Record Shop: Stone Temple Pilots – Core

The early nineties was the golden age for alternative rock music. Bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana were dominating the scene and new groups were popping up so fast that it was nearly impossible to keep up. A large number of these were obvious copycat bands that were simply trying to ride the coattails of more famous acts. Groups like these would disappear just as quick as they could spawn. Stone Temple Pilots was often accused by critics as being one of these copycats. Their hit song Plush certainly sounded a lot like what Pearl Jam was doing at the time. The production of the track all the way to the vocal style just felt very “Pearl Jam-ish”. But those who took a moment to listen to the other songs included on their 1992 album Core, would be quick to discover that’s where the similarities ended.

As time would go on, Core would eventually come to be heralded as one of the best rock albums from the nineties. This is a proclamation that I fully stand behind. For a debut album, Core is an impressive feat. The songs are powerful, compelling, catchy and well-written. This record first caught my attention with the release of the single, Plush. This song was a freaking monster when it was released. It was all I needed to go out and buy a copy of the CD. Once I settled down to digest the entire album, what I found was an amazing example of artistry. This was not the typical grunge “flavor of the week”, this was rock and roll – as it was meant to be. Real, unbridled, in-your-face ROCK.

Let’s take a closer look at the album track-by-track.

1: Dead and Bloated – The album starts off with the semi-muted sound of Scott Weiland’s voice shouting the opening lines to the song. This is followed by two powerful whacks to the snare drum… then the whole band kicks in. This opening jolts the listener to attention and the track never lets go until the very end. The verses are catchy and the chorus is melodic and beautiful, yet still hard and abrasive. This song does a great job at defining the overall sound of the Stone Temple Pilots. It’s a fantastic opener to the record.

2: Sex Type Thing – This is actually the first single from the album. It’s a powerful, crunchy rock track that takes the momentum from the first song and actually cranks it up a notch. This song came under a bit of scrutiny during it’s original release. It was claimed that the lyrics glorified rape and violence against women. However, as artists tend to do, Weiland actually illustrates absurdity and cultural problems by personifying them in song. This has been a staple of rock music for as long as it has existed, critics and media still don’t get it. Controversy aside, this is a fantastic track and one of my favorite STP songs.

3: Wicked Garden – This song is another fan favorite, despite never being officially released as a single. This is a powerful track that really illustrates the songwriting prowess of the band as a whole. Everything from Weiland’s vocal delivery to the cohesiveness of the DeLeo brothers is on display here.

4: No Memory – This track is a short instrumental segue. Some would call it filler, some would claim it is nothing more than an intro to the next track. In truth, it’s really nothing special on it’s own, but it does serve as a nice intro to the next song, Sin.

5: Sin – This is probably the first real track on the album that some would consider forgettable. Sin is a mild-tempo rock song. It’s well written but not overly spectacular. It fits in very well with the rest of the album, but when compared with a number of other tracks on Core, it doesn’t shine on its own.

6: Naked Sunday – This song is a bit of a forgotten gem. This is a powerful tune with a great vocal delivery but it tends to be overlooked by many due to the large number of other hits on the album.

7: Creep – This is the first acoustic track on the record and also the third single. It is important to note that the single version that’s usually heard on the radio features a slightly different vocal delivery towards the end of the song. This radio version is a bit of improvement in my mind, and to me, is the definitive version of the track. That being said, the album version is still great. It’s certainly one of the highlights of the record.

8: Piece of Pie – Like Naked Sunday, this is a great track that is often overshadowed by the rest of the record. It’s groovy and very well done. But, it has a difficult time rising to the top of the pack.

9: Plush – This is arguably the crown jewel of the album. This was the second single and one of the biggest hits for STP. This song originally drew a large comparison to Pearl Jam by critics, but as time has gone by, these criticisms have largely faded away. Plush is a powerful, well written staple of nineties rock radio. It is an unforgettable classic.

10: Wet My Bed – This is an odd little throwaway track. It features some interesting production qualities, but is ultimately forgettable.

11: Crackerman – After a handful of mild-tempo songs, Crackerman cranks up the power and delivers some more driving rock and roll. Again, despite not being a single, this song received significant airplay and is another fan favorite.

12: Where the River Goes – The album closes with a bit of a wind-down. This track still features a thick and heavy sound, but it brings the tempo down a bit. It’s not anyone’s favorite song, but this track serves as a good finisher to what is a great album.

Core is an example of rock and roll done right. The nineties were an odd time for rock music. It was easy for bands to get stuck with a specific label and to focus on singular type of sound. During a time of grunge, STP reminded the world that sometimes it is okay to just “rock”.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. The production of this record is great and still stands the test of time. There is a new 25th anniversary deluxe edition that doesn’t fall victim to the wiles of over-compression, like so many modern releases do. Either version of the album would serve well for a new listener.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Record Shop: Princess Princess – Self Titled

So far my Record Shop posts have focused on alternative rock from the early nineties. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were certainly big influences on me in my early Rock n Roll days. But, in truth, I’ve always been a fan of different types of music. As a child, I would often borrow vinyl records from my parents. In their collection I found everything from The Doors to The BeeGees. One of my favorite albums as a young kid was actually the Grease soundtrack! As I grew a bit older my personal collection contained everything from Twisted Sister to Madonna. In fact, by the time I was about thirteen years old, pop and hip hop music were actually my primary go-to. Back in those days, I was living in Japan and the record shop on the Air Force base carried an excess of top 40 albums.  If you looked through the stack of CDs next to my boombox, you’d find artists like Mariah Carey, Bell Biv Devoe, MC Hammer – you get the picture. At that time in my life, rock music was not the primary thing on my radar. Oddly enough, the album that steered me back to Rock n Roll wasn’t Nirvana or Pearl Jam. It was a CD by an obscure all-girl Japanese group named Princess Princess.

It was the Winter of 1990 and my family was hosting a “Homestay Student”. This is a bit like an exchange student, except there’s really no exchange. A Japanese student volunteers to live with an American family for a few days to a week to observe their culture. I think this program was something that was exclusively available to military families, I’m honestly not sure. But it was a program that my family participated in on several occasions. For this particular stint, we hosted a sixteen year old Japanese girl for the Christmas holiday. She was a music fan and a fellow gamer. Even though there was a massive language barrier, the two of us hit it off quite well. When we weren’t playing Game Boy games together, we were trading music. I was surprised to learn that many Japanese folks were already very well versed in western pop music. So most of this exchange was very one-sided. She shared with me a number of various J-Pop bands. Most of which I’ll never remember since they were handwritten copies that I could not read anyway. But she did leave me with one cassette tape by the group I mentioned above; Princess Princess. This was my first real taste of Japanese Pop Music.

This is a record that is likely going to be very hard to find. Even with the internet and music sharing scene, this is a bit of a rarity. Princess Princess was not a groundbreaking band. They don’t have the following that other pop idols from Japan do. They do not fit neatly into a certain genre. The songs on this record range from hair metal to cutesy pop ballads. Maybe it was simply because it was given to me as a gift, but I wore this cassette out. Even after returning back to the United States, Princess Princess was a record that remained a personal favorite.  Allow me to share this gem with you.

1: ROCK ME –  The first track on this record starts with an electric guitar riff that immediately calls bands like Van Halen and Motley Crue to mind. But as soon as the Japanese female vocals kick in, you know that this is not your average hair metal band. This track is simply stellar. It’s the type of song that you’d expect to hear on any US classic rock station. It’s truly a shame that most people will never have the pleasure of enjoying this song.

2: ティンカーベル (Tinker Bell) – This is a moderate tempo rock track. This one is a bit more bubblegum than the debut song. But it’s catchy and it’s been a guilty pleasure of mine for many years. I’m losing Man Points by admitting that I find this song enjoyable.

3: 台風の歌 (Typhoon Song) – Having sheltered through a number of Typhoons in during my time in Japan, I can honestly tell you that this song doesn’t even remotely call to mind anything close to those dangerous storms. This track is not a favorite of mine, but it’s admittedly infectious. It’s what I call “Candy Shop Pop”. I’m generally not a fan of brass in a rock or pop song, and this song has it’s share. I don’t skip past this track when it comes on, but it’s not one I ever queue up either.

4: 逃げろ (Run Away) – This song rocks. It’s a favorite of mine. Maybe because the first few lines are in English, but this was the first song on the record that caught my attention. I don’t speak Japanese and I’ve never looked up the lyrics to translate them (nor would I, as I fear it might ruin some of the magic), but I feel like this might be a bit of political song. It features a really groovy rock riff and a driving backbeat. Good stuff.

5: ジュリアン (Julian) – This is a sappy power ballad. I remember this track being the favorite of the young lady who gave me my copy of the record. I feel like this might have been one of the singles. Even though this type of song is not really my style, it is a bit of an earworm. I can imagine many Japanese prom dances went down to this one.

6: ROLLIN’ ON THE CORNER – This is another funky rock/brass band tune. Not a favorite of mine, but it has its moments. The chorus is its saving grace.

7: 錆びつきブルース 歌 (Rusted Blues Song) – This is a weird one. It sounds like a Jerry Lee Lewis tune mixed with some weird Asian doo wop group. When I hear this, I see Japanese girls in poodle skirts dancing at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. Again, not a favorite but certainly interesting.

8: 月夜の出来事 歌 (Moonlight’s Event) – This is a pure J-Pop track. Even though I can’t speak Japanese, I don’t need to know the language to hear the universal sound of romance and longing. This is a magical track. It might be my favorite.

9: THE LAST MOMENT – This is an interesting tune. It almost has a Spanish flair to it – until the spell is broken by the unexpected sound of a harmonica. This is a hard track to nail down stylistically. But it works perfectly.

10: HIGHWAY STAR – This song reminds me of Van Halen. Its a rocking tune that’s a perfect mix of well polished hard rock and J-pop. It’s a flawless blend of everything that’s great about this record.

11: One – The album closes with a solid jam. It’s mild pop track, but a memorable one. I remember listening to this one on my Walkman as the plane that took me back to the United States lifted off the ground. I can still see myself looking out that oval-shaped window and watching the island of Okinawa get smaller. It’s fitting that this is the final track on an album that will always remind of that magical place.

Obviously, this is very personal record for me. In most cases, I wouldn’t recommend something this obscure to others. But these days, J-Pop and Japanese culture are all the rage. So, if you’re  fan of Japanese music, I’d encourage you to put down the Utada Hikaru CD for a moment and check out something unique.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. The Japanese are perfectionists when it comes to sound quality. This shows on this record. It’s beautifully mastered despite it’s age.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Record Shop: Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik

So far, my first two Record Shop posts have been about two rock albums that were a major influence in my younger years. I’ve talked about two releases from Nirvana and Pearl Jam –  two records that influenced me a great deal in the early days of my song writing. Continuing with that train of thought, I’m brought to an another album that had a huge impact on me as a young man. I’m talking about Blood Sugar Sex Magik, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Released in 1991, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is actually the fifth album by the RHCP, but the one that launched them into the spotlight. Until it’s release, the RHCP were largely a college radio band. Their music was a blend of funk and jam rock, with some punk and hip hop elements elements. As a result of the unorthodox sound, they never really hit the mainstream. This record changed that. Today, the RHCP are one of the most successful rock bands of all time.

My first encounter with the album was through Mtv. The music videos for Give it Away and Under the Bridge were extremely popular. Both songs struck a chord with me so I went out and bought a copy of the album. I was immediately hooked on the funky riffs and unconventional style that flooded my ears. At that time in my life, I was already learning my way around a guitar and the this record added fuel to the creative fire that already starting to catch in my brain. To say that Blood Sugar Sex Magik was a HUGE influence on me is an understatement.

Let’s dissect the record track by track.

1: Power of Equality – This track is a great opener. It launches right into a funky groove at a breakneck pace. It’s reminiscent of early RHCP, while having a just a little more polish than old fans were used to. This track is actually a prime example of the classic “Red Hot Chili Peppers” sound. It’s funky, political, and fresh. Everything RCHP needed to kick off this landmark record.

2: If You Have to Ask – As soon as the first track ends, we are dropped right into this gem. The two songs blend together well, and rightfully so. This song is also very much a throwback to the classic RCHP sound, albeit a little more funky than the last. This track was the final single released from the album, but not a very successful one. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it over the airwaves.

3. Breaking the Girl – Here, three tracks in, we finally have our first taste of something different. For fans of RCHP at the time, this song represented a new sound for the band. Also one of the album’s singles, this song received moderate airplay and remains a favorite of mine.

4. Funky Monks – This song, as the name implies, is straight up funk. It’s a down and dirty jam that just makes you want to strut and tap your foot. Back when I was a musician, my band would often jam on the main riff. A solid tune.

5. Suck My Kiss – Here we have the third single from the album. Another funky/rock jam in which Kiedis spits his signature white-boy-rap style vocals. Another fan favorite and a solid addition to what is shaping up to be a fantastic record.

6. I Could Have Lied – After five tracks of fast-paced funk, we finally have a come-down. This song is a nice melancholy tune. It’s acoustic and heartfelt. Something fans of RHCP were not really used to. But something that the band nailed perfectly with this track. Songs like these would soon become  a signature sound for the band. Another favorite of mine.

7. Mellowship Slinky in B Major – After the respite provided by the last song we are thrust right back into the band’s classic funky style. This track is in the same style of If You Have to Ask and Funky Monks.

8. The Righteous and The Wicked – Another funky one, but this time with a little more gas on fire. Despite the added energy, this track doesn’t shine very bright on an album already filled with gems.

9. Give It Away – Here we are. The song that most people my age think of when you say the name “Red Hot Chili Peppers”. This is a classic track and likely one that you’ve heard before – no matter where you’re from. This was the album’s first single. This track is a hot funky mess, but a mess that’s well loved. It’s a rap-filled romp of slap bass and plucked guitar notes, the guitar solo is played backwards for an even stranger effect. Love it!

10. Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Here we have the title track for the record. It’s a distortion-driven, medium tempo funk/rock tune. Sadly, one that’s largely forgettable.

11. Under the Bridge – This is another track that most people will be familiar with. It was the second single from the album and arguably the band’s most well-known song. When this single was released many old RCHP fans were left scratching their heads. This mellow, subdued style was not what most people would expect from a band like RHCP. But it worked and launched the group into the top ten and cemented their place as rock legends for years to come.

12. Naked in the Rain – It’s hard to follow up a song like Under the Bridge. This mid-grade funk jam pales in comparison to the preceding track. This is a classic skip-over tune.

13. Apache Rose Peacock – A raunchy funk/rap that’s easily forgotten, but a good throw-back to the band’s earlier sound.

14. The Greeting Song – An energy-filled funk/rock jam. Classic Peppers, but nothing too memorable.

15. My Lovely Man – Filler material. This song is nothing terrible, but also nothing too special. A decent track overall, but it doesn’t stand up well when compared with other hits on the album.

16. Sir Psycho Sexy – Another raunchy-lyric filled funk jam. Amusing the first few times you hear it, but it holds little value after that point.

17. They’re Red Hot – A throwaway outro. Pointless drivel.

Despite having a few filler tracks tacked on towards the end, this is a solid album. There are number of outtakes that were released as B-sides or on-album singles. Some of them, like Soul to Squeeze would have fit in very well on this record and it’s a shame they were not included.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. The iTunes version of this records suffers from this problem. However, it also contains two extra tracks (two Jimi Hendrix covers – not mentioned in the review above).

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Record Shop: Pearl Jam – Ten

This took a little longer to crank out than I anticipated. But, I’m finally back with my second RetroSensei’s Record Shop post. This time, I’m going to write a bit about another album that heavily influenced me in my early years of songwriting: Pearl Jam’s debut album – Ten.

As I mentioned in the last Record Shop post, Nirvana’s Nevermind was a major influence on me. That record helped inspire me to pick up a guitar and learn to play. However, it was Pearl Jam’s debut album that actually taught me my first lessons in the art of songwriting. These two records, while both released around the same time, were worlds apart in terms of style and composition. Nirvana’s Nevermind  was raw and full of in-your-face energy, Pearl Jam’s Ten was very polished and controlled. Sure, a number of the songs on this record pack a punch. There are some real mosh-worthy tunes on Ten. But the whole album has production value that’s altogether different. It’s much more… professional.

The music throughout the entire album is very well written and polished to a shine. The mix is perfect. When combined with Eddie Vedder’s unique vocal style, the whole package is just divine.

Like many, the album first came to my attention when the single “Even Flow” hit the air waves. This was followed by the smash hit “Jeremy”. A video that played on Mtv  with heavy rotation. When I purchased my first cassette copy of the album, I was pleased that nearly every song on the record held the same magic as the single releases.  In fact, people who enjoy exploring B-sides and other deep cuts will pleased to learn that almost every outtake and B-side from the record are just as good, if not better than some of the album tracks – but that’s another post for different time. For now, let’s take a look at the album track-by-track.

  1. Once – The album starts with fade in. A mellow, ambient trance-like rhythm that drones on for about 40 seconds before launching into a frenzied, rocking guitar riff. The intro is quickly replaced by the growling voice of Eddie Vedder. Themes of self-control, and a descent into madness are the focus of the tune. A fantastic start to record.
  2. Even Flow – The second track is just a strong as the first. Even Flow was the second single from the record and today remains in regular rotation on rock radio.
  3. Alive – This track is actually the very first single from the album and again, is another of Pearl Jam’s most recognized songs. The subject matter of this tune is a fascinating bit of rock and roll mythology.
  4. Why Go – This track is a favorite of mine. It’s another hard rock tune. Palm-muting, whammy bars – all classic hair metal staples – taken and completely transformed into a new type of rock music for the 90’s. Eddie’s classic angst-driven lyrics reign supreme on this track.
  5. Black – Finally, the first come-down on the record. This track became the band’s first unofficial single. It never received it’s own release but became a radio favorite nonetheless. It’s a power ballad and a long-time fan favorite.
  6. Jeremy – Here we have the third single from the album. Jeremy is a song that was played to death both on TV and radio, but it deserved it. It’s a fantastic song. The storytelling in the lyrics were fueled even more by a stellar music video that still haunts the minds of many to this day.
  7. Oceans – This is one of stranger songs on Ten. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the record. It’s a solid track, but despite actually being an international single, it pales in comparison to some of the other stronger songs on the album. That’s not to discount it… This track has a very mysterious and memorable quality to it.
  8. Porch – From the “strange and mellow” we go back to the “machine-driven” rock formula. This song, while solid is probably the one most people consider to be the first throwaway track on the album. That being said, its still a great song, so in many ways it’s a testament to how great this album really is.
  9. Garden – Here we have the second track on the album that many consider to be largely forgettable. However, to me, Garden is a personal favorite. Everything from the lyrics to the ambient instrumental – it all weaves into a perfectly magical track.
  10. Deep – In my opinion, this is probably the weakest track on the record. It’s not bad, but it’s not particularly good either. Definitely a filler track.
  11. Release – The album ends on a mellow note. This track is soft and heartfelt. It’s really an amazing contrast to the rest of the record and it’s also a personal favorite of mine. The end of the track fades into several moments of silence followed by the tribal drone that opened the initial song. Putting a perfect capstone on the album as a whole.

 

Pearl Jam is one of those bands that really defined 90’s Alternative. And Ten is a classic example of why.

When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. There are exceptions to this, in fact, there’s even a special “redux” version of Ten that is completely remixed and remastered and it’s worth a listen. But, to me the original release is the definitive version of the album.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

Record Shop: Nirvana – Nevermind

Welcome to the first official RetroSensei’s “Record Shop” post. In case you’ve missed my previous post and you’re wondering what all this is about, you can read a bit about this new project:  HERE.

As I mentioned in that previous article, I’ve always been a fan of music. For most of my childhood I enjoyed pop and and top-40 hits. I started buying and collecting music starting around age 12 or 13.  Around that time, I was a fan of artists like MC Hammer, Madonna, Technotronic, Boyz II Men, etc. I largely ignored rock music at this time in my life. To me, it all sounded the same. Hair Bands were still in fairly heavy rotation and they really just seemed to be a dime a dozen. By the time I was 14, I had just returned back to the United States after living in Japan for 3 years. I once again found myself with access to American cable television – that meant Mtv. I remember vividly tuning to Mtv upon my return and seeing the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.  I had never really heard anything like that song before. The verses were hypnotic and mellow, but they were followed by a ripping, screaming chorus. I found the song enjoyable, but at the time I didn’t pay it much attention. My excitement and focus was still currently on the brand new “Dangerous” album by Michael Jackson as well as an upcoming record by SNAP! (yes, the “I got the power” people)…

Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was released in the fall of 1991. It is actually their sophomore album. But it is the record that introduced them to the world.

It wasn’t until the video for “Lithium” hit the airwaves that I really started paying attention to Nirvana. This song followed the same formula as “Teen Spirit” – slow verses, with a rocking chorus. But to me, I found the song much more appealing. The next song by Nirvana that caught my attention was “Come As You Are”.  This was really interesting music. It wasn’t like the other rock and roll that was in heavy rotation at the time. I found myself tuning my radio to the local rock station in hopes of catching one of these songs on the air.

Eventually, I grew tired of waiting on the radio and I spent my allowance on the Nevermind CD. This record changed my entire perception on just what music was all about.

Up until now, I experienced music somewhat passively. I enjoyed it, and occasionally found it insightful and moving. But I was never really inspired by it. Now, I’m not going to claim that the majority of the songs on “Nevermind” are profound. To be honest, most of Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are trash, in my opinion. But there’s certainly a raw energy and passion behind the music as a whole. Songs like “Breed”, just fill you with energy and make you want to “rock out”. Listening to some of these tunes made me was to pick up a guitar and scream my head off, just like Kurt Cobain was doing.

In fact, that’s exactly what happened. This record made me want to learn how to play the guitar. For Christmas that year, I asked my parents for one. Upon receiving it, I went to my local music shop and signed up for lessons. After a couple of months learning the basics, my guitar teacher asked me to bring in a song and he would show me how to play it. Naturally, I turned to “Nevermind” and I picked a tune that sounds pretty easy to play. That song was “Polly”. It was the first song I ever learned to play to completion.  Being able to play a real song from start to finish is major milestone for a new musician. That was the moment I knew that I could play this instrument. Being a guitar player changed my life. Up until that point, I had always been an awkward nerdy sort of kid. I was the little guy that was picked on and teased. I didn’t like sports, instead I was interested in things like Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and video games. Learning to play the guitar gave my a skill that grew into self-confidence. Not to mention, it was a pretty cool skill to have. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you can pick up a guitar and rock out – that’s cool. Within a few years, I had completely changed my social situation. I went from the “always nerdy dork” to the “slightly nerdy rocker”. My social life improved. My romantic life improved. All thanks to music.

If Nirvana’s “Nevermind” didn’t exist, I may very well have never picked up that guitar.

So that’s what this album means to me. There’s a good chance that many of you reading this are intimately familiar with this record already. It was one of the biggest selling albums of the 90’s. But, if not, let’s take a look at the record track by track. If you have a music stream subscription or if you own the record and just want to take a trip down memory lane, put it on and let’s listen together.

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit – This was Nirvana’s first single of the album and arguably their most popular song.  The song starts with a catchy clean-guitar chord riff, which rapidly switches to screaming distortion. Just as you start to get into it, it fades into a slow, mellow groove for the verse. As the chorus launches, we’re back to that ripping, tearing riff that opened the song. This is the formula that made Nirvana famous. They revisit this “verse-chorus-verse” pattern many times over their career.  This song is a classic. It single-handedly changed rock music forever.
  2. In Bloom – This is a moderate tempo tune that once again follows what I call the “Nirvana Formula”.  It was another hit single and it’s a catchy example of classic Nirvana
  3. Come As You Are – This is another favorite. The hook catches you from the very beginning and carries you through the rest of the tune. The guitars here make heavy use of the “Chorus” effect, this is an effect that gives a shimmering “wavy” underwater sound to the tune. This is a very radio-friendly jam.
  4. Breed – This is a rip-roaring powerchord rock fest. This might be the one song from the record that really made me want to pick up a guitar and let it rip. It’s the perfect melding of metal, punk, rock, and even pop. Fantastic tune.
  5. Lithium – Another “Nirvana Formula” tune. Detuned guitar, mumbled lyrics, with a ripping chorus. Another hit single.
  6. Polly –  Here, mid-way through the record we get our first break. Unlike everything else on the album thus far, we have a mellow acoustic tune. The song is played on a dead-pan, flat sounding guitar. As terrible as that might sound in print, it worked well in the song itself.  This is a fan favorite.
  7. Territorial Pissings – This is an odd one. The song starts off with the wacky screeching of Nirvana’s bassist, reciting the lyrics to the old hippie classic “Get Together” – this is followed by a slamming verse-chorus-verse progression. Starts off weird, ends up being a real headbanger.
  8. Drain You – Of all the songs on “Nevermind” this one is the closet to a pop song as you’re going to find. It’s catchy, upbeat, but riddled with strange lyrics. It seems like Cobain was flipping through a medical journal and just writing nonsense. But, it works and it’s a great song.
  9. Lounge Act – Here we come to what many consider to be the first “throwaway” track on the album. It’s a catchy tune, and not a bad one, but it’s not as memorable as nearly anything else on the record. That being said, this is not a bad song at all. So, it’s really a testament to just how good this record is.
  10. Stay Away – Again we have another not-so-memorable tune. But still, it’s headbanging, rocking toe-tapper. If the “filler tracks” on the record are this good, that’s how to you know you have a real winner.
  11. On a Plain – As the album starts to wind to a close, we get one last catchy power-chord jam. This is an often overlooked gem on the record, at least in my opinion.
  12. Something In The Way – This is the albums’s final official track.  It brings the record to a mellow, slow-paced close. We’re once again treated to that flat, detuned acoustic guitar. This time, accompanied by a string section of all things. It’s a melodic, groovy song. A truly fantastic way to end what is a spectacular album.
  13. Endless, Nameless (Hidden Track) – Ahhh. It just wouldn’t the 90s without a hidden track would it?  This song is not included on all copies of the album, but the majority of them will have it. This song is usually tacked on to the end of track 12 after several minutes of silence.  “Endless, Nameless” is the official title of the song, and it’s a complete chaotic noise fest. Roaring guitars, screaming, wailing, sheer anarchy. I used to be absolutely enthralled by this tune. It was like… “Here’s this great record. I hope you enjoyed it. So, we’re going to end it by just screaming in your face and breaking things.”  Wow.

It’s likely that most readers to this site are probably familiar with Nirvana in some capacity. But if you’ve never really sat down and gave them a listen, Nevermind is a great starting point. When listening to albums, I always suggest enjoying them on a nice Hi-Fi stereo system, or on a portable device with a good pair of headphones. When listening to classic records like this, I prefer the original release to many of the “remastered” editions. Often times, remasters are overly loud and actually contain a lower level of quality than the original album. There are exceptions to this, but in the case of Nevermind, the original CD is what you want.

When listening to a record, always listen from start to finish. Unlike pop albums, many good rock records are sequenced in a certain order. Some songs tend to be more enjoyable when following the song preceding them. Put the record on while you’re driving, or doing house work. Let it play in the background. Listen it to a few times. Some records need to grow on you. Don’t skip around. Even if a particular song doesn’t grab you right away, let it play through. Your opinion may change.

I hope you enjoyed my take on this album. It’s one that has meant a lot to me over the years. Maybe it carries, or can carry some special meaning for you as well.

Welcome to the Record Shop!

The above image is something that many young people today are unfamiliar with. The joy of stepping into a well stocked record store, filled with both new and rare tapes, CDs and albums is one of the fondest experiences of my youth. Sure, there are still great record shops to be found. But these days, most teens and even adults like myself tend to consume music digitally. I recently made a post on this site indicating that I plan to start sharing my love for music. In true RetroSensei style, I’m going to be going back and talking about music that meant a lot to me personally over the years. It’s my hope that I might help spark an interest in an artist or even an album to those of you reading, and thus, help you discover a new world of music.

This is going to be a project of sorts. One that will continue for the foreseeable future. A few times a month, I’ll be discussing a particular album – how I encountered it, what I think of it, and what it meant to me. If you’d like to participate, I’d recommend that you subscribe to one of the many music streaming services out there. Most of the records I’ll be discussing should be available to listen on nearly any of these services. However, there may be a few “deep cuts” that I discuss from time to time that might not be so easy to come across online. I’m posting links at the bottom of this post to some of the more popular music services out there.

The first real post will be coming within a week. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to discuss a little bit about my musical upbringing.  I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember. When I just little child, one of the first gifts I remember receiving was an old Fisher Price record player. My mother would let me listen to her old 45s. I remember listening to singles by Neil Diamond, Elton John, The Doors, etc.  Years later, I discovered my father’s LP collection which included gems such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever. He had a massive collection of Beach Boys, Olivia Newton John, and Righteous Brothers.  The first record I remember wanting for myself was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. I wore that record out.  Oddly enough, the second album that actually remember personally owning was Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry”.  (I really liked “We’re Not Gonna Take It)

For most of my early grade school years, if I wasn’t listening to my parent’s old record collection, I turned to the radio. The 80’s was great time for pop music. I can recall vividly hearing hits like “Caribbean Queen”, “Rhythm of the Night”, and “I Just Died in Your Arms” on the radio.  The 80’s were also the age of Mtv. Videos were everywhere; Van Halen, Madonna, – all of it. It was a good time to be alive.

As I got a bit older (I’d say around the ages of 11-14), pop music and early hip-hop held my interest. I didn’t really care for a lot of the hair metal that was big at the time, but stuff like Madonna, MC Hammer, and Paula Abdul could always been found in my CD Player. In those days, I was living overseas on an Air Force base in Japan. When I returned home to the US, I found that the music scene had changed drastically. I came back to an era where rap music had started to become “gangsta”. Naughty By Nature and 2 Live Crew were dominating the space where C+C Music Factory and Vanilla Ice used to be.  Then, one day I turned on Mtv and heard a song that changed my life forever: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.  For the first time in long time, a rock song had captured my attention.  I recall tuning in to the local rock station in hopes of hearing it. This resulted in me being exposed to other great music; Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Stone Temple Pilots.

The alternative rock/grunge scene of the early 90’s pulled me in, and in many ways – never let go.

I hope you guys will enjoy my retro record reviews. If you want to listen along with with me as I post, any of the fine music streaming services below should be a good place to start.