Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Bunch of Stiffs

Short and sweet tonight as it's quite late. The theme is Stiff artists covering Stiff artists. The first two are taken from the 2001 album 'Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute to Ian Dury.' That's actually the Blockheads backing Wreckless Eric. The next two songs appear on the 2001 album 'Labour of Love: The Music of Nick Lowe.' As tribute collections go, both of these records are better than most.

I'm sure the last two originals need no introduction, but they are by Madness and Kirsty MacColl, respectively. You can find these covers on Tracey Ullman's 'Takes on the Hits.' I doubt many of you regulars care much for Ullman, but I think her version of "They Don't Know" is a perfect pop song that does the original justice. I would apologize for repeating these Ullman songs -- they were part of a 2009 post -- but I'm quite confident I was an audience of one in those days.

Madness - My Old Man
Wreckless Eric - Clevor Trever
Graham Parker - The Rose of England
Elvis Costello - Egypt
Tracey Ullman - My Guy
Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know

Oh, what the heck. Who needs sleep? Let's do one more. Someone is bound to ask about the one that keeps Lowe in diamonds and furs,
"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," but I didn't include it because it seems so obvious. Let's turn the table and go with Lowe covering Elvis Costello instead. This one is from his 1985 album 'The Rose of England.' That is all.

Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit - Indoor Fireworks

Monday, January 26, 2015

Curtain Call: The Colour Field

Here's some more mid-'80s music from the stage to follow up that live beauty from the Housemartins the other day. Terry Hall would most certainly make my all-time top 10 favorite musicians. From the Specials to the Fun Boy Three to the Colour Field, he's really never had a stumble. Even Vegas and his solo albums deserve more than a passing mention. Today we're going to hear a couple taken from the North American self-titled six-song mini LP, released in 1986. These little samplers were quite popular on this side of the pond in the '80s. For example, I believe many American fans of the Jam will remember a 1981 five-song self-titled EP that featured "Absolute Beginners," but I digress. For those fans of the Colour Field in the UK, you might have the following live songs on the flip side of your "Things Could Be Beautiful" 12" from 1985.

Unfortunately, the date of the show, recorded at the Hammersmith Palais, has been omitted from the cover (I hate that!), but I believe this was recorded by Capital Radio on June 24, 1985. If that's the case, this night was a memorable one, as this was when opening act the Loft imploded and called it quits right there on stage in front of 3,000 witnesses. If you're interested, I had a post about that a couple of years ago. If I'm incorrect about the date of this recording -- it's certainly possible the Colour Field played there another time that year -- please let me know.

Anyway, let's get to the music. The studio versions of these songs are from the lovely 'Virgins and Philistines' era. "Pushing Up the Daisies" was the B-side to the "Take" single, and "Yours Sincerely" is a deep cut from the album. They illustrate the two sides of the band, really. One is quite raucous, while the other is "beautiful," as Hall describes it in his on-stage introduction.

Pushing Up the Daisies (Live)
Yours Sincerely (Live)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Last Hurrah for the Housemartins

The self-proclaimed fourth-best band in Hull came and went in what seemed a heartbeat, but they left behind some of the best jangle pop ever produced. Tonight, quite randomly, I have pulled out the 12" of the Housemartins ninth and final single. No, this is not the oft-covered Burt Bacharach and Hal David song made very famous in 1983 by Naked Eyes. Rather, this is the Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore composition made somewhat less famous in 1988, peaking at No. 35 on the UK singles chart. Although it's pleasant enough, this is not my favorite from an otherwise flawless discography. In fact, the real reason I wanted this piece of vinyl was for the other songs that appear on it.

In addition to the single, there are three songs recorded live from Nottingham Royal Centre for the BBC's "In Concert" program, circa Sept. 30, 1987. The following songs are from the A-side. The 'London 0 Hull 4' goody "Get Up Off Our Knees" is performed with gusto and becomes a singalong for the pack of passionate fans. In case you're curious, the B-sides are "Five Get Over Excited" and "Johannesburg," which I'll post at some point. The studio versions of those songs can be found on the sophomore (and slightly underappreciated) album 'The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death.'

There is Always Something There to Remind Me
Get Up Off Our Knees (Live)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thirty-Two Years Before Teen Canteen...

Several of my favorite bloggers have fallen under the spell of Teen Canteen, a new band out of Glasgow. I, too, haven't been immune to their charms. I have especially enjoyed my peers conjuring up comparisons to Altered Images, a popular Scottish band from my youth. A peek at my records illustrates I was (and still am) a pretty big fan. I have the three albums and seven of Altered Images' 11 singles. Not bad, but certainly not on the level of JC from The (New) Vinyl Villain. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of spending the day with him. We talked a lot about Scottish music. Eventually, long after soliloquies about Roddy and Edwyn, the discussion came around to Clare Grogan and the lads. Now, we didn't know each other well. I have a feeling we were both worried any enthusiastic displays for light-weight hit-making pop could be followed by a long awkward silence. Thankfully, JC went first. "You know, I have every one of their singles," JC said sheepishly. It was one of my favorite moments of the day.

If you're a fan, then you probably already have the LPs 'Happy Birthday,' 'Pinky Blue' and 'Bite.' Today's offerings are off the board a bit... although I do recall all of these albums being reissued with bonus tracks about 10 years ago. So, perhaps these songs are easy to find these days. "Surprise Me" is a B-side from the "Bring Me Closer" 7" and extended 12" single. "Bring Me Closer" was the second single of the 'Bite' era, and it was clear from the album and single art that the band was going for a glossier and more mature look and sound. We could argue about whether they pulled it off, but "Surprise Me" hearkened back to an earlier era for the band, and it's one of my favorites of the B-sides. Perhaps it was a 'Pinky Blue' leftover. "Little Town Flirt" is a cover made famous by Del Shannon in 1962. Altered Images' version comes from the soundtrack to the 1983 movie 'Party Party.' Much like 'That Summer,' my favorite soundtrack of all time, I have had this soundtrack for more than 30 years. Oddly, I have never seen either one of the films.

Time to go order that Teen Canteen single.

Surprise Me
Little Town Flirt

Thursday, January 15, 2015

By George! Here's the High Llamas

George is Mr. Relevant today. The chap behind Jim McLean's Rabbit inspired Drew's post at Across the Kitchen Table, and he got me to clear the cobwebs from a section of my record collection too. Last week, his mention of Fatima Mansions instantly got me thinking about another Microdisney offshoot, the High Llamas.

I discovered Sean O'Hagan's band in 1996 with the release of 'Hawaii.' This was an incredibly busy period in my life. I had recently moved to Washington, D.C., and work seemed to suck every ounce of energy out of me. There wasn't much time for music, and I lost touch with the entire scene for a few years. I should probably add that I didn't really mind. I found (and still find) it to be a dismal era. I hated nearly everything I heard. Belle and Sebastian, Komeda and the Sugarplastic are a few bright spots that come to mind, but I really reverted to the music I had listened to when I raided my mother's records at age 10... stuff like the Kinks, the Zombies and, especially, the Beach Boys. In 1996, I found a well-done bootleg of 'SMiLE' at a wonderful hole-in-the-wall shop in New York called Midnight Records. I attempted to sound in the know with an employee that seemed to be a fellow follower of Brian Wilson. I asked if he knew about Wondermints, an up-and-coming L.A. band that was influenced by the Beach Boys. He countered with the High Llamas. They were a complete mystery to me... for a few minutes, anyway. I picked up 'Hawaii' as soon as I got back to D.C., and so began a love affair that has spanned about a dozen albums.

It's one thing to be influenced, but this is derivative, critics of the High Llamas opine. There is a lot of Wilson there, to be sure. More so on 'Hawaii' than on the band's other albums. I especially hear the 'Pet Sounds'-era instrumentals "Trombone Dixie" and "Let's Go Away For Awhile," the banjo-heavy "Cabinessence" from 'SMiLE' and the meandering bossa nova of "Busy Doin' Nothin'" from 'Friends.' The thing is, there is so much more than just the Wilson aesthetic, and that's why I argue it's not derivative. You can pick out the electronic sounds of Stereolab and the easy pop of Burt Bacharach, among others. In later albums, like 'Beet, Maize & Corn,' O'Hagan goes downright baroque. I remember when Pitchfork reviewed it (Wow, has it been 12 years already?) they said it could have been played faithfully in 1850. That doesn't sound like a carbon copy of the Beach Boys to me. A singles band they are not. The albums should be heard as a whole to be truly appreciated, but here's a little taste for George and the rest who may be new to the High Llamas.

Sparkle Up and Ill-Fitting Suits (from 'Hawaii')
The Click and the Fizz (from 'Beet, Maize & Corn')

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching Up With Some Blogging Buddies

Quite a few of my fellow bloggers post pieces of music that inspire me with my own posts or -- at least -- remind me of something from my own collection. Today's selections are really just concluding conversations I have had with bloggers via their comments sections or by email. Hopefully all of you, not just my blogging buddies, will find something you like here, too.

This first one goes to Scott at Spools Paradise. A couple of weeks ago he featured organ aficionado Shirley Scott. I'm a fan or her work, but I must admit I only have a few of of her albums. Then again, who could have them all? Just between 1958 and 1968 she released more than 30 of them. My favorite of the ones I have is 'For Members Only,' from 1963, but I wanted Scott to hear a song from the 1964 album 'Great Scott!' There are a lot of Scotts going on here, eh? Sorry about that.

"The Blues Ain't Nothin' But Some Pain" came about while messing around on the organ as she waited for her trio to gather in the studio. She was singing to herself, and the tune caught the ear of producer Bob Thiele. When he asked Shirley about it, he discovered this was an original composition with, yes, lyrics. He asked her to record it. After much coaxing, she relented. So, this is the first time we ever hear Shirley Scott sing on a record. As you would expect, her delivery is timid and vulnerable, but it works perfectly for this slow burner.

The Blues Ain't Nothin' But Some Pain

Switching gears, I have two selections for CC over at Charity Chic Music. Way back in September, while reading Tracey Thorn's 'Bedsit Disco Queen,' CC wondered about Thorn's early band the Marine Girls. I tried to leave him a message about the all-girl group, but for some reason my comment wouldn't stick. Well, time passed, and I forgot about getting in touch with him. I'm reading Thorn's book now (and what a read so far!), and I happen to be in the midst of the section on the Marine Girls. It jogged my memory about CC's request to his readers for some Marine Girls.

I have a few go-to songs from the band, but "Honey" has always been my all-time favorite. You can find it on the 1981 album 'Beach Party.' The songs are lo-fi affairs I find simple yet utterly charming. Now, I'm not going to claim I go quite this far back with Thorn. Thankfully, Cherry Red reissued 'Beach Party' and followup 'Lazy Ways' on one disc back in 1997, and it's been in print ever since. If you aren't a fan of Thorn's yet, don't start here. For the rest of you, however, I think this material will amount to more than just a curiosity.

Honey

Just the other day CC was singing the praises of 'Break Out,' the latest from Chris Devotion and the Expectations. I was excited to read this, as I had completely missed the news of this release. Scott from Spools Paradise commented to CC the Devotion song "wouldn't sound out of place on a mix CD with a bit of Joe Jackson, a bit of The Knack, a bit of Squeeze etc..." When I hyped their album 'Amalgamation and Devotion' on my best of the year list in 2012 I wrote: "The first time I listened to this album out of Glasgow I would have sworn this was a front for an Any Trouble reunion." I always felt Any Trouble's debut album, 'Where Are All the Nice Girls?' sounded a bit like early Joe Jackson. Sounds like Scott and I are on the same page. So, CC, until you find Any Trouble at your local charity shop, and you're bound to, here's Any Trouble's first single.

Yesterday's Love

I didn't quite get to everyone I wanted to catch up with today. So, next time I'll try to convince George from Jim McLean's Rabbit that an old favorite of mine is worth adding to his music room.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

No Duds From the Fireworks

This is so cool. I had no idea the Shop Assistants were recording again. What? It's not them?!? Oh, then surely "Runaround" is a bonus track unearthed for a reissue of Chin Chin's 'Under the Westway.' Really? Strike two? Well, I thought I knew most of these wonderful fuzz-drenched bands from the mid-'80s, but the Fireworks are a nice discovery nonetheless... even if it took me 30 years to fall under their spell. Wait a minute. This press release I'm reading claims the song is from the band's debut album, 'Switch Me On,' out Feb. 10 from Shelflife Records.

Ah, a bright spot in an otherwise dismal week of news that had me weeping for the future.

Nearly all of the 13 tracks that make up 'Switch Me On' are frenetic reverb-filled racers with nary a dud in the lot. You won't be able to stop stomping the floor. When they do turn it down a bit, however, particularly on "Let You Know," we are rewarded with jangly pop that wouldn't be out of place on a split single with Razorcuts during the Subway days. I hope the band isn't afraid to keep that pace in mind a little more when they follow up this brilliant piece of work. Well done, Fireworks.



Listen to the Fireworks' single "On and On" here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Crossing Off the Bureau

I make lists. Obsessively. In fact, I document my hunt for records with two separate lists. One list has the records I can realistically acquire by walking into my local mom-and-pop shop. This consists of reissues, new releases and overlooked staples. Some examples on that list right now are 'Underwater Moonlight' from the Soft Boys and 'Adventure' from Television. The turnover on this list is constant.

My other list is chock full of relatively rare records... most of which have been on there for years. I may only find one or two of these pieces per year. In moments of desperation, I have resorted to buying from a Discogs or an eBay to satisfy uncontrollable cravings. I don't really like to play that way because I love the euphoric feeling of finding these gems in the bins, but sometimes I can't help myself. Examples on this list right now are the singles "Pristine Christine" from the Sea Urchins, "Falling and Laughing" from Orange Juice, and the 12" of "Window Shopping" from the Friday Club. I only know a couple of shops in America that could possibly have any of the records on this list, and I get to these places only on rare occasions.

I didn't really realize Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives even knew about my lists, but she photocopied my "rare" list and took it with her to Chicago while out on business at the beginning of December. She stopped by one of my two favorite shops in the whole of this country and managed to cull the bins for a few of my wants. She placed them under the tissue paper inside of a box that seemed to have nothing but pajamas... which I opened Christmas morning. Quite cheeky.

So, that's how I acquired today's selection. As a huge fan of Dexys and the Style Council, the Bureau's 1981 album has been a want for a long time. If you don't know about the band, read up here. Surprisingly, it seems the LP was only released in Canada and Australia. For those in the UK, however, you may remember the 7" singles "Only For Sheep" and "Let Him Have It." These were not on my list. As you can see from the photo above, however, I'll be damned if my lovely lady didn't pick up those as well. So, it feels strange, but the Bureau have been removed from a list that rarely has a chance to contract. Get ready for some fine horns...

Only For Sheep

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Brighten the New Year With a Little Shine!

Cloudberry has quite a track record of unearthing obscure music from the golden age of jangle pop, and the Astoria, N.Y.-based label has done it again. Did you miss Shine! the first time around? I know I did, but you might have a faint memory of seeing the Norwich-area band supporting the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Darling Buds, Inspiral Carpets, McCarthy or the Wolfhounds back in the day. You may have heard them on Peel, too. There were appearances on a couple of compilations, a flexi, a split 12" and two tapes (with only a handful of copies made), and that's more or less the entire Shine! discography. Cloudberry has just gathered the lot and released it as a 21-song CD digipak. Based on the strength of the following two songs, as well as comparisons to the classic lineup of the Wedding Present, this will be my first purchase of 2015. Here is the ordering info, as well as an
in-depth interview
Cloudberry did with the lads. Great fun.

Shine! - Bite the Apple

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Party Like It's 1983

Yes, I'm a party animal. As always, I will spend New Year's Eve watching Big Country's homecoming show from Barrowland, Dec. 31, 1983. I was already a big fan when I first saw this concert as a mesmerized 13 year old via MTV, at the height of the band's popularity here in America, but what really grabbed me was the atmosphere of Glasgow's legendary ballroom. I had not been to concerts yet, and I was lured into the misguided impression for quite a while that all live outings were that way... the floor stomps, sing-alongs and chants of "here we go." The crowd was so supportive. The lads had just returned from taking the United States by storm, but Stuart and the fellas were their boys, and they were ready to welcome them home.

In 1990, I moved to Chicago to attend college. I took a part-time job in Lincoln Park. There was this shop a few doors down on Clark Street called Video Beat. It's difficult to believe, but all they sold was music video. Heaven. I found a VHS copy of this show from my youth and bought it on the spot. I have rung in the new year with Big Country ever since. (Last year I included Big Country's Dec. 31, 1984, concert from the Edinburgh Playhouse from the new 'At the BBC' box set for good measure.) Some years I have actually timed it so that my clock would strike midnight at the same time as it did on stage all those years ago. The show is well-known for the Deysart and Dundonald Pipe Band sequence at 12 o'clock. I imagine this is a first (and only) for a rock show, and it's a special moment as the importance of ringing in the new year for the Scottish people is vividly illustrated to the rest of the world. Here is the band performing "The Storm," followed by the bagpipe brigade.



I retired my VHS copy of the show in 2009 when the show was released as a CD/DVD combo by Track Records. There are some video extras, including Big Country's appearance at New York's Peppermint Lounge in 1982. I also have the show on CD as a King Biscuit Flower Hour release. Even though I don't really need multiple copies of the same concert, I have hung on to this one for many years because there is an interview with Stuart Adamson about this special concert that didn't make the 2009 reissue.

Interview With Stuart Adamson About NYE Show

I could go on and on, but I have written so many posts about this show since 2009 that I'm starting to bore myself. I'll just add, in case you're new to this blog, one of my biggest dreams came true in 2012 when I finally stepped foot inside Barrowland. I saw Mark, Tony and Bruce, with Mike Peters on lead vocals, perform 'The Crossing' in its entirety. I stomped my feet, sang along and chanted "here we go" just liked I had imagined in my head so many times. I cried a little too. Here are a few quotes from the band, along with a fine moment from the 1983 show. Happy New Year to you all!

"The Barrowland Ballroom is a great rock venue. It became our spiritual home. This gig could go down as one of the best moments in my gigging life. Long live the Barras and all who play in her." -- Tony Butler

"Even just before the gig the atmosphere was electric, and just walking on stage can only be described as being at a cup final and scoring the winning goal." -- Mark Brzezicki

"The excitement going on in the room that night was really a Scottish thing. We tried to make it a huge party, as much as possible." -- Bruce Watson

"That was a memorable show. It was New Year's Eve, and everyone was out of their heads. I remember in the middle of the show - at midnight - an entire bagpipe band came on stage and did a few numbers. It sounded so cool, we decided to keep it in the recording." -- Stuart Adamson

In a Big Country/Auld Lang Syne

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Monkeein' Around; Papa Nez Turns 72

I'm taking a page out George's blog, Jim McLean's Rabbit, to mark a birthday. There are so many reasons to celebrate the first 72 years of Mike Nesmith's life, not the least of which is his pioneering work in television, video, film and music video, and he's an author to boot, but it's his musical talents that have had a hold on me since I was a child.

I see Nesmith's music in three distinct parts. There's the Monkees, of course. Nesmith's songwriting contributions during that period are grossly underrated because, well, it was the Monkees, and I'm not going to get doubters to change their opinions on that one (but they are wrong). Some of my favorite Nesmith songs include "Mary Mary," where Mickey Dolenz took the lead, and "Circle Sky" from 'Head.' Tops for me with Nesmith on lead vocals would be "What Am I Doin' Hangin' 'Round?" He didn't pen that one, however. So, today's pick from that period is "You Just May Be the One," which he did write and sing, from the 1967 album 'Headquarters.'

After the Monkees, Nesmith recorded several wonderful country-rock albums. 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'' from 1972 is my go-to from the era. He wrote it while still a member of the Monkees. The formula is simple: Nesmith on acoustic guitar and Red Rhodes on pedal steel. "Tomorrow & Me" is not only my favorite from the album, but it's my favorite Nesmith song. Period.

After his country-rock phase, around 1977, Nesmith began becoming involved in music video. He created a promotional video for his song "Rio," from the album 'From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing.' This would later become part of a one-hour program of music videos and comedy shorts he put together called "Elephant Parts." I'm just repeating what is already well known, but the "PopClips" music-video show Nesmith assembled for Nickelodeon in 1980 and 1981 was MTV before there was MTV. This was America's chance to see videos from Madness, Squeeze, Split Enz and other cutting-edge artists otherwise ignored by the mainstream. Nesmith's own music was on display as well. During this period, his sound was much less country and much more eclectic. Enjoy "Rio," a song that did quite well in the UK and Australia.

I know there must be a few of you out there that share my affinity for Nez because my Michael Nesmith Week series in 2011 still stands as my all-time most viewed posts. Happy Birthday, Michael. You continue to entertain and inspire.

"You Just May Be the One" (from 'Headquarters')
"Tomorrow & Me" (from 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin')
"Rio" (from 'From a Radio Engine to the Photon Wing')

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Mood

Other than my annual ode to Big Country's 1983 New Year's Eve show, this is probably it for me this year. So, I would like to wish you all happy holidays with a few of my favorite seasonal favorites. Like many of you, this is Spector time, but I enjoy listening to Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas' (1960) and Booker T. and the MGs' 'In the Christmas Spirit' (1966) nearly as much as 'A Christmas Gift For You' (1963). Hopefully, this little mix will help you get in the holiday mood.

The Apples in Stereo - Holiday Mood
Booker T. and the MGs - Jingle Bells
Ella Fitzgerald - Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Freedy Johnston - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
James Brown - Please Come Home For Christmas
NRBQ - Christmas Wish
Otis Redding - White Christmas
Ron Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas
XTC - Thanks For Christmas