Song 189: Golden Smog, “Until You Came Along” (1998)

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Man, did I love alt-country. I still love some of the bands I came to know back then, like Wilco, the Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, and the Old ’97s. But as the wave of alt-country bands came and went, so did my interest. On to the next one, I guess.

What a great time to be a music fan, though. Not only were the above acts doing great work, but so were their side projects, including Golden Smog. Golden Smog started as a half-assed cover band that played at the now-defunct Uptown bar in Minneapolis and grew into a decent act with members from Wilco, Soul Asylum, the Replacements, the Jayhawks, Son Volt, and Big Star. Not a bad pedigree.

I haven’t heard all the band’s output, but I know that their second full-length, Weird Tales, is excellent. You’d never guess that it was a record that a bunch of musicians (which, in this record’s case, included Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris and Mark Perlman, and Big Star’s Jody Stephens) threw it together between projects. It has a unified sound, the songs are great, and the band is cohesive.

“Until You Came Along” was the obvious candidate for a single from Weird Tales, and that’s because it’s a catchy slice of jangly pop. Even though the only Big Star alumnus on the song was the band’s drummer, you can hear the Big Star influence, with those shimmery guitars and sunny harmonies.

The melody is obviously the main attraction here, but I also love the lyrics. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t notice the wonderful irony of Louris singing “sometimes you’re up, sometimes your down” while the notes he’s singing are the opposite: down, then up. Lizzie pointed this out to me years after I first heard it. If we had a band, she’d be the lyricist. And the business person. And the manager. I’d play guitar, I guess?

It looks like Golden Smog hasn’t been up to much lately (their last two records were in 2005 and 2006), but I think that’s fine. The band seems like a kind of creative safety net for its members, a place to hang out and perform when they need an outlet. It’s an important thing to have.

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