THE XTC SINGLES (Part 23)

Grass had flopped badly and Skylarking had been the first XTC album to fail to crack the charts. It was a gloomy time for all concerned, but a second single was lifted and released in February 1987, on 7″, 7″ clear vinyl and 12″:-

mp3 : XTC – The Meeting Place
mp3 : XTC – The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul

I was sure this would have been my first exposure to this song but on hearing it I had an inkling I had prior knowledge of it – turns out I has seen it on The Tube on Channel 4 when I hadn’t thought much of it (and still don’t). That and it being on Jonny’s ICA….sorry mate…….we can occasionally agree to disagree!!

The b-side is wholly unexpected. It’s damn near a jazz/swing number!! To paraphrase Star Trek….it’s XTC but not as we know it, Jim. I do quite like it, but it’s not one that I’d return to week-after-week.

The 12″ had four demo songs on it…and yup, I’ve tracked them down for today:-

mp3 : XTC – Terrorism (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – Let’s Make A Den (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – Find The Fox (home demo)
mp3 : XTC – The Troubles (home demo)

First one is all Andy Partridge

Second one is all Andy Partridge. It’s a song that Todd Rundgren insisted should open side two of the album Skylarking. The band had a go at it in the studio but it fell victim to the constant fighting between the producer and the songwriter

Third one is all Colin Moulding

Fourth one is all Andy Partridge

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #88 : ENDOR

This is the only song I know from Endor and its thanks entirely to its being included on Get While The Getting’s Good, a 19-track compilation of Scottish bands that was released on the German-based Aufgeladen Und Bereit label back in 2007.

mp3 : Endor – Hold On

A bit of digging via Bandcamp reveals the band, consisting of Mark Church, Richard Ferguson, Calum Johnston & David McGinty, released a self-titled album in 2010 but Hold On wasn’t part of it.

A bit of further digging reveals that Richard Ferguson and David McGinty are currently in a band called Fake Major and this can be found on wiki:-

Fake Major was formed by David McGinty and Richard Ferguson in 2013. They were former members of the band Endor (2001–2012), which split up after 10 years. Endor consisted of four members, David McGinty (Vocals/Guitar), Richard Ferguson (Drums/Vocals), Calum Johnston (Bass) and Mark Church (Guitar/Vocals).

Endor released an EP “Without the Help of Sparks” and a self-titled album which featured music played with drums, guitars, glockenspiel, harmonica, melodica, organ and rhodes.

A second Endor record was considered but Richard Ferguson and David McGinty, being the main song writers of Endor, decided to start their own project as a duo. McGinty and Ferguson prepared their Fake Major EP before officially announcing the disbandment of Endor.

JC

CHARGED PARTICLES (12)

THE GUEST SERIES FROM JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

JC writes……..

Jonny has come back with another batch of Charged Particles, and as I cut’n’paste from his e-mail I also want to share with you some other exciting news from him:-

“Happy Summer, JC! Things are rocking along over here. I am excited to say I will be recording with the Aces in a few weeks’ time. I only ever recorded once and that was back in 1987! Very psyched to get into a proper studio (first time out was just two takes per song in a converted brownstone in Brooklyn — we recorded live in the living room with the mixing board in the kitchen.) This will also be the first time I get to record backing vocals. I’ll email again when it happens – hoping it’s as fun as I anticipate.”

As I said before when news came that JTFL was, in his early-50s, getting a chance to be part of a touring and recording country band…..WOW!!!!

Here’s his latest very fine contribution to this little corner of the internet.

—————————-

Charged Particles #2 featured a pair of tracks by Elvis Costello, who I described as “everyone’s favorite wordy old uncle.”   Today’s set features a couple from his cantankerous older brother, Graham Parker.

Protection.  From Parker’s best LP, 1979’s  ‘Squeezing Out Sparks’.  Featuring the classic Rumour lineup:  Schwarz, Belmont, Bodnar, Andrews and Goulding.

Stupefaction.  From ‘Sparks’ follow up 1980’s ‘The Up Escalator’.  All of the Rumour save Andrews featured again.  This time out keyboard duties were handled by ivory legend Nicky Hopkins and The E Street Band’s Danny Federici.  (The Boss himself turned up for background vocals on ‘Endless Night’.)

It’s a toss up between ‘Local Girls’ and ‘Stupefaction’ as my favorite GP song.  What’s amazing to me is how the thoroughly English Parker managed to capture the mood of Los Angeles in the latter song.  Or at least I always understood him to mean LA.  Surely the lines about driving on Sunset (Blvd.), “the bodies so revealing,” and the “cameras without action” are all references to Hollywood?  In any event, while Parker was arguably operating near the level of Costello at the time (EC’s ’79 and ’80 releases were the spectacular ‘Armed Forces’ and ‘Get Happy’) I think he peaked with ‘Escalator’.  His subsequent albums without the Rumour never really did it for me.

JTFL

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #131 : GRANDADDY

Here’s The Robster again…..

Hi Jim

I swore I wasn’t going to do any more ICAs, but the other day Walter posted something that inspired me. He mentioned he’d seen Gemma Ray at a festival and enjoyed her immensely despite having never been familiar with her before. So I took that as a cue – I’ve done a Gemma Ray one.

While putting it together, I found another ICA I started last autumn then seemed to have forgotten about – Grandaddy. So I set about finishing it off after the Gemma one and reckoned you might as well have it too.

As usual, do what you want with them. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them.

Hope all is well with you in sunny Glasgow!

Rob

I started compiling this ICA back in September last year, shortly after the release of Grandaddy‘s comeback single Way We Won’t. And then, for some inexplicable reason, I forgot about it; although the tracklisting was in place, everything else was only half written. I wrote about my excitement for their then forthcoming album, hoping it would live up to the standards they had set themselves over the course of the decade or so they existed first time around.

Since then, said album has been released and I’ve seen them live. They’ve not disappointed me. Far from it; in fact, ‘Last Place’ rates among their best records. I’m sure most of you know a Grandaddy track or two, and they were one of my favourite bands during the first half of last decade. Like many, I first became aware of them through their second album ‘The Sophtware Slump’, though they had been going for eight years by that point. Their earliest material was released on homemade cassettes and was raw and fast, influenced heavily by US punk and the so-called ‘slacker’ scene (Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, etc).

Over time, they refined their sound and became one of the most instantly identifiable bands around. Their blend of vintage electronics, psychedelia, Americana, alternative rock and acoustic melancholy gave them a sound of their own. Their discography boasts only five proper studio albums, but there’s a plethora of singles, EPs and compilations in there, which makes compiling a satisfactory ICA all the more difficult.

I’d argue that Grandaddy got better with each album. I know the purists are squealing – let them squeal. If I am going to listen to any Grandaddy album beginning to end, it would most likely be the new one or their 2006 swan song ‘Just Like The Fambly Cat‘. Having broke up just prior to that record being released, frontman Jason Lytle has made two solo albums, a soundtrack, a mini-album and a live album.

So having rediscovered the unfinished ICA while preparing the Gemma Ray one I did recently, I decided to resurrect it. It does not include anything from the new record; it’s too new so go buy it. That said, even taking that one out of the equation, some very tough choices had to be made and there are some significant omissions (Crystal Lake, anyone?). I’m sure you’ll point them out…

1. AM 180 (from ‘Under The Western Freeway’, 1997)

Best known in the UK for its use in a BBC ad for it 6 Music radio station, as the theme tune for ‘Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe’ and in the zombie flick ’28 Days Later’. It’s one of those that sticks in your head and refuses to budge. The best track on the debut album for sure.

2. Now It’s On (from ‘Sumday’, 2003)

The opener from Grandaddy’s third album is one of their best songs. ‘Sumday’ was the album that really showed off Jason Lytle’s progression as a songwriter. It’s got some cracking tracks on it, two or three that I really wanted on this ICA but couldn’t find a place for. To me, Now It’s On sounds like it’s about coming out of a period of darkness and making a fresh start, something I know a bit about.

3. Hewlett’s Daughter (from ‘The Sophtware Slump’, 2000)

One of the highlights of what many believe to be Grandaddy’s finest hour. ‘The Sophtware Slump’ was a triumph for sure, a huge leap in quality from their previous works. It’s an unusual record that throws all kinds of sounds and moods at you, but every so often a pop gem leaps out. This is one of them.

4. Aisle Seat 37-D (split single, 2003)

In which Jason Lytle imagines himself on a plane falling from the sky. While all around him descend into panic and chaos, he remains calm, looking for the picture he carries of his loved one while having one last drink of wine before it all ends. Sometimes, Lytle can write the most touching music you’ll ever hear.

5. Jeez Louise (from ‘Just Like The Fambly Cat’, 2006)

This tale recounting a lost love whose parents disapproved of the relationship was the loudest, fastest track Grandaddy had made for some time. Yet it retains that melancholic air and winsome vocals that they do so well. Even with the guitars turned right up, there was still plenty of room for a dead good tune.

6. Taster (second single, 1995)

Pre-dating the first album by some two years, the somewhat appropriately-titled Taster was the first sign of what Grandaddy were to become. It’s their most melodic and melancholic early track and even though it lacks some of the band’s later idiosyncrasies, it’s recognisable as the Grandaddy that we all came to know and love.

7. The Group Who Couldn’t Say (from ‘Sumday’, 2003)

I love the lyrics of this song. It’s the story of a bunch of office-bound city folk who spend a day in the countryside and realise a whole new existence. It has one of my favourite Grandaddy lyrics:

Becky wondered why she’d never noticed dragonflies
Her drag and click had never yielded anything so perfect as a dragonfly.

8. Disconnecty (from ‘Just Like The Fambly Cat’, 2006)

My fave Grandaddy track of all. No further explanation needed. Probably because I don’t have one…

9. Miner At The Dial-a-View (from ‘The Sophtware Slump’, 2000)

This track, more than any other here, sums up the quirkiness of Grandaddy. Lytle explains it thus: “After a certain point, when the earth has been tapped of all its resources, they start mining other planets. And there’s these machines, and the idea is to add coins to it, and you can punch in the latitude and longitude of places on earth, and revisit wherever you want. And he’s actually revisiting his house, and he’s seeing the girl that he’s got back home is hanging out with some other guy, and he misses home.”

10. Goodbye? (from ‘Excerpts From The Diary Of Todd Zilla’, 2005)

Grandaddy’s penultimate release (prior to their reformation) was an EP which closed with this song. I wonder if it foreshadowed what the band probably knew at that point – that they were breaking up. Though in that case, why didn’t it appear on the final album? And does the question mark signify that this might not really be the end, that there was a chance we’d see them again? As with much of what Grandaddy did, there are untold mysteries and plenty of unanswered questions. As it turned out, they did reform and they did make another (very good) record.

Sadly, the joy of Grandaddy’s comeback has been tempered by the sudden death of bass player Kevin Garcia back in the Spring. It remains to be seen whether the band will continue without him.

THE ROBSTER

FROM THIRTY YEARS AGO (3)

Returning again today to the series looking at some of the bands on C87, a 3xCD box set, released last year by Cherry Red Records, as a 74-track compilation of material that was released across different indie labels in 1987. The only rule for featuring is that the act in questio has to be making a debut on the blog.

Track 13 on CD1. Originally released on Ron Johnson Records

mp3 : The Great Leap Forward – My Grandfather’s Cluck

Here’s what the info booklet says:-

EX-BIG FLAME STALWART Alan Brown formed The Great Leap Forward announced by the EP ‘Controlling The Edges of Tone’. which contained ‘My Grandfather’s Cluck’. More melodic yet as quirky and political as bIG fLAME, the group progressed with ‘A Peck On The Cheek A La Politique’ (1987) and 1988’s ‘Who Works The Weather’ before the Heart & Soul EP appeared on Communications Unique. A debut album, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of Change’, appeared in 1988 prior to a compilation Season 87-88. Brown temporarily quit music but returned in 2008 with the album ‘Finished Unfinished Business’ and now plays with A Witness.

It is akin to bIG fLAME in as much as it has the same vocalist but the spiky abrasive guitars have been toned down somewhat. I’m guessing their hardcore fans would have been appalled!

JC

HAD IT. LOST IT. (Parts 1 & 2)

It’s not easy coming up with fresh ideas for this little corner of the internet that have the ability to run’n’run. The ICAs have worked, Jonny’s charged particles are proving to be popular and I suppose the weekend features will always generate copy. This one might work…but will again likely depend on the views and opinions of the readership.

I want to look at singers or bands who, at some point in time, had ‘it’ (however you choose to define ‘it’) and then all of a sudden, and usually without warning, lost ‘it’ and never recovered ‘it’. I’m not meaning those who gave us a stellar debut album and a bum follow-up as the rock and pop worlds are littered with such acts. This is about folk who were massively popular and deservedly so only for their music to go a bit ‘meh’; sometimes their popularity remained intact and their profile remained high while others would see their sales plummet and fade quietly into obscurity. Oasis are an example of the former while most of their Britpop peers can be filed under the latter.

I’m doing parts one and two in a single sitting. Two of the biggest stars whose music once made me smile but then made me squirm.

1. ELTON JOHN

It was this incredibly imaginative advert that helped remind me of how much I enjoyed listening to Elton John songs when I was a young kid.

Rocket Man was a huge hit back in 1972, hanging around the singles charts for months when I was turning nine years of age. Like probably just about every other kid of that age and of that era, the idea of space travel was particularly exciting with tales of the exploits of astronauts all over newspapers and television, while Star Trek was a show that was watched and enjoyed my parents (whom I’ve just realised would have only been in their mid-30s at this time) as well as my five and six-year old younger brothers. Elton’s hit 45 just seemed to be part of the magic of that time.

I guess that made me something of an Elton John fan, albeit I wasn’t yet at the stage of going out and buying his, or indeed, anyone’s records. Besides, I didn’t need to as some of my older cousins, whose house I’d go and visit every two weeks or so, seemed to have all his albums and they would let me hear his stuff, whether on vinyl (with record sleeves that always seemed so vivid and colourful) or on 8-track cartridge, which one cousin told me would soon make bulky record collections a thing of the past.

Here’s a reminder of some of the 45s that I would be exposed to over the next few years:-

mp3 : Elton John – Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
mp3 : Elton John – Crocodile Rock
mp3 : Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
mp3 : Elton John – Bennie and The Jets

In 1976, after many years of trying and near misses, Elton John finally hit the #1 spot; it took a duet with Kiki Dee to hit the pinnacle but Don’t Go Breaking My Heart just left me ice-cold. The thirteen year-old me didn’t have the capacity to offer any critical analysis of the song other than to say it was fucking shite (even as a pre-pubescent teen, I already had a capacity for swearing but never in front of my parents!). My admiration for Reg had come and gone. And it’s never come back.

Some of you will recall that myself and Jacques the Kipper pulled together a Billy Joel ICA for a bit of fun on 1 April 2016. We had a bit of a chat on the way to the football one day as to how we could follow it up this year and I really wanted to do similar to Elton John’s 1980s output. You know, the classic songs that area such a part of everyday listening on the smooooooooooooth radio stations.

Nikita; I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues; Sad Songs; Kiss The Bride; I’m Still Standing.

Jacques talked me out of it. I suppose I should thank him as I would have needed to listen to the songs again if I was to have a stab at such an ICA, even for piss taking purposes.

2. STEVIE WONDER

Stevie Wonder has been making music for some 55 years so inevitably there’s going to be a variation in quality. Some of the very earliest material hasn’t stood the test of time all that well but there are some golden nuggets to be unearthed such as this from 1965:-

mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

But it’s the period from 1968-1977 that holds up to anything anyone else has ever produced over a similar length of time. Fifteen of his singles went Top 20 in the Hot 100 in the USA; he was just as successful in the UK with thirteen Top 20 hits. Some of them were straightforward love songs, others were brilliantly conceived socio-political commentaries on the issues facing black and poor people in his home country. All of them had tunes that were just killer. Here’s four such examples:-

mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Superstition
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – Living For The City
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – I Wish
mp3 : Stevie Wonder – He’s Misstra Know It All

The first sign of decline came with the double album The Secret Life Of Plants in 1979, albeit this was more a soundtrack to a documentary than a ‘proper’ commercial release. The following year saw the release of Hotter Than July, an LP that turned out to be his most successful album in the UK, selling more than 300,000 copies and spawning four Top 10 singles.

One or two of the songs on the album are up there in quality with his 70s output but others are just awful, not least Happy Birthday, his the well-intended and heartfelt tribute to Martin Luther King that suffered immediately from being hijacked for every single celebration party of that period. But, given that the song did so much to raise the profile of the campaign to have Dr King’s birthdate declared as a national holiday in the USA, I really shouldn’t really be so curmudgeonly. The sad thing, however, is that it’s an LP that has, for the most part, dated really badly and the ballads/love songs in particular are not a patch on his earlier efforts in that genre.

But what followed afterwards in the early-mid 80s was cringeworthy. Ebony and Ivory – the toe-curling and insufferable duet with Paul McCartney; I Just Called To Say I Love You which seemed to be #1 for months on end in 1984, no matter which country you lived in; Part Time Lover, a song that sits alongside those of Phil Collins as examples of what was so wrong about the charts of the era.

In 2017, Stevie Wonder remains a hugely important and influential recording artist and social figure. Just don’t ask me to listen to his recent music.

Now. Any volunteers to come up with Part 3?

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 22)

It would be eighteen months before XTC released their next 45 in September 1986 during which period spin-off psychedelic band The Dukes of Stratosphear had issued six-track mini-album, 25 O’Clock, from which this was issued as a single:-

mp3 : The Dukes of Stratosphear – The Mole From The Ministry

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the band had been teamed up with American rocker Todd Rundgren to work on the new album which would be released with the title Skylarking. It’s a record I’ve never bought, partly based on some rotten reviews at the time and also the fact that I couldn’t understand why Virgin Records had thought an act so quintessentially English would get something out of working with someone I regarded as so antiquated and likely unsympathetic to the band. Turns out that Andy Partridge hated the idea too but not Dave Gregory as this excerpt from a 1990 magazine piece illustrates:-

“Todd and Andy were like chalk and cheese as personalities, they didn’t hit it off from the start. Things just went from bad to worse. Andy was saying how much he hated the album, and when we returned home, he was very depressed about it. My only misgiving was that it was badly recorded. Perhaps Todd was trying to recreate a Sixties sound to capitalise on our Beatles fixation: but having said that, Skylarking is probably my favourite XTC album. Personally, I like what Todd did with the songs.”

Here’s its first single and the bonus track on the 12″:-

mp3 : XTC – Grass
mp3 : XTC – Extrovert

The b-side to Grass was later re-released as a 45 in its own right and I’ll return to it in due course. For now, I’ll simply say that Grass (which JTFL had included as part of an ICA) it’s not as bad as you would fear – but it does sound a lot like Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Blur from a few year later. What it doesn’t sound like at all is XTC……unlike Extrovert but it suufers from having those awful 80s horns-sounding keyboards on it.

JC