THE PERFECT POP SOUNDS OF THE MID-80s

Songs To Remember, the 1982 album from Scritti Politti, is and always will be one of my all-time favourites. I’ve written about it a couple of times previously, on both this and the old blog that was so brutally and callously murdered by google.

I haven’t ever focussed on the follow-up, Cupid and Psyche 85 but am intending to rectify that today.

It’s not that I didn’t like the album when it was released in June 1985, which was exactly as I was putting my student days behind me and getting set to start my first job that involved a salary rather than a wage. It’s an album that seemed to have a long gestation given that it hit the shops after four hit singles in a row, and when it did, it caused a bit of consternation as it only had nine tracks, and of these, only five were new tunes as all the singles had been included. Songs To Remember had seemed the perfect fit to how I imagined I was living my student life and the songs didn’t sound out of place on compilation tapes alongside tunes by The Smiths, The Bunnymen, The The, Talking Heads, New Order or countless other post-punk/new wave acts that made up the majority of the record collection.

The singles that had brought fame and fortune to Scritti Politti didn’t fit in comfortably with such sounds, although they didn’t sound out of place with the big new, brash pop sounds that were beginning to dominate the charts in the middle of the decade, and I’ve never been ashamed to admit of having a love for such music, albeit a lot of it has dated badly.

Cupid & Psyche 85 somehow manages to pull off something akin to a magic trick. One listen, even if you didn’t know the title of the album and you wouldn’t fail to notice it dates from the 80s given its production in which the latest technology of the day is harnessed to full effect. It has big synths and it has big drums (often of a synthetic nature). It has bass lines slapped over the tunes and the vocals are often multi-tracked. Sparse it most certainly is not. Low budget it most certainly is not. It’s an album that would likely have bankrupted Rough Trade if Scritti Politti hadn’t been allowed to take up the offer dangled in front of them by Virgin Records.  T

It’s an album that most certainly was aimed at the mass-market rather than bedsit land. It’s an album of pop at its purest and its finest…..but it was hard for this particular to admit a pure love for at the time of release.

In saying that, hearing the first new song post-Songs To Remember was a real joy.

Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) still sounds astonishingly good all these years later. Released in February 1984, it was accompanied by a stunning and glossy video that featured Michael Clark, the new superstar of modern ballet who had previously worked with The Fall. It sounded immense coming out of crackly radios and beyond belief when played over the sound system in the student union. It deservedly went Top 10 and enabled Green Gartside, with his new haircut that seemed to pay equal tribute to George Michael and Princess Diana, onto Top of The Pops.

The follow-up, released while Wood Beez was still hanging around the lower reached of the Top 75 some four months on, was Absolute. It didn’t do quite as well as Wood Beez, but still went Top 20 which was perhaps a reflection that while it was a more than decent enough sounding record and had the occasional moment of magic, especially around Green’s vocal harmonies with the backing singers, it didn’t have the same immediate or lasting impact.

The third single in a year was issued in November 1984. To be honest, until the following year and the eventual release of the album, I hadn’t realised that Hypnotize had been given a release as I couldn’t ever recall hearing it or indeed seeing it on sale in any record shops. It was a flop, only reaching #68 which was less than had been managed by any of the three singles from Songs To Remember. Maybe there was some thought that the Scritti Politti bubble had burst already.

It was a full six months before anything else was heard and this time around, Green & co. managed to again silence the doubters thanks to The Word Girl. It had been the slow, meandering and stylish sound of The ‘Sweetest’ Girl that had led many people to fall for charms of Scritti Politti back in 1981, myself included, and here it was four years on that history was repeating with a lovers-rock effort that was nigh on perfect for the times. The record-buying public loved it and bought enough copies to take it to #6 in mid-June 1985, providing the final building block for the release of the parent album which itself went top 5 on the week of its release where it stayed for a month.

And, if you want to look at the exalted company who were also near the top of the album charts that month, you’ll find Bryan Ferry, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Sting, and Tears for Fears. It was payola time and the album would eventually be certified as Gold with at least 500,000 sales in the UK.

The fact that there were only five new songs on the album did restrict the opportunities to further promote it through another single, but Perfect Way was issued in that format in August 1985. It did scrape into the Top 50 but given it didn’t prove to be a smash, any further thoughts to perhaps give Hypnotize the re-release treatment were put to one side.

As the years have passed, I’ve mellowed out a bit on Cupid & Psyche 85 and am not quite as hostile as I was back in the day. It did help that I’ve long had a love for Wood Beez and The Word Girl, but it remains an album, a bit like Our Favourite Shop by The Style Council (which came out around the same time), that I enjoy listening in full only every now and again, but have a lot of time for a number of the component parts.

I normally break up my longs posts with bits of music but there’s a reason I’ve not done so today. I’ve mentioned how the songs all have that big production and, as such they need to be played on a decent turntable with a good amp and speakers to get the best effect – which is why I have hunted down in recent weeks, as pristine a copy as I could of all the 12″ singles lifted from the album. And here they are:-

mp3: Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Absolute (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Hypnotize (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – The Word Girl/Flesh & Blood (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Perfect Way (version – extended mix)

Finally, it was brought to my attention that Green Gartside had, earlier this year released a 7″ single, on Rough Trade, the first under his own name. The two tracks on the release are both covers of songs originally recorded by Anne Briggs, regarded by many who follow the genre as one of the great British folk singers. It was a new name to and all I can say, having picked up the single, Ms. Briggs was a very fine writer.

JC

MY FAVOURITE RECORD OF 2020 (SO FAR!!) HAS ARRIVED

If you click onto the website of Carla J. Easton, the first words that you read are:-

SINGER/SONGWRITER
dreamy,
addictive,
POP music

It’s as accurate a description as you could apply to someone who, in recent years, has established herself as something of a national treasure up here in Scotland, a standing that will only increase from the imminent release of her new LP, Weirdo, which is officially set for Friday 28 August but with copies already delivered to those who pre-ordered through her record label.

It’s worth giving a bit of background to anyone who may not be familiar with the name (and apologies to those of you who already know all this!)

Carla has been part of the scene around these parts since 2006, initially as a member of Futuristic Retro Champions, one of those many indie-bands whose activity was mainly around My Space and gigging rather than physical releases. My first encounter with Carla was through the next band she was part of, Teen Canteen, an all-female four-piece whom my mate Aldo had caught very early on in 2013 and raved about to anyone willing to listen. I gave them a couple of mentions previously on TVV, referencing that their indie-pop music was the sort that made you want to just dance and sing along but that they really came to life in the live setting where the shimmering harmonies over a sound that meshed electronica and guitars showed their true individual and collective talents.

Teen Canteen were still going strong when Carla released her debut solo album in July 2016. She took the name Ette for this particular project, teaming up with multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer Joe Kane for Homemade Lemonade, an album recorded in just five days. I named it as my favourite release of 2016, describing its ten tunes as memorably catchy akin to the girl-groups so beloved of Phil Ramone mixing it up with Clare Grogan, Kate Bush, Kylie, 80s synth bands, bubblegum, rap and the occasional hint of folk-rock that so many bands from Scotland are proving so adept at.

There was a 10″ EP from Teen Canteen in 2017 before seemingly going their separate ways but Carla remained very active on the live scene and in the studio and the following year, using her own name, she released Impossible Stuff, an album recorded in Montreal with the help of producer Howard Bilerman who, among others, had worked previously with Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen and, closer to home, British Sea Power. It was a fairly radical shift from the previous material and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. I do have to say, however, that it’s an album that plateaued with me fairly early on and after maybe six months or so I didn’t return to all that much, certainly in comparison to the Ette record.

It’s taken a couple of years for Carla to come up with the twelve new songs for Weirdo and the wait has been more than worth it as this is, easily, her best work yet.

It is a full-on upbeat, joyous and exhilarating, electronic pop record with Carla aided and abetted by a few of her friends from the Scottish music industry including Scott Paterson (ex-Sons and Daughters) who co-wrote and co-produced four of the tracks. Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood provides a couple of guest vocal contributions, while Solareye, one of Scotland’s best-known and best-loved hip-hop/rap artists duets with Carla on a fabulous track they wrote together.

Maybe it’s the fact that the album arrived in the post the day before the blog was turned over to a lengthy and brilliant guest post about Kylie Minogue, but listening to Weirdo back-to-back for the first, second and third times seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the long-time princess of pop. It’s a genuinely astounding record, one whose songs wouldn’t sound out of place among the chart-fodder you hear on Radio 1 nor on BBC Radio 6 where the hipsters like to hang around alongside the many presenters who used to make a living writing, recording and performing music, and who tend to know a good thing when they hear it. It’s no real shock to find that Marc Riley has long been a champion of Carla and I’m sure he’ll be among many who will big up this tremendous album.

I’ve read someone else describe the lead-off single, Get Lost, as 3 minutes of deliciously sugary escapism – Carly Rae Jepsen with a dash of New Order. Judge for yourself:-

It’s also the track that opens the album – one of the songs co-written with Scott Paterson – and the pace, quality and energy never lets up over the entire 43minutes.

The follow-up single is one of defiance. It’s one that, dare I say it, wouldn’t sound out of place on a Taylor Swift record

The precarious nature of the music industry, especially in these troubled times when money is at a premium, led to Carla and the great folk who run Olive Grove Records, the label to which she is attached, deciding to restrict the initial print run of Weirdo on the strawberry and cream vinyl pictured above, to just 200 copies. It looks as if a further pressing might be on the cards, such has been the reaction from those of us lucky enough to have got a copy through the pre-order. I hope this is the case as Carla and Olive Grove deserve to have a really big success story on their hands with this.

For now, you can get a hold of Weirdo on CD or as a digital download over here at Bandcamp. You can also enjoy a listen to the track Over You, which just screams to be played full blast over the speakers at the nightclubs/discos whenever they eventually re-open.

Next up for Carla seems to be the release in the next week or so, of a third single from the album, this time the title track. The video seems to be a re-imagination of Thelma and Louise with a Scottish music scene cast. I promise I’ll post a link as when I see it……

In the meantime, I’m away to listen to the album again.  It’s been a while since I’ve had something this non-stop on the turntable.

JC

SCARED TO GET HAPPY – THE NIGHTINGALES

The inclusion of The Nightingales on the Scared To Get Happy compilation allows me to finally find a reason to get my finger out of my backside and feature them on the blog for the first time. I’m actually a wee bit surprised nobody has ever come up with the suggestion of an ICA for a band that, over the years, has released eleven studio albums, (three in the 80s and the others since they reformed in 2004), either as a stand-alone effort or incorporating the short-lived solo career of frontman Robert Lloyd.

One of the purposes of this series is to enable me to go to other websites to cut’n’paste bios to save me thinking for myself. This is from the official website of The Nightingales:-

Birmingham’s original punk group The Prefects had been part of The Clash’s ‘White Riot Tour’, recorded a couple of Peel sessions, released a 45 on Rough Trade and, years after splitting up, had a retrospective CD released by NY label Acute Records to all-round glowing reviews – from Rolling Stone to webzines.

The Nightingales was formed by a few members of The Prefects following that band’s demise in 1979.

Described in John Robb’s definitive book on post-punk (“Death To Trad Rock”) as “The misfits’ misfits” and comprising an ever-fluctuating line up, based around lyricist/singer Robert Lloyd, the Nightingales enjoyed cult status in the early ’80s as darlings of the credible music scene and were championed by John Peel, who said of them – “Their performances will serve to confirm their excellence when we are far enough distanced from the 1980s to look at the period rationally and other, infinitely better known, bands stand revealed as charlatans”.

The group recorded a bunch of critically acclaimed singles – pretty much always ‘Single Of The Week’ in the music press – and three albums, plus many radio sessions for their great supporter Peel. They also regularly toured the UK and Northern Europe, as headliners and supporting acts as diverse as Bo Diddley and Nico.

In the late Eighties, the Nightingales stopped working but, following the occasional gig between times, they re-grouped in 2004.

After fucking about with various part-timers, starry-eyed wastrels, precious sorts and mercenaries the group arrived at the current line up, which features Lloyd, Andreas Schmid from Faust on bass, ex Violet Violet drummer Fliss Kitson and on guitar James Smith, who Lloyd had spotted playing with Damo Suzuki.

Since restarting the group have been more productive than ever – releasing six 7″ vinyl singles, two 10″ EPs and eight studio albums, touring England, mainland Europe and USA numerous times, playing various festivals and recording many radio sessions along the way.

The band continued and continue to operate with no manager, booking agent, publisher, et al, but they get by. And they work equally well with pop musicians, rock n rollers and the avant-garde. The group is independent, maverick, diligent, daft, blah blah.

Until recent times the Nightingales made one record for a label and then, by choice or otherwise, moved on. But since 2017 they have been going steady with Tiny Global Productions.

The first TGP release was a 10” EP, followed in 2018 by a 45rpm collaboration with Vic Godard – “Commercial Suicide Man”- and another critically acclaimed ‘Gales album “Perish The Thought”.

To support “Perish The Thought” the group toured Europe extensively, from Scotland to Serbia.

2019 saw the filming of a feature-length Nightingales documentary film, “King Rocker” -written by brilliant stand up comedian Stewart Lee, directed by Michael Cumming (‘Brass Eye’, ‘Toast Of London’, etc) – and the recording of a new album.

The album, “Four Against Fate”, was released in May 2020 but the accompanying UK and Euro tours had to be postponed until 2021.

Plans for “King Rocker” were also disrupted but the film will have theatrical & TV premiers later this year.

Before too long there will be assorted reissues and records of previously unreleased material. Plus a bunch of other stuff, maybe? Either way, by hook or by crook, more adventures will follow.

Paraffin Brain is the track included on Scared To Get Happy.  It was the band’s third single, released in 1982 on Cherry Red but not included on debut album Pigs on Purpose, released the very same year  – indeed the album was originally issued minus any of the four singles from that same era, very much in keeping with the punk ethos, although a subsequent re-issue on CD in 2004 included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th singles, plus b-sides.

mp3: The Nightingales – Paraffin Brain
mp3: The Nightingales – Elvis, The Last Ten Days

Both are reminiscent in places of The Fall and the angular guitar sounds of Fire Engines/Josef K. The single did make a very small dent on the indie charts but deserved better. The b-side gives an insight into what, for many, made The Nightingales stand out from the crowd, namely the way that Robert Lloyd conceived his ideas and lyrics. This particular effort is him imagining what the final ten entries in the diary of Elvis Presley might have looked liked as he grew increasingly disillusioned and tired of everything going on around him. Day 10, the final entry, is witty and sad in equal measures.

I mentioned Robert Lloyd’s short-lived solo career which consisted of two singles on an indie-label before Virgin Records took a chance on him in 1989. There would be two singles and the brilliantly-named Me and My Mouth album, released in 1990 before he retired from music for just over a decade. I don’t have a copy of the album*, although I do have the two singles on 12″ vinyl:-

mp3: Robert Lloyd – Funeral Stomp
mp3: Robert Lloyd – Nothing Matters

And finally, a track which Jacques once included on a tape for me. It’s a song that was included on Me and My Mouth and it’s taken from a Peel Session.

mp3: Robert Lloyd – The Part of The Anchor

The Nightingales are a band I should have followed more closely, especially since the reformation, but I can only spin so many plates at the one time. If anyone reading all this wants to offer up a guest posting or two, then you would be very welcome.

JC

*I didn’t have a copy of the album when I typed this up about a week or so back, but I’ve since picked one up – it’s waiting on me finding time to give it a listen!

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #259 : KYLIE MINOGUE

A GUEST POSTING by SWISS ADAM

(JC says….be still, my beating heart)

I’ve submitted several ICAs to The Vinyl Villain before: a 20 track double album attempting to summarise the career and spirit of Andrew Weatherall; the adventures of Mick Jones post- Clash in Big Audio Dynamite; the SST years of US punks Husker Du; a short in length but long in love appreciation of San Pedro’s Minutemen; a follow up to Echorich’s A Certain Ratio ICA, ten more songs from Manchester’s most underrated post- punk/ punk- funk pioneers; a 10 song compilation fleshing out Iggy Pop’s solo career.

Since the Iggy one I’ve started but not finished several ICAs including a sketchy outline of a Spacemen 3 ICA, a Primal Scream one (which essentially turned into another Weatherall one), thought about writing a Durutti Column one to follow the first one from years ago, sketched out an ICA for Factory Records (one without New Order or Joy Division) and had some vague ideas about a Creation Records one. I part wrote an Aphex Twin one but struggled to commit. I haven’t managed to get any of these finished for one reason or another. Flicking through the TV channels the other night and I happened upon a Top Of The Pops special and suddenly it became clear who my next ICA should be about…

The Locomotion

In 1987 Kylie and the cast of Neighbours performed the Little Eva song at half time at an Aussie rules football game. This led the young Kylie to a recording contract with Mushroom Records and a cover of the song being released the same year in Australia. In the UK, PWL picked it up, re-recorded it and sent it to the top of the charts. Well, very near the top, it stalled at number 2 where it sat for four weeks.

I’m sure you, like me, were not a fan of PWL in 1987- 88. PWL were the antithesis of what we listened to, conveyor belt pop designed to part teenagers and their pocket money. Even more annoyingly they were an independent label so their singles would top the indie charts with ease, beating our indie heroes in the only chart they could be winning in. We, of course, were listening to The Wedding Present, The Primitives, The Smiths final lp, The Mary Chain’s Darklands, Public Enemy’s debut, Sonic Youth, Pet Shop Boys maybe if you nodded towards chart music, S’Express maybe or Bomb The Bass if you were into the new sounds, The Housemartins, R.E.M.’s Document, That Petrol Emotion, Billy Bragg’s great leap forward, anything but not PWL.

But to deny the brilliance of Kylie’s version of The Locomotion is to deny Kylie. Totally disposable, utterly efficient, cheap pop music. Which is exactly what pop music should be, you might argue. Kylie’s Top of The Pops performance to promote the single is peak early Kylie, her in a red body con dress skipping about the stage like it’s the only thing in the world, and four male backing dancers with the biggest grins and none-more-1988 stage clothes, 501s, Doc shoes and white t-shirts.

Better The Devil You Know

Some of Kylie’s PWL singles were throwaway, functional, and forgettable. Many in fact. The ones they gave to their lesser artists were even worse. But occasionally, with Kylie, they could hit the mark. Better The Devil You Know is a 70s disco throwback and catchy AF. Her cover of Chairman of the Board’s Give Me Just A Little More Time is similarly good.

JC adds (with apologies for interrupting the flow of the ICA)

Nick Cave is a huge fan of Better The Devil You Know.  In 1998, he delivered a lecture entitled ‘The Secret Life of The Love Song’ at the Vienna Poetry Festival in which he waxed very eloquently about the lyrics

Say you won’t leave me no more
I’ll take you back again
No more excuses, no, no
‘Cause I’ve heard them all before
A hundred times or more
I’ll forgive and forget
If you say you’ll never go
‘Cause it’s true what they say
Better the devil you know

Our love wasn’t perfect
I know, I think I know the score
You say you love me, O boy
I can’t ask for more
I’ll come if you should call
I’ll be here every day
Waiting for your love to show
‘Cause it’s true what they say
It’s better the devil you know
I’ll take you back
I’ll take you back again

“When Kylie sings these words, there is an innocence to her voice that makes the horror of the chilling lyric all the more compelling. The idea presented within this song, dark and sinister and sad, that love relationships are by nature abusive, and that this abuse, be it physical or psychological, is welcomed and encouraged, shows how even the most seemingly harmless of love songs has the potential to hide terrible human truths.

Like Prometheus chained to his rock, the eagle eating his liver night after night, Kylie becomes Love’s sacrificial lamb, bleating an earnest invitation to the drooling, ravenous wolf to devour her time and time again, all to a groovy techno beat. “I’ll take you back, I’ll take you back again.” Indeed, here the love song becomes a vehicle for a harrowing portrait of humanity, not dissimilar to the Old Testament psalms. Both are messages to God that cry out into the yawning void, in anguish and self-loathing, for deliverance.”

Quite……I’ll hand back now to Adam.  JC

Confide In Me

In 1994 Kylie signed to DeConstruction, Mike Pickering’s label that had massive hits with K-Klass and Bassheads but wanted someone who was a name signing.  Kylie wanted some credibility and to work with different songwriters. The result was this, a superb adult pop song, Kylie with Brothers In Rhythm on production, some trip-hop drums, Middle Eastern melodies, a didgeridoo and a string section. The strings are seriously giving the song gravitas and sexiness, there’s a moody undertow and she sings of being hurt, of bearing crosses and sharing secrets. The breakdown part where she whispers ‘stick or twist/ the choice is yours’ is Kylie grown up, the PWL years consigned to the past.

The video, dayglo and comic strip-like, gives us 6 Kylies, one in camouflage, one in black PVC, one in a babydoll dress and so on. Pills flash on the screen and messages to ‘call now for salvation’. It’s knowing and clever and very mid- 90s and gave her the new nickname SexKylie. Confide In Me is her best song, a genuine mid- 90s peak.

Breathe

Kylie’s 1997 album, titled Impossible Princess then untitled in the wake of the death of Diana and renamed ‘97, was another wide-ranging, more adult album, taking in trip-hop, indie and house. The Manic Street Preachers were on co-writing duties on two songs and Dave Ball from Soft Cell and the Grid on Breathe. Electronic pop, floating on a groove, experimental and open and Kylie singing about meditation, stopping and letting go. The album sank a little bit and she moved on but this song is, like Confide In Me, a genuine highlight of the time.

All The Lovers

All The Lovers was a comeback in 2010, produced by Stuart Price who was the in-vogue producer a decade ago. Euphoric mid-tempo pop with synthesisers buzzing and wobbling and Kylie declaring and swooning in a killer chorus ‘all the lovers/ that have gone before/ they don’t compare to you’.

By this point Kylie was achieving that elder stateswoman status the media confer on someone who has been around for a few decades. She was older, wiser, several public breakups down the line (not least her very public time with Michael Hutchence). She was also post-treatment for cancer which inevitably put her career on the ropes for a while. Thankfully she recovered fully and her postponed Glastonbury performance in 2019 showed the warmth of feeling people have for her.

Incidentally, not so long ago I watched a documentary about Michael Hutchence, which is well worth catching even if you think you’ve got little interest in INXS, Hutchence, or Kylie. In the middle, it dealt with his relationship with Kylie and had some amazing home video footage of the pair of them on holiday and on a sleeper train, clearly a period of their lives that affected both of them deeply.

Slow

Slow is hot, full-on Mediterranean, being in the sun all day hot, the sort of heat where you have a shower at teatime, get dressed, step outside and start sweating again. Hot hot heat.

Co-written by Emeliana Torrini, it is three and a half minutes of that kind of hot, synth bass, pattering drums and Kylie’s voice, decorated with a minimalist synth topline, pure electro- pop. ‘Slow down and dance with me’ she purrs. A perfect slice of how pop music sounded in 2003.

The Chemical Brothers remix is a blast, an intense bleep- ridden ride which takes off in the second half, all breakdowns and lift offs and eyes closed tight under the strobe light.

In Your Eyes

Dance-pop from 2002, slightly moody, more jerky robotic dancing and a dash of Europop with a heart-stopping sweep into the chorus and the song’s title.

Love At First Sight

All build up and release, dance-pop that shows the influence of French house and disco. Daft Punk without the helmets. Another eye- catching video, supposedly shot in one take and with a slightly disorientating effect and geometric shapes spinning around.

Where The Wild Roses Grow

In 1995 Kylie duetted with Nick Cave on this murder ballad, a grim tale sweetly sung by Kylie and with Nick well out of tune at least twice, where Nick smashes Elisa Day’s head in with a rock in the third verse and then puts a rose between her teeth. Kylie makes the step up to serious rock singing with ease. Nick wrote it with her in mind and sent it to her parent’s house, a cassette with Blixa Bargeld singing her lines (that version was eventually released on a Bad Seeds B- sides compilation). In a year of Britpop, parochial flag-waving and media storms about the race for the number 1 slot between two distinctly average guitar pop singles, Where The Wild Roses Grow stands out as both pop and art. It remains The Bad Seeds most successful single worldwide.

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

The perfect start of the 21st-century pop song – a sleek, modern, hook laden monster, peak synthesis of music and video. Kylie in a science fiction sports car zooming around the city of the future. Kylie in a hooded robe, almost revealing everything, striking poses and doing the dance. Red shirt and black tie clad male dancers in red visors, so 2020, marching in a Kraftwerkian homage. Slow-motion Kylie on the roof of a skyscraper in a post-modern city, hips swinging from high to low in a panelled metallic mini- dress, surrounded by light bulbs flashing and dancers now dressed in black. And beneath the sheer surface and the obsession of the chorus there’s something darker, ‘a dark secret within me’, which gives the song an edge. You know this song inside out and it’s one of those rare occasions where familiarity doesn’t breed contempt.

At the Brit Awards she mashed it up with Blue Monday, New Order’s stuttering drum machine announcing Kylie’s entry on to the stage, a nod and a wink to one of the previous century’s sleekest, most hook-laden monsters.

In his book Words And Music Paul Morley sees all of pop music’s forward progression since 1955 leading towards this song and Kylie in her yellow sports car to ‘the city of sound and ideas’ and while I usually find Paul Morley pretty irritating, he’s got a point.  Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is the sound of pop music in the 21st century, a lighter than air bouncing robot bassline, some la la las, Kraftwerk and New Order’s synths and an Australian pop star merged together playing on a screen somewhere near you right now.

Bonus Tracks

4 songs to make up an indie-friendly bonus disc, just in case the above (Nick Cave excepted) is too pop for the purists.

Slow (Chemical Brothers remix)
Go Home Productions: Begging Kylie (Kylie v The Stone Roses)
Nothing Can Stop Us Now (St Etienne cover)
Can’t Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head (Kylie v New Order)

ADAM

JC adds an additional bonus

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Where The Wild Roses Grow (Blixa co-vocal)

 

SCARED TO GET HAPPY – ART OBJECTS

I recently treated myself to a copy of Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie-Pop 1980–1989. It was released back in June 2013 by Cherry Red Records and consists of five CDs with more than songs from indie bands and singers from the decade. It doesn’t claim to be the full story as there are a number of key elements missing due to licensing issues – nothing for instance from Orange Juice, Felt, The Smiths, The Vaselines, The Pastels or My Bloody Valentine – but it’s a damn fine effort.

I already had the majority of the songs in one shape or other – either the original vinyl or via other CD compilations issued by Cherry Red or Rough Trade – but there’s a good number that were new to me and therefore will be new to the blog. Such as today’s effort:-

mp3: Art Objects – Showing Off To Impress The Girls

The bio from all music advises:-

The Art Objects were an offbeat British group whose embrace of noisy, non-melodic guitar figures and strong psychedelic influences paved the way for post-punk acts such as Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes. Formed in Bristol in the southwest of Great Britain, the Art Objects began in mid-1978 as an eccentric three-piece featuring spoken vocals from poet Gerard Langley, fractured guitar accompaniment from Jonathan J. Key (aka Jonjo), and dancing by Wojtek Dmochowski. They adopted a more conventional lineup in the summer of 1979 when drummer John Langley joined the band, soon followed by bassist Bill Stair and second guitarist Robin Key (Jonathan’s brother).

In 1980, the Art Objects released a three-song single for the Fried Egg label, featuring the tracks “Hard Objects,” “Biblioteque,” and “Fit of Pique”; the record was a modest success on the independent charts, and a second single soon followed, “Showing Off (To Impress the Girls)” and “Our Silver Sister.” Heartbeat Records, which released the group’s second single, wanted an album from the Art Objects, and Bagpipe Music was recorded during five days of sessions in the summer of 1980. It was nearly a year before Bagpipe Music was finally released, and shortly after it reached stores, the group split up, with Gerard Langley, Wojtek Dmochowski, and John Langley soon forming a new group, the Blue Aeroplanes; most of the songs of the Blue Aeroplanes’ debut album, Bop Art, began as Art Objects tunes, and Bill Stair, Jonathan J. Key, and Robin Key helped out during the recording. In 2007, an expanded reissue of Bagpipe Music was released by British indie label Cherry Red.

I know there’s a few fans of The Blue Aeroplanes out there who probably knew all this already but, as I mentioned earlier, it was all new to me.

Showing Off To Impress The Girls is a very fine sounding sub-three-minute single, with a lead vocal that is almost spoken rather than sung….and reminds me of the way that Robert Forster delivered his vocals in the early days of The Go-Betweens. The tune has a lot going on in the background too, changing pace and tempo a couple of times, with the hint of a Tom Verlaine-style guitar break towards the end being a particular highlight.

I couldn’t find a copy of the b-side anywhere, short of looking to grab a hold of the original vinyl on the second-hand market, so here instead is the lead track from the debut EP:-

mp3: Art Objects – Hard Objects

Keep tuning in this week some more installments from Scared To Get Happy.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 9)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
I feel fine (I feel fine)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

The other night I drifted nice continental drift divide
Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein
Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs
Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom
You symbiotic, patriotic, slam but neck, right, right

It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone)
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)

And when played live, the audience to a man, woman and child take great delight in chanting, on cue and in time, ‘Leonard Bernstein’.

A song that has always been one of the most-loved and most popular in the entire back catalogue. It appealed immediately to the fans of old (or so I understand from reading contemporary reviews) and it has always found favour with those who would discover R.E.M. in later years. And it’s the song that got me interested in the band.

I wasn’t doing much in terms of music in 1987. My personal life had been falling to bits in some ways and my drastic solution was to look to settle down and get married. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight it was doomed from the outset as we had, outside of a similar sense of humour, not a great deal in common – and most obviously when it came to music. So, I was going through a period of trying to fit in with the mainstream and not paying attention to what was happening out there – the subsequent gaps in my education would later be filled by the efforts of a few people, but mainly Jacques the Kipper, a work colleague at the time and now a lifelong and valued friend.

The radio was playing in the kitchen of Sunday evening when I was sitting in the house where my fiance lived with her parents – everyone else was watching a TV drama and I was catching up on some reading of papers for a meeting at work the following day. All of a sudden, I’m distracted by an upbeat tune accompanied by the delivery of a nonsensical lyric at breakneck speed. The DJ, Annie Nightingale, then said she had just played the new single by R.E.M. that had been requested by someone from somewhere I’ve forgotten. I hadn’t quite caught the name of the song but assumed it was called And I Feel Fine.

A couple of months later and I hear another song by R.E.M. on the radio. It’s a love song, of that I’m sure, but it’s played again at a breakneck speed with a memorable guitar riff and solo. I’m not buying much in the way of new music but I decide I’m going to get my hands on the new album, which I’ve seen in the shops, but as it’s now not that long till Christmas, I decide to wait and add it to the list of presents from Santa.

25 December 1987. The first time I ever owned anything by R.E.M. You never forget your first time which is why Document will always be my favourite album of theirs, without question.

Years later, I’m long divorced, re-married (happily!!) and I’ve got this new music blog going that has rekindled a love for vinyl. I’m constantly in and out of second-hand shops seeking out, in the main, the sort of stuff I missed out on in the late 80s. Any R.E.M. singles, especially on 12″ are grabbed without hesitation – and that’s why I have a number of them now sitting proudly in the cupboard (all the while kicking myself that I went down the CD singles route in the early 90s for the later releases).

It was still a huge thrill to get my hands on the vinyl and I couldn’t wait to get home and give it a spin. It was originally released in the UK in August 1987 but once again proved to be a failure in terms of sales. I don’t think anyone at IRS was too worried as the different single that had been released over in the USA in August 1987 was proving to be a monster hit and was making stars out of the band members – and that’s me setting up the scenario for the next installment of this series!! But let’s return to today, as there’s still quite a back story to be told.

It’s The End Of The World.……was issued in 7″ and 12″ format. It wasn’t changed or edited from the album version.

mp3: R.E.M. – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

The b-side of the 7″ had one live song and the 12″ had two-live songs, both taken from an acoustic set played at Mccabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica on 24 May 1987. This particular show happened while the new album was being mixed in Los Angeles (it has been recorded in Nashville); it was seen, at the time, as a one-off, organised to raise funds for a friend who was fighting a costly legal battle. R.E.M were billed at the top but it was very much a collective effort involving a number of kindred spirits and friends – Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith (The Dream Syndicate), Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Jenny Homer (Downey Mildew), Peter Case (ex-The Nerves) and David Roback (The Rain Parade, and later, Mazzy Star). Indeed, it was Steve Wynn who opened the show, playing his own material and covers, followed by Natalie Merchant and eventually one or more of Stipe, Mills or Buck would join the revolving cast- being an acoustic show in a tiny venue, Bill Berry’s talents weren’t able to be utilised.

The show was bootlegged and cassette copies were soon readily available. The band liked what they heard and decided that part of it should be given an official release via b-sides, which happened on both sides of the Atlantic, thereby creating an unusual situation that the b-sides were the same but the a-sides were different!

mp3: R.E.M. – This One Goes Out (live – McCabe’s Record Shop)
mp3: R.E.M. – Maps and Legends (live – McCabe’s Record Shop)

Yup, the first of the songs was carrying that title in May 1987 – it would become The One I Love later on in the process as the band completed the mixing and began to pull the artwork together. It was the seventh song to be aired at McCabes and the first in which Michael Stipe took lead vocal. Oh, and the guitar part is not the work of Peter Buck, but is played by Geoff Gans who was the art department boss at I.R.S. Records who, prior to establishing himself in graphics, had played guitar with local bands in LA.

It was the only song on which Gans played at the show, with Buck coming on board right after.

Here’s the other thing worth mentioning – McCabes was actually two sets in the one show. The first set closed with the ensemble getting together for a bunch of covers played back-to-back, and following an interval, a second set followed a similar format with Steve Wynn opening proceedings in advance of the members of R.E.M. taking to the stage. I only mention this as this new song. This One Goes Out, was aired again during the second set but this time with Peter Buck on guitar – and yet, the decision was taken to go with the version from the first set.

Maps and Legends was aired during the first set with just Stipe and Buck on stage at the time.

Apologies for the length of today’s post, but there was just so much to write about in connection with this particular single, both from a personal standpoint and from the fact that this, at the time, unheralded live show in a guitar shop, would point the way for R.E.M. in later years.

It’s me again next week with some thoughts on The One I Love.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #223 : NORMAN BLAKE

Two for the price of one this week.

The hard drive contains a couple of songs attributed solely (as such!) to Norman Blake, both courtesy of compilations:-

mp3: Norman Blake – Only With You
mp3: Norman Blake & John Burnside – Girl

The former is from this CD marking 25 years of the wonderful and excellent Marina Records, based in Hamburg but with a lot of connections to the Scottish music scene, often via Douglas Macintyre and Creeping Bent Records.

The latter is from this CD in which various Scottish singers/bands hooked up with poets to create new songs.

Today’s post is dedicated to my dear friend Andrea Peviani (Conventional Records) who, from living close to Milan, has had to deal longer with the dreadful impact and consequences of COVID-19 than most of the rest of us.

JC

CLEARING UP SOME CONFUSION – FIVE YEARS AFTER THE FACT

It was June 2015 when Don’t Talk To Me About Love featured as part of the short series looking back at the singles released by Altered Images. There was initially a fair bit of confusion on that I had been really lazy in posting up what I described as the ‘Extended Version’ as being from the 12″ single when it had in fact been taken from the version made available on the reissued edition of the album, Bite.

The fact that the CD version came in at 7 mins in length, as opposed to the 3:49 version on the 7″ (not forgetting the just under 5 mins version on the album) was the reason I made the initial mistake, which was pointed out quite quickly in one of the first comments offered up that day. I did try and rectify things quickly but amid all the panic and confusion, I’m not really sure if I did.

So…. five years on, and while I still don’t have the world at my feet, I do have the opportunity to pull out the 12″ from the cupboard and do a fresh digital recording via the new turntable. The fact that the 12″ came in a completely differently designed sleeve from the 7″, albeit both were the work of the late and deservedly acclaimed David Band, should have clicked with my brain all those years ago.

mp3: Altered Images – Don’t Talk To Me About Love (12″ version)

That’s all 8 and a half minutes of it, complete with the little bits of wizardry deployed in the studio,

I air the 7″ version, without fail, at every Simply Thrilled night and it inevitably fills the floor, no matter how early it is. There was a tremendously succinct but memorable description of the song offered up by For Malcontents Only back in June 2015:-

“The Scottish Heart of Glass!”

Which provides the perfect excuse, and again re-recorded using the new turntable:-

mp3: Blondie – Heart of Glass (12″ version)

Now, if listening to these two songs doesn’t put a smile on your face and simultaneously gets your hips swaying, then you are an unwell person. My advice to you is…. seek professional help!!

JC

JUST A LITTLE SOMETHING I LIKE TO DO NOW AND AGAIN

And that’s to have a 12-inch effort by The Fall pop up out of nowhere so that some of you will be smiling while others will shake their heads with some dismay.

I’ve written previously about Free Range and the fact it is up there among my favourite 45s by the band. Free Range actually reached #40 in the singles chart which was the best ever-showing for a track that wasn’t a cover version. Its follow-up appeared in the shops in June 1992 and despite being another catchy number that had something of a singalong or at least hummable refrain, it didn’t come close to cracking the Top 75:-

mp3: The Fall – Ed’s Babe

The line-up at the time, in addition to Mark E Smith, consisted of Craig Scanlon (guitar), Steve Hanley (bass), Dave Bush (keyboards) and Simon Wolstencroft (drums) and the track is credited to Scanlon/Smith. It’s one that wouldn’t have sounded out of place during the Brix-era, being almost pop-orientated with the keyboards at the heart of the things. It’s certainly one of the most danceable of the band’s numbers.

It was released only on 12″ and CD with the former offering up a misprint on the label which perhaps indicates a late change of mind to ensure there was just the requisite number of songs (four) to have it qualify as a single and not the five that appear on the label, albeit just four songs are listed on the reverse of the sleeve. This was the track on the same side as the single:-

mp3: The Fall – Pumpkin Head Xscapes

Another danceable number, quite baggy in sound that certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place as a tune on an Inspiral Carpets single or album. But it also comes with much use of the vocal being sung through a megaphone and then ends with a spoken outro by someone who isn’t MES which places it firmly in the camp of The Fall and nobody else. This one was written by Scanlon/Smith/Hanley.

Flipping the record over and there’s these two tracks:-

mp3: The Fall – The Knight The Devil and Death
mp3: The Fall – Free Ranger

If I was to play the former to you without any hints or clues, I reckon you’d need probably a thousand tries before coming up with it being a song by The Fall, mainly as there’s no vocal contribution from MES and indeed given that he wasn’t credited with any instruments, other than tapes, for any of the sessions of the songs that made up the sessions for the album Code: Selfish and the various b-sides to the singles, then he may not have contributed to this track, albeit he does get a writing credit (Wolsencraft/Smith/Scanlon).

It’s also a very different sort of tune than normal, with the initial reliance on an acoustic guitar giving it something of a folky sort of feel at times. Although not credited on the sleeve of the 12″, the spoken/sung vocal is the work of Cassell Webb, an American-born singer whose career dates back to the late 60s and has encompassed a wide range of genres. Her husband is a name that should be familiar to Jonny and Echorich (among others) as Craig Leon was a major part of the NYC scene, on the production side, in the late 70s/early 80s, working with the likes of The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Richard Hell and Suicide. He was the producer of Code: Selfish and his other half was drafted in to provide some backing vocals as well as take the lead on this, rather intriguing track. It’s also down on the label as being track three of the a-side.

The latter is, as the title indicates, a remix of the previous single. It’s not as immediate or powerful as the original but it remains on the few Fall songs ever given the remix treatment and is well worth a listen for that alone.

I’ve mentioned that a fifth track appears on the label of the 12″, slated as the second track on Side-B to follow on from Free Ranger. It eventually saw the light of day via an edition of Volume which was 1990s publication consisting of a CD (usually containing around 20-24 tracks) and a near-200 page booklet with information on the singers and bands on the CD. Volume One appeared in September 1991 and stopped at Volume Seventeen in January 1997. I’m sure it retailed for around £10 – I only ever bought three of them, including Volume Four which has this on it:-

mp3: The Fall – Arid Al’s Dream

This one also has a contribution from Kenny Brady on violin and all-told it makes for the sort of weird and wonderful world that many associate with The Fall, fans and detractors alike.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 37)

This one is a sad short story.  The country-style tune propelled the single all the way to #4 in 1981.   It was the third, and thus far last, time the last time Squeeze would enjoy a Top 10 hit in the UK.  The parent album, East Side Story, is one of my all-time favourites from any era.  I’ll get round to praising its merits sometime in the future.

She unscrews the top of her new whisky bottle
And shuffles around in her candle-lit hovel
Like some kind of witch with blue fingers in mittens
She smells like the cat and the neighbours she sickens
The black and white T.V. has long seen a picture
The cross on the wall is a permanent fixture
The postman delivers the final reminders
She sells off her silver and poodles in China

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love

During the wartime, an American pilot
Made every air raid a time of excitement
She moved to his prairie and married the Texan
She learnt from a distance how love was a lesson
He became drinker and she became mother
She knew that one day she’d be one or the other
He ate himself older, drunk himself dizzy
Proud of her features, she kept herself pretty

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love

He, like a cowboy, died drunk in a slumber
Out on the porch in the middle of summer
She crossed the ocean back home to her family
But they had retired to roads that were sandy
She moved home alone without friends or relations
Lived in a world full of age reservations
On moth-eaten armchairs, she’d say that she’d sod all
The friends who had left her to drink from the bottle

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love

Drinks to remember I, me and myself
Winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love
The past has been bottled and labelled with love
The past has been bottled and labelled with love

mp3: Squeeze – Labelled With Love

The b-side saw the band offer their own take on the then-popular Stars on 45 things that had been flooding the charts that year.

mp3: Squeeze – Squabs on 45

And yes, I know I featured both these songs back in 2017, but in my defence, I wasn’t offering up the lyric as an example of a short story.

JC

 

FROM THE BIG BOX OF CASSETTE TAPES…..VIA VINYL (Side 2)

From an article in The Quietus, back in 2011, penned by Jim Keoghan:-

“As soon as a jingly-jangly indie band appears today, the C86 tag isn’t far behind. And yet, this wasn’t always the case. Over time we seem to have diminished a scene that was far more musically and culturally complex that is often assumed. For all its janglyness, C86 was about much more than just that.

Looking back 25 years to the original C86 era, the Britain of then might be unrecognisable to us today. Unemployment into the millions, rising inflation, an unrepentant Tory Government; it’s difficult to comprehend, but that’s what life really was like. Musically, Live Aid (which had taken place a year earlier) perfectly exemplified the landscape of the time with a rosta of bands so irredeemably anodyne they managed to make Queen look interesting.

Against this background, a musical rebellion was fermenting. At first it began in isolated pockets around the country, in places like Bristol and Glasgow but would soon coalesce to produce one of the most eclectic scenes in the short history of independent music.

One of the earliest people to really pick up on this change was Roy Carr, then a journalist with the NME.

“During the mid 80s, a few of us at the paper were starting to hear and see a load of bands coming through with a different sound to that which had dominated the independent scene for much of the earlier part of the decade. You got the feeling that something was happening, like the ground was shifting slightly.”

At the time, the NME was fond of putting together and releasing mix-tapes covering any number of different genres. It might sound quaint today in an age of unfettered access to anything ever recorded, but in those far off days a simple mix-tape could be one of the best chances for its readers to get hold of something new.

“We thought we’d do one of these for what was happening in indie music at the time. I’d done it for the paper before in 1981 – the imaginatively titled C81 – and that had been quite popular. So a few of us got together and started picking the bands we wanted to go on the tape.”

The tape did well, selling thousands of copies via mail order and eventually being released as an LP a year later by Rough Trade. According to Sean Dickson, former lead singer with The Soup Dragons, this success acted as something of a catalyst – not just on the 22 bands featured, but on the scene as a whole.

“The tape was the key to the whole C86 thing taking off,” he says. Aside from its impact on our profile, which was big, its release threw a spotlight on everything. I think what you can say is that it made what was underground suddenly over-ground. It took all these little scenes from around the country and pushed them together into the limelight – scenes like mine in Glasgow, where bands like us and Primal Scream had been knocking around for a few years; going to the same gigs, enjoying the same taste in music and sharing a similar attitude in the way that we made music.”

What’s striking about the bands both on the tape and those associated with the scene is the lack of a defining sound. If you listen to it today, the NME tape alone sounds like a load of bands with very little in common.

“We sounded nothing like a lot of the groups,” says Kev Hopper, bassist at the time with Stump. “Our song, ‘Buffalo’, is totally different to something like ‘Breaking Lines’ by The Pastels. When people today think of C86 it’s the bands with the fey melodies and jangly guitars that come to mind. But there were many other groups that were loud and energetic, such as Big Flame and The Wedding Present, and then people like us and Bogshed who were quite experimental. Listen to the tape today and it’s clear that the scene was about much more than just indie-pop.”

It is possible to pick your way through C86 and find several bands whose music did share bits in common. Many of those from Glasgow, such as The Pastels and Primal Scream, indulged in the more classically fey sound normally associated with C86, whereas on the Ron Johnson label, acts like The Shrubs, Big Flame and A Witness released songs that were fast and furious. But these connections were limited, and overall there is little to unite all the groups together, beyond a certain under-produced quality that characterised much of what was released during this period.

“The thing about music round then is that the people making it were drawing their influences from so many different places,” says John Robb, whose book Death to Trad Rock catalogues many of the bands around at the time. “Yes, there were bands that were heavily into the Velvet Underground and producing jangly pop, but there were others who were taking ideas from punk, blues, jazz, funk, rock & roll, ska, dub and anything else they could get their hands on and then twisting it all into something new.”

And yet to say that these groups had nothing at all to unite them would be wrong. One of the strongest shared characteristics evident in the scene was the rediscovery of punk’s DIY ethic. “This was all about bands doing it for themselves,” says John Robb. “This aspect of the scene isn’t always appreciated. There was no grovelling to major labels. Bands pressed their own records, put on their own gigs, designed their own record sleeves and published their own fanzines. It could often come across as quite amateurish but most of the time that was because those involved didn’t care about being slick. This wasn’t corporate rock; these bands didn’t have to sell millions. They were making music their own way. This was independent music in the truest sense of the word. Anti-establishment and everything that trad-rock wasn’t.”

Yet despite its obvious musical and cultural complexity, over time C86 has been reduced to just one thing: journalistic short-hand for indie-pop. Its role in the creation of this genre is certainly an important one; the jingly-jangly sound we all know so well was formed during the mid-to-late 80s. C86 bands played a huge part in this, building on the foundations laid by Postcard Records at the beginning of the decade. Indie pop, in all its various forms since, owes a debt to bands such as The Pastels, The Shop Assistants and The Bodines.

But this shouldn’t be the only recognised legacy of C86. Some of its more abrasive groups have been quoted as influences by bands as diverse as the Manic Street Preachers, Lambchop and Franz Ferdinand. What’s more, its success stories included groups like The Wedding Present, who reflected the energetic side of the scene. And a few years after C86 had fizzled out, its cultural dimension was also a clear spiritual influence on Riot Grrrl – something acknowledged by bands who possessed the same DIY ethic, such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

C86 as a scene and a tag is a more complex beast than we give it credit for. In the spirit of the DIY ethic this is my attempt to get off my arse and do something to right the wrong that has been done to C86 over the last thirty years. Spread the word dear reader; C86 was jangly, C86 was fey but C86 was also about much more than that too.”

——————–

Here, as promised yesterday, is Side 2.

  1. The Shop Assistants – It’s Up to You
  2. The Close Lobsters – Firestation Towers
  3. Miaow – Sport Most Royal
  4. Half Man Half Biscuit – I Hate Nerys Hughes (From The Heart)
  5. The Servants – Transparent
  6. Mackenzies – Big Jim (There’s No Pubs In Heaven)
  7. Big Flame – New Way (Quick Wash And Brush Up With Liberation Theology)
  8. We’ve Got A Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It – Console Me
  9. McCarthy – Celestial City
  10. The Shrubs – Bullfighter’s Bones
  11. The Wedding Present – This Boy Can Wait (A Bit Longer!)

Once again, individual tracks are available from clicking each of the above links. Here’s everything as one continuous listen if that’s your preference:-

mp3: Various – C86 NME/Rough Trade 100 (Side Two – vinyl version)

JC

FROM THE BIG BOX OF CASSETTE TAPES…..VIA VINYL (Side 1)

From wiki:-

C86 is a cassette compilation released by the British music magazine NME in 1986, featuring new bands licensed from British independent record labels of the time.As a term, C86 quickly evolved into shorthand for a guitar-based musical genre characterized by jangling guitars and melodic power pop song structures, although other musical styles were represented on the tape. In its time, it became a pejorative term for its associations with so-called “shambling” (a John Peel-coined description celebrating the self-conscious primitive approach of some of the music and underachievement. The C86 scene is now recognized as a pivotal moment for independent music in the UK.

The C86 name was a play on the labelling and length of blank compact cassette, commonly C60, C90 and C120, combined with 1986. The tape was a belated follow-up to C81, a more eclectic collection of new bands, released by the NME in 1981 in conjunction with Rough Trade. C86 was similarly designed to reflect the new music scene of the time. It was the twenty-third NME tape, although its catalogue number was NME022 (C81 had been dubbed COPY001).

It was about a year later that Rough Trade issued a vinyl copy of C86, with the catalogue number of Rough 100 and on sale at a pre-determined price of £4.49.

My copy is at least second-hand, possibly more. I found it in a charity shop in Glasgow some five years ago, and paid £2 for it. It has the £4.49 sticker but also a second sticker for the same price from the independent chain in which it was first purchased – Andy’s Recordsthis wiki page explains the story behind its rise and fall.

I’ve now made copies of all the tracks from the original vinyl, which is in surprisingly good condition given its age and that the sleeve is rather tattered and tired-looking. Side 1 today. Side 2 tomorrow. Along with a lengthy critique that I’ve ripped from elsewhere.

  1. Primal Scream – Velocity Girl
  2. The Mighty Lemon Drops – Happy Head
  3. The Soup Dragons – Pleasantly Surprised
  4. The Wolfhounds – Feeling So Strange Again
  5. The Bodines – Therese
  6. Mighty Mighty – Law
  7. Stump – Buffalo
  8. Bogshed – Run To The Temple
  9. A Witness – Sharpened Sticks
  10. The Pastels – Breaking Lines
  11. The Age of Chance – From Now On, This Will Be Your God

Individual songs are available from clicking each of the above links. Here’s everything as one continuous listen if that’s your preference:-

mp3: Various – C86 NME/Rough Trade 100 (Side One – vinyl version)

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 8)

First of all….a really big thanks to everyone who has come in on the back of each of the previous postings with thoughts, observations and comments.  It’s always appreciated and I do hope of all, or at least most of you, will stick with us on this epic journey which is likely to last the best part of a year all told.

The Robster was right with his assessment that July 1986 saw the release of one of R.E.M.’s best-ever singles.

Fall On Me was everything you would expect from a band who were being increasingly put forward, in the USA at least, as the saviours of guitar-pop with an independent bent.  The subsequent album hit the stores two weeks later, and ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ continued the happy trend of each new album initially selling more copies than its predecessor.

September – November 1986 saw the band out on the road in North America playing 64 shows in 82 days, in ever-increasing sized venues, leaving no real opportunity for any promotional activities around any follow-up single, of which there were three or four strong candidates, especially from the first side of the latest album which was as strong and consistent as anything they had ever released to this point.

The second side of LRP, however, was a pointer to the fact that the band had almost exhausted itself of material with two tracks from 1980 being resurrected in the studio along with the decision to add an obscure cover to take the number of songs on the album up to twelve with a running time short of 40 minutes. IRS was, nevertheless, determined to make sure there was some new product to coincide with the tour and on 4 November, in the same week as the band was set to play two sell-out shows in New York, they released a second single from LRP in the shape of Superman.

The same single would then receive a UK release in March 1987.

On the face of it, releasing a second single from an album isn’t really a crime.  IRS, however, was quite perverse in going with Superman as it was the cover version that had been tagged onto the end of the album to prevent any fans feeling they were being short-changed.  It was also a track on which Mike Mills and not Michael Stipe sang lead vocals……..

Superman dates from 1969, released as a b-side by The Clique, a pop band hailing from Houston, Texas.  Its introduction to the R.E.M. canon can be traced back to early 1986 when, having come off a gruelling tour the previous year, the band took some time away to do their own projects.  In the case of the rhythm section, Mike Mills and Bill Berry hooked up with three friends to form The Corn Cob Webs, a covers band whose aim was to play in small venues around their home town of Athens.  In the end, there was just the one show, but among the tunes they rolled out was Superman, with Mike taking lead vocal duties as he was the only one who knew the words.

Fast forward a few months and everyone is in the studio recording songs for the new album and possible b-sides.  A run-through of Superman confirms that it would make for a decent enough b-side in the near or far future.  They get to the mixing stage and there’s a late change of plan to now add it to the album, but as something of a hidden track that wouldn’t be listed on the sleeve.  It was also decided to give it a quirky introduction by recording a Japanese toy Godzilla….

I think all of the above indicates that having the song issued as a bonafide single was the last thing on the band’s collective minds.

mp3: R.E.M. – Superman

The single flopped on release in the USA.  Unsurprisingly, it did the same in the UK come March 1987.

Here’s the b-sides

mp3: R.E.M. – White Tornado
mp3: R.E.M. – Femme Fatale

The latter was only available on the 12″ release. It sees the band, for the third time, offer a take on a Velvet Underground song.  The recording dated back to 1984 from the same semi-drunken sessions as Pale Blue Eyes which had, if you recall, been used a b-side to So. Central Rain.

But it was the song on the reverse of the 7″ as well as the 12″ that was the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped.

White Tornado is a throwaway surf-style instrumental that dated back to the very beginning of the band, written at the same time as songs such as Radio Free Europe.  The version offered up on Superman was from a session recorded in April 1981.

The relationship with IRS was souring and work was about to get underway on the songs for the fifth studio album, after which the band would be free to go elsewhere.  R.E.M. could now put themselves into a shop window if they so chose.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #222 : NIGHT NOISE TEAM

This one involved a fair bit of digging.

There’s one track on the hard drive by Night Noise Team, courtesy of its inclusion on a compilation CD Limbo Live Volume One.

Limbo was a live music club based out of The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh that ran from 2007-2016. It pulled together some amazing line-ups during that time, giving a much need boost to the live scene in the city, which, certainly in comparison to Glasgow, is far less obvious mainly as a result of a lack of decent venues, for all sorts of reasons.

It was back in 2009 that a live CD was compiled and released, consisting of songs recorded at one or other of the Limbo nights. 14 songs in all, mostly from acts based in Scotland, with the common issue being they were on small labels or indeed were unsigned. I hadn’t heard of Night Noise Team (NNT) whatsoever until going through the hard drive to see who came alphabetically after The Needles, but here’s what I’ve been able to find out.

NNT consisted of Sean Ormsby (voice, guitar), Fabien Pinardon (bass, guitar, keys), Marco Morelli (lead guitar) and Mike Walker (drums). The debut single was Menolick, a digital release via their own Permwhale Recordings in 2009.

In subsequent years, they would release further singles, and EP and three albums, all of which are still obtainable at this page over at Bandcamp. The links to the band and label websites are no longer active and there has been no new material since 2015.

Here’s the track from the Limbo compilation, a live version of the debut single:-

mp3: Night Noise Team – Menolick

It’s a reasonably decent song, with one reviewer back in 2010 taken enough to offer this view of the studio version:-

“This hotly-tipped Edinburgh crew are, it must be said, very 80s, like Talk Talk with a sinister edge, and with robotic vocals that explode like Joy Division plays pop or one of Interpol’s darker moments. The synths that run through sit uneasily with the rest of the song, but they do keep what could be a doomy rocker bright and in fact show off what is a rather ace tune.”

It would be great if anyone reading this could offer more info.

JC

OOOH MATRON, A NIPPLE.

I remember there was quite the outcry over the sleeve for Beat The Clock, the single released by Sparks in July 1979 as the follow-up to Number One Song In Heaven which, earlier the same year, had taken the brotherly duo back into the charts after a four-year absence.

The problem for the big retail stores which sold records, such as Woolworth and WH Smiths, was that the picture sleeve featured a model, dressed in a lab coat, which was open to the waist and thus you could see her underwear which consisted of a see-through bra and thus a nipple was on display.  The image on the back sleeve was even more problematic for public display as it consisted of a full-length shot of the model in which she was ripping off her lab coat….the solution for such stores was to stock the single but only have it available from under the counter!

Things like this in 1979 caused outrage in the tabloid press, notwithstanding the fact that many of them also featured topless women on Page 3 of their publications as a matter of routine. There is no doubt that Russell and Ron Mael knew what they were doing when they agreed to the sleeve, no doubt egged on by those in charge at Virgin Records who quite liked the idea of the music industry still being able to shock society – it was no real surprise that the label was home to more post-punk/new wave acts than any other.

The annoying thing was that with Giorgio Moroder on board for the new material, there was no need to resort to such cheap and nasty gimmicks as the music was more than capable of delivering on its own merits. Still, there’s no doubt the sleeve helped shift a few more units as the single went all the way to #10, their biggest success since the initial one-two of This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us and Amateur Hour back in 1974.

The parent album only had six tracks and so there was a real lack of material for the b-side. An alternative mix was therefore offered up:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (single version)
mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (alternative mix)

The 12″ came in a quasi-picture disc format in that it was pressed in a way that it had a standard 12″ black or coloured vinyl on the outside edge with the music merging into a picture disc towards the central area. It offered up an extended version along with a gimmick:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (long version)
mp3: Sparks – Untitled

The latter was a two-and-a-half minutes-long piece in which the comedian Peter Cook, acting as a lawyer who represents God, calls up Virgin Records to make a formal complaint that Sparks had no right to call their new album Number One in Heaven. The piece is put together in a way that snippets of tracks on the album are aired.

JC