Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Twenty - Palindrome Year

A palindrome is a word or phrase that is the same either forward or backward. Otto and Anna are palindromes. "Madam, I'm Adam" is a palindrome. And so is 1991, the focus of today's feature. It was a time when a lot of us weren't sure if we were going forward or backward. Things were happening, though. That much was certain. And in my life, most things were very good indeed.

I was living in Oak Park, Illinois in 1991, a suburb of Chicago. Mrs. D and I were married in September and it was, for the most part, a very joyous time in our lives. We were making decent money and we didn't have a lot of responsibilities beyond paying the rent on our apartment. It was the tail end of a 3-year stretch in which many of our friends got married as well, including the respective 1990 weddings of my great friend Mark Miller and the Anonymous Truck Driver, who comments here from time to time. Nearly 20 years on, it's pretty impressive to note that all of these marriages are still intact. But that's not why you're here.

It was an odd time in history - the Cold War was essentially ending and the Soviet Union was in its death throes. Meanwhile, the U.S. had its first war with Saddam Hussein. It was a time of excitement and uncertainty and in some respects the popular music of the time reflected that. The four songs I've chosen here are I think pretty emblematic of what the world felt like at that point - waffling between major and minor keys, boisterous and searching at the same time.

The first song was a big hit on dancefloors worldwide. It featured a West Indian singer who would become one of the biggest pop stars of the coming decade. And to my ear, it's his best work. It's Seal, with hair, reminding us that we never will survive unless we get a little

Next was the song that was the culmination of a steady 10-year rise to international fame for a quartet of odd ducks from Athens, Georgia. R.E.M. had emerged from the college radio ghetto a few years earlier but their 1991 album Out of Time was the one that finally put them over the top. And the biggest hit from that album was a moody meditation with lotsa mandolin. While that doesn't sound the most promising formula for a pop hit, it was one of the biggest of the year. Oh no, I've said too much:

Next was a British dance band whose initially officially stood for the Epsom Mad Funkers, although they encouraged other possible interpretations. The scene in Manchester was still going on at this point, but these Gloucestershire lads weren't really part of that. The song featured here was about their only great succcess, but for a one-shot it's one of my favorites and it really fit well in the context of 1991. It's EMF, with:

Finally, we end up with a totally emblematic song from the year, from another British band that had only limited success in the U.S. but hit #2 with this song, written about the fall of the Berlin Wall. It really did feel that we were watching the world wake up from history in those days and it was happening:

So here's the deal - if you care to comment, I'm curious about two things. First, your choice of these four songs. And second, where were you in 1991? The polls are open!


Uncle Ben said...

I was in 10th and 11th grade in Alexandria, MN. I remember that the cafeteria had a TV which was always tuned to MTV. Losing My Religion was on the heavy playlist. I remember the other songs getting lots of radio time too.

But I was listening to Pink Floyd. I remember being on a marching band trip down to the Twin Cities. We got to spend some time at a local mall and I got two cassette tapes (yikes!): Wish Your Were Here and Animals. I was absolutely floored by WYWH and listened to it almost daily. That's seems pretty odd to me in retrospect, but it must have struck a chord.

As for my vote... I'll go out of bounds and say that anything off of Pearl Jam's "Ten" would beat the four choices on offer.

Mike said...

You know what else is a palindrome? Pat's Tap. You know, Pat's Tap, where smoke goes to die. A fine Appleton establishment. I was glad to get there when it was still a palindrome. Not in 1991 mind you, but later.

I vote for "Losing My Religion," although I like all those songs. 1991 was also the year Nevermind was released by Nirvana. Most of those songs are on the level of these four. But, as Kurt, Dave, and Krist are not on the ballot, I will still go with "Losing My Religion." You know, 1991 was a pretty good year for music.

Let's see, 1991...I was in Appleton, Kimberly, Combined Locks, Darboy, everywhere that matters. 1991 ended my freshman year, and began my sophomore year at Kimberly High School. I know I spent a weekend in Chicago with the Ds, took a band trip to St. Louis, and spent a lot of time listening to Greg's copy of the Led Zeppelin box set.

Leo Pusateri said...

Unbelievable has to be my choice...

You lived in Oak Park, eh? I grew up in Berwyn (Roosevelt and Home Aves)..

In 1991 I was attending graduate school the U of W-Eau Claire, and I was working part time at Eau Claire Academy, and also at the Northern Wisconsin Center for the Developmentally Disabled in Chippewa Falls. Oh yeah, I was also a part-time DJ at She-Nanigans in Eau Claire.

Mark Heuring said...

Hey Leo,

Yep - lived in an apartment on Lyman Avenue, just off Harrison, about three blocks from the Austin stop on the Congress el train. And I was born in Berwyn at Macneal Hospital, although I grew up in Wisconsin.


Pearl Jam and Nirvana both surfaced that year and I can see your point. I always think of 1992 when I think of those bands, although the albums in question came out late in '91.


Pat's Tap will always be one of the best palindromes ever. Most palindromes don't offer 200 different beers.

Leo Pusateri said...

Born at MacNeal...and you lived to tell about it!

You live a charmed life, my friend :-)

Dan S. said...

1991: That's the year I gradumacated from that fine academic institution, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

That summer, I moved to Minnesota to begin a Ph. D. program in chemical engineering at the U., and I married my first wife (Both endeavors ended in 1993.).

Of the four songs, I'll vote for Crazy.

Mark Heuring said...

Maria says:

It's UNBELIEVEABLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's my vote, people. See you later!