As far as I was concerned, the soundtrack to everyone’s lives in the Washington/Baltimore area between, say, 1992 and 1997, was a collection of tunes lovingly assembled by the venerable Disc Jockeys at 99.1 WHFS, Baltimore’s only alternative rock radio station.
On the way to school, we were tended by the careful ministrations of Zoltar, the Brother From Another Planet; on the way home we were gently serenaded by the beautiful (I assumed) Catherine. And if you happened to be near a radio on a Sunday evening, you would have the spectacular treat of listening to Dave Marsh’s “Now Hear This” in its entirety, where you could discover actual new bands making music you probably actually hadn’t heard before. A rarity in rock radio.
Towards the end of high school I began to think that HFS wasn’t really all that cool anymore, and though that eventually came to be true (to be specific, on a cold day in September, 1997, when the station’s new ownership deliberately and irrevocably played, for the first time, a short musical number by the band Puddle of Mudd), it was probably an ungrateful way for me to treat an institution that for years had given me new music by Sonic Youth and Pavement and Sebadoh in equal doses with the latest from, like, Harvey Danger and Eve 6.
Here are 20 more songs from the countdown:
140: Ride, “Vapour Trail”
What a good name for a thing Shoegaze is. It immediately conjures up the image for me of mopheaded English people in jean jackets staring down at their Doc Martens to help them think better about which effects pedal they should step on next. I came to Shoegaze through Slowdive and obviously My Bloody Valentine, but the godhead of British Shoegazers is a Trinity (with sincere apologies to Chapterhouse), and Ride are the Holy Ghost. “Vapour Trail” is off their first album, Nowhere (1990).
139: The Psychedelic Furs, “Get a Room”
The Furs are one of those bands who’ve made a bunch of songs that everyone loves but no one traces back to them. I discovered this fact, and uncovered a startling trove of lesser known wonders, through a fantastic two-disc anthology called Should God Forget, released in 1997. “Get a Room” (the highlight of their final album, but never a single for some reason) is The Psychedelic Furs at their urgent, jangly, heartbreaking best.
138: The Get Up Kids, “Out of Reach”
I first heard The Get Up Kids via their screamy, angry 1997 EP, Woodson, but by their second full-length, Something to Write Home About, it was clear that they’d figured out a way to make the upbeat pop punk everyone was listening to at the time without totally compromising their sound. This whole album is like a Ph.D. thesis about how you should definitely not even think about ever having a long distance relationship. “Start over: It’s no way to begin” has to be one of my favorite cheesy pop lyrics of all time.
137: The Lemonheads, “It’s a Shame About Ray”
Evan Dando was always supposed to be the next something or other (Pop Legend? Heroin Casualty?), but he always kind of refused to be even remotely interested in whatever the hell that was. I respect him for that, but you can’t argue with the critics that there’s just endless promise in his early work.
136: The Stone Roses, “I Wanna Be Adored”
My family moved from England to the United States in 1986, but I kept in touch with my roots with the help of friends who sent me cards and letters and, occasionally, mix tapes. Thanks to one such tape I was able to fathom that in 1990 the entire island was gripped in a Stone Roses hysteria that Yanks were mysteriously immune to. “I Wanna Be Adored” (which hit the charts in 1991) is the third single off the now legendary debut that they famously forgot to follow up for five years.
135: The Verve, “The Drugs Don’t Work”
I’ve always liked this one better than “Bittersweet Symphony”. There’s no shortage of great songs about addiction, but there aren’t very many that make me feel this way. Like a cat in a bag.
134: Archers of Loaf, “Web in Front”
Off their debut. At a time when many of their contemporaries were playing with, like, sequencers and off-beat instrumentation, Archers of Loaf were pretty diligent about rocking your face off.
133: David Bowie, “Strangers When We Meet”
I saw Bowie on this tour (1996), at the Capitol Ballroom in DC. Solution A.D. opened for him (yikes), and they were booed off the stage by the old fogies who were dying to see Ziggy Stardust or whatever. The fact that this album is a concept piece about a serial killer in a dystopian cyberpunk future probably didn’t help with the critical or fan reception, but I’ve always thought that was pretty much the coolest fucking thing. Most of Outside doesn’t make a ton of sense without context, but “Strangers When We Meet” works brilliantly as both a single and an album closer.
132: Magnetic Fields, “I Think I Need a New Heart”
The main point of 69 Love Songs is that there are 69 of them, so it feels a bit odd to single out just one, but “I Think I Need a New Heart” is strong enough to be a representative. This band won me over at a show with their love song to Washington, DC (also off this album), and a summer spent in Berkeley a couple of years later listening to 69 Love Songs on repeat helped to seal the deal for us.
131: Manic Street Preachers, “A Design for Life”
In all honesty I spent the first half of the Manics’ career resisting their charms. I was at the height of my Brit Pop fixation when Everything Must Go came out, but I could never get comfortable with James Dean Bradfield’s irregular intonation and vocal style, despite considerable efforts by my British friends to convince me this was a stupid opinion. I have since seen the error my ways.
130: Modest Mouse, “Bankrupt on Selling”
I like this Modest Mouse song so much I made my parents learn the lyrics so we could play it together.
129: The Promise Ring, “Best Looking Boys”
A song I will ever associate with Philadelphia because of the summer day we spent driving around that unsuspecting city with our windows open and the volume all the way up and Davey von Bohlen wailing “all the waaaaaaay home.” “Best Looking Boys” is from the Boys + Girls EP, which also has “Tell Everyone We’re Dead” on it, so it’s worth its goddamn weight.
128: Stereolab, “Cybele’s Reverie”
For a group of uncompromising experimentalists, Stereolab have a weird habit of sounding really, really good. The chorus of this song is like a fucking Serotonin injection.
127: The Cranberries, “Ode to My Family”
In the Tenth Grade, I went to more than one party that ended up with everyone sitting on the floor and listening wistfully to No Need to Argue. I don’t think we entirely understood how parties were supposed to work in the Tenth Grade.
126: The Cardigans, “Love Fool”
What is it about the Swedes and their perfect, perfect pop music?
125: Suede, “Trash”
At the time, I was probably all, “Yeah, we are trash. Everything is trash.” Because, like, I was 17 and I was going through a phase. In retrospect, this is just a scorcher of a song, our essential worthlessness as human beings notwithstanding.
124: Mineral, “Parking Lot”
Mineral are the Emo band to end all Emo bands. Nobody whines quite like Mineral. If there is whining in heaven, it will be done by Chris Simpson and it will be put out by Crank! Records.
123: Alanis Morissette, “Thank You”
I’ve never really been able to fully explain my love for this song and its weird awkward video where Alanis gets very unerotically naked except for her haircut. I guess I just like how she thanks everybody for stuff. You’re welcome, Alanis. I mean, thank you.
122: The Faint, “Worked Up So Sexual”
I used to think the appropriate way to conduct yourself at an indie rock show was with your arms firmly crossed and maybe a little gentle swaying. Probably don’t even tap your foot, because you might disturb the art. Then I saw The Faint and they played this song and I discovered what it’s like to lose your fucking mind in public.
121: Air, “Sexy Boy”
Mid January, 1998. Edinburgh, Scotland. A couple of friends and a bottle of wine and a pack or two of (filtered) Lucky Strikes as we listened to Moon Safari for the first, second, and third time. That was a pretty good day.