First up: Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads out there. You rock.
Back when I did the three 10,000 Maniacs albums I have here for this All The Everything series, I actually voted Miss on all three. That seems harsh, eh? I mean, they’re good albums. But two are on cassette, which isn’t my primary playback source, and the one CD is just one I couldn’t see myself going back to to play again very often. I said then that I’d be happier with a Hits set of the band and, as I was going to Taranna, I’d keep my eyes peeled.
Well, guess what… I found it (thanks, Sonic Boom!). It’s a 2CD set called Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure & Unknown Recordings Of 10,000 Maniacs. Covering tracks from the five years between 1988-1993 (the Natalie Merchant Era), this set really shows how good and prolific this group was during that time. CD1 is the hits. CD is the extra stuff: b-sides, covers, demos, etc.
Delicious. Let’s see what’s here! I’m going to listen to each disc and make comments…
Planned Obsolescence / My Mother The War / Tension / Scorpio Rising / Like The Weather / Don’t Talk / What’s The Matter Here? / Hey Jack Kerouac / Verdi Cries / Trouble Me / Poison In The Well / You Happy Puppet / Eat For Two / Stockton Gala Days / Candy Everybody Wants / These Are Days / Because Of The Night*
* MTV Unplugged (originally written by Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith)
In Sum: Well, this CD1 was exactly what I was after. I was gonna go through track by track, but you know what? All the songs you know are here, plus a few you maybe don’t know but are still damn happy you’ve heard them. Kudos to whomever put this disc together. It’s stellar from top to bottom. Also, I usually rant about inclusion of live tracks on Hits discs, but in this case I’ll let it pass as it’s a great version and not a song of theirs.
But CD2 is where things really get interesting. I mean, as if it’s not enough that somany great songs are up there on CD1, but now we get a lot of stuff I would never have otherwise heard…
Poppy Selling Man has a skittery beat and a Casio keyboard quality to it, Leonard Cohen would love it. Fascinatingly, I know she’s singing in English, but somehow it sounds like German in enough spots to make me sharpen my ears. Neat.
Can’t Ignore The Train (demo version) is a sweet pop song with jangly guitar and that beat that Molly Ringwald could dance to in Breakfast Club. I’m sure deep fans would know the differences between this demo and the one that ended up on Wishing Chair.
Up next it’s Cat Stevens’ Peace Train, appears here, which I think is fair and balanced. As you may recall, it was removed from In My Tribe because “comments made by Stevens (by then a Muslim convert and known as Yusuf Islam) that were perceived to be supportive of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. The song remains on vinyl copies and CDs released outside the United States.” It’s actually a well-written song with that sway done so well by the Maniacs.
Wildwood Flower switches us to a barnyard hoedown, written as it was by the Carter Family’s A.P. Carter. Yee-haw! Haha this was fun. Good on them for jamming this one out. I told my lovely wife this one was on here and she said “oh, I love that song!” So there you go.
I was thrilled to see Hello In There included. I do love me some John Prine, and their version of this heartwrenching song is quite excellent, though a bit disorienting… Prine’s original is a gorgeous, picked acoustic version, while the Maniacs turn it into a bit of a pop song which still works… but being so used to the original, it threw me a wee bit.
To Sir, With Love is a live outtake from MTV’s Rock n’ Roll Inaugural Ball, as well as the Few and Far Between EP. It features Micheal Stipe on vocals and they do a credible run-through of this film tune. Actually, those voices work well together, as they’ve proven at other times. You knew this already. Onward.
I had to read the credits to know that Everyday Is Like Sunday is a Morrissey song, but now that I know that, I totally hear it. I was just saying elsewhere about how I just can’t ever get to caring about Morrissey at all, but power to those who do. So… this is a good version? I guess? I’m not about to be hearing the original to compare, so I’ll say it’s fine.
Next up is Jackson Browne’s These Days, which is beautiful and awesome. This band was built to cover this song.
We already own a copy of their cover of Tom Waits’ I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You, on the Step Right UP: The Songs Of Tom Waits tribute disc. They do a great job.
We’re not done with the covers here, ‘cos next it’s David Bowie’s Starman. I wouldn’t have been able to imagine it, but the Maniacs handle the reggae beat well too! Yes, you read that correctly, they turned it into a light reggae tune. Which isn’t a total stretch, but interesting nonetheless!
Let The Mystery Be is an Iris Dement tune, and comes from the MTV Unplugged and features David Byrne. This track was not on the CD, but it was on the laserdisc and VHS releases. It’s actually quite brilliant, both the song and the execution here. Shoulda been on the CD!
Then we end off with three demos from Our Time In Eden: Noah’s Dove (demo), Circle Dream (alternate lyrics demo), and Eden (alternate lyrics demo) are all lovely versions of the final album tracks.
Holy shit, CD2 is really fantastic! I mean, you buy this set for CD1, to get the hits, but then you hear CD2 with all of its treasures… mind-blowing, really. Incredible.
Whole Set In Sum:
A definite Hit in the Hit It Or Quit It Series. If you want 10,000 Maniacs, this set will keep you happy for a good long while. It’s put together with thought and care, and the work here speaks for itself. Gorgeous.
NB: As Wiki pointed out, “In spite of what might be expected from the album’s title, the collection does not include “A Campfire Song” from In My Tribe.” Missed opportunity there!
Alright, here we go with the first post of my new, massive All The Everything series!
1985 – The Wishing Chair (CD)
Decent pop music, I can hear influence on a lot of Mint bands from about ten years ago. A lot of the music is either straight-up pop, or east coast-sounding celtic-y, or both. Of course, Natalie Merchant’s vocals are amazing, and there are a few stand-out songs, but it all starts to blend and sound the same after a while.
1988 – In My Tribe (CS)
More of the same perfect jangle pop, it’s sweet, infectious, listenable. Same as with The Wishing Chair, I can hear their influence on others throughout this one. Many strong messages in the lyrics, and good on ‘em. Singles Like The Weather and What’s The Matter Here are decent. Merchant puts some thought into the Beats with Hey Jack Kerouac, Michael Stipe joins on A Campfire Song, and there’s a cover of Cat Stevens’ Peace Train, which I’ve learned got removed from later releases as comments from Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) about the song made it seem to be in support of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie (for The Satanic Verses).
1992 – Our Time In Eden (CD)
The last album they recorded before Natalie Merchant left for her solo career, this one feels way more mature, somehow more soulful (richer and smoother), less bouncy. Having huge tunes like These Are Days, Few And Far Between, and Candy Everybody Wants helps a bit, and adding Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis, Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley to your musicians list is awesome. Of the three, I liked this one best.
Hit It Or Quit It:
About a year ago, I liked 2/3 of these a lot more. But I haven’t listened to them much since they followed me home, and I doubt I’ll play them much more now. Today, all three are Quit. There are many pretty songs, and I know they’re generally well-regarded, but of the three Our Time in Eden came closest to staying, and I still doubt I’ll return to it anytime soon. I’d probably be fine with a hits set (like Campfire Songs).