Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year!

Let's put 2017 to bed already. My best to you and your families on this day. As for me, after an afternoon of bowling with my sons and cheering on the Seattle Seahawks as they attempt to sneak into the playoffs on this the last day of the football season, I will open a bottle of bubbly and renew my tradition of watching Big Country's legendary New Year's Eve show from Barrowland, circa 1983. Honestly, nothing brings me more joy. Until next year, then...

"In a Big Country"/"Auld Lang Syne"

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Papa Nez Turns 75!

Happy birthday to Michael Nesmith. The cool Monkee was probably my first musical hero. When cable came to my hometown in 1979, the old television series aired on WFLD channel 32 out of Chicago. I watched it every morning that summer. During the school year, the program moved to lunchtime. I would tune in for many years. I lived across the street from my high school, and in my first couple of years there I would come home and have a quick sandwich while watching the band's zany antics on the tube.

Lucky for me I had much of the Monkees' music at my disposal from the get go because my mom had been into them when she was a girl. It would be many more years before I discovered Nesmith's solo albums, and I think that's the way it needed to work out. I imagine I wouldn't have appreciated the twang of his early and mid-'70s output in my youth. I, of course, love it all now. Through the years, I have played quite a bit of Nesmith's work on these pages, but here is one from his solo years that may not have been spun.

"Tanya" was recorded in either 1980 or '81 with the idea it would be included in Nesmith's musical movie 'Video Ranch.' As he says on the liner notes for the 1989 album 'The Newer Stuff', that project never got past the script stage. He did go on to give his official Web site that name. "Tanya" is a pretty song that sounds, well, of its time, but I love it anyway. Kind of has the same feel as some of the songs on Brian Wilson's 1988 solo album, if you know what I mean.


I would be remiss if I didn't also call to your attention that Davy Jones would have turned 72 today. Take it easy, ladies.

This clip brought back great memories of the WFLD morning lineup when I was a kid.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Place Where Your Vote Really Counts

One of the albums on my best reissues list this year was a live recording of Marshall Crenshaw from 1982. The label that released it is one that I have been meaning to tout for some time. Run Out Groove is a democracy in the truest sense. This lot actually listens to the people. In most cases, they dig around for some of the finest but most neglected releases from the last five decades. Sometimes, like in the case of that Crenshaw album, Run Out Groove finds a recording that has never been properly released. Once a few candidates are properly vetted, the label brings a ballot to the people for a vote. The album that receives the most votes becomes the label's next release. The number of albums pressed depends solely on pre-orders, and the album only gets one pressing. That's how, for example, you end up with 1,155 limited-edition copies of the Crenshaw album. You can tell the folks behind the scene have the same passion for records as we do. The vinyl is heavy and crisp, and the packaging is impeccable. Here is a quick look at what Run Out Groove has given us so far.

That brings us to why I'm writing about Run Out Groove today. They have an exciting ballot for their next album release out there right now, and time is running out to make your vote count. Earlier this year I was going on about Lorraine Ellison's "Stay With Me" being about the best song I have ever heard. That tune can be found on her 'Heart & Soul' album, but it's a pretty tough find these days. Maybe not for long, however, because that's one of the candidates for Run Out Groove's next release. The competition is stiff, however, and I must admit I voted for Solomon Burke's 'The Best of Atlantic Soul 1962-1965', an album that got to No. 22 back in '65. Little Richard deserves a mention too as his 1970 live album 'The Rill Thing' is also a worthy candidate made more exciting by the fact that this one would be blown out to a double LP.

Burke gets my vote because he has been on the ballot before, and each song on this compilation is gold. I'm such a fan of Burke's voice, but it's also his place in the history of Atlantic that makes him an artist worth remembering. It has been said many times it was Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun's signing of "King Solomon" that kept Atlantic afloat in the early '60s when Ray Charles and Bobby Darin jumped ship. In a move bound to be as controversial as a candidate's flunkies showing up at a polling place on election day to try and sway your vote, here is a little Burke (two words rarely seen together) to whet your appetite.

Solomon will be remembered as a soul man through and through, but he went down the country road a time or two too. Burke's second of 32 singles for Atlantic was his first hit for the label. "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)", reached No. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 7 on the R&B charts. Time for a good ol' fashioned boot scoot. Then place your vote. Let's face it though. We are going to win no matter what.

"Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)"

Sunday, December 24, 2017

You Must Have Made the Nice List

I usually buy one new Christmas album each December, but that didn't happen this year. Fortunately, Mrs. LTL got me one for my birthday last month, and it's a seasonal long player I had been seeking for many a year. 'Lost Winter's Dream' features legends of L.A.'s power-pop scene, but this one was recorded long before their names were known.

Lisa Mychols would go on to make a name for herself with the Masticators, but about eight years before that, when she was just a kid, really, Mychols would go through her first breakup. To cope, she began writing melancholy songs with a winter theme. She showed them to Darian Sahanaja and Nick Walusko, soon to be known as the key players in Wondermints, and the wheels were in motion for 'Lost Winter's Dream'. Sahanaja and Walusko would co-write songs with Mychols to fill out the album, and bassist Steve Kobashigawa would write the real gem of the collection, album opener "Listen to the Bells Ring". The album would be released in 1990 as a limited edition cassette and later on as a CD-R, gaining a cult-like popularity among the indie-pop community, but the first official release wouldn't come until Rev-Ola rescued it in 2002. These days, it's a pretty tough find again, at least in its physical form. There are a couple of copies on Discogs right now, and the cheapest is going for $34.

One of the lasting legacies of 'Lost Winters's Dream' is that it gave Sahanaja and Walusko an opportunity to educate themselves on the recording and producing process. In the liner notes of the Rev-Ola version, Sahanaja wrote, "For Nick and I, it became the blueprint for a sound that we would eventually explore as a band only a few years later." Indeed, you'll hear the influence of Phil Spector, the Beach Boys and Wondermints all over 'Lost Winter's Dream'. All these years later, the album is considered a power-pop masterpiece. In John M. Borack's power-pop encyclopedia 'Shake Some Action', the writer ranks 'Lost Winter's Dream' No. 177 all time, calling it "an album of unparalleled passion, beauty and innocence." Here's a little something for your stocking. Merry Christmas to all.

"Listen to the Bells Ring"

Saturday, December 23, 2017

It's Practically Here

Where did the time go? By this point I'm usually several days into the holiday tunes on these pages. Looks like I'll have to settle for today and Christmas Eve this year. As some of you regulars may have guessed, I have a soft spot for melancholy holiday themes masquerading as upbeat pop. Julian Henry and his pals Raymond Watt and Matt Moffatt, better known as the Hit Parade, provide just that with "Christmas Tears". Here's the gist:

He's still hoping for a Christmas card from someone who once broke his heart and though it's all in the past, he can't wipe away those Christmas tears that keep on rolling year after year.

Both versions are from the 1991 album 'More Pop Songs'. The second take (which appears on the CD but not the vinyl) features the beautiful vocals of indie darling Amelia Fletcher and will seem more of the season to your tender ears. I don't know about you, but it never ceases to amaze me how many times she pops up in my record collection.

"Christmas Tears"
"Christmas Tears (Starring Amelia)"

Up Next: A Spector-inspired holiday song featuring, quite possibly, my favorite power-pop band.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017

If you saw my list of top songs and EPs earlier this week, there won't be too many surprises here. In fact, only the Clientele and Los Straightjackets are making their first appearances today. However, a look back at lists from previous years reveals more than half of the artists below have never popped up on any of my annual countdowns before 2017. Not only is this an indication of a hearty and healthy indie scene, but it makes me feel I did my due diligence. I'm certain that's what keeps this middle-aged man feeling spry. For that I'm thankful to all of the following artists for giving me so many hours of pleasurable listening this year.

25. Pugwash - Silverlake
24. BMX Bandits - Forever
23. Real Estate - In Mind
22. Destroyer - ken
21. Saint Etienne - Home Counties
20. The Clientele - Music For The Age Of Miracles
19. Star Tropics - Lost World
18. Los Straightjackets - What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Los Straitjackets
17. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
16. Secret Shine - There Is Only Now
15. Jens Lekman - Life Will See You Now
14. Robyn Hitchcock - Robyn Hitchcock
13. Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band - Adiós Señor Pussycat
12. The Feelies - In Between
11. Alvvays - Antisocialites
10. Nick Heyward - Woodland Echoes
9. The Occasional Flickers - Sleep And The Time In Between
8. Zebra Hunt - In Phrases
7. Molly Burch - Please Be Mine
6. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The Punishment of Luxury
5. Ray Davies - Americana
4. The Granite Shore - Suspended Second
3. The Popguns - Sugar Kisses
2. Last Leaves - Other Towns Than Ours
1. The Luxembourg Signal - Blue Field

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Festive 50: Favorite Songs/EPs of 2017

It has been a stellar year, my friends, at least for music. Here are a couple of guidelines to think about when reading this list. There are a couple of songs you may have heard in late 2016, but they qualified because they showed up on albums that popped up in 2017. Likewise, there are some brand-spankin' new tunes that will show up on albums in early 2018. Also, if there was a spectacular 7" with a B-side at least as good as the A-side, I may have listed both songs in one slot because I thought they deserved a listen. When it comes to EPs, sometimes an entire one is named while occasionally only a song gets mentioned. Some of you may get bugged by David Bowie showing up since the song was available as a bonus track on the 'Lazurus' soundtrack in 2016 before the "No Plan EP" in 2017. Tough. This is probably the last time my hero will show up here, and this one is a keeper. If you can spare a moment, I would love to know your favorites too.

50. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - When I Dance With You
49. Marble Gods - Songs EP
48. The Proper Ornaments - Memories
47. Desperate Journalist - Be Kind
46. Slowdive - Star Roving
45. Ride - Charm Assault
44. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - French Press
43. Frankie Rose - Dyson Sphere
42. Saint Etienne - Dive
41. TeenCanteen - Millions
40. Jens Lekman - Evening Prayer
39. Secret Shine - Dirty Game
38. The Regrettes - Seashore
37. Girl Ray - Stupid Things
36. Real Estate - Darling
35. Robyn Hitchcock - I Want To Tell You About What I Want
34. Star Tropics - Another Sunny Day
33. A Certain Smile - Aberdeen
32. Jane Weaver - Slow Motion
31. The Just Joans - No Longer Young Enough
30. Math and Physics Club - All the Mains Are Down
29. Pale Lights - Jean, Bring the Flowers EP
28. Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band - Rumer
27. Pete Astor - Water Tower
26. Elva - Tailwind
25. Zebra Hunt - Fill Me With Ease
24. Grandaddy - Way We Won't
23. The Feelies - Gone, Gone, Gone
22. The Occasional Flickers - A Sparrow
21. Primitives - New Thrills EP
20. Nick Heyward- Perfect Sunday Sun
19. Molly Burch - Downhearted
18. Cattle - Twisterella
17. Destroyer - Tinseltown Swimming in Blood
16. Pugwash - What Are You Like
15. Alvvays - Dreams Tonite
14. Rat Fancy - Suck a Lemon EP
13. The Granite Shore - Where Does the Sadness Come From
12. The Fireworks - Dream About You
11. BMX Bandits - How Not to Care
10. Last Leaves - The Hinterland
9. Even As We Speak - The Black Forest EP
8. The Darling Buds - Evergreen EP
7. Jetstream Pony - Like You Less b/w Had Enough
6. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - The Punishment of Luxury
5. Ray Davies - Americana
4. The Perfect English Weather - English Winter EP
3. David Bowie - No Plan
2. The Popguns - So Long
1. The Luxembourg Signal - Laura Palmer b/w Let's Make Some Plans

Friday, December 15, 2017

Favorite Reissues of 2017

Every year I pledge to concentrate my time and money on new releases, and every year I fail miserably. I just have to face it. I'm an old guy stuck in bygone eras. This was a particularly rewarding period for looking back, and I didn't even come close to grabbing all of the compilations, live albums, box sets, lost albums and deluxe editions that I wanted. For example, those Cherry Red box sets on Liverpool, Manchester and post-punk have my name written all over them, but I just didn't have the funds. I had to pass on box sets by Luke Haines, Lloyd Cole and Kitchens of Distinction too, but that hurt a little less because I had quite a bit of that content already. I touted that retrospective on the Orchids, but there was only one song on the set I didn't already own. So, I passed.

As far as my list of oldies but goodies goes, I capped it at 20, but it could have been much longer, especially if I had included all of the albums I bought from Firestation Records. I decided to button up the representation of my favorite indie-archive label at three releases, but know that Keen, the English McCoy, the Pressure Group and a couple of more could have easily made the countdown. As for other honorable mentions, 'Action Painting' by the Creation and the phenomenal multi-disc blowout of Prince's 'Purple Rain' are the first two out on this list. Enough. Let's get on with it.

20. Lost Tapes - 'We Thought It Was Okay At The Time (2013-2015)'
Shelflife collects the early singles of Spain's finest dream-pop duo.

19. Secret Shine - 'Singles 1992-1994'
One of Sarah's stable was awfully close to shoegaze.

18. China Crisis - 'Working with Fire and Steel - Possible Pop Songs Volume Two' (Deluxe Edition)
First three LPs get blown out. This has always been my favorite.

17. Strawberry Switchblade - '1982 4-Piece Demo'
Fascinating 7" chronicles a time before the hits.

16. The Apple Moths - 'Fred Astaire EP'
Firestation's 12" resurrects the 1990 7" and adds three bonus tracks.

15. 14 Iced Bears - '14 Iced Bears'
Debut album becomes a double LP chock full of extras.

14. The Siddeleys - 'Songs From The Sidings - Demo Recordings 1985-1987'
Everything else is out of print. Get it while you can!

13. Michael Nesmith - 'At The BBC Paris Theatre'
Twangy set from '75 captures the former Monkee at his peak.

12. The Replacements - 'For Sale: Live At Maxwell's 1986'
First official live album was "recorded in front of more than 30 people."

11. Smart Remarks - 'Foreign Fields: 1982-1984
Discover a power-pop outfit that once opened for the Replacements.

10. The Beach Boys - '1967 - Sunshine Tomorrow'
'Wild Honey' with a slew of extra curiosities.

9. The Modulators - 'Tomorrow's Coming'
More underground Jersey power pop. Bonus tracks on '84 album too.

8. 14 Iced Bears, Aberdeen, The June Brides ‎– 'Three Wishes: Part Time Punks Sessions'
Legendary radio show captures indie-pop pioneers.

7. The Jazz Butcher - 'The Wasted Years'
Beautiful four-disc box gathers early albums in their entirety.

6. Love Parade - 'Out to Sea'
Firestation unearths long lost jangle from '91.

5. Various Artists - 'C88'
Who knew it was a very good year? Cherry Red did.

4. The Wedding Present - 'George Best 30'
In 2008, Steve Albini helps Gedge rethink a classic.

3. Marshall Crenshaw - 'Thank You, Rock Fans!!'
Let's take a time machine to a show from '82.

2. Look Blue Go Purple - 'Still Bewitched'
Missed these gals the first time around. Thank you, Flying Nun!

1. Various Artists - 'The Test of Time: A Turntable Friend Records Compilation'
German label collects 40 of its indie-pop classics on three heavy pieces of vinyl housed in a dazzling tri-fold sleeve that includes an album-sized scrapbook of the company's history. The packaging is nothing short of perfection.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

11th-Hour Release Worthy of Year-End Accolades

As 2017 comes to a close, I have been busy compiling my year-end lists while at the same time keeping an ear to the bevy of new releases that have made this a dizzying December like no other in all my years of blogging. Last Friday alone my shopping list grew with the new long player by the Just Joans, the debut single from Elizabeth Morris' new band Elva and a special EP worth much more than a passing mention.

It's clear by now Wendy and Simon Pickles of the Popguns are big favorites around here, and the duo in life and in song have resurrected side project the Perfect English Weather with a gorgeous EP that will leave longtime fans surprised and longing for more. When the Perfect English Weather debuted with 'Isobar Blues' around this time last year, I described my No. 2 album of 2016 as Wendy and Simon "turn[ing] it down just a little bit" and "rivaling their best work." Put another way, there were moments that didn't seem so far away from the band from which they are known. The songs on the just released "English Winter EP", however, are not the Pickles Family with a new branch growing from the Popguns tree. This feels more like that Popguns tree dropped a seed and a whole new sapling is sprouting nearby. And like a sapling, these four new songs are fragile.

From the first notes of EP opener "Still", you know Wendy and Simon are going for something different. This is electronica that may remind you of St. Etienne, Lightning in a Twilight Hour or the softer side of the Luxembourg Signal. The atmosphere is thick, and the sounds are very contemporary. Shaun Charman, formerly of the Wedding Present and the Popguns, collaborated on this song, as did Wendy and Simon's daughter Anna. No knock on Simon, but I think we know where Anna's beautiful pipes come from. No hyperbole. "Still" will be vying for song of the year on these pages.

I'm a real sucker for melancholy holiday songs, and "Christmas in Suburbia" stirred up so many emotions. On the surface, holidays are all about making spirits bright and all of that, but we know that's not always the way, is it? While absorbing the song, one moment I was smiling, and the next I was longing. I know my hometown back in Illinois is nothing like it was when I was growing up, and it has become more and more difficult to return there... especially for the holidays. Everything has changed, including me. What more can you wring out of a three-minute pop song?

In keeping with the theme of an English winter, third song "Cold Out" keeps the electronica going and will have you ready for a warm blanket and a good snuggle. The EP concludes with a stripped-down version of "Dusty in Here" featuring Wendy and Anna. This has to be one of your favorites from the 'Before Hollywood' era of the Go-Betweens, and it may very well bring a tear as you listen to this beautiful cover and think of how many songs we could have had in the years since losing Grant McLennan.

The always dependable Matinée Recordings is ready to ship the "English Winter EP" to you right now. Give yourself an early Christmas present.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

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

Some will argue bands with numeric names such as 10,000 Maniacs or 20/20 belong in their own section at the end of the shelf. This lot may scroll to the bottom of the artist list on their iPods as evidence. Please. These folks are dead wrong and need time on the couch of a well-paid analyst. In short, numeric names are always filed as though spelled out. Do we need to take this outside? Fine. Do what works and gets you to the album you're looking for the quickest. Just know you're doing it all wrong. With hard work and discipline, you can break the cycle of alphabetizing your albums incorrectly.

I do not go back to 1986 and the start of 14 Iced Bears. I learned of the band in name only sometime in the late '80s, but I never saw any of their records at the shops I frequented. It's a moniker you never forget though, and I hoped to hear their music someday. With the pedigree of 14 Iced Bears, why wouldn't I? The band released their first couple of singles on Mark Flunder's Frank label, home to the McTells and other indie-pop legends. Yes, that's Mark Flunder from Television Personalities. John Peel loved 14 Iced Bears, and they would record a session for his show in both 1986 and 1987. The third single came out in 1988 on a new label trying to get its footing called Sarah. Perhaps you have heard of it. A couple of well-received albums would follow, but it's these first three singles in particular that are so highly coveted by indie-pop geeks like me.

In 2001, Slumberland Records, one of the greatest labels out there to this day, rescued these recordings and threw in the Peel Sessions and several other nuggets on a comp called 'In the Beginning'. It's a little less of a big deal now, what with all of the work Cherry Red and Optic Nerve have done in recent years to resurrect their discography, but this CD was a godsend 16 years ago.

To announce this compilation was in the pipeline, Slumberland put out a double-A-sided 7" earlier in the year with debut song "Inside" on one side and second single "Balloon Song" on the flip. That's what we will listen to today. I knew I was going to love "Balloon Song" because another Slumberland band I was enamored with covered it so well in 2000. I highly recommend you give the version by the Aislers Set a listen too. You'll find it on the band's sophomore album 'The Last Match'. "Inside" is loud, fuzzy and would have been a nice fit on NME's 'C86'. By Balloon Song", 14 Iced Bears were a little less about racket and more about melody. Simply beautiful.

"Balloon Song"

This has been a stellar year for fans of 14 Iced Bears, and I'll have more on that when I unveil my lists of favorite new albums and reissues in the coming days.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

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

We already listened to Friends Again in this series, but you can't really have Friends Again without having Friends, right? Friends is the musical outlet of the talented William Jones, and he founded Summerhouse Records in 1986 to release his take on indie pop. Like so many bands from the period, I was attracted to the jangle and the trumpet. There were other great groups that came through the doors of Summerhouse, including 4,000,000 Telephones and Rumblefish, but it's Friends that have been there from the beginning and have continued to release new music now and again even into this decade.

Like the Hit Parade and many other indie bands of that ilk, Friends have always been much a bigger deal in Japan than in their native UK. My favorite song by Friends is third single "The First Day of Spring", and I recommend you seek that out, but I have it on the inferior format and this is a vinyl series. Today I go with "Foreign Money", a brass-heavy 7" from 1994 that also triumphantly opens the 'Sundrowned' album. Sadly, I believe this marks the last release by Friends that came out on vinyl. I'm not sure if this has remained true to this day because I have lost track of Friends in recent years, but through a slew of albums and singles Jones never had a song with the word "love" in it. Because of its overuse in pop music, this was a matter of policy. He always tried to find other ways to express the feeling.

"Foreign Money"

Monday, December 4, 2017

Worthy of a Monday Misstep?

The plan is to wrap up transferring the letter F of my vinyl collection this week before jumping into my favorite albums of 2017. Before all of that, I have dug up another record from that area on the shelves that might very well qualify for my cringe-worthy Monday Misstep series. I'm on the fence about this one, but I'll let you be the judge. I seem to still like this one despite knowing I shouldn't. I was always much more offended by this band trying to cover Buzzcocks than I was the King.

This 12" single from 1986 is the only piece of vinyl you'll find by Fine Young Cannibals in my collection, and I think it has survived the decades because there is someone else in this house that is even more fond of it than I am. You may know how that goes. There are four songs on the record, including a very decent nearly eight-minute dub version of "Suspicious Minds", but perhaps an even better B-side is a remix of early single "Johnny Come Home", a No. 8 UK smash from 1985. It even managed to break into the Billboard Hot 100 here in America (No. 76). Is this maxi-single trash, a treasure or something in the middle? Certainly better than the Fixx last time around, right? Seems I'm defending Fine Young Cannibals. OK, let me have it.

"Suspicious Minds" (Suspicious Mix)
Johnny Come Home" (That Other Mix)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

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

I'm not sure there is too much more I can say about Terry Hall. He has featured on these pages many times as either a solo artist or with Vegas, the Colourfield, the Specials or Fun Boy Three. I did manage to dig up something from the shelf that hasn't had an airing here before. This, the third and final single from FB3's self-titled 1982 album, is probably my least liked of all the band's singles, but that's far from a rebuke. I particularly like the horns supplied by the Swinging Laurels. Remember them? Terry, Neville and Lynval are quite impressed by someone who gets lots of invites via the phone. Man, do I hate talking on the phone. I sigh every time it rings. This was quite a year for Hall and the rest of the splitters from the Specials. If you count the trio's work with Bananarama, there would be five top 20 hits. "The Telephone Always Rings" peaked at No. 17 on the UK chart. Here is a beefed-up take that gives you about two more minutes than the 7".

"The Telephone Always Rings" (Extended Version)

I had this song on my mind tonight. So, here is a bonus... also from 1982. I played "Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" here a couple of years ago, but I have never featured the extended version. As a 12 or 13 year old growing up among the corn fields of Illinois, the fact that FB3 and Bananrama were protesting with this song went completely over my head. I just liked that it had the same eerie quality as "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum" and the Specials' smash hit "Ghost Town". You'll find this much longer take as the B-side to the 12" single of "Really Saying Something".

"Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares" (Extended Version)