Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Certain Songs #1177: The Miss Alans – “Ride on Me” | Medialoper

Album: Ledger
Year: 1996

The breakup of the Miss Alans was like a bomb dropped in their midst, scattering the band to the four corners of the country: Scott to West Virginia, Jay to New York, Ron to the Central Coast and Manny to Los Angeles. Anywhere but a Fresno where they weren’t a band anymore.

I doubt that any of this was conscious: they saw opportunities and took them. It’s just that those opportunities were, you know, somewhere else. Which was how Manny found himself working at World Domination Recordings, the label founded by Dave Allen, former bass player for the legendary Gang of Four.

And so the story goes that Manny was listening to the tapes from their last sessions in the office and Dave Allen liked them so much he offered to put them out on his label, despite the fact that the Miss Alans had been broken up for over a year, and of course wouldn’t be touring the record to try to goose sales.

As far as I’m concerned, releasing Ledger is the coolest thing Dave Allen has ever done, outside of the bassline on “Damaged Goods,” which to be honest is one of the coolest things anybody has ever done.

At 33 minutes, Ledger is the shortest album the Miss Alans ever released — it’s only five minutes longer than Bus — but it’s also probably the record with the most consistent feel: full of short sharp songs that are usually either incredibly lovely or incredibly dissonant, often at the same time. A lot of acoustic guitar openings, consistent grooves, big hooks and shitloads of firebombing guitar licks that stick in your head.

Looking back at it now, because I had some tapes of these songs for well over a year before it came out, I’ve always kinda underrated Ledger, because unlike all of their other records, I didn’t have any real personal connections to the songs — the only one I remember from the final shows I saw them play was “Candy Apple.”

Also: the band clearly has a fondness for Ledger — at both the 2010 and 2017 reunion shows they played more songs from Ledger than any other Miss Alans record except for Smack The Horse — and while part of that was that they never got to play many of those songs all that much (and Blusher fatigue, even now, I’m guessing) they were definitely happy with how it came out, even if they wonder if some of the songs were too short.

I don’t think so: take a song like “Ride on Me,” which initially glides in on a bed of Scott’s acoustic guitar and his worry about a friend who was in a bad situation.

So now you’ve come
Squint into the sun

The only thing I don’t know is what you’re doing here
Cause you’ve already took it all
And it’s coming out your ears

And with that, Ron comes in with a snare-heavy martial beat and Manny’s guitar, which had been glowing in the background, starts billowing forth along with what sounds like an organ layered in the background, but “Ride on Me” doesn’t quite take off until Scott hits the chorus, an offer of help to his friend in need:

Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee

And for the rest of the song, it’s a Manny Diez slide guitar extravaganza while Scott repeats “ride on me” over and over and over. At first, Manny’s’s playing lovely, haunting, pleading notes, echoing Scott, leading the song into a breakdown, acoustic guitars now tumbling over the steadily-marching drums, Jay’s rumbling bass and feedback, as Scott picks right back up:

Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee

Then, it’s Manny’s turn: playing the same lovely, haunting notes he played over the first chorus, but with no vocals. In the studio, Manny jokingly suggested to producer Tracy Chisholm that they pan his guitar between speakers, a la “Whole Lotta Love,” and Tracy loved the idea. That’s why the slide guitar sounds like it’s everywhere at once, especially on the final chorus.

Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee
Riiiiiiiiide on meeeeeeeee

And now Manny’s making the sounds of bombs bursting in air, giving Scott cover as he puts his friend on his back and carries him off the beach towards safety.

In another timeline, the one created when Zoo Entertainment decided to to keep the Miss Alans and even push them, I could totally see where “Ride on Me” was their third big radio hit, after “Sparkler Queen” and “Big Sun.” Of course, in this timeline, it would have been their third album for Zoo, after Truck and Blusher, and they would have been well-established on underground radio, so when Ledger came out in 1995 — as it would have in this timeline — they would have been fully set-up for their breakthrough, “Sparkler Queen.”

“Ride on Me”

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