Off the Record
Forget the top 100 albums. Here are the top 10 other things that mattered.
For 20 years, Spin has saved your life. Are you interested in modern-rock bands like Nirvana and Kula Shaker? Read Spin. Did you once suspect that AIDS is not caused by HIV? Spin understands you. Are you being attacked by snow leopards and/or leprechauns on a daily basis? A Spin editor will personally come to your home and exterminate them. This is what we do.
As part of our ongoing messianic duties, this month’s issue examines the 100 best records of the past two decades. I know what you’re thinking: “But there must be more to life than mere albums, right?” Right! And maybe someone needs to rank those things, right? Perhaps! So here they are: The Ten Best Proper Nouns of the Spin Era That Are Not Albums (or EPs), as Selected by People Who Are Currently in My Office.
10. “Paradise City,” Guns N’ Roses (rock video, 1988) Dressed like a glam-metal Tom Wolfe and chucking his sunglasses at no one in particular, Axl Rose came dangerously close to making GNR the new incarnation of the Rolling Stones. Which was what everyone was hoping would happen, and (obviously) didn’t happen, or even come close to happening. But this video could not be any better than it is, particularly when Steven Adler points at New York City from a boat, unconsciously implying that this place is, in fact, where the girls are pretty.
9. Slacker, Richard Linklater (indie film, 1991) If you watch this movie today, it feels cliche; so many people have copied Linklater’s aesthetic that the novelty is gone. But there was a time when Slacker seemed profoundly weird, and when the idea of telling stories without narrative was mildly revolutionary, and when the people living inside this movie were alien hipsters who looked like all the people in your life whom you’d never actually met. The first time I watched Slacker was the summer of 1992. My friend and I kept waiting for the characters to eventually collide with each other. They never did, so we immediately watched it again. They didn’t collide the second time, either. But they kind of do now.
8. “Cut Your Hair” video, Pavement, as critiqued on Beavis and Butt-head (mixed media, 1994) Beavis frenetically implores the band to try harder, and they do not respond. Retrospectively incisive!
7. “Setting Sun,” the Chemical Brothers with Noel Gallagher (single, 1996) After this song came out, everybody was supposed to start listening to electronica because it was going to be the new rock’n’roll. I spent a lot of intellectual energy preparing for this, and I was pretty stoked about the potential drugs. As it turns out, electronica was the musical equivalent of New Coke. But “Setting Sun” was rather mind-accelerating (both then and now). Also, I miss coming home from the bar during telecasts of MTV’s Amp.
6. Mike Tyson (force of nature, 1986-1990) Before he became a self-destructive, sociopathic cannibal (or more accurately, before he became a public self-destructive, sociopathic cannibal), seeing Mike Tyson punch people in the rib cage was like witnessing the 1945 atomic-bomb tests in rural New Mexico. In the early ’90s I once watched a highlight reel of Tyson knockouts with a roomful of intoxicated medical students who punctuated every blow with phrases like “Ooh! That’s gonna generate some pancreatic inflammation!” and “Oof! I can’t believe that dude’s sternum didn’t just collapse.” Those were good times.
5. Mitch Hedberg (comedian, 1968-2005) The funniest comedian of the past 20 years, dead at age 37 (for no goddamn reason). And Jimmy Fallon will probably live to be 110.
4. “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Mariah Carey (feel-good hit of the Advent, 1994) Definitely the best Christmas song since “Christmas Wrapping” (the Waitresses), possibly the best Christmas song since “Jesus Christ” (Big Star), and arguably the best Christmas song since “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (various artists).
3. The first episode of Freaks and Geeks (doomed TV show, 1999) This pilot’s closing scene (set at the high school homecoming dance, featuring “Come Sail Away” by Styx) is better than 90 percent of what’s been on network television since 1986.
2. The S1Ws (paramilitary hip-hop accoutrement, 1987-1990) It’s hard to imagine a better job than being an operative in Public Enemy’s “Security of the First World,” an occupation that primarily involved marching around like a Black Panther while a man wearing a kitchen clock bemoaned the response time of EMTs. However, this vocation required more versatility than I realized at the time; in the recently released PE documentary, It Takes a Nation: London Invasion 1987, Professor Griff mentions that the S1Ws were also available to provide crowd control at random social functions (although I assume that did not include bar mitzvahs).
1. The “J Mascis Is God” cover of Spin (magazine, 1993) How crazy was that?