Saturday, August 1, 2015

Still Sweet on Sweet

It's a bandwidth buster today! Kevinpat, a relatively new and very welcome visitor to these pages, dug around the archives and found a post on Matthew Sweet from 2012 that piqued his interest. So, per his request, here is a rerun of some non-album material surrounding the 'Altered Beast' era. In 1993, I couldn't get enough Sweet and had to have everything. I bought the singles while while working at a record store that summer. When I moved to Japan that fall, the first music purchase I made was upgrading to the Japanese version of 'Altered Beast.' I spent ¥2500 for it, which was about $26 at the time. I'll let you decide whether that was too high of a price for these two bonus tracks. The 'Altered Beast' demos are from a high-quality bootleg called 'Superdeformed.' This one is worth a future post.

I hate to be a statistic, but I'm following many of my blogging peers by taking a break. This will be my last post for about two weeks. I'm busy hosting family that came into town beginning yesterday, and we are about to head to Route 101 and down the coast for beach combing and other Pacific adventures. Sweet! I'll resume the final 25 of my 100 favorite songs from the 1990s as soon as I return. Let's all enjoy these final weeks of summer!

'Altered Beast' Bonus Tracks (Japanese Edition)
"Genie (The Second Coming)"
"Swan Song"

"The Ugly Truth" B-Sides
"Born in Sin"

"Time Capsule" B-Sides
"Speed of Light"

'Altered Beast' Demos
"The Ugly Truth"
"Time Capsule"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 26)

26. "Not the Girl You Think You Are"
Artist: Crowded House
Year: 1996

First, Neil Finn as solo artist at No. 49, and now Crowded House at No. 26. Too much? I don't think so. Finn is one of the great purveyors of pop, and he needs absolutely no defense, but I will tell you why I have always been particularly fond of this band. On Feb. 20, 1987, at the age of 17, I went on a date with a gal I had admired from afar since the previous summer. It took that long because I sucked at such things, and she ended up with a boyfriend that fall while I sat on my hands. Pathetic.

I seem to be veering off course. Anyway, we crammed into my tiny Renault LeCar and headed to a Chinese restaurant for prawns and awkward first-date conversation. After the fortune cookies, I took her to the most romantic place I could think of... a record store. Yes, I'm that good. "Don't Dream It's Over" was beginning to get quite a bit of play on MTV (in fact, the song cracked the Billboard Top 40 the very next week), and I bought Crowded House's self-titled debut on cassette that night. As high school kids from the sticks often do, we drove around with no particular place to go as we got to know each other. The auto reverse on the tape deck did its job, and 'Crowded House' became the soundtrack for what I guess can be described as a special evening since we have been together ever since. As regular readers are aware, Mrs. LTL doesn't like all of the bands I do, but Crowded House is one we have both loved for nearly 30 years.

Crowded House had a couple of great albums in the 1990s, and there were many candidates from 'Woodface' and 'Together Alone' considered for this list. In the middle '90s there was to be a new album (ironically named 'Help Is Coming'), but the band called it quits before it was completed. Instead, in 1996, three new songs from those sessions were added to a "best of" called 'Recurring Dream.' Man, do I hate when bands add a new song or two to a hits package like that. It's nothing but a cash grab to get die-hard fans to buy an album they don't need. In most cases, at least one of the new songs inevitably sounds out of place when you pull it off the shelf a decade later. "I don't remember this song at all" is what you're bound to tell yourself. Well, "Recurring Dream" is a rare instance where the new stuff was at least as good as the hits, especially "Instinct" and today's selection. In fact, all three songs charted in the UK. Finn described "Not the Girl You Think You Are" as his stab at trying to write a song as if he was one of the Beatles, and it does remind me of ballads like "And I Love Her," but this is still Crowded House through and through. I put it up there with "Sister Madly" as, perhaps, my favorite from a very impressive cannon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 27)

27. "Radio Jejune"
Artist: The Sugarplastic
Year: 1995

I'm gonna turn that dial until it sounds alright
I'm gonna turn back time until it sounds alright

The L.A. power-pop trio did quite a job turning back time. The dial was clearly set for 1979, and it sounded more than alright to me. That's when XTC's 'Drums and Wires' came out, and it was an obvious influence. The Sugarplastic always had quite a time beating down the derivative label, especially with their first two albums, but the fellas never seemed to have a problem with the negative connotation. In fact, the Sugarplastic sounded the most like their predecessor on the song "Arizona," and they had a little fun with it. Check out this cheeky lyric:

Sit back and watch me crack
What Mr. Moulding's done before

I'll include that song below as well just so you can hear bassist (like Colin Moulding) Ben Eshbach cracking wise about one of his idols. The Sugarplastic aren't really a singles band. On a personal level, I feel like I could have chosen any song they recorded in the decade for this list. "Radio Jejune" gets the nod because it's the perfect opener from their debut full-length album. 'Radio Jejune' got Geffen running with pen in hand for a followup. Too bad so few heard the near brush with the big time. 'Bang, The Earth is Round' is brilliant too.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 28)

28. "Old Red Eyes Is Back"
Artist: The Beautiful South
Year: 1992

The Housemartins were the self-proclaimed fourth-best band from Hull, but they were No. 1 in my heart. Much like the fellow left-leaning McCarthy, it felt like the Housemartins came and went in the blink of an eye, but there would be much success from the family tree. I kept an ear on all of the offshoots, including Fatboy Slim and Paul Heaton's solo work, but nothing really did it for me like the Housemartins. Even most of the Beautiful South's incredibly successful work left me cold, but "Old Red Eyes Is Back" was an exception. If I counted correctly, this song was the seventh of a whopping 20 charting UK singles during the 1990s and the first from '0898,' the bands third album. So, what do I know? It's arguably the closest they ever sounded to the Housemartins, but like much of their music at the time, it also had a lounge-like element. "Old Red Eyes Is Back" is the only song by the Beautiful South that I own as a traditional 7" single, which I'm sure plays no small part in my love for this one.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Now For the Other Band on This Split 12"

My first post of 2015 was a push to get you to buy Cloudberry Records' wonderful career-spanning compilation of the legendary (well, maybe in Norwich) band Shine! Back in January our pal The Swede described the song "Bite the Apple" as "Gedgetastic," and the fellas in the band would be the first to tell you the Wedding Present was a huge influence. As you can see from the cover art above, "Bite the Apple" was released in Jan. 1990 as part of a split 12" with another Norwich-area band, the Bardots.

Although the Bardots would go on to have more success than Shine! I don't find their body of work nearly as compelling. However, "Sad Anne," from the aforementioned 12", is something special. If they had been from L.A. in the mid-'80s, I think it could have been a hit. This, their second single, sounds like something straight out of the Paisley Underground. Ché put together a compilation of the Bardots in the late '90s that's still in print. Neither one of these songs would be out of place on my best of the '90s list. Alas, I have a rule about being familiar with the work during that decade, and I didn't discover Shine! or the Bardots until much later. I'm sure glad I did eventually find these two tunes. Simon Williams of NME was right when he said things are "janglier in Anglia."

"Bite the Apple"
"Sad Anne"

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Label Pieces Together Great Reissues

Jigsaw Records does such a great job unearthing these rare artifacts from the golden age of UK indie. These are two that have my ear right now. The Driscolls' 'Complete Recordings 1988-1991' is a 35-track double CD chock full of mod and jangle. Get it straight from the label for a mere 13 bucks. Budgeting the bandwidth today, but here's a video for an early single put out by Restless Records in 1988. I can't get this one out of my head.

This next one is ripe for the pickin'. Strawberry Story's story can even be traced back to the aforementioned Driscolls. They did a split 7" flexi for the Woosh label in 1988. That song, "Tell Me Now," is two glorious minutes of crash pop that wouldn't have sounded a bit out of place next to Subway Organisation vets the Shop Assistants Rosehips, Flatmates or Bubblegum Splash! Give it a listen below. Then regain your composure and send $12 to Jigsaw for 'Gravy,' the 54-track double CD comp that includes everything the band ever did. You'll never find a strawberry this sweet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 29)

29. "So You Think You're in Love"
Artist: Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
Year: 1991

This song dates back to the days of the Soft Boys. It sure would have been cool to have heard that first recording. We got a couple of tidbits about that earlier take in the reissue liner notes of 'A Can of Bees.' Hitchcock opined, "One of the best things I wrote. It was a bit personal at the time, so I over-dubbed it all myself and didn't play it to anybody. It was erased by a horde of bass drum tracks in early '79."

Roughly 10 studio albums later, Hitchcock gave it another go for 'Perspex Island.' This is not one of my favorite LPs, but "So You Think You're in Love" is a great single, full of jangle, pop and, most importantly, radio-friendly accessibility. Hitchcock finally found himself with a hit. The song reached No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart here in America, something I never would have dreamed the very eccentric and very English singer-songwriter could pull off over here.

I'm including one of the two B-sides from the U.S.-issued three-song CD single because it's an interesting version of a song from the Byrds you will no doubt recognize. Hitchcock has a knack for inspired covers. His stripped-down take of the Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost in You" from last year's 'The Man Upstairs' is a perfect example. The 62-year-old is the rare artist that seems to be getting better with age. This may sound like a bold statement, but I would take Hitchcock's output since 2009 over any five consecutive albums during his nearly four decades making records.

Bonus B-Side: "Eight Miles High"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It Would Be Good

My current foray into the Hit Parade has lingered well past No. 33 on my '90s countdown. Today I'm listening to the first full-length album from Jessica Griffin's Would-Be-Goods. 'The Camera Loves Me' was a big listen for me when it came out in 1988, and what brought me to the album was that Griffin was backed by the Monochrome Set. If you listen with a keen ear, I think you can really pick out the fellas, especially if you're familiar with their 1985 album 'The Lost Weekend.' Bid, frontman and songwriter for the Monochrome Set, would go on to produce the Would-Be-Goods' followup, 'Mondo,' in 1993. So, where does the Hit Parade's Julian Henry fit into all of this? He arranged most of the songs on 'The Camera Loves Me,' including the two featured here. With so many of my favorite musicians involved, how could I not think this is lovely?

"The Camera Loves Me"
"Pinstriped Rebel"

Friday, July 17, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 32- No. 30)

32. "Common People"
Artist: Pulp
Year: 1995

31. "Sour Times (Nobody Loves Me)"
Artist: Portishead
Year: 1994

30. "Alright"
Artist: Supergrass
Year: 1995

It's not all that fun or interesting for me to give accolades to smash hits, but the next few spots on the countdown will be occupied by just that. To ignore them simply because they were commercial successes wouldn't be honest. I really loved these songs, but I'm sure living in a far-off land during their meteoric rises, away from all the hype, helped with my enjoyment of them, even as the super saturation of being played on radio and in movies and in commercials have kept them in our collective consciousness all these years. Let's also remember even though we may share a common language (more or less), a huge song in the UK often gets lost in translation as it's imported. Although this trio of singles did fairly well over here, none of them broke into our Top 40. In fact, two of them never even cracked the Billboard Hot 100, which I find utterly amazing.

A few words about these bands. I should say up front I don't consider myself a big fan of Britpop. Yes, there are a few songs that somehow found their way to me. To be perfectly honest, though, I nearly missed the movement. For example, and I know you will think I'm kidding, but to this day, I have only heard one song by Oasis... ever. From the isolation of living in a rural part of a foreign country, there are big holes in my mid-'90s musical education I never bothered to go back and fill. It just didn't interest me all that much.

I was never into Pulp before they exploded with 'Different Class,' and I may have missed them as well if not for John Peel going on about them during his program for BBC World Service. He was an enormous fan... and so were his listeners. If you don't believe me, check out the '95 Festive Fifty and the all-time Festive Fifty that came out in 2000, as well as Peel's personal list of favorite albums that he assembled in 1997. So, yes, Peel's spiel got me to buy that one while I was in Japan. 'Different Class,' however, is the only album I have ever had by them. I'm only slightly more advanced with the Supergrass collection, but at least I can say I had a couple of singles before "Alright" took off, and I have gone back for more since then. As for Portishead, I remember the term trip-hop being bandied about, but that didn't really mean much to me. Put simply, I found Beth Gibbons' delivery alluring and the overall atmosphere of "Sour Times" intoxicating. I own this one as a CD single, and that's all I've got. I never even bought 'Dummy' when I returned home. I admit I kind of regret that decision.

So, if you think I should do a better job filling those musical holes, this is as good a time as any to give your opinion on Pulp, Portishead and/or Supergrass. In case you're wondering, there will be more Britpop in my top 30... but not much more.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

Mrs. LTL is in San Jose and Chicago this week. So, the headphones are off, the volume is up and me and the boys (get 'em while they're young!) are free to dance to Green's hit-making years of the 'Cupid & Psyche '85' era without my wife covering her ears and yelling "la-la-la, I'm not listening!" The "Scritti Politti Turntable Mix" is a six-and-a-half minute mashup of the singles "Wood Beez," "Absolute" and "Hypnotize." No, this one won't change your life, but it is an interesting curiosity. The song was remixed by Mastermind and was the B-side of the double A-side "The Word Girl"/"Flesh & Blood" 12" maxi-single.

If you're scratching your head and wondering why your 12" of this one (I'm talking to you, George) has a Julian Mendelsohn mix of "The Word Girl/Flesh & Blood (Version)" as its B-side, it's because there were two different 12" singles released in the UK... an obvious way for Virgin to take advantage of suckers like myself. This album is where many early fans said "so long Scritti," but it probably won't surprise you that I love all five of the saccharine singles from 'Cupid & Psyche '85.'

"Scritti Politti Turntable Mix"

Monday, July 13, 2015

Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 33)

33. "The First Time"
Artist: The Hit Parade
Year: 1992

JC over at the (new) vinyl villain has a handy sidebar he calls "Sites Fit For Heroes." I always thought this was a great idea. Among the many reasons to like the list is that it very quickly tells new readers whether or not this is the place for them. If you like, say, Josef K or Morrissey from his impressive rundown, chances are you're really going to dig JC's blog and will want to continue reading. If I ever lift this for Linear Tracking Lives, Julian Henry's the Hit Parade will surely make my list of sites fit for heroes. As a bonus, for today's selection, you get two of my heroes for the price of one. Harvey Williams, a true king in the world of UK indie pop, is a guest on this song. That's him singing along.

I have to admit any confidence I may have had in this pick was shot earlier today by Mrs. LTL. I was playing the Hit Parade's 2003 single "In Your Arms" earlier today when she asked, "Is this a joke?" After mulling over whether to file separation papers at the courthouse, I inquired further. "It sounds like a parody of, uh, something," was her retort. Gutted. The only person I can think of who might help me defend this pick is Friend of Rachel Worth, the man behind the wonderful (but sadly retired) blog Cathedrals of Sound. He shares my affinity for Henry's twee, but I'm not quite sure if he made it past the '80s material. I hope he did because the Hit Parade has continued to craft beautiful odes to lost love for more than 30 years.

Perhaps someone from Japan will read this and proclaim his or her undying loyalty as well. Much like the Pastels, the band at No. 35 on this countdown, the Hit Parade have a legion of fans on that side of the world. It's one of those anomalies that have us in the west scratching our heads, but I'm guessing those are the listeners that pay the bills... kind of like the Wild Swans being huge in the Philippines. It's better to just accept it and be happy these bands are getting the love they deserve somewhere.

I have never understood why "The First Time" wasn't released as a single. For most of the last 20-plus years it was only available as a deep track on 'Light Music,' an obscure album put out by Japan's Polystar Records. The song got new life in 2012 when it became the opener on the must-have compilation 'Pick Of The Pops (Vol. 1).' Finally, many of the Hit Parade's best songs became widely available. Enjoy this wonderful little promotional piece to get you to run out and buy it.

How about one more bonus? Here is the presser for the 1992 album 'Light Music.' Yes, all of their PR is this offbeat:

This new high quality compact disc has been recorded live specially for you, the listener, in mind. The practical circular design ensures that it fits neatly into all modern players. The tone of the sound, we think you will agree, is not merely top notch but positively luxurious. On each track the performance has been recorded by scientists so each gasp and electronic reverberation has been captured.

Unlike other popular beat groups the Hit Parade are not in fact popular.

Their sperm-like appeal is based on willful obscurity and a necessity to remain unsuccessful for as long as possible. Despite this the Hit Parade have become famous all over the world and their two previous long play recordings have become milestones on the history of popular music.

A mood of strange awakening sweeps across this new compact disc, like a ghostly feather brushing cobwebs from the lips of a sleeping princess. And as the Hit Parade come to life the listener will understand why they have become leaders in their field of modern light entertainment. Each song tells the same sad story of romance, regrets and doomed one-sided relationships. The Hit Parade will add a new dimension to your unhappiness.

New fans of the band will find this compact disc to be an intriguing and enlightening experience. Other people, perhaps those with bad breath or ill-fitting trousers, might not at first appreciate the whims and obsessions of this perfect pop group. But stop for a moment and listen. Life will never be the same again. Maybe.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Add Free Song To Your School Folder

If you're a regular reader, then you already know my infatuation with the School runs deep. 'Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything' was my No. 2 album of 2012, and I'm absolutely smitten by the Welsh band's brand of '60s and girl-group influences. Our first listen to a song from 'Wasting Away and Wondering,' the impending album out Sept. 4 via Elefant Records, was the single "All I Want From You Is Everything." You may recall the 7" came out a few months ago on beautiful white vinyl, but it's already sold out through the label (although I just checked, and you can still get it through Darla... hurry!). Our second listen to a song from the new album is a much easier (and cheaper!) endeavor. Elefant has just released "Do I Love You?" as a digital-only single... and it's a free download!! It's not your imagination. I have gone crazy with the exclamation points today. Sorry. Just excited.

"Do I Love You?" is described as "an upbeat Northern Soul-inspired track, a girl's response to the famous Frank Wilson song." If you're thinking you recently read about that song somewhere, perhaps one of your regular blog stops is Across the Kitchen Table. Drew spent much of the spring counting down his 50 favorite Northern Soul songs, and Wilson's 1965 hit "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)" made his top 10. High praise, indeed.

To download the latest from Liz and Co., visit Elefant's coupons page and enter the code 02D80Z1Z4XU9 for your copy of the free single. It's a keeper that does its job well. This preview of things to come will certainly have you excited for the new album too.