Monday, December 2, 2013

Song #432 of 9999 - Birthday by The Sugarcubes

Song #432 of 9999

Title: Birthday
Artist: The Sugarcubes
Year: 1988
Album: Life's Too Good

One of the best jobs I ever had was working in a record store. We also had stereo equipment and TVs and videocassettes—it was a superstore!—but I worked in the Record Department and my title was Record Specialist. To me, this meant I should stand around and read Billboard Magazine from cover to cover and/or rearrange the records and CDs in a way that made sense TO ME and occasionally help someone who looked lost or confused. Much to my boss's chagrin, I did not consider myself a salesman and refused his requests to walk up to someone looking at a Madonna record and say, "you know, if you like Madonna, you're going to LOVE this...." Poor Ken—he had a Record Department that was as immovable as they were knowledgeable.

One of the perks of the job is that I heard everything at a time when my ears were really wide open. Making a list of 1988's best music put me right back in that time and space arguing with Chris, Bill, Ted and Craig about what we were going to open next for in-store play. (The only thing we all liked was Nothing's Shocking by Jane's Addiction, which was probably the one album we absolutely couldn't play in public!) At some point, a compilation came in that featured the lead single by The Sugarcubes and I was absolutely blown away.

I don't think I can accurately describe the feeling of hearing "Birthday" for the first time. It was other-worldly, almost confusing in its originality. The record starts like Angelo Badalamenti's Theme from Twin Peaks played at the wrong speed on a record-player that sorely needs a new belt. (I know Twin Peaks came later—save your letters to the editor.) With the drony-yet-rhythmic detuned (flanged?) guitars and bizarre muted trumpet lip bends set against a syncopated shuffle, I was entranced well before Björk even opened her mouth. 

But when the voice came, it was truly unlike anything I had ever heard. Half-spoken, half-sung wisps and whispers give way to growls and yodels, the vocal ranging from child-like friskiness to sobs of distress. (What she's talking about it anyone's guess—who cares really?) Despite having heard so many amazing performances from Björk in the time since, this song still elicits a sense of pure joy and wonder from me. Definitely my top pick of 1988 and one of my all-time favorites.

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