Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tough-to-Find Comp From East Village Goes Vinyl

Slumberland Records is really sticking it to me. Even though I already had the Summershine compilation 'The Ballad of Ric Menck' (on two formats, I might add), I couldn't resist picking up doppelganger 'Singles 1986-1991' from the Springfields a couple of weeks ago. Now comes news the label has raided the Summershine vaults again to reissue the singles collection 'Hotrod Hotel' by East Village... on vinyl! Like a bad joke, I paid big bucks for it on CD via Discogs a couple of years ago because I couldn't have dreamed it would be reissued again. Just to rub it in, this past year, I bought the 7" reissue of "Cubans in the Bluefields" as part of Optic Nerve Recording's excellent singles series.

There's no way I would consider buying this, then, right? Wrong. Slumberland's reissues are always done with such care, and the insert and liner notes alone would have me reaching for the wallet. It just so happens there are a couple of bonuses that have me excited too. The album includes the original version of "Freeze Out" first issued as half of a split flexi that kicked off Bob Stanley's Caff label back in 1989. That is not on my CD. Also, if you order quickly and directly from Slumberland, they are going to throw in a beautiful 'Drop Out' album poster. Yes, it's the one you're thinking... only bigger (clears throat). Preorder now for an expected Jan. 24 release.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Another Journey Into the Wild

I was told the other day it was too early for holiday music, but what about music recorded on the holiday itself? On the shelf next to the somewhat obscure Wild Flowers we listened to last time you'll find the more familiar Wild Swans. I have just about all there is to have by the Liverpudlian band, and I'm pulling out the holy grail this evening. I rarely play the 2013 double-LP hardback-book edition of 'Incandescent' because it was kind of pricey and, although quite sturdy, I'm always afraid I'm going to ruin it somehow. That's too bad because records are meant to be played, not just admired for their physical beauty, and there are plenty of gems to be had on the wax. There are remixes of their first single, multiple BBC sessions, demos and live recordings, not to mention a beautiful booklet chock full of photos, memorabilia, interviews and reminiscences from Paul Simpson himself.

From Christmas 1981, when the Wild Swans were supporting fellow Liverpool band Echo and the Bunnymen on their UK tour, here are both songs from the band's legendary first single. Two things Paul mentions when introducing the songs on stage worth noting are that the coveted 12" was not even out yet (he says January but it would actually be March 1982) and he didn't know which one of these songs would be the A-side for the Zoo release. As for the performance, Simpson says in the liner notes, "I don't remember us ever being this good on stage." Here's yet another spot where I'll be stopping once we have time machines.

God Forbid (Live)
The Revolutionary Spirit (Live)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

When the Wild Flowers Nearly Bloomed

Have been spending lots of time in the W section of the vinyl collection. Dusted off and resurrected these two 12" singles from 1985 and 1986. David Newton co-founded this band in 1983 but moved on to form the Mighty Lemon Drops in 1985. He was replaced by Dave Atherton, and the band signed on to the legendary indie label Chapter 22. Bands on the roster at that time included, among others, Mighty Mighty, the Mission, Pop Will Eat Itself, Suicide and the Pastels.

It's a funny thing that Newton wasn't on these two singles because they sound an awful lot like the Mighty Lemon Drops, particularly "A Kind of Kingdom." By extension, Echo & the Bunnymen may come to mind as well since the Mighty Lemon Drops always sounded a lot like Ian and the gang. Both of these songs would eventually reappear on the 1987 long player 'Dust.' The Wild Flowers never had a hit on the UK indie charts in the '80s, but they did garner enough attention to sign a deal with Slash Records in America. They were the first ever British act to do so. Prepare to pogo.

A Kind of Kingdom
It Ain't So Easy

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Both Sides of Split 7" Deserve A-Side Status

Calvin Johnson's K label is arguably best known for releases from his band Beat Happening, early Beck or a slew of local bands in and around his hometown of Olympia, Washington. Some of us, though, revere Johnson for bringing UK indie pop to our shores by licensing the occasional single or album from the likes of the Pastels, Flatmates, Bis, Teenage Fanclub and a bevy of bands from Amelia Fletcher's musical tree, including Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap.

Speaking of Marine Research, here they are in 1998 sharing a single on K's 7" series International Pop Underground (IPU). This is one of those split singles where each band covers a song first recorded by the other. Boise's own Built to Spill spent the better part of two decades on major label Warner Bros., but they released the single "Joyride" on IPU in 1994, for which "Sick & Wrong" was the B-side. That's the one Marine Research nabbed. Built to Spill took "By the Way" from Heavenly's 1996 album 'Operation Heavenly.' That would have been the last release from Amelia and Co. before drummer (and brother) Matthew Fletcher passed away. Thus the new band name and fresh start. This split single would have been the first release as Marine Research. Their single "Queen B" would come out on Where It's At Is Where You Are a little later in the year. The chapter called Marine Research was a short one, but there were some great songs, especially the sublime "Parallel Horizontal."

Built to Spill - By the Way
Marine Research - Sick & Wrong

Friday, November 15, 2019

Songs for the Stocking

It's my tradition to purchase one holiday-themed album per year. I try to make it a new release whenever I can, but long players from this decade like Tracey Thorn's 'Tinsel and Lights' and Nick Lowe's 'Quality Street' are few and far between. For instance, last year I "settled" for a reissue of ATCO's 1968 classic compilation 'Soul Christmas.' No such problem this time around because Texan chanteuse Molly Burch will be the one to get me in the spirit with 'The Molly Burch Christmas Album,' out today via the always dependable Captured Tracks. It's a mix of holiday standards and Burch-penned originals sung by a voice that melts my heart every time I put on her records. I know there are a few of you humbugs out there who don't care much for holiday music, and I do get it, but this is an album that will have you rethinking your Christmas list.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Loud Shout Out for Shout Out Louds

In the early 2000s, I caught Swedish fever and haven't really ever been able to shake it. Jens Lekman, the Concretes and Shout Out Louds have all spent time on my turntable this weekend, and it's this U.S. promo 12" from the latter that has won the day this time around. Debut album 'Howl Howl Gaff Gaff' was released in their home country in 2003, but I didn't hear it until Capitol picked it up in May 2005. By then the album had been remastered, and the tracklist had changed significantly. Five songs from EPs were combined with six songs from the original album to create a collection with nary a duff note. The two standouts were "Very Loud" and "The Comeback," the latter released as a single in the fall that year.

I prefer the album version of "The Comeback" in all of its simplicity, but these alternative takes would be fun out on a dance floor. Tommie Sunshine has made a career out of remixing songs like this, and electro-rockers Ratatat would have been just a handful of months from hitting it big with their "Wildcat" single. As for Shout Out Louds, they have released four albums since "Howl Howl Gaff Gaff," but to these ears they have never come close to bettering their debut. It's an old story read on these pages time and time again.

The Comeback (Tommie Sunshine's Radio Edit)
The Comeback (Big Slippa Mix By Ratatat)
The Comeback (Album Version)
The Comeback (Instrumental)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

As the Servants Neared Retirement...

I hope everyone has been enjoying JC's Sunday series on the Auteurs. You will find only 'New Wave' and 'Now I'm A Cowboy' on my shelf, meaning things are about to get really interesting for me at the (new) Vinyl Villain as we move beyond that era. Being a fan of '80s indie pop, it probably won't surprise you my interest in Luke Haines has more to do with his connection to the Servants than the Auteurs, Black Box Recorder or his vast solo work. Even I realize this is ludicrous since his time with that band was so brief and, let's face it, the Servants were much more the vehicle for the brilliant David Westlake.

If you know the Servants at all, chances are your in was either hearing "Transparent" on NME's 'C86' comp or picking up the singles "She's Always Hiding" and "The Sun, A Small Star," both minor indie-chart hits in 1986, peaking at No. 25 and No. 47, respectively. Through the years, it's "The Sun, A Small Star" that has become the band's signature tune, appearing on comps and even getting a 7" reissue last year on Optic Nerve Recordings. The point I'm trying to get around to is Haines didn't appear on any of those recordings. He didn't come around until after the band's lengthy recording hiatus ended in 1989. One footnote: Westlake did release a largely ignored solo album put out on Creation in 1987.

Here is Westlake and Haines together. This 1989 single was done for Dave Barker's Glass Records in both two-track 7" and four-song 12" forms. Glass didn't have many releases, but the bands they did work with during this period were epic, the Pastels, Jazz Butcher and Apartments being among the best of the bunch. Barker would shutter Glass shortly after this one and revamp as the excellent but also short-lived Seminal Twang label in the early '90s, but here I go on another tangent. Let's listen to the "It's My Turn" single in its entirety.

It's My Turn
Faithful to 3 Lovers
Do or Be Done

In 1990, the Servants would release a single and the 'Disinterest' album for Paperhouse. As Haines wrote in the liner notes for another of the band's releases, the label was just that, disinterested, as they had all their eggs in the Teenage Fanclub basket at the time. There was another album after 'Disinterest' with quite a different sound that upon completion Westlake and Haines felt would probably get shelved. They were so right. 'Small Time' finally saw the light of day two decades later via Cherry Red. Haines called it the Servants' best album, adding that "it's a strange and wonderful thing, and we're lucky that it is now in the world." Here's one from 'Small Time.'

Everybody Has a Dream

Thursday, October 24, 2019

When a Shangri-La Emerged From the Shadows

The other day our pal Drew had a fun read on finding a Red Bird comp in the most unlikely of places... and on vinyl to boot. That, of course, got me listening to the Shangri-Las and then on to one of my favorite albums from this century. With the exception of a couple of very brief on-stage reunions, Mary Weiss had been out of the spotlight since the Shangri-Las called it quits in 1968.

In 2007, seemingly out of nowhere, Mary teamed up with Memphis garage rockers Reigning Sound for 'Dangerous Game.' The album's best songs were composed by uber fan and Reigning Sound frontman Greg Cartwright, and he turned out to be the perfect partner to bring Mary back to us. Here were the two singles... a blend of organ-heavy mid-'60s power pop, drama and modern flourishes. As for Mary, she was in great voice. A dozen years later, I'm still hoping for another comeback.

Don't Come Back
Stop and Think It Over

While we're here, how about something from the Shangri-Las? Written and produced by the legendary Shadow Morton and appearing on the iconic Red Bird label, here's a No. 18 hit from 1964 that appeared on 'Leader of the Pack.'

Give Him a Great Big Kiss

Monday, October 21, 2019

How Come You're Such A Hit With The Boys?

I professed my love for the Go-Go's on these pages last year, and I was pleasantly surprised I wasn't raked over the coals. This post is certain to test your kindness, but I pulled out these 12" singles on Saturday night and danced like a teenager. Well, at least until I got winded. Perhaps I should have gone with the 7" versions.

Belinda Carlisle got the attention, but Jane Wiedlin was my Go-Go. "Rush Hour" was her one solo smash, cracking the Top 10 in 1988. Five years earlier, "Cool Places" was the lead single from Sparks' album 'Outer Space.' During the Go-Go's heyday, Jane's involvement helped propel this one to No. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100, Sparks' highest ever charting position for a single before or since. Even with Sparks here for a little legitimacy, I realize these two singles are fluff of the highest order. I just don't care. C'mon, go with it. A good time will be had.

Cool Places (Long Mix)
Rush Hour (Extended Remix)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

...And a Partridge That Was Practically Free

I have been spending all kinds of time with the new four-song EP 'Planet England' from heroes Robyn Hitchcock and Andy Partridge, and that also has me exploring the recesses of the Partridge discography. Those twists and turns brought me to "It'll End in Tears," the second of three singles from the Lilac Time's 1990 album '& Love for All.'

Partridge produced much of the lush long player with help from John Leckie. Until about a year ago I had nothing from the Lilac Time and only a 12" single from Stephen Duffy's "Tin Tin" days... well, outside of the sublime "She Loves Me" from the 'Some Kind of Wonderful' soundtrack. That all changed while thumbing through a bin of singles with no clue what I was about to find. Jackpot! Obviously, someone had come in recently with a stack of Duffy's work, and they were all $1 each. Sure, they were a little scratchy, but I took the lot with no regrets. It was one of those moments those of us with a passion for digging in a record store never forgets. Do you hear any of Partridge's flourishes in this one? I do. '& Love for All' is a gem I wish I had discovered about a quarter century earlier.

It'll End in Tears

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Smashing Time for More Than Just the Mods

Here's another one of those mid-'80s pop bands you tend to hear a lot on these pages. The Reflection hailed from Essex, and they got started in 1985 with a mess of Hammond organ and a couple of trumpets to go along with that jangle. Covers by the likes of the Action and Dobie Gray on stage helped gain a following with the mods, and there was a seven-song cassette of originals in late '85 featuring the excellent "No Compromise" you could pick up at their shows.

In 1986, the brass section was beefed up with some sax, making them a seven piece at that point, and their name was altered slightly to the Reflection A.O.B. to avoid confusion with another band that had a similar moniker. The band had some monumental slots opening for Makin' Time, Howlin Wilf & the Vee-Jays, the Kick, the Moment and even the legendary Geno Washington. A couple of these shows were at the 100 Club.

Principal songwriters Harks and Rich Drury whipped up four songs for the self-released "Only In My Dreams" 12" EP. It's one of those releases that should have raced up the indie charts, at the bare minimum, but it was not to be. Perhaps there is such a thing as being too indie, and coming out on the band's own Keep It label may have made it a tough find at the shops. In late '86, they become an eight piece with the addition of Sarah Beale on tenor sax. Alas, life began to get in the way, and members started defecting. The Reflection A.O.B call it quits in late 1987.

Fast forward to 2011-12 and members of the band assembled 'The Complete Collection 1985-1987' as a digital download. The Reflection A.O.B. were a perfect fit for Firestation Records, and they picked up the compilation for physical release in 2015. The vinyl is out of print, but you can still get the CD from the German label. You'll hear some Dexys Midnight Runners in there (especially on "Paint Some Colour") and maybe even a little of the Jam. Based on the bands they opened for, you get the picture, but the Reflection A.O.B. were really doing there own thing. These ears are quite taken with their sophisticated sound. "Only in My Dreams" is a pop classic, and the instrumental "Mind the Gap" should be on your next mix when you take out the scooter.

Only in My Dreams
Mind the Gap

Monday, September 16, 2019

The First Time Ric Parked the Cars

As mentioned on these pages in 2016, the Cars were one of my favorite bands in middle and early high school. What I liked most about them was how they were common ground for every clique in class. Hoods and new wavers were especially in agreement on the first two albums. The self-titled debut is perfection. The biggest hits were on the A-side, but the B-side trifecta of "Bye Bye Love," "Moving in Stereo" and "All Mixed Up" was where I always went. A kid at a summer camp I went to when I was 13 had the cassette and played it on his boom box several times a day. I was hooked.

With the passing of Ric Ocasek, the accolades have been pouring in, and rightly so. I'm pleased so many are remembering him as a crack producer as well. There has been talk about how he influenced the sound of those he worked with behind the glass, and it got me thinking about a song where I think the opposite occurred. In 1982, between the 'Shake It Up' and 'Heartbeat City' albums, Ocasek released his first solo album. 'Beatitude' featured the safe single "Something to Grab For," and the song sounded a lot like, well, the Cars. It was album opener "Jimmy Jimmy," however, that I hope will be remembered. It has a real Suicide vibe, and I imagine it's no coincidence that Ocasek had produced 'Suicide: Alan Vega · Martin Rev' in 1980.

Jimmy Jimmy

I saw the Cars once, and it was at the band's zenith. It was on Aug. 6, 1984, at an outdoor theater in Chicago. A friend's mom took us. Wang Chung opened. What I will always remember was that they played "Jimmy Jimmy." It was a bold and surprising choice that I learned much later was a mainstay throughout the 'Heartbeat City' tour. Playing 'Beatitude' again today after so many years was special, but I wish the circumstances for remembering it was different. Rest easy, Ric.