AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #47 : SAINT ETIENNE

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A GUEST POSTING FROM THE ROBSTER

Don’t Forget To Catch Me: An Imaginary Saint Etienne Compilation

Saint Etienne is one of those bands who always give me a lift. How can you possibly be glum when listening to a Saint Etienne record? They epitomise what proper, honest, creative pop music should be about. All their songs could (should) easily be played on mainstream radio, but at the same time there’s something quirky and original enough about them to ensure they never get tarred with the same brush as your average fly-by-night pop stars who wouldn’t know one note on a synth from another.

Saint Etienne’s second album ‘So Tough’ remains one of my faves of all-time, but I don’t think they’ve really made a duff record. Sure, some are better than others, but in general pretty much everything has been above average, if not better. So I present a career-spanning collection of 10 songs which I think represents why Saint Etienne are so special.

I attempted one of my podcast-type things for this, even creating some segues to drop between the tracks just like Saint Etienne did on their early records. Trouble is, I’m really not skilful enough to pull off anything so clever. I have therefore decided to present each track separately in conventional 10-track LP fashion. The ‘podcast’ mix however, has also been dropped in just in case anyone is curious.

SIDE ONE

1. How We Used To Live (2000, from ‘Sound Of Water’)

‘Sound Of Water’ is possibly the band’s most difficult album to get into. Not because it’s not very good – on the contrary, it’s one of their most intriguing records – but because it doesn’t contain the obvious pop tunes of its predecessors. It’s more laid back and experimental in its approach. By way of introduction, How We Used To Live was released, in full, as its lead single. It’s a nine-minute suite that shows off some of the moods and directions the album took.

2. Popular (2012, from ‘Words And Music By Saint Etienne’)

A song about finding kindred spirits through music. I do find a good in depth discussion about music is incredibly therapeutic, providing the people I’m in discussion with know what they’re talking about. That’s not to say I have to agree with them. Some of the most satisfying debates I’ve had with people have been when we are in fundamental disagreement. But, in the words of the late great Brian Clough: “I’ll listen to what they have to say, we’ll talk about it and then decide that I was right!” ‘Words And Music’ was an astonishingly good album, their best in more than a decade, I would venture.

3. Who Do You Think You Are (1993, double a-side single)

Originally recorded by Candlewick Green, this wonderful, wonderful song was updated some 20 years later by Saint Etienne. It’s definitely one of my fave tracks of theirs, and it makes up possibly their best single as a double-A with…

4. Hobart Paving [single version] (1993, double a-side single)

Stops me in my tracks this one. This version beats the album version hands down thanks to that lovely, mournful French horn solo. As close to perfection as it’s possible for a pop song to get.

5. Avenue (1992, from ‘So Tough’)

One of the band’s strangest singles maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less glorious. There’s all sorts of things going on in its seven minutes, not all of them obvious to a commercial pop single. But that’s Saint Etienne all over, isn’t it. In the interest of running time, I’ve included the 7″ radio edit here which, while slightly unfulfilling, still contains the essential elements.

SIDE TWO

1. Teenage Winter (2005, from ‘Tales From Turnpike House’)

‘Tales From Turnpike House’ was Saint Etienne’s concept album. Most of their songs stem from observations of real life, but this was all about people living in a block of flats, loosely based on where the band members themselves once lived. I adore this track. Kind of makes me want Sarah Cracknell to read my favourite books to me.

2. He’s On The Phone (1995, from ‘Too Young To Die: Singles 1990-1995’)

If Sarah fronted the Pet Shop Boys, it might have sounded like this. An utterly brilliant single, pop music at its best. It remains Saint Etienne’s highest-charting single, reaching number 11. Guaranteed none of the top ten that week were even in the same class as this.

3. Former Lover [single mix] (1994, original from ‘Tiger Bay’)

Earmarked as a single from the band’s third album, Former Lover is a great example of the more acoustic sound Saint Etienne incorporated into their sound. The electronics weren’t ditched entirely, but there were more folk instruments and orchestral arrangements than they had used before. This version of Former Lover remained unreleased until the 2006 fan-club release ‘Nice Price’.

4. Join Our Club (1992, single)

Another great pop single that dropped in between the first two albums. It’s all about finding your ‘tribe’ through music, particularly at a time when rave and grunge were dominant. It does, however, reference pop music through the ages and how it brings people together. It’s a subject they would revisit on more than one occasion.

5. Only Love Will Break Your Heart [Weatherall’s Mix of Two Halves] (1990, original from ‘Foxbase Alpha’; this version released on 12″ of the single)

Saint Etienne have long been a remixer’s dream. Weatherall was one of the first to pick up on this, turning the band’s debut single into a dub masterpiece. I considered only including the second half here, but thought Swiss Adam may never forgive me if I did. He’d probably be right as well…

mp3 : Saint Etienne – How We Used To Live
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Popular
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Who Do You Think You Are?
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Hobart Paving
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Avenue
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Teenage Winter
mp3 : Saint Etienne – He’s On The Phone
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Former Lover
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Join Our Club
mp3 : Saint Etienne – Only Love Will Break Your Heart

mp3 : Saint Etienne – The Robster’s podcast mix

Enjoy

THE LOST ART OF THE A & AA SIDED-SINGLE

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From wiki:-

A “double A-side” is a single where both sides are designated the A-side; there is no B-side on such a single.

The double A-sided single was invented in December 1965 by the Beatles for their single of “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out”, where both were designated A-sides. Other groups followed suit thereafter, notably the Rolling Stones in early 1967 with “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “Ruby Tuesday” as a double-A single.

In the UK, before the advent of digital downloads, both A-sides were accredited with the same chart position, as the singles chart was compiled entirely from physical sales. In the UK, the biggest-selling non-charity single of all time was a double A-side, Wings’ 1977 release “Mull of Kintyre”/”Girls’ School”, which sold over two million copies.

Occasionally double-A-sided singles were released with each side targeting a different market. During the late 1970s, for example, Dolly Parton released a number of double-A-sided singles, in which one side was released to pop radio, and the other side to country, including “Two Doors Down”/”It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right” and “Baby I’m Burning”/”I Really Got the Feeling”. In 1978, the Bee Gees also used this method when they released “Too Much Heaven” for the pop market and the flip side, “Rest Your Love on Me”, which was aimed toward country stations.

Many artists continue to release double A-side singles outside of the US where it is seen as more popular. Examples of this include Oasis’s “Little by Little”/”She Is Love” (2002), Bloc Party’s “So Here We Are”/”Positive Tension” (2005) and Gorillaz’s “El Mañana”/”Kids with Guns” (2006).

Probably the best example of a double-A-side single that I can think of is Going Underground/Dreams of Children by The Jam back in 1980, although I can’t ever recall hearing any DJ playing the lesser known of the songs.

And here’s another very example of the genre I have in my collection from 1992:-

mp3 : St Etienne – Join Our Club
mp3 : St Etienne – People Get Real

The story goes that St Etienne wrote Join Our Club after Heavenly Records refused to release People Get Real as a single and so this was the compromise. The band seemingly went down the road of making as poppy and commercial a song as they thought they could get away with, without alienating their hip and trendy dance music fans.  The unexpected and welcome outcome however, was that the song brought them a whole new audience in love with disposable pop that merged seamlessly with a catchy dance beat and rhythm.  This was a bigger audience than hardcore dance fans and St Etienne now had a fantastic new template which would dominate future releases and in doing so they would become a very welcome mainstay of the singles charts in the early-mid 90s.

Enjoy

A LOOK BACK AT SEPTEMBER 2011 : THE FRED EP

From Saturday 24 September 2011

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Now I never thought I’d feature anything by Right Said Fred on TVV. But there was a charidee EP released back in 1992 which might be of some interest:-

mp3 : The Rockingbirds – Deeply Dippy
mp3 : Flowered Up – Don’t Talk Just Kiss (edit)
mp3 : St Etienne – I’m Too Sexy (edit)

For those who perhaps don’t know, Right Said Fred were absolutely massive in the UK in 1991 and 92. Their first three singles, all of which are covered on this EP, went Top 3. Since then, they have continued to record and tour without achieving much in the way of chart success….but they have an incredibly loyal fan base which ensures their gigs tend to sell out.

The EP features three of the best-known artistes on Heavenly Records and all profits from the release went to supporting the AIDS charity, The Terence Higgins Trust. As with most charity records, the cause is better than the music…..none of the three songs featured do all that much for me I’m afraid to say.

But feel free to disagree.