I’ve gone record shopping with Steve Senski, and it’s like watching Albert Pujols hit or Ray Allen sink three-pointers. Actually, those comparisons, while accurate, don’t suit him very well. It’s like watching David Cronenberg arrange a mound of fleshy gore just so for a shot. That’s better. It’s like watching a master at work is my point. There was a time when he was devoted to owning every release listed in the fourth edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide, and he came shockingly close to the goal. He knows music, and knows it well. These days he presides over a a Twitter account so good that it’s like the technology was invented just for him.
The opening bars of Gary Numan’s “Cars” changed my life. Before that, my teen years were spent listening to classical music and the ever-omnipresent Disco, and when the two meshed in well-orchestrated studio production complete with strings, I was in high school homo heaven. But it was the pre-programmed soullessness of that tremulous low A, shifting into a trashcan drum and irritatingly catchy six note riff, that took my musical enthusiasms and slathered one more interest on top like aluminum frosting: Science Fiction. I saw Numan (“New Man”) on SNL before the song hit the radio, and I was enthralled. Synth became a part of my life (if you lisp, part of my name), and dance music percolating with pre-programmed precision – and if the vocals are impassioned, the dichotomy all the better – never fails to put me in an ebullient mood.
By the time I became Music Director at 90FM in 1988, pre-programmed music’s heyday had passed. Choked by a flood of imitators, mostly on the Sire label, only the most hale and hearty had survived (OMD, Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order). They were almost exclusively from the UK, where alternative dance music has always found a home on the pop charts. In fact, my great regret was that I never launched a UK music show on the station. Or a Broadway musical show. Or a half-hour slot where I read great short stories of Dark Fantasy. Or…well, I was full of ideas. Or full of something.
When the tastes of Old Albion shifted again, and when Manchester became the center of the UK musical universe, that’s when College and Modern Rock radio re-learned how to move and groove. Acts like Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Charlatans and a multitude of others tripped along in a druggy vibe that recalled flowers in the hair – with the addition of Ecstasy on the tongue and a pacifier between the lips. This was the dawning of the Rave subculture, and it was time to let the sunshine in. And for every Primal Scream that succeeded, there were bands like Flowered Up, The Real People, Top and Candyland that managed a solitary LP before being trampled by pre-dawn crowds stampeding out of warehouses with a case of the munchies.
A close listen to “Fountain o’ Youth” by Candyland and you’ll hear all the elements that other acts incorporated, although not necessarily all at once, thanks to multi-multi-layered studio work. (There’s the sped-up archaic percussion of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer really buried in the mix – listen for the hollow echo – and the piano rhythm presaged House music by a couple of years.) The band was a multi-racial amalgamation, and their sound reflected it. They managed only one LP (Suck It and See – oh my, we were naughty, so naughty were we) before collapsing. It didn’t take much longer for BritPop to appear, as the UK music scene was always mutating, always drawing upon the era that had just passed. But this is a single that pins me to the early 90s like a magnificent butterfly on cardboard. Whenever I was in the DJ chair and played music of this ilk, I just wanted to spread my wings to the sky and accept the crazy cascade of flower petals, glitter and sunshine.
FIRST DISCLAIMER – I am not on drugs.
SECOND DISCLAIMER – Suck It and See has long disappeared into the nether-realm of used CD stores, which have disappeared into a nether-realm of their own. Should the artists, copyright holders, or the guy at the hardware store who helps me find the right size light bulbs for my apartment express any reservations or consternation that this song is being made available on the web – heck, if they even so much as look at me funny – I trust that it will be removed for public consumption with the speed and alacrity as if the cops showed up to the warehouse, we were all carrying, and the solitary toilet was in the back and hidden behind a pile of crates. I am lying prone on the ground, subserviently, as I type this. And now I am rolling over and exposing my tender, vulnerable belly. Take my entrails. Take them. They’re yours.