This Week’s Theme: Silver Anniversary, Music from 1996
I did not listen to much popular music in the early ’90s. I spent several years in a deep dive into old R&B, with a focus on Ray Charles and jump blues artists like Wynonie Harris, Roy Brown, and Big Joe Turner. Then in 1996 I started to spend a lot of time driving around in a town with a local alternative rock station and I became immersed in new songs by Tonic, Creed, Bush, Silverchair, and a hundred other grunge bands of the era. Most of that music didn’t stick, but over the last 25 years my appreciation for the music of that period has grown. Certain artists that I ignored back then are now artists I greatly enjoy, such as Fiona Apple and Sheryl Crow. Other artists that I listened to occasionally, such as Beck, Weezer, and Mountain Goats, are now an integral part of my musical life. Some artists that I adored at the time, such as Stereolab, High Llamas, and Steve Earle, have stayed with me for 25 years.
In making this show I googled “best albums 1996” and looking back now it is clear that 1996 is set firmly in the period at which rap and grunge/alternative rock took hold of the airwaves and record sales. My memory is that this all changed in 1999 when Britney Spears debuted and spearheaded a now 20-year long reign of pop stars. Even so, the surge of rap and alternative rock into the mainstream had enough of an impact that 25 years later rap is arguably the most popular form of music in the world and guitar bands are still going strong.
This week’s show provides a mix of songs from 1996. There are some big hits, some artists I liked back then, and some artists I have come to like more over the years. In no way is this a best of ’96 show, but there are enough songs here to remind us that 1996 was a diverse and pivotal period in popular music.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show number eighteen.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
19 songs selected from 1996
Fiona Apple “Criminal”
Beck “Where It’s At”
Belle and Sebastian “Judy and the Dream of Horses”
Busta Rhymes “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check
Tracy Chapman “Give Me One Reason”
Cibo Matto “Sugar Water”
Coolio “Gangsta’s Paradise”
Sheryl Crow “If It Makes You Happy”
Steve Earle with Lucinda Williams “You’re Still Standin’ There”
High Llamas “Literature is Fluff”
Los Del Rio “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)”
Alanis Morisette “You Oughta Know”
Mountain Goats “Alabama Nova”
Stereolab “Cybele’s Reverie”
Tortoise “Dear Grandma and Grandpa”
Weezer “El Scorcho”
Wilco “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”
Highlights from the Theme
The Macarena was THE dance craze of 1996, all over the world.
Beck had already had a big hit with “Loser” from the album Mellow Gold in 1994, but the album Odelay really showcased the breadth of his creativity for the first time. Every Beck album is different, but this one stills stands as one of his best and one of the best albums of the decade.
In 1996 the battle between Oasis and Blur for “greatest band in the world” was in full swing. Although in the end this was probably a draw, for one brief moment Oasis won the battle with “Wonderwall.”
One of the most beloved styles of rock developed in the ’90s was Post-Rock. There is no definitive description of the style, but one of the most important bands in the creation of Post-Rock was Tortoise. “Dear Grandma and Grandpa” is from their genre-defining album Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
Steve Earle’s first album after his brief prison sentence in 1994 was 1995’s Train a Comin’, but his 1996 album I Feel Alright presented an entirely new songwriting style that he has maintained until the present. It is hard to pick a favorite Earle album, but this one is on the list.
It is now hard to believe that there was once a debate about how Jay Farrar was the real talent in the band Uncle Tupelo and Jeff Tweedy was just a has been along for the ride. People turned to the first Son Volt record as the final piece of evidence that Farrar was the genius and turned to the first Wilco album, A.M., as evidence of Tweedy’s lack of talent. Then Wilco released Being There in 1996 and that was the end of the discussion. Since then, Wilco have put out seven more successful albums with an everchanging style and consistent quality throughout. And it all began in 1996.
Artist of the Week: The Mountain Goats
Let’s get straight to the point. I believe that The Mountain Goats are the greatest band of my generation. I believe that John Darnielle is my generation’s greatest lyricist. I believe he is the new Bob Dylan and the greatest songwriter of the last 25 years. That is an awful lot of hyperbole, but that is my opinion and I am sticking to it. All of this is to say that if I didn’t care about creating a diverse set of Faux Shows then there would be double shots of The Mountain Goats in every show, and there are enough Mountain Goats songs to do this for years without ever repeating a track.
The Mountain Goats have gone through several lineup changes throughout the years but the one constant is John Darnielle, the songwriter and singer for the band. Since this is a blog and not a book, I won’t go into as much detail about the band’s history or influence as I could, but there are at least a few basic facts to know if you aren’t already familiar with the band.
Early Period (1991-1996): The Mountain Goats started out as an outlet for John Darnielle to present his unique songwriting talent. The early records are a mix of solo recordings and small group recordings with limited instrumentation, Darnielle on guitar and sometimes a bass and second vocalist. These songs were mostly recorded on a boombox and are now considered landmark examples of the lo-fi movement in the ’90s. The 1996 album Nothing For Juice, containing the song “Alabama Nova” from this week’s show, is from this period.
Transitional Period (1997-2002): In the late ’90s The Mountain Goats began to use more electronic technology in their music. Although the majority of the songs are still lo-fi recordings very similar to their early work, the presence of electric guitar and keyboards can be found dropped in here and there. The songs themselves also began to evolve into a more diverse blend of arrangements, lengths, and topics. This period concludes with their masterpiece All Hail West Texas. Even though the style and production of this album is not much different than the first 5 full length records, this one grabs you immediately and doesn’t let go over 43 minutes of pure songwriting perfection. I guess you could say it “grabs you by the ears and you will know something.”
The Greatest Trilogy of Albums Recorded in the 21st Century, maybe ever (2002-2005): In 2002, Darnielle signed with 4AD records and went into the studio to record with “proper” equipment for the first time. He wasted no time in producing the first of three concept albums. Tallahassee is a work of art, a concept album about the failed relationship of two characters that he wrote about throughout the first 10 years of his career. This was followed two years later with We Shall All Be Healed, an autobiographical song cycle about a group of tweekers. To complete the trilogy, 2005 gave us The Sunset Tree. This ninth Mountain Goats album is Darnielle’s masterwork, the album he was born to make. It tells the story of his childhood, with a focus on his often violent relationship with his stepfather. Given the theme, the fact that Darnielle created such an uplifting, joyous record is the best example one could give to show his songwriting and lyrical genius.
The Peter Hughes (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums) Years (2006-present): Beginning with the album Get Lonely in 2006 (for Hughes) and Heretic Pride in 2008 (for Wurster), the trio of Darnielle, Hughes, and Wurster have created the majority of Mountain Goats albums and are still going strong. The only major change to this lineup was the addition of multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas in 2017. The eleven albums, and counting, produced during this period are all good, with highlights being Heretic Pride, Transcendental Youth, Beat the Champ, and Goths.
During this latest period, the band has signed with Merge Records (one of the last true indie labels) and toured continuously, Darnielle has raised a family and become an award winning writer, and there appears to be no end in sight. Being a fan of The Mountain Goats provides a never-ending supply of happiness. Thank you John Darnielle for a generation’s worth of entertainment.
As Seen on TV
Here are three songs from three of my favorite K-Tel albums. Act now, supplies are limited!
Nick Lowe “Cruel to be Kind”: This is the only Top 40 US hit for the artist who wrote “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding” while in the band Brinsley Schwarz.
K-Tel Album: Wings of Sound (1980)
Split Enz “I Got You”: This is one of several great songs from the early ’80s by this New Zealand band. Some of the members later hit it big in 1986 as Crowded House.
K-Tel Album: The Beat (1982)
The Babys “Isn’t It TIme”: This is the first of three Top 40 hits for the band featuring future solo artist and Bad English hitmaker John Waite and future Journey keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain, although Cain didn’t join The Babys until after this song was released.
K-Tel Album: The Rock Album (1980)
Los Del Rio “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)”: This was one of the biggest hits of the year and an international sensation.
Nick Lowe “Cruel To Be Kind”: Nick Lowe is a one hit wonder for this song.
Fiona Apple “Criminal”: Fiona Apple is a one hit wonder for this song.
The Babys “Isn’t It TIme”
Oasis “Wonderwall”: This is the only US Top 10 hit for the band.
Bill Withers “Lovely Day”
Coolio “Gangsta’s Paradise”: This is his only #1 hit.
Fugees “Fu-Gee-La”: This is their first Top 40 hit.
Tracy Chapman “Give Me One Reason”: This is her biggest Top 40 hit, and she only has two.
Sheryl Crow “If It Makes You Happy”
Alanis Morissette “You Oughta Know”: It is hard to believe that she doesn’t have any # 1 hits because she ruled the airwaves in ’95-’96. This is her first Top 40 hit.
2 for “Two”day
Fiona Apple: One song, “Criminal,” from her debut album Tidal and one song, “Shameika.” from her fantastic 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters.
Mountain Goats: “Mobile” is from their new album Dark in Here” and “Alabama Nova” is from Nothing for Juice. It seemed obvious to pick two Alabama songs. That is, songs about the state, not covers of the country band.
Bill Withers: “Lovely Day” and “Grandma’s Hands” are two of my favorite Bill Withers compositions. Any day you get to hear Bill Withers is a lovely day.
Fiona Apple “Shameika”: Fiona Apple’s 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters is about as honest and personal as an album can get. It is a gift that she gave us only her fifth album in 25 years, and it was one of the year’s best.
Olivia Rodrigo “Brutal”: My guess is that I will not come back to the debut album by former Disney star Rodrigo very often, but I am digging this song right now. It is a rip off of Elvis Costello’s “Pump it Up,” but while everyone is attacking her for the blatant theft, Costello put it all to rest like a true rock and roll legend.
Happy Birthday (July 4)
United States: A classic Sousa march seems appropriate.
Stephen Foster: It seems very appropriate that the “father of American music” was born on the fourth of July. Stephen Foster was a prolific songwriter in the mid-19th century. Separating his music and politics from the use of his compositions in minstrel shows is difficult, to say the least. Many of his compositions are still sung today, including three selected for this week’s show. I selected James Taylor’s version of “Oh Susannah” from his breakthrough album Sweet Baby James, John Prine’s version of “My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight,” a song influenced by the abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Mitch Miller’s version of “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.”
Bill Withers: I like the music of Bill Withers.
John Waite: Waite was lead singer of The Babys before going solo and then forming Bad English.
Mitch Miller: Sing Along with Mitch was one of the most popular shows on television in the early 1960s. Based on his already successful albums, the show presented viewers with scrolling lyrics along the bottom of the screen so they could sing along at home. Once the tv show became popular, his albums began to include tear out lyric sheets. In other words, Mitch Miller invented karaoke, but in an analog world! Members of his on-air chorus included Leslie Uggams and Bob McGrath, who went on to become “Bob from Sesame Street.”
Some of my favorite albums in the ’90s came from those artists who used Moog and other synthesizers. These are three of my favorites of the era.
Tortoise “Dear Grandma and Grandpa”: One of the original Post-Rock bands, Tortoise made some of the best experimental music of the ’90s. This track comes from the influential album Millions Now Living Will Never Die.
The High Llamas “Literature is Fluff”: This song is on an album which was compared to Pet Sounds when it was released. Comparing an album to Pet Sounds was a very hip thing to do in 1996. I don’t think anyone would put the High Llamas album Hawaii on their list of Top 10 albums of all time, but it is still pretty great. This record falls in between their earlier, more rock-based work and their later, more experimental work. As such, it achieves the perfect mix of what they were all about.
Stereolab “Cybele’s Reverie”: Stereolab were already indie rock and media darlings when they put out their album Emperor Tomato Ketchup in 1996. Even we hardcore fans were surprised when this album became a breakout record for the band. Stereolab’s mix of ’90s indie rock swagger with a ’70s Krautrock groove really came together on this one, and “Cybele’s Reverie” remains one of their most beloved songs.
Although their sounds are different, High Llamas and Stereolab influenced each other’s music throughout this period. They went on a very successful US tour together to support these two albums, and in 1997 Tim Gane of Stereolab and Sean O’Hagan of High Llamas released a short but wonderful side project called Turn On.
The Get Down
1996 was a breakout year for hip hop. Many popular artists of the time put out new records, but most notable were Tupac All Eyez On Me, Jay Z Reasonable Doubt, Nas It Was Written, Outkast ATLiens, The Roots Illadelph Halflife, Snoop Doggy Dogg The Doggfather, and these three.
The Fugees “Fu-Gee-La”: My memory of Spring/Summer 1996 is pretty much Fugees and nothing but Fugees. After a pretty forgettable debut, their second album The Score exploded in the Spring with the single “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and they seemed ready to become the greatest rap group of all time. People at the time made all sorts of comparisons to The Beatles and Stevie Wonder because it seemed they were going to be that important. As we now know, they broke up in 1997 and all went solo. The record is a classic and I still find myself singing “No Woman, No Cry” and their first hit “Fu-Gee-La” every once in a while for no reason, and that is the sign of good music.
Busta Rhymes “Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check”: Busta Rhymes started out as a member of a great but mostly ignored rap group named Leaders of the New School. Fans of the group were already familiar with Busta’s unique flow, but I don’t think anyone expected his debut album The Coming to produce one of the greatest rap songs of all time. “Woo Hah!!” was everywhere – dance clubs, radio stations, grocery stores, everywhere – and it still sounds as good now as it did then.
Coolio “Gangsta’s Paradise”: Released in late 1995, the album Gangsta’s Paradise was one of the most successful albums of 1996 and solidified Coolio’s place as one of the most popular rappers in the world. It is easy now to look back and make fun of Coolio and question his importance on the genre in comparison to his contemporaries, but in 1996 rap music had not yet become the most popular form of music in the world. Coolio’s ability to make a statement while keeping everyone out on the dancefloor should not be overlooked.
Special note about metal in 1996
I tend to leave metal artists off of the Faux Shows, but I am a fan of all sorts of metal music. The mid-’90s were an evolutionary period for metal throughout the world. Black Metal, a form of music originally ignored by those but the most diehard metal fans, had spread its dark arms out around all varieties of metal artists by the middle of the decade. Death Metal and Prog Metal were being advanced by creative artists. The original metal form, Doom Metal, had moved beyond Black Sabbath imitators. Thrash Metal, the form invented by Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and others during the ’80s was now the foundation for almost all forms of metal. Most importantly, this was all happening throughout the world. Popular metal artists were no longer mainly focused in the US, UK, and just a few European countries. I have selected some examples across the different types of metal for those fearless souls willing to enter the dark side. Be warned – these are pretty brutal if you aren’t a fan.
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||John Williams with the Boston Pops Orchestra||Stars and Stripes Forever|
|2||Los Del Rio||Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)|
|3||Beck||Where It’s At|
|4||Nick Lowe||Cruel to Be Kind|
|5||Split Enz||I Got You|
|6||The Babys||Isn’t It Time|
|11||Belle and Sebastian||Judy and the Dream of Horses|
|12||James Taylor||Oh, Susannah|
|13||John Prine||My Old Kentucky Home, Goodnight|
|14||Mitch Miller||Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair|
|15||Tortoise||Dear Grandma and Grandpa|
|16||High Llamas||Literature is Fluff|
|19||Mountain Goats||Alabama Nova|
|21||Cibo Matto||Sugar Water|
|23||Busta Rhymes||Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check|
|25||Bill Withers||Lovely Day|
|26||Bill Withers||Grandma’s Hands|
|27||Tracy Chapman||Give Me One Reason|
|28||Steve Earle with Lucinda Williams||You’re Still Standin’ There|
|29||Sheryl Crow||If It Makes You Happy|
|30||Wilco||Outtasite (Outta Mind)|
|31||Alanis Morisette||You Oughta Know|
7 thoughts on “Radio Faux Show Volume 1, Number 18 (July 4, 2021): Music from 1996”
“Macarena” is now lodged in my skull after simply seeing it listed here! Not a bad thing, but here’s to Beck, Split Enz, Bill Withers, and friends holding their own and ultimately dethroning ’96’s Lords of the Earworm, Los Del Rios. Even better, your beloved Mountain Goats might be on repeat upstairs before I know it.
Yet another ace show, Deejay Faux. Solid proof that mid-’90s music had some absolute gems…and some timeless dance steps, too. 😉
“They all want me, can’t have me”
Mountain Goats on repeat is a wonderful concept.
I was deeply rooted into the Grunge and Alternative scene during these years, and this post has definitely brought back some good memories. Just in the last couple of years I found an extreme appreciation for Matchbox 20. Their debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, released in 1996. Listening back I think they had a much larger influence on the music that followed than I certainly realized.
Brother Faux’s “Lunar Rotation” Pick – Matchbox 20 “Back 2 Good”