Thursday, February 11, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 3)

I could almost take the copy from that Bananarama post the other day and paste it right here. I was really into the SoCal version of the Paisley Underground scene for a few minutes in the mid '80s, and I started buying up everything I could by bands like Rain Parade, Green on Red and the Three O'Clock. It's a little tougher to remember just how great the Bangles were in their infancy, many moons before they were trying (and succeeding) to get the world to saunter like a person from a certain North African country. Even now, I can't seem to be able to type that song title. Susanna's eyes weren't enough to keep me in the fold at that point, but let's remember the good times, long before major-label meddling and slick production created a hit-making monster.

Like the aforementioned Bananrama, I only own one proper album from the Bangles and, again, it's the debut. There are a few fine moments on 'All Over the Place,' especially the cover of "Going Down to Liverpool," but I think the band's best recording came before that. In 1982, there was a fabulous five-song self-titled EP. Back then they were simply known as Bangles without the article in front of it. Miles Copeland put it out on his Faulty Products label, and it was the perfect middle ground between a lo-fi DIY sound and the less rewarding commercial schlock they would adopt a few years later. If you have this one on I.R.S. and are wondering why, it was reissued by Copeland on his big label in 1983 after Faulty Products failed. Happy to say I have a copy on Faulty. Here are the first two songs from 'Bangles.' "The Real World," penned by Susanna and Vicki and sung by Susanna, is the standout, but I have a soft spot for "I'm in Line" as well. That's Vicki's younger sister, 21-year-old drummer Debbi, taking a turn at lead vocals. She sang "Going Down to Liverpool," too.

"The Real World"
"I'm in Line"

There was one other recording before the EP. In 1981, Susanna, Debbi and Vicki went by the Bangs and self-released a 7" on Downkiddie Records. They would end up resurrecting the Down Kiddie name (two words this time) when they released the albums 'Doll Revolution' and 'Sweetheart of the Sun' in 2002 and 2011, respectively. As you would expect, both sides of the single were simple and a bit rough, but listening to them now you can't help but think there was just the tiniest hint of something special going on, especially with those harmonies. Vicki wrote the A-side. The B-side was co-written by David Roback, Susanna and Vicki. If you're into Paisley Underground, you may recognize Roback's name from Rain Parade. If you're lucky enough to have this single on your shelf, then you probably already know it fetches around $100 these days.

"Getting Out of Hand"
"Call on Me"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

From Russia With Love

In recent days, there has been quite a bit of Russian love in our community, such as Drew writing about Pinkshinyultrablast and the Swede covering Gnoomes. Seems like a good time to get in on the веселье. I first heard Palms on Fire last year when they received a coveted invite to NYC Popfest. Unfortunately, the Izhevsk band had visa issues and didn't make the festival. In the meantime, however, I heard the 'Cars' EP, via Dufflecoat Records, and really took to their airy pop. All smiles from those four songs, and I made a mental note to keep an eye on the trio.

I'm glad I did because Palms on Fire just released their first album. Shelflife Records presents 'Where Are The Grey Clouds Going?' The band has made quite a leap since that 2014 EP. Lots more jangle, too. Where you may have been reminded of Pipas before, now they sound a lot like "it" band Alvvays. Certainly nothing wrong with that. You'll notice "Cars" is on the tracklist. It's a rerecording. So, if you own that EP, you're going to want this one too. Shelflife has generously offered the single "Sword & Shield"/"Perfumed Boy" as a free download. Take the five seconds and click. You won't be disappointed.

If I may digress a moment, when I was doing a little research on this one I learned that Dufflecoat Records is folding up the tent. During their brief time, those folks proved they had quite an ear for the indie pop that's right in my wheelhouse. Sad news, indeed. We hardly knew ye. The fire sale continues here. Visit while you can.

Monday, February 8, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 2)

Lots of ladies will grace these pages while in the B section. So, we move from Kate and Cindy to Keren, Siobhan and Sarah. As far as my tastes go, Bananarama only stuck around for a cup of coffee. I'm going to keep this as brief as my fandom because Alex at We Will Have Salad has been covering much of the relationship between Bananarama and Fun Boy Three, and it probably won't surprise you to note this is the same era I enjoy. I only own one studio album, and it's the first. I still like it enough that I bought it again last year when 'Deep Sea Skiving' was reissued. A tip of the cap to Edsel for assembling one hell of a deluxe edition that includes 24 bonus tracks and a DVD, all housed in a handsome hardcover book. I really bought it for the 12" of "Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" and the original 1981 Demon 7" of "Aie a Mwana," two pieces of vinyl that have eluded me for decades.

This series is all about the vinyl, however, and I do have a few 12" singles up my sleeve. The first is the only piece of plastic I have beyond 'Deep Sea Skiving,' and just barely at that. The first single from their second album, "Cruel Summer," was a top-10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, helped here in America by being used in the film 'The Karate Kid' (although omitted from the soundtrack). As a 14 year old, I loved this pop, commercial or not, and the song takes me back to the summer of '84 the moment it comes on, but that proved to be it for me and the gals. These two takes of the Swahili-sung cover "Aie a Mwana" are from the B-side of the "Really Sayin' Something" 12". It's worth noting this is the U.S. release, and the mixes are different from the UK ones. All versions of that one are available on the deluxe edition of 'Deep Sea Skiving.'

"Cruel Summer" (12" Version)
"Summer Dub"
"Aie a Mwana" (U.S. Extended Version)
"Aie a Mwana" (U.S. Dub)

Friday, February 5, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter B, Part 1)

Almost all of my B-52's collection is on vinyl. So, I'll be up late tonight converting to digital, but I think this will be nothing but a joyous job. I was just digging around deciding what to feature today, and I realize you probably have all of those excellent early records. I know the band lost some of you around 'Whammy!', but I stuck with them through 'Cosmic Thing.' I'm going to make the assumption that many of you might not have the 1986 album 'Bouncing Off the Satellites,' their least successful album in a career crammed with hits. I think today's single could have and should have been a hit. OK, "Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland" did make it to No. 10 on the U.S. dance chart, but that was the only ranking it received anywhere in the world. That the album wasn't on par with the band's best work only tells part of the tale.

Guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS after the recording of 'Bouncing Off The Satellites' but before it was released. The band was devastated and wasn't up to the promotion needed to make the album a success. The label, without any appearances to tout, did nothing to push the release. In hindsight, I suppose it's easy to make judgments on bureaucratic decision-makers who probably didn't want to further publicize the circumstances of Ricky's death, but that's 1986 for you.

The extended version of "Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland" was remixed by the prolific Shep Pettibone. He was at the top of his game, releasing mixes by the likes of Madonna, Janet Jackson, New Order, Pet Shop Boys and many others during this period. The 12" mix was done by the Latin Rascals. This duo was also a hot commodity, having worked with Duran Duran, Madonna and Pet Shop Boys that year too. Quite a coup to land this talent. Between these two versions, however, I'll take Pettibone's every day of the week. To steal our pal Drew's line, it's Friday, let's dance!

"Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland" (Extended)
"Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland" (12" Mix)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Big Wet (Pop)Kiss to Book About Sarah

Have you ever loved a book so much you purposely read slower so it wouldn't end? I managed to stretch Michael White's 'Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records' to a monthlong affair, but it took rereading in-depth chapters on Heavenly and the Orchids and constantly referring to the complete list of Sarah releases at the back of the book like a student at exam time for me to accomplish this feat.

'Popkiss' works so well because you can easily spot White as one of the rabid fans that used to write to label founders Matt Haynes and Clare Wadd in Bristol, and the passion is palpable as you come to realize he has made efforts to interview everyone in the Sarah story, from a major player that was around for years, like Harvey Williams, to minor ones that produced just a single 7", such as Matthew Evans of Tramway. White seems to know that with a small but fanatical fan base there are bound to be readers who will criticize him for not spending equal time telling the tales of a Sweetest Ache or a Gentle Despite. That's missing the point. As White said in his introduction, in keeping with the spirit of Sarah, "think of this book as a selection of short, sharp seven-inch singles, rather than a deluxe twenty-fifth anniversary ten-CD box set with bonus-material download code."

Reading about all of your favorite Sarah bands is what will draw you to the book, but it won't take long for you to realize that the label and, indeed, this book, is really about Matt and Clare and their labor of love. That's why 'Popkiss: The Life and Afterlife of Sarah Records' will even work for those who found the music too twee, too cutie, too sad, too whatever. By the time the reader gets to the chapter on "A Day for Destroying Things," all fans of indie and DIY culture will have two new heroes. Congratulations to White for exceeding this rabid fan's expectations. His book deserves the accolades and commercial success that eluded his subject.

For those of you new to the label, here is Sarah 58 by the Hit Parade. Apologies for the pops and cracks. I have played this one to death. You can find the A-side on the compilation 'Pick of the Pops.'

"In Gunnersbury Park"
"Harvey"

Monday, February 1, 2016

Give Game Theory's Masterpiece a Go

This is a quick reminder that should brighten your manic Monday. Game Theory's 'Lolita Nation' will be reissued on Friday, and while some of you may take exception with this headline, naming 'Real Nighttime' as the one you gotta have, this 1987 double album was, is and will always be my favorite of the late Scott Miller's work. Once again, Mitch Easter was at the board, and he helped Miller and a tweaked roster push the boundaries a bit, creating a more experimental (and occasionally darker) brand of paisley pop. A couple of the 27 original tracks are bordering on the bizarre, but songs like "The Waist and the Knees" and "Chardonnay" are perfection.

If you have been following Omnivore Recordings' reissue campaign, then you know Game Theory's work has been handled with expert care. As with 'Real Nighttime,' the CD version has a second disc chock full of alternate mixes, live recordings, and radio sessions... 21 tracks in all! There are a bevy of covers too, and it's a fantastic showcase of Miller's tastes, including David Bowie, the Modern Lovers, Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, the Smiths, the Stooges, Joy Division, the Hollies and Public Image Ltd. The LP reissue is the original double album, of course, and the first pressing is on dark green translucent vinyl. It will include a download card for the entire 48 tracks from the double-CD program. 'Lolita Nation' is where I came in, and perhaps that's why I look on this album with such fondness, but I don't think it's out of turn to say you can't call yourself a fan of power pop without this one in your collection.

"Not Because You Can"

Friday, January 29, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter A, Part 12)

The past 24 hours have been packed with converting my '80s-era Aztec Camera from vinyl to a digital format. Not a bad way to spend a day, eh? Uh, that may be a loaded question since I know from previous posts that 'Love' and even 'Knife' have produced some pretty heated back-and-forth comments on this blog and elsewhere. I imagine many of you have purchased the double-disc reissues Edsel released in 2012, and that makes digging up songs that you don't already have a challenge, but there have been a few that weren't part of those packages. One of the B-sides from the "Still on Fire" 12" single didn't make the cut on the 'Knife' reissue. So, here is a memorable song from the 'High Land, Hard Rain' era recorded live at Barrowlands on Oct. 6, 1984. I believe this is the lineup of Malcolm Ross, Campbell Owens and Dave Ruffy joining Roddy Frame. I really like this rousing version.

"The Boy Wonders" (Live)

This one was a request from a reader that pointed out to me that these two songs were inexplicably left off of the 'Love' reissue.' You can find them as B-sides to the "Somewhere in My Heart" 12". Both songs were recorded, again, at Barrowlands, this time on Jan. 30, 1988. I probably didn't need to tell you he was in Glasgow. You'll be able to tell when he sings "Down the Dip," just Roddy and his guitar, in his spiritual home. The fans are in heaven.

"Down the Dip" (Live)
"Jump" (Live)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter A, Part 11)

We have reached the end of the A section, at least for this round, but today's band will get more than one day's attention. Aztec Camera isn't the king of the A section because, unlike Associates, my collection is divided between vinyl, CDs and, yes, even cassettes. My Aztec Camera records are all vinyl through 'Love' and its associated singles, but my abrupt switch to compact disc in the fall of 1988 meant everything from 'Stray' onward is on the dreaded format. There is some crossover. For example, I have 'High Land, Hard Rain' on vinyl (two copies, actually), deluxe edition CD and cassette. Ridiculous... but with an explanation. It's just about my favorite record, and it keeps getting reissued in a superior fashion.

The pride of my Aztec Camera section are the two singles released by Postcard in 1981 (see top). I converted them to digital first thing, and it was then I decided to have a post dedicated to "We Could Send Letters." It's a fascinating study of a song's transformation, and it begs the question, can you tinker too much with a masterpiece? I have other versions of the song, such as from Roddy Frame's solo show from 2006 on 'Live in Osaka,' but those are on CD. So, perhaps another day. You may be wondering how I cheated and included the 'C81' version since that's from the legendary NME cassette. Well, I do have the tape, but I also have it on a fantastic 7" Domino Records included with the first copies of the vinyl reissue of 'High Land, Hard Rain' in 2013. The sleeve is signed by Frame, and the other songs on the record are "The Bugle Sounds Again" (Bedroom Demo) and the Capital Records Session of "The Boy Wonders" and "Release." So, that little bonus is why I have two copies of the album on vinyl. I converted that one right after the Postcard singles.

The live performance of "We Could Send Letters" was recorded for radio at the El Mocambo in Toronto on July 11, 1983. It showed up as a B-side to the WEA version of the "Oblivious" 12 single. More Aztec Camera next time as I continue the conversion of my 12" singles this evening. This is a good time to ask this question: Would you put Roddy Frame's albums in the Aztec Camera section or with the letter F?

"We Could Send Letters" ('C81' Version)
"We Could Send Letters" (Postcard Version)
"We Could Send Letters" ('High Land, Hard Rain' Version)
"We Could Send Letters" (Live)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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

Here is another album that I hadn't played for many years, but I did dust it off last fall for a listen when I saw that Omnivore Recordings had put together a really nice CD+DVD reissue package with lots of new extras. I remember 'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out' being a pretty big deal in 1987, mostly due to the appearance of the ever-popular R.E.M., but also because the label had such a fantastic avenue to tout it. "I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge" was must-see TV during its four-year run on MTV, and the show was winding down as the documentary was coming out, but not before showing many clips from the film. MTV's "120 Minutes" took over from there, playing R.E.M's cover of the Everly Brothers' "(All I've Got to Do Is) Dream" with regularity, and I seem to recall the show even sponsoring a "Win a Weekend in Athens" contest.

The B-52's and R.E.M. are probably the first two bands you think of, and rightly so, but Athens has continued to be a hotbed of activity ever since those halcyon days. Let's not forget the Elephant 6 Collective and the roster of Kindercore Records all the way through HHBTM Records, one of the most enjoyable indies out there today. I enjoyed every band on 'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out,' and there were some minor successes, such as Dreams So Real getting signed by Arista in 1988 and Kilkenny Cats being a part of Twin/Tone (hey, if it was good enough for the Replacements!), but most of these groups never quite made the big time. Well, Love Tractor was on Big Time Records, so I stand corrected.

Probably my all-time favorite Athens band is Pylon, and they were on this soundtrack, but I think I'll wait until we get to the letter P to showcase them. Let's try a couple of bands that barely made it beyond this album. The Squalls were a nice bit of jangle while they lasted, and their final recording was the album 'No Time' in 1988. "Na, Na, Na, Na" was recorded on Feb. 3, 1986 at the legendary 40 Watt Club. Bar-B-Q Killers were one of the harder and sloppier bands on the scene, and I mean that as a compliment. "His and Hearse" comes from their show at Uptown Lounge on Feb. 4, 1986.

The Squalls - "Na, Na, Na, Na"
Bar-B-Q Killers - "His and Hearse"

Monday, January 25, 2016

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

Sorry about the gap between posts in this series. I have been having some technical issues with the transfer project, but I think I have it sorted out now. Back by popular demand, here is a bonus post from Associates. OK, not popular demand. In fact, the first was one of my least visited posts in recent times. An acquired taste for sure, but I spent much of last evening listening to Billy MacKenzie's work while toiling with the conversion, and I'm going to stand by having a second day. I tried to dig up something the casual fan may not have on the shelf.

There are at least three versions of the "Take Me to the Girl" single from the fall of 1985. The following two songs are taken from the flip side of the 10". Billy's performance at Ronnie Scott's on Dec. 9, 1984, was thought to be for a live album that never came to fruition, but the show was shot for "Whistle Test," and some of the songs were used as B-sides and appearances on compilations. I believe you can view all of the songs performed that night on YouTube and, in particular, I recommend taking a few minutes to watch a beautiful rendition of "Breakfast." Billy's set list and band were befitting of a classy place like Ronnie Scott's, and his rousing vocals are coupled with a virtually unplugged band that included a trio of violins, piano, bass, sax and a single snare played with brushes.

"God Bless the Child" is a well-known Billie Holiday standard that has been recorded by dozens of artists. Fans from the early days of Associates will recognize the bass lines of "Even Dogs in the Wild," and it's amazing how well this song works in this environment sans guitar. These selections are for die-hard followers of Associates, but I'm hoping others will recognize and appreciate the vocal talent on display.

"God Bless the Child" (Live)
"Even Dogs in the Wild" (Live)

As an aside, since I have mentioned the album 'Perhaps' so much during these two posts, I thought I would pass along this humorous story I have read a few times from that era. Most fans know Billy loved his dogs. The great Martin Rushent was one of the producers of 'Perhaps,' and he told of his encounters with Billy's two whippets that the singer took with him wherever he went. During recording of the album, Billy would walk the dogs every morning along the paths surrounding Genetic Studios which, incidentally, was on the grounds of Martin's house. Martin would have to dodge the dogs' poo on the path between his house and his studio every day, and one day he wasn't successful. He was so mad that he brought out a dust pan and brush and made Billy clean the path. During the chore, Martin quietly snapped a photo of Billy clearing the crap. When Billy returned to the studio, Martin said that if he ever found poo on the path again he would give the picture to the music press, naming the photo Billy MacKenzie... Collecting Material For His Next Album!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Brand New From the Letter A Section

We all feel it, don't we? The malaise. It's dark, cold and the newspapers are piling up at the front door because you can't bear to read them. Well, here's some good ol' fashioned garage rock to bust those January blues.

The Arch Menaces come from a land Down Under, and these lads recorded this, their debut album, way back in 2012. So, it's 2016. No, it really is. You're probably wondering what happened. Better not to ask. We're trying to get happy, right? Besides, this story does have a happy ending. The band wrote to Jigsaw Records and, lo and behold, 'Primitive Germs' finally gets a proper release on this very day.

Let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Patience and hard work do pay off... and your band is the best band in the world! Who am I kidding? If you're here, you're old as the hills and think dreams are for suckers, which is actually good because you'll get the following references. The Arch Menaces sound like a lot of power-pop bands from your youth, especially the Plimsouls, Smithereens, Teenage Fanclub and fellow Aussies the Hoodoo Gurus.

Listen to the entire album on their Bandcamp page, then order the CD from the label. Only ten bucks for more hooks than your old man's fishing hat. More hooks than a hipster's crochet case. Better get listening or I'll keep going. More hooks than a pirate convention. More hooks than Hellraiser. More hooks...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

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

They may have called themselves Associates, but this band has been the boss of my A section for many years. I have more pieces of vinyl featuring the talents of Billy MacKenzie than anyone else from the first letter in the alphabet. So many, in fact, I can't possibly make them all fit in the photo today.

I was 14 when I bought my first piece of plastic from Associates, and the purchase was made without ever hearing a note from them. I read an interview with MacKenzie in Melody Maker while killing time in a record store. I had an obsession with Scotland (still do!), and I'm sure being from there is what cinched it, but I was so taken by the printed conversation that I bought an album that very day. Most of the conversation centered around 'Perhaps,' the album that was going to be out in a few months, and a couple of the singles that would be on that record had already been released, but I didn't know anything about that at the time. The interviewer kept contrasting the new album to the last one, 'Sulk,' and I remember MacKenzie downplaying the previous effort, saying something about the new songs being about love, which he claimed he knew nothing about in the 'Sulk' days. With Alan Rankine's defection, of course he would say that. It would be quite some time before I knew how big the album had been a couple of years earlier in the UK, and it would be even longer before I learned of the hijinks that went on while the masterpiece was being made... in and out of the studio.

Anyway, I went to the A section of the record store. There was no subsection just for Associates... something I would have to get used to out in the sticks. I found one copy of one album from them. I would have to "settle" for 'Sulk.' I'm not sure if those of you in the UK are aware of this, but the American version of 'Sulk' bears little resemblance to the album you know. Here was the A-side released by Sire in this country:

"It's Better This Way"
"Party Fears Two"
"Club Country"
"Love Hangover"
"18 Carat Love Affair"

So, these were the first five songs I ever heard by Associates. Even if you want to make the argument that the versions we received over here were inferior (the first two songs were remixed and "Club Country" was edited), you have to admit this singles fest is a stunning way to be introduced to Alan Rankine and MacKenzie. I know I'll never forget it. Here are two from what's left of my 30-year-old vinyl. Associates are too important to me to confine to one day. Plus it's going to take some time to convert all of these to digital. So, depending on how far I get tonight, I may have another post featuring Billy tomorrow.

"Party Fears Two"
"18 Carat Love Affair"