A GUEST POSTING by THE ROBSTER
An opening apology from JC
This ICA landed in Villain Towers months ago. For some reason or other, I had thought The Robster had simply sent me over a bunch of songs to play and listen to. The fact he had composed the following excellent paragraphs and come up with the above specially designed album cover, is a now a source of eternal shame. He has graciously accepted my apology…….and here he now is to take you through things.
The Robster writes…..
Like many, I suppose, my introduction to Pylon was via R.E.M.’s cover version of Crazy, and subsequently through the ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ documentary. I can’t be sure what it is I like about them other than their sound, and even then I find it difficult to explain why. There are various elements in there not too dissimilar to bands like Talking Heads and The B-52s (who, of course, hail from the same town and were around at the same time). Unchanged: Like many, I suppose, my introduction to Pylon was via R.E.M.’s cover version of Crazy, and subsequently through the ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ documentary. I can’t be sure what it is I like about them other than their sound, and even then I find it difficult to explain why. There are various elements in there not too dissimilar to bands like Talking Heads and The B-52s (who, of course, hail from the same town and were around at the same time).
This is not going to be a very insightful article; I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves. I’ve put it together owing to JC’s recent comment about not being taken by R.E.M.’s version of Crazy and, therefore, not taking any time to investigate Pylon’s work. He’s wrong, of course (yes, I know, I can barely believe it myself), but I’m hoping to win him over with this selection of 10 songs. Unchanged: This is not going to be a very insightful article; I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves. I’ve put it together owing to JC’s recent comment about not being taken by R.E.M.’s version of Crazy and, therefore, not taking any time to investigate Pylon’s work. He’s wrong, of course (yes, I know, I can barely believe it myself), but I’m hoping to win him over with this selection of 10 songs.
I should at this point also give a shout-out to Brian of Linear Tracking Lives. I originally approached him to see if he fancied going halves on this one, a side each so to speak, given he is a fan. He politely declined, reckoning I am the leading authority on the Athens, GA. scene so more qualified than he is to talk about it. He’s wrong, too, but he did make a couple of suggestions which I’ve duly included. And yes, by a chance quirk of design, it actually is 34 minutes long (excluding bonus tracks).
For newcomers, some background info: Pylon consisted of Randy Bewley on guitar, Michael Lachowski on bass, Curtis Crowe on drums, and the inimitable voice of Vanessa Ellison (nee Briscoe). Formed in 1978, the band released two albums before breaking up in 1983. Vanessa divorced and remarried within the next few years, becoming Vanessa Briscoe Hay. Pylon reformed in 1989 and released a third album in 1990 before calling it a day again. They reformed a final time in 2004 after Bewley contacted the other band members “just for fun”. No new material was recorded, but they played shows on and off until 2009 when Bewley sadly passed away in a road accident having suffered a heart attack at the wheel.
In December 1987, R.E.M. featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine under the headline ‘America’s best rock & roll band.’ Bill Berry dismissed this and declared: “That’s Pylon.”
1. Cool (1979, single)
The debut single and a song that, if I were in a band, I’d want to cover. Released in 1979 on DB Records, it did not appear on the debut album ‘Gyrate’ the following year, but was included on the reissue ‘Gyrate Plus’ in 2007.
2. Beep (1983, from ‘Chomp’)
The follow-up album took a little while, but it was worth the wait. ‘Chomp’ is a record I’ve played quite a lot and it has a smashing picture of a dinosaur on the front. Not a real one alas, but still smashing. Beep is a standout. I love Vanessa’s growly “four minutes” chorus.
3. Crazy [original single version] (1981, single)
This is the one R.E.M. covered. You can say what you like about the merits of cover versions against the originals, but I love Stipe & Co’s version. Doesn’t stop me loving Pylon’s original, BUT… while this single version is brilliant, the re-recorded version that appeared on ‘Chomp’ a couple years later had a better vocal take from Vanessa in my opinion. I’d love to hear that vocal on this instrumental.
4. Sugarpop (1990, from ‘Chain’)
I’m not as big a fan of the comeback record ‘Chain’ as I am of the first two albums, but it still has its moments. Sugarpop was the single released from it and I suppose it is a sugary pop song compared to the band’s previous work.
5. Read A Book (1980, from ‘Gyrate’)
Another highlight from the debut album.
6. Stop It (1983, from ‘Chomp’)
This was one of Brian’s suggestions, and to be fair he’s spot on. One of Pylon’s best tracks featured in the brilliant documentary ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ from 1986. It’s on the soundtrack album and ‘Chomp’. What you may not know though, is that Michael Stipe claims he wrote Drive as a homage to this track. True story, even if I can’t actually hear it myself.
7. Yo-Yo (1983, from ‘Chomp’)
The strain was beginning to show by the time ‘Chomp’ hit the racks. Pylon supported U2 in 1983 and were not warmly received by audiences. That doesn’t surprise me. Your average U2 fan isn’t going to appreciate a band like Pylon. At least, none of the U2 fans I’ve ever met. They broke up shortly after. A shame, as I think Yo-Yo displays an interesting direction they could have explored further. One of the most original-sounding tracks the band made.
8. There It Is (1990, from ‘Chain’)
Reforming in 1989 and opening for R.E.M. on the final leg of the Green Tour, Pylon went back into the studio and recorded a set of new songs. ‘Chain’, their third album was released in 1990. It wasn’t – and still isn’t – regarded as one of Pylon’s top 2 albums, but it still contained some gems. Every review I’ve read points to There It Is as a major highlight and I’m certainly not going to disagree.
9. Gravity [live] (2016, from ‘Pylon Live’)
Gravity was a fan favourite from the debut album. This live version was released as a single in 2016 to coincide with a live album recorded in 1983 just before the band split for the first time. It was mastered by Analog Loyalist, the guy behind the blog The Power Of Independent Trucking, a place I know a few of us have visited and grabbed some wonderful things from over the years. That is a blog I really miss. http://thepowerofindependenttrucking.blogspot.com/2016/05/pylon-live-band-rem-all-say-was-better.html
10. Danger (1980, from ‘Gyrate’)
Another fan favourite to finish things off with. A rather ominous-sounding closer, for sure, but I kind of like it that way. A dub remix featured on the ‘!!’ EP in late 1980, a move that seemed to be more akin to what was happening in the UK at the time. It sounded like something the Slits or PiL might have put out. I flitted back and forth debating over which version to include here, but went for the album version in the end as it just sounded right as a closing track.
LIMITED EDITION BONUS 7”
A. Yo-Yo [remix by Calvinist – ft. Alexis Krauss] (2011, from ‘Cover + Remix’ 7”)
In 2011, Pylon featured on a split 7” for Record Store Day. On one side, Deerhunter covered Pylon’s Cool, while on the other, Calvinist reworked Yo-Yo. It doesn’t sound much like Pylon to be honest, and the vocals are actually re-sung by Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss. I’ve included it purely for curiosity value.
B. Messenger (by Pylon Re-enactment Society) (2018, single)
This final one is another suggestion from Brian. Pylon Re-enactment Society is a kind of Pylon tribute band. I say “kind of” because they are actually fronted by none other than one Vanessa Briscoe Hay! She formed the band in 2014 with other local musicians from Athens because “I really don’t want people to forget Pylon.” In 2018, two brand new songs were released as a 7”, one of which was Messenger, the first new “Pylon” track in 28 years. Except, of course, it wasn’t, but it’s the nearest we’ll ever get to it.