10,000 Maniacs ‘The Wishing Chair’

Posted 05 Oct 2012 in 80s, Albums of 1985, Albums of the 80s, Rock + Roll

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#789 in the Series) is the 10,000 Maniacs, The Wishing Chair.

I actually remember when I first purchased this album. I was looking for something different. Local radio played a few tunes off this and I loved the sound.  I distinctly remember making the trip to trusty ole’ Hegewisch Records to see if they had it. It was good news/bad news when I got to the store. It was a little more popular than I expected. The vinyl was sold out so I had to buy it on cassette. Okay, I didn’t have to but I did. Say what you want about those old cassettes, but there was actually something good about them. We may have looked at it as a drag at the time, but it was a positive to me. Unlike CDs or downloaded MP3s of this time period, you had to listen to a full side. You couldn’t skip from song to song. Well you could, but it was a pain in the ass so you usually didn’t. When I went recently listen to this one I remembered every song on the album. I bet I wouldn’t have said that if had spent most of the  time listening to it on CD.

This 1985 release was the band’s major label debut (Elektra).  By listening to their sound back then I thought for sure that they were from Scotland or some part of the UK or maybe even Ireland. I never in 10,000 years would have guessed that they were from upstate New York. At least not by listening to the sound of Natalie Merchant’s singing voice. Later I also  heard a few times that guitarist Robert Buck was Peter Buck of R.E.M.’s brother. Of course he was not but I think that rumor was fueled by the fact that The Wishing Chair was produced by Joe Boyd. Joe also produced R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction which was released just about the same time.

“Lilydale” was probably the best known song on the album. I laughed when I first heard it because I thought it was the first song in history to mention Ovaltine! Ha. But it was just Natalie’s voice playing a trick on my ears. She actually was saying “Some think is was haunting” not, “some think it was Ovaltine.” Give it a listen below.

“Scorpio Rising” was a killer rocker. Listening to this once again was a treat. Not only had I forgotten how much I loved this album, but especially this track. This might be my favorite song on the album.

Another track that eventually received a decent amount of airplay was “Can’t Ignore the Train.”

This album received decent reviews but did not chart. They would find commercial success beginning with the very next album, In My Tribe. 

— Larry Carta

Track listing

  1. “Can’t Ignore the Train” – 2:43
  2. “Scorpio Rising” – 3:06
  3. “Just as the Tide Was A Flowing” – 2:25
  4. “Lilydale” – 3:11
  5. “Back o’ the Moon” – 3:32
  6. “Maddox Table” – 3:19
  7. “The Colonial Wing” ** – 4:02
  8. “Grey Victory” – 3:07
  9. “Among the Americans” – 3:07
  10. “Everyone a Puzzle Lover” – 3:17
  11. “Cotton Alley” – 3:23
  12. “Daktari” ** – 4:23
  13. “My Mother the War” – 3:31
  14. “Tension Makes a Tangle” – 3:33
  15. “Arbor Day” – 2:59

Personnel

  • Robert Buck: electric guitar/devices, acoustic guitar, mandolin, pedal steel
  • Jerry Augustyniak: drums
  • Steven Gustafson: bass, electric guitar
  • John Lombardo: 6 & 12 string guitars, bass
  • Dennis Drew: organ, piano, accordion
  • Natalie Merchant: voice

Posted by Larry Carta

1 Comment

  1. Scott Briggs (14 Apr 2013, 21:45)
    Reply

    Well, I just met Joe Boyd in person yesterday at a Nick Drake film screening event
    at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (4/13/13). I was, frankly, afraid to even ask him about his experiences producing The Wishing Chair, which used to be one of my fave albums of all time as was 10,000 Maniacs until I once tried to write a book on the band and it didn’t go well, the band members I met at the time seemed either bemused or horrified about someone writing a book on them, which did not bode well, and my publisher went under a number of years ago. Now I cannot stand to even really listen to this or any of their other albums. I don’t think 10KManiacs are a very good band anymore, and I certainly don’t think they’re any good at all without Natalie Merchant (and I’ve seen them play countless times, or did through the late 1990s) although I also don’t like her solo career very much at all, either. Totally gone off them, basically. Joe Boyd in a SoundOnSound interview says that he doesn’t think his production work on this or Fables for R.E.M. was up to his usual standards but that also the musicians involved, especially the drummers, were not up to the high standards of the artists he worked with in the 60s like Dave Mattacks or whomever. Which may indeed be a valid point. Also, the Maniacs later slagged Joe off as being a loafer in the studio and not really “producing” anything and that he sat there in the control room and read the baseball newspaper sections, which I suspect has to be a load of nonsense, given that the Maniacs later bitched in Rolling Stone, even, about the abuse they took being produced by Peter Asher for In My Tribe and him wanting to fire drummer Jerry Augustyniak due to imprecision and laziness. For Joe’s defense he says he approached both albums the same way he approached all the records he did in the 60s and early 70s, and I truly believe that he did. I disagree with his own assessment as far as The Wishing Chair, I think it’s a very well-produced album and still sounds crisp and punchy to this day, but I’m just not as hot on the band anymore as once I absolutely was, so my viewpoint is definitely a bit jaundiced.

    So I can’t take a single thing the Maniacs said about Joe Boyd seriously, after those later comments. Joe Boyd, I first should say that I give him points in person for being gracious enough to do various Q/As and autograph merchandise and other things for me and others, but that being said, Joe also kind of exudes an air sometimes of pompous self-importance/righteousness which really turned me off at times yesterday. I’m sorry but that’s how it was. As for The Wishing Chair, I can still enjoy a few tracks especially “Scorpio Rising” (which was really the most widely-known radio airplay track in NYC and LI NY areas in 1985, by the way, certainly not “Lilydale” which is a fine song but got almost zero airplay here) but that’s about it. When I first heard In My Tribe I wasn’t that knocked out by it, had to grow on me, and I missed John Lombardo’s contributions terribly since he’d quit the band by then, unbeknownst to me at the time, and the production was so boring and digitally sterile it was unbelievable, especially compared to the much more organic Wishing Chair. Comparatively Fables of the Reconstruction is an album that I still play constantly and I personally think it’s R.E.M.’s finest album for various personal reasons, as murky and dense and flawed as it is. I used to be able to listen to The Wishing Chair over and over again but now I cannot tolerate the Maniacs almost at all, but that’s just perhaps my own tastes changing over the years, in any case.



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