Category Archives: 120 Minutes

120 Minutes – Pre-grunge

The title of the documentary summed it all up neatly– 1991: The Year Punk Broke.  1991 was the year that both Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten hit the shelves and the rest is, as they say, history.  But what about the pre-history?  It’s not like either of those bands just sprang forth from a completely heretofore unknown musical sensibility.  The path was, in fact, well-trod.

Neither of those $ales $hattering records can hold a candle to Soul Asylum’s 1988 proto-grunge masterpiece, Hang Time. “Sometime to Return” may not have captured the zeitgeist in the same way “Smells Like Teen Spirit” would a few years later, but it’s an infinitely better song.  The rolling, rhyming wordplay of the melancholy yet uplifting lyrics beats anything Kurt Cobain put on paper.  And the tune is just spectacular.  Unfortunately, it was all downhill for Soul Asylum from here.  But Hang Time is still great from beginning to end.

Mary My Hope was one of the many bands that never really went anywhere.  Maybe because “Wildman Childman” was such a stupid name for a single.  It rocked, though, and it wasn’t even the best song from their debut album, Museum.

Das Damen was another band that I never understood why they weren’t bigger.  I saw them on the tour for this album, Mousetrap, and they were excellent.  There were maybe 15 people there, but they were fantastic and completely unphased by the lack of a crowd.  It was a great show.

Dinosaur Jr.’s third album, Bug, changed my life.  I swear the tape didn’t leave my car cassette deck for at least six months.  I also swear I saw this video on 120 Minutes, albeit with the naughty words bleeped out.  I can’t remember whether I discovered them because of this video for this or their cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” or from the Homestead Records various artists compilation, The Wailing Ultimate, that I picked up in a Hastings cutout bin.  Either way, Dinosaur Jr. was the soundtrack to my just-out-of-high school life and I still love every song on Bug.

Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love record from 1989 was a strange thing.  It was almost metal, but the dudes who were into metal at the time didn’t dig it.  I bought it and wasn’t sure what to make of it at first.  I eventually came to love it, but I can’t listen to it now.  It certainly hasn’t aged as well as Bug.  But it’s way better than anything they’ve done since.

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The Girls Of 120 Minutes

Let’s be honest for a moment, shall we?  One of the reasons we boys who got into weird music and the bad haircuts associated with said music was we hoped to attract the fairer sex.  We weren’t like the jocks or the freaks or Steff from Pretty in Pink.   No, we were sensitive sorts, unafraid of hairspray, mascara, and shopping for the perfect vintage jacket.  And though generations to come will undoubtedly thank us for opening exploratory holes in the ozone layer as a result of sculpting our hair to Daniel Ash-like perfection, we can tell them that we did it in the name of love.  Or at least in the name of horniness.

Being honest for a moment further, one of the reasons we watched 120 Minutes was in hopes of catching a glimpse of one of the few lovely lasses who tickled our eardrums with their musical mysticism and dreamy hairdos.  All week long, MTV was saturated with the likes of Madonna, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar,and Bonnie Tyler.  But for two hours every week, there was a chance we got to see the girls we found attractive.  Tina Turner may have had awesome legs for someone old enough to be your mom.  But she was no Siouxsie Sioux.

Siouxsie was no less than a goddess.  A siren.  From the hardcore punks and goths to the posiest poseurs, male and female alike all adored Siouxsie.  The look was so original and striking.  The voice was not of this earth.  And the Banshees actually made great music for nearly a decade before becoming merely OK.  I saw them several times, including once in the ’90s when they had long past their sell-by date and they were always good.

It took me a while to warm up to the Cocteau Twins.  At first, I struggled with the ethereal quality of the production.  I could tell there were interesting things going on with the guitar, which intrigued me.  But it sounded like someone poured honey on the master tapes, which annoyed me.  I eventually fell in love with Elizabeth Fraser’s voice, which everyone I knew at the time had done to varying degrees.  It’s a voice you can live in and I think she’s only gotten better over the years.

Now, genuine eggheads will stroke their beards in disdain over the fact that the above video for Lush’s “De-Luxe” is not the original 4AD version.  To which I say, congratulations.  You have earned your Genuine 4AD Egghead badge.  But this is the version I remember from 120 Minutes.  I remember it because I wore out the VHS tape I recorded it on.  I was completely and totally smitten with Miki.  And I was in love with the entire De-Luxe album.  There wasn’t a bad song on it.  I went to see them live fully expecting to be disappointed, but they were incredible.  They sounded great and they rocked.

She’s demeure.  She’s tough.  She’s cute!  Ahh, Tracy Tracy from The Primitives.  It is with no small amount of shame that I admit to buying this record when it came out.  It was fun, catchy, crunchy pop that sounded good on my babyshit brown 1980 Ford Fairmont’s cruddy speakers on a hot summer day.  The music was disposable, but Tracy was adorable.

From the first time I heard The Sugarcubes, I knew there was something special about their strange, alluring female lead vocalist.  Did anyone like the male singer?  Anyway, hers was a voice to be reckoned with, a genuine instrument played by a fearless artist.  But I don’t think anyone could have guessed that Björk would become Björk.

So, ladies, I salute you.  Thank you for the music and late Sunday night eye candy.

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The Best Of 120 Minutes – Deep Cuts Pt. 1

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.

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The Best of 120 Minutes – Goth Lite

The best thing about 120 Minutes was the anticipation.  You never knew what they were going to play next.  Three out of four times, it was a dud.  But that one time out of four, you could count on either seeing a video you liked or getting turned on to something new.  Now, don’t tell anyone, but I was a kind of closet goth.  I didn’t fully embrace the aesthetic, but I liked a lot of the music.  And even though they didn’t play a lot of Real Deal goth music, they did play quite a bit of what I like to call “Goth Lite.”  Like The Bolshoi.

I bought the Bolshoi’s first album Friends because of this song and it’s actually quite a good little pop record.  It leans toward the black light of Goth, with dark subject matter, pretentious lyricism, and frilly shirts.  But when I bought the album, I liked every song on it.  And though it has it’s flaws, for what it is, it’s held up remarkably well.  I wish I could say the same for The Mission U.K.

I bought the Mission U.K.’s album, God’s Own Medicine, on the strength of the first single, “Wasteland.”  And what a waste it was.  I think I listened to the whole thing twice. But “Wasteland” made it on to more than a few mix tapes.

Now we’re talking.  The first time I saw the video for “Preacher Man” by Fields of the Nephilim, it as though I stumbled into completely new terrain.  None of my friends had Dawnrazor when it came out, so I experienced that rush of discovery followed by the rush of sharing it with my comrades which has evaporated in today’s music listening environment.  The cool thing about Fields of the Nephilim was that they actually got better, evolving into a sort of psychedelic-goth phantasmagoria which came to full bloom on their 1991 album, Elizium.  In fact, Dawnrazor was probably their weakest record

The Damned were already damned near a classic rock band by the time they released Anything in 1986.  My first exposure to The Damned was on a cassette someone made for me with The Black Album on one side and Bad Music For Bad People by The Cramps on the other.  But the first time I saw The Damned was on a little British show MTV had the wisdom to air just before 120 Minutes called The Young Ones.  The Young Ones changed my life.  I had watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Dr. Who on the local PBS affiliate when I was younger, but I could actually relate to The Young Ones.  And the musical guests were great.  I also have to credit The Damned’s Anything for turning me on to the band Love with their near-perfect cover of “Alone Again Or.”

Ahh…Does it get any more Goth Lite than Dave Vanian in a handlebar mustache and Zorro mask?  They even let the final guitar chord resolve itself in the way you wish the original did.  They don’t make ’em like that anymore.  To think that was actually on MCA Records makes my head spin.

Don’t touch that dial.  Stay tuned for more Best Of 120 Minutes.  Coming up– Deep Cuts and Pre-Grunge.

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120 Minutes With Robyn Hitchcock

I’ve been having a personal struggle with music lately.  For my entire life, it was my passion.  But lately I feel blasé about music to the point that I fear it’s actually driving me a little insane.  Whether I chalk it up to getting older or the fact that music just doesn’t seem so special anymore or the fact that I’m just burned out on it, the answers are maddeningly unsatisfying.

Ruminating on 120 Minutes over the past week got me thinking back to a time when I thought music was special.  120 Minutes was special because it made you, the viewer, feel special.  MTV was grudgingly, so it seemed, giving over two whole hours of valuable air time to what was to become “alternative” music.  It was brilliant in that it captured the eyes and ears of the people who normally tuned out MTV.  This was before the indie label explosion, so the fact that they played mostly major label college rock is pretty forgivable.  What mattered most was that it wasn’t Top 40.  It was the first level underground.  If you were on an elevator, 120 Minutes would be on B1.

What made it seem special was the feeling of watching MTV at a time when you knew everyone who normally watched MTV had tuned out.  To them, this was when MTV played that weird shit.  For those of us who were into the weird shit, it was the two hours a week your parents left the house.

If it wasn’t for 120 Minutes, I might not have discovered Robyn Hitchcock until much later.  For this alone, I owe them a debt of serious gratitude.  My favorite episodes of 120 Minutes were the ones where Robyn was the Guest VJ.  In the clip above, from 1992, it’s not one of his actual Guest VJ spots, but he makes Dave Kendall look like a twat, which is not very difficult.

I never liked Dave Kendall.  I guess at the time, MTV thought British accents were exotic or edgy.  Anyway, Robyn’s ramblings never failed to hold me in rapt attention.  He was beguiling– nonsensical, whimsical, amusing and, most importantly, seemed to be having one over on MTV itself.  Robyn Hitchcock as guest VJ was an event.  It was brave TV and it makes me long for a day when TV was brave.  I can’t imagine a single station giving Robyn two hours to talk and sing nowadays.  And the world is worse off for it.

I wanted to post the video for “Raymond Chandler Evening” because they actually used to play the video quite often.  But alas, it is not on the youtubes.  So this will have to suffice:

The fact that Robyn is still making music and touring is one thing that gives me hope these days when my outlook on music has turned so bleak.  The above updating of “Chinese Bones” from his 1988 album Globe of Frogs manages to both take me back and give me hope the future’s not so grim.

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The Worst Of 120 Minutes

There were a few musical references in  Ready Player One that got me nostalgia tripping on the Good Old Days when MTV actually played music videos.  But even back then, MTV was 95% crap.  If you were lucky and could stomach endless hours of Bryan Adams, Lionel Richie, Def Leppard, and the omnipresent Michael Jackson, you just might be rewarded with a video by Devo, The Cure, or Oingo Boingo.  But that meant enduring tons of insufferable garbage to find a scrap.  In fact, you were more likely to see the video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” twice before catching a glimpse of Robert Smith’s magical mane.

Then in 1986, something curious happened.  For two hours once a week, MTV didn’t play total dreck.  You had to stay up late on Sunday nights to catch it, and for those of us who did, it became something of a religion.  The righteous followers were rewarded with  merciful heavenly glowing pixels emanating from the teevee screen like  beacon in a vast landscape of soul-crushing Top 40 banality.  The hymnal featured the gospel of The Damned, The Stranglers, Robyn Hitchcock, The Jazz Butcher, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cocteau Twins, and so many more.  It was enough to make even the most jaded Echo and the Bunnymen fan believe that MTV was not so bad after all.  It was called 120 Minutes.  Two blessed hours a week wasn’t much, but we took it gladly.

But it wasn’t all alternative awesomeness.  There were some genuine turds floating in the pool.  Like Stump.

I was never sure what to make of Stump, but it got played enough times that it became a joke to me and a couple of my high school friends who would greet each other with a hearty “How much is tha fish?!”  I seem to remember an episode where Stump agreed to an interview only if they could be recorded in “Stumpophonics” which was basically the band talking into plastic cups attached to string like the children’s “telephone” game.  I remember it being amusing and nearly unintelligible.

“I Wanna Be A Flintstone” by the Screaming Blue Messiahs was one of the videos that actually made me feel embarrassed to be watching 120 Minutes.  But it couldn’t hold a candle to Gary Young.

It was amazing to me that this somehow managed to sneak past the bigwigs at MTV and be aired multiple times.  It was also the butt of many jokes between me and my friends and was even lampooned on Beavis and Butthead years later.  At the time, I thought it was probably the stupidest video on 120 Minutes.  Never in my wildest teenage imagination could I have predicted the idiot responsible for this musical atrocity would go on to be the drummer in Pavement and make one of the best records of the early ’90s, Slanted and Enchanted.

Even the bad stuff on 120 Minutes was better than what was on MTV the rest of the time.  So those of us who dared to be different grinned and made fun of Plant Man and swinging big bottoms and wanting to be Flintstones.  Believe it or not, 120 Minutes has been rebooted nearly a decade after it was rechristened “Subterranean.” There’s a good archive of all the videos played from most of the shows back in the day here.  Click on any of the ’80s links for a trip in the wayback machine.

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