I watched a lot of TV in the late 80s and early 90s, but perhaps none more religiously than the MTV late night video series: 120 Minutes. Created by Dave Kendall, 120 Minutes was a 2 hour show that was designed to showcase alternative music at a time when many of the artists featured were struggling to find an audience. Whereas mainline MTV was showing mostly top 40 pop hit music videos (yes there exists a time in history when MTV actually showed music videos the majority of the day), 120 Minutes was playing deep cuts from the likes of They Might Be Giants, Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey, Camper Van Beethoven, 10,000 Maniacs, Dinosaur Jr, Julian Cope, Husker Du and a whole lot more. I picked up my love for a lot of my (at the time soon to be ) favorite bands from this show, and as such it only seemed fair to make a playlist for some of my more obscure favorite artists that the show introduced me to. So here it is, my 1st playlist in honor of 120 Minutes and the music that it so lovingly introduced me to. Thanks Dave!
You can’t start this list without the official intro, so here we go!
1) The Sugarcubes: Hit – 120 Minutes gave me my first crash course in Bjork via her band the Sugarcubes. I even remember one episode featuring an hour long concert by the band. This track stood out at the time, and led to the purchase of their albums and eventually many of her solo albums.
2) Whale: Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe – I’m not sure what I expected when the VJ said, “coming up next: Hobo Humpin Slobo Babe,” but I wasn’t expecting the Swedish powerhouse that is Whale. The band was short lived, only cutting 2 albums, but both are amazing! They were frenetic, inventive and fun. I wish they were still around…
3) Midnight Oil: Beds Are Burning – If you watched 120 Minutes during it’s heyday, than you most definitely saw this video, and for good reason, it’s an amazing track! Midnight Oil had quite a few good singles appear on 120 Minutes, and even a documentary during one episode. They were a staple of the experience and fantastic band.
4) The Dead Milkmen: Punk Rock Girl – This song is the kind that gets stuck in your head all day, which would be super annoying if this band didn’t have any other quality songs. Fortunately, the Dead Milkmen had put together an amazing album in Beezlebubba with a whole host of catchy tunes and killer lyrics. The Dead Milkmen are about as punk rock as punk rock could be, but only so long as punk rock ironically wanted to poke fun at itself.
5) Love and Rockets: So Alive – A classic cut from another band that enjoyed heavy rotation on 120 Minutes. This track in particular had a very striking video, almost like something Robert Palmer would have done, but somehow darker, sexier. This is a fantastic introduction to Love and Rockets, as this song is like an iceburg – what you hear on the surface doesn’t allow you to hear all of the skilled tracks that they have underneath. Definitely give this band a listen.
6) The Pixies: Here Comes Your Man – This is such an alien video, with the odd mouth opening for the singing, although no lip syncing is happening. It’s oddly happy and yet somehow depressing. Regardless, the song is terrific, the band is phenomenal, and in the scheme of things that is all that truly matters.
7) The The: This is the Day – Funnily enough, I originally heard this song through 120 Minutes, but I will always remember it best from the ending of the motion picture, Empire Records. In fact, every time I hear this song, I wished I owned my own retail shop so that I could dance on the rooftop with them while this song is playing. Perhaps one day. In the meantime, know this: The The is a versatile and engaging band that has gone through many sounds, with all of them being fantastic.
8) Belly: Feed the Tree – That bass line at the beginning of this track is out of control. Just the perfect way to start a song. What makes this song even more awesome, is that as driving as the bass line is, the core song is much more relaxed and nuanced. Belly was always good at striking that kind of balance.
9) Dramarama: Work For Food – I always thought this song had a clever knack for a play on words. It’s fast, funny, but never obnoxiously so. I hadn’t listened to much Dramarama, even after I bought this single, but one day I caught their album for a cheap price and gave the disc a spin. To my delight, they were a quality act! I have purchased multiple albums of their’s over the year with no regrets. They make music worth listening to.
10) The Posies: Dream All Day – The power pop on this track is overwhelming. Just an outstanding cut. Also, this video is a reminder that there was a time and a place when filming a band outdoors with a smoke machine was literally all you needed to make a music video.
11) The Charlatans UK: Weirdo – “Most of the time you are happy, you’re a weirdo,” were lyrics that resonated with me in my adolescence. I was not an unhappy youth by any means, but I had a bit of a melancholy malaise that surrounded me for awhile and this song hit all of my emotional buttons. It makes the list because it was in heavy rotation back in my “mix tape” days. Also, the band has had a resurgence since the late 90s and have been better than ever.
12) The Afghan Whigs: Turn on the Water – This song came out of nowhere for me, and it introduced me to the genius of Greg Dulli, and for that I am thankful. Whether it is the Afghan Whigs, the Twilight Singers or his solo work you are always in for good listen. This track predates “Debonair” and “Gentlemen” which would solidify their status in the modern rock community. I like all of their work, but like a few of the other tracks on this playlist, this is the first song I heard by these guys, and as such it’s the one that sticks out.
13) Matthew Sweet: Girlfriend – I am great big anime nerd. From the old Robotech and Captain Harlock days, through Cowboy Bebop and One Piece, up to more modern fare like Free and Sword Art Online. I can’t get enough of that sweet Japanese Animation. When Matthew Sweet dropped this track on top of a video that spliced footage from the Anime Space Adventure Cobra (an epic anime that everyone should experience at least once), I was sold. The good news, is that he is a quality pop/rock singer songwriter, and has multiple albums well worth your time. He also performs duets with Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles, and they are dope as well.
14) They Might Be Giants: Birdhouse in Your Soul – TMBG is an institution in my library. This video had its world premiere on 120 minutes and I was so psyched for it that my excitement could hardly be contained. I emulated the dances to the annoyance of my friends, and the album that this song came from, Flood, is amongst my top 10 albums ever recorded. If you have never heard They Might Be Giants, or have not heard their album Flood, drop everything that you are doing and listen to it now!
15) Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: Kill Your Television – My favorite double bass playing band from the 90s. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, though oddly named, are a fantastic rock band. They have come and gone and then come back, and each time they are a delight to the ears. I got to see them live back in the day, and what a show! Plus any band with the ingenuity to use 2 bass players at the same time with differing bass tracks, is good in my book. These guys reformed a few years back and they are still kicking ass. Check these lads out!
16) The Breeders: Cannonball – Being a big fan of the pixies, I was curious to see what Kim Deal’s new (again at the time) project was all about. In many ways it was very different from the Pixies, but in the best way possible. Both Deal and Frank Black enjoyed relative creative freedom and achieved new ground post Pixies, and thankfully they still could garner an audience and sell albums. This track was the perfect springboard for the Breeders, as it is always good to launch with a hit single.
17) The Stone Roses: Love Spreads – I know, I know, the Second Coming is not a lot of people’s favorite album by the Stone Roses, but it is my favorite album by them, so deal with it. I was not there for their first album, and as this was my reference point for them, I never figured out what all the fuss was about their debut album. Regardless, Love Spreads is an infectious groove like rock song that keeps building and building into something great, and once the chorus hook hits it is magnificent. I love this song, can you tell?
18) School of Fish: 3 Strange Days – This song sold me their self titled album and the follow up Human Cannonball. It has a great guitar hook and solid vocals. This band was short lived (only recording the 2 albums), but this song creeps in to quite a few of my rock playlists, and I would be remiss if I failed to add it to this one.
19) James: Laid – What can you say about this song, that isn’t somehow true about most sexual relationships? You never know just how crazy sex can make someone, or how much it can imprint someone on you… to the detriment of one’s self sometimes. James is a quality band, and they have consistently put out amazing work over the years. Laid marks the first song I ever heard by them, but certainly not the last.
20) Cracker: Low – A fitting song/band to end the list with. This song, much like it’s video was a fighter. It remained on various Billboard charts for a year and it proved that Cracker was not going to succumb to the sophomore slump. These guys put on a tremendous live performance, if you have a chance to see them don’t squander it – you will be supremely entertained at their show.
As a fun aside, here’s a brief clip from 120 Minutes where Dave Kendall interviews Iggy Pop and they talk about how David Bowie helped steer and in may ways saved Iggy’s career at a time when he was boozing and hooked on drugs. It’s a cool little clip, and a fitting way to continue to show respect for what David Bowie contributed to the entertainment industry, not only through movies and music, but in how he played a role in the artists that he was friends with. David Bowie was one of a kind.