The past 24 hours have been packed with converting my '80s-era Aztec Camera from vinyl to a digital format. Not a bad way to spend a day, eh? Uh, that may be a loaded question since I know from previous posts that 'Love' and even 'Knife' have produced some pretty heated back-and-forth comments on this blog and elsewhere. I imagine many of you have purchased the double-disc reissues Edsel released in 2012, and that makes digging up songs that you don't already have a challenge, but there have been a few that weren't part of those packages. One of the B-sides from the "Still on Fire" 12" single didn't make the cut on the 'Knife' reissue. So, here is a memorable song from the 'High Land, Hard Rain' era recorded live at Barrowlands on Oct. 6, 1984. I believe this is the lineup of Malcolm Ross, Campbell Owens and Dave Ruffy joining Roddy Frame. I really like this rousing version.
This one was a request from a reader that pointed out to me that these two songs were inexplicably left off of the 'Love' reissue.' You can find them as B-sides to the "Somewhere in My Heart" 12". Both songs were recorded, again, at Barrowlands, this time on Jan. 30, 1988. I probably didn't need to tell you he was in Glasgow. You'll be able to tell when he sings "Down the Dip," just Roddy and his guitar, in his spiritual home. The fans are in heaven.
We have reached the end of the A section, at least for this round, but today's band will get more than one day's attention. Aztec Camera isn't the king of the A section because, unlike Associates, my collection is divided between vinyl, CDs and, yes, even cassettes. My Aztec Camera records are all vinyl through 'Love' and its associated singles, but my abrupt switch to compact disc in the fall of 1988 meant everything from 'Stray' onward is on the dreaded format. There is some crossover. For example, I have 'High Land, Hard Rain' on vinyl (two copies, actually), deluxe edition CD and cassette. Ridiculous... but with an explanation. It's just about my favorite record, and it keeps getting reissued in a superior fashion.
The pride of my Aztec Camera section are the two singles released by Postcard in 1981 (see top). I converted them to digital first thing, and it was then I decided to have a post dedicated to "We Could Send Letters." It's a fascinating study of a song's transformation, and it begs the question, can you tinker too much with a masterpiece? I have other versions of the song, such as from Roddy Frame's solo show from 2006 on 'Live in Osaka,' but those are on CD. So, perhaps another day. You may be wondering how I cheated and included the 'C81' version since that's from the legendary NME cassette. Well, I do have the tape, but I also have it on a fantastic 7" Domino Records included with the first copies of the vinyl reissue of 'High Land, Hard Rain' in 2013. The sleeve is signed by Frame, and the other songs on the record are "The Bugle Sounds Again" (Bedroom Demo) and the Capital Records Session of "The Boy Wonders" and "Release." So, that little bonus is why I have two copies of the album on vinyl. I converted that one right after the Postcard singles.
The live performance of "We Could Send Letters" was recorded for radio at the El Mocambo in Toronto on July 11, 1983. It showed up as a B-side to the WEA version of the "Oblivious" 12 single. More Aztec Camera next time as I continue the conversion of my 12" singles this evening. This is a good time to ask this question: Would you put Roddy Frame's albums in the Aztec Camera section or with the letter F?
Here is another album that I hadn't played for many years, but I did dust it off last fall for a listen when I saw that Omnivore Recordings had put together a really nice CD+DVD reissue package with lots of new extras. I remember 'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out' being a pretty big deal in 1987, mostly due to the appearance of the ever-popular R.E.M., but also because the label had such a fantastic avenue to tout it. "I.R.S. Records Presents The Cutting Edge" was must-see TV during its four-year run on MTV, and the show was winding down as the documentary was coming out, but not before showing many clips from the film. MTV's "120 Minutes" took over from there, playing R.E.M's cover of the Everly Brothers' "(All I've Got to Do Is) Dream" with regularity, and I seem to recall the show even sponsoring a "Win a Weekend in Athens" contest.
The B-52's and R.E.M. are probably the first two bands you think of, and rightly so, but Athens has continued to be a hotbed of activity ever since those halcyon days. Let's not forget the Elephant 6 Collective and the roster of Kindercore Records all the way through HHBTM Records, one of the most enjoyable indies out there today. I enjoyed every band on 'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out,' and there were some minor successes, such as Dreams So Real getting signed by Arista in 1988 and Kilkenny Cats being a part of Twin/Tone (hey, if it was good enough for the Replacements!), but most of these groups never quite made the big time. Well, Love Tractor was on Big Time Records, so I stand corrected.
Probably my all-time favorite Athens band is Pylon, and they were on this soundtrack, but I think I'll wait until we get to the letter P to showcase them. Let's try a couple of bands that barely made it beyond this album. The Squalls were a nice bit of jangle while they lasted, and their final recording was the album 'No Time' in 1988. "Na, Na, Na, Na" was recorded on Feb. 3, 1986 at the legendary 40 Watt Club. Bar-B-Q Killers were one of the harder and sloppier bands on the scene, and I mean that as a compliment. "His and Hearse" comes from their show at Uptown Lounge on Feb. 4, 1986.
Sorry about the gap between posts in this series. I have been having some technical issues with the transfer project, but I think I have it sorted out now. Back by popular demand, here is a bonus post from Associates. OK, not popular demand. In fact, the first was one of my least visited posts in recent times. An acquired taste for sure, but I spent much of last evening listening to Billy MacKenzie's work while toiling with the conversion, and I'm going to stand by having a second day. I tried to dig up something the casual fan may not have on the shelf.
There are at least three versions of the "Take Me to the Girl" single from the fall of 1985. The following two songs are taken from the flip side of the 10". Billy's performance at Ronnie Scott's on Dec. 9, 1984, was thought to be for a live album that never came to fruition, but the show was shot for "Whistle Test," and some of the songs were used as B-sides and appearances on compilations. I believe you can view all of the songs performed that night on YouTube and, in particular, I recommend taking a few minutes to watch a beautiful rendition of "Breakfast." Billy's set list and band were befitting of a classy place like Ronnie Scott's, and his rousing vocals are coupled with a virtually unplugged band that included a trio of violins, piano, bass, sax and a single snare played with brushes.
"God Bless the Child" is a well-known Billie Holiday standard that has been recorded by dozens of artists. Fans from the early days of Associates will recognize the bass lines of "Even Dogs in the Wild," and it's amazing how well this song works in this environment sans guitar. These selections are for die-hard followers of Associates, but I'm hoping others will recognize and appreciate the vocal talent on display.
As an aside, since I have mentioned the album 'Perhaps' so much during these two posts, I thought I would pass along this humorous story I have read a few times from that era. Most fans know Billy loved his dogs. The great Martin Rushent was one of the producers of 'Perhaps,' and he told of his encounters with Billy's two whippets that the singer took with him wherever he went. During recording of the album, Billy would walk the dogs every morning along the paths surrounding Genetic Studios which, incidentally, was on the grounds of Martin's house. Martin would have to dodge the dogs' poo on the path between his house and his studio every day, and one day he wasn't successful. He was so mad that he brought out a dust pan and brush and made Billy clean the path. During the chore, Martin quietly snapped a photo of Billy clearing the crap. When Billy returned to the studio, Martin said that if he ever found poo on the path again he would give the picture to the music press, naming the photo Billy MacKenzie... Collecting Material For His Next Album!
We all feel it, don't we? The malaise. It's dark, cold and the newspapers are piling up at the front door because you can't bear to read them. Well, here's some good ol' fashioned garage rock to bust those January blues.
The Arch Menaces come from a land Down Under, and these lads recorded this, their debut album, way back in 2012. So, it's 2016. No, it really is. You're probably wondering what happened. Better not to ask. We're trying to get happy, right? Besides, this story does have a happy ending. The band wrote to Jigsaw Records and, lo and behold, 'Primitive Germs' finally gets a proper release on this very day.
Let that be a lesson to you kids out there. Patience and hard work do pay off... and your band is the best band in the world! Who am I kidding? If you're here, you're old as the hills and think dreams are for suckers, which is actually good because you'll get the following references. The Arch Menaces sound like a lot of power-pop bands from your youth, especially the Plimsouls, Smithereens, Teenage Fanclub and fellow Aussies the Hoodoo Gurus.
Listen to the entire album on their Bandcamp page, then order the CD from the label. Only ten bucks for more hooks than your old man's fishing hat. More hooks than a hipster's crochet case. Better get listening or I'll keep going. More hooks than a pirate convention. More hooks than Hellraiser. More hooks...
They may have called themselves Associates, but this band has been the boss of my A section for many years. I have more pieces of vinyl featuring the talents of Billy MacKenzie than anyone else from the first letter in the alphabet. So many, in fact, I can't possibly make them all fit in the photo today.
I was 14 when I bought my first piece of plastic from Associates, and the purchase was made without ever hearing a note from them. I read an interview with MacKenzie in Melody Maker while killing time in a record store. I had an obsession with Scotland (still do!), and I'm sure being from there is what cinched it, but I was so taken by the printed conversation that I bought an album that very day. Most of the conversation centered around 'Perhaps,' the album that was going to be out in a few months, and a couple of the singles that would be on that record had already been released, but I didn't know anything about that at the time. The interviewer kept contrasting the new album to the last one, 'Sulk,' and I remember MacKenzie downplaying the previous effort, saying something about the new songs being about love, which he claimed he knew nothing about in the 'Sulk' days. With Alan Rankine's defection, of course he would say that. It would be quite some time before I knew how big the album had been a couple of years earlier in the UK, and it would be even longer before I learned of the hijinks that went on while the masterpiece was being made... in and out of the studio.
Anyway, I went to the A section of the record store. There was no subsection just for Associates... something I would have to get used to out in the sticks. I found one copy of one album from them. I would have to "settle" for 'Sulk.' I'm not sure if those of you in the UK are aware of this, but the American version of 'Sulk' bears little resemblance to the album you know. Here was the A-side released by Sire in this country:
"It's Better This Way"
"Party Fears Two"
"18 Carat Love Affair"
So, these were the first five songs I ever heard by Associates. Even if you want to make the argument that the versions we received over here were inferior (the first two songs were remixed and "Club Country" was edited), you have to admit this singles fest is a stunning way to be introduced to Alan Rankine and MacKenzie. I know I'll never forget it. Here are two from what's left of my 30-year-old vinyl. Associates are too important to me to confine to one day. Plus it's going to take some time to convert all of these to digital. So, depending on how far I get tonight, I may have another post featuring Billy tomorrow.
Upon discovering Nick Lowe as a bright-eyed 13 year old, it wasn't long before I became obsessed with Stiff Records, particularly Ian Dury, Graham Parker, Kirsty MacColl, Wreckless Eric and Madness, and I would buy just about anything with the label's logo on it. Any Trouble's debut album, 'Where Are All the Nice Girls,' is a tremendous piece of power pop, and I always find myself wanting to spin 'Look Sharp,' 'Seconds of Pleasure' and 'My Aim Is True' right after I play it. Unfortunately, I don't think these lads ever quite reached the heights of their first single, "Yesterday's Love," but I really did take to this one from their second (and last) album for Stiff, 'Wheels in Motion.' Give this one a go while pondering why Any Trouble never troubled the charts. Incidentally, Any Trouble reconvened for a new album late last year. You can buy 'Present Tense' from Cherry Red Records.
Counting this one, I have four more bands from the letter A that I plan to transfer to a digital format this round, and three of them called Scotland home. Says a lot about that fertile ground, doesn't it? It seems silly to go into too much detail about Altered Images when JC at The (new) Vinyl Villain recently concluded such a fine series on the band's entire singles discography. As you can see, I have much of the band's work too, but I'm not in JC's league. I don't have the singles "Song Sung Blue," "Love To Stay" or "Change of Heart." For more than 30 years I have kept half an eye out for them, and I have always imagined finding the trio at once when some old fan sells off his entire vinyl collection at my local mom-and-pop shop. Hey, it could happen.
Like many of you, my love affair with Altered Images began and ended with guitarirst Tony McDaid. I kid. Of course it was Clare! It was always Clare. Dorothy was fine, but we all knew Gregory got the right girl. In my youth, 'Pinky Blue' was the album for me, and I still enjoy it, but now the more polished 'Bite' is the one I'll usually grab. Here is the eight-and-a-half minute version of the band's finest moment. Even my kids like it. This one, along with "I Could be Happy," often become family sing-alongs on car trips. Hearing my youngest mimic Clare, proclaiming "all of these things I do to get away from you," is a real hoot.
I know this is weird, but whatever format I choose when I buy my first album from a band is usually the format I stick with for future purchases from them. The only explanation I have for this is, perhaps, that I like having all of the band's music in one place, not some with the CDs and some with the vinyl. Unfortunately, back in 2010, I bought the self-titled debut from Allo Darlin' on CD. So, in my house, all three of their albums are on the inferior format. I do, however, have the 'Europe'-era singles on 7", and they are beautiful... great art on heavy stock by guitarist Paul Rains, brilliant pastel-colored vinyl and, most importantly, quality B-sides that weren't available on the 2012 album.
"Golden Age" is the B-side from "Northern Lights," the final single from the album and, in my opinion, the best of the band's non-album tracks. It's sunny, optimistic and chock full of jangle. Truthfully, though, I love every song from the 'Europe' era, and I proclaimed this album the best of 2012. Think I'll put it on right now. I dedicate this one to MisterPrime, a reader that sent me a review of the band's Nottingham stop in the fall of 2014. Hope you're doing well, mate.
When I was able to rip vinyl again, this song was one of the first ones that came to mind. Back in the fall, we heard a couple of beauties by Marc Almond via The (new) Vinyl Villain and Charity Chic Music that made me rethink whether "Tears Run Rings" was still my favorite of his solo singles. I think it's safe to say if "The Days Of Pearly Spencer" or "Stories of Johnny" are tops to you, nobody will bat an eyelash. Greats one and all. Almond may no longer grace the charts, but Echorich assures us at The Never Ending Search For the Perfect Beat that merely calling him relevant is an understatement. The comment king named Almond's latest, 'The Velvet Trail,' the best album of 2015, and that holds more weight around here than Billboard ever could. The following versions of "Tears Run Rings" run the gamut from dramatic but accessible pop to hardcore dub. So, dust off those dancing shoes while listening to the 7".
Yes, I really do understand alphabetical order, but I flip-flopped yesterday's post with today's because I thought we needed a smile. I was never a huge fan of the Alarm, and the sparse number of their records on the shelf reflect that. I have two 7" singles, this one and "The Stand," although I am certain I used to have 'Declaration' because I remember having a longer version of today's selection with a slow section in the middle of the song that slowly built to those raucous horns.
As you can see from the photo, this is another well-worn piece that I have had for more than 30 years. I love the imagery of the cover, and it does remind me of a couple of other bands I liked in 1983, Big Country and U2. I didn't go for either one of them too much beyond this period either, but I did grow to appreciate the Alarm's Mike Peters during his stint fronting Big Country between 2010 and 2013. Seemed like such a nice fit. Enjoy three minutes that will make you want to go out and march in the streets.
"I had a rough marriage. My wife was an immature woman. See if this is not immature to you. I would be home in the bathroom taking a bath... and my wife would walk in whenever she felt like... and sink my boats."
"I wanted to get them a wedding present, and I didn't know what to get the junkie that has everything. I thought maybe a 16-piece starter set of silverware would be nice... all spoons."
I don't know about you, but I could use a smile today. Just a few albums down from ABC, I have three live albums from one Master Haywood Allen. Today we will listen to his first, recorded at Mister Kelly's in Chicago, circa March 1964. If you don't know Mister Kelly's, it was one of the hottest spots along the city's famous Rush Street in the swingin' '60s. It's where you went to sip whiskey sours while you listened to singers like Sarah, Ella, and Frank or laughed to George Carlin, Joan Rivers or the Smothers Brothers.
As you may know, I grew up in the cow pastures of Illinois, as W. Somerset Maugham described the area in 'The Razor's Edge,' and when I used to listen to Allen's routine as a teen, I dreamed of being in that audience on Rush all those years ago. That's what youngsters from the sticks do. We fantasize of leaving small-town life for the excitement of the big city. For me, that beacon was about 150 long miles away in Chicago. When I moved there at age 20, one of my first stops was to 1028 North Rush Street. Mister Kelly's had closed 15 years earlier, and Gibson's Steakhouse was there. Still is. It's become an institution in its own right. Old school, highly recommended, but Mister Kelly's it ain't.
I have worn this vinyl down to nothing from close to 30 years of continuous play. It would be a good time to start messing around with the software to clean up some of that surface noise, particularly on the A side, but I don't think you'll mind too much. Here is the whole album. If the sadness of losing your hero gets to be too much today, spend a few minutes with this one. You will smile.
I made a new year's resolution that I wasn't able to act on until now. Beginning today through the rest of 2016 I pledge to go all vinyl on this blog. I can make this claim because Mrs. LTL got me a USB audio interface with a built-in phono preamp for Christmas. In other words, I'm finished with crappy USB turntables once and for all. I can finally use my Technics SL-6 linear-tracking turntable, circa 1984, to bring you the hits, and my kids can finally use the USB turntables to play pizza makers without fear of retribution. The only exception to this all-vinyl proclamation will be if I want to pass along news of a new release that only has streaming as a way for you to hear it.
I started playing with my new toy this afternoon, and I think I have it down enough to give this a go. The plan is to go straight to the letter A and work my way to Z, spending a week or two at each letter. Well, maybe not the Zs, but you get the point. I'll focus on bands that I want to take the time to transfer over to a digital format, ignoring most of the more embarrassing acts completely. Well, maybe not completely. What would be the fun in that? Speaking of embarrassing, technically going alphabetically, there is one act on the shelf that comes before today's selection, but it's a tricky one. Anyone have a guess who the first band is in my A section?
As you can see from the photo above, ABC's 'The Lexicon of Love' was a huge album in my youth. In fact, I only have a couple of pieces of vinyl from them that goes beyond 1982. The album has been hotly debated by our corner of the blogosphere. Our pal Friend of Rachel Worth called 'The Lexicon of Love' his favorite album on the day he retired his excellent blog. I believe George, CC and Echorich (and maybe the Swede) are on that side of the fence, but I seem to recall Drew and the Robster vehemently disagreeing with the rest of us when the album was featured on Charity Chic Music last year. I may have quickly lost the love for ABC, but I have never stopped believing 'The Lexicon of Love' is pop perfection.
One of my treasures from the ABC section is this twin 7" that came out in 1985. I thought Martin and Co. found the old magic with "Be Near Me," and many of us on this side of the Atlantic agreed. Only "When Smokey Sings" was a bigger hit here in America. Having said all of that, I really bought this single for the bonus remixes on the second 45. Here is what the back cover said:
People - People - People:
Through the misfits of time we bring you two ABC recordings from the year A.D. 1982 -- Poison Arrow U.S. Remix and the 12" Look of Love U.S. Remix (originally titled the The Look of Love Part V) -- 24 wonderful inches jam packed onto this 7" record.
Marvel at the earliest dawnings of the Big Scratch on vinyl. Groove to a jazzy flavoured Poison Arrow.
Both tracks were previously released on a D.J. only basis and exclusively to citizens of the United States. Three years later copies had been changing hands on the black market at vastly inflated prices. When this came to the attention of Neutron Records they agreed, in an act of crazed and unrepeatable generosity, to finally make this material available in the U.K.
You are looking at a strictly limited edition. Over and out.
Spring -- 1985
No, this isn't my favorite remix of the song, but I'm still very happy to finally have a digital copy. I have to go thank my better half now. This is going to be fun. Back next time with another act from the A section.
Yesterday's post from JC at The (new) Vinyl Villain revealing his readership's top 10 albums of 2015 reminded me that although I posted my favorite songs and reissues, I forgot the long players. First, a few that are excellent but just missed the cut. I think Kid Wave became this year's Slow Club. Our little corner of the blogosphere really took to it, and I wasn't immune, but I have only had 'Wonderlust' for two weeks. Otherwise, this one probably would have fared better.
Now on to the top 10. If you're a regular, my high praise of the School will come as no surprise. In 2012, their last album ranked No. 2. It would take something special to keep them from the top spot this time around. Back in the spring, 'Once More From the Top' by the Granite Shore completely captured my heart. I said then that it was tough to imagine I would see or hear a better album this year. I didn't. If you get a second, here were my thoughts on the album at that time.
I fell hard for a bevy of these suave bands. A few, perhaps, I'm none too proud to pull out of the collection these days, but quite a few more of them have remained favorites. I'll leave you to guess whether today's selection is the former or the latter. A Craze were Lucy Loquette and Chris Free, and the duo had a couple of claims to fame, albeit minor ones to most (but not to me). For one, they wrote "Give It Some Emotion," Tracie Young's second biggest charting single. Their other noteworthy moment was the single "Wearing Your Jumper." It was a big deal because it was for Paul Weller's short-lived Respond Records, and the big boss man himself produced it. Further, Weller's mates from the Style Council played on it, too. That's Mick Talbot on the Wurlitzer and Steve White on percussion.
Truth be told, I like the B-side, produced by Brian Robson, even better. Alas, this would be the only 7" from A Craze. If you like early Everything But the Girl, Carmel, or Matt Bianco, this musical footnote should get your fingers snapping and head swaying.
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