30, 20, 10 (Part 3)

The latest installment in the monthly series looking back at the songs which were #1 in the indie charts on the first day of the month 30, 20 and 10 years ago.

Thus far, it has shown decent enough stuff (for the most part) in 87 and 07 while demonstrating that 97 was a year in which the major labels took dross to the top of the indie charts thanks to the exploitation of a loophole around distribution.  R. Kelly and The Rembrandts cannot, by any definition, be classed as ‘indie’.  Third time lucky perhaps?

1 July 1987 : mp3 : The Soup Dragons – Can’t Take No More

The band’s fifth release and their first, and indeed only 45, to take the top spot in this chart. It was probably helped a bit by the fact it was released in three different vinyl formats – 7″, 12″ and a live 12″ , the latter which included a rather appalling version of Purple Haze.  It’s all a long way removed from the baggy/dance stuff that took them into the proper charts a couple of years down the line.

1 July 1997 : mp3 : Blur : On Your Own

Food Records by this time were completely owned by EMI and so Blur were only eligible for the chart via that loophole referred to above.  It’s actually one of my favourite tracks of theirs from that era – it’s since been said by Damon Albarn that it was one of the first tunes he wrote with Gorillaz in mind. It climbed as high as #5 in the UK singles chart, again helped by the fact that it was released on 7″ vinyl and well as 2xCD singles with a number of b-sided that had all been recorded live at John Peel‘s home studio at Peel Acres and broadcast on his show on  8 May 1997. Here’s some bonuses for you to celebrate this series featuring that very set:-

mp3 : Blur – Popscene (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Song 2 (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Chinese Bombs (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – Movin’ On (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – M.O.R. (live at Peel Acres)
mp3 : Blur – On Your Own (live at Peel Acres)

And now, especially for those of you who like the electronic sort of stuff:-

mp3 : Blur – On Your Own (Walter Wall Mix)

It’s a 15 minute remix courtesy of William Orbit.

1 July 2007 : mp3 : Jack Penate – Torn On The Platform

I was working in Canada ten years ago and hearing this makes me glad of that. This is my first exposure to this particular singer/songwriter.

He was on XL Recordings which that same year also released albums by Radiohead and M.I.A. I’m guessing it was the late teens/festival goers who took him to the top of this chart and to #7 in the UK singles chart. Wiki tells me he was popular in 2006/07 but his second LP in 2009 sort of sunk without trace. His fifteen minutes of fame had come and gone.

JC

THE FAREWELL SINGLE IN ALL ITS GUISES

Orange Juice signed off with a flourish with their final single having the very tongue-in-cheek title of Lean Period. It was issued in 7″ and 12″ formats in a brown paper bag (the reverse side of the 7″ version is pictured above), a 12″ format with a printed sleeve and a limited 7″ edition that came with an additional flexi disc with two live tracks.

Despite all this, it staggered around the nether region of the charts but as this was a time when the charts were measured on a Top 100 it meant, in official terms, that Lean Period actually spent three weeks in the official rundown – entering at #78, rising to #77 and then leaping, salmon-like to the giddy-heights of #74 in October 1984.

mp3 : Orange Juice – Lean Period
mp3 : Orange Juice – Bury My Head In My Heads
mp3 : Orange Juice – Lean Period (12″ dub version)
mp3 : Orange Juice – Rip it Up (live)
mp3 : Orange Juice – What Presence?! (live)

The flexi disc recordings are very lo-fi, ripped as they are straight from those fragile and flimsy bits of plastic and so you’ll have to turn the volume right up. There are superior versions available via the Coals to Newcastle boxset but I thought I’d stay true to the blog’s principles.

JC

THE SECOND ONLY MAKES YOU WONDER

Back in July 2015, I wrote about Propaganda and their debut single Dr Mabuse, released in February 1984. The piece made passing reference to the fact that the follow-up single, Duel, didn’t get released until much later largely as a result of ZTT having to concentrate on the phenomena that was Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I always meant to do a follow-up posting but never quite got round to it until now.

Duel is a lovely bit of electro-pop that fitted in just perfectly with so many of the other musicians I was developing a love for in the mid-80s, and in particular Pet Shop Boys. There was also something quite erotic about the vocal delivery of Claudia Brucken, but visually it was the other female in the band – Susanne Freytag – who really did it for me. The band actually were on UK telly quite a bit around the time of Duel, including a couple of live songs that were aired on Whistle Test on BBC 2 during which they proved, as a live act, they could cut it, albeit there were some backing tapes involved. It was also interesting to see Derek Forbes, formerly of Simple Minds, making an important contribution to the live sound.

It turned out to be the band’s best-selling single in the UK reaching #21 in May 1985 but I always felt the group never got the success it really deserved as the media by now were setting out on a ZTT backlash, sick to the back teeth of FGTH, and arguing that their success was down to the production skills of Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson and the hype-skills of Paul Morley rather than any talents the musicians might have.  It seemed to be implied that Propaganda were no different despite the fact that anyone who saw them perform on Whistle Test and indeed The Tube on Channel 4 would know these were bona-fide musicians and singers.

The band toured for much of 1985, promoting debut album A Secret Wish. A remix album was issued just before Christmas but the band were strangely absent throughout 1986 and out of the blue came the news that Claudia Brucken was leaving to pursue a solo career.  It turned out that the group had been taking legal action against ZTT as they were unhappy with the details of the recording contract and the label had counter-acted with action that prevented them going elsewhere.  The new-look group did get a move to Virgin Records in 1988 but without the sort of attention foisted on them when they first burst onto the scene,

The 7″ version of Duel appeared on the debut album:-

mp3 : Propaganda – Duel

The 12″ had an extended version along with an industrial version on its flip side:-

mp3 : Propaganda – Duel (Bittersweet version)
mp3 : Propaganda – Jewel (cut rough mix)

JC

HIPS SWAYING

It was back in the Autumn of 1999 that I first came across Basement Jaxx, thanks to two of their singles being played in all the pubs and clubs I found myself traipsing into on the Costa Del Sol while on a golfing holiday with a crowd of mates.

Now I’ve never been someone who has dismissed dance music as ‘not for me’, but to be honest I don’t have that much of the genre in the collection. But Red Alert and Rendez-Vu had become such an integral part of the week that I set out to track them down on my return to Glasgow.

In the end, I bought the LP Remedy and found that there was an awful lot to like about this lot. Indeed, not long afterwards they played a show at Glasgow Barrowlands and I dragged Mrs Villain along and we had a right good time despite being among the oldest folk in the venue, and that more than anything else convinced me that Felix and Simon were well worth keeping an eye on.

Since then, we’ve gone along to see them on a few more occasions and never been disappointed, although it’s fair to say that the shows at the Barowlands outshone those at the Academy, mainly due to the sound at the latter venue often being problematic. They’re an act that always get me off my seat and onto the dance floor – as can be testified by a good friend of ours who, somewhere, has video footage of myself and Mrs Villain dancing to Red Alert at his 40th Birthday party a number of years ago….the icing on the cake being it was a fancy dress bash and we were there as Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell.

I’ve also picked up cheap second-hand copies of the two singles that made such an inital impression; I flipped a coin on which to feature – the image at the head of this picture gives away which song won..as do the mp3s:-

mp3 : Basement Jaxx – Rendez-Vu (single edit)
mp3 : Basement Jaxx – Miracles Keep On Playin’ (Red Alert Remix)
mp3 : Basement Jaxx – All U Crazies

Also forgot 2 Many DJs took a Basement Jaxx number and mashed it up with something by The Clash; it was made available on a bonus disc when the Jaxx released a Greatest Hits CD:-

mp3 : Basement Jaxx vs The Clash – Magnificent Romeo

JC

BONUS POST : TEENAGE SUPERSTARS

Two years ago, I was lucky enough, courtesy of Jacques the Kipper, to find myself at the world premiere of Big Gold Dream, a documentary film that told the story of the Scottish post-punk scene. Some of you may even recall my review of the film. It can be found here.

Fast forward two years and once again JtK has come up trumps and gotten his hands on tickets for Teenage Superstars, the second part of the filmmakers’ project. This time round, it focussed on how the scene developed from the end of Postcard Records through more than a decade to when Britpop came into being. It was an era of some of the finest ever music to come out of Scotland; indeed it could be argued that a ten-part series would be required to do full justice to the subject matter and so trying to squeeze it into a 110-minute long feature was a tall ask.

The director Grant McPhee, co-producers Wendy Griffin and Erik Sandeberg and editor Angela Slaven skilfully get round things by focussing in the main on the Glasgow/West of Scotland scene and the music which emerged from the brain of Steven Pastel and from the mining town of Bellshill. As with the earlier film, it proved to be a hugely entertaining watch, filled with great humour from just about everyone who was interviewed but also made room for the occasional piece of pathos from those who were an important part of the story but who were ditched before their bands made it big.

It is also incredibly informative. Who knew that the BMX Bandits based part of the design of the sleeve of their debut single on something they literally ripped off the back of a Sigue Sigue Sputnik 12”? Who had any idea that, of all the individuals to come out of Bellshill at the time, Sean Dickson of the Soup Dragons would be the one who was the most creative and most driven to be a success? Who would have thought Douglas Hart of the Jesus and Mary Chain would prove to be full of gentle, self-deprecating humour about his time working with the Brothers Reid? Who  realised that over the years, there have been 28 different members working alongside mainstay Duglas T Stewart in the afore-mentioned BMX Bandits; or that Eugene Kelly, having brought an end to The Vaselines, was so down on his luck that he worked as a barman on the same street as where I had lived for the first 9 years of my life (it’s a big street, admitedly).

Others would certainly have known this, but it was news to me that the reason AGARR came into use as the catalogue prefix for all the singles on the 53rd and 3rd record label was that it was short for ‘As Good As Ramones Records’

Oh, it wasn’t all surprises – other parts merely confirmed what you thought, including that Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love are three of the most intelligent and lovely blokes ever to venture into pop music.

All the way through this world premiere, I thought of my Seattle-based friend Brian from Linear Track Lives who would have reckoned this just about the perfect night. There were wonderful  shots of modern-day Glasgow dotted throughout the film interspersed with original footage that belonged to one or more of the contributors, including all sorts of stills and videotape of them in locations such as the house belonging to Norman Blake’s grandmother (where many rehearsals took place), busking to a large but bemused crowd outside Marks & Spencer in Glasgow (where, on a good day, Sean, Norman and Duglas would make enough money to buy a baked potato each before going home on the train) and inside the legendary Splash One club where so many of the bands would make their live debuts (and which your humble scribe missed out on as I was working and living 45 miles east in Edinburgh).

Oh and the film was followed by a Q&A before decanting to a nearby venue for live acoustic sets from Eugene and Duglas – although with an 11.30pm start to the gig, there was no way I could stay on without getting overnight accommodation and then up really early to be through at work in Glasgow the following morning.  I’m really sorry that I can’t include a review of that here for you.

It is a documentary for music obsessives, lovingly filmed and edited, getting across that those who were interviewed really enjoyed reminiscing; there weren’t too many scores settled, although it is fair to say that Bobby Gillespie gets a bit of criticism at various times, and it’s interesting to note that neither he nor Jim Reid and William Reid from the Mary Chain took part;  on the other hand, there is regular use of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth as a talking head, and he make it very clear just how important and influential every single one of these Teenage Superstars turned out to be in the pantheon of modern music towards the end of the 20th Century.

The film will be getting a second screening on 1 July in Edinburgh as part of the international film festival.  After that, who knows?  I’m sure it will air at some point in the future in Glasgow but it really does deserve to be seen much further afield.

Inevitably, I’ve spent the weekend listening again a few of the timeless songs that popped up during the film.

mp3 : The Pastels – Truck Train Tractor
mp3 : BMX Bandits – E102
mp3 : The Vaselines – Molly’s Lips
mp3 : The Soup Dragons – Hang Ten
mp3 : Shop Assistants – Safety Net
mp3 : The Jesus & Mary Chain – Upside Down

PS : The original review contained a link to Velocity Girl ; however, it, and indeed no Primal Scream songs were actually used in the documentary and so, to avoid any confusion or potential problems to Grant & co., I’ve removed the link.

JC

 

CHARGED PARTICLES (5)

THE GUEST SERIES FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

Today’s charged particles are brought to you by the letter C! And, let’s go head to head this time. Hands up — who prefers which (if any)?

Communication: Pete Townshend
Communication: Spandau Ballet

Conversation: Hot Hot Heat
Conversation: Gary Numan

Confusion: New Order
Confusion: The Zutons

JTFL

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 16)

Now we get into the section of the series where I will struggle a bit.

You might recall a couple of weeks back my passing comment that I don’t own any XTC albums after English Settlement. This is partly down to the fact that 1983 saw me fall head over heels for so many other great bands and singers that there was no room for XTC anymore; it wasn’t helped by me being bitterly disappointed by the singles that were released to support their next album, and none more so than this from April 83:-

mp3 : XTC – Great Fire

I thought it limp and uninspiring on its release and I haven’t changed my mind since.

It was released on 7″ and 12″ in two different but equally appalling sleeves (as you can see above). The 12″ enabled the continuation of the Homo Safari series that had begun back in 1979 on the flip side of Making Plans For Nigel. Nos 1-3 had been released previously so it begged the question about what happened to No.4 (it turns out this would eventually appear in 1987)

mp3 : XTC – Gold
mp3 : XTC – Frost Circus (No. 5 In The Homo Safari Series)
mp3 : XTC – Procession Towards Learning Land (No. 6 In The Homo Safari Series)

Crap single. A ‘trying too hard to fit in with contemporary pop’ B-side – complete with horns – that seemed so alien to the sound of XTC and two boring instrumentals. File under inessential recordings.

I’m sure at least one of my regulars, to whom I am both grateful and of whom I am always in awe of, will drop by with a wonderfully-worded and persuasive contribution that proves my opinion, in this instance, is wrong!

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #81 : EASTERN LANE

In which the series featuring singers and bands from my native land crosses over the border.

From wiki:-

Eastern Lane were an English indie band from Berwick-upon-Tweed, comprising Derek Meins (vocals/guitar), Andrew Lawton (guitar), Stuart Newlands (bass) and Danny Ferguson (drums). Their name was taken from a street in their hometown. The band was formed in 2001.

The band released two albums: Shades of Black in 2003 and The Article in 2005. Both albums are on the Rough Trade label. Their song, “Feed Your Addiction” was featured in an HSBC advertisement.

In late 2006 the band went their separate ways, according to a posting on the band’s MySpace site, the split was down to the fact they have been unable to release any new material “due to circumstances with labels and money etc.”

Derek Meins is now pursuing a solo career, performing and releasing as The Agitator.

So why am I featuring them in this series? The answer is Berwick Rangers Football Club. Again from wiki:-

Berwick Rangers Football Club is a football team in the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, England, on the border with Scotland. Founded in 1881, they currently play in Scottish League Two, the fourth tier of Scottish football, and are the only club from outside Scotland in the Scottish Professional Football League.

So if it’s good enough for football, then it’s good enough for this corner of t’internet.

mp3 : Eastern Lane – Feed Your Addiction

I downloaded this from somewhere else many years ago on a recommendation. The music is a bit Husker Du but sadly the vocal is a bit Kings Of Leon. I didn’t pursue things further

JC

I HOPE PADDY LAUGHED ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK

In early 1988, it had been a long time since there had been any new Prefab Sprout material. Some two and a half years since the release of Steve McQueen with all sorts of rumours kicking around that the record label had rejected its follow-up as not being commercial enough (rumours that turned out to be true). All it had done was lead Paddy McAloon to go back and write a bunch of songs that would prove to be the most pop and radio friendly sounding of his entire career which in due course would provide the band with their only ever Top 10 single and their most succesful and biggest selling album.

The music press trailed the release of the new material by indicating that the lead-off single was a tribute to the life and work of Bruce Springsteen. This was a hard one to swallow….I didn’t have Paddy down as an admirer. Now don’t get me wrong, although I didn’t at the time (and still don’t) own any of The Boss’s records , it wasn’t down to any personal dislike or not rating his songs – he seemed (and still does) a very sound bloke and he was (and still is) very good at what he does – it’s just that the music he makes has never done anything for me.

It was therefore a bit of a relief that the song, once listened to closely, was actually spoofing much of what Broooooooce stood for:-

mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Cars and Girls

As I’ve written previously, I love Cars and Girls as much for the fact that having been subjected to that intense  pressure to come up with a catchy hit, Paddy delivered a blasting critique of the label’s biggest selling star without the bosses seemingly catching on.

It was as far removed from any of the songs on either of Swoon or Steve McQueen as could be imagined. It was almost AOR sounding and the sort of thing that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on the sort of compilations that you find in service stations the length and breadth of the UK. A perfect song to listen to as you accelerated your vehicle over the speed limit, preferably with the soft-top roof lowered as the wind whipped through your hair…with a lyric that took the piss out of such folk.

The single wasn’t a huge success, stalling at #44. But incredibly enough, Cars and Girls would become a staple part of those service station CDs over the next 20 years and as such helped boost Paddy’s bank balance by a fair bit.

Here’s the two excellent tracks that were on the b-side of the 12″

mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Nero the Zero
mp3 : Prefab Sprout – Vendetta

Nero the Zero is a fine tribute to Paddy’s home area – akin to Raintown and its relationship with Glasgow – while Vendetta could easily be interpreted as sideways swipes at the folk at CBS for the rejection of the previous album.

JC

BONUS POST : THE SECOND HALF OF ‘THERE IS A NIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT’

As I said in the comments section, many many thanks for all your kind words on the occasion of my 54th birthday.

The mix of the tunes played during the first half of the recent There Is A Night That Never Goes Out event seemed to be well received. And in keeping with giving into public demand, and in particular from Neil McAllister, here’s the mix of the 43 songs that made up the second half of the night as selected by Hugh and Robert (some of them being in response to requests made on the night itself)

mp3 : Various – There Is A Night (May 2017 – Part 2)

44. This Is The Modern World – The Jam
45. A Message To You, Rudy – The Specials
46. Love Plus One – Haircut 100
47. Temptation – Heaven 17
48. Fade To Grey – Visage
49. Debaser – Pixies
50. Crash – The Primitives
51. Just Like Heaven – The Cure
52. Pretend We’re Dead – L7
53. Let’s Go Crazy – Prince
54. Girlfriend In A Coma – The Smiths
55. Always On My Mind – Pet Shop Boys
56. Na Na Hey Hey – Bananarama
57. Sweet Dreams – Eurythmics
58. Cannonball – The Breeders
59. Kill Your Television – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
60. This Charming Man – The Smiths
61. Do You Remember The First Time? – Pulp
62. Sit Down – James
63. Geno – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
64. You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon
65. Yes – McAlmont & Butler
66. Don’t You Want Me? – The Human League
67. Panic – The Smiths
68. What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? – R.E.M.
69. New Sensation – INXS
70. Animal Nitrate – Suede
71. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
72. Getting Away With It – Electronic
73. A New England – Kirsty MacColl
74. Happy Hour – The Housemartins
75. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths
76. Gold – Spandau Ballet
77. Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
78. Hit – The Sugarcubes
79. Faith – George Michael
80. How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths
81. There She Goes – The La’s
82. The Only One I Know – The Charlatans
83. Sheila Take A Bow – The Smiths
84. Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm – The Wedding Present
85. Sensitive – The Field Mice
86. Everything Flows – Teenage Fanclub

Poptastic indeed….

JC

THANKFULLY, MY FEARS WEREN’T REALISED

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When it was revealed, back in 2002, that the instrumentalist half of Arab Strap was going down the solo record route, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreading the outcome.

The band’s LPs hadn’t ever really given any indication that the guitarist was a frustrated frontman and my initial thoughts that this was his record label Chemikal Underground just saying yes to a vanity project. I’ve rarely been so wrong in my entire life as a run of consistently entertaining solo records soon established Malcolm Middleton as one the most talented singer-songwriters Scotland has ever produced.

His debut, the bizarrely titled 5:14 Fluxotine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine, is a heartbreaking but engrossing listen filled with songs dealing largely with depression and self-pity from the failure of a relationship, with a distinctly Scottish vocal that at times seemed fragile and uncertain which left most listeners feeling that Malky really wasn’t the most comfortable or confident of solo performers. So what followed three years later was confounding and brilliant in equal measures.

Into The Woods was a complete revelation, filled with the most part with incredibly upbeat and joyous tunes bordering on anthemic. And if you don’t want to sing along to the radio-friendly catchy choruses then you’ll surely be tempted out of your seat at the indie-disco to shake your stuff.

But then when you listen closely to the words, you’ll spot that Malky’s take on life hasn’t changed all that much from 5:14 over the intervening three years – he’s still racked with insecurities, self-doubt and he’s worried beyond belief. Even when something good comes into his life, all he can think about is how inevitably it will all go wrong at some point in the near future…arguably the living embodiment of a Morrissey lyric…..

Opening track Break My Heart sets the tone for much of what follows. Malky has again fallen in love and this is a good thing. Or is it? After all, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship ends and he”ll be in pieces. But then again….if he does get his heartbroken he can go back to writing his shit songs (his own description of his output!!) and he’ll be a decent musician. It’s almost as if he can only perform if he’s the tortured artist with happiness being an impediment to success. Funny thing is…..I know someone who I think is a very talented writer but they tell me they can’t really do so unless their life is in a state of flux and turmoil so Malky’s outlook isn’t unique.

Lyrically, a number of the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on his debut LP but musically they are head and shoulders above fully fleshed out marvellously with keys and strings and a crisp, clean hugely confident production.

This was an LP I took an instant liking to in 2005. It was also an LP that   just got better and better with each listen, musically and lyrically. All these years later and I still find it a great listen from start to end across all 12 tracks and have never tired of it. And don’t think I ever will.

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Break My Heart
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Devastation
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Loneliness Shines

That’s the opening three tracks on Into The Woods, and everyone of them a standout in their own different way. It’s a record I hate not listening to or playing all the way through in the correct order so it is tempting to give you all of the other nine songs but I’d rather you went out and bought a copy, preferably from the Chemikal Underground on-line store.

Oh and no matter how many hundreds of time I’ve travelled through Falkirk High Station, I’ve yet to have Loneliness Shines play on the i-pod(s) or i-phone at that identical moment…..

JC

CHARGED PARTICLES (4)

THE GUEST SERIES FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

In honor of my unmet friend The Robster, it’s Reggae Charged Particles Wednesday!

To wit:

Creation: Burning Spear

Reaction: Bob Marley & the Wailers

Revolution: Toots & the Maytals

Prediction: Steel Pulse

Caution: Aswad

JTFL

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #129 : EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL

A GUEST POSTING FROM ECHORICH

Much has been written around these parts recently on the music of Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn, better known and cherished as Everything But The Girl. University students already on their own paths to careers in music, once they met, a common direction of love and music opened up to them. Almost 35 or so years later their musical canon has the ability to move listeners emotionally and physically.

Ben and Tracey’s musical journey was one of exploration of many forms and styles. From Cafe Jazz (or the horrid tag of Jazz/Pop) to Indie Jangle…from heartfelt orchestrated Country and Sixties Pop to a sophisticated mix of Smooth Jazz and Soulful Balladry and eventually a successful foray into the world of House music. All through those changes in sound and style, they managed to maintain their integrity as artists and provide some very, very memorable music.

Here is an ICA which explores in 10 songs the essence of what it was to be Everything But The Girl from their debut Eden/eponymous titled in the USA album to their final long player Tempermental. It is by no means definitive. It does reflect a certain amount of personal preference in places, and I will leave the ‘elephant in the room’ off the track list only because it is a song that I believes deserves its one discussion – one which I will address at the end.

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL – AN ICA OF LOVE AND MUSIC

1. Laugh You Out The House – from EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL (US release)/B-side of EACH AND EVERYONE – This was my entry song into the world of Everything But The Girl. It is 1:50 of jangling pop with a breezy approach that just pulls you right into the sunny warm world of their music. Take a moment to listen to the lyrics and you will hear the angst and amorous confusion of young adults. That it was left for a b-side everywhere outside the USA show’s how deep their songwriting was at this early stage.

2. Fascination – from EDEN – From the moment I heard Fascination, I was devastated by it’s beauty and it has remained one of my 10 favorites songs. Ben’s lone acoustic guitar and Tracey’s open/echoey vocals command your attention and caress the words and emotion of the song. As other instruments slowly enter the song, a second guitar, bass and finally sax, the song’s emotions also build to a beautifully unresolved end.

3. Trouble And Strife – from LOVE NOT MONEY – With a sense of confidence from their debut, EBTG set about making a sophomore album on their own terms. They put together a more stable band with ex-Young Marble Giant bassist Phil Moxham and ex Mo-Dette June Miles Kingston on drums. Love Not Money is a an album filled with great music – a masterful turn on The Pretenders’ Kid, the universally (well in our universe) loved When All’s Well and a beautiful cautionary ballad dedicated to tragic actress Frances Farmer – Ugly Little Dreams.

Trouble And Strife really shows off the strengths of EBTG as a band. It is one of the more aggressive tracks on Love Not Money, opening with a powerful guitar riff and some very confident vocals from Tracey. The song deals with the struggles and hardships of being a woman and looking back on what limitations a mans world provides. Personal politics would be a theme that would run through their music until the end.

4. Cross My Heart – from BABY THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT – For their third album, EBTG said farewell to their association with Robin Millar and Mike Pela on production and decamped to the studio with Mike Hedges but lost the band in favor of a more orchestrated sound.

The album reflects their growing interest in country music songwriting and showcasing the lyrics and emotions of the genre with the Sixties’ many walls of sound from Dusty to Phil. You’ll even here the ghosts of Patsy Cline and Jimmy Webb in the songs on BTSSB. But the song I feel captures everything Ben and Tracey set to do on the album is Cross My Heart. It opens with a spacious Dusty/Sandi vocal and builds into a giant, sweeping orchestral masterpiece. Tracey is mic’d in the tradition of those 60’s pop standards and it gives magnifies the singular beauty of her voice. Cross My Heart touches on such allowed ground as a song like I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore from Dusty In Memphis – and maybe that album is the only other one I know that really captures an similar spirit.

5. Tears All Over Town – from IDLEWILD – The follow up to Baby The Stars Shine Bright was a more conventional pop album for EBTG. But there were lessons learned to this point that they brought to the album. This was the first time they attempted to produce themselves – with the help of masterful engineer Jerry Boys – and synths made a pronounced appearance replacing much of the band feel of their previous work. In fact there is no drummer credit anywhere to be found on the album.

There is a more intimate feel to many of the tracks, but not at the expense of quality or craft. Tears All Over Town reflects this new maturity best in my mind. Ben and Tracey enjoy some vocal interplay and the song hangs on a simple percussion pattern with some synth and guitar embellishment. It avoids all the obvious glossy pop devices that were everywhere in the middle 80s and still manages to be a shiny, fresh jazzy pop confection.

6. Driving – from LANGUAGE OF LIFE – There is something natural about EBTG heading into the studio for their next album with a proper Jazz producer – Tommy LiPuma – and luminaries such as Stan Getz, Joe Sample and Michael Breaker to make a real Jazz record. Tracey has called Language of Life a “fully realized…modern American soul-pop record, but it is also their most difficult album to put your finger on. It is an album that divides fans and critics and has lots of highs and lows. One thing I will admit is that it is missing its “edge.”

EBTG went from mature to adult between Idlewild and Language Of Life and in the process lost a good deal of the emotion that charged their best songs. The best example the album has to offer as an example of how a choice to create sublime pop lost that edge is in the album opener and minor U.S. radio hit Driving. I really love this song – it is a pop gem, but on first hearing I was struck by how much of a straightforward love song it was. No irony, no twist and nothing left unresolved.

7. Boxing and Pop Music – from WORLDWIDE – After the precision of Language of Life, EBTG took a trip back toward the a more intimate, reflective sound and subject matter for Worldwide. With a good deal of touring under their belt- I was able to see them 4 times in 3 years prior to Worldwide, Tracey and Ben wrote songs that reflected where their career and relationship had taken them. Worldwide certainly isn’t an immediate album, it has no obvious single in my mind, but it shows off the power of their songs.

To this point, none of the songs on this ICA featured Ben Watt in a role as lead singer. There are quite a number of songs which feature Ben that are among my very favorites by the band and I will address this over at my place in a day or two. Ben handles the verses on Boxing And Pop Music and Tracey joins in about midway through the song. But it’s the beauty of Ben’s reflective lyrics that make this song such a masterful piece of pop. He paint’s a picture filled with memories that evoke emotions of love, happiness, sorrow and regret and ultimately contentment. As the song fades and you sit taking it in, a final reprise, separately titled Feel Alright, begins to wash over you to help all those emotions really soak in and end the album.

Let’s pause here and let life “happen” to Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn. They knew they needed a break from the grind of music after Worldwide. Much has been made of the prior two albums seeming to exhaust their musical clarity – I don’t subscribe to this opinion. Most notably, Ben was diagnosed with Churg-Strauss syndrome, an auto-immune disease that attacks breathing and digestion in increasingly life-threatening stages. This was their new focus. He had a very lucky outcome from the disease and went into remission and recovery but with permanent effects to his body and lifelong treatment. For the better part of 2 years this was reality for Ben and Tracey and Everything But The Girl would have to wait. Before his illness, 2 EP’s would make an appearance in ’92 and ’93, in the UK. They were wonderful additions to my collection, but neither gave any indication that more music would follow. But then….

8. Two Star – from AMPLIFIED HEART – Somehow, even with a period of silence of 4 years, it felt like Everything But The Girl was a very current part of my musical fandom in the early 90’s. They were that much of a force for me that all of their catalog managed to stay current for me and always on the turntable or in the cd player. When word came that there was a new album ready for release, I remember being VERY excited. I managed to get a promo cd, meant to reintroduce the band with a few songs and interview clips with Ben and Tracey, was made available by their US label Atlantic and I was just bowled over by the two new songs included.

When the album was released and I played it over and over, I kept coming back to one song that seemed to recapture all of the beauty and fragility I heard the first time I heard Fascination on Eden. Two Star, which I would learn is a term for low rated leaded petrol – what Americans used to know as Regular Gasoline back in the days before emissions controls, just captured my ear and seemed to bring everything full circle. Back was the gentle disquiet of the lyrics, written here by Ben, with Tracey reflecting on her own disappointing lot as she judges a friend’s life choices. It’s a song that makes you want to give the singer a hug and at the same time be very self reflective. Ben’s tender arrangement with Harry Robinson, Kate St. John’s Cor Anglais and Danny Thompson’s double bass shine, framing Tracey’s performance perfectly. It is still one of those songs that I can put on repeat while driving and listen to over and over.

9. Walking Wounded – from WALKING WOUNDED – After the release of Amplified Heart something momentous happened – Missing – the second single was remixed by House Master Todd Terry and Everything But The Girl’s world would change again. This was no fluke, Ben and Tracey had their ear to the ground and had already worked with Massive Attack on Protection, Better Things and Hunter Gets Captured By The Game for Batman Forever. Their next album would show just how intent they were. Their brand of pop songwriting would sit side by side with, as well as inform, forays into Drum And Bass, Trip Hop, House and Electronica on the album.

On such a strong and varied album, the title track stood out for me as the biggest gamble and a great payoff. Walking Wounded is gorgeously orchestrated with the spot on programming of John Coxon and Ashley Wales (Spring Heeled Jack). Tracey loses none of her edgy, sometimes witheringly direct, delivery and the song seems to bounce and dance around her. Ben and Tracey harnessed DnB and shaped it to fit their needs. It’s just a perfect modern electronic song.

10. Lullaby Of Clubland – from TEMPERMENTAL – Tracey and Ben’s next album would turn out to be Everything But The Girl’s final album. It took a step or two deeper into Dance and Electronica, while never abandoning the lyrical and musical history of the band. It is full of dance floor ready tracks with a difference – the difference being a lyrical level that remains pretty much unmatched. Subjects ranging from being attacked on the street and the withering of English Cities to the solitary and sadder side of nightlife/club life. Many of the songs have a wonderful sparse singer/songwriter feel to them bathed in deep and contemporary house sounds.

The track that spoke most to me was Lullaby of Clubland and Ben’s lyrics of empty routine clubbing routine as a metaphor for modern life, rather than a panacea for a boring life. The song’s reliance of repetition drives home the futility expressed in the lyrics.

There are literally another four volumes I could come up for and Everything But The Girl ICA and that is a testament to the depth of their work and the risks, both successful and unsuccessful, that they took. I hope this goes some way to give some insight into their music.

ADDENDUM:

YES, MISSING WAS MISSING….

My reason for not including Missing is mostly because of what that amazing song became rather than what it represents on parent album Amplified Heart. Amplified Heart is seen by many, and I include myself, as a return to form for Everything But The Girl, an album that celebrates the amazing songwriting and music of Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn. It is absolutely all of that.

But by the time of its release, Ben and Tracey were beginning to move on, energized by House and Electronic music and recent collaborations with Massive Attack, it was a dynamic decision to take Missing, a track that already had a funky groove underpinning it’s love song foundation. It was already a hypnotic groove on the album, but as a single Ben and Tracey went for broke…Missing is a highlight of the album and was the song that allowed EBTG to take a new and exciting path. Overplayed in the past 22 years, sure, but that doesn’t diminish it’s greatness… Click here

The Missing Remix EP provided a Deep House expansion, a Progressive 2 am stormer, a tech/trance revisioning and an Eastern flavored trip-hop excursion.

Todd Terry laid down the Four to the Floor beat while staying true to the melody and arrangement of the song. His addition of keyboard stabs gave dimension to the beat and he very smartly kept the synth lines of the original to weave through his tougher beat. For me it is one of the best House remixes EVER. Click here

Chris And James took Missing to the land of the extended build up with a remix that kept the bones of the original track and added an arrangement full of drama. Again, the remixers knew they were working with a gem of a song and did everything they could to preserve it’s essence while still managing to bring an exciting dance floor edge. Multiple build ups, tribal drum patterns and judicious cut ups of Tracey’s vocals create some real wow moments in the remix. Click here.

I find myself waffling at times between the Todd Terry House mix and what Chris And James did.

For something entirely different we turn to Ultramarines more downtempo/tech/trance reimagining of Missing. A good deal of the original album version fits in well here and is preserved. Multiple percussion patterns are the highlight here, laying down a new bed for Tracey’s vocals to rise up from. There’s even a bit of a Laurie Anderson homage in the chorus as a snippet of Tracey’s voice is used as a counter beat, much like Anderson’s voice in O Superman, yet more subtle. Click here

Finally, Little Joey offers a Trip Hop remix that is like a nice glass of Port after a delicious and filling meal. It goes down smooth. Tracey’s voice get modified and reversed giving the song an Eastern feel. Interestingly, this is the only mix that Tracey seems to to have laid down an alternative vocal for. She seems game to purse this remake/remodel remix and it pays off because it flows so much more naturally than a cut and paste remix. Click here

ECHORICH

SEPARATED AT BIRTH

I don’t mean the two groups were separated at birth…..just that these two rather good songs have much in common when it comes to guitar riffs.

mp3 : The Monkees – (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone
mp3 : The Hives – Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones

The former is from 1966 and the latter from 2004. Both really good examples of the two-minute pop song, but if forced to choose between them, I’d go with the older song. Oh and according to wiki, Mickey Dolenz, via his lead vocal, was the only member of The Monkees to actually perform on the track.

JC

INDULGE ME. I’VE TURNED 54

With apologies for those of you who were expecting and hoping for the latest instalment of the XTC series. I promise it will return next Sunday.

It’s my 54th birthday today. For much of my life I had an irrational fear that I wouldn’t reach that number. I can’t explain why and I was quite nervous this time last year just in case I wasn’t totally crazy but in fact scarily psychic. But thankfully, it did turn out I was just crazy. My state of mind was helped midway through the year by SWC and Badger inadvertently finding the real reason #53 was significant in my life – it turned out it was to do with Billy Bragg and Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

I thought I’d share another mix thing today. It’s based on something I did for an event a few weeks ago in Glasgow.

The folk who have been running Strangeways, a club night in which 90%+ of the tunes were from The Smiths or Morrissey, felt that, after more than five years, a wee change was needed. Thus was born There Is A Night That Never Goes Out.

As the poster above indicates, the idea was to go with The Smiths alongside the sort of stuff with which I tend to populate this place.  The sort of night that I reckon dreams are made of.  The first one was arranged for Friday 26 May but as it clashed with a number of gigs, including The Wedding Present just up the hill from the venue for Strangeways, it was decided to make it 9pm – 2am instead of the usual 8pm – 1am to allow folk to make the most of things.

I got in touch with a few suggestions, including what I thought could make for a decent 90 minute run of tunes early on in the night.  To my absolute delight, I was asked if I wanted to take the slot from 9.30 – 11pm. Honoured and thrilled as I was, my overriding concern was that the date also coincided with my brother and his family being over here on holiday and I might have ended with an unavoidable diary clash.  And to be perfectly honest, I was nervous about possibly making a mess of things and getting the evening off to a start that would be impossible to recover from.

So…the compromise was I’d supply the tunes on a memory stick.  A full 9o minute mix in the preferred running order but with each tune in stand-alone fashion so that Robert, Hugh and Carlo from the Strangeways crew could take the temperature of the crowd and alter things if necessary.

The good news was that I was able to get along, in the company of Aldo with Comrade Colin also along for a bit of moral support.  It was fascinating to stand and watch people react to the songs I had chosen and which Robert was cueing up and playing.  Initially, there was a lot of smiling, nodding and quietly mouthing along to the tunes, but nobody seemed too keen to dance.  It was blisteringly hot in the venue – Glasgow had enjoyed a day of scorching sunshine – and between that and folk still being sober there seemed a bit of reluctance to get on the floor.  Not even a couple of Smiths songs for the regular crowd from the old format of the night did the trick.

And then, just after 10pm something just seemed to click.  Almost as if everyone decided at the same time that too many good tunes were being passed up.  Or maybe that’s the new witching hour. Anyways, it was a song by The Cure that was the trigger, which was great news as it provided the evidence that going with a wider selection of music than the previous Strangeways nights was the going to work out just fine.

The next four hours proved to be an absolute triumph.  The crowd began to ask for requests, all of which were met.  A smattering of tunes from the late 70s and the second half of the 90s were also sneaked in to keep folk happy.  Everyone seemed very happy judging by the smiles on all the faces and there was a real and obvious buzz being generating; the subsequent feedback on social media over the following days only confirmed what everyone had been feeling on the night. It was an absolute triumph.

My only regret was that I had to leave just before midnight to catch the last train home as I had much to do over the weekend and needed a reasonably clear head.  I’ve been asked to take part in the next night on a date yet to be determined.  I’m delighted about that and incredibly excited.  Never dreamed that I’d be doing such things at 54…..

The whole night contained 86 songs.  I thought I’d shove up the first 43 of them in a single, downloadable mix.  It lasts a handful of minutes over two-and-a-half hours all told. My set list goes from songs 9-31.

It was all predetermined before the crowd arrived; there was one addition thrown in on the night (at song #29) and another shifted from earlier in the set list to #30 as these made for better links from some goth tunes to the Postcard classic that I wanted as my closer.  A couple of my initial suggestions were rightly dropped once it became clear what was going to work and what wouldn’t click with the crowd which meant in the end my ‘turn’ came in at a shade under 85 minutes that for the most part was bang on and helped set things up nicely for the main DJ acts as the space filled its 200 capacity.

1. Ceremony – Galaxie 500
2. Oblivious – Aztec Camera
3. Obscurity Knocks – Trashcan Sinatras
4. A Better Ghost – Butcher Boy
5. Round and Round – New Order
6. Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack
7. What Difference Does It Make? – The Smiths
8. Everything Counts – Depeche Mode
9. Let’s Dance – David Bowie
10. Don’t Talk To Me About Love – Altered Images
11. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – The Smiths
12. Take The Skinheads Bowling – Camper Van Beethoven
13. Talulah Gosh – Talulah Gosh
14. Bye Bye Pride – The Go Betweens
15. Still Ill – The Smiths
16. Blister In The Sun – Violent Femmes
17. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
18. In Between Days – The Cure
19. Age Of Consent – New Order
20. Girl Afraid – The Smiths
21. Waiting For The Winter – The Popguns
22. Our Lips Are Sealed – Fun Boy Three
23. A Song From Under The Floorboards – Magazine
24. Speed Your Love To Me (extended mix) – Simple Minds
25. Pretty In Pink – The Psychedelic Furs
26. I Want The One I Can’t Have – The Smiths
27. Hong Kong Garden – Siouxsie & The Banshees
28. This Corrosion – Sisters Of Mercy
29. April Skies – The Jesus and Mary Chain
30. When All’s Well – Everything But The Girl
31. Blueboy – Orange Juice
32. Sparky’s Dream – Teenage Fanclub
33. Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now? – The Wedding Present
34. Here Comes Your Man – Pixies
35. Ask – The Smiths
36. It’s The End Of The World…. – R.E.M.
37. Rise – P.I.L.
38. Street Life – Roxy Music
39. She Bangs The Drums – The Stone Roses
40. Connection – Elastica
41. Homosapien – Pete Shelley
42. Enola Gay – OMD
43. The Cutter – Echo & The Bunnymen

Feel free to recreate Strangeways in the comfort of your own home or garden.

mp3 : Various – Studio 54

JC