ONE GOOD ALBUM – FOUR GREAT SINGLES

Fifteen years now since Fever To Tell, the debut album by New York trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs hit the shops. It’s a bit of a strange record in that having made something of a name for themselves as a loud and screechy 21st century garage-rock band who occasionally tipped their hats to the heaviest of rock acts, the best moments on the debut are when they take a moment or two to slow things down.

Not that anyone would have known this would be the case given that the first single to be lifted from the album was as frantic, fast, ferocious and fearsome as anything that had come out on earlier EPs:-

mp3 : Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date With The Night

It’s the sort of song made for a bit of body slamming on the dancefloor….and has, of course, to be listened at a volume which will make your ears bleed profusely.

The follow-up was along similar lines, coming in at a damn-near perfect two minutes in length, which is about as much as much as my then 40 year-old body could cope with as I gyrated around the living room scaring the bejaysus out of the cats.

mp3 : Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Pin

(Pin actually came up on random shuffle early the other day and the fact that it brought a smile to otherwise miserable face on my daily commute indirectly led to this posting)

The third single to be lifted from the album was rather different.

mp3 : Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps

It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Karen O delivers a vulnerable yet powerful vocal which is reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux at her very best while her two band mates do their utmost and provide a jaggy and pounding accompaniment. I’d be happy to start a debate that this is as superb an indie pop/rock love song as there has ever been, particularly from just about the two-minute mark when the guitars really kick in.

There had been a seven-month gap between the release of Pin and Maps, with it not being released until February 2004. It was likely the fact that the album was now the best part of a year old and had sold in decent quantities in the UK which prevented Maps doing better than #26 in the charts, and so it was something of a surprise that a fourth track, out of eleven on the album, was issued as a 45 later on that year:-

mp3 : Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control

Many of the initial reviews of the album had picked out Y Control as being a particular highlight, one which had loads of 70s and 80s influences and yet managed to sound ridiculously fresh and so 21st Century.  It’s a very fair assessment of things but at the same time it’s not the most commercial or radio-friendly of tunes and so it didn’t seem to the most clever of ideas to put it out as a single some 15 months after it had appeared on the album.  No surprises then that it was something of a flop.

JC

 

THE KIND YOU FIND IN A SECOND HAND STORE

Another thing which often causes surprise when I’m looking for some background on a song that I’m intending to feature on the blog is learning that it was either a much bigger chart hit than I ever recalled or, conversely, it was a comparative flop.

Prince really took off here in the UK in 1983/84, with a run of top ten singles lifted from the albums 1999 and Purple Rain. There was, inevitably and naturally, huge interest I what he was going to come up with next but very few were prepared for something as odd as this:-

mp3 : Prince & The Revolution – Raspberry Beret

By odd, I mean different. It was, unexpectedly, a pop tune, far lighter and less funky than many of the songs which had propelled him into the stratosphere. It was a happy, almost carefree song with a chorus that seemed not to be too far removed from a nursery rhyme. Prince had this reputation as a dangerous basdass mutha, with a raw sex on legs persona, who didn’t want to know what love is, but here he was writing and recording a song reflecting on the loss of innocence.

It was a tune that, more than anything else of the stuff I had heard up until now, convinced me that Prince was capable of living up to the hype. None of Little Red Corvette, Let’s Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 U and the afore-mentioned 1999 and Purple Rain had done anything for me and I wasn’t at all familiar with his back catalogue. The new single just oozed class and style right out of the radio with every play seeming to offer something new to the listening ears, such as the perfect interplay with the backing vocalists, the lush instrumentation that had a sort of world music feel to it or the fact that the lyric was, in places, just about as filthy as previous offerings – “They say the first time ‘aint the greatest / But I tell ya, if I had the chance to do it all again / I wouldn’t change a stroke.”

It’s a song written from the perspective of a hopeless romantic, with the sort of storyline that wouldn’t have been out-of-place on a Springsteen album. Puny little boy in dead-end job in a shop, with a boss who wasn’t fond of him, has his world turned upside down by the unexpected appearance one day of a confident female who is wearing an extremely bright and stylish hat….he knows immediately that she is trouble as she came into the shop through the out-door!

You can just picture the insecure and inexperienced boy cowering behind the counter as the girl in the raspberry beret makes a beeline for him – “Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me / If I planned to do her any harm” – but his bravado leads him to call her out and the next thing you know, he’s got her on the back of his bicycle and he’s pedalling furiously to a barn on a nearby farm, trying hard to get there before the rain starts pouring down.

Next thing he knows, she has made a man out of him. And he’s fallen madly in love. He certainly will always remember his first time….with the overpowering image being the hat which doesn’t appear to have been removed throughout the tryst. It’s completely bonkers but at the same time completely brilliant.

For years, I only knew the 7” and radio version of the song. It was over on someone else’s blog (and apologies for nor recalling whose) that I was exposed to the 12” version in which the funk, and a nod to the blues, bookend the pop tune. It’s even more brilliant than the version with which we are most familiar.

mp3 : Prince & The Revolution – Raspberry Beret (12” mix)

Let me take you back to my opening gambit about the extent of chart success.

Raspberry Beret only got to #25 in the UK in August 1985. I wouldn’t have thought that.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #195 : COCTEAU TWINS

A DEBUT GUEST POSTING by SHA (aka Swedish Herring Accident)

Wandering round the recent exhibition Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop at the National Museum of Scotland, it hurt my very soul that Cocteau Twins barely got a mention. Maybe they’re not pop, I said to myself. But now I see that we’ve reached almost 200 ICAs and not got around to addressing Cocteau Twins, I’m thinking something’s amiss. Maybe no-one’s brave or naive enough to have a crack at it – that’s a real possibility. It is, after all, a daunting body of work to reduce to a single album. But then, maybe it’s better to have a half-baked attempt than none at all. I’m definitely capable of that.

So here’s my offering. I’ve steered away from some of the more dissonant early stuff – not because it isn’t great, but because I wanted to create an album with a single sound, rather than a variety pack compilation. An album that captures the unmistakable mellifluous Cocteau Twins sensation that hovers between fluffy and deeply meaningful. Or caterwauling nonsense as my wife would put it. (JC adds….as would my wife!)

You’ll no doubt disagree with my choices – I disagree with them myself. I’ve murdered my darlings and made some unspeakably cruel omissions. I’ve also not shied away from popular/ obvious stuff just to prove that I’ve got Peppermint Pig or Moon And The Melodies. That said, this is no Best Of. Oh shut up now; just let the music flow over you.

Side 1.

Lazy Calm (from Victorialand).

An amazing and daring way to start an album, especially one as short as Victorialand. For a long time, I wasn’t certain that this wasn’t two tracks. The first half of this would form a perfect introduction to any other Cocteau Twins song. There was always a moment of tension between getting hold of a new Cocteau Twins album and playing it for the first time. “Have they lost it?” “Will it still be wonderful?” I should have never worried – within the first few moments of every Cocteau Twins album Liz’s voice would wash over me with a soothing wave of relief. None more so than this from 1985.

Love’s Easy Tears (from Love’s Easy Tears ep).

Got this from Probe in Liverpool the day it came out. I played it all evening until the others in my hall of residence asked me to stop. I thought I was the only person in the world who Liz and Robin could commune with. Then I read an interview in which Liz said this ep was some kind of tribute to 60s singers like Sandie Shaw and Dusty. That hadn’t occurred to me – not what I thought we were communing at all!

Carolyn’s Fingers (from Bluebell Knoll).

After Treasure, the wait for another album seemed interminable. Robin constantly claimed that each new offering wasn’t the real thing. Victorialand wasn’t a real album because it was just him and Liz messing around; Echoes in a Shallow Bay/ Tiny Dynamine wasn’t a real album because it was just some out-takes they’d polished up; Moon and the Melodies wasn’t a real album because it was a side project with Harold Budd. After all this methadone, when were we going to get a proper dose of the good stuff? And boy, when it arrived, Bluebell Knoll was the good stuff. And what’s this? Thank The Lord! A drummer! Carolyn’s Fingers is like a hug across the void.

In Our Angelhood (from Head Over Heels).

Head Over Heels is amazingly energetic – very little clue of the languid silkiness to come. Back when Cocteau Twins were still deciding who they wanted to be, bursting with creative spark, they put out songs like this with confidence and style.

Lorelei (from Treasure).

This is around the time the music press stopped trying to bracket Cocteau Twins – no more Siouxsie or Kate Bush analogies. They had found a voice and a sound of their own. Simon’s turned up with his safe hands on the rhythm section and his “Hyeah – I’m the bassist now” flourishes. For a while, this was head and shoulders the most exciting song I had ever heard. I thought it would need a whole Barnum and Bailey’s circus of performers to do it any justice on stage and at least three separate singers (I’m thinking twin sylph-like angels for the verse and a prowling vixen for the chorus). I still like to think that Cirque du Soleil should one day come to their senses and do a Cocteau Twins show. And when they do, this will be the opener.

Intermission

Fruitopia Commercial 1. They did an advert! It was two TV spots for Fruitopia, the Coca-Cola Company’s short-lived attempt to compete with the likes of Oasis and Snapple. I like to think that Robin finds discarded snippets like this in the bottom of his sock drawer and sells them off to passing art directors in 30-second stings.

Side 2

Bluebeard (from Four-Calendar Café).

In 1993 I was fed up with all the music in my collection and was listening to the radio in search of something new to get into. The moment I heard the gleaming guitar riff on this intro, I thought “That’s the one for me, I’ll go straight out and buy this.” By the time Liz’s vocals started, it was clear that everything I knew was true and that the world was spinning smoothly on its axis. Robin once said he couldn’t stand those Pink Floydy guitarists who can play all six strings at once; I think he manages at least three on this.

Sultitan Itan (from Tiny Dynamine).

Everything I read about Liz Fraser made her seem less real. Her favourite drink was Babycham and brandy. She cooked strawberries. Both of these were disgusting and expensive.

Heaven Or Las Vegas (from Heaven Or Las Vegas).

I chose nine out ten of these tracks without worrying about what anyone else was going to think. And then I had two problems – we need something from Heaven Or Las Vegas and we need one of those epic Side Two Showstoppers to propel us onwards.

Pur (from Four-Calendar Café).

In the natural order of Cocteau Twins albums, this is the where there’s a slow nebulous calm before the epic ending storm. With Pur, it’s fragile vulnerability erupting into velvet self-confidence. Sometimes, it pays not to listen to the words, just the voice. You risk getting a glimpse like this (and Bluebeard earlier) into an unhappy and crumbling relationship.

A Kissed-Out Red Floatboat (from Bluebell Knoll).

And this is how I want to die – this song is a Chinese lantern in the sunset. Let these exquisite twinkling harmonies, these shimmering tones lift you away into the ether like dandelion clocks in the breeze. Or caterwauling nonsense – you choose.

—oOo—

Mix and Match Bonus Session: These are the other songs I considered for track three on side two before chickening out and choosing Heaven Or Las Vegas:

(i) The Spangle Maker (from Pearly Dewdrops ep) – in the end this track is too big to be an album track. Leave it where it is with a whole side to itself;

(ii) Summerhead (from Four Calendar Café) – did they come full circle? This would have fitted on any Cocteau Twins album from Head Over heels onwards.

(iii) Squeeze-Wax (from Four-Calendar Café) – late period willowy breeziness at its very best.

Simply switch out one of these, according to taste. Other Sonic Cathedrals are available.

SHA

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF PAUL HAIG (Part 4)

Paul Morley, of New Musical Express (NME) was one of the most influential opinion-formers of the early 80s.

He was, certainly at one point in time, a huge fan of Paul Haig, suggesting in July 1982 that he, Billy Mackenzie, Jim Kerr and Martin Fry were the potential saviours of pop music. There’s no doubt that Morley was prone to exaggeration but his words and thoughts didn’t do Paul any harm.

Paul had continued to work in Belgium, recording material which ended up being shelved for a while, but not for reasons that the label didn’t want to issue it. Things were moving fast around Paul, thanks in part to his name being mentioned by Morley and others, and Crépuscule elected to accept an offer from Island Records for a licensing deal which resulted in a change of plans that stopped the release of a new single and an album of swing tunes.

Instead, in late 1982, financed by Island, Paul Haig found himself in New York, working with producer Alex Sadkin whose track record had included Grace Jones but was now primarily involved with The Thompson Twins, which perhaps gives an indication of the market where the label was intending to push Paul towards.

There were big expectations from Island for the first single through the new arrangements. It was an update on a track dating back to the Josef K days, although such was the work in the studio that it proved to be unrecognisable:-

mp3 : Paul Haig – Heaven Sent

Released with an Island Records catalogue number (IS111), it was a huge favourite at Strathclyde Students Union, possibly because myself and a few mates consistently asked for it to get played and we always ensured we got up and danced to it, and as time went on, so did many other regulars. It got a fair bit of radio play, certainly in Scotland, but the record-buying public didn’t take to it and it stalled at a bitterly disappointing #74.

The b-side of the 7″ was a remix of the cover of Running Away. The 12″ version of Heaven Sent is soooooo 80s, with all sorts of production tricks thrown at it and it extended out to not far short of double its length.

As I’ve said before, I’m not actually all that fond of the 12″ cut as the extra three and a bit minutes veers to being a tad self-indulgent. The b-side was also extended with a segue into one of Paul’s own songs:-

mp3 : Paul Haig – Heaven Sent (12″ version)
mp3 : Paul Haig – Running Away/Back Home

If you want to learn how different it was to the Josef K days of not much more than 18 months previously:-

mp3 : Josef K – Heaven Sent

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG :#135 : HOLLOW HORSE

I’ll begin by repeating the opening of a post from September 2017:-

I’ve been very fortunate in the near eleven years that this and the predecessor blog have been functioning to have been on the receiving end of a number of wonderful pieces of correspondence, most often by email but occasionally by post.

An example of the latter was when reader Phil Hogarth sent me over 3 x CDs, containing a total of 55 songs, that he thought I’d find entertaining. The songs were, for the most part, from Scottish singers and bands, some of whom I’d heard of but the majority of which were new to me. Those CDs arrived in 2009 or 2010 and I recall thinking to myself at the time that I must get round to posting a bundle of the better songs. But for one reason or another, I never got round to it….so what I’m going to do is fish out individual songs for inclusion in this series as and when the singer or band’s turn comes up.

It’s time again:-

mp3 : Hollow Horse – Forget The Girl

I’ve been able to establish that it’s the opening track of an album called Beggarstown, released in 2005,  Hollow Horse are a Glasgow quartet, comprising Kenny Little, David Wotherspoon, Ian Stevenson and Kevin Devlin, which formed in 2001 One reviewer has said of them “Sort of Crowded House meets Paul Weller with a twist of Roy Orbison and a subtle hint of Elvis Costello.”

There’s been three albums and more can be gleamed from here.

JC

AND THESE ARE MY INTENTIONS

Push Upstairs was the single which accompanied the release of Beaucoup Fish, the third studio album by Underworld released in March 1999.

It was an eagerly awaited moment, the band having not released any new material since 1996 and in the intervening period having become a household name thanks to Born Slippy (Nuxx) being one of the many great songs associated with the hit film Trainspotting.

It doesn’t disappoint whatsoever, offering again the big, throbbing and pounding beat and the near impossible to make out stream-of-conscious lyric while providing the bonus of an imaginative and superb use of a house-style piano loop. Once again, I found myself listening to an Underworld song and wishing I was a wee bit younger, wanting to head into a nightclub with some confidence and dance myself stupid until my legs gave way from under me, instead of feeling rattled and scared by those who patiently but loudly stood in the long snaking queues, often underneath leaden and damp skies in my home city.

mp3 : Underworld – Push Upstairs

I heard this again for the first time in a long while, thanks to a random appearance via the shuffle feature. It is genuinely outstanding…..

Here’s the two remixes made available on CD1:-

mp3 : Underworld – Push Upstairs (Roger S. Blue Plastic People Mix)
mp3 : Underworld – Push Upstairs (Adam Beyer Mix 1)

There may well be some of you who like these remixes but they simply act as a reminder of why I have my struggles with a lot of dance music and why it is that I prefer Underworld under their own steam to most others.

The single reached #12 and remains the band’s best-performing 45 chartwise outside of the big hit.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 16)

The seven minute epic which closed the breakthrough album, His’n’Hers, back in 1994.

We made our way slowly down the path that led to the stream,
Swaying slightly,
Drunk on the sun, I suppose.
It was a real summer’s day.
The air humming with heat whilst the trees beckoned us into their cool green shade.
And when we reached the stream I put a bottle of cider into the water to chill,
Both of us knowing that we’d drink it long before it had the chance.

This is where you want to be,
There’s nothing else but you and her,
And how you spend your time.

Walking to parties whilst it’s still light outside.
Peter was upset at first but now he’s in the garden talking to somebody Polish.
Why don’t we set up a tent and spend the night out there?
And we can pretend that we’re somewhere foreign,
But we’ll still be able to use the fridge if we get hungry, or too hot.

This is where you want to be,
There’s nothing else but you and her,
And how you use your time.

We went driving.

This is where you want to be,
There’s nothing else but you and her,
And how you use your time.

The room smells faintly of sun tan lotion
In the evening sunlight and when you take off your clothes,
You’re still wearing a small pale skin bikini.
The sound of children playing in the park comes from faraway,
And time slows down to the speed of the specks of dust
Floating in the light from the window.

Summer leaves fall from Summer trees.
Summer grazes fade on Summer knees.
Summer nights are slowly getting long.
Summer’s going so hurry soon it’ll be gone.

So we went out to the park at midnight one last time.
Past the abandoned glasshouse stuffed full of dying palms.
Past the bandstand down to the boating lake.
And we swam in the moonlight for what seemed like hours,
Until we couldn’t swim anymore.

And as we came out of the water we sensed a certain movement in the air,
And we both shivered slightly and ran to collect our clothes.
And as we walked home we could hear the leaves curling and turning
Brown on the trees,
And the birds deciding where to go for Winter.
And the whole sound,
The whole sound of Summer packing it’s bags and preparing to leave town.

Oh but I want you to stay.
Oh please stay for a while,
Oh I want you to stay,
Oh I want you to stay.

mp3 : Pulp – David’s Last Summer

JC