SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #123 & #124 : HAIG/MACKENZIE

Memory Palace is the collection of songs recorded by long time friends Paul Haig and Billy Mackenzie at various times between 1993-95. They were both fairly disillusioned with the music industry at this time and without record deals to constrain them they sought to fill the void by getting together in an Edinburgh studio and having a bit of fun, writing songs influenced by krautock, electropop and all out balladry, drawing on their many influences and talents for the unexpected.

It was an album released two years after Billy’s tragic suicide, with Paul fulfilling his pal’s wish to polish things off and make the music available to fans. It was initially only available via mail order through on Paul’s Rhythm of Life label but in due course, after a period in which it had seemingly been deleted, it was given a full release, with four bonus remixes, by One Little Indian in 2004.

It is an ambitious piece of work, not always the easiest of listens which is no real surprise given the chaotic and carefree nature of the recording methodology but at the same time, Billy’s voice comes through as strong and bold as at any point in his career while Paul provides reminders of why so many have long thought of him as one of the most visionary and creative talents of the late 20th century.

I thought I’d feature two songs from it, giving both of them the opportunity to take the lead vocals.

mp3 : Haig/Mackenzie – Thunderstorm

Heavily influenced musically by the trip-hop sounds of the likes of Portishead/Tricky, this tune shows how beautiful Billy could sound when he stayed comfortably with his range.

mp3 : Haig/Mackenzie – Listen To Me

Poptastic stuff. Paul would later re-record this for his Relive album in 2009 but without the killer backing vocal. The track is credited solely to Paul and I do wonder if the lyric was his heartfelt plea to Billy to look after himself a bit better.

JC

AND THE RODNEYS ARE QUEUING UP

I’ve often thought that The Stranglers would be very worthy of an ICA or to be a band on whom there should be a specific series looking at the 45s over the years…well, the period from 1977 to 1983 with maybe the occasional later single also worthy of praise. But I’ve never quite got round to either…..

In lieu of that, I thought it would be worth giving an airing to what I think, with the benefit of hindsight, is their most enduring few minutes of vinyl:-

mp3 : The Stranglers – Duchess

The Stranglers had been prolific in their output since 1977. They had enjoyed a run of Top 20 singles while releasing three albums that had all gone Top 5.

The thing is, The Stranglers were not and never had been a punk outfit. The reliance on keyboards and the bass lines being at the forefront of their sound had always laid bare their pub roots which they wrapped around various punk attitudes such as aggression, violence and confrontation. They were older and more experienced than most and they hadn’t, till this point, really worried about what folk said or wrote about them, but seeing punk’s metamorphosis into new wave, and that many of their peers and contemporaries were getting rich, seemed to bring about a change of attitude.

Duchess was released on 10 August 1979. That’s 39 years ago which is a truly terrifying realisation. This was an era when lead singles were an important precursor to what was to follow on a subsequent album and this 45 had a few folk scratching their head as it is power-pop at its purest, tailor-made for daytime radio with its catchy verses and chorus striding a colossus of a tune which is perfectly produced to allow all four members to demonstrate their playing abilities. And at two-and-a-half minutes in length, with an immediate beginning and no-fade ending, it enabled producers to have their DJs slip it in at any point in a show when there was a need to make up some time from the news, adverts or a bit of idle chat leading to a potential overrun. It should have been massive….and yet it only reached #14.

The general public, clearly, still wasn’t ready to embrace The Stranglers but things weren’t helped by the UK tabloid newspapers taking aim at the band, labelling them as blasphemous thanks to them dressing up as choirboys for the promo video, from which a still was used as the sleeve.

It was all the proverbial water off a duck’s back for the men in black, but it must have been galling for the record label as countless sales were lost with some of the chain stores refusing to put the sleeve on display. It really was a non-story turned into something…..and it shows how easily offended some folk were back in those days.

Worth noting that the American label, keen to avoid a similar controversy, issued the single in a completely different sleeve.

Here’s yer reasonable enough, Stranglers-by-numbers, b-side.

mp3 : The Stranglers – Fools Rush Out

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #177 : BALLBOY (2)

A GUEST POSTING by DIRK a.k.a. SEXY LOSER

You see, the problem with a follow-up to an ICA is that everything about band members and discographies has already been said and done. So please refer to JC’s ICA # 175 if you’re interested.

Also JC managed to pick some of the really good songs, it must be said! No problem though, because ballboy are a band with so many good tunes: it was fairly easy to find ten other ones. Well, not that easy, because I couldn’t rely on albums, singles and EP’s only, I just had to include non-commercial releases as well, because I thought you’d miss a treat if I would not do so. Which made the number of songs to choose from even bigger!

But in the end I succeeded, so, without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, Scotland’s finest, ballboy:

‘You Should Fall In Love With Me‘

As it so often is the case, the Peel Session is the superior version. Fact. Obviously this is not only true for ballboy recordings. At least in my books. Here we have to thank George Thomas and Nick Scripps, who produced and engineered this tune back in March 2003. The original version can be found on ‘The Sash My Father Wore’ … of course the album version is excellent as well, but not that excellent!

(JC adds….first time I’ve heard the Peel Session version…..and Dirk is right!!!!)

‘They’ll Hang Flags From Cranes Upon My Wedding Day’

Since I first heard this song, I tend to have a close look each year on August 14th on me way to work. Never saw a single flag though, but I suppose Mrs Loser is still working on this: hope is the last thing to die, right? First released on the ‘Girls Are Better Than Boys’ – EP in 2001, also to be found on ‘Club Anthems’.

‘Frankie And Johnny’

I like it when they do a cover version! Here they tackle a very old tune indeed, from 1912 or thereabouts in fact. Elvis sang that as well, perhaps this is the version that ‘Frankie And Johnny’ is remembered for best. Still he didn’t write it, but to my best knowledge Elvis only wrote a handful of songs, if at all. Another artist who recorded a version was Lonnie Donegan, which is the link to ballboy:

“This is a Peel Session track recorded in October 2004, 2 days after the great man passed away. He was planning a Lonnie Donegan special and invited us to record this. We recorded it in one take, all together in the room with no overdubs. It is ramshackle and raw, but we like it and we are desperately sad that we didn’t get to play it for him.”

‘Dumper Truck Racing’

From their very first EP, ‘Silver Suits For Astronauts’ from 1999. Again, also this was issued on ‘Club Anthems’. A mighty tune, no question about that!

‘A Day In Space’

Also from the aforementioned debut EP: the truth of the matter is, I simply couldn’t decide which one to leave out, this one or ‘Dumper Truck Racing’, so you’ll get both, as easy as that …

‘Disney’s Ice Parade’

Anyone who starts a song with the line “You left your notes on lesbian sex on the fish tank in the hall/took me all afternoon to read them all” is alright with me, I must say! And in the case of ballboy it’s even more alright and I’m curious to find out how this story develops … and so should you, I tell you!

A lifetime ago the band offered podcasts on their website, those podcasts were made by Gordon ballboy and his acoustic guitar. The podcast were a regular feature and one was made every 2-3 weeks or so. The format was that Gordon talks a little, sings a new song, talks a little and sings an old song. ‘Disney’s Ice Parade’ is from a podcast from 2006.

‘Let’s Fall In Love And Run Away From Here’

Perhaps this my favourite ballboy tune. Here, I said it! Then again this might change in five minutes, as it did for a thousand times within the last two decades. It’s the opening track to ‘The Royal Theatre’ from 2004 and it proves what JC said in his wisdom in the first ballboy ICA: “Every one of the band’s EPs and albums opens with a truly memorable number”. This is but one of those, if you ask me …

‘Born In The USA’

Another cover version. I never cared all too much for Springsteen, so forgive me when I say: this is better than the original! From ‘The Sash My Father Wore’ from 2003.

‘We’ve All Had Better Days’

This is another one recorded for the Peel Session mentioned earlier on, the one which had ‘Frankie And Johnny’ on it. As far as I know there has never been a commercial release of this tune. Also I have a feeling that the correct title might possibly be ‘We’ve All Seen Better Days”. Not that it matters much anyway …

‘Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Do Not Come To Me?’

A good question indeed, although one that I rarely as myself: I’m one of those lucky chaps who fall asleep as soon as my head touches my cushion. I always explain this ability with too much experience in the backs of transportation lorries when being a Lance Corporal in the German Air Force in the early 90’s, where we would sleep whenever and wherever possible!

‘Where Do The Nights Of Sleep Go To When They Don’t Come To Me?’ was a single from 2002.

Well, that’s it. The longlist, the list I made first, the one I had to delete songs from in order to number it all down to ten, was massive! I think this shows you how good this band really is.

Hope you enjoyed bits of it. Take good care, friends!

Dirk/sexyloser

38 YEARS AGO TODAY

8 August 1980. The date for the release of the song which would give David Bowie his second ever #1 hit in the UK, a full five years after Space Oddity.

mp3 : David Bowie – Ashes to Ashes (single edit)

The 17-year old me loved this. I hadn’t been all that much of a Bowie fan up until this point, admiring him more than adoring him, but this came out just as the point when it all began to make sense. My interest in electronica was beginning to grow at a rapid rate as my tastes expanded dramatically beyond the cut’n’thrust of new wave/post punk guitars.

I began to borrow Bowie albums from the 70s from friends who had either latched on to him earlier or who elder siblings who had been apostles from the earliest days. I didn’t embrace everything fully and indeed didn’t at the time feel any of his previous albums were as good as Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) which had been the first purchase of my own, followed by a budget price compilation album which was released just before Christmas 1980. I’ve changed my mind since then…..

I didn’t care much for the b-side to the single. It mentioned that it was from the album Lodger, a record I had listened to thanks to a friend buying it and playing it, but other than Boys Keep Swinging hadn’t done anything for me.

mp3 : David Bowie – Move On

I haven’t changed my mind on it track or its parent album over the years.

The US release of Ashes to Ashes had an absolute belter of a b-side:-

mp3 : David Bowie – It’s No Game (No.1)

The opening track of the Scary Monsters album remains one of my favourite Bowie numbers of them all, probably for as much as it being such an astonishing and different introduction to his wider work beyond the singles.

One bizarre thing I learned in doing a bit of research for this post. David Bowie would only enjoy one more solo #1 single in the UK with Let’s Dance in 1983. His total of three has been matched by a further three on which he was a co-vocalist or contributor (Under Pressure, Dancing In The Streets and Perfect Day, recorded with a myriad of others for a charity single in 1997). That’s some good pub quiz knowledge there for you…..

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (20)

15,265 days.

That’s how long it has been since the first ever single by a British punk group was released over here.

22 October 1976. It had long been thought the Sex Pistols or The Clash would grab that particular accolade but they were both blindsided by The Damned.

mp3 : The Damned – New Rose

It came out on Stiff Records and it really threw most people. Punk was supposed to be, according to legend, tuneless, aimless and unlistenable. New Rose was none of those, with its catchy chorus, decent enough verses and a lead singer who was easy(ish) on the ear. As Andy Partridge would later say, this is pop – yeah, yeah.

Talking of which, the b-side was a hoot.

mp3 : The Damned – Help!

103 seconds of what most folk thought punk was….tuneless, aimless and unlistenable if you thought the original was a sacred cow.

A first pressing, with the catalogue number STIFF 6, is fairly valuable these days, and a good quality copy will most likely cost you over £100 on the second-hand market.

It was still too much for daytime or commercial radio who barely played it.  And with nobody hearing it, nobody was buying it.  It didn’t break into the Top 75.

Oh, and for what it’s worth…..I reckon The Damned would release better 45s later on.  My own favourite is this.

JC

MORE THAN A NODDING DEBT TO THE MAN IN THE NEW SUNDAY SERIES

It was as recently as last September that I featured The Corn Dollies and their rather excellent debut single Forever Steven courtesy of it being part of the C87 boxset that was issued by Cherry Red Records.  I did comment that the b-side, Be Small Again, was a track that paid more than a nodding debt to Lloyd Cole and The Commotions, and also made reference, via the commentary in the C87 booklet that a later single, Shake, was another that seemed to do the same.

I picked up a second-hand copy of said 7″ single…..

mp3 : The Corn Dollies – Shake

Can’t be denied can it?  Not just the tune but the vocal delivery is almost as if lead singer Steve Musham was auditioning for a part on Stars In Their Eyes…..

Here’s the b-side to that particular single. It could almost pass as a cover version:-

mp3 : The Corn Dollies – Climbing Stairs

Enjoyable stuff nevertheless……

JC

LLOYD COLE THE SOLO YEARS : 1993

Really interesting that Friend of Rachel Worth, whose views and opinions over the years have more often than not been bang-on-the-money, feels that the solo career of Lloyd Cole actually went a bit weird after the release of Don’t Get Weird On Me Babe in 1991.

I certainly concur that the next few years were less than stellar but there would be a subsequent tremendous return to form a few years later as I will hopefully demonstrate in the fullness of time

The commercial failure of the sophomore solo album was a bit of a body low. As I said last week, it’s a tremendous and ambitious record, packed with some of the best songs he’s ever written, but it was very much a case of it being in the wrong place at the wrong time as popular music was going through one of its phases where some sort of new sounds and a movement associated with them was all that mattered. In short, grunge almost killed LC’s career stone dead.

There was no music at all in 1992 and it wasn’t until October 1993 that the new album was released. It was called Bad Vibes which perhaps was Lloyd suggesting he already knew what sort of critical reaction the record was going to provoke…..

I’m thinking back 25 years and recalling that I was bitterly disappointed with the new record, to the extent that I played it three times and put it on the shelf for what I thought would be eternity. I certainly thought that Lloyd’s recording career would soon be over, fully expecting him to be dropped by his companies. Bad Vibes was a million miles away from the Commotions but it was also just about as far again from the first two solo records. It seemed to be a record which was ridiculously over-produced and unplayable in any meaningful sense outside of the studio, with not much to offer in the way of memorable tunes. Sure, there were occasional glimpses of genius in the lyrics, but there were also some banal offerings to match the dullness and clichéd nature of the music emanating from the speakers. All in all, I considered it was a dud.

Nowadays, and with the benefit of having heard a number of the songs played live with much more basic and stripped-back arrangements, I think it’s fair to say that Bad Vibes does have some excellent songs which deserved a better fate than they received in the studio. It would be easy enough to point the finger at producer Adam Peters and mixer Bob Clearmountain but Lloyd has always been a hand-on type of guy in the studio and he would have had a big say in things. I’ve no doubt that the relative failure of the first two solo LPs had led him to again try something different but this was just so far from what I think was his comfort zone that it wasn’t delivered with any real confidence.

There were two singles lifted from the album and these are as good an example as the 1993 songs somehow managing to be instantly recognisable as Lloyd Cole, but not in a way in which you’d perhaps expect or indeed enjoy:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – So You’d Like To Save The World
mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Morning Is Broken

Interesting that Lloyd himself has said of this album:-

To be honest, I really didn’t know what I wanted to make with Bad Vibes, but this didn’t worry me. I was simply trying to make a record which would surprise people. I thought that was written into my job description. To start with, both Adam and I were fairly gung-ho about this, but after months of work together I think we gave into the inevitable truth – my voice and my songs are pretty easily recongisable the moment the singing starts, no matter what.

I’m inclined to agree with those final few words, but it still was a shock to hear such plodding and ill-conceived arrangements at the time.

There were a number of b-sides recorded…one of which harked back to something more akin to previous straight forward pop sounds and thus probably left off the album for that very reason:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Radio City Music Hall

It was also interesting that, having sort of hit a wall with the recording and mixing process for Bad Vibes, Lloyd felt he’d be better recording some Marc Bolan and Lou Reed covers for the extra tracks on the singles. He’s since said this is what he wished Bad Vibes had sounded more :-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – The Slider
mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Vicious

I’m not convinced that an album of songs akin to these would have impressed me any more than what had been issued on Bad Vibes.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #122 : H2O

The onset of the ICA World Cup earlier in the year saw this long-running/never-ending series shift away from the regular Saturday slot, and when I reached The Gyres in April, I thought it would make sense to ice it for a while and come back fresh with the first singer or band with the letter ‘H’.

H2O were just about one-hit wonders. A pop band from Glasgow, formed out of the ashes of a punk band, they hit payola in May 1983 with the synth driven and Vince Clarke-influenced I Dream To Sleep which spent three months in the chart and reached #17. A follow-up single, Just Outside Of Heaven scraped into the Top 40, but a debut album and two further 45s lifted from it sold poorly and within two years the band had broken up.

The singer, Ian Donaldson, embarked firstly on a solo career and then was part of other groups later on in which he was backed by ex-members of Big Country and Simple Minds, but with no real commercial success. He’s solo again and released a new album earlier this year.

H2O have occasionally popped up across the Glasgow scene over the years, with many fondly remembering the single….but don’t count me among them as I found it just too electro-twee for my liking at the time, and still do. Oh and it has an annoying Spandau Ballet type sax bit too…..

mp3 : H2O – Dream To Sleep

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (19)

Hadn’t realised that it’s been well over two months since the last part of this occasiona series….how time flies when there’s an ICA World Cup to worry about.

I’m not sure everyone, or indeed anyone, will agree with me what I’ve come up with today.

The flop debut single from May 1977 recorded and released before Andy Summers was part of The Police. It also has the distinction of being the only 45 that they would release not to be the work of Sting. This was a Stewart Copeland number, while its b-side was also his, in conunction with his brother Ian.

I mentioned when I put together the ICA for The Police that the band quickly disowned the 45 on the basis that it was recorded before they had even played live. It’s also the case that original guitarist Henry Padovani (pictured above on the right looking a bit like Ian Dury) was so nervous about being in the studio that his guitar solo was all he could manage and  Copeland had to play the other guitar parts as well as the drums.

It was released on Illegal Records in 1977 and sold dismally, even by the standards of punk songs on small labels.  It would be re-released in a different sleeve in 1979 when the band were enjoying chart success via A&M Records, and would sell enough copies to reach the Top 50.

I think I’m inclined to include it in the series, not so much for it being a ‘cracking’ debut single, but mainly as it proved to be so different from their records that would go on to dominate pop charts across the planet just a few years later.

mp3 : The Police – Fall Out
mp3 : The Police – Nothing Achieving

JC

CHARGED PARTICLES (V2) (Part 6)

Head to Head

Let’s try this again:

Elevation – Television

Elevation – Erasure

Information – Dave Edmunds

Information – Beck

Vacation – Beach Fossils

Vacation – the Go-Go’s

JTFL

(JC adds…..big thanks to Jonny for the posts these past few months…..now how about giving us an update on The Ponderosa Aces??)

 

30, 20, 10 (Part 16)

Those of you who have any interset in this series might recall that the indie charts in May 1988 were topped by an act which made a living out of sampling.  Three months on, they reached the pinnacle again, but this one is much trickier to recall in comparion to ‘Theme…’ :-

1 August 1988 : S’Express – Superfly Guy

Ten years on and a cover of a Womack and Womack song was #1 in the indie charts.

1 August 1998 : Lovestation – Teardrops

I’d never heard this till a few minutes ago.  It came out on a specialist dance label  – Fresh Records.  I include it under duress as it’s quite ghastly.

1 August 2008 : mp3 : Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris  – Dance Wiv Me

It was the middle of a seven week stay at the top of the chart….which means it will be featuing again next month…..except that I’m now killing the series.  It’s been a long time coming but this, the least ‘indie’ of the near 2,000 posts on this blog, has delivered the fatal blow.

JC