Radio Free ’90s

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jun 4, 2012

My husband and I lived abroad for just over half of the 1990s, so while folks in the US of A were listening to Seal and 4 Non Blondes, we were immersed in German hip-hop (Die Fantastischen Vier rapping about wearing heavy sweaters and fretting over hot women who refuse to date on Friday nights) and humid Italian potboilers like Gianna Nannini's "Scandalo." (The less said about M√ľnchener Freiheit's "Ich Will Dich Nochmal," the better. Okay, I take that back. A little bit has to be said for the full horror of the song to be appreciated. Best to let the lyrics speak for themselves, albeit in translation:

"I want you again, I want you completely!
It's not enough just to dream about it;
Come here--I want you again!"

Oh dear, oh dear. Now that "smells like teen spirit.")

A few nuggets did make their way into our awareness. REM had broken out by then, but really got big in 1991 with "Losing My Religion" and, really, the whole CD "Out of Time." They followed that up with their 1992 album "Automatic for the People," which featured breakout hits "Everybody Hurts" and "Man on the Moon." (For my money, 1994's "Monster" was the band's best album. God, how I love songs like "I Don't Sleep I Dream," "King of Comedy," and "Tongue." I know, I'm odd that way.)

U2 bounced back from creative exhaustion with a career-redefining album, "Achtung Baby," including a version of "Until the End of the World" that, though it differed from the version used in the Wim Wenders film of the same title, worked a treat; Kate Bush returned with the worn and weary sound of "The Red Shoes," a CD that had some clunkers but also some glorious moments like "Big Stripey Lie" and "Top of the City," not to mention "You're the One," her moody (and Moody Bluesy) breakup song, and "Why Should I Love You," her collaboration with Prince... Who, in his turn, produced a marvel of an album titled after the double-gender Symbol that the Artist Formerly Known As adopted as his name for a few years. The CD itself was a grand thing, probably Price's best since 1987s "Sign 'O' the Times," offering gems like "The Continental," "The Morning Papers," "Damn U," and the super-sexy "Blue Light."

By the time we got back here, in mid-1996, it felt a little like the good music of the decade had already run its course, with some notable exceptions like Neil Finn's "Try Whistling This." I had never been into Nirvana, but Kurt Cobain's death left a pall over the whole music scene. My husband and I retreated into classical and, to an extent, kept our ears attuned to what was going on elsewhere in the world, grooving on Brazil's Edson Cordeiro and sampling World Music, rather than pop music. In short, it seemed to us that the nimbus of musical glory left over from the '80s had pretty much faded by then.

When the Boston Gay Men's Chorus performed its '80s concert a few years ago, it was pure joy: What bliss to be thrashing out "Love Shack" while a coterie of our hottest dancers took to the floor! What fun to trawl through a veritable catalogue of the decade's hits in the form of Chad Weirick's ingeniously wrought medleys!

This Pride... this weekend, in fact... the BGMC will follow with its '90s concert, titled "Are You Ready for This?" At first, I wasn't sure I was ready for it: What I knew of 1990s music was, as I say, sort of a holdover from the 1980s. I didn't feel I had a grip on this "grunge" stuff or anything truly of a piece with the decade. I had, after all, forsaken the radio right around the time my husband and I returned to American shores. But as the weeks of rehearsal went by, and the material began to sink in, snippets of songs I had never really known and tunes I'd never heard before started to catch fire in my brain.

Madonna's "Beautiful Stranger?" Tell me more! "Strike It Up" by Black Box? Where had this ripping dance tune been all my life? "Gangsta's Paradise?" What could possibly say "gay men's chorus" more succinctly? (Okay, that last was a joke. Sort of.)

But wait! No '90s concert could be complete without a song, or three songs, or a whole medley, drawn from "Rent." Chad has done wonders putting just such a medley together: It's like seeing the show in, like, six minutes.

Boy bands get their due in another Chad medley (so this is what Earthlings mean by "Back Street Boys!") and our sign language interpreter, Lewana Clark, has her work cut out for her in the specially prepared "Lewana Challenge." (Paging the fast-talking Barenaked Ladies!)

The BGMC is all about Divas (why, last Pride that was even the theme of our show), and there are plenty of them present in our '90s show, with music made famous not just by Madonna, but also by the likes of Mariah Carey, Des'ree, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, and even the Spice Girls (not to mention Salt'n'Pepa).

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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