ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (7/15) : THE CORRECT USE OF SOAP

Album: The Correct Use of Soap – Magazine
Review: Louder Than War, 13 June 2013
Author: Amy Britton

After my reappraisal of what I felt was the “forgotten” Siouxsie and the Banshees album “Hyeana,” I thought it was perhaps time to turn my eye to another oft-overlooked album, Magazine’s third outing “The Correct Use of Soap.” A lot more attention is generally paid to their first two albums “Real Life” and “Secondhand Daylight” – demanding in parts, but all the more rewarding for it. This fact has got some kind of critical appeal – fulfillment of the story of Howard Devoto leaving Buzzcocks to focus on something more complex. But by the time they had reached 1980, the band were starting to embrace a more accessible sound – but were none the weaker for it.

Postpunk as a genre is often distinguished by a kind of nervous tension; almost paranoia, and this isn’t something lost on “The Correct Use of Soap.” It was, after all, not the most comfortable of eras, as Thatcherism established itself and the late 70’s sense of restlessness fuelled by nuclear threat and the winter of discontent still hung in the air. For me, if there is one single line which captures the essence of both the era and the genre, its on the track “Philadelphia”“maybe its right to be nervous now…”

“Politics,” if we use the word in its driest, most conventional form, was never really Magazine’s thing. Their classic debut single “Shot By Both Sides” (which warrants an essay in itself) was boldly Derridean in its deconstruction of straightforward party politics; and that it a theme that very much continues throughout “The Correct Use of Soap.”

Devoto has claimed that at the time, given the series of catastrophic events dominating the world, he “was on talking terms with an apocalyptic view of the world…I don’t really call that political.” He was not necessarily alone in this (his contemporary, the Pop Group frontman Mark Stuart, has admitted to walking around in full army clothing because he was convinced World War III was about to happen, whilst the Protect and Survive campaign instructing what to do in case of nuclear attack was more terrifying than reassuring); fear was the order of the day.

The opening track of “The Correct Use of Soap,” is even called “Because You’re Frightened,” but it quickly becomes evident that this is personal, not political – its chorus of “look what fears done to my body,” accompanies verses which imply settling with somebody sexually for the sake of it. The politics of fear have met the politics of sexuality, dealt with throughout in refreshingly physical terms.

Of course, the demystification of sexuality was a running theme in postpunk – the Au Pairs, Gang of Four, Wire’s 1.2xU – but rarely has it been delivered with such wry humour and confessional emotion as on “The Correct Use of Soap.” The psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva talks about the abject and the horror in the body – how we want to separate ourselves from what the body really is. The body produces sexuality, but it also produces sickness, and there is a sense of ill health permeating “The Correct Use of Soap.”

Its closer “A Song From Under the Floorboards,” (one of my favourite closing tracks ever) opens with the brilliant line “I am angry, I am ill, and I am ugly as sin,” before launching into a lyric oblique yet distinctly Kafkaesque (its hard not to think of the insect imagery in “Metamorphosis”) over a clever, timeless guitar line from the hugely underrated John McGeoch. (Magazines talent as musicians as a whole is undeniable, but there is a sense that “The Correct Use of Soap,” is its producer Martin Hannett’s album as much as anybody actually within the bands.)

The album’s title also implies maintaining the cleanliness of the body. Our bodies let us down and relationships are, viewed with Devoto’s cynical eye, difficult, with lyrics about loving out of weakness and seeing your former partners new lover wearing “some things I left at your place,” – after all, we are more than just bodies, emotions must be attached as well. However, in their influential work “Anti-Oedipus,” Deleuze and Guattari did term humans “desiring machines,” and perhaps to a point they are right. Its certainly not a concept lost on this album – witness “Model Worker,” in which factory workers become psychologically sublimated with their machinery in order to become to perfect worker (although the maintenance of the human body never leaves, evident in the line “I have been indulging in ostentatious display/ doing little more than eating three square meals a day”.)

This is not an experimental album like its predecessors, but it is restless in its influence, hopping from Roxy Music-esque glam (“I’m A Party”), soul (“I Want To Burn Again”) and funk (“Stuck”), all with equal ease and skill. But don’t just rediscover “The Correct Use of Soap,” for its brilliant songs. Rediscover it for capturing a wider mood in history and magnifying it down to something personal, physical, and a whole new kind of political.

JC adds…….

It’s like the halcyon days of the NME never went away, making direct references to, for most of us, obscure philosophers and psychoanalysts just to remind the reader that the author of the piece is well-read and incredibly clever.

I’ve never claimed to be a ‘good’ writer, but I am passionate about the things I like, albeit I often can’t get beyond using words like brilliant, fantastic or amazing to describe how much a particular record means to me.  I would bet reasonable money that the author wasn’t alive when The Correct Use of Soap was released and has made a lot of assumptions about the era, from reading books and maybe talking to folk who were around at the time (May 1980) that just don’t ring true.

The Correct Use of Soap will always be high up on the list of my favourite albums, but not because I’m able to make all sorts of smart and obscure references from the lyrics.  It’s an album in which all members of the group are at the very top of their games, and yes, it enjoys a production input from Hannet that is unusually crisp and clear without too much gimmickry.  It is a record that deliberately veers all over the place, with punk, funk, pop all to the fore – it even has a soppy ballad, complete with female backing vocals which tug at the heartstrings.  But I’ll just keep coming back to the fact that McGeogh and Adamson, in particular, have never sounded better.

There’s not a duff song on ‘Soap’….it would, on its own make for a perfect ICA.  A position that Devoto & co. seemingly acknowledged by the fact that in 2009, shortly after their brief reformation, they undertook a tour in which they played the album in order from start to finish, before taking a short break and coming back for a second set of songs from the other albums.

mp3: Magazine – Because You’re Frightened
mp3: Magazine – You Never Knew Me
mp3: Magazine – Sweetheart Contract
mp3: Magazine – A Song From Under The Floorboards

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (6/15) : VIOLENT FEMMES

Album: Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
Review: Rolling Stone, 23 June 1983
Author: J.D. Considine

Violent Femmes is the unnervingly precocious debut of a Milwaukee trio that not only acts like it just reinvented rock & roll but somehow manages to sound like it as well. It isn’t just the band’s unlikely instrumentation – electric guitar, acoustic bass and a solitary snare drum–that flies in the face of rock tradition; everything from Gordon Gano‘s adenoidal lead vocals to the group’s flamboyantly absurd name (the Femmes are all male) indicates that this outfit ought to be both pretentious and utterly ineffectual. Yet there’s a genuine dynamism to this music, a raw, gutsy power that is as enlivening as the best garage rock.

To a large extent, it’s the directness of Gano’s lyrics–he’s given to sharp, simple images and blunt, euphonious rhymes–that keeps his songs from getting above themselves. In “Add It Up,” for example, he doesn’t mince words in describing his lack of romantic success: “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” he deadpans. “I guess it’s got something to do with luck.” As straightforward as his couplets are, however, Gano is clever enough to keep adding to his imagery until he’s pushed his songs to delightfully unexpected conclusions.

Still, it’s the music that makes Violent Femmes worthwhile. Brian Ritchie spins out bright, frisky bass patterns that mesh with Gano’s semi conversational vocal delivery. That interplay, combined with Gano’s spare rhythm-guitar lines and Victor DeLorenzo‘s unobtrusive drumming, gives the Femmes a full sound one usually doesn’t associate with a mostly acoustic format. Consequently, the Femmes can rock with conviction, turning out music that’s more than just a convenient display for lyrics

JC adds…….

This was an album that I fell head over heels for way back in 1983 when a flatmate came in and said the rest of us had to listen to something he’d picked up after hearing it played while he was in a Glasgow record shop.  It turned out to be something I’d never heard the likes of in my life before, and as a young man who was kind of getting fed up with ever failing adventures in terms of love und romance, it really hit the spot.  Still an album I often listen to it all the way through almost 40 years on.

mp3: Violent Femmes – Add It Up
mp3: Violent Femmes – Prove My Love
mp3: Violent Femmes – Gone Daddy Gone
mp3: Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (5/15) : THE FACTS OF LIFE

Album: The Facts of Life – Black Box Recorder
Review: NME, 27 April 2000
Author: Jim Alexander

Those facts seem to be as follows – relationships fail, dreams are usually shattered, sex is frequently bad and, if the cover is anything to go by, we are all slabs of meat liable to a few sharp cuts from Black Box Recorder‘s lyrical butcher’s knife. Strangely then, two years after Haines, Nixey and Moore released the scabrous ‘England Made Me’, this has been vaunted as their upbeat album.

It is in part. Because if that debut was defined by the subjects Luke Haines chose to turn his withering eye on, then ‘The Facts Of Life’ is no different. And while Sarah Nixey might still sound as if the daily Stepford wife dose of gin and Valium holds little relief, the shocking news is that Black Box Recorder seem to have cheered up a little.

‘Sex Life’ revels in salacious squelches, ‘Straight Life’ seemingly celebrates happily-married, DIY-enthusiast normality, and even redemption appears on offer as ‘French Rock’n’Roll’ sees a suicidal woman saved from the high-rise belly flop by the power of music. In suitably impenetrable style, however, you can never be totally sure they haven’t got a sneer playing on the corner of their lips.

Especially as elsewhere that clipped, dispassionate vocal is turned upon more familiar terrain. Like the road network as perfect metaphor for disintegrating relationships (‘The English Motorway System’), the drowning of two young Victorians (‘The Deverell Twins’), the innocence of a first kiss dissolving in imagined blood (‘May Queen’), or the closing ‘Goodnight Kiss’ which tours the English fringes and another cancerous relationship and asks –“will the last one to leave turn out the lights” -. It sounds not so much like the end of an affair as an elegy for an entire nation.

If the lyrics have moved on in shades – dark ones naturally – then the music has made several leaps since the spectral atmospherics of their debut. Much has already been made of the title track’s resemblance to All Saints‘Never Ever’ and Billie’s ‘Honey To The Bee’, but that’s just the start of it. Sugaring the pill to make the lyrical bad medicine slip down all the easier, this is rigged with soulful flourishes, the tinkle of glockenspiel, gently-looped R&B; beats, and the sound of Air hanging out with Pulp to make satin-smooth subliminal pop. Catchy, intelligent and frequently heartbreakingly poignant, it proves saccharine is no bar to excellence.

With ambition matched by achievement, Black Box Recorder’s outlook might be superficially sunnier, but the clouds of their bile still linger on the horizon. Setting about infiltrating the mainstream, Luke Haines and John Moore don’t just want the converted to acknowledge their evil genius, this time they want to inflict it on everyone.

JC adds…….

All too often, the reviewers in the NME disappear up their own backsides as they attempt to be way too smart and knowing when they offer up views and opinions on singles and albums.  Not in this instance – this more or less captures what the group was all about – the summary of Air/Pulp and smooth subliminal pop is so accurate.

mp3: Black Box Recorder – The English Motorway System
mp3: Black Box Recorder – Sex Life
mp3: Black Box Recorder – French Rock’n’Roll
mp3: Black Box Recorder – Goodnight Kiss

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (4/15) : KITE

Album: Kite – Kirsty MacColl
Review: Rolling Stone, 31 May 1990
Author: Steve Mochman

Kirsty MacColl does not suffer fools gladly: “It’s a bozo’s world and you’re a bozo’s child” is just one of a quiverful of arrows she slings at both men who are self-centered manipulators and women who put up with them. “I’m no victim to pity and cry for/And you’re not someone I’d lay down and die for” is another. The effect, at least lyrically, is a sort of distaff Elvis Costello: sharp-tongued, literate and – in its own distinctive way – charming.

The charm is derived in no small part from MacColl’s songwriting skill. (Remember Tracey Ullman‘s 1984 hit “They Don’t Know”? MacColl wrote it.) She is, after all, the daughter of the late Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl, whose “Dirty Old Town” was recorded by the Pogues and many other artists. She’s also the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite, and with help from him and the likes of guitarist Johnny Marr, MacColl has created a sparkling, modern folk-rock sound that at turns bounces, forces and eases her scoldings on, with her plain but attractive voice layered throughout.

“Free World” slams home a warning of women’s frustration in the world with U2-like frenzy; “Fifteen Minutes” is a tart kiss-off to a fair-weather lover; “What Do Pretty Girls Do?” makes a case that it’s the plain Janes that learn the best lessons from life; and rounding out the package are two lovely, bittersweet tracks: an eye-watering version of the Kinks“Days” and the closer, “You and Me Baby.” The real bittersweet fact about Kite, though, is that it’s only MacColl’s second recording and her first in almost ten years. It’s unfair for someone with this much to say and this much skill at saying it to be so stingy.

JC adds…….

A couple of things to mention.

By the time this review was published, Kite had been out for more than a year in the UK, where it had sold enough copies to qualify for a silver disc from the British Phonographic Industry.  Four singles had been taken from it, but only Days had been a hit.  I’ve had a look on-line, but as far as I can make out, Kite was released in the USA at the same time as elsewhere in the UK and Europe.  It may well just have been the case that the journalist, who was clearly a fan of the album, took a punt by submitting a speculative review which was picked up by the editorial team – it was probably the reference to U2 that clinched it ….

The good thing for Steve Mochman, and indeed all of us who were fans of Kirsty back in the later 80s/early 90s was that she was already hard at work on her third album, and Electric Landlady would be released in June 1991. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to track down a Rolling Story review of that particular LP.

mp3: Kirsty MacColl – Free World
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – What Do Pretty Girls Do?
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – Days
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – You and Me Baby

 

THE FESTIVE SINGLES OF R.E.M (Part 1 of 2)

It was back in 1988 that R.E.M. hit upon the idea of doing what The Beatles had done back in the 60s and giving out something a bit special for free to members of the official fan club. In what would become a great tradition, a gift, most often a 7″ single, was sent out every Christmas some of which have become among the most sought-after pieces of vinyl in the back catalogue.

The gifts went out for 24 years in a row. The first ten releases, from 1988 – 1997, were 7″ singles. The 1998 gift was a VHS video featuring two joint performances with Radiohead, while the following year it was a CD with two joint performances with Neil Young. The vinyl made a one-off comeback in 2000 before the final eleven gifts between 2001 and 2011 were CDs or DVDs.

It was a fabulous gesture, but please don’t go thinking that the songs on offer, certainly in the early years, were among their very best or had been afforded top-level production values. Indeed, what they did, for the most part, was offer a unique take on a song/carol/piece of music closely associated with Christmas and on the flip side offered a cover from the punk/new wave era.

Over the next two Sundays, I’m going to bring you all the songs released up to, and including 1997. I don’t actually have any of the singles, but I have picked up at some point a CD bootleg with all of them….(and please note, I’ve taken the numbers of pressings from Discogs and hav no idea how accurate the figures actually are!)

1988 (green vinyl): pressing of 3,000

A: Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers
a song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by bandleaders Paul Whiteman (1923) and Larry Clinton (1939)

B: See No Evil
cover of a song from New York-based new wave band Television‘s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon

1989 (black vinyl) : pressing of 4,500

A: Good King Wenceslas
traditional holiday song about St. Stephen’s Day (December 26)

B: Academy Fight Song
cover of a song by Boston band Mission of Burma

1990 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000

A: Ghost Reindeer In The Sky
adaptation of Ghost Riders In The Sky, made famous at various times by the likes of Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives and Gene Autry.

B: Summertime
cover of the George & Ira Gershwin song from the opera Porgy & Bess

1991 (black vinyl): pressing of 4,000

A: Baby Baby
cover of a song by UK punk band The Vibrators from their album, Pure Mania (1977)

B: Christmas Griping
a track written by R.E.M., but it’s hardly a stab at making something that would air among the festive perennials….

1992 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000

A: Where’s Captain Kirk?
cover of 1979 single by UK new wave band Spizzenergi.

B: Toyland
another song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by Doris Day (1964).

I’ll be back next week with the next 5 years worth of Christmas ‘Crackers’.

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (3/15) : INTROSPECTIVE

Album: Introspective – Pet Shop Boys
Review: Los Angeles Times, 13 November 1988
Author: Dennis Hunt

Dancing and Thinking

Britain’s Pet Shop Boys specialize in dark, brooding dance music – thinking man’s dance music, if you will. They give you strong rhythms but scuttle the usual fun-fun-fun frothiness in favor of moody, cynical lyrics. None of that “dance with me, baby” nonsense for these guys.

“Introspective” is the duo’s best work yet and quite possibly the dance music album of the year. As usual, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe manage to stretch the limits of dance music without tampering with its essential funkiness.

The Pet Shop Boys have a very British approach to dance music, merging European techno-pop with American soul rhythms. This high-tech sound is personalized with Tenant’s echo-chamberized vocals that come across as a dispassionate drone, a ghostly monotone that sometimes sounds like a voice from the dead that contrasts the sunny rhythms.

The six cuts on “Introspective” are just the way the dance-music crowd likes them: long (the shortest is 6:15 minutes) and souped up with clever symphonic touches, underscoring a passion for remixing. The most remarkable song in this collection is “I Want a Dog” – an eerie ode to canine companionship. Only this dynamic duo could turn such a mundane subject into a dynamite dance tune.

JC adds…….

Last year, I included a very spiteful review from Rolling Stone that was less than complimentary about UK synth-bands.  It’s refreshing to read something from just a few years later which more than redresses things.

I bought a copy of a remastered version of Introspective not too long after I got the new turntable earlier this year. It very much added to my happiness.  There’s an awful lot of music that reminds me of a similar-era New Order…..it’s little wonder that Bernard and Johnny were so keen for Neil to help out with Electronic.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices (remastered)
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – I Want A Dog (remastered)

Both made available for you at 320 kpbs.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (2/15) : IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD

Album: If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Review: Rolling Stone, 25 February 1988
Author: Kurt Loder

The Pogues‘ basic stance – wild Irish boozehounds with a passion for traditional Celtic reels and squeals revved up to punk velocity – would be enough to arrest anyone’s attention on the current sappy pop scene. That there’s more to the group than simple stylistic gimmickry – a lot more – is the happy news delivered with its long-delayed third album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

The Pogues were never quite what their image suggested, of course: their electrifying ensemble cohesion betrays a musical rigor beyond the reach of the merely besotted, and their leader, Shane MacGowan, is too artful and emotionally complex a songwriter to quite fit the role of head souse. With this – their first LP since 1985’s Rum, Sodomy and the Lash – the group stands revealed as the most inspiring trad-fusion band since Fairport Convention.

All of the Pogues’ considerable art is apparent here in tracks like the lilting “Fairytale of New York” and the corrosive “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six.” The former sketches the transience of romantic love against the evergreen joys of yuletide. Duetting with singer Kirsty MacColl (the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite – who has imbued his LP with sonic kicks galore – and the daughter of the celebrated songwriter Ewan MacColl), MacGowan tells the tale of an expatriate love affair, which began in delight one long-ago Christmas Eve, when “the boys of the NYPD choir were singin’ ‘Galway Bay,'” but which has since hit the skids (“You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap, lousy faggot,” MacColl sings, “Happy Christmas, your ass/I pray God it’s our last”). The combination of seasonal buoyancy (conveyed by the arrangement’s Gaelic pipes and lush strings) and personal disillusionment is unlike anything else in recent pop – as is MacGowan’s voice, which, as always, sounds as if it had been marinated since birth in a mixture of gin and nicotine.

The two-part “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six,” on the other hand, is the Pogues’ most overtly political statement to date, a cry of outrage over the allegedly unjust incarceration of six Irishmen for an English bombing. The track starts out as a wistful, muted ballad, then explodes into a raging assault, with MacGowan decrying the fate of the six men “picked up and tortured and framed by the law … for bein’ Irish at the wrong place and at the wrong time.” The anger here seems very real, and the music puts it across like a punch in the face.

The rest of the album takes Celtic trad (fifes, accordions, bodhráns and all) into similarly uncharted stylistic waters, from the crazy cornball Orientalia of “Turkish Song of the Damned” and the effervescent pop of “The Broad Majestic Shannon” to the almost-out-of-control “Fiesta” (a sort of Spanish beer-hall raveup) and the bittersweet going-to-America anthem “Thousands Are Sailing.” There are also straight trad snippets (most memorably the woozy “Worms”), a tumultuous big-band excursion (“Metropolis”) and even a sod’s lullaby (the gorgeous “Lullaby of London”). Obviously, the Pogues can do it all. And it sounds as if they’ve only just begun.

JC adds…….

Merry Christmas one and all.

mp3: The Pogues – Fairytale of New York (feat. Kirsty MacColl)
mp3: The Pogues – Streets of Sorrow/ The Birmingham Six
mp3: The Pogues – Turkish Song of The Damned
mp3: The Pogues – Thousands Are Sailing

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (1/15) : PARALLEL LINES

It’s the same concept as last year.  Hating the idea of the blog completely closing down, but at the same time recognising that the number of visitors drops off substantially at the end of December and through into early January, it really is best to hold back fully on any original stuff.

So, it’s about digging out past reviews of some of my favourite albums, with a follow-up few sentences from myself. There’s a few things to mention from the outset:-

(a) very few of the historical UK reviews are readily available on-line and so many of the postings will rely on American publications, and in particular, Rolling Stone

(b) where I’ve been unable to track down an original review from the 70s or 80s, I’ve relied on something written up when the album was re-issued for some reason or another….as in this case which seems as good a place as any to start.

Album: Parallel Lines – Blondie
Review: Pitchfork – 1 August 2008
Author: Scott Plagenhoef

“Blondie is a band,” read the group’s initial press releases. The intent of this tagline was clear, as was the need for it: “This is an accomplished bunch of musicians, a tight, compact group versed in everything from surf to punk to girl group music to erstwhile new wave,” it seemed to say, “but, oh – I’m sure you couldn’t help but focus on blonde frontwoman Debbie Harry.” In America, however, people didn’t notice the group quite so quickly. Their first two records – a switchblade of a self-titled debut and its relatively weak follow-up Plastic Letters – birthed a pair of top 10 hits in the UK but had been, at best, minor successes in the U.S.; the debut didn’t chart, while Plastic scraped the top 75. Despite savvy marketing– the group filmed videos for each of its singles, that now-iconic duochromatic cover photo– the group’s third and easily best album, Parallel Lines, didn’t take off until the group released “Heart of Glass”, a single that abandoned their CBGB roots for a turn in the Studio 54 spotlight. Though its subtle charms included a bubbling rhythm, lush motorik synths, and Harry’s remarkably controlled and assured vocal, “Heart of Glass” started as a goof, a take-off on the upscale nightlife favored outside of Blondie’s LES home turf.

The swift move from the fringes to the top of the charts tagged Blondie as a singles group– no shame, and they did have one of the best runs of singles in pop history – but it’s helped Parallel Lines weirdly qualify as an undiscovered gem, a sparkling record half-full of recognized classics that, nevertheless, is hiding in plain sight. Landing a few years before MTV and the second British Invasion codified and popularized the look and sound of 1980s new wave, Parallel Lines’ ringing guitar pop has entered our collective consciousness through compilations (built around “Heart” plus later #1s “Call Me”, “Rapture”, and “The Tide Is High”), ads, film trailers, and TV shows rather than the album’s ubiquity. Time has been kind, however, to the record’s top tier – along with “Heart of Glass”, Parallel boasts “Sunday Girl” and the incredible opening four-track run of “Picture This”, “Hanging on the Telephone”, “One Way or Another”, and “Fade Away and Radiate”. The songs that fill out the record (“11:59”, “Will Anything Happen?”, “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, “Just Go Away”, “Pretty Baby”) are weak only by comparison and could have been singles for many of Blondie’s contemporaries, making this one of the most accomplished pop albums of its time.

In a sense, that time has long passed: Blondie – like contemporaries such as the Cars and the UK’s earliest New Pop artists – specialized in whipsmart chart music created by and for adults, a trick that has all but vanished from the pop landscape. Parallel Lines, however, is practically a blueprint for the stuff: “Picture This” and “One Way or Another” are exuberant new wave, far looser than the stiff, herky-jerky tracks that would go on to characterize that sound in the 80s; “Will Anything Happen?” and the band’s cover of the Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone” are headstrong rock; “11:59” does run-for-the-horizon drama, while “Sunday Girl” conveys a sense of elegance. The record’s closest thing to a ballad, the noirish “Fade Away and Radiate”, owes a heavy debt to the art-pop of Roxy Music.

Harry herself was a mannered and complex frontwoman, possessed of a range of vocal tricks and affectations. She was as at home roaming around in the open spaces of “Radiate” or “Heart of Glass” as she was pouting and winking through “Picture This” and “Sunday Girl” or working out front of the group’s more hard-charging tracks. That versatility and charm extended to her sexuality as well – she had the sort of gamine, sophisticated look of a French new wave actress but always seemed supremely grounded and approachable, almost tomboyish. (That approachability was wisely played up in the band’s choice of key covers throughout its career– “Hanging on the Telephone”, “Denis”, and “The Tide Is High” each position Harry as a romantic pursuer with a depth and range of emotions rather than simply as an unattainable fantasy.)

Already into her thirties– ancient by pop music standards– when Blondie released its debut album, Harry (and many of her bandmates) had years of industry experience and music fandom; at the turn of the next decade, they would combine pop and art impulses like few bands before or since. The lush, shiny sound of Blondie still greatly informs European pop – which pulls less from hip-hop and R&B than its American counterpart– as evidenced by the Continent’s best recent pop architects and artists (producers Richard X and Xenomania, plus Robyn, Girls Aloud, and Annie); in America, however, the group is oddly seems tied to the past, a product of its era. Even the release of this record is built on the tentative need to celebrate its 30th anniversary. (An opportunity not fully explored: This latest reissue of the record includes a new album cover, as well as a DVD with four videos of television performances and a quartet of mostly unneeded extras – the 7″ edit of “Heart of Glass”, a French version of “Sunday Girl”, and a pair of remixes.) In that sense, this isn’t a record that needs to be re-purchased – if you own it already, skip this. Sadly, I get the feeling not many people under a certain age do own the record, however, which justifies the reason for trying to re-introduce it to a new audience – it’s still as sparkling and three-dimensional as ever.

JC adds…….

1978.  I’ve long had it in my mind it was 1979, but that’s really down to it being the year I saw them play live – and that was, of course, the Eat To The Beat tour.

42 years on and Parallel Lines still sounds ridiculously fresh in so many ways.  It’s the moment in history where those of us who liked disco almost as much as new wave could dance away till our wee hearts were fit to burst.  It remains a fantastic, ground-breaking album, wonderfully summarised (at length) in the above review, with the advantage of looking back at it many years after it first hit the shops.

mp3: Blondie – Hanging On The Telephone
mp3: Blondie – One Way or Another
mp3: Blondie – Sunday Girl
mp3: Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate

JC

 

 

BONUS POSTING : SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 41)

We interrupt this program with a special bulletin:
America is now under martial law
All constitutional rights have been suspended
Stay in your homes
Do not attempt to contact loved ones, insurance agents or attorneys
Shut up
Do not attempt to think or depression may occur
Stay in your homes
Curfew is at 7 PM sharp after work
Anyone caught outside the gates of their subdivision sectors after curfew
Will be shot
Remain calm, do not panic
Your neighborhood watch officer will be by to collect urine samples in the morning
Anyone caught interfering with the collection of urine samples
Will be shot
Stay in your homes, remain calm
The number one enemy of progress is question
National security is more important than individual will
All sports broadcasts will proceed as normal
No more than two people may gather anywhere without permission
Use only the drugs prescribed by your boss or supervisor
Shut up, be happy
Obey all orders without question
The comfort you demanded is now mandatory
Be happy
At last, everything is done for you

mp3: Ice T – Shut Up, Be Happy (featuring Jello Biafra)

In which the rapper took a lengthy sample from a 1987 spoken word album and added it to another sample from a 1970 track by Black Sabbath.  In doing so, he created a menacing and haunting opener for his third solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say!, released in October 1989, a second-hand copy of which I picked up quite recently as I wanted to get myself, on vinyl, a piece of music which has proven to be so relevant to the nightmarish 2020 we’ve just endured.

And with that, the blog is going into something of a hibernation for a short spell.  Normal service will resume on Sunday 10 January with the next proper look at the R.E.M singles while the follwoing day will see another guest ICA of Opening Tracks.   Tomorrow is the start of my festive retro series and there will continue to be a daily posting, including a little twist on the R.E.M. singles series over the next two upcoming Sundays.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas/holiday season, and here’s hoping 2021 proves to be a bit more sociable than 2020.

JC

BURNING BADGERS VINYL (Part 12): THE FAMILY CAT

Burning Badgers Vinyl – The Seven Inches #3

Jesus Christ – The Family Cat (1991, Clawfist Records)

SWC writes……..

Ah Christmas. Don’t you just love it. The chocolate, the cake, the presents, the copious amount of alcohol, the creepy uncle who smells of haddock, the Queen’s speech at 3pm, your granny snoring on the sofa after three small sweet sherries, Cliff Richard, Michael McIntyre, an hour long Mrs Brown’s Boys special, The Sound of Music, The Great Escape, The Italian Job only blowing the bloody doors off, new toys broken by Boxing Day and novelty records.

mp3: Jesus Christ – The Family Cat

In 1991 The Family Cat decided to have a go at being Christmas Number One. They recorded a crackly old version of Big Star’s ‘Jesus Christ’ complete with added sleigh bells and Christmassy sounding effects.

They failed miserably.

This was supposed to be a Christmas ICA written whilst ripped to the tits on brandy and stuffed to the gills with Stollen. I should have been surrounded by snow, log fires, and have Bing Crosby and David Bowie ‘Pa Rum Pum Pumming’ away in the background in frankly shocking jumpers.

I failed miserably.

Consistency people, consistency.

Merry Christmas Y’all.

SWC

GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT: JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

A GUEST POSTING by JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

Beyond Belief – An ICA of Opening Tracks

I loved Jimdoes’ ICA Begin the Begin Part 1: A set of lead-off album tracks that weren’t released as singles. A great concept and a daunting prospect since most LPs tend to lead off with the single hits. Part 2–opening tunes that were also single releases–seemed just too much to take on. Man, the choices are endless.

But I like a challenge. And I also like Elvis Costello. So when JC wrote “I’d rather the TVV community got on board” with our own picks, I narrowed down a top 10 list of Elvis Costello album openers, arranged in sequence like a complete LP. To make it more difficult I added additional criteria: no singles, no cover versions, no co-written songs, and no songs taken from collaborative, compilation or soundtrack albums. Came out like this:

Side A

No Action (This Year’s Model – 1978).
Pony St. (Brutal Youth – 1994).
Uncomplicated (Blood & Chocolate – 1986).
Down Among The Wines And Spirits (Secret, Profane And Sugarcane – 2009).
Brilliant Mistake (King of America – 1986).

Side B

Welcome To The Working Week (My Aim Is True – 1978).
Love For Tender (Get Happy!! – 1980).
Button My Lip (The Delivery Man – 2004).
National Ransom (National Ransom – 2010).
Beyond Belief (Imperial Bedroom – 1982).

JTFL

And here are both sides of the ICA as stand-alone listens.  (JC)

Beyond Belief: A Costello ICA: Side A (15:38)
Beyond Belief: A Costello ICA: Side B (14:46)

 

 

BONUS (RE) POST: DREAMS CAN COME TRUE

After the thrill of this morning’s exclusive interview with a Grammy award-winning video producer, I can’t but help myself and re-post a video on which my dulcet tones can be heard.

As I said, back on 2 March (just before COVID imposed its grip on all of us), this blogging thing has led to so many amazing things or events in my life, and just when I think it really can’t get any better, something else comes along and tops it.

There have been many occasions, and I’m going back decades to well before all this started, that I wished I could somehow end up in a recording studio doing something like contributing handclaps in the background, just so that I could say I had been part of something truly creative. I’m now almost 57 years old and I really thought that dream would never come true.

Until that day when The Affectionate Punch got in touch and asked if I would consider doing a spoken vocal version of a new song that the collective had just written. It was an immediate ‘yes’ from me but on the proviso that if my effort wasn’t good enough to the ears of the professionals, then I wouldn’t be offended if it ended up not being used.

Here is TAP to offer more in the way of background:-

The idea of a Scars e.p. came about following 2 individual comments that suggested the possibility of differing vocal interpretations of The Affectionate Punch songs. This was mulled over with interest resulting in a resounding yes.

The e.p. consists of 6 vocal interpretations of Scars in addition to 1 instrumental track. Each track has its own cover art.

Scars I has Holocaust Nancy on vocals
Scars II features the talents of Paul McKeever and Amanda Sanderson
Scars III is spoken by The Vinyl Villain with The Additions on vocals
Scars IV has Amanda Sanderson on vocals
Scars V is the instrumental version by The Affectionate Punch
Scars VI is the spoken word version by The Vinyl Villain
Scars VII is a remix by The Pocket Calculator Club

mp3: The Affectionate Punch – Scars III (featuring The Vinyl Villain with The Additions)

It’s a huge understatement to say that I’m incredibly thrilled by all of this. It’s very much a one-off on my part and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity.

TAP has been quite busy in recent times, and has made a couple more downloads freely available:-

Golly Gee Whizz – a 4-track EP of DIY recordings made between April and September 2020.  Click Here

Please Don’t Make Me Kill You/Honeysuckle Kiss – a digital double-sided single. Both songs were recorded on a laptop some 10 years ago and given a limited release with another project. These versions were remastered in December 2020 when TAP stumbled upon the files.  Click here

You can’t say fairer than having six free songs as a wee Christmas gift, can you?

(But it would be especially nice, if you haven’t done so previously, to make a few purchases of the other excellent TAP material, including the Scars EP, to be found on bandcamp).

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 26) : THE COMPANION PIECE

A GUEST POSTING FROM TWO COOL DUDES IN SANTA MONICA

Jonny the Friendly Lawyer writes: – As part of the popular REM singles series I asked JC if it would be okay for TVV-supporter and Hollywood good guy Vincent Landay to offer some thoughts about the video for ‘Crush With Eyeliner’, which Vincent worked on with his friend Spike Jonze.

JC responded, “You have asked a very daft question.” I took that to mean yes, so here’s what Vincent had to say about it over a beer in my backyard (garden).

JTFL: What was the general idea for the video?

Vincent: Spike had the idea that there’d be a teenage band performing a song. It’s supposed to be set in Asia and it’s supposed to be their song. They were to perform the song as if it was their own, not REM’s.

J: Where was it shot?

V: The interiors were mostly shot in the Japanese restaurant Yamato in the Century City Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Then other scenes were shot in downtown LA, little Tokyo, and the subway, which was pretty new at the time and didn’t have many passengers yet. We had no permits so the cop who shows up in the video was actually on the job; he came up to say we’re not allowed to film in the subway. There are also several scenes of the kids driving at night in the Second Street tunnel, which just feels like a modern Asian city.

J: Where did those kids come from?

V: They were individually cast. They weren’t an actual band. I don’t know if any of them knew each other before the shoot. They’re local LA kids, and almost all were about 17 at the time.

J: How long was the shoot?

V: One full day in the restaurant and another night with the kids running around town.

J: How involved were REM?

V: They were super supportive of the idea. They loved it and the fact that they only had cameo appearances. They liked playing the roles of people at a club watching another band. It’s probably one of the most understated appearances by a band in their own video—other than the Oasis video we shot in London but never quite finished. (Ed.: It is featured on the Spike Jonze Director’s Label DVD compilation as “The Oasis Video That Never Happened”).

J: What did the band have to say about the video after it was finished?

V: They loved it or they wouldn’t have let it out. They bought into the idea, and that’s what makes them so cool. Other bands need to be front and center all over the place, and instead they were cool with the idea of totally unknown teenagers starring in a video of their song, as if it was the kids’ song. They looked at their brief appearances like Alfred Hitchcock showing up in his own films. This was back in 1994 – the cameos were like “Easter Eggs” before there was such a thing.

Afterwards Michael Stipe got really interested in filmmaking and formed a production company. His producing partner, Sandy Stern, would frequently send scripts to Spike but none that Spike was especially into. After he had turned down a number of scripts, Sandy told Spike that Michael really wanted to do a film with him; was there anything he was actually interested in? In fact, Spike liked a Charlie Kaufman script for “Being John Malkovich.” It was a spec script, meaning that it was simply intended to show that Kaufman could write a screenplay as he had only written for television up to that point. Charlie didn’t think anyone would ever make it. But Michael and Sandy found out that it hadn’t been optioned yet and obtained the rights. The rest is history, as the saying goes.

J: Anything crazy or surprising about the shoot?

V: It was low budget and guerilla, like it was the kids themselves making the movie. It was shot on super 8, which is a risky format to use because we were shipping Kodachrome film to somewhere in Dallas to be processed. That’s not what you do when you make a video for a major artist. We had no idea how the footage would look until it was developed. And that’s the feel we were going for, that it was coming from the kids.

J: Super 8 handheld cameras?

V: They were actually like my parents’ cameras, the ones they used to make home movies. I remember sitting in our living room at home watching our family movies projected on the wall. I wondered, is that what we’re going to get back?

J: Who else was on the shoot?

V: Lance Acord was the cinematographer and he put together a great lighting team. Lance went on to become a director and his team are now all really successful cinematographers, working on major American shows: Jim Frohna on Transparent, Kris Kachikis on The Unicorn and Shane Hurlbut on big features like Terminator Salvation.

J: Terminator Salvation? Is Shane Hurlbut that guy who Christian Bale infamously threw a tantrum at on set?

V: Same guy. Nothing like that happened on our shoot.

J: Lastly, one of the esteemed contributors to this venerable blog wrote about REM that “Mills is an okay bassist and a crap singer. Berry is at best a passable drummer.” Would you agree?

V: No. Whoever wrote that is an idiot.

JC adds.…..It was so good of Jonny to come up with the idea of asking Vincent if he wanted to come on board, and I’m really thrilled that he did so.  It offers a great and unique insight into R.E.M. when they were at the height of their fame.

I do recall that here in the UK, the video wasn’t aired on Top of the Pops in February 1995.  Instead, we were treated to the band, ‘live’ from Tokyo (the latest location on the world tour) in which everyone paid homage to the video and the image that adorned the sleeve of Monster:-

The folk inside the dancing bears costumes were none other than the members of Grant Lee Buffalo, the support act for the initial part of the world tour. And, as I always like to have a least one song per day on the blog, here’s a very fine track from the album Mighty Joe Moon, released in 1994:-

mp3: Grant Lee Buffalo – Mockingbirds

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 26)

I’m with The Robster on the things he’s written about Monster these past two weeks. It’s worth remembering that it was released at a time when R.E.M. were the biggest contemporary musical act on the planet and its contents were greeted by some with a sense of disbelief.  Some music critics were scathing of what had been written, recorded and put out into the shops:-

Monster is so much of a reaction to its predecessors that it can’t help but come across as something of an academic exercise in having fun.  It’s this that distinguishes Monster from recent REM opuses. That, and the steak of disingenuity, make it a hard album to love unreservedly.

The words of Keith Cameron, reviewing the album for NME in September 1994. (It’s worth noting that the same writer had given Automatic for The People a 10/10 review in Vox magazine a few years earlier).

The thing is, from the perspective of the label, it really didn’t matter what the critics thought as the tickets for the world tour shows during 1995 sold out within minutes of being made available – old and new fans alike couldn’t wait to see the band again after such a long hiatus and Monster went straight in at #1 on the back of the mania.

Thinking back to its release, my first listen did bemuse me greatly.  I had assumed the lead-off single to be something of a curveball, a comeback single to throw folk off-guard, and that the album would offer a blend of this was the occasional nod to the recent back catalogue.  Not one bit of it, as it proved to be an all-out attack on the senses.  Even when the tempo slowed to ballad time, the results left the listener feeling a tad unclean and uneasy (but I’ll come to that in Part 28 of this series in the new year!!).

As ever, with any new record, initial listens are accompanied by reading the sleeve notes, although in the era of CDs, the joy was diminished somewhat by the way things were now printed up.  Indeed, so little info was contained with Monster that it could be consumed in the time it took to listen to the opening track which just happened to be the lead-off single, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? but what caught my attention was this under the heading of additional players

Thurston Moore (Crush W.Eyeliner)

The appearance of the joint-leader of Sonic Youth was genuinely one to look forward to. Just two years earlier, they had come up from the underground in the UK thanks to the album Dirty which had gone Top 10 and had been much played during my daily commute between Glasgow and Edinburgh (one which came to an end a few weeks after the release of Monster as I landed a new job in my home city).  And while Sonic Youth’s own 1994 album, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, hadn’t quite provided the same sort of impact, I was thrilled that the second track on Monster was sure to pay a nod to loud guitars

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner

I was quite blown away by it, to the extent that I was waiting for the rest of the songs to live up to it, all of which meant I was left bemused as it felt the album had opened with two great songs that the rest hadn’t quite matched. But, as with so many genuinely great albums, the reward comes from repeated listens, and while it might have taken maybe six months or so (the change of job and circumstances meant that I wasn’t quite listening to music as much as I would have liked as the new job also meant that myself and Rachel could now go house-hunting!), by the summer of 95 I was smitten……but not enough to overcome my adversity to outdoor gigs and go see the band at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh when the tour eventually reached Scotland for a sole date.

The thing is, I never thought of Crush With Eyeliner as being an obvious single. Indeed, I didn’t see there being too many singles on the album, but the fact that they were proving to be such big hits only goes to show what little I know….or perhaps fans really just wanted to get their hands on yet more live tracks from the Greenpeace benefit show, as well as the instrumental version of the single made available on 7″ orange-coloured vinyl:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (instrumental)
mp3: R.E.M. – Fall On Me (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Me In Honey (live. Greenpeace)
mp3: R.E.M. – Finest Worksong (live, Greenpeace)

At least with Me In Honey, something a bit different was made available as a b-side and to be fair, the band does sound in very good form on all three tracks.

And finally to the 2019 remix.

I’m not a fan when bands do this sort of thing and I avoided going out and purchasing the 25th-anniversary reissue of Monster until I saw a vinyl copy on sale a few months ago, not long after I got myself the new turntable, amp and speakers. I was very pleasantly surprised by everything, to the extent that it actually felt like a whole new, perhaps previously ‘lost’, REM album had emerged blinking in the sunlight from the vaults.

The mix of Crush is one of those which is quite different…..the harsh edge has been removed and the lyric is much easier to pick up. Indeed, it is quite radio-friendly and kind of loses something as a result.

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (remix)

It was actually one of the few disappointments on the remix album, but it’s a disappointment of a very mild kind.

Please tune in tomorrow for a special companion piece to this one.  That’s all I’m prepared to say for now, but I reckon you’ll all like it….

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #242: PENNYCRESS

It was back in October 2015 that Song By Toad Records decided to issue a sixteen-track compilation album called David Cameron’s Eton Mess.  Almost all of the singers and bands were, at the time, unknown with very little more than a few tracks available online or via a limited physical release, most often cheaply done on a cassette.  Label owner, Matthew Young, said at the time:-

“Most of the bands are friends and a lot of musicians feature on several of the album’s tracks, one of the reasons why we’ve put the compilation together. It feels like there’s this pool of really talented musicians bubbling away and all sorts of excellent music is starting to emerge from the mix. Bands are forming, breaking up, and starting again all the time. When you see a loose collection of bands connecting like this you never know what is going to happen. A few will disappear, some will do okay, some might pave the way for others, and a few of these bands could go on to do really well.”

The album is available on bandcamp, and there are still some vinyl copies available by mail order.

The album closer is by Pennycress, with the song taken from the cassette/download album, See Us Swell, that had been self-released in the summer of 2014.  Sadly, by the time the Song By Toad compilation was issued, the trio who made up this band – Kate, Seb and Calvin – had long called it a day after what appears to have been no more than a year together.  I found this description of them from December 2014:-

The name Pennycress (originally just Cress) started appearing at the bottom of bills in the summer. From their first show in Glasgow School of Art’s Vic Bar, it was clear, however, that they had both ferocity and texture in equal measure. Since then they’ve blasted their way through a number of show-stealing sets to the point where they really should be the main draw. Theirs is a tight, cohesive take on Olympia, Washington riot grrrl/hardcore. Fired-up teenagers, the world over should be tearing down whatever posters they have on their walls to make way for their Pennycress clippings. Fingers crossed they can capture their spark when recording. If they can, their records will be uncompromising treats.

Going by the few clips I’ve seen of them on you tube, I don’t think the recording process quite caught the spark mentioned in the above review, albeit I haven’t found any live footage of the song included on the SbT compilation.

Judge for yourself:-

mp3: Pennycress – Stopped and Stared

I’ve also learned that Kate, on the break-up of Pennycress, joined the Cardiff-based Joanna Gruesome after their lead vocalist had decided to leave, just a few months after them winning the 2014 Welsh Music Prize.

JC

THE BIG HITS…..30 YEARS ON (12)

At long last, we reach the final part of this series looking back at the UK singles charts of 1990.  As anticipated, most of the new entries over the course of December had a festive theme, but there were a very small number of decent entries, while the final chart of the year, which crossed into the first of 1991, was genuinely surprising.  Here’s the contents of the selection boxes:-

2 December

The month opened with no changes in the Top 4, with Vanilla Ice, The Righteous Brothers, EMF, and Kim Appleby all holding the same positions as they had at the end of November.  The highest new entry, at #5 was no real surprise, nor would its eventual rise to #1, as Cliff Richard unleashes Saviour’s Day on a wholly suspecting nation, thus repeating his success of 1988 with Mistletoe and Wine.

There was a bit of ying to Cliff’s yang with the second-highest new entry as Ms. Ciccone decided she wanted to sex everyone up:-

mp3: Madonna – Justify My Love (#9)

A new song to promote The Immaculate Collection, a greatest-hits album that would fly off the shelves in December and find its way into the stockings of millions across the world.  For someone who had always used MTV and videos to further her career, Madonna came up with a brilliantly effective method to further rack up sales of Justify My Love by filming a promo that was always going to be deemed too sexually explicit for MTV and thus be banned, leading to to the decision to make it available, commercially, as a video single.  It is reckoned, in the USA, that actual single sold around 1 million copies and that 400,000 copies of the video were shifted.

Two bands that had been around for a few years without much commercial success until 1990 also enjoyed new entries this week:-

mp3: The Farm – Altogether Now (#12)
mp3: James – Lose Control (#33)

Altogether Now proved to be the highpoint in the career of The Farm, rising to #4 and spending a total of six weeks in the Top Ten either side of Xmas/New Year.  It was quite fitting for a song that took its inspiration from the Christmas Day truce in 1914 when soldiers on both sides put down their weapons to met in no-mans-land where there was an exchange of gifts and games of football were played.

Lose Control immediately dropped down the chart the following week, but the fact it even made the Top 40 was a sign that the fanbase of James was continuing to grow, leading to them becoming probably the biggest band in the UK in 1991/92.

The best ‘new’ record of the week came in at #22:-

mp3: Yazoo – Situation (1990 remix)

Yup, a full eight years after first appearing as the b-side to Only You, and seven years after the duo had disbanded, one of their most popular and most enduring tracks was given the remix treatment and re-released as a single.  It would climb to #14 the following week.

9 December

Just the one single worth highlighting, as much to demonstrate that club hits still had the capacity to crossover into the mainstream:-

mp3: C&C Music Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) (feat. Freedom Williams) (#40)

This single would spend 12 weeks all told in the Top 50, finally dropping out in mid-March having peaked at #3. It is still, all these years later, one of the most immediately identifiable dance hits of any era.

16 December

Under the cover of darkness, I’ll just mention that The Sisters of Mercy and Billy Idol sneaked their lastest singles into the charts at #39 and #56 respectively.

23 December

The highest new entry this week was at #73, and the distincyion belonged to A Homeboy, A Hippie and Funki Dredd with a song called Freedom.  Quite clearly, the record industry makers and shakers were too busy partying to get fresh product into the shops

The nation rejoiced, however, as Cliff, just in time, took the #1 spot, kicking Vanilla Ice’s sorry ass in the process and bringing his four-week reign at the top to an end.  The question that needs to be asked is whether it was a fix, in that Cliff only stayed one week at #1 before dropping down to #3, whereas the Iceman was at #2 for this chart and the next, which contained a few surprises as the kids raced out to the shops and spent their record tokens on all sorts of singles that were brand new in the shops……

30 December

mp3: Deborah Harry and Iggy Pop – Did You Evah? (#70)

The second single lifted from the Red Hot + Blue compilation album aimed at raising funds to fight AIDS.  It would eventually peak at #42.

mp3: Prefab Sprout – Carnival 2000 (#57)

This was one of four tracks to be found on the Jordan EP, which was following on from two earlier singles lifted from Jordan : The Comeback, an album that had been released in September 1990 to near universal acclaim.  The EP would reach #35

Other new entries this week were Robert Palmer, Motorhead, The Stranglers, and Bananarama, all of whose releases came in outside the Top 40.

The hard rock brigade featured well this week, with Anthrax from New York City scoring at #23, with a cover of a Joe Jackson song

mp3: Anthrax – Got The Time

Seven months later, they would team up with Chuck D and take a cover of Bring The Noise into the top 20.

The year ended, however, with a very rare beast, namely a #1 for a hard rock band. One of the UK’s home grown acts who had previously seen a number of 45s go Top Ten in the late 80s, but this was this the first, and as it proved, last, time they hit #1 – and it was achieved with a brand-new entry.

By my reckoning, this was just the 22nd time a song had entered the singles chart at #1, going back to 1952.

Between 1991 and 1999, that particulat accomplishment would be achieved 122 times; indeed of the 35 songs which reached #1 in 1999, fully 33 of them would enter at #1, of which 20 would fall off the top spot after just one week.  Changed days indeed…..

JC

 

RIPPING BADGERS CDs (Part 2): BILLY BRAGG

Ripping Badgers CDs
The nearly finished A to Z Charity Shop CD Challenge #2

Workers Playtime (1988, Go! Discs)
Bought from Oxfam, Teignmouth for 99p

JC writes…

Quite clearly, I wasn’t in Teignmouth when Badger and SWC found themselves in the Oxfam Book and Music Shop when this, along with albums by Apollo 440, Cornershop and Dinosaur Jr were purchased. But that small matter didn’t stop me from offering to write up today’s piece.

Workers Playtime was, at the time of its release, something of a shock to the system for those of us who had followed the fortunes of Stephen William Bragg over the previous few years.  I’d be lying if I said anything other than it was his political songs that had got me on board, and it was these, along with the hugely entertaining and often highly educational monologues in-between the songs that made him such a great live experience. Yes, the love songs were lovely to listen to, especially for the fact that they were far removed from being soppy, often tinged with a sense of self-deprecation and humour, or, in the case of Levi Stubbs’ Tears, (the stand-out track on 1986’s Talking With The Taxman About Poetry), written from a perspective that was thought-provoking and ultimately, incredibly moving.

Come 1988, and Billy Bragg was, to all intent and purposes, a pop star, thanks to his take on She’s Leaving Home spending time at #1 in the UK singles charts.  OK, so it did piggyback on being the double-A side of With A Little Help From My Friends by Wet Wet Wet, with both taken from the compilation re-recording of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band pulled together by the NME in aid of the charity Childline.  The fact remains that while the single was at #1, with maybe 95-99% of the airplay and subsequent sales being due to the Scottish pop/soul combo, it still led to Billy Bragg appearing in the Top of The Pops studio where accompanied by Cara Tivey on piano, he was lauded as being responsible for the best-selling single of the week.

A few months later and Workers Playtime hit the shops.  It came at a time when I was newly married, and although I realised from fairly early on that it wasn’t likely to last, I was in a mindset of being happy and joyous about how life was treating me at the age of 25 – a decent job with a career to build on, a nice house in an attractive small town just outside of Edinburgh, and I’d also reconnected again with a mate from my university days after a few years apart after he left early to try and make it as a footballer while I finished my degree.  I didn’t completely warm to an album filled with slow-paced and anguished songs, albeit the rabble-rousing and joyous track which closed proceedings certainly had something going for it.

I remember at the time Billy saying that he wanted his new record to go in a different direction, partly as a response to the disappointing way that British politics had not moved away from years of Tory rule, but also as he wanted to build on some of the best experiences from Taxman and deliver an album which he would record mostly with a band.  It was only after really enjoying the songs on 1991’s Don’t Try This At Home did I really revisit Workers Playtime, by when my marriage was over and I was in a much different place having been on a real emotional rollercoaster for a long time.  Its songs connected with me so much better.

Many years later, and the Andrew Collins biography of Billy Bragg told the wider and largely unknown story of many of the songs on Workers Playtime, namely that the songs had come from personal and bitter experiences, something that the very private Billy Bragg hadn’t gone into when the album was released. It’s an album written by someone who had fallen deeply in love only for it all to end very badly and for reasons he hasn’t been able to fathom, and in ways he never saw coming.

mp3: Billy Bragg – Must I Paint You A Picture

Thirty years on and the great man, having later found love, happiness and contentment can now make reference to the era when he plays the songs from the album in the live setting. He stands on the stage as if to say to his audience that he knows the answer to the time-old question, ‘What Becomes of The Broken-Hearted?’

I would imagine that, as the years have passed, many people have thanked Billy Bragg for these songs, as they surely have resonated with all of us at some point in our lives.

There’s something inside that hurts my foolish pride
To visit the places we use to go together
Not a day goes by that I don’t sit and wonder why
Your feelings for me didn’t last forever

If these had been written for a Motown artist in the 60s, they’d be held up as amongst the greatest of all time:-

mp3: Billy Bragg – The Price I Pay

He writes elsewhere of falling in love with a little time bomb; of hating the arsehole he becomes when he’s with her; of thinking that fate has been against them from the very start.

The thing is, Billy Bragg a few years earlier wrote Love Gets Dangerous, one of the tracks on his 1983 debut Life’s A Riot…., in which he accepted that falling head over heels is very very scary, and it was the penultimate and very autobiographical song on Worker’s Playtime which proved that very point, especially when things fail so miserably:-

mp3: Billy Bragg – The Short Answer

In among all this, Billy still found time to do the politics – with Tender Comrade, an acapella song about the life and times of a post-conflict soldier, and Rotting On Remand in which he questions the morality of aspects of the justice system.  He also returns to the subject of domestic abuse, with the haunting and majestic Valentine’s Day Is Over.

But the best is left till the end, and I’ll simply repeat the words I used in September 2015 when I pulled together a Billy Bragg ICA.

‘If I was ever asked if there was one song in the world that I wished I had ever written, it would be this.

And here’s a wee confession….without fail it activates my tear ducts despite the fact that it’s not a sad song whatsoever. But it’s a song that makes me think about death for the simple fact is that I want it to be played at my funeral as the mourners depart the service…and I want them all to laugh out loud at the point Billy shouts ‘beam me up Scotty.” You’ll all be welcome to attend.

The best closing song to any album….ever.’

mp3: Billy Bragg – Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Looking back, it is clear that while there had been evidence on the previous albums, it took until Workers Playtime to really confirm to any doubters that Billy Bragg was way much more than a big-nosed, big-mouthed lefty whose was best at lecturing us with shouty songs about making the world a better and safer place.  This is is when the personal songs began to heavily outweigh the political, both in quantity and in quality, laying the foundation for the remainder of his outstanding career as a musician and entertainer.

Which is why, if asked, I’ll now name Workers Playtime as my favourite Bragg album of them all.

JC

RIPPING BADGERS CDs (Part 1): APOLLO 440

Ripping Badgers CDs
The nearly finished A to Z Charity Shop CD Challenge #1

Electro Glide in Blue – Apollo 440 (1997, Stealth Sonic Recordings)
Bought from Oxfam, Teignmouth for 99p

There was of course a box of CDs that came with the records given to me by Mrs Badger. The CDs were nearly all purchased from charity shops in Devon. I was there when Badger bought this particular CD, it cost him 99p and he got it from the excellent Oxfam Book and Music shop in Teignmouth.

“You should get that…” I tell Badger, spying the CD in his hand. “For 99p, that is a bonafide bargain”. He looks at me doubtfully. “Of course,” I tell him “you could borrow my copy and burn it but think of all the good your 99p could do to help communities in Chad devastated by another dry summer and potato blight”.

Badger sighs and adds it to the other two CDs that he holds in his mitts. He pauses, checks his wallet, sighs again and wanders over to the rack and picks up the copy of ‘Green Mind’ by Dinosaur Jr that he had put down a few minutes ago. He turns to me and says “When was the last time you ate a potato that had come from Chad…?”

He reaches over to the Fairtrade chocolate and adds two bars of the ‘Mandarin Dark’ to the pile.

“You buy your potatoes from a vastly overpriced Organic Farm in Totnes, that are personally licked by a passing tramp for organic authenticity”. He smiles at the old lady behind the counter and hands over a crisp, newly printed tenner. We walk outside, Badger cradling his new bag of swag, me empty-handed, it had started to rain so we decide to take refuge in the handily placed ‘Award Winning Coffee Shop’ directly opposite.

As we sit at the table, supping our drinks (me tea, Badger, a turmeric latte) Badger inspects his wares. He has four CDs – They are ‘Electro Glide in Blue’ by Apollo 440, ‘Workers Playtime’ by Billy Bragg, ‘Handcream for a Generation’ by Cornershop and as mentioned already ‘Green Mind’ by Dinosaur Jr.

He looks at them and smiles “Well look at that” he says. “The CDs I have bought are alphabetical, A,B,C and D…I wonder if we could go all the way through the alphabet buying CDs from charity shops…”

And that folks is how Badger and I started and sadly never finished, our last ‘stupid boys challenge’, for The Sound of Being OK blog. We had a little spreadsheet and as and when we bought a CD we would fill in the details on it. It looks like we found CDs from 20 of the 26 letters of the alphabet (missing H, I, Q, U, X, Z). Badger bought at least ten of these – so the CD series will feature those ten in alphabetical order.

All of which misty-eyed reminiscing brings us to the first CD in the pile.

‘Electro Glide In Blue’ by Apollo 440 was considered by some to be an unlucky record (and you can perhaps see why). It was recorded in the mid-nineties and features guest contributions from Charles Bukowski and Billy Mackenzie from The Associates and also a tribute to jazz drumming superstar Gene Krupa.

All three had sadly died by the time the album was released.

mp3: Krupa
mp3: Tears of the Gods (Featuring Charles Bukowksi)
mp3: Pain in any Language (featuring Billy Mackenzie)

If you ask me, these three tracks are the best three moments on a fantastic (if quite lengthy) album. ‘Krupa’, for instance, is a wonderful piece of music. It’s all about the drumming which bounces along cheerily like a four-year-old on a trampoline after three back-to-back Sherbet fountains. It also has this decent little synth holding it together which takes it to that sublime level. But it’s not just about synths and bouncy beats, ‘Electro Glide…’ blends various types of music, rock, techno, soft porn soundtracks. It is if you like a musical kettle of fish.

‘Tears of the Gods’ is the track that features American – German poet Charles Bukowksi and perhaps underlines what I mean about it being a musical kettle of fish. This one contains a lot of guitars and when you add them to Bukowski’s frankly brilliant vocals it is sublime and way more sultry than most of the soundalike indie bands that were around at the time that this was recorded.

Which brings us on to dear old Billy Mackenzie and ‘Pain In Any Language’ which I think is the finest moment on the entire album. A nearly nine-minute electronic opus that blends Asian sounding chimes and soft subtle beats. But it’s the vocal that really make this track. I don’t know if it’s because of all the sadness around Billy’s death or the fact that writing this has made me reflective but my oh my, Billy Mackenzie could sing. I mean his voice on this is just incredible and very nearly reduced me to tears.

‘Electro Glide in Blue’ also contains two more tracks of note, the first you will all recognise and that is the Van Halen sampling, apostrophe utilising monster that is ‘Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub’. Which is obviously brilliant.

mp3: Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub

It also contains an enormous mock classical piece right at the end, called ‘Stealth Mass in F#M’. Which brings us back to the ‘unlucky record’ – because fact fans, this track, you might be interested to know was I think, playing on BBC Radio 1 when the news of the death of Princess Diana flooded in.

mp3: Stealth Mass in F#M

SWC

THE ART OF THE COMPANY PRESS RELEASE

For more years than I care to remember, I was involved in churning out press and media releases, mostly back in the day when these things carried some importance as the era of the 24-hour news cycle and the need for instant information was still some while off.  The main target was the printed press, with a favourable outcome being a good spread not too far from the first few pages of news, preferably with your pre-supplied photo also included.

There’s all sorts of advice out there on how to best go about writing a good press release, but in essence, it boils down to these key components:-

1. Have an attention-grabbing headline and the most relevant details in the opening paragraph
2. Stick to the facts, avoiding adjectives at all costs
3. Do not hype anything up
4. Have easy-to-follow key sentences that won’t be sub-edited
5. Provide strong and easily attributable quotes, from someone in any accompanying photo.

I did OK in that I was able to get by for more than 25 years, but looking at this example from a 1985 release for a new single by The Fall, I don’t think I’d have lasted 25 minutes in the field of music PR:-

Subject: Oh! Brother press release, June 1984

12″ THE FALL – ‘Oh! Brother’ / ‘O! Brother’ ‘God Box’

THE SINISTER TONES OF PRE-FIX LOOPS

The nucleus of ‘Oh! Brother’ was composed a decade ago, a version performed by The Fall to a Diddley beat in the late ’70s, rewritten twelve times at least. Only now has Mark E. Smith seen fit to record and release it in its now-relevant form.

As the cover details were being finalised on the morning of May 4th, Barbara Castle MP drove past the Fall home in Manchester declaring through a megaphone: ‘Vote for FOGG! Vote Fogg! I’m Barbara….’ This is oddly relevant to the text of ‘Oh! Brother’.

Translation of the pidgin-German on track reads: ‘I hate the crowd / The impotent crowd / The pliable crowd / Who tomorrow will rip my heart out.’

‘God Box’ a.k.a. GAWD-Box or Gold-Box concerns the effect of Christian TV on sleep patterns, and sympathetically monitors the story of a recipient i.e. M.E.S.

SPLINTER. Sleeeep. Singing. Draaag.

Also, dear pop-rats, ‘God Box’ heralds the debut of Brix Smith as guitarist and arranger full time. Plus two drummers, steel ashtrays, mod bass and on 12″ version Armed Forces TV waves.

The Fall treat 45’s as form experiments, being of the opinion that singles have an inimitable power of conveying topicality sound distortion and brain-stretch.

THEREFORE, ‘Oh! Brother’ / ‘God Box’ is firmly in the tradition of ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ (‘Rubbish’ – Jeff Beck) ‘Fiery Jack’ (‘Doowop?’ – A. Thrills) ‘Lie Dream of a Casino Soul’ ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded’ (MERE competition words wise ‘socialogical’ ‘VOICE?’ etc. – Chris Bonn) and ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ (‘they took a wrong turn somewhere’).

‘Blank verse, n. – the most difficult kind of English verse to write acceptably; a kind, therefore much affected by those who cannot acceptably write any kind’ Ambrose Bierce

Oh Brother /God Box by THE FALL  –  THE REAL MONTY!

I have no idea how the folk on the newsdesks at NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror coped with this sort of stuff landing on their desks each week.  It does, however, kind of help to make sense why so many of the singles reviews were impenetrable to the average reader.

mp3: The Fall – Oh! Brother
mp3: The Fall – Oh! Brother (12″ mix)
mp3: The Fall – God-Box

This was The Fall’s thirteenth single/EP going back to 1978. It was their first for Beggars Banquet which meant it was disqualified for inclusion in the Indie Chart where many of the previous efforts had reached the Top 10.  It did, however, creep into the very lower echelons of the proper chart, reaching #93 and thus becoming the first Fall single to get into the Top 100 selling 45s of a particular week.  There were some who said/argued this was evidence of them selling out, and many of those making the arguments put the blame on Brix…..

JC

 

BONUS POST : HEAR THE DRUMMER GET WICKED

I’ve previously mentioned that I have a great number of music biographies in various nooks and crannies around Villain Towers, none of which I show any inclination to give away, although I will lend things out to various friends. I’ve just again added to the existing 20 or so books related to Factory Records/Joy Division/New Order/The Hacienda, with Fast Foward, the second volume of autobiography by Stephen Morris, who I must stop describing  simply as ‘the drummer.’

His first volume, Record Play Pause was a hugely enjoyable effort but it was kind of overshadowed by the fact that I read it at the same time as This Searing Light, The Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division – The Oral History , by Jon Savage, which very much has a place near the top of the best music bios.  Knowing, however, that volume two was on its way to me, having ordered an advance signed copy from Rough Trade, I gave volume one another read and found it every bit as enjoyable and entertaining as first time around, this setting me up perfectly to pick up where Stephen had left off, which was the death of Ian Curtis.

Fast Forward, therefore, is essentially the tale of New Order from 1980 to 2020, spread over 450 pages.  It is a well-known tale, one which as all music fans of a certain age knows, involves a lot of deaths, not least Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton, Anthony H Wilson and Factory Records.  The author does his very best to not go over the stories and incidents that have dominated previous books, but is still something of a shock that Wilson’s passing is covered in just one sentence, although there are very understandable reasons as to why given it occurred at a time when there were very difficult and challenging events taking place in Morris’s life and circumstances.  But the fact that something so significant in the wider story of Factory/New Order kind of passes by almost in the blink of an eye is the perfect illustration as to why Fast Forward is an essential read to anyone who is interested in trying to get a proper handle on why things have gone certain ways since New Order emerged blinking and bewildered on the back of what was, at the time, the suicide of a relatively little-known singer of a cult indie band on a cult indie label.

Stephen Morris, on the basis of these two volumes of autobiography, is a very self-deprecating person.  He knows he’s the quiet, almost unrecognisable bloke in the band, a situation brought home to him on countless occasions when he’s stopped from gaining access to gigs and events that he is very much central to.  He knows he’s regarded as the least interesting of the band, having little to say or do that makes headlines when talking to journalists, and the book plays on his perception as a geek by devoting countless paragraphs to descriptions of the equipment and technology advances New Order were investing in throughout the 80s in efforts to stay at the cutting edge of the way music was now being played and produced – spoiler alert, he ends up being less and less of a drummer and increasingly a programmer.

There’s a case to be made, however, that he was the most important member of the band.  He was the one who took the brave decision to go with the suggestion from Rob Gretton that his girlfriend, Gillian Gilbert, should become the fourth member of New Order given that he knew he would be exposing her to a world of sexism and misogyny, thus putting his own personal happiness at risk.  It’s no real secret that Peter Hook in particular never took to the idea of having a woman in the band, a position he never seems ever to have been at ease with, but it was surprising and disappointing to read how Bernard Sumner reacted to some suggestions about increasing Gillian’s responsibilities as time went on. But, in giving space to all of this, Stephen Morris doesn’t shy away from highlighting the occasions when he let his girlfriend down, and one particularly spectacular incident in Bangkok is revealed in all its gruesome detail, which leaves the reader in no doubt that the author could be a bit of a dick.

I have to say that for the first two-thirds of Fast Forward, I was of the view that it was an inferior read in comparison to Record Play Pause.  I think this was down to the fact that it was racing through at breakneck speed, with just a few pages devoted to each album or tour, but it was satisfying to read that Morris’ views and opinions on the releases more or less chimed with my own thoughts, and to have confirmation of my long held view that cocaine played such a big part in the way that Shellshock was given the kitchen sink approach as it evolved and developed, with nobody prepared to take anything out of the near ten minutes that the 12″ version ended up being.  Oh, and while I’ve somehow always thought the band spent about six months in Ibiza with the recording of Technique, it was only two months, albeit there was a lot of partying and relaxing rather than music playing – it turns out most of the sounds were put down in the Real World Studio complex, just outside of Bath in south-west England.

My mind, however, changed as the author began to switch increasingly away from the New Order story and to focus more on his own circumstances, including how The Other Two became an important part of his and Gillian’s story in the 90s.  He also returns to his relationship with his father, something that had been central to much of volume one,
particularly at its beginning before Joy Division became the be-all and end-all for the author, and to see it come back so sharply into focus near the end of volume two, when New Order was becoming increasingly less important for the author was something of a surprise, albeit it becomes yet another instance when he has to deal with death and the issues it leaves him facing.

The sleeve jacket does offer a very decent summary of this book:-

Blending entertaining anecdote with profound reflection, Fast Forward strips back a lifetime of fame and fortune to tell, with raw honesty, how New Order threatened to implode time after time. And yet, despite everything, the legacy of their music continued to hold them together.

By the end of the 450 pages (which were read over the course of just two days), I wanted more, albeit the story seems to have come to its natural conclusion.  Stephen Morris does acknowledge that much more could have been written, and in particular, the role that Gillian played both as a band member and as the rock to which he clung when he was in danger of being washed away.  He also acknowledges that with the band still on the go, very much against expectations both internally and externally, the story is not complete, and he hints that a whole other book may well emerge at some point.  It certainly won’t be in the immediate future – at the age of 63, Stephen Morris, is having to slow down and 2021 is a year in which New Order will be taking to the road and so there’ll be no time to sit down and write up another volume of memoirs.  Perhaps it won’t be written until such a time as the music has finally come to a stop and he can look back at things, perhaps when he can really think and reflect more on the legacy rather than telling a series of chronological tales.  On the basis of the pages of Fast Forward, it’ll be worth the wait.

mp3: The Other Two – The Greatest Thing
mp3: The Other Two – Loved It (The Other Track)
mp3: New Order – Shellshock (12″ version)
mp3: New Order – The Perfect Kiss (12″ version)

The last is included as one in which there is nothing in the way of Stephen Morris playing the drums but his programming, including the musical frogs, is really what makes the tune.

JC