Tag Archives: 80s Alternative Music

Great Album Retro Review: Suzanne Vega By Suzanne Vega

SUZANNE

Returning to the ’80s, which is where a very sizeable chunk of my favorite music originates, so get used to it, I will once again review what I think is a great album. In this installment, I will tout Suzanne Vega’s first album.

Released in 1985, the album is self-titled and is beautiful and melancholy. Vega’s singing and songwriting are as graceful as they are thoughtful and poignant. The songs are mainly acoustic and have a folksy feel. They are quiet, simple, and straight forward in their production.

I must have discovered this album at a point in my life at which I most needed it, because it really dug its way into my psyche. I love this album. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favorites.

The tracks:

Cracking –  This song opens with my favorite acoustic guitar riff on the album and uses a  lilting synthesizer to fill in the sound as Vega talk sings much of the lyrics. It’s a moody piece that sets up the album very well.

Freeze Tag – There’s a lilt to this song as well, as Vega appears to reminisce on playful times with a flame from her past. And a song that drops a reference to Bogie and Bacall can’t be bad.

Marlene On The Wall – My favorite track on the album, this is a more up tempo song about getting romantic advice from an ever-observing poster of Marlene Dietrich. At least, I think Vega means Dietrich.

Small Blue Thing – This song returns to the moody atmosphere of the first track. To me it seems to be about obsession and being controlled by the object of that obsession. She becomes a small thing being held in her obsession’s hand.

Straight Lines – A little up tempo again, Vega sings of a woman changing herself. Cutting her hair, casting away lovers, simplifying her life until she is finally alone. With that accomplished, I can’t help but to feel some sadness for her.

Undertow – Still on the slightly up tempo side, I’m not entirely certain what this song means. But, like much of the album, there is a feel of melancholy filling every corner.

Some Journey – This song has some nice jangly guitar accents along with a flowing electric violin. Vega sings of what might have been had she met a certain person. Would they have been lovers?

The Queen And The Soldier – This song is a fable of a young queen, isolated, impetuous, and powerful, and a loyal soldier who had finally decided he couldn’t continue to do battle for her. Instead, he offers her a chance to end the constant violence and to find love. To break her out of the trap of her royalty. Does she accept his offer?

Knight Moves – I’m not certain if Vega intended this song to be about the same queen in the previous track, but I always thought it was. The melancholy continues as the queen is questioned as whether she loves one, many, any, or me.

Neighborhood Girls – This closing track is the most bouncy of any of the tracks on the album. It almost feels out of place, it’s practically jaunty, but it still works. There are plenty of excellent popping guitar lines throughout this song about neighborhood sex workers.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under fair use.

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Grant Hart (1961-2017)

The mid80s were my time. I’m stuck there. I was in art school. I was young. And I found the music that became so very important to me. There was The Who, of course. They pretty much opened my eyes to what I considered more important music than what Top 40 radio had to offer.

The mid80s were also the Twin Cities’ (sure, mostly Minneapolis) time when it came to that important music. There were so many great local bands then. And there was the greatest concert venue First Avenue & the 7th Street Entry. First Avenue was the stage for those great local acts as well as national and international artists producing that important music.

3574812918_996a569d07_bHusker Du (from St. Paul) was one head of the three-headed Minneapolis Sound monster. The other two were The Replacements and Prince. I was a mild fan of Prince, a big fan of The Replacements, but Husker Du was my favorite. I used to say I liked The ‘Mats’ albums (slightly) better than Husker Du’s, but I liked Husker Du more when seeing them play live. Their shows were consistently more intense and fun. Husker Du still feels more like my band than The Replacements. I like them both, but somehow I always felt more connected to the Huskers.

Sometime in 1985, they played an in-store show at the record store just a couple blocks away from where I lived. I went to that store every week. One weekend, I walked in just as they were finishing putting away their equipment. Marty, one of the fellows working at the store, said, “Oh, Jim! You just missed it! You should have gotten here earlier.”

Up to that point, I had only heard of Husker Du. I didn’t know any of their music, but I didn’t want to look uncool, so I feigned disappointment.

It was about a week later when a friend bought Zen Arcade. We listened to it and loved it. That’s when I felt the disappointment.

Grant Hart, co-lead singer, co-songwriter, and drummer of Husker Du, died earlier today at age 56.

Hart was the one local musician I would see regularly hanging out at First Avenue. I remember the first time I spotted him there.  He was wearing a gold lame shirt and was in the area back by the pool tables, playing pinball. I nudged my friend and pointed out that a local musical giant was in our presence. I think my friend told me to settle down and be cool.

I spoke to Grant Hart only once. It was just before their final LP, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, was to be released. Word was that the album was going to be two disks. I was drying my hands in the restroom, when Hart walked by. I stopped him and said, “I hear the new record is going to be a double album.”

“That’s what they tell me,” was his answer and he walked on.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything more exciting to say of my experience with Grant Hart. I wasn’t an insider of the scene.

I was just a fan.

Packing Peanuts!

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