Friday, May 26, 2017

Turntable Una'whale'able. Come Back Tomorrow

Today marks the beginning of Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of summer, and many will be finding their way to the beaches to celebrate. For those of you in my neck of the woods, I would recommend staying far away from Twin Harbors State Park on the Pacific Coast of Washington. There is a rotting 30-foot gray whale on the beach, and the smell is said to be overpowering. What to do? Washington State Parks rangers have decided the best course of action is to let it decay and become food for seagulls and crabs. That will make for a fun summer in those parts, eh? One option not considered was blowing it up like those weirdos to our south did in Oregon back in 1970. Watch this. You won't believe what happened. American ingenuity at its best.

Oh, and state parks officials are reminding people not to take parts of the rotting whale because it's a federal offense. Uh, okay, thanks for the warning. That was close. Happy summer, everyone.

Tens of thousands of songs at my disposal and not one about blowing up whales. Pitiful. This will have to suffice.

Preston School of Industry - Whalebones

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 11)

It's an old story. Girl meets boy at university. That's about as far as you can take the "old story" label. While in Hull, during the first calendar year away from home, Tracey Thorn puts out albums with Marine Girls, Everything But the Girl and as a solo artist. There is a Peel Session and a single of the week in NME with Marine Girls. Don't forget the cover of Melody Maker and interview after interview with all of the music mags. Then there is checking the same publications to see how all of your various entities are being reviewed and moving on the indie chart, even having two slots in the top 10 at the same time! Meanwhile, your partner in Everything But the Girl and in life, Ben Watt, is releasing an album with Robert Wyatt and having his own run with the music magazines. Oh, and there is that whole trying to earn a degree thing.

Sounds a lot like your first year of college, right?

Elvis Costello and Martin Fry reviewed this first single by Everything But the Girl for Radio 1's "Roundtable" program. They, of course, loved it. Thorn remembers in her book 'Bedsit Disco Queen' that the two "threatened to steal the show's copy afterwards." These three songs are miles away from the big sound we heard yesterday on the "Come on Home" 12". The shadowy cover above says it all, really. Guitar and voice that would work perfectly in a smoky downstairs jazz bar. The A-side is Cole Porter's classic. Even U2 couldn't ruin this song (although they gave it a good run!). "Feeling Dizzy" is by Watt, and "On My Mind" is a Thorn composition also recorded by Marine Girls. I'll take this version. More singles from EBTG tomorrow.

"Night and Day"
"Feeling Dizzy"
"On My Mind"

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 10)

In these dark times, the consensus in our blogging community seems to be that the show should and must go on, and I wholeheartedly agree.

As I continue this massive vinyl-ripping project and series, there are some bands that need and deserve more than one post. The need is because there is too much to rip to complete the task in a mere one or two sittings. This brings the blog to a standstill. If I have a huge stack of vinyl by a band, chances are they are very important to me, and I don't like equating a single post by someone minor in the collection, such as Terence Trent D'Arby, with a vital band like today's selection, Everything But the Girl. That means we will need to spend a few days with Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt while I catch up with the vinyl transfers.

Although I didn't keep up with the duo during the '90s, I think I have just about all there is to have by them in the '80s. I fell in love with Thorn's voice when she sang "The Paris Match" for the Style Council in '84. For much of the rest of the decade, I searched high and low for everything I could get my hands on that featured those pipes. For these pages, I'm going to focus on a few of my favorite singles.

Let's begin with this four-track 12" from 1986. "Come on Home," as well as much of the music on 'Baby, the Stars Shine Bright,' was Everything But the Girl going for it. In Thorn's memoir 'Besdit Disco Queen,' she explains the music that was influencing EBTG at the time:

"Our watchwords at the time were Spector, The Shngri-La's and the album Dusty in Memphis. Peter Walsh from The Apartments moved into our flat for a while, and introduced us to Charlie Rich records."

Ben Watt worked tirelessly on string arrangements, and a full orchestra and choir was brought into Abbey Road with Mike Hedges producing. Thorn called it "a grand gesture of a record." When Geoff Travis (their A&R man at the time) visited the studio and heard a finished mix of one of the songs for the first time, he said, "Well, it's very good, but is there possibly a little too much going on in there?" Just what you want to hear after all of that labor, I'm sure.

The extended version of "Come on Home" is a minute longer than the album version and has a lovely prelude. "Draining the Bar," written by Thorn, had to have been influenced by those Rich records. Hearing pedal steel was quite a shock in '86, but I love the song, especially lyrically. For quite a while, you could only get this song on the 7" and 12", but it eventually showed up on the 1992 Japanese import '82-92 Essence And Rare.' There's a nice acoustic version of "Come on Home" on there, too. As for the cover of "I Fall to Pieces," that one was really tough to find until 2012 when 'Baby, the Stars Shine Bright" got the deluxe treatment in 2012. Man, I hate it when my vinyl becomes obsolete.

"Come on Home" (Extended)
"Draining the Bar"
"Come on Home"
"I Fall to Pieces"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Two Great Songs That Sound Great Together (2)

Here's another twofer I used to love to put back to back on mix tapes when I was a lad. It feels like the Nick Lowe-Elvis Costello combinations could be endless, really, but I liked to stack these two songs from 1978 for their slightly eerie atmospheres. One song is decidedly superior to the other, always making Lowe's "No Reason" the build to the masterpiece, but the album it comes from, 'Jesus of Cool,' is impossible to cut up. I couldn't imagine Lowe would make a better album, at least until he released 'The Impossible Bird' in 1994. That's an argument for another day. It's clear these two fellas that have nothing but respect for each other's craft, and each has much to be thankful for because of the other.

Nick Lowe - "No Reason"
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea"

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Single and Album News From the Popguns

With a nearly 20-year wait between albums 'Love Junky' and 'Pop Fiction,' fans of the Popguns were nothing if not patient. These days, however, the band has become downright prolific, churning out indie-pop gems like their halcyon days on Midnight Records. If you have been following along, you have no doubt fallen for the Popguns' charms every step of the way, and the impending single, "So Long," will be no exception. Matinée Recordings will release the digital only single on Friday, and the Popguns' Bandcamp page will also have the song available as a free download for one week only. Excited yet? Maybe this will grab your attention. Although "So Long" is a digital only release, the Popguns have about 20 promo CD singles in their portfolio. Rather than being left to collect dust in an attic somewhere, the singles will be sold on the Bandcamp page beginning Friday. If you're a die-hard fan, log on early. These are sure to move quickly.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to ask guitarist Simon Pickles about the new single. He explains, "'So Long' is basically an indulgence in breeze-pop guitars, multi-layered harmonies and a Lloyd Cole-esque lyric of romantic melancholia about a low-fidelity summer fling. We actually recorded it in summer 2015 but only finished off the album last year before the usual delays before release."

"So Long" is just the beginning. It's the walk-up single to 'Sugar Kisses,' the new album due out June 16, but as Jimmy often does, 'Sugar Kisses' will get an early release date of June 1 exclusively through Matinée Recordings.

Pickles also gives his thoughts on 'Sugar Kisses' and contrasts it with the band's triumphant 2014 comeback release. "I think the album is more raw than 'Pop Fiction,' and "So Long" is probably the lightest tune on it. It features 10 new songs with a pretty big variety and certainly some good old-fashioned, straight down the middle Popguns power pop. We think it's a hell of a lot of fun and we really, really can't wait to play the tunes live." Now I know you're excited.

Q&A With Simon and Wendy Pickles of the Perfect English Weather
Favorite Albums of 2014
Favorite Songs of 2014
Pull Trigger on New Single From the Popguns
The Popguns Aim High and Hit the Bull's-Eye
Still Waiting For New Popuns? Not for Long
Top 100 Songs From the 1990s (No. 22)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 9)

While having a recent in-depth conversation about records and blogging with Walter and JC, or "the Blogfather," as JC is now known, the Blogfather suddenly paused, looked me square in the eye and said, "You know we aren't normal." He's correct, of course, this music obsession of ours, and having a savant-like talent for recalling when and where I have bought thousands of records may be a case in point. That brings me to the two albums above and a wonderful memory of finding them.

In 1988, at age 18, I took a road trip with my best friend. This was the first time I had ever had an adventure like that, and my heart was filled with excitement at this newfound independence. It was a feeling that could never be replicated. You're only young once. We drove all night and well into the next day to get from the cornfields of Illinois to Austin, Texas. Not a care in the world. Lots of junk food and singalongs to early B-52's as dawn was breaking. We were so punchy by then we actually started to think we sounded good. Our first stop in Austin was to Waterloo Records. The legendary shop lived up to expectations when I heard Dinosaur Jr.'s 'You're Living All Over Me' playing on the sound system.

I was heavily into Bowie and Talking Heads at the time, still am, in fact, but I had yet to discover Brian Eno's solo work. I bought his first two albums that day. I still can't believe 'Here Come the Warm Jets' and 'Taking Tiger Mountain' are from 1974. Besides Bowie and Roxy Music, I didn't think there was anything else out there from the era except bad AM-radio hits. These albums opened my mind to the possibilities there could be more good music from the early '70s. Here are the opening tracks to both albums. I have to say they both sound pretty good today.

"Needles in the Camel's Eye"
"Burning Airlines Give You So Much More"

Monday, May 15, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 8)

Back in November, one day after the catastrophic election, to be exact, I featured the soundtrack to 'Dance Craze,' an album chock full of gems from ska's second wave. I purposely focused on minor acts like Bad Manners and the Bodysnatchers because I knew the rest of the bands on the album would get their own day in this series. That brings us to the English Beat. My apologies to the rest of the world for "the Donald" and the fact that we here in America call the Beat the English Beat (in that order). It was all to avoid the confusion of having a terrific power-pop band called the Beat here on our shores... Los Angeles to be exact. I don't like them as much as Dave, Roger and the rest, but they are worth a listen.

My vinyl section for the English Beat is nothing special. I have the three studio albums and a couple of singles. Even that sparse collection became obsolete when I invested in the five-disc 'The Complete Beat' box set when it came out in 2012, but I hung on to the wax anyway. I bought the box for the two discs of bonus material that included extended versions, remixes and dub mixes, as well as all three Peel Sessions and a live performance. I had some of that material on vinyl, and that's what we'll listen to today. Here is the "Jeanette" 12" in all of its scratchy glory. Not a big deal to you folks on the other side of the pond, but I only have a couple of pieces of vinyl with the Go-Feet Records imprint, and this is one of them. The English Beat were on I.R.S. over here. The B-side is an extra-long instrumental version of "Rotating Head" made famous on 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'

"Jeanette" (Extended)
"March of the Swivel Heads" (Extended)

Linear Tracking Lives turns 8 today. I want to thank everyone who has stopped by over the years. I have always said I'll quit doing this when it starts to feel like work. I'm still having fun, and it's because of you. Until tomorrow, then...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dipping Toe Into Sunday Soul

This is something more likely found on the pages of Drew's or CC's blogs, but I was so moved by this song earlier this week it literally made me stop the car when I heard it. On Wednesday, I'm driving home my oldest son from swimming when KEXP here in Seattle spins the finest 10 minutes of music I have ever heard on the radio. The DJ dusts off some Dusty and follows it up with Nancy and Lee. Then, to tout an entire day of music dedicated to soul the station has planned for Friday, they play this...

Lorraine Ellison - "Stay With Me"

Now, I have heard this song many times, but I'm not sure I had really heard it, you know? Her plea got to me in a way it hadn't before, and I could feel the waterworks coming. There's a pretty interesting backstory to "Stay With Me." In 1966, Frank Sinatra cancelled his recording session at the last minute, leaving a 46-piece orchestra with nothing to do. Warner Bros. put in a call to producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy to see if he wanted to do anything with them. Ragovoy and writer George David Weiss quickly arranged "Stay With Me" and had the virtually unknown Ellison come down to sing it. Happy accident, indeed. I have read in places it was done in one take. Ellison's delivery produced many wet eyes in the orchestra that day. If you're not careful, you may need a tissue too.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Musical Memories of Glasgow

Nearly a week on, as the blogger that turned out the lights on the wildly successful Scotland summit, I can't help but think this weekend might not quite live up to the last one. I take solace in the friendships that were formed and the memories that will linger forevermore. The visit was perfect in every way, and I can't thank our Glaswegian hosts enough. They even somehow arranged nice weather. Who comes home from Glasgow with a tan? Most of my peers have already written about the weekend better than I ever could, but I thought I had better get a few things on the record before time and retelling blows everything all out of proportion. I mean, how long before Dirk's claim that eight out of 10 girls he saw on Saturday afternoon looked like models becomes 10 out of 10? Here are a few stops along the way that meant a lot to me.

Do you recognize the address 185 West Princes Street? Flat 2/R of the rather nondescript building was home to Alan Horne's Postcard Records. JC and I stopped there on Sunday night just as the sun was setting for the evening and on the entire trip. As I stood there thinking about Edwyn, Roddy, Paul and Malcolm passing in and out of that doorway with the world on a string, I was struck by how there was nothing on the building to mark what had occurred there in 1980 and '81. This should be a landmark with some kind of signage on the second floor on the outer facade. Everything happened on the second floor, and the distance from the ground may keep sticky-fingered fans from stealing the plaque. This project is a labor of love I'm seriously considering.

On Saturday night, I heard JC tell Strangeways I'm a Glaswegian at heart. It's true. Scotland is my favorite place on earth. Why? Three reasons. The people. The music. The climate. Not necessarily in that order. That's why my chance meetings with pop stars was so exciting. Many of my favorite labels and bands call Scotland home, and they have always seemed so far away. Running into any of them on the street or in a pub seemed so unlikely to me, but it's different in Glasgow. Everyone seems to know each other and is so approachable and friendly.

As you can see above, I met a Bluebell. That's Ken McCluskey. Fortunately, I met him fairly early in the day and was still coherent enough to tell him about discovering the Bluebells through the self-titled EP Sire put out in North America in 1983. If I had seen him just a couple of hours earlier, he would have seen a 12" extended version of "Cath" under my arm, one of several purchases made at Missing. Would have loved to have had him sign it. You might notice Ken is sporting an Electric Honey T-shirt. Ken co-runs the famous in-house label of Glasgow Kelvin College, and JC and I both picked up their latest release, 'Any Joy' by Pronto Mama.

One thing quickly learned in Glasgow was you never walk by a pub... you walk through it. Upon our very next pub stop after meeting a Blubell, JC introduced me to David MacGregor of Kid Canaveral. I had the privilege of telling the frontman I literally listen to him every single day. "Good Morning" from the 2010 debut album 'Shouting at Wildlife' is the song that wakes me up. Try it some time. Great way to start the day. David gave me a vinyl copy of the album, which I'm holding in the above photo. When he handed it to me, I let him know when I visited Scotland for the first time in 2012 the first thing I did when I got off the plane was pick up 'Shouting at Wildlife' on CD at the now defunct Avalanche Records in Edinburgh.

On Saturday morning, I hoped to right a wrong from five years ago. Many of you know my story of visiting Stephen Pastel's record shop called Monorail. I went in to buy the first album from Veronica Falls, and it just so happened to be the very album Stephen put on as I was approaching the counter. I handed him the album I wanted to to buy, and he smiled when he saw it. It was the perfect opening for me to introduce myself and tell him what an honor it was to meet him. Maybe even talk to him about his music. I froze. Not a single word was passed during the transaction, and I have been filled with regret ever since.

When our gang arrived on Saturday, it appeared Stephen wasn't there. I was a little disappointed but excited to thumb through the racks. Just about the time I hit the letter T, I looked up from the records to see Stephen saunter in. I nearly jumped out of my shoes. Then I had a quick check of my pals having a cup of tea in the next room. They had been watching me the whole time, and I guess my reaction lived up to expectations because they were all smiles. Happy to report I didn't freeze this time. Stephen complimented me on picking up 'Paperback Ghosts' from Comet Gain, and I was able to tell what his contributions to music meant to me. Weight lifted.

Just outside of Monorail, the bloggers reconvened for tea. Out of nowhere, the Glasgow contingent began passing out gifts to the out-of-towners. It felt like Christmas. There were Postcard T-shirts (one I didn't already have!), personally chosen 7" Northern Soul singles from Drew of Across the Kitchen Table (based on our past positive comments on his blog), the new Butcher Boy 7" and either a music book or CD. Why? Hmm, didn't think to ask. Too busy bug-eyed over my signed copy of Close Lobsters' 'Firestation Towers' set from JC. On Sunday, he shared the story of how he pulled off the feat, and it's quite an involved tale that will be told another time, but I will say I was rolling when he said, "So I was standing outside my house waiting for a Close Lobster, as you do..." All in all, I didn't spend all that much time in record shops. Yet, I came home with a bounty that included five LPs, two CDs, eight 7" singles, three 12" singles and one 10" EP, many of them gifted to me by pals or pop stars. Surreal. The music should make for a plethora of future posts.

This is a music blog, and that's what I focused on here. If you were part of the summit, you know music may have brought us together, but that's not really what our time together was all about. It was the camaraderie. It was the culture. It was the shitty third-tier Scottish football. It was the drinking. Let me repeat. It was the drinking. It was toasting our blogging friends, guest writers and brilliant commenters that couldn't be with us. It was the stories. It was tightening the binds that were already there. Even though many of us had never met before, we were all already old friends... and it felt like it. I, for one, can't wait for the second summit.

The Bluebells - "Some Sweet Day"
Kid Canaveral - "Good Morning"
The Pastels - "Not Unloved"
Close Lobsters - "Let's Make Some Plans"

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 7)

Back from the blogging summit in Scotland, and there is much to say, which I will do in the next day or two. In the meantime, let's return to the vinyl-ripping series that's been on hiatus for about three weeks.

For the first seven years of this blog, I never brought up Emily. I must be making up for lost time because this is the third time in the past eight months, including the passing mention on the post I did just before leaving for Scotland. Emily had a relatively quiet run from 1987 to 1989 and is best known for the four-song "Irony" EP, the 50th release by Creation. Through the years, I have grown to believe there might have been a better record. In 1989, the band briefly joined Esurient Communications, the short-lived label founded by Kevin Pearce from the legendary Hungry Beat fanzine. If Esurient rings a bell, then you were most likely an indie kid really into Jasmine Minks, the Claim or Hellfire Sermons.

Emily's contribution to the label was the "Stumble" 7". The song begins with the soft acoustic sound fans had come to expect, but before long, there is a keyboard, bold percussion and... a flute! There's saxophone too. Yikes! Could have been (and should have been) a disaster, but the dramatic build and tension it creates completely works. Ollie Jackson's vocal delivery contributes to the success of the the song in the same way Lawrence's voice is such a factor in the best songs by Felt. The single can go for $50 or more, but the always dependable German label Firestation resurrected the song on a brilliant double-album retrospective last year. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Remember... This Is Fun!

About to begin the trek to Scotland to meet our blogging mates, and I couldn't be more excited. Thus, things will be quiet on these pages until early next week. I leave you with a gem from that land perhaps you haven't heard before.

If you recall Remember Fun at all, it's probably for the 1987 song "Hey Hey Hate" on Matt Haynes' pre-Sarah flexi label Sha-la-la.. a real keeper of a split 7" shared with Emily. A song on a charity album and another on a comp from Egg Records followed, but that's about it. They have been compared to Close Lobsters and Church Grims, but that's probably a bit lazy and comes down to geography in one case and a shared label (and geography) with the other. Their moniker may make you think of some manufactured boy band, but I promise you this is indie pop at its best... bitter words about life unfulfilled masked by cheery jangle.

In 2001, Jimmy, the fearless leader of Matinée Recordings, unearthed a handful of unreleased songs from the fellas, and each turned out to be better than the next. The following song is thought to be from 1989. To all of my pals making the journey to Glasgow in the coming days, no matter how you get there, be safe. See you soon. This is going to be fun! If this one is to your liking, spend the $4 and pick it up here.

Remember Fun - "Train Journeys"

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two Great Songs That Sound Great Together

Ever since Echorich and others celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Clash's debut album, I have been stuck in the late '70s. Stuck isn't the right word since I'm happy to be here. I recently assembled a mix of songs from 1977-1979 that shares one thing in common with the dozens of other '70s mixes that have come before it. I always have these two songs back to back. Sounds like they were separated at birth. We should prepare for a plethora of posts celebrating the big 4-0 for many of the best albums in your collection. These next few years are going to be packed with 'em.

Eddie & the Hot Rods - "Do Anything You Wanna Do" (1977)
The Records - "Starry Eyes" (1978)