Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrate NYE With Big Country

You poor suckers. While you're out having "fun" with friends, toasting 2013 and resolving to make this the best year ever, I'm disappearing into the past and refusing to think about the future at all. Ain't livin' in a bubble grand?

As I do every year, I'm ringing in New Year's Day with a viewing of my favorite show of all time, Big Country at Glasgow's Barrowland, circa Dec. 31, 1983.

As I have written here many times, Big Country was my favorite band in the early and middle '80s, and this concert was the lads' absolute high-water mark. They had just returned home from a successful stint in the States, and you can see and feel the homesickness subside and the happiness envelop them as they rip through every song on 'The Crossing,' as well as a couple of new songs from the upcoming "Wonderland" EP. They perform with pure passion and an unbridled enthusiasm that's downright infectious. And, in what I imagine was a first for a rock show, as the clock struck 12 in Scotland, the band leaves the stage for a bagpipe brigade that nearly tears the roof off the place.

Here are a few highlights, including an interview with the late Stuart Adamson about the special concert. This bit comes from the old out-of-print version of the show King Biscuit Flower Hour put out many years ago. Unfortunately, the interview was omitted from the CD/DVD combo version released by Track in 2009. Otherwise, this newer version is a stellar collection with many extras, including a 1982 concert from New York's Peppermint Lounge. It's a must for all fans.

Happy New Year! Stay alive!

Trivia Question: What momentous occasion occurred backstage involving Big Country producer Steve Lillywhite?

Jan. 6, 2013 Update: Lillywhite proposed to musician Kirsty MacColl.

Big Country - Fields of Fire (Live) (mp3)
Big Country - Harvest Home (Live) (mp3)
Interview With Stuart Adamson About NYE Show (mp3)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Top Reissues, Box Sets, Compilations of 2012

Honorable Mentions
The Jam - 'The Gift Box Set'
Blur - 'Blur 21: The Box Set'
fIREHOSE - 'lowFLOWs: The Columbia Anthology ('91-'93)'
Simple Minds - 'X5'
Sugar - 'A Box of Sugar'
Various Artists - 'Teenage Kicks: '1977-1981, The Music That Changed Everything'

10. 'Athens, Ga. - Inside/Out'
Finally back in print, the 1987 soundtrack to the documentary on the town's thriving music scene includes five bonus tracks and the movie on DVD. R.E.M. made this a must buy, but there are some great performances by Pylon, Kilkenny Cats, Flat Duo Jets, Time Toy, Bar-B-Que Killers, Dreams So Real, and Love Tractor. I still have this on vinyl, but I have never owned the movie before now.

9. Roxy Music: 'The Complete Studio Recordings: 1972-1982'
All eight albums are here. Discs nine and 10 are full of B-sides, remixes and unreleased material. There is quite a bit of debate as to the sound quality. The claim is it's a huge step up from the 1999 remasters. Many have complained they are "quiet." I'm no expert, but perhaps we have become accustomed to our reissues being loud just for the sake of it. That's a discussion for another time.

8. Aztec Camera - 'High Land, Hard Rain,' 'Knife,' 'Love,' 'Stray,' 'Dreamland,' 'Frestonia' (sold separately)
The entire band's discography is remastered and released in the same hard-cover book form as the Everything But the Girl reissues. Some remain single discs, while others are two-disc sets. Aztec Camera is a favorite of mine, but the inconsistency of the albums keeps these reissues from rating higher. Here's a quick look at the bonus material.

7. The Servants - 'Small Time/Hey Hey We're the Manques'
It took 20 years, but the followup to 'Disinterest' finally sees the light of day. As a bonus, most of the band's early demos are included.

6. Hoodoo Gurus - 'Gold Watch: 20 Golden Greats'
These Aussies are the perfect best-of band. "I Want You Back," "Come Anytime" and "Like Wow - Wipeout!" are all all here.

5. Josef K: 'Sorry For Laughing'
The shelved full-length Postcard album from 1980 is finally released in its entirety... and on vinyl to boot! Found this one under the tree on Christmas morning.

4. Everything But the Girl - 'Eden,' 'Love Not Money,' 'Baby the Stars Shine Bright,' 'Idlewild' (sold separately)
The duo's first four albums get the deluxe two-disc treatment. Lots of BBC Sessions, B-sides and unreleased home recordings are housed in disc-sized hardcover books with extensive liner notes. If you are an EBTG novice, these expensive import versions are probably not for you. The good news is fans like me traded in their old single discs. So, there should be lots of cheap used copies at your mom-and-pop shop.

3. The English Beat - 'The Complete Beat'
You probably have the three studio albums, but discs four and five are chock full of Peel Sessions, 12" versions and a live performance. The booklet is a nice read, too.

2. The Hit Parade - 'Pick of the Pops (Vol. 1)'
It wasn't easy, but I have managed to find all but two of the band's albums. This 20-song compilation plugged a couple of holes for me. If you're a fan of C86, you're going to love the jangle of Julian Henry.

1. Big Country - 'The Crossing: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition'
If, like me, you have the B-sides and the 'Rarities IV' demos disc, then you have most of the bonus songs on this two-disc set. Still, it's my pick because I bought it in Glasgow the afternoon it came out. That night, I saw the band perform the album in its entirety at Barrowland. It was one of my best days ever. So, I may have a wee bit of bias.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Top 25 Songs of 2012

First One Out: The Twilight Sad - "Another Bed"

25. M. Ward - "Primitive Girl"

24. The dB's - "Write Back"*

23. The Shins - "Simple Song"

22. Paul Weller - "That Dangerous Age"

21. Seapony - "What You Wanted"

20. The Hermit Crabs - "Stop This Now"

19. The June Brides - "A January Moon"

18. Marshall Crenshaw - "I Don't See You Laughing Now"

17. Lambchop - "If Not I'll Just Die"

16. Cats on Fire - "A Few Empty Waves"

15. Strawberry Whiplash - "Stop Look and Listen"**

14. Tilbury - "Tenderloin"

13. The Walkmen - "Heaven"

12. Jens Lekman - "I Know What Love Isn't"

11. The Beach Boys - "Pacific Coast Highway"

10. Here We Go Magic - "Make Up Your Mind"

9. Primitives - "Turn Off the Moon"

8. Jason Lytle - "Get Up and Go"

7. A.C. Newman - "I'm Not Talking"

6. Frankie Rose - "Know Me"

5. Dexys - "She Got a Wiggle"

4. Jim Noir - "Tea"

3. Blur - "Under the Westway"

2. The School - "Where Does Your Heart Belong?"

1. Allo Darlin' "Northern Lights"

* Technically came out as the B-side to a 7" single released on Record Store Day in 2011 but is included on the band's full-length album released in 2012.
** Technically came out as a 7" single in December 2011 but was included on the band's full-length album in 2012.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top Albums of 2012

5. 'Amalgamation and Devotion'
Chris Devotion and the Expectations
The first time I listened to this album out of Glasgow I would have sworn this was a front for an Any Trouble reunion.

4. 'Mr. M'
Without this one I would be completely irrelevant with the indie hipsters. Seriously, this album is beautiful and has deserved all of the year-end accolades.

3. 'One Day I'm Going to Soar'
Twenty-seven years later, the clock still hasn't struck midnight on Kevin Rowland. Not everyone will, but I completely bought into this concept album... just like I did with 'Don't Stand Me Down' back in the day.

2. 'Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything'
The School
I'm a sucker for the Brill Building sound and bands influenced by '60s girl groups. Obviously, there have been quite a few of those the last decade or so, but this Welsh outfit is the best I have heard since early Pipettes. Do yourself a favor and get both of their albums.

1. 'Europe'
Allo Darlin'
You don't have to miss the jangle of Sarah Records. It has been quite a reward to follow Elizabeth Morris' growth since her days with Amelia Fletcher in Tender Trap.

Honorable Mentions
Frankie Rose - 'Interstellar'
Cats on Fire - 'All Blackshirts to Me'
The Beach Boys - 'That's Why God Made the Radio'
A.C. Newman - 'Shut Down the Streets'
Jens Lekman - 'I Know What Love Isn't'

HAL - 'The Time The Hour'
Paul Weller - 'Sonik Kicks'
The dB's - 'Falling Off the Sky'

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Merry Mix and Talk of Must-Have Holiday Albums

When it comes to holiday albums, there are three I put above all others: 'The Beach Boys' Christmas Album,' Phil Spector's
'A Christmas Gift For You' and Ella Fitzgerald's 'Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.' What do they all have in common? All are from the early '60s. I could list a second tier of favorites, but they would all be from roughly the same period. The point is, even though there have been scores of great holiday songs through the years, I haven't been taken with an album from the season in ages.

Occasionally, an album comes along that becomes a candidate for holiday classic. It does happen. Right now I'm really rooting for Tracey Thorn's 'Tinsel and Lights,' but it's just too early to tell. When Thanksgiving rolls around five years from now, will I be yearning to put it on the turntable? I hope so. Thorn could simply sing the names on the naughty and nice lists and it would be beautiful. In case 'Tinsel and Lights' doesn't make my best albums list (out in a few days!), I wanted to give it a big endorsement now. The possibility of a holiday album on the countdown isn't sitting well with me for some reason.

Here are a few holiday songs you may not hear on alongside the Carpenters and Rascal Flatts on your local 24/7 Christmas station. Had to get in one more dig, didn't I? Enjoy the season!

Belle & Sebastian - Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me (mp3)
XTC - Thanks for Christmas (mp3)
Freedy Johnston - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (mp3)
Marshall Crenshaw - Sock It To Me Santa (mp3)
NRBQ - Jolly Old St. Nicholas (mp3)
Ron Sexsmith - Maybe This Christmas (mp3)
Apples in Stereo - Holiday Mood (mp3)
Squeeze - Christmas Day (mp3)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If I Had Another Shot at My 2011 List...

Like you, I get my hands on great music 365 days a year, but I don't always hear new albums from a given year until well into the following year (and beyond). That's especially true of records that come out October through December. So, whenever I go back to my best-of lists, I'm always filled with regret. In 2012, however, for the first time, I actually kept track of my favorite albums from 2011 that I didn't actually purchase until 2012. The following four were worthy of praise at the end of last year... if I had only heard them in time.

Sea Lions
'Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Sea Lions But Were Afraid to Ask'
Released: Nov. 22, 2011
The parents of these youngsters must have had impressive record collections. This Oxnard, Calif., outfit isn't just influenced by C86. You would swear they opened for Tallulah Gosh 25 years ago. I listened to this album more than any other in 2012.

Released: Nov. 1, 2011
Here's another one that seems like it was discovered in a time capsule that was buried in the mid '80s. To appreciate the Portland, Ore., trio, you need only to gaze at your shoes. What atmosphere!

The Beets
'Let the Poison Out'
Released: Oct. 24, 2011
Calling all fans of the 'Nuggets' box set. It has been a while since it was worth visiting the garage.

The Wild Swans
'The Coldest Winter For a Hundred Years'
Released: Aug. 2, 2011
I have no excuse for missing this one. I remember it coming out, and it was on my must-buy list for a long time. I forgot all about it until a few months ago when Friend of Rachel Worth over at Cathedral of Sound had it at No.121 on his Desert Island Discs list. I was so inspired by the post that I ran out and got this one the same day I read it. Thanks for the kick in the keister. Even though it has been two decades, this record is not at all out of place next to 'Bringing Home The Ashes' and 'Space Flower.'

Monday, December 3, 2012

You'll Want to Crash With These Flatmates

Like in life, flatmates come and go, but the Flatmates were held together, at least for a spell, by guitarist/principal songwriter Martin Whitehead and vocalist Debbie Haynes. Through all of the lineup changes, the band managed to release five singles between 1986 and 1988. Each were smashes on the UK Indie Chart. The Flatmates listened to a lot of Velvet Underground and Ramones, resulting in a little harder, faster and rougher sound than many of its C86 peers. Haynes' delivery went even further back, reminiscent of the The Shangri-Las' Mary Weiss. Major-label success seemed inevitable.

A long-term lease would have been nice but, alas, these Flatmates couldn't get along. By the fall of '88, just as it seemed the band would hit it big, internal strife, including a fight on stage at a huge University of London Student Union show in front of industry bigwigs, led to the Flatmates' premature demise. With the passage of time, however, it seems the band's short shelf life has only added to the legend. It's certainly tough to proclaim the Flatmates a mere footnote when you can hear their sound in so many bands that followed, including later Lush, the Darling Buds and Elastica.

Take a listen to "Happy All the Time," the Flatmates' second single. Then pick up Cherry Red's 2005 collection 'Potpourri (Hits, Mixes and Demos '85-'89).' Almost (but not quite) all of the band's output is there, and you won't even have to share fridge space with these Flatmates.

The Flatmates - Happy All the Time (mp3)