Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Another Musical Trip Inspired By CC

Our pal CC just celebrated five years at the helm of Charity Chic Music, and that's quite a feat when you consider he's one of those disciplined bloggers that somehow finds a way to put something up every day. Man, that's a plethora of posts. A tip of the cap, sir. What I like about CC is he always seems to highlight a song that gets me thinking about something else I have on the shelf. That often starts a chain reaction that ends with me holding a stack of albums and wondering where the evening went. Here are a couple of records I listened to over the weekend after CC had back-to-back submissions on Elvis and Elvis.

On Thursday, CC lamented Elvis Costello's last great album was 'Brutal Youth'. That was 23 years ago, folks. Wow. Like many of you in the comments, I pondered both that last great album statement and whether 'Brutal Youth' was, in fact, a great album. (Yes on both, by the way.) I think what made that time so exciting was the return of bassist Bruce Thomas. I pulled Thomas' book 'The Big Wheel' off the shelf a few days ago to refresh my memory on the dust up that got him dismissed from the Attractions in the first place (and, it turned out, in the second place). I planned on this being a quick read through the preface of the new edition to get his thoughts on the drama surrounding the band's induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, but now I'm fully immersed in Thomas' work of "fiction" for the first time in several years.

While on the Bruce bus, I decided to listen to 'Mad About the Wrong Boy', the 1980 album the Attractions did without their famous leader. Most of the songs were written by Steve Nieve or the mysterious team of Brain/Hart, whom we later learned was Nieve and then-girlfriend Fay Hart. There were a few fine moments on the album, most notably "Single Girl" and Sad About Girls", but most of it was a bit of a stinker. Here was Bruce's best effort...

The Attractions - "Little Miss Understanding"

CC's musings on Elvis Presley, and the song "Mystery Train" in particular, instantly made me think of others who have tried to emulate the King. I'm guessing when you think of "Mystery Train" you probably don't immediately turn to 'Everybody's Rockin'', Neil Young's ode to rock 'n' roll's infancy that he released in 1983, but I do. This album came out the same month my hometown got MTV, and the single "Wonderin'" was a mainstay on the video channel. I loved the retro sound of the song and ran out to get the album. Although I hadn't listened to 'Everybody's Rockin'' for many years, since CC's post on Presley, I can't seem to get it off the turntable. Thanks, CC. Here's to another five years.

Neil Young & the Shocking Pinks - "Mystery Train"

Monday, November 20, 2017

When Oh-OK Found the 'Sweet' Spot

That song written by Matthew Sweet for the Springfields featured here at the end of last week got me going to the shelves for another one of his rarities from the '80s. Sweet went to school briefly at the University of Georgia in Athens where he was pals with Michael Stipe. They had met earlier when R.E.M. made a tour stop in Sweet's hometown back in Nebraska. Through that friendship he met Michael's sister Lynda, a bassist and songwriter with the trio Oh-OK. At that point, the band had already released the 'Wow Mini Album' on the legendary label DB Recs, home to the B-52's. Pylon, the Swimming Pool Q's, Love Tractor and many other local bands. What I always found interesting about that 1982 EP is there was no guitar. Drums, bass, vocals. That's it.

In 1983, Oh-OK would shuffle the lineup a bit for the second (and last) release. Linda Hopper and Stipe remained. Drummer David Pierce was replaced by David McNair and Sweet joined on guitar. The lighthearted tone and humor remained from 'Wow Mini Album', and Oh-OK's sound became just a little bit more accessible on the six-song 'Forevermore What' EP. There is nothing here that screams Sweet, but I find the EP more than just a passing curiosity. It's off-kilter, fun and a good listen. And given Sweet's well-documented love of felines, I think the cover of 'Forevermore What' is a smile.

'Such n Such'

Sweet would remain busy on the Athens scene. There was the short-lived Community Trolls side project with Michael Stipe. Sweet would also join up with Oh-Ok's original drummer to form the Buzz of Delight, also on DB Recs. Of course, it wouldn't be long before Columbia came calling, and after a couple of generally praised but poorly sold solo albums, the rest, as they say, is history.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention you can get both of Oh-OK's EPs along with a 1984 live performance from the Peppermint Lounge in NYC on one beautiful piece of vinyl HHBTM Records put out in 2011 called 'The Complete Reissue', and it's still in print!

Friday, November 17, 2017

'Sweet' Treat From Ric Menck

Here's a bit of trivia for you. Did you know there's a tiny connection between Sarah Records and Matthew Sweet? Ric Menck, probably best known for his power-pop outfit Velvet Crush, or for a few of you as Sweet's drummer on some of his best work, was in a couple of great but slightly lesser-known indie-pop bands in the '80s that deserved more of the limelight. One of those, Choo Choo Train, was on Subway Records, a label that gets touted here with regularity, and the other was the Springfields, an American band from Champaign, Illinois, that caught the ears of Clare and Matt. Sarah 10 was "Sunflower", a three-track 7" from 1988 with "Clown", a Hollies' cover, and the Sweet-penned "Are We Gonna Be Alright?" Sweet has never released a recording of this beauty given to the Springfields.

I have a couple of singles from the Springfields, but I don't own "Sunflower". Instead, I have all three songs from the single on 'The Ballad of Ric Menck' compilation that first came out on Summershine in 1996. I can't recommend this one enough. You'll find some Choo Choo Train, Springfields and solo recordings on there. I like it so much I bought it on two formats! Action Musik reissued it in 2004 with extra songs and liner notes from Menck. If I come across that one, I guess I'll own three copies. Doing this post reminded me of another seldom heard Sweet recording that I'll get to next week.

"Are We Gonna Be Alright?"

Yes, that really is how the songs ends.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Good Songs That Sound Great Together

Back when we spent all of our free time making mix tapes, perhaps you did this too. Even if my ear knew they didn't necessarily work as a tandem all that well, I liked to place a song about a musician next to a song by said musician, such as an Alex Chilton tune followed by "Alex Chilton" by the Replacements or "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground and "Velvet Underground" by Jonathan Richman back to back. Like the artist that sings about an artist, in a small way, I always felt like I was thanking one of my heroes by this placement. It was especially fun to put two musicians together that seemingly had very different sounds, such as something by Duke Ellington next to "Sir Duke" by Stevie Wonder. That's the direction I'm going in today.

Over the weekend, I thought about "Breakfast in Bed" from Dusty Springfield's 1969 album 'Dusty in Memphis' because today is my birthday. I secretly hoped maybe I would get my breakfast served that way this morning. Alas, that's a pretty tall order on a school day and, as is the ritual, I was the one making breakfast for everyone else. I knew I had an album with a song called "Dusty Springfield" in my music room somewhere, but the band wasn't coming to me right away. Let's just say I have had a number of birthdays under my belt, and I'm not quite the savant I used to be when it comes to remembering such things. I was singing it to myself yesterday. So I knew it was jangly indie pop from the golden age of jangly indie pop and probably from the UK. Finally, it hit me like a bolt of lightning a little while ago. If you're curious about just how many birthdays I have had, I'm the same age as 'Dusty in Memphis.' Sigh.

As an aside, I had no idea until today the album cover for 'Dusty in Memphis' was different for folks in the UK. The one above seems so iconic to this Yank.

Dusty Springfield - Breakfast in Bed
The Haywains - Dusty Springfield

Thursday, November 9, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 10)

Apologies, indie fans. A bit of a curve ball today but, perhaps, an interesting curiosity if you kneel at the altar of Brian Wilson. As many of you know, for much of the '90s, I became disenchanted with pop music. I increasingly turned to the loves of my childhood, absconded from my mother's record collection when I was 10, particularly the Kinks and Beach Boys. In the early years of that decade, it was a terrific time to be a fan of the Beach Boys. Reference books, biographies, box sets and other reissues were being released at a furious pace. After reading so much about Brian's influences, naturally, I began seeking out that music too. Again, the timing was perfect. Among my favorites, I really took to Phil Spector just as his 'Back to Mono' box set hit the shelves. I also picked up a decent comp of the Four Freshmen that received a few plays.

In the late '90s, while living in Washington, D.C., my fandom for Brian reached a fever pitch as he began releasing new music and flirting with the idea of touring. During that period, I went to a record convention in the Northern Virginia suburbs. I was shocked as I happened across a booth that had absolutely nothing but Four Freshmen memorabilia. I introduced myself to the fella at the booth and explained my interest due to the Wilson connection. His name was David, from nearby McLean, and I learned he was a Virginia representative of FFS, the Four Freshmen Society. Trust me, it's a big operation. It was a fascinating day of learning as David took me through some of the group's best recordings and explained their place in music as the group moved away from barbershop and introduced jazz elements that kids like Brian really dug as he listened in his bedroom back in Hawthorne, California. Did I just use the term barbershop on this blog?

The album changed everything for Brian was the 1955 release 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones'. Wilson once said of the album, "I was 14. They had a demonstration booth where you could listen to it in the store, and I found the Four Freshmen. My mother said, 'Do you really wanna hear this?' and I said, 'Sure!' So I went in this little booth, and I played it and fell in love with it. And I bought it. I loved the sound of the trombones. Wonderful songs -- 'I Remember You', 'Mam'selle'..." In another interview, he went further, saying of the song "You Stepped Out of a Dream", "This is where I learned to arrange harmonies, and also where I learned to sing falsetto. Their four-part harmony was totally original -- not five or three parts, but four parts. Wow!"

I have several albums by the Four Freshmen, but I think the two pictured above, 'Four Freshmen and 5 Trombones' and the comp 'Freshmen Favorites' are the only two I listen to with much regularity. My copy of 'Trombones' is very rough. In fact, while listening, you might run to the window thinking it has started raining. Sorry, that's surface noise. Here are the three songs Brian dropped in the quotes above. It will take you about 10 seconds to realize how much Brian was influenced by them.

"I Remember You"
"You Stepped Out of a Dream"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 9)

Here's a quick explanation of where I have been. Three weeks ago, my computer died. The repair shop told me the hard drive was fried. After a couple of days of contemplation, I decided to get a new laptop. The old one had already experienced a major repair last year, and who was to say the fan or screen wouldn't break the day after replacing the drive? I chose a model rather quickly, but then I found out there was a good chance it would be going on sale in a week's time. I waited.

The day it went on sale, I returned to the shop with a pile of cash. The model I wanted was not in stock. I could get the sale price, but the laptop would have to be ordered. It would be mailed to my house in 3-5 business days. With a weekend thrown in for good measure, I lost another week. The package arrived yesterday. I quickly took it to the repair shop to have the files on the old hard drive moved to the new one. I just picked it up a few minutes ago. It will probably take me a couple of days to get all of the missing software reinstalled, but I should be all set by the end of the week. In the meantime, I did have the next band in my vinyl collection already ripped. Let's get back to it.

One last thing. It would seem the worst part of the ordeal would be living without that one piece of equipment all of us have come to depend on for just about everything. Nope. For me, it's knowing I won't be able to buy records for a good long while as we try to replenish the coffers. The shopping list is as long as it has ever been.

I realize a post on Friends Again is for about two readers out there (JC and FORW, presumably), but I would be kicking myself if I skipped one of my favorite Scottish bands from my youth. I came to them from a little different angle than JC. He liked them from the beginning, listening to those early singles before they recorded for a major label. When I was a kid, my first taste of Friends again was the band's one and only album, 'Trapped and Unwrapped'. For those who had followed them since the 'Honey at the Core' single in 1983, the 1984 album was a bit of a disappointment. In particular, some of the songs were inferior recordings of those earlier releases. It's an old story, isn't it? I, of course, had nothing to compare them too, and I thought "Lucky Star" and others from the album were terrific pieces of jangle.

Fast forward about a quarter of a century, and I find JC's original Vinyl Villain blog. He starts playing these original versions from Friends Again, and I'm just floored. 'Trapped and Unwrapped' begins collecting dust as I start seeking out the old singles. As you can see from the photo above, during the past five or six years, I have collected quite a few trophies on my hunt for Friends Again relics. Here are a few of my favorites from the band. This is as good a time as any to thank JC for the education.

"Lullaby No. 2" (from 'the Friends Again EP')
"Sunkissed" (Extended Version) (12" single)
"Lucky Star" (original B-side to the "Honey at the Core" 7")