They lost the Best New Artist Grammy that year to Milli Vanilli
February 27, 2019 9:57 PM   Subscribe

February 28, 1989: 30 years ago, an early vanguard of what would become an astonishing wave of musical energy would make its major label debut: Indigo Girls' eponymous album Indigo Girls. Helping to usher in a giant cohort of female artists who would yield a lot of influence in the 90s, this album [YT playlist] is one of the defining moments in popular music overall. Listen again like it's the first time! Side A: Closer To Fine [video, Letterman Appearance On Promo Tour 5m46s] (background), Secure Yourself, Kid Fears (background), Prince Of Darkness, Blood And Fire (background)

Side B: Tried To Be True (background), Love's Recovery (background), Land Of Canaan [video, Strange Fire version, David Letterman performance Oct 1989] (background), Center Stage (background), History Of Us

Bonus Material: Full length concert at the Uptown Lounge in Jan 1989 [1h28m], June 1989 on Late Night Atlanta Live [20m, includes performance of never-recorded song Cold As Ice and early performance of Welcome Me], Today Show appearance from July 1989 [6m], August 1989 WaPo write-up, Pat Sajak Show in Sept 1989 [12m, truly awkward]. Oct 1989 on David Sanborn's show Night Music [4 songs plus interview, 17m]

IG history website Lifeblood has a repository of articles from 1989 which is an interesting historical read on the unfolding of that year for Emily and Amy.

Indigo Girls are currently in the studio working on their 15th album, with a career that stretches nearly 35 years.
posted by hippybear (55 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely true story: Tuesday is when new music came out, and the beloved album-format-ish rock station out of El Paso KLAQ had a program director who did a new music program on Tuesday afternoons. He had much more eclectic tastes than the main format of the station, and he'd earned so much street cred across his years on the air that people trusted his taste in music more than they would most radio DJs.

Tues, Feb 28 1989, I'm listening to Magic Mike's show and he plays Prince Of Darkness. I didn't catch the name of the artist, but listening to his show sparked me to go down to the local Hastings and browse (probably for about $300 worth, which I did far too often back then).

I walk in the door of the store and they have Strange Fire playing on the store sound system. I immediately go up to the desk and ask who this is. They hand me the CD jewel case and I recognize the name Prince Of Darkness, and so i go to the rack and pick up the CD and end up leaving with it that day.

I still have that CD. And so much more. Decades of concerts and their music and the personal journeys I've been on through the songs and at one time there was a vibrant Indigo Girls online community that felt a little bit like a family and and and....

And and and! Tracy and Suzanne and then IG and then an explosion! Lilith Fair (I saw it in Phoenix, slowly baking in the desert), female artists everywhere, taking over R&B and country and suddenly it felt like female voices were being heard in a way like never before! Indigo Girls didn't cause this, but they were a big part of it, and its effects are still being felt today.

This one CD means a fuck-ton to me. I can't believe it's been 30 years.
posted by hippybear at 9:58 PM on February 27, 2019 [47 favorites]

If these internets were a better place, the Brunching Shuttlecocks’ Your Roommate Plays The Indigo Girls would still work. Instead, I only have the memory of how it delighted me.
posted by rewil at 10:03 PM on February 27, 2019 [17 favorites]

In all fairness to Milli Vanilli, oh nevermind.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:06 PM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Gaaah. It wasn't Strange Fire they were playing in the record store. It was Secure Yourself.

Edit that correction into my above comment and carry on.
posted by hippybear at 10:40 PM on February 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was working at the UCF radio station when this was released. Boy howdy did it get a lot play.  There was a lot of really good female dominated music during that period.

Indigo Girls and this album stand out to as the start of a ten year streak (to me) of fantastic music from like-minded souls, women who refused to compromise their music for pop radio.  'Til Tusday's last album Everything's Different Now came out the year before, which as far as swan songs for a group goes, is a homerun of perfectly crafted melancholy . Sinéad O'Connor was still on the scene, and Suzannne Vega had both 99.0F° on the horizon for 1992 and the absolutely stellar Nine Objects of Desire only a few years later, and there was Tracy Chapman and more. What a run.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 11:40 PM on February 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

rewil - I had exactly the same immediate thought. You can get the Your Roommate SWF file directly from the Wayback Machine (note that Chrome will warn you that SWF files can harm your computer, so caveat downloader), and play it using something like this or a local SWF player. It remains amazing.
posted by lantius at 11:56 PM on February 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

That Indigo Girls album has been a favorite of mine since I discovered it in the mid-nineties. I will never forget that darkness has a hunger that's insatiable and lightness has a call that's hard to hear. It's like someone understands me.
posted by bendy at 2:33 AM on February 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

And of course the Lore flash of "your roommate playing the indigo girls" is hilarious.
posted by bendy at 2:35 AM on February 28, 2019

Los pantalones del muerte, looks like we were at UCF at the same time! Did you see IGs play downtown with Peter Murphy? I think it may have been at the Beacham?

Thanks for the post, hippybear. Such a stunning album.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 3:05 AM on February 28, 2019

In a small co-incidence I'm reading Tracey Thorne's biography - I recommend it.
posted by Kiwi at 5:14 AM on February 28, 2019

So many high school and college crushes spent listening to Blood and Fire.

I was a total music weirdo who basically went straight from hair metal to Indigo Girls when I heard this album. Then I went to a women's college, and, well, that was just about that.
posted by wellred at 5:27 AM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

This album blew my mind when I first heard it. I actually wrote a note to them saying, basically, "holy crap this is awesome" and apparently it was early enough that one of them wrote back.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:15 AM on February 28, 2019 [8 favorites]

Hey, I'm not here to listen to smack talked about Milli Vanilli!

I will never forget that darkness has a hunger that's insatiable and lightness has a call that's hard to hear.

I've never been more than a casual fan, but that's such a haunting line. It's haunted me for decades. If they'd never done anything else it'd be a worthy claim to fame. And the Doctor of Philosophy always makes me think of my philosophy prof who had a "Void Where Prohibited By Law"-stamped poster of the Bill Of Rights on his wall. (And a "Stamp Out First Marriages" coffee mug 🙄.) I don't recall how he felt about B-grade movies.

A younger friend of mine was talking about the Indigo Girls just the other night, so they're still picking up fans.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:38 AM on February 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

The songs are timeless, really. My band does Least Complicated off Swamp Ophelia (we do Closer to Fine, too, but everyone knows that), and people don't necessarily know it, but they're blown away by the counterpoint and harmonies and gorgeousness.

(We don't do EVERYTHING they do in the song - no one could. But we do a lot of it.)
posted by wellred at 6:45 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love this goddamn duo. I do think they're better together. And Amy's voice is at the top of my all time favorite female vocalist list. She shares that list with Chrissie Hynde, Christine McVeigh, Ann & Nancy Wilson, Debbie Harry, Annie Lennox, Shirley Bassey, Ella FItzgerald, Billie Holliday, & Sarah Vaughan.
posted by yoga at 6:50 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Gallileo is still my favorite song of theirs, but Closer To Fine is just a perfect song. Honestly all three of the first songs are. And their cover of Romeo and Juliet is so so much better than the original.

I saw them in concert once and they did a great show - just blew everyone away. Can't wait for the new album.
posted by Mchelly at 7:12 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

My wife and I saw them on tour a million years ago at the Tampa Theater. I happened to walk up to the box office at the theater as they had just released some front row seats. Epic show. Such great entertainers.
posted by sockshaveholes at 7:16 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am a scientist, and have been dreaming about getting a tattoo saying "the hardest to learn was the least complicated" for decades since the first time I heard that song live.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 8:32 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

For at least a decade, the Indigo Girls were my favorite band. I still know every word to every song on every album up to Swamp Ophelia and many after that as well. I've seen them live at least 5 times, which is probably a record for me. I think Rites of Passage and Swamp Ophelia are my favorite albums of theirs, but this was the one that started it all and I still love it so much.

Just the other day, I was talking to a friend about how lyrics that you thought were so DEEP when you were young often don't hold up once you're older (Broken Wings my Mister Mister, anyone?) - but the Indigo Girls? Always. The depth of the writing, the melodies, the harmonies, the interplay between their two voices - all of it.
posted by widdershins at 8:35 AM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

I will not stand by for this unwarranted aggression against Mr. Mister.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:37 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I didn't like them in the 1990s, because of internalized misogyny. I wish I could go back and tell young Corpse not to worry about looking cool to men who would turn to not be cool at all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

"I need you so / woh oh oh" band does Broken Wings too
posted by wellred at 8:42 AM on February 28, 2019

I was going to an REM concert in Morgantown, WV about this time (89 or 90). We stopped at a Burger King to grab a bite to eat. Sitting at the next table were two young women and a few others. A few hours later, those two young women walked onstage with guitars and started singing. Yep, the Indigo Girls. We'd never heard of them, but they were amazing. We all still talk about the Burger King girls. Boringest story ever, I know, but still...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2019 [12 favorites]

I was living in Cambridge, in that brief window between college and grad school, when this album was released. I have a vivid memory of hearing "Closer to Fine" on WFNX, and the DJ said, when the song was over, "That was great, let's hear it again!" and he played it again.

A few months later I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Indigo Girls in a small club in Boston. It was just the two of them with their guitars, and no more than 200 people in the club, and they were so awesome. It was magical.
posted by suelac at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I bought this album when it came out - I was a headbanger and extremely racist and homophobic. We had laughed about an interview with them on something, television, print, whatever. Me and my friends planned on playing the music as a joke at a friend's party, full blast, in the middle of a Metallica song or some shit.

But I popped it in at home to find the most disgusting "lesbianish" song, and just sat there and listened literally with my mouth hanging open. The entire album. And then I played it again in my car. And to all of my friends. To my mom and sisters. To everyone I could think of that would listen to it. I never told anyone who they were or what they were all about or how they identified. All but one of my friends thought it was the worst shit they had ever heard.

I know every damn word and every damn note of every damn song on that album, and it changed me forever in how I view the community. I couldn't care less these days who or what you identify as. Fucking be awesome. Like they are.
posted by bradth27 at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2019 [28 favorites]

This post title infuriates me in exactly the same way as when I realized Into the Woods lost the Tony for Best Musical to Phantom of the Opera. Amy and Emily are national treasures.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Sang a few of their songs back in singing classes back in the day. They were challenging to learn, and fulfilling to sing.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2019

I remember exactly the first time I heard "Closer to Fine" -- my college radio station, it was in the regular rotation -- but it was a cover, and I have no idea by whom, but it was really great. I soon learned it was a cover, and I immediately went to find the original, and my god was it ever so much better. And so many of their songs are just fractally brilliant -- the deeper you look at any part, the more impressive it is.
posted by Etrigan at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Our school booked them to play, and it was a full house on Memorial Terrace for that show. I want to say it was May of '89? Anyway, I think people were expecting Stipe to show up for "Kid Fears", but it would've been well beyond our budget to get him, even if it were possible. It hit the limit of our budget to get the Indigo Girls themselves!
posted by droplet at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Amy Ray was how I discovered my bisexuality. My crush has not abated any in the many years since.
posted by Ruki at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2019

Speaking as a total lay person my impression of the Grammy Winner is that I am at best indifferent to their music. I admit I don't really know who has won a Grammy but when ever I hear "so and so, multiple Grammy winner" it is usually for some overwrought over produced pop that doesn't hook me at all. (Probably aural selection bias or something but there it is, Grammy as shame.)
posted by Pembquist at 11:45 AM on February 28, 2019

I keep thinking about this through the day, and it strikes me that as obvious as the Christian side to their music is, it has never made me feel less welcome in their world as a non-Christian. I suppose that's how it's meant to be <3
posted by wellred at 11:59 AM on February 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

Absolutely love Indigo Girls and have been a fan since the late 80s when a college friend turned me on to them. Was very lucky to be their personal "bodyguards" for a benefit concert in 1994 at the Santa Monica Civic Arena. And one of my favorite shows I saw was when they opened for the Grateful Dead in 1993 in Eugene, Oregon. They are such amazing people, who just happen to be awesome musicians as well.

Thanks for the post, hippybear!

Check out this video from last year with IGs playing with a high school choir.

Better version, but Facebook link.

posted by terrapin at 12:08 PM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Love 'em! But "30 years ago...."

Oof. That hurts.
posted by spilon at 1:36 PM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

“Closer To Fine” hit me like a ton of bricks 30 years ago and remains in my everyday playlist to this day.

I saw the post by The Indigo Girls about the anniversary on Facebook just now and thought to myself, "I should make a post." I should have known there'd already be an excellent post by you, hippybear. Sincere thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh man, this came out when I was in middle school and was absolutely perfect for listening to endlessly. I haven't actually pulled up the album in years but I bet I still know the words to every song.
posted by TwoStride at 5:08 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have loved them since 1989, but by the time I had the money and a car with which to go to a concert they had gotten too expensive for me. Now I live in Atlanta, and every year at New Years they do a small concert as a fundraiser for a local charity. This year, I finally just sat in front of the computer clicking the day the tickets started being released and managed to get us two tickets for $30 each to benefit The Homeless Period Project. We stood maybe 4 people back from the stage in a crowd of a few hundred. We all sang. We all cried. They were so relaxed to be at home with their friends and so full of love for the world. There were great shout outs to the charity and to beloved hometown hero Stacey Abrams. It was absolutely one of the best shows I've ever been to and totally worth waiting 30 years for.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:32 PM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

ob1quixote: THANK YOU for posting that article. What a marvelous write-up!
posted by hippybear at 6:16 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Saw them in concert at Wolf Trap years ago. Their fans are the best at singing along, practically a choir of angels.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:25 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Someone who was really, really, emphatically not good for me introduced me to The Indigo Girls. I bought the "1200 Curfews" live album, and it's literally one of two things from that period of my life that I have not discarded with extreme prejudice (the other being a pair of shitty particle-board bedside tables that ... well, I can't bring myself to spend money on other shitty particle-board bedside tables just because these ones happen to have been sold to me for five bucks by her former roommate).

I would love to see them live, again, in happier circumstances.
posted by Alterscape at 8:39 PM on February 28, 2019

Their current tour starts Mar 16 and continues all around the country until Sept 13.
posted by hippybear at 8:41 PM on February 28, 2019

(I mean, I say "current tour", but they've basically never been not touring.)
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, Oregon Zoo tickets go on sale tomorrow, and I'm getting GA and I've seen them there before and so everyone get tickets and let's all wear MetaFilter shirts and freak everyone out.

(I've seen Indigo Girls too many times and I have too many stories, but I did once go see them at Paolo Solari in Santa Fe, on a weekend where I was already in Albuquerque for a Bear Gathering, and it turned out a couple of other guys from the show also had tickets so we went together.

It was a grey, rainy evening at the amphitheatre and IG were doing a tour, live-testing songs they were writing for what would become their Shaming Of The Sun album. (The only album they ever produced themselves, easily one of their most interesting sonically and lyrically.) It was a very laid-back, nearly informal show and they were playing all kinds of instruments most of us had never seen them handle before, and at one point as lightning flashed in the sky, Amy said something about how many of the new instruments were made of metal.

I remember Emily's performance that night of Leeds (which none of us had heard before, obviously) was so powerful it left a silence hanging in the air that if I had a ziplock with me I could have bagged as a souvenir.

IG's ability to connect with their audience is something beyond what most artists ever achieve even for a short time, let alone across generations. See them live sometime if you can.)
posted by hippybear at 8:49 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

For those who may not know, but may care to know - in 1994, Amy and Emily spearheaded a two-disc studio recording of Jesus Christ Superstar, titled Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection. Amy took on the role of Jesus, and Emily sang Mary's part. Other folk-rock and jangle-pop groups and artists filled out the rest of the album. If I recall correctly, all profits went to anti-gun charities.

It's a love it/hate it recording, but it hit me exactly in the right place at the right time, and is in many ways my favorite recording of JCS out there. You can still buy the CD at the usual places, and there are videos up on YouTube of the entire thing (in pieces), as they performed numbers from it live on tour.

A younger friend of mine was talking about the Indigo Girls just the other night

Quite possibly because this happened on The Voice this week.
posted by tzikeh at 9:49 PM on February 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh, I once saw Girlyman open for Indigo Girls. Here's their ridiculously harmonious version of George Harrison's My Sweet Lord.

I haven't even tracked all the opening acts I've seen for IG. I should do that. I can rattle off the catalog of opening acts for U2 off the back of my hand, but IG? Wow, *hangs head in shame*.
posted by hippybear at 9:59 PM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also, gotta love how the big media industrial machine somehow engineered that moment on The Voice happening this week specifically. Not any time previously on the show, across the years. Just right now. Total Coincidence!
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on February 28, 2019

Milli Vanilli was up against Neneh Cherry, the Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, and Tone Loc. Any one of those (yeah, even Tone Loc) would've been a better choice.

The Best New Artist Grammy has not been without its moments (e.g. The Beatles beating out Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim, or Esperanza Spalding over Drake and Justin Bieber), but it's mostly nonsense (Bobbie Gentry over Jefferson Airplane, A Taste of Honey over Elvis Costello, Christopher Cross over The Pretenders, Marc Cohn over Boyz II Men, Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar, etc.).
posted by box at 5:38 AM on March 1, 2019

The Best New Artist Grammy... is mostly nonsense (Bobbie Gentry over Jefferson Airplane...)
Pistols at dawn, sir.
posted by pxe2000 at 6:30 AM on March 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh! I had heard that a trio showed up on this season of The Voice (I know someone who really likes the show, so I hear about it a lot), but didn't realize that was the song they did. Cool.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:43 AM on March 1, 2019

The first concert I went to alone was to the Indigo Girls in 1991.

Several years later I saw Amy Ray perform in a tiny club in Columbia, South Carolina and watched her work out what eventually became Go on Come On Now Social.

I love them so very much.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:15 PM on March 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

About a decade ago I saw them outside at a smallish amphitheatre type venue. Amy sang Yield solo - just her and a mandolin and it was just fucking fantastic.
posted by yoga at 4:50 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was dating Anne when IG happened and Anne had a friend who was a goody-goody prig who had all of the politically correct views and music and Anne would have loved The Indigo Girls no matter if they'd played Mozart on bugles onstage in their underpants because it was The Right Thing To Do for any number of goody goody politically correct prig reasons. I listened, but never live and with disdain for goody-goody mopes in general, with disdain for Anne's goody goody prig friend in particular and while I didn't know it at the time I can clearly see now I listened with disdain for Anne, for Reasons I could not have articulated at the time but soon learned to articulate whilst waving her goodbye.

Fast forward 30 years.

Thanx to the wonders of the intertubes I got to see them live, free, on this very laptop, and I have found out that they have a great back-story, and that wrote great songs which they played and play with heart and with guts and with passion and I am A Fan.

Yet another window into Beauty has been opened by the fine people who inhabit this site.

The Indigo Girls are great.

Better late than never.

Great post -- thank you hippybear, and to all the enthusiastic responses here by people I admire.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:38 PM on March 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

dancestoblue: you certainly aren't the only person who let sexism (or homophobia) keep them from appreciating the Indigo Girls. Glad that you came around!
posted by hydropsyche at 5:04 AM on March 4, 2019

dancestoblue: While I find all of their albums completely wonderful and they speak to me both on first listen and on 5000th listen, I would recommend you check out Rites Of Passage and Swamp Ophelia. Those two albums are very very very highly regarded amongst their fans. Brilliant, classic songs and emotional journeys.
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on March 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I mean, I can list out all their albums and why they are all great in my opinion. They haven't released one I haven't liked yet. I don't have any other bands in my life I can say that about.

But those two, they are special.
posted by hippybear at 9:23 PM on March 8, 2019

« Older “What should we do with all this poop?”   |   Yes, And all around the world. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments