In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: songs from 1993.
James—a British band, not just a guy—formed at about the same time as The Smiths, and with a lot of the same sensibilities: James frontman Tim Booth and Morrissey were friends and tourmates, and each liked to toy lyrically with gender issues. But where The Smiths also sounded immediately palatable to pop ears, it took James nearly a decade to shed the weirdness of its excellent early singles and albums and make peace with pop music. First came a couple of big U.K. singles—“Sit Down” and “How Was It For You” among them—that didn’t do much outside of Europe. Then the band hooked up with Brian Eno, a master at bridging the gap between ambition and art, who produced 1993’s Laid. The title track hit big in America and the U.K., finding a welcome home at college radio here. The song’s somewhat risqué lyrics probably had something to do with it. There was even a radio edit that changed the line “She only comes when she’s on top” to “She only sings when she’s on top,” which is also reflected in a dumb edit of the video. But lyrics about loud sex and a video featuring the singer in a dress and handcuffs isn’t quite enough to make something as great as “Laid”—it’s a hooky, huge, bright song that clocks in perfectly at just about two and a half minutes: in and out, as it were. There’s no real chorus to speak of, and the name of the song may or may not be sung at the end—there’s some debate over whether Booth is saying “laid” or just sort of vocalizing. Still, it’s catchy as hell, and sounds like sunshine even 20 years later.