Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Meet The Wildhearts, Possibly the Best Band You Don't Know (at least to my ears) -- Spotify Playlist included

I used to work in an office where the iTunes libraries of willing employees could be accessed by anyone on the network.

Given the breadth of my tastes--even simply within a mainstream rock vein--I usually found considerable musical congruency with my colleagues, but in any collection there were invariably numerous artists I'd never even heard of, let alone heard or knew well.

So while I often bemoan the seeming sparsity of new rock acts that excite me--which in itself may be a fallacy born simply from obliviousness--the truth seems to be that, for years on end, I could quite exuberantly discover and enjoy quality rock artists and albums that have long existed without my awareness and affinity.

In no way do I presume that "less famous" artists I cherish beyond The Beatles, Stones, Who, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam and other somewhat ubiquitous--at least at one point--rock acts are better, or even more worthy of my attention, than those you cherish.

But my life has been greatly enriched by personal favorites beyond the famous to the point that in 2006 I created a 6-CD  Hidden in the Isles box set compilation of UK bands much bigger at home than they ever became in the U.S.

Some of my favorite acts--across the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and '00s--that I included were The Move, The Jam, The Undertones, The Waterboys, Blur, Ash, Stereophonics, Maxïmo Park and The Fratellis.

And with the caveat that levels of popularity or familiarity to others is always imprecise--thus I assume many music fans know some of these names, even if they never sold a ton of records--The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Bob Mould, Social Distortion, Jason & the Scorchers, Alejandro Escovedo, The Smoking Popes and Willie Nile are just a few of the great-if-not-huge American rock artists I've enjoyed, collected and seen numerous times over the years. (I also specifically appreciate being turned onto Australia's Hoodoo Gurus.)

Which brings me to the acute topic of this blog post: The Wildhearts.

There is still no musical artist I've discovered in the 21st century that I've liked more.

This doesn't mean they arose after 2000; they didn't.

The Wildhearts--see AllMusic.com and Wikipedia--formed in 1989 and released their debut album, Earth vs. The Wildhearts in 1993.

Many of their songs that I now love precede the turn of the century.

And whether from acts that debuted post-Y2K--Arcade Fire, Maximo Park, The Fratellis, The Killers, The White Stripes (their first album came out in 1999, but 2001's White Blood Cells really broke them) and even Coldplay--or that I loved long before this millennium--Springsteen, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Wilco, Radiohead--there has been "current" music put out that I've liked as much or more than The Wildhearts' 21st century output.

Having cited some of my favorite "under the radar" artists a few paragraphs up, I also wouldn't say The Wildhearts outrank any or all as "my favorite band you may not know"--with #1 being The Jam.

But I can tell you the very day I first came to know and love The Wildhearts:
March 26, 2004, when I ventured to Milwaukee's Eagles Ballroom to see the then-hot The Darkness and was so blown away by the unknown opening act that mid-set I made my way to the merch table to buy The Wildhearts' latest CD, Riff After Riff.
And with apologies to the similarly beloved Willie Nile--who I first came across in 2008 or so--there isn't any artist I've come to know since whose best work I like any more than that of The Wildhearts.

Now to some of you, this might sound vaguely familiar or even be old news.

As this blog attests, I am rather passionate about sharing my passions and though I haven't previously written a post specifically about The Wildhearts--they've only been sporadically active in recent years--I have included them in various lists (such as my most-read-ever The 100 Best Alternative Rock Bands of the Past 25 Years post from 2012). 

And after first coming to know of the Wildhearts, I bought whatever CDs were available in America (and more on trips to London), gathered much more of their output through peer-to-peer sites--I would've said Napster but 2004 seems late for that--and put together a compilation CD called Meet the Wildhearts that I shared with the few friends I thought might care.

If a "musical album" can merely be considered anything that fills up to 80 minutes on a compact disc, Meet the Wildhearts would still be my favorite album of the 21st century. That's how much I like their sound that I'd best describe as Cheap Trick meets Metallica, though without any such exactitude.

I included a Wildhearts song on my Hidden in the Isles box set--"29x the Pain," in which singer/songwriter/guitarist Ginger Wildheart cites a litany of his musical loves and influences, including The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Jason & the Scorchers and many more--and have at least once sang the band's praises on Facebook.

But my fervor only recently became inflamed anew--as it does every few years--and I have a number of music-loving friends who perhaps have never heard me effuse about the Wildhearts.

So babble on, revisited.

While the best of the Wildhearts--beautifully melodic, often humorous, but with a thunderous edge--has never stopped thrilling me, some of their output can be too heavy and not melodic enough for my tastes. The bulk of new material since I became aware of the band's existence in 2004 hasn't delighted me like that which preceded it.

And while Ginger (born David Walls but known predominantly by his stage moniker) has remained rather prolific in releasing solo material, Wildhearts music and work with various projects such as Hey! Hello!, I've never been aware of The Wildhearts playing in Chicago. (After seeing them at the Eagles Ballroom with the Darkness, I made a point of catching them at Milwaukee Summerfest, but have never seen them nor noticed a reasonable opportunity since.)

Though they seem to have a devoted fan base, I don't believe The Wildhearts were ever all that popular in England, and their activity seems rather intermittent. (Ginger has long and openly battled depression, and I think had substance abuse issues in the past; three other band members have seemed fairly constant, but he's been the mainstay in some different lineups.)

Anyway, last year, via the power of YouTube, I noticed that The Wildhearts has played a brief run of shows in England, and they still sounded good. (Check out the clip below and simply search "Wildhearts 2016" to find more.)



And although when I looked in December, their Spotify representation was far from complete--prompting me to order 3 more CDs, including one from Japan--it now seems almost all their albums are on there.

So, except for a couple prime B-sides and outtakes--"Friend for Five Minutes," "The Bullshit Goes On"--I can now compile for you my original Meet the Wildhearts collection, plus almost a full album's worth of more great stuff.

Enjoy.

I know I will.
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Meet the Wildhearts - a Spotify playlist compiled by Seth Arkin
Listen below or click here to find it on Spotify. (Or just search for "Meet the Wildhearts" on Spotify)

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