10,000 Maniacs: The Wishing Chair (1985)

Used to play this one a lot back in the college radio days, just another excellent mid-80s album full of jangly guitar pop that sounded great alongside R.E.M., the Reivers, etc. Yet I didn't spend much time with the band in the years that followed. I dunno; maybe their growing mainstream success scared me off (though listening to their subsequent albums lately reminds me that, while increasingly commercial, they were still perfectly enjoyable).

But Wishing Chair, their major label debut (some earlier indie recordings were later compiled as Hope Chest) was a banger. Natalie Merchant's distinctive vocal stylings are obviously the main attraction, a fitting complement to Michael Stipe and the (mostly) guy-oriented bands (at least the Reivers had both male and female vocalists). But the guitar sound is as great as anything found on peer releases from R.E.M., Love Tractor and the rest, and there's some stellar songwriting to be found.

Opener "Can't Ignore The Train" is a memorable little mid-tempo pop tune, still sounding great today; "Scorpio Rising" is even better, an energetic, rousing rocker, probably my favorite of anything the band ever did. Most of what follows remains firmly in mellower "Train" territory, but a few tunes stand out for me, like the particularly catchy "Grey Victory," the tribal dance of "Daktari" (kinda foreshadowing Vampire Weekend), and particularly the fizzy "My Mother The War," which has an edgier post-punk sound than most of the record.

I can't say I'm familiar with Merchant's solo work, or the albums the rest of the band released after her departure, but the band's records with Merchant warrant more attention than I've given them, and this one in particular brings me back to a time when it fell totally in my sweet spot.

Here's the video for "Scorpio Rising":
Here's a live "Can't Ignore The Train":
...and a rousing "My Mother The Train" from the same show:

Comments

  1. Marc,
    I wanted to write you to let you know how much your writing has meant to me over the years. I first discovered your original website in 2001 when I was an unhappy college freshman who coped by diving deep into music and movies. Like you, I had been a big music fan since I was really young. I thought I knew a lot because I had spent years heavily digesting all of the classic rock greats. Little did I realize how little I actually knew.

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  2. You turned me onto so much music. One of the first things I read on your website was a list you made many years ago of the greatest songs of the ‘90s and I believe that “Cut Your Hair” was number one. I remember thinking, “How can the number one song of the ‘90s be by a band that I’ve never even heard of?” Well, shortly thereafter I bought both Slanted and Enchanted and the debut album by The Ramones on a particularly important day. Needless to say, things were never the same. When I bought Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain a short time later, I agreed that “Cut Your Hair” may indeed be the greatest song of the ‘90s.

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  3. From then on your recommendations never let me down. From Doolittle to I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One to Let It Be to Summerteeth- you introduced me to so many favorites. You confirmed my love of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. You deepened my love of The Kinks, The Clash and R.E.M. by reviewing their whole discography and encouraging me to check out albums by them I didn’t know. And most importantly- you exposed me to so many great bands. In addition to all of the artists I mentioned above, my love of The Pretty Things, The Modern Lovers, Television, The Feelies, etc. is due in large part to you.

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  4. I was very excited to find this blog where you recommend an album a day. I can’t wait until it’s safe to visit my local record store and look for a bunch of the albums you recommended that I don’t own. I also bought your book recently and can’t wait to read it. Seriously, thank you for helping to define my taste in music. You had a large impact on my life and I sincerely appreciate it.

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    Replies
    1. Evan, I can't thank you enough for saying all this! I usually just assume I'm pissing into the wind and writing all this stuff for my own personal amusement. Really appreciate hearing that you share my passion for music and that I've been able to help steer you towards some albums I enjoy. Feel free to drop me a line with any recommendations or reactions any time; always enjoy hearing from others about what they like (or don't like)! mfagel [AT] comcast.net

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    2. I will definitely drop you a line sometime soon with some of my personal favorite albums (many of which you turned me on to). Thanks Marc!

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