In 1993, Soul Asylum seemingly came out of nowhere to the top of the charts with their biggest hit Runaway Train. Actually, the band had been around several years, developing a reputation for great live shows but not selling many CDs. Some of the old generation of Soul Asylum fans accused the band of “selling out”. Yawn. Isn’t that always the case when a band becomes a hit after years of obscurity?
Anyhow, on a steamy hot early August night in Little Rock, AR in 1993, I saw the band for the first time and I was hooked. In addition to their standard songs, Soul Asylum rocked the crowd with a rousing version of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. Not your typical rock fare. I have been a fan ever since and still listen to their CDs such as Grave Dancers Union, Let your Dim Light Shine, and Candy From a Stranger. Here is my list of the Top 10 Soul Asylum songs.
10.Misery, Dim Light
This song made the pop top 20 in 1996 and was parodied by none other than Weird Al Yankovic. Some might consider the song depresssing, but they just don’t get it. Even in the songs with the most serious subject matter, the band has a hook and usually some lyrical twists. I often think of this one on my way to work, and like the blues, it’s cathartic. The song starts slowly and builds momentum. We could start a factory, make misery, we create the cure, we made the disease, Frustrated Incorporated…there’s a message in there somewhere.
9. String of Pearls, Dim Light
This is a story song that never made the charts as a single about a young street walker losing a pearl from her necklace and the adventurous route it takes before being found. There is a pair of siamese twins born to become the first such President(s). He puts his heads in his hands, I gotta get myself together, I can become the best President ever…with two heads…are better than one. It all sounds like a David Lynch film with a guy dying from hitting his head on a urinal, (trying to escape the advances of Sen Larry Craig, maybe?), the ensuing “catfight” at his funeral, causing the preacher to leave and on his way, he picks up the lost pearl and gives it to a nun, who in turn, gives it back to rthe young prostitute.
8. To My Own Devices, Dim Light
Whatever the price is, whatever the crisis, don’t leave…me…to my own devices. It seems to be the story of a lonely man who doesn’t want to go it alone. It’s not a downer though. Like most Soul Asylum songs , there are some clever lyrics and a subtle message left up to the listener to figure out for themself. Kinda like Curly’s “one thing” in City Slickers.
7. Blood Into Wine, Candy from A Stranger
A song in a similar vein as devices. This one seems to be about a guy trying to drink away his problems, turnin’ blood into wine. Something’s always gotta be up with you, whatever I do is never enough, for someone like you, passin’ through me all the time, turnin’ blood into wine. Lost relationship and the bittersweet feelings are what it seems like to me. Who hasn’t been there? Great hooks in this one.
6. Draggin’ The Lake, Candy
Sent on a mission to find out just how much $#!! one man can take, went to the river to swim upstream but got dragged into the lake. Again, who hasn’t been there? Instead of self-pity, however, Soul Asylum turns what seems to be a suicide mission into: Am I still here, can you hear me please say yes, when you watch over me I am blessed, a hopeful refrain.
5.Promises Broken, Dim Light
Streets are filled with broken glass, you get buried by the past, give me just a little taste, lay this mess to waste, take me home. This could be taken as “woe is me” Dr. Phil show fodder, but as so often, there is a ray of hope at the end of this tale of a broken relationship. This song contains the line: fifty miles, your dim light shines from so far away, reportedly a shot at fellow 90’s band Collective Soul, who had a hit song called “Shine”.
4. Stand Up And Be Strong, The Silver Lining
This song from the band’s first album in a decade released in 2006, was the college football theme on ESPN during the 2006 season. If you get all depressed, when you get undressed, if your life’s a mess, remember you’re blessed, stand up and be strong. Who says this band is depressing?
3. Black Gold, Grave Dancers Union
This 1992 song was all about the first gulf war and the lust for oil. The band performed the song on Saturday Night Live that year, playing a huge role in their subsequent success. Black gold in a white plight, won’t you fill up the tank, let’s go for a ride, I don’t care ’bout no wheelchair, I’ve got so much left to do with my life. Powerful stuff.
2. Without A Trace, Grave Dancers Union
The band now dedicates this song to former member Karl Mueller, who died of cancer in 2005. I fell in love with a hooker, she laughed in my face, so seriously I took her, I was a disgrace, I was out of line, I was out of place, out of time to save face, see the open mouth of my suitcase, sayin’ leave this place, leave without a trace, leave….without…a trace. A word of warning. If you listen to this one, you may have it running through your mind for awhile,. Very catchy.
1. Runaway Train, Grave Dancers Union
The first time I heard this song in 1993, I was struck by the message, the melody, the whole thing. Who are these guys I wondered? I didn’t know the Minneapolis based band Soul Asylum had been around quite awhile. Some may have gotten sick of the song since it received so much airplay and was a monster hit in 1993. Not me. The message is one nearly anyone can relate to with its’ tale of angst, whether their problem is lost love, drug or alcohol abuse, whatever life throws at us.
Can you make me remember how to smile, make it somehow all seem worthwhile, how on Earth did I get so jaded, life’s mystery seems so faded. Some might consider that depressing. Myself, it is uplifting to know that we all have had these feelings and to know that these problems can be overcome. The band has played many benefits, one for bandmate Mueller, another for Wain McFarlane of the reggae band Ipso Facto when he needed a kidney transplant. their only live album is 1997’s After The Flood, Live From the Grand Forks Prom benefitting flood victims in Grand Forks, N.D.