OOOH MATRON, A NIPPLE.

I remember there was quite the outcry over the sleeve for Beat The Clock, the single released by Sparks in July 1979 as the follow-up to Number One Song In Heaven which, earlier the same year, had taken the brotherly duo back into the charts after a four-year absence.

The problem for the big retail stores which sold records, such as Woolworth and WH Smiths, was that the picture sleeve featured a model, dressed in a lab coat, which was open to the waist and thus you could see her underwear which consisted of a see-through bra and thus a nipple was on display.  The image on the back sleeve was even more problematic for public display as it consisted of a full-length shot of the model in which she was ripping off her lab coat….the solution for such stores was to stock the single but only have it available from under the counter!

Things like this in 1979 caused outrage in the tabloid press, notwithstanding the fact that many of them also featured topless women on Page 3 of their publications as a matter of routine. There is no doubt that Russell and Ron Mael knew what they were doing when they agreed to the sleeve, no doubt egged on by those in charge at Virgin Records who quite liked the idea of the music industry still being able to shock society – it was no real surprise that the label was home to more post-punk/new wave acts than any other.

The annoying thing was that with Giorgio Moroder on board for the new material, there was no need to resort to such cheap and nasty gimmicks as the music was more than capable of delivering on its own merits. Still, there’s no doubt the sleeve helped shift a few more units as the single went all the way to #10, their biggest success since the initial one-two of This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us and Amateur Hour back in 1974.

The parent album only had six tracks and so there was a real lack of material for the b-side. An alternative mix was therefore offered up:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (single version)
mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (alternative mix)

The 12″ came in a quasi-picture disc format in that it was pressed in a way that it had a standard 12″ black or coloured vinyl on the outside edge with the music merging into a picture disc towards the central area. It offered up an extended version along with a gimmick:-

mp3: Sparks – Beat The Clock (long version)
mp3: Sparks – Untitled

The latter was a two-and-a-half minutes-long piece in which the comedian Peter Cook, acting as a lawyer who represents God, calls up Virgin Records to make a formal complaint that Sparks had no right to call their new album Number One in Heaven. The piece is put together in a way that snippets of tracks on the album are aired.

JC

ONE OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL, AND BEST, RECORDS OF ALL TIME

Having a bit more time on my hands, I’m now reading a fair bit about my twin loves of football and music, either in book form or digital format. Through a series of strange but slightly inter-connected things, I found myself landing on a piece in The Guardian newspaper back in May 2012, written by Jon Savage, whose recent book on Joy Division was reviewed on the blog a few months back.

I was fascinated that a writer whose best work is associated with punk/new wave/post-punk (or whatever phrase you want to come up for music in that vein) had penned a piece about one of the most exciting records I can ever recall hearing in my lifetime. He doesn’t waste a single word in the introduction…..

A cinematic drone comes in fast from silence, quickly overtaken by two synthesised rhythm tracks that will go in and out of phase for the next lifetime. On top, Donna Summer soars and swoops as she tackles the minimal lyric: “It’s so good [x five], “Heaven knows” [x five], “I feel love” [x five]. The words are so functional that her voice becomes another instrument, almost another machine, but then there is the real heart of the song: “Fallin’ free, fallin’ free, fallin’ free …”

I Feel Love was and remains an astonishing achievement: a futuristic record that still sounds fantastic 35 years on. Within its modulations and pulses, it achieves the perfect state of grace that is the ambition of every dance record: it obliterates the tyranny of the clock – the everyday world of work, responsibility, money – and creates its own time, a moment of pleasure, ecstasy and motion that seems infinitely expandable, if not eternal.

Savage’s article goes on to explain how the song came about, with producer Giorgio Moroder looking to create an album called I Remember Yesterday that would focus on the history of dance/R&B music but felt that he needed something not of the past or even of the now to complete the project, and how he contacted the owner of one of the largest Moog synths on the market to talk about programming it in a way to create a new vibrant sound.

The result was I Feel Love.  It wasn’t the first-ever synth song aimed at the dance or disco market, but it was the one, to my ears, that didn’t feel like a bit of a gimmick or synthetic. It was as much in your face as any tune that was being made by the trad line-up of vocal, guitar, bass and drums.

The album that Moroder, along with his production partner Pete Bellotte, was trying to create was a vehicle for Donna Summer, an American singer who had relocated to Munich in the late 60s and with whom they had been working with since 1974. There had been an initial worldwide success with the single Love To Love You Baby but things had been a bit quieter with subsequent singles and albums.

One interesting thing to note is that nobody was really quite sure if the world was ready for the sort of music that could be heard on I Feel Love. It was relegated to the b-side of Can’t We Just Sit Down (And Talk It Over), the first single released in May 1977 primarily to the American market to promote the forthcoming album. The a-side was about as far removed as can be imagined from what was on the reverse, a slow-paced ballad that veers between R&B and easy listening.

The single was also given a low-key release in some parts of mainland Europe where the singer had a fanbase. Word began to seep out that the almost six-minute long b-side was something a bit different and before long, some radio DJs began to play it while it was picked up by a number of those working in discos and nightclub:-

mp3: Donna Summer – I Feel Love (b-side version)

The decision was then taken to re-issue the single in May 1977, with a fresh pressing that would now put I Feel Love on the a-side but also trim a couple of minutes from it to make it more likely to be aired on daytime radio:-

mp3: Donna Summer – I Feel Love (7″ version)

This is the version that took the world by storm. As Savage recalled in the article:-

I Feel Love went to No 1 in the UK during the high summer of 1977, and stayed there for four weeks – filling dance floors everywhere, because it’s so good so good to dance to. Like David Bowie’s Low and Heroes, and Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, it was also the secret vice of those punks who were already tiring of sped-up pub rock, and it sowed the seeds for the next generation of UK electronica.

As was the practice back in the days of the disco singles, a 12″ piece of vinyl with an extended version was soon available in the shops…..this one took the song all the way beyond 8 minutes and was the version most played in the clubs:-

mp3: Donna Summer – I Feel Love (12″ version)

I’ll leave the last word to Savage. As ever, he nails it.

I’m guessing many of you will have heard I Feel Love pumped out loud, will have felt moved to dance, and will have felt time stop, the instant prolonged. Something of that feeling attaches itself to the record wherever it’s heard, and it never gets dulled by repetition – or endless imitation. I must have heard I Feel Love a thousand times and it still takes my breath away: it’s one of the great records of the 20th century, and the name on the label is Donna Summer.

JC

A RATHER ASTONISHING FACT

Back in 1977, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers enjoyed a very substantial hit here in the UK with Egyptian Reggae.

By substantial, I mean it reached #5 and spent an astonishing 14 weeks on the chart, entering on 29 October 1977 and leaving on 28 January 1978. Ten of those weeks were spent in the Top 30, and the other four in positions 31-50; if the chart had been a Top 75 as it would expand to a few years later, then there’s every chance it could have spent the best part of six months hanging around.

I’ve no doubt that the UK public saw it as a novelty song above all else. It was an instrumental that sounded vaguely amusing, taking a piece of reggae and giving it something of an Arabic twist. The mid-late 70s were horrendously racist in many parts of the UK and I fear that many folk bought it for the sake of poking fun at one or more cultures rather than appreciating the work of The Modern Lovers.

It came on the back of Roadrunner being a hit in July 1977, but there hasn’t been a sniff of chart success ever since. The parent album from which Egyptian Reggae was lifted, Rock’n’Roll With The Modern Lovers spent three weeks in the charts but none of the subsequent releases have sold enough copies in the UK to crack the Top 100. I would hazard a guess and say that the vast majority of those who bought Egyptian Reggae wouldn’t have given Jonathan a further thought until they came across him in the 1998 film Something About Mary.

Here’s the two sides of the single:-

mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Egyptian Reggae
mp3: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – Rollercoaster By The Sea

The b-side is a fun listen. Almost makes for a decent short story!

The a-side came from this:-

mp3: Earl Zero – None Shall Escape The Judgment

Earl Zero (born Earl Anthony Johnson) is a Jamaican reggae singer and while he wrote this track, it remained unknown until another singer from Kingston recorded his version:-

mp3: Johnny Clarke – None Shall Escape The Judgment

Rather cheekily (and that’s me being polite……), the writing credit for Egyptian Reggae was given solely to Jonathan Richman.

JC

EVERYONE’S YOUR FRIEND IN NEW YORK CITY (4b)

Looking back at the Bacchanalian nights of my early 20’s living in NYC, most of the fun I had was in The Limelight Night Club on 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Chelsea. Less than a year after opening, my friends and I had found our way to become regulars in the club’s third floor VIP room know as The Library.

The Library had a front entrance at the top of a staircase with de rigueur velvet rope and a VERY sarcastic, almost urchin-like attendant named Leo. The thing was, if you could match his wit you could easily gain entrance, permanent entrance in our case…It didn’t hurt that my friends Christine, Mimi and Sandi – The Girls, as I had dubbed them, were all great looking and very outgoing. They were like three-dimensional calling cards…

The Library was managed by one of downtown NYC’s denizens, Fred Rothbell-Mista. He knew everybody and how to show them a great time. There was a cash bar in The Library, something that would be a feature of all of club impresario Peter Gatien’s clubs, but you couldn’t buy a drink from the bartender, you had to go though a short, amphetamine driven, “Mockney” by the name of Neville Wells. Neville was a miniature Bob Hoskins mixed with a bit of Michael Caine in Alfie, but man he was a lot of fun. Thing was, for every drink patrons in The Library attempted to purchase, they would likely be fed 3 or 4 more for free, once things in the room got going. Neville worked for the tips and the club just wanted happy beautiful people.

On any given night of the week, you could find Johnny Ramone or Billy Idol mingling with Herbie Hancock, or Tom Hanks, or some popular soap opera diva. Grace Jones, a long time friend of Peter Gatien held court there whenever in town and even snagged her longtime partner, Dolph Lundgren from among the club’s bouncers in those early years of the club. But most importantly to the club, and especially it’s Head Publicist, Claire O’Connor, was that it was a safe place for visiting Rock, Pop or Hip Hop artists to go out in NYC. Many bands playing in NYC would skip the after-show party and show up at Limelight to just relax and have a good and relatively quiet after-show night in NYC.

So that’s your setup….

One night in the late Fall of 1984, The Girls and I met up to go to Limelight. We were on a mission. The previous night, we were having a ball in The Library with Perri Lister, Billy Idol’s long time partner and a few of the guys from The Uptown Horns.

In came Simon Le Bon, John Taylor and Nick Rhodes. Much as we tried that night, we couldn’t really get the Brummies to join in our frivolity. It’s not that they weren’t friendly, they just seemed to not be used to the democracy of The Library. Any engagement was short and didn’t seem to hold their interest for long. So we left them to their own devices and didn’t really notice when they left.

mp3: Duran Duran – Notorious

Later in the night I was talking to the room manager Fred and related how they seemed a bit like fish out of water, but Fred told me they had a great time and planned on being back the next night after doing some publicity events. I related this to The Girls who agreed we had to be back the next night and get them to let down their hair a bit. I’m sure I made a smart comment about hairspray and how difficult that might literally be to pull off…

So back to the next night’s mission. I got a call from Sandi to tell me that she and Mimi had been out after work and stopped by a 99¢ Store and purchased a bunch of plastic water pistols that we would be bringing with us to the club. They were dead set on getting the Brummie Boys to get into the spirit whether they liked it or not. I thought, oh yeah this should be fun!

Later that night we arrived at Limelight, sometime close to Midnight. The Library was buzzy, but not crowded, as it was a Thursday night. We spotted Perri Lister and Billy Idol and sat with them, letting only Perri in on our plan. She was certainly game and excited to see how things unfolded.

Not much more than a half-hour after we had arrived, Simon and John arrived and Nick came with his wife Julianne. Nick and Julianne sat a bit separate from Simon and John, but still within chatting distance and they were all on sofas on the opposite side of the room from us.

Perri Lister started to pester us about when the fun was going to begin. I wanted to it to go off right and not seem like an unwelcome ambush. To this end I asked Christine and Perri to go fill the bag of water pistols in the ladies room and the rest of us would take the opportunity to chat with Simon and John. You could tell Nick and Julianne were a bit more preoccupied so it made sense to leave them be. After a few pleasantries, I could tell the guys were in a much looser and friendly mood and this would play right into our hand. Mimi met up with Christine and Perri coming back from filling the pistols with “ammo” and as they came back over to where Sandi and I were with Simon and John, Perri shout “alright, this is a stick up!” and threw a water pistol each to Sandi and I and we all just stood there pointing our pistols at Simon and John.

Simon began cracking up and John actually raised his hands up in the air. Mimi then pulled out another two water pistols and threw them at the boys. Well that was all that they needed to break out of their shells! Before any of us to squeeze our triggers, Simon started shooting a steady stream of water at Sandi and I.

Next thing you know we all scattered around The Library using the sofas as barricades and taking shots at each other. After a couple of minutes I realized that Nick and Julianne were hysterically laughing and so I offered my pistol to Nick so he could join in. He was all about it! Rather than go after one of The Girls, he went straight for John! I found refuge with Billy Idol who at this point was laughing hysterically and slapped me so hard on my back that I flew off the sofa on to the floor.

mp3: Duran Duran – Wild Boys

Thing really got going once Neville persuaded Mimi to give him a pistol and he started running around quoting lines from spaghetti westerns (he was of course a would-be actor). Neville would gather up any empty pistols and recharge them with water from behind the bar and the next thing you knew everyone in The Library was calling for a pistol to have a go. Having recovered from my moment on the floor and a few Jack and Cokes in me, I grabbed two of the pistols and challenged Billy Idol to a duel.

Fred heard my challenge and at the top of his lungs yelled out “Hold Your Fire! We have a duel!” Fred proceeded to choose each of us seconds and cleared the center of the floor. He put Billy and myself back to back and had us walk 5 paces (they were water guns after all) and turn before firing. Well I did have revenge on my mind and as soon as I turned I began firing right at Billy’s face. He just broke up in laughter and never got a shot off! In fact, it seemed like everyone in the room with a water pistol began firing in his direction!

mp3: Billy Idol – Don’t Need A Gun

This water pistol melee continued for about an hour and at some point many of the pistols seemed to have either Vodka or Whiskey in them. So by the end, most people were just shooting those pistols directly in their own mouths. Simon, John and Nick were all as drenched as any of us and had great fun. I remember that Julianne had managed to stay relatively unscathed in all the fracas.

Around 2:30am, Claire O’Connor arrived in The Library and Fred Rothbell-Mista told him of the goings-on she had missed. She ran over to me and I thought, right I’m done for. First words out of her mouth was “DID ANYONE TAKE PICTURES?” to which I replied in the negative. She just slumped on the sofa next to me. Then she sprang back to life and asked me if I thought Page Six would run the item even without a picture? Now I was a regular source of nightlife gossip to Page Six of The New York Post (sorry did I forget to mention that in the setup?), so I told her I could only offer the story and see if they ran with it.

I went with her to her office and called the night editor at The Post and found that I had missed the deadline for the second edition of the next day’s paper, but he liked the story and would see if he could get it in the following Monday’s edition. Claire was disappointed, but I told her that they ran a lot of my blind items.

Come the Monday, I bought a copy of The Post on the way into the subway heading to a morning of classes on Music Theory and Political Science and opened to Page Six as I sat down on the #7 Train. There it was, second item down titled “Water Pistols At Dawn!” As much as I would love to embellish and say I was listening to Duran Duran on my Walkman on the trip into Manhattan from Queens, I can guarantee it was more likely The Bunnymen, Simple Minds or Talking Heads.

On the way up from classes, and before heading to work in midtown that afternoon, I stopped by The Limelight and headed up to Claire O’Connor’s office to be greeted by a big hug and kiss and her famous loud laughter. I looked over, after being released from her bear hug, to see Peter Gatien sitting on the couch in her office and he looked up at me and said thanks for the story in the Post.

mp3: Duran Duran – Is There Something I Should Know

In the new year, I would find myself with the role of junior publicist at The Limelight, thanks to that night of wet and wild with Duran Duran. I worked with The Limelight on the club’s Rock and Roll Church nights where we booked acts like Johnny Thunders and a secret gig by Guns And Roses, a 4th of July show with Batcave veterans Specimen and later Communion at Limelight where Goth and Industrial bands would play to a packed house.

But my favorite job was joining in and instigating the fun in The Library at Limelight.

Echorich

EVERYONE’S YOUR FRIEND IN NEW YORK CITY (4a)

JC writes……..

A few years back, my friends Echorich and Jonny the Friendly Lawyer collaborated on a short series of posts celebrating life and growing up in New York City.  I’ve kept the link to all three parts over on the right-hand side of the blog (if on a laptop) or underneath (if you’re scrolling down on some other device) under the heading of Everyone’s Your Friend In New York.

Almost four years after the third installment, the dynamic duo have returned with part 4, which I’ve split into two sections over today and tomorrow.  Jonny sets the scene rather well today while Echorich’s tale, if my reaction to reading it is anything to go by, should generate a great deal of amusement and awe in equal measures.

My thanks, again to the two of them for sharing such amazing and precious memories.  It’s another reminder that the guest contributions, whether through postings or comments, are really what makes this little corner of t’internet seem that bit more special.

Over now to Jonny………………….

The Limelight was a huge, 19th century Gothic deconsecrated church on the corner of 20th Street and 6th Avenue. It opened as a nightclub around 1982. A fair number of famous bands played there but the place was really more known as a dance club. Actually, in its day it was THE dance club in NYC—ground zero for 80’s scenesters and a farm league for star DJ’s. This 2-part episode of Everyone’s Your Friend in New York City focuses on your humble authors’ personal experiences with this hallowed venue which, by the way, is still standing on the same Chelsea corner in all its grim-faced stone glory. You can read all about the venerable edifice (and the crimes and films and legends that grew out of it) here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limelight#New_York_City_location

I passed by the Limelight all the time because I lived nearby on 23rd St. It was a massive, byzantine structure that was always jam-packed, with a line around the block to get in. I went there a few times, as did everyone in the city in the 80’s, but not too often. I wasn’t what you’d call a club boy or much of a dancer back in the day. But when the chance arose for my band, Chronic Citizens, to play there you can bet we jumped at it.

It was impossible to get gigs in the city (it still is). There are only so many venues and there are 10,000 bands trying to get a look in. There was no way to get your name out apart from wheat-pasting flyers to walls and phone poles in the dead of night. No local radio station would play your music, even if you could afford to record and press any. You could hang around CB’s and bug Hilly until he put you on the bill, but only because he had a kind heart. The major indie venues—The Ritz, Peppermint Lounge, Knitting Factory, Danceteria—were booked solid with famous international acts. So, it was a very big deal to get the nod to play the Limelight, even if it wasn’t the main stage.

Unlike other dives the Citizens played, the Limelight was a proper venue with a major-league green room. The five of us and assorted girlfriends and comrades piled in, where we met our opening act, a group of scrawny kids from New Jersey called, if I remember correctly, the Orphans. They were a four-piece but their bassist hadn’t arrived yet. We were all shocked when the door opened and bus trays were delivered filled with beer on ice! Unknown bands were treated like shit as a matter of policy in the city, and here we were having beer delivered to our dressing room! Not only that but a quart of milk and a pot of coffee for the road crew we didn’t have. We descended on the beer like locusts and, in short order, an impromptu jam began. I can’t recall what else we did but I distinctly remember one song in particular: We plugged in our amps and played a 20-minute version of Sweet Jane, with about 12-15 of us slamming in on the chorus.

mp3: The Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

We sort of got carried away with our rock star fantasy because someone from the venue politely entered and advised that we were supposed to be performing in the club, not getting plastered in the green room. This proved to be a bit of a problem for the Orphans, whose bass player was still on the wrong side of the Hudson. So we decided to open for ourselves. We broke down the drum kit and amps and set them back up in one of the antechambers or side chapels or whatever you call the ancillary rooms in churches adjacent to the main cathedral. There was always a good crowd in the Limelight and it was just fun playing a set with the knowledge that, when it was over, we could say we’d done it.

I don’t remember too many of the details of the show as we were decently uninhibited by the largesse of the management. I was also distracted by the presence in the audience of the sister of an old school friend. We’d recently met up at a party and she’d hinted it might be fun to get together without her brother around, an idea I was very much in favor of. The performance was a bit of a blur, if I’m honest, me pretending to be a rock star who played famous venues where the management showered us with booze and young ladies turned up so we could leave together. That wasn’t true, but it was true for a night anyway. I know we would have played our theme song.

mp3: Chronic Citizens – Chronic Citizens

We finished up and piled back into the green room to see if the Orphans had left any of the complimentary libations. They were looking pretty forlorn as their bassist still hadn’t shown up. The singer approached me and asked if I’d sit in for their missing mate. I declined—I didn’t know their songs and had a rendezvous I was eager to keep. The rest of them pleaded with me; they were going to miss their chance to play the Limelight!

So I agreed to play the only song from their set I knew: ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’ by Johnny Thunders. As they were setting up the singer sheepishly admitted that he didn’t actually know the words. Right. I found a pen and looked for something to write on, the minutes passing uncomfortably. The only thing I could find was the carton of milk sent by the Limelight angels, so that’s what I used. And so it came to pass that I played the Thunders classic at the Limelight, trying not to laugh and screw up the bass part while the singer squinted at my scrawled lyrics on the side of a milk carton he was holding aloft in the dim light of the stage.

mp3: Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

That was more than enough for me. I packed up my gear and headed toward home three blocks west, still jazzed by the whole experience. I only played a few more shows with the Citizens before the band split and I put my fledgling music career on hold for thirty years. But I could always say I played the Limelight! The image of the hapless Orphans’ frontman holding a mic in one hand and the milk carton in the other still makes me smile. And it was unforgettable being treated like rock royalty.

It would be decades, and only through the good offices of our host JC, before I learned that the beer trays had been sent to the Limelight green room by…Echorich.

Jonny the Friendly Lawyer

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 7)

After a few questionable choices of singles, 1986 saw the release of what was arguably one of R.E.M.’s best-ever singles. Fall On Me was a prelude to the band’s fourth album ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ (no apostrophe again), though in many ways it didn’t tell the whole story of what that record would sound like.

In terms of what Fall On Me is about, you just need to read the Wikipedia article as it sums it all up nicely. I want to talk about my personal thoughts of the song and where it stands among R.E.M.’s canon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fall_on_Me_(R.E.M._song)

In one of my many musings on R.E.M. over at my place, I mentioned that ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard, shortly after ‘Document’. I was struck by the quality of the songs which I found to be more accessible and melodic than much of what I’d heard previously. It was an album I listened to for months and months on end, even though it was getting on for two years old at the time. I had copied my friend’s cassette of it, and had it on one side of a C90.

(The other side was ‘Strangeways Here We Come’ by The Smiths, in case you were wondering. I had a Walkman practically surgically implanted onto my hip and for quite a while I only listened to those two albums on repeat.)

After the loud rush of the opening two numbers, Fall On Me came into play. I was yet to discover the wonders of the first three R.E.M. albums so I wasn’t to know that this song was probably the most similar to those earlier recordings. The one thing that struck me immediately though was the vocal, or rather the vocals, plural. Fall On Me has what could be the best interaction between Stipe and Mills of all. The harmonies and counter melodies were divine and I’d argue probably never bettered by the band over their next 25 years.

I might contradict that last sentence a few times in future articles.

It remains one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. Whenever I attempt to sing along, I find myself alternating between the lead and backing vocals, especially during the closing refrain. I even sing Bill Berry’s parts. Hopefully you never have to hear that.

In the UK, where the band was building an ever-growing following but had still to crack any mainstream outlet, Fall On Me didn’t chart. Which is quite incredible, when you think about it. In the US however, it made the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, while also rising to the dizzy heights of #5 in the Mainstream Rock charts, meaning it was the fifth most-played song on US rock radio stations during that week.

mp3: R.E.M – Fall On Me

R.E.M. were not the greatest b-side band, often presenting unused demos, live tracks, covers and nonsense songs on their flips. Fall On Me was no exception. The 7” in all territories included the jazz-tinged instrumental Rotary Ten, a short, inessential throwaway item. Of more interest was the bonus track on the 12”, a cover of Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic. This was R.E.M. properly rocking out, Stipe sneering Stephen Tyler’s lyrics with real attitude and Buck doing a bonafide rock guitar solo. It’s good fun and was played live quite a bit during the Reconstruction and Pageantry tours.

mp3: R.E.M – Rotary Ten
mp3: R.E.M. – Toys In The Attic

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #221 : THE NEEDLES

I’ve one song by The Needles on the hard drive, courtesy of its inclusion on a CD given away free with a newspaper back in July 2007 featuring bands who were part of a Scottish Arts Council effort to promote music at the 2007 South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

I had to look up wiki and was surprised to find out more and was surprised to find there was quite a lot in there:-

The Needles were a four-piece band who formed in their mid-teens in late 1990s Aberdeen, relocating to Glasgow in 2001. Influenced heavily by 1960s garage punk and late 70s new wave/powerpop, their first limited-edition single on newly formed indie label Lithium Records sold out within weeks of its release, and the follow-up “We Got the Soul” continued the momentum, garnering positive notices in the Melody Maker and NME, as well as airplay on Radio 1’s Evening Session.

Various delays and false dawns followed, and although they continued to release records for a good few years afterwards, switching to the better-funded Dangerous Records in 2002, this early momentum was never truly regained, although their last three singles, “Dianne, Summer Girls, and, Girl I Used To Know”, received a degree of exposure on MTV2, Radio 1, and XFM.

The Needles recorded several sessions for the BBC, most notably for the Mark Lamarr show on Radio 2 in 2006, and played their last gig with the original line-up at the South by Southwest music festival in Texas in 2007, before finally calling it a day later that year.

One of the singles made it onto the Sunday Herald CD:-

mp3: The Needles – Dianne

I probably listened to the track once and then forgot all about it till now.  I gave it another listen recently and was, again, completely underwhelmed.  Rob Webb, in reviewing the album In Search of The Needles, for Drowned in Sound, was quite scathing but on the basis of the above three minutes, it’s hard to disagree:-

This is a “much-anticipated debut” according to the blurb, and with their first EP released over two years ago it’s clearly been a long time in the making. Don’t expect any tortuous, finger bending solos or complex bass lines, though, because these are some of the most straightforward guitar ditties you’ll hear all year, the kind you’d take home and ravage before booking them a taxi without offering breakfast.

You see, The Needles’ sound is a bit like a gang of page-three models: perky, pretty but ultimately lacking in substance. Bits of punk, bits of rock but always with an indie-pop core, In Search Of The Needles is chock-full of tunes you can hum. It’s a pity, then, that the relentless pace of the record means it’s hard to get truly engrossed in the music.

Feel free to express alternative opinions, or otherwise, via the comments section.

JC

LOST AGAIN

The story of how Yello came to be is brilliantly bonkers.

Formed, in Switzerland in 1976 by Boris Blank (keyboards, sampling, percussion, backing vocals) and Carlos Perón (tapes). They needed money and a vocalist, and they conveniently found both in the shape of Dieter Meier, a millionaire industrialist and professional gambler who was some ten years older than the duo.

Before too long, they were down to a duo of Blank and Meier, and throughout the 80s released a number of albums and singles packed with electronic pop music, although it could be argued their greater fame came, initially, via their pioneering work in videos to promote their music.

They came to the attention of a wider public in 1986 when their song Oh Yeah was included on the soundtrack of the hugely successful comedy film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The following year, their invitation to have Shirley Bassey contribute a guest vocal to a song called The Rhythm Divine – a song that would also be recorded later on with a guest vocal by Billy Mackenzie, brought them column inches in the UK newspapers, with Ms. Bassey saying it was the most Bond-eqsue vocal she had delivered in decades.  In 1988, Yello would enjoy a Top 10 hit in the UK with The Race, the only meaningful commercial success they ever had here.

Today’s piece of vinyl was pulled out of the cupboard after the lead song, Lost Again, came up on random play on the i-pod and it’s one that pre-dates all of the success, released in late 1983 on Stiff Records. One of the formats was a 2×7″ release containing four songs:-

mp3: Yello – Lost Again
mp3: Yello – Base For Alec
mp3: Yello – Let Me Cry
mp3: Yello – She’s Got A Gun

More experimental than mainstream, but in saying that I have long been convinced that Billy Mackenzie contributed an uncredited backing vocal to the track Let Me Cry…but then again, it could just be an elongated synth note that has been bent well out of shape.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 36)

A GUEST POSTING by flimflamfan

Next / Au Suivant
Written by: Jacques Brel, Mort Shuman, Eric Blau

N.E.X.T. Next!

Naked a sin
An army towel, wrapped around my belly
Some of us weep, some of us howl
Knees turn to jelly, but Next! Next!

I was just a child
A hundred like me
I followed a naked body
A naked body followed me, Next! Next!

I was just a child when my innocence was lost
In a mobile army whorehouse
A gift of the army, free of cost. Next! Next! Next!

Me, I really would have liked a little bit of tenderness
Maybe a word, maybe a smile, maybe some happiness, but Next! Next!

It was not so tragic
and heaven did not fall
And how much at that time
I hated being there at all, Next! Next!

I still recall the brothel trucks, the flying flags
The queer lieutenant slapped our arses
Thinking we were fags. Next! Next! Next!

I swear on the wet head of my first case of gonorrhea
It is his ugly voice that I forever fear, Next! Next!

A voice that stinks of whisky, corpses and of mud
You took the voice of nations
The thick voice of blood, Next! Next!

Since then each woman I have taken into bed
They seem to lie in my arms
And they whisper in my head, Next! Next! Next!

Oh, the naked and the dead
Could hold each other’s hands
As they watch me dream at night
In a dream that nobody understands
And though I am not dreaming in a voice grown dry ‘n’ hollow
I stand on endless naked lines of the following and the followed
Next! Next!
One day I’ll cut my legs off
I’ll burn myself alive
I’ll do anything to get out of life, to survive
Not ever to be next, Next! Next!
Not ever to be next, not ever

These lyrics reflect the live version below. If ever a lyric outlined the inhumanity of war and the desperation of those ‘lucky’ to still be alive it is this.

Yesterday I received an email from a friend noting that he had downloaded some Alex Harvey and was quite enjoying it. My friends and I’s musical enjoyment rarely converges as he sits very much at the experimental rock side of the musical spectrum. I once recall asking him to turn off a Frank Zappa song as it was making me feel nauseous.

Anyway, it surprised me that he wasn’t well versed in Mr Harvey? I like The Sensational Alex Harvey Band but not enough that I could be described as a fan. I was introduced to the band when I was about 10 or 11 via the LP Next. It was actually the song Next that had me hooked with the line “The queer lieutenant slapped our arses. He’s thinking we were fags. Next! Next! Next!” It made an impression for 2 reasons:

1. That absolute Glaswegian drawl. I’d never heard anything like it.
2. He said “queer” “arses” and “fags”. Although I’m not sure at that age I’d have understood ‘fag’. A cigarette, perhaps? Yes, definitely a cigarette.

I don’t often listen to the one Sensational Alex Harvey Band LP I own – a compilation – but I do listen to Next on a semi-regular basis and not just Harvey’s version. The version I listen to more regularly is the original by Jacques Brel. I can say with some conviction that I am a Brel fan and have been since my early teens – probably not long after I heard Harvey’s version – my friend’s dad, French himself, constantly played French language music – Brel, of course, being Belgian. I was smitten by this ‘different’ music and have no real idea as to why? I really enjoyed it but understood none of it. I couldn’t even say – even now – if the English version of Next captures the literal sense of the original?

Harvey provided what I believe to be a mesmerising version on The Old Grey Whistle Test. Watching the video this morning I was still moved by it. It’s an exceptional performance and one that may very well capture the first, raw, Glaswegian singing voice on television. To all those that came later in the 90s espousing a ‘Scottish vocal sound’ a debt is owed.

Brel’s live performances of the song are equally as engaging. I have chosen a performance credited (Madagascar) but can’t verify that. The recorded version of this song is a favourite but live, well, it comes alive. This is my favourite live version. He takes on the characters within the songs gesticulating wildly as he does so. It’s far from someone singing a song it’s an artistic performance and utterly captivating. Brel according to Wikipedia “…is considered a master of the modern chanson”. I don’t disagree.

mp3: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Next
mp3: Jacques Brel -Au Suivant

flimflamfan

 

A SHORT POSTSCRIPT TO YESTERDAY

I made passing reference yesterday to Somewhere In My Heart, which peaked at #3 in the summer of 1988 and easily provided the most commercially successful moment in the long career of Roddy Frame.

It had been the third single lifted from Love, following on from Deep & Wide and Tall (#79) and How Men Are (#25). Record label bosses can never resist the temptation to cash-in, especially on the back of an unpredicted success, and so the decision was taken to lift a fourth single from the album, despite it only having nine tracks all told:-

mp3: Aztec Camera – Working In A Goldmine

There’s actually quite a lot to like about Working In A Goldmine from a Smooth Radio/Easy Listening perspective. Indeed, if it had been recorded by one of the singers associated with soulful ballads, it could well have become an instant classic and beloved today by those who take part on TV talent shows. BUT, and it’s a huge but, it just doesn’t sound like an Aztec Camera song in any shape or form. It did the job, however, as far as the label was concerned, getting to #31 and helping boost further the sales of the parent album.

Despite the fact that the song came in at just under 6 minutes in length, it wasn’t edited down in any shape or form when committed to 7″ vinyl.

The fact there were just nine songs on Love is evidence that Roddy was struggling a bit for material, and it is no surprise that the b-sides to the various singles consisted of cover versions:-

mp3: Aztec Camera – Bad Education
mp3: Aztec Camera – The Red Flag
mp3: Aztec Camera – I Threw It All Away (live)

The first, which is on the flip side to Deep, Wide & Tall, is a cover of a track to be found on the 1982 debut album by Blue Orchids, the band founded by Martin Bramah when he took his leave of The Fall and whose other members included Una Baines, another musician who had taken her leave of MES and crew.

The middle track sees Roddy offer his take on the famous socialist anthem, whose words were written in 1889 by Jim Connell and is set to the tune of the German carol O Tannenbaum, which we in the English-speaking parts of the world know as O Christmas Tree.  It was offered up as the b-side to How Men Are.

The final song is the flip-side of Working In A Goldmine. It’s a cover of a song released by Bob Dylan on his 1969 album Nashville Skyline. It’s taken straight from the vinyl of the single and is a tad rough’n’ready….it also, judging by the ‘Cheers…..Goodnight’ shout at the end of the recording, the song that closed off either the main set or an encore.

It’s from the show at Colston Hall, Bristol on 23 June 1988, right at the time when Somewhere In My Heart was at its peak in the singles charts which perhaps is a pointer as to why some of the crowd who are screaming are perhaps not atypical of the sort of audience Roddy attracted before, or since.  Worth mentioning too that it’s a venue which will most likely see a name change quite soon as there’s been a fair bit of controversy in recent times about the bloke whose name is attached to it.

The b-side to Somewhere In My Heart wasn’t a cover, and instead was a remix of one of the album’s other tracks:-

mp3: Aztec Camera – Everybody Is A Number One (Boston ’86 Version)

I’ve said before that I’ve little time for this particular offering. Nor its a-side…….

JC

THE BIG HITS…..30 YEARS ON (7)

July 1990.  The beginning of the second summer of love.  I know that a few of you out there were heavily involved in all that was happening in clubs and fields;  I am, in some ways quite jealous, but at the same time I don’t think I’m prepared to any accept offer from a time machine operator to experience the late 80s/early 90s and in doing so lose everything I’d gone through ten years previous.

In due course, the UK singles charts would begin to increasingly reflect what was going on out there in the fields, but for the most part they remain this month packed with the sort of dross, pap and utter shite that clogged up the airwaves of most radio stations.

The month began with Elton John in the middle of what would prove to be a five-week run at the top with Sacrifice, managing against the odds to fend off Luciano Pavarotti whose Nessun Dorma had gained huge exposure on a daily basis as the theme of the BBC coverage of the 1990 World Cup.  The fact that Elton would be displaced eventually at the top with a tune called Turtle Power by Partners in Kryme (and yes, like the rest of you I can’t recall this one at all), gives you an indication that the area around top of the charts wasn’t vintage this month. Further down, there were some gems waiting to be unearthed amidst a ginormous pile of horse manure.

Come Home – James

The band’s hard work over the previous years was beginning to bear fruit.  How Was It For You? had earlier in the year provided a Top 40 hit while new album Gold Mother had gone int at #16, albeit it fell down the placings the following week.  Fontana Records were aware that some of the back catalogue stood a great chance of success, in the same way as had been enjoyed by contemporaries such as Happy Mondays and Stone Roses, and so the 1989 single that had flopped when issued by Rough Trade was handed to uber-producer Flood.  It came in on 1 July at #32 but that was as high as it managed.  James‘s commercial ascendancy lay further down the road.

The Crying Scene – Aztec Camera

Roddy Frame had delivered a new album to WEA that they were a bit flummoxed by.  The previous album, Love (1987) has been slick and glossy. providing in due course a huge hit in Somewhere In My Heart.  The new album, Stray, was more slow-paced, introvert and had just one real candidate for a single, if you chose to ignore the potential of a  collaboration with a former member of the Clash.   Not surprisingly, the label issued the song most likely to get airplay, even though it wasn’t that great, memorable or distinct a number.  Despite being issued on 7″, 10″ and CD format, The Crying Scene limped in at #73 in the first week of July before going up to #70 the following week and then disappearing into the bargain bins.  The b-side offered up a cover of a Cyndi Lauper hit single which is so lovely that I have to include it here.

True Colours – Aztec Camera

And that, was as good as it got for new entries in the first week of July 1990.  The second week saw this come in at #4

One Love – Stone Roses

Up until now, all the chart hits for Stone Roses had been re-releases of old material. One Love was different and it entering the charts at #4, offered an indication that mainstream success for what was previously underground was a distinct possibility.  The single didn’t go Top 3 but it did hang around the lower and middle reaches for a further six weeks.

I’m Free – Soup Dragons (feat. Junior Reid)

Those of us up here in the Glasgow area who had watched Soup Dragons be part of the twee, occasionally shambolic but always guitar-based Bellshill scene (along with the likes of BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub) were stunned, bemused and delighted to see the band take the singles charts by storm by hitching their wagon to the Madchester sound.

To be fair, lead singer Sean Dickson was now pursuing his real love in terms of music, and the dance-floor is where he has remained over the past 30 years, never remotely interested in going back to the style his band had previously been best known for.  I’m Free was a cover of a relatively little-known album track recorded in 1965 by the Rolling Stones.  This version came in at #28 and eventually went to #5.  Junior Reid, the lead vocalist for UK reggae band Black Uhuru, provided the distinctive toast verse in the middle of the song.

Kill Your Television – Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

The crusties and the grebos were also beginning to enjoy some commercial success, thanks in many ways to the old fashioned method of the bands going out on the road, gigging constantly and earning a fanbase who loved the energy of the shows.  Ned’s Atomic Dustbin cracked the lower end of the charts with their sophomore single – it also went to #1 in the Indie Singles Chart.  It’s a barnstormer of a tune, and while they would have bigger hits in later times, this has proven to be their signature tune.

Beef – Gary Clail On-U Sound System (12″ version)

An ode to vegetarianism from the Bristol-based singer/producer.  On-U Sound had been around for much of the decade, founded by Adrian Sherwood and specialising in dub/reggae music, although this minor hit leans more towards Italian house. The main lyric is a rework of Bring The Noize with “Bass! How low can you go? Death row, what a brother knows” becoming “Beef! How low can you go? Hear the cattle cry, death row.”

Despite not getting much in the way of airplay, Beef did reach #64, while Gary Clail would enjoy a top 10 hit in 1991 with Human Nature.

There’s not a huge amount to write home about in the charts of 15 and 22 July, albeit twenty-eight singles first entered the charts over those two weeks. These have some merit….

Return To Brixton – The Clash

Long after the band had broken up, CBS continued to shove out material for cash-in purposes. Beats International had used The Guns of Brixton as the basis for Dub Be Good To Me (as featured in a previous edition of this series) and just to prove that very point, and to promote a newly remastered edition of London Calling some 10 years after the original, a slight remix of the original was issued as Return to Brixton.  It entered at #57 on 15 July but got no higher.

Tom’s Diner – DNA featuring Suzanne Vega

The American songstress had enjoyed a very minor hit in 1987 with a song celebrating a New York restaurant that she often frequented.  Three years later, the vocal was taken by two British record producers who went by the name of DNA and mixed with the tune from Keep on Movin’ by Soul II Soul.  It was initially pressed up as a club track only but as soon as the bosses at A&M Records heard it, they turned the screw on the producers and took ownership of the track, releasing it as a bona fide single which came in at #13 on 22 July and eventually went to #2 where it spent three weeks (which I’ll return to next month).

Incidentally, and I only learned this while researching for this piece, Tom’s Diner was the song the electrical engineer and mathematician, Karlheinz Brandenburg, used for the testing process as he developed and refined the audio compression scheme that we know as mp3.

Velouria – Pixies

The profile of the Boston-based band had rocketed from the adoration heaped on them by the critics, many of whom had named Doolittle as the best album of 1989.  Velouria was the first new song since then and it smashed into the charts at #28 on 22 July.

It’s On – Flowered Up

Another band whose reputation was down to live shows, critical acclaim and making the sort of music that fitted in perfectly with all that was happening around them.  The debut single made the charts at a time when many other bands usually needed two or three goes to get it right, entering at #64 on 22 July , eventually peaking two weeks later some ten places higher; not bad given it wasn’t played much on daytime radio.

The chart of 29 July 1990 had plenty of new entries – 14 in all – but once again (as was illustrated last month) they should, in the interests of good taste, mainly be skipped over:-

Visions of Love – Mariah Carey (#74)
Saxulaity – Candy Dulfer (#63)
Hey There Lonely Girl – Big Fun (#62)
Pure – GTO (#57)
Let Love Rule – Lenny Kravitz (#55)
For Her Light – Fields of The Nephilm (#54)
Nobody – Tongue’n’Cheek (#45)
Blaze of Glory – Jon Bon Jovi (#42)
Amanada – Craig McLachlan and Check 1-2 (#36)
Hardcore Uproar – Together (#24)
Violence of Summer (Love’s Talking Over) – Duran Duran (#23)
She’s A Little Angel – Little Angels (#21)
Tonight – New Kids on the Block (#17)

The highest new entry, is worth a passing mention, albeit it wasn’t one of his most memorable.

Thieves In the Temple – Prince

Thieves In The Temple would rise into the Top 10 the following week, becoming the ninth Prince single to achieve such lofty heights. He would go onto have six further such successes during the first half of the 90s, including his only #1 hit, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, which hit the top in April 1994, although it was released by Symbol rather than Prince……….

I’ll be back in around four weeks time with another look back at the 45s which were being bought by the great British public.

Velouria…..30 years old now.  Can’t quite get my head round that one.

JC
(aged 57 years and 1 month)

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #258 : JOHN McGEOCH

The overwhelming love shown for John McGeoch in the comments left at the most recent ICA have jolted me into action and to make good a promise on how I ended this September 2019 posting that reflected on his life and achievements.

SIDE A

1. Shot By Both Sides – Magazine

My introduction was through his work with Magazine, so it makes sense to open things up with that band’s debut single, memorably described in one of many obituaries in March 2004 as having a riff that sounded like an elastic band building to snap.

The guitar playing on this 45 proved to be something of a template for so many great riffs, instrumental breaks, and contributions over many years. John’s technical abilities would develop further in future years, as too his confidence, and there would be ‘better’ and more substantial/powerful contributions to songs, as I hope to highlight in this ICA, but Shot By Both Sides still an amazing way to introduce yourself to a world of listeners.

2. Home (live) – PiL

John McGeoch was recruited by John Lydon in 1986 to be part of the band put together to tour Album (or CD or Cassette depending on which version you had purchased). My first sighting of this exciting move came courtesy of BBC Television in March 1986 when the band appeared on Whistle Test and played two songs, Home and Round, across two segments. I captured the performances on VHS cassette and never got bored listening to them. To this day, they are up there with my all-time favourite/memorable telly performances of all time – the clip will be posted at the foot of this piece. There’s an effortless power, energy and vibrancy to Home that just took, what was already one of PiL’s best new songs, to a new level.

3. Spellbound – Siouxsie & The Banshees

I could have picked any of the songs from Juju but there really was no finer few moments, guitar-wise, than album opener and hit single, Spellbound. So good that it’s the 12″ version that’s included. There’s just so much going on throughout this song that it only those without soul or taste would ever get bored listening to it. The hypnotic introduction that leads to the frantic and frenetic acoustic strumming is perfection as far as I’m concerned.

4. The Light Pours Out Of Me – Peter Murphy

The ex-Bauhaus lead singer released Should the World Fail to Fall Apart, his debut solo album in 1986. There were eight original compositions and two covers, one of which was a song by Magazine that had been co-written by John McGeoch back in 1978 for Real Life, the debut album by Magazine.

Peter Murphy engaged five different guitarists in the recording of his album, not giving any credits on individual tracks, so I’m assuming he brought John in to play on his take on The Light Pours Out Of Me. The guitar work isn’t too different from the original in that the riff and then the solo in the middle of the songs are instantly recognisable, but I’ve always liked the wee bit of harmonica that accompanies the solo. I should, for the record, make the point that I prefer the original but this fits in well at this point of the ICA.

5. Philadelphia – Magazine

Side 1 of The Correct Use of Soap is one of my real go-to continuous pieces of music, and Side 2 isn’t that far behind. Side 1 closes with this and so it makes sense for the ICA to do likewise. It’s John McGeoch at his post-punk finest, with all sorts of short jarring work through the first couple of minutes as Howard Devoto spews forth one of his finest free-form style lyrics before all it comes together with an astonishing and ear-piercing solo over the final 80 seconds. Play loud.

SIDE B

1. P-Machinery (beta) – Propaganda

John McGeoch was quite happy to accept offers to make one-off guest appearances which he does to great effect on this remix of one of the many outstanding tracks on the debut album by Propaganda. The original version was just under four minutes of pure electronica with a repeating solo break on synth that drove the song forward to its orchestral style climax.

This 8-minute remix was one of a number that ZTT issued when it was released as the third single from the album. And for the first five minutes or so, it goes along merrily as you’d expect but then, as your ears prepare themselves for that familiar break, there’s an amazing guitar burst courtesy of a guest in the shape of Mr. McGeogh that is instantly recognisable in terms of style. Later and further closer listens of the track reveal that the guitar work had been building up in an understated way in the background throughout the track before the solo. Overall, it’s a minor contribution in terms of the time his work features on the song, but it takes it to a new level.

2. Happy House – Siouxsie & The Banshees

The two year-year period of 1979/80 was incredibly productive. There were two albums by Magazine, one by Visage and one by The Banshees and there were occasions when the work overlapped. John didn’t officially leave Magazine until ‘Soap’ was released in May 1980 but by then we had been treated to his incredible contribution to Happy House, released as a single in March 1980 and which showcased a whole new sound for The Banshees, helped also by Budgie coming on board as the new drummer.

It’s a sound that would greatly influence Robert Smith and the direction The Cure was heading, and in due course help lead to him being asked to again join The Banshees to fill a void, this time as guitarist after John’s breakdown meant he had to leave in late 1982.

Happy House is a ridiculously good piece of music. It wasn’t one that I took to immediately as it felt a bit out of step with previous Banshee songs. But it quickly grew on me, mainly from appreciating the intricate guitar work that showed a different and less obviously rockist side to John.

3. Castles In Spain – The Armoury Show

The recovery process from the breakdown took a couple of years and the comeback came from a new collaboration with Richard Jobson, who was looking to create a new group following the break-up of The Skids; he may well deny it, but there’s no doubt his ego had been bruised by the worldwide success of Big Country that had made a bigger star of Stuart Adamson than he had ever been.

Persuading John McGeoch to come on board was a masterstroke in that it helped rebuild the guitarist’s confidence as a performer and writer. It’s worth noting that while the original intention was to simply have The Armoury Show as a collective of who would make music in the studio, it was John who persuaded everyone that they should behave as any other band by signing record contracts and using advances to go out on tour. Castles In Spain was the debut single, in 1984 and it preceded the lone album, Waiting For The Flood which came out in 1985.

The Armoury Show suffered from a bit of over expectation, which was not unsurprising given that its four members comprised two who had been in The Skids and two who had been in Magazine. It’s an album, however, that I have grown to appreciate a bit more in later years and there’s some real good guitar work going on throughout this particular 45.

4. Don’t Ask Me – PiL

A wee bit of fun and a curveball. It’s great to admire the fantastic and technical guitar efforts, but it should never be forgotten that John McGeoch was more than happy to contribute to an out and out pop song. It’s an entirely disposable number in comparison to everything else on the ICA but there’s a few words from the great man, given in an interview in 1991, to illustrate how seriously he took his art and how much he loved his guitars:-

“Lydon loved ‘Don’t Ask Me’. Allan Dias (bassist) wrote the music, but when we put the guitars on it, he thought it sounded almost like a Pistols song or something. The producer had a lovely collection of guitars so I just let him dictate which ones I used. We ended up doing straightforward rhythm on a Les Paul, double-tracking that on the Carvin and then putting some Prince-type dry rhythm guitar over the top on an early ’50s Telecaster with about a three-figure serial number.”

5. A Song From Under The Floorboards – Magazine

Yup, it is very much a band effort that reflects the glorious such of its many parts. The keyboards, the bass, the drumming and the singing are every bit as important as the guitar work…..but it all stems from those opening moments and notes in which John McGeogh reminds us, as if we needed it, that he can come up with a riff that’s as memorable as any in the history of late 20th-century music.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 6)

After a two-week hiatus during which The Robster has more than capably filled in for me, I’m back with the latest chronological installment of the R.E.M. singles, as released here in the UK.

It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that while myself and The Robster came to R.E.M. at similar times with Document being the first album we both picked up on, he very quickly looked to discover the back catalogue which I chose not to do on the ground of it being expensive (it was an era of CDs being stupidly priced and vinyl was no longer an option on the grounds of lack of storage space in a small flat).

This means that the early material and the posts I’m pulling together are written from the perspective of a being a very late arrival to the party and hearing the songs for the first time many years after their release.  It also means the two of us pulling this series together (independently of one another as we don’t share the pieces until they are ready to be published) will likely come at some things from different angles.  It might even mean that we disagree on some things…which I know from an e-mail exchange is certainly the case in terms of the songs on offer today!

As was mentioned by The Robster just last week, IRS had a bizarre habit of making strange choices as singles and I’ll add my opinion that further evidence to back this up emerged in October 1985.

One of the many books written about the band is Adventures In Hi-Fi : The Complete R.E.M. in which authors Rob Jovanovic and Tim Abbott provide an incredible amount of factual detail including the setlists from all the show of which there were a great many in 1985.  Using their work, along with the info available on the online setlist.fm website, it can be seen where previous single Cant Get There From Here was aired at just about every one of the 115 shows that year, the closing track from the new album Fables of The Reconstruction was played just three times.

Wendell Gee was not one of the band’s favourite collective moments and it wasn’t a track they shared with the enthusiastic crowds who were coming in increasing numbers to their gigs at home and in Europe. And yet, this is the one that IRS decided to issue as the band’s sixth UK single, a decision made even more baffling by the fact it wasn’t released as a stand-alone 45 in the USA.

It might work well enough as a downbeat and slow-paced number to close off an album, albeit my own view is that it is the dullest and among the least memorable of the songs on Fables.  It certainly has nothing going for it as a 45 – especially from a band still searching for that elusive breakthrough hit.

mp3: R.E.M – Wendell Gee

It was released in 7″ and 12″ form (with the blue background on the cover as shown at the top of this posting) along with a special as a 2×7″ release which came with the same photo but with a light green background.

One song was common to all three releases:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Crazy

A cover of a song by Pylon, another band to emerge out of Athens, GA in the late 70s/early 80s and who were very much at the heart of the scene when the four members of R.E.M. all found themselves in the town there for one reason or another.  There’s a few folk out there who are fans of the band, and if anyone wants to write up any sort of appreciative post, then please feel free to do so.  On the evidence of this underwhelming cover version, I haven’t been the least bit interested in seeking out anything else they have recorded.

The 12″ and double pack one song in common

mp3: R.E.M. – Driver 8 (live)

This was taken from a show at Music Hall, Seattle on 27 June 1984.  The reasonably high-quality production reflects that the gig was taped for a radio broadcast. It’s a rendition of a song that I’ve long thought could have provided a breakthrough hit for the band, especially if it had been released in the summer of 85 when they were headlining their own tour of the UK as well as appearing on the bill of a large one-day festival in Milton Keynes at which U2 headlined and from which footage was broadcast on Channel 4.

Two previously unreleased tracks formed the second piece of vinyl in the double pack:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Ages of You
mp3: R.E.M. – Burning Down

As the sleevenotes on the compilation Dead Letter Office would later reveal, the two songs are in fact kissing cousins.

Ages Of You is one of the first band compositions, dating back to 1980, rising from the ashes of an existing song called Burning Down.

Peter Buck offers these thoughts:-

When we got tired of Burning Down, we kept the two pieces that we liked and rewrote the rest to come up with Ages of You. We got tired of that one, also.”

There had been some thought to include Ages of You on the Chronic Town EP back in 1982 but it was removed at a fairly late-stage on the basis of there not being a lot of love for it among the band or the new bosses at IRS Records in the process, with Wolves, Lower brought on board as its replacement. Both the versions on show today are taken from Dead Letter Office (a collection of b-sides and outtakes) rather than the single itself.

The Robster is back next week with Part 7.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #220 : THE NECTARINE NO.9

From allmusic-

Although Glasgow, Scotland, in the ’90s was more known for either the winsome guitar pop of Teenage Fanclub and its many affiliated bands or the twee preciousness of Belle & Sebastian and their many affiliated bands, the Nectarine No. 9 were both of the scene and apart from it. Although the group recorded for the reactivated Postcard label, leader Davey Henderson shared little of the naïve pop sensibility of Postcard alums like Aztec Camera or Orange Juice, instead preferring a noisy guitar rock sound mixed with Captain Beefheart-style quirkiness.

The Nectarine No. 9, comprising Henderson on guitar and vocals, guitarist and keyboardist Simon Smeeton, bassist Iain Holford, and drummer John Thompson, formed in Glasgow in 1991.**

** Turns out this info is incorrect with the allocation of playing duties/responsibilites as well as missing out a further musician.  The members were Davy Henderson Vocs/Guitar, Simon Smeeton Guitar/Vocs, John Thompson Bass, Ian Holford Drums/Vocs & Occasional guitar/vocs, Todd Thompson Guitar…

My thanks to Gavin F for the update.   JC 23/07/2020 **

Henderson, who had first gained attention as the leader of the avant-funk Fire Engines in 1980, and Smeeton had first played together in the underrated ’80s popsters Win. Their new group debuted with 1992’s A Sea With Three Stars, which was followed later the same year with the Unloaded for You EP. A nine-track compilation of various BBC sessions recorded in the first half of 1993 was released by Strange Fruit under the title Guitar Thieves. A 16-track summation of the first album and EP, Niagara Falls, was released in the U.S. and Canada in 1994.

That song turned up a third time on the Nectarine No. 9’s long-delayed second proper album, 1995’s Saint Jack. Even more dissonant than A Sea With Three Stars, Saint Jack also introduced a new fascination with electronic noise on a few tracks. After a tour with Henderson’s old mate Edwyn Collins, the group went underground for two full years before finally returning in 1997 as the backing group and co-writers on Scots poet Jock Scot’s album My Personal Culloden, which sounded like a cross between Ivor Cutler and John Cooper Clarke‘s albums with the Invisible Girls. The Nectarine No. 9’s third proper album, the puzzlingly-titled Fried for Blue Material, was released in 1998 on the Glasgow indie Creeping Bent, and included the group’s side of a 1997 split single with Suicide singer Alan Vega, “Port of Mars.”

——

The otherwise excellent and informative bio doesn’t give a full picture as the band released a further three albums:-

It’s Just the Way Things Are Joe, It’s Just the Way Things Are (Creeping Bent, 1999)
Received, Transgressed and Transmitted (Beggars Banquet/Creeping Bent, 2001)
I Love Total Destruction (Beggars Banquet, 2004)

There were also a number of singles and EPs, many of them for Creeping Bent, whose founder and boss, Douglas Macintyre, still collaborates with Davey Henderson these days as part of The Sexual Objects, both in the studio and in the live setting.  Davey has also contributed guest vocals to material by Port Sulphur, another of groups in which the hard-working Mr. Macintyre is heavily involved.

Plenty of songs to choose from, and I was tempted to go with the Peel session version of ‘Don’t Worry Babe, You’re Not The Only One Awake’ to complement its appearance on Side B of the JAZF tape earlier in the week. But in the end, I’ve gone for a track that did appear as a 7″ single on the resurrected Postcard Records in 1994 and was the re-recorded for the album Saint Jack the following year.

mp3: The Nectarine No. 9 – This Arsehole’s Been Burned Too Many Times Before (single version)

JC

FROM THE BIG BOX OF CASSETTE TAPES : THE FACTORY TAPE

Given away with the April 1991 edition of Select Magazine, one that came with Boy George on the cover. The 40-pages of reviews contained some decent stuff such as Out of Time by R.E.M., Peggy Suicide by Julian Cope, Blue Lines by Massive (as they were temporarily called), Recurring by Spaceman 3 and Kill Uncle by a racist twat.

Oh, and there’s a scathing review of Outland by Gary Numan, penned by Graham Linehan who was still a few years away from becoming famous as the co-creater and co-writer of Father Ted (before later turning into a twat with his opinions on transgender).

Nine songs all told, including what, at the time, was some rare material in terms of remixes and unreleased tracks.  And, unusually for a giveaway tape, two tracks by the same artist – Cath Carroll – with one being from a still to be released album and the other from a recent EP.

It was also given an official catalogue number by the label – FAC305-C

A1: Northside – Moody Places (Instrumental)
A2: New Order – Bizarre Love Triangle (Stephen Hague Mix)
A3: Cath Carroll – Moves Like You
A4: Happy Mondays – Kinky Afro (Euromix 12-Inch Version)

B1: The Wendys – Suckling
B2: Revenge – The Trouble With Girls
B3: Electronic – Lucky Bag (Miami Edit)
B4: Cath Carroll – Next Time (Edit)
B5: Vini Reilly & Durutti Column – Megamix

Copies can be found on Discogs for £1.99 (plus P&P) mostly from UK-based sellers.

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (50)

I thought I’d go for something on the unusual side to mark the 50th edition of this particular series with a single that was, initially, released only on cassette.

Bow Wow Wow was the lastest wheeze to emerge from the thought process of Malcolm McLaren.  He brought the group together in 1980, using the musical skills of Dave Barbarossa (drums), Matthew Ashman (guitar) and Leigh Gorman (bass), all previously part of Adam & The Ants (a band who were still, at this point in time, to enjoy any sort of breakthrough) to which he would add a 13-year old singer, Annabella Lwin.

For a short while, there were actually two singers, with George Alan O’Dowd coming on board, but before anything was ever recorded for release, he quit to form his own band, Culture Club, adopting the stage name of Boy George.

McLaren was king of the wind-ups, especially when it came to the media and he really did take great delight in sexualising Annabella in a way which would just now not be the least bit acceptable. He also came up with the idea and concept that Bow Wow Wow’s debut 45 should be no such thing and instead be released only on cassette.

The band signed with EMI in July 1980, with the label clearly determined not to get burned in the same way as had happened with Sex Pistols. The agreement was to release C·30 C·60 C·90 Go as McLaren wanted but given that the song’s lyrics and those of its ‘b-side’ were promoting and supporting home taping at a time when this was seen as the biggest threat to the music industry, they didn’t do much in the way of promotional support.

The cassette tape did not sell all that well, despite it being issued in a way that had both songs on one side of the tape with the other being blank to allow purchasers to indulge in their own spot of piracy should they wish. It did enter the lower reaches of the chart where it hung about for a couple of weeks before everyone involved got tired of the joke an issued a standard 7″, after which the single rocketed up the charts to #34.

It’s hard to believe the song is now 40 years of age. It’s still got that youthful, energetic feel about it and while Bow Wow Wow would later enjoy bigger and better-remembered singles, there really can be no argument that theirs was a cracking debut:-

mp3: Bow Wow Wow – C·30 C·60 C·90 Go
mp3: Bow Wow Wow – Sun, Sea and Piracy

Funnily enough, home taping did not kill music. Nor has the advent of music blogs and file sharing.

JC

ALL POP, ALL STYLE.

It was through a collaboration with Fun Boy Three that Bananarama first enjoyed and experienced chart success. Their own debut single, Aie A Mwana, had stiffed outside the Top 75 despite a fair bit of media attention via various music and style papers/magazines. The trio’s harmonies did, however, find a fan in Terry Hall and they accepted his invite to sing co-vocals on his band’s cover of a 1930s jazz number, ‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It), which went all the way to #4 in early 1982.

Returning the favour, FB3 agreed to provide backing vocals for the next Bananarama single, which also turned out to be a cover – Really Sayin’ Something was their take on a 60s Motown song called He Was Really Sayin’ Something that had been a minor hit for Velvelettes, an all-girl group who released six singles all told, none of which charted high. The Bananarama version was a huge success, getting to #5 just a couple of months after the previous collaboration.

Next up, the trio of Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward sort of went out on their own, hooking up with the writing/production duo of Steve Jolley and Tony Swain who had delivered pop hits for the soul group Imagination (and who, in later in 1982, would really hit payola from their work with Spandau Ballet on the album True).

Shy Boy was released in June 1982, around the time of my 19th birthday. By rights, I should have hated everything it stood for, with its whimsical, light and disposable tune and lyric being at odds with most things I was listening to and buying. But, as Edwyn and Orange Juice would say not too long afterwards, I Can’t Help Myself, especially when it comes to great pop tunes that earworm their way into my brain. Shy Boy was reviewed in Smash Hits magazine by a then up-and-coming writer called Neil Tennant, who later proved to know more than most about making great pop records:-

A brand new song crisply written and produced by Imagination’s production team. Sunny and singalong – when you hear it from hordes of transistor radios on a hot day at your favourite seaside resort you’ll forget about the sand in your sandwiches.

Shy Boy went all the way to #5 which meant that Bananarama could bask in the glory of enjoying a presence in the UK singles charts for 31 out 34 weeks from 13 February to 11 September 1982. It was the onset of an extended period of domination in the charts for the remainder of the decade.

I owned a copy of the 7″ for a number of years but finally made the effort to pick up a copy of the 12″ a few weeks back, finding a great seller on Discogs from whom I picked up a number of other pop hits from the 80s for future postings. The 12″ is more than a couple of minutes longer than the 7″ and radio hit, lots more shoop shoop aaaahs for those of us who love that sort of thing:-

mp3: Bananarama – Shy Boy (extended version)

I’d forgotten that the b-side was a song the trio themselves had written, an early version of a track that would be later re-recorded with a different title (Boy Trouble) for the debut album, Deep Sea Skiving:-

mp3: Bananarama – Don’t Call Us (extended version)

This poptastic b-side does hark to the sort of tunes that they had recorded earlier with FB3.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #257: SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES

A GUEST POSTING by MIDDLE AGED MAN

1. Pure

Your first single is a top 10 hit, which song will you choose to be the opening track on your first album? Well this is 1978 and you are a punk band, so obviously it’s not going to be the hit single, no it’s a short slow wordless mournful piece that has very little in common with the rest of the album, but does a great job of establishing that the album ‘The Scream’ was not going to be an easy listen and provides the perfect opener for this ICA.

2. Hong Kong Garden

The ‘Pop Song’ as Siouxsie described it during the ‘Join Hands’ tour, was my first and most people’s exposure to the band. At the time, unless you were a John Peel listener and at that time I was too young to stay awake during school nights, Top of the Pops was the way to hear and see new bands and it was on this show that I first heard and saw the band, compared to what was to follow it was ‘poppy’ but in comparison to the rest of the tv show weird and aggressive, according to Wiki it reached number 7 in the chart, only bettered by their cover of Dear Prudence some 5 years later, so Siouxsie was right to call it ‘Pop Song’

3. Playground Twist

Their 3rd single, manages to make children playing/playgrounds a sinister experience. I remember at the time John Lydon ( billed as Johnny Rotten) was appearing on Juke Box Jury and Playground Twist was one of the singles reviewed and he ducked it by saying the audience should decide whether it was a hit or miss. I found the show on Youtube last week and it is from a different world, alongside Rotten were Alan Freeman (fair enough), Elaine Paige (West End musical singer) and Joan Collins (who at the time was starring in soft porn movies like The Stud) reviewing the latest new singles, the most shocking aspect is seeing both Rotten and Freeman smoking on screen, it is well worth a watch.

4. Night Shift

A track from their 4th Album JuJu which is probably my overall favourite and for me this is the standout track. John McGeoch’s guitar playing is perfection combining a lovely riff with intricate note playing. He was a perfect replacement for the Banshees, managing to maintain their aggressive guitar led sound whilst adding a new layer of delicacy, subsequent guitarists never quite managed to achieve this balance,

5. Skin

From their 3rd album, recorded following the abrupt department of John McKay (guitar) and Kenny Morris (drums) during the Join Hands tour, and features guitar on this song from non-other than Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), although to be honest you wouldn’t know it from the playing. Siouxsie’s vocal is a vicious condemnation of the use of animal fur for clothing opening with ‘Mink, seal and ermine smother fat women’

6. Painted Bird

From A Kiss In A Dreamhouse and the album where, for me, were the guitars become less dominant and Siouxsie starts to sound like a regular singer. I always thought the song was about Siouxsie herself, but apparently it’s about The Painted Bird  – a 1965 novel by Jerzy Kosiński which doesn’t sound too pleasant a read.

7. Helter Skelter

A great example of a band taking a song and making it their own, it fits seamlessly into the Banshees sound and closes the first side of The Scream. I didn’t know it was a cover until I read the songwriting credits (from the days when you would pore over every detail of a record and its sleeve) and to be honest I have never heard the original to this day and don’t want to, in my mind it will always be a Banshees song.

8. Israel

A constant reminder that Budgie is probably the most powerful drummer I have experienced live, I can still feel the vibrations through the wooden floor of the De Montford Hall in Leicester as he pounded away.

9. Paradise Place

A scathing commentary upon plastic surgery from the late 70’s when it wasn’t the norm or accepted in the way it is today and shows that Siouxsie when angry could write lyrics that are as good as any from the era …

Do you notice my eyes, are they in the right place?
There’s a Mantovani backdrop to pucker up a tummy tuck
A voice soft as lint mashed up with shades of pink
Hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics

10. Icon

The most Siouxsie and the Banshees of Siouxsie and the Banshee songs. Starting with a slow guitar riff, no notes just chords, with thunderous drums and vocals that are not quite singing as we know it but are full of aggression and leave you in no doubt that there isn’t a chance of compromise.

Bonus Track

Exterminating Angel

After the Banshees split up, The Creatures appeared with just Siouxsie and Budgie as members. This is the most Banshee song they recorded and is magnificent and is the only song I know on this subject matter and one that Siouxsie attacks with pure vengeance.

MIDDLE AGED MAN

THE DISSENTING VOICE(S) IN THE ROOM

A few weeks back, the good folk at the BBC loaded onto their own dedicated digital channel something around 150 performances from bygone years at Glastonbury as a way of filling some space in the absence of the festival taking place in 2020.  A number of the headline performances stayed up for 30 more days which is why myself and Rachel were able to sit down a few days later and finally watch the David Bowie set from 2000.

Social media went absolutely crazy at the time the BBC was showing it ‘as live’; it was the first time the entire show had been seen as the agreement back in 2000 with Bowie was that only the opening segments and part of the encore could go out over the airwaves.  It’s regarded by many as the best ever Glastonbury headlining show and among one of Bowie’s greatest performances, with the setlist consisting of many of his best-known and best-loved songs, as well as a smattering of new tunes (new in 2000 that is).

But here’s the thing…..neither of us at Villain Towers were that blown away by it.

Rachel is, of course, spoiled by the fact that at the age of 14 she was present at the Green’s Playhouse (later the Apollo) in Glasgow in 1973 when Ziggy Stardust was being toured, and there’s nothing that can beat that.  She thought that the songs from that era, and indeed the rest of the 70s, as seen and heard at Glastonbury felt and looked as if they were being performed by a Bowie impersonator backed by a group of musicians who wouldn’t have been out of place at a swanky Las Vegas hotel.  And I’m not disagreeing.

She had been really looking forward to the show having read all the fawning comments across social media and within the mainstream media reviews, especially as so many had focussed on the fact the songs had come from the entire canon.  When the band left the stage after the final encore, she turned to me and asked ‘Is that it?’  The closing two songs of Let’s Dance and I’m Afraid of Americans was not what she was hoping for or expecting.

Glastonbury setlist

1. Wild Is the Wind
2. China Girl
3. Changes
4. Stay
5. Life on Mars?
6. Absolute Beginners
7. Ashes to Ashes
8. Rebel Rebel
9. Little Wonder
10. Golden Years
11. Fame
12. All the Young Dudes
13. The Man Who Sold the World
14. Station to Station
15. Starman
16. Hallo Spaceboy
17. Under Pressure
Encore:
18. Ziggy Stardust
19. “Heroes”
20. Let’s Dance
21. I’m Afraid of Americans

It led to us to recall the time we had seen Bowie in each other’s company, back in 1990 at the appalling Ingliston Showgrounds in Edinburgh – a venue that is just about the worst imaginable in terms of sound and yet managed to provide something really special on this occasion. The setlist from that night was the sort of thing that Rachel had believed she would now be watching from the comfort of the living room:-

1. Space Oddity
2. Changes
3. TVC15
4. Rebel Rebel
5. Golden Years
6. Be My Wife
7. Ashes to Ashes
8. John, I’m Only Dancing
9. Queen Bitch
10. Fashion
11. Life on Mars?
12. Blue Jean
13. Let’s Dance
14. Stay
15. China Girl
16. Ziggy Stardust
17. Sound and Vision
18. Station to Station
19. Alabama Song
20. Young Americans
21. Panic in Detroit
22. Suffragette City
23. Fame
24. “Heroes”
Encore:
25. The Jean Genie
26. Pretty Pink Rose
27. Modern Love
28. Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Looking back, it was something of a perverse ending at Ingliston with Pretty Pink Rose during the encore having folk scratching their heads as it was a duet with guitarist Adrian Belew that had been released as a single about six weeks earlier and very few knew it, followed by a well-known but not exactly highly-loved single. But what a way to rescue things and send the crowd home absolutely buzzing.

I know these things are subjective and the absolutely ideal set would have incorporated songs from both Glastonbury and Ingliston, but overall the vast majority would surely have been from those aired back in 1990 and not 2000.  I’d loved to have heard Wild Is The Wind, The Man Who Sold The World and Starman, but surely the Glasto audience deserved to hear Queen Bitch, Sound and Vision, Suffragette City, The Jean Genie and Rock’n’Roll Suicide– it was the absence of the last three on that list that really irked Rachel!

I asked her the next morning if she had changed her mind about being disappointed with the Glastonbury show. Her reply was that maybe she had overreacted a little but it was a response to feeling she had watched something that had over-promised and under-delivered. She also reiterated that the musicians on stage at Glastonbury had annoyed her – she knew they were incredibly talented and skillful but she couldn’t really classify them as a band – certainly not in comparison to the Ziggy tour or indeed the different and smaller number of musicians who shared the stage at Ingliston.

mp3: David Bowie – Queen Bitch
mp3: David Bowie – Changes
mp3: David Bowie – Rock’n’Roll Suicide

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 5)

This week’s words are courtesy of The Robster:-

One thing that is noticeable when you study R.E.M.’s discography is how many amazing songs were not released as singles. But perhaps more baffling is the list of tracks they DID put out as 45s and how many of them are considered among the weakest in the band’s canon.

Following the critical success of their first two records, R.E.M. took a drastically different approach to the recording of their third. Relocating to London, they chose to work with English producer Joe Boyd rather than Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. It rained nearly every day, the band grew increasingly homesick, and by the time it was released they were reputedly close to breaking up. Yet I consider ‘Fables Of The Reconstruction’ one of R.E.M.’s best albums.

It marked a turn in the band’s songwriting style. Musically, it drew on southern folk music, and Boyd’s experience in the folk genre probably helped the sound to evolve on record. There was also a shift in Michael Stipe’s lyrics, moving away from the unintelligible, esoteric nature of the early songs to that of a more storytelling bent, words you could actually make sense of. There was a real sense of beauty in these songs in spite of what was happening internally at the time.

So it seems strange, looking back, why the label chose to release the least representative song on the record as its first single. Cant Get There From Here (no apostrophe – deliberate) opened side two and to say it sounds out of place would be an understatement. It has a kind of pseudo-funk feel, a horn section, and Stipe almost sounding like Elvis in places. It’s a real oddball song, unlike anything the band recorded before or since. They didn’t even play it live after 1986.

It’s a shame really, as there were so many other great songs on ‘Fables’ that would have served as better introductions to the album. In the US, both Driver 8 and Life And How To Live It were put out (the latter admittedly only as a promo). If it were down to me, I’d have picked Maps And Legends. But no, we got the album’s novelty tune, which when thinking about how Rockville was the band’s previous single, makes me wonder how exactly did the label view R.E.M.? For all the amazing songs they had at this stage, it’s the almost comedy moments that were chosen to highlight the band to the public. And it didn’t end here – we come to Stand and Shiny Happy People at some point in the future, and they were for a different label entirely.

Did the label think the band took themselves too seriously? Did the band insist on these songs as singles in order to dispel that very myth? Whatever way you look at it, Cant Get There From Here will not be remembered as one of R.E.M.’s finest moments, it’s nothing more than a disposable, jokey pop song.

The 7” release featured an edited version on the a-side, while the b-side contained another lighthearted moment, the really rather silly Bandwagon. In the sleevenotes of ‘Dead Letter Office’, Peter Buck described it thus: “This song was originally called ‘the fruity song’ because of all the stupid chord changes. Still one of the funniest songs we’ve written.”

As for the 12”, well the cover misled us into thinking we were getting an ‘extended version’ of Cant Get There From Here, which was rather naughty as what we actually got was the bog-standard LP version. Bandwagon also featured on the flip along with a track Charity Chic featured recently in his Heaven/Hell seriesBurning Hell. Yet another in- joke, it’s the band’s attempt to make a heavy metal song. It’s not very good at all, as most of the commenters to CC’s piece seemed to agree on.

This could go down as one of R.E.M.’s worst single releases, even as fond as I am of Bandwagon. None of the songs can be taken seriously or as representative of R.E.M. or the ‘Fables’ album, which probably didn’t help people’s perception of it at the time or since.

mp3: R.E.M. – Cant Get There From Here (edit)
mp3: R.E.M. – Bandwagon
mp3: R.E.M. – Burning Hell
mp3: R.E.M. – Cant Get There From Here (12″ release)

The Robster