Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trumpet Fanfare

That last post on R.E.M.'s "Can't Get There From Here" got me thinking about other unlikely horn-band combinations. My favorite might be Dead Kennedys with "Terminal Preppie," and Jello Biafra absolutely outdid himself with the lyrics to that one, but then I remembered the Smiths once considered using a horn on a classic from 'The Queen Is Dead.'

If you haven't heard the Stephen Street "trumpets" recording of "Frankly, Mr. Shankly," from November 1985, the first listen might be a little jarring. When you have heard a song one way hundreds of times and for more than a quarter century, as I imagine you have, the use of a trumpet may seem out of place. I got this when it came out in early 2011 on a really interesting bootleg called 'Unreleased Demos & Instrumentals.' Now that I have heard this trumpet version dozens of times, I have to say I kind of like it. Does it do anything for you? If you want to know more about this double album, read this old post. Then buy the set.

The Smiths - Frankly, Mr. Shankly (Demo) (mp3)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Longer Need to Get There From Here

Last week, JC at the (new) vinyl villain included some fine works by R.E.M. that reminded me of this obsolete 12" single from my own collection. Boy, this one made my blood boil. I bought
'Fables of the Reconstruction' the moment it came out, back in '85, yikes, and I was pretty excited when, a short time later, I found this "Can't Get There From Here" maxi. There it was, plain as day... "Extended Mix" right on the front cover. I ran home and threw it on with the anticipation of more horns, more ahhs, more everything. Hmm, it sure sounded an awful lot like the LP version. In fact, it was exactly the same as the album. Oh, well, at least I had two B-sides that didn't appear on the new one. Well, the odds and sods 'Dead Letter Office,' released in the spring of '87, indeed, killed any reason to ever own this 12" single.

There would be many more disappointments from R.E.M to follow, but enough has been written here on that subject. I could have been lazy and ripped these two B-sides from my CD copy of 'Dead Letter Office,' but I opted to pull out my 28-year-old single. You know what? Somehow, it made me feel better. Long live vinyl!

R.E.M. - Bandwagon (mp3)
R.E.M. - Burning Hell (mp3)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Red-Letter Day: Azure Blue LP Gets Release Date

If you haven't been sizing up the singles leading up to the release of Azure Blue's sophomore album, 'Beyond The Dreams There's Infinite Doubt,' then you're in for a real treat. The third song was just revealed the other day, and "Sunset" is another in a line of lovely synth-pop gems that dazzle like something from Factory Records' salad days.

Azure Blue is the solo project of a talented Swede named Tobias Isaksson. He's on the roster of the brilliant Matinée Recordings here in America, but I dug up this older description of the band name and his music from the site of his European label. "[Azure Blue] is a paraphrase of Dennis Wilson's 'Pacific Ocean Blue.' Tobias says: 'It's Wilson's honest look with the epic beard and the ocean blue mood itself that has inspired me. Along with other male storytellers like Ernest Hemingway, Klas Östergren and Grant McLennan. I wanted to make a mature AOR record but ended up flirting with new wave and new romantic as well.'"

With namedropping like that, you know you're in good hands. You should be able to preorder the new album for an Oct. 8 release any day now. In the meantime, give the first three singles from 'Beyond The Dreams There's Infinite Doubt' a listen right now. If you only have time for one song, give "Willows and Pines" a spin. Bliss.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

OMD Issues Third Single From 'English Electric'

If you didn't get the "Metroland" or "Dresden" singles, here is a way to sort of make amends. OMD's new CD single for "Night Café," out this week, is a 10-song juggernaut that includes previous 'English Electric'-era B-sides like "Time Burns" and "The Great White Silence." And for those of you who discovered "Final Song" wasn't really the final song of the album if you bought it on iTunes, grr, the bonus track "No Man's Land" is also included. Check out the complete tracklist below. Then order here. Five months later, 'English Electric' is still in my regular rotation. Did you know the album peaked at No. 12 on the UK Albums Chart? Just read this tidbit. That's a bona fide hit, folks.

"Night Café" CD Single Tracklist
1. Night Café
2. Kill Me
3. The Great White Silence
4. Time Burns
5. No Man's Land
6. Frontline
7. Night Café (Vile Electrodes ‘B-Side the C-Side’ Remix)
8. Night Café (Metroland’s Nighthawks Remix)
9. Night Café (Taoyoyo Remix)
10. Night Café (Sin Cos Tan Rmx)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Curtain Call: Spandau Ballet From '83

OK, pop fans... I'm spinning the hits today. On this side of the pond, once again, we were very late to the party. By 1983, Spandau Ballet already had a pile of hits in the UK, and some of those early songs should have been huge here, especially "Chant No. 1 (I Don't Need This Pressure On)," but I digress. The band didn't hit the Top 40 here in America until the No. 4 smash "True." The followup, "Gold," was a modest hit at No. 29 that same year. Unfortunately, that's two-thirds of their American hit-making output. Both of these songs appeared as live versions on the flip side of the not-so-successful "Round and Round" 12" single, from the album 'Parade,' in 1984.

Now, and this is a big pet peeve of mine, nowhere on the back cover of my 12" single will you find where and when these live versions were actually recorded. I have been digging around and believe with some certainty these songs were taken from a May 1, 1983 show at Sadler's Wells in London. If you think I'm wrong about that, please let me know. By the sound of it, the entire crowd was made up of wildly excited 13-year-old girls. The other curiosity is the addition of a female backup singer, but let's remember everyone was doing it back then, even INXS, Simple Minds and Elvis Costello.

Also, here is a fun little article on lead singer Tony Hadley about being a heartthrob that was in the Mirror last month.

Finally, in case you didn't know, Hadley has an interesting live album that recently came out.

Spandau Ballet - True (Live Version) (mp3)
Spandau Ballet - Gold (Live Version) (mp3)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuning in to Vintage Big Country

As you may know by now, Big Country was my "it" band from that first single, "Harvest Home" in 1982, through the release of 'The Seer' in 1986. Although I didn't really follow the lads after that, I still consider them one of my favorites and snag anything and everything I can afford from those early years. My latest acquisition is the 'Big Country at the BBC' box set that hit the shelves about six weeks ago, and it's a real corker.

There are 42 songs spread across three CDs, and more than half of them are from between 1982 and 1984. If you have the single-disc collection 'Radio 1 Sessions' that was released in 1994 (as I do), then you have the first eight songs from the box set. After the David "Kid" Jensen and John Peel shows, however, everything else was new to me. There are five live shows highlighted here, including at the Hammersmith Palais and the Reading Festival, both from '83, as well as a last-minute appearance (Paul Young had to back out) opening for Elton John at Wembley in '84. All of the songs up to that point are from 'The Crossing' or 'Wonderland.' So, the other two shows, the Soviet Embassy in 1988 and the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989, are the first chances we have to hear songs from 'Steeltown' and beyond. Playing "Just a Shadow" from the Hammersmith Odeon show the first time gave me goosebumps.

The music on the first three discs is fantastic, but the real treasures are on the fourth disc. It's a DVD that begins with a bevy of appearances on "Top of the Pops," "The Old Grey Whistle Test" and "Oxford Road Show." Those are light and fun, but the video gets more interesting as we see footage of Stuart Adamson being interviewed by Richard Jobson, his former bandmate from the Skids, in 1990. It was for a show seen only in Scotland called "Garden Party," produced around the celebrations for Glasgow's year as City Of Culture. There are three shows on the disc, and each of them are special and from the band's most prolific time period. My personal favorite is the Edinburgh Playhouse show that was broadcast on Dec. 31, 1984. If you're a regular reader, then you know I have a New Year's Eve ritual of watching Big Country's famous Dec. 31, 1983 show from Barrowland. This year I will have a choice of concerts.

I would be remiss if I didn't describe the packaging. There is a poster, postcards and the like, which I suppose is nice, but I don't really care about all of that. What I did love, however, is the beautiful 32-page hardcover book chock full of vivid remembrances from the band. Scottish journalist Tim Barr does a brilliant job taking us back to those salad days, and I know I will enjoy his musings every time I pull out this box set.

Even the best box sets can't avoid a little criticism. I could go on about sound and video issues (and where is Tony Butler's bass on that Hammersmith show?), but the performances trump all of that. Some of these recordings are 30 years old and were done for television, for Pete's sake. I choose to be happy with what I can get. What I don't understand, however, is the editing of concerts. The person that would spend big bucks for such a specialized box set is the kind of fan that would be willing to fork out a little more for complete shows.

If, like me, you're American, 'Big Country at the BBC' is an import. Apparently, that means the price could fluctuate. I paid $54 on Amazon. I checked the site today, and now it's going for $62. If that seems to steep, there is a 32-track double-disc version dubbed "The Best of the BBC Recordings" you can pick up for about $20. If you're a fan, however, I think you will regret not having that DVD that's included in the box set.