Friday, March 31, 2017

The Kinks and Kinda Nice Turns at the Kinks

Here's another post inspired by something I read on another blog. Last weekend, our pal CC at Charity Chic Music wrote about a couple of 'State of Confusion'-era singles from the Kinks, and it was so nice to hear those songs -- lo these many years -- that I have done almost nothing but listen to the band in an obsessive manner ever since. Here are a couple I can't seem to get out of my head, along with a couple of covers that, at the very least, hold up to the originals. Some of you may even go a step further, but I can't quite bring myself to type those words.

"Stop Your Sobbing" is an early song written by Ray Davies for the self-titled debut album in 1964. It's not much like "You Really Got Me" and their other raucous singles of the period. In fact, it has more in common with radio hits from the late '50s, but most rock 'n' roll bands were forced to fill out albums with popular covers from yesteryear anyway. It just so happens this song was an original. For the record, less than half of the album contained songs written by Davies. What draws me to "Stop Your Sobbing" are the vocals. Ray's pleas to his girlfriend are dramatic for the listener... even if they don't seem to have worked with the girlfriend. Pretenders did a fine cover of the song for their debut single in 1980, and it's interesting to hear a female deliver the lines. As we all know, the cover led to an appearance in the charts and a relationship between Ray and Chrissie Hynde.

The Kinks - "Stop Your Sobbing"
Pretenders - "Stop Your Sobbing"

"David Watts" opened the terrific 1967 album 'Something Else' and also appeared as the B-side to the "Autumn Almanac" single. For most of my youth, I wondered, who is this mysterious David Watts? Is he real? Why does everyone want to be him? It wasn't until Ray's biography 'X-Ray' that the puzzle pieces fell into place and I realized "why all the girls in the neighbourhood try to go out with David Watts" but none of them succeed. Certainly a fascinating fella in rock lore. The Jam covered this one and released it as one half of a double A-side single with "'A' Bomb In Wardour Street" in 1978. Truly an inspired walk up to 'All Mod Cons,' especially considering Bruce Foxton was the one who took lead vocals.

The Kinks - "David Watts"
The Jam - "David Watts"

I can't stop. One more. Let's remember Chuck Berry with a previously unreleased take of "Too Much Monkey Business" that first appeared as a bonus track on the Kinks' debut album reissue in 1998. It's even more frantic than the version that showed up on the album in '64. Hold on tight! The Kinks know how to treat a cover too.

"Too Much Monkey Business" (Unreleased Alternate Take)

Update: We have an interesting comment string going on here (see below). CC, thanks to our friend JC, here is your perfect post. Drew, my apologies. For the rest of you, what do think of this cover? This is a tough one for me. It doesn't get much better than "Victoria" and "Waterloo Sunset." Not sure if I want them covered, you know?

The Kinks - "Victoria"
The Fall - "Victoria"

Update No. 2: Nicely done, JTFL. Haven't listened to 'Kojak Variety' in ages. You might remember Elvis Costello recorded most of the songs for that album many years before they saw the light of day. When I saw him in the summer of '91, I believe he thought the release was imminent. The band spent much of the show playing covers, many of them obscure to his fans, including "Hidden Charms," "Strange," "Everybody's Crying Mercy" and "Bama Lama Bama Loo," all of which appeared on the album four years later. There were many puzzled and disappointed faces in the crowd that night, but I was not one of them.

Update 3: Good call by Rol. From Kirsty MacColl's 1989 album 'Kites,' here is her take on "Days" too. Kirsty, you are missed.

The Kinks - "Days"
Elvis Costello - "Days"
Kirsty MacColl - "Days"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Nick and Dave Channel Phil and Don

In 1979 and 1980, Rockpile were on fire. Dave, Nick, Billy and Terry followed up albums 'Repeat When Necessary' and 'Labour of Lust' with 'Seconds of Pleasure,' the only official release under the Rockpile name. If you bought 'Seconds of Pleasure' early on, the album included the bonus four-song 7" "Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Sing the Everly Brothers." All four lo-fi numbers were done with care and affection, and you can really feel the love for the Everlys in these performances.

Nick and Dave opened with the melancholy prison ballad "Take a Message to Mary," but they really got your toes tapping by the flip side. "Poor Jenny" has always been one of my all-time favorites. In 1959, Phil and Don burned through this thing like their lives depended on it. Did Nick and Dave find the energy to pull this one off? I think they did. "When Will I Be Loved?" is all about the harmonies, and the voices from both of these duos melt into each other beautifully.

It would be many years before I loved two voices together as much as Nick and Dave singing the Everly Brothers. I considered asking you to guess, but that's too cruel. When I discovered Mark Olson and Gary Louris singing together on the Jayhawks' album 'Hollywood Town Hall,' I knew I was listening to something special.

The Everly Brothers - "Take a Message to Mary"
The Everly Brothers - "Poor Jenny"
The Everly Brothers - "When Will I Be Loved?"

Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "Take a Message to Mary"
Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "Poor Jenny"
Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds - "When Will I Be Loved?"

Thursday, March 23, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 4)

It's probably not the best sign when your favorite song from an artist was penned by another, but that's the position I find myself in with Dave Edmunds. Elvis Costello said he gave "Girls Talk" to Edmunds "in a moment of drunken bravado," and we should all be thankful for his cockiness. The next time you have a free evening, do yourself a favor and play both of Rockpile's albums from 1979, Nick Lowe's 'Labour of Lust' and Edmunds' 'Repeat When Necessary,' back to back. Lowe, Edmunds Billy Bremner and Terry Williams were a hell of a unit. From the Edmunds' section, here are the three singles from 'Repeat When Necessary,' covers one and all. I'll have another treat featuring Edmunds and Lowe and a couple of famous siblings next time.

"Girls Talk"
"Crawling From the Wreckage"
"Queen of Hearts"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Goin' Bananas for VU Covers

While catching up on posts over the weekend, I was deeply drawn into Drew's appreciation for 'The Velvet Underground & Nico.' As we continue to celebrate the album's importance in rock history 50 years after it flopped, I thought of the bevy of bands through the generations that have been influenced by the 11 songs on the album. Here are a few from the '80s who dared to put their own spins on perfection.

Strawberry Switchblade - "Sunday Morning"
("Since Yesterday" 12" B-side)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - "I'm Waiting For The Man"
("Messages" 10" B-side)

Tracey Thorn - "Femme Fatale"
(from 'A Distant Shore')

Echo & the Bunnymen - "Run Run Run (Live)"
(from 'Crystal Days' box set)

R.E.M. - "There She Goes Again"
("Radio Free Europe" B-side, 1983 version)

The Primitives - "I'll Be Your Mirror"
("Sick of It" 12" B-side)

Slightly off the topic of 'The Velvet Underground & Nico,', but I can't resist playing my favorite VU cover. Probably helps that I love the original to bits.

The Feelies - "What Goes On"
(from 'Only Life')

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Name Like No Other

Actually, Brian is a name like any other, and that's exactly why Ken Sweeney named his band something so mundane. It worked for the Smiths, after all. JC's inclusion of Brian in his excellent mix of Irish bands on St. Patrick's Day inspired me to pull the 1992 album 'Understand' and 1999 album 'Big Trouble' off the shelf on the weekend for the first time in a good long while. My recollection of 'Understand' was timeless sad-sack music of the highest order. If anything, I was even more struck by its beauty this time around. "Understand" has always been my go-to song, but I just got this one stuck in my head. It was a single that went nowhere in 1991:

"You Don't Want a Boyfriend"

The EP "Planes" followed 'Understand,' and Sweeney thought it was his best piece of work. Its failure hit the artist hard, and he disappeared for several years. When he reemerged with 'Big Trouble' at the end of the decade, the shift in sound was a shock to some of Brian's veteran followers, but it had a beat you could dance to, and there were new fans after "Turn Your Lights On" was BBC Radio One Single Of The Week. There was success on Irish radio and a nomination for Irish Single Of The Year at the Irish Music Awards as well. The overall feeling, though, was Brian was better at music for the melancholy, and Sweeney must have agreed because he never recorded as Brian again. Here are a couple from 'Big Trouble.'

"Turn Your Lights On"
"Right Through Tuesday"

I have spent the last few days catching up with my favorite blogs, and I'll be back next time with another post inspired by a post I read.

Friday, March 17, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 3)

Still not 100 percent but on the mend. Thanks for your patience. Hopefully, you'll consider this second post on Echo & the Bunnymen worth the very long wait. Let's start with a rousing rendition of "Crocodiles" from the four-song live EP "Shine So Hard." This was recorded at Pavilion Gardens in Buxton, Derbyshire, on Jan. 17, 1981, and released in April that year. This turned out to be the band's first UK Top 40 single. I have had this one since I was a kid, and the show had always been built up in my mind as an all-timer because I didn't see the video of the performance until about 20 years after I found the 12". Have to say, when I saw it, I wasn't disappointed. Anyone out there one of the 500 that received the video as a thank you for attending the show?

"Crocodiles" (Live)

Now here is a performance that's not just legendary in my mind. Echo & the Bunnymen's show at the Royal Albert Hall on July 18, 1983, pops up all over the band's discography, and this live and very long take on early single "Do It Clean" can be found in several places, including the excellent self-titled mini album from 1983 and as a B-side to "The Killing Moon" 12". If you have never seen this show in its entirety, do yourself a favor and dig it up on the 'Net today. If I had a time machine, this is where I would take it to see them. Hard to believe now, but in the early days of MTV, when they didn't have many videos, this one used to show up in the rotation from time to time, and that's where I first saw clips of this show. Lots of improvisation and odes to rock (and funk!) from an earlier age on this one.

"Do It Clean" (Live)

I don't want "The Killing Moon" to be my favorite song by Echo & the Bunnymen because, well, it's just so typical, but it's too good not to give the tune its proper due. Just try to ignore the fact it appears in auto adverts. Haunting and beautiful. OK, Rol, buddy, here is my all-time favorite 12"... all nine minutes and 12 seconds of it. Hope I have convinced you this is a great extended version.

"The Killing Moon (All Night Version)"

Here is a live version of the song I had not pulled off the shelf for a while, but it was music to my ears a couple of weeks ago when I was ripping what I had from the lads. This is a B-side from the 1984 12" of "Seven Seas." There are four songs on the single recorded at Liverpool Cathedral for the program "Play at Home" on British station Channel 4.

"The Killing Moon" (Live)

Running out of juice. Let's go out with one that seems universally revered. Maybe even George will like it. I dedicate this one to pals Friend of Rachel Worth and JC. As JC said in the comments last time... "lay down thy raincoat and grooooove."

"Never Stop (Discotheque)"

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 2)

At one time it would have taken days to rip all of my vinyl by Echo & the Bunnymen, but they are one of those bands deemed so vital that in 1988, when I caved and finally bought a CD player, I immediately traded in the first five albums on vinyl for the fancy format. What an idiot. At least I had the foresight to save the EPs, singles and other vinyl pieces not found on CD at the time. Of course, in 2001, the four-disc box set 'Crystal Days 1979-1999' made most of the vinyl I had left obsolete. Still, I couldn't help myself, and I bought the collection anyway. At least I learned from my mistake in '88 and kept the vinyl I had left this time.

These boys deserve more than one day in this series. I'll be back next time with a few more nuggets. In the meantime, here are some favorites from three 12" singles. "Silver (Tidal)" is a beautiful piece from the 'Ocean Rain' era. What I like most about this one and the other extended mixes from this period is there are absolutely no additional '80s bells and whistles so popular in 1984. The first two minutes of this version is so lush and full of orchestral flourishes that I don't think someone new to the band would even guess the song came from that decade.

"Bring on the Dancing Horses" was written for the film 'Pretty in Pink' and released as a new single to make the band's 1985 compilation 'Songs to Learn and Sing' a little more provocative. If you're a regular around here, you know how much I hate when a band sticks a brand-new song or two on a best-of package. The new songs often seem out of place next to the hits, and it's nothing but a cash grab to take advantage of fans that already have all the old songs. Thankfully, these were the days when you could just pick up the physical single.

Although "Lips Like Sugar" didn't chart here in America, I feel like this one got quite a bit of play on MTV and radio. The addition of the 12" mix on 'Just Say Yes,' the first volume of Sire's compilation series, also gave many kids their first listen of the band. Unlike "Silver (Tidal)," this extended mix has a few of those '80s touches, but I love it anyway. If anyone out there wants to really go back to the dance floor of your youth, there is a dub version on the flip side. Not my cup of tea, but I would be happy to send it along to anyone who wants it. "Rollercoaster" is a non-album B-side worthy of a listen. That song can also be found on the "People Are Strange" single issued a year later.

"Silver (Tidal)"
"Bring on the Dancing Horses (Extended Mix)"
"Lips Like Sugar (12" Mix)"

Saturday, March 4, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter E, Part 1)

Forgoing the obvious hits (or hit, depending on where you reside) for a favorite from Australia's the Easybeats. They had some great songs in 1965 and 1966, but I think the lads misplaced their compass after that. The Easybeats were, first and foremost, a rock band, and much of their work veered into soft schmaltz in the latter part of the decade. It's not surprising that by 1969 the Easybeats had called it quits. There were exceptions during those less rewarding years, and this is one of them.

"Falling Off the Edge of the World" was a 1967 single of little commercial consequence. In fact, it didn't chart anywhere, but I have always found it to be a dramatic heartbreaker that mixed the band's harder and softer sides to perfection. I was not alone. Lou Reed played this one every night on the jukebox at Max's Kansas City, telling legendary rock writer Lilian Roxon it was "one of the most beautiful ballads ever made." Here's a bit of the lyrics. Clearly, this storyteller is in a dark place. More from the rather slim letter E next time.

The love that was in your smile
When I married you isn't there now,
And even the children see
That you don't look respectable now

Falling off the edge of the world
Seeing you with him
If I let you win I die

You dragged out the soul in me
And you clawed and you twisted it 'round
But I still feel love for you
Though my face has been ground to the ground

"Falling Off the Edge of the World"

Friday, March 3, 2017

UK Indie Hits: 1980-89 (Update)

Three years ago today I began counting down my 50 favorite singles from the golden age of UK indie. That was, by far, the most fun I have had during my nearly eight years of blogging, and it turned out to be, by far, the most popular series ever attempted here. In fact, chances are fairly high you found this place during that countdown. You might be interested to learn the list has been quite fluid in the three years since I first compiled it.

Sometime during 2014 I made a reverse chronological order playlist of the songs on my iPod, and I don't think a week has gone by that I haven't listened to at least a few songs from it. The many pitfalls of creating a countdown like this, in print for all eternity, is you realize from time to time you have forgotten a gem. This actually happened to me with two songs during the unveiling, but it was too late to correct the problem. I did rectify it on my iPod. Then there was the realization I had picked the wrong song from an artist. Sometimes I went with a less obvious choice because I didn't want to pick the big hit, such as "Love Will Tear Us Apart," when in my heart I knew I loved that song more than "Transmission." Then there are the earworms. Occasionally, I would get obsessed with a song and stick it in the Top 50 playlist for a while, only to see it leave again a month later. Off the top of my head, that happened with songs by the Higsons, the Woodentops, the Nivens, the Au Pairs, Carmel and at least a half dozen more.

On this anniversary, I thought I would give a peek at the list in its current form. There are seven artists that weren't on the countdown three years ago. Obviously, that means seven got the boot. There are also five bands that were on the original list but are now represented by a different song. A few of the bands moved up... a few moved down. All in all, though, about three-fourths of the list hasn't changed. A quick reminder of the rules. One song per band. Must have been a charting indie single from the '80s. Must have been from the UK. No Sugarcubes, Triffids or Minutemen, even though they were on the chart. I imagine always being a seeker of new music, but these are the songs that make that exercise laborious. There are only so many minutes in the day, and I always want to come back to this booty.

Top 50 UK Indie Hits: 1980-89

Note: Links are to new additions to the countdown. Songs in bold represent bands that were on the original countdown but are now represented by a different song.

50. Phil Wilson - Waiting for a Change
49. Primal Scream - Crystal Crescent
48. Wire - Eardrum Buzz
47. McCarthy - The Well of Loneliness
46. The Jasmine Minks - Cold Heart
45. Hurrah! - Who'd Have Thought
44. The Sea Urchins - Pristine Christine
43. The Primitives - Stop Killing Me
42. The Wake - Talk About the Past
41. The Wolfhounds - The Anti-Midas Touch (Entry Date: Nov. 1, 1986, Peak: No. 6)
40. Razorcuts - Sorry to Embarrass You
39. 14 Iced Bears - Come Get Me (May 14, 1988, No. 15)
38. The Lightning Seeds - Pure
37. Shop Assistants - Safety Net
36. The Pastels - Comin' Through
35. The Brilliant Corners - Delilah Sands
34. The Loft - Why Does the Rain
33. The Teardrop Explodes - Treason (It's Just a Story)
32. The Pale Fountains - (There's Always) Something on My Mind
31. Talulah Gosh - Talulah Gosh
30. Robert Wyatt - Shipbuilding
29. Fire Engines - Big Gold Dream
28. The Waterboys - A Girl Called Johnny
27. The Monochrome Set - The Jet Set Junta
26. The Rosehips - Room In Your Heart (May 16, 1987, No. 9)
25. The Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
24. The Popguns - Landslide (May 6, 1989, No. 20)
23. Josef K - It's Kinda Funny
22. Prefab Sprout - Lions in My Own Garden (Exit Someone)
21. Yazoo - Nobody's Diary
20. The Orchids - I've Got a Habit
19. Girls at Our Best! - Getting Nowhere Fast (April 12, 1980, No. 9)
18. The Field Mice - Sensitive
17. The Weather Prophets - Almost Prayed (June 7, 1986, No. 3)
16. Miaow - When It All Comes Down (Feb. 28, 1987, No. 5)
15. The Chesterf!elds - Completely & Utterly
14. Mighty Mighty - Throwaway
13. The Flatmates - I Could Be in Heven
12. Another Sunny Day - You Should all Be Murdered
11. Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
10. Orange Juice - Poor Old Soul
9. Scritti Politti - Asylums in Jerusalem
8. New Order - True Faith
7. The Wedding Present - My Favourite Dress
6. The Bodines - Therese
5. Close Lobsters - Going to Heaven to See If It Rains
4. The Smiths - This Charming Man
3. The Wild Swans - Revolutionary Spirit
2. Aztec Camera - Just Like Gold
1. The June Brides – Every Conversation