You poor suckers. While you're out having "fun" with friends, toasting 2013 and resolving to make this the best year ever, I'm disappearing into the past and refusing to think about the future at all. Ain't livin' in a bubble grand?
As I do every year, I'm ringing in New Year's Day with a viewing of my favorite show of all time, Big Country at Glasgow's Barrowland, circa Dec. 31, 1983.
As I have written here many times, Big Country was my favorite band in the early and middle '80s, and this concert was the lads' absolute high-water mark. They had just returned home from a successful stint in the States, and you can see and feel the homesickness subside and the happiness envelop them as they rip through every song on 'The Crossing,' as well as a couple of new songs from the upcoming "Wonderland" EP. They perform with pure passion and an unbridled enthusiasm that's downright infectious. And, in what I imagine was a first for a rock show, as the clock struck 12 in Scotland, the band leaves the stage for a bagpipe brigade that nearly tears the roof off the place.
Here are a few highlights, including an interview with the late Stuart Adamson about the special concert. This bit comes from the old out-of-print version of the show King Biscuit Flower Hour put out many years ago. Unfortunately, the interview was omitted from the CD/DVD combo version released by Track in 2009. Otherwise, this newer version is a stellar collection with many extras, including a 1982 concert from New York's Peppermint Lounge. It's a must for all fans.
Happy New Year! Stay alive!
Trivia Question: What momentous occasion occurred backstage involving Big Country producer Steve Lillywhite?
Jan. 6, 2013 Update: Lillywhite proposed to musician Kirsty MacColl.
10.'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out'
Finally back in print, the 1987 soundtrack to the documentary on the town's thriving music scene includes five bonus tracks and the movie on DVD. R.E.M. made this a must buy, but there are some great performances by Pylon, Kilkenny Cats, Flat Duo Jets, Time Toy, Bar-B-Que Killers, Dreams So Real, and Love Tractor. I still have this on vinyl, but I have never owned the movie before now.
9.Roxy Music: 'The Complete Studio Recordings: 1972-1982'
All eight albums are here. Discs nine and 10 are full of B-sides, remixes and unreleased material. There is quite a bit of debate as to the sound quality. The claim is it's a huge step up from the 1999 remasters. Many have complained they are "quiet." I'm no expert, but perhaps we have become accustomed to our reissues being loud just for the sake of it. That's a discussion for another time.
8. Aztec Camera - 'High Land, Hard Rain,''Knife,''Love,''Stray,''Dreamland,''Frestonia' (sold separately)
The entire band's discography is remastered and released in the same hard-cover book form as the Everything But the Girl reissues. Some remain single discs, while others are two-disc sets. Aztec Camera is a favorite of mine, but the inconsistency of the albums keeps these reissues from rating higher. Here's a quick look at the bonus material.
7. The Servants - 'Small Time/Hey Hey We're the Manques'
It took 20 years, but the followup to 'Disinterest' finally sees the light of day. As a bonus, most of the band's early demos are included.
6. Hoodoo Gurus - 'Gold Watch: 20 Golden Greats'
These Aussies are the perfect best-of band. "I Want You Back," "Come Anytime" and "Like Wow - Wipeout!" are all all here.
5. Josef K: 'Sorry For Laughing'
The shelved full-length Postcard album from 1980 is finally released in its entirety... and on vinyl to boot! Found this one under the tree on Christmas morning.
4. Everything But the Girl - 'Eden,''Love Not Money,''Baby the Stars Shine Bright,''Idlewild' (sold separately)
The duo's first four albums get the deluxe two-disc treatment. Lots of BBC Sessions, B-sides and unreleased home recordings are housed in disc-sized hardcover books with extensive liner notes. If you are an EBTG novice, these expensive import versions are probably not for you. The good news is fans like me traded in their old single discs. So, there should be lots of cheap used copies at your mom-and-pop shop.
3. The English Beat - 'The Complete Beat'
You probably have the three studio albums, but discs four and five are chock full of Peel Sessions, 12" versions and a live performance. The booklet is a nice read, too.
2. The Hit Parade - 'Pick of the Pops (Vol. 1)'
It wasn't easy, but I have managed to find all but two of the band's albums. This 20-song compilation plugged a couple of holes for me. If you're a fan of C86, you're going to love the jangle of Julian Henry.
1. Big Country - 'The Crossing: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition'
If, like me, you have the B-sides and the 'Rarities IV' demos disc, then you have most of the bonus songs on this two-disc set. Still, it's my pick because I bought it in Glasgow the afternoon it came out. That night, I saw the band perform the album in its entirety at Barrowland. It was one of my best days ever. So, I may have a wee bit of bias.
18. Marshall Crenshaw - "I Don't See You Laughing Now"
17. Lambchop - "If Not I'll Just Die"
16. Cats on Fire - "A Few Empty Waves"
15. Strawberry Whiplash - "Stop Look and Listen"**
14. Tilbury - "Tenderloin"
13. The Walkmen - "Heaven"
12. Jens Lekman - "I Know What Love Isn't"
11. The Beach Boys - "Pacific Coast Highway"
10. Here We Go Magic - "Make Up Your Mind"
9. Primitives - "Turn Off the Moon"
8. Jason Lytle - "Get Up and Go"
7. A.C. Newman - "I'm Not Talking"
6. Frankie Rose - "Know Me"
5. Dexys - "She Got a Wiggle"
4. Jim Noir - "Tea"
3. Blur - "Under the Westway"
2. The School - "Where Does Your Heart Belong?"
1. Allo Darlin' "Northern Lights"
* Technically came out as the B-side to a 7" single released on Record Store Day in 2011 but is included on the band's full-length album released in 2012. ** Technically came out as a 7" single in December 2011 but was included on the band's full-length album in 2012.
5.'Amalgamation and Devotion' Chris Devotion and the Expectations
The first time I listened to this album out of Glasgow I would have sworn this was a front for an Any Trouble reunion.
4.'Mr. M' Lambchop
Without this one I would be completely irrelevant with the indie hipsters. Seriously, this album is beautiful and has deserved all of the year-end accolades.
3.'One Day I'm Going to Soar' Dexys
Twenty-seven years later, the clock still hasn't struck midnight on Kevin Rowland. Not everyone will, but I completely bought into this concept album... just like I did with 'Don't Stand Me Down' back in the day.
2.'Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything' The School
I'm a sucker for the Brill Building sound and bands influenced by '60s girl groups. Obviously, there have been quite a few of those the last decade or so, but this Welsh outfit is the best I have heard since early Pipettes. Do yourself a favor and get both of their albums.
1.'Europe' Allo Darlin'
You don't have to miss the jangle of Sarah Records. It has been quite a reward to follow Elizabeth Morris' growth since her days with Amelia Fletcher in Tender Trap.
Frankie Rose - 'Interstellar'
Cats on Fire - 'All Blackshirts to Me'
The Beach Boys - 'That's Why God Made the Radio'
A.C. Newman - 'Shut Down the Streets'
Jens Lekman - 'I Know What Love Isn't'
HAL - 'The Time The Hour'
Paul Weller - 'Sonik Kicks'
The dB's - 'Falling Off the Sky'
When it comes to holiday albums, there are three I put above all others: 'The Beach Boys' Christmas Album,' Phil Spector's 'A Christmas Gift For You' and Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.' What do they all have in common? All are from the early '60s. I could list a second tier of favorites, but they would all be from roughly the same period. The point is, even though there have been scores of great holiday songs through the years, I haven't been taken with an album from the season in ages.
Occasionally, an album comes along that becomes a candidate for holiday classic. It does happen. Right now I'm really rooting for Tracey Thorn's 'Tinsel and Lights,' but it's just too early to tell. When Thanksgiving rolls around five years from now, will I be yearning to put it on the turntable? I hope so. Thorn could simply sing the names on the naughty and nice lists and it would be beautiful. In case 'Tinsel and Lights' doesn't make my best albums list (out in a few days!), I wanted to give it a big endorsement now. The possibility of a holiday album on the countdown isn't sitting well with me for some reason.
Here are a few holiday songs you may not hear on alongside the Carpenters and Rascal Flatts on your local 24/7 Christmas station. Had to get in one more dig, didn't I? Enjoy the season!
Like you, I get my hands on great music 365 days a year, but I don't always hear new albums from a given year until well into the following year (and beyond). That's especially true of records that come out October through December. So, whenever I go back to my best-of lists, I'm always filled with regret. In 2012, however, for the first time, I actually kept track of my favorite albums from 2011 that I didn't actually purchase until 2012. The following four were worthy of praise at the end of last year... if I had only heard them in time.
Blouse 'Blouse' Released: Nov. 1, 2011
Here's another one that seems like it was discovered in a time capsule that was buried in the mid '80s. To appreciate the Portland, Ore., trio, you need only to gaze at your shoes. What atmosphere!
The Beets 'Let the Poison Out' Released: Oct. 24, 2011
Calling all fans of the 'Nuggets' box set. It has been a while since it was worth visiting the garage.
The Wild Swans 'The Coldest Winter For a Hundred Years' Released: Aug. 2, 2011
I have no excuse for missing this one. I remember it coming out, and it was on my must-buy list for a long time. I forgot all about it until a few months ago when Friend of Rachel Worth over at Cathedral of Sound had it at No.121 on his Desert Island Discs list. I was so inspired by the post that I ran out and got this one the same day I read it. Thanks for the kick in the keister. Even though it has been two decades, this record is not at all out of place next to 'Bringing Home The Ashes' and 'Space Flower.'
Like in life, flatmates come and go, but the Flatmates were held together, at least for a spell, by guitarist/principal songwriter Martin Whitehead and vocalist Debbie Haynes. Through all of the lineup changes, the band managed to release five singles between 1986 and 1988. Each were smashes on the UK Indie Chart. The Flatmates listened to a lot of Velvet Underground and Ramones, resulting in a little harder, faster and rougher sound than many of its C86 peers. Haynes' delivery went even further back, reminiscent of the The Shangri-Las' Mary Weiss. Major-label success seemed inevitable.
A long-term lease would have been nice but, alas, these Flatmates couldn't get along. By the fall of '88, just as it seemed the band would hit it big, internal strife, including a fight on stage at a huge University of London Student Union show in front of industry bigwigs, led to the Flatmates' premature demise. With the passage of time, however, it seems the band's short shelf life has only added to the legend. It's certainly tough to proclaim the Flatmates a mere footnote when you can hear their sound in so many bands that followed, including later Lush, the Darling Buds and Elastica.
Take a listen to "Happy All the Time," the Flatmates' second single. Then pick up Cherry Red's 2005 collection 'Potpourri (Hits, Mixes and Demos '85-'89).' Almost (but not quite) all of the band's output is there, and you won't even have to share fridge space with these Flatmates.
I have seen quite a few interesting music promos this year, and I thought my nod for the best of 2012 would go to Sharon Van Etten's "Magic Chords," but an 11th hour entry has stolen my heart. The School's "Why Do You Have To Break My Heart Again?" is not only an ode to vinyl, but it's a really interesting way to illustrate the albums that have influenced the Cardiff band along the way. You'll find picture sleeves that look an awful lot like 'Pet Sounds,' 'Something Else,' and many other classics. It's quite a feast for the eyes. See how many favorites you can spot.
I really dig the School's style, and I'll get into all of that when the band pops up on my year-end list of top albums. Yes, 'Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything' will be there. Today, however, is all about this brilliant video, and the directing team of Lucy Dawkins and Tom Readdy of Bristol-based Yes Please! Productions should take credit for this and many of the School's best clips. If you like the video below, I recommend searching for "Where Does Your Heart Belong?" and "Hoping and Praying" as well. They really seem to understand Liz Hunt and Co.'s music and the group's overall aesthetic. Well done.
OK, Santa, I'm gonna make this really easy. This is what I want to find under the tree Christmas morning. Don't worry. I have already spoken to Mrs. LTL!. No carrots this time. Cookies and milk all the way this year.
1. Josef K: 'Sorry For Laughing'
You're going to love this one, Mr. Claus. The album that should have been Postcard 81-1 finally gets released on vinyl. Sure, Alan Horne and the band shelved it for being too polished but, Santa, aren't you the least bit curious about the remastered sound and original artwork by Robert Sharpe? Oh, and the record includes a bonus CD of the TV Art Demos from 1979. So, you would be giving me two gifts with this one. Let me guess. You don't think I deserve this one because I have 'Entomology,' and that CD has half of this album on it. That's naughty... not one bit nice. Give the title track a listen here. Perhaps it will sway you. This version of the song is not on that compilation.
2. Brighter: 'Out to Sea'
One of my favorite finds from 2012 was the long out-of-print collection of singles the trio did for Sarah Records from 1989-1992. Even though those gems are just about impossible to find, Matinee Recordings still has a 20-track CD of rarities among the label's impressive catalog. Gotta have it, Kringle. Here's a song from 'Out to Sea' you can listen to while you're steering the sleigh. Out to Sea - There Is Nothing We Can Do? (mp3)
3. The Servants: 'Youth Club Disco'
So, Santa, are you into C86? Of course you are. Then you know how hard it is to get a hold of music from these lads. Their first record, and the only one that saw the light of day when they were around, 'Disinterest,' is about as hard to find as a hot day at the North Pole. Cherry Red released a collection of singles and rarities on CD in 2006 called 'Reserved.' Thanks to the folks at Captured Tracks, you can get 'Reserved' on vinyl... only now it's called 'Youth Club Disco.' If you get this for me, I'll tape you a copy. It's bound to add a little jangle to your jingle bells. Oh, and here's a little news about the Servants I posted last month.
It has been three long years since we have heard from this brilliant Melbourne-based quartet, but now comes word via email there will be a new album out early next year. If you haven't heard the Crayon Fields, you should check out both of their earlier full-length records, 'Animal Bells' (2006) and 'All the Pleasures of the World' (2009). The band's sound is often compared to '60s greats like the Beach Boys, the Zombies and, especially, the Association. Their Australian label, Chapter Music, just celebrated its 20th birthday with a double vinyl compilation. You can stream the Crayon Fields' contribution to '20 Big Ones' below. If this new song is any indication, we are in for a real treat from the band in 2013.
Roddy Frame has always been, above all, a singer-songwriter of the highest order. Due to quite a few years of slick production and adult-contemporary muck, however, you needed quite a keen ear to hear it. My faith in Frame had more or less gone missing by the time 'Dreamland' and 'Frestonia' hit the shelves. He followed that up by shedding the Aztec Camera moniker, and I was a little disappointed by that decision... until he released 'Surf' in 2002.
'Surf' was an album worthy of his name. Even if the few records leading up to it weren't necessarily good, Frame had performed several successful solo tours through the aforementioned lean years. Those stripped-down shows proved his late '80s and '90s material wasn't necessarily as bad as it seemed on wax. Frame brought this less-is-more approach to 'Surf.' It was just a man and his guitar singing in the front room of his home, sans studio touches. His words were sharp, and his voice was in top form.
My faith in Frame was restored.
Here is the album opener. It seems silly to pick out one song to sample. There are no singles here. 'Surf' should be played from beginning to end. If you don't already have the record, you can still get it at Frame's Web site. I suggest you do.
Marshall Crenshaw is quite the rock historian, and that knowledge has been evident in the great songs he has chosen to cover throughout his storied career. Here is a brief list of my five favorites. I tried to limit my selections to songs recorded in the studio, but that proved impossible because "Walk Away Renee" is just too good. Got a favorite Crenshaw cover? Let me know.
The first time I heard Fuller's mid-'60s hit "Let Her Dance" was many years ago but before I owned 'Good Evening.' I did, however, already have Crenshaw's first two albums. I remember thinking the cat performing the song had a lot of explaining to do... ripping off Crenshaw like that. How embarrassing!
If you aren't familiar with the Bobby Fuller Four but think you have heard this song before, it might be because the tune was used by Wes Anderson to close his film 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' The reason I thought of the song today was because I just finished watching Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom,' for the second time. I highly recommend it. As a father of two young boys, this was the only "grownup" movie I made it into the theater to see in 2012.
With the holiday shopping season approaching, I wanted to recommend a new book I'm just finishing up. Mark Baumgarten's 'Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music' is a fantastic look at how Calvin Johnson and his band of misfits made the Pacific Northwest's scene matter. If you're of a certain age, you'll appreciate remembering a time when finding great music was a challenge. We're talking pre-Internet. You were really lucky if you had access to a local college radio station. If not, you depended on fanzines or a trustworthy employee at your mom-and-pop record shop. Back then it was all about knocking down doors and getting your cassettes and 7" records heard. Baumgarten takes you back to that time, and he did his homework. The author interviewed all of the major players, and he knows when to get out of the way to let them tell their tales. I'm walking away from this one in awe of the D.I.Y. aesthetic and inspired with the knowledge there are still a few in the music business kicking it old school.
If you're new to K Records and want more info before buying the book, give Heather Rose Dominic's 'The Shield Around the K: The Story of K Records' a look. This documentary from 2000 is far from an award winner, but it's an O-"K" intro.
I just watched a well-done program that came from an unlikely place. BYUtv has a series called "The Song That Changed My Life," and a recent installment starred Mike Peters of the Alarm and the reformed Big Country. I know there are a few Big Country fans out there that read this blog. You'll enjoy this. Peters' story is an inspiring one, and there is some fantastic footage... both old and new. Enjoy.
I have already gone on the record that I was a bit disappointed with the dB's comeback album from earlier this year, 'Falling From the Sky.' Part of the problem was the very lengthy buildup between the reunion announcement and the actual release. By the time the album came out, in my mind, this was going to be at least as good as 'Stand For Decibels.' So, of course, it didn't meet expectations. Plus, I fell hard for the band's 7" single, "Picture Sleeve," that came out on Record Store Day in 2011. Unfortunately, there weren't any songs on 'Falling From the Sky' that matched that tune.
I was pleasantly surprised to read the other day that Chris Stamey has already announced his next solo album. 'Lovesick Blues' will be out Feb. 5 on Yep Roc, and you can hear a new song from it, "Astronomy," as well as four other Stamey compositions via the Noise Trade widget below. Perhaps I'm bring too harsh on 'Falling From the Sky,' but I'm hopeful Stamey's solo album will exceed the dB's 2012 effort.
I was just checking out where "Picture Sleeve" landed on my favorite songs of 2011, and I noticed this next band had the single right in front of the dB's on my list. Just a week after Stamey's new album comes out, Veronica Falls will release its second album, via Slumberland. The first song from 'Waiting For Something To Happen' can be streamed below. "Teenage" sounds brighter and bouncier than just about anything on the band's debut album. I love that record, and it's not just because I bought it in Glasgow from the legendary Stephen Pastel himself at his shop. Of course, it doesn't hurt, either.
My affinity for both the TKO Horns and the production team of Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley are already well documented. You can argue about what their best moment was as a collective, and they worked together a few times, but my vote would be for the album 'Too-Rye-Ay' by Dexys Midnight Runners. Of course, the brass section wouldn't be named TKO Horns until Elvis Costello got a hold of them and chose the name himself a year after they left Kevin Rowland's band, but you get my point.
"Jackie Wilson Said" was the third single from 'Too-Rye-Ay' and the followup to the international smash "Come on Eileen." It didn't chart here in America, but it was another huge hit in the UK. The flip side was "Let's Make This Precious." This might be my favorite song on the album. So, if I had a list of all-time singles, this would have to be on there somewhere. "Jackie Wilson Said" has been covered by quite a few acts -- and I have seen Costello perform it live on a couple of occasions -- but the version by Dexys tops them all. The song sounds so full here, like its about to burst, and the enthusiasm is palpable.
Researching for this post, I was absolutely shocked to discover the original 1972 single by Van Morrison never charted. If you don't have any of his work, this compilation is a pretty good start. Then move on to 'Astral Weeks.'
I'm including Dexys Midnight Runners' performance of the song on 'Top of the Pops.' You will notice a rather large photo of darts player Jocky Wilson as the band's backdrop. Back in '82, this created some confusion and controversy. I'm not sure anyone has ever confessed being behind that one.
I think this esurance commercial might have accomplished exactly the opposite of its intended purpose. Do I want everything to be so easy? Well, insurance, maybe, but this 30-second ad got me to do something I had not done in many years. I made a mixtape. I dug out a Maxell XL-II 90 high bias cassette and went to work.
I positioned the same milking stool in front of the same stereo I have had since the '80s. As the music played, I poured over liner notes on albums and tapes just like the old days. I considered the theories of Rob Gordon from Nick Hornby's novel 'High Fidelity:'
"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention (I started with "Got to Get You Off My Mind", but then realized that she might not get any further than track one, side one if I delivered what she wanted straightaway, so I buried it in the middle of side two), and then you've got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can't have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can't have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you've done the whole thing in pairs and...oh, there are loads of rules."
I remembered the hard way on Howard Jones' 'The 12" Album' that the songs run together so you have to manually fade out the recording level at just the right time. I could have used the "x2 editing speed" function on my dual cassette deck when I popped in the Icicle Works' first album, but I chose to listen instead. This exercise was all about taking things slow. By the looks of the tape window, I had enough room for one more song on side A... if it was about two minutes. I went with Ian Dury's "Blackmail Man." I laughed as I remembered Mrs. LTL! once asking me what Dury had against black mailmen. Oh, no! It's not going to fit. I manually faded out the last five seconds of the song. That's OK. It's just screeching feedback anyway.
It was getting late. Where did the evening go? Side B would have to wait. Yes, in this iTunes/iPod world, I could have made a dozen mixes on this night, but would I have enjoyed it this much? Hmmm... when will I get to listen to this tape, anyway? Am I going to pull out my old banana-yellow Sony Walkman? OK, I must admit I'm finding this whole mixtape thing a mixed experience, but it was really nice to have the television off. It's therapeutic and nostalgic, and I recommend slowing down and giving up an evening to try it. Here was my Side A, track one, and you can get the original version of the song on both 'Loaded' and the 'High Fidelity' soundtrack.
While reading the Wall Street Journal last week, I came across a story about how the country charts are saturated with music that has more in common with classic rock than old-time twang. I don't consider myself a big fan of the genre, but I found the premise most unappetizing. I thought about my late father. He was raised on Hank Williams, George Jones and the like. He would not be pleased with these developments. This 60-second response to 'Jed Zeppelin': They're Country, But Raised on Rock 'n' Roll is
It's too bad a genre so rich in history and tradition is becoming nothing more than rock 'n' roll's Pacific Coast League. Sure, a few of these "Jed Zeppelin's" may crossover and make it to "The Show," but mimicking rock and calling it country to get there isn't really crossing over.
When Johnny Cash covered rock's elite in the 'American Recordings' series, he was praised by both rock and country audiences. Why? When he sang a U2 song, he sounded like Cash, not Bono.
When the music is good, labels like "rock" and "country" don't matter. Unfortunately, none of the minor-league prospects in this article deserve the coveted call-up.
I'm so disappointed. Last week was Keeping It Peel, the annual day to celebrate the life and work of legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Last year I posted some great Peel Sessions from XTC and the Housemartins. I already knew then what I wanted to post for this year's Keeping It Peel, but I ended up missing the damn day. Unbelievable. Sorry for being tardy.
Between 1979 and 1983, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark made four appearances on Peel's program. The last show was transmitted on Feb. 21, 1983, one month before the release of the band's fourth and most experimental album, 'Dazzle Ships.' Of "Genetic Engineering," Peel said it was "a much more muscular sound than we're used to from OMD." Paul Browne, the man behind the OMD magazine 'Messages,' called this take "more robust and percussive" than the album version. He went on to say this version of "Of All the Things We Made" was "poignant and wistful." Peel always had a way of bringing out the best in a band, and he did it again here.
Just before the 2011 Major League Baseball season got under way, my brother and I traded our traditional emails about predictions for the upcoming year. I'm a disgruntled Cubs fan. He's a smug (and rightly so) Cardinals fan. After watching him play at Wrigley for a few seasons, I wrote there is no way the Cardinals could win a World Series with Ryan Theriot as part of their infield. Fast forward to last night: Theriot, now a member of the Giants, celebrates as World Series champion... again! Two for freakin' two! Nostradamus I am not, but c'mon!! You gotta be kidding. Well, as we used to say back in the day, "you just can't quiet 'The Riot.'"
With a tip of the cap to San Fran for sweeping the Detroit Tigers in four, here are my four favorite non-singles from They Might Be Giants. OK, I'm cheating a bit. You won't see the bands earliest works because I have them on vinyl and I don't want to take the time to convert to mp3 right now. Take my word for it, though. The albums these songs are taken from should be in your collection... especially 'Flood.'
One more thing about the World Series. It might be time for FOX color analyst Tim McCarver to call it quits. In game 1, he seemed to forget that Barry Bonds once ruled the Bay Area. Then, last night, during game 4, the aging McCarver suggested catchers switched from wearing soft caps to helmets behind the plate just 20 years ago. That's 1992, folks. The last catcher I remember wearing a cap behind the plate was Rick Dempsey. He retired in 1992, several years after he was a regular in the lineup. So, perhaps McCarver could use him as reference to mask his error, but I believe most catchers were wearing helmets at least a decade earlier. I'm a little long in the tooth myself, and I can see how an older gentleman could mistake 20 years with 30+ years, but I'm not a part of baseball's No. 1 broadcasting team.
After several days sequestered with the music of Felt, the verdict is in. The summary of the evidence shows, quite clearly, Felt should be one of my favorites:
Exhibit A: They were influenced by the right bands. Exhibit B: They influenced the right bands. Exhibit C: They were on the right labels.
And yet, after all of these years (and a retrial of sorts), I have been found guilty (again) of indifference. Felt's frontman, the mysterious Lawrence, is known to love Television, and Stuart Murdoch is known to love Lawrence. Check... and check. The band was around for 10 singles and 10 albums between 1979 and 1989, all on either the legendary labels Cherry Red or Creation. Check. Lawrence sounds like Lou Reed with just a hint of Lloyd Cole. Check. Felt's middle years, in particular, are chock full of jangle. Check. So, what gives?
Other than the fact I don't like the percussion found on the early singles, I don't have an explanation. And I do like a few songs, such as "Primitive Painters," "Penelope Tree" and the song below. All three songs can be found on the collection 'Stains on a Decade.' Not all of the band's singles are there, but you can get a pretty good feel for Felt since both the Cherry Red and Creation years are represented.
If there are any big Felt fans out there, please enlighten me. What do you consider the band's best work... and why?
Regular readers of this blog know my love for Sir Paul is nearly boundless. I say "nearly" because even I drew the line when he pulled a Rod Stewart earlier this year with 'Kisses on the Bottom.' Still, there are reports Macca is working with producers Mark Ronson and Ethan Johns. So, I'm hopeful he may still have another 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard' in him. I'm serious. Stop your snickering. OK, that's it... no McCartney for you. You'll have to settle for some knockoffs.
This first one is taken from Brendan Benson's 2003 single "Metarie." I was once a huge Benson fan. His first two albums, 'One Mississipi' and 'Lapalco' are must-have purchases. Although I haven't dug his last couple of records, Benson continues to record excellent covers. Last year he released a very limited vinyl-only four-song 12" that included his takes on David Bowie's "Candidate," the Kinks' "Strangers," Elvis Costello's "Beyond Belief" and Randy Newman's "Love Story." These are well worth your time. As for the McCartney version of "Let Me Roll It," you can find it on the legendary 'Band on the Run.' As you probably know, the song is famous for keeping the fiery Lennon-McCartney feud alive.
The other cover is from an artist that feels like a long lost friend. I was really into Freedy Johnston in the early '90s, but I completely lost track of his work for more than a decade. His 2008 covers album 'My Favorite Waste of Time' brought me back into the fold. There are two Macca songs on there, as well as nuggets by Marshall Crenshaw, NRBQ and the Hollies. If you gave up on him as well, try his latest album, 'Rain on the City.' It will take you back to those early albums. I promise.
If you worship at the altar of NME's 'C86' compilation, there's reason to rejoice. Think back to track five, side two. That's where most of us were introduced to the dreamy jangle of the Servants. The song, "Transparent," would also appear in '86 as the B-side to the band's first single, "She's Always Hiding." There was also a four-song 12" around that time that featured the cerebral "The Sun, a Small Star." Unfortunately, it would be 1990 before the Servants released a full-length album. All of the usual industry drama played a part in the lengthy delay: Personnel changes (including the addition of Luke Haines), a solo album by frontman David Westlake, label switches and budget cuts. The aptly named 'Disinterest' was worth the wait, and critics liked it, but many fickle fans had moved on to new sounds.
Westlake and Haines would also move on, and they would do quite well in their separate endeavors, but not before working on a followup to 'Disinterest.' Alas, only the lads themselves and a few friends would ever hear it... until now. Cherry Red Records, my heroes, will release 'Small Time' later this month. It includes a second disc, 'Hey Hey We're The Manqués,' chock full of early takes that would later become 'Disinterest.' This entire set has been assembled and cleaned up by Westlake himself, and Haines has penned the liner notes. Since it's on Cherry Red, I'm sure it will be very well done.
Ian Dury's 'New Boots and Panties!!' was a big one for me. My first exposure to Dury was "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" and "What a Waste" on my favorite soundtrack ever, 'That Summer!" From that album, I became obsessed with all of the acts on Stiff. I have a vivid memory of spinning 'New Boots' for a friend after school in what I thought was an empty house. Well, for those of you who know the album, recall that "Plaistow Patricia" begins with Dury's best profanity-filled tirade. Well, it was just about the funniest thing this 14 year old from the sticks had ever heard, and I lifted the needle over and over just to play that one line. My friend seemed shocked... for some reason. Then I saw him. It was my father, and he was shooting daggers with his eyes. I knew I was about to be humiliated in front of a peer. Then, something odd occurred. My father exhaled and said, simply, "You better not let your mother hear that." He walked out with the sound of Davey Payne's spastic sax blaring from the family stereo. It was the first time I remember thinking Dad might be cool.
Dury originally wrote "Clevor Trever" thinking he would give it to Stiff mate Wreckless Eric, but he just liked it too much to give it away. In 2001, not only did Wreckless Eric finally get his chance to record it, but Dury's legendary band, the Blockheads, backed him up. The song appeared on 'Brand New Boots and Panties: A Tribute to Ian Dury.' Greats like Paul McCartney, Madness and Billy Bragg each gave renditions that are pretty true to Dury's 1977 work. Now that's respect.
I own a Japanese edition of 'New Boots' that includes an in-depth interview Dury did with Vinyl Mogul. He breaks down the album song by song. If you have a couple of minutes, you might enjoy his thoughts on "Clevor Trever."
Just a quick note: If you have Spotify, you can listen to five new Madness songs in their entirety. If you don't, no worries. 'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja da Da' will be out in two weeks. Preorder now. As I mentioned earlier, "My Girl 2" is the first official single, and it will be released next week. And yes, it is one of the five songs available for streaming.
For vinyl fans, the early '90s were dark times. Thankfully, a handful of independent labels like Sarah saved the 7" single from extinction. While thumbing through a stack of 45s at that time, you couldn't help but stop when you got to the Sugargliders. The sleeves were absolutely beautiful in their simplicity. Cool name. All lower case. Typewriter print. Great colors and art. Who were these guys? Well, the brothers, Josh and Joel Meadows, were on Sarah. So, they had to be good.
For the most part, in the ensuing 20 years, if you wanted to own a piece of the Sugargliders, you had to make a major investment for a used 7" from some smug record collector. Well, Matinée Recordings has made life easier (and much cheaper) with the just released 20-track compilation 'A Nest With A View 1990-1994.' Seems like just the right moment to catch up with Josh for a chat about those glorious Sarah years, eh? I want to thank him for answers that were as honest as his songs.
LTL: You fellas were wide-eyed teens when the Sugargliders formed. Who were you listening to back then? Did you ever think, "wow, I want us to be like those guys?"
Josh: When Joel and I first started writing songs we were really into the Smiths, Lloyd Cole & the Commotions, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Everything but the Girl, Durutti Column, Prefab Sprout, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, REM, Billy Bragg and the Housemartins, as well as Australian bands I'm Talking, Stephen Cummings, the Go-Betweens and the Stems. Those were the groups we most admired when we started thinking we wanted to be part of the whole pop music thing. I don't think we ever considered we were in the same league as any of those bands, but we started to write songs and play them live and we found, to our surprise, there were people who liked what we did. We loved pop music and we believed good pop songs could change the world, both of us being able to name plenty of songs that had changed ours.
LTL: I'm a big fan of Sarah. How do a couple of lads from Melbourne end up on the legendary Bristol label? What instantly comes to mind when you think of those years?
Josh: I had a Saturday job in an indie record store in Melbourne that was run by Jason Reynolds, the man behind Summershine Records. Jason used to stock all the cool imported 7" singles from English and US labels like Cherry Red, Creation, 4AD, Sub Pop, Factory, Bus Stop, Parasol, Subway and Sarah. That's where I first heard the Orchids, the Field Mice, Another Sunny Day and other Sarah acts that Joel and I came to love. And, like so many other people around the world, we came to love the label too -- not only the bands. While some indie labels seemed happy to mimic major labels, Sarah was fiercely proud of its independence, its separateness, from the music business of the time. It didn't want to be part of the whole corporate side of the music industry. It wanted to discover wonderful songs and foist them upon the unsuspecting public, one hand-packaged 7" single at a time. Joel and I were immediately attracted to Sarah's music, aesthetics and politics.
How did we come to be on Sarah? We had released three singles through Summershine and one through Brighton (UK) label Marineville. We had a new song, "Letter from a Lifeboat," that we thought was something special. So we spent all our money recording it really well and sent the tape off to Bristol.... It was an exciting time. It was a time of furiously writing, recording and releasing 7" singles and playing the songs live at every opportunity. We never had a business plan and all our marketing was very, very basic. We simply wanted to make pop music and express the concerns that were weighing heavy on our hearts.
LTL: Ten singles. Four years. Done. For fans, it felt like the Sugargliders ended abruptly. Can you explain how that all went down? Any regrets?
Josh: It did end rather abruptly, although there was no bad feeling between Joel or I or Robert (bass player in later era Sugargliders) or any of the labels we recorded for. Joel and I decided to end the band because the songs we were writing called for more of a full band treatment and we wanted to shake off the "acoustic duo" tag the Sugargliders had been lumbered with. We didn't want to keep playing the same old songs over and over forever. So we ditched the 'gliders and started the Steinbecks. Sometimes I think maybe we should have kept the Sugargliders going and let the band evolve to fit our new material, but at the time we just wanted to kick over the statues and do something new.
LTL: The songs on 'A Nest With a View' are about two decades old now. Some musicians don't like to listen to their old material, but how do you think these tunes hold up? Can you play this disc with a smile? Do you cringe? Both?
Josh: I recognise that a lot of our early stuff is poorly recorded and embarrassingly naïve. I hadn't listened to many of the Sugargliders recordings for years and years because I had written them off in my head as unlovely and part of another era that is long gone and unmissed. Some years ago Mike Babb from Drive In and Microindie tried to persuade Joel and I to do a Sugargliders compilation, but we stuck our noses in the air and said we were happy with the artefacts as they were originally recorded and released and we didn't believe in reissues. Remember, we're Smiths fans -- we know all the lyrics to "Paint a Vulgar Picture"! Then last year Scott Thurling from Popboomerang broached the subject of a retrospective album. He convinced us the time was right. If people wanted to find out about the Sugargliders from scratch, the only things they were likely to come across would be eBay bootlegs of very poor cassette recordings, inaccurate information on various indie pop "fan" Web sites and extremely unflattering live videos. The actual recordings the Sugargliders put out between 1990 and 1994 were now really hard to get hold of. Surely we wanted people to be able to hear the Sugargliders at their best, not their worst! So we said yes.
Deciding which 20 songs we would include on the album was an interesting process. Each of our 7" singles had three songs on it, so we aimed to leave at least one track "exclusive" to the original single, although in the end we included all three songs off "Trumpet Play" and "Top 40 Sculpture." There are also a couple of "rare" songs –- "Everybody Supermarket," which we recorded for an International Pop 7" in 1991, and "Another Faux Pas," which was on the Marineville 7". I think it is a good selection. Some of the sounds are very dated, but I feel like every song on 'A Nest with a View' has a kernel of truth about it and I am proud of that. The ones that make me smile are "Seventeen" and "90 Days of Moths and Rust.' We had all 20 songs mastered by the great Ross Cockle at Sing Sing studios in Melbourne, which gave them a real audio lift. Brad Welsh at One Degree did a beautiful design and layout job with the sleeve. And we were flattered when Jimmy Tassos of Matinée Recordings approached us about releasing the album in the USA.
If, like me, you thoroughly enjoyed the first two Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs collaborations covering their favorite songs from the '60s and '70s, respectively, you might like this little nugget from an interview Sweet did recently with OnMilwaukee.com, of all places. We have known for quite a while that a third volume on the music of the '80s has been dancing (maybe even breakdancing, come to think of it) in the artists' heads, but I think this is the first time we have had a timetable and a list of bands they might be covering. Read on, straight from the home of Shotz Brewery:
OMC: Tell me about the album you're working on with Susanna Hoffs from the Bangles?
MS: It's our third album. We're starting to work on it this fall and hopefully it will come out next year. It will have '80s covers like "Standing Still" by REM. Also, The Pretenders, XTC, Marshall Crenshaw, Roxy Music, Squeeze. Maybe "How Soon Is Now" by The Smiths.
Let's just get passed the incorrect song title ("Sitting Still") from him for a second. Sweet and Hoffs have always done an inspired job selecting tunes for this series... Love, Velvet Underground, Zombies, Raspberries, and the list goes on... but, if the above comes to fruition, this one on the "Me Decade" would be without peer. If you don't have 'Under the Covers, Vol. 1' and 'Vol. 2,' it's a good time to catch up. Here is the duo's take on the Mike Nesmith tune I wrote about the other day:
I have wanted to comment on the following for a while, but I'm never going to be able to give these items their due. So, here's a quick wrap on some artists you find regularly on this blog:
You can stream A.C. Newman's 'Shut Down the Streets' in its entirety from the widget above. Matador has had this up for a week already in anticipation of the official release on Tuesday. Preorder here.
Rolling Stone was the first place to officially post a song from Tracey Thorn's upcoming holiday album, 'Tinsel and Lights,' out Oct. 30 on Merge. I was searching Soundcloud for the widget when I came across another song from the album posted by buzzinfly.com. Thanks very much. I'm really getting excited about this one.
There is an official release date for the first three-song EP in Marshall Crenshaw's subscription series. "I Don't See You Laughing Now" comes out Nov. 23, and you can still get in on the action by filling out your info here.
After some down time, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are back with a fun 7". It's due out at the end of the month, but it's already available for streaming. Does it sound familiar to you?
Congratulations to Reigning Sound. After a decade of reputation building, the old-timey garage greats have signed with Merge. Expect a new album soon. If you don't know these guys, give "Stick Up For Me" a listen. It's from their last album, 'Love and Curses.' Prior to that, the band backed Mary Weiss from the Shangri-Las on her first album in 30 years. I highly recommend her comeback from 2007, 'Dangerous Game.'
Finally, I was really sad when I read on Big Country's Web site Tony Butler was retiring from the band. I felt that, somehow, Mike Peter's involvement had really worked. I liked their 2011 single, "Another Country," and was looking forward to seeing what the band would come up with for a full-length album (to be produced by Steve Lillywhite). Seeing Big Country in Glasgow back in February has been my highlight of the year. In hindsight, maybe Butler wasn't as into it as I would have hoped. If he no longer enjoyed it, all I can do is thank him for a great 30 years. He will be missed. Big Country has already announced his replacement, original Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes. So, it seems, the band will go on. With only Bruce and Mark left from the classic lineup, I wouldn't mind seeing them rename the band, to be brutally honest, but I wish them nothing but the best. Hey, if Roger and Pete can do it... Here's a B-side from the "Where the Rose Is Sown" 12" just for Tony.
It seems like whenever one talks about post-punk band the Sound you'll eventually hear bewilderment in the speaker's voice as he laments how they should have been a much bigger deal. Who am I to go against the grain? The sound of the Sound wasn't far removed from legendary bands from the period, such as Joy Division and Echo & the Bunnymen. The critics seemed to get it, and the Sound did have solid pockets of fans in places like New Zealand, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, but it's tough to be a huge success in a place like America if your records are only available as imports. Members of the Sound felt (like most bands that don't make it, I suppose) the label wasn't quite the ally it should have been.
Earlier this year, the reissuing label 1972 brought back the Sound's first two albums, 'Jeopardy' and 'From the Lions Mouth' and, as luck would have it, those are the two of the band's five albums worthy of having in you collection. This is lead singer/guitarist Adrian Borland at his best. He certainly doesn't have the same baritone sound as Joy Division's Ian Curtis, but there is a certain desperation in his delivery that reminds me of him. Sadly, although Borland lived two decades longer than Curtis, they met a similar demise... both due to circumstances with their mental health.
Here's one of the Sound's most recognizable singles. It's taken from the 1981 album 'From the Lions Mouth.' Pick this one up here.
One of my favorite (and most popular) series of posts here on Linear Tracking Lives! was Mike Nesmith Week back in the spring of 2011. When I get to feature the great Nesmith alongside one of the legends of C86, well, that's a pretty good day for me, too.
Nesmith wrote "Different Drum" in 1965, the same year the Monkees were being assembled. Linda Ronstadt made the song famous in 1967 when she recorded it with the Stone Poneys. It peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard chart. Nesmith wouldn't release his own recorded version of the song until it appeared on his tongue-in-cheek titled album 'And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'. It's a beautiful and completely understated piece of work featuring guitar and vocals by Nesmith, pedal steel by "Red" Rhodes... and that's it. No drums, bass or anything else. Although Nesmith's version was never a single, this song, along with "Joanne," his only Top 40 hit as a solo artist, are his most popular songs and biggest showstoppers in concert.
Apologies to Ms. Ronstadt, but I'll take the Pastels' cover. Stephen & Co. released it as a single in 1990 on K Records. Finding the 7" is a tall order, but it does appear on 'Truckload of Trouble,' the band's 1993 compilation from Seed Records. As compilations go, it's wildly incomplete. When it comes to the Pastels, however, you take what you can get your hands on. It appears to only be in print now as a digital download, and that's a shame. Is it just me, or is this band in desperate need of a definitive box set?
It wasn't the plan, but this week has become an impromptu celebration of Amelia Fletcher. Since we have already listened to Talulah Gosh and Heavenly, let's conclude with something a little more recent. For the past decade, Fletcher has been fronting Tender Trap. The band is a wonderful bit of twee and not all that far removed from the sound Heavenly did so well. My favorite of Tender Trap's works is 'Dansette Dansette.' I liked it so much, in fact, it made my list of the ten best albums of 2010.
Fletcher has always seemed to have a knack for finding other female voices that mix well with her own sweet vocals. The standouts this time around were Elizabeth Morris (guitar) and Katrina Dixon (drums). You may recognize Morris' name from her own work fronting the brilliant Allo Darlin'. Have you ever noticed Fletcher's name pops up quite a bit in your record collection? She has worked with so many bands I like, including the Hit Parade, Pooh Sticks and Brilliant Corners. That tells me she must be well liked and admired. It doesn't seem right I'm tooting the horn of the great Fletcher without even mentioning the fact that her husband, Rob Pursey, has been in all of Fletcher's bands listed above, as well as Marine Research, the band she was in between Heavenly and Tender Trap.
You can find all of the following songs on 'Dansette Dansette.' If you don't have this album, you need it. Just listen to the "heavenly" vocals on the "Do You Want a Boyfriend?" video. Wow!
Since Talulah Gosh's "Talulah Gosh" was the subject of my last post, it's not too much of a leap that today's selection is Heavenly's "C Is the Heavenly Option." The song comes from the band's second full-length album (not including the Talulah Gosh material, obviously), and, if you don't include the bonus tracks on the reissue of the debut album, 'Heavenly vs. Satan,' I would say this is their best.
Beat Happening member and K Records founder Calvin Johnson is the male voice on the following song. Incidentally, 'Le Jardin' and Heavenly's other albums came out in America on his label. I did a little Internet surfing today and found a fair bit of criticism of this song from bloggers and the like, due mostly to Johnson. I'll respectfully disagree. No matter. Johnson would continue to make guest appearances on Heavenly's records. You can tell a good time was had by all in the studio.
Here's a lazy game I have been saving in my head for a day when I don't have much time to post. This is the day.
Quite a few bands have a song named after themselves, such as "X" from X's album 'Blue Blood.' Among those, a handful of them are pretty good. Madness is the only one I can think of that pulled off this feat twice, first with the Prince Buster cover "Madness" and, later, with "Madness (Is All In The Mind)." I also like Talk Talk's "Talk Talk" quite a bit, but that's a very early single that doesn't quite capture just how talented the band would later become. "They Might Be Giants" is on my favorite TMBG album, 'Flood,' but it's not the best song on the LP... by a long shot. There are others worthy of honorable mentions, such as "Van Dyke Parks," "Fishbone" and "Tin Machine." but here's my pick for best song/band with the same name.
If you're a Sarah Records fan and know the twee pop of Heavenly, and they could almost make this list with "Our Love Is Heavenly," then you probably know many of the band's members were briefly part of the C86 scene as Talulah Gosh. The single "Talulah Gosh" came out on the legendary (at least in my mind) 53rd & 3rd label in 1987. Give this bit of jangle a listen. Do you have a favorite song/band with the same name?
Tidbits on the impending release from Madness have been trickling in and, if you heard the band's last album, you know there is reason to be excited. Like most of you, I imagine, I had given up on expecting anything good from the Nutty Boys more than 25 years ago. Much like recent albums from OMD and Dexys, Madness' 2009 release, 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate,' took me completely by surprise. I would put it up against anything in the band's catalog... even the Stiff years. I'll give you a moment to close your jaw.
About six weeks ago, Madness gave out a new song as a free download. We knew it would be part of a new album, but we didn't have an album name, street date or any other important details. All we had was "Death of a Rude Boy." If you haven't heard it yet, you can grab it below. For you 2 Tone Records fans, this new song is going to sound very very familiar. (You could even say "derivative." Hopefully their old pals the Specials find the whole thing flattering.) We just learned the new song will appear on 'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da,' and the album will be out Oct. 30. The first official single will be "My Girl 2" and will be released a week earlier. Kind of an interesting song title for us old-school fans, eh?
Here's the complete album tracklist, and you can preorder here. I'm hopeful we'll have an album worthy of following up the brilliant 'Norton Folgate.'
'Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da' Tracklist
1. My Girl 2
2. Never Knew Your Name
3. La Luna
4. How Can I Tell You
5. Kitchen Floor
8. Circus Freaks
9. So Alive
10. Small World
11. Death of A Rude Boy
12. Powder Blue (Bonus Track)
13. Black and Blue (Bonus Track)
14. My Girl 2 (Bonus Track)
Last month, I mentioned most of the info on the upcoming release from A.C. Newman, along with a new tune. Today, Newman's U.S. label, Matador, has given us a second song from 'Shut Down the Streets.' Like "I'm Not Talking," you'll recognize the distinctive voice of New Pornographers mate Neko Case on this second song, too. Newman's new material is supposed to be a bit of a departure, but I think this one would fit quite nicely alongside the more recent material of his other band. Enjoy "Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns" while you preorder Newman's new album. These two songs will make the wait for Oct. 9 a little easier.
All mp3s posted at LTL! are to highlight music you should buy... right now. Sure, give it a listen, but then run to your nearest indie record shop and pay up. Mp3s are linked for a limited time. Rants and raves to email@example.com.