(We Get There When We Do.)
The context: Several years before Ben Folds' ode to teen abortion convinced the general public that it was okay to be a guitarless pop band, an outfit from Lancaster, PA, was using the same tools—voice, piano, bass, and drums—to make the cool kids swoon. Suddenly, Tammy!'s 1992 self-titled debut made enough waves that Warner Bros. followed a fashionable major-label trend at the time by signing a hard-to-market indie band, assuming the burgeoning alternative nation would know what to make of it. The band and producer Warne Livesey (Midnight Oil, The The) did an excellent job of creating a big-sounding sophomore record with the trio's unconventional setup, but (We Get There When We Do.) never caught on. Suddenly, Tammy! recorded a follow-up, Comet, but Warner Bros. dropped the band before the album ever saw the light of day.
The greatness: The lack of a guitarist was a useful hook for uninitiated critics assigned to cover Suddenly, Tammy!'s major-label debut, but the biggest and best hooks can be found inside the album's 13 songs. From the rocked-up opener "Hard Lesson" to the haunting ballad "Snowman" to the this-must-have-sounded-like-the-hit-while-they-were-recording "Not That Dumb," (We Get There When We Do.) is one memorable piece of piano-pop after another. Imagine if Elton John had released "Your Song," "Levon," and "Rocket Man" on the same studio album; that's how entrancing these 48 minutes are, even a decade after they were recorded. Adding to the album's timeless intrigue are creepy, cryptic lyrics by singer-pianist Beth Sorrentino, all delivered with a childlike voice that makes dangling lines like "You cannot get her involved this time" and "It seems to me you're unfaithful to them by being part of the plan" even spookier.
Defining song: "Long Way Down" wins simply for being one of the best buried songs of the '90s. Coming in at number 10 of 13, the three-and-a-half-minute track is preceded by the gentle "River, Run." At first, it appears that "Long Way Down" is going to continue the mellow mood, but out of nowhere comes a magical mid-tempo chorus, led by Sorrentino's finest piano moment. It includes another line that's hard to shake: "And it's obvious you've fallen hard for me." Evidence from later in the song provides more questions than answers: "You're taking me in / then you chicken out / But you still have to pay for the ceiling."