When: January 1991
Where: My father’s 1988 Corolla, with the radio tuned to KROQ-FM
Who: My mother
Living in the future often puts you at a disadvantage. People living in, say, 1978, have no idea that the terrible clothes and music they have to live with will soon be completely swept away. On the other side, people living in good times never seem to think that bad things are coming. Most people who thought about it would put 1991 in the latter position, but when I first heard this song that January, nobody knew what would happen next.
In January 1991, The Soviet Union was our nominal enemy, The Cosby Show was on the air and Whitesnake was on tour. After all the changes of 1989-90, one could reasonably step back and realize that things had changed very little.
While The Stone Roses had swept through Europe, there was no indication that Britpop would ever reach America (it did, but not for years). Even this ubiquitous single, lost right in the middle ground between The Byrds and Best Coast, only peaked at #13 in the United States. Only when it was covered by Sixpence None The Richer (about which more later) did it appear seemingly on every TV show and advertisement for the next ten years.
Sixpence’s version is a simplified and feminized version of this otherwise dynamic song. One-album-wonder The La’s had infused it with a complex harmony and ambiguous subject matter; the band members had teased the idea that it was about heroin, already becoming the defining drug of the Nineties. So while Sixpence’s softer version may have been a hit in the boardroom, the original stands alone.
Next: What do you do when a song gets stuck in your head for 18 years, and you don’t know the name of the song, the artist, or the lyrics?