Saturday Single No. 233

When it comes to music, it feels like I’m always a decade or two behind.

The Seventies saw me trying to keep up with current stuff while at the same time trying to absorb the stuff I’d missed in the Sixties. The Eighties saw me catching up with stuff I’d missed in the Seventies and – for a few years, anyway – pointedly ignoring current tunes, fads and fashion. For much of the Nineties, I was in another musical world, digging as deeply as I could into Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and their musical forebears in the Delta.

So I missed a lot. I think.

That’s why I was intrigued yesterday during a trip to the main branch of our regional public library. Wandering through the area where the CDs are stored, I was checking out the box sets on the shelves below the cabinets. Some – like the Patsy Cline set – I’d already borrowed. Some – like the complete works of Big Star – left me unexcited.

And then I found Whatever: The 90s Pop & Culture Box. A 2005 Rhino compilation, the seven-CD box set offers one-hundred and thirty tracks ranging from M.C. Hammer’s 1990 hit “U Can’t Touch This” to Moby’s 1999 concoction “Natural Blues.” There’s a book, of course, with notes on the tracks and essays on the decade and its zeitgeist. In the limited editions, I understand, there was a bag of coffee beans. That’s gone, and I wonder if someone in the library had themselves some coffee when the set came in six years ago.

Coffee beans aside, I’m looking forward to digging into the tunes and the book. There will be some familiar stuff, I’m certain. After all, some tunes and trends overwhelm all facets of the culture to the point where even the most clueless is aware of them. Example: Los Del Rio’s “Macarena,” a version of which was No. 1 for fourteen weeks in 1996. Be assured: Even though I heard the single, I never learned the dance,

There are some gaps in the box set. One of the reviews I read this morning noted the glaring absence of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Given the iconic nature of that record, I can only assume there was a licensing issue or similar problem. And I expect there are likely a few other aspects of the decade given short shrift, either for legal or editorial reasons.

As I look at the book and the CDs lying on my table, I do wonder whether it’s too soon to accurately gauge the decade and its popular culture. It may be. But I imagine that Whatever (and that’s a perfect title for the set) is a good place to start. And, even though I’ll continue to focus here mostly on the music of the Sixties and Seventies, I imagine that some of the tunes might find their ways into this space at one time or another.

Part of my interest in the Whatever set also stems from my stop Thursday afternoon at the first garage sale of the season. There wasn’t much there. Well, there were a lot of CDs, but they’d been put in paper sleeves. The woman there said that the CD cases and the inserts and booklets “just took up too much space.” Okay. Anyway, I found one CD in its case with all the pieces intact: Chumbawamba’s Tubthumper. It was priced at twenty-five cents.

So the combination of hearing the infectious “Tubthumping” once more – I did hear it back in 1997 – and finding the box set at the library has gotten me interested in catching up at least a little with the stuff I missed while I was catching up on earlier stuff. And as long as I was noting that here, I thought I’d jump ahead to the midpoint of the box set and see what tracks lay there.

I found “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms. The group’s first Top 40 hit, it went to No. 25 in October 1993. And it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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