Friday, January 27, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 16)

Surprised I was able tally six pieces of plastic from Thomas Dolby, three LPs, two 12" singles and one 7" single. Wouldn't be totally honest if I said I hadn't played any of them for 30 years because about five years back my little ones were taken by "She Blinded Me With Science" after our local Public Broadcasting Corporation station used the song to advertise the show "Sid the Science Kid." I was spinning the extended remix for them for a while before they grew out of the song and Sid's program. Otherwise, yep, I don't think the rest of the lot has been played since the '80s. When I think of Dolby now, the first thing that comes to mind is as the producer of many of Prefab Sprout's best moments, but here is a very minor hit I played to death when I was 12 years old. Listening to it now, I honestly can't tell if it's awfully good or just plain awful. Nostalgia is clouding my senses. I'm sure you'll let me know. Where is George when you need him?

"Europa and the Pirate Twins"

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Music For the Middle Aged

I mean no offense with that headline... I'm one of 'em! The albums have been few and far between, five in roughly 36 years, but the Feelies have been nothing but quality every time out. The followup to the excellent 2011 album 'Here Before' is about to hit the shelves (With language like that, I must be old!) via Bar/None Records, and the first two songs we have the privilege of hearing are oh-so Feelies. That album cover is vintage Feelies too. 'In Between' is out on Feb. 27.

Ray Davies is such a treasure. Oops, make that SIR Ray Davies. The freshly knighted musician has a new studio album coming out for the first time in almost a decade. Big news made even bigger by the fact he's backed by another one of my favorites, the Jayhawks. When greats come together, it doesn't always work, but I have a good feeling about 'Americana,' out April 21 on Legacy. Davies has been inspired by the country and its culture for many years, as readers of his most recent biography, 'Americana: The Kinks, the Riff, the Road: The Story,' are well aware. If you haven't read Davies' two biographies, wait no longer. 'X-Ray,' chronicling the early years, is probably the most intriguing music biography I have ever read. Got off track a bit. Let's get back to the new music. Here's "Poetry."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 15)

I wish I was celebrating the solo work of Chris Difford with this post. Unfortunately, I don't have any of those albums on vinyl. I'll have the same problem when I get to the letter T and want to talk up the talents of Glenn Tilbrook... all CD. What I do have in the D section is the self-titled album by Difford & Tilbrook (as well as a 12" single), and it's pure pop worth remembering.

Many call 'Difford & Tilbrook' the lost Squeeze album. To these ears, though, there was a grown-up sophistication to these songs not prevalent on 1982 album 'Sweets From a Stranger,' the last before Squeeze (temporarily) broke up. I think 1984 album 'Difford & Tilbrook' was the bridge between the old sound we all loved and the darker atmosphere to come on reunion album 'Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti' in 1985. I'm not sure how much we owe to producer Tony Visconti for 'Difford & Tilbrook,' but it wouldn't surprise me if it was a lot.

I was looking up the charts today to see how 'Difford & Tilbrook' and the singles from the album fared. I remembered seeing the video for first single "Love's Crashing Waves" a few times in the summer of '84 (when I was watching MTV every waking moment). So I was a bit surprised when I didn't find it anywhere on the Billboard Hot 100. "Love's Crashing Waves" did a little better in the UK, but still peaked at a somewhat anemic No. 57. It deserved a better fate. Let's give the 12" extended remix an airing. There aren't too many of those mid-'80s remix flourishes that sound so bad today. The other song is a non-album B-side with a country tinge. I didn't really remember hearing the song before today, but it's not at all bad for a flip side.

"Love's Crashing Waves" (Extended Remix)
"Within These Walls of Without You"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 14)

I discovered a minor alphabetizing error on the shelves the other day, but I was already engrossed in those posts on Dexys Midnight Runners. Well, I'm sure you were asking yourselves, "what happened to Devo?" Uh, maybe not, but they are going to get their due anyway, and I love everything they did through 'Oh, No! It's Devo' in 1982. Here are a couple of extended versions from what is often described as their "dark" album. Whatever. To these ears, "That's Good" is a terrific piece of pop that deserved a much better fate than No. 102 on the singles chart.

"That's Good" (Extended Version)
"Speed Racer" (Extended Version)

Of course, by the time 'Oh, No! It's Devo' came out, we already knew the fellas didn't care all that much about commercial success. In 1980, when they were faced with "Whip It" becoming a surprise No. 14 hit, the downside was a legion of new listeners that didn't really get the band. The response was "Through Being Cool," a single that not only conveyed their feelings perfectly but had the added bonus of capturing the sound of the early days. Bottom line, though, "Whip It" was (and still is) a song that deserved those accolades. Here is a live version recorded in San Francisco on Aug. 16, 1980. You can find the following two songs on 'Dev-O Live,' a six-song EP originally recorded for "The King Biscuit Flower Hour." If you can't find it on vinyl, this EP and another show from the same period were combined and reissued in 1999 on inferior formats.

"Freedom of Choice Theme Song"/"Whip It" (Live)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Wedding Present Delivers in Derby

Nottingham correspondent MisterPrime makes a triumphant return to tell us about seeing the Wedding Present last month. I'm particularly interested in his review of the proceedings because I will be witnessing the same 85-minute set when Gedge and Co. cross the Atlantic this spring. Unlike the seasoned author, this will be my first time to ever see the Weddoes, and I'm pretty damn excited. Take it away, MisterPrime...

The Wedding Present
The Venue
Derby, 7th December 2016

"We had all these guitars and we just thrashed away at it..." -- David Gedge, 1992

The Wedding Present last night in Derby was a pretty good gig all told, what with it being the ten millionth time I've been to see them and everything. Actually, I did start doing some research, and it turns out it's not nearly so many times as I might think, though it's well into double figures, which isn't so bad considering they called it a day for about 10 years in the mid-'90s, and I never saw Cinerama live. I got a bit bogged down to be honest trying to find evidence that they played at the University Refectory in Leeds in the late '80s as it was one place I was sure I'd seen them that the gig-list on the Scopitones' Web site seemed to have missed out, and I was all triumphant when I found a ticket in an old scrapbook until I went back to find it there clear as day on the 'Net all along (not that I was going to send them an email or anything, oh no, I'm not that sad, ahem...! And anyway I'm sure they played there twice! At least!)

I even enjoyed the whole bus-train-finding-a-venue-I've-not-been-too-before adventure of it all. I liked the venue too (apart from the fact that it is itself called 'The Venue', which I find strangely annoying) -- which is in an interesting if not strictly salubrious-feeling part of the City and seems to specialise in wedding receptions, tribute bands and obscure '80s and '90s comebacks (Toploader, anyone...!?). It had a bit of a Working Men's Club feel, with its ticket table in the hall and big long bar against one wall, whilst the room itself was big and slightly industrial, but the sound quality and view of the stage were excellent.

The Wedding Present themselves were in fine fettle, and Mr. Gedge has certainly got the hang by now of putting together a set list that balances the requirements of the fans with the need -- presumably -- to keep things fresh and interesting for himself and the band. Opening with a slightly unexpected (by me at least) "Give My Love To Kevin", there was an interesting mix of old and new: Some of "the hits" but not all (that's "Brassneck", then, but no "Kennedy"), the odd obscurity ("Mothers", anyone? A "Dalliance" b-side if I'm not mistaken) and even a surprisingly jaunty, bright take on "Go Out And Get 'Em Boy" -- a song which first graced a Weddoes' gig a few years even before I did! It was actually the newest songs and the oldest that seemed the most committed and muscular; presumably the band have been rehearsing the 'George Best'-era material ahead of next year's '30th Anniversary' gigs -- though, despite Gedge's assertions that those will be the last ever outings for these particular tunes, it seems a bit unlikely that he'll never be tempted to play "My Favourite Dress" again. It was a storming version of that particular fan favourite that climaxed this gig (albeit three songs from the end, though the timing did work well for those of us with a train to catch) -- there was barely a dry eye in the house.

It often seemed as if Gedge spent much of the '90s trying to exorcise his early-indie guitar demons in favour of something he deemed more "pop" when many fans just wanted more and more frantic strumathons. In a 1992 fanzine interview I was involved in he referred to 'George Best' as "absolutely dreadful" and, in retrospect, I imagine plans were already afoot to storm the charts with his 'Hit Parade' project -- a logical "pop"-step that led in turn to Cinerama and the eventual breakup of the original Wedding Present lineup. My point is it seems as if it is only recently that all of these earlier strands have been rewoven finally into a more integrated, mature pop sound. There's a lovely, sprightly take on "Something and Nothing" (actually recorded in October 2007) on the new 'Marc Riley Sessions' album that demonstrates this perfectly, and it's just the kind of confident fluid approach that makes the shows these days a joy to attend.

Thanks, MisterPrime. I was going to save this one until later in my vinyl-ripping series, but it seems appropriate to pull it out now. This was a 7" Mrs. LTL gave me for Christmas. What a gal!

"Go Out and Get 'Em Boy"

More Reviews From MisterPrime
Allo Darlin'

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 13)

Let's wrap up Dexys Midnight Runners with a couple of more B-sides and some surprises. In 1981, between 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels' and 'Too-Rye-Aye,' there were a couple of one-off singles with a revamped lineup I rank among the band's best. One of the A-sides, "Plan B," would be re-recorded later for 'Too-Rye-Ay' (with still more roster changes). The B-side to "Show Me," the other single during this period, was a short stripped-down affair with only an organ/piano and the voice of Kevin Rowland. That song, "Soon," would become the intro for the new version of "Plan B" on 'Too-Rye-Ay.' Clear as mud, innit?


By this time, Rowland was striving for perfection. Some say his ego had gotten the best of him. There would be no more words with the press. He expressed his thoughts on the band through an insert included with "Show Me." Do yourself a favor and click on the image below. It's really something to behold. Rowland sounds more like a cult leader than a lead singer, but that unit sure bought what he was selling. The horns played as hard and loud as they possibly could until their lips bled.

Skipping ahead past the 1985 album 'Don't Stand Me Down' for just a moment, in 1986, there would be a 7" release for the theme song to a BBC TV series called "Brush Strokes." "Because of You" would be the last single under the name Dexys Midnight Runners until "She Got a Wiggle" came out as a digital single in 2012. The B-side was a pretty traditional Irish song from 150 years earlier, "Kathleen Mavourneen." For any American Civil War buffs out there, you may know this song because it was very popular in the 1860s and is often used in documentaries on the period. The song is an early clue Rowland was always interested in doing an album like the 2016 release 'Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul.'

"Kathleen Mavourneen"

For third album 'Don't Stand Me Down,' Rowland's plan was to have no singles. This was to be his magnum opus, and he wanted the LP to stand on its own and be played in its entirety, front to back. The album took forever to record, and it cost much more than the label ever envisioned. It was selling very poorly and, after six weeks on store shelves, a four-plus minute single version of a 12-plus minute song was sloppily cobbled together. It didn't help. I have a 12" promo single of "This Is What She's Like" with a short version of the song and the even shorter single version. If you have heard the album version, then you know the single was a travesty. Some of the best sections of the song were completely removed. Also on the 12" B-side is album track "One of Those Things." I love this album. Although it was ignored at the time, in recent years, it has been re-evaluated by many and given its proper due. Seems like that's how it works for geniuses.

"This Is What She's Like" (Edit) (4:25)
"This Is What She's Like" (6:10)
"One of Those Things"

There's just no way I can put up these inferior versions and leave it at that. What if there is someone out there hearing "This Is What She's Like" for the first time? If so, skip those other two and go straight to the album version. Then, when you fall in love with the song, listen to the 20-plus minute live version from the 2014 album 'Nowhere is Home." This quadruple album is one of the most expensive records I have bought in recent years. Completely worth it, but I was a little disappointed in the quality of the vinyl... as you will hear. This song is so lengthy it takes up all of side eight of the album.

"This Is What She's Like" (Album Version) (12:28)
"This Is What She's Like" (Live) (21:50)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter D, Part 12)

I'm going to skip ahead just a bit from last post and hit the B-sides from the 'Too-Rye-Ay' era. If you were an early fan of 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels,' you might have felt let down by this metamorphosis in the sound and look of Dexys Midnight Runners. Trouble is, in the UK alone, in terms of sales, you would have been outnumbered about 5 to 1 as 'Too-Rye-Aye' was an absolute smash. In 1982, it was the UK's No. 11 selling album, and the band's success even crossed the pond as the single "Come on Eileen" made it to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, that single cemented Dexys Midnight Runners as one-hit wonders in America. Sometimes, the label fits, and the charts don't lie, but man, do I hate it in this case. There is so much more to love.

If the aesthetics of donkey jackets to track suits to dungarees made your eyes spin, and the sounds of horn-heavy soul with just a hint of punk attitude morphing into banjo, fiddle and accordion hurt your delicate ears, then stick around. The third and final post on Dexys Midnight Runners will feature yet another reinvention to business suits, preppy pastel plaids and laid-back ramblings that, although brilliant, didn't stand a chance.

I was a child of the '80s and, as such, had an infatuation with the 12" single. To this day there is something so simple and so beautiful about holding a 7" single, but the lure of two B-sides was often too much back then. If you're pressed for time, I highly recommend the cover of MFSB's "T.S.O.P." and the live version of the one-off hit single "Show Me."

From "Come on Eileen" 12" (1982)
"Liars A to E" (New Version)

From "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" 12" (1982)
"Let's Make This Precious"

From "Let's Get This Straight From the Start" 12" (1982)
"Old" (Live)
"Live Respect"

From "The Celtic Soul Brothers (More, Please, Thank You)" 12" (1983)
"Reminisce Part One"
"Show Me" (Live)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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

As someone who has already touted spin-offs the Blue Ox Babes and the Bureau in this series, it probably won't surprise you it will take a few days to rip all of my records by Dexys Midnight Runners. That means multiple posts for you, but what to do? Since you probably know the first three albums and the singles forwards and backwards, I thought I might concentrate on some inspired B-sides. Many of the flips didn't make it onto the LPs and, especially early on, the band had a knack for putting its stamp on some fabulous soul covers. Today, let's stick with the B-sides surrounding the 1980 debut album, 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.' Dexys is an all-timer for me, and I have been wanting to do an ICA on them for ages over at JC's place. Once I get everything transferred, no more excuses. More from Kevin and a revamped lineup next time.

"I'm Just Looking" ("Dance Stance" 7", 1979)
The only one of this lot that isn't a cover and that showed up on an LP. This single peaked at No. 40 in the UK. "Dance Stance," of course, would be tweaked and become album opener "Burn It Down" on 'Soul Rebels.'

"Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache" ("Geno" 7", 1980)
In the UK, the Bandwagon had a No. 4 hit with this one in 1968. You can't blame the virtually unknown American group for moving to London after this one.

"The Horse" (There, There My Dear" 7", 1980)
A song that instantly takes me back to being a nine year old watching the hometown high school basketball team with my father during their best season in school history. The school's band played this one every game, often more than once. This was released as a single by Cliff Nobles in 1968. The A-side was called "Love Is All Right" and had vocals. The B-side was the same song without vocals and dubbed "The Horse." The flip side was the hit, peaking at No. 2. So lead singer Nobles didn't actually appear on the hit. The great horn section of session musicians, straight outta Philly, would later be known as MFSB. Kevin Rowland must have liked those cats because he would cover them again with "T.S.O.P. (The Sound of Philadelphia)" a couple of years later. Interestingly, "Grazin' in the Grass" is the song that kept "The Horse" from the top spot. Dexys covered that song in 2016 on 'Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul.'

"One Way Love" ("Keep It Part Two (Inferiority Part One)" 7", 1980)
This was first recorded by the Drifters, but Dexys Midnight Runners were obviously going after the sound of the hit version by Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers. The horns of Bennett's band were known to be a big influence during this early period.

"Soul Finger" ("Plan B" 7", 1981)
Dexys Midnight Runners were heavily into Stax Records during the 'Soul Rebels' era, and the Bar-Kays were a great band to emulate. The story of these talented Memphis studio musicians is a sad one as most of the members died in the same plane crash that took Otis Redding's life. Dexys stays true to the original version, save for kids yelling "soul finger" and Big Jim Paterson's epic trombone solo.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2016

Apologies for the long layoff between posts, but the awful year that was 2016 had one more kick in the pants before saying so long. It's been a rough couple of weeks that included flying back to Illinois for a funeral that became funerals, followed by a nasty illness that picked off family members one by one. All of this meant forgoing some traditions here at LTL I normally anticipate and enjoy. There was no celebrating Mike Nesmith's birthday on Dec. 30. More importantly, for the first time since 1990, I didn't watch Big Country's New Year's Eve show from Barrowland, circa 1983, complete with post. Finally, I never got to compile my favorite albums of 2016. I know the last thing most of you want to do one week into 2017 is see another list, but please indulge me. I like to be able to look back on these things and see what I was into at the time. For example, just today I saw the Balconies had my No. 5 album in 2009. Had completely forgot about that one. OK, real quick like...

The High Llamas - 'Here Come the Rattling Trees'
Five years was a long time to wait for this one. Some fine moments, but not quite up to the standards of the rest of Sean O'
Hagan's discography.

Dexys - 'Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul'
'One Day I'm Going to Soar' was a miracle. This album of covers and standards is good but minor by comparison.

The First Six Out:
The Wedding Present - ' Going, Going...'
I never quite took to the first four songs. Otherwise, it would have been a cinch for my top 10.

ABC - 'The Lexicon of Love II'
The real hero here is Anne Dudley. Upon first listen, her arrangements literally gave me goosebumps.

Red Sleeping Beauty - 'Kristina'
The Swedes' first album in 19 years is a beautiful mix of pop and electronica.

Bubblegum Lemonade - 'The Great Leap Backward'
Laz makes a triumphant return to the Rickenbacker.

The Monkees - 'Good Times!'
Produced by Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and with songs written by a stable of stars including Rivers Cuomo and Andy Partridge. Could have been (should have been) a nightmare, but it really is a good time.

The Monochrome Set - 'Cosmonaut'
Heroes from my youth with two great albums the past two years. Didn't see that coming.

The Top 10
10. Le SuperHomard - 'Maple Key'
French band keeps the spirit of Stereolab alive.

9. Charles Bradley - 'Changes'
Nobody lays it all out there like Mr. Bradley. Respect.

8. David Bowie - 'Blackstar'
His best? No, but there are moments I would put right up there.

7. Community Radio - 'Look Now You're Cursed'
If you love indie pop, better tune in to this one. The first of three on this list from Australia.

6. The Holiday Crowd - 'The Holiday Crowd'
Thinking we may have similar record collections. Orange Juice are all over this one.

5. Real Numbers - 'Wordless Wonder'
Slumberland band reminds me of Expert Alterations. They were No. 5 last year.

4. Chook Race - 'Around the House'
The Swede wrote me five months ago... " I don't think an album could be any more 'you', without having your full name emblazoned across the cover in fluorescent ink." You were so right. Thanks for the recommendation.

3. The Goon Sax - 'Up to Anything'
My in was Robert Forster's teenage son, but I ended up liking James Harrison's songs just as much. I suspect if I was 30 years younger this would be my album of the year.

2. The Perfect English Weather - 'Isobar Blues'
Wendy and Simon Pickles of the Popguns turn it down just a little bit and end up rivaling their best work.

1. Pete Astor - 'Spilt Milk'
Indie-pop icon returns to his roots with help from James Hoare of dearly missed Veronica Falls. By far my most played album in 2016.