AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #120 : THE MAGNETIC FIELDS

A GUEST POSTING FROM ROL HIRST

My Top Ten Blog

JC writes:-

This is a thrill for me.  

Rol’s blog is one of the most imaginative out there – always superbly written and there’s usually great follow-ups of immense quality (unless I’ve thrown in my tuppence worth).  He’s also written about a band that I’ve had recommended to me many times over the years but never been sure where to start.  Cheers mate….

Being invited to compile an ICA by JC is, as far as blogging goes, one of the ultimate accolades. It’s like being invited to the palace for a knighthood… except I won’t turn it down.

I’ve been following The Vinyl Villain almost since the beginning. My original blog, Sunset Over Slawit, wasn’t set up as a music blog, but reading JC (and a few other music bloggers from that era, many of whom are no longer part of the blogosphere) convinced me to dip my toe in the water. The problem was, my tastes were always a little too unhip. Yeah, I liked most of the artists JC featured – many were among my favourites – but I also loved a bunch of far less “cool” musicians. Queen. Meat Loaf. Billy Joel. Neil Dia… I’ll stop there, shall I?

Despite this, JC was always immensely supportive of my efforts and, unlike some other bloggers, he never went out of his way to ridicule the stuff I liked that he really didn’t. I’ll always be grateful to him for that (although I still wish ICA #069 wasn’t an April Fool’s gag).

Anyway, The Magnetic Fields.

I featured a track from their new album box set, 50 Song Memoir a couple of weeks ago, and JC popped up in the comments with that offer I couldn’t refuse. I was beginning to think I’d missed the boat – most of the suitable bands I like have already been covered by others. That said, I’ve admired The Magnetic Fields for a long time, and although they probably wouldn’t make my all-time Top 50, Stephin Merritt and co. have certainly produced enough outstanding material for a 10 track Imaginary Compilation Album… or ten.

Side 1

1. Papa Was A Rodeo (From ’69 Love Songs’)

How many truly great double albums can you name? I bet you can count them on one hand. Most have a truly great single disc trapped inside, screaming to drag itself up above the so-so tracks that have padded out disc 2 side 2.

How about triple albums? Can you even think of one truly great example?

I can. But only one.

1999’s 69 Love Songs is The Magnetic Fields’ masterpiece. Three discs. 69 songs. All (or at least 60 of them) magnificent. The hardest part of compiling this ICA was not just choosing ten songs from that album.

Papa Was A Rodeo is (arguably, of course) the greatest song on 69 Love Songs. It’s a country song at heart (if that puts you off, more fool you) which begins with a barroom conversation and turns into a sweet (if extremely sardonic) love song that flashes forward in the final verse to reveal a 55 year relationship still going strong. And the chorus is lyrically perfect.

2. Too Drunk To Dream (From ‘Distortion’)

I haven’t had a drink in over 16 years, but this song makes me want to crack open the Jack…

Sober, life is a prison
Shitfaced, it is a blessing
Sober, nobody wants you
Shitfaced, they’re all undressing
Oh, sober, it’s ever darker
Shitfaced, the moon is nearer
Sober, you’re old and ugly
Shitfaced, who needs a mirror?
Oh sober, you’re a Cro-Magnon
Shitfaced, you’re very clever
Sober, you never should be
Shitfaced, now and forever

3. Acoustic Guitar (From ’69 Love Songs’)

Stephin Merritt isn’t always the voice of the Magnetic Fields. He knows when best to give his songs to sweeter, less dry and world weary vocalists, one of whom is Claudia Gonson, who makes beautiful work of this bittersweet ode to the most romantic of instruments.

4. 100,000 Fireflies (From ‘Distant Plastic Trees’)

And here’s Susan Anway, taking lead vocal on the very first Magnetic Fields single, from way back in 1991. My favourite early Fields number, I just discovered I’m not alone in admiring it. Iffypedia calls it “the ultimate staple of indie mixtape culture during the 1990s”. Well, how hip am I? (Answer: Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, etc. etc.)

5. I Don’t Want To Get Over You (From ’69 Love Songs’)

We’ll close side one with the return of Stephin Merrit, at his most drolly maudlin. Is drolly a word? Maudlinly droll? Like Morrissey, Jarvis and Neil Hannon rolled into one, with a sprinkling of John Grant

I could dress in black and read Camus
Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
Like I was seventeen
That would be a scream
But I don’t want to get over you

Side 2

1. The Book of Love (From ’69 Love Songs’)

Stephin Merritt has, on occasion, been compared to a modern day Cole Porter for his wit, wordplay and occasional bouts of bittersweet cynicism. The Book of Love sounds like prime Porter: a song about how boring people in love can be… unless you’re one of them. It’s been covered by lots of people, from Peter Gabriel to Zucchero (who translated it into Italian), The Airbourne Toxic Event to South Park.

2. I Don’t Believe You (From ‘i’)

If you haven’t guessed so far, I’m a big fan of clever, witty or storytelling song lyrics. Stephin Merritt is well regarded as one of the premier lyricists of his generation (hence that Cole Porter comparison), and he’s also the king of the killer rhyming couplet, as this cut from his 2004 album ‘i’ (all the track titles began with the 9th letter of the alphabet) proves most eloquently…

I had a dream and you were in it
The blue of your eyes was infinite
You seemed to be
In love with me
Which isn’t very realistic

He also manages to get the word ‘ampersand’ into this song. You’ve got to give him a prize for that.

3. Come Back From San Francisco (From ’69 Love Songs’)

Another of Merritt’s female collaborators is Shirley Simms, who takes leads vocals on this gorgeous love song, featuring the best invitation to visit the Golden Gate state you’ll ever hear…

Come back from San Francisco
And kiss me, I’ve quit smoking
I miss doing the wild thing with you

4. ’85 Why I Am Not A Teenager (From ’50 Song Memoir’)

The latest Magnetic Fields album is a thematic follow-up to 69 Love Songs: a five disc autobiography in song to celebrate Merritt’s 50th birthday, one song for each year. 1985 was the year he hit 20… not a great year to be a young gay man in America, it turned out. Still, at least he wasn’t a teenager anymore…

All that money they got
They don’t give you a shot
This is why I am not a teenager

When you never get paid
And you never get laid
And you’re full of these stupid hormones
And just then they come out with AIDS

5. How Fucking Romantic (From ’69 Love Songs’)

There’s no better way to close this ICA: it says everything you need to know about Stephin Merritt in under one minute. Can we say ‘genius’ now?

ROL

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #119 : DEACON BLUE

A GUEST POSTING FROM DAVID ASHLEY

JC writes:-

Dave has been contributing to the blog for many years, mostly through comments but with the occasional guest posting.

It turns out that BACK in June 2016 he fired over an e-mail with a guest ICA but for whatever reason I never received it.  Or if I did, I accidentally deleted it.  Honest!

Luckily, he had a copy of his e-mail and a recent posting as part of the Saturday series saw him get in touch and resubmit his ICA.  As I’ve said before, I never refuse an ICA submission (and would only do so if I thought that he band/singer’s music or viewpoints were offensive) and so I’m more than happy to have this appear today.  So over to Dave….

Hi Jim

Just read your Deacon Blue post and it struck a chord. I loved Raintown (and still do) and when they toured with it thought they were fantastic live (I remember seeing them play Leeds Poly and the crowd refusing to leave with the house lights on and the band eventually coming back again for the 3rd or 4th encore and sheepishly admitting that they had run out of songs to play). I despaired at the follow-up ,with its awful 80s production all big gated drums and stabbing synths. Luckily I missed the more political Ricky Ross ( think even he realised preaching independence to an English audience wasn’t the best career move) , I just sensed he was a bit worthy, and well a bit boring , both of which were forgivable. As a result I stuck with them. I realise that they might well be one of those bands you love to hate for a lot of regular readers, but there have been diamonds in the dirt. Here therefore is a post-Raintown compilation.

Side 1

Rae (from Homesick)

Deacon Blue have a tendency to start an LP with something understated and as a result some of their best songs are tracks 1. This is from Homesick (one of the “comeback “LPs) . When you strip away the bombast they can hook you in with a simple tune and this has a chorus melody to die for.

Love and Regret (from When the World Knows Your Name)

The 2nd LP was a bit of a car crash from the title onwards. There were a couple of shining lights and this is one of them . When he gets it right Ricky Ross can write a fine lyric and this is one of my favourites . It chugs a long a bit but is one of the few tracks that isn’t drowned out in over production and is allowed to breathe a bit. Reading the notes from the recent re released box sets there is a sense of a band not fully in control of their own destiny.

The Hipsters (from The Hipsters)

After a 10 year break they suddenly reappeared in 2012 with their best LP since Raintown. A radio friendly song that didn’t really get any radio play.

A New House (from A New House)

A couple of years after the Hipsters came A New House. A major disappointment , mainly down to the production which swamped the songs. This is one of the best things on it.

Back Here in Beanoland (from Viva Las Vegas)

The band always put a bit of effort into their b sides and Viva Las Vegas pulls together a lot of the post Raintown b-sides and various other bits and bobs. This I think is a “love” letter to Dundee where old ladies wrote letters to the local press complaining about a busking Danny Wilson.

Side 2

James Joyce Soles (from Fellow Hoodlums)

The 3rd LP felt like a conscious attempt to return to the feel of Raintown, helped by the fact they returned to Jon Kelly for production . However it all felt like they were trying too hard ( every song seemed to have to have a Glasgow street mentioned in it) However Twist and Shout is a great pop song and this is an ache of a song.

Laura From Memory (from The Hipsters)

Could have been any number of songs from the Hipsters LP but I like the way the words tumble over each other and the abba-esque piano

Your Town (from Whatever you Say , Say Nothing)

By the 4th LP (with yet another awful title) there was a whiff of desperation as Steve Osborne was drafted in to produce. The lead off single was a blast of fresh air but the LP didn’t really herald a brave new direction but instead often lapsed into stodgy rock. This is still a great track though.

The Outsiders (from The Hipsters)

Another big radio friendly song that was about 20 years too late.

Sad Loved Girl – long version (from When the World Knows Your Name )

The short version appears on the LP as a kind of not quite as good Born in a Storm. However in its full version on the re-release brings things to a low-key end.

Bonus – the piano songs

I recently saw Ricky Ross tour playing various songs across his career using only a piano a backing and met him afterwards for a quick chat. He was still a bit worthy , but whether age or comfortableness with life he was also full of self depreciating humour. It was good to hear one of their worst offending songs come alive in the stripped down version

Wages Day piano version
Circus Lights piano version
Bethlehem’s Gate piano version

I am pretty sure the above isn’t going to convert anyone and it isn’t really a case for the defence, more of a recognition that post-Raintown they could produce some stuff I love.

DAVID

STOP PRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hi y’all

I had an amazing few days over the weekend

I saw Butcher Boy get together for the first time in almost four years and deliver a memorable set in a unique venue as part of Record Store Day.

I traveled to Manchester and met up with Jonny the Friendly Lawyer for the first ever time and then watched his band The Ponderosa Aces play a stormer of set in which a song was dedicated to me.

And I will, at some point, expand on both of these unforgettable events along with how I squeezed in in another Record Store Day gig on the Saturday evening.

But I think it’s fair to say, and I know from the conversation we had on Sunday night that Jonny will agree with me, all of this pales into insignificance with the news that SWC and Tim Badger have announced plans for the return of When You Can’t Remember Anything.

It’s going to be the morning of Thursday 27 April. And in due course, all your usual favourites will be making an appearance.

It’s been a very good few days indeed.

mp3 : Blink – Happy Day

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #118 : MISSION OF BURMA

A GUEST POSTING FROM JONDER

(long time reader, first time contributor)

Mike Melville‘s survey of Wire’s 21st century albums inspired me to compile songs from Mission Of Burma‘s reincarnation.

Mission Of Burma released two singles, an EP, and one LP before guitarist Roger Miller‘s tinnitus forced him to retire from live performance in 1983. Miller formed the neo-classical Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic.

Pete Prescott stepped out from behind the drum kit to lead the band Kustomized, followed by The Volcano Suns.

Burma’s bassist Clint Conley left the music industry completely.

The 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life put Mission Of Burma in context as the equal of contemporaries like Black Flag, the Minutemen and Husker Du; and as a formative influence on Big Black, Fugazi, and Sonic Youth.

In May of 2000, Prescott’s band The Peer Group opened for Wire. Conley filled in on bass, and Miller joined them for one song on keyboard. It had been over 15 years since Burma’s members last shared a stage. Conley started writing songs again, and formed a band called Consonant in 2001. Miller soon donned a guitar and a pair of ear protectors. Mission of Burma played its first reunion show in 2002, and released the first of four new albums in 2004. They last played in 2016, but there have been no new Burma songs since 2012.

1 Fever Moon (from ‘On/Off/On‘)

Roger Miller was born in Detroit and raised on the Stooges and the MC5. He was also a student of modern classical composition. Miller and his music are equally at home with the visceral, the cerebral, and the surreal. I picture the “sentimental Visigoth” of this song as a personification of all three traits.

2 2wice (from ‘The Obliterati’)

Clint Conley is the least confident of Burma’s three songwriters, despite his exceptional melodic sense and the stirring words of ‘Academy Fight Song’ and ‘That’s When I Reach For My Revolver’. In Consonant interviews, Conley expressed dislike for his Burma songs, and he employed Holly Anderson’s poems as Consonant lyrics. Conley is an excellent bassist with a nimble voice, and he displays the range of both instruments on ‘2wice’.

3 The Enthusiast (from ‘On/Off/On’)

Peter Prescott contributes fewer songs to Mission Of Burma than Conley or Miller, but some of them are real gems. This one is reminiscent of his 1982 exhortation, ‘Learn How’. Prescott often adds enthusiastic shouts to punctuate his bandmates’ songs; his voice is the last sound on the closing track of the first Burma LP. Prescott has a new band called Minibeast.

4 Careening With Conviction (from ‘The Obliterati’)

Martin Swope was invited by Miller (a John Cage disciple) to add an element of chance to Mission Of Burma’s sound. Swope recorded tape loops of Burma’s music, manipulated them and fed them back into the mix. Swope never appeared onstage, and he declined to participate in the reunion, so Bob Weston assumed his role. ‘Careening With Conviction’ features three voices: Miller, Conley, and a Miller/Conley splice created by Weston.

5 SSL 83 (from ‘The Sound The Speed The Light’)

Another phantom voice flickers to life in this song, reminiscent of the tricks that the Beatles used: running tapes backwards and altering the speed of sound. Martin Swope was Burma’s “fifth Beatle”.

6 Slow Faucet (from ‘The Sound The Speed The Light’)

Mission Of Burma are perhaps Wire’s closest American counterparts. Both groups left behind the strictures of punk and the conventions of songwriting. Burma and Wire share an intellectual restlessness: suspicious of conformity, deeply averse to repeating themselves, with each member pushing the others to greater creativity. ‘Slow Faucet’ has a layered structure that briefly collapses before restating its defiant theme: “you don’t know me.”

7 Invisible (from the ‘2wice’ single)

Gang Of Four were another of Burma’s British contemporaries. The interpersonal politics of Gill and King‘s lyrics are evident in this track, as is the Gang Of Four’s sonic assault: a massive bassline, slashing guitar and a relentless beat. Hugo Burnham was among the musicians who joined Mission Of Burma onstage during Burma’s first reunion show.

8 Donna Sumeria (from ‘The Obliterati’)

Who but Mission Of Burma could have created this? There’s a brief paraphrase from the disco queen’s immortal ‘I Feel Love’, and perhaps the pun begat the song, but there’s no use playing “spot the influence” here.

9 1,2,3 Partyy! (from ‘The Sound The Speed The Light’)

Another paraphrase, this time from The Syndicate Of Sound‘s ‘Little Girl’. Conley and Miller first played together in The Moving Parts, an avant-garage band (to borrow a hyphenate from Pere Ubu). The Moving Parts covered The Music Machine‘s ‘Talk Talk’, another proto-punk classic.

10 7’s (from ‘Unsound’)

Like ‘SSL 83’, this song might be autobiographical. “All we ask is one more shot,” Conley sings, while acknowledging that the effort is “totally ridiculous”. It’s hard to tease out the meaning of Conley’s lyrics. ‘1,2,3 Partyy!’ seems to be about a man trying to control his drinking, and ‘2wice’ may be told from the perspective of a stalker. These songs speak of mistakes and self-contradictions, themes that date back to ‘Academy Fight Song’.

11 Youth Of America (live at the Cat’s Cradle, 16 April 2004)

Amps to eleven, Burma blazes through a cover of The Wipers’ 1981 anthem, which rebelled against the punk rebellion and its dictates (no long songs! no guitar solos!)

BONUS TRACK: This Is Not A Photograph by Great Ytene (from the ‘George Street‘ single)

Three decades on, Mission Of Burma continues to exert a powerful influence. Here a young British quartet adds its own energy to a classic from 1981’s ‘Signals, Calls, And Marches’.

JON

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #117 : THE SUGARPLASTIC

A GUEST POSTING FROM BRIAN
http://lineartrackinglives.blogspot.co.uk/

JC writes….

I do love the fact the ICA series has proven to be so popular.  I am especially pleased that so many of you take the time to submit guest postings that, in many cases allow singers and bands never previously featured on TVV to be the focus of attention.

The idea is normally to have one ICA per week so that enough attention can be devoted to each post – I know that some readers do drop in every day and it’s no hassle to read and hopefully enjoy a long and detailed posting, but many others are occasional visitors and to see screeds of type can be off-putting. leading to a quick scan of things and perhaps missing out on some great posts simply because the band wasn’t known to them or was of little interest. (I say that with some confidence as it is something I can be guilty of myself when time is tight).

The thing is, I’ve had a great run of e-mails with suggested ICAs that to hold them to one per week would mean some folk not seeing their efforts on the screen for a long while yet. I don’t think that’s a good way to treat anyone and so, with your indulgence, the rest of this week is going to be dedicated solely to ICAs….all, of which are fantastically and lovingly written in ways that will educate and entertain in equal measure.

First up is Brian from Linear Track Lives with yet another quality look at a band, I have to be honest, completely passed me by.  It’s also appropriate that he name checks Jonny the Friendly Lawyer as this post will appear a matter of hours after I meet him for the first ever time at his gig in Manchester (an event I will turn into a post as soon as time allows….it’s all a bit manic just now with work and folk also over visiting from Canada….not to mention gearing up for early May when there’s the bloggers get-together in Glasgow).

Anyways….here’s Brian.

When you think of Los Angeles, what’s the music scene that pops into your head? Is it the punk movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s? How about the Paisley Underground? For me, it’s ’90s power pop. Now, power pop has had a rich history in the City of Angels for more that 40 years, from The Nerves and its many offshoots to Tulsa transplants 20/20 and the Dwight Twilley Band, to name but a few, but there were two bands from near the end of the century I liked better than the genre’s giants. I’ll get to the other one next time, but let’s begin with The Sugarplastic.

I have featured this trio on my blog many times, and the reception has generally been tepid, but I’m a stubborn sod. Two recent developments inspired me to be a Sugarplastic disciple once more. On Sundays, JC is taking us through the singles of XTC, a band you’re bound to think of while listening to this ICA. I also discovered quite inadvertently through the comments section of my blog that our friend Johnny the Friendly Lawyer/Johnny Bottoms is a big fan. Finally, after nearly eight years of pushing the Sugarplastic, I have found a comrade. I swear I heard angels singing.

Like so many bands that have received the ICA treatment, I could easily focus on the early years and give you the Sugarplastic’s best work, but I have decided to go for a comprehensive listen.

Side A

“Ottawa Bonesaw”

All those hours practicing at the appliance store owned by the father of drummer Josh Laner paid off. The band’s first release came out on Los Angeles-based Pronto Records in 1993, and it was quite an introduction. The label went all out and created a box set of three 7″ singles at a time when vinyl had all but disappeared. Johnny the Friendly Lawyer commented “the first compilation tape I made for my son… had ‘Ottawa Bonesaw’ on it. Every kid loves that tune.”

“Jesus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”

The Sugarplastic had three songs on Pronto’s 1993 compilation ‘Meg: An L.A. Sampler.’ This song never showed up anywhere else. The band’s next two singles would be released with little fanfare on Small-Fi and Minty Fresh. The Sugarplastic didn’t stand a chance. The Chicago label was busy pushing the popular Veruca Salt at the time.

“Radio Jejune”

The title track from their 1995 album and first long player, this time on Sugar Fix Recordings. While the fellas were in the studio, Geffen came sniffing around. A deal was struck, but the Sugarplastic agreed on the condition ‘Radio Jejune’ would come out on Sugar Fix before they would begin recording for the major label. Here’s where Ben Eshbach really began to blossom as a writer. His songs had more hooks than an old man’s fishing hat, and folks outside of L.A. began taking notice.

“Arizona”

By ‘Radio Jejune,’ it was obvious XTC (particularly album ‘Drums and Wires’) was a huge influence. As a fan, I didn’t take this as a negative. I always thought it meant clever lyrics and a herky-jerky, tension-filled delivery, but as more listeners were exposed to the Sugarplastic, the derivative label began rearing its ugly head. Instead of running the other way, Ben had fun with it. “Life Begins at the Hop,” anyone? How’s this for a cheeky lyric: “Sit back and watch me crack, what Mr. Moulding’s done before.” I chose “Arizona” because of the XTC connection, but any song on ‘Radio Jejune’ could have shown up on this ICA. It’s an essential album.

“Polly Brown”

Now signed to a major, fortune and fame followed. Uh, maybe not. The Geffen era was one album, ‘Bang, the Earth is Round,’ but what a great album it was! “Polly Brown,” an old song from the “Ottawa Bonesaw” box set, was shined up and released as a single that went nowhere. To give you a little perspective, “Macarena” was the top song of 1996 on Billboard.

Side B

“Sheep”

If I was honest about this ICA, the A-side would be from ‘Radio Jejune.’ The B-side would be filled from ‘Bang, the Earth is Round.’

“Sheep” was a forgotten single from 1993 that found its way onto the Geffen album. It has a lyric I have always loved: “I’ve sired now I’m tired and I want to go to sleep.” The additional vocals from Gretchen Parlato worked really well. Parlato has gone on to have a quite a career as a jazz vocalist.

“Don’t Look Down”

Sugarplastic Central became quiet for four long years. During that time, Laner left the band and was replaced by David Cunningham. In 2000, Craig McCracken, creator of animated series The Powderpuff Girls released ‘Heroes & Villains,’ a compilation of songs inspired by the show. McCracken said these bands inspired his own work, and a quick look at the roster revealed I wanted to be friends with this guy. Devo, Bis, Frank Black, Apples in Stereo, Komeda and many other greats participated. This is the Sugarplastic’s contribution.

“Dunn the Worm”

Another album, another label. ‘Resin’ came out on Escape Artist Recordings in 2000. Andy Metcalfe of Squeeze and the Soft Boys produced. The songs were quirkier than ever, but there were ever-so subtle changes in sound. The comparisons to XTC faded.

“Hey Mr. Lockjaw”

In 2003, after three more years of quiet, Tallboy Records out of San Francisco made a major announcement. The Sugarplastic would release seven 7″ singles, about one every three months, via subscription. I was subscriber No. 63 of 300 available slots, and all of my singles were numbered as such. The sleeves and colored vinyl can only be described as art. One side of each single was penned by principal writer Eshbach. In a rare move, bassist Kiara Geller wrote the songs for the other side. “Hey Mr. Lockjaw” was my favorite of Geller’s contributions.

“The Runaround”

I never heard or read a definitive pronouncement the Sugarplastic had called it a day, but it has been 12 years since their last album. I’m beginning to lose hope. If ‘Will’ really was the end, though, I can accept it, but I still check the Tallboy site from time to time with hopes of some news.

Hidden Track

“Dover”

This is a short song (1:49) from the “Ottawa Bonesaw” box set in 1993. It also appeared on the Japanese import of early works called ‘Primitive Plastic: Demos and B-Sides’ from 2001. Like so many underappreciated bands from the West, the Japanese got the Sugarplastic. Of course they did! Eshbach wrote in the liner notes of ‘Primitive Plastic:’ “Some [of these songs] are unfinished – all of them are a little embarrassing – but Josh, Kiara and I secretly love every one of them. Dover, in fact, is my favorite Sugarplastic recording of all time.”

BRIAN

JC adds….

See that comment I signed off with recently when Nik wrote about YMO?? Same applies this week….only this time I knew nothing of this band…not even their name!

I particularly love Brian’s attention to the smallest of details such as sharing with us he was subscriber #63. His love for, and knowledge of, the most obscure of bands, never ceases to amaze me. Can’t wait to see him again next month.

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 8)

And so we come to the era that most casual fans of XTC will be most familiar with – the singles that were lifted from the 1980 LP Black Sea. There were four in total in the UK between August 1980 and March 1981. There was also a further single, not on the album, which was released in November 1980 – but all of that will be covered in due course.

General and Majors predated the release of the LP by around five weeks. As we would later discover, there were loads of options for decent 45s but given that Colin Moulding had supplied the only two previous chart hits it was no surprise that Virgin Records went for one of his to lead things off.

mp3 : XTC – Generals and Majors

An anti-military establishment rather than an anti-war song, it is one of those incredibly simple but effective tunes made memorable from a combination of catchy chorus (which Colin has always been quick to say was really a fine-tuning, by Andy Partridge, of a half-finished lyrical idea), fantastically fast and furious guitar work, whistling and humming. It had smash hit written all over it….but stalled at #32 despite a marketing campaign that saw the first 15,000 copies of the record be a double-single with tracks that would be unavailable on the parent LP.

mp3 : XTC – Don’t Lose Your Temper
mp3 : XTC – Smokeless Zone
mp3 : XTC – The Somnambulist

The first is a rockin’ n’ rollin’ two and a half minutes of music that really got up hopes for the forthcoming LP. If something as fine sounding at this hadn’t made the cut then something special had to be coming down the line.

The second was a bit more experimental albeit it kept up the frantic face of the two songs that made up the standard 7″. It was about now that I began to think of XTC not simply as a new wave band but more in keeping with the tradition of greatly talented but occasionally eccentric English bands who made music that you couldn’t ever pigeon-hole.

The third song is the only one on the double-pack not produced by Steve Lillywhite; instead it is attributed to Andy Partridge. It’s a very strange and eerie piece of music that was totally unlike anything else the band had done before – it was almost as experimental as the sounds of the likes of Ultravox, Human League, Tubeway Army or those other weird synth-based groups who were never going to amount to anything.

I had no idea back then what a somnambulist was…I had to look it up. That it was an ode to a trance-like state for sleepwalkers sort of made sense with the tune. Truth be told, I hated it back in 1980 Far too refined for my 17 year old tastes. Nowadays, I think it’s a masterpiece. Oh and I’ve since learned, thanks to researching for this series that it pre-dated much of the Black Sea material as it was recorded as part of spare time left over in a BBC studio while making a Peel Session in March 1980.

Oh, also worth mentioning that the single version of Generals and Majors is about thirty seconds shorter than would appear on the subsequent LP.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #72 : THE DELGADOS

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Quite simply, the most important group to ever have come out of Scotland whose legacy has brought so much joy to so many people over the years.

The Delgados were more than a band. They were, and remain, an institution thanks to the establishment of Chemikal Underground.

Five studio LPs, sixteen singles, one live CD and a Peel Sessions collection is what they left behind on their own account.

Arab Strap (and solo careers for Moffat and Middleton), Mogwai, The Phantom Band, Bis, Aereogramme and RM Hubbert are just a small sample of those singers and groups who owe just about everything to Alun Woodward, Emma Pollock, Paul Savage and Stewart Henderson.

I’ve tried and failed miserably at least four times to come up with an ICA. Maybe I just need to feature them in depth at some point in the future.

mp3 : The Delgados – Accused of Stealing

From The Great Eastern LP, released in 2000. One of THE great Scottish albums of all time.

JC