DID THIS REALLY MISS OUT ON THE AMERICAN CHARTS BACK IN THE DAY?

It was a few months ago that Echorich supplied this blog with a very classy ICA on Talking Heads; it was one that concentrated on the band’s first four albums from the debut in 1977 through to Remain In Light in 1980. It was hard to argue with his selections but what was noticeable is that he omitted the single that really brought the band to attention here in the UK thanks to it reaching #14 in the charts in March 1981, some six months after the album had been released.

mp3 : Talking Heads – Once In A Lifetime

It’s a great and memorable pop song but there’s no doubt its sales were boosted by the promo video – one that back in 1981 seemed so clever, stylish and futuristic as well as containing a quirky but memorable performance from David Byrne.

I had always assumed that the 45 had been massive in America but was astonished to learn that it didn’t dent the Top 100. A short time later it might have been different in that MTV launched in August 1981 and the promo for Once In A Lifetime was on very heavy rotation; but by then the single wasn’t available in the shops albeit it did help the sales of the parent LP. It also set the band up nicely for mainstream success in their home country by the time the follow-up Speaking In Tongues was released in 1983.

To show how unprepared the band and Sire Records were for a hit single in the UK, it was only made available in the 7″ format (with an edited version that was tailor-made for radio) with its b-side also lifted from Remain In Light and thus not really providing an incentive for fans who already owned the album to shell out for the 45:-

mp3 : Talking Heads – Seen And Not Seen

Both sides still sound pretty sensational, modern and vibrant 37 years after they were recorded.

JC

OCD EPs : #7 : ASSOCIATES

A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOT

I believe I rather well qualify as an obsessed collector of material by The Associates and the late Billy MacKenzie. Sid Law has earlier provided some excellent rare songs here at TVV, but you can’t have too many – can you?

This OCD EP is made up of tracks recorded using the Associates moniker, with side A having tracks where Alan was still in – at least when the tracks where originally written/recorded – while side B are demos Billy recorded later. I’m not sure any longer where I got the side A session recordings from, I have a couple of more. Could potentially be for a TV or radio show, but that’s only a guess. There is no audience on the recordings but on one track, not included here, Billy thanks for the session.

Side A.

1. Even Dogs In The Wild (studio session) – A favourite song of mine, which has surfaced in many different versions. This session recording has a jazzy feel to it. Not too far away from the Irrationale cassette version.

2. Gloomy Sunday (studio session) – Here is also a slightly jazzy feel. Haunting vocals.

3. Message Oblique Speech (studio session) – bring in the band, and go full throttle. Great version.

Side B.

1. Take Me To The Girl (demo)

2. The Glamour Chase (demo)

3. Fever (demo)

All having a slightly rougher, or at least less polished, edge than the released versions. These give a good picture of the road from demo to completed, commercial, release. Still, that voice!

A lot has been said, and can still be said, about what could have been had Billy still been among us. We will never know, I’m convinced in today’s digital world he would be able to find better platforms for his artistic outlet than traditional record companies. Useless speculations, at times I need to listen to the demo of “Outerpol” to remind me he could also occasionally do stuff I find unlistenable…

I hope he found peace wherever he is now.

MARTIN

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #141 : ASSOCIATES

I’ve long striven for an Associates ICA but it’s another one of those tasks that just seems beyond me, especially when more great previously unknown songs come my way courtesy of Sid Law via the various postings he’s offered over the years. I know that this 12-track selection (which in itself breaks my 10-song rule of thumb) has more omissions than inclusions, particularly for the diehard fans, and is sure to attract a bit of criticism. I’ve concentrated on the more commercial stuff as they, by nature, tend to be a bit more accessible than many others but there are a couple of deeper and darker tunes included as they fit in just perfectly to the running order. Oh and the justification for the 12 songs is that they include two covers.

SIDE A

1. White Car In Germany (single, 1981)

A moody, majestic and magical few minutes to open things up, it demonstrates just how important both Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie were to the sound and feel of this band. My first exposure to the band, and one that was suggested thanks to my love of Magazine, the eerie horror-movie soundtrack keyboards are akin to those of Dave Formula and the seemingly nonsensical lyrics would be the stuff Howard Devoto would have been proud of. Name-checking Aberdeen, Dusseldorf, Zurich and Munich in the opening few lines and giving us the wonderful rhyming couplet of “Anonymous as bathrooms, Androgynous as Dachshunds”. All albums, ICA or not, should open with something as memorable as this.

2. Boys Keep Swinging (single, 1979)

My admission that White Car In Germany was my first exposure to the band reveals that I missed out totally on this debut single, the cheeky and somewhat irreverent cover version of what was then a relatively then new song by David Bowie. No copyright permission was sought with the boys fully aware that the ensuing furore and legal threats would provide them with the oxygen of publicity. I probably would have hated this cover version back in 1979 but today it feels somewhat charming and almost innocent.

3. 18 Carat Love Affair (single, 1982)

Released as a stand-alone 45 on the back of the chart success of two earlier singles and the LP Sulk, this proved to be the last time Associates or indeed Billy Mackenzie troubled the higher end of the pop charts. It’s the instrumental track nothinginsomethingparticular with additional lyrics. Unashamedly 80s in sound and style, it still has the ability all these years to put a huge grin on my face as I recall the promotional efforts on Top of The Pops as Billy flirted outrageously with Martha Ladly while Alan initially played a chocolate guitar before breaking it up and handing it members of the audience to eat. Performance art at its most absurd.

4. Tell Me Easter’s On Friday (single 1981)

The band was really proficient in the early days – there were seven singles released in 1981 – all of which with the benefit of hindsight seemed to digging deep into the different genres of their musical influences without any meaningful effort to impact on the charts. Some of these early songs may appear to have been self-indulgent but it strikes me that the record label bosses wanted to have a serious rather than pop band on their books, one that would get talked about at great length within the pages of the four weekly music papers that were published in the UK at the time. The boys were being matched with producers and engineers who were keen to explore the extent to which the synthesiser could be deployed in the studio and who looked upon that amazing voice simply as another ‘instrument’ to throw into the mix. To be fair, Alan and Billy were themselves happy to go down this route in the early days, but before too long, the latter really wanted just to get on Top of the Pops and into the pages of Smash Hits.

5. Party Fears Two (single, 1982)

The 45 that delivered on Billy’s dreams and ambitions. Their best known few minutes and among their finest. Enough has been written before about, both on this blog and elsewhere. Just enjoy the full majesty of the 12” version with its fabulous drawn-out ending which leads nicely into….

6. Those First Impressions (single, 1984)

….a song with a fabulous drawn-out intro. A case can be made that The Associates weren’t ever the same after Alan left in 1982 and that what followed was really Billy’s solo output with a host of backing musicians and sundry helpers in the studio. Be that as it may, there were still as many studio albums released without Alan’s involvement as there had been at the outset (albeit they took an inordinate amount of time to record without his steady hand at the controls), and this, the first shimmering and poptastic first single post-Rankine gave us all hope that great things were still to come. It stalled at #43 , again proving that the record buying public just couldn’t be trusted.

SIDE B

7. Transport To Central (from The Affectionate Punch (Remix), 1982)

My plan for the b-side of this ICA was for it to follow the template on the a-side which is why I’m starting things off with another gloomy and dour masterpiece. You only need to look at events surrounding the initial release and later subsequent remix of the debut LP to see just how the band wanted to be, and were, different. It came out on Fiction Records in 1980 and was as deep, dark and dense as anything that Joy Division or their contemporaries were delivering. Indeed, JD uber-fan Paul Morley included the word ‘masterpiece’ in his review of the album. Come 1982, and with the band now on Warner Brothers and basking in the success of Sulk, the bosses ordered that the debut be dusted down and given the remix treatment, including a more contemporary sound with some of the lyrics being re-recorded. It was also given a completely different running order. The subsequent results satisfied very few but the take on Transport To Central was one that, for me, worked as it made sound more complete and less of a demo.

8. God Bless The Child (live from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 1984)

Some of the finest versions of Associates songs can be found on two hard-to-find CDs that brought together various BBC Radio 1 Sessions recorded between 1981 and 1985 for a multitude of shows including John Peel, Janice Long, David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Richard Skinner. Billy was also more than happy to throw in some cover versions into the sessions and one of them included a take on the Billie Holliday classic from the 1940s. But I was able to track down a reasonably decent quality of his performing the song at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in December 1984 that was later broadcast on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test.  I’ve included it as the  intro shows how gently spoken Billy was as well as the extent of his Dundonian accent;  but above else, it gives an indication of how great his voice was…this is as is with just a piano for accompaniment in front of a hushed audience.

9. Skipping (from Sulk, 1982)

Sulk is rightly considered to be the band’s masterpiece and as much as I love the singles, the track that opens the second side of the vinyl is my go to track on it. Billy goes through his entire vocal range from bass/baritone (with hints of a Sean Connery impression) to near falsetto as he lets rip towards the end all over a haunting melody. This was always going to be on this ICA, it was just a question of where it fitted best and what should follow it,

10. Breakfast (single, 1985)

Perhaps, the LP released in 1985, sold poorly. It was also giving a bit of a critical bashing. It was an era when guitar-pop was a bit in the ascendency and any synth music had to have the big hooks and sing-a-long choruses to stand any chance of airplay. Billy was, to quote Elvis Costello, a man out of time. No more so than on this beautiful piece of singing and performing, with a piano part that EC’s sidekick Steve Nieve would have been proud of.

11. Club Country (single, 1982)

Once again, I’ve turned to the 12″ version. At a few seconds under seven minutes in length its way longer than the versions that appeared on Sulk (I use the plural as the version on the CD release is about a minute shorter than the original vinyl release). It’s a bit tricked up in places but for the most part it works well – and thankfully the sudden ending was kept in situ rather than a long and drawn out fade into silence.

12. A Girl Named Property (single, 1981)

This was one of the seven singles from that particular year but it came out on a different label than they were signed to. It was also one half of a double single with the other side entitled Kites by a band called 39 Lyon Street…who were in fact Associates under another name; 39 Lyon Street was the address of the flat in Dundee where they lived, and where myself and Jacques the Kipper went out of our way to visit a few months ago while in the city for a football match. Worth mentioning that A Girl Named Property was an updated and punchier version of Mona Property Girl which had been the b-side to Boys Keep Swinging, and as such the first original Associates song to see light of day.

BONUS EP

I was trying to make this ICA as commercial sounding as possible which is why none of the tracks from the debut LP The Affectionate Punch, originally released in August 1980, have been included. It’s a fantastic record of its own accord but it’s a long way removed from the stuff that most folk associate (pun intended) with the band. They moved a long way in a short time as can be illustrated with these four songs from the debut.

Track 1 : The Affectionate Punch
Track 4 : Paper House
Track 6 : A Matter of Gender
Track 9 : Deeply Concerned

See….it was impossible to keep it to ten songs.

JC

PS : Tune in tomorrow for a companion piece from a guest contributor.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #140 : GENE LOVES JEZEBEL (2)

A GUEST POSTING by MARTIN ELLIOT

Relapse – a collection of b-sides.

Just as the album track ICA I’ll have the A-side for tracks on the Situation Two label, and the B-side for tracks on the Beggars Banquet label.

1 No Voodoo Dollies (Screaming (For Emmalene), SIT20T)

An early recording, short and rough but distinctively all that made up GLJ.

2 Brando (Bruises) (Bruises, SIT24T)

One of several different versions of Bruises from the Promise album. There will be more coming your way.

3 Thin Things (Shame, SIT35T)

Slow, hypnotic and operatic. Another great b-side, together with the even more theatrical Gorgeous on the flip of Shame (who sings about their toes nowadays?).

4 One Someone (The Cow, SIT 36T)

Some nice guitar work on here, together with the ever prominent drums and the typical vocal style.

5 Infuenzea (Relapse) (Influenza (Relapse), SIT 31T)

So I cheat a bit, as this is an album track – but when the already fantastic instrumental track now got treated with lyrics, it just became magic. Couldn’t in any way keep it out of this collection, so it closes the Situation Two side, leaving you just wanting more. Which is exactly the purpose with the last track on side A.

Side B. The Beggars tracks.

1 Heartache II (Heartache, BEG161T)

With Jay doing the vocals here, while Michael did on the album (and 12” A-side) version. I’ll leave it up to you to compare the versions, they are identical twin brothers…

2 Deli Babies (Heartache, BEG161T)

After this release they took the name Deli Babies for some production credits on their own work. A waste hiding as the second track on a b-side.

3 Sapphire Scavanger (Desire (Come And Get It), BEG173T)

A thumping rhythm, some great guitar work going on in the background. Impossible not to nod along to.

4 A Fresh Slice (The Motion Of Love 2×12”, BEG192TD)

If there was a genre called stadium pop, this could well be the anthem. A simple, fresh and bouncy melody, a great sing-a-long little gem. Pity they never made it to become stadium pop stars.

5 Bugg’s Bruises (The Motion Of Love 2×12”, BEG192TD)

Yet another version of Bruises, another stomper that does exactly what the last track on side B is supposed to do – making you flip the record and start all over again!

It took me ages to listen through all my GLJ records and choosing the tracks for these 2 ICA’s, but I had a great time doing so. I hope you enjoyed the show too!

MARTIN

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (5)

I make no apologies for this re-hash of an old posting for inclusion in this particular series for as debut 45s go, this is about as good as it gets:-

mp3 : The Sundays – Can’t Be Sure

The release of this single capped a meteoric rise, even by indie-band standards. Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin had met and fallen in love while studying at Bristol University but it was only after they graduated in the late 80s did they contemplate doing anything musically. They worked on a few songs which led to them forming a band with two other friends from university – Paul Brindley and Patrick Hannan – and they scraped together some money for a demo tape that was sent round a few indie labels. There was a fair bit of interest which intensified after the band, all of whom by now were living in London, played a few live gigs. In August 1988, they signed to Rough Trade and just five months later Can’t Be Sure was released to huge acclaim.

It was an era of female-fronted bands, but from the outset there was something different about The Sundays. The debut single was enchanting, melodic and dreamlike in nature, with the vocal style being reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser albeit the words were much more easily picked out and understood. The music seemed to draw on a huge number of influences from the previous 30 years or so but there were very clear comparisons to be made with The Smiths, particularly on one of the b-side tracks.

The Rough Trade connection also cemented the views of many that at long last there was a group truly worthy of inheriting the fey crown at a time when so many pretenders to the throne were moving towards the dance floor.

Here’s your b-sides:-

mp3 : The Sundays – I Kicked A Boy
mp3 : The Sundays – Don’t Tell Your Mother

The band would be together until 1997 but they were never that prolific, with just three albums and six singles to show for the best part of a decade in the music business. There’s no doubt that they were badly affected by the collapse of Rough Trade in the early 90s that sort of brought a halt to things before they really began while the onset of parenthood for Harriet and David put things on the back-burner in the mid 90s.

I don’t think there’s many would argue that they ever bettered the debut single, although there are gloriously warm and sunny days when I will argue the merits of Summertime, their biggest hit in the UK in 1997.

JC

THE XTC SINGLES (Part 27)

You’ll have spotted that I’ve been fond of the first two singles that were taken from Oranges and Lemons….and I’m happy to say that I give the thumbs-up to next 45:-

mp3 : XTC – The Loving

It wasn’t always this way. I didn’t take immediately to The Loving, but it’s one of those songs that I’ve grown increasingly fond of over the years. I was initially put off by its anthemic qualities and thinking it wasn’t distinct or quirky enough but as pop anthems go, it’s pretty decent. Another example of my tastes expanding as I get older.

It was released on 7″, 12″ and CD format. For once, there were no home demo songs. The common b-side to all three was also lifted from the album:-

mp3 : XTC – Cynical Days

Arguably, an even better song than the a-side, but far too complicated musically to stand any chance of getting radio play. Having said that, the fact that The Loving completely bombed means nothing would have been lost if this had been the band’s final single of the decade. It would have been an apt title.

The 12″ and CD contained a previously unreleased song:-

mp3 : XTC – The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men

It’s quite unexpected. But it has a sound I’m not that fond of…albeit I can see why some folk will think it’s a hidden gem.

It would more the best part of three years before XTC released their next batch of songs….but you don’t need to wait that long as I’ll be here next week as usual.

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #92 : THE EXPLOITED

Adapted from one of my reference books :-

The Exploited formed in East Kilbride in 1979 by Big John Duncan (guitar), Wattie Buchan (vocals), Gary McCormick (bass) and Dru Stix (drums). Subsequently moving to Edinburgh, they issued three independently released maxi-singles in 1980, all a barrage of 100 mph punk/oi anthems with Buchan spitting out anti-establishment diatribes (Maggie Thatcher was a favourite lyrical punchbag).

In 1981, after a minor hit Dogs of War on Secret Records, they unleashed a whole album’s worth of two-minute wonders, Punk’s Not Dead which went into the Top 20, quickly pursued by Dead Cities, which reached #31 in the singles chart in November 1981.

Big John Duncan left at the end of 1982 to form The Blood Uncles before joining Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. Almost a decade later he would find world fame when he played with Nirvana for a short time.

The 80s saw a few other changes, with Willie Buchan, brother of Wattie, moving behind the drumkit and Gary McCormick leaving. The band went through a waft of bassists and guitarists, with the Buchan brothers being the only settled members for the most part. Throughout that decade, and indeed the 90s and since the dawn of the 21st century, The Exploited have soldiered on, gaining and maintaining a reputation as a loud, anarchic and uncompromising hardcore punk band with attitude. Their gigs are not for the faint-hearted. And many of their records are an acquired taste.

Here’s their first minor hit….

mp3 : The Exploited – Dogs Of War

JC

PS : Click here to read more about Jacques the Kipper being on first name terms with Wattie Buchan.