album title—Shake Your Money Maker—that recalled the Stones' love for American blues, with Elmore James the inspiration this time. Classic sounding band name with just the right amount of Hitchcockian menace to it. Great lead singer and guitarist (clashing brothers, no less), and a killer rhythm section; just about everything you need to be a great rock 'n' roll band. Oh, and songs, too. Great originals and they even nailed the Otis Redding cover ("Hard to Handle"), which is not an easy task. Downright risky, even. Yeah, Aretha did it, but she's Aretha. Successful or not, it seemed a little too obvious for me to pick a cover here, especially as a lifelong rabid Redding fan. So instead, the wicked "Twice As Hard" is the choice, the manifestation of everything the Crowes were all about. This wasn't a rock and roll homage to the Stones akin to Greta Van Fleet's Zeppelin fetish. This was a real rock band doing their own thing who understood the importance of their role during the time they formed, and they executed it with panache down to the smallest detail.
18 "Stop Your Crying" | Bob Mould
While Workbook ranks with my all-time favorite Bob Mould albums, I feel its follow up, Black Sheets of Rain, is one of his most underrated. After the relatively stripped down Workbook, I was admittedly thrilled to hear that Bob had again brought his legendary intensity back to the studio. While some have called the resulting deluge monotonous at times—who are these buzzkills?—I don't see it that way. If there's a sound I can never get enough of, it's Mould and his guitar blowing the roof off a studio or concert hall. Give me as much of that as I can get, please. "Stop Your Crying" is one such eruption. It's a furious emotional kiss-off to a manipulative partner that can be appropriated as an all-purpose "fuck off" to crybabies of all kinds, which comes in particularly handy nowadays.
17 "The Only One I Know" | The Charlatans
I bought a double-CD retrospective by the Charlatans on a whim last year, assuming this UK festival mainstay (called Charlatans UK in the US, which I refuse to use) had released more killer songs than I'd remembered, and true enough, I discovered a bunch of killer songs I'd missed along the way. Not a bloated, double-CD's worth, but enough to consider the money well spent. That said, the first notable single the world ever heard from the band still stands as their finest moment ever. I imagine that's gotta smart a little bit. I know it would piss me off a little if everyone loved my first song more than everything else I did for the rest of my career. But isn't it better to have one early that never at all? Sometimes you get it right the first time, I guess. Ain't nothing wrong with that, especially if is has a killer organ hook like the one all over this track. Sure, the whole thing is one big ripoff of other songs, but who gives a shit. It absolutely smokes.
16 "I Feel Better Than James Brown" | Was (Not Was)
Few bands check all of Pickled Priest's boxes, but Was (Not Was) was certainly one of them. The music is tight, the styles diverse, the band hot, the guest stars inspired, and the sense of humor deliriously demented. And for anyone who has become justifiably bored of the ubiquitous "I Feel Good," the only song James Brown apparently recorded, comes the LSD-trip "I Feel Better Than James Brown," a surreal tale involving tuxedoed dolphins serving breakfast, CIA agents dressed in bikinis, and Fidel Castro negotiating franchise rights for a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken shops. It's a total hoot front-to-back with a tribal chant chorus that absolutely explodes from car speakers. I don't know how they did it, but the song lives up to its title.
15 "Parachute" | Something Happens
I have about twenty metric tons of indie-rock singles from the 1990s to sell you if you've got a pickup truck that ain't doin' nothin'. The term "landfill rock" was created especially for all the "cool band" refuse that was generated by the alternative feeding frenzy of the 1990s. But guess what? Every once in a while I dive into my teeming stack and pull one out for a spin to see how it'll fare in this fucking shit-show decade we're suffering through right now. And, surprisingly, an impressive percentage of them sound absolutely brilliant to my long suffering ear canals. This is one such track. Dublin's poorly-named Something Happens released the poorly-named LP, Stuck Together With God's Glue, in 1990 and then promptly faded away into nothingness (at least in the US). The song from the record that got the most radio play was "Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)," but for my money it was the piano-packed "Parachute" that should've been the big hit. It's one of those great pop singles from across the pond that didn't quite translate in America for no good reason at all. Sometimes we just have other things to do, I suppose. The song features a fabulous transition from the bridge into the chorus that seems to approximate the moment a skydiver leaps from an airplane and it's quite a thrill ride. Who wouldn't want a song that makes them feel that kind of adrenalin rush?
14 "Heavenly Pop Hit" | The Chills
If you think I'm not gonna play off the title here, you're sadly mistaken, for this is what hit pop songs must sound like in heaven. And, if Belinda Carlisle is right that heaven is a place on Earth, there's a pretty good chance the stairway ends atop the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Or, if you're musically oriented, perhaps it emerges at the studios of legendary independent label Flying Nun Records in Christchurch. Either way, there's divine pop teeming from the place and the Chills were among the best Auck 'n' roll bands on the label's roster during their glory days in 80s and first half of the 90s. The Chills held such promise they landed an all-too-rare shot at cracking America when they signed to Slash Records for 1990's Submarine Bells. The album more than delivered on their creative promise even if it did not deliver record sales. They should've known America wouldn't have an appetite for something original or creative. But who needs record sales when you have critical acclaim! Answer: every single band that's ever been trapped inside of that paradox. It wasn't the fault of "Heavenly Pop Hit," however, a song with an elliptical roller rink melody that should've been recorded on a Möbius strip so it could play on a loop for eternity. Now that would've been a heavenly idea.
13 "The Last of the Famous International Playboys" | Morrissey
This guy. I wish he wasn't such a prick, because I really identify with a lot of his music—more and more as I age. Like just about everybody, I can be a hypocrite sometimes. I really liked him better when he was just a temperamental, miserablist icon and not an out of touch diva spewing repugnant pull quotes. As I wrestle with my integrity, I'm still somehow allowing myself to luxuriate in his knack for delivering glorious drama crooned with the sardonic splendor of a disillusioned yet inarguably famous international playboy, surely one of the last of his kind (thankfully). If only the song was autobiographical, but alas, it isn't. Here, he laments the media's glorification of London mobsters, The Kray Brothers, which is refreshingly on point for Moz, but you and I both know there's an undercurrent of self-reference in every song Morrissey sings. If only he would turn his judging eyes on himself more often.
12 "The Humpty Dance" | Digital Underground
The jokes on Sex Packets, Digital Underground's classic 1990 LP, are still funny over 30-years later. In this age of mumbled trap-rap, I appreciate hysterical songs like "The Humpty Dance" now more than ever before. For me, nothing puts me in a better mood than some killer P-Funk samples and some old-school flow. And few did it with such humorous panache as Shock-G (may he rest in peace), who brought Groucho Marx timing to the hard streets of Oakland with lines like I'm spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy and the immortal I'm a freak, I like the girls with the boom / I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom.
11 "Stupid Boy" | Gear Daddies
A regular at Chicago's famed rock club/cigarette box, Lounge Ax, back in the late-80s/early 90s, Minnesota's Gear Daddies were a killer alt-country band blessed with an endearing, raspy-voiced lead singer/songwriter in Martin Zeller, who gave their instantly catchy songs a world-weary credibility during the band's short tenure together. In 1990, with two great albums under their belt (1988's Let's Go Scare Al and 1990's BIlly's Live Bait), I twice stood against the stage belting out every song fully knowing at that moment there was no place I'd rather be. There's really nothing that compares to seeing a great little band in a shitty, cramped venue with a six-pack of beer at your feet, mercifully delivered through a tightly-packed crowd by a war-tested saint/waitress. I wish I could live it all over again right now. Many may know the Daddies best due to "The Zamboni Song" (a buried track on Billy's Live Bait that became a staple at hockey games everywhere), but the secret sauce for the Gear Daddies was the top-tier songwriting that had a way of cutting to the heart of common people's daily lives. "Stupid Boy," a breakup song written from the female point-of-view, shows that this band was not just another bar band from Minneapolis.
10 "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" | A Tribe Called Quest
The rap songs I love the most either have an urgent, intense social agenda or they're just fucking funny. This loopy tale about nothing in particular really is a classic road-trip buddy movie set to a catchy beat, complete with sidetracks, forays, and roadside distractions. It's also addictive as fuck, too, an early-career gem from a band that would contribute to a new way forward for rap music (along with De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, and others in the Native Tongues collective). There are too many great moments to highlight and despite the very loose thread that holds the whole affair together, somehow it never ceases to bring a smile to my face. A song about nothing? It just might work.
Editor's Note: The only aspect of the song that doesn't ring true for me is the vehicle chosen for the cross-country road trip—a 1974 Dodge Dart. Our family had a copper-colored Dart in the mid-70s (with no fucking A/C thanks to my tightwad father) and I seriously doubt it would've made it from Brooklyn to El Segundo (2,811 miles!) let alone back again (and, as the song ends, they're contemplating driving back yet again to get his lost wallet). If the song takes place in 1990, that would make the car 16-years-old at the time of the trip. I call bullshit. It would've died on its maiden voyage somewhere around Nebraska and I'm being generous.
09 "Stronger Than Anything" | The Spanic Boys
My mixtapes from the late-80s into the1990s are heavily populated with great songs that were significantly elevated by memorable live performances witnessed first hand. When I reconcile the best live shows seen during my lifetime someday, my list will not be dominated by a bunch of giant rock shows by legendary artists. Of course, there will be many of that ilk, but some might be surprised at how many on my list are by lesser known artists performed in tiny venues. Artists that operated off the mainstream radar for the most part, but managed to capture something magical on any given evening. Milwaukee's Spanic Boys, a father-son team made up of twin guitar masters Tom (father) and Ian (son) Spanic, were a favorite live act of mine back in the 1990s mainly because the two had a telepathic connection that only comes from a lifetime of living and playing together. On one night in Chicago, at the itty-bitty Elbo Room (no "w"), the duo took the "stage" (actually a floor) and absolutely dropped the jaws of everyone in attendance with their intuitive, interwoven playing. Rarely have I sensed a more profound "What the fuck is going on!?!?" feeling from an audience. Have you ever laughed in rapt wonder at a rock concert, almost in total disbelief? That's how everyone in the place felt. It may sound like I'm overstating the moment, but three decades later I still haven't gotten over it and I'll never forget it. "Stronger Than Anything" seems an appropriate song choice to represent an album that I've always loved. The song reflects the family bond between the two and also music's ability to imprint itself in your memory banks.
08 "There She Goes" | The La's
I'm using the official US album release date for purposes of this mixtape even though the song was technically released as a single in the UK in 1988, where it reached a preposterously low #59 on the charts. It takes less than one listen to make you scratch your head as to why the initial UK single didn't even make the Top 40 over there. Perhaps it was just a bit early to the Britpop party that started in the mid-90s. It has gone on to become legend, of course, cited by countless fawning musicians and critics as an example of the perfect pop single and British hype-rag NME later ranked it as their #22 song of all-time. History has a way of sorting out such things. Mercurial singer and songwriter Lee Mavers mysteriously dropped off the map after this release and bassist John Power went on to form the highly successful and underrated Cast, but this one album, and this simple single with the repetitive chorus, remains as an artifact of a lost band that clearly could've been more than a one-LP wonder if they held it together a bit longer.
07 "Whiskey Bottle" | Uncle Tupelo
Whiskey bottle over Jesus
Not forever, just for now
That's heavy; so much weight from nine words. Neither option is any good in large doses, I'd argue, but that's not the point. This small moment is a brief example of why Uncle Tupelo's songs resonated so deeply with their loyal fans and why their album, No Depression, became a movement unto itself, the recognized starting point for what became known as alternative (or insurgent) country, even though we all know it really wasn't. The album title was also adopted by No Depression magazine, the so-called bible of the genre (in absence of any real competition), that first went to print in 1995 (not coincidentally with Uncle Tupelo spinoff Son Volt as its first cover story). That "No Depression" was actually an old Carter Family song from the 1930s made sense—using it in a brand new context linked the purity of early country music, long since bedazzled by Nashville, with nascent forms of modern music, punk in this case, that cut just as close to the bone albeit from a different angle. The center still held, in other words, only the surroundings had changed. That a small band from Belleville, Illinois, a dump just over the river from St. Louis, was one of the groups at the forefront of this evolution was a bit surprising to say the least, but they proved time and time again that you can teach the old dog some new tricks.
At the head of the group was Jay Farrar, an old soul whose beaten-down voice seemed imported from another time and place just to serve these songs. Anyone who ever saw the band live knew he was the band's leader in every way. To be honest, we didn't give Jeff Tweedy much of our attention back then—he just didn’t have the same presence as Farrar, who could belt out a song like "Whiskey Bottle" at the age of 24 and sound credible doing it. One read of the lyrics and you might think the song to be an old country warhorse from the 1930s, the musings of a broken man who has spent his whole life on the losing end, but instead it came from a new breed of songwriter who understood that the more things change the more they stay the same.
There's a trouble around, it's never far away The same trouble's been around for a life and a day I can't forget the sound, 'cause it's here to stay The sound of people chasing money and money getting away
06 "On the Surface" | Rosanne Cash
If I ranked records based on their influence on my life, Rosanne Cash’s Interiors would be near the top. It was so deeply honest, open, and vulnerable that it encouraged me to do some self-examination of my own. What caused things to go wrong in my life and what was my part in it? These aren’t just songs to me, they seem reduced when categorized that way. They’re more like miniature therapy sessions set to soothing melodies, sung with conviction and sensitivity, so they don’t overwhelm you. But make an impact they will. If that sounds dramatic, that’s because it is. This is a genre-defying record that is far from the traditional country of her breakthrough, King's Record Shop, recorded just three years earlier. She went through hell during that period and the fallout from her divorce from Rodney Crowell reveals itself slowly, the collective impact emotionally staggering. “On the Surface” deals with the difficulty of holding it together outwardly while you're falling apart inside, a natural human tendency, but one we all know to be futile in the long run.
05 "Commodore Peter" | The Silos
From their second LP (self-titled, aka "The one with the bird on the cover"), the follow up to the critically acclaimed Cuba from 1987, "Commodore Peter" is the perfect example of what makes the songwriting of Walter Salas-Humara unlike anyone else's. He has always written in a way that forces you to tilt your head a little bit to gain an alternate perspective. Have you ever been at an art gallery and wondered if a painting has been hung sideways accidentally? The same phenomenon applies here as Salas-Humara reveals just enough detail for a rough sketch to emerge, but intentionally stops short of telling the whole story. I've fleshed-out the story of "Commodore Peter" in my mind ever since I heard this tale of a water taxi driver who loses his boat to a trusted houseguest. You'd think by now, I'd have a sharper vision of the characters and storyline, but I don't really. And that's what has drawn me back to this song more than any other on the album. It remains a mystery even though I am familiar with every second of it.
04 "Be Still" | Los Lobos
I look to music for everything and always have. I've got songs for every need, from the most primal to the most complex and everything in between. Which means I've got my own secret stash of songs on reserve for my most vulnerable and fragile moments. Who among us doesn't need assistance now and then when their spirit is at rock bottom or to keep us elevated when we're at our happiest? "Be Still" does both for me. Tucked near the end of side two of The Neighborhood is a mantra, a moment of zen, a prayer, a wedding toast, whatever you need it to be. It says everything you need to hear at the very moment you need it.
03 "Seven Little Indians" | John Hiatt
So many songs are cited as proof of John Hiatt's songwriting genius, but I have yet to find a list of his finest songs that includes "Seven Little Indians" from 1990's Stolen Moments. In my mind, it ranks as perhaps his greatest song ever, a haunting origin story that clues you into how Hiatt became the storyteller we know him to be. This is an autobiographical tale that is both heartbreaking (his oldest brother died when he was nine, his dad when he was eleven) and also so beautiful it'll make your heart swell. It paints a vivid picture of his family, all for one and one for all, living in a chilly brick house on Central Avenue where "it always felt like something was movin' in for the kill." No matter what the family was going through, they would be called together in the glow of a flickering TV set ("like it was some campfire blazing away") to hear dad tell an outlandish and prop-accentuated story where all the characters were named after his six brothers and sisters and "things always turned out for the better." A transparent attempt to distract the family from their current plight perhaps, but a practice that all would remember forever and repeat with their own families someday. When Hiatt brings the song full circle in the last verse it's just beyond words.
02 "Nothing Compares 2 U" | Sinead O'Connor
I could put any number of brilliant songs from I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got in this space, but I'd be lying to you. So the obvious choice it is. I frequently comment about "fly on the wall" moments where I would've loved to have been invisible but present for the recording of some earth-shattering vocal masterpiece and this would land right there near the top of the list. I can't even imagine the looks that were exchanged in the production booth after she busted out this epic performance. Total silence, is my guess. After all, what's left to say? "Uh, Sinead, let's do that again from the top, and put some feeling behind it this time." Nonsense. You close up for the night and walk home, even if you drove to the studio, in order to properly reflect on what you just experienced. Profound moments make you do irrational things. Enough has been written and said about the song, and watching the Sinead Documentary, Nothing Compares, is mandatory (even though the Prince estate disallowed use of the song because of Sinead's accusation of sexual impropriety against him in her book). It only provides further background that makes the impact of the song even deeper and the power of the accompanying video that much more crushing. Something I didn't think would be possible at this point.
01 "Ball and Chain" | Social Distortion
If you haven't gathered yet, 1990 was right in the sweet spot of my musical glory days. A time where I lived close to the action, had no major obligations, and when my main goal in life was to buy more records and score concert tickets. (Yes, girls were on my mind, too, but that's off topic.) As hard as it is to imagine now, going to a four-band concert at Cabaret Metro (now just Metro—it's cleaner) that started at 11:00 p.m. was standard operating procedure, not the body-destroying pursuit that it would be present day. When I look at my song lists from this era, they stir memories of the songs, but more importantly they bring me back to the corresponding live performances of those songs that conspired to change my life for the better and for all time. So let's go back to Cabaret Metro. In the venue's early days, they'd open the doors for the 11:00 show at about 9:00. We'd get there right on the button to snag a perfect spot and to watch the cutting-edge videos projected onto a screen erected in front of the stage. I found more new music from those videos than from just about any other source at the time (no internet, no streaming). I vividly remember the first time I saw the video for "Ball and Chain" on the screen. I immediately connected with this band that I'd never heard of up to that point. There was something about their look, their attitude, and their sound, which combined a punk edge with a clear love for vintage rock 'n' roll, that converted me on the spot. A lifelong love of the band followed. "Ball and Chain" is punk Johnny Cash, and that connection isn't made lightly or because the band recorded Cash's "Ring of Fire" to devastating effect on the same record. They have a spiritual connection to the Man in Black—there's darkness all over the band's self-titled record from 1990. "Ball and Chain" wasn't about a girlfriend or a wife, it was about suicide; something I didn't realize at first. To me, it was just a cool fucking song. But the song is being sung by a down-on-his-luck narrator, one who is starting to question if life is even worth the pain. In a way, it became a rallying cry of sorts for the downtrodden. It helps to know you're not alone. That was something Cash based his whole persona on and Mike Ness did pretty much the same with his, albeit in his own way. He undeniably lived it fucking day in and fucking day out.
Well, that's 1990. Thanks for tolerating my personal stories, but that's the main reason I'm doing this. At the end of the project, I hope to have the skeleton of my autobiography mapped out in song.