Friday, November 17, 2017

'Sweet' Treat From Ric Menck

Here's a bit of trivia for you. Did you know there's a tiny connection between Sarah Records and Matthew Sweet? Ric Menck, probably best known for his power-pop outfit Velvet Crush, or for a few of you as Sweet's drummer on some of his best work, was in a couple of great but slightly lesser-known indie-pop bands in the '80s that deserved more of the limelight. One of those, Choo Choo Train, was on Subway Records, a label that gets touted here with regularity, and the other was the Springfields, an American band from Champaign, Illinois, that caught the ears of Clare and Matt. Sarah 10 was "Sunflower", a three-track 7" from 1988 with "Clown", a Hollies' cover, and the Sweet-penned "Are We Gonna Be Alright?" Sweet has never released a recording of this beauty given to the Springfields.

I have a couple of singles from the Springfields, but I don't own "Sunflower". Instead, I have all three songs from the single on 'The Ballad of Ric Menck' compilation that first came out on Summershine in 1996. I can't recommend this one enough. You'll find some Choo Choo Train, Springfields and solo recordings on there. I like it so much I bought it on two formats! Action Musik reissued it in 2004 with extra songs and liner notes from Menck. If I come across that one, I guess I'll own three copies. Doing this post reminded me of another seldom heard Sweet recording that I'll get to next week.

"Are We Gonna Be Alright?"

Yes, that really is how the songs ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Good Songs That Sound Great Together

Back when we spent all of our free time making mix tapes, perhaps you did this too. Even if my ear knew they didn't necessarily work as a tandem all that well, I liked to place a song about a musician next to a song by said musician, such as an Alex Chilton tune followed by "Alex Chilton" by the Replacements or "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground and "Velvet Underground" by Jonathan Richman back to back. Like the artist that sings about an artist, in a small way, I always felt like I was thanking one of my heroes by this placement. It was especially fun to put two musicians together that seemingly had very different sounds, such as something by Duke Ellington next to "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder. That's the direction I'm going in today.

Over the weekend, I thought about "Breakfast in Bed" from Dusty Springfield's 1969 album 'Dusty in Memphis' because today is my birthday. I secretly hoped maybe I would get my breakfast served that way this morning. Alas, that's a pretty tall order on a school day and, as is the ritual, I was the one making breakfast for everyone else. I knew I had an album with a song called "Dusty Springfield" in my music room somewhere, but the band wasn't coming to me right away. Let's just say I have had a number of birthdays under my belt, and I'm not quite the savant I used to be when it comes to remembering such things. I was singing it to myself yesterday. So I knew it was jangly indie pop from the golden age of jangly indie pop and probably from the UK. Finally, it hit me like a bolt of lightning a little while ago. If you're curious about just how many birthdays I have had, I'm the same age as 'Dusty in Memphis.' Sigh.

As an aside, I had no idea until today the album cover for 'Dusty in Memphis' was different for folks in the UK. The one above seems so iconic to this Yank.

Dusty Springfield - Breakfast in Bed
The Haywains - Dusty Springfield

Thursday, November 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 10)

Apologies, indie fans. A bit of a curve ball today but, perhaps, an interesting curiosity if you kneel at the altar of Brian Wilson. As many of you know, for much of the '90s, I became disenchanted with pop music. I increasingly turned to the loves of my childhood, absconded from my mother's record collection when I was 10, particularly the Kinks and Beach Boys. In the early years of that decade, it was a terrific time to be a fan of the Beach Boys. Reference books, biographies, box sets and other reissues were being released at a furious pace. After reading so much about Brian's influences, naturally, I began seeking out that music too. Again, the timing was perfect. Among my favorites, I really took to Phil Spector just as his 'Back to Mono' box set hit the shelves. I also picked up a decent comp of the Four Freshmen that received a few plays.

In the late '90s, while living in Washington, D.C., my fandom for Brian reached a fever pitch as he began releasing new music and flirting with the idea of touring. During that period, I went to a record convention in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I was shocked as I happened across a booth that had absolutely nothing but Four Freshmen memorabilia. I introduced myself to the fella at the booth and explained my interest due to the Wilson connection. His name was David, from nearby McLean, and I learned he was a Virginia representative of FFS, the Four Freshmen Society. Trust me, it's a big operation. It was a fascinating day of learning as David took me through some of the group's best recordings and explained their place in music as the group moved away from barbershop and introduced jazz elements that kids like Brian really dug as he listened in his bedroom back in Hawthorne, California. Did I just use the term barbershop on this blog?

The album changed everything for Brian was the 1955 release 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones'. Wilson once said of the album, "I was 14. They had a demonstration booth where you could listen to it in the store, and I found the Four Freshmen. My mother said, 'Do you really wanna hear this?' and I said, 'Sure!' So I went in this little booth, and I played it and fell in love with it. And I bought it. I loved the sound of the trombones. Wonderful songs -- 'I Remember You', 'Mam'selle'..." In another interview, he went further, saying of the song "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "This is where I learned to arrange harmonies, and also where I learned to sing falsetto. Their four-part harmony was totally original -- not five or three parts, but four parts. Wow!"

I have several albums by the Four Freshmen, but I think the two pictured above, 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones' and the comp 'Freshmen Favorites' are the only two I listen to with much regularity. My copy of 'Trombones' is very rough. In fact, while listening, you might run to the window thinking it has started raining. Sorry, that's surface noise. Here are the three songs Brian dropped in the quotes above. It will take you about 10 seconds to realize how much Brian was influenced by them.

"Mam'selle"
"I Remember You"
"You Stepped Out of a Dream"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 9)

Here's a quick explanation of where I have been. Three weeks ago, my computer died. The repair shop told me the hard drive was fried. After a couple of days of contemplation, I decided to get a new laptop. The old one had already experienced a major repair last year, and who was to say the fan or screen wouldn't break the day after replacing the drive? I chose a model rather quickly, but then I found out there was a good chance it would be going on sale in a week's time. I waited.

The day it went on sale, I returned to the shop with a pile of cash. The model I wanted was not in stock. I could get the sale price, but the laptop would have to be ordered. It would be mailed to my house in 3-5 business days. With a weekend thrown in for good measure, I lost another week. The package arrived yesterday. I quickly took it to the repair shop to have the files on the old hard drive moved to the new one. I just picked it up a few minutes ago. It will probably take me a couple of days to get all of the missing software reinstalled, but I should be all set by the end of the week. In the meantime, I did have the next band in my vinyl collection already ripped. Let's get back to it.

One last thing. It would seem the worst part of the ordeal would be living without that one piece of equipment all of us have come to depend on for just about everything. Nope. For me, it's knowing I won't be able to buy records for a good long while as we try to replenish the coffers. The shopping list is as long as it has ever been.

I realize a post on Friends Again is for about two readers out there (JC and FORW, presumably), but I would be kicking myself if I skipped one of my favorite Scottish bands from my youth. I came to them from a little different angle than JC. He liked them from the beginning, listening to those early singles before they recorded for a major label. When I was a kid, my first taste of Friends again was the band's one and only album, 'Trapped and Unwrapped'. For those who had followed them since the 'Honey at the Core' single in 1983, the 1984 album was a bit of a disappointment. In particular, some of the songs were inferior recordings of those earlier releases. It's an old story, isn't it? I, of course, had nothing to compare them too, and I thought "Lucky Star" and others from the album were terrific pieces of jangle.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and I find JC's original Vinyl Villain blog. He starts playing these original versions from Friends Again, and I'm just floored. 'Trapped and Unwrapped' begins collecting dust as I start seeking out the old singles. As you can see from the photo above, during the past five or six years, I have collected quite a few trophies on my hunt for Friends Again relics. Here are a few of my favorites from the band. This is as good a time as any to thank JC for the education.

"Lullaby No. 2" (from 'the Friends Again EP')
"Sunkissed" (Extended Version) (12" single)
"Lucky Star" (original B-side to the "Honey at the Core" 7")

Monday, October 16, 2017

Misstep Mondays: The Fixx

Time to dust off another less than stellar piece of vinyl from my collection. As I mentioned last Monday, this week's pick is another band from the UK that couldn't buy a hit in their homeland but struck gold (platinum, actually) with those of us in America who couldn't keep their eyes off of upstart MTV. That's a pretty apt description of me in '83 when the Fixx's 'Reach the Beach' climbed the Billboard ladder.

My hometown didn't get MTV until the fall of that year, but I was already hooked on the music-video genre through friends' cable systems in other towns and programs like TBS's new show "Night Tracks", USA Network's "Night Flight", HBO's "Video Jukebox" and NBC's "Friday Night Videos". If you timed your channel surfing just right, you could even catch a video on Nickelodeon between shows. I just got nostalgic to see the opening sequence of "Friday Night Videos". The first clip I found says the Fixx will be coming up. Figures.



What can I say about the Fixx? Bland comes to mind. New wave for the masses, maybe. Anyway, my 13-year-old self thought lead single "Saved By Zero" was great. Loved the spooky video too. By the time the song was being used to tout zero-percent financing on television adverts, let's just say the novelty had worn off. The song peaked at No. 20 over here. It didn't even bother to chart at all in the UK.

Follow-up single "One Thing Leads to Another" is, without a doubt, the band's signature tune, reaching the dizzying heights of No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100. In the UK, an anemic No. 86 would have to suffice. The third and final single from the album, "The Sign of Fire", only got to No. 32, but that was still much better than not charting at all at home. When the dust settled, 'Reach the Beach' would sell two-million copies in the United States. Not sure what that says about us, but it can't be good. Other hits would follow, but 1983 would be the Fixx's finest hour.

The Fixx. Not the worst, but a misstep, nonetheless. Did I really just follow Aretha Franklin with the Fixx?

"Saved By Zero"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 8)

Skipping around the letter F quite a bit, but there is no way I'm going to waste an opportunity to pay homage to the Queen of Soul. It would be too predictable to go to Aretha Franklin's '67 or '68 output, and I probably should just so I can write all about how she had four (yes, four!) top 5 albums during that two-year run on Atlantic Records, but today I'm opting for her lesser known early years.

'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin' was her second album for Columbia, released in 1962 when she had just turned 20 years old. Franklin was being called the "New Queen of the Blues" then, and the music sounded a lot like what another favorite of mine, Ray Charles, was doing at the time. Still, you can already hear her range, and that patented yell of hers was already evident during some of the numbers, albeit accompanied by standards such as "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive".

Many of her songs during these first albums were written and/or arranged by John Leslie McFarland. He's probably best known for co-writing "Stuck on You", Elvis Presley's first hit following his two-year stint in the Army. One of those songs may just very well make you blush. "Rough Lover" is about as politically incorrect as anything you'll find in my collection. Well, maybe I give that nod to the Bacharach/David composition "Wives and Lovers" as sung by Frank Sinatra, but when you consider Franklin was a teenager when she was in the studio belting this one out... you might squirm a bit. Let's just say Franklin sings this one like she means it.

"Rough Lover"

Now, listen here, girls
I'm gonna tell you
What I want right now

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
And I'll find him if I can

He's got to bite nails
Fight bears
And if I get sassy
Be a man who dares
To shut me up and kiss me
So I know he cares
I want a man

Don't want a mean daddy
I want a boss
I want a mean, sweet daddy
Who the devil wouldn't cross

He's got to spit fire
Chew iron
Get mad and start roaring
Like a mountain lion
Then whisper that he loves me
So I know he's mine
I want a man

I'm looking for a guy
Who's big and strong
But weak for me
I'm looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man, oh, yeah

I'm looking for a guy
Who's raving strong
But weak for me
I’m looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man

I want a man
I don’t want no creampuff, baby
Don’t want no butterfly
I want a man

Oh, yes, I do
Oh, yes, I do

To contrast the booming sounds of "Rough Lover", let's turn it down and listen to what I think is Franklin's best moment on the album. As for 'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin', this one wouldn't bother to chart, and it would be quite a few more years before the general public would succumb to Franklin's charms. Of course, you know all about that.

"Blue Holiday"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 7)

Although I never stopped trying, I just couldn't get into the Fiery Furnaces. I found the work of siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger to be too much of a challenge to my pop sensibility. Yes, the duo tried my patience, but I always gave their latest work a listen out of loyalty to the fact they originally hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, which was very near where I was living during their heyday.

With the Fiery Furnaces on a hiatus that has stuck to this day, Eleanor released her first solo album in 2011, and the song "My Mistakes" got stuck in my head that summer and has seemingly never left. Unlike her previous band, she keeps it simple here, and I'm entranced by her laid-back sing-speak style that reminds me a little bit of Patti Smith. There is an intimacy to the entire album that makes you feel like she is sitting there with you, spinning yarns about friends and places you both have in common. Eleanor has had two albums since then, and I have enjoyed them both immensely, but it's 'Last Summer' I spin the most.

"My Mistakes"
"Roosevelt Island"

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 6)

I don't know about you, but after the latest Monday Misstep, I'm feeling the need to cleanse the palate. This beautiful piece of sophisti-pop, in the same vein as Carmel, Everything But the Girl and the Style Council, should go down better than lemon sorbet. "Window Shopping" from the Friday Club would be in the conversation for my favorite single in the collection. It's one of the most coveted on the shelf, too, regularly selling for $100 or more on Discogs. Why? It's not so much because "Window Shopping" is the only release the somewhat obscure seven-piece outfit from Scarborough ever put out. Rather, it comes down to the label and the timing. You see, this is the last recording and the penultimate release in the legendary 2 Tone discography.

In 1985, the Friday Club found out where Jerry Dammers lived, which was a squat in Stockwell, and they dropped a tape and a gig flyer in his mailbox. Dammers actually came to the show. Afterwards, he laughingly told the band he had "never heard a band so out of tune". So they were shocked when he called the next day and told them he wanted to produce and release "Window Shopping" on 2 Tone. Simon Bates started playing it on Radio 1, and "Window Shopping" broke into the top 100. Unfortunately, he went on vacation, and that was that. The Friday Club spent the last couple of months of the year opening for Madness. I will surely make the "Mad Not Mad" tour one of my first stops when we all have time machines, but there isn't too much more to say about "Window Shopping." No, it's never going to be remembered like the songs of 2 Tone's salad days, but, as Dammers summed it up, it's a nice song about being skint."

There is a 12" extended version of "Window Shopping" that's even tougher to find than the 7", and it's the one piece of vinyl I most desire. So, keep your eyes peeled and remember your old pal Brian. Thanks.

"Window Shopping"
"Window Shopping" (Instrumental)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Misstep Mondays: A Flock of Seagulls

Yep. A Flock of Seagulls. In general, I only flew with the flock for about a second, but I never did completely grow out of this particular single, released in late 1982. There is a haunting quality to the song that has stuck with me, and I have always preferred the mammoth 12" version. If this band gives you the shivers, don't play this one. It clocks in at more than nine minutes, and you'll by in the corner curled up in the fetal position by the end.

A message to my fellow countrymen: We have always been told a Flock of Seagulls were solely an American phenomenon, created by MTV, and that the Brits were far too smart to fall for this schlock. I have subscribed to this theory for 35 years, but I just checked the charts... not really the case. We did take to early single "I Ran (So Far Away)" with much more zeal, but the UK stuck with the band longer. As for "Wishing," the song peaked at No. 10 in their home country and No. 26 here in America. That was more or less the end of the line for the folicly-confused band in these parts.

Back next week with another UK band from the letter F, and this one actually was a bigger deal in this part of the world.

"Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" (Long Version)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 5)

I have written about my love for the Flatmates and the Subway Organization ad nauseam. Saying this is my favorite band from my favorite label will have to suffice today. Just like Fire Engines featured last week, a stellar CD compilation of the Flatmates has seemingly made taking the time to pull out the old singles seem like a chore, but then I played the vinyl last night and realized that's a completely foolish sentiment. Not only do they sound great, pops and all, but just looking at the details of the covers, inserts and sleeves is such a treat.






Here is the complete 12" single of "Shimmer," the audience pick for second-best Subway single earlier this year on these very pages. Coincidentally, "Shimmer" peaked at No. 2 on the indie chart in 1988. Where are you, Debbie Haynes?!?

"Shimmer"
"On My Mind"
"If Not For You"
"Bad"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 4)

For me, Minutemen were practically over before they began. I was 14 when 'Double Nickels on the Dime' came out, and it was one of those life-changing albums that, as the Robster would say, I will take to my grave. This one release opened up the entire world of SST Records to me. That same year, Minutemen would make a tour stop at Mabel's in Champaign, Illinois, a legendary club about 80 miles from where I grew up. I begged my parents to let me go, but there was just no way that was going to happen. It wouldn't be long before D. Boon would die in a van accident. I never got to see my beloved Minutemen.

By the time I went off to college in Chicago, Mike Watt and George Hurley had reunited, along with Ed Crawford, to form fIREHOSE. I love Ed's story. In a nutshell, Ed was a huge Minutemen fan attending Ohio State when he caught wind Mike and George might be ready to give it another go. He found Watt's phone number and called him in California to ask for a tryout. That didn't work, but he didn't give up. He left Columbus for San Pedro and asked him again. Next time you think about shirking a challenge, think of Ed. There weren't many band's working as hard as fIREHOSE. Between 1986 and 1993 they would release five studio albums, a couple of EPs and play nearly 1,000 shows. Chicago was a regular stop when touring, and I caught fIREHOSE every time they would swing by, which was often.

fIREHOSE was one of those early '90s alt bands that got swept up in the indie pilfering the major labels pulled after Nirvana took over the world. Although I hated to see them go to Columbia, in my opinion, fIREHOSE was one of the rare bands that didn't dip much in quality when they moved to the big leagues. Having said that, I'll take side one of their first album, 'Ragin, Full-On", over anything in their discography. There are still vestiges of Minutemen found here. Yep, this trio definitely knew how to jam econo. Here are three songs to prove it.

"Brave Captain"
"It Matters"
"Another Theory Shot to Shit"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Misstep Mondays: Fiction Factory

As many of you know, I have spent more than a year now (closer to two, actually) transferring my vinyl to a digital format. It's a huge undertaking, even with skipping many less-than-vital albums and singles, and it turns out I have a bevy of those. This is especially true of the synth-driven bands of my youth. Rather than flipping by these not-so-proud moments, I have decided to come clean with these missteps.

As I mentioned last week, from 1982 to about 1985, there didn't seem to be a new wave or new-wave inspired hit from across the pond that I didn't buy. Sure, I have shared a few of these, such as B-Movie, but most of the bands featured on Misstep Mondays will be a step or two down the musical ladder from a song like "Nowhere Girl". Then again, that will be for you the audience to decide.

That brings us to this inaugural pick. I'm busy transferring vinyl from the letter F, and that's where we will find our first couple of inclusions. Fiction Factory ticked a few boxes for me in 1984, but the most important was that they were from Scotland. You will certainly know the pretty ballad "(Feels Like) Heaven", a No. 6 smash in the UK that also went top 10 in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Ireland and did quite well in other places around the world. The song did nothing in my home country, but the video did get a few plays on shows I was watching at the time. Funny thing is, thanks to a certain nostalgia-fuelled satellite-radio station, I hear it more now than I even did when I was a kid. I have to admit when it comes on I don't touch the dial.

As for the album the song comes from, "Throw the Warped Wheel Out", it's one I'm not sure I have played since 1984... well, at least not until last night. Utterly forgettable. Perhaps I have played it before but just don't remember. The follow-up single to "(Feels Like) Heaven" was "Ghosts of Love". Wow, what a momentum killer. It peaked at No. 64 in the UK and only charted in one other country. There were better choices from the album but only marginally so. There would be no other hits for Fiction Factory, and the band would release their last album a year later. I'm not a big fan of the term one-hit wonder, but if the shoe fits. Back next Monday with another misstep from the letter F.

"(Feels Like) Heaven"
"Ghosts of Love"