HE NEVER RUSHES THINGS, DOES HE?

The final Aztec Camera album was released in 1995.  It was the band’s sixth studio album, with them, more or less, appearing at decent-enough intervals without, apart from the sophomore album, ever appearing to be rushed out.

High Land, Hard Rain (1983)
Knife (1984)
Love (1987)
Stray (1990)
Dreamland (1993)
Frestonia (1995)

The trend looked as it was going to continue when Roddy Frame dissolved the band and began recording under his own name with The North Star (1998), Surf (2002) and Western Skies (2006) all hitting the shops in the same year as a football World Cup finals tournament was held. But then, total silence, albeit there was a spell in which he went on the road as a member of Edwyn Collins‘ backing band, playing a huge role in the efforts to help the frontman deal with the after-effects of his devastating bouts of illness.

It wasn’t until 2014 (again a year of a football World Cup Finals) that his next album, Seven Dials, was released on AED Records, the label that had been started by the afore-mentioned Mr Collins in 2011. Since then….nothing, and that’s despite Roddy, in an interview a few months after the release of Seven Dials saying that he was going through a prolific period in terms of new songs. Given that he seems to release new albums now at eight-year periods, here’s hoping that 2022 will prove to be the next occasion, although ideally, it would be sooner.

Anyone who ordered Seven Dials from the AED website also received a bonus CD of songs from a live show at Buxton Opera House in Derbyshire, England. It’s a venue I haven’t been to but it’s one I hope, post-COVID and the eventual return of live music, to one day pay a visit. It dates from 1903 and was fully restored to its full magnificence in 1979 after surviving threats to its existence following a three-year period in which it had closed. It now plays hosts to a whole range of comedy, variety and musical acts.

Roddy Frame played the venue on 18 February 2007….the show was recorded but none of the songs were made available for a further seven years until the bonus CD was issued.

There are six songs in all, consisting of three tracks from Surf, one from each of The North Star and Western Skies, and a b-side from a single released back in 1998:-

mp3: Roddy Frame – The Sea Is Wide (live, Buxton Opera House)
mp3: Roddy Frame – Small World (live, Buxton Opera House)
mp3: Roddy Frame – Over You (live, Buxton Opera House)
mp3: Roddy Frame – Western Skies (live, Buxton Opera House)
mp3: Roddy Frame – Reason For Living (live, Buxton Opera House)
mp3: Roddy Frame – Surf (live, Buxton Opera House)

It’s a very fine listen, and it really does makes me pine for the return of live music.

JC

GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT: SWC & BADGER

A GUEST POSTING by SWC and BADGER

I Make The Money…An Opening Tracks ICA

Of course, Badger and I argued about this very subject. Then again when it came to music, we argued about anything. Once we had an argument that lasted on and off for three days on whether the first Catatonia album was better than the second one (it is, before you start).

In actual fact, we were going to do something very similar for our (very) old blog When You Can’t Remember Anything. We had put aside a whole month to wow and amaze you all with ‘The 30 Best Opening Tracks…Ever’. We ditched the idea for two reasons.

1) We decided to a rundown of the best songs that feature colours in the title instead. An idea we later ditched, then stamped on and then soaked it with a hose pipe in order to make sure that it never ever saw the light of day again.

2) We couldn’t decide on the number one. I changed my mind about four times, whilst Badger changed his mind about six times. I distinctly remember phoning Badger at about half past ten one evening and telling him that I had finally decided on my Top Five opening tracks ever, but I didn’t know why order they were in. He told me to go to bed and put the phone down on me.

So when I saw that JC had designated Mondays to this very subject I loaded up the computer and opened for the first time in about five years the old WYCRA countdown spreadsheet. Sheet six contains the Best 30 Opening Tracks Ever and it makes me realise, as you will see and hear below, that I probably would have lost the argument.

And therefore I now present my ICA of opening tracks. Side A are my Top Five opening tracks ever and they are all from debut albums as it happens, and all five I think stamp their authority over the album that they feature on. Badgers top five are on Side B and only one of them is from a debut album.

Side A – SWC’s I Make the Money Side….

Beware – Death Grips (2012)

So this is why I think I would have lost the battle with Badger for the greatest opening moment of an album ever. Because I think its this. The opening track of ‘Exmilitary’ the debut album by Sacremento’s experimental rap duo Death Grips. It’s all about that opening sample. A short snippet of a famous Charles Manson speech, where he tells anyone who listens that he ‘has all the money in the world, man….” and then the beats, the noise and the gravel drawled rap of MC Ride kicks in. Death Grips are tremendous, but I accept that I was probably trying to bit a clever here.

Daft Punk Is Playing At My House – LCD Soundsystem (2005)

The eponymous debut album from LCD Soundsystem is an astonishing record. It is a record that from the first breaths of the very first track that make its musical intentions clear. That first track is ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’. The intention is that LCD Soundsystem are going to make dance music, and we, will love it.

You Know Its True – Spiritualized (1992)

‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ the debut album by Spiritualized is also an astonishing record that makes its intentions perfectly clear from the very first beats of the very first track. The very first track is ‘You Know Its True’ and as Jason Pierce sings in that whispery spectral voice “You know I’ve been here before and I don’t like it anymore….” in the opening seconds of it, the intention is clear. Spiritualized will take you places that no other band will ever dare to.

Oh My Lover – PJ Harvey (1992)

You know the story by now. Boy meets girl in a record shop. Boy and girl share musical tastes, a love of Galaxy chocolate, Rob Newman and the books of Iris Murdoch. Boy and girl start dating, cautiously holding hands on the way back from the bus stop. Things progress. Then after a three mile walk on a soaking June evening, the debut album from PJ Harvey gets put on the stereo…

Seagull – Ride (1990)

If you ask me, the first track on an album has to make a statement and I think each of the tracks on this side do that, but none of them do it as well as ‘Seagull’ does. ‘Nowhere’ wouldn’t be ‘Nowhere’ if ‘Seagull’ was tucked away as track four or something. I could cope if ‘Oh My Lover’ was track two or three. Does that make sense…? Let me put it this way, the first time I ever listened to ‘Seagull’, I had already decided that it was time to grow out my fringe, invest in a few effects pedals and buy a stripey jumper, before it had reached the end. That’s what an opening track should do.

Side B – Badgers I’m Leaving Here Side……

How Will I Ever Find My Way Home (Organ Version) – British Sea Power (2005)

Whilst I was trying to be clever with Death Grips, Badger actually was very clever here. Only Badger could argue successfully that one of the greatest opening tracks to an album isn’t actually a listed track on the album. You see when you listen to ‘Open Season’ the tremendous second album from British Sea Power, the opening track is ‘It Ended on an Oily Stage’, only it isn’t. Rewind your CD, yes, your CD, rewind it, to about -02:31 – that’s where the album really starts – and it starts with this, an organ solo version of track three of the album ‘How Will I Ever Find My Way Home’ and its marvellously unexpected.

Reverence – JAMC (1993)

Of course most people will argue that the opening tracks of ‘Darklands’ (‘Darklands’) and ‘Psychocandy’ (‘Just Like Honey’) are better than the opening track of ‘Honey’s Dead’ and you may have a point. But….‘Reverence’ makes ‘Honey’s Dead’. It must be the opening track.

I’d argue all day long that ‘Just Like Honey’ and ‘Darklands’ could sit anywhere on their respective albums and they’d still be incredible, but ‘Reverence’ must open ‘Honey’s Dead’. It’s an album about anger, frustration and its deliberately controversial and you need to know that right at the beginning, you need to know about the ‘bed of spikes, Jesus and JFK’ stuff. Simple really.

Fake Empire – The National (2008)

It was Matt Bellamy of Muse who got Badger into The National. He claims that back in 2009, Matt told him to listen to them. When Muse played a huge show in their home town of Teignmouth, Tim chatted to Matt and Dom of the band at the aftershow party (and we were both there, Tim for work reasons, me because my wife went to school with Dom’s wife and knows them very well). At the party Tim asked Matt what music he was currently listening to, and Matt said that his favourite album of the last year was by The National and he spoke at length about the opening track ‘Fake Empire’ and its ‘shimmering dreamlike crescendo’.

Xtal – Aphex Twin (1992)

I mentioned the WYCRA spreadsheet back up the page somewhere. On that spreadsheet, page eight was our ‘Top 30 Shoegaze albums’. This was another list that nearly lead to a fistfight and didn’t ever see the light of day. I (rightly) said that ‘Nowhere’ by Ride should be number one in any Shoegaze Album Countdown. Tim disagreed and claimed that ‘Selected Ambient Work Vol 1’ by Aphex Twin was the greatest shoegaze record ever made. ‘Xtal’ the opening track kind of adds weight to his point, there is something very My Bloody Valentine about it especially those blurry female vocals – either way this is just a sublime way to start any record.

Mysterons – Portishead (1994)

And so it ends with the track that Badger claimed on more than one occasion to be the Greatest Opening Track ever. In fact here is a direct quote from him.

“I’m going to go straight in at the deep end. ‘Dummy’ by Portishead has the single greatest and spookiest start to an album ever. A sinister sounding drone giving way to out of this world scratches and beats that sounds like you are going to get a hip hop track but in reality you get something unholy and downright incredible. ‘Mysterons’ is exquisite, uncomfortable and unquestionably brilliant”.

And, he’s right. Probably.

Thanks for reading

SWC and Badger

SWC’s I Make The Money Side (24:26)
Badger’s I’m Leaving Side (19:12)

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 23)

I remember back in either 1999 or 2000, when I was active on newsgroups (remember them?) the rec.music.rem group ran a readers poll of the best R.E.M. song. The winner was Find The River. I was a bit miffed. I never disliked Find The River, but it never struck me as being among the band’s very best work.

October 1993: a year after ‘Automatic For The People’ came out, Warners were still releasing singles from it. Find The River, the album’s closing track, was single number six. SIX! I used to balk at four singles being released off an album, but six? Talk about milking it. If I’m being honest, I don’t think Automatic has six singles on it. Maybe three, four at a real stretch. But never six.

What Find The River has going for it is its chorus, in particular the backing vocals. They are stunning, and probably the last great group vocal on an R.E.M. record. Well, until At My Most Beautiful any way. It was, apparently influenced by a much earlier song. “Harborcoat has got me and Michael and Bill all doing completely unrelated things, and yet it works together,” explained Mike Mills. “We tried it again on Find The River. I had the idea that Bill and I would go in and do some harmonies without listening to each other. It’s great because mine is this incredibly angst-ridden emotional thing, and Bill’s is this really low-key sort of ambling part. They’re two opposite ends of the spectrum but they’re both on there, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

He’s so right. Stipe’s lead is good, but he’s completely overshadowed by Mills and Berry, the former’s high vocal at the back, with the latter’s deeper voice nearer the front. That’s what makes Find The River for me, particularly from the second chorus on. It’s what makes Find The River one of Automatic’s better tracks, and a wonderful album closer. A single though? Hmm, still not convinced.

mp3: R.E.M. – Find The River

It’s clear the record-buying public weren’t convinced either. That or they’d just had enough of the record by then. It peaked at a lowly #54 in the UK, the band’s least successful single for more than four years. To be fair, there wasn’t much to entice fans to buy it. The 7” and cassette featured a live version of Everybody Hurts recorded just the month before the single’s release at the 1993 MTV Awards. It’s actually a more than decent performance which features a French Horn. But for some reason, it fades out. I have no idea why. So we don’t even get the full track!

mp3: R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (live – MTV Awards)

The only other format was a CD single which added, for some bizarre reason, an instrumental version of Orange Crush.

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush (instrumental)

As good a song as Find The River is, it was a completely unnecessary single. No one wanted it, it certainly wasn’t needed to promote the album, and there was nothing on it to sell it to anyone but the most hardcore fans. It signaled the end of the Automatic For The People Era. The next time we heard from R.E.M. they’d taken an altogether different path, but a not unwelcome one.

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #239: PAUL QUINN

I really don’t have anything to say, other than Paul Quinn is, IMHO, the finest vocalist ever to come out of Scotland. If you need any further info, then I will simply direct you to a fabulous fansite, one that may not have been updated for a few years, but has everything that is relevant.

Today’s track is taken from an NME cassette, Tape Worm, released back in 1985.

mp3: Paul Quinn – Ain’t That Always The Way (demo)

This would, in due course, be released as a single later the same year on the Swamplands label, itself run by Alan Horne a few years after Postcard Records had imploded.  It is, technically speaking, the only solo single that Paul ever released.

JC

NB: tempting as it is, I’ll not use the next two weeks to have a look at songs by Paul Quinn & The Independent Group or by Paul Quinn & The Nectarine No.9.

IT WAS 20 YEARS AGO TODAY….

Partly adapted and added to substantially from a previous blog posting back in August 2013:-

One night back in late 2000, while suffering from insomnia, I caught a glimpse of a cartoon video of on MTV. It must have been around 3am or something. My ears immediately picked up on a great tune and what sounded awfully like the vocals of Damon Albarn. But quite clearly, this was not anything by Blur.

Unusually, no information on the video came up at the end. But I was determined to track it down. By pure chance, I was in a favourite record shop in Glasgow a couple of days later and amidst my browsing, I saw something which had a title that was awfully like the mystery track.

So, I asked the guys in the shop to let me hear it. And I was right. So I bought it, and waited on it becoming a massive hit. But nothing happened:-

mp3: Gorillaz – Tomorrow Comes Today

It was originally released as a four-track EP on 27 November 2000.  I still think of Gorillaz as being a relatively new addition to the music scene, so I’m terrified/horrified/gob-smacked that it has been a full twenty years.

Here’s the other tracks on the EP:-

mp3: Gorillaz – Rock The House
mp3: Gorillaz – Latin Simone
mp3: Gorillaz – 12D3

It would take only a further four months for the band/group/act to make the commercial breakthrough, with Clint Eastwood being a Top 5 single and the self-titled debut album going Top 3 in the UK, eventually selling almost a million copies.  Greater success followed in 2005 when Feel Good Inc (featuring De La Soul) and Dare (featuring Shawn Ryder) went to #2 and #1 respectively, with parent album Demon Days selling 1.8 million copies.

There have been five albums since, all of which have charted high in the charts, but without selling copious amounts – for instance, Humanz (2017) reached #2 in the albums chart, but sold only 100,000 copies.

Tomorrow Comes Today, after its low-key release in 2000, would be included on the debut album and would be re-released as a single in March 2002, when it reached #33.  It was the fourth single to be lifted from the debut album, but rather unusually, it was issued after a non-album single had been released in December 2001:-

mp3: Gorillaz (feat. D12 and Terry Hall) – 911

From wiki:-

The song was recorded by Gorillaz and D12 (sans Eminem) in Damon Albarn’s personal studio in West London. The track came about after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City had left D12 stranded in England; Damon Albarn invited the band to his studio and played them an early demo of the track. Albarn had always wanted to experiment with Middle-Eastern music, and felt that this song would be perfect. D12 added additional production to the song, before laying down their verses. Terry Hall appears on the song as a vocal harmony with Albarn for the song’s chorus. Albarn and Hall had previously spoken about collaborating together, however when Hall revealed that he had been taking singing lessons from a Middle-Eastern singer, it inspired Albarn to take the song in a different direction.

It was made available as a download from the Gorillaz website, but in a very low key way, with a number of white-label 12″ vinyl copies also distributed around. It’s a quite extraordinary piece of music…..and one I wasn’t aware of until earlier this year when I began to think about a possible ICA for Gorillaz.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #272 : VANESSA CONTENAY-QUINONES

A GUEST POSTING by KHAYEM

This ICA has been percolating for some time. I’m prejudiced: I’m predisposed to like anything by Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones, with a few notable exceptions (as you will find). The final kick up the arse to shape this into an actual ICA was Jonny The Friendly Lawyer’s excellent Sideshows ICA (#266). Although not strictly meeting the criteria of that ICA, Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones has had an interesting career, taking in collaborations with Frazier Chorus, A Guy Called Gerald, The Smashing Pumpkins, Scott Walker, Brian Higgins (Xenomania), Lou Reed, Skeewiff and, inevitably, Andrew Weatherall. To pinch a theme from the Bagging Area website, for me this also falls into the category of Songs Lord Sabre Taught Us.

So, we’re back in 1993, I’m obsessed with all things Andrew Weatherall and as a result I’m buying any old shit solely on the basis that it contains a Weatherall/Sabres of Paradise remix. Sometimes, that remix is the sole saving grace of said purchase, but occasionally it opened me up to an artist that I might otherwise have passed over. So it was with Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones and her then-non de plume Espiritu.

“Conquistador” was the song that initially drew me, via the trio of Sabres of Paradise remixes spread across the 12” & CD singles. I was intrigued enough by the standard single versions and B-sides that I went back to the debut single “Francisca” and stayed with the subsequent singles “Los Americanos”, “Bonita Mañana” and beyond. None of them particularly troubled the UK charts, but it appealed to me as music you could dance to, a bit poppy, with a South American mix of joy and melancholy.

Espiritu is another one of those acts that nearly but didn’t quite make it big: 3 Top 50 UK singles in their first phase; their biggest UK hit (# 14) actually a remix of a cover version where they were relegated to “featuring” artist status; an aborted debut album that eventually saw release in Japan; record label problems (ironically, both with Heavenly); another Top 40 UK hit in 2000, thanks to the film “The Beach” and a guest spot with Dario G. A shift in the 21st century to French language songs, inspired by yé-yé, Serge Gainsbourg and indie pop seems to have paid dividends and, for me, Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones provided one of the 2020’s lockdown highlights with the album Voodoo Girl.

This was another tough one to compile: I could easily stretch to another couple of ICAs and I’ve left off several personal favourites. Although I settled on this final track listing fairly quickly, like my previous ICAs, I’ve played this lots in the past few weeks to ‘road test’ the songs. A mark of approval is my teen daughter not asking me to “turn this rubbish off” on the school run, so I reckon it’s as ready as it will ever be. Prepare for 40 minutes of multi-lingual sunshine, with just a hint of autumn chill.

SIDE ONE

1) Conquistador (7″ Radio Edit) by Espiritu (single, 1993)

Where it all started for me. Although promoted as a duo of Chris Taplin (ex-Frasier Chorus) and Vanessa Quiñones (as she was known then), Espiritu was essentially a solo vehicle for the latter. The Sabres Of Paradise mixes are superb, but this original version was enough to blossom into an ongoing interest in her work. Terry Christian posted a performance of this song on Channel 4’s The Word on You Tube and Vanessa commented that it was her first ever live performance on TV. I like to think I staggered home and caught this ‘live’ at the time, but the reality is that I was probably out clubbing, off my shed and missed the whole thing. Either way, it’s a spirited performance and from the outset, Vanessa was clearly a driving musical force.

2) Always Something There To Remind Me (Album Version) by Espiritu (‘Always…’ Japan-only album, 1995)

I’ll address the elephant in the room and acknowledge that this was the aforementioned UK hit (#14), albeit as Tin Tin Out ft. Espiritu. And I hated it. The original version did emerge in 1994/95 as a European single but was quickly withdrawn, though it was a #1 hit in Japan. The Tin Tin Out remix featured on the single, but re-appeared in the UK later that year as “Tin Tin Out featuring Espiritu”. Vanessa at least got a cameo appearance in the promo video.

Personally, this is the best version, which was due to appear on the debut album titled Manifesto. The album was shelved when Sony’s distribution deal with Heavenly ended, but was subsequently released in Japan (only) in 1995, re-titled “Always…” in light of the single’s success there. This was the first of a string of cover versions, taking in “I Love You, Porgy” on the subsequent ‘official’ debut Espiritu album, through to the pre-millennial version of Carly Simon’s “Why?” (also withdrawn) and the ill-advised 21st century club version of The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” with a dialled-in guest spot from Lou Reed. Thankfully, Vanessa used an alias (Vanessa St. James) for the latter and it was generally ignored by the record-buying public. Don’t bother looking for it.

3) Bande A Papa (Album Version) by Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones (‘Voodoo Girl’ album, 2020)

And so to Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones latest album, released in March 2020 just as large parts of the world were entering lockdown. For me, an antidote to the prevailing awfulness of the time, this song retained the characteristic mix of pop sensibility and melancholy. Described on the Universal Production Music website as “Stylish, 70’s French language pop with uplifting mellotron-styled strings, relaxed acoustic guitars and soft female vocals singing”, in fairness it’s a pretty fair description. I like the fact that the intro and opening verses suggest a more sombre song than it subsequently develops into.

4) Odyssee (Album Version) by Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones (‘Allez Pop!’ album, 2008)

aka the Serge Gainsbourg pastiche. There is a slight overlap with the Vanessa & The O’s sound, the band which bridged Espiritu and her solo work, but is perfectly suited for the Allez Pop! album. Despite being indebted to its influences, this a compelling song in its own right and screaming to be included in a soundtrack. Or it has already, and I’m just a damn lazy researcher. Great video, too. It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that I achieved a ‘D’ for my French O-Level at school and I generally have no idea what most of the lyrics mean.

5) You Don’t Get Me (album version) by Espiritu (single / ‘Another Life’ album, 1997)

Espiritu’s low-key return, back with Heavenly (home of the early singles) albeit as a subsidiary of Deconstruction. This fell between the stools of dance pop music and (not quite) drum ’n’ bass (enough) to really hit the singles market. A real shame as, despite swapping the South American influences for d’n’b, this has aged remarkably well. Chris Taplin was still on board for the songwriting at this point, but this feels very much a Vanessa Quiñones solo effort. To cement the d’n’b direction, the original version was co-produced by Mike ‘PFM’ Bolton, with a remix by Aphrodite and Mickey Finn. Of it’s time but none the worse for that and a highlight of the self-titled album that emerged the same year.

SIDE TWO

6) No Crèo Mas (Demo) by Espiritu (B-side, ‘Conquistador’, 1993 ‘Man Don’t Cry’, 1997)

Roughly translating as “I don’t believe you anymore”, this B-side version was labelled as a demo when released a second time as a B-Side to “Man Don’t Cry” in 1997 (itself one of several withdrawn Espiritu singles). No Crèo Mas was also included on the Japan-only debut album but as with most of the other previously released singles, in heavily remixed form, in this case by Nellee Hooper. If nothing else, the album proves that Vanessa got the versions right the first time, the pulsing bassline and synth waves drowning the flamenco acoustic guitar of the original demo. Inevitably, I’ve opted the for the demo here. On a side note, this song also reminds me of a long winter living in a freezing cold bedsit in Derby, with ice on the inside of the windows, a fold-out sofa bed that felt like it was stuffed with gravel, and a neglected but sturdy plant housed in a birdcage that the previous tenant had left behind. Probably not the environment Vanessa was thinking of when she wrote the song.

7) Bonita Mañana (7″ Version) by Espiritu (single, 1994)

Hey, we all need a “Beautiful Morning” after that lovely memory, right? There are some lovely lyrical sketches in here: “We close our eyes and our eyes conceal” and “The sisters of the sun are dancing, softly singing with their summer dresses on” and an insistent rhythm and sample that sounds a little like a Latin answer to the call of House of Pain’s “Jump Around”. There are some truly horrible and dated remixes by Johnny Vicious spread across the single formats, but Gang Starr tapped into the vibe and there’s a lengthy Sabres Of Paradise remix which takes the song into a whole dimension and remains one of my favourite Weatherall excursions.

8) Bon Bon Bon (Album Version) by Vanessa Contenay-Quiñones (‘Allez Pop!’ album, 2008)

This is arguably Vanessa’s most well-known song internationally, having appeared in the 2010 film “Killers” starring Ashton Kutcher & Katherine Heigl (no, me neither) and a Victoria’s Secret online campaign. 1960’s influenced French pop and yé-yé music has proved to be a rich vein of inspiration for Vanessa and Allez Pop! was the first of a trio of similarly themed albums, followed by Made in France (2014) and Voodoo Girl (2020).

9) Brouhaha (Album Version) by Vanessa & The O’s (‘Plus Rien’ Sweden-only single, 2003 / ’La Ballade D’O’, 2005)

Vanessa & The O’s started as a collaboration with Swedish musical collaborators Andreas Mattsson and Niclas Frisk, and subsequently James Iha, co-founder of The Smashing Pumpkins. Around the same time, Vanessa recorded the aforementioned rework of The Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” with Lou Reed, as well as providing guest vocals on Scott Walker’s “The Drift”. Vanessa & The O’s base was again 60’s inspired, but with more of a nod to the Velvets. Brouhaha is a French word that roughly translates as “noisy chattering”, which this song captures well. I love the word and should use it more!

10) Baby I Wanna Live (Album Version) by Espiritu (single / ‘Another Life’ album, 1997)

This was the only possible ending to this ICA, although it was originally released as the lead-off single for the ‘official’ debut album and Espiritu’s drum ’n’ bass inspired new direction. Beginning with a piano and strings intro, followed by a pulsing bass note and synths, the frenetic beats kick in after the first verse. However, it’s the surf guitar riff that kicks in at 2:15 that really nails the song. The single included some great remixes from DJ Pulse, Monkey Mafia (Jon Carter) and Richard Fearless but once more failed to bother the UK charts.

BONUS Espiritu Remix 5-track EP

I’ve mentioned the Espiritu remixes so much, it feels wrong not to include some of them, especially as many take the songs in an entirely new direction. Again, it was very hard to only pick 5 so I have left off the d’n’b excursions by Urban Takeover and PFM, some banging club mixes from Mother and Luvdup, Gang Starr’s bouncing groove and (simply because I don’t have it) a remix by Trevor Jackson/Underdog. The vinyl rips will be of variable quality but I hope you get the feel.

A1) Bonita Mañana (Sabres Of Paradise Remix) (CD single, 1994)

Weatherall, Kooner and Burns deliver a monster of a remix, full vocals front loaded in the opening minutes and then building into a pulsing, chiming club beast typical of the Sabresonic-period music.

A2) Conquistador (Sabres Of Paradise Mix No. 3) (12” single, 1993)

All three Sabres mixes are unique and mine a particular musical vein. This is the longest, an energetic, repetitive race to the dance floor. For no particular reason, I find myself freestyling the lyrics to Soft Cell B-Side “Facility Girls” over the top of this version, though I attempted a mash-up a few years ago and failed spectacularly.

B1) Baby I Wanna Live (Richard Fearless Mix) (CD single, 1997)

At the time, I liked Death In Vegas more than Fearless’ solo remix efforts, but this was an exception. Bearing little resemblance to the source material, after a lengthy intro, this is another driving, groovy club thing, with a vocal sample drifting in and fading out throughout.

B2) Man Don’t Cry (Modwheel Mix (Love You And Leave You) By Tom Middleton) (promo 12”, 1997)

…which is kind of what Tom Middleton does on his mix too, albeit with his trademark washes and beats that he honed to greater effect with Cosmos. This appeared on a promo 12” of a single that was subsequently withdrawn, so this is possibly one of the harder to find Tom Middleton remixes, but it doesn’t disappoint.

B3) Francisca (Junior Style House Dub) (Remix By Terry Farley & Pete Heller) (CD single, 1992)

I initially got this on 12” and it’s my favourite version of the song, and arguably one of the best remixes that Farley and Heller have done, full stop. Built around the original’s trumpet motif and Vanessa’s skat singing, this is irresistibly groovy. I have included this on mixtapes and compilations for numerous friends, both as an opening and closing track. Absolutely brilliant.

Khayem

BONUS POST: C81 NME/ROUGH TRADE

There’s a Facebook group that I keep an eye on having a discussion about this tape – the author of the original post said that he played it to death at the time but can’t risk putting it in now after so many years in a box in the loft.

So I thought…..

mp3: Various – C81 NME/Rough Trade (Side One)
mp3: Various – C81 NME/Rough Trade (Side Two)

Tracklisting

Side One

1. Scritti Politti – The “Sweetest Girl” (6:09)
2. The Beat – Twist And Crawl Dub (4:58)
3. Pere Ubu – Misery Goats (2:26)
4. Wah! Heat – 7,000 Names Of Wah (3:57)
5. Orange Juice – Blue Boy (2:52)
6. Cabaret Voltaire – Raising The Count (3:32)
7. D.A.F. – Kebab Traume (Live) (3:50)
8. Furious Pig – Bare Pork (1:28)
9. Specials – Raquel (1:56)
10. Buzzcocks – I Look Alone (3:00)
11. Essential Logic – Fanfare In The Garden (3:00)
12. Robert Wyatt – Born Again Cretin (3:07)

Side Two

1. The Raincoats – Shouting Out Loud (3:19)
2. Josef K – Endless Soul (2:27)
3. Blue Orchids – Low Profile (3:47)
4. Virgin Prunes – Red Nettle (2:13)
5. Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters (4:57)
6. Red Crayola – Milkmaid (2:01)
7. Linx – Don’t Get In My Way (5:15)
8. The Massed Carnaby St. John Cooper Clarkes – The Day My Pad Went Mad (1:46)
9. James Blood Ulmer – Jazz Is The Teacher, Funk Is The Preacher (4:03)
10. Ian Dury – Close To Home (4:13)
11. Gist – Greener Grass (2:32)
12. Subway Sect – Parallel Lines (2:38)

JC

BURNING BADGERS VINYL (Part 9): THE SOUP DRAGONS

I know…..it’s an absolute bummer to find it’s me and not SWC on duty today. I thought I’d take a leaf out of his book and regale you with a tale from my life.

It’s August 1991. I’m outside a football stadium in Glasgow on a Tuesday night gearing up to watch Raith Rovers take on the might of Celtic in a cup-tie. My best mate is a centre-half for Raith Rovers but he’s a product of the youth development at Celtic and he’s still friendly with a number of the opposition players. It’s a game he’s been looking forward to since the draw had taken place two weeks previously. As usual, there’s a complimentary ticket (referred to as a ‘comp’) waiting for me, but it’s been left by one of the other players and not my mate which seems strange.

I make my way in and as I look around to take in the scene, I spot my mate sitting in a separate area of the stand, somewhere that I can’t access from where I’m sitting. Nowadays, it would be a case of texting/phoning, but remember this was 1991 when mobile phones were anything but. I start waving frantically to get his attention, and after a number of minutes he signals that he’ll make his way over to where I’m sitting.

‘I’ve been dropped’, he tells me. First time in his career and he looks devastated. It turns out he’s one of four changes to the normal team as the manager tries to catch Celtic on the hop by playing a number of younger players. I’m really upset for my mate and I’m tempted just to head home instead of watching the game – it’s the night before Rachel’s birthday and we have a lovely day planned for the Wednesday, and I’m thinking I could get extra brownie points by coming back unexpectedly. My mate talks me out of it by saying he’d appreciate it if we could go for a post-match beer when he can reflect a bit on what’s happened to him as well as giving us an opportunity to dissect the game.

I re-take my seat in the stand and he goes back to where the club officials are sitting. I notice that I’m surrounded by a lot of unfamiliar faces and it hits me that the remaining comps are most likely in the hands of the family and friends of the incoming players as well as those who don’t come along to the run-of-the-mill matches.

Much to my disbelief, the manager’s tactics work out well as Rovers get the opening goal, which is cancelled out just before half-time. As the second-half progresses, Celtic see a lot of the ball but get no end product. Rovers fashion a great chance but the young, inexperienced centre-forward makes a mess of it. Almost immediately, Celtic score to take the lead and within a couple more minutes grab another to take a 3-1 lead. My frustrations boil over and I let rip with a volley of abuse at our centre-forward for his earlier ineptitude. As I do so, two folk sitting directly in front of me, what looks like a mother and teenage daughter, get up and leave.

I meet up with my mate outside the main entrance and we get in his car to take the drive into the city centre. I’m still wired from the disappointment and I tell him that I’d lost it when we had gone 3-1 down, taking it out on the player who had missed the sitter. When he tells me that the young boy had nearly been devastated in the dressing room after the match, I feel a lot of guilt, shame and remorse. It was senseless behaviour on my part.

The next night, which remember is Rachel’s birthday, I get home around midnight to find a message on the answering machine from my mate asking me to give him a bell, no matter how late. I decide that midnight is just too late….

I’m wakened up by the phone ringing at 7am the following morning. It’s my mate. I’m expecting him to ask how my day away with Rachel had gone, but instead, he unleashes a volley of abuse. He’d gone to training and he’d heard the manager say to the players present that he was unhappy that someone who was sitting in the area where the comps had been allocated had been overly abusive, to the extent that one of the players mum and sister had to leave early, in tears, as the abuse was unacceptable.

My mate didn’t throw me under the bus in front of his team-mates, but he didn’t miss me with this phone call. Let’s just say that I was rightly chastised…..and I can say, in all honesty, that I have never at any point over the past 29 years, ever singled out an individual player for stick at a football match. Well, when I say ‘never’, what I mean is I don’t scream and yell at anyone at the top of my voice – you just never know whose mum might be sitting close by….

All of which brings me to the latest piece of vinyl in Badger’s Box, a single dating from not too long before my rant:-

mp3: The Soup Dragons – Mother Universe (12″)

The original version of the song was released as a 45 in March 1990 but, like every other single by The Soup Dragons, it proved to be a flop. A few months later, and their cover of I’m Free was given the indie-dance treatment. As I said when I looked at the charts of July 1990, those of us up here in the Glasgow area who had watched The Soup Dragons be part of the twee, occasionally shambolic but always guitar-based Bellshill scene (along with the likes of BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub) were stunned, bemused and delighted to see the band take the singles charts by storm by hitching their wagon to the Madchester sound.

A remixed version of Mother Universe was issued as the follow-up to I’m Free in October 1990. It should rightly have featured in the recent post looking at that month’s new entries, but knowing I had been asked to write about it as part of this particular series, I left it well be.

I think Mother Universe is a great song…far superior to the better-known I’m Free. I actually have a copy of the 12″, but it’s quite different from the one in Badger’s Box. His has a white sleeve, with two live tracks on the b-side:-

mp3: The Soup Dragons – Dream-E-4-Ever (live)
mp3: The Soup Dragons – Softly (live)

There’s at least three other 12″ versions kicking around with different b-sides or versions. The one I have has a black sleeve and comes with a poster, with one track on either side of the vinyl:-

mp3: The Soup Dragons – Mother Universe (dub version)
mp3: The Soup Dragons – Mother Universe (Original ’89 version)

It proved to be the last time The Soup Dragons enjoyed any commercial success in the UK although Divine Thing would give them a hit in the USA in 1992. Lead singer, Sean Dickson, continues to make excellent electronic and dance records under than name of HiFi Sean. Here’s a collaboration of his from 2017. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, there really is no hope for you.

JC

THE ULTIMATE MADCHESTER/BAGGY TRIBUTE?

It was back in 1991 that BMX Bandits recorded the album Star Wars, issued on the London-based but Japanese-oned label, Vinyl Japan. The make-up of the band had always been fairly fluid, but the cast for this particular album was fairly stellar with Duglas T Stewart being joined by Gordon Keen, Norman Blake, Joe McAlinden, Eugene Kelly and Francis MacDonald. The fact that members of Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines and The Groovy Little Numbers were all present meant that we got as close to a Bellshill super-group as it was close to imagining.

All that was missing was a Soup Dragon, but then again the album coincided with that particular band enjoying some unexpected chart success having made a deliberate move away from the indie/twee with which they had initially made their name and out onto the dancefloor where they embraced Madchester/Baggy with the hit singles I’m Free and Mother Universe.

The opening track on Star Wars was also the accompanying single. It is quite atypical of the lyrics Duglas has penned throughout his career but with the tune having input from all the musicians, it is something of a cut above the norm:-

mp3: BMX Bandits – Come Clean

The single was issued only on CD and 12″ vinyl, but the latter format allowed an extended remix of the single to take up an entire side of the record. It’s one on which Duglas’s vocal contribution is removed in its entirety:-

mp3: BMX Bandits – Come Clean (Jumping On Someone Else’s Funky Train Mix)

It’s as baggy a piece of music as you can ever come across, either paying tribute to or ripping off the Mondays, the Roses, the Carpets and all the others who came in their wake. The subtitle in the brackets, however, indicates that this was all about enjoying themselves in the studio while poking fun at their pals in The Soup Dragons….

Absence in this instance really did make the heart grow fonder.

JC

GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT: THE GREAT GOG

A GUEST POSTING by THE GREAT GOG

Hi Jim,

Hope all’s well. Been playing catch-up a bit of late, but am up-to-date for the first time in a couple of weeks, and it would seem that others are as intrigued by the Opening Tracks ICAs as I am. I’ve not read the comments sections, so have no idea what’s being suggested on those.

During my lunch hour, I’ve rapidly come up with ten opening tracks. These tracks are the ones I immediately think of when I call to mind the album that houses them. Indeed, I think I have used the title of the opening track to refer to each of these albums more than once. In some cases they were the track that drew me to the album in the first place, in others it’s become the thought of hearing the opening track that makes me reach for the album and play it, even if it isn’t the song that the album is most famous for. To my mind, that’s what an opening track should aim to do. Of all the ones mentioned by yourself and jimdoes, I Wanna Be Adored is the one that I would most have wanted to add to my list – not sure if that helps you understand my thought process or not!

These are all albums I’ve listened to a lot – that’s why they’re all pretty old, with only one offering from the current millennium. I can’t say a great deal of thought has gone into the order, although I have put a couple of longer tracks at the end of each side.

Side A

1 – Don’t Bang The Drum – The Waterboys (This Is The Sea, 1985)
2 – Definitive Gaze – Magazine (Real Life, 1978)
3 – Rain Of Crystal Spires – Felt (Forever Breathes The Lonely Word, 1986)
4 – Human Behaviour – Bjork (Debut, 1992)
5 – Happiness Is Easy – Talk Talk (The Colour Of Spring, 1986)

Side B

1 – Roscoe – Midlake (The Trials Of Van Occupanther, 2006)
2 – The Concept – Teenage Fanclub (Bandwagonesque, 1991)
3 – Supervixen – Garbage (Garbage, 1995)
4 – Burn It Down – Dexys Midnight Runners (Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, 1980)
5 – Fire Inside My Soul – Ian McNabb (Head Like A Rock, 1994)

As I say, I’ve deliberately not read the comments so as not to cloud my judgment. If others have suggested the tracks above, so be it.

All the best,

The Great Gog

JC adds…..

Thanks to everyone who has already sent in their suggestions, but feel free to keep them coming. This was the first of the opening track ICAs to arrive in the inbox and thus gains the distinction of being the first guest posting in what I hope will prove to be an enjoyable series over the coming weeks and months.

I still have a few more of my own up my sleeve, and interestingly enough, at least one of the tracks selected by TGG would have featured. Indeed, it will still feature…just because a particular track has already been selected by a contributor doesn’t rule it out for any future appearances.

Next Monday will see an offering from SWC and Tim Badger. Yup, our late friend is able to be part of the new series thanks to a piece that the two of them wrote up a few years ago but never got round to using…SWC has taken the original words, tidied them up a bit and done a small rejig so that it now fits with this particular format. It’s one that, as you’d expect, is well worth tuning in for.

Oh, and as a bonus, the plan each week is to have the ICAs in this series appear as they would if they were actually two sides of vinyl:-

The Great Gog’s ICA: Side One (25:30)
The Great Gog’s ICA: Side Two (27:23)

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 22)

There’s been a few lengthy articles in recent weeks.  I want to keep this one short(ish) and simple.

I wrote these words when offering some thoughts re Man On The Moon:-

Stipe was now in his early 30s, held up by many, in the American music press in particular, as the most important lyricist of his time and this was his very conscious effort to compose something which acknowledged his days of carefree youth were behind him…

Here’s surely another example.

mp3: R.E.M. – Nightswimming

The fifth(!!) single to be lifted from Automatic. It’s a beautiful piece of music with a lyric that could easily qualify for the Songs as Great Short Stories series. It is, arguably, the stand-out track on Automatic For The People but I don’t believe that anyone ever imagined it would make for a single, and it wasn’t released in that format in America.

But, as Jonny has pointed out previously, the UK and European markets put a much higher importance on that format and so, from the record company’s perspective, it was important to have some product on the back of Everybody Hurts, which was still getting loads of airplay months after its release as a single, and so why not another soft-ballad that would possibly appeal to the as yet not fully committed admirers of R.E.M.?

You’ll have picked up that the b-sides were proving to be problematic with all the studio snippets of jammed pieces of music having been used up and a real unwillingness of Warner Bros, to offer up songs from the IRS era. It was inevitable that, yet again, live songs would be forced into use.

The b-side to the 7″ and the cassette delivered this

mp3: R.E.M. – Losing My Religion (live – Charleston)

Yup…..give the people exactly what they are looking for!! Not the first time the breakthrough single had been pressed into service as a b-side, nor would it prove to be the last. This version was recorded at the 800-capacity Capital Plaza Theatre in Charleston, West Virginia on 28 April 1991, in a show that was akin to the London Borderline shows from Match 1991,  that have been mentioned in previous editions of this series. It’s worth mentioning in passing that a few days later, various members of R.E.M. would go into a studio back home in Athens, Georgia, along with Billy Bragg, for songs that would later appear on his album, Don’t Try This At Home.

There was just the one CD single to pick up this time, with a further three songs taken from the same show in Charleston:-

mp3: R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend (live – Charleston)
mp3: R.E.M. – Belong (live – Charleston)
mp3: R.E.M. – Low (live – Charleston)

In saying that, I’m indebted to The Robster for the info that a 12″ picture disc of Nightswimming was released in the UK, with all four songs playing at 33.33 rpm on one-side. It was the first 12″ release since Radio Song and it proved to be their last, certainly here in the UK.

I’ve just had a look back at the chart stats for the band back in 1992/93. Drive entered the UK singles chart at #14 on 3 October 1992. Nightswimming left the chart on 28 August 1993. That was a total of 46 weeks, and Warner Bros. must have been happy that 38 of those weeks had seen an R.E.M. single in the Top 75; The parent album had entered the charts at #1 on 10 October 1992 and 46 weeks later it was still sitting at #6 in the album charts, having spent only three of those weeks outside the Top 10.

Clearly, the marketing strategy was working, and you shouldn’t, therefore, be shocked that a sixth single (from an album with 12 tracks including an instrumental) would be issued. The Robster will be back next week with that one.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #238: PAUL HAIG

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that Paul Haig is just about the most important Scottish musician of my generation. He’s really proved to be our equivalent of Bowie, with his constant shifting of musical genres over a career that stretches back more than 40 years, albeit with a very small minuscule of commercial success in comparison.

I really enjoyed writing-up the 20-part series a while back looking back on the various solo singles, and I was delighted that so many of them were received with some enthusiasm. I thought today would be best served by having three versions of one of his compositions.

mp3: Haig/Mackenzie – Listen To Me
mp3: Paul Haig – Listen To Me (2009 version)
mp3: Paul Haig – Listen To Me (2005 version)

The first, which I have featured on the blog before, can be found on Memory Palace, a collection of songs recorded by two long time friends at various times between 1993-95. Paul takes the lead while Billy provides the most perfect backing vocal. As I said, I’ve always felt Paul penned the lyric as a tribute to his pal in the hope he would take heed of what he was saying and, perhaps, look after himself a bit better.

The second was Paul’s fresh take on the song as recorded for the album Relive, released in 2009. It’s quite different, a bit more raw sounding with no backing vocal from Billy but instead we get treated to some of Paul’s always impressively understated guitar work.

The third was a version I only learned of two years ago when it was included on Goosebumps, a 40-track, 2xLP issued to celebrate 25 years of the Hamburg-based Marina Records. It is tucked away as the second-to-last song on the record, and the only info given in the accompanying booklet is that it was previously unreleased and dates from 2005. It is a stunning version, with David Scott of The Pearlfishers bringing his skills to the table, adding a string arrangement that takes the song to a whole new and very moving level.

I really must get round to finishing that long-delayed Paul Haig ICA.

JC

GETTING WEIGHED DOWN, WITH ALL THIS INFORMATION

I’ve mentioned before, on many occasions, how much of a fan I am of Billy Bragg. I haven’t gone out and bought absolutely everything he’s ever issued, but I’ve all the albums, a handful of compilation CDs, the stuff with Wilco, and some officially sanctioned live CDs, there are over 400 different songs or takes on songs sitting on the hard-drive.

Browsing in a second-hand shop the other week, I picked up the 12″ release of Sexuality, a single from 1991, written in partnership with Johnny Marr on which Kirsty MacColl sang backing vocals.  The single went all the way up to #27 in the UK charts and was the first to be released from the album Don’t Try This At Home. I genuinely can’t think why I didn’t buy Sexuality at the time – I certainly have long had a 12″ copy of You Woke Up My Neighbourhood, the second and final 45 from the album, dating from the time of release.

I was surprised to see that the two additional tracks on Sexuality weren’t already on the hard-drive, which made handing over the £2 a very easy decision. I did think that all his b-sides had been collated on compilations or included in the subsequent boxsets, so this felt like a bit of a find, albeit I know it’s not a particularly difficult piece of vinyl to track down on the second-hand market. I’ve since checked and picked up the info that the b-side of the 7″ has been included on compilations, but not the 12″ tracks.

I was a little bit disappointed when I got home and discovered that the vinyl wasn’t in the greatest of condition but it didn’t stop me playing and enjoying these two new bits of music:-

mp3: Billy Bragg – Sexuality (Manchester Remix)
mp3: Billy Bragg – Sexuality (London Remix)

Yup…..Billy Bragg going down the remix route. The Manchester effort is the work of Owen Morris, who just a few years later would become one of the best-known in the business from his work with Oasis, The Verve and Ash.

The London remix is credited to Adam Peters and Vic W. I knew the name Adam Peters from a couple of things, including his work on Ocean Rain by Echo & The Bunnymen on which he played cello and arranged the orchestral parts, and also his partnership with David McComb of The Triffids, with the two of them hooking up to contribute their version of Don’t Go Home With Your Hard-On to I’m Your Fan, a rather wonderful tribute album to Leonard Cohen. What I hadn’t realised, and what becomes obvious with one listen to the London Remix, is that he was, in the early 90s, pursuing a path that involved keyboards and left-field electronica. In more recent years, he has become increasingly better-known for his work as a composer of film and documentary soundtracks.

On the other hand, I have no idea who Vic W is…..

For completeness, here’s the two songs on the 7″ (lifted NOT from poor quality vinyl):-

mp3: Billy Bragg – Sexuality
mp3: Billy Bragg – Bad Penny

Billy has been known to amend the lyrics to the song when playing it live, including ‘I look like Boris Becker, I drive a big red double-decker’ and my own favourite – ‘I had an uncle who once played for Red Star Belgrade – he said some things are best left unspoken but I’ve left your auntie and ran off with the postman’

JC

THE ONE THAT HAD TO BE BUMPED FOR THE NEW SERIES

I’ve stolen these words from Richard Buskin, penned in December 2010 as his intro to an on-line piece, primarily about the production techniques engaged on the song, for the website Sound on Sound.

Protests against Catholicism have taken many forms, Martin Luther nailing his objections to the cathedral door, but the Pet Shop Boys chose to make theirs in disco…

It was the mid‑’80s, synth pop was at its height, and in the process of creating a song with Chris Lowe that would subsequently mesh orchestral stabs, layers of keyboards, tons of echo, and assorted samples of Latin masses into one of the genre’s most overblown, theatrically dramatic, disco‑oriented masterpieces, Neil Tennant vented against the conflict between guilt and desire engendered by his Catholic upbringing.

“At school they taught me how to be,” he wrote poetically of his education at St Cuthbert’s High School in Newcastle upon Tyne, “So pure in thought and word and deed, They didn’t quite succeed. For everything I long to do, No matter when or where or who, Has one thing in common, too. It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin…”

Featuring a characteristically thin, coolly dispassionate Tennant lead vocal set against the backdrop of Lowe’s splashy melodic mélange, ‘It’s A Sin’ was the second Pet Shop Boys chart‑topper in the UK and the best‑selling European single of 1987, hitting number one in more than half a dozen countries and also making the top 10 in the United States.

It also happens to be the song that got me thinking Pet Shop Boys might just be a cut above your run-of-the-mill synth duo, of which there were many in that decade. There are days when I think it’s their finest ever moment, but there are days when I want to bestow that honour on Heart. And then again, I hear Rent and think that might be the one…..and then I play Being Boring followed by Left To My Own Devices and I realise that I’ll never make my mind up.

No matter what, I don’t think it can be argued by anyone that It’s A Sin is not an absolute classic, deserving to be brought to you at 320 kpbs this Monday Thursday Morning, direct from the album Actually:-

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – It’s A Sin

And while I have the album on the turntable, this makes sense:-

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Rent

And while that’s spinning around, I’ll go and dig out this slightly crackly 7″ as the mix is different, and better, than the album version:-

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Heart

JC

THE BIG HITS…..30 YEARS ON (11)

Regular readers will know the script by now (and to be fair, the chances of an overly-wordy music blog attracting any new fans will be quite remote, which means everyone knows the script!)

All year long, I’ve had a look back to the UK singles charts of 1990 in which I have (hopefully) demonstrated that while there were a reasonable number of hits which have stood the test of time, they are far outnumbered by the dross that the great British public was shelling out for. We have reached the month of November, with four weeks of things to recall. It’s probably the worst of them all…..

4 November

The month opened with The Righteous Brothers still at #1, with Unchained Melody, still making folk cry their eyes out when it was used in the mega-hit movie, Ghost.  It also saw something really dreadful enter the chart at #11, when Gazza (aka Paul Gascoigne), cashed in on his newfound fame post-World Cup 90, by joining up with fellow Geordies, Lindisfarne for an updated and horrific version of Fog On The Tyne. Look it up on YouTube if you must. (Oh, and in case anyone gets the wrong idea…..the video still of a man’s bare arse at the top of this post is NOT Gazza….it is, however, a still from a song referenced elsewhere in this posting)

Gazza was the highest of what was a quite astounding 19 new entries into the Top 75 in that particular week. Some of them are unforgettable pop-fodder, to say the least (Teena Marie, Maria Carey, Craig McLachlan, Ragga Twins, Caron Wheeler, Wilson Phillips); others are linked to the increasing popularity of dance/club music on which I am wholly unqualified to comment (Cybersonik, Kick Squad, Unique Three, Megabass) while the rock gawds smiled that the likes of Queensryche and Jon Bon Jovi were getting played on the radio.

Which leaves these:-

mp3: 808 State – Cubik/Olympic (#29)
mp3: Prince – New Power Generation (#33)
mp3: N.W.A. – 100 Miles and Runnin’ (#39)
mp3: The Beloved – It’s Alright Now (#57)
mp3: Pixies – Dig For Fire (#62)
mp3: Julee Cruise – Falling (#64)

808 State would go on to enjoy a high-profile 1991 with the ex:el album that would be released in March 1991. Cubik/Olympic, which in due course would reach #10 in the singles charts, would find its way onto the later album, whose hits would also include In Yer Face and Oops, with the latter featuring Bjork.

New Power Generation was the second and final hit single from the album Grafitti Park and would climb the following week to #26 before fading away quite quickly. Little did we know that the track was the scene-setter for what Prince would next do in his long, colourful and never predictable career.

N.W.A. never really enjoyed mainstream success in the UK and this, the lead track from a stand-alone EP, was just the second and final time they made the charts. The track is probably best remembered for the fact that the remaining four members used it to make an attack on Ice Cube, who had left a year earlier after a row over royalties.

The Beloved had enjoyed a 1990 breakthrough with the album Happiness. It was decided to issue Blissed Out, a remix version of Happiness, with It’s Alright Now selected as the single to promote it. It wouldn’t quite work as it stalled at #46 and sales of Blissed Out were relatively poor. It would be the last involvement of co-founder Steve Waddington as he would leave in early 1991, with the band more or less becoming a front for the solo work of Jon Marsh.

Dig For Fire was the second and final single to be taken from the album Bossanova. It was released some three months after the album – the fact it stalled at #62 is evidence that Pixies fans weren’t too bothered about buying singles to complete any collections.

Julee Cruise has proven to be a one-hit-wonder. Falling dated from the previous year and would have very likely remained completely unknown if an instrumental version hadn’t been used as the theme for Twin Peaks, one of the most unlikely TV hits of 1990. The single would go Top 10 in the UK and a number of other European charts, while also reaching #1 in Australia.

11 November

Gazza jumped to #2, held off by The Righteous Brothers. This was a week in which 15 songs debuted in the Top 75, with the vast majority of them being tracks I honestly don’t recognise. I’m going to lit them, as its a perfect demonstration of just how much money record labels were prepared to waste back in those days, and the reason why vinyl and CDs were stupidly over-priced in the shops as those which sold had to recoup the costs of the many more that didn’t:-

#73: In Zaire – African Business (its only week in the chart)
#71: Roses Are Red – Bobby Vinton (its only week in the chart)
#68: If I Have To Stand Alone – Lonnie Gordon (its only week in the chart)
#66: Smile – Aswad (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, reaching #53)
#60: Stranded – Heart (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, with this being its highest position)
#59: Cherry Pie – Warrant (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, with this being its highest position)
#55: Shelter Me – Cinderella (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, with this being its highest position)
#54: Love So Bright – Mark Shaw (its only week in the chart)
#53: Love’s Got Me – Loose Ends (would spend 4 weeks in the chart, reaching #40)
#51: Serious – Duran Duran (would spend 3 weeks in the chart, reaching #48)
#46: Flashback Jack – Adamski (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, with this being its highest position)
#41: Sucker DJ – Dimples D (would spend 10 weeks in the chart, reaching #17)
#28: Hands Across The Ocean – The Mission (would spend 2 weeks in the chart, with this being its highest position)
#25: Let’s Swing Again – Jive Bunny (would spend 5 weeks in the chart, reaching #19)

Which leaves, this, the lead track from an EP which, at #23 was the highest entry of the week:-

mp3: Inspiral Carpets – Biggest Mountain

The Island Head EP would spend just 4 weeks in the chart, reaching #21.

Surely things were a bit better the following week?

18 November

The answer, to an extent, is yes. For the first time in something like seven or eight weeks, a new entry came in very high up the charts, at #3, and for once it wasn’t relying on its inclusion on a soundtrack from a major film to earworm its way into the minds of the record-buying public.

The only thing letting it down is the fact that the song in question is Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice.

The karaoke/old fogies brigade were also well represented this week as Rod Stewart and Tina Turner duetted their way to #12 with It Takes Two. It would eventually go all the way to #’5′ please remember this fact and shake your head in disbelief that Marvin Gaye‘s original version with Kim Weston only reached #16 back in 1965.

Another cover version was the next highest new entry:-

mp3: The Proclaimers – King of The Road

I was stunned to read that this entered the charts at #17 and actually went Top 10 the following week. I had long assumed it was one of those singles/EPs that had peaked around #40, like almost all releases by the duo.

There was the usual mix of pop/dance number making a fresh appearance in the lower ends of the charts, a number of which, like those listed from the chart of 11 November mean nothing or very little to me. But some tracks have since found their way into the collection:-

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring (#36)
mp3: Chris Isaak – Wicked Game (#50)
mp3: Flowered Up – Phobia (#75)

Being Boring would reach #20, but proved to be just about the poorest performing PSB single that was released between 1985 and 2003 (only Was It Worth It?, which stalled at #24 fared worse). It has since, possibly because it was something of a relative flop,  become one of the duo’s best loved, most iconic and most enduring tunes.

Wicked Game, like Falling (see above) benefited from the David Lynch effect. It had originally been released as a single some 18 months previously, but npw, its inclusion on the soundtrack to the film Wild At Heart had given it a whole new lease of life, spending ten weeks in the Top 75, either side of Xmas 1990, and peaking at #10, ending up, by far, as the biggest hit of Chris Isaak‘s career.

Flowered Up would later enjoy bigger hits in 1991 and 1992, but this piece of indie-pop, released on Heavenly Records, has long been my favourite of theirs. I’ll mention in passing that lead singer Liam Maher died in 2009, at the age of 41, from a heroin overdose, and that just three years later his brother Joe, who was a guitarist in the band, also lost his life. R.I.P.

25 November

Vanilla Ice took over at the #1 spot. Not much changed in the Top 20, but there was good news that Gazza’s bid for #1 was now going to come up short

The never-ending ability of the British public to make a hit out of a novelty song, even when it is least expected, reared its head with this being the highest new entry at #14-

I’ll let wiki explain:-

“Kinky Boots” is a 1960s song written by Herbert Kretzmer and David Lee, and recorded by Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman, stars of the television series The Avengers.

The music was commissioned by Ned Sherrin for the satirical television series That Was the Week That Was and used in a sequence featuring the titular footwear (then fashionable). Lyrics were later added for a recording by Macnee and Blackman, released by Decca in February 1964.

The song was not initially a hit, but a re-release in 1990 reached the top ten of the British Singles Chart in December of that year, after the song was promoted by BBC Radio One DJ Simon Mayo. The single peaked at No.5 and remained on the chart for seven weeks.

The other new entries that week were every bit as dull and forgettable as those highlighted above at 11 November. I fear it will be even worse next month as we get close to the charts at Xmas.

JC
(aged 57 years and 5 months)

 

BURNING BADGERS VINYL (Part 8): PULP

Brilliant Songs, Brilliantly Remixed #2 – 7 (SEVEN) Pulp Songs

# 2 Pulp – This Is Hardcore (Island Records, 1998, IS 695 DJ Pink)

In 2007, I went parascending with Badger and some other blokes he knew. We went to an old aerodrome in the middle of the Devon countryside and was met there by a guy called Guy, who thought he was Tom Cruise. He is wearing aviator shades, a green jumpsuit and has the whitest teeth of any person I have ever met. He calls everyone “guv” as well, which is irritating.

Parascending for those in the dark is where you are attached to a large balloon, parachute thing which is attached to a knackered old Land Rover, which drives off at speed and you fly up in the air behind it. It is what some might call an ‘extreme sport’ – it is what I call fucking terrifying. I only said yes because Badger said they were one short and they would have to cancel it otherwise.

We have this training lecture which lasts an hour or so. For the last twenty minutes or so, we are taught two things, one, we must roll on the ground when we land, in the opposite direction to the parachute is blowing, this stops the parachute refilling up with air and dragging you along the ground. The second thing we are taught is what happens if the line comes unattached. The answer is a ‘pararoll’ which will mean that we don’t get broken legs on landing. I shoot Badger a look because roughly two hours ago in the car on the way down he told me that this was “perfectly safe and not to worry”. He didn’t mention lines coming unattached, broken legs or something which Nick, one of our group, called ‘Sunken Bollock Syndrome’.

It’s my turn after about an hour of waiting. I’ll be honest. I’m petrified. I’m shaking as I step into the parachute thing. Badger slaps me on the shoulder and tells me over and over again, roll when you land. He’s been up a couple of times and has made this look easy. Then again he’s done this about 70 times.

Guy looks at me and says that because I am skinny I will probably go a bit higher a bit quicker than the others. He flashes me a pearly white grin. I smile and say “Oh, Good, lucky me”.

And then we are off. At first it’s horrible – the harness grabs you round the nether regions and it’s uncomfortable. The wind makes my eyes stream and for some reason I worry about landing on the road about a mile away. Then the cord goes tight and everything seems still. It’s just me several hundred feet up in the Devon countryside and it feels marvellous. I find myself grinning like a loon and I don’t really want to come back down. But I have to. The ground approaches very quickly, I checked my cord to make sure I’m still attached, it is, twenty foot, ten foot, the smile has gone now. Roll, I tell myself, roll. I land, on my feet which is a good start and I stand perfectly still. “Roll you twat” comes a shout just as I’m dragged along the ground for about thirty metres. Then I come to stop. I sit up, roll and unclip myself, remove the mud from my hair and face and all I can hear is laughing.

All of which rocking and rolling brings us to not one but two more excellent records from Badger’s Box. One pink and one gold.

The first one is a shocking pink twelve-inch single (the vinyl is not pink sadly, just the sleeve) of ‘This Is Hardcore’ by Pulp. It’s a DJ Promo copy though.

A quick look at the tracks reveals that they are exactly the same as you would find on CD Two of the ‘This Is Hardcore’ single, so these tracks are not massively rare (but I’ve never heard them before).

(JC interjects, with an ‘ahem’ and a reference to 25 April 2014………..https://thenewvinylvillain.com/2014/04/25/commercial-suicide/)

mp3: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (Original Version)
mp3: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (4 Hero Remix)
mp3: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (Swedish Erotica Mix)
mp3: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (Stock, Hausen and Walkmen Mix)

The pick of the mixes is I think the Swedish Erotica Mix which takes the original and strips the vocals out and then pops them back on it, only reversed. This is done to make them sound ‘Swedish’. I’m going to leave it to our Swedish Correspondent to confirm whether that is actually the case or not. Either way, this mix is superb.

The other two mixes are pretty cool as well, the 4 Hero Mix starts with a load of bleeps and noises and is for a bit almost unrecognisable, until the string bit from the original bursts in. The vocals are nicely distorted and about halfway through there is a really cool drum bit that forms the backdrop of the music for the rest of the mix. It’s excellent.

The Stock, Hausen and Walkmen mix is very strange, it starts off sounding very Turkish (involving those weird horn instruments that they have in Indiana Jones films set Turkish deserts) and then they do all sorts of mad stuff with Jarvis’ vocals, speeding up them behind a drum and bass beat, slowing them down, it removes nearly all other parts of the original apart from the vocals. I’m going to describe it as avant-garde brilliance and say no more about it.

Hidden behind the pink promo was another promo of the same single, this one is Gold in colour and that it turns out holds the same songs as CD One of the release. It has another mix on it The End of the Line Mix and two other tracks ‘Ladies Man’ and ‘The Professional’.

mp3: Pulp – Ladies’ Man
mp3: Pulp – The Professional
mp3: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (end of the line remix)

The End of the Line Mix is a version of the original that just focuses on the string section of the song, which some might say is the best bit. Interestingly the Gold Promo wasn’t played as much as the Pink Promo. Make your own mind up about that.

SWC

GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT: JC

One of the secrets to ensuring this little corner of t’internet maintains a sense of relevance is to go with public opinion.  There was an incredible reaction to the pair of postings from jimdoes in respect of ICAs consisting purely of opening album tracks, the likes of which hasn’t been seen round these parts for many a long time.

Everyone was offering up thoughts, views and opinions, with all sorts of alternative suggestions put forward in the comments section.  So, I’m taking advantage of the energy that was on show and have decided that, until such a time as the contributions dry up, Mondays will now be used for ICAs of opening tracks.

jimdoes was disciplined in coming up with two lists – one for tracks that were singles and one for tracks that were album cuts only.  If anyone wants to follow those chains of thoughts they are very welcome, but I’m going to kick things off with a ten-track ICA that is a mixture. There’s just the three singles across the ten cuts, all of which can be found on one side.

What follows is not a list of the greatest opening tracks of all time.  Indeed, they might not even the greatest opening track ever offered up by a particular singer or band. But, and crucially for me, I think the ten songs, when taken as a whole and in the running order I’ve come up with, would make for a fabulous album across two sides of vinyl.

LET THEM ALL TALK: AN ICA OF OPENING TRACKS by JC

Side One

1. Let Them All Talk – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Punch The Clock, 1983)

All great albums open with great songs, that much is a given.  But, to me, all the very greatest of albums don’t open with the greatest of songs that will be found on a particular cut as there has to be something later on to provide that particular ‘wow’ moment.  Which is why I’ve decided to open up with something that is perhaps a little less than obvious – it’s not one of Elvis Costello‘s most memorable songs and it’s from an album which, although is a splendid effort, is rarely (if ever) ranked as his best.  But, aside from giving me an appropriate title for this particular ICA, I reckon it works really well in terms of pricking up the ears of any listener.

2. Age Of Consent – New Order (Power, Corruption & Lies, 1981)

It was back in 2008, in the 45 45s at 45 rundown, when I revealed that Temptation was my all-time favourite single.  The thing is, it’s not my all-time favourite New Order song, an accolade which I will always bestow on this, the first track from the album that truly brought them out of the shadows of Joy Division.

3. Protection – Massive Attack (Protection, 1994)

Every now and again, even on the loudest and fastest of records, there comes a moment when things just need to be slowed down a little.  This is achingly beautiful and sublime and a highlight in the career of Tracey Thorn.

4. The Cutter – Echo and The Bunnymen (Porcupine, 1983)

No apologies for returning to the early 80s for a third time on this particular side of vinyl. I just felt the opening few notes of The Cutter were the perfect complement to the final notes of Protection.

5. Good Bad Times – Hinds (The Prettiest Curse, 2020)

Here’s a simple but brilliantly subversive pop song that perfectly captures the mood and feel of one of my favourite albums of this past twelve months, a slab of vinyl that has brought a lot of sunshine on what have often been dark, depressing and lonely days.  Kind of inspired by jimdoes pulling out the brilliance of Heartbeats on his second offering.

Side Two

1. Will I Ever Be Inside Of You – Paul Quinn & The Independent Group (Will I Ever Be Inside Of You, 1994)

Back in the days when it was all vinyl, it was imperative when you had your first listen to a new album that the opening track on the flip side had to be something that really grabbed you in.

There were two reasons for this. First of all, if Side One had been memorable, then the momentum had to be maintained.  The alternative reason was that, if you hadn’t really been grabbed by Side One, then this was the album’s chance to redeem itself – if track one, side two was also a disappointment, then there’s every chance the rest of the album won’t be given a fair chance.

It’s such a pity that Paul Quinn was able to provide lead vocals on only two albums and I make no apologies whatsoever for taking up more than nine minutes of your time with this epic.  This provided the hardest moment in coming up with a running order for the ICA as  I had to come up with something that wouldn’t immediately be a jolt to the system.  One thing for sure, it isn’t quite the time for a new wave/post-punk classic……

2. When I’m Asleep – Butcher Boy (React or Die, 2009)

This is a very personal choice in that Butcher Boy often opened their shows with this, the first track from their sophomore album.  I’ve mentioned before how blogging has opened up so many opportunities for me over the years, but probably none more so than being able to become good friends with the members of this band and there’s something very special and different when you’re in an audience and your mates are on stage.  Every time I hear the notes on the accordion, followed by the strum of the mandolin, I get a real tingle down my spine.  It’s magical.

3. The Modern Leper – Frightened Rabbit (The Midnight Organ Fight, 2008)

Another very personal choice.  I was lucky enough to watch Frightened Rabbit grow and develop from the smallest of shows in and around Glasgow.  The series of shows they played to launch The Midnight Organ Fight were amongst the best I’ve ever seen going all the way back to 1979 and my first ever gig.  An album that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to for a long while after Scott Hutchison took his own life – it took until a gloriously sunny day and a need to get something from work out of my system that got me to sit on a park bench and press play.  Once I got through the opening track without tears of sadness or anger, I was fine. Indie-folk at its very finest and most passionate.

4. Janie Jones – The Clash (The Clash, 1977)

Again, it’s about finding something that fits in perfectly to the running order.  Something that gets across the idea that I’m in love with rock’n’roll (whoa).  The opening track from the UK version of the debut album by The Clash does that nicely.

5. The Light at the End of the Tunnel (Is the Light of an Oncoming Train) – Half Man Half Biscuit (Cammell Laird Social Club, 2002)

Just a reminder that I should never take myself, or this blog, too seriously.  Great tune and great lyrics.  That’s all I ever ask for……that and something which makes me want to flip back over to side one.

You can judge for yourselves if things have worked out nicely……and as it’s Monday, these are hi-res rips.

Let Them All Talk: Side One (23:03)
Let Them All Talk: Side Two (20:18)

Huge thanks to jimdoes for the idea, and to everyone for the initial reactions.  I’ve another four or five volumes that I could offer up, but I’d rather the TVV community got on board.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 21)

Something different this week.  The main part of the post, in italics, will consist solely of phrases which I have cut’n’pasted from different articles or reviews associated with Everybody Hurts.

It was released as a single in the UK in April 1993, and in reaching #7, provided R.E.M. with their then biggest chart success outside of Shiny Happy People. It is a track that, in 2003, was ranked by Q magazine at #31 in its list of the 1001 Best Songs Ever.

It is worth mentioning that credit for the song, musically, lies with Bill Berry, which is ironic given the beat is largely kept by a drum machine. The strings, which are very much at the heart of the completed version were arranged by John Paul Jones, best known as the bass player with Led Zeppelin.

“Everybody Hurts has a comforting melancholy, benefitting from a smoothly caressing guitar. It has been lauded as the best song on Automatic for The People and, as the Q ranking suggests, one of the band’s best songs ever. It is emotionally moving and deeply affecting, but a ballad that would stray into the maudlin if it wasn’t sung with such conviction. The string arrangements complement the vocal delivery, with the song being held up as the Bridge Over Troubled Water for the ’90s with Michael Stipe as Simon & Garfunkel rolled into one. It is virtually beyond words. It will have non-REM maniacs in hysterics with its delicate Spector structure and childlike message (“everybody hurts, everybody cries…when you think you’ve had too much of this life, hang on…”). It will make everyone else cry. It really is that straightforward.”

I won’t swim against the tide. I’m not a huge fan of ballads, but the very best of them have always been at the heart of popular music going back centuries before rock’n’roll was invented. Sad songs are remembered and loved by billions of people for all sorts of different reasons. Perhaps it can be traced back to the very early days of the most basic and traditional of music, running ever since through history – for instance, the best bits of opera always seem to centre on tragedy, and it is those folk songs recalling sad or unhappy events that have more often been passed down through the generations.

Everybody Hurts is an absolute classic of its kind. It might not be what any early fan of R.E.M. would ever have anticipated, but songs of this nature and tempo were inevitable when the loud instruments had been put aside, temporarily, for a while.

As with Man on The Moon, it was a slightly edited version of the song that was issued on the 7″:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts (single version)

As with the previous singles from Automatic, the b-side of the UK 7” and cassette was a track from ‘Green’. This time it was the most ridiculously upbeat number, one which had been a flop single in the US:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Pop Song ’89

Talk about ying and yang on two sides of a piece of plastic. It was also the fourth occasion that a version of Pop Song ’89 had been used as a b-side to a single…..

Again there were two versions put out on CD. You’ll have picked up that the barrel was already being scraped with what was being added to the earlier singles from the album. It got worse with this, the fourth 45 lifted from Automatic, with both CDs now being labelled as ‘Collector’s Editions’. No wonder many were despairing at how Warner Bros were trying to extract as much from fans as possible – these CD singles retailed at £3 or £4 a pop and the titles of the two tracks on CD1 say it all:-

mp3: R.E.M. – New Orleans Instrumental #1 (long version)
mp3: R.E.M. – Mandolin Strum

The marketing folk had the cheek and nerve to state that the latter was ‘previously unreleased’. One listen is all you need to understand why that should be.

CD2 was another con in that it included Dark Globe, the Syd Barrett cover that had previously been issued on the 12″ of Orange Crush back in 1989. The blurb from the marketing people for CD2 was that ‘it was currently not available on any other CD’ The other track is another oddity.

mp3: R.E.M. – Dark Globe
mp3: R.E.M. – Chance (dub)

An electronic number with a part-spoken, part-sung lyric. I kind of like it, but I hate it. I kind of like it because it is a bit different, but I hate it as it’s clearly a work in progress that shouldn’t have really seen the light of day, far less been the one bit of music which forced completists to fork out a fair amount of money for – it’s only right, however, to point out that I am far from a completist when it comes to R.E.M. – it’s not like they are The Twilight Sad or anything – and I’ve relied partly on The Robster for some of the tracks while others have been tracked down and sourced from other blogs.

Michael Stipe’s final words at the end of Chance are “Guys, this is very tedious. Stop”

Which seems a good place to sign off this week.  But we’ll be back, as usual, next Sunday.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #237: THE PASTELS

From The Guardian newspaper, on 1 March 2016:-

The Pastels long ago became a kind of shorthand for a wan, wonky and distinctly unambitious strain of guitar music that’s as niche as they come. That – the result of a reductive association with the NME’s C86 cassette – has rendered them one of the most misrepresented cult groups of their era. There’s a much more compelling story to be told about a band integral to the birth of the Glasgow independent music scene, who continue to make wonderful and surprising music (albeit very slowly: they average an album every seven years).

Without the instincts, inspiration and energies of the Pastels’ softly-spoken founding singer-guitarist Stephen McRobbie, AKA Stephen Pastel – who runs the Domino Records imprint Geographic and co-founded one of the UK’s best independent record stores, Monorail – the Glasgow scene would probably be bound together by significantly less camaraderie and common purpose than it does today.

The Pastels formed in 1981 – another indie group on the fringe of the Postcard Records scene – just as Orange Juice were setting about their post-punk mission to rip it up and start again. It was Brian “Superstar” Taylor, a slightly older friend of Postcard svengali Alan Horne, who first took seriously the cocksure aspirations of the duffle-coat sporting Bearsden boy with a DIY haircut. Taylor helped McRobbie advance his rudimentary guitar skills, and became the first recruit to his fledgling band, influenced by the untamed mayhem of the Velvet Underground and naive charm of the Television Personalities. They recruited bassist Martin Hayward and drummer Bernice Simpson, and were playing shows and recording music with indecent haste. McRobbie booked their first gig at Bearsden Burgh Hall because he’d seen Crass play the same venue.

Such was McRobbie’s certainty about his new group’s worth that he wasted no time in impressing on Rough Trade Records in London the necessity of snapping up the next big thing out of Scotland. Geoff Travis was sufficiently convinced to release the Pastels’ 1983 single I Wonder Why (their second single following chaotic debut Songs for Children, which had been released on Television Personalities singer Dan Treacy’s label Whaam!). Multi-tracked and divested of the raw, almost childlike energy of their live playing, it was a false dawn, and the band’s relationship with Rough Trade ended as the label became preoccupied with shinier new signings Scritti Politti and the Smiths. But, at their own, geological pace, the Pastels were on a path to releasing a minor masterpiece of a debut album.

Before that came several more singles, a John Peel session and lots of cassette sharing and fanzine scribbling. (The Pastels’ fanzines Juniper Beri-Beri and Pastelism long predated the self-publishing culture that grew up around the C86 bands.) All that and some principled staying put. Having watched Orange Juice, among others, move to London and become swallowed up by the industry machine, there was a determination to do what no significant Glasgow guitar group had done before. When their debut album Up for a Bit With the Pastels finally arrived in 1987 via Glass Records, it was staunchly promoted with one foot firmly planted at home, in part because McRobbie was studying for a master’s degree in librarianship at Glasgow University.

The Pastels’ ageless debut saw them cited as a favourite by everyone from the Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream to Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. It never set the world alight, despite the gothic swirl of Ride, the motorik drone rock of Baby Honey and the anthemic Crawl Babies (the decaying spires of the Glasgow skyline are romantically invoked in the gorgeous lines, “I want to build her up / up as tall as a church / just to watch her / just to watch her falling down”). However, it did help to inspire confidence in the Glasgow scene and showed that bands didn’t have to move south but could let the record industry come to them. In its wake came such Scottish classics and quintessentially Glaswegian debuts as Belle and Sebastian’s Tigermilk and Mogwai’s Young Team through to Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled arrival and arguably even Chvrches world-beating synthpop.

The first lineup of the Pastels disintegrated with the departure of Taylor, Hayward and Simpson following their long-lost second album, 1989’s Sittin’ Pretty (which is well overdue a reissue). The band could have called it a day, but a new incarnation instead assembled around McRobbie, keys player and vocalist Annabel “Aggi” Wright (a long-standing member of the group recruited from the Shop Assistants, who was also responsible for a lot of the Pastels’ artwork) and drummer Katrina Mitchell. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that Mitchell, who would become McRobbie’s long-term girlfriend (the pair still live together), couldn’t play the drums when she joined and spent years learning to do so. Which says it all about the Pastels’ excruciatingly patient approach to music-making.

With Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Gerard Love among others fleshing out the lineup, the Pastels returned in 1995 with the release of Mobile Safari on Domino Records, at last a sympathetic and stable home for a band who had worked with no fewer than seven labels (including three spells on Alan McGee’s Creation Records). The uncharacteristically prompt follow-up Illumination arrived in 1997, as the Pastels’ sound mellowed and evolved into a form of gently psychedelic off-kilter pop, adorned with orchestral instrumentation.

Around this time, through their association with Japanese musician Cornelius, the band became incongruously wrapped up in the hype surrounding Britpop in Japan, jostling for position in magazines with the likes of Blur and Manic Street Preachers. On one trip to Tokyo they were mobbed by screaming fans outside hotels and venues. For a bunch of unassuming Scots who could barely get arrested back home, it must have felt like stepping into an alternative universe.

In 2000, McRobbie started up his Domino imprint Geographic, releasing gems from, among others, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Bill Wells Trio, Future Pilot AKA, The Royal We and Lightships. In 2003, he became one of the founders of Monorail Music, a vinyl-centric record shop based in a railway arch next to music venue Mono. One of the hubs of the Glasgow scene, it’s a bright, open and inviting space where you can browse the latest releases by local labels as well as rare imports. Any of which might be sold to you by McRobbie himself, who is often to be found working behind the counter.

A collaboration with Japanese lo-fi duo Tenniscoats in 2009 gave rise to the soft-hued Two Sunsets, a playful, spontaneous and spellbinding must-hear. In 2013, the Pastels released their 16-years-in-the-making album Slow Summits. It is perhaps their most complete set since Up for a Bit, with its 10 summery, groovy flute and french-horn-licked songs, trippy in the sense of the kind of trip that lands in a pile of freshly mown grass.

Every so often the Pastels get their just deserts. In 2013, Slow Summits was shortlisted for the Scottish album of the year award; a year later, they opened for Mogwai at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh; and last year Copenhagen micro-brewery Mikkeller made a beer in the band’s honour, appropriately titled Pastelism.

Cheers to that, and to the enduring health of a band who have been integral to Glasgow’s music scene for about as long as anyone can remember there being such a thing.

—–

I know The Pastels aren’t to everybody’s taste.  I like some of their music, but there’s loads more that I just can’t take to. There’s no question, however, that Steven has been an essential part of the local music scene in so many different ways and Glasgow would be a much poorer place, culturally, without him, his band, and his record store.

So many tunes to select from. Here’s one from 1989, the opening track from the album Sittin’ Pretty, which gets mentioned in the above article.

mp3: The Pastels – Nothing To Be Done

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #271 : BEGIN THE BEGIN (2)

A GUEST POSTING by jimdoes

There’s been so many great opening tracks that were singles – here’s my ten favourites, although it’s a list that changes daily! It’s really hard deciding on the order for these ICAs – what’s the first first track? What should be last?

BEGIN THE BEGIN – PART TWO

(An ICA of opening tracks that were singles)

LET’S GO CRAZY – PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION

(Opening track on PURPLE RAIN)

The spoken word intro makes it perfect to be the opening track on my singles ICA. And I guess as with most of this ICA there’s not much that I can say that hasn’t been said. If I could go back in time and see one band live it wouldn’t be The Clash or The Beatles or Joy Division – it would be Prince and The Revolution on the Purple Rain tour – look it up on YouTube – it’s incredible.

TEENAGE RIOT – SONIC YOUTH

(Opening track on DAYDREAM NATION)

One of their most accessible songs and one of their pop hits – the opener to their masterpiece – the sprawling Daydream Nation. Not just one of my favourite opening tracks but one of my favourite songs full stop. You’re it. No you’re it.

SUMMER BABE (WINTER VERSION) – PAVEMENT

(Opening track on SLANTED AND ENCHANTED)

I’ve no idea what this song is about or why it’s the winter version (to my knowledge there isn’t a version for any other season) – and I don’t care. It’s just glorious. And it’s part one of one of the best opening one/twos ever recorded – Trigger Cut being the other song.

THE MERCY SEAT – NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS

(Opening track on TENDER PREY)

Another song where I know the song because it was a great single but I’m not familiar with the album. It’s a song that still gets better with every listen and I’ve heard it thousands of times.

HEARTBEATS – THE KNIFE

(Opening track on DEEP CUTS)

Is it any surprise that the majority of the tracks on both my ICAs were released before I was 23? This being one of the few exceptions – and I guess a bit of a curveball. It’s another song where I don’t know any other song on the album, but there’s really no need when this song is so good.

LOSER – BECK

(Opening track on MELLOW GOLD)

From the opening line – “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey” – I was hooked, I still am.

LONDON CALLING – THE CLASH

(Opening track on LONDON CALLING)

Only the second title track in my opening track ICAs – I thought there may be more but it has given me another idea for an ICA! Anyway, has a band ever had better opening tracks to their albums than The Clash? Janie Jones/Safe European Home/London Calling/The Magnificent Seven/Know Your Rights takes some beating – I could have picked any of them for this ICA. London Calling might be the obvious choice but to me it’s the right choice.

(JC interjects as it avoids taking up space in the comments section……..I’d go with New Order’s initial albums: Dreams Never End/Age of Consent/Love Vigilantes/Paradise/Fine Time/Regret)

MOVIN’ ON UP – PRIMAL SCREAM

(Opening track on SCREAMADELICA)

There’s only so many ways I can say “I love this song” as it’s true of every track on these ICAs. I’ve always thought Movin’ On Up was a bit of an anomaly on Screamdelica – the least druggy track – the most traditional one but also the logical place for the album to start – it’s probably the closest to what came before and what came after. And it sounds like a long lost classic that Primal Scream had covered – I guess I’m saying it’s timeless.

INBETWEEN DAYS – THE CURE

(Opening track on THE HEAD ON THE DOOR)

The Cure at their poppy best. Here’s a bit of trivia about the song title thanks to Wikipedia – “The single used “In Between Days”, whereas the album The Head on the Door uses “In Between Days” on the back of the album cover and the record label, and “Inbetween Days” on the inner sleeve.” I always thought it was Inbetween Days so I’m sticking with that. Anyway, it reminds me of school and my best mate – not for the lyrics – we never went out with the same girls but more that when we were young the joy of discovering and going to see all these bands together.

I WANNA BE ADORED – THE STONE ROSES

(Opening track on THE STONE ROSES)

Timeless. They sound so young yet so full of confidence. Rock n Roll Star? The Stone Roses aimed much higher – and achieved it. On their reunion shows, before a note was sung, the whole audience would be singing the guitar line to this – sort of elevating it into a communal celebration. Iconic. And what better way to end an ICA as will leave you wanting more.

And for completests here’s another ten that just missed out – which would make a pretty good volume 3.

DRIVE – REM
SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT – NIRVANA
GIRLS AND BOYS – BLUR
RID OF ME – PJ HARVEY
PERFECT SKIN – LLOYD COLE AND THE COMMOTIONS
SURE SHOT – BEASTIE BOYS
RUNNING UP THAT HILL – KATE BUSH
PROTECTION – MASSIVE ATTACK
DARK AND LONG – UNDERWORLD
FREAKSCENE – DINOSAUR JR

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