THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 15)

And so, The Robster having offered up his thoughts on the breakthrough hits, decides that this is the week he needs a rest and hands the baton to me for a song that every single member of R.E.M. detests with a passion. A song that would eventually reach #6 in the UK singles chart – a position higher than any of the next 14 singles would manage to achieve!!

That last sentence alone tells you all you really need to know about Shiny Happy People; in short, it proved to be an R.E.M. song for people who don’t like R.E.M.

mp3: R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People

It was released on 6 May 1991. Losing My Religion was still hovering on the fringes of the Top 75 and, if anything, was enjoying even more daytime radio play than before. Out of Time had already gone into the album charts at #1 on its first week of release. The decision not to tour and rely increasingly on television appearances/performances was also working a treat, as those who were now finally latching onto the band were mopping up everything on mainstream and specialist channels. MTV, in particular, were all over things.

It made perfect sense for Warner Bros to go with something that was tailor-made for radio, especially on warm and hot summer days when people would flock to beaches and parks, complete with their fast-melting ice-creams, looking for that bit of escapism and enjoyment. Shiny Happy People offered the perfect soundtrack, helped too by the goofy, colourful and incredibly cheery promo that was made for it. It’s no surprise that it entered the UK charts in May and stayed there till the end of July.

The video looks and feels like something from a children’s TV show, which is perfect as itthe song could easily pass as a nursery rhyme, with all concerned (except Peter Buck who clearly wishes he was somewhere else) eager enough to deploy over-exaggerated movements and facial expressions. The band may have since tried to disown the whole thing, but the dancing, handclapping and smiling during the promo make me think they doth protest too much.

One of the reasons put forward to back the idea that it was hated from the outset is that it was never played live in concert and it was left off most of the subsequent greatest-hits collections. But think about it – the strings are essential to the sound of the song and therefore it would be impossible to play as is in the live setting*. Nor was it one that could be easily adapted to fit in with the acoustic sets that were to the fore in the early 90s.

*The Robster kindly offered up a correction when I shared an advance draft of this post. R.E.M. did perform Shiny Happy People live – just the once – on Saturday Night Live in the States. And as he also said, nobody should ever forget the version they did for Sesame Street a few years later, Furry Happy Monsters, in which Peter Buck very nearly cracks a tiny smile, you’ll see a Kate Pierson muppet, and if you don’t smile at the clip, you have a heart of stone.

I think Shiny Happy People is a fabulous and memorable pop single. I also accept that in 1991, it was something which horrified many long-time fans who couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing and seeing. And I’d been there folks….listening to and watching Johnny Marr play with Bryan Ferry on The Right Stuff had been excruciating.

But, on the other hand, I’d long been a fan of the B52s and the guest vocal from Kate Pierson is an absolute joy.

The Robster made mention last week of the multi-formatting that existed around Losing My Religion, and it was much the same for the follow-up which came out on 7″, 12″, CD and cassette.

mp3: R.E.M. – Forty Second Song

This was common to all the releases. It’s another real oddity – it’s 82 seconds long and it sounds like an unfinished demo that the band couldn’t work up into anything more substantial. The folk who loved the a-side probably played it once and ignored it thereafter. Any long-time fans who were hoping for something more substantial to justify shelling out on the new single to keep the collection going wouldn’t have been surprised by it.

mp3: R.E.M. – Losing My Religion (live acoustic version)

As found on the 12″ and CD single. I reckon making this available also had a lot to do with the high sales for Shiny Happy People as the world had gone insane for any take on Losing My Religion.

Again, as with the previous single, a ‘Collector’s Edition’ Cd was released about a week after the initial product had hit the shops and it again came with three live songs, recorded during the Green tour.

mp3: R.E.M. – I Remember California (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Get Up (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Pop Song ’89 (live)

There would be two more singles from Out of Time…..both will be looked at by myself with the next being a 45 that wasn’t issued in the USA; as Jonny said the other week, Americans have never really paid much attention to singles while it’s a whole different story over here as my bulging shelves of old vinyl and CDs can testify.

JC

The Robster adds a bonus for the completists.  The only live performance of the song:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Shiny Happy People (live, SNL)

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #229 : OSCAR IN VENICE

This week’s offering is one of the most unusual and unique bits of music that I’ve ever featured on the blog.

The man pictured above is David Scott, who is best known from his involvement with the Glasgow-based band The Pearlfishers, which is a story I’ll return in due course when this alphabetical run-through of Scottish singers/bands whose work features in the vinyl/CD collection at Villain Towers reaches that particular act.

For now, let me quote the man himself from an interview he gave to a London-based blogger from Turkey back in 2007:-

“I’ve been a professional musician since 1984. In that time I’ve worked with major record labels and major publishers. I produced records for major labels as well and also for indie labels, my band is called The Pearlfishers. We’ve made 8 albums and currently making a 9th and a 10th at the same time. We released those records on an independent label based in Hamburg but I’ve also released records in Japan, in America and over Europe. I’m a broadcaster I make programs about music for BBC. I’m a community music practitioner at the same time. For the last 10 years I’ve been an academic, I’m teaching songwriting and composition in university.

The Hamburg-based independent label he refers to is Marina Records, a number of whose releases I’ve picked up over the years. In 2018, the label released Goosebumps, an anthology to celebrate 25 years in the business, with a fair number of the tracks being previously unreleased cuts, with one example being a David Scott composed instrumental, which is just a shade over two minutes in length:-

mp3: Oscar In Venice – Go For A Walk In The Woods

There’s no info within the Goosebumps booklet other than it is a previously unreleased piece of music written and produced by David Scott. My efforts to find out anything else across t’internet have drawn a blank as it appears to be the only available piece of music ever made available under this particular moniker, so I can’t even tell you from when it dates from or the name of the youngster who adds the spoken contribution.

JC

THE BIG HITS…..30 YEARS ON (9)

Sunday 2 September 1990.  It’s a day when the music sitting atof the top of the charts, along with the various new entries into the Top 75, exemplifies the weirdness of that particular year. It’s worth listing the Top 20 in full, especially as none of the songs were new entries

1. ITSY BITSY TEENY WEENY YELLOW POLKA DOT BIKINI – BOMBALURINA
2. FOUR BACHARACH AND DAVID SONGS (EP) – DEACON BLUE
3. WHERE ARE YOU BABY? – BETTY BOO
4. GROOVE IS IN THE HEART – DEEE-LITE
5. TONIGHT – NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
6. THE JOKER – THE STEVE MILLER BAND
7. WHAT TIME IS LOVE? – KLF
8. NAKED IN THE RAIN – BLUE PEARL
9. RHYTHM OF THE RAIN – JASON DONOVAN
10. PRAYING FOR TIME – GEORGE MICHAEL
11. CAN CAN YOU PARTY – JIVE BUNNY AND THE MASTERMIXERS
12. SILHOUETTES – CLIFF RICHARD
13. LISTEN TO YOUR HEART – ROXETTE
14. VISION OF LOVE – MARIAH CAREY
15. TOM’S DINER – DNA FEATURING SUZANNE VEGA
16. TURTLE POWER – PARTNERS IN KRYME
17. I’M FREE – SOUP DRAGONS FEATURING JUNIOR REID
18. U CAN’T TOUCH THIS – MC HAMMER
19. END OF THE WORLD – SONIA
20. KING OF WISHFUL THINKING – GO WEST

It would have made for fairly depressing listening as the DJ in question revealed the latest rundown on BBC Radio 1 from 5pm onwards, with the Top 20 played in its entirety, prior to which any new entries into the Top 40 and significant movers would also be aired, all of which would have meant a very rare peak time radio play for one of the UK’s biggest cult acts, for coming in at #34 was this:-

Get Me Out – New Model Army

NMA had been around for ten years, and with them constantly switching the type of music they were recording and performing, they had been impossible for the critics to pin down into a particular genre. They are still on the go some thirty years on and causing the same grief! From the outset, they had attracted a highly dedicated fan following which having eventually morphed into ‘The Family’ whose numbers ensured the band would be guaranteed the live shows would always be successful, albeit this didn’t always transfer into huge sales on vinyl/CD. Get Me Out was their tenth successive single to make the Top 75, and like the others, it would come into the charts somewhere in the region of 31-50 before immediately dropping out, all down to ‘The Family’ making the initial purposes.

And that, unless there is a guest posting, will likely be the only mention of New Model Army on the blog (albeit they will get a further mention in this series in a couple of months time).

There were some other interesting entries in the chart this week, from acts that are no strangers to the pages of TVV.

Iceblink Luck – Cocteau Twins (#39)
Rollercoaster – The Jesus and Mary Chain (#46)
White Lightning – The Fall (#56)

Cocteau Twins would hang around that position in the charts for another couple of weeks but the other two dropped out almost immediately. I don’t think either song would have given mainstream exposure. Worth mentioning in passing the next again JAMC single, released in February 1992, would be Reverance. And in reaching #10 would give the band its biggest ever success in terms of a single. Oh, and yet again it’s a cover that brings a bit of chart success the way of The Fall.

The other new entries came courtesy of Adamski (The Space Jungle – #23), Caron Wheeler (Livin’ In The Light – #29), Janet Jackson (Black Cat – #32), Faith No More (Epic (1990 re-release) – #35), Quireboys (There She Goes Again – #51), Dan Reed Network (Lover – #52), Grand Plaz (Wow Wow, Na Na – #58) and Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Higher Ground (1990 re-release) – #59).

Down at the lower end of the new entries were a couple of bangers, included here as I know at least a couple of regular readers will remember them

Hard Up – Awesome 3 (#64)
Dance Dance – Deskee (#74)

In acknowledgment of the fact you’ve been asked to spend a lot of time getting this far, I’m going to have a race through each of the remaining four charts in September 1990. There’s also the fact that the latter part of the month has a lot of singles of great interest…….

September 9: New Entries

Suicide Blonde – Inxs (#16)
Show Me Heaven – Maria McKee (#26)
Nothing To Lose – S’Express (#40)
Empty World- Dogs D’Amour (#63)
Way Down Now – World Party (#66)
Summer In Siam – The Pogues (#67)
You Don’t Love Me – Jagged Edge (#71)
Greenbank Drive – The Christians (#72)
Pain Killer – Judas Priest (#74)

I’ll mention in passing that those of us who had seen or listened to Lone Justice in previous years quite stunned but secretly pleased that Maria McKee was finally coming to the attention of a wider public. Just a pity it proved to be a one-off with a song whose video was packed with scenes from the latest Tom Cruise blockbuster.

Many of the other new entries this week reflect what I had been mentioning a few months back in that the music of the clubs and fields was moving into the mainstream

Tunes Splits The Atom – MC Tunes vs 808 State (#44)
Burundi Blues – Beats International (#56)
Sunrise – Movement 98 (#62)

The first of these would eventually go Top 20.

The Stone Roses also made a re-appearance in the charts at #32 with Fool’s Gold, just seven months after it had previously dropped out of the charts, albeit the radio stations were now spinning the other side of the single, What The World Is Waiting For.

The final mention for 9 September goes to this:-

Timeless Melody – The La’s

It had been two years since There She Goes had been released, and it was a period when The La’s were being talked up as the next great British indie-guitar bands. It would transpire that the intervening period had seen singer/songwriter Lee Mavers recording and re-recording their intended debut album, with a constantly changing band line-up and all sorts of would-be producers coming and going. Timeless Melody was the first of the new material and rather worryingly for all concerned, #57 was as high as it got. Things would, however, improve, before the year was out.

September 16: New Entries

Holy Smoke – Iron Maiden (#3)
Thunderstruck – AC/DC (#16)

Yup, the heavy metal brigade were out in force this week with the two highest new entries. Further down the charts, there was a smattering of pop hits from Monie Love (It’s A Shame – #35), River City People (What’s Wrong With Dreaming – #40), Bell Biv Devoe (Do Me! – #56) and Sinitta (Love and Affection – #62)

For the most part, however, a mix of indie and dance was showing the way:-

Then – The Charlatans (#19)
Cult of Snap! – Snap! (#21)
I Can’t Stand It – Twenty4Seven feat. Captain Hollywood (#28)
Make It Mine – The Shamen (#42)
Rock and Roll Nigger – Birdland (#47)
Omen – Orbital (#52)
You’re Walking – Electribe 101 (#54)

I’m guessing the Birdland cover would get into a spot of bother these days……but then again, Patti Smith does seem to get a free pass over such things.

September 23: New Entries

This was the week that Maria McKee began a four-week stay at the top of the charts, by which time Lone Justice fans were hiding away copies of the old albums….

The power of the gogglebox can be demonstrated by the fact that a new entry this week, at #16 (but it would eventually reach #2!!!) was Blue Velvet by Bobby Vinton.  I had assumed it had something to do with it soundtracking the David Lynch film of the same name, but that was a 1986 release.  Instead, it had been used as the music for an advert for face cream and there had been enough public demand for it to be re-released and become a hit, a full 37 years on.  Its things like this that make me wish we had the American approach to singles in that they really don’t matter (but then again, my cupboard full of vinyl would be quite sparse).

The metal boys were still having a field day with Megadeath (Holy Wars….The Punishment Due – #24), Thunder – She’s So Fine (#38) and Slaughter (Coming Back For More #62).  There were also a fair number of new pop hits, far too many to mention even in passing, so it’s straight to the indie/dance/established alternative efforts

Never Enough – The Cure (#15)
World In My Eyes – Depeche Mode (#28)
Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – The Wedding Present (#29)
Dreams Burn Down – Ride (#34)
Heaven (1990 version) – The Chimes (#36)
I’ve Got You Under My Skin – Neneh Cherry (#45)

The Wedding Present and Ride tracks were songs from the Three EP and the Fall EP respectively. It also led to a rare appearance on Top of The Pops for Gedge & co. Neneh Cherry‘s excellent single was the taster for the album Red Hot + Blue, a compilation album on which a wide range of contemporary singers and bands offered up their take on songs written by Cole Porter. The album would go on to sell more than a million copies worldwide and raise substantial sums for the Red Hot Organisation, a charity that had been established to fight AIDS.

September 30: New Entries

Yup…. a five week month (but look on the bright side, each of October and November will have just four weeks). It was also a quieter week for new entries, helped by the fact that none of the metal bands chose to release any singles!

The highest new entry belonged to a duo whose impending new album was their first new material in two years, having dominated the UK charts in the second half of the 80s

So Hard – Pet Shop Boys (#4)

Elsewhere, chart regulars such as Technotronic (Megamix – #12), MC Hammer (Have You Seen Her – #15), Mica Paris (Contribution – #43), Phil Collins (Hang In Long Enough – #47), Paul Simon (The Obvious Child – #61) and Paul Young (Heaven Can Wait – #72) were polluting the atmosphere.

A few others to mention.

A Little Time – The Beautiful South (#30)

Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway had caught a few folk by surprise with the change of direction after the break-up of The Housemartins, enjoying three hit singles and a #1 debut album in 1989. The first of the new material quietly entered the charts at #30 and two weeks later it was at #1.

Right Here, Right Now – Jesus Jones (#37)
Good Morning Britain – Aztec Camera feat Mick Jones (#52)

Two songs that would become staples of the ‘indie’ compilations that would flood the shops as the decade wore on.

And that concludes a bumper edition of this series, with 27 songs on offer, most of which had to be sought from outside the collection.  It took a fair bit of time and I’m glad this particular project is nearing an end.

JC
(aged 57 years and 3 months)

 

YOU SAY TOMATO……

Kind of inspired by yesterday’s mention of Mack The Knife, here’s what wiki has to say about today’s featured song:-

“Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” is a song written by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin for the 1937 film Shall We Dance, where it was introduced by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as part of a celebrated dance duet on roller skates. The music sheet is annotated with the word “Brightly”. The song is most famous for its “You like tomato /təˈmeɪtə/ / And I like to-mah-to /təˈmɑːtə/” and other verses comparing British and American English accent.

The differences in pronunciation are not simply regional, however, but serve more specifically to identify class differences. At the time, typical American pronunciations were considered less “refined” by the upper-class, and there was a specific emphasis on the “broader” a sound. This class distinction with respect to pronunciation has been retained in caricatures, especially in the theater, where the longer a pronunciation is most strongly associated with the word darling.

I’ve a 7″ AA single sitting in the cupboard with a version almost faithfully recorded by Martin Stephenson and Cathal Coughlan.  I’m sure I picked it up at a gig in 1990, quietly pleased that two of my favourite singers at the time had come together for what surely would have been a fun day in the studio. Not actually owning a working turntable at the time meant that I didn’t actually hear the version for a while – not until 1992 when it was included as an extra track on CD1 of Big Sky, New Light, a single by Martin Stephenson and The Daintees.

mp3: Martin Stephenson/Cathal Coughlan – Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off

I had long anticipated that the same version of the song was on both sides of the vinyl, or perhaps the duo had reversed roles with Cathal singing the lines Martin has sung on the A side.  I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the fact that the A side was produced by Mickey Watson (an occasional Daintee) and Martin Stephenson, but that the AA side was credited to Satan O’Sullivan.  I should have known better than to think the Microdisney/Fatima Mansions frontman would have played it straight:-

mp3: Cathal Coughlan/Martin Stephenson – Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off

This one will probably drive most of you bonkers, maybe switching it off after no more than 45 seconds.  There’s all sorts of things going on during its four minutes but not much in the way of singing, nor a suggestion that Martin Stephenson was even involved, but there is a section when the notes that make up the National Anthem of Ireland can be heard.

You say bananas, I say it’s genius.

JC

 

A STAPLE OF THE 80s b/w A BIZARRE CHOICE OF COVER

It was back in 1981 that The Psychedelic Furs released their fifth single in the UK, and the third lifted from their sophomore album Talk Talk Talk:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink

It’s a gem of a 45, one that was tailor-made for radio and had smash hit written all over it.  But despite the best efforts of all concerned at the record-label, including the gimmick of a free t-shirt included in the initial copies of the 12″ version, it stalled at #43, ensuring that the band, for now, wouldn’t get much beyond cult status and their tours would continue to be at the lower end of the scale, capacity-wise.

There was a very unusual choice of cover song for the b-side:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Mack the Knife

Written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their 1928 music drama The Threepenny Opera, it is one of those songs that had been much recorded by pop/jazz singers since it had been translated, in 1954, by Marc Blitzstein for an off-Broadway staging of the show. Louis Armstrong is credited with the initial popularity while Bobby Darin took it the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1959.

To be fair to the Furs, their gothic interpretation is quite distant from the chirpy version that had been such a massive hit, with their take being more aligned to the fact that it’s a lyric about a serial killer.

Here’s the third song that was made available on the 12″, together with the free t-shirt:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Soap Commercial

It is no wonder, listening to this track, which was lifted from the band’s debut album that had been released in 1980, that so many critics lumped The Furs in with the likes of The Cure, The Banshees and Bauhaus.

Fast forward five years and the Hollywood director John Hughes decides to make a movie entitled Pretty In Pink, for which he asked the band to record a new version of the song that had helped inspire the story:-

mp3: The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink (remix)

This one went all the way to #18 in the UK charts and remains the band’s best performance in that regard. It’s a hit that has long proved to have caused a bit of angst in the Furs camp, as this recent press interview with lead singer Richard Butler reveals:-

“He (John Hughes) made it to be literally about a girl that was wearing a pink dress and it wasn’t about that at all. It was about a rather unfortunate girl.

“Me saying pretty in pink meant somebody who is naked. It was a metaphor and he got the wrong end of the stick.

“Given that, the movie did us a lot of good. It was a double-edged sword because it increased our audience but a lot of people that were the darker set of our fans thought: ‘It’s a ‘Brat Pack’ movie scene now and we are not really into that.’”

I think it’s a bit disingenuous, however, not to reflect that Butler & co. were party to an abomination of a remix that had more to do with alienating the long-term fans than the fact it was now linked to a hit movie.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #262 : QUICKSPACE

A GUEST POSTING by SWC

About twelve years ago Tim Badger, after a desperate plea from his wife, apparently sold his entire vinyl collection to a bloke called Roy who lived in Plymouth. Roy paid him £5000 for it, which he handed to him in a grubby white envelope. Badger used the money to buy a new sofa, two wardrobes, an expensive dining set and a set of wheels for his wife’s road bike. On one drunken night out in Exeter, Badger admitted that he actually cried when Roy’s Volvo reversed out of the cul de sac where he used to live and drove away with his vinyl. Considering I know for a fact that there was at least one Nik Kershaw record in the back of that Volvo I would imagine it was tears of joy.

Fast forward twelve years and to the first Wednesday in September 2020. My wife, daughter and I have just been to lunch at Mrs Badgers. She is doing well Mrs B, the happiest I’ve seen her since, well, since I dropped her and Tim off at the airport a few years ago. She even baked me a cake that met my vegan tendencies (Lime and Coconut) and didn’t once mock me for ‘eating quinoa’.

As we are leaving, Mrs Badger tells me that she has something for me, and she walks off to the garage and opens the door. She tells me to look in the two red and two boxes behind the old wardrobe. Which I do. They are full of records and CDs. There are at least one hundred pieces of vinyl and about 50 CDs. I recognise most of the CDs from Tim and my charity shop excursions but the vinyl is new to me…

“He would have wanted you to have them”, Mrs Badger says with a smile, there are tears in her eyes. Then she breaks with convention and hugs me, which is nine weeks of social distancing out of the window. My wife is smiling at me, she knew….she definitely knew….

I can’t say no. I can’t tell her that I don’t have the room for a hundred pieces of vinyl and some (more) boxes of CDs. I bend down and look at the records, there are some great records in here, I think to myself. I look at Mrs Badger, and say “I thought he sold….” She looks at me and tells me that, these were the ones he didn’t want to sell, records that he loved, “although” she says with a smile “I’m not sure why that’s in there?” pointing at a Cast 7” (Its ‘Alright’ on blue vinyl and he kept that very quiet).

I wasn’t supposed to be writing anymore, I told myself at the end of the 45 @ 45 series that my days of blogging and guest contributing was over (if the truth be told, I’m supposed to be moving abroad, but Covid has sort of shot that idea in the leg). But here I am, with the first of 100 or so seriously good records that belonged to my best friend, in my hand, and its sort of tradition that when I’m given a box of music that I write about it, right… (please agree with me…)?

So, preamble over….the first record out of the box is ‘Quickspace’ by Quickspace, A record I already own as it happens, but this is a beautiful looking album. It has a green-y coloured card sleeve with holes in it that reveal the tracklisting on the inner sleeve which is a lovely kind of orange and red colour. It was released on the Kitty Kitty Corporation in 1996 (Choosy 6). There are actually three Quickspace records in the box and I had no idea that Badger held them in such high regard and as such it seems only fitting that we start with an ICA.

For those in the dark, Quickspace formed in 1994 and were called back then Quickspace Supersport. They were formed by Tom Cullinan from the ashes of Th’ Faith Healers. They play a sort of ramblingly excellent lo-fi indie krautrock. In 1996 they ditched the Supersport (and replaced three members of the original line up) and became just Quickspace.

Some of these recordings are taken from records that have sat in a garage for the best part of two years, so they might sound a bit scratchy, but hey its lo-fi indie, its authentic, right…?

SIDE ONE

Friends (Single) (1996) (Choosy 4)

Anyone want a random drummer fact…thought not, but here is one anyway. In 1996, Quickspace unveiled a new drummer. His name was ‘Chin’. He didn’t have a surname. He plays the drums on this, the band’s first record as ‘Quickspace’. A feisty three and a half minutes of lo-fi indie brilliance which was adored by John Peel and featured somewhere in the top half of the 1996 Festive Fifty. It’s easy to see why.

7 Like That (Taken from ‘Precious Falling’) (1998) (Choosy 13)

The second Quickspace Album was a seventy-minute krautrock classic called ‘Precious Falling’. It’s another stunning looking record, the vinyl version has a gatefold sleeve with a lovely tree drawing on it. Musically I think it’s their finest hour and ten minutes, it’s an album in which the band added more depth to songs which were perhaps a bit simple before. ‘7 Like That’ is one of three or four tracks on this album that are irresistible slabs of tweaky indie pop.

Song for NME (Taken from ‘Suposport’) (1997) (Choosy 11)

In 1997 Quickspace released a compilation album ‘Suposport’ which packaged together all the band releases before Supersport was dropped from the name. The final track on that album is this little gem. ‘Song For NME’ is a slightly faster version of the previously released ‘Song For Someone’ but it was recorded especially for the then-popular weekly music rag and whilst we are on the subject, this is the greatest track to have ever featured that music rag in its title – even better than Thee Headcoats ‘(We Hate The) Fuckin NME’. That good, folks.

The band also recorded it again for especially for John Peel (and called it ‘Song for BBC’) and that makes it doubly brilliant.

Scubaplus (Take from ‘Superplus’ EP) (1995) (Domino Records RUG40T)

The third and final Quickspace Supersport Single was ‘Superplus’. The lead track was a 14 minute Krautrock epic. The band then dissected the track into three additional stems called ‘Proplus’, ‘Scubaplus’ and ‘Standard 8’.

Fundamentally it’s the same track just with a different emphasis on each track, which sounds pretentious but definitely isn’t. ‘Scubaplus’ is the best moment on it if you ask me, largely because it has some cool underwater effects on it but also because it is basically the sound of a bunch NEU! fans trying to be NEU!

Hadid (Single) (1998) (Choosy 11)

‘Hadid’ is a lovely little track that I think pays homage to the bands drummer at the time ‘Chin’. He was only supposed to be a temporary drummer and left the band before the release of ‘Precious Falling’. ‘Hadid’ is again a spiky little indie-pop gem that nestles itself into your ears and sits there snugly until bedtime.

Side Two

Rise (Single) (1996) (Choosy 5)

In the autumn of 1996 when the world was going crazy for bands like Northern Uproar, Quickspace released the follow up to ‘Friends’. The band had apparently turned down several substantial offers from various record companies and decided to stay fiercely independent on their own Kitty Kitty Corporation label (well in the UK at least). The result of that decision was ‘Rise’ another five-minute blast of indie drone rock. I happen to think it’s the best single that they ever released.

Quickspace Happy Song #2 (From ‘Precious Falling’) (1998)

This kind of sums up everything I love about bands like Quickspace (and perhaps Ligament and Novak as well). The fact that stayed independent kind of meant that they could release what they liked when they liked. They could name songs the same thing but changed a number at the end (see also ‘Song For…’). Which is what they did here. In June 1998, the released this as part of the ‘Precious Little EP’ a song that they described as being only the second happy song that they had ever written. Hence ‘Quickspace Happy Song Number Two’. The EP version is slightly different from the album version, but I don’t have it so the album version will have to do (I think its eight seconds longer).

Precious Mountain (Single) (1997) (Choosy 10)

I bought this on 12” when I was still a student. We had some decks set up in the lounge of our house (we were students, come on) and I remember sticking this on at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning just annoy my housemates. Cue one of them, Irish Mike (who was not actually Irish) strolling into the lounge picking up the sleeve, and calling me a pretentious prick. I raised an eyebrow, sipped my cup of Lapsang Souchong and muttered “Pretentious, moi?” as the fourth minute of this cowboy influenced slab of Krautrock throbbed away behind me.

Do It My Own Way ( This version From ‘Suposport’) (1997)

‘Do It My Own Way’ was the B Side to the bands slightly chaotic 1995 debut single ‘Found A Way’. If you ask me, the band got it the wrong way round. ‘Do It Your Own Way’ is miles better and miles more radio-friendly than it’s A-Side, which is probably exactly why the band stuck it on the B Side. It also houses one of the catchiest choruses the band ever recorded.

Goodbye Precious Mountain (From ‘Precious Falling’) (1998)

A long time ago I wrote about this song and the morning after a party where I sat in a room and listened to this song whilst chaos involving a straggler unfurled two rooms away. It was a long story and I won’t repeat it now, but ‘Goodbye Precious Mountain’ is extraordinarily brilliant. An epic adventure of a tune that unfolds like it was written to play on the closing credits of a blockbuster movie. One where at the end only the hero and a significant other are left on the screen in a desert or windy moor and slowly the camera pans up and away from them as the strings sweep away majestically.

SWC

JC adds…….

I had no idea that SWC’s recent contributions via his 45 45s @ 45 series had intended to be his swansong, albeit I knew he was highly preoccupied with the possibility of moving abroad to live and work and thus wasn’t too concerned when he hadn’t been in touch in recent weeks.  I’m surely not alone in being delighted that he has decided to write a little bit more and so today’s ICA also marks what will be Part One of Burning Badgers Vinyl, yet another new and occasional feature on the blog.

Here’s the wee kicker……it’s going to be a joint venture from myself and SWC as I’m going to be afforded the opportunity to offer up some words on some of the vinyl/CDs that were in the red and blue boxes, albeit it will be on songs/bands with which I have a passing knowledge (I couldn’t have offered anything at all on today’s band, but in passing, I’ll say that I enjoyed (mostly!!) acquainting myself with the songs, especially the ICA closer which is reminiscent of a Tindersticks instrumental).

It’s a real honour to have been asked and I just hope I can do the series justice.  Watch this space…..

THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part One : BLUE FOR YOU

A new idea. One that might fly depending on the views and responses from the readership.

From the outset of the blog (which will celebrate quietly its 14th birthday at the end of this month), all the vinyl rips have only been made available at the lowest of quality, i.e 128 kbps, on the basis that anyone who really liked a song that they listened to/downloaded would seek out a better copy, digitally or otherwise. I’m now intending to use each Monday as the day when I’ll move to a higher-res offering, at 320kbps, which is the best I can do via the software which I use with the new turntable.

The idea came to me when I started going back and playing old records and hearing them in a way that I hadn’t for a couple of decades. The various USB turntables that I’ve used to support the blog have been at the budget end of things but that is no longer the case, and I’ve also invested in a decent amp and set of speakers. All in all, it’s made for a listening revolution in Villain Towers and while I’m not wanting to move entirely to the higher quality of vinyl rip, I’ll dip my toe in the water every Monday morning with a classic single from the collection (worth mentioning that my definition of classic might not chime with everyone else’s…….but I’ll come to that at the end of the post.)

I’m starting things off with Paul Haig, and the two sides from a 12″ cut from 1982 issued on the Brussels-based label Les Disques Du Crépuscule. It makes perfect sense to do so given that Paul gave such great support to the old blog a few years back when Google pulled a few posts and songs, with the singer/songwriter, via his manager, offering the opportunity to post an exclusive new track, which later led to a relatively successful mini-campaign to have Paul Haig Day across a number of blogs.

Those heady days of music blogging are long gone for all sorts of reasons but a handful of folk are still hanging around doing things the old way, with every single one of us using our love of music and musicians to spread the word and to hopefully encourage anyone enjoying what they are hearing to spend some money to support the singer/band in question.

mp3: Paul Haig – Blue For You
mp3: Paul Haig – Blue For You (version)

It’s a long way from the sounds of Josef K and there were a few folk who were a bit disgruntled when Paul went down the dance route in the early 80s. I adored this single on its release. I still do today and it sounded immense coming out of the speakers here in Villain Towers. Worth also mentioning in passing that it features Giles and Samantha from Hey! Elastica on backing vocals.

The question though is whether you folk want this to be a regular feature and if so would you be willing to make suggestions as to a particular single or song that you’d like to have made available at the higher res? After all, my thoughts on what make a classic may well differ from yours and, besides, I’ve always taken pride on making TVV as inclusive as possible.

Cheers

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 14)

The Robster writes……

Picture the scene:

It’s Monday, February 19th 1991. Your humble scribe is working for Our Price, at the time the UK’s biggest record store chain. In among the boxes of new releases that day is one particular offering I’d been waiting very eagerly for – R.E.M.’s new single Losing My Religion. I can’t remember if I or someone else unpacked the boxes that day, but I know I had made sure that one copy of each format had been put aside. I so desperately wanted to play it, but R.E.M. were still considered a cult band and not suitable for a busy Monday of new releases, despite most of my colleagues and managers also being fans.

At one point later in the day, I managed to commandeer the CD player and headphones. I squat down behind the counter and played Losing my Religion for the first time. And as I listened, all that enthusiasm drained slowly away. What the hell was this? I mean, I was aware the band was making a more acoustic record akin to the mandolin-led numbers on ‘Green’, but I at least expected a chorus! Didn’t stop me from buying it though. On all formats.

mp3: R.E.M. – Losing My Religion

I played it to death hoping I would warm to it, and I did. But I still didn’t think it would be a hit. I was never one of those fans who didn’t want his favourite band to be successful so I had to share them with other people. No, I wanted R.E.M. to be huge, so I could point at all the others who thought I listened to “weird stuff” and tell them I was right all along! But if R.E.M. were going to be megastars, this wouldn’t be the song to catapult them to that status. I wasn’t the only one to think that.

The band’s label, Warner Bros., was wary about the group’s choice of the song as the album’s first single. Steven Baker (no relation!), vice president of product management at the time, said there were “long, drawn-out discussions” about releasing such an “unconventional track” as the single until the label agreed. The marketing department had similar concerns as did radio programmers. To this day, it’s a mystery how Losing My Religion became the global behemoth that it did.

It started out in life as Peter Buck teaching himself to play mandolin while watching TV. When he listened back to the tapes he made of his attempts “there was a bunch of stuff that was really just me learning how to play mandolin, and then there’s what became ‘Losing My Religion’, and then a whole bunch more of me learning to play the mandolin.” Despite “trying to get away from [writing typical R.E.M] kind of songs”, Buck admitted it was “probably the most typical R.E.M.-sounding song” on the new album. “The verses are the kinds of things R.E.M. uses a lot, going from one minor to another, kind [of] like those Driver 8 chords. You can’t really say anything bad about E minor, A minor, D, and G – I mean, they’re just good chords.”

The original studio take was just Buck, Mills and Berry. Mike Mills found it hard to write a bass line for the song without it sounding derivative, so what was used was apparently influenced by John McVie of Fleetwood Mac. The band felt the song sounded “hollow”, with the high range of Buck’s mandolin set against Mills’ low-end bass. To give it some mid-range, they drafted in former dBs guitarist/vocalist Peter Holsapple to play acoustic guitar. Holsapple remained as an unofficial “fifth member” of the band throughout the recording of the album and subsequent promotional live appearances. Michael Stipe recorded his vocal in a single take, which is quite remarkable when you listen to it.

Losing My Religion became R.E.M.’s biggest hit around the world. In the UK, it only reached #19, but unusually held that position for three straight weeks. The song’s popularity grew the longer it hung around, and years later is one of R.E.M.’s most recognisable songs, probably because of the slew of different live versions that have cropped up on numerous R.E.M. releases ever since. If you’d said that to a 19-year-old Robster squatting behind the Our Price counter he’d have sneered with contempt at such a ridiculous notion!

So, those formats I referred to? Well, the 7”, 12” and standard CD single all included a track entitled Rotary 11, a reference to an old b-side Rotary 10. Like its predecessor, it’s not really worth the effort, being just a daft jazz-tinged instrumental with a surf guitar lead. Of more interest was the extra track on the 12” and CD single, a live version of a Velvet Underground song. Now R.E.M. like the Velvets, as previous renditions of Femme Fatale, There She Goes Again and Pale Blue Eyes demonstrated. After Hours was a song penned by Lou Reed and sung by both Reed and drummer Mo Tucker. R.E.M.’s live version was recorded during the Green Tour in 1989 and first featured on the very highly acclaimed concert movie ‘Tourfilm’. It omits the part of the song Reed sang in the original to keep it short and sweet.

mp3: R.E.M. – Rotary 11
mp3: R.E.M. – After Hours (live)

Also released in the UK was a second CD single, labelled “Collector’s Edition”, in order to make sure people who bought any of the other formats also bought this one, especially as it didn’t hit the shelves until the week after the others! That’s music marketing in the 90s for you.

This CD contained another three songs from the ‘Tourfilm’ soundtrack, namely Stand, Turn You Inside-Out and World Leader Pretend. The originals, of course, all featured on R.E.M.’s previous album ‘Green’, their only other record released by Warner Bros., and clearly aimed to get new fans to buy that one as well!

mp3: R.E.M – Stand (live)
mp3: R.E.M.- Turn You Inside-Out (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend (live)*

One final note – Wikipedia lists a second “Collector’s Edition” CD single in the UK, which carried the tagline “Song Of The Year”. However, this was not an official release in the UK, but became available as an import from Europe. Along with the a-side and the 7” b-side, it also contained two other tracks that were released as b-sides in the UK on subsequent singles, so we’ll save them for later.

And one final note – I’m sick to bloody death of Losing My Religion now. I can barely listen to it anymore without wanting to turn it off. A shame, but a symptom of being an uber-fan I think.

The Robster

*JC adds.…..the mp3 provided for World Leader Pretend is not identical as that on the Losing My Religion CD single.  Instead, it’s an extended version which includes the longer introduction where, after the cheering from the previous song has finally died down, Michael Stipe uses a drumstick to hit the side of a chair and recites a few lines from We Live As We Dream, Alone by Gang of Four before the band burst into their own song.  It’s an exceptional performance of what is surely THE stand-out song from Green.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #228 : THE ORCHIDS

It is to my eternal shame that I haven’t really featured The Orchids all that much on the blog.  As this bio demonstrates, they have much in common with musicians in whom I store a great deal:-

Acclaimed Glasgow band The Orchids recorded for cult independent label Sarah Records. Formed in 1987, this prolific yet overlooked five-piece recorded a string of singles as well as three excellent albums, Lyceum (1989), Unholy Soul (1991) and Striving For the Lazy Perfection (1994). Often compared to similarly cerebral pop operators such as Felt, Aztec Camera and Primal Scream, the band split in 1995 at the height of their powers. Most of their records were produced by Ian Carmichael of One Dove.

The band reformed in 2004, and have since released three more albums: Good to be a Stranger (2007), The Lost Star (2010) and Beatitude#9 (2014).

The band passed me by, entirely, back in the 90s. I can offer no explanation other than the first two albums coinciding with a turbulent period in my life and then feeling very old (at the age of 26/27) as the ‘kids’ lost their minds over Sarah Records and the new sound of indie-pop. I do now own all three of those albums, courtesy of them being reissued many years later on CD, complete with a plethora of bonus tracks of singles, b-sides and demo versions. There’s plenty of material to come up with at least two quality ICAs but I’ve just found the task to be beyond me, mainly as I feel something of a fraud having not invested, financially or emotionally, in the band back in the days. For now, here, picked at random, is one of the singles:-

mp3: The Orchids – Something For The Longing

Released with the catalogue number SARAH 29 back in 1990

JC

ALL THE YOUNG DUDES

Stuart Adamson was just a month beyond his 20th birthday when The Skids recorded five tracks for their first session for John Peel.  Even more ridiculous and incredible is the fact that Richard Jobson was still too young to vote or legally buy a drink in a pub, and wouldn’t turn 18 for another five months (mind you, he looked about 25 years old at the time!)

mp3: The Skids – Of One Skin (Peel Session)
mp3: The Skids – Open Sound (Peel Session)
mp3: The Skids – Contusion (Peel Session)
mp3: The Skids – Night and Day (Peel Session)
mp3: The Skids – TV Stars (Peel Session)

It’s also worth noting Of One Skin is the sole track of those aired at this sessionthat would find a place on the band’s debut album when it hit the shops just under a year later, an indication of just how fast things were moving and the ability of the songwriting duo to keep churning out tunes and lyrics. All of the others would be relegated to the status of b-sides, and indeed TV Stars wouldn’t even be honoured with a studio recording, with just a live version appearing on the flip side of Into The Valley.

There is, as you’d expect, a sense of huge energy to the songs with that very distinctive sound that is can be attributed to the guitar skills of Stuart Adamson.  At the time of the session, The Skids had just the one physical release, the Charles EP on No Bad Records, a label that had been the brainwave of Sandy Muir, the owner of a record shop in the town of Dunfermline.

But there was a real buzz among the London-based music industry that this group of young men, who all hailed from a community reliant economically on coal mining and other blue-collar industries, had a guitar prodigy (Peel had proclaimed Adamson as the Hendrix of the generation) and a punk-poet among its numbers (one with a sense of humour as evidenced by TV Stars), as well as a rhythm section in Tam Kellichan (drums) and Bill Simpson (bass) that was as good as any in the punk/new wave scene.  Just one week after the session, Virgin Records asked them to support Magazine at a gig in Glasgow, following which they signed them to an eight-album deal, something which in due course became something of an albatross around their collective necks and would play its part in the band’s gradual and messy demise within four years.

If time-travel was a genuine concept, and everyone was allowed one wish as part of it, I reckon getting myself along to that gig in 1978 would be high up on my list.

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (51)

Kind of beggars belief that it has taken this long to highlight such an outstanding debut single as part of this occasional series

mp3: The Jam – In The City

I’d be lying if I said I can remember this being released on 29 April 1977 and it reaching No. 40 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1977.  I can’t even recall seeing it on Top of The Pops on Thursday 19 May 1977 (when it aired despite being outside the Top 40, sitting that particular week at #45).

Yup…..feel free to cringe at David ‘Kid’ Jensen‘s awful shirt and his half-arsed effort at playing air guitar.

It would actually be a couple more years before I fully cottoned on to The Jam, but when I did, they quickly became my favourite group in my mid-late teenage years as my tastes shifted increasingly towards new wave/post-punk. In The City is a tremendously energetic and exciting debut.

I didn’t, even in 1979 as I became familiar with it, get the comparisons with The Who, a band I only knew from their rather dull mid-70s releases such as Substitute and Who Are You?, or from staple songs of ‘The Golden Hour’ such as My Generation and Pinball Wizard, none of which had the attitude or vibrancy of The Jam. But, in my defence, I had a lot of learning/catching-up to do in years to come.

mp3: The Who – In The City

The b-side of I’m A Boy, their #2 hit from 1966, that had never been included (at that point in time) on any album and despite its relative obscurity, was a track which Paul Weller was clearly very familiar with.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 39)

I remember as a 16-year old at school back in 1979 getting really excited about all the guitar-led New Wave bands that were springing up and wondering if there might be someone local to hook on to. That’s when I first became aware of Fingerprintz when they were mentioned in a local paper as having signed a deal with Virgin Records (which was a big thing at that time).

But I remember being disappointed to also read in the same article that while the main guys in the band were from just outside Glasgow, they were actually based in London, so there was no point in building up hopes of using a false ID to get along and see them.

One of the DJs on the local commercial radio station was also championing them on his weekly show, and I remember going out and buying their debut single the week it came out. But after that, I lost interest in the band – most certainly because I couldn’t see past The Jam for anyone else in among the football and the hope of landing the elusive serious girlfriend.

My rekindled interest in vinyl has led me, over time, to pick up second-hand copies of all three of the band’s albums released between 1979 and 1981 all of which have some very decent songs although there’s not quite enough throughout to completely hold my attention. The closing track on Distinguished Marks, released in 1980, (and whose sleeve was designed by Peter Saville), is a very much a short story:-

The metropolitan corps
Found a corpse in the middle of the night
And they wrote it down in their blackbooks
By the revolving blue light

The face has no name
The mouth doesn’t speak
He hasn’t shaved or brushed his teeth
For at least a week
Hide and seek

Another typical chore for the cops
They deserve a mention
The dirt from his nails in a plastic bag
Forensic attention

Any distinguishing marks?
Or a great physique?
Has he ever been kissed?
Is he on a missing list?
British, French Arab or Greek?
Ohhh, hide and seek.

mp3: Fingerprintz – Hide and Seek

A short story with a very inconclusive ending. I’ll admit, it’s not entirely satisfactory.

JC

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #261(b) : TRACEY THORN

PART TWO OF A GUEST POSTING by ECHORICH

TRACEY THORN – A COVERS ICA

From the earliest days of Everything But The Girl, Tracey and Ben recorded some astonishing covers of popular and not so well known songs that spoke to them. Their first single, Night And Day, Kid, Time After Time, I Don’t Want To Talk About It, The Only Living Boy in New York, English Rose, are just a few.

As a solo artist, Tracey hasn’t shed away from sharing her take on a rather eclectic series of others’ songs. The majority of her 4th solo album, Tinsel And Lights features 10 covers of songs related to Christmas and Winter. None of her covers are perfunctory or covers by numbers. All of them are imbued with the magic Tracey has as a performer and some, for me, outshine the originals because of that magic.

Here are 10 covers performed by Tracey Thorn from her solo work of the last 13 years that show off that magic.

1. Under The IvyKate Bush Cover – released as a digital single in December of 2014. Just a piano and Tracey with strings filling in on the second verse. The intimacy is intense.

2. Come On Home To MeLee Hazelwood cover – a track from Love And Its Opposite, it’s a duet with Jens Lekman. Lekman’s baritone adds to the darkness of the song arrangement.

3. Kings CrossPet Shop Boys cover – originally a bonus track on the iTunes version of Out Of The Woods and was initially slated for inclusion, but cut due to running time of the album. It was released as a stand-alone single in December of 2007 with a Hot Chip Remix and a thank you to Neil Tennant who Tracey states motivated her to record a new solo album after 25 years. Tracey softly presents the song with pastoral addition of English horn and respect to the simplicity of the PSB original. I hold this version as an equal to a song I think is certainly among Pet Shop Boys best.

4. Sister WinterSufjan Stevens cover – a Christmas single released on Ben’s Strange Feeling label for Christmas 2010, it would reappear on the Tinsel and Lights album two years later. Tracey approaches the track with a simpler arrangement and a bit more focus on the vocals.

5. Get Around To ItArthur Russell cover – released as a track on Out Of The Woods. The most eclectic track on Tracey’s wonderfully eclectic 2007 solo album, she and producer Ewan Pearson play up all of the wonderful mutant disco sounds so familiar to fans of Russell and the Sleeping Bag Records label. It’s a joy filled musical romp.

6. Smoke And MirrorsMagnetic Fields cover – b-side to the Raise The Roof single. Where the original is all cool, dark, synth-folk and very knowing, Tracey brings a much more feminine, yet still knowing feel to her interpretation.

7. Hard Candy Christmas Dolly Parton cover – released as a track on Tinsel and Lights. A song I had never heard before and approaching it as a cover is a bit difficult. Popularized by Dolly, but also recorded by Cyndi Lauper, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Reba McIntyre, it’s a bit of a modern Christmas standard that no one really deviates from as written by singer/songwriter Carol Hall. But Tracey captures a quiet, lonely Christmas in her version that sounds so much like an EBTG song, no least of all because husband Ben contributed to some very familiar-sounding electric piano.

8. Night TimeThe XX cover – released on the Night Time EP. Originally chosen to be included on a covers compilation of The XX songs at the invitation of the band, the project fell through, but Tracey with Ben assisting still recorded the track with producer Ewan Pearson. Again there is some EBTG DNA in their version of the song that really works.

9. Snow in SunScritti Politti cover – released as a track on Tinsel and Lights. Another very contemporary cover by Tracey, the original can be found on the wonderful 2006 Scritti Politti album White Bread Black Beer. Tracey smartly doesn’t attempt anything too far from the perfection of the original here, instead paying homage to Green’s own reading of the song.

10. You Are A LoverThe Unbending Trees cover – released on Love And Its Opposite. From Strange Feeling stablemates The Unbending Trees, Tracey give a much more approachable, I might say less suicidal sounding, outing here, making it a more subtle form of torch song.

ECHORICH

JC adds……

Any excuse to offer up a Jens Lekman track on which Tracey provides a co-vocal.  From the album Life Will See You Now

mp3: Jens Lekman – Hotwire The Ferris Wire

and here’s the remix mentioned above:-

mp3: Tracey Thorn – King’s Cross (Hot Chip remix)

Huge thanks to Echorich for this incredible effort and for sending me down a Tracey Thorn cul-de-sac for a couple of days after I pulled all the track together….and above all else, for introducing me to that astonishing cover of King’ s Cross, a release I wasn’t previously aware of.

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #261(a) : TRACEY THORN

A TWO-PART GUEST POSTING by ECHORICH

I’ve been quite loud and proud about my love for all things Everything But The Girl over the years. So many things make their work stand out for me, not the least of which is the very individual sound of Tracey Thorn’s vocals. Like a very fine wine they have become more complex with age, but at the same time they are quite ageless. They mark for me the sound of an age which is now almost 40 years strong.

Tracey is a singular lyricist, a brilliant writer – you can’t go wrong with any of her books, and keen social commentator with her regular contributions to the New Statesman.

After Everything But The Girl ‘closed shop’ with the release of their final album, Temperamental, in 1999, she took time to be a mum, raise a family, catch up on life away from the world of recording and touring. But by 2006 her focus was back on music. Her first solo album in almost 25 years, Out Of The Woods, would be filled with collaborations with writers, producers, mixers, but no credited input from husband Ben Watt. It is a diverse and engaging album, with tracks ranging from electronic ballads to dance floor fillers, ambient chillers and pop.

The follow up album, Love And It’s Opposite, found her working with electronica producer Ewan Pearson and creating an album focused on getting older, relationships and navigating life. In comparison, to the previous release, the synths are toned down and a more minimalist approach shines through. This manages to give even more power and nuance to the beauty of Tracey’s vocals. There are hints of earlier EBTG songs and approaches, but there isn’a a song that feels like it’s treading past waters.

Never to be pigeonholed as predictable, Tracey chose to release a Christmas/Holiday/Winter themed album for her fourth solo effort. It is is an album filled with nontraditional choices, covers of songs by White Stripes, Sufjan Stevens, The Magnetic Fields, Green Gartside, Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell among them. You get an instant reminder of just how strong and familiar Tracey’s work has been over the years, as these songs seem to fit right in to her wheelhouse with no need to grease the gears. Importantly, Tinsel and Lights sees the return of husband Ben Watt on guitar and piano throughout the album. But most importantly there are two new tracks from Tracey to round out the collection. For me, one has become among my favorites of all her songs.

For the next 5 years, Tracey concentrated on writing two acclaimed books – Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star and Naked At The Albert Hall, raising her teen son and twins girls along with Ben, and representing my generation in her commentary column in the New Statesman. During this break she did find time to score the soundtrack to independent film director Carol Morely’s 2015 release, The Falling.

2017 found Tracey in the studio, again with producer Ewan Pearson in tow, to make an album that is as wonderfully feminist as it is personal, Record. Record sees the synthesizers and keyboards make a comeback in a big way. Most songs are all synth with the exception of an occasional bass, guitar, drum or string instrument finding their way in the mix. Tracey manages to take the idea of Girl Power and turn it into Woman Power, focusing on the battles, losses and triumphs of being a woman in the 21st Century.

This ICA is a compilation in two halves. I knew I was going to stretch the concept, once again, beyond 10 tracks and offer a Baker’s Dozen. But in trying to narrow down those 13 tracks I began doubting I could really be satisfied with my choices. In the end, I am presenting an ICA focused solely on songs written by Tracey from solo albums 2 – 5 and a second, accompanying ICA of Tracey’s recording of other songwriters work. I hope you will allow my indulgence, but I came to the realization there wasn’t going to be any other way for me to proceed.

TRACEY THORN – An ICA for a New Millennium

1. It’s All True – Escort Extended Remix (12” Single) – Released a month prior to Out Of The Woods, the song was given to a few remixers to have a go with. Escort, a “Nu Disco” band from Brooklyn bring their indie disco ethics to the albums lead single. Its mid-tempo and the electro grooves give it a feeling of early 80s NYC to these ears.

2. Long White Dress (Love And Its Opposite) – Tracey’s vocals are strikingly intimate, as if we are hearing her thoughts more than vocals. The music is spare – a guitar reminiscent of EBTG’s Idlewild period, simple melody and drum brush work is all the song really needs.

3. Grand Canyon (Out Of The Woods) – It would be easy to just let the gentler, singer-songwriter side of Tracey take over this ICA, but that’s far from all that I love about her. Grand Canyon is a pulsing dance floor beast, where Tracey leads the proceedings, but also allows her vocals to become part of the mix. Everybody loves you here – is the song’s refrain…Indeed.

4. Dancefloor (Record) – An instant classic from Record, Dancefloor is deep, rubbery and unapologetic in its celebration of “me.” Good Time, Shame, Golden Years and Let The Music Play are where her mind, soul, and body are and she is reveling in the abandon.

5. Hands Up To The Ceiling (Out Of The Woods) – A contemplative song that looks back at the past – one filled with missed opportunities, vanished expectations and reality. There is a beautiful longing in Tracey’s voice as she tries to reach back to a time that was filled with promise.

6. Why Does The Wind? (Love And Its Opposite) – One of the album’s uptempo tracks, shows off just how complimentary Tracey’s vocals are when they meet up with a good beat. What I love about the song is that it feels like three songs in one, giving it much more credit than just a dance floor number.

7. Smoke (Record) – my choice for JC’s ‘Some Songs Are Great Short Stories.’ It’s the simplest of melodies, you might say it really doesn’t carry much melody at all. The lyrics tell of the life lived by a couple, but also the feeling of belonging or finding a way to belong.

8. Hormones (Love And Its Opposite) – a bit of Indie-Pop here and thoughts on confronting the next generation, especially when they are your own kids.

9. Easy (Out Of The Woods) – Echoing some of the sounds and beats that made EBTG’s penultimate album Walking Wounded so magnificent, Easy is about knowing how bad someone might be for you, still pursuing them and knowing it won’t last, all because it’s just that easy.

10. Queen (Record) – the album’s teaser track, but not released as a single. The 80s flow easily from the song. Had it been released in say ’83 or ’84, MTV would have been all over this song, but the subject matter is far from the shiny, the world is your oyster feel of those days gone by. Queen is a great example of how Tracey can slip right into a character and start exploring.

11. Raise The Roof (Out Of The Woods) – Certainly one of my favorite tracks that Tracey has ever sung, Raise The Roof is all about realizing the clock is ticking and it’s time to take a chance and find love. It’s a funky mid-tempo, almost bossa nova track that build and builds with Tracey’s vocals. I have to recommend the remixes of Raise The Roof, in particular Richard Norris and Erol Alkan’s Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation.

12. Sister (Record) – Sister is a Tracey Thorn Tour De Force! It is a no punches pulled ode to Womanhood. Over a rolling bass and percussion, counterpointed by a stabbing, repetitive guitar riff, Tracey, along with the assistance of Corrine Bailey Rae and Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, draws a line in the sand, daring anyone to cross it and threaten her/womanhood’s right to be strong and independent. It is the album’s stand out track as well as one of the top tracks of 2018. It swirls in and out of you and spins around you until the last fading notes. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on Andrew Weatherall’s Remix and Dub mix. You won’t be disappointed.

13. Joy (Tinsel And Lights) – Finally, one of the two new tracks that appeared on Tracey’s 4th solo effort. It is one of the most touching and tender songs of Tracey’s song canon. Reflecting life at the end of the year and leading up to Christmas and the New Year, it is a call to rejuvenation and strength in the face of the coming unknown. The final verse tugs at my heartstrings every time I hear it…take a listen.

ECHORICH

JC adds……

Our learned scribe isn’t wrong about the remixes he refers to in its text.

mp3: Tracey Thorn – Raise The Roof (Beyond The Wizards Sleeve Re-Animation)
mp3: Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall Remix)
mp3: Tracey Thorn – Sister (Andrew Weatherall Dub)

Part 2 of this ICA will appear tomorrow.

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 13)

As I mentioned last week, the ultra-poppy Stand did not give R.E.M. the super-sized global hit the record company had no doubt been hoping for, despite being released twice. Strange, then, that the most political single the band had put out to date – released in-between the two Stands – saw the band crack the UK Top 40 for the very first time.

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush

Orange Crush had already topped the US Mainstream Rock charts (based on radio plays) for a record-breaking 8 weeks. It saw a physical release on this side of the pond in May 1989 and had by far the biggest impact of any track they’d put out to date. It was also one of their most frenetic. Opening with the rapid machine-gun effect of guitar and drums, the song tackles the controversial use of the chemical nerve gas Agent Orange by the US in Vietnam. Stipe often preluded the song on the Green Tour by dedicating it to the flag of the USA before singing the US Army’s tagline “Be all that you can be in the army.”

mp3: R.E.M. – Orange Crush (live from ‘Tourfilm’)

Rising all the way to number 28 in the UK, it saw the band make their debut on the flagship chart TV show Top of The Pops, where Stipe, with long plaited ponytail, mimed with a megaphone, a prop he used during the Green Tour to sing the chorus of Turn You Inside-Out. In fact, the megaphone was a protest at being forced to lip-synch rather than sing live. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

For the benefit of those overseas or not old enough – Top Of The Pops was one of the tackiest shows on TV, yet at its peak, it was THE show to be on if you had a single out. Usually appearing on it guaranteed an increase in sales and a higher chart position the following week. It was presented by BBC Radio 1 DJs, most of whom were utterly cringe-worthy and shockingly unknowledgeable. Occasionally, if we were really lucky, we might get John Peel, Janice Long or Tommy Vance fronting the show. Unfortunately, on the night R.E.M. appeared, they had Mark Goodier (who had an OK evening show at one time) and someone else I can’t even remember the name of. At the (premature) end of R.E.M.’s performance, nameless bloke, thinking he was being all clever and witty, commented: “Especially nice on a hot day – Orange Crush.” The song was about chemical warfare and this pillock thought it was about a soft drink. Legend has it the band were so upset at the comment, they refused to go on the show again (though they were coaxed back in 1995).

(JC adds…..I did a bit of detective work on this as the pillock was certainly not a TOTP regular and therefore not a Radio 1 DJ. It seems it was Simon Parkin, a continuity announcer with Children’s BBC, a service which broadcast on BBC1 on school days, between 4 and 5.30pm, as he was an occasional guest presenter of TOTP alongside Mark Goodier during 1989).

Unusually, Orange Crush had decent b-sides. Both covers, the 7” featured a version of Suicide’s Ghost Rider, while the 12” included a wonderful take on Syd Barrett’s Dark Globe. Both songs had been played live during encores of some shows throughout 1988 and also made it regularly into the Green Tour sets.

mp3: R.E.M. – Ghost Rider
mp3: R.E.M. – Dark Globe

Stand and Orange Crush were the only tracks put out as singles in the UK. In the States, they had Pop Song 89 and Get Up (the latter of which was a real highlight of ‘Green’). A promo of Turn You Inside-Out was also released in the US and Spain.

The Robster