Saturday, August 25, 2018

Sounds of Sire Circa 1990

Having recently finished Seymour Stein's book 'Siren Song: My Life in Music,' my only real disappointment was particular bands on Sire's roster receiving nary a mention. In his defense, Stein went into great detail on the ones you would expect him to write about, and I realize there is no way he could have written about them all. As you no doubt realize, however, I have a particular interest in many of the so-called minor leaguers from the label's stable of stars. For example, on Feb. 3, 1990, at Cabaret Metro in Chicago, I took in Sire's triple-headed monster of John Wesley Harding, the Ocean Blue and the Mighty Lemon Drops, otherwise known as the Laughtour. Although these bands didn't make Stein's book, I look back on this show as one of the best I have ever seen.

One of Stein's greatest strengths was his ability to mine the UK for bands about to break. Many of them were already signed to domestic deals, but they didn't have a label in America. We'll dig a little deeper on that point in a future post, but the Mighty Lemon Drops were one of those bands. By 1990, their popularity had waned at home, but thanks to MTV's '120 Minutes,' the lads were finally making a name for themselves over here. The Drops were the headliners, but I was really there to see new band the Ocean Blue. Even though the band was from Hershey, Pa., their debut album sounded like every UK indie-pop band I ever loved. These youngsters had been on this first tour for about two weeks, and there was a certain level of naiveté I found enduring. The Ocean Blue were just so happy to be there. Their smiles were infectious. Having said that, the Mighty Lemon Drops absolutely blew them off the stage. This was a band who had been around the block and knew how to rile up a club that was filled to the rafters. As for Harding, well, to be honest, I have no recollection of even seeing him. I didn't have his new album, 'Here Comes The Groom,' but I would get it later on the basis of two-thirds of the Attractions being part of his backing band.

In celebration of all things Sire on these pages right now, I have pulled out my vinyl copy of 'Laughtour EP,' an eight-song promo only release of unreleased tracks to highlight the bands' 70-city trek through the U.S.A. For me, the highlights are the energetic live version of "Like an Angel" from the salad days of the Mighty Lemon Drops, but all four songs on side one are sounding pretty good to me tonight. As for the two from the Ocean Blue, "Renaissance Man" is a cover from the 77s, a band that had a moment on college radio in the early '80s. "The Circus Animals" appeared on the debut album, but this is a different version that brings the bass up front and has a few other little changes. The two songs from Harding are solo live takes. "The Devil in Me" was a single in 1990, and "July 13th 1985" is a goofy tale about how he spent the day during Live Aid. All in all, a fairly rare record that about two of you out there will find interesting. More from the Sire files next time.

The Laughtour EP

Side One
The Mighty Lemon Drops - Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White
The Mighty Lemon Drops - Forever Home At Heart
The Mighty Lemon Drops - Like An Angel (Live Club Version)
The Mighty Lemon Drops - At Midnight (Live Club Version)

Side Two
The Ocean Blue - Renaissance Man
The Ocean Blue - The Circus Animals (P.A. Mix)
John Wesley Harding - The Devil In Me (Acoustic Version)
John Wesley Harding - July 13th 1985


The Swede said...

I played 'Here Comes The Groom' a lot in the shop - it's a good little album. In fact '...the best album Elvis Costello he never made...' is a line I seem to remember using about it to customers. What a wag I was.
I managed to see The Mighty Lemon Drops twice before they disappeared off my radar around the time of 'Laughter' in 1989. The first was in an airless subterranean club in Essex, probably in 1986, where a certain music lovin' Mr Peel also lurked in the shadows. Have you ever heard the version of 'Sometimes the Good Guys Don't Wear White' by The Nomads? It's a corker. C will back me up on that one.
Needless to say The Ocean Blue I only know from your occasional mentions about them on these pages. I've enjoyed what I've heard.

Brian said...

I know that Nomads song, but I didn't hear it until many years after the version posted here. It was in a lousy movie called Super. Yes, it's right up C's alley.

C said...

I saw the Mighty Lemon Drops too in 1986.... and I will certainly back TS up on the Nomads!

Swiss Adam said...

Lemon Drops never really made any kind of splash over here, despite their best efforts. Some decent songs, very Bunnymen.

Echorich said...

I remember that tour Brian! I believe it came through NYC playing at Alphabet City located The World Nightclub - a fairly large venue with a constant problem of flooded bathrooms...I am sure JTFL can confirm that fact.
Anyway, I too have simply no recollection of John Wesley Harding, but I'm pretty sure my friends and I would have purposely arrived late enough to miss him. The Ocean Blue were fresh and urgent onstage, but wow, The Mighty Lemon Drops were everything I really wanted them to be. At the time they were filling a gap left wide open by the fact the Echo And The Bunnymen were no longer really Echo And The Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch and Ian McCulloch just wasn't quite enough on his own. The Mighty Lemon Drops certainly mimicked a certain period and sound from the Bunnymen songbook, not really improving on the original, but it was a sound I still had a good deal of time for, especially from such a tight sounding outfit.

Brian said...

'86 would have been the time to see them. Speaking of Bunnymen... they'll be up in this Sire series very soon. A biggie for Stein.

Dirk said...

Hmmmh ... could someone post this Nomads's version of 'Good Guys', please? I always liked The Nomads' 'She Pays The Rent' enormously, the same goes for the original of 'Good Guys' by The Standells, so I'm eager to hear it, of course ...

Howard said...

Hey Brian,

This stirred memory of 5 of us driving an hour to Buffalo on a weeknight in March 87 with work the next day (first real job, so kinda a thing you might hesitate on) in 5 degree Fahrenheit weather because ---- The Chameleons were playing at SUNY Buffalo and the Strange Times tour and The Mighty Lemon Drops were the openers. That bill elicited no hesitation. Show started way late, and remember sitting in corridor outside room they played listening to soundcheck and hearing the drum intro to "Swamp Thing" over and over and I would have been satisfied right there.

But they played eventually and both put heart and sweat into sets that maybe 30-40 people were around for.


Brian said...

Now that's a show, Howard. In hindsight, must be pleased you went, but I can empathize how the nerves must have been working because of a work night, weather, etc. Been there, my friend. On another note, our Cubs have been working on my nerves!