Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Timeless Melodies of the La's

Lee Mavers' obsession with the batch of songs that would eventually become the La's self-titled album (without his blessing) is the stuff of legend. There are quite a few fans obsessed with these songs too, and I count myself among them. I have the singles, album, deluxe edition of the album and a box set, all more or less dedicated to around 20 tunes. Mavers had a particular sound for these songs swirling in his head, and not even a dozen studio sessions, 10 band members, at least seven producers, three years of recording and £1 million thrown at it could give the perfectionist exactly what he wanted to put down on wax.

As you know, the label finally had enough and asked producer Steve Lillywhite to do what he could to assemble a finished product. On Oct. 1, 1990, the album was released to critical acclaim. Mavers did his part to contribute to the album's minor chart success by panning it wherever and whenever he could. He also slyly reminded everyone the only way to hear the real La's was to see them live. If you lost control of an album you put your heart and soul into for three years, perhaps you would act the same way. The only problem with that tact is the album is great. It's chock full of indie pop that sounds as good today as it was the day it came out. Always will be, too.

Mavers' obsession with these songs didn't end with the release. Here's an insightful moment found in the extensive liner notes from the 'Callin' All' box set in 2010:

Lillywhite believes the reason the La's have never made a second album is that, according to Mavers, they are yet to complete their first. "It's still going on. I have no doubt that in his mind the first album has never been made. After we finished I got a call from Johnny Marr, who excitedly told me that Lee had asked him to go into the studio as a producer. A few months later I got a desperate call from Johnny: 'Steve he just wants to re-record the old songs!'

You can't help but wonder if he's still tinkering to this day. As for fans like me, we do our own tinkering. It's quite an exercise to create our own mixes of the album from aborted sessions led by producers like Mike Hedges, John Leckie and John Porter. For instance, I'll take the single version of "There She Goes" captured by Bob Andrews over the one found on the LP. I admit overuse of the album take on every two-bit rom-com through the years may have contributed to this bias. Here is that original and a couple other favorites that seem to always pop up on my mixes via these two releases below. Enjoy.

There She Goes (original single version, Bob Andrews, producer)
Timeless Melody (Mike Hedges, producer)
Feelin' (John Leckie, producer)


George said...

Like you Brian, I think the album is a great pop record. I look upon the alternative versions as interesting diversions, well, the ones I have heard anyway.

Rol said...

I must admit that I never really got the album, though the single stands up as a classic pop song - one of very few that stand the test of time from that era. As you say, its reputation is somewhat tarnished by over-play. It's still a fascinating story though, and you've got to admire that level of obsession!

Brian said...

George, Glad you saw this one. I think I have only posted something about the La's once before, and that was several years ago. After than one you sent me a file with some of the demos that got me started on this escapade of the unreleased. Thanks, I think. Ha!

Rol, I suspect that single gets even more plays on your side of the world. I read a story about Mavers either in the Guardian or the BBC site from a few years back that said he is a quiet family man these days. Tough to imagine. I think someone wrote a book about trying to find Mavers through all the anonymity. The author did find him and get a rare interview.

John Medd said...

I followed the story at the time and was incredulous that Mavers was acting this way; years later and it’s blindingly obvious he was on the spectrum; it was never gonna be right. Not in his head. And yes, he probably is still tinkering…

Echorich said...

A story of Artist as their own worst Enemy. As a fan, the album is a great listen. But I've always listened to it knowing it's not what Mavers wanted to put out.
Brian - also agree about There She Goes. It's a clearer vision, less produced, making it more immediate.

Dan Destiny’s Silver Dawn said...

I admit I’ve never really ‘got’ the La’s either. Like others, I blame the total over exposure of There She Goes in the UK. It ranks up there with REM’s The One I Love as a probably good song that I never want to hear again!!!!

But I’m going to give these tracks I try, and maybe I’ll be converted?

Marc said...

I bought the album when it came out -- on cassette, sadly, because I was a poor student in those days and hadn't taken the plunge into CDs yet. So I haven't listened to it all the way through in years, but I do remember that There She Goes was absolutely the best thing on it. And I've managed to avoid overexposure over the years, so I still love that song. But I agree that the single version is even better, so thanks for posting it!


Brian said...

Thanks for chiming in, everybody. As expected, a mixed bag of opinions, and that's the fun.

Swiss Adam said...

The grand irony of the whole La's album saga is that surely everyone who bought it loved it- the songs (although not as Lee wants them) sound great individually and together.

As do the other versions.

The B-sides from the Timeless Melody 12" are essential too.

I saw them pay in Liverpool around this time, rawer and all that but still, the same songs.

Brian said...

Ah, Adam, I'm assuming this was during your uni days. That has to be a wonderful memory. Green with envy.

Dan Destiny’s Silver Dawn said...

Bri - I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to a download of the La’s LP to help me through the latest NZ lockdown. It’s great.

Another example of my contrarian, bloody-minded attitude stopping me from hearing some brilliant music ��.

Thanks for the nudge.

Brian said...

Ooh, a convert. That’s the best. Thanks for letting me know, DDSD. If you weren’t able to sort out that download issue, drop me a line. I’ll make sure you get it.