Friday, May 31, 2019

Gearing Up for the Summer Reading Program

With Memorial Day in the rear-view mirror, it's time to think about the books I'll take out to the hammock on the warm days ahead. I just finished Todd Rundgren's autobiography, 'The Individualist - Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations,' and what an interesting book it was, both in structure and content. I don't imagine there are too many Rundgren fans in our little community, but he's a Renaissance man I have admired for 35 years. That's the year I discovered Utopia and saw them in my first live show (on the very day I finished middle school).

Rundgren's book is made up of 179 one-page chapters of three paragraphs each. The first two paragraphs reveal an experience in his life and how he felt about it. The third paragraph is spent explaining the life lesson learned from that experience. If I can be crass for a moment, this layout makes it a perfect book for the "reading room," as Archie Bunker calls it. Anybody want to borrow my copy now? The chapters are in chronological order, and his early years in Philly and New York are real page turners. I appreciate the warts-and-all look at his life, (the Bebe Buell chapters will make you cringe), but while reading the sections on his most successful years as an artist, producer and computer pioneer, I was left wanting more. For example, recollections on producing XTC's 'Skylarking' are wildly entertaining, but c'mon, two pages?!?

Some of the typos and other grammatical errors are difficult to ignore as well, and I tried to convince myself the book is like a journal full of hurried scribbles. That's probably being pretty generous. Then there is the physical book itself. The slick pages, unappealing cover, type/font and binding itself leaves much to be desired. It reminds me of an English textbook I had in school. The content gets a B+ (a proofreader would have earned it an A), and the physical book is a well-deserved D. For the first time in my life I wanted an e-reader.

Here are a couple of of covers from solo albums to whet your appetite...

Two Little Hitlers (from 'Nearly Human,' 1989)
Rain (from 'Faithful,' 1976)

I have moved on to Bob Stanley's 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé.' I'm only 50 pages into the nearly 600-page book, and dense is the one-word description so far. I imagine this will take me all of June to finish. I'm up to Spector now, and it has already been fun to connect the dots and read about what was happening on both sides of the Atlantic in the '50s and very early '60s.

Will Burch's 'Cruel to Be Kind: The Life and Music of Nick Lowe' will be out in mid-August, and I'll be first in line for that one. Birch has known Lowe for four decades and should have the scoop. I especially want to hear about the Carter/Cash years and the Stiff era. That leaves a six-week gap for another book or two. Here is my plea to you: What music book should I read in July and early August? Swiss Adam didn't know it, but he gave me a nudge at his place yesterday, but I would like a few other candidates. What say you?

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Meet Your Next Major Crush

Loud yet pretty. Is there a tougher combination to pull off in all of pop, and who does it best? If Teenage Fanclub immediately started hoggin' your noggin, bully for you. That's where I would have gone too. After hearing this lot, however, perhaps next time the question is posed there might at least be a stutter.

Seattle's Supercrush are Aaron O'Neil and Mark Palm, and the duo have released four 7" singles since 2013. Eight songs in roughly five years, each in the economic two- to three-minute range, is far from prolific, but the fellas have been in other bands throughout the decade. Perhaps they are getting serious about making Supercrush more than just a side project because two of the four singles came out in 2018, and their entire discography plus two unreleased songs were collected recently on 'Never Let You Drift Away.' Could a long player be far away? After listening to this comp, you'll hope so.

A pal of mine nailed it with his assessment these sound like outtakes from the 'Thirteen' and 'Grand Prix' eras. In other words, a glorious racket. Give this one a spin. Then head over to Bandcamp to hand over your money.

I've Been Around

Monday, May 27, 2019


Linear Tracking Lives turned 10 a couple of weeks ago, and I let the anniversary pass without a word because, well, I haven't been posting with the same vim and vigor. I figured, why celebrate when my heart hasn't been it? That feeling has passed. I have changed my mind. Here goes. Ten years! Yay, me! Now on with our regularly scheduled program.

What a smile the Drums' "Summertime" EP was during that first year of the blog. I just looked, and there were two songs from it on my Festive 50 that year. I bet you didn't know that. In fact, I'm positive you didn't because nobody read the blog in 2009. That's not much of an exaggeration, and I have to say it didn't bother me a bit. I never really went into this thing thinking there would be an audience. It was a lark, really. I just love going on about pop music and needed an outlet.

I have never been on social media. I have never used any search engine optimization. In other words, if a reader did find Linear Tracking Lives, that person either did some digging, happened upon it by accident or got a recommendation from some other entity, such as a blogger or social media user, who found it, liked it and promoted it in some way. To those who have helped get the word out, I thank you. Turns out blogging is quite a bit more fun when someone sees it and reacts. Along the way I have met so many great people in person or online. Some of us have the same taste, but quite a few of us don't. We are like a Venn diagram that barely intersects, and that tiny overlap is enough common ground for us to get along and learn from each other. I love that, don't you?

Linear Tracking Lives will shut down at some point... but not today. There is still a little fuel left in the tank, by God! I'm excited about so many new releases and reissues right now, and I'm looking forward to the Saturday Subway series that just started. And maybe the next inspired idea is right around the corner. All I have to do is go over to the shelf and start thumbing through my records. That doesn't sound bad at all, does it?

I do go on and on. Back to the Drums. I didn't stick with them all that long, but "Summertime" really was a keeper. Happy summer. See you next time. Thanks for reading.

Saddest Summer
Let's Go Surfing

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Summer of Subway: The Soup Dragons

In these parts, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. A mere 15 Saturdays later, on Labor Day weekend, we say goodbye to the season. It just so happens the Subway Organization had 15 bands on its roster. Let's make this the summer of Subway. We'll listen to a little something from every act before the leaves change.

From Subway 4, here's the flip side to the "Whole Wide World" single by the Soup Dragons, released in 1986. Quite a year for the lads too, being on 'C86' and all. As with so many Scottish musicians at the time, half the band were in BMX Bandits too. My, how the band's sound would change as they became hit-makers, but this song could be mistaken quite easily for Buzzcocks. Was this really the same band that did "I'm Free" four short years later? Actually, there were quite a few personnel changes, but that's a story for another time. Time to get outside and enjoy the summer. "Whole Wide World" peaked at No. 2 on the UK Indie Chart. Until next Saturday then...

I Know Everything

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Highlights From a Mess of Singles From Matinée

Matinée Recordings HQ is really hopping. New digital singles and EPs abound by favorites like Red Sleeping Beauty, Azure Blue and Bubblegum Lemonade. I am particularly smitten by one of the label's latest signings, Seville's own the Royal Landscaping Society. The Sarah vibe on "Goodbye" has me pining for a long player.

The Perfect English Weather also have an EP to promote a brand-new mix of "Call Me When the Rain Comes," the stellar closer from the recent 'Don't You Wanna Feel The Rain?' album. The most obvious change from the original is the addition of Jonny Aitken from Spiritualized providing live drums. With all of this as prelude, I got in touch with Simon Pickles for a quick rundown on this song and the other three tracks exclusive to the EP.

"Call Me When the Rain Comes" EP

1. "Call Me When the Rain Comes" (Single Mix)

Simon: CMWTRC was inspired by a holiday in Nova Scotia visiting Wendy's uncle and taking walks along the rivers which were very low because of the unusually dry summer. The trout were nowhere to be found and it all seemed a bit climate change related. It’s a bit of an ode to connecting with nature and with distant family.

2. "How Could I Ever?"

Simon: This was actually quite an old song that didn't make it into 'Pop Fiction,' but I always liked the tune and was written after reading Chet Baker's biography. About a woman hanging around with a useless bloke!

3. "She Isn't Counting on a Miracle"

Simon: This is about someone who is left alone to cope with everyday life after a difficult life event.

4. "Carry Me"

Simon: I was listening to Laura Marling and liked the haunting quality of her records. Perhaps this is not quite up to that level!

That's not all, indie-pop fans. Simon and Wendy's band the Popguns will be appearing on the upcoming WIAIWYA compilation celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 adventure. Like everything on WIAIWYA, and with contributors like Pam Berry of Black Tambourine and indie royalty Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey on the 38-track double disc, 'The Moon And Back - One Small Step For Global Pop' is bound to sell out. The Popguns appear three times, and Simon says album opener "'Carrying the Fire' is a bit of mini rock opera fun really, with a nice pretentious prelude and then some full-on rock drama. 'Carrying The Fire' is also the name of [astronaut] Michael Collins' autobiography." That should have you starting the countdown for a July 5 release.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cover Me Impressed: 'And Suddenly'

A while back we talked about how 1979 was one of the best years for popular music. I would contend 1966 should also be in that argument, and I would submit the Left Banke's chamber-pop hits "Walk Away Renée" and "Pretty Ballerina" as part of my evidence. A fine album containing these songs followed in 1967, including personal favorite "She May Call You Up Tonight," but the band's roster quickly disintegrated.

There was a non-album single in March 1967 with mastermind Michael Brown being joined by a group of session musicians, a new lead singer in Bert Sommer and an unknown guitarist in Michael McKean. You would know him a little later as Lenny on 'Laverne & Shirley,' David St. Hubbins on 'This Is Spinal Tap' and in all of those great mockumentaries done by Christopher Guest. Disgruntled original members of the Left Banke called for a boycott of the single, and their efforts were rewarded. "Ivy, Ivy" was nothing but a footnote, stalling at a dismal No. 119. The B-side of the single was the better song anyway, and that's what is featuring today. In case you're curious, Brown reunited with many of those original members soon after, but the magic of 1966 was gone.

The Left Banke - And Suddenly (1967)

In 1968, "And Suddenly" was covered by a psychedelic outfit from D.C. called the Cherry People. It was a minor hit, peaking at No. 44. Blech.

Straight outta Cardiff, the School has probably been my favorite indie-pop band this decade. By favorite, I mean it's one of those groups where I'm obsessed with gathering their work well beyond the three excellent albums Liz Hunt & Co. have released thus far, and they have a mess of non-album B-sides and appearances on comps.

The School's stab at "And Suddenly" comes from a six-volume 7" split-single series Slumberland Records did in 2008 and 2009 called "Searching for the Now." There are some fantastic appearances in this series from a who's who of Slumberland's stable at that time, including the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Liechtenstein. The School appeared as the A-side on the final single in the series. At the time, all the School had under their belts were a couple of singles. It's a fine and faithful version but one that on vinyl is marred by a murky sound often found with colored vinyl. (This one is black-and-gray marble.) As I listen today, I wish for more trumpet from Fran Dimech, like the original, but she had not yet joined the band.

The School - And Suddenly (2009)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Jigsaw's Newest Piece

If you're a regular in these parts, you know of my affinity for Jigsaw Records in Seattle. It feels like a record shop put on this planet just for me... a tiny hole in the wall that caters exactly to my tastes and contains no chaff. Chris, the proprietor, has a knowledge of indie music that knows no bounds, and it's always a treat to peruse the racks while talking about bands from our youth and ones about to become the next big thing. In a world where it normally takes quite an effort and a bag full of money to get the latest releases from faraway labels like Firestation, A Turntable Friend, Pretty Olivia, Elefant and Cherry Red, I can pop in and pick them up like I'm in Germany, Spain or the UK. I have discovered bands from around the world and down the street from Chris' own Jigsaw label as well. Yes, indie-pop fans here have been spoiled at our home away from home.

Chris is about to make an exciting change in his life. He's packing up the shop and relocating to Portland, some 175 miles away. Jigsaw will live on, as a shop and a label, just in a new location. Chris is too good a guy not to be happy for him. For those of us back here, like many of you already, it means road trips and mail order. For those of you who already order from Jigsaw regularly, there is a silver lining: Oregon doesn't have sales tax! Jigsaw closes its doors here in Seattle on Sunday. There will be some records on sale, but the real reason to stop by is to wish Chris well on his latest and greatest adventure. There will be three shows this weekend at the adjacent Woodland Theater to celebrate and say goodbye. With acts like Rat Fancy, Zebra Hunt and Chris' own all-star band Unlikely Friends on the bills, it should be quite a party. Check the shop's Facebook page for details.

LTL! Presents: A Jigsaw Label Top 10 (in release order)

1. The Zebras - 'Siesta' (PZL 055)
2. The Driscolls - 'Complete Recording 1988-1991' (PZL 056)
3. Lunchbox - 'Lunchbox Loves You' (PZL 057)
4. Various - 'Ten Little Records: The Whoosh Collection' (PZL 069)
5. Strawberry Story - 'Gravy' (PZL 082)
6. Le SuperHomard - 'MapleKey' (PZL 110)
7. The Occasional Flickers - 'Sleep and the Time In Between' (PZL 130)
8. Watoo Watoo - 'Modern Express' (PZL 141)
9. Sharesprings - 'Paraparlor' (PZL 147)
10. Flying Fish Cove - 'At Moonset' (PZL 158)

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Curtain Call: Sounds of '79 (Part 2)

In our last installment, C commented about everything special with the music scenes of 1979, from post-punk to the electronic, and then she mentioned 2 Tone. Like a bolt of lightning, I knew what should be featured next.

When I was in high school, I found the power of female persuasion overpowering. It was useless to fight it, and I would let girls borrow records at the drop of a hat. This came back to bite me three times. These experiences must have been traumatizing because more than 30 years later I still remember the girls who never returned my records, as well as the music they lifted. There was 'Wild Planet,' 'Meat Is Murder' and today's selection.

Later in life, all three of these unintended gaps would be filled. The "Too Much Too Young" EP from the Specials (credited to the Special A.K.A.) was repurchased while I lived in Japan in the '90s, and this is the only piece of vinyl I purchased during those two years overseas. What a travesty. Money was tight. My turntable was in storage back in Illinois. How would I get vinyl home? Lame excuses. Life rarely gives us do-overs, but this is how I will use one of my wishes if the genie ever comes out of the bottle.

1979. What a year for the Specials. Jerry Dammers founded the 2 Tone label. "Gangsters" and "A Message to You, Rudy" cracked the top 10 UK singles chart. Ska was officially a thing again. Elvis Costello produced the self-titled debut album, and it reached No. 4. The band hit 48 venues in the UK to raucous crowds. The "Too Much Too Young" EP came out in most places around the world in early January 1980, but these two performances were from 1979. The A-side was recorded at the Lyceum in London, and the flip side was recorded in front of 2,000 fans and the band's families at Tiffany's as they concluded the tour in their hometown of Coventry. On the back cover of the EP there is a reproduced article from the Coventry Evening Telegraph describing the show. It's a read that nearly brings a tear when Terry Hall's proud parents are quoted. The fact that Dexy's Midnight Runners and Coventry ska legends the Selecter were also on the bill makes me want to fire up the ol' time machine.

I had a part three of Sounds of '79 planned, but I'm going to end it here. I can do no better than this EP.

Side A
Too Much Too Young
Guns of Navarone
Side B
Skinhead Symphony: Longshot Kick The Bucket/Liquidator/Skinhead Moonstomp