Unless you're Canadian (like me, eh?), you've probably never heard of the Headstones. That's why I ended up making this page... Possibly one of the most under-exposed rock groups of the 90s, the 'Stones made kicking music, cutting between punk rock, semi-metal, plain hard rock, and moody, bluesy guitar melody. And of course, as with any band I actually bother to like, their lyrics were often outstanding. (Well, sometimes not.) Their mood was easy to mistake as dark and downcast, but actually the music was usually pretty cheery, and often humorous. I often considered them the Canadian version of Social Distortion: A band of semi-punks who'd been down on life, but were still trying their best to find the good things in the world, even if they weren't always having much luck. Overall they made good ol' solid rocking tunes with lively guitar melody and an appreciable beat.
Besides writing good music, they also had talent in playing it. All four members were excellent at what they did, but the one who got the most attention, not surprisingly, was the lead singer, Hugh Dillon. He's second from the right in the picture above, in the foreground of course. One of the few people left to still occasionally sport spiky mohawk-style hair, Dillon's voice is as rough as... Um, something really rough. His voice lends an appropriate air of anger and toughness to their similarly-spirited music.
Anyway, here's a quick rundown of the CDs they've produced to date:
Picture Of Health is a surprisingly good debut, and the band was lucky enough to be mildly commercially successful (in Canada) with it. This is probably their hardest-edged CD (like many bands, the Headstones slowed down and mellowed out a bit in the latter half of the 1990s). That's not to say it's their best, but it's excellent, kicking off, ironically, with a catchy little number called "It's All Over", before veering into the darker "Heart Of Darkness". The album had several hits, and most of the band's best-known material is from this disc including "Tweeter And The Monkey Man" (good driving song), "When Something Stands For Nothing", and the infamous "Cemetary". Chorus:
Went down to the cemetary,
Looking for love
Got there but my baby was buried,
I had to dig her up
Teeth And Tissue. The sophomore effort turned out better than most people probably expected (unlike most bands which make a good first CD, the Headstones didn't follow up with a disc full of junk). It's also a bit more melodic. Whether they're doing "Hearts, Love And Honor" (my personal favorite song from the band), the title track (a slow blues-rocker), or "Unsound" (snappy, smart rock), the guys demonstrate a crack talent that stands out.
Smile And Wave was downright tame at times, as Hugh apparently became more thoughtful and decided to write more introspective songs. The first single, "Cubicly Contained", is a quiet acoustic-guitar strummer, for example. Not that that's a bad thing, of course... And there's still plenty of the good old rock and roll they rose to semi-fame on. The title song is a pleasant (though uncomfortably repetitive) tune, and "And" and "Pretty Little Death Song" are harder punk numbers.
Nickels For Your Nightmares was the album that finally made fans stop pretending the Headstones hadn't changed. At this point, it was no longer possible to deny that the Headstones had made a departure from their original sound; They had definitely softened their sound, and they seemed a little more experimental, perhaps wishing to try something different from their previous style. While there's nothing wrong with that, the problem with NFYN is that much of the original music just isn't very good, and the good music isn't original. Sure, there are good old-fashioned Headstones songs like the opening track "Downtown", and the first single, "Settle", is pretty good (it succeeds at being soft yet gritty), but the rest of the album feels confused and, worse yet, half-hearted. The pure feeling that Hugh has put into most of his songs is one of the most important things that make the Headstones great, and his seeming lack of enthusiasm on much of this CD means it's dead before it really has a chance to take off.
When this album came out, many fans believed it was time to pack up and go home. All good things must come to an end, and it seemed as though the Headstones' time had come and gone. But then came their next CD...
Greatest Fits does indeed contain most of the songs the 'Stones are best known for; For the most part, it contains just the singles. If you have no other Headstones CDs and just want to hear the songs that made them big, you may as well just pick this one up. It also contains two previously unreleased tracks, "Blowtorch" and "Come On". Both are good, but not quite the band at their best.
Hallelujah! The Oracle has arrived, and it's restored our faith! If Nickels For Your Nightmares had you feeling like the Headstones were a done deal, The Oracle Of Hi Fi just might be the cure for what ails you. This CD finds the Headstones returning, for the most part, to the sound that they cultivated on their first few albums; there's still some experimental feel here (the songs all sound different from each other, in contrast to many of the songs on Picture Of Health which sound the same after a while), but the music is, almost without exception, good and sometimes great.
This isn't a perfect CD: It's the shortest album the band has released to date (only 11 tracks, while all their other CDs are 13 or 14 tracks). It's also a little sad to think that the Headstones might have been discouraged from trying new things by their fans; One might wonder if after all the negativity they encountered regarding Nickels, they decided just to give up on creativity and go back to doing the same type of song over and over.
However, closer study of this album shows this to not be the case: The songs on Oracle veer from the old-fashioned bass-guitar hits like "Take It" and a standout track, "She Just Wants To Cry" to softer, more strummy songs, especially the album's most outstanding song (in my opinion), "Coffee Cup". Notice I didn't say "best" song: Coffee Cup is not for all tastes, but it's got a very interesting guitar opening that sets the stage for a song that shows that yes, the Headstones can indeed still rock and be contemplative at the same time.
It's worth mentioning that I saw the Headstones live in concert a little while after Oracle was released, and if there was any doubt in my mind that the Headstones still had their edge, that concert left me without a shadow of a doubt: Hugh and the boys still rock.
How strange, then, that like Soundgarden, the Headstones, without any of the apparent band infighting that often precedes such an event, suddenly chose to end it all about a year after their last (and arguably greatest) CD. On September 18, 2003, the following news release came out:
After 12 solid years of touring and making records, we have made the
decision to disband. It is for both personal and professional reasons, only
time will tell if we shall return. All of our love and gratitude to the fans
who supported us through this incredible time; we would not have made it
without you. We will keep everyone informed.
I first saw this on the band's official website, which was at www.headstones.com. Since then, the site has gone down.
Because the 'Stones were never given that much attention by print media in the first place, it's a little hard to discern what happened, or where each of the band members has gone since the breakup. Hugh Dillon has long had aspirations to be a movie actor (he auditioned for a part in Quentin Tarantino's underrated movie Jackie Brown). His biggest role in movie acting was probably playing Joe Dick in the moderately successful underground punk movie "Hard Core Logo", and for a while after the band broke up, there were rumors of Hugh being in the United States looking for more acting gigs. (He did, indeed, act in a few movies around that time; if you look him up on the IMDb you'll find him in several minor roles.)
However, for those looking for more music from the man, there's good news: Hugh Dillon is now fronting another rock group called The Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir, and their first album is out, entitled The High Cost Of Low Living. Now, before you run out and buy the album, understand that this band is not the Headstones, and their sound is distinctively different. The main link is, of course, Hugh's unique voice, and there are some other similarities as well: The guitar makeup of the music seems to have a similar flavor to that of the Headstones', and Hugh still has a tendency to burst into random harmonica solos. But all things move toward their end, and Hugh is no longer the young punk he was when the Headstones started years ago. Like any man who does a fair bit of thinking, he's done some growing up, and his marriage to Midori Fujiwara seems to have mellowed him somewhat (as marriage tends to do to people). Understandably, this new band lacks some of the edge and manic-depressive feel of the previous one. Perhaps this finally explains why the Headstones broke up: The band was simply tired of the old feel, and wanted to do something a little different. Nothing wrong with that, and the HDRC does it well, but their sound is somewhat brighter than that of the Headstones, so we'll just have to accept that the new sound is not for everyone's tastes. The HDRC has a website at www.thehdrc.com. (Major thanks to Sheena for informing me of the HDRC's existence; I can't believe I hadn't heard of them.)
It's unfortunate that the original Headstones are no more, to be sure, but it's clear that it was the band's own decision to split up, and whatever their reasons, they must have had pretty good reasons to stop when things seemed to be going so well. At least the split was amicable and led to good things in the future, unlike some of the ugly breakups that many great rock bands have experienced in the past. Here's hoping that whatever the members of the Headstones do in the future, it brings them and their fans as much enjoyment as this band did. Meanwhile, the music still stands as that of one of the most rocking bands ever to come out of Canada.
The Headstones' official site no longer exists.
Probably the definitive website that still exists for Headstones material is Headstoner. Not surprisingly, that site has also stopped updating and has become an archive, but at least it's still up (as of mid-2005).
A website called Cover vs. Original has a page where you can vote on whether you prefer the Traveling Wilburys' original version of "Tweeter And The Monkey Man", or the Headstones' cover.
And don't forget to check out Hugh's current band, The Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir.
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