Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite Reissues of 2013

1. 'Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989'
Some of the 134 songs on this massive box set from Cherry Red are a bit obvious. I mean who doesn't already have Aztec Camera's "Oblivious"? At least go for a Postcard single. There are, however, just as many that are inspired... like the original flexi version of the Bluebell's "Happy Birthday." Even the biggest fans will find many tracks they don't own. The 54-page booklet is very well done, but I do have a complaint: The discs are ridiculously difficult to get in and out of the box. If you have this one, you know what I mean.

2. 'At the BBC'
At 81 tracks, a vast majority of which cover the pivotal years 1983-1986, this is a Big Country fan's dream. Do yourself a favor and splurge for the box set over the two-disc edition or you'll miss out on a must-have DVD and well-done 32-page hardcover booklet.

3. 'LSXX'
I already had most of the extras from around the Breeders' 'Last Splash' album, but I didn't have the live show that comprises disc three, and that made the steep price worth it for me. Plus, I was just hoping the record would sound better, and I was rewarded with slightly less mud in the production. This still stands as one of the best albums to come out of the '90s.

4. 'The Hurting'
This is the first of two selections on this list that may have some of you scratching your heads with disappointment, but I'm an unapologetic fan of Tears for Fears' first album. The deluxe edition never sounded better, and some of the B-sides and 12" singles on the second disc were new to me.

5. 'Everything's Shining Bright, The Lazy Recordings 1985-87'
I didn't have the entire set of five singles/EPs prior to the Primitives' major label jump, let alone the scores of unreleased material, but the real reason I wanted this two-disc set was for the full-length live show from Aug, 15, 1987. It's great fun to hear this band with grit.

6. 'Cartography for Beginners'
Six weeks ago I told you the best place to start your introduction to the Lucksmiths was 'Warmer Corners.' Three weeks later Matinee Recordings gave us all a better idea. This 35-song two-disc "best of" covers all 16 glorious years of the Aussie band's indie-pop existence. I don't have some of the early albums, and they are long out of print. So, I had to get this one.

7. 'Summer Rain'
Hard to believe, but I actually got two cassettes in 2013. The first was this c60 compiled by the Pastels from favorite songs in their discography since 1995 and sold as part of Cassette Store Day. For the record, my other tape was the live Orange Juice bootleg from 1981 AED Records handed out for free with December orders. I mention it because it deserves to be on one of my year-end lists somewhere.

8. 'Ta!'
My favorite Danish band only has one full-length album, but Northern Portrait has kept busy through the years with a bevy of EPs, singles and slots on compilation albums. I have tried my best to keep up, but a few songs slipped away before becoming tough finds. 'Ta!' has filled all of those holes in my collection. I do, however, miss having all of those brilliant picture sleeves. At least I can continue my search while listening to these great tunes. Oh, and that sophomore full-length album is slated for a 2014 release!

9. 'Vehicle'
After nearly a decade of stellar singles and EPs, the Clean's first full-length studio album was released in 1990. It has been out of print for ages, but Captured Tracks and Flying Nun rescued it so those late to the party can finally move on beyond the excellent but broad 'Anthology' that has appeased fans for a decade.

10. 'Pop Can! The Definitive Collection 1986 to 1988'
I only knew Mighty Mighty from the various C86 compilations in my collection, but I liked every song I ever heard. There really weren't that many recordings. So, when I picked up this two-disc set chock full of jangle I basically had the band's entire history.

and the next 5 (in no particular order...)

The Blue Nile - 'A Walk Across the Rooftops' and 'Hats'
14 Iced Bears - 'Hold On Inside: Complete Recordings 1991-1986'
Paul Young - 'Remixes and Rarities' (second disappointment?)
Lansing-Dreiden - 'The Dividing Island'
The Brilliant Corners - 'Heart On Your Sleeve - A Decade In Pop 1983-1993'

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013 (or When Did I Get Old?)

1. 'English Electric'
It's not often a 35-year old band can conjure enough magic to sustain an entire album... especially one that rivals its best work. Usually, if you're lucky, you get an uneven album like 'History of Modern.' I was more than happy to get that reunion gift in 2010, but it turned out to be merely a warm up to OMD's real comeback.

2. 'Crimson/Red'
I have already written about Prefab Sprout's latest until I was red in the face. So, for now, this will have to suffice: It's Paddy McAloon's best-ever effort not linked to Thomas Dolby and one of the biggest surprises of 2013.

3. 'The Next Day'
A David Bowie sighting was the real miracle of 2013. Released without fanfare and to a public that no longer expected anything from him, 'The Next Day' instantly became his best release in 30 years. I wasn't too pleased with a money-grab reissue coming out the same year as the initial release, especially when I thought the album was already a bit too long, but the first six songs are still giving me goosebumps nine months after buying it.

4. 'Personal Record'
Eleanor Friedberger's hook-filled "My Mistakes," my No. 2 song from 2011, helped erase my angst toward her previous band, the Fiery Furnaces, and I imagined I might even love one of her albums someday. By her sophomore effort, with the addition of co-writer John Wesley Harding, it happened.

5. 'Waiting for Something to Happen'
Is this really Slumberland's only appearance? Veronica Falls' debut album is one of the best I have heard this decade, and I'm not quite sure why this followup didn't quite capture the crowd of enthusiasts like the first one did. The moody jangle and pop still had me staring at the tops of my shoes like it was 2011.

6. 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud'
What do you get when you take sophisticated indie pop and add the whimsical atmosphere of Olympia's fabled Dub Narcotic Studio to the equation? I'm no mathematician, but the sum seems to be one of the most rewarding listens of the year. Feels right to join the Math and Physics Club.

7. 'Standards'
I had all but given up on this idol from my youth, but Lloyd Cole surrounded himself with some old friends, Fred Maher, Matthew Sweet and Blair Cowan, to name a few, and it sounded like old times.

8. 'Love From London'
At age 60 and with nearly 20 studio albums under his belt, how can Robyn Hitchcock seemingly be getting stronger as a singer/songwriter? I have really loved what he's done this past decade, and this is the best of that lot.

9. 'Lovesick Blues'
I'm a huge dB's fan, but I can honestly say I liked Chris Stamey's solo record much more than the band's reunion album. Whether he goes big, like the lush orchestration of the title track, or small like the croon of "Occasional Shivers," the legendary (at least in my mind) singer/songwriter pulls it off.

10. 'Beyond The Dreams There's Infinite Doubt'
I have been known to like a little synth with my pop, and there's no doubt Swede Tobias Isaksson feels the same way. In another time Azure Blue would have fit right in with Factory's stable of stars.

And the Next 10...
11. The Ocean Blue - 'Ultramarine'
12. Edwyn Collins - 'Understated'
13. Neko Case - 'The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You'
14. The Pastels - 'Slow Summits'
15. Camera Obscura - 'Desire Lines'
16. Phoenix - 'Bankrupt!'
17. Vampire Weekend - 'Modern Vampires of the City'
18. Paul McCartney - 'New'
19. Kid Canaveral - 'Now That You Are a Dancer'
20. The Bicycles - 'Stop Thinking So Much'

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Favorite Album Covers of 2013

Going back as far as I can remember I have always enjoyed holding the cover and losing myself in the art while listening to the album. These paintings and photos really captured the moods of the music and continued to catch my eye with each listen. This is why I will never be able to embrace the digital download. You only get part of the story.

Album: 'Pretty Decent Swimmers' by Northern Portrait
Photo: Carla Acevedo-Blumenkrantz
Note: The Beverly Hills Hotel turned 100 last year. To celebrate, the legendary spot hosted several live poolside performances by the water ballet entertainment company Aqualillies. This photo was taken there.

Album: 'Slow Summits' by The Pastels
Painting: Annabel Wright

Album: 'Bankrupt!' by Phoenix
Illustration: Ben Garvie

Album: 'Songs Cycled' by Van Dyke Parks
Painting: Kenton Nelson
Note: The art of 'Songs Cycled' is the best I have seen this year. Each song has an accompanying painting by artists like Klaus Voorman, Ed Ruscha and Frank Holmes. The artists also share their insights next to the lyrics of each tune. You could look at this booklet for hours.

Album: 'Desire Lines' by Camera Obscura
Painting: Daniel Ablitt

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

After a week away Mrs. LTL! returns today. So, I had better hurry because these are looong versions, and it would not be good if I'm spinning this 12" single when she comes in the door... no, not good for anybody.

Scritti Politti's full-length debut, 'Songs to Remember,' had a series of lengthy delays before its release. So, by the time the album was in the rack on Sept. 3, 1982, three singles had preceded it. This one, "Faithless," was sandwiched between "The Sweetest Girl" and the double A-side "Asylums in Jerusalem"/"Jacques Derrida." It's nice to have all of these as 12" singles, but if you can only have one, "Faithless" is the one to grab because it's the lone song of the trio that was extended from the album version. And if you don't have 'Songs to Remember' you should go get it right now.

If you're most familiar with 'Cupid & Psyche '85' material, it may come as surprise to you that prior to that pop phenomenon the music of Green Gartside was chock full of some serious themes. Green spoke to Smash Hits about "Faithless" in '82. He said the song was about "how living without faith brings you both happiness and sadness. I've never had any religion, except maybe politics, although I am interested in having some means of achieving social order and progress." You 'Cupid' fans may be shocked by the production of the early work too.

"Faithless" peaked at No. 56 on the UK singles chart and and was listed at No. 35 on NME's best singles list for 1982. These two versions from the 12" add up to more than 19 minutes!

Did I mention the wife hates Scritti Politti?

Scritti Politti - Faithless (Triple Hep N' Blue) (mp3)
Scritti Politti - Faithless (Part II) (mp3)

Ballots Cast: Best Comeback Album of 2013

The polls are closed. I want to thank everyone that participated in another one of my less than scientific endeavors. The top two candidates combined for more than a third of the vote. Since the Olympics are right around the corner, here are your gold, silver and bronze winners:

1. Prefab Sprout - 'Crimson/Red'
2. David Bowie - 'The Next Day'
3. Daft Punk - 'Random Access Memories'
3. Mazzy Star - 'Seasons of Your Day'

Others That Received Votes:
Franz Ferdinand - 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action'
Johnny Hates Jazz - 'Magnetized' (write-in vote)
Nine Inch Nails - 'Hesitation Marks'
The Ocean Blue - 'Ultramarine'
The Pastels - 'Slow Summits'
Primal Scream - 'More Light'

Now let's enjoy some of my favorites from the ballot. You'll see these again on my year-end lists next week.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

If I Had Another Shot at My 2012 List...

This is one I didn't hear in time to make my best albums of 2012 list, but it certainly captured my attention for just about the entirety of 2013. 'Arab Spring,' the debut full length by Austin-based band Literature, is not the sort of record that breaks new ground, but its beauty is in its simplicity. Others have compared them to the Pains of Being Pure of Heart, but I think I hear the poppy jangle of the Lodger and the hard guitar of the Exploding Hearts... may they rest in peace. And, of course, they are all paying homage to what's best about late '70s punk and rock. History really does repeat itself.

Add it all up and you get 10 tracks and 22 quick minutes of lo-fi fun. If you're a parent, it's the perfect soundtrack when you're sent off to the store or stuck doing the dishes. Have you ever caught yourself doing the pogo while scrubbing that plate? This year, I did.

If you only have two minutes to spare, go straight to "Push-Up Bra" (track 3) on the player below. There's a real Buzzcocks vibe to that one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Curtain Call: Simple Minds From 1985

I have just about everything through 'Sparkle in the Rain' (including a mess of of 12" singles), but this is the only piece of vinyl I own from Simple Minds beyond -- what can be best described as -- "The John Hughes Incident." I'm consoled by the fact I bought this one for a B-side that was recorded before "Don't You (Forget About Me)" saw the light of day.

This well done live version of "Up on the Boardwalk" was taken from a January 5, 1985 homecoming show at Glasgow's famous Barrowlands and appears on the 12" of "Alive & Kicking." I like knowing Jim Kerr and the lads, as well as their fans in the crowd that evening, have absolutely no idea what's about to happen to one of Scotland's greatest musical treasures. That bloody single from the soundtrack to 'The Breakfast Club' would be released six weeks after this show. So, enjoy one of Simple Minds' last unadulterated performances.

Simple Minds - Up on the Catwalk (Live Version)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Vote for Best Comeback Album of 2013

Uh, maybe not. Here is a quickly compiled list of comeback albums for 2013. I defined "comeback" as a band that hadn't released a new studio album in (about) four years or more. I excluded film work. I let EPs slide so the Replacements and Pixies could be on the list. I know it feels like the Blow Monkeys and OMD had great comeback albums in 2013, but they don't pass my four-year rule. Johnny Marr was a tough call, but he calls 'The Messenger' his debut solo album. So, I left him off. I considered Paul McCartney because his last album was a different genre. Then I decided he probably didn't need my comeback accolades.

Apologies to my pal Ian for excluding the Stranglers, but 'Giants' technically came out in 2012. Speaking of 2012, I almost wish it was that year again so I could vote for Dexys' 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' my favorite comeback album of the decade (so far).... Irrelevant, yes, but I state it whenever I can. If you don't see your album (remember, I threw this list together in haste), please vote "other" and give me your choice in the comments section. I'll tally them all up in a week and let you know the winner. Thanks for voting.

survey solutions

Friday, December 6, 2013

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

Mrs. LTL! is on the road again. That can only mean one thing: I can spin the hits of Green Gartside without all of that eye rolling. In an earlier installment, nearly a year ago, I posted the UK 12" of "Perfect Way." That "extended mix" is superior to the 12" version we were fed here in America. The "Way Perfect Mix" is more or less the album version with a longer intro and some bells and whistles thrown in for a spell at the 3:15 mark. Still a great song, to be sure, but not nearly as experimental as the UK take. That's my humble opinion, but why don't you be the judge? If you click on the link above, I have uploaded the UK version again on the original post. You'll find the American version below. The wife will be out of town again next week. So, chances are we will give another one of Scritti Politti's 12" singles a listen soon.

Scritti Politti - Perfect Way (Way Perfect Mix) (mp3)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Something for the Stocking From AED Records

Edwyn Collins' label, AED Records, is playing Santa Claus with quite a little freebie. Just buy something from AED's store during December and they will throw in 'Thrillingly,' a bootleg recording of Orange Juice recorded live at Stirling University in 1981. Yes, it's on cassette, and I'm assuming the typical reader here still has a cassette deck, but AED is throwing in a download code as well. Some unknown fan of the band sent AED this show taken straight from the soundboard, and it is said to be very clean. All of those early sing-alongs are there, 'Falling and Laughing,' 'Blue Boy,' 'Felicity,' and more. This would be quite a little Christmas companion to the reissue of Aztec Camera's 'High Land, Hard Rain,' also available through AED. Are you there, Mrs. LTL?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Get Stiff'd on Black Friday

This year's Black Friday edition of Record Store Day won't get me to my nearest mom-and-pop shop at the crack of dawn, but I did find an item (or two) worth passing along.

Razor & Tie has teamed up with a legendary label to release a limited edition and individually numbered 7" box set. 'Ten Big Stiffs' includes Tenpole Tudor's "Swords of a Thousand Men," Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know," Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites, "Kirsty MacColl's "A New England" and five more 45s housed in the paper sleeves you remember from your youth. Here's a little video vignette on Stiff put together to promote this collectible, as well as an actual look at the box itself.

We could argue about our favorite artist from the Stiff stable, but I would probably go with Nick Lowe. He's still as relevant today as he was all those decades ago.

Now I'm not a big fan of picture discs. In fact, I only own one in my entire album collection. Perhaps I'm about to acquire my second. Just for the Black Friday edition of Record Store Day, Yep Roc is releasing Lowe's new holiday album, 'Quality Street,' as a 12" picture disc. There are only 1,000 of these available. The record has three Lowe originals, a song written by Ron Sexsmith just for his pal, as well as seasonal favorites like "Silent Night."

If you're not traveling far for Thanksgiving, you're going to love this song and video for "Christmas at the Airport."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ballots Cast: Best Scottish Album From the '80s

The votes have been counted. Thanks to all who participated in this less than scientific endeavor.

Best Scottish Album From the 1980s
1. Aztec Camera -'High Land, Hard Rain'
2. Orange Juice - 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever'
3. Big Country - 'The Crossing'
4. The Jesus and Mary Chain - 'Psychocandy'
4. Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - 'Rattlesnakes'
6. Danny Wilson - 'Meet Danny Wilson'
6. Josef K - 'The Only Fun in Town'
6. The Skids - 'The Absolute Game'

The following albums also received votes:
Associates - 'Sulk'
The Blue Nile - 'A Walk Across the Rooftops'
Close Lobsters - 'Foxheads Stalk This Land'
Deacon Blue - 'Raintown'
Eurythmics - 'Touch'
Momus - 'Tender Pervert'
The Proclaimers - 'This Is the Story'
Simple Minds - 'New Gold Dream'
Texas - 'Southside'

I had high hopes 'High Land, Hard Rain' would lead the way, but the poll was still full of surprises. Let's dig into the data. I didn't expect Simple Minds would top the list, but I thought the reason would be because their fandom would split the vote between the band's six albums from the decade. Shockingly, Simple Minds received one vote.

For those of you scratching your head about the high rank for 'The Crossing,' you should know I post quite a bit about Big Country. So, I believe I have picked up some readers that are die-hard fans. I imagine those fans would lean the Skids' way as well.

I thought the Blue Nile and Deacon Blue would garner more interest, perhaps even a write-in drive for 'Hats,' but I imagine many American readers don't know these records as well as my UK friends. Two albums that didn't get a fair shake were 'Del Amitri' and 'Sulk.' I mistakenly posted the wrong album name for Del Amitri's debut, and even though I let everyone know my screw up I imagine the error made a difference. 'Sulk,' on the other hand, was left off the list completely. I swear I had it on the ballot, but it didn't show up on the front end for some reason. Big apologies to my pal George. He was the one that suggested 'Sulk' might be the best album from Scotland during the debate that inspired the poll. I think we can all agree 'Del Amitri' and 'Sulk' are terrific listens. Finally, I love that more than 30 years later the legend of Postcard Records is alive and well.

I don't know why the music of Scotland is so good, but I do know that little corner of the world has given me endless hours of audio bliss. I hope it has for you too. If it hasn't, then you obviously haven't heard the excellent albums above. Get yourself an education. Here is something from each of the three albums that captured double-digit percentages of the vote:

Aztec Camera - Lost Outside the Tunnel (mp3) (Buy)
Big Country - Harvest Home (12") (mp3) (Buy)
Orange Juice - L.O.V.E. Love (mp3) (Buy)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vote for Best Scottish Album From the 1980s

Thanks for the lively debate on the best album from Scotland we had the other day. I really wanted to do something with the suggestions, but I'm also mindful of the amount of time it would take to do an all-time best list. So, I whittled it down to tops from the 1980s. Sure, there are big holes here, but I think it's pretty good for 30 minutes of work. The biggest problem is including all of the albums from some of the more lengthy discographies. For every 'New Gold Dream' there is a 'Sparkle in the Rain,' if you catch my drift. Well, the list would be out of control pretty quickly if I went that route. So, I picked what I perceived to be the biggest vote-getter from each band. If you disagree with my pick, choose "other" at the bottom of the list and tell me your choice in the comments section. The other caveat was defining "Scottish band." For examples, Lloyd Cole makes the cut if it's an album with the all-Scottish Commotions backing him up. Eurythmics are here even though only half of the duo is from Scotland. I made these choices because I like them and wanted them to be here. Pull the lever now. Then elaborate on your vote in the comments section as you exit the polling station. Voting ends in one week.

Please Note: The entry for Del Amitri should be the self-titled debut album from 1985. I noticed the mistake almost immediately, but there were already nine votes by the time I attempted to repair it. Those votes would be wiped out if I made the fix. So, I'm leaving the error. Grr. Why did I rush?


Results to come...

12 Inches of Love: 'Hanna Hanna'

I have to make this short (but sweet) today. This is the third time in 2013 I have pulled out the old China Crisis for this series, but I promise it will be the last because I only have three 12" singles from the band. Of course, if I ever get lucky enough to track down the extended versions of "African and White" or "King in a Catholic Style," I may have to renege.

"Hanna Hanna" was the third single from the 1983 album 'Working with Fire and Steel – Possible Pop Songs Volume Two.' It was the followup to their biggest UK hit, the No. 9 smash "Wishful Thinking." By comparison, "Hanna Hanna" peaked at a modest No. 44. The extended version takes some interesting turns from the take heard on the album. I particularly like the nearly a cappella vocals late in the mix. If you are a fan, I think you will really enjoy it. If you aren't, perhaps the breezy "Hanna Hanna" will be the song to sway you.

China Crisis - Hanna Hanna (Extended Mix) (mp3)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

'High Land, Hard Rain' Anniversary Continues

Thirty years after the debut of the best album to come out of Scotland, Domino Records is releasing a remastered anniversary edition of Aztec Camera's 'High Land, Hard Rain' on 180-gram heavyweight vinyl and with a new gatefold inner sleeve. OK, most of us are probably content with our old vinyl copies or the deluxe edition that came out on CD last year. The label realizes this, and they have upped the ante considerably to get you to purchase the brilliant debut album one more time.

The album will include an interesting 7" EP, individually signed by Roddy Frame himself. The A-side is "The Boy Wonders" and "Release" from a Capital Radio session. The B-side (this is big!), is the NME C81 version of "We Could Send Letters" and the bedroom demo of "The Bugle Sounds Again."

You can preorder for a Dec. 2 ship date through Roddy's new label, Edwyn Collins' AED Records. For you aristocrats, there is also a package exclusive to AED that includes a 12 x 12 inch Giclee print of the 'High Land, Hard Rain' front cover.' If you are seeing Roddy Frame at one of the three UK shows to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album, this reissue will be available there to buy as well. Here are all the details and ordering information. Sounds like a fabulous Christmas gift, eh?

If you're a regular reader, you may recall I finally bought C81 a couple of years ago. So, let's give "We Could Send Letters" a listen.

Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters (C81 Version) (mp3)

If you disagree with my opening statement about the best Scottish album, file complaints in the comments section for further scrutiny.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Best Time to Warm Up to the Lucksmiths

Have you ever completely missed the boat on a veteran band and then tried to dip your big toe into the discography? It can be a challenge, but that's what happened to me a few years back with Yo La Tengo. I had a feeling I was missing something special, but with a dozen albums to choose from I didn't really know where to begin. Perhaps that has happened with you and today's band.

If you have ever contemplated succumbing to the charms of the Aussie outfit the Lucksmiths but were intimidated by the 11-album backlog from the band's storied career, now is the time to jump on the bandwagon. C'mon, there's plenty of room, and Matinée Recordings has just the record to get you started. The label announced this week the Lucksmiths' third (and arguably best) album, 'Warmer Corners,' is being released on vinyl for the first time ever. This is when the band expanded to a four piece and incorporated strings, horns and even pedal steel to create a record not just filled with hooks but with real beauty as well. It's a perfect example of everything a pop record can be.

OK, you may need a little luck to get your hands on the limited edition vinyl of this Lucksmiths' masterpiece from 2005. There are only going to be 500 of these worldwide. The album will be hand numbered and come with a download card. Matinée will also throw in 'Warmer Corners' postcards and posters while supplies last. Even though I have this on CD, I may have to buy this one all over again. Call now. Operators are standing by.... Sorry I got carried away with the commercial speak, but I can't help it. In my world this is exciting stuff. Here's the real deal: You can preorder now for a November 25 ship date. In the meantime, to whet your appetite, here's the single "The Chapter In Your Life Entitled San Francisco." Do they remind you of another band from Down Under?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

'Happy Birthday, What More Can I Say?'

This one is dedicated to... myself.

I have already posted all about these Scottish lads once before. So, I'll keep this brief. I found the Bluebells during a period of my life I like to call "The Great Costello Grab." Most of my teen years were spent acquiring anything associated with Elvis Costello, from old Trouser Press covers to bizarre promo items like the three-dimensional cutout of his clown head from the 'Spike' cover that undulated on a big spring. I got into the Bluebells because Costello produced seven songs for the band, including "Happy Birthday (Turn Gold)" from the flipside to the 1983 12" single "Sugar Bridge (It Will Stand)."

As I wrote the first time around, the band's brand of pop is pleasant and lightweight. They remind me of Friends Again just a bit, but I wouldn't say I like the Bluebells quite as much as that Scottish peer. My favorite piece of trivia about the band is that they were asked to record a single for Postcard, but the label folded before it came to fruition. "Happy Birthday" first appeared as a flexi for the Glasgow magazine Stand & Deliver. You can find that version on the wonderful 'Scared to Get Happy' box set. The Costello-produced song is available on 'The Singles Collection.'

Happy birthday to me. I hope you enjoy both takes of the song.

The Bluebells - Happy Birthday (Turn Gold) (mp3)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'Balloon Song'

One of my favorite albums from the impressive catalog of Slumberland Records is the Aisler Set's 'The Last Match.' Although the band's home base was San Francisco and the record came out in 2000, you would swear it came from the UK in 1986. That's why the one cover on 'The Last Match' is such a perfect, well, match.

I'll let the band describe today's song... straight from the liner notes: "Ballon song was written by The Fourteen Iced Bears. The original can be found on their "Frank" single released in 1987 on capra, on the thunderball records compilation "precision," or on the 14 iced bears/hermit crabs split flexi also released in 1987. We love 'em."

'The Last Match' became SLR 62. The band probably didn't know that about a year later Slumberland would assemble a fantastic compilation of 14 Iced Bears' work. 'In the Beginning' would become SLR 65 and the definitive recollection of the C86 vets' heyday for many years. It's out of print now, but I recently read Cherry Red has picked up the slack with a double-disc reissue of everything 14 Iced Bears just this year.

Along with the cover, I'm including the two versions of "Balloon Song" I have from 'In the Beginning.' Most bands get harder, faster and rawer when they get into the studio for a Peel Session, but 14 Iced Bears toned it down quite a bit. At any rate, both takes, as well as the Aisler Set's cover, are a fantastic bit of jangle.

14 Iced Bears - Balloon Song (mp3)
14 Iced Bears - Balloon Song (Peel Session) (mp3)
The Aislers Set - Balloon Song (mp3)

Friday, November 8, 2013

No Longer 'Red' Over Price of New Prefab Sprout

Fans of Prefab Sprout here in America can close their jaws again. 'Crimson/Red' is no longer listed for $49 on Amazon. I was so distraught at the price upon its initial release that I bought it on Amazon UK and had it shipped to Seattle for what seemed like the fair price of $18... including shipping. Well, now I see you can get it for as low as $12, excluding shipping, on Amazon Marketplace. So, fence-sitters, it's time to catch up with Paddy McAloon.

After about a dozen listens I am ready to give 'Crimson/Red' a high grade. I admit I went into the album filled with angst. There seemed to be so much going against it. Although it says Prefab Sprout on the cover, this was actually a McAloon solo effort. He played every instrument. McAloon is 56 years old now and has had some health issues. More than a decade has come and gone since we have heard brand-new material. PR photos released around 'Crimson/Red' depicted a man that looked like the bridge dweller from "Three Billy Goats Gruff." Most of all, unlike Prefab Sprout's best albums, Thomas Dolby didn't man the controls.

As you will hear, my worries were unfounded. Despite McAloon's DIY approach, the album sounds great. A tip of the cap to Scottish engineer Calum Malcolm. If that name sounds familiar, it's because his name pops up all over records by a who's who of his fellow countrymen, including the Blue Nile, Deacon Blue, Orange Juice and Simple Minds. Not only is the production crisp, but McAloon's voice is as strong as it was in the mid-'80s. Sorry, no, I'm not comparing 'Crimson/Red' to 'Steve McQueen' by any stretch. Like that seminal album, however, if I can just get past the occasional over-the-top lyrics, I think I could be pulling this one off the shelf for years to come.

No hyperbole here, but you should listen for yourself. You can get a download of "The Songs of Danny Galway" for the price of an email address here. Check out the video for the first single and album opener "The Best Jewel Thief in the World" below. Finally, if you have the time, catch up with McAloon during an interview with the BBC last month.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In Dreams...

Would you like to get out from behind that desk? Here's an option from swingin' London:
Record store up for sale on eBay

Friday, November 1, 2013

When Blueboy Grew Up

From 'Return of the Pink Panther'
Clouseau: How long have you been a bellboy?
Bellboy: Ah, too long monsieur.
Clouseau: Well, keep up this good work and very soon I will see to it you become a bellman.

It's a beautiful fall day here in the Pacific Northwest... and a perfect time to pull out one of the crowning achievements from the catalog of Sarah Records. Until recently I always assumed Blueboy got its name from one of the best recordings Orange Juice ever committed to wax. Now I can only wish that was the case. Twenty years ago frontman Keith Girdler told a music magazine the moniker came from the Picasso painting "Blue Boy." The disappointments end there. If you aren't sure where to start, I would skip ahead a bit, beyond a handful of really good singles and a well-done album (that might be described as the typical sensitive Sarah fare) and go straight to the 1994 LP 'Unisex.' Clouseau would probably say that's when Blueboy became Blueman.

The leap from the 'If Wishes Were Horses' album to 'Unisex' is like when American Bob Beamon broke the world record in the long jump by nearly two feet during the 1968 Olympics. By then the band's personnel had grown threefold. The additions of multi-instrumentalist Gemma Townley (and she could sing too!) and guitarist Harvey Williams (yes, from Another Sunny Day) as lyricist Girdler and guitarist/songwriter Paul Stewart were maturing allowed the group to create much more complex songs while still adhering to that patented Sarah sound. There would be other EPs and even one more album (although not on Sarah), but I think 'Unisex' is Blueboy's best moment.

You can buy 'Unisex' with the post-album additions of the 'River' and 'Dirty Mags' EPs here. For you trivia buffs out there, 'Dirty Mags' was the last recording done by the label (Sarah, 099). Here are my three favorites from 'Unisex,' but I have found this is one of those albums best listened to from beginning to end.

Blueboy - Cosmopolitan (mp3)
Blueboy - The Joy of Living (mp3)
Blueboy - Imipramine (mp3)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Milking a B-Side From the Pipettes

Here's one that took my fancy for a few minutes back in 2006. That's just about the time we were hit with a gaggle of girl groups, but I thought the Pipettes rose above the fray. First, unlike their '60s predecessors, these ladies were, hmm, how to put it nicely... forward. They sang about one night stands and female bullies without any masking. Underneath all of that pop, putting it plainly, the trio was kind of dirty. Second, they were backed by a terrific band called the Cassettes, led by a mysterious chap called Monster Bobby. He was said to be the puppet master. If so, what a talent! I have seen his name pop up from time to time since then, including working with a favorite of mine, Allo Darlin', but I have half expected his name to be linked to a string of hits. It hasn't happened yet.

When the first full-length album came out in '06, at least in the UK, the girls of the Pipettes were Rosay, Gwenno and RiotBecki. It was one of my favorites that year, and I began searching for B-sides that didn't make the record. "Guess Who Ran Away With the Milkman?" first appeared on the flip side of the "Pull Shapes" vinyl single. It is not only my favorite non-album song by the band, it might actually be my favorite song by them... period. In 2007, the song showed up in America as part of the "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me" EP.

Speaking of here in America, the Pipettes were positioned to be a big deal in these parts. In early 2007, the ladies played a handful of U.S. shows, including well-received gigs at South by Southwest. For some reason, however, it took more than a year for the album to make it to these shores. When it finally did, the songs had been remixed, and the tracklist had been changed a bit. As someone who owns both versions of 'We Are the Pipettes,' in my humble opinion, the U.S. version was inferior. Even the new album cover was a disappointment.

After that, it all went into the crapper. Female band members came and went. There was another album, but the magic was gone. I wrote this post in the past tense, as if the unit has disbanded, but perhaps the Pipettes are still around. My ears have told me it doesn't matter if they are or not. Here is that fabulous B-side and a live version from one of the Pipettes' appearances at SXSW in 2007. After hearing both takes, I think you will agree Monster Bobby must be quite a studio wizard.

The Pipettes - Guess Who Ran Away With the Milkman? (mp3)
The Pipettes - Guess Who Ran Off With the Milkman? (SXSW) (mp3)

Oh yes, meant to mention that the U.S. title on the 'Kisses' EP was "Guess Who Ran OFF With the Milkman?"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Keeping It Peel: The June Brides Edition

We lost BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel nine years ago today. Thanks to, among many other things, the more than 4,000 recorded "Peel Sessions," his contributions to music will never be forgotten. In his honor I got in touch with one of my favorite Peel Sessions' vets, Phil Wilson of the June Brides, to get a quick word on meeting the man who always had an ear to the ground and a band to tout.

Phil Wilson: As with most sessions, John Peel didn't attend the recording of ours for the show. But we did meet him prior to that: We did the classic thing of going up to Central London and hanging around outside Broadcasting House waiting for John to appear. We probably waited a couple of hours – but he did turn up eventually, and we thrust a copy of our debut single "In the Rain" into his hands. Amazingly, he actually played the song on his show that night, and made this young man's dream of being on the Peel show come true...

I was very proud of the fact that our Peel Session was released very early on by Strange Fruit: John, apparently, personally picked the sessions that he was keen on Strange Fruit releasing: to be one of the first that he chose was amazingly pleasing...

That four-track album released by Strange Fruit in 1987 was very special to me because it was the first record I ever owned by the June Brides. Being born and raised in the cow pastures of Illinois, I had few opportunities to buy those early (and quite rare) singles and EPs. I had read about the band in a UK music magazine and knew without ever actually hearing a note that I would love them. I mean, c'mon, trumpet and viola for God's sake! The point being I couldn't listen to BBC Radio 1 in Middle America, but Peel and his new label, Strange Fruit, still brought the Junies' Oct. 22, 1985 recording thousands of miles to me.

Man, I miss the thrill of the hunt. These days, all of those hard-to-find singles, EPs and even the BBC appearances can be found on the double CD 'Every Conversation: The Story of the June Brides & Phil Wilson.' Here is a little listen to get you to click "add to cart." You don't even have to get up. Thanks again to Phil Wilson. I imagine the feeling you had when Peel played your single was very close to how I felt this week when I got a reply from you. Oh, and in case you missed it, Wilson and the June Brides have been recording again.

The June Brides - Waiting For a Change (Peel Session) (mp3)

More on Keeping It Peel

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Another 'Pristine Christine' I Can't Have

I have to accept this is a song I will never own as a proper 7". A legendary piece from the psychedelic branch of the C86 tree, "Pristine Christine" was the very first single on Sarah Records and one of a handful of songs the Sea Urchins ever released. I actually prefer the band's next single, "Solace" (Sarah 008), but the record snob in me would rather possess Sarah 001. I check ebay and the like from time to time, but the endeavor always ends in disappointment and disgust. For example, there is one for sale right now, and with five-plus days to go, the eighth bid has already pushed the asking price to $174.63 plus shipping from the UK. Gadzooks!

Fortunately, the song has popped up on a couple of more affordable compilations, such as 'CD86.' So, we can all enjoy it right now... even if we can't hold the valuable piece of vinyl in our hot little hands. Incidentally, you can also get "Solace" on the excellent 'Scared to Get Happy,' released by Cherry Red. So far, that's my runaway leader for box set of the year.

I'm curious. What are your most elusive records?

The Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine (mp3)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sweet and Hoffs Cover the '80s

It was a year ago I mentioned the terrific news that Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet were working on a third volume of 'Under the Covers,' and this time they would be taking on tunes from the '80s. Well, the date is set and just around the corner. Here is a quick look at the final tracklist for Nov. 12 release. Like the first two volumes, grr, there are bonus tracks on iTunes.

'Under the Covers, Vol. 3' Tracklist:
1. Sitting Still (R.E.M.)
2. Girls Talk (Dave Edmunds via Elvis Costello)
3. Big Brown Eyes (The dB's)
4. Kid (Pretenders)
5. Free Fallin' (Tom Petty)
6. Save It For Later (The English Beat)
7. They Don't Know (Kirsty MacColl)
8. The Bulrushes (The Bongos)
9. Our Lips Are Sealed (The Go-Go's)
10. How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
11. More Than This (Roxy Music)
12. Towers of London (XTC)
13. Killing Moon (Echo and the Bunnymen)
14. Trouble (Lindsey Buckingham)
Bonus Tracks on iTunes Deluxe Version:
Train in Vain (The Clash)
You're My Favorite Waste of Time (Marshall Crenshaw)
I Would Die 4 U (Prince)

Outside of maybe the Petty and Buckingham songs, I think it's an inspired list. OK, the pick from the Smiths is kind of obvious, but I have to admit I'm curious about how it will sound. One of my favorites here is "They Don't Know." If you're an American, you may recall the smash hit by Tracey Ullman from 1983. It's a bit poppier than MacColl's original (which, by the way, was released in the summer of '79, not in the '80s, hmm), but both takes are fantastic. Kirsty, what can I say? You are missed. Hey, wait a minute, wasn't the Edmunds' version of "Girls Talk" released in '79 as well? Oh, who cares...

Kirsty MacColl - They Don't Know (mp3) (Buy)
Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know (mp3) (Buy)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cover Me Impressed: 'Ever Fallen in Love'

First, let me thank Echorich and Luca for schooling me on all things Terry Hall in the comments section of my last post. Perhaps I shouldn't write things like 'Virgins and Philistines' is his only vital post-Specials album when I haven't actually listened to 'Home' or his record with David A. Stewart. Nothing like a good hunt, and I'll be tracking those down as soon as possible. Now, on with the countdown.

OK, the "impressed" in the headline might be a bit strong. I wrote about my love of the soundtrack to the film 'Something Wild' back in 2010, but I came across this record in my collection the other day and realized I didn't include this song in the post. Perhaps it's because I have never been sure whether I like it or not. I got the 12" back in '86 because I was a big Buzzcocks fan. Ultimately, I felt there are some songs you just don't mess with, and "Ever Fallen in Love" fell into that category.

Today was my first listen to it in many years, and I have to admit I liked it a little better. I miss the manic feel of the original, but I think the lads in FYC did their best to make it their own. And, hey, they must be fans. I'm sure Mr. Shelley didn't mind the payday either. What do you think? Did FYC do a good job covering a classic? Contrary to the cover above being chock full of 'Something Wild' imagery, this six-plus minute extended version, co-produced by Jerry Harrison and the band, didn't actually appear on the soundtrack. That was the 7", which was quite a bit shorter than even the album version.

Fine Young Cannibals - Ever Fallen in Love (Extended Version) (mp3)

Oh, and for the record, FYC's cover of "Suspicious Minds" would be in the running for Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives' all-time favorite cover. I can't tell you how many times I have been subjected to that one the past quarter century.