Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One of Blur's Finest Moments

I could be wrong but, as an outsider looking in, it seems like the buzz on the other side of the Atlantic right now is all Blur... all the time. Hey, it beats Lana Del Rey. There have been announced shows, the performance of a new song (see below), news of a possible album, as well as a lifetime achievement award coupled with a five-song television appearance. Blur is even headlining a special "Best of British" show from Hyde Park to help cap off the London Olympics this summer (along with the Specials and New Order). That little announcement only confirms what many of us over here instinctively knew: The UK is, simply, much cooler than the USA. Thinking about what a "Best of American" lineup would be if it was our Olympics makes me shudder.

Enough America bashing. Blur made one of my favorite albums of the 1990s with 'Parklife,' and I have been after the duet version of "To The End" that Damon Albarn sang with French chanteuse Françoise Hardy for quite some time. I love the addition of accordions and the long fade out with strings, but it's Hardy's voice that makes this worth acquiring. I can't claim to be up on my Hardy discography, but I have included a few clips of her work from the early to late 1960s. What a stunner! There's also some nice footage of her with Blur during the recording.

I got this take while hitting record stores in Glasgow a few weeks ago with The Vinyl Villain. It's one of the B-sides to Blur's
"Country House" single, but I believe it is also available as an A-side French import with an instrumental version, too. I'm glad I never succumbed to clicking my mouse for this one. I ended up paying 1 pound for it. Profitez-en!

Blur - To The End (La Comedie) (mp3)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Appreciating Afrodiziac

Like many of you, I suppose, my first memory of Afrodiziak was seeing the duo of Caron Wheeler and Claudia Fontaine backing up Elvis Costello & the Attractions on the video "Everyday I Write the Book" back in 1983. Through the years, they popped up on other recordings I picked up, including a terrific bootleg of Costello's 'Punch the Clock' tour called 'Riot Act.' During my ska phase (didn't we all have one of those?), I heard Afrodiziak on a couple of later Madness albums, including the single
"Sweetest Girl." (Personally, I'll take the original Scritti Politti version.) I think we can all agree that, at least commercially, their work on Howard Jones' 'Dream Into Action' was the group's highpoint. For a while in '85, their voices on "Life in One Day" and "Things Can Only Get Better" saturated the airwaves, and the gals were prevalent on the videos.

The reason I was thinking about Afrodiziak today was because I recently picked up the 12" single of the Jam's "Beat Surrender." One of the B-sides I just listened to was a cover of "War," popularized by Edwin Starr. The back cover confirmed what I was assuming. There was Afrodiziac again! I have owned the Jam's odds-and-sods collection 'Extras' for many years, but this song, surprisingly, isn't on there. I read up a bit and learned Afrodiziak backed the lads on the Jam's last tour. My ignorance has left my head spinning. How did I miss this? My USB turntable is on the fritz, but I'll try to get "War" posted at some point. At the very least, it's a curiosity. In the meantime, below is a classic clip of "Beat Surrender" from a TV appearance. Sadly, as you watch this, you'll realize the clock is about to strike 12 on one of the all-time great bands.

As for Afrodiziak, not long after their work with the Jam and Costello, a third singer, Naomi Thompson, joined the fold. Thus, there are three in the photo above. I don't know too much about her, but I do know she appears on the 'Dream Into Action' stuff and is with the other gals on the Heaven 17 album 'How Men Are.' As for Wheeler, she lent her voice to the Special AKA album
'In the Studio,' (produced by her old pal Costello), and she went on to be a pretty big star as the lead singer of the R&B group Soul II Soul. Fontaine continued to back other groups, including EMF.

Here are some samples of Afrodiziak's work. Although they seem to be a mere footnote in our music collections, they are worth remembering.

Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Everyday I Write the Book (Special Version) (mp3)
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Charm School (Live) (mp3)
Madness - Sweetest Girl (Extended Version) (mp3)
Howard Jones - Things Can Only Get Better (Extended Version) (mp3)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Blubberin' 'Bout Sea Lions

If you aren't a fan of Orange Juice and/or the C86 movement, then you probably wouldn't be here. You're also probably aware Slumberland is just about the best label out there for landing today's C86-influenced bands. Well, they have done it again. A few months ago they released the full-length debut from Oxnard, Calif.,-based band Sea Lions, and I am digging it more than anything I have heard so far this year. If I hadn't been so late to the party, I'm sure they would have been near the top of my best of 2011 list.

Do yourself a favor and download a few tunes from the widget below. If you do that, I won't need to remind you to then go out and buy 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sea Lions But Were Afraid to Ask.' Close Lobsters are no longer the only fish in this sea.

Sea Lions - Everything... LP Sampler by Slumberland Records

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hoodoo Gurus Haven't Gone Way of Dino

I always liked the power pop of Hoodoo Gurus in a greatest hits sort of way. "I Want You Back," "Like, Wow – Wipeout!" and "Come Anytime" were easily digestible pieces of '80s alt rock I still listen to fondly, but I haven't really thought about the band as a current entity for a couple of decades. I had no idea but, it turns out, after a lengthy hiatus in the late '90s and early '00s, Hoodoo Gurus reunited in '03 and have since released two studio albums, including 'Purity of Essence' in 2010. One song, "Use-By Date," was a digital bonus track from that set. Now it's the new single from a 20-track best-of collection -- available as an Aussie import March 16 -- called 'Gold Watch.' Check out the stellar tracklist, as well as a classic and brand-new video.

'Gold Watch: 20 Golden Greats' Tracklist
New single (2012):
1. Use-By Date
From the "Leilani" 7" single(1982):
2. Leilani
From 'Stoneage Romeos'(1984):
3. Tojo
4. My Girl
5. I Want You Back
From 'Mars Needs Guitars!' (1985):
6. Bittersweet
7. Like, Wow – Wipeout!
8. Death-Defying
From 'Blow Your Cool!' (1987):
9. What's My Scene?
10. Good Times
From 'Magnum Cum Louder'(1989):
11. Come Anytime
12. Axegrinder
From 'Kinky' (1991):
13. Miss Freelove '69
14. 1000 Miles Away
15. Castles In The Air
From 'Crank' (1993):
16. The Right Time
From 'In Blue Cave'(1996):
17. Waking Up Tired
From 'Mach Schau' (2004):
18. When You Get To California
From 'Purity of Essence'(2010):
19. Hope You're Happy
20. Crackin' Up

Hoodoo Gurus Use-By Date from Dan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Different Takes From 'Drums and Wires' Era

I have already gone on the record that my favorite era of XTC is when their lineup included the manic keyboards of Barry Andrews. Damn blog. Well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going. 'Drums and Wires,' the band's third album and first without Andrews, is consistently my most listened to in their long and illustrious catalog. Yes, I'm parsing words. If you don't have the physically out-of-print 'Coat of Many Cupboards' box set, you may not have heard these takes on 'Drums and Wires' standouts "Life Begins at the Hop" and "Helicopter."

This re-recorded version of "Life Begins at the Hop" was put to tape in September 1979 because Virgin Records thought Australian producer Cameron Allen had the magic touch to make this already great song a hit in America. I agree with Colin Moulding that "Cameron was definitely after a wholesome apple pie, which we gave. But I think I prefer the strudel we had prepared earlier." Andy Partridge took his criticism of this version quite a bit further: It sounds "as if one side of the stereo cut out." If you know the "Drums and Wires" take well, you'll find what Partridge meant quite jarring. Here's a bit of trivia: The hand claps on this unused U.S. single recording were done by Sting and his wife, Francis Tomelty.

Here's an unused single re-recording of "Helicopter," with album producer Steve Lillywhite at the controls in June of '79. Partridge describes it as "tougher than its predecessor." His vocals are not as good as on the album version we all know, but I love the grit of this take. The '80s were just around the corner. Enjoy one of the last times you would hear XTC with a touch of punk.

XTC - Helicopter (Unused Single Recording) (mp3)
XTC - Life Begins at the Hop (Unused U.S. Single Recording) (mp3)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Oral History of MTV Reads Like the Channel

Chances are if you see a teen today that kid's attention is completely diverted by a tiny screen and thumbs moving a million miles an hour. Annoying, right? Well, that was me for a huge chunk of the '80s... without the portability. After seeing ads like this, I wanted and got my MTV.

I constantly badgered my cable company's local office with whiny phone messages, just as I had been directed to do on MTV's commercials. My town finally got the channel in August of '83, and I didn't leave the sofa, more of less, for three years. I learned that there was a definite video rotation. For example, I got out of school at 3:00, and I knew if I could be home by 3:05 I could see Paul McCartney's "So Bad." Can you imagine someone running home for that one? Well, I did. During vacations, I would often stay up until dawn because I was sure the next video would be one that I had to see. Shows like 'The Cutting Edge,' 'The Young Ones' and, eventually, '120 Minutes' shaped my taste at least as much as music magazines did. As record executive Mark Ghuneim said, "'120 Minutes' was the Pitchfork of its time." This brief peek into my childhood should give you an idea how much the channel once meant to me.

I got the whopping 600-plus page 'I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution' for Christmas from my mother, and I plowed through the first two-thirds of the book before the kids were back to school from break. It's an oral history in quick snippets taken from interviews of more than 400 people (VJs, music executives, video directors and the artists themselves) that begins with the idea for the channel and ends in 1992, when authors Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum feel MTV -- as a place for music videos -- died. Of course, those of us who watched from nearly the beginning (and didn't like hair metal) know it died quite a few years before that, but that's an argument for another day.

My reading slowed to a crawl during the last third of the book because the subject matter encompasses metal, rap, music/political news, reality television and other original programming that I cared little about at the time and care even less about now. You might say reading this book was a lot like the channel itself... very interesting at the beginning and, by the late '80s, an absolute wasteland.

Getting MTV off the ground was a daunting task not unlike an Internet startup, and that was the most interesting section of the book. The rock-and-roll lifestyles displayed on video sets were a close second because many of the book's participants enjoyed naming names. This book also confirmed a couple of things I always assumed: Second-generation VJs Adam Curry and Julie Brown were a couple of douches, and Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonite" was, indeed, "a whopping, steaming turd." There is an entire chapter devoted to that clip, generally referred to as "the worst video ever made." How could he not know his manhood would be questioned after this one?

I barely finished the book when a press release from Atria Books announced an oral history of MTV from the four surviving original MTV VJs. They claim although each of them participated in 'I Want My MTV,' they saved their best stories for this unfinished tale. I wouldn't blame you if you waited for that one to come out, but I doubt it will be done as well as this one.

There are quite a few of you out there my age that lament the passing of MTV as a music-video channel. You shouldn't. MTV's ratings as a video channel were never as good as when they could capture youths in a 30-minute show format, and they make much more money from advertisers when these companies know you aren't turning the station when three minutes with the Cure is followed by three minutes with Whitesnake. Times change, and you have to credit MTV for keeping up with today's youth. MTV should always be for teens. As for you nostalgic video watchers, you can still see them on VH1 Classic. Heck, I have hours of '120 Minutes' on my DVR right now, and a particular video I want to see (of new artists too) is just a couple of clicks away on the Internet. The best part is I don't have to stay up all night waiting for it to come on again either. One click and I can see it all over again. I no longer want my MTV. Kids, you can have it, but it is fun to reminisce.

Let's take a trip to the early days of MTV. Amazingly, all of these made the Top 40. I don't think any of them would have without the influence of the video channel.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Download Eleanor Friedberger's Live EP

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have no doubt learned by now one of my favorites from 2011 was Eleanor Friedberger's 'Last Summer.' Friedberger and Merge have released a free five-song EP of live material for download. If you're willing to give the label your email address, you can grab it from the widget above. Believe me, it's worth it. Friedberger's album was pretty underrated, but it seems critics and listeners are starting to catch up. If you don't have 'Last Summer' yet, pick it up at your local mom-and-pop shop right now. Even if you disliked her old band -- the Fiery Furnaces -- as much as I did, I think you'll be surprised by this gem.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'The Crossing' to Glasgow (Part 2)

Big Country
Feb. 6, 2012

I had traveled quite a bit more than "400 miles!" (3,600, actually) and was about to see my favorite band from my youth at the one venue on the planet I had always dreamed of seeing them. So, why the rock in the pit of my stomach as I chanted "here we go!" before the show? Somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I think I had doubts about a lineup without Stuart Adamson.

What I quickly realized was the Alarm's Mike Peters wasn't replacing Adamson as frontman so much as he was paying homage to him. This show was a celebration of the 30th anninversary of 'The Crossing' at Big Country's spiritual home, and Peters got it. His admiration for Adamson and Big Country was palpable. Between songs, Peters shared stories and recited his favorite lyrics. It was obvious Adamson would not be forgotten, and it made my butterflies fly away. If there are any fans out there that fear this lineup is no different than J.D. Fortune as the ill-fated frontman for INXS, you can relax. Adamson and Peters are kindred spirits.

Peters didn't just bring fine vocals to the party. He brought enthusiasm and a stage presence, sans Adamson, Big Country sorely needed. Granted, the talents of Bruce Watson, Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki are almost without peer. After Adamson's death, however, the shows they did together seemed like a struggle. With the addition of Peters and Watson's son, Jamie, they are, once again, a cohesive unit capable of performing the classics we love and producing new material worthy of the Big Country name.

If I could have created the setlist, it wouldn't have been much different than what they played. Like so many shows from their heyday, they opened with "Angle Park." I would have liked a little more 'Steeltown,' particularly "Where the Rose Is Sown," "Come Back to Me" and "Just a Shadow," but I was happy to hear "East of Eden." There are rumors of 'Steeltown' shows in 2014. Perhaps I need to be patient. If asked, I would have requested obscure B-side "Balcony," and I was shocked they played it. In hindsight, however, it didn't translate well live and slowed the momentum.

I had goosebumps when the opening drums to "In a Big Country" kicked in and Peters shouted, "This is 'The Crossing!'" This is as good a time as any to talk about the crowd. Barrowland was packed, and for many of this decidedly "older" crowd this was like taking a time machine to Big Country's famous Dec. 31, 1983, show there. From the very first "Shout!" the "kids" were bouncing. The songs of 'The Crossing' are anthems, and we all sang along to every word, much like we did to the album as lads in our bedrooms three decades ago. The highlight from 'The Crossing' portion of the show was "Chance." As you will see in the video below, Peters sang it from the middle of the room... not more than 10 feet from me. Don't laugh. That dot back there in the photo above really is me.

I teared up a bit during the encore, particularly during "Tracks of My Tears." Adamson loved playing that cover, and he crooned it to the Barrowland crowd at the New Year's Eve show all those years ago. I wondered if there were others around me thinking of him at that moment. Yes, this night belonged to Peters and the rest of Big Country, but Adamson was never far away.

Big Country - Harvest Home (mp3)
Live from Barrowland, Dec. 31, 1983

Set List: Big Country from Barrowland, Feb. 6, 2012
Angle Park
East Of Eden
Another Country
The Crossing
Restless Natives
In A Big Country
1000 Stars
The Storm
Harvest Home
Lost Patrol
Close Action
Fields Of Fire
Tracks Of My Tears
Look Away

Video: "In a Big Country," "Chance" and "Fields of Fire" from Barrowland, Feb. 6, 2012

See Also: 'The Crossing' to Glasgow (Part 1)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day From The Drums

In case you didn't make it to the band's Facebook page today, here is a link to a free download and Valentine's Day message from the Drums. It's a cover of the Ronettes' "Do I Love You?" Thanks, lads.

Monday, February 13, 2012

'The Crossing' to Glasgow (Part 1)

Exactly one week ago I had, perhaps, my top day as a music fan. Granted, this day almost couldn't fail, but the reason this day catapulted from a good day to a great one was because of the hospitality of fellow music blogger The Vinyl Villain. I am forever in your debt.

As some of you out there know, I was given the best surprise Christmas present... a chance to see my beloved Big Country at Barrowland. We were in Scotland a few days, but I would have only one day in Glasgow. What a crime! A couple of weeks before the trip, I innocently wrote The Vinyl Villain to ask him for a few record shop recommendations in his hometown, but he went above and beyond.

The Vinyl Villain hosted us for the entire day. He took the train to Edinburgh and picked us up at our hotel that morning, and we didn't say our goodbyes until the return train at 11:30 that night. Incredible. We hit some of Glasgow's best shops, including Stephen Pastel's Monorail (and yes, I bought an album from the man himself) and Missing Records. One spot in particular, tucked behind a building off of an alley near the University of Glasgow and aptly referred to as "Records," was an absolute treasure chest. I'll play you something I got there in just a bit. There was also a quick stop at HMV so I could pick up the 30th anniversary deluxe edition of 'The Crossing' released that very day.

It wasn't all records shops. We had lunch at the legendary King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. I was able to see the stairs that listed famous alums (like Radiohead, Blur, Suede) that had played in front of 306 fans (if the place was sold out!). The conversation was wonderful. I dig a chap that can talk Postcard Records and American football without missing a beat. Later, at Street Level Photoworks, there was a fantastic looking exhibit called "What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos." Although it was closed the day I visited, the lobby was open. So, I was able to view quite a few interesting photographs of Scottish favorites like Roddy Frame, Clare Grogan and Edwyn Collins in candid moments not seen on album covers.

There were other pubs, clubs and museums along the way, but I wanted to mention we had the privilege of meeting Comrade Colin, a good pal of The Vinyl Villain and the man behind the blog And Before the First Kiss.... We thoroughly enjoyed his company at 13th Note, and I highly recommend visiting Colin's site.

One of my album purchases at "Records" was the Jam's
'Dig the New Breed.' I have owned it on cassette for at least 25 years. As you can imagine on such a format, it really needed to be replaced. I dedicate the following song to The Vinyl Villain. Not only was he with me when I bought this, but he was actually at the show that makes up much of this recording (Glasgow Apollo, April 8, 1982). I wish I could have met you then, too. Here's to my pal from across the pond. Cheers, mate!

The Jam - That's Entertainment (Live) (mp3)

Tomorrow I'll give you a recap of Big Country from Barrowland, and expect to hear some of my purchases from Scotland in the coming weeks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Not Quite Midnight for Dexys After All

Kevin Rowland has been claiming for years we would hear a new album from Dexys Midnight Runners (or Dexys, as they are now called). Via Facebook, Rowland has cried "wolf!" again. This time, however, there is audio evidence and a release date to back his claims. 'One Day I'm Going to Soar' will be out June 4, the band's first new album in 27 years. If you're American, there's a good chance you could care less. On this side of the pond, all most of us know is "Come on Eileen." First off, that should be enough for you to care... what a classic. Even my late father liked it. Secondly, if you do lump them among the many one-hit wonders from that era, you need a little learnin'. While you're at it, listen to something besides "Perfect Way" from Scritti Politti, too.

Between 1979 and 1986, Dexys Midnight Runners had 12 singles chart in the UK. Here is the video for their biggest song outside of "Come on Eileen," as well as a small sample of new material the band released today. A tour has been promised, but I assume they will stick to Europe.

Download "Green" Demo From OMD

I just got back from a trip to Scotland that included a dream day of record shopping and concert going worthy of a post this weekend. In the meantime, I noticed in my inbox tonight that while Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are hard at work on the followup to the wildly successful (OK, my opinion) 'History of Modern,' the fellas are giving us an early take of "Green," a track from that fine comeback album. All you need to do is enter your email address here. If you didn't get 'History of Modern,' check out this video. You older fans may recognize an album or two that should be tossed on the turntable tonight.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Best Big Country B-Sides

This is my last post before I'm off to Scotland to see Big Country at Barrowland. The blog will be static for a week or so, but I thought I would leave you with a little mix of my favorite flip sides from Big Country singles. The band had a couple of clunkers ("Bass Dance" and "Flag of Nations (Swimming)" come to mind), but I would place most of their B-sides alongside their best work. I apologize in advance if the sound quality is not up to snuff. These were ripped from my vinyl several years ago... before I got a little better quality USB turntable. If you want the best sound available, here's a reminder. You can get many of these songs when the deluxe edition of 'The Crossing' is released next week. For you vinyl enthusiasts, check out a sneak preview of the packaging below. Stay alive!

My Favorite Big Country B-Sides
Big Country - Balcony (mp3) (from the "Harvest Home" single)
Big Country - Angle Park (mp3) (from the "Fields of Fire" single)
Big Country - All of Us (mp3) (from the "In a Big Country" single)
Big Country - The Crossing (mp3) (from the "Chance" single)
Big Country - Prairie Rose (mp3) (from the "East of Eden" single)
Big Country - Winter Sky (mp3) (from the "Just a Shadow" single)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Best Skids 'Best Of' Yet

I swear I'll get off of this Scottish kick after my trip this weekend, but there is another new release from that region worth mentioning. Captain Oi!, the reissue king of UK punk classics, has made the seventh (by my count) compilation of the Skids. Somehow, they separated themselves from the pack with this remastered 33-song, two-disc set, 'The Singles Collection 1978-1981.' Every A- and B-side is here, and it's all beautifully housed in a clamshell box with a beefy booklet.

One of my earliest music purchases was a 7" single of the Skids' "Charade." I bought it without ever previously hearing it, or the band, for that matter. The art caught my eye, and the way the band's name was written seemed so punk rock. When you're a lad, that stuff is important. It didn't take long for me to realize the "Adamson" writing credit on the back was that Adamson... Stuart from Big Country. Through the years, I would acquire many other great songs from the Skids, but this one has always been my favorite.

The Skids - Charade (mp3)