The Cool New Music Chronicles: Life in the Big City

LIFE IN THE BIG CITY (July, 1986)

 

This remains one of the best compilation tapes I ever made. It sounds like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, and for good (and obvious) reason. The summer of 1986 saw my graduation from high school and my job at Michelle’s Sno-Balls on Transcontinental Drive in Metairie, next door to a hardware store. I spent the summer hanging out with Katie, Charlyn, Liz, Merlin (yes, his real name was Merlin) and others. I was into computer bulletin board systems and met a lot of people through them, like Stephen, Christine, and Pat and an entire new crowd. My Dad’s Toyota Tercel drove all around New Orleans at all hours of the night. My records came from the (late departed) Metronome and another beloved hangout was Borsodi’s coffeehouse.

Not only was the summer great, but the fall was going to be great as well! A friend from junior high, Mark, was coming back to town to attend the University of New Orleans with me, and we’d be rooming together in the dorms. It was going to be great. We planned on finding some bar around UNO that would be our regular hangout, just like we’d seen in the movies! Plus of course I’d be out of my parents house and have a place where Katie and I could get together with some amount of privacy. Life was looking faaaan-tastic.

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)
  2. Shriekback – Nemesis
  3. Depeche Mode – Something To Do
  4. The Dead Milkmen – Bitchin Camaro
  5. Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy
  6. Alphaville – The Jet Set
  7. The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink (movie)
  8. Modern English – I Melt With You
  9. Depeche Mode – Black Celebration
  10. The Boomtown Rats – Drag Me Down
  11. Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
  1. Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer
  2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – So in Love
  3. Sly Fox – Let’s Go All The Way
  4. Violent Femmes – Kiss Off
  5. Shriekback – Hammerheads
  6. R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here
  7. Depeche Mode – Stripped
  8. Berlin – The Metro
  9. Sting – Shadows in the Rain
  10. Suzanne Vega (f. Joe Jackson) – Left Of Center
  11. New Order – Love Vigilantes

I always think of this playlist as being light and optimistic but man, there’s some dark stuff on here. I suppose that’s a testament to how upbeat I was feeling at the time. Still, there’s a lot of fun goofiness here and a fair amount of just plain joy. With this one I was starting to really think about the order of the songs, making sure either side could function as “side one” and be strong from start to finish.

  • Pet Shop Boys – Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money)

I bought Please at the Metronome and really liked it, but for some reason, it was the end of my Pet Shop Boys purchasing until years later when I bought a greatest hits CD. They have been putting out consistently good music for years, and I’m kind of sorry I didn’t follow them more closely.

  • Shriekback – Nemesis
  • Shriekback – Hammerheads

Here’s the beginning of a life-long love affair. I first heard “Nemesis” on WTUL, the radio station for Tulane that all the cool kids listened to (what other station regularly played all 22 minutes of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”?) but it wasn’t until Charlyn introduced me to Oil and Gold that I really got hooked. I fell for them and fell hard, soon owning every bit of Shriekback vinyl I could get my hands on. And to make things even better, they soon released Big Night Music, which was also a great record. They start out with two songs here and will soon get chopped down to a single entry with everyone else, but they’re going to be a mainstay of the tapes for some time to come.

  • Depeche Mode – Something To Do
  • Depeche Mode – Black Celebration
  • Depeche Mode – Stripped

Speaking of which, Depeche Mode is still reigning with three more tracks. The latter two here are from their Black Celebration album, which I adore. With a title like that you might expect it to be pretty dour — and you’re not completely wrong — but there really is an optimistic strain throughout. The theme is not that the world is awful, it’s that despite the awfulness of the world, there are victories for us in it. Now, isn’t that nice?

  • The Dead Milkmen – Bitchin Camaro
  • Boys Don’t Cry – I Wanna Be A Cowboy
  • Sly Fox – Let’s Go All The Way

Three completely disposable “joke” songs, but I loved them all, and the second two were even from mainstream radio at the time (when most people think of eighties music, especially those who didn’t actually grow up in the eighties, this is about the time period they’re thinking of.)

  • Alphaville – The Jet Set

I believe Julie or Gene (via Julie) introduced me to Alphaville, and their Forever Young album is still a favorite. The follow-up, Afternoons in Utopia didn’t grab me as much at the time, and I drifted away from them, but having re-listened to that album fairly recently, I find it to not be bad at all.

  • The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink (movie)
  • Suzanne Vega (f. Joe Jackson) – Left Of Center

Speaking of John Hughes movies, Pretty in Pink is a pretty dire one (and like most of his teen comedies, has a very questionable message), but it has a pretty good soundtrack. Psychedelic Furs purists hate this version of the song, but it was the first version I heard, so it sounds fine to me. And this Suzanne Vega song is fantastic. A reviewer in, I think, Rolling Stone said that this song distilled her entire first album into a single track, and I think that’s a spot-on observation.

  • Modern English – I Melt With You

One of the eightiesest songs ever, and still one of the best.

  • The Boomtown Rats – Drag Me Down
  • Violent Femmes – Kiss Off
  • Berlin – The Metro
  • Sting – Shadows in the Rain

My musical tastes still weren’t that broad and of course I was limited to only what I bought or borrowed, so it was necessary to really mine the hell out of albums. I was still loving Violent Femmes, though their The Blind Leading the Naked album was something I just couldn’t get into. Berlin is here because man, how could I have not put it on The Cool New Music Tape II, where it so obviously had belonged? And some of you may be happy to hear that this is the end of Sting. “Drag Me Down” is obviously another one of those “upbeat and optimistic” tunes.

  • Tears For Fears – Everybody Wants To Rule The World
  • New Order – Love Vigilantes

“Everybody Want to Rule the World”, more than any other song, can instantly transport me back to those days. I get a strange feeling all over me when I just hear the opening bits of it. And yet it and the New Order song were not originally on the tape at all. Two other tracks ended the sides, but I have no idea now what they were (except that I think one may have been “Alive and Kicking” by Simple Minds). “Love Vigilantes” is a fine song, but a really odd choice for New Order, considering what else I had to choose from on Low-Life. I suspect it made the cut merely for being able to fit in the time left on that side.

  • Peter Gabriel – Sledgehammer

Another classic eighties tune, from a great album. There’s enough upbeat in this one to counter a thousand “Drag Me Down”s.

  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – So in Love

I bought OMD’s Crush album solely because I liked the name of the band and the album cover (I may have read a review as well. At this point in my life I was still dumb enough to subscribe to Rolling Stone). Turns out, I ended up liking the album as well, but not enough to make me go back and get their earlier stuff, so it would be a while until I discovered the joy of “Tesla Girls”.

  • R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here

This bit of jangle-pop seems quite out of place among all the keyboards, but there’s a story behind it. I mentioned earlier how suddenly my clique at school became cool, though I opted out of it. When my senior prom was coming up, I didn’t fail to notice that a lot of plans were being made — by my good friends, supposedly — that seemed to specifically exclude me. I had assumed from the beginning that I’d show up, take a photo, stay briefly, and then go leave to do amazing things — the kinds of things one does on prom night, whatever they may be. When the big night came, I was wearing my tux, Katie was in her dress, and pictures were taken by her mom (none of which I have). As I started the car, Katie asked, “How long are we staying there?” and I said, “We’re not.” We had each brought a change of clothes and so we went and picked up Christine and Dave, changed clothes, and instead went to the record store, some place to eat, and Borsodi’s coffee-house. I picked up R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction at the record store (based again, I’m sure, on a review I read). So this song is a bit of a prom souvenir. At the time its lack of beep boop didn’t really grab me, so it would be a little later before I really appreciated what I had here.

And no, I never once have regretted skipping my senior prom.

This tape was originally just The Cool New Music Tape III. In fact, I didn’t give them individual titles until VI, at which point I went back and re-named from III on. When I renamed this one, I chose “Life in the Big City” because it expressed the sense of excitement and opportunity that I really felt at this point in time. The image on the cover is the sign for the Morning Call, an all-night coffee-and-beignets place that we visited regularly (for me, this was also because Dina worked there, and I was still pining a lot for her.)

Click on the player below to listen to this mix!


(xspf player courtesy Lacy Morrow and Fabricio Zuardi.)

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