Wednesday, July 30, 2014

When the Posies Backed Big Star

Earlier this week, Swiss Adam at Bagging Area had a post about the Posies that instantly took me back to the summer of 1993. I'm constantly blogging about that time in my life because I had the good fortune of working at a record store then, and it really was as wonderful a job as you may have imagined. Anyway, there were a dozen or so new releases that summer my peers and I took a shine to and seemed to spin at the shop daily. One of them was a live Big Star reunion of sorts called 'Columbia.' Here's how Karen Shook summed up the show in the liner notes:

You know, it never hurts to ask. With all that in mind, a college radio station in Columbia, Missouri, asked Alex Chilton a simple question and got a minor miracle in return. And so a few weeks later, at KCOU's behest, there we all were under a big striped tent and the spring sun. Alex, Jody Stephens, the Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer as delighted hired hands, and a few hundred people who have loved Big Star so long and so fiercely that even 20 years' worth of the record industry hasn't succeeded in erasing its memory. What was it like? I stop making sense when I try to talk about it. We waited, and watched, and pinched ourselves. And when those chiming guitar chords, those shiny choruses appeared like they'd never been away, I wouldn't have traded places with God. They plated some pop songs, I guess, and we sang along. And as Jody beamed out from behind the kit and the Posies played their hearts out, I thought I saw Alex Chilton listening to his past and smiling.

The late music critic Robert Palmer had a chance to dig a little deeper with Stephens and Chilton about the April 25, 1993, show. Here is a condensed version:

Stephens got the initial call from the student organizers of the University of Missouri's annual Springfest, asking whether he'd consider doing a Big Star set if Alex agreed. He says he "didn't want to be the first to say no." To everyone's surprise, Chilton didn't say no either, despite the fact that he has scrupulously avoided trading on the Big Star name for almost two decades. [He did tell his callers, "You don't have much money, but hey, cool, I'm not doing anything that day."]

It was Stephens who drafted Posies' Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer to round out the new Big Star lineup. Jody credits Stringfellow and Auer with "balancing out Alex the way Chris did. And there were some cliffhanging moments when their playing brought the music around again." Together, the revitalized Big Star made music that sounds so right-on-time, it almost comes as a shock when you recall that these songs were first recorded 20 years ago.

The further adventures of Big Star may never mean more to Alex than any other stop on his lifetime musical odyssey; if they did, he wouldn't be Alex Chilton. But it's evident that the melodic contours and deeply felt existential shorthand of his best Big Star songs still speak to his soul. He sings them as if his life depended on it, particularly "The Ballad of El Goodo," which might be more relevant to his state of mind now than when he wrote it, and his classic astrological torch song "September Gurls." "Hearing Alex's performances reminds you what a great creative player he is," adds Stephens. "Stuff he does off the cuff has more emotional and musical content than most people get from sweating out a part for days."

Even Alex Chilton's celebrated cool begins to warm up a bit when he talks about the concert and this album. "I thought we got a good, screamin' thing going," he says. "It was loose as a goose, and it rocked more than it did the first time around. I was pleased. I mean, there's no point going on-stage and sucking."


As Swiss Adam mentioned, the Posies are one of the power-pop greats, and "Solar Sister" is one of my favorites of that genre, but I will always think of Stringfellow and Auer first as the duo that helped bring Stephens and Chilton together again. Here are four from 'Columbia.' Stephens takes lead vocals on "Way Out West." That's Auer on Chris Bell's solo effort "I Am the Cosmos." (Now there's an album that deserves its own post!) Stringfellow takes his turn on "Back of a Car." Finally, that's Chilton on "The Ballad of El Goodo." To those few under the tent in Columbia that day, I will be forever envious. And thanks for the inspiration, Adam. I had nothing tonight.

Big Star - I Am the Cosmos (Live)
Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo (Live)
Big Star - Back of a Car (Live)
Big Star - Way Out West (Live)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lounge in the Living Room

Let's go straight to the disclaimer: This is most certainly the worst sounding official release in my entire collection. So much so, in fact, I have held off posting about Creation's first full-length LP for several years. It says right on the cover to "Pay No More Than £2.99" for a reason. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, seeing bands like the June Brides or the Pastels at Alan McGee's Tottenham Court Road club would be a top time machine moment for this fella. Here's what Mr. McGee had to say about those days:

Between August 1983 and February 1984 The Living Room was where it happened in London... From that first sweaty night with The Nightingales until the Police Raid at The Personalities gig in February, The Living Room stood for something, most importantly something different to each individual... To this Lost Soul The Living Room meant a place I could go... Nothing to do with Trends, Fashions, Haircuts or Clothes... Jasmine Minks, Three Johns, The Loft or The Legend! all Brilliant all different... Nothing to do with any Cult or Fashion... If you are the type of person that needs deep meanings then ponder on this one... The Living Room meant more in its WC1 residency than Bono Vox, Ian McCullough, Jim Kerr, Kirk Brandon, Ian Page or Jimmy Pursey ever will... But what does it all mean you ask?... Better ask The Legend! that one... -- The Crapachinno Kid...

How about a handful from CRE LP 001, 'Alive in the Living Room,' warts and all? As McGee mentioned, the selection from Television Personalities "...is cut short due to a police raid on the club." It may not sound great, but "Three Wishes" makes for a very memorable album (and club) closer.

Jasmine Minks - Seven and Seven Is (Live)
The June Brides - I Fall (Live)
The Loft - Your Door Shines Like Gold (Live)
Television Personalities - Three Wishes (Live)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Treat

Well, it's a matter of taste, and I don't mean the ice cream. This single from 1982 came to us via Stiff Records. Pookiesnackenburger was known more as a musical-comedy troupe than a conventional band. After the band's demise, a couple of the fellas started a dance-percussion-theater production known as 'Stomp.' Yes, that 'Stomp.' So, you don't have to feel bad about this song missing the charts. I'm dedicating this one to Dirk. He's learning all about Cornettos this week.

Pookiesnackenburger - Just One Cornetto

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Melancholy

There is almost no finer specimen than the catchy summer song. You just can't help but nod your head, tap your toes and wear a big grin. It makes you feel like a warm breeze... light and airy. It's as if your cares have blown away in copious amounts of hand claps and layered harmonies... for three minutes, anyway. What could be better? Well, for this grump, the best summer songs sound innocent enough, but the lyrics don't quite have that same sunny disposition. Heartbreak doesn't wait for the calendar to turn to September. Here are a few favorites:

Wait a minute. I'm not supposed to be TOO happy.
Elvis Costello - The Other Side of Summer (from 'Mighty Like a Rose')
"The sun struggles up another beautiful day
And I felt glad in my own suspicious way
Despite the contradiction and confusion
Felt tragic without reason
There's malice and there's magic in every season"

It's the cough in the second verse that makes this song perfect.
The Velvet Underground - Who Loves the Sun (from 'Loaded')
"Who loves the sun?
Who cares that it makes plants grow?
Who cares what it does
Since you broke my heart?"

Finally, a glimmer of hope.
The Chamber Strings - Make It Through the Summer (from 'Month of Sundays')
"If I can make it to September, I'm gonna tell her that I love her."

The forecast appears to be more of the same for tomorrow.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Remembering Ramones

Not to be too dramatic, but I seem to be taking the death of Tommy Ramone harder than I would have expected. I think it's the finality of it all. He was the last of the original Ramones. Even though the fellas were a generation ahead of me in age, the demise of the band has me realizing life is flying by, and the 20 years they had on me are going to pass in the blink of an eye.

Why would Ramones, of all bands, produce such a melancholy mood? Probably because, as I mentioned to Dirk at sexyloser earlier today, my first-ever album purchases using my own dough were 'Ramones' and 'Rocket to Russia,' and I have never forgotten that feeling of excitement as I walked out of the shop with those two records under my arm. It was the summer of 1982. After collecting some cash on my paper route, my junior-high pal Matt, with his mother driving, picked me up for a trip to the mall. I had recently seen 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' on cable, and it seemed like 'Citizen Kane' to me. I snatched up these two albums from the bins of JR's Music in Pekin, Ill., and took them to the counter. They were $6.49 each. With tax, I was going to be a little short, less than a dollar, and my friend's mother came through with some change at the bottom of her purse. How could that have been 32 years ago?

That was the summer of Ramones. Much to the horror of my parents, this twelve year old was screaming along to songs about DDT, lobotomies, sniffing glue and a daddy liking men. Hey, that's what kids do, and I fully expect to be on the other end with my children in a few more years. They're pretty scratchy now, but I still have these vintage pieces of vinyl. Here's one from my copy of 'Rocket to Russia.'

Thank you, Dee Dee, Johnny, Joey and, yes, Tommy. You boys lit a wick under me that still burns brightly. Gabba Gabba Hey!

Ramones - Teenage Lobotomy

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

He's My Rushmore

I'm finally going to see 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' tonight. It's the first film from Wes Anderson I missed seeing on the big screen, and I'm just sick about it. If you happen to be the person who read this blog in 2009 (OK, maybe there were two of you), then you know I did an entire week on the soundtracks to Anderson's movies as a walk up to the release of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' The following is a digest of that fine work. (I don't mean mine.) It makes for a fine little mix.

I should probably have a song by the Rolling Stones here. The band's music appeared in every film through 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' For the longest time, Anderson could use the Stones' music in his films, but he wasn't allowed to include their songs on the soundtrack. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. In 2009, Anderson signed on with the band's original label, and Abkco finally allowed the Rolling Stones on an Anderson soundtrack. Now that's a fan!

I especially admire the work found on the early soundtracks. Mark Mothersbaugh created the original scores back then, and I find his pieces to be charming and quirky... just what you would expect from a member of Devo. Having said that, if you're going to replace Mothersbaugh, you can hardly go wrong with Alexandre Desplat, as all of his Academy Award nominations will attest. His music has really grown on me. Check out a couple of my favorites from these geniuses at the bottom of the post.

Do you have a favorite Anderson film, or do you find his work over the top and the attention to detail just a little too much? Whatever your opinion, I hope we can agree the use of music in his films has been spot on. Just the fact that all but 'Bottle Rocket' are still in print, when most soundtracks disappear in a flash, is quite a testament in itself.

Love - Alone Again Or (from 'Bottle Rocket')
Creation - Making Time (from 'Rushmore')
Nico - These Days (from 'The Royal Tenenbaums')
Devo - Gut Feeling (from 'The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou')
The Kinks - This Time Tomorrow (from 'The Darjeeling Limited')
The Bobby Fuller Four - Let Her Dance (from 'Fantastic Mr. Fox')
Françoise Hardy - Le Temps De l'Amour (from 'Moonrise Kingdom')

Mark Mothersbaugh - Hardest Geometry Problem in the World (from 'Rushmore')
Alexandre Desplat - Mr. Fox in the Fields (from 'Fantastic Mr. Fox')

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Could This Be When the Bluebells Bloomed?

If you like your '80s indie pop straight outta Scotland, and I know I certainly do, this is terrific news. The Bluebells' much sought after pre-London Records material has been collected by Cherry Red and will be released July 28 as 'Exile on Twee Street: Songs From Glasgow 1980-1982.' All but one of the 20 tracks are said to be previously unreleased. The exception is the flexidisc version of "Happy Birthday" that was on the excellent 'Scared to Get Happy' box set last year. I have always liked the rerecorded take found on the flip side of the "Sugar Bridge (It Will Stand)" 12" in '83, but the flexidisc version turned out to superior in just about every way. Point is, I'm hopeful early recordings of songs like "Wishful Thinking" and "Tender Mercy" will be gems too. Hey, it was certainly true of Friends Again's output on Moonboot Records.

While we count the days to this release, let's listen to one of my favorites from 1982. To be clear, this is not the version that opens 'Sisters,' the band's full-length album from 1984. If you only know that one, you're in for a treat.

The Bluebells - Everybody's Somebody's Fool

'Exile on Twee Street: Songs From Glasgow 1980-1982' Tracklist:
1. Everybody's Somebody's Fool
2. Some Sweet Day
3. Happy Birthday
4. No One Ever Waves Goodbye
5. One Last Love Song
6. Wishful Thinking
7. Oh Dear
8. You're Gonna Miss Me
9. East Green
10. Red Guitars
11. Sugar Bridge
12. Forevermore
13. Holland
14. Honest John
15. Stand Up Cowboy
16. Small Town Martyr
17. Learn to Love
18. All the King's Horses
19. Tender Mercy
20. I'm Set Free

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

SCTV Sighting at the World Cup


Congratulations to the Red Devils... and not just for beating the pants off of us. I had no idea the Belgians had convinced the Woody Tobias, Jr., family to become citizens. Here he is performing as Bruno with Dr. Tongue. Quite the Renaissance man. Sour grapes? Not at all.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cover Me Impressed: 'Think About Your Troubles'

The other day my pal Uncle E at 500 Reasons Why the 80's Didn't Suck wrote about his infatuation with Jellyfish, and that has had me on a quite a kick. I'm pulling this one out because it's a new week, full of promise, and I would like to take last week and throw it into the river along with Harry Nilsson's teacup of tears. Nilsson is an old standby from my earliest days of listening to music, and Jellyfish does a fairly faithful rendition here. It's funny. When I listen to the original it sounds like Jellyfish to me now. You can find it on 'For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson.' It's a 1995 compilation with contributions from some of my favorite artists, including Ron Sexsmith, Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Wilson. I have seen the CD selling for a buck in budget bins. If you happen upon it, do pick it up. Let's all have a great week.

Harry Nilsson - Think About Your Troubles
Jellyfish - Think About Your Troubles

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Popguns in Our Sights

Matinée Recordings have been known to take a look back, but this time they have upped the ante. We have come to expect the excavation of historical artifacts from UK indie legends such as the Siddeleys, Brighter and Razorcuts, but now a favorite from our youth is recording brand-new material with the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based label. Now don't get me wrong, reissuing 'Eugenie' and 'Snog' would be wonderful, but after listening to the pop perfection of "Lovejunky," I think you'll agree having a new Popguns album is certain to be one of the highlights of 2014. For the time being, we'll just have to live with our 'Another Year Another Address' compilations from Cherry Red, but Matinée says "if all goes to plan the 7" will be in your hands before the end of the summer with a brand new album following a month later." I'm busting!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Merge Ready to Help You Clean Up

While immersed in my countdown of UK indie singles, there were quite a few new releases and reissues in the news I thought worthy of mention. Let's begin with New Zealand's the Clean. I was first in line when the double-disc 'Anthology' hit the shops more than a decade ago. At the time, all of that Flying Nun material was nearly impossible to find, at least here in America, and Merge's offering was like manna. At that time, I was particularly into the quirky, unpolished and downright noisy songs from the early days, like "Tally Ho!" and "Beatnik," but I quickly learned that these lads grew out of that Dunedin Sound to become accomplished pop purveyors.

Last year, it was announced Flying Nun was teaming up with Brooklyn label Captured Tracks for a reissue series, on vinyl, no less. The Clean's full-length debut, 'Vehicle,' was among the first of these releases, and if you already have 'Anthology,' I recommend you pick up this one while it's still cheap and in print. If you don't have 'Anthology,' start saving your shekels because, as part of Merge's 25th anniversary reissue series, 'Anthology' will be released on vinyl for the first time on July 15. It takes a whopping four LPs to cram the 46 songs on wax. So, this is a little expensive ($43.98 though the label), but well worth it. The Clean are coming over to participate in Merge's anniversary festivities, and they are making a few stops along the way. If they are coming to your town, I expect a full report. Thanks in advance.

The Clean on Tour
Aug. 18 Chicago — Schubas
Aug. 19 Detroit — Trinosophes
Aug. 22 Brooklyn — Glasslands
Aug. 23 Baltimore — Metro Gallery
Aug. 25 Carrboro, N.C. — Cat's Cradle - Back Room
Aug. 26 Atlanta — The Earl
Aug. 27 Birmingham, Ala. — The Bottletree Cafe
Aug. 28 Memphis — Hi-Tone Cafe
Aug. 29 Nashville — The Stone Fox
Aug. 30 Asheville, N.C. — Harvest Records Transfigurations II

From 'Anthology'...


And From 'Vehicle'...

Monday, June 16, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (Postmortem)

Upon entering this endeavor, I believed choosing only 50 UK indie singles from the '80s would prove to be difficult. With caveats such as a) one song per band, b) must be a UK band and c) no Peel Sessions, however, it turned out the list of possible candidates wasn't too big to handle after all. With the first rule, the Smiths didn't get one-fifth of the slots. With the second rule, I didn't have to figure out how to squeeze in the Go-Betweens, Sugarcubes and many more from other lands. With the third rule, major-label bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees couldn't squeeze out a true indie, and John Peel's program wouldn't dominate the countdown. When all was said and done, I actually only had about 80 candidates to fill the 50 slots, and of those only about 10 songs or so caused any real toil about whether to include or not. Here's a peek at those on the outside looking in... in no particular order:

The Weather Prophets - "Almost Prayed"
Chart Entry: June 7, 1986
Peak Position: No. 3

Lush - "Scar" EP
Chart Entry: Oct. 21, 1989
Peak Position: No. 3

Echo and the Bunnymen - "The Pictures on My Wall"
Chart Entry: Jan. 26, 1980
Peak Position: No. 24

The Popguns - "Landslide"
Chart Entry: May 6, 1989
Peak Position: No. 20

The Imposter - "Pills and Soap"
Chart Entry: June 11, 1983
Peak Position: No. 1

Section 25 - "Looking From a Hilltop"
Chart Entry: June 23, 1984
Peak Position: No. 31

The Mighty Lemon Drops - "Like An Angel"
Chart Entry: Jan. 18, 1986
Peak Position: No. 4

The Woodentops - "It Will Come"
Chart Entry: Nov. 16, 1985
Peak Position: No. 4

The Marine Girls - "Don't Come Back"
Chart Entry: Feb. 26, 1983
Peak Position: No. 21

Tracey Thorn - "Plain Sailing"
Chart Entry: Jan. 22, 1983
Peak Position: No. 6

In a few of the above cases, like Lush, the Popguns and Echo and the Bunnymen, they got so much better within just a year of these first efforts that I felt these recordings, while excellent, paled in comparison. In the cases of the Marine Girls and Tracey Thorn, since I had Ben Watt and Everything But the Girl on the countdown, I felt like I couldn't afford to sacrifice four slots for the talented duo... even if it was deserved. With "Pills and Soap," well, Elvis Costello qualified as "indie" through the back door, didn't he? There were other well-done singles considered by 14 Iced Bears, BMX Bandits, Cocteau Twins, the Servants, the Wolfhounds, Young Marble Giants, Win and a few others, but these were a little further down the pike.

Now a couple of stats from the 50 picked you might find interesting:

Number of Picks by Label:
Creation - 6
Sarah - 4
Factory - 4
Cherry Red - 4
Postcard - 3
Rough Trade - 3
Subway Organisation - 3
Mute - 3
Zoo - 2
Kitchenware - 2
Situation 2 - 2
53rd & 3rd - 2
All Other Labels (one pick each): 12

So much of Sarah's output was in the early '90s. Otherwise, I think that label would have been the big winner.

Number of Picks by Year:
1982 - 6
1983 - 9
1986 - 9
1987 - 7
1989 - 5

As a big fan of the C86 scene, the 1986 results are not a big surprise, but I was shocked that 1983 had an equal number of selections.

So, just how "indie" am I? I asked myself this question because I wondered, if I had a countdown of my top 50 UK singles from the 1980s, how many of these picks from the UK Indie Hits countdown would be on such a list? My guess is between five and 10, but I'm not sure. I love these songs, but when I start thinking of favorites from that period missing from this list, it makes my head spin. There is only one way to settle such a question, and I will tackle that subject at some point. I think it would be fun.

As I said before I began the countdown, all of the numbers came from the reference book 'Indie Hits 1980-1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts (Singles & Albums,' compiled by Barry Lazell. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent pouring over this material. If you liked these posts, chances are you would enjoy this book too.

Finally, nothing but gratitude to all of you who participated with comments, positive or otherwise. That's really why this blog is here. I crave conversation from like-minded lovers of the music, and that's not easy when you're a middle-aged father of two young ones. Turns out I'm not alone after all. Special thanks to Seamus, George, Friend of Rachel Worth, Dirk (yes, you're correct about "Talulah Gosh"), Uncle E, Swiss Adam, Steve, Luca, Someone Said, Brett Alan, postpunkmonk, Sean, Phil Junebride (who are you?) and, of course, Echorich. Nostalgia trips are nice, but I hope you discovered something new as well.