Presenting a selection from the premier Anglo-Australo-French London-based situationist krautrock exotica group, Stereolab. For this ICA, it was pretty much a straight pick of six or seven favourites I always return to, and then using the remainder to fill any obvious gaps. I felt confident that French Disco and Ping Pong would be popular choices, but that I might be alone in selecting the unrepresentative minimal disco groove of Margerine Melodie or the joyous but essentially throwaway Heavy Denim. It was only after I’d come up with a tracklist that I looked up other people’s “best of” lists online to see if there was anything really obvious I’d missed out and found that none of them remotely agreed with mine… or with each other. Everybody’s got different favourites – they’re just that kind of band.

On the other hand, it should be said that this isn’t really my personal “best of” – that would be far too difficult and probably focus more on the mid-90s albums (for a start, there would definitely be more than one track from Emperor Tomato Ketchup). It’s more of a beginner’s guide for people understandably overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of material Stereolab turned out. One effect of this is that it’s considerably more song-oriented than groove-oriented, though I did make sure to include one long “statement” piece. Of their non-imaginary non-compilation albums, both Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements and Dots and Loops were released as 10-track double-albums in a 3+3+1+3 configuration (several others also had one side taken up with a single track), and that’s what I’ve gone with here. I’ve also thrown in a bonus 7” with two instrumentals.

All songs on the main album are written by the constant core duo, Tim Gane (guitar, keyboards) and Laetitia Sadier (vocals, guitar, keyboards, a bit of everything). There were a lot of line-up changes along the way, but other key long-runners were Mary Hansen (vocals, guitar) and Andy Ramsay (drums). Stereolab do have a reputation for just doing the same thing for 20 years, but I don’t think that’s true, and there’s quite a bit of diversity on display in the ten tracks here. If it weren’t for Sadier’s voice, you wouldn’t necessarily think all these tracks were even by the same band.

Side one

French Disco (B side of Jenny Ondioline single, 1993)

Seems to be the Stereolab song that people most latch onto, and as good a place as any to start. Presented here in its original, longer and correctly-spelled B-side form.

Self Portrait With ‘Electric Brain’ (Chemical Chords, 2008)

Chemical Chords was Stereolab’s last “proper” album (a companion out-takes volume, Not Music, emerged two years later) and is the most focused, least noodly of the lot. For some fans this is a bad thing, but personally I like it. The backing track here could be Saint Etienne, though of course Saint Etienne would probably use it to write a song that scans and generally makes sense.

Margerine Melodie (Margerine Eclipse, 2004)

Stereolab go disco! Well, sort of. As you will hear on this track, the Margerine Eclipse album has a gimmick of being mixed so everything is either completely to one side, or dead centre. It works a lot better in practice than you would expect.

Side Two

Ping Pong (Mars Audiac Quintet, 1994)

Mars Audiac Quintet was a huge leap forward for Stereolab, the first album on which they really integrated their love of lounge, exotica and bubblegum with the familiar krautrock grooves half-inched from NEU! and Can, and this was its most accessible song. Indeed, probably the group’s best-realised attempt on mainstream pop ever.

The Free Design (Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night, 1999)

I’m not sure this would necessarily have made the cut but for a feeling that there ought to be something here to represent the Dots & Loops / Microbe Hunters / Cobra & Phases period. Some may have more tolerance for the noodliness of mid-period Stereolab than I do, but I’ll just stick with this relatively focused and structured track which was pressed into service as the lead single for Cobra & Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night.

Lo Boob Oscillator (single, 1993)

Some facts, thoughts and fancies about Lo Boob Oscillator:

This song has always struck me as needing to be placed at the end of an album side, and annoyingly it never has been. Until now!

The title is supposedly a numbers-to-letters rendering of a noisemaker called the L0 800B Oscillator. But I can’t find any evidence of its existence beyond being used as an explanation for this title. They couldn’t have made up the story, could they?

This is the only full-on French-language track on the compilation, and there probably ought to be more. Cybele’s Reverie (which was the only chanson Français to appear as a general-release single rather than a limited edition like Lo Boob Oscillator) would have been my #11 pick, I think.

Maybe I’m making connections that aren’t there (and nobody else seems to have advanced this hypothesis) but it’s very tempting to see this as an answer record to Sleeping Satellite the huge hit for Tasmin Archer in the autumn of 1992 and a song bemoaning the Apollo programme’s appropriation of mankind’s dream of space travel for short-term political gain. Then one writing and recording cycle later, along come Stereolab with a song reaffirming the moon’s traditional role as “symbolique de quelque visions imaginaire”. Hmmm.

On the original single, “Oscilator” is spelt with one “l”. But it’s always been spelt the correct way since, so presumably that wasn’t deliberate.

Apparently Lo Boob Oscillator appears in the film High Fidelity. I’ve never seen High Fidelity so I didn’t know this. On the soundtrack LP, it’s placed at the start of side four, which is so, so wrong.

Side Three

Jenny Ondioline (Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, 1993)

Probably the apex of Stereolab’s early shoegazer-friendly “layers of noise” phase. A remixed extract was released as a single, though it got rather overshadowed by its more popular B side, French Disco. Because going on for a very long time (preferably with as few chord changes as possible) is also one of Stereolab’s major traits, here you get the full 18 minute album version.

Side Four

Nothing To Do With Me (Peel Session version) (ABC Music: The Radio 1 Sessions, 2002)

Side four features three songs which showcase the interplay between Sadier and second vocalist Mary Hansen, starting with probably the funniest song Stereolab ever recorded (though admittedly the competition for that title is not particularly fierce). It’s just Laetitia and Mary quoting lines out of context from Chris MorrisBlue Jam but since it was that sort of show anyway, it actually kinda works.

Tomorrow Is Already Here (Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1996)

Although Sean O’Hagan left Stereolab after Mars Audiac Quintet to concentrate on his own band The High Llamas, he frequently returned as a guest to add his trademark exotica tinges, particularly lashings of vibraphone. This particular track was originally demoed as Reich Song since they reckoned it sounded a bit like the work of minimalist composer Steve Reich.

Heavy Denim (B side of Wow And Flutter single, 1994)

They are here to disrupt, to have the time of their lives. An absolute blast.

Bonus 7”

A: Symbolic Logic of Now!

AA: Iron Man

I think we’d be talking about a box set before either of these tracks had a hope of making the proper album, but it struck me that if this compilation were issued on vinyl, it’s quite likely that it would include a bonus 7”, and this is the sort of thing I imagine they’d choose to put on it – in fact both tracks made their original appearances on limited 7”s. The A side is a “nu jazz” workout, typical of the Dots And Loops period (and it does have some vinyl crackle I’m afraid, but hey, it’s a free 7”, what do you expect?). The AA side would be great background music for a chart rundown.




You can blame The Swede for this. The Belle & Sebastian posting a while back led him to leave this comment:-

“Your 45 45s at 45 sounds like fun, but was a bit before my time. Any chance of reposting the list one day?”

So I thought I’d delve into that archives for the entire series which more or less tells the story of the first 45 years of my life between 1963 and 2008. One per week for the forseeable future and with it being a cut’n’paste job it also in some ways gives me a bit of free time. Here’s the preamble to how it all began:-

“On June 18th 2008, I will turn 45 years of age. That’s in just under three months time.

One of my all time heroes, Bill Drummond, marked his 45th Birthday with the writing of a book that was partly biographical, partly philosophical but completely genius.

I’d love to have the talent to do something similar, but instead I’ve decided that I’ll make do by saying a few words on 45 of my all-time favourite 45rpm records.

Actually, that previous sentence is totally misleading. In fact it could even be regarded in the same light as Heather Mills’ evidence in her divorce case – ‘inconsistent, inaccurate and less than candid.’

Here’s why…..

(1) Not all of the songs on the list were released on bits of plastic that spun around your turntable at 45 revolutions per minute.

(2) The list is not my 45 all time favourite singles as I’ve decided to restrict each act/performer to one entry. Otherwise it would have been a chart dominated by a handful of bands such as The Jam, New Order, Orange Juice and The Smiths.

(3) What consists of a list at this particular moment in time could fluctuate on a daily basis. I reckon I’m firm on my all time Top 10…..but what one day might, for example, be sitting at #24, could the very next jump up to #13 or drop down to #33. And at the lower end of the list, some songs which bubbled under may find themselves sneaking in at the expense of something sitting proudly in the 40s or 30s.

(4) The 45 in question had to have been bought by me (or on the parent album as I was sometimes skint) at the time of release – this means that stuff that I grew to love years after it first came out are controversially disqualified.

So, over the coming weeks, I’m going to have a regular series counting down some great singles – and I’m going to also post the b-side as well (or Tracks, 2, 3 and 4 in the case of it being a CD single).

I’m in no doubt that what will gradually be revealed will irritate almost all of you as something you think should appear high up the chart suddenly makes an appearance in the high 30s. Or you’ll be hacked off when I choose a song that you’ll consider can never be regarded as the best 45 he/she/they ever released. Or worst of all, when a band or performer who you would have in your Top 5 doesn’t appear in the list at all…..

To give you an idea of how long this particular exercise took, I started off with a list of almost 300 names. For most of them, it was relatively simple enough to find my one favourite single that they had recorded. For others it was a really tough task. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I whittled it down. Once I was below 100 songs, it became almost impossible.

I hope that this will prove to be a series you find enjoyable enough, and please feel free to come on board with your comments, views and observations and savage attacks on my taste at any point in time. For now, in artistic alphabetical order, here are the songs which came in at Nos. 46-50…

mp3 : Billy Bragg – Levi Stubbs’ Tears
mp3 : Morrissey – November Spawned A Monster
mp3 : REM – Electrolite
mp3 : Stereolab – Ping Pong
mp3 : Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

See….I told you it wasn’t an easy task.”



I didn’t build in any time over the weekend to catch up with the blog. Big bundle of emails needing dealt with as well as postings to keep things going this next few days. Will try and get back on track by tomorrow.

In the meantime feel free to listen and dance to this classic:-

mp3 : Stereolab – French Disko



Here’s something special happening in Glasgow this coming Saturday:-


I’ll be there all day from about 2pm after taking part in a golf tournament (how very rock’n’roll).