I was a Boston College student in the 80's, and happened to have a friend who did lighting for a number of bands who played the local club scene. Thanks to my friend's "Guest List" privileges I saw a lot of live music in those days. A band he worked for had recorded a demo titled "Love in a Vacuum" that became the most requested song of the year at local Boston rock radio institution WBCN which in those days was number one in the ratings.
The same radio station staged an infamous "Rock and Roll Rumble" battle of local bands each year, and it was no surprise when this same band, 'Til Tuesday walked away with the championship, and created huge local buzz when the local music press picked up on the fact that the band had been signed after a bidding war, to Epic records. I think I probably saw 'Til Tuesday play in small clubs six or more times during that period, and I came to know many of the songs that would eventually be recorded for the first album. Aimee Mann of course, looked like a born star, tall and almost always dressed in black, with her spikey bleached white coif and signature eighties braided rat tail. It seemed for a while she was everywhere, appearing in advertising campaigns in the local paper, and her poster in the window of some hipper than thou Newbury street hair salon of the day. The rest of the band were all very good looking people including her boyfriend of the time, Drummer Michael Hausman, Guitarist Robert Holmes with his mop of Red curls, and keyboardist Joey Pesce who looked like he was slumming from his day job as a GQ model. It simply seemed at the time, that this band was destined to be huge. Their shows were very polished in a time when most of what was going on in the local music scene was more about revisiting punk and ska, and it seemed at each show the crowds got bigger and bigger.
The first thing to get out of the way, is that the album really isn't representative of what 'Til Tuesday sounded like live in those days. I still have a radio station cart of their Love in a Vacuum demo, and if the song had been anything like the demo, I think it would have been a huge hit. Needless to say, it wasn't.
Unfortunately this album sounds to me like it was recorded in one take inside a steel box, with the echo turned up too high. Anything that wasn't high pitched and full of reverb seems to get lost in the mix, and Pesce's pallete of keyboard textures seemed to have either been mixed to the back, removed entirely, or reduced to a bad casio cliche.
Aimee played base in those days, and as the front person and singer, had a nice smooth and sometimes funky base sound that worked well with Hausman's precise authoritative drumming. You'd never know it from this album, but people filled the dance floor at 'Til Tuesday shows. The album sounds like everything was plugged right into the mixing console and tweaked electronically into some alien version of what it should have been.
Holmes' chorus and delay laden guitar playing certainly gave the band its distinctive sound, and survived the recording process relatively in tact. Anyone who saw them in those days would have undoubtably noted that a big part of the 'Til Tuesday sound was his high tenor voice that harmonized so well with Mann. Those harmonies sometimes aided by the other band members were a big part of what really made the band stand out live. Did Holmes sing on the album? I think so, but it's hard to tell.
I believe time and a robust solo career has proven that Aimee's voice is much better than the way it sounds on many of these tracks (and the way she sounded live), even if the band did end up with a major radio hit with "Voices Carry" -- probably as much due to the heavy rotation the excellent video deservedly received from MTV. It's somewhat telling that there was no follow up to that hit, and that songs which stood out live, like "Looking over my shoulder", and the ultra ballad, "You know the Rest" barely register on the album. Although it was hard to admit it to myself at the time, I was really disappointed for the band. 'Til Tuesday toured with Hall and Oates, continued to write songs, Mann and Hausman broke up, and Aimee's songwriting began to change. The band rebounded nicely with their second album "Welcome Home" which is much more reflective of what 'Til Tuesday was really like in its heyday, but radio wasn't particularly receptive. I dragged my friends out to a concert which reaffirmed my belief in them as a great live act, but it seemed obvious at the time that 'Til Tuesday had jumped the Shark. After a 3rd album, which seemed more like a Mann solo project, 'Til Tuesday broke up like so many other bands of the same time period, and without much notice.
I remember seeing Amiee at a show for local boston band The Buddy System some years later, at local Boston institution, The Rat. She stood in the middle of the beer stained floor swaying to the music with the rest of the assembled crowd, largely unnoticed. I remember thinking at the time, how her star had seemed to rise and fall much too soon, and that to be honest, she seemed a little out of it.
In hindsight, it's now pretty obvious that the friends she was out supporting were part of where she was going in act 2 of her career. Connect Buddy Judge (Namesake of the band performing that night) to his future band The Grays, and band mate Jon Brion, and connect the dots. Although 'Til Tuesday seemed quite a bit about Fashion, image and hype, as it turns out, Mann was the really a singer-songwriter, Joan Baez hippy chick, under all the hair, makeup, and pre-emo costuming. It might be my memory playing tricks on me, but I've convinced myself that Brion played a set of solo material at the same show. Whatever really occurred, I realized that night that Aimee was just as much a music fan as myself, and that music and songs were a really important part of her life.
I moved out to Los Angeles that year, and forgot about 'Til Tuesday, until I happened upon Mann's first solo album. I found out she was playing a show at a local club and dragged my girlfriend out to it, and was once again floored by her striking looks, distinctive voice, and songwriting ability.
I still look back on "Voices Carry" fondly, but see it much more as part of Mann's catalog now, a part that doesn't seem to fit too well with her singer-songwriter phase. I don't know if she ever plays any of her old 'Til Tuesday material anymore, or if she considers it an embarassment. While I think the songs on this album stand up, the album is really a pale imitation of what 'Til Tuesday was capable of, and although the best known of their catalog, a distant second in quality to "Welcome Home."