1993. I was a junior at Old Dominion University and spent a lot of time driving between my home on the Peninsula and school in Norfolk, Virginia.
One disc that spent a lot of time in my player and became the soundtrack for many an across the water trek?
Ring, by The Connells.
The Connells, formed in 1984 in Raleigh, North Carolina, enjoyed a solid measure of success through the late eighties and early nineties on the strength of their ability to straddle the sounds of both British New Wave and the folk rock scene of the American South. The band toured heavily throughout North America and Europe, appeared on shows like Late Night with Conan O’Brien and MTV’s 120 Minutes, and 1993’s Ring included what is, arguably, their most popular song, ” ’74-’75 ,” which proved a major hit in numerous countries across Europe.
While still gigging into their fourth decade, access to much of The Connells’ musical catalog has been hampered for years by legal wranglings between the band’s former record label and creditors. That ended recently, however, when, much to the joy of the band’s members, The Bicycle Music Company purchased the catalog. The band’s music being sprung from legal purgatory led to last month’s release of Stone Cold Yesterday: Best of The Connells.
Imagine my delight when I heard that this favorite band of my college years was returning with a sixteen collection of their best. To say I was left slackjawed would be, well . . . . nevermind.
Singer Doug MacMillan, smack dab in the midst of trying to dig out and clean up the mess left behind by Hurricane Matthew, was incredibly generous with his time and fielded some questions from me about releasing this collection of The Connells’ best.
BRO – I graduated from college in 1994 and Ring was one of my favorite records. Can I offer you congratulations on this collection of hits while, at the same time, complain that you are reminding me of my age?
DM – Yes, of course you can offer your congratulations, which are most appreciated, and simultaneously complain about feeling your age . . . just as long as you keep in mind that I’ve got roughly ten years on you.
BRO – Did you envision, back in 1984, that you guys would still be at it 32 years later?
DM – In the summer of 1984, Mike, David, John Schultz, our original drummer and lifelong friend, and I were rehearsing the same seven songs four to five days a week. I think the vision at that time extended to “I hope we can eventually play a show in front of people.” Once things eventually began to start moving along, the idea of “it would be cool to do this for a living” crept in. Something like the success of ” ’74- ’75 ” overseas, and being able to plays shows to this day, really were never on the radar.
BRO – How much fun did you guys have revisiting these tunes and putting this collection together?
DM – Just the idea of collecting a group of songs to represent the catalog that Bicycle Music had acquired was so cool. We didn’t want to overthink it. For instance, “Darker Days” is not included, nor is “Old School Dropouts.” The criteria, as I understand it, were songs that had been released as singles. So that made for a fairly painless process. But there are a couple of George’s songs, some that Peele wrote, etc., that could have been on there. You’re always going to have the problem with this sort of release.
BRO – We are featuring “Stone Cold Yesterday” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
DM – As with many of our songs, the chorus lyric for this one was not written, but the melody was in place. During the process of working the song up and finding words to fit the melody, the phrase “stone cold yesterday” insinuated itself into the tune. Then Mike wrote lyrics around that phrase, from a narrative point of view – I remember he said, “Like a David Bowie song.” – thus these characters of Jimmy and Betty came to be. I have a pretty good idea about who those two are loosely based on, but I’m not going to say.
BRO – Best bit of advice your 2016 self could offer your 1984 self?
DM – 2016 me would follow 1984 me out of a bar, late night . . . I would catch up to ’84 me, put him a choke hold, duck into a dark alley, spin him around, look ’84 me dead in the eye, and say, “Would you PLEASE be more careful? If you choose not to be more careful, then I’m coming back, and next time it won’t be pretty.”
The Connells have a pretty quiet touring schedule right now. You can check out their website for more information on future tour dates, all of the band’s music, and how you can find a copy of the greatest hits collection, Stone Cold Yesterday.
Also, be sure to check out the title track from that compilation on this month’s Trail Mix.