Thursday, April 17, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 28)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

28. The Loft - "Why Does the Rain"

Other Contenders: The band only had two singles, but both songs are so good. Do I choose the uptempo number that was the bigger hit, or do I go the sad-sack route that seems to be the more popular choice today?

Chart Entry: Oct. 26, 1985

Peak Position: No. 30

Comment: "Up the Hill and Down the Slope" was the hit, peaking at No. 3 on this chart, but BBC Radio One's Janice Long did everything she could to make "Why Does the Rain" the smash. In 2005, more than 20 years after all of those spins, she still claimed the song would be in her all-time top 10. Bob Stanley loves this one too, choosing it over "Slope" on his carefully curated 'CD86: 48 Tracks from the Birth of Indie Pop' collection from 2006. If you're still unsure about my choice, perhaps Dave Gedge will convince you: "We loved the Loft in the Wedding Present, and we were disappointed when we'd heard they split up. [Here's the tale of the band's implosion.] I found them very inspiring... especially Andy Strickland's guitar playing on 'Why Does the Rain.' I always hated that grammatically challenged title though." Turn it down for Creation 09. It's a slow burner.

Buy "Why Does the Rain" on 'Magpie Eyes 1982-1985.'

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 29)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

29. The Primitives - "Stop Killing Me"

Other Contenders: "Really Stupid" lost the coin flip. No, not literally.

Chart Entry: Feb. 28, 1987

Peak Position: No. 2

Comment: The Primitives were lumped into the so-called "blonde movement"`that included minor leaguers like the Darling Buds and Transvision Vamp, and this probably hurt the band a bit, but I think the first three singles for the band's own Lazy Records proved they were much better than the belittling label. These songs (including spectacular B-sides) had a pop sensibility that became more readily apparent a little later with the major-label albums, but the early work had a bite more aligned with the harder end of C86. As guitarist PJ Court described it, the lyrics were to "counteract the sweetness of the melodies with a bit of spite and venom." If you haven't heard this early work and were turned off by the commercial efforts of the late '80s, and I'm not in that camp, by the way, work your way to the Lazy era. Perhaps you'll like the more primitive Primitives.

Buy "Stop Killing Me" on 'Everything's Shining Bright: The Lazy Recordings 1985-1987.'

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 30)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

30. The Lightning Seeds - "Pure"

Other Contenders: "Joy" was the only other charting single... at least in this decade.

Chart Entry: July 8, 1989

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: Ian Broudie is one of my musical heroes. I just wish Care would have had a hit with "Whatever Possessed You." That would have looked really good nestled in my Top 10, but I digress. "Pure" was such a catchy piece of pop that in 1990 it even managed to crack the Top 40 here in America (for his only time). Broudie as the Lightning Seeds would go on to be quite a hit-making machine in the UK throughout the 1990s, but this first single was always my favorite. Now don't get me started with Broudie as producer. The list of those he's worked with is quite a who's who!

Buy "Pure" on 'Cloudcuckooland.'

Friday, April 4, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 31)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

31. Associates - "Kitchen Person"

Other Contenders: My favorite singles from the very early years are the cover of "Boys Keep Swinging" and "The Affectionate Punch," but neither charted.

Chart Entry: Aug 29, 1981

Peak Position: No. 9

Comment: Fans may think I have sold Alan and Billy short by shutting them out of the top 30. In my defense, the only singles eligible for inclusion were the six compiled on the album 'The Fourth Drawer Down.' If the 'Sulk' era singles were indie, the band would have appeared in my top 10. Man, that would have been a really tough choice. I appreciate Associates, circa 1981, but I'm a pop fan at heart, and I do find the duo's avant-garde bent much more of a challenge. The easily digestible "Tell Me Easter's on Friday" was the safe bet that I thought would occupy this spot, but after repeated listens this week, I have switched my first and second choices.

"Kitchen Person" is absolute chaos, but I find the noise inspired. It seems like it should be set to film, somehow. To me, Billy's incredible voice is normally the dominant instrument, but in this song the vocals are in for a scrap... especially with the percussion. Alan once said about the song, "There was no concept of 'we better not...' -- we were stretching our legs." There's just no vacancy in this space, and I'm in awe.

Buy "Kitchen Person" on the two-disc set 'Singles.'

Note: Twenty singles down, 30 to go. My kids begin spring break later today, and we are off to the California desert for a much needed break from the wettest March in Seattle's recorded history. So, expect the next installment on or around Monday, April 14. Take care.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 32)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

32. Everything But The Girl - "Night and Day"

Other Contenders: This was EBTG's only charting indie single. It really is too bad the duo never went on to do anything.

Chart Entry: June 19, 1982

Peak Position: No. 6

Comment: First, a word about this Cole Porter standard. If you search "Night and Day" on my iTunes, a dozen different takes come up. It really is one of my favorite compositions, and I have rarely heard a version I didn't like. U2 shattered that streak for me, but hey, it was for a cause, so go ahead and butcher away! As far as contemporary stabs at "Night and Day," EBTG's is the best I have heard. Beautiful.

I can't even imagine how exciting 1982 must have been for Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. While students at the University of Hull, each released wonderful solo albums, and this song marked the first single as Everything But The Girl. Many of you may have had your first listen of this beautiful and intimate use of guitar and voice on the legendary 'Pillows & Prayers' compilation Cherry Red released at the end of that year. Anyway, I guess the collaboration took, eh? Even though I already had EBTG's version in a couple of places, I always wanted the original single on vinyl. It eluded me for many years, but I finally found the 12" at Avalanche Records in Edinburgh on Feb. 4, 2012. It was a Saturday. There was an audible gasp. Yes, it was kind of a big deal.

Buy "Night and Day" on '82-92 Essence and Rare.'

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 33)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

33. The Brilliant Corners - "Delilah Sands"

Other Contenders: There were a slew of singles to choose from, but "Teenage" would be my distant second to this one.

Chart Entry: Oct. 24, 1987

Peak Position: No. 9

Comment: I have never met anyone that liked these guys, and the critics were usually pretty harsh as well. One legendary music magazine reviewed this single in two sentences: "The little beat from Bristol puts up its hand and asks to be excused. Don't hurry back." This same publication may have made a better point when reviewing another song a year later: "Unfortunately, like The Groove Farm, The Brilliant Corners' records are rarely as brilliant as their sleeves." That may be true, as I bought my first records by them without hearing a note. I could just tell by the cover they would be my cup of tea.

I take no offense at the "twee" label, and I like the humorous (and often bizarre) lyrics listeners tend to moan about, such as "I would bite you if I had the teeth" from this song. Plus, I'm a sucker for trumpet in my pop, and Dan Pacini's horn is all over the band's best work. If you don't know the Brilliant Corners, try the album 'Somebody Up There Likes Me.' Better yet, find the Canadian version. There are 11 bonus songs, including "Delilah Sands" and a bunch of other singles.

Buy "Delilah Sands" on 'Heart on Your Sleeve.'

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 34)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

34. The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Upside Down"

Other Contenders: This was the band's only charting indie single, but they seemed to somehow rebound from this disappointment. Within three months of this song the lads would be making appearances on the UK Singles Chart.

Chart Entry: Nov. 7, 1984

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: What more can I add, really? At 35,000 copies sold, this is one of the biggest indie singles of the entire decade. "Upside Down" spent 76 weeks on the chart and went to No. 1 more than once during that span. This song, and the followup "Never Understand," as well as some legendary shows... for good and bad reasons, had us all buzzing. Yes, you could hear the influences, but the band's sound seemed like something completely new. It only took another year before we got JAMC's masterpiece. You could still hear the noise and fuzz of "Upside Down" on 'Psychocandy,' but it was harnessed in a way that made it accessible to a slew of new listeners. By then the band's Creation years were already in the rear-view mirror, and I have to admit I didn't stick with JAMC much longer, but I'll always think of their brief indie appearance with fondness.

Find "Upside Down" on disc two of the 'Psychocandy' deluxe edition.

Monday, March 31, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 35)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

35. The Sea Urchins - "Pristine Christine"

Other Contenders: "Solace," the band's only other charting single, was released six months after "Pristine Christine." It's a great song worth seeking out, and it peaked even higher at an impressive No. 4.

Chart Entry: Jan. 23, 1988

Peak Position: No. 11

Comment: Unfortunately, other than a few singles, there isn't much audio out there documenting the history of the Sea Urchins. For some indie record collectors, "Pristine Christine," or Sarah 01, is the holy grail of 7 inchers. Fortunately, the teenagers (they were so young!) had a fine ear for music, and their obvious love of the late '60s aesthetic, especially the Byrds, lives up to the hype. Sarah never backed the band for a full album of jangle, and that's too bad, but it just adds to the legend of this single. "Solace" is probably even stronger, but I do find myself listening to "Pristine Christine" more.

Buy "Pristine Christine" on eBay. I found one copy, and you may need to take out a second mortgage to acquire it. As I'm typing this, the single is nearing $600.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 36)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

36. The Pastels - "Comin' Through"

Other Contenders: The band charted with seven sensational singles in the '80s. Until a few days ago I thought "Truck Train Tractor" was the one that would be on this list. Then I immersed myself in all things Pastels and flip-flopped.

Chart Entry: Oct. 31, 1987

Peak Position: No. 6

Comment: There are only a handful of bands on my list still making music that matters. If you have last year's 'Slow Summits,' I think you'll agree the Pastels fall into this intimate group. Ah, so many great songs. Stephen and Co. are probably best known for the material leading up to and including the c86 era, all full of jangle, fuzz and sloppiness, and I like that stuff too, but I think the toned-down sound that emerged in the very late '80s and early '90s is my favorite period. For examples, seek out "Thru' Your Heart," "Firebell Ringing" and "Thank You For Being You." Just before all of that came "Comin' Through," and I just love the orchestration. The use of instruments like glockenspiel, autoharp and cello are a preview of what a more mature Pastels would sound like in later years. Absolutely beautiful.

Buy "Comin' Through" on 'Truckload of Trouble.'

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 37)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

37. Shop Assistants - "Safety Net"

Other Contenders: "All Day Long" is the only other charting single, and that song deserved more than a passing thought for this list.

Chart Entry: Feb. 22, 1986

Peak Position: No. 2

Comment: Shop Assistants were only around for a heartbeat (what a shame there was only one full-length album), but I think their presence is being felt to this day. I won't name names, but there are quite a few bands out there that should be paying a huge debt of gratitude to this Edinburgh quintet. Hey, I'm not knocking it. Every generation of musicians takes from previous ones, and you may as well steal from the best. Doesn't it feel like we are hearing "I Don't Want to Be Friends With You," "All Day Long," "Almost Made It" and "It's Up to You" nearly every time we take a peek at Pitchfork? "Safety Net" is about as loud and as hard as Shop Assistants ever got. So turn it up and listen for... oh, never mind. I said I wouldn't out any of the blatant criminals.

Buy the "Safety Net" 7" single on Discogs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 38)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

38. Hurrah! - "Who'd Have Thought"

Other Contenders: If the debut single "The Sun Shines Here" had charted, that song would be here instead, and it would be much higher on the list.

Chart Entry: Oct. 27, 1984

Peak Position: No. 7

Comment: I could almost take yesterday's copy on Primal Scream, drop it here, and call it a day. The band's first four singles on Kitchenware are brilliant, and they were all compiled on the long out of print 1985 album 'Boxed.' Other than appearances on compilations, it's all I own by Hurrah!, and I have never wanted anything else. In the middle of the decade they seemed like a can't miss, and on some level there were triumphs, but the changes in sound and style were not for me. No disappointments here, however. "Who'd Have Thought" was the band's biggest chart success, and 'Boxed' still gets a plethora of plays from this fan.

Buy "Who'd Have Thought" on 'Sound of Philadelphia.'

Monday, March 24, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 39)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

39. Primal Scream - "Crystal Crescent"

Other Contenders: The band had three charting singles, but this is the only one I considered.

Chart Entry: May 17, 1986

Peak Position: No. 3

Comment: My fandom was brief. In a nutshell, I really liked the first three singles. Primal Scream's best moment, however, was the 90 seconds on the B-side of "Crystal Crescent." I have read a time or two the band didn't think much of this A-side, and you can argue the production leaves a lot to be desired, but I have always found the horns and the chorus to be quite catchy. By "Gentle Tuesday" I had moved on to other bands. Some of you (sorry, Uncle E) will think I left dinner without ever tasting the main course, and just as many of you will think I shouldn't have even bothered with the appetizer. Primal Scream is nothing if not divisive. As for me, I'm all about the jangle, and I feel I excused myself from the table feeling full enough.

Buy "Crystal Crescent" on the 'Creation Soup' box set.

Bonus B-Side: Primal Scream - "Velocity Girl"