In the mid-’90’s, in the wake of the major labels’ post-Nirvana feeding frenzy, you couldn’t throw a Doc Marten in the U.S. without hitting a member of a former indie rock band.  New bands seemed to crop up out of nowhere every 10 seconds, often rising from ashes of other little-known bands.  Major label debuts by groups you’d never heard of hit the shelves like huge flocks of nose-diving, kamikaze geese every week.  It really was enough to make your head spin, but y’know what?  It was a golden age.  The economy was strong, the labels had dough to spend, everybody still bought CDs/records/tapes.  The end was near, but we didn’t know that at the time.  So it’s only inevitable that some things got left in the dust.

The year was 1996.  Kurt Cobain was dead, and most people were too busy doing The Macarena (or sitting around wishing that some stranger would come along and ‘un-break’ their collective hearts) to notice Keep A Secret, the RCA debut by Bloomington, Indiana’s The Mysteries Of Life.  Featuring members of Antenna and indie legends The Blake Babies, TMOL fused elements of folk, country and classical music with simple underground rock, creating a sound completely unlike the bombastic, rack-mounted-effects-heavy, post-grunge sludge passing for rock at the time (and looked damn sexy doing it, I might add).  The ultimate example of this band’s lovely sound is my Best You Never Heard pick, Keep A Secret‘s stunning opener, “Hesitate.”

Click here to play “Hesitate” by The Mysteries Of Life

Jake Smith’s gorgeous guitar pattern hovers over Freda Love’s Mo Tucker-style mallet drumming and Tina Barbieri’s bass through the intro.  Smith regales us with the tale of life flashing before his eyes, while Geraldine Haas’ cello chimes in after the refrain, lifting the song up to a new height before Smith’s beautiful solo ratchets it up even further.  (For you guitar geeks out there, Jake’s got some serious tone happening here…obviously a Gretsch hollow-body through a Fender tweed, or something.  Whatever it is, it’s sweet enough to lick off a biscuit.)  As the hooks overlap, the song builds up to a grand crescendo before grinding to a halt.  When Smith finally confesses that he’s missed all his chances, that he “Took too long to say/Nothing,” the arrangement abruptly pares itself down to just guitar, cello and shaker.  And there we stand, alone.  Everybody’s gone.

Now, at this point, it would be so great to be able to say, “Goddamn those lame-ass bastards at RCA!” or something similar, in regards to the fact that this amazing track wasn’t a hit, but it’s really no use to lay blame.  A track such as this was an anomaly in the very monochromatic world of 1996.  There’s absolutely no way that, outside of maybe college radio (a light that grows ever dimmer as time passes), a band as musically colorful as The Mysteries Of Life, or a song as delicate and meticulously arranged as “Hesitate” could’ve gotten noticed, let alone given a chance to become a smash in the Pop-Mart that was the mid-’90’s.  But that’s why this is one of the best songs you never heard.

(A married couple, Smith and Love continue to mystify with the ever-lineup-changing TMOL, and Love, along with fellow former-Blake Baby Julianna Hatfield, also plays in the brilliant Some Girls.)

More On “The Best You’ve Never Heard” week
The Best You’ve Never Heard – Introduction
The Best You’ve Never Heard: Wheel by John Mayer
The Best You’ve Never Heard: Must Have Been Crazy by Chicago