Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cover Me Impressed: 'Think About Your Troubles'

The other day my pal Uncle E at 500 Reasons Why the 80's Didn't Suck wrote about his infatuation with Jellyfish, and that has had me on a quite a kick. I'm pulling this one out because it's a new week, full of promise, and I would like to take last week and throw it into the river along with Harry Nilsson's teacup of tears. Nilsson is an old standby from my earliest days of listening to music, and Jellyfish does a fairly faithful rendition here. It's funny. When I listen to the original it sounds like Jellyfish to me now. You can find it on 'For the Love of Harry: Everybody Sings Nilsson.' It's a 1995 compilation with contributions from some of my favorite artists, including Ron Sexsmith, Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Wilson. I have seen the CD selling for a buck in budget bins. If you happen upon it, do pick it up. Let's all have a great week.

Harry Nilsson - Think About Your Troubles
Jellyfish - Think About Your Troubles

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Popguns in Our Sights

Matinée Recordings have been known to take a look back, but this time they have upped the ante. We have come to expect the excavation of historical artifacts from UK indie legends such as the Siddeleys, Brighter and Razorcuts, but now a favorite from our youth is recording brand-new material with the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based label. Now don't get me wrong, reissuing 'Eugenie' and 'Snog' would be wonderful, but after listening to the pop perfection of "Lovejunky," I think you'll agree having a new Popguns album is certain to be one of the highlights of 2014. For the time being, we'll just have to live with our 'Another Year Another Address' compilations from Cherry Red, but Matinée says "if all goes to plan the 7" will be in your hands before the end of the summer with a brand new album following a month later." I'm busting!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Merge Ready to Help You Clean Up

While immersed in my countdown of UK indie singles, there were quite a few new releases and reissues in the news I thought worthy of mention. Let's begin with New Zealand's the Clean. I was first in line when the double-disc 'Anthology' hit the shops more than a decade ago. At the time, all of that Flying Nun material was nearly impossible to find, at least here in America, and Merge's offering was like manna. At that time, I was particularly into the quirky, unpolished and downright noisy songs from the early days, like "Tally Ho!" and "Beatnik," but I quickly learned that these lads grew out of that Dunedin Sound to become accomplished pop purveyors.

Last year, it was announced Flying Nun was teaming up with Brooklyn label Captured Tracks for a reissue series, on vinyl, no less. The Clean's full-length debut, 'Vehicle,' was among the first of these releases, and if you already have 'Anthology,' I recommend you pick up this one while it's still cheap and in print. If you don't have 'Anthology,' start saving your shekels because, as part of Merge's 25th anniversary reissue series, 'Anthology' will be released on vinyl for the first time on July 15. It takes a whopping four LPs to cram the 46 songs on wax. So, this is a little expensive ($43.98 though the label), but well worth it. The Clean are coming over to participate in Merge's anniversary festivities, and they are making a few stops along the way. If they are coming to your town, I expect a full report. Thanks in advance.

The Clean on Tour
Aug. 18 Chicago — Schubas
Aug. 19 Detroit — Trinosophes
Aug. 22 Brooklyn — Glasslands
Aug. 23 Baltimore — Metro Gallery
Aug. 25 Carrboro, N.C. — Cat's Cradle - Back Room
Aug. 26 Atlanta — The Earl
Aug. 27 Birmingham, Ala. — The Bottletree Cafe
Aug. 28 Memphis — Hi-Tone Cafe
Aug. 29 Nashville — The Stone Fox
Aug. 30 Asheville, N.C. — Harvest Records Transfigurations II

From 'Anthology'...

And From 'Vehicle'...

Monday, June 16, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (Postmortem)

Upon entering this endeavor, I believed choosing only 50 UK indie singles from the '80s would prove to be difficult. With caveats such as a) one song per band, b) must be a UK band and c) no Peel Sessions, however, it turned out the list of possible candidates wasn't too big to handle after all. With the first rule, the Smiths didn't get one-fifth of the slots. With the second rule, I didn't have to figure out how to squeeze in the Go-Betweens, Sugarcubes and many more from other lands. With the third rule, major-label bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees couldn't squeeze out a true indie, and John Peel's program wouldn't dominate the countdown. When all was said and done, I actually only had about 80 candidates to fill the 50 slots, and of those only about 10 songs or so caused any real toil about whether to include or not. Here's a peek at those on the outside looking in... in no particular order:

The Weather Prophets - "Almost Prayed"
Chart Entry: June 7, 1986
Peak Position: No. 3

Lush - "Scar" EP
Chart Entry: Oct. 21, 1989
Peak Position: No. 3

Echo and the Bunnymen - "The Pictures on My Wall"
Chart Entry: Jan. 26, 1980
Peak Position: No. 24

The Popguns - "Landslide"
Chart Entry: May 6, 1989
Peak Position: No. 20

The Imposter - "Pills and Soap"
Chart Entry: June 11, 1983
Peak Position: No. 1

Section 25 - "Looking From a Hilltop"
Chart Entry: June 23, 1984
Peak Position: No. 31

The Mighty Lemon Drops - "Like An Angel"
Chart Entry: Jan. 18, 1986
Peak Position: No. 4

The Woodentops - "It Will Come"
Chart Entry: Nov. 16, 1985
Peak Position: No. 4

The Marine Girls - "Don't Come Back"
Chart Entry: Feb. 26, 1983
Peak Position: No. 21

Tracey Thorn - "Plain Sailing"
Chart Entry: Jan. 22, 1983
Peak Position: No. 6

In a few of the above cases, like Lush, the Popguns and Echo and the Bunnymen, they got so much better within just a year of these first efforts that I felt these recordings, while excellent, paled in comparison. In the cases of the Marine Girls and Tracey Thorn, since I had Ben Watt and Everything But the Girl on the countdown, I felt like I couldn't afford to sacrifice four slots for the talented duo... even if it was deserved. With "Pills and Soap," well, Elvis Costello qualified as "indie" through the back door, didn't he? There were other well-done singles considered by 14 Iced Bears, BMX Bandits, Cocteau Twins, the Servants, the Wolfhounds, Young Marble Giants, Win and a few others, but these were a little further down the pike.

Now a couple of stats from the 50 picked you might find interesting:

Number of Picks by Label:
Creation - 6
Sarah - 4
Factory - 4
Cherry Red - 4
Postcard - 3
Rough Trade - 3
Subway Organisation - 3
Mute - 3
Zoo - 2
Kitchenware - 2
Situation 2 - 2
53rd & 3rd - 2
All Other Labels (one pick each): 12

So much of Sarah's output was in the early '90s. Otherwise, I think that label would have been the big winner.

Number of Picks by Year:
1982 - 6
1983 - 9
1986 - 9
1987 - 7
1989 - 5

As a big fan of the C86 scene, the 1986 results are not a big surprise, but I was shocked that 1983 had an equal number of selections.

So, just how "indie" am I? I asked myself this question because I wondered, if I had a countdown of my top 50 UK singles from the 1980s, how many of these picks from the UK Indie Hits countdown would be on such a list? My guess is between five and 10, but I'm not sure. I love these songs, but when I start thinking of favorites from that period missing from this list, it makes my head spin. There is only one way to settle such a question, and I will tackle that subject at some point. I think it would be fun.

As I said before I began the countdown, all of the numbers came from the reference book 'Indie Hits 1980-1989: The Complete U.K. Independent Charts (Singles & Albums,' compiled by Barry Lazell. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent pouring over this material. If you liked these posts, chances are you would enjoy this book too.

Finally, nothing but gratitude to all of you who participated with comments, positive or otherwise. That's really why this blog is here. I crave conversation from like-minded lovers of the music, and that's not easy when you're a middle-aged father of two young ones. Turns out I'm not alone after all. Special thanks to Seamus, George, Friend of Rachel Worth, Dirk (yes, you're correct about "Talulah Gosh"), Uncle E, Swiss Adam, Steve, Luca, Someone Said, Brett Alan, postpunkmonk, Sean, Phil Junebride (who are you?) and, of course, Echorich. Nostalgia trips are nice, but I hope you discovered something new as well.

Friday, June 13, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 1)

I HAVE FINISHED counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

50. Phil Wilson - Waiting for a Change
49. Ben Watt - Some Things Don't Matter
48. Depeche Mode - See You
47. Wire - Eardrum Buzz
46. Talulah Gosh - Beatnik Boy
45. McCarthy - The Well of Loneliness
44. The Field Mice - Sensitive
43. Felt - Penelope Tree
42. Razorcuts - Sorry to Embarrass You
41. The Jasmine Minks - Cold Heart
40. Electronic - Getting Away With It
39. Primal Scream - Crystal Crescent
38. Hurrah! - Who'd Have Thought
37. Shop Assistants - Safety Net
36. The Pastels - Comin' Through
35. The Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine
34. The Jesus and Mary Chain - Upside Down
33. The Brilliant Corners - Delilah Sands
32. Everything But The Girl - Night and Day
31. Associates - Kitchen Person
30. The Lightning Seeds - Pure
29. The Primitives - Stop Killing Me
28. The Loft - Why Does the Rain
27. The Flatmates - I Could Be in Heaven
26. Mighty Mighty - Throwaway
25. Yazoo - Nobody's Diary
24. The Wake - Talk About the Past
23. The Teardrop Explodes - Treason (It's Just a Story)
22. The Pale Fountains - (There's Always) Something on My Mind
21. Fire Engines - Big Gold Dream
20. The Waterboys - A Girl Called Johnny
19. The Monochrome Set - The Jet Set Junta
18. The Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
17. Josef K - It's Kinda Funny
16. Another Sunny Day - You Should All Be Murdered
15. The Chesterf!ields - Ask Johnny Dee
14. Robert Wyatt - Shipbuilding
13. The Wedding Present - My Favourite Dress
12. Prefab Sprout - Lions in my Own Garden (Exit Someone)
11. The Bodines - Therese
10. Joy Division - Transmission
9. The Orchids - I've Got a Habit
8. Close Lobsters - Going to Heaven to See If It Rains
7. Orange Juice - Blue Boy
6. Scritti Politti - Jacques Derrida/Asylums in Jerusalem
5. The Smiths - This Charming Man
4. New Order - Blue Monday
3. The Wild Swans - Revolutionary Spirit
2. Aztec Camera - Just Like Gold

And at No. 1... drum roll, please...

1. The June Brides - "Every Conversation"

Other Contenders: Excluding the band's legendary Peel Session, "No Place Called Home" was the band's only other hit, peaking at No. 3 two months after "Every Conversation." This brief list seems criminal until you realize the double A "In the Rain"/"Sunday to Saturday" and the "This Town" EP were the only other singles.

Chart Entry: Oct. 19, 1985

Peak Position: No. 11

Comment: More than three months ago, Phil Wilson kicked off this countdown. So, it's only fitting he should be the one to conclude it. Put simply, when I think of '80s indie pop, "Every Conversation" is the first song that comes to mind. Being an American that grew up in the middle of nowhere, I didn't know anyone who liked the June Brides. So, I felt like this was my band. To this day, my JB records are still the vinyl I'm most excited to have in the collection. As you can see below, I pulled them out today just to look at them. Eight years ago Dave Eggers did a piece for the Guardian on the June Brides. Perhaps it's because he was also from Illinois, or maybe it's because he mentions my all-time favorite record shop, or it could be because he's just very good at his craft, but this is my favorite piece of music writing. I could hardly believe it. Turns out I wasn't the only one that loved the June Brides. If you have a minute, do me a favor and give it a read.

I'll put a bow on this list with my next post. In the meantime, if you would like to share your favorite indie single from this era, I would love to hear from you.

Buy "Every Conversation" on the double-disc 'Every Conversation: The Story of June Brides & Phil Wilson.'

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 2)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

2. Aztec Camera - "Just Like Gold"

Other Contenders: To me, every eligible single is perfection, but the artist didn't quite agree. Roddy Frame was disappointed with Postcard's swansong, "Mattress of Wire" b/w "Lost Outside the Tunnel." He would record it again, but he was never satisfied with the results. There were three A-sides for Rough Trade before Aztec Camera moved to WEA. "From Pillar to Post," "Oblivious" and "Walk Out to Winter" are unimpeachable. If you try, just know I'll have a finger in each ear and will riddle the room with "la-la-las" in rapid succession.

Chart Entry: April 4, 1981

Peak Position: No. 10

Comment: Frame, the pride of East Kilbride, really was the sound of YOUNG Scotland. He was just 17 years old when Postcard released Aztec Camera's first single. Unlike the followup, "Mattress of Wire," Frame was proud of this 7". He told NME, "I don't think I could improve 'Just Like Gold' in any way. I spent a lot of time trying to sound unclichéd. There's no chorus in it, nothing's repeated." Perhaps it's unfair, but there is no doubt the flip side, "We Could Send Letters," has swayed my pick. Postcard's Alan Horne told Frame "it sounds like the Eagles." After a long and painful pause, he added, "which is a good thing." I don't know about that, but I do think this earlier take is superior to the 'High Land, Hard Rain' version. Further, I believe it's just as good as the A-side.

My love affair with Aztec Camera didn't begin with this single. After viewing the music video for "Oblivious," I sprinted to the record shop for 'High Land, Hard Rain.' I was 13. It was a little while before I learned there were Aztec Camera songs prior to the debut album. I was too busy searching the record bins for 12" singles of "Oblivious" and "Walk Out to Winter." I eventually got educated the old-fashioned way... through music magazines... but my point is Aztec Camera was my gateway to learning about NME's 'C81' and the entire Postcard family. "Just Like Gold" was my first Postcard single, and this only adds to its prestige and lofty placement on my list.

Buy the "Just Like Gold" single on Discogs. As I'm typing this, there are two for sale there starting at $45. If you already have the 7", perhaps you would be interested in a "Just Like Gold" T-shirt. I bought this from Frame's new label, AED Records, last year. Yes, those are my pecks below. Settle down, ladies! I'm taken!

Since I spend so much time praising the B-side, here's a little bonus:

Aztec Camera - We Could Send Letters

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 3)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

3. The Wild Swans - "Revolutionary Spirit"

Other Contenders: This is it. The band's Peel Session, however, did chart in 1986.

Chart Entry: March 20, 1982

Peak Position: No. 13

Comment: "Not only was 'Revolutionary Spirit' by far the best single that we put out at Zoo, The Wild Swans captured that young man's idealistic vision thing better than any other bunch of English young men since The Brotherhood first put paint to canvas back in the 1850s." -- Bill Drummond

Strong words, especially when you consider "Treason (It's Just A Story)" by the Teardrop Explodes (No. 23 on this list) came from Mr. Drummond's stable, but he is, of course, correct. Today's spot is dedicated to Swiss Adam at Bagging Area. He had a fine piece about this song last week... the same day I was prepping "Revolutionary Spirit" for this list. I'm amazed how often that happens. Well done, as always, brother.

This first incarnation of the band, although held together only briefly, is the stuff of legend. Among the cast: Pete de Freitas of Echo and the Bunnymen not only played drums on this single, but he also produced and paid for it as well. Rolo McGinty was on bass for a heartbeat before leading the Woodentops. That's Ged Quinn on keyboards. A few minutes later he would join ex-Wild Swan Jem Kelly to form the Lotus Eaters with Peter Coyle. Quinn co-wrote the band's smash "The First Picture of You."

Then there is Paul Simpson. Oh, that voice. After "Revolutionary Spirit" he would join up with Ian Broudie from Zoo's Big in Japan to knock out three stellar singles as Care. There would be three albums from the Wild Swans after that, and I think everyone should at least have 'Bringing Home the Ashes' and 'The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years,' but the band's single best moment was this, their first.

Buy "Revolutionary Spirit" on ''The Zoo' Uncaged 1978-1982, or if you have deep pockets, the double-vinyl deluxe book version of 'Incandescent.' I have it, and it's a beautiful piece of art, but I'm afraid to play it.

Friday, June 6, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 4)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

4. New Order - "Blue Monday"

Other Contenders: Here is the entire run of '80s singles... in order. Another nearly impossible task as several of these songs are worthy of a slot. Feel free to put in your two cents. As you may know, "Blue Monday" is the best selling 12" single of all time. It spent a record 13 weeks at No. 1 on the indie chart. The single hung around the chart for 186 weeks, second only to "Love Will Tear Us Apart."

"Procession"/"Everything's Gone Green"
"Everything's Gone Green"
"Thieves Like Us"
"Murder"/"Thieves Like Us" (instrumental)
"The Perfect Kiss"
"The Perfect Kiss"(remix)
"State of the Nation"
"Bizarre Love Triangle"
"True Faith"
"Touched by the Hand of God"
"Blue Monday 1988" (remix reissue)
"Fine Time"
"Round and Round"
"Run 2"

Chart Entry: March 19, 1983

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: Sure, the albums are good, but I think New Order is the best singles band on this countdown. My modus operandi has always seemed to be to love a band's earlier work until the world catches up. Then, more times than not, I abandon them as I perceive the quality of the music as going into the crapper. Sometimes that's a fact, but many times it's just me not wanting to share. Pitiful. Anyway, New Order is an exception... at least throughout the '80s. I think the American hit "True Faith" is as good as "Temptation." In fact, those are the two songs that battled with "Blue Monday" for this spot.

The following is going to sound like an inferior version of 'Footloose'... if that's possible. I grew up surrounded by Illinois cornfields. If you used the word "culture," it was most likely referring to the fermentation process at a local dairy farm. When I got my driver's license in 1986, the first thing I did was pick up my pals in the family station wagon for a trip to the nearest "city," and I use that term loosely. There was a dance club that had an underage night on Fridays. It was a place where you could actually meet girls that didn't go to your high school, and that seemed mysterious and exciting.

Anyway, we walk in, and "I Can't Wait" by Nu Shooz is playing. I'm thinking, "uh-oh," we're in trouble here, as we give our best impressions of wallflowers. Then, a few minutes later, that thud, thud, thud, starts fading in, and the entire place collectively shrieks as we dart to the dance floor. This is a full three years after the release of "Blue Monday," but it might as well have been No. 1 on the Billboard chart that week. Then again, maybe it just took three years to get to some of my peers in the sticks. Seven-and-a-half minutes later, my pals and I don't feel so much like outsiders. The same scenario played out the following few times we trekked to Thrills (yep, that was really the name), and that's why "Blue Monday" still captures my heart, as well as No. 4 on this list.

Buy "Blue Monday" on the reissue of 'Power, Corruption & Lies, the double-disc quasi-compilation 'Substance' or 'Singles.'

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 5)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

5. The Smiths - "This Charming Man"

Other Contenders: Here is the complete list of the band's indie-chart singles... and in order. All but the first one and the last two hit the top spot. What's your choice? Let me know. Tough, innit?

"Hand in Glove"
"This Charming Man"
"What Difference Does It Make?"
"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"
"William, It Was Really Nothing"
"How Soon Is Now?"
"Shakespeare's Sister"
"That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore"
"The Boy With the Thorn In His Side"
"Big Mouth Strikes Again"
"Shoplifters of the World Unite"
"Sheila Take a Bow"
"Girlfriend in a Coma"
"I Started Something I Couldn't Finish"
"Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me"

Chart Entry: Nov. 12, 1983

Peak Position: No. 1

Comment: First, a few interesting stats: At 66 weeks, "This Charming Man" was the band's longest chart run for a single. It spent seven weeks at No. 1. Impressive, but second to the nine weeks logged by "What Difference Does It Make?" Between late 1983 and mid 1987, the 14 No. 1 singles spent a cumulative 53 weeks in that spot. Trust me, the album stats are even more eye opening. So, you'll get little argument the Smiths were THE indie band of the '80s.

During the years the band was active, for me, the sadder the song the better. "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" or "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore" would have probably been my pick from these singles. Yes, I was a real hoot to be around. On the one hand, the list above seems long, but then you realize so many of your favorites were never singles. "This Charming Man" is wonderful, and I feel good about the choice, but I wonder if there isn't maybe a dozen deep cuts and B-sides I love even more. In fact, just typing "I wonder" has made me think "Well I Wonder" might be one.

Buy "This Charming Man" on the self-titled debut.

Monday, June 2, 2014

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (No. 6)

I'm counting down my top 50 singles from the golden age of the UK Independent Charts.

6. Scritti Politti - "Jacques Derrida"/"Asylums in Jerusalem"

Other Contenders: There were a few indie chart appearances before becoming a commercial juggernaut beginning with "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" in the spring of '84. The band's first foray into indie-chart territory was the "Four A-Sides" EP in January 1980, and I think "Confidence" was the best of that lot. "The 'Sweetest Girl'" peaked at No. 3 in the fall of '81. "Faithless" made it to No. 2 in the spring of '82. My pick, "Jacques Derrida"/"Asylums in Jerusalem," concludes the run of indie singles. A few of you may be wondering about die-hard fan favorite "Skank Bloc Bologna." That one predates the countdown.

Chart Entry: Aug. 7, 1982

Peak Position: No. 2

Comment: Truthfully, "The 'Sweetest Girl'" should probably be here, but I couldn't resist choosing this double A-side to sneak in a bonus single. As you may have surmised from my occasional series "When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play," I'm an unapologetic supporter of almost everything Green Gartside has done... well, maybe not 'Anomie & Bonhomie... but the singles surrounding the full-length debut 'Songs to Remember' hold a special place in my heart.

These two songs, in particular, are dear because it's such a transitional moment. Green is political, intellectual, and the sound still has a bit of that early DIY aesthetic, but there are more than just a few clues of pop brilliance and accessibility too. This is just before Green, as Simon Reynolds once put it, "developed a voice to match the hall-of-mirrors dazzle of his new sound-and-vision: a falsetto that soared and swooned somewhere between man and woman, soul and machine." For those of you old enough to remember, this is also probably the last time it felt like you didn't have to share Scritti Politti with the world. In case you were worried, Mrs. Linear Tracking Lives is in San Francisco. So, I was able to listen to this single today without fear of reprisal.

Buy "Jacques Derrida" and "Asylums in Jerusalem" on
'Songs to Remember' or the best-of compilation 'Absolute.'