Cassette Monday: Buffalo Tom’s fourth album, Big Red Letter Day, was released in 1993 on Beggars Banquet records.
Buffalo Tom have released seven studio albums over the course of their career, and out of those seven albums, I own multiple copies of three of them. Big Red Letter Day is one of those three, and I only own the cassette because of what happened to my CD copy. You can see it there in the pic along with the cassette, sitting in an empty jewel case (which still contains a backing card for the one-song promotional CD that originally came in it—a promo for Rocket From The Crypt’s “Born In 69” single). When I was much younger than I am today, I still loaned out albums to friends of mine. I’ve since learned my lesson; these days I tell people I will make them a copy of whatever it is they want to borrow, and I do so at my own expense. It’s cheaper than buying a new one, after all. The kid I loaned this CD to told me he’d lost it, and that’s why I bought the cassette. It was a used copy, fortunately, but this was back when used cassettes might still cost $3 to $4, before they became completely devalued due to obsolescence. A few months after buying the cassette to replace the CD, the kid found the CD and gave it back to me—but he hadn’t found the cover, just the disc itself. Surprisingly, I continued to loan stuff out to people for several years after this incident occurred before finally deciding that it just wasn’t worth the cool points.
When I decided to write about Buffalo Tom here, I vacillated back and forth about which album to use. Birdbrain was the one that got me into them, while Let Me Come Over and Sleepy Eyed are probably their best. But I had to go with Big Red Letter Day in the end, because of My So-Called Life. I’m not sure whether the amount of critical discussion that surrounds that show now is just a function of my generation having now reached a Certain Age, or if it really is as groundbreaking and era-defining as it seems to everyone like me who was 18 in August of 1994 when the pilot episode first aired. I’d argue that it is at least somewhat important, capturing the inarticulate stumblings and hormone-fueled awkwardness of teenagers in a way I hadn’t seen before it came along, but when I watch it now, it has its share of cringeworthy moments too.
But the reason I’m talking about it in the context of an article about Buffalo Tom is because they appeared in an episode of the series. I was already a huge fan of theirs by the time they made their network TV debut on My So-Called Life. I was glad to see them getting recognition and hoped it would give their popularity a boost. Instead, I spent the next several years having this conversation:
Me: “Blah blah Buffalo Tom…” Other person: “Wait, that band from My So-Called Life?” Me: “Yeah, that band. I fucking love them.” Other person: “Wow, they’re real? I thought they were made up for the show.” Me: [Inarticulate sounds of frustration]
I’m guessing that despite “Late At Night” being prominently featured in the show, sales of Big Red Letter Day did not get a push. And really, I can kind of understand. “Late At Night” is one of the worst songs on the album. Out of the two or so songs per album that bassist Chris Colbourn would take lead vocals on, I only ever thought that “Darl,” from Let Me Come Over, and “Witches,” a non-LP B-side, ever measured up to the quality level of guitarist/usual vocalist Bill Janovitz’s songs. They should have picked one of the other songs; almost any of them would have been an improvement.