AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #219 : ORANGE JUICE (2)

Orange Juice.

ICA 57 was my stab at coming up with the perfect 10-track LP. There’s the occasional day that I think I nailed it, but for the most part I find myself wondering why certain pieces of music didn’t make it. I’ve long thought that the time was ripe for a Volume Two but I have more or less run out of superlatives to accompany the tracks. The solution? Scour the internet and find a few hundred words from someone else that have me nodding in agreement.

Here’s Alexis Petridis, with his review of the Coals to Newcastle boxset, as published in the Guardian newspaper back in November 2010.

Tucked away on this six CD and one DVD boxset, there’s a brief radio interview with Edwyn Collins. It hails from just after Orange Juice’s greatest commercial success, when Rip It Up reached the top 10. The group’s frontman seems weary and cynical, his conversation punctuated with awkward laughter. Mention of the music press-boosted New Pop movement of which Rip It Up was supposed to be a perfect exemplar – clever, radio-friendly, powered by the modern-sounding squelch of the Roland 303 synthesiser – sets him off: “Bland … insipid … vacuous … disgusting.” He sounds not like a man who’s finally claimed his rightful place on Top of the Pops, but someone who thinks he’s already blown it.

Listening to the music on Coals to Newcastle in chronological order, you can see why. The first CD contains the early singles and the unreleased debut album Ostrich Churchyard. It documents the startling 18-month period during which Orange Juice minted a sound that brilliantly connected the agitated, trebly strum of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On to the scratchy funk guitars of disco; dragged rock music further from its primal macho roots than anyone before had ever dared; wrote a succession of staggeringly brilliant songs – Falling and Laughing, Dying Day, Consolation Prize; and singlehandedly, if unwittingly, invented what came to be known as indie music. The music press thought they’d be huge. Orange Juice had the tunes, arch, witty lyrics that could conceivably have provoked Morrissey-like devotion, and in the lush-lipped and befringed Collins a frontman who might conceivably have provoked teen mania.

Predictions of their imminent ascendancy seemed to tactfully ignore a number of facts. Orange Juice’s charm was bound up with the fact that they sounded spindly and ramshackle by comparison with most early 80s pop, and looked deeply weird in their plastic sandals, cravats and tweeds: in every sense of the phrase, they offered a kind of charity-shop Chic. Collins’s voice was an acquired taste: he sounded not unlike a tipsy man launching into an after-dinner speech with his mouth still full of port and walnuts.

They signed to Polydor, which didn’t seem to know what to do with them, beyond adding the brass section that was the 80s major label’s default answer to bridging the gulf between the indie chart and the real thing. Trailed by an audacious cover of Al Green’s L-O-V-E (Love), You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever sounded great – if you hadn’t already heard earlier recordings. But the Smash Hits audience opted instead for Haircut 100 and their David Cassidy version of Orange Juice’s sound: all the tweeness, none of the intelligence or grit.

In search of greater professionalism, Collins fired half the band, including the other songwriter James Kirk. The Rip It Up single was fantastic, but on the accompanying album, Orange Juice sounded shattered, as if they didn’t have a clue what to do now. Let new drummer Zeke Manyika write afrobeat inspired songs? Rework old B-sides in a reggae style, thus proving at a stroke that Orange Juice B-sides were desperately ill-suited to being reworked in a reggae style? Plonked in the middle of the album, an Ostrich Churchyard leftover called Louise Louise is a reminder of past glories.

It might have signalled the end, had Collins not been rather more steely than the fey image suggested. Just how steely and determined wouldn’t become fully apparent until 2005, when he battled back to health after two strokes that initially left him unable to walk, talk, read or write. Twenty years earlier, it manifested itself in rebuilding Orange Juice, with Manyika’s help, into the sleek, smart unit of 1984’s Texas Fever and The Orange Juice, where a perfect middle distance was located between the shambolic clangour of their early work and a more polished, funky sound. Collins turned his sardonic lyrical eye on his own waning commercial fortunes on the gorgeous A Sad Lament and Lean Period: “Please don’t expect consistency from me,” he crooned on the latter.

By then, of course, it was too late, as a clip of the band on Whistle Test demonstrates. As they charge through a frantic version of What Presence!?, a ticker spools along the bottom of the screen. “Also tonight! Jean Michel Jarre! Spandau Ballet! Kim Wilde’s record collection!” What price Collins’s sardonic, clever observations in that climate? They split in 1985. Incredibly, within a year, a generation of indie bands were hailing them as an influence of almost mythic proportions. Subsequently, so would everyone from Belle and Sebastian to Franz Ferdinand and Wild Beasts. The good – all of which is here, along with enough live tracks, demos and B-sides to blur the line between exhaustive and exhausting – would eventually out.

Side A

1. Rip It Up (12” version – released in 1983)

The 1983 hit single….and until the solo success of A Girl Like You, the only song likely to have generated much in the way of royalties for Edwyn Collins. Some fun facts, all of which are true:-

– it wasn’t the lead-off single from the album of the same name (released in November 1982) as that distinction went to I Can’t Help Myself

– it proved to be the first chart single to ever feature the Roland TB-303 synthesiser bassline (wonderfully reproduced in the live setting by David McClymont)

– it has a very noticeable mimic of the two-note guitar solo that was heard on Boredom, the lead song on the Spiral Scratch EP by Buzzcocks…and the mimic comes just as Edwyn is declaring it his favourite song

– it contains a backing vocal by Paul Quinn, but sadly he didn’t appear on stage during either of the Top of The Pops appearances, although Jim Thirlwell (of Foetus On Your Breath ‘fame’) did mime the sax solo contributions to great effect

2. Lovesick (released in 1980)

Often I find it hard to get through to you
Words become barbed and stick in the throat
My reasoned argument seems to be so obscure
Tripped myself up, there’s no need to gloat.

Seemingly tucked away on the b-side of Blue Boy, the second and finest of the Postcard singles., it was in fact a deserved double-A side but such was the majesty of its flip-side that it didn’t get the attention it deserved

3. Bridge (released in 1984)

From the mini-LP Texas Fever (the original vinyl release had just six tracks). It’s a record made during a time of stress with Edwyn not wanting to make an album full of Rip It Up style singles but managing to alienate bassis David and the maverick genius guitarist Malcolm Ross (the only man to be an official member in each of Aztec Camera, Josef K and Orange Juice) to the extent that the group split up with just drummer Zeke Manyika hanging around to work alongside the frontman. Like so many other albums recorded in such circumstances, it manages to be a work of wonder, tantalisingly offering up something new and different sounding from what had come before. Bridge was the single from the mini-album. It has a groove and catch that are infectious and comes with handclaps you just want to replicate when you’re moving to it on the disco floor. Only you won’t get the chance as most DJs will shun it. Au undeserved #67 flop.

4. L.O.V.E. Love (released in 1981)

The move from Postcard to Polydor didn’t overly concern me. To be fair, I was a naïve 18-year old who thought that the singers/bands/musicians could fully dictate the music that as to be released.

I hated this single with a passion when it was released. It just wasn’t Orange Juice, not with horns and soulful backing singers, whose talents particularly showed up the fragility of Edwyn’s voice as he struggled to hit the higher notes – this Al Green cover (whoever he was!!) sounded the wrong sort of song to get the most out of the band as it started to dawn on me that the record label held all the aces.

At least the consolation prizes on the b-side were listenable so buying both the 7” and 12” versions didn’t feel like a total waste of money. It took me a long time to grow up, expand my tastes and accept that this was, as Petridis says above, an audacious cover.

5. Simply Thrilled Honey (released in 1980)

Ye Gods….how did I leave this Postcard single off ICA 57?

Truth be told, it’s not up there as one of my OJ faves, but given I’m now part of a wonderful collective that has taken our name from said song, it’s a must.

https://www.wegottickets.com/event/468991

Side B

1. The Artisans (released in 1984)

The final Orange Juice album could have been something that merely fulfilled a contractual obligation but instead proved to be a crowning glory that is certainly up there with the quality and consistency of the Postcard songs. In reality, it’s Edwyn’s debut solo album, shaped by Denis Bovell on the production side (and keyboards) with additional help from some old pals – Zeke on drums and Clare Kenny (ex-Amazulu) on bass. Its ten tracks enjoy a high level of quality and craftsmanship throughout, with guitar-heavy songs sitting comfortably alongside heart-wrenching and wistful ballads, whose lyrics sway from the heart-felt to the caustic, barbed and tongue-in-cheek, but at all times with a knowing sigh that it was the world’s loss that it hadn’t been remotely ready for Orange Juice. This is one of the piss-take efforts, one that has as fine a groove as any in the band or solo canon, thanks to Bovell’s contribution on the Vox Organ.

2. Holiday Hymn (recorded in 1981 – released in 1992)

Back in 1981, Vic Godard had written Holiday Hymn and performed it live with Subway Sect on only a handful of occasions. Edwyn immediately felt that it would make for a perfect Orange Juice song and so he recorded it from the mixing desk, learned the lyrics and cords, and took it into the studio for his band to learn and play. A studio version would eventually see the light of day with the release of Ostrich Churchyard

3. A Sad Lament (released in 1983)

A Sad Lament was first released as the b-side on the 12” version of the Rip It Up single (or as one side of the bonus disc in the limited edition 2×7” versions) before finding its way onto the Texas Fever mini-album the following year. It’s inclusion on the mini-LP is, I believe, an acknowledgment that it was too good a song to have simply been left as a b-side, especially when most who had bought Rip It Up, via the standard 7” version, would have only been able to play the Malcolm Ross composed track, Snake Charmer.

Long regarded as a long-lost and difficult to get hold of classic, the record label, a part of the 2002 compilation ‘Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice – A Casual Introduction 1981/2001’ decided to include A Sad Lament in the tracklist….only to butcher the track by removing part of the intro and outro and cutting off a full 80 seconds of music. Suffice to say, it’s the original you’ll find here……

4. All That Ever Mattered (released in 1984)

The weepy ballad from the final album. It may well be the sad thoughts of someone looking back as the dying embers of a once passionate relationship are finally extinguished, but it could also be the parting shot to former bandmates as, by this time, they were barely on speaking terms (thankfully they would kiss and make up in later years).

5. Lean Period (released in 1984)

This joke I’ve made at my own expense has long since been worn thin
And yet by recompense you respond with a wink and a knowing grin

None of Edwyn’s biggest fans, when listening to his resigned state-of-the-nation address in the opening track of the final album could ever have imagined he would still be making great music to entertain, enthral and enrich us 35 years later. It’s so good to have him around and to be making the quality music you’ll find on his 2019 album Badbea, in which he blends beautifully the old and the new to deliver something that still sounds and feels essential. It’s such a contrast, in particular, to one of his peers and an 80s hero who is now specialising in finding different ways to disappoint, seemingly each and every day.

JC

THE POSTCARD SINGLE THAT NEVER WAS….

The above photo is the reverse of the sleeve for Chance Meeting, a single released by Josef K on Postcard Records in 1981 and given the catalogue number 81-5. If you look closely or indeed magnify it, you’ll see that the opportunity has been taken to list all the previous singles, along with their catalogue numbers, as well as the anticipated next release:-

81-6 : Orange Juice
Wan Light c/w You Old Eccentric

Only it never happened. It was meant to be a 45 with both sides devoted to James Kirk songs. The band sped off to Polydor before there was a chance to issue a fifth single for the Glasgow label; indeed there would be one further 45 ever released out of West Princes Street, Glasgow and that was 81-8 : Mattress Of Wire c/w Lost Outside The Tunnel by Aztec Camera just before they signed to Rough Trade.

Wan Light was later recorded for You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, the debut album, but it’s likely that the Postcard single would have been more like the rough n ready demo version previously recorded or perhaps the version recorded for BBC Radio 1 and broadcast on the Richard Skinner Show in January 1991.

You Old Eccentric was later issued on the b-side of the 12″ version of Felicity, but again it’s likely that the Postcard version would be more similar to the version recorded for BBC Radio 1 and broadcast on the John Peel show in October 1980.

On that basis, and with thanks to Auntie Beeb, here is the Postcard single that never was, 81-6:-

mp3 : Orange Juice – Wan Light
mp3 : Orange Juice – You Old Eccentric

JC

DOING PENANCE

I’m barging the Saturday series out-of-the-way today so that I can follow-up after the welcome and varied responses to ‘True Confessions.’

First of all, as ever, a huge thank you to everyone for taking the time to fire over your view, thoughts and opinions; as I’ve said on so many occasions, it’s the quality of comments and guest contributions that make this venture all worthwhile. I had a feeling the idea of slaughtering a few sacred cows would prove controversial and so it sort of proved.

One thing I want to make very clear is that I’ve never liked the idea of using the blog to be negative and over the past eleven and a bit years, the percentage of posts that don’t celebrate music has been tiny. I’d even like to think that the ‘Had It. Lost It’ series is in some ways celebratory in that the idea is to reflect on how good, and indeed great, a singer or band had been only for it to go awry.

The concept behind ‘True Confessions’ was similar. This series, if it was going to be as such, was intended to look at one song in isolation by an act that I otherwise liked or admired; it also had the rider that the act had to come from a past era so that I couldn’t simply give the finger to something that was contemporary on the basis that I ‘didn’t get it’. I chose The Model on the basis that I have enjoyed a lot of the music produced over the years by Kraftwerk but had never warmed to their best known and arguably best-loved song, certainly among the general public.

If this comes across as conceited to some of you, then I’m truly sorry. But I do think there has been a slight misunderstanding of what I was hoping to achieve.

In essence, it was like trying to recreate an on-line version of an argument down the pub between folk who care and are passionate about music. This was never just to carp about a bad song as I don’t believe there is such a thing as a bad song – but there are quite a lot of songs that I don’t care for; indeed there are many more songs that I don’t like or enjoy than I have in the vinyl, cd and digital collection inside Villain Towers, but I have no intention of spending time or energy writing about them just for the sake of it.

I’ll try and illustrate this with an example from the comments. Alex considered that “the worst song ever in the history of songs has to be Paul Simon “You Can Call Me Al” which is from the “acclaimed” Graceland album.” I’m not sure if it is quite the worst ever in the history of songs, but it is one that I’ve never taken to. But at the same time, I’ve never really taken much to Paul Simon’s solo career and so don’t feel that I’m qualified to post a negative piece on You Can Call Me Al as I can’t consider it any sort of context.

It was also the case that any song that fell under the microscope for the series had to be one that was, on the face of it, universally acclaimed. As such, I’d never entertain the idea of any Oasis song featuring or the suggestion of Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds; in the case of the former, this was a band that divided opinion from Day 1 and in respect of the latter I think it’s fair to say that, despite its millions of worldwide sales, most Simple Minds fans don’t regard it as the band’s finest moment.

I agree wholeheartedly with Moz’s comment that “one person’s caviar is another’s fish paste sandwich, and we should all respect that”. The key word here is ‘respect’ and that was, I think, what C was alluding to when she said “I like the sound of this series….don’t mind the idea of interspersing the large number of posts about things we like with some about the things we don’t….want to understand the basis behind the opinions I don’t agree with …..as long as it doesn’t become too personal of course”.

Having weighed things up, and slept on it all overnight, I’m going to keep the feature going as an occasional series and will take guest contributions as long as they fit the criteria. That rules out CC doing anything on U2 and SWC is barred from frantically writing why The Smiths suck….but don’t worry too much buddy as I’m likely to make a confession about one of their songs.

One more quick visit to the box by me to wrap things up.

I could very happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing both sides of a particular 45 by Orange Juice. It doesn’t sit easy with me given how much I’ve written about the band over the years and that I was given a namecheck in the credits of the Coals to Newcastle boxset (such things should really be reserved for those who have blind faith!).

As I said in my OJ ICA ,

“The old adage of ‘musical differences’ had been was cited when Steven and James left the band after the debut album but in this instance it was the truth. This had left Edwyn and David to take things forward, augmented by the fantastically talented Malcolm Ross and a Zimbabwe-born drummer called Zeke Manyika but the initial fruits of their labour – the double-sided single of Two Hearts Together/Hokoyo – was a huge disappointment and nothing like any of the old songs. It was a worrying time.”

I actually understated how much I disliked this particular single that was released in August 1982. It sounded as if the band wanted to spend the rest of their careers somewhere down the bill on WOMAD festivals. The songs are a real mishmash of influences, none of which had been part of any of the Postcard era or the debut album. I wasn’t ready for it and to be quite honest, I’ve never ever steadied myself to fully accept it as an Orange Juice recording. It’s really strange as the work Zeke puts into the songs, particularly on Hokoyo, would later be replicated in parts on Soul Mining by The The, and that’s an album I will never allow a bad word to be said about. Maybe it’s about time and place.

mp3 : Orange Juice – Two Hearts Together (7″ version)
mp3 : Orange Juice – Hokoyo (7″ version)

So there you have it. Orange Juice getting slated on T(n)VV.

Who’s next for the confessional box?

PS

Echorich indicated that he liked the idea of B-Side Gems. The old blog was full of such postings – indeed it was launched with the intention of offering up unknown and rarely heard b-sides on a regular basis at a time when the back catalogues of many 80s and 90s artists were obsolete. One of my first postings was a Lloyd Cole track which was impossible to get a hold of without having a 12” single – it’s since surfaced on a boxset of rarities.

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Butterfly (Planet Anne Charlotte mix)

I’ll try and dig out some b-side postings from the archives and put them up over the upcoming festive period.

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (7)

Today’s debut 45 launched a label as well as a band:-

mp3 : Orange Juice – Falling and Laughing

I really don’t think I can add all that much to the praise I’ve heaped on Orange Juice and Postcard Records on previous occasions.

One thing I have observed is that the reputation of the band and the label seems to grow with each passing year, possibly from the legacy in that they seemed to create templates for many to follow in their footsteps. I do find this somewhat amusing as everyone, and in particular Edwyn Collins and Alan Horne, were regarded as joke figures by many of their contemporaries, including here in Glasgow. The first sign of change of attitude can be traced to the mid-80s and the emergence of a new breed of writers, particularly those who served their apprenticeships with fanzines before landing proper media jobs, and the explosion of performers whose teen and adolescent years were spent listening to the records and similar sounding songs on other small independently run labels such as Rough Trade.

This new cognoscenti were fulsome and consistent in their praise of the Postcard rota and for the Postcard way of doing things. All of a sudden, it was fashionable and hip to drop 185 West Princes Street into conversation and music press interviews. It may have dropped off again in the early 90s when grunge took over, but it rose back up in the middle of that decade when Edwyn enjoyed his world-wide solo hit and then even higher again a decade or so later when he suffered his life-threatening illnesses; this second wave of praise and enthusiasm wasn’t out of sympathy, but instead was the recognition of just how unique and different it had all been from the beginning.

But was Falling & Laughing the best ever Orange Juice single? My opinion, and I’ve expressed this on the pages of the blog before, is that honour should be bestowed on another 45 from the Polydor years.

But………..and here’s the kicker in today’s post, I want to change my mind. I still think Felicity is the Orange Juice song I most enjoy listening to and I don’t see that changing. But without Falling and Laughing there wouldn’t have been Felicity or Blue Boy or I Can’t Help Myself or What Presence. There would unlikely have been many other great indie and pop bands to emerge out of the shadows here in Scotland and further afield if it wasn’t for the fact that Postcard Records got up and running, albeit it never really got all that far at the time. And so, for all sorts of reasons, I have to now say that Falling and Laughing is the greatest 45 ever released by Orange Juice.

JC

THE FAREWELL SINGLE IN ALL ITS GUISES

Orange Juice signed off with a flourish with their final single having the very tongue-in-cheek title of Lean Period. It was issued in 7″ and 12″ formats in a brown paper bag (the reverse side of the 7″ version is pictured above), a 12″ format with a printed sleeve and a limited 7″ edition that came with an additional flexi disc with two live tracks.

Despite all this, it staggered around the nether region of the charts but as this was a time when the charts were measured on a Top 100 it meant, in official terms, that Lean Period actually spent three weeks in the official rundown – entering at #78, rising to #77 and then leaping, salmon-like to the giddy-heights of #74 in October 1984.

mp3 : Orange Juice – Lean Period
mp3 : Orange Juice – Bury My Head In My Heads
mp3 : Orange Juice – Lean Period (12″ dub version)
mp3 : Orange Juice – Rip it Up (live)
mp3 : Orange Juice – What Presence?! (live)

The flexi disc recordings are very lo-fi, ripped as they are straight from those fragile and flimsy bits of plastic and so you’ll have to turn the volume right up. There are superior versions available via the Coals to Newcastle boxset but I thought I’d stay true to the blog’s principles.

JC

THIS ONE’S FOR JOHNNY BOTTOMS

The day is drawing ever closer when our dear friend Jonny the Friendly Lawyer (JTFL) aka Johnny Bottoms, the country bassist, will cross the Atlantic with his fellow Ponderosa Aces to begin the tour of English cities and towns. I’m delighted to say that I’ve made arrangements to get myself down to the gig in Manchester on Sunday 23 April, and all being well I might get to hook up with another dear friend of this parish, the mighty Swiss Adam of Bagging Area fame.

If anyone cares to join us, then feel free to come along for the ride. To paraphrase one Adam Ant, country music is nothing to be scared of.

As evidenced by this #4 hit from October 1981:-

mp3 : Squeeze – Labelled With Love

A sad and melancholy single lifted from the excellent East Side Story LP, on which Elvis Costello did a sterling job in the producer’s chair, it was the band’s final ever entry into the Top 10. It’s a very fine example of a talented band, fronted by incredibly gifted songwriters, demonstrating that they can turn their hand to any genre.

The b-side was a bit of throwaway fun:-

mp3 : Squeeze – Squabs on 45

It’s a medley of earlier singles akin to what was a fad at the time in the UK where excerpts of hit songs, sometimes from one act but more often than not from a variety of artists, were spliced together as a 45. Very scarily, an act called Stars on 45 enjoyed four Top 20 hits in the UK in 1981/82 by employing such a technique. And yes, Squeeze were making a point about how awful these medley efforts were – everything reduced to one simple beat and rhythm.

Orange Juice also did something similar as a piss take for a Peel Session:-

mp3 : Orange Juice – Blokes on 45

JC

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (3)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MONDAY 16 JUNE 2008

(and again on 6 November 2013)

r-371182-1330487001

From January 1982.

It reached the giddy heights of #63 in the UK pop charts.

This is the sound of happiness. On a double A side 7″ single.

I really don’t think I need say anymore….

mp3 : Orange Juice – Felicity
mp3 : Orange Juice – In A Nutshell

PS

The irony here is that my favourite Orange Juice single, while sung by Edwyn Collins was in fact written by fellow band-member James Kirk.

Hence the William Shatner reference in this cover version:-

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Felicity

Many years later, James did his own great version of the song:-

mp3 : James Kirk – Felicity

PPS

Little did I know, when I originally penned this post in 2008 that I would later be contacted by Domino Records and asked to fill in a few gaps as part of their background work as to what should and shouldn’t be included in the Coals To Newcastle boxset, the result of which I was one of a number of people thanked in the sleevenotes. That’s the most rock’n’roll thing that’ll ever likely happen in my life…….