These three wise men came bearing gifts in 1983. Were these guys mummers? Here was the press release Virgin Records put out about 11 days before the 7" hit the shelves. They gave us all a little hint of their identities with the opening line from "Twelve Days of Christmas."
Three Wise Men turn up on Virgin, not Mary, but Records
"On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree... "
Yes, Virgin enters into the festive spirit with this seasonal offering, ‘Thanks for Christmas’ by The Three Wise Men. The song was penned by well-known writing team Kaspar/Melchior/Balthazar, the Far East's answer to Holland/Dozier/Holland. Production was by The Three Wise Men and the Good Lord himself. (released Nov 21st Virgin VS642)
Not surprisingly, the release hits the decks shrouded in mystery, intrigue and much speculation. The ‘What's On In Bethlehem’-style sleeve may well proclaim ‘The Three Wise Men’, but this non-de-plume cunningly conceals the identity of one of Virgin's top pop groups! Not that we're telling you which band. Could it be Culture Club, Human League, Heaven 17, China Crisis or even Slapp Happy? Over to you! Just good clean Virgin fun to keep you guessing right into the New Year. It's certainly countdown to Christmas party time. Cheers!
November 10th 1983
There is no way anybody could have mistaken this trio for Culture Club, Human League, Heaven 17 or China Crisis. Hope this one brightens your holiday. My sincerest wishes to you for a happy Christmas.
When you're an old guy like me, hanging on to the past like a washed-up small-town prom king, reissues are as at least as important as the new releases. Fortunately, it was another banner year for this fogey. There were a few fantastic box sets from Cherry Red, particularly if you were a fan of indie pop, punk or shoegaze, but there is no doubt my favorite label for looking back goes to Firestation Records. I picked up eight obscure and jangly reissues from the German label this year. Four of them made this list, and three just missed the cut. Apologies to Spy, Emily and the Man Upstairs.
There are two bands here that had blowout reissues campaigns in 2016. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet had three albums released with bonus tracks via Yep Roc, and Crowded House had a whopping seven albums get the deluxe-edition treatment. I love them all, but for the purposes of this list, I chose one favorite from each of them. You'll notice there is a tie for the top spot. I decided to go that way because the best song I heard this year was "Wonderful Lie" by Glasgow's the Hardy Boys, but I just couldn't bring myself to give a brilliant but measly four-song 12" from '89 the gold medal when every other spot on the list is at least a full album (or more).
A few of these bands may be new to you. Where I could, I linked to an order page that might give you more information about the album. Also, just past the list, you can find a few songs to stream. As always, I would love to hear what reissues you fancied this year, too.
Yes, 2016 was awful, but you wouldn't know by this list. Most years, I end up with a top 25 or 30, but I could have come up with a Festive 50 quite easily. I settled on a solid 40 filled with C86 vets (Wolfhounds, Close Lobsters) and those who are keeping that sound alive (Real Numbers, the Holiday Crowd). There are surprising comebacks (Lush, the Seashells, the Monkees), fresh projects (Simon and Wendy Pickles as the Perfect English Weather and Yves Altana of Chameleons/Patrick Fitzgerald of Kitchens of Distinction as Oskar's Drum) and a couple of tough goodbyes (Allo Darlin' and David Bowie). This list proves Australia is indie-pop central right now (the Goon Sax, Chook Race, Community Radio), and Shelflife Records is label of the year. That's enough. Let's get to the music. I'll conclude with this: I never would have thought a Black Sabbath cover could end up on a list like this, let alone in my top 5!
That headline didn't quite roll off the tongue like I thought it would. Apologies to Phil are in order, but not just from me. For at least three weeks now we have been subjected to contemporary pop stars making a mockery of our favorite holiday songs. I could go on and on, but I'll keep the Christmas crankiness to a single lump of coal. Nobody, and I mean nobody, should attempt "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." It was done to perfection in 1963. The rest of you lot are wasting precious time and resources.
If, like me, you have had it with the same old same old from Mariah, Taylor and the lot, then I bring you glad tidings. From the "City of Angels" comes Rat Fancy, the latest member of HHBTM's stable of stars, with a truly original holiday song that's destined to become part of your festive season for years to come. "You Stole My Xmas Sweater" is all hand claps, head bobs and betrayal. In other words, indie pop at its best. It's being offered for free on their Bandcamp page here, but if the mood should strike, don't be afraid to toss a few shekels in the cup. 'Tis the season, you know.
Let's say good riddance to this less than stellar year already and look forward to a 2017 full of new music from the likes of Rat Fancy. HHBTM has announced debut EP "Suck A Lemon" is on the docket.
Can you say you're not that big of a fan if a band released 19 singles between 1981 and 1987 and you have 18 of them? No, I suppose not. Well, then, I guess my days as a Depeche Mode denier are over. I believe Depeche Mode have only graced these pages two or three times in seven-and-a-half years, and I'm sure one of those stories must have been bobbing my head to a cassette of 'Catching Up With Depeche Mode' in my mom's Chevy Caprice station wagon the day I got my driver's license. That was 30-plus years ago, and I still have it. Can you imagine how awful it must sound?
Mrs. LTL likes Depeche Mode, but we come at it from different eras. I enjoy the simplicity of the early years. She likes the arena rock. Ooh, that's low. Forget I said that. We have both volumes of the singles collections on CD, '81-'85 and '86-'98. More than once, going out the door, she's yelled, "bring the Depeche Mode," meaning the one from the later years, but she didn't specify, did she? It only takes about two seconds of that synth opening from "Dreaming of Me" for her to realize her mistake. Of course, if you knew my wife, you would know it really is my mistake. Here's one from the 'Black Celebration' era. That's getting close to the end for me. The band was pretty dark by this time, but this song is downright optimistic.
Now for something from the psychedelic side of C86. The Dentists caught my eye 30 years ago for a silly reason. I liked the name of the album from which today's song was taken. I had no idea at the time 'Some People Are On The Pitch They Think It's All Over It Is Now' was a reference to Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous call at the 1966 World Cup. Hmm, I can't seem to recall who won that one. Take it easy. I'm kidding. You take notice when you're a kid and see titles like "She Dazzled Me With Basil," "Writhing on the Shagpile" and, of course, "Where's My Chicken, You Bastard?" from the brilliantly named 'You and Your Bloody Oranges' EP. You need to see the cover to appreciate it. Here you go.
I didn't follow the Dentists at all after 1987 or so, but the name Bob Collins from the band has continually popped up on other projects through the years, and the Dentists even garnered quite a respectable following here in America around the early '90s. I bring all of this up because Collins released an album under his own name last year I did hear, and it turned out to be a brilliant piece of indie pop. Give it a listen here. Now on to "I Had an Excellent Dream," a standout from the Dentists' debut album. To these ears, it owes much to "For Your Love" from the Yardbirds, particularly the background vocals, but that's not a bad sound to emulate.
What a surprise... more jangle from Scotland! You never would have guessed. If you have a problem with "jangle" to describe del Amitri, then the band's self-titled debut album from 1985 must have eluded you. It's like nothing else the lads ever did, and it's also the only piece of plastic you will find by them on my shelf. Sometimes one is enough. Perfect from the first note to the last. Apparently, Chrysalis didn't feel the same way. One album in, the label dumped them..
A long trip to America followed, and del Amitri returned with a new look, a new sound and another major-label deal. Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid, but they didn't need me. The sophomore album. 'Waking Hours,' was a smash. For me, it's a familiar tale of going against the grain to be repeated over and over in this series.
As you listen to these, you're bound to be reminded of favorites like early Aztec Camera and 'Swoon'-era Prefab Sprout. For you younger readers out there (and is there any chance of that?), think Cats on Fire. The singles were "Hammering Heart" and "Sticks and Stones Girl," but the following two have been my go-to songs for decades, particularly "Deceive Yourself." I dedicate this one to Friend of Rachel Worth. He waxed poetic about this album quite a few times at his old blog, Cathedral of Sound, and he did it far better than I ever could.
If you're lucky enough to say goodbye to Allo Darlin' at one of the band's final shows this weekend in London, don't forget your old pal Brian. Please pick me up a copy of their 7" swan song, "Hymn on the 45". That is all.
That post on Dead or Alive was so quick that I have time for a double shot from the vinyl collection today.
How about this for a novel idea? Combine an album of new and established acts with an over-sized 64-page page magazine attached to the inside of the gatefold sleeve. There will be features and interviews with the bands on the album, as well as travel pieces, music news and album, concert and movie reviews. Could something like this work? Well, Debut, a monthly that started in Germany and expanded to the UK, had a nice go at it for about a year between 1984 and 1985 ('83 in Germany, I believe). There's something to be said for in-depth reading about a band you've never heard while actually hearing them. Of course, now, many of us do that every day online, but this was somewhat new territory back then. The concept didn't quite work for me because, put simply, the music wasn't interesting enough. Every album had a couple of nuggets, including B-sides and alternative versions, but 'C81' and 'C86' these were not. There were far too many Billy Oceans and Wang Chungs in the mix.
Here are a couple of songs from issue 03. If you're interested in anything else from this one, I'll be happy to rip it for you. Just give me a shout. That song from Bourgie Bourgie is an alt version, and the song from Prefab Sprout was a B-side from the 'Swoon' era. I skipped the one from the fabulous Friends Again because they will get their own day a little later in this series.
Taking a page out of Drew's book today. It's Friday... let's dance! I know what you're thinking. Do I really need a nine-plus minute version of this song? Yes. Yes you do. I suppose you could go with the six minute "Up Ducky Mix," but it's nice to have those three extra minutes to jump around the room before having to deal with the turntable. There's the added bonus of a poster included with the "Ducky" 12", but I wouldn't have had the nerve to put Pete Burns on my bedroom wall. My father was already looking at me with one raised eyebrow most of 1986. No apologies for this one. Loved it then. Love it now. Rest in peace, Mr. Burns.
I have always had a thing about music from Scotland. Many more times than not, I have been rewarded for taking a chance and buying records from that part of the world. Occasionally, you lose some. While I haven't quite relegated the first two albums from Deacon Blue to the lose-some pile, I have just given 'Raintown' and 'When the World Knows Your Name' a proper airing for the first time in decades and come away with little inspiration to gush about how I loved these albums in my youth.
I would have been in my final year of high school when the debut hit the shelves. As I'm sitting here listening today, I'm amazed the 17-year-old me got into something with such an adult-contemporary feel. For many reasons, 'Raintown' will always have an important place in the hearts of those that call Glasgow home, and the album cover alone makes this worth picking up at a used shop, but I have a feeling it will be many more years before I give either one of these albums another spin. 'When the World Knows Your Name' feels like a blatant attempt at Hitsville... and it worked! "Real Gone Kid" is what got me to buy it, and I have to admit it got me bobbing my head today.
It would take a yeoman's effort to top the 1980 indie-pop classic "Getting Nowhere Fast" from Girls At Our Best! In 1987, the Wedding Present turned up the volume and intensity, creating quite an argument about which group had the better version. I'm not sure that debate will ever be settled.
In the meantime, a couple of years ago, Brighton band the Fireworks dared to enter the fray, releasing 300 copies of the song on a playable single-sided flexi postcard. Now that's nerve! I was lucky enough to happen across a copy today, and I was as impressed with it as last year's debut album, 'Switch Me On,' and this year's 10", 'Black & Blue.' It appears their single of 'Getting Nowhere Fast' is sold out now, but you can still buy it as a download for about a buck. Highly recommended. What's your favorite version?
As the tryptophan wears off and you decide what to do with the rest of your holiday, why not consider a trip to your local mom-and-pop record shop? In no particular order, here are my top five releases for Record Store Day's Black Friday celebration.
Artist: Chet Baker Album: 'Love For Sale: Live at the Rising Sun Celebrity Club' Quantity: 4,000 copies Format: Double LP
I won't pretend this was from his heyday, but the tracklist is stellar. Highlights from the show recorded live at Montreal's Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club, circa 1978, include "There Will Never Be Another You, "Snowbound" and "Love For Sale." This release is part of a series from the famed but defunct jazz and blues club that already highlighted performances from Sam "Lightnin" Hopkins and Muddy Waters earlier this year.
Artist: The Bangles Album: 'Ladies and Gentlemen... The Bangles' Quantity: 2,000 copies Format: LP
I know I wrote about this one earlier in the year when it came out on CD, but if you waited, the vinyl release is really the time to pull the trigger. The album captures both sides of the band's phenomenal 1981 single, when they were known as the Bangs, as well as the 1982 self-titled EP. If you don't already own those two on the original vinyl, then this is a slam dunk. Even if you do, there are a few other rare nuggets from the same time period that have never been released.
These four non-LP tracks are sure to be a nice companion piece to the 'Good Times' comeback album released earlier this year. Loved the songs, but I was underwhelmed by the quality of my copy of 'Good Times!' Let's hope the red opaque vinyl of this EP sounds a little better.
Artist: Ramones Album: 'Live at the Roxy, August 12, 1976' Quantity: 3,000 copies Format: LP
The title of the album is all you need to know, really. Compiled from two live shows performed that day and lovingly pressed on 180 gram vinyl. Many of your favorites from the band's first two albums are here. You can never have enough live albums from those early years.
Artist: Otis Redding Album: 'Live at the Whiskey A Go Go' Quantity: 2,250 copies Format: Double LP
If the recently released six-CD set of 'Live at the Whiskey A Go Go: The Complete Recordings' was just too much for you (either economics or overkill, such as 10 takes of "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction"), this 19-song highlights version might hit the spot. The double album is printed on 180-gram red vinyl and is housed in a gatefold jacket that features extensive liner notes and original artwork. The recordings of Redding’s legendary three-night stand at Hollywood’s Whisky A Go Go in 1966 have been newly mixed and remastered from the original 4-track tapes. The following song is from 'The Complete Recordings.' So, I can't be sure if this is the version that appears on the LP, but it will give you a taste of the time.
I'm off to enjoy the holiday. I'll be back next week with more selections from my vinyl collection. Be good.
You know and love the Popguns for indie classics like Festive 50 standout "Landslide," "Still a World Away" and "Waiting for the Winter." Nearly two decades after their last album, the Brighton band accomplished what few dare to try. Their comeback album 'Pop Fiction' not only tread on familiar ground to please the most discerning fans, but also created a sound deemed my 2014 album of the year. Okay, the NME my blog is not, but I was far from alone in singing the praises of 'Pop Fiction.'
Simon and Wendy Pickles of the Popguns now return with a side project, calling themselves the Perfect English Weather. New album 'Isobar Blues' is a perfect storm of ballad and boom, and all are part of a warm front that drenches you with a downpour of pop hooks. With the album set for release on Friday (or right now if you order from our friends at Matinée Recordings), it felt like a good time to get in from the cold for a cozy catch up with Simon and Wendy.
Linear Tracking Lives: There were hints with the 'Still Waiting for the Winter EP' that this tone could be coming, but let's start with the obvious. How did 'Isobar Blues' become something other than the next album from the Popguns? Another indie-pop power couple, Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey, recently had a similar pursuit with the Catenary Wires. Did you find any inspiration from their intimate 10" record 'Red Red Skies'?
Simon Pickles: It was a couple of years ago that Wendy went up to the attic and recorded about 12 songs as acoustic demos for the rest of the Popguns, and after listening to those rough recordings, I thought that someday the world should hear her performances that way. Very soon after that I did indeed hear and buy the Catenary Wires album, and a few weeks later asked Rob & Amelia to play with The Popguns at a gig of ours near Brighton where we managed to put together 3 UK matinee acts, including Richard Preece (aka Lovejoy). It was a really memorable evening and having seen CW live a few times now I'm enormously impressed by them, and they are really quite musically sophisticated behind their misplaced modesty -- Rob is an excellent guitarist. Of course, the Perfect English Weather album includes some more "full on" guitar pop, but they certainly gave us a bit of confidence to do this record. And yes, England is so small that us "indie-legends" see each other all the time.
Wendy Pickles: Seeing Amelia & Rob play certainly did give me confidence that Simon & I could make it work as a duo. They are always entertaining and engaging, and I hope we can emulate them. It would be wonderful to gig together (a Mr. & Mrs. tour?) and perhaps sing a little with Amelia -- it's been a long time since the anti-poll tax cover of "Bye Bye Baby"! I was also inspired by Dean & Britta's low-key simplicity, though as Simon says we ended up going a bit wild with drums & bass on some songs!
LTL: 'Isobar Blues' is gorgeous and destined to be at or near the top of my list of the year's best albums. I will resist the urge to ask you about every song, but I have to know more about "Spirited Away". We have lost a great many artists this year. Is this about a specific musician or the collective loss of so many talented people?
Simon: During the year which this album was written I was working next to a beautiful big park in Brighton where I'd spend lunchtimes listening to music on my 'phones whilst sitting on park benches and drifting off to those places that music takes you. It was more the fact that music and ideas live on long beyond their moment of creation that inspired the "spirited away" theme, but obviously the death of Bowie was such a big event around that time, and it's easy to imagine him as the song's subject. Having said that, my own bizarre fantasy for the song was around the possible passing of Steven Patrick and how that could feel for those of us for whom he loomed so large. Then the actual title probably came from my son's Studio Ghibli film collection. But I usually say that songs are often not about things, they are inspired by them and become something else. Then the meaning is in the listening, not the writing.
LTL: Right down to the font, it seems cover art and layout are very important to you. I loved the aesthetics of your last album and single "Lovejunky" so much that I tracked down Jason Brooks' 'Paris Sketchbook.' 'Isobar Blues' has an equally intriguing and beautiful look. What's the relationship between the cover and the music this time around? Were you moved by any covers from your youth when you adopted this look?
Simon: Jimmy [of Matinée Recordings] would probably laugh at this question. Throw enough mud and eventually some will stick. We tried a few other covers around the (slightly corny) idea of weather and weren't really convinced, but we included the Glastonbury muddy boots shot (taken by Wendy last year) as a possible inner sleeve when we sent it to Jimmy. Luckily he saw the possibility in this and came up with the monotone blue cover which we loved immediately. Obviously (to us anyway) it's very Smiths from a monotone point of view and fits the title and songs perfectly. 'Isobar Blues' is probably an awful pun to most people, but as there's only 2 of us, we really don't care, and there's nobody to argue with us!
Wendy: Regarding the cover, that photo sums up last year's Glastonbury for me -- it shows how everyone embraced the mud and made it part of the experience. Good old British spirit!! It was an amazing time, particularly because the Brexit decision was made that very weekend. It felt as though we were in a safe bubble of like-minded folk -- the overall mood was one of comradeship and positivity in the face of gloom and doom. When the U.S. election result was announced last week, I wished I could go back inside my Glastonbury bubble!
LTL: The Popguns have been busier than ever, and I hear from reliable sources there are a slew of songs in the hopper. Will the Perfect English Weather find time to hit the stage? If so, how would that show look? Duo? Unplugged?
Simon: Yes, there is a Popguns album recorded and basically ready to go, and TPEW allowed us to get some of the dreamier stuff out of the way and do a proper indie-rock album for that. TPEW will probably play a show or two in the UK this winter in Brighton, but we'll have to see if anyone wants us after that. Dates with Catenary Wires might be a bit too much with two husband and wife duos, but I'd be up for it. And I still want to play "Shallow" with Amelia, even though she refused last time we played together in London* -- I'd learned the chords and everything!
*This was a "Totally Acoustic" evening (with MJ Hibbert) and I think you could find recordings of it on the web and even on iTunes.
LTL: Thanks for taking the time to talk about the gorgeous album 'Isobar Blues'. Your generosity knows no bounds!
From Rikers Island correction officer and wedding singer to Grammy-nominated superstar, the fascinating tale of late bloomer Sharon Jones will no doubt inspire the next great soul-revival vocalist just as the career of Mr. Dynamite, James Brown, once showed her the way.
I had a surreal moment this morning when I learned of Miss Jones' death. After hopping into bed last night, I decided to listen to one more song. With the lights already off, I fumbled for the iPod on the nightstand and played Jones' "I Learned the Hard Way," which Mrs. LTL and I thoroughly enjoyed as we drifted off. I don't have any idea why that song popped into my head. I hadn't listened to the Dap-Kings in ages. When the alarm on my phone went off this morning and I quickly scanned the headlines from my pillow, well, the news was just too much. After a day of reflection and the realization she had already physically left us when I listened to her song, I took it to mean she'll never really be gone. The music makes her immortal. It's tough to imagine that firecracker ever resting, but rest in peace, Miss Jones.
As I flip through my records for this series, there are some bands that bring a different level of excitement as I see who's next. Today is one of those days, but what to play? So much to choose from. Surely, something from their salad days, but I can't ignore the fact there was a fruitful comeback this decade. OK, here goes...
The dB's are one my biggies, particularly the 'Stands for Decibels'/'Repercussion' era, but I found there was still plenty to like after Chris Stamey left the band. Peter Holsapple is a pop genius in his own right. Let's start with an A-side penned by Holsapple and released in 1981 that wasn't part of the original release of 'Stands for Decibels.' The B-side, one of Stamey's manic left turns he was known for at the time, was a deep cut on the album, but every song on the album was perfection.
The dB's called it a day after the 1987 album 'The Sound of Music,' but the fellas began popping up with an occasional new song and show around 2005. Rumors of a new album started surfacing around 2011, and a 7" surfaced for Record Store Day. Back then I was one of those standing in line when the doors opened, and I snagged my copy of "Picture Sleeve." We were told the A-side would not be on the new album, making it a must for die-hard fans. This has become one of my favorite songs from the band. Here are a few of the lyrics I like best. Perhaps you have felt this way a time or two yourself.
Fell in love with a girl on a picture sleeve
That I saw in an ad in the NME
Found her in the back of the indie bin
She played the drums she could make the drumsticks spin
They wrapped around her fingers as she counted it in
Sitting back with her cool sardonic grin
Put her up on the shelf next to Matchstick Men
When I walk in the room there she is again
Fell in love with a girl I couldn't deceive
Fell in love with a girl on a picture sleeve
The B-side, incorrectly stamped as the A-side on my copy, was a rare track written by drummer Will Rigby. "Write Back" would later appear on 2012 comeback album 'Falling Off the Sky.' What was supposed to be filler turned out to be my favorite song on the album. There would be a four-song EP for Record Store Day 2013, but the dB's have been quiet ever since, although Stamey continues to release stellar solo albums.
The early bird really does get the worm. I subscribe to Lush's email blasts, and the statement we received yesterday was to announce the band was hanging it up again. There should be no mourning. This short-lived reunion was like manna from heaven. Wholly unexpected and fulfilling. Best part is we will be able to recall this era forevermore with the gorgeous 'Blind Spot EP.' That would have been reward enough, but yesterday's message of the split also included the news of another release to chronicle this period together.
On Sept. 26, Lush performed its first American live radio session in about 20 years for KCRW's show "Morning Becomes Eclectic." The eight tracks have been gathered for a limited CD release though the band. Here is where that damn early bird rears its ugly head. I went to bed last night with thoughts of posting this news in the morning and, of course, placing my preorder. Well, you can guess what happened. Sold out. Gone. Vanished. For those of you who had the gumption yesterday, your copy should ship around Nov. 28, three days after Lush's last performance. Those of you in the Manchester area are in for a memorable show, I'm sure. Here is the tracklist for the KCRW appearance.
2. Lit Up
3. Out of Control
5. Desire Lines
7. Sweetness and Light
You could really hear through the music this chapter was not your ordinary reunion cash grab. Thank you to Lush.
Another quick one because I only have a couple of singles and one album from today's pick. I got into the Darling Buds early on because the Welsh band was often compared to the Primitves in the press, a band I loved from their Lazy days. Although I never got into the Buds in quite the same way, "If I Said" was a great first listen, and the 1988 debut album 'Pop Said...' remains a fun album that really got my head bopping last night. If given sodium Pentothal, I might confess Andrea Lewis fronting the outfit had something to do with my affection, but only a pig would make such a proclamation. So, I won't.
'Pop Said...' was a a bona fide hit in the UK, and the album spawned a whopping five singles between early '88 and the summer of '89. "Let's Go Round There" got quite a bit of airplay here in America, but the one I liked best was the last single. Upon listening to it yesterday, I'm sure it was because the song sounded most like something from the Tracy Tracy and PJ Court playbook. In recent years, Welsh resident the Robster at Is This the Life? has featured songs from later in the Darling Buds' discography, and his argument for picking up the two albums that followed was quite persuasive.
Another in a long line of uncomfortable confessions. Yes, I have some Terence Trent D'Arby on the shelf. What can I say, really? This artist has come up a few times in recent years on the blogs I read, particularly CC at Charity Chic Music. With only a few exceptions, I was pleasantly surprised at the response. My favorite comment came from the Swede with "total bonkersness interspersed with utter brilliance." Truth is, I didn't know about his arrogance and eccentricities for a bit, and I was able to just enjoy the music without all of the noise. If I had known some of the outrageous claims about his importance in the history of pop, perhaps I wouldn't have made it past the debut album, which the artist said was better than 'Sgt. Pepper.' As it is, I only know his first three works. My two-sentence review: Each has a handful of top tunes, but I'm not sure I could recommend any of D'Arby's albums. Pick a few songs from your favorite online source, or wait for a nice best-of package.
"Wishing Well" made it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1987, and D'Arby nearly matched the feat in the UK. Still sounds pretty good to these ears, and I have to say Martyn Ware did quite a job producing 'Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D'Arby.' Let's listen to the epic eight-minute version from my 12" released in the American market. Not too many of the '80s bells and whistles, and I imagine this was fun to dance to in the clubs.
Quick update. You may recall more than two months ago I went on a rant about how I couldn't find a vinyl copy of the Wedding Present's new double album 'Going, Going...' anywhere on this side of the Atlantic. Loyal reader (and former pal!) Misterprime chimed in with this soul-crushing nugget: "At the risk of rubbing it in a little, I bought the Wedding Present from good ol' Rough Trade here in Nottingham over a week ago - and it's a thing of true beauty..." Well, I can finally forgive Misterprime because the music gods have finished teaching me a lesson on patience and perseverance. Athens-based HHBTM Records has come to the rescue for those of us an ocean away from Weddoes HQ. You can preorder the cinematic masterpiece now. The official release is next Friday, November 18. Don't dawdle. This is a run of 500 copies.
In other news, HHBTM has a couple of other Gedge-related projects available on vinyl we thankfully no longer have to label tough finds. In 2015, the Wedding Present's 2012 album 'Valentina' got a complete reworking by his other band, Cinerama, and it's a completely different but beautiful journey I highly recommend you pick up with 'Going, Going...' Order here.
I don't want to forget 'Take Fountain' either. If you missed the Wedding Present's 2005 album, here's your chance to make this purchase a perfect trifecta. I know it seems like America is falling apart, but when the Wedding Present gets finally gets its due over here, you can't help but feel a little more hopeful.
Nov. 17 Update: Just got word there will be a delay. The new release date, according to HHBTM, is Dec. 2. Not a big surprise, is it? We all know how these things go. Let's continue to root and support these indie labels!
No messing about today. I'm not in the mood. Let's just get to it. The soundtrack to the 1981 movie 'Dance Craze' features some of the best from ska's second wave performing live, and all but two of these acts will get their own day later in this series. Lately, I feel like I have been focusing on albums from my youth that haven't had much play this century. For me, bands like the (English) Beat, Madness, the Selecter and the Specials never get old, and I still play them as much as I ever did. Bad Manners might be an exception, but I do love the horns on this particular song. As for the Bodysnatchers, their entire discography consists of two singles, but both of them are keepers. "Easy Life" has the kind of message that made the Specials famous. Many of the ladies in the Bodysnatchers would be gracing the charts just a year later as the Belle Stars.
In June 2010, I had a quick series on the second wave called Ska Week. Inspired name, eh? To this day, they are my most viewed posts. Apparently, I'm not alone in my love for these bands.
I will resist the urge to pen more posts about a certain team that has made my dreams come true, but my roller coaster of emotions about the Cubs finally making it to the promised land has me thinking about records. How would I feel if I got all of the elusive vinyl I have been searching for all of my life? Do I really want the euphoric feeling of finding that rare single, or am I hooked on the hunt? On some level, would there be a letdown after it was all over... a sort of "now what" restlessness? Something to ponder as I got what I wanted in the baseball world.
If money is no object (you are blessed), our online lives have made it much easier to catch our white whales, but I try to resist (and sometimes fail) to play that way. I'm old school. For me, there is no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than going through the racks at a flea market or mom-and-pop shop... searching, hoping and wishing today is the day you find that obscure relic and at a bargain price that almost pops you out of your shoes when you see it. Why do I look left, then right and sheepishly almost try to hide the record as if someone may snatch it out of my now sweaty hands? It has been a while since I had one of those moments.
Audience participation time. Take it in any direction you want. Tell us about one you caught or the one that keeps getting away? How much did you spend? How much is too much? Can you be perfectly content with a single or album that's been reissued, or do you need the original? From dozens of examples, here are a few of mine:
The Siddeleys What Went Wrong This Time 7"
Medium Cool Records
I have all three songs on a terrific comp from Matinée to keep me company until I find it at the right price.
We conclude the letter C with a band I was an obsessive fan of for a relatively short window of time... at least when you consider they have been around for more than 35 years. What got me interested in the Cure was "Let's Go to Bed," a single that came out in 1982 but which I didn't know about until seeing a video for it in the summer of '84. I picked up the brief eight-song compilation 'Japanese Whispers' shortly thereafter, and I was hooked. With the poppy "Let's Go to Bed," "The Walk" and "The Lovecats" highlighting the set, I had little hint of their dark beginnings. I was all caught up with the early stuff by 1985, however, when they released what I think is their best album.
I know there are some die-hard fans of the Cure that read this blog, and this is where I will lose many of them. 'The Head on the Door' is the only album by the Cure I love. Some may ask, "What about 'Disintegration' and 'Wish?'" As I said in the opening, I was an obsessive, but only for a little while. The end of the line for me ended up being 'Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me' and the singles surrounding that album. So, what happened? Well, while I was in high school, the Cure became a thing. They were so big, in fact, a lot of Neanderthals started popping up in classes wearing band T-shirts and such. These dudes were in the same cliques that bullied the weak and called them fags. I don't think Robert Smith would have approved. Unfortunately, this wasn't a case of music bringing people closer together, and I found myself unable to root for the Cure in light of their newfound popularity on this side of the Atlantic.
It's all water under the bridge now, and I really enjoyed pulling out my Cure records this week. Here are a few from around my favorite era. The live versions of "Kyoto Song" and "A Night Like This" are from the B-side of the "Catch" 12" single. They were recorded at Théâtre antique d'Orange in the French countryside in August of 1986. Going back a bit further to, perhaps, my all-time Cure song, here is also a live take of "Charlotte Sometimes" taken from the 1984 album 'Concert.'
And now the musical skeletons really start to come out of the closet. It ain't all C86 and indie pop on the shelves, folks. I have a plethora of commercial-pop records from the early '80s, many which I have already skipped out of sheer embarrassment, but I have decided to include Culture Club because the band has a special place in the heart of someone else in the LTL abode.
There are four singles from Culture Club in my music room, all from either 1982 or 1983, but there are many more Culture Club artifacts around the house, from music to books to aged and worn magazine articles, that belong to Mrs. LTL. She had tried to see Culture Club many times through the years and to meet Boy George at personal appearances and book signings, but she was denied by cancellations of every ilk, from illness to visa issues, each and every time.
In recent years, Culture Club reunited, and I assured her she would see the idols from her youth. Near the end of 2014, the band was scheduled to tour America, but the closest stop from Seattle was going to be Oakland. We threw caution to the wind and bought five airline tickets and booked a couple of rooms for a long weekend in San Francisco. This included a ticket for my mother back in Illinois so she could watch our children during the show. It also meant pulling the kids out of school (good parents, huh?) and many other sacrifices. The day before we were scheduled to fly out the tour was cancelled. Boy George had serious throat issues requiring surgery. We took the trip anyway, but the air of disappointment hung there for Mrs. LTL, particularly on the night of the cancelled show.
In the summer of 2015, Culture Club returned to the Bay Area to play the Greek in Berkeley. Another big trip was out of the question, but the day before the show Mrs. LTL decided to go solo. She cashed in some air miles and bought a ticket on the secondary market. She stayed at a nearby hotel and flew home the next morning with a glow and no regrets.
Of course, after all that, Culture Club returned to America this past summer, and they played at a venue so near our house we could ride bikes there. Although I don't consider myself much of a fan. I figured I owed my wife for the dozens of shows I had dragged her to during our decades together. Everything fell into place. The kids were covered because it happened to coincide with my mother's annual August visit to boot. Mostly, I see sad-sack bands that play sad-sack music to sad-sack kids. My two-sentence review: Even though Culture Club's best days were in the rear-view mirror, I was taken by how much fun everyone was having... on stage and in the crowd. I had forgotten it could be that way.
There were many albums I went to great lengths to hide from my parents, but this was the top of that heap. For a while there, in my immature 15-year-old brain, I was a punk, but how hardcore could a kid with few wants and no needs be among the cornfields of Illinois? The Crucifucks' self-titled 1984 album, however, was the real deal. There was much to rail against in the midst of the conservative Reagan era, and these fed-up lads from Lansing, Michigan, had a particular penchant for ripping the three Cs... capitalists, Christians and cops. There's no way I understood all of the politics, but I did know this was subversive shit, and the anti-authoritarian non-conformist in me loved their gall and gumption. It was merely a bonus that the music was as intriguing as the message.
If you have never heard the Crucifucks before, what you'll notice from the first note is how good the album sounds. This isn't lo-fi DIY punk recorded in the basement, and you can thank Jello Biafra's legendary label Alternative Tentacles for that, as well as the producer known as Spot. He's famous for working behind the glass of your favorite recordings on SST during the label's heyday. Doc Dart's voice is of the love it or hate it variety. It's shrill, whiny and perfect for this kind of antagonism. He really gets under your skin. The one member of the band you do know is Steve Shelley. After his time with the Crucifucks, he moved on to play drums for Sonic Youth.
Let's listen to all of side A. There is a continuing story playing out before almost every song that pits the band against the local police. They have a show coming up the authorities and media are worried about. Mr. Dart decides to have some fun with the controversy. I think you'll enjoy it. If you are digesting this post at the office, beware. You may take that garbage can in your cubicle and throw it through the window while screaming about "the man."
I feel like I have had two separate lives following Marshall Crenshaw. I discovered him in 1983 with the video for "Whenever You're on My Mind." To this day, it is still my favorite song by him. I bought the sophomore album 'Field Day' with money from my paper route. I was so taken with the songs that I quickly collected a little more cash and bought the self-titled first album later that same week. Before long, I was picking up singles for the B-sides. In other words, I was a fan. Then a funny thing happened. I just stopped. Moved on. I continued to play those first two albums religiously, but I never bought another Crenshaw album for many years.
My malaise for music during much of the '90s has already been well documented on these pages, So, I won't get into all of that again, but one day in 1996 I went to one of those sterile book-music-coffee megastores popular at the time with a few bucks in my pocket. A Crenshaw album on the shelf of new releases caught my eye. I didn't see anything else that day that interested me. With little excitement, I surrendered and bought my first Crenshaw album in 13 years. The sweet sounds of 'Miracle of Science' took me right back to those albums from my youth. In fact, some of the songs were written back then, but that's a story for another day. Point is, it got me on a Crenshaw kick. I began acquiring all of the albums that I missed. There have been a few new releases and an EP subscription series along the way too. Although the music did morph through the years, I have enjoyed every record to varying degrees. I have also taken in many of Crenshaw's live shows the past 20 years. In fact, he's right up there with Elvis Costello and Wilco as my most seen artists.
I root for Crenshaw because I think I would like him. He's the kind of guy I would want to talk about music with while nursing our beers. Crenshaw has an encyclopedic knowledge of many genres, and he has worked with many other artists I admire, such as Graham Maby, Mitch Easter, Don Dixon and his brother Robert, to name but a few. Like Costello, he has helped me discover music from days of yore I would never have found without him. For that, I'm forever grateful.
Today's picks are a little on the rare side... or at least a couple of them used to be before Crenshaw's first album got the deluxe treatment in 2000. From 1982, here is a promo 12" single of "Cynical Girl." Sorry, folks, that song is the same as the album version. The first B-side is a classic made famous by Buddy Holly and recorded by Crenshaw for a show on WPLR in Connecticut. Try to ignore the quintessential DJ voice. The other is simply a non-album track of the highest quality.
Let's move ahead one year to the 'Field Day' era. The 'U.S. Remix' EP is a curious collection that only die-hard fans would probably have any interest in... and maybe not even then. Through the years, Crenshaw himself has expressed a dislike for it. The A-side contains three songs from 'Field Day' that were mixed and edited by John Luong. Although the '80s flourishes are not as blatant as many songs were treated when remixed during this period, it is quite a deviation from Steve Lillywhite's vision on the album. Some have been quite hard on ol' Steve for his production when compared to Crenshaw's debut. Personally, I think 'Field Day' is perfect. Side A of this EP ends with a live cover of "Little Sister" taken from Crenshaw's appearance on "The King Biscuit Flower Hour" circa Dec. 2, 1983. Side B is "For Her Love" with more '80s production and an additional 1:11 of playing time.
The sticker on the front box of this five-album set tells you all you need to know, which is good because the sparse packaging tells nothing else other than the artist names and the 119 song titles. Still, can't complain too much. Not every single is a winner, but when I break up Creation's 300 or so singles into sets of 50, there is no other lot I like more than this first group from the summer of 1983 to early 1988... Jasmine Minks, the Pastels, Weather Prophets, Felt, Phil Wilson, the House of Love, the Bodines, Primal Scream, Biff Bang Pow! and the list goes on and on. At some point I'm going to go back and do this right with an in-depth series, but for now, let's listen to a few of my favorite top-notch singles from bands I don't plan to feature further down the line in this vinyl collection series. Enjoy CRELP100. In case you were wondering, these five volumes were also sold separately as CRELP 101-105.
There is one footnote on the bottom of each album cover that sums up the label and the man behind it. Probably won't surprise you. It reads... Creation Records acknowledges the following: Dan Treacy, Joseph Foster, Edward Ball, Bobby Gillespie, Jeff Barrett, Jerry Thackray, The Living Room bands and clientele and absolutely no one else.
This one goes back 32 years to the infancy of my record collection, and holding the cover of the Cramps' 1984 album 'Bad Music for Bad People' today instantly took me back to my carefree early high-school days. I had a pal with a terrific stereo in his beat-up Fiat, and we loved to play this compilation of rockabilly voodoo very loudly over and over again.
Now, I know we have some die-hard fans out there. So, while you're listening to, perhaps, my favorite cover from Lux Interior and Poison Ivy, let me know your go-to song. That only gives you two minutes, however, and I'm reminded this song always made for a great ending to mix tapes, especially if you could time that last cymbal crash just as the cassette was concluding. I'm also wondering, dear readers, if you are from the UK and beyond, did you have this compilation? Many years after I bought 'Bad Music for Bad People,' I learned of the eerily similar 1983 UK release '...Off the Bone.' I have to say with the inclusion of "Surfin' Bird" and a few other additional nuggets, you chaps over there got the better end of the deal.
I had planned to present this one as my annual "Happy Mitch Easter!" post on Easter Sunday, but I didn't get it ripped in time. Anyway, it's a nice way to crank up the turntable after a more than two-week hiatus. This album combines two great loves, my hero Mr. Easter and indie-pop label the Subway Organization. Cowboy and Spin Girl were the boy-girl duo of Donna Esposito and Frank Bednash. A few of you out there may remember Esposito from her days with New York power-pop outfit the Cyclones, whose 1981 song "You're So Cool" was an underground hit along the Northeast Corridor. If you were wise enough to pick up Kevinpat's 'Hoboken to Athens' mix earlier this year, go listen to this song right now. I'll wait.
I understand Easter's relationship with Cowboy and Spin Girl because he played bass with the Cyclones for a while, but how a band based in the NYC area ended up releasing an album with the very British Bristol label is a head scratcher. This is especially true when you hear the music. Subway is known for the jangle and fuzz of Shop Assistants, the Chesterf!elds, Bubblegum Splash, the Flatmates, the Rosehips, Razorcuts and the like (all of which will feature in this series). The songs written and sung by Esposito have a little C86 to them, but Bednash's songs are straight-up power pop. As much as I adore Subway, I can't help but think this album would have been a perfect fit on a label like Bomp! If anyone out there knows if the band had a Subway connection beyond just sending them a tape, let me know. Side one was self produced in New York. Side two was produced by Easter at his legendary Drive-In Studio in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Cowboy and Spin Girl may not have lasted long, but Esposito and Bednash continued to record quality power-pop records, first as Toothpaste 2000 and more recently as Mas Rapido. For your listening pleasure, here is the Easter-produced side of the 1988 album 'Cowboy and Spin Girl' in its entirety.
If you're not a baseball fan, you'll just have to trust me. That headline is a good thing. Mrs. LTL knows I'm homesick for Chicago and, in particular, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, the home of my beloved Chicago Cubs. This current crop of Cubs is the best squad in my lifetime, and I sat down in front of the television this weekend with, dare I say it, optimism. This could finally be the year the Boys in Blue... never mind. I can't bring myself to say it. Anyway, the Cubs did well in their first two playoff games, and I want to thank Mrs. LTL for making these games extra special. On Friday afternoon, I received two deliveries from Chicago institutions 2,000 miles away. One was from Giordano's Pizza, and the other was from Eli's Cheesecake. Thanks to my wife's loving gestures, I couldn't have enjoyed these games any better if I had been sitting behind the dugout. I have one more pizza I'm saving for the World Series, and I have enough cheesecake for a slice each game the rest of the playoffs. What can I say? I'm blessed.
Forgive me. Obviously, this has little to do with music, but I'm just beaming tonight. Believe it or not, I do have plenty of Cubs moments on vinyl. I also understand you could care less. Please indulge me. Here are a few quick highlights from the 1971 album 'Jack Brickhouse Presents Great Moments in Cubs Baseball' and other jewels from the collection. When I listen to it I think about the fact when the album was recorded the Cubs hadn't won a World Series in 63 years. Little did the late broadcaster Brickhouse know we would still be waiting to win it all 45 years later.
Having your blog pulled by the powers that be is, by far, the worst-case scenario for those of us who choose this medium to talk about music. So, I don't want to say what has happened to me compares to that nightmare, but I have had a bad run. The operating system on my laptop simply stopped working. Thus, the laptop stopped working. For more than a week now, I have been scrambling to make repairs and retrieve everything stored on the hard drive. That includes the music I have been ripping from my vinyl since the beginning of the year. I have found the whole ordeal quite depressing, and there have been days when I have ignored the whole thing and watched baseball instead. So, that's why you haven't heard from me in a while.
As of today, the new operating system has been loaded and most of the hard drive is back. What's still missing are all of the applications, and there are many, and that means the software I use for ripping vinyl isn't on here right now. While I'm putting the final touches on fixing this fiasco, I thought I would spend a couple of posts touting some recent releases that have my attention.
Let's hit the floor with two bands separated by an ocean but joined by a love for vintage synthesizers and dance music from the '80s and '90s. First up is Le SuperHomard, straight outta France and distributed by my pal Chris at Seattle's Jigsaw Records. You'll hear lots of Stereolab and Saint Etienne, but I also detect a bit of Sean O'Hagan's electronic side. There isn't a duff note on 'MapleKey,' and this one is sure to make my best of the year list come December. Here is my favorite from the album.
Kurt Feldman is a New Yorker who you might know from his days with the Depreciation Guild and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but don't expect his project Ice Choir to sound like those bands. As the opening notes of the song below illustrate, Feldman's pure heart must have fallen for When in Rome's "The Promise" in his youth, and I bet he has a thing for middle '80s Scritti Politti too. In fact, his vocals will have you thinking of Green Gartside in the most perfect way. Shelflife has already gone through their limited stock of 'Designs in Rhythm' on blue vinyl, but I see that Jigsaw still has some copies. Quality.
My 10-year-old son will be going to his first-ever show tonight, and I dedicate this post to him. Just like his old man did before him, the little guy has taken to the Monkees' old television shows and all of the music that's featured in them. Mike has always been my favorite, and my son likes Mickey best, but this is a song where we are in complete agreement. Written by the brilliant team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and sung by Mickey, here's the great side one track one from 'More of the 'Monkees.' The 1967 album was No. 1 for 18 weeks, knocking their debut album out of the top spot after 13 weeks there.
Twenty years after 'More of the Monkees,' my hero Terry Hall took a stab at this classic for the Colour Field's album 'Deception.' I didn't find the album as endearing as 'Virgins and Philistines,' but I find myself pulling out this cover with regularity. I promise to cool off on the Colour Field after this one.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.