Monday, March 31, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 35)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

35. The Sea Urchins - "Pristine Christine"

Other Contenders: "Solace," the band's only other charting single, was released six months after "Pristine Christine." It's a great song worth seeking out, and it peaked even higher at an impressive No. 4.

Chart Entry: Jan. 23, 1988

Peak Position: No. 11

Comment: Unfortunately, other than a few singles, there isn't much audio out there documenting the history of the Sea Urchins. For some indie record collectors, "Pristine Christine," or Sarah 01, is the holy grail of 7 inchers. Fortunately, the teenagers (they were so young!) had a fine ear for music, and their obvious love of the late '60s aesthetic, especially the Byrds, lives up to the hype. Sarah never backed the band for a full album of jangle, and that's too bad, but it just adds to the legend of this single. "Solace" is probably even stronger, but I do find myself listening to "Pristine Christine" more.

Buy "Pristine Christine" on eBay. I found one copy, and you may need to take out a second mortgage to acquire it. As I'm typing this, the single is nearing $600.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 36)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

36. The Pastels - "Comin' Through"

Other Contenders: The band charted with seven sensational singles in the '80s. Until a few days ago I thought "Truck Train Tractor" was the one that would be on this list. Then I immersed myself in all things Pastels and flip-flopped.

Chart Entry: Oct. 31, 1987

Peak Position: No. 6

Comment: There are only a handful of bands on my list still making music that matters. If you have last year's 'Slow Summits,' I think you'll agree the Pastels fall into this intimate group. Ah, so many great songs. Stephen and Co. are probably best known for the material leading up to and including the c86 era, all full of jangle, fuzz and sloppiness, and I like that stuff too, but I think the toned-down sound that emerged in the very late '80s and early '90s is my favorite period. For examples, seek out "Thru' Your Heart," "Firebell Ringing" and "Thank You For Being You." Just before all of that came "Comin' Through," and I just love the orchestration. The use of instruments like glockenspiel, autoharp and cello are a preview of what a more mature Pastels would sound like in later years. Absolutely beautiful.

Buy "Comin' Through" on 'Truckload of Trouble.'

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 37)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

37. Shop Assistants - "Safety Net"

Other Contenders: "All Day Long" is the only other charting single, and that song deserved more than a passing thought for this list.

Chart Entry: Feb. 22, 1986

Peak Position: No. 2

Comment: Shop Assistants were only around for a heartbeat (what a shame there was only one full-length album), but I think their presence is being felt to this day. I won't name names, but there are quite a few bands out there that should be paying a huge debt of gratitude to this Edinburgh quintet. Hey, I'm not knocking it. Every generation of musicians takes from previous ones, and you may as well steal from the best. Doesn't it feel like we are hearing "I Don't Want to Be Friends With You," "All Day Long," "Almost Made It" and "It's Up to You" nearly every time we take a peek at Pitchfork? "Safety Net" is about as loud and as hard as Shop Assistants ever got. So turn it up and listen for... oh, never mind. I said I wouldn't out any of the blatant criminals.

Buy the "Safety Net" 7" single on Discogs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 38)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

38. Hurrah! - "Who'd Have Thought"

Other Contenders: If the debut single "The Sun Shines Here" had charted, that song would be here instead, and it would be much higher on the list.

Chart Entry: Oct. 27, 1984

Peak Position: No. 7

Comment: I could almost take yesterday's copy on Primal Scream, drop it here, and call it a day. The band's first four singles on Kitchenware are brilliant, and they were all compiled on the long out of print 1985 album 'Boxed.' Other than appearances on compilations, it's all I own by Hurrah!, and I have never wanted anything else. In the middle of the decade they seemed like a can't miss, and on some level there were triumphs, but the changes in sound and style were not for me. No disappointments here, however. "Who'd Have Thought" was the band's biggest chart success, and 'Boxed' still gets a plethora of plays from this fan.

Buy "Who'd Have Thought" on 'Sound of Philadelphia.'

Monday, March 24, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 39)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

39. Primal Scream - "Crystal Crescent"

Other Contenders: The band had three charting singles, but this is the only one I considered.

Chart Entry: May 17, 1986

Peak Position: No. 3

Comment: My fandom was brief. In a nutshell, I really liked the first three singles. Primal Scream's best moment, however, was the 90 seconds on the B-side of "Crystal Crescent." I have read a time or two the band didn't think much of this A-side, and you can argue the production leaves a lot to be desired, but I have always found the horns and the chorus to be quite catchy. By "Gentle Tuesday" I had moved on to other bands. Some of you (sorry, Uncle E) will think I left dinner without ever tasting the main course, and just as many of you will think I shouldn't have even bothered with the appetizer. Primal Scream is nothing if not divisive. As for me, I'm all about the jangle, and I feel I excused myself from the table feeling full enough.

Buy "Crystal Crescent" on the 'Creation Soup' box set.

Bonus B-Side: Primal Scream - "Velocity Girl"

Saturday, March 22, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 40)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

40. Electronic - "Getting Away With It"

Other Contenders: This is Electronic's one and only single in the 1980s. It just got in under the wire.

Chart Entry: Dec. 16, 1989

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: This was such a smash it's difficult to recall it as "indie," but I'm sure the folks at Factory were quite pleased when they balanced the check book in 1990. For you trivia buffs out there, this is the first of three singles on my list that miraculously cracked the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart here in America. I'm not talkin' Heatseekers, Modern Rock or any of those minor-league charts... that's the big one! On paper, this is one of the all-time great collaborations, and I don't just mean the A-listers Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr and Neil Tennant, either. For this debut single, let's not forget ABC's David Palmer played drums while Anne Dudley (she of 'Lexicon of Love' fame) arranged and conducted the strings. There would be future singles worthy of a listen, especially "Get the Message" and "Disappointed," but I don't think the all-star outfit ever grabbed me quite like the debut single.

Buy "Getting Away With It" on the reissue of 'Electronic.'

Friday, March 21, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 41)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

41. The Jasmine Minks - "Cold Heart"

Other Contenders: The Jasmine Minks had some fantastic singles in the middle '80s, but "What's Happening" was the band's only other charting single.

Chart Entry: May 10, 1986

Peak Position: No. 17

Comment: This is one of a few Creation Records' "shoulda beens" that missed the fortune and fame they deserved. This song in particular reminds me of fellow Scottish band the Pastels, and the "cold hands, warm heart my dear" lyric gets stuck in my head with such regularity that an omission from this list would have been nothing short of a travesty. I dedicate this one to Dirk, the blogger over at sexyloser. I know you're a big fan of this one as well, and I hope it makes up for choosing "Beatnik Boy" instead of "Talulah Gosh" at No. 46. Cheers.

Buy "Cold Heart" on 'Cut Me Deep - The Anthology 1984-2014.'

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 42)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

42. Razorcuts - "Sorry to Embarrass You"

Other Contenders: "Big Pink Cake" has always been delicious, but my favorite song is probably its B-side, "I'll Still Be There."

Chart Entry: Nov. 15, 1986

Peak Position: No. 10

Comment: They took their name from the closing line of Buzzcocks' "Love You More," but the band's brand of jangle had much more in common with the '60s three Bs... the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the 12-string strum of the Byrds. I prefer the early Subway Organisation singles to the later albums on Creation, but it's all wonderful. There's something about the lyric "Sorry to embarrass you/I thought you might feel the same" that really resonated with the awkward soul that I was... and I guess still am. Razorcuts could have been one of those buried and all but forgotten c86 bands, but the wonderful Matinee Records helped keep the music alive with the must-have compilation 'R is for... Razorcuts' about 12 years ago. If you can find it, get it!

Buy "Sorry to Embarrass You" on 'R is for... Razorcuts.'

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 43)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

43. Felt - "Penelope Tree"

Other Contenders: In the event "Penelope Tree" can't fulfill the duties and responsibilities of being on this list, "Ballad of the Band" is my runner up.

Chart Entry: June 25, 1983

Peak Position: No. 22

Comment: Lawrence and Co. could be the poster boys for the UK Indie Charts. All 10 albums and nearly all 10 singles during the band's 10 years (split between Cherry Red and Creation) spent time on those coveted lists. Now, I haven't always been kind in my assessment of Felt, and on some level even I'm baffled as to why those albums leave me cold, but I certainly know a great song when I hear it... and this one is a beaut! Every couple of years I go back for a listen and a reassessment. Putting this post together will surely have me giving Felt another go.

Buy "Penelope Tree" on 'Stains on a Decade.'

Monday, March 17, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 44)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

44. The Field Mice - "Sensitive"

Other Contenders: "Emma's House" the band's first charting single, certainly wouldn't be out of place on this list.

Chart Entry: March 11, 1989

Peak Position: No. 12

Comment: The title of this non-album single is oh-so Sarah Records, but this song (and "Emma's House," for that matter) had much more in common with something out of Factory. Listeners really took to this one, and it even made the upper reaches of John Peel's 1989 Festive 50 list. The momentum of "Sensitive" helped shoot the 'Snowball' 10" all the way to No. 3 on the Indie Albums Chart in late '89. As you may have surmised by now, I'm a huge fan of Sarah, and the Field Mice are certainly one of the label's biggest success stories, but I have never been able to get into more than 'Snowball' and the singles from that era. The first year of this band was so good, however, I can't help but count them among my favorites.

Buy "Sensitive" on 'Snowball + Singles.'

Friday, March 14, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 45)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

45. McCarthy - "The Well of Loneliness"

Other Contenders: "Frans Hals," the band's first charting single, just about grabbed this spot.

Chart Entry: Oct. 10, 1987

Peak Position: No. 10

Comment: Comrades, if Depeche Mode at No. 48 on this list is one end of the intellectual spectrum, McCarthy at No. 45 is so far on the other end (the left side, obviously) Dave Gahan would need a GPS device to find them. Their song titles sounded like university papers ("The Procession of Popular Capitalism," "Should The Bible Be Banned," "The Vision of Peregrine Worsthorne," to name few), and I admit I didn't know who or what they were singing about much of the time, but I sure felt intelligent as I was schooled on Dutch painters, obscure authors and Marxist views... all to a catchy jangle-pop soundtrack. McCarthy might be known to many as merely a stepping stone to Stereolab, but I always had a soft spot for this earlier incarnation.

Buy "The Well of Loneliness" on 'I Am a Wallet.'

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 46)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

46. Talulah Gosh - "Beatnik Boy"

Other Contenders: The band had four charting singles. I also seriously considered the song "Talulah Gosh" in this spot.

Chart Entry: Dec. 6, 1986

Peak Position: No. 3

Comment: Before there was Tender Trap, Marine Research or Heavenly, there was Talulah Gosh. This song and "Steaming Train" were released simultaneously on 53rd & 3rd as Talulah Gosh's first singles. So, as a little bonus, I will include both songs because they are just so wonderful. As twee goes, perhaps I like the Hit Parade more, but that's the only band that comes to mind that could eclipse the Talulah Gosh family tree.

Buy "Beatnik Boy" on 'Was It Just a Dream?'

Bonus: "Steaming Train"

Monday, March 10, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 47)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

47. Wire - "Eardrum Buzz"

Other Contenders: Wire had nine charting singles in the 1980s, including five that made the top 10, but this was the only one I seriously considered.

Chart Entry: May 6, 1989

Peak Position: No. 5

Comment: I was too young to know about those first three unimpeachable albums when they came out, but I really had no idea what the band was up to in the '80s as I was discovering 'Chairs Missing' and the like. This is the first Wire song I ever heard as it was released, and I was a pretty big fan by then. That's why I have a soft spot for "Eardrum Buzz" to this day. If you aren't from America, you might be surprised to learn this was kind of a hit here. It peaked at No. 2 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart, and I have vivid memories of seeing the fantastic video several times late night on MTV. Check out the clip (and all of the entertaining cameos) below. For the record, that's two consecutive spots occupied by the Mute label.

Buy "Eardrum Buzz" on 'IBTABA.'

Friday, March 7, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 48)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

48. Depeche Mode - "See You"

Other Contenders: There were 23 charting singles during this period, more than any other band, but I only seriously considered the first five for this spot. It could have been any of them.

Chart Entry: Feb. 13, 1982

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: After more than 800 posts with barely a mention of the band, it's time to make a musical confession: I liked Depeche Mode quite a bit as a lad. If this was an albums list, the fellas would never stand a chance, but my record collection doesn't lie. I own 18 12" singles. That's a lot of vinyl to hide. I much preferred the early songs that were chock full of bounce and simplicity. I mean, c'mon, "all I want to do is see you, don't you know that it's true" isn't exactly going to make you think, but I didn't care about any of that when I listened to them. It had a good beat, and you could dance to it, as the kids on "American Bandstand" used to say. One of my fondest memories was the pure bliss of popping in a cassette of 'Catching Up With Depeche Mode' as I drove my mother's station wagon unsupervised for the first time. I know there are many of you out there shaking your heads right now, but without Depeche Mode my list would have no integrity.

While listening to this extended version of "See You," take just a second to remember dancing with your chums without a care in the world. It's a smile.

Buy "See You" on 'A Broken Frame.'

Thursday, March 6, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 49)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

49. Ben Watt - "Some Things Don't Matter"

Other Contenders: None. This was Watt's only solo charting single.

Chart Entry: March 26, 1983

Peak Position: No. 23

Comment: The stripped-down sophisti-pop found on Everything But the Girl's first single was already in the shops by the time Watt's solo album joined it on the shelves, but the same laid-back jazz-guitar that made "Night and Day" a hit also filled the slightly less appreciated 'North Marine Drive.' This song has been quite a fine companion on many a sleepless night. You're going to find trumpet on this countdown from time to time, but I'm fairly certain this is the only sax solo.

Buy "Some Things Don't Matter" on 'North Marine Drive.'

Update: Prolific commenter and pal Echorich mentions a new song from Watt in the comments section. Here it is. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Wonderful.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 50)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

50. Phil Wilson - "Waiting for a Change"

Other Contenders: None. This was Wilson's only solo charting single.

Chart Entry: March 14, 1987

Peak Position: No. 36

Comment: After the demise of the June Brides, Phil Wilson released this, the first of two singles, on Creation. Sadly, we wouldn't hear from him again for 20 years. At the time, this "twangy" change in sound was shocking, but it has aged very well.

Buy "Waiting for a Change" on 'Every Conversation: The Story of the June Brides & Phil Wilson.'