Best 90s singles
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The 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’90s: 80 – 61

The second part of our examination of the 100 Greatest Alternative Singles of the ’90s includes Pavement, Suzanne Vega, Morrissey, Dinosaur Jr., and more.

65. Catherine Wheel – “Crank” (1993)

Cavernous and vast in sound, it’s easy to visualize “Crank” being performed in a giant wind-tunnel with all the band members just barely hanging on from being swept away into oblivion. There’s plenty of space for the massive walls of guitar and an absolutely stellar vocal performance by Rob Dickinson. The dreamy multi-part vocal arrangement is both clever and mixed perfectly — slathered in reverb, mixed right down in the maelstrom of beautiful chaos that surrounds it.

A ‘crank’ is slang for a person who’s not quite right in the head, and Rob Dickinson’s lyrics are full of self-deprecating observations, but they are too obtuse to know exactly what he’s referring to. For example, “love my superstitious games / running circles round my brain when I’m left smiling / I love to steal this living steam / my head in someone’s dream / I’m tired of sleeping.” Lovely imagery that only Dickinson can translate into something beyond vague impressions.

It really doesn’t matter — it’s one of those Rorschach test songs that is about a feeling and an overall atmosphere more than a literal meaning. Listen to the intensity of the bridge, which is then followed by a brief series of guitar snarls before fading into a powerful rhythmic guitar solo section. There is no wasted space. Tim Friese-Greene, veteran of three of the best albums of the past 30 years (Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock), adds a piercing line of keyboard that slices through the cacophony like an urgent radar signal. It’s simply an epic recording, made for blasting at the highest volume possible and completely losing yourself in the swirling waves of sound.

“Crank” is from the band’s second album Chrome, which was produced by Gil Norton of Pixies fame. The song reached #5 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, Catherine Wheel’s highest ever placement on that survey.


64. eels – “Last Stop: This Town” (1998)

Eels is the project of Mark Oliver Everett, otherwise known as E. His second album under the eels name, Electro-Shock Blues is the harrowing and startlingly intimate chronicle of the deaths of two of Everett’s loved ones — his sister via suicide and his mother via cancer. Throughout the album, Everett relates these tales with stark pain and soul-baring grief twined with humor, grace and love. It’s the human reaction to the death of a loved one, the type of expression one might expect to hear after the funeral is over and friends are sitting around talking about the good times, about how much so and so was loved all the while thinking of their own mortality.

E returns to his home base, “This Town”, which will be for him his last stop as it was his first stop. Wherever life takes us, we all know where our last stop will be, where our lifeless vessels of flesh will end up either buried in the cold ground or else as ashes floating on the wind to be melded into the soil or water. “Last Stop: This Town” is streaks of pain intertwined with whimsy and nostalgia, as one comes to terms with his own mortality with a sense of irreverent acceptance.

“Last Stop: This Town” boasts a razor-sharp arrangement that frequently pivots with sudden left turns, incorporating electronic and hip-hop elements. “Last Stop: This Town” is the philosophical and hopeful track on an album that portrays life at its most cruel. It’s a pondering of life and death from a state of utmost peace. “Last Stop: This Town” reached #40 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart, a shame because it deserves a much wider audience.


63. Siouxsie & The Banshees – “Kiss Them For Me” (1991)

The biggest American pop hit by far in the long and enormously influential career of Siouxsie & The Banshees is the sinuous electronic gem “Kiss Them For Me”. Over a trippy beat, the song has an exotic vibe, swaying sensually with a languid keyboard riff as Siouxsie Sioux delivers an elegant and sensual vocal. The track includes a tabla played by Talvin Singh that emerges near the end.

“Kiss Them For Me” is a major update of the band’s sound, a bridge to the ’90s. It’s hard to imagine what fans of the discordant wailing and bruising guitars of albums like The Scream and Join Hands would think of the slinky electronica of “Kiss Them For Me” if we went back and time and assured them ‘Yes, this is Siouxsie & The Banshees’. Siouxsie herself would no doubt be shocked. And yet, it undeniably works and marks a natural progression for a band that managed to remain relevant in the ’90s when many of their contemporaries had faded into oblivion.

On “Kiss Them for Me” the band fully embraces the electronica that was firmly mainstream at the time and ornaments it with exotic, Middle Eastern-inspired effects. It shouldn’t be a total shock — Siouxsie always had a keen sense of melody, and this is the culmination of years of becoming increasingly accessible while losing none of their artistic vision. Worth seeking out: the CD single of “Kiss them for Me”. It includes two transcendently beautiful B-sides: “Staring Back” and “Return”. “Kiss Them For Me” reigned for five weeks at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart during the summer of 1991 and crossed over to become the band’s only Top 40 hit in America, hitting #23.


62. Curve – “Faît Accompli” (1992)

Before his work in Curve, Dean Garcia was primarily known as the bassist for several Eurythmics albums and their supporting tours. At the dawn of the ’90s, Garcia partnered with vocalist Toni Halliday (who had also worked with Eurythmics) to form Curve. The duo quickly veered into heavy electronic beats and distorted effects with Halliday’s dynamic melodies floating above the metallic soundscapes in a voice that’s often as dramatic as the music.

“Faît Accompli” is the first single from the band’s excellent full-length debut Doppelgänger. Halliday turns in a passionate performance with lyrics about addiction and how insidiously easy one can be receptive to its grip. “I’ve come to crush your bones/ I’ve come to make you feel old / I’ve come to mess with your head / ‘Cause it’ll make you feel good”, she sings during the song’s frantic and dramatic bridge.

“Faît Accompli” is edgy, hard, and dangerous with a strong melody peeking up from the industrial chaos that forms the song’s core. They incorporated the electronic/industrial elements smartly — just enough to add an edge, but not enough to render Halliday’s melodies inaccessible. Curve are rather like a more obtuse version of Garbage, who took a similar style but transformed it into much more commercial material. “Faît Accompli” reached #18 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. Curve released four more albums over the next decade but they were unable to match the success of Doppelgänger and ultimately called it quits in early 2005.


61. James – “Laid” (1993)

Madchester’s James rode the title song from their fifth album, the Brian Eno-produced Laid, to substantial success in America. The boisterous, hard-rocking, brazenly sexual title song tore through college radio like a wildfire and reached #3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Chart. It’s hard to resist lines like: “This bed is on fire with passionate love / the neighbors complain about the noises above / but she only comes when she’s on top”.

Yeah, the song is about a pretty intense obsession, but singer Tim Booth’s character is so intoxicated by the couple’s sexual chemistry that he’s willing to put up with it. In fact, he’s obsessed himself. The couple’s sexual games include experimenting with sexual roles: “Dressed me up in women’s clothes / messed around with gender roles / line my eyes and call me pretty”. He tries to escape but she follows him and, like a drug, he can’t resist: “Moved out of the house so you moved next door / I locked you out / you cut a hole in the wall / I found you sleeping next to me / I thought I was alone / You’re driving me crazy / when are you coming home?”

“Laid” is bright and upbeat, a brusque acoustic rocker that’s tightly compact at only 2:36. Booth’s vocal delivery makes the song. The orgasmic howl he lets out, “Laiiiiiiiiid”, sounds very much like a man who’s struck gold and doesn’t seem to be fretting much over the obsessive nature of his relationship. “Laid’ is sexy and cocksure, fogged by an unhinged passion that seems to block out anything and everything else, including good sense. It’s a state of being to which many of us can relate. Does good sex trump crazy? Well…


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This article originally published on 14 July 2016.

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