Here's the first of two branches from the fruitful tree known as Dexys Midnight Runners. Here's a hint: The other will be a little later in this letter. Guitarist Kevin Archer assembled the Blue Ox Babes in 1981, not long after the first incarnation of Dexys Midnight Runners imploded. Too bad, because Archer and Kevin Rowland had made quite a songwriting team during the 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels' era.
Archer had a great idea for his new band. He wanted to go with an unplugged sound full of piano, acoustic guitars, brass and violins. He started making demos with ex-Dexys pianist Andy Leek. They recruited a talented fiddle player named Helen Bevington. When Archer and Rowland ran into each other, Rowland asked him how things were going with the new band. Archer made what in hindsight must seem like one of the bigger mistakes in his life. He gave Rowland a tape of those demos.
I think the best play-by-play of what followed can be found within the BBC documentary series on bands from the early '80s called 'Young Guns (Go For It)' that originally aired in 2000. The Dexys episode went into great detail about how, as Archer put it, "[Roland] just nicked the idea." Yes, when Archer first heard 'Too-Rye-Aye' he felt like he had heard it before. Worse, after listening to the tape, Rowland had sent trombone player "Big" Jim Paterson to fetch Bevington to join Dexys. Rowland renamed her Helen O'Hara and made her part of his new violin section, dubbed "The Emerald Express." As Leek put it, though, Rowland hadn't just stolen Helen, he had stolen the violin riffs as well. And, of course, Paterson didn't know it at the time, but he had aided and abetted the enemy because his brilliant brass section became second fiddle to the fiddlers... but that's a story for another day.
So, what did Rowland have to say about this? He sort of came clean in that BBC documentary, saying, "Looking back on it, you know, obviously it was wrong that Kevin [Archer] wasn't credited for his influence there... yeah." As a fan, it's tough for me to get angry about it. I love 'Too-Rye-Aye,' as I do all things Dexys. I like the Blue Ox Babes too, but as Helen put it, she joined Dexys Midnight Runners because they were just better.
So, the Blue Ox Babes watched as 'Too-Rye-Aye' became a smash. There would never be an official album release from Archer's band. There were three singles... all quite good. Today we will listen to both sides of the first. It was the closest thing to a hit they would ever have, barely breaking the top 100 in the UK. Cherry Red Records lovingly reassembled the shelved 1988 album 'Apples and Oranges' and released it on CD in 2009. It has gone in and out of print a couple of times now. The Cherry Red site currently says it's out of stock.
Not long after Kevinpat's latest installment of 'Hoboken to Athens' I got a nice note from Deena Shoshkes from the Cucumbers, a band so swell they are featured on volumes one, two and (spoiler alert!) three of the brilliant mix. Before I get a good ribbing for this blatant name-drop, there's actually a reason for telling this tale. Deena had news of a compilation out today that is sure to shake Hoboken and reverberate around the globe.
'The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986)' covers the self-titled EP from 1983, the long player 'Who Betrays Me & Other Happier Songs' from 1985 and the 12-inch single "All Shook Up" from 1986. There are previously unreleased extras too, including a studio recording of "Keep Your Cool" and a live take of "The Body Groove," recorded at Ziggy's in Winston-Salem, N.C., circa September of '85. I'm not telling you to unload your vinyl copies, not by any means, but this remastered collection has never sounded better. Give it a listen below. Then order your digital download from CDBaby. This one has had my attention for days now. What a blast! That first EP has such a great B-52s and X vibe. Athens and Los Angeles are a long way from Hoboken, but as Kevinpat likes to say, it's all connected.
Yep, there's more. To celebrate this release, the band will give a one-off performance on May 13 at the Rent Party at the Woodland in Maplewood, N.J., featuring the classic mid-'80s lineup. Hmm, would Mrs. LTL give me some of her frequent flier miles... again?
Brussels, the Donald, Michigan State... the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket when we should be talking about another kind of basket, and the scuttlebutt is a certain bunny is feeling pretty blasé during this, his most important weekend on the calendar. To ensure you get gobs of goodies tomorrow morning, I have decided to post my annual celebration of all things Mitch Easter a few hours earlier than usual. What, you didn't know he was a fan? Nothing gets Peter Cottontail hoppin' like some Sneakers or Let's Active, but he enjoys the genius' work as a producer, engineer and mixer as well. OK, you rascally rabbit, take a few minutes to unfold those floppy ears and get your jangle on before punching the clock... and don't forget my Fannie May cream eggs!
Not too many pieces of plastic from the Blue Nile on my shelf. I was a late convert to compact discs. In fact, I remember telling a friend in 1987 I would never buy a disc player. I caved about a year and a half later and in a big way. What followed was a slow but steady purge of my vinyl. Debut album 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' was in a stack of records I traded in on the very day I picked up its tiny shiny twin. By the time followup 'Hats' came out in late '89 I wasn't considering vinyl at all. So, all I'm left with on the superior format are the two 12" singles you see above. Let's take a listen to the two A-sides today. Apologies in advance to my dear friend George.
My listening habits were all over the place when I bought these in 1985. Punk, post-punk, power pop and synth pop were my primary interests, but I was rather taken by sophisti-pop. The primary difference between the Blue Nile and the other music I was into at that time was the blatant absence of a good hook. Most of the sounds coming from my stereo hit you over the head like a mallet. I was only 15, after all, but this music felt grown up. The beauty of the the songs "Stay" and "Tinseltown in the Rain" were in their subtlety. These were all about mood, atmosphere and nuance... and they were actually the more upbeat numbers from 'A Walk Across the Rooftops.'
There was a certain sadness and uncertainty that surrounded the entire proceedings. The lyric "Do I love you? Yes I love you, but it's easy come, and it's easy go, all this talking is only bravado" got into my head and it never left. This wasn't music I shared with my peers. This wasn't music that got played in the car. This was late-night music. Alone. That's the way I still listen to 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' today.
Our pal Kevinpat returns with another sermon from the three-volume gospels known as 'Hoboken to Athens.' For those in Germany, the UK and across North America who have already received this manna from the heavens, raise your hands in the air to praise the man and his masterpiece once more for you already know the truth that lies therein. For the uninitiated who didn't have the faith, courage or whatever it was that held you back from the joyous tidings found in volume one, there's still time for redemption.
Step up to the pulpit with nothing but love for the dB's and the Bongos in your heart. Can I get an amen? Send requests for 'Hoboken to Athens' to firstname.lastname@example.org. All Kevinpat needs is your name and mailing address. Spreading the word of Stipe is his true calling. Take it away, Kevinpat...
There are those times you wish you could back and relive or perhaps even have a do over. After I purchased R.E.M.'s 'Chronic Town' through the mail I knew this was a band to be reckoned with. The cryptic lyrics, the moody tempos belying the ringing guitars, and the hooks. Oh, the hooks. All just a wonderful mess. I thought I had a secret on the world.
My buddy and I were fortunate to witness R.E.M. at a small club in Poughkeepsie after this release. Remarkable not only because we now had verification there really did exist such a wonderful sound, but this was like an Athens baptism. Opening for R.E.M. was Let's Active. My buddy was introduced to Big Star that night when they played "Back of My Car". We were so anxious for the show we had gotten to the club early and had a beer at the bar. Michael Stipe sat next to me, but I didn't have enough beer yet to approach. Perhaps true to his persona he stared into his beer. Damn!
But a different character came out on the stage. Thrashing and swaying and gyrating to the tangling Peter Buck guitar and singing so close to the mic not a word could be deciphered or deStipered? Ironically they performed Pylon's "Crazy", which may or may not have been written about Stipe. Mike Mills, looking all but too young to even be in a bar highlighted the singing with harmony in counter rhythm. All just a wonderful mess. I want to go back. Not just to relive the show or to perhaps chatter with Stipe, but to remember the music better.
I stayed with R.E.M. until the end, long after my friends couldn't stand the Stipe anymore. My younger son had to hear "The Great Beyond" every morning in the car on his way to daycare before school. My attempts to learn the piano failed a number of times, so I never got the chance to play "Nightswimming". And although R.E.M. may be the most known example of the Hoboken-Athens sound, they certainly singularly aren't the Hoboken-Athens sound.
Evidence: Volume Two, 'Hoboken To Athens', where the sound gets a little more produced but the results no less glorious. A perfect example being the Bongos 'Number With Wings' EP. Being a lover of southern American literature, Guadalcanal Diary is William Faulkner or Flannery O'Connor with a mighty beat. Old Testament mysticism. The throb of Pylon and the sultry charm of the Cyclones. Even a Brit, Kimberly Rew shows up to play with the Athens boys. R.E.M. lets their Patti Smith fly on "Pretty Persuasion." Song selections and sequence were chosen for maximum segue punch. To be played through. Preferably loud. And in the car. So don't be no Limburger, giddy up and take the leap now! 'Hoboken To Athens', Volume Two...
'Hoboken To Athens' (Vol. Two):
1. "Wolves, Lower" - R.E.M. (from 'Chronic Town')
2. "We Were Happy There" - The Dbs (from 'Repercussions')
3. "My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long" - Kimberly Rew (from 'The Bible of Bop')
4. "Let's See the Sun" - The Fleshtones (from 'Roman Gods')
5. "In the Congo" - The Bongos (from 'Drums Along the Hudson')
6. "Watusi Rodeo" - Guadalcanal Diary (from 'Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man')
7. "Beep - Pylon (dB single)
8. "Make Up With Me" - Let's Active (from 'afoot' EP)
9. "I'm in Heaven" - The Cyclones (from 'The Cyclones' EP)
10. "Leap of Faith" - The Individuals (from 'The Individuals')
11. "Make A Fool Out of Me" - The Windbreakers (from 'Any Monkey With a Typewriter')
12. "I Don't Want To Go Back" - The Riff Doctors (Coyote 45)
13. "House on Fire" - The Wind (from 'Ghost of the Staph')
14. "Trail of Tears" - Guadalcanal Diary (from 'Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man')
15. "Barbarella" - The Bongos (from 'Numbers With Wings' EP)
16. "Pretty Persuasion" - R.E.M. (from 'Reckoning')
17. "Crazy" - Pylon (dB 45)
18. "Dance This Mess Around" - The B52s (from 'The B52s')
19. "Giddy Up" - Oh OK (from 'Furthermore' EP)
20. "Rang-A-Tang" - Method Actors (Press Record 45)
21. "Tight Turn" - The Raybeats (from 'Guitar Beat')
22. "In Spain" - The dBs (from 'Repercussions')
23. "Easy Does" - Let's Active (from 'Cypress')
24. "Who Betrays Me" - The Cucumbers (from 'Who Betrays Me... and Other Happier Songs')
25. "Christmas" - Buzz of Delight (from 'Buzz of Delight' EP)
26. "The Bullrushes" - The Bongos (from 'Drums Along the Hudson')
There are so many reasons why the Bluebells should be one of my favorite bands. If Postcard Records had survived just a bit longer, the single "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" had already been assigned the number 81-12 among the label's brief but brilliant discography. During those early days, Elvis Costello produced seven of their songs, and it's his name appearing on sleeves that got me to give them a go. The Bluebells also opened for Elvis Costello and the Attractions on their UK tour throughout the fall of 1982.
Oh, and I loved their album covers and other sleeves. Great aesthetic. Many of them were designed by David Band. You would know his easily identifiable look on some of your favorite albums and singles from Altered Images, Aztec Camera, Friends Again and Spandau Ballet. This one for the "Forevermore" 7" is not a Band illustration, but I have always appreciated the lad letting fans know there are two songs on this single. Check out the Band cover for the original "Cath" 7". Looks familiar, eh?
So, despite having quite a few pieces of vinyl from the Bluebells, why don't I pull them off the shelf more? Back in 2014 when I put together a post for 'Exile on Twee Street,' a new Cherry Red release of demos and other nuggets from the Bluebells' infancy, I got a comment from Friend of Rachel Worth that conveyed my sentiments simply and succinctly: "Got this on order - I am unsure what to expect as always felt the Bluebells were a bit of a mixed bag. I'm Falling is one of the classic lost singles and I love the stuff from the japan only 2nd lp. However some of the stuff just misses it for me and I'm not really sure why." This is illustrated by the fact I just tried to assemble a quick imaginary compilation like the ones JC does at The (new) Vinyl Villain. I almost pulled it off, but I came up a couple of songs short of a strong 10. Certainly nothing wrong with that... just not top tier.
Let's listen to a few songs that did make the cut. These are taken from the two records shown at the top of this post. I'm taking "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" from the 1983 self-titled mini album that was only released in North America, but the song appeared as a B-side and in plenty of other places. I have "Some Sweet Day" and "Happy Birthday (Turn Gold)" as B-sides to the "Sugar Bridge" 12" single, also from '83. These are my two favorites of the Costello productions. One criticism of the Bluebells is that they are too twee. If you're in that camp, skip these last two. That's the sound I'm attracted to the most, but I know it's not for everyone. These can be found on 'The Singles Collection.' If you don't want to scour the used vinyl bin, this is a great substitute... terrible cover though.
March 29 Update: A reader has corrected me on a fairly large mistake I have made about David Band designing covers for the Bluebells (and Friends Again, for that matter). Please see Andrew Dineley's comment below and refer to The Cloth for the work of Band's mate Fraser Taylor.
Ever since I got hooked on the "Gedgetastic" band Shine! more than a year ago, I have kept an eye out for more undiscovered bands from the Cloudberry Cake Kitchen series. I recently picked up the Deddingtons, which has been out for a number of years, and the Suncharms, which just hit the shelves. Like Shine!, both illustrate that very fine line between fame and footnote.
The Suncharms were a Sheffield quintet first known as the Eunochs... that is until David Gedge suggested a name change during a chat after a Wedding Present show. Yes, you listen to Gedge. The band more or less took the same road as Shine! They signed to Barry Newman's Wilde Club Records out of Norwich and released two EPs in '91. There were supporting slots for Brilliant Corners, Television Personalities and Sarah bands St. Christopher and the Orchids. They even had a Peel Session in '92 and a positive gig review in Melody Maker. Alas, it was all over by '93. The Suncharms are often described as shoegaze, but there is a pop element that takes me to the harder side of the Sarah stable. Shine!, the Bardots, Catherine Wheel, the Suncharms... Newman sure had a good ear. "Sparkle" should have been a smash.
It's a shame, but the Deddingtons left even less of a footprint. They once got a phone call from WEA with a request for more demos, but the A&R guy that asked for them ended up leaving the label while the band was producing the songs. That sucks, but without that call we may not have had anything to listen to today. So, how did we get these songs? Thanks should first go to Firestation, Clarendon and Billberry. The labels curated a series on the English indiepop scene of the '80s and '90s called 'The Sound of Leamington Spa.' There was a volume every year or two throughout the first decade of the 2000s. You should check these out. The bands ranged from the obscure to the reeeaallly obscure, and "The Last Day" from the Deddingtons appeared on the third volume. A chap named Roque that heads up Cloudberry loved the song and got in touch with members of the band. Way to go, Roque!
Thanks should also go the parents of band member Matthew Wright. They converted their steamy attic into a recording haven dubbed "The Loft Studios." Now that's love and faith. We'll listen to "The Last Day" today because that's the one that seems to attract most listeners, but my personal favorite is "Happy Again." I found a video of that one they made on their own that's a big smile. I wonder... were they fans of Terry & Gerry?
This will be familiar territory. CC at Charity Chic Music just posted this song and another single from the Blow Monkeys six weeks ago. I was aware this redundancy was coming, but I knew I had a 12" single that would up the ante a bit, so I hope you don't mind. The peanut gallery was split when CC featured "Digging Your Scene..." or at least it felt that way. George's protests seemed louder than the words from supporters, so that might have skewed the data a bit. In 1986, I didn't really appreciate many commercial pop songs, especially ones featuring saxophone (insert shudder here), but in this case I couldn't help myself. Apparently I wasn't alone. The song peaked at No. 12 in the UK and No. 14 here in America.
When "Digging Your Scene" was working its way up the charts, I would have described it as light and disposable. This dizzy high school student without a care in the world had no idea the lyrics dealt with the AIDS-fueled backlash against homosexuals. Once you know, a line like "it'll get you in the end, it's God's revenge" packs quite a punch. It would have taken great courage to tackle such a subject in 1986, especially when you consider that the songwriter was a heterosexual. When asked about the God's revenge line, Dr. Robert once said, "There was a little bit of hysteria about AIDS, I think, in the early days here in the tabloids and stuff, you know. It was a bit dodgy, and people were kind of using it in order to kind of slag off the gay scene and the gay culture, you know. And what I wanted to do was kind of say... you know, redress the balance in my own way."
Thanks for the well-written prescription, Dr. Robert, but after converting these three versions in succession, I may not need to listen to "Digging Your Scene" again for a while.
Blondie's heyday was a little bit before my time, but I feel like Debbie Harry has been in my consciousness forever. I have three vivid memories of seeing Blondie on television when I was a pup. The first time was on a Saturday afternoon in 1979 when Harry lip-synced to "Heart of Glass" on "American Bandstand." I was a completely smitten nine year old. A couple of years later, I remember her moving her mouth to "The Tide is High" (without a musical instrument in sight but with an army of dancers) one Saturday evening on a horrible show called "Solid Gold." My parents were out, and there was a babysitter in the house named Patti. She had a good laugh watching the back of my head because my face was about six inches from the screen. Not long after that I saw the clip for "Rapture" on a show called "Video Jukebox." My town didn't get MTV until 1983, and that HBO program was one of my saviors, but that's a story for another day. Point is, I can remember each of these moments so well 35 years later because once you see Blondie it's impossible to forget.
Blondie was so cool that they were one of those rare bands that could be a unifier. That babysitter Patti was kind of a bad girl from the wrong side of the tracks, but she liked Blondie. I had an older cousin that was into metal, but he liked Blondie. Those vapid dancing Valley kids on "American Bandstand" went wild for Blondie. If I had been into Blondie at CBGB in 1976, perhaps I wouldn't have been happy for Blondie and their success, but it seemed like most walks of life were into Blondie.
When I have a few minutes or I'm making a mix tape, I will usually go for one of the older songs, such as "X Offender" or "Denis." I like the Spector-like girl-group vibe mixed with new wave. If I have time to put on the headphones and listen to an album, I almost always go with 'Parallel Lines.' There were some monster hits after that, but I have always seen that album as Blondie's peak. By followup 'Eat to the Beat,' producer Mike Chapman tells tales of drugs and fighting in the studio, but great singles were spawned anyway, and today's pick was a nearly perfect piece of pop. I love the line "dreaming is free." Drummer Clem Burke must have had a blast with this one. It has a live sound because that's how it was recorded in the studio. Chris Stein has said he ripped off ABBA's "Dancing Queen." Perhaps I should give those Swedes a go because "Dreaming" remains a big smile to this day.
I was tempted to skip Big Country because it's not a favorite in our little community, but Stuart and the lads meant the world to me in the early '80s. So, I have chosen one song to mark their rather large space on the shelf. "Where the Rose is Sown" was the second single from the band's second full-length album, 'Steeltown.' In 1984, the band was still quite successful in the UK. In fact, this album was their only No. 1. In the U.S., the critics were still lauding them, especially Rolling Stone, but the devotion wasn't equating to dollars, and none of the three singles spawned from 'Steeltown' even managed to crack the Billboard Hot 100. It's a shame, too, because I think "Just a Shadow" is the second-best single the band ever produced, behind only "Harvest Home."
Today's pick is also quite good, and I would have thought fans of the first album, 'The Crossing,' would have flocked to its familiar sound. Along with the 45, I'm including the epic extended remix. It includes many of the bells and whistles producer Steve Lillywhite was known for during the era. Not everyone's cup of tea, I know. I'll fight the urge to have a second day of Big Country and move forward. As you can see from the collage below, I could keep this one going for a while.
Did you see Swiss Adam's fantastic imaginary compilation of Big Audio Dynamite via the (new) vinyl villain the other week? It has had me on a real B.A.D. kick ever since. Big Audio Dynamite were always a singles band for me, and I especially liked the hits from the first two albums, 'This Is Big Audio Dynamite' and 'No. 10, Upping Street'. That is in no way a slight since between the two long players there were at least six songs that charted on one list or another.
In case you haven't noticed from this series, as a teen, I never met a single that I didn't like to see extended, and Big Audio Dynamite were true artists at stretching it out. I have a few twelve-inchers from these fellas, but I'm going with the extended version of "The Bottom Line" today because in the comments section of Adam's post the Swede mentioned it would make his imaginary compilation. Right with you, brother. I'm including the B-side of the 12" as well. For the longest time I had mistakenly thought "BAD" had been released as a single in its own right, but I think that was because it got quite a bit of airplay due to its inclusion in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.' At any rate, both sides of this one are worth a listen... and just shy of a whopping 16 minutes in all!
Long time, no hear, eh? I have an excuse. Worst week ever. At least one person was sick in my household for eight straight days. This culminated with my wife and I both being sick at the same time for a couple of days... and I don't mean with colds either. I'm not going to mince words. I was scared. I don't ever recall a time when we have both been out of commission like that. We have two children. For the first time, I realized how important it is for all families to have a strong support network. We just don't have that. I was a middle-aged man that wanted his mommy, but she was 2.000 miles away. It might be time to let some people into our little bubble.
So, how was your week?
Just before last week's dark cloud, I had a couple of rewarding excursions to favorite record shops. When I was in the stacks, I picked up four new releases from the folks at Firestation Records. They mine the golden age of indie pop as well as any label out there. When I see their logo on a record, I'll take the risk and buy it without ever listening to a note, and that's exactly what I did with "A Lovely Scar," a nice bit of jangle from Hipflasks. Highly recommended.
The first of my two big finds, however, was the 12" of "Wonderful Lie" from the Hardy Boys. It's one of those coveted pieces of plastic that has been impossible to find since it was released in 1989. Through the years, the single has gone for crazy amounts of money on online auction sites. A copy I had my eye on sold for more than $200 a few years back. Firestation has done a wonderful job with this reissue. It's a spitting image of the original 1989 release, right down to the Stella Five logo in the corner, a label that came and went in the blink of an eye.
If you don't know the Hardy Boys, here are a few facts. They formed in Greenock, a town in the west central Lowlands of Scotland, in the middle '80s. The name refers to writer Thomas Hardy. There were lots of lineup changes early on, and I don't think there were any singles until they recorded "Wonderful Lie" in Edinburgh. Several years ago the band put out a compilation called "Play Songs from the Lenin and McCarthy Songbook" that is a good get but, of course, another tough find. What you'll hear there is that they had more going for them than "Wonderful Lie." In fact, "Let the World Smother You" is arguably the one that should have brought fortune and fame. Their sound changed a bit when they added Kate Baker on violin in the early part of 1990. It was all for not, as the Hardy Boys ended up disbanding by the end of that year. Some of the lads regrouped not long after and with a different style as Flame Up, but they flamed out without so much as a flicker.
I found a few video clips in the usual places of a reunited Hardy Boys in Glasgow around 2010. Bully for them! Firestation only pressed 200 copies of "Wonderful Lie." So, you had better hurry. This one has been out since last fall. I would say this song sounds a lot like my beloved Lucksmiths, but the timeline betrays that theory. I can't find a clip of the song from Firestation, and I don't want to just give this one away when there is so little money to be made for the band. So, here's the only stream I could find:
This one was impossible to pass up. Actually, Firestation released Nivens' compilation 'From A Northumbrian Mining Village Comes The Sound Of Summer' on CD back in 2006, but the label just put it out for the first time on vinyl in February. It's another one limited to 200 hand-numbered copies. (I got No. 4, which is kind of cool.) It's not 100 percent like the CD, but all of the songs from their Whoosh singles are here, and that's the important thing. To be honest, there are a few other songs that are completely new to me. Their origins are a mystery.
I really liked these guys. If you remember them, it's probably for their first single, "Yesterday," a top 10 indie hit, or because you saw them open for the La's, My Bloody Valentine, Brilliant Corners, Primal Scream or some other band you were into. They came and went in a heartbeat, partly because a dance band from Norwich called themselves the Nivens too. The Nivens I liked dropped the article "The", but it wasn't enough to end the confusion. To hell with it. The lads weren't getting along anyway. "Yesterday" charted in early '89, and they were yesterday's news by '90. NME cheered. You got this one wrong, Mr. True. Remember that 'C87' box I featured a couple of weeks ago? Nivens' early song "Room Without a View" is supposed to be part of that hootenanny. It's on this record too.
All mp3s posted at LTL! are to highlight music you should buy... right now. Sure, give it a listen, but then run to your nearest indie record shop and pay up. Mp3s are linked for a limited time. Rants and raves to email@example.com.