Writing and thinking about 120 Minutes the past week has provided much grist for the mill of my mind. One of the many conclusions I’ve come to is that I find myself humbled by the musical path it put me on. Going through the old playlists, knowing that I saw just about every single episode from its inception in 1986 up through the time it became boring in the early ’90s, I’m struck by how many album purchases the show inspired. The things that stand out most are the bands that I felt were “my” discoveries.
It’s unfathomable to me now that Live Skull was actually on MTV. At the time, I was just getting into bands like Sonic Youth and discovering experimental guitar music. A friend of mine was seriously into Jimi Hendrix and I thought he’d certainly dig Live Skull. I was wrong. But I knew I was onto something wonderful. Live Skull was one of the first bands that helped me understand the concept of the independent record label. I began to seek out other bands on Homestead Records, which led me to many more interesting discoveries.
“Away” was my first contact with The Feelies. I was hooked by it’s cool, clean, propulsive beat and had to have it. But when I went to buy the record it was on, Only Life, I was out of luck. None of the mall stores in Dallas, Texas carried it. Fortunately, I had discovered a little store called RPM Records that sold used records. They didn’t have Only Life, but they had a used copy of their first album, Crazy Rhythms, for $4.99, so I bought it. And man, it was a fantastic record. In 1988, it was already old, but I felt like I had discovered something completely new.
Was this ever an inauspicious introduction to one of the few bands from back then that not only do I still listen to, but one of the few bands from back then that is still making music. Though it was written for what I think 120 Minutes referred to as a “rock ballet,” I found the groove irresistible and the vocal stylings of Mark E. Smith to be unlike anything I’d ever heard. I bought the record immediately and started picking up others. To this day, there is still no band quite like The Fall.
Most of the time, the video part of a music video overwhelms the music part of a music video. Felt’s video for “Primitive Painters” is a case study in the opposite. It’s such a lovely and majestic song one might be tempted to think they would have made an effort to do something besides stand around in a cruddy apartment building, wearing ill-fitting hats and strumming electric guitars not plugged in to anything. It wasn’t exactly high-concept video-making, but what a song. It’s good enough on its own, but Elizabeth Fraser’s backing vocals put it over the top, making it one of my personal favorite self-loathing anthems of the era.