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.
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.