Saturday, July 4, 2015

Brass City

Brass City Records in Waterbury, Connecticut was always a little too far away from me to be a regular stop.  Still, it's a place I've been probably a hundred times over the 25 years or so since I was sad to hear that Walt, its owner, had recently died from cancer.  His store was the kind of place where I'd spend a few hours digging around, usually turning up something odd enough to be worth the drive.  Last weekend, the store was opened by Walt's friends to clear out as much as possible at (for the most part) reduced prices.  I was initially resistant to making the drive but my friend Anthony made me go and I'm glad he did.  Here's the haul, $2.50 per album or 12", $1 for each 45.

Sigue Sigue Sputnick - Sex Bomb Boogie
Christmas - Wilhelm Reich
Prefab Sprout - When Love Breaks Down (double 45)
Afraid of Mice - I'm On Fire
Craze - Motions
Gary Numan - New Anger
Positive Noise - Give Me Passion (Ghosts, the B-side is great post-punk)
Bow Wow Wow - Louis Quatorze
Icicle Works - Seven Horses (double pack)
NME 45 - includes a live Smiths song
Richard Thompson - I Feel So Good
Pretenders - Message of Love
King - Love And Pride
Hoodoo Gurus - Come Anytime
Tubes - Prime Time (on clear/splattered vinyl)
The The - Controversial Subject (1st single on 4AD)
Toto Coelo - Milk From The Coconut
China Crisis - African And White
Soft Cell - What
OMD - If You Leave (double 45)
Those Melvins - Wasted Hippies (CT's own)
Bill Nelson's Red Noise - Revolt In Style (on blue vinyl)
John Otway - In Dreams
Buck Pets - Pearls
John Fox - Ever The Angel
Comsat Angels - Will You Stay Tonight
Incredible Casuals - That's Why
British Electric Foundation - Music Of Quality And Distinction : Volume One (5 45 box set)
Fischer-Z - Wax Dolls
Fischer-Z - Remember Russia
Adam Ant - Friend Or For
Adam Ant - Puss 'N Boots (German pressing)
Adam And The Ants - Dog Eat Dog
Japan - European Sun
Japan - Cantonese Boy
Japan - Life In Tokyo
The Church - When You Were Mine (original Australian pressing - tough to get)
The Church - Almost With You (also orig Aussie pressing, and one of my favorites of theirs)
The Church - Metropolis
The Church - You're Still Beautiful
The Rumour - Frozen Years
Department S - Going Left Right
Lene Lovich - It's You, Only You (picture disc)
Lene Lovich - The Night (US white label promo)
Lene Lovich - Bird Song (Japanese pressing)
Nick Lowe - Halfway To Paradise (UK pressing)
Nick Lowe - Halfway To Paradise (Belgian pressing on yellow vinyl)

LPs / 12"s
Colin Newman - Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish
Theatre of Hate - Do You Believe In The Westworld 12"
Lene Lovich - Say When 12"
Lene Lovich - Angels 12"
Gleaming Spires - Life Out On The Lawn 12"
Gleaming Spires - Welcoming A New Ice Age
Rave-Ups - A Chance Conversation With Jimmer Podrasky
Bruce Gilbert - The Shivering Man
Bruce Gilbert - This Way 12"
Various - Start Swimming (with the Bongos, db's, Bush Tetras, more)
Ian Gomm - Talks (Interview LP on Stiff)
Dept S - I Want 12"
Huang Chung - Self-titled LP
Roger C. Reale - Radioctive
The Reducers With Roger C. Reale - Wake The Neighbors
Midnight Oil - Species Deceases EP
Midnight Oil - Place Without A Postcard
Ultravox - The Voice 12"
Ultravox - Quartet (UK picture disc)
Ultravox - U-Vox
Thompson Twins - Interview LP
Triffids - Calenture
UB40 - Present Arms
UB40 - The Singles Album
Pointed Sticks - Out Of Luck 12"
Simple Minds - Alive And Kicking Australian  Tour EP
The Crowd - A World Apart (1st press on Posh Boy)
Various - Savoy Sound Wave Goodbye (with Tuxedomoon, Snakefinger, Mutants, more)

Some of these can be mildly pricey (The The, Crowd, Pointed Sticks, Colin Newman) and some are just because I can't stop buying terrible new wave records (Toto Coelo, King, Huang Chung).  The last seven 45's and a few of the 12"s are on Stiff Records, which I also can't seem to stop buying.  I actually bought the Huang Chung because it's a mid-80's German reissue that mentions the name change and includes "Dance Hall Days".  And what kind of idiot buys Thompson Twins and Rave-Ups interview records?  It's sad, really.  All in, it ran me $117 plus tax and I (and every other customer there last weekend) would give it all back for Walt to still be there and for the store to still be up and running, even if we were infrequent shoppers.  Whatever you think of the list above, I challenge you to find a store left on the planet that would have that smattering of stuff.  I'll take digging through junk over Academy Records any day.  So long, Walt and so long, Brass City.  

By the way, that Triffids LP is great.  If you don't know them, try "Wide Open Road".  

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Art Rock?

Earlier today my very tall friend Charles raised the old "last great art rock album" question. Since there's too many children over here to watch TV in peace, it only makes sense to write a lengthy, hopefully only slightly boring, essay on this topic. The conclusion I came to, after a second of thinking about it, is that I don't really know what art rock is. Well, Roxy Music is art rock and so are the Talking Heads and everything else involving Brian Eno. Other than that I don't know what to do with the question. I may not know what it is, but I know enough to know that Wikipedia's description is open ended enough that you could make a reasonable argument for Weird Al to be classified in the genre. Though someone's always willing to fuzzy the edges to admit entrance to a band that doesn't really belong, most genres are fairly easy to define. Since this one is harder to nail down, I'll clear it up. Art rock is non-mainstream (in the US at least) but still accessible, lyrically intelligent, possibly fashion conscious (but not trashy glam), not bordering on adult contempo, possibly worth the attention/temporary friendship of David Bowie, music that was made between roughly 1972 and 1981.

Now that the issue of genre definition has been so succinctly cleared up, let's run through some candidates.

1. Roxy Music : Country Life (1974)
2. Talking Heads : Remain In Light (1980)
3. David Bowie : Heroes (1977)
4. Ultravox : Systems Of Romance (1978)
5. Brian Eno : Before And After Science (1977)
6. Japan : Tin Drum (1981)

I'm not convinced the Japan record is all that great.  I thought it was and then listened to it and still can't deal with David Sylvian's voice all that well.  The Roxy Music records after Country Life are either not great or not art rock.  The same goes for Bowie and Eno.  The Ultravox record is possibly just straight up new wave.  The Talking Heads record is undeniably great and fits the category well enough.  So that's it.  Remain In Light, which Charles suggested when he brought up the question in the first place, is the last great art rock record.

The Kate Bush single at the top of the page?  Well it's because the answer is actually The Hounds Of Love from 1985.  Really, everything she did is art rock (Babooshka is a single from 1980).  I'm baffled how she had the success she did in England.  The video for Wuthering Heights looks like a prancercise commercial.  Hounds Of Love is a genuinely great album.  Running Up The Hill is a perfect song, and is pretty much as straight as the record gets.  Cloudbursting ("I still dream of Orgonon, I wake up crying...") was also a hit in the UK.  Listen to the whole thing and tell me there's a better answer.

Paul's pushing that Sonic Youth record with the washing machine on the cover from around 1994 that may actually be called Washing Machine.  I think he's tainted by that hour we spent sitting in a field outside Pittsburgh in 1995 watching Sonic Youth take an audience of Hole and Cypress Hill fans to school.  I just don't think they're art rock.  Noise rock maybe.  Now go define that.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Budget Christmas

The holidays are over and I've bought myself a few shiny, new (er...), things. My daughter got an iTunes gift card for Christmas and promptly bought herself a bunch of songs for her iPod. It appears that a new, popular, song is $1.29. Ouch. Everything in the list below cost me $1 or less (half were 50 cents). I'll admit, some of these are hard to admit to owning,

1. The Weathermen : Old Friend Sam 12".
2. The Weathermen : This Is The Third Communique 12"
3. Golden Palominos : Visions of Excess LP
4. Prefab Sprout : From Langley Park To Memphis LP
5. Yello : You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess LP (West German pressing)
6. Siouxsie & the Banshees : Nocturne 2LP
7. Altered Images : I Could Be Happy 12"
8. Tracy Chapman : Self-titled LP (to replace the one I sold)
9. Pretenders : 2000 Miles 12"
10. Cichlids : Be True To Your School LP
11. Midnight Oil : Self-titled 1st LP (Australian pressing)
12. Missing Persons : Words 12" (UK pressing)
13. Soft Cell : Soul Inside EP (Canadian pressing)
14. Soft Cell : Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing EP
15. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions : Easy Pieces LP (promo with label bio)
16. Cactus World News : SPIN Concert Series Live LP
17. Mission Papua Holland : June '87 LP (ambient noise - 500 copies)
18. Spiegelsplitter : Spiegelsplitterspitz 12" (German new wave)
19. In The Nursery : Stormhorse (test pressing on UK Sweatbox)
20. R.E.M. : Stand 7" (with "Memphis Train Blues" b-side)
21. Eyeless In Gaza : Sun Bursts In 7"
22. The Sound Asleep : I'm Cold Outside 7"
23. Graham Parker : Heat Treatment LP
24. Strawberry Switchblade : Let Her Go 12"
25. Dif Juz : Extractions LP
26. Doctor & The Medics : Spirit In The Sky 12"
27. Everything But The Girl : These Early Days 12"
28. Arms Akimbo : This Is Not The Late Show LP
29. Thompson Twins : Don't Mess With Doctor Dream 12"
30. Richard Barone & James Mastro : Nuts and Bolts LP
31. The Creatures : Standing There 12"
32. The Communards : Red LP

Now that I've typed it up, some of these are pretty embarrassing (Doctor & The Medics anyone?), but I'm happy to have them all. I've actually been looking for the Cactus World News SPIN radio show forever. The Dif Juz LP is great. The Mission Papua Holland LP is one I had never heard of but it was odd looking so I picked it up and it's probably the best thing in the list. The Spiegelsplitter 12" is nutzo electro new wave from 1981. The Soft Cell "Soul Inside" EP is a Canadian pressing with a different sleeve from the UK copy I already have. The remix EP (Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing) has some good versions but is not what I remember from the last time I heard it (circa 1988) at my friend George's house. The Yello record is amazing. The Midnight Oil is a little weak. The Richard Barone record is good but not great. The In The Nursery test pressing is a great find. I was surprised I didn't already have the Golden Palominos, Prefab Sprout, and Siouxsie records. The Graham Parker makes me wonder why I keep buying Graham Parker records. The Pretenders 12" has a live version of "Money" from the US Festival. Hit or miss, but more hit to my mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mike Atta & The Middle Class

The Middle Class were a band of LA area teenagers (3 brothers + another guy) who started up in 1977. They put the Out Of Vogue 45 out in 1978. There's people who will call it the "first hardcore record" and say "they started hardcore". Since genres of anything are never cut and dry, those types of assertions can be difficult to defend. I'd argue that they didn't start hardcore because not enough people heard it. And you'd say that the right people around LA heard it and started playing faster and harder to be more like them. Fine. I do think it's fairly safe to say that, at the moment of its release, it was the fastest record ever made. They made another 45 that's a lot slower (still good) and an album that's also really good.

At this point it takes a lot to get me to write a blog entry. There's a total lack of time for these things but this time, sadly, it must be done. All the way back in 2012, I was in Los Angeles for a few days. Mike Atta, who played guitar for the Middle Class, ran a vintage shop in Riverside called, naturally, Out Of Vogue. I called to make sure they were open and to feel him out as to whether he would be surly about an autograph request. He was happy to oblige and said to come on down. He asked me if I was getting it signed to resell it. I was actually a little surprised by the question. There's a fine line to walk with that answer. I needed to be convincing that I was, in fact, keeping it, but I also needed to stop short of fawning too much over a grown man. Whatever I said was good enough. I was also a little surprised to learn that he did not have even one copy of the Out Of Vogue EP. He told me that the band was rehearsing in the back room of the store later that night and that I could leave my record and they would all sign it. He also sold me a sealed copy of the Middle Class album for $10 and told me he'd get that signed too.

Mike's store was next to his wife's store - I don't remember what kind hers was. He told some funny story about how the physical separation of the stores, even if only by a few feet, was part of the success of their marriage since it was still special to have lunch with her or to come home together at night. He talked about his son and I talked about my kids and looked around the store. He talked about how the Middle Class was playing occasional shows and that there was even a very long shot of a trip east to play New York. I thanked him and left. The next day I went back and picked up the records and thanked him again.

When I got home from LA, I liked the Middle Class page on Facebook, mostly to make sure I'd be aware if they actually made it to New York. A few months later, there was a post about a benefit for Mike, to help him pay for his cancer treatments. I was a stunned to read it. Facebook has a way of punching you in the face sometimes. It's not like we were friends but it's shocking to learn that someone I was just talking to is sick with cancer and dealing with all that comes with that. There were more posts about benefits and he was getting treatment and even still playing Middle Class shows. Somehow I lost track of it and then a post from their page showed up the other day. When I went to the page I learned that Mike had died this past Easter. A terrible loss for his family.

I've spent more time writing this than I did when I met Mike, yet somehow he left an impression that's worth trying to articulate. In twenty minutes spread over two days, the feeling I had was that he was purely enthusiastic about his life and what was happening in it (family, work, friends, band, etc). There was nothing that appeared fancy, but this was a life well worth living. Who knows, he could have been miserable and just really good at seeming content. I don't think so though. By way of contrast, I meet a lot of people who have (or aspire to have) a lot of stuff but are completely lacking in enthusiasm for their own lives. Always wanting. A friend of mine slyly slips into conversation that he's spent $1,400,000 (I type out the zeroes for emphasis) on his home renovation and he is absolutely miserable. There's plenty more examples but they're boring boring boring. Anyway, that's what I'll remember from briefly meeting Mike Atta. Also, in 1978, he and his band made an absolutely ferocious punk record.

If you haven't heard it, do it now.

Here's a link to his obituary. RIP.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Is It Just Me Or Does This Song Suck A Little?

My friend Alex was back visiting and she dropped off some stuff she didn't need. In it was a burned CD with the only a label saying "Punk Anthems #2" on it. A bunch of songs I haven't heard in a while. Perfect. I listened to it in the car. Here's the song list.

1. Undertones - Teenage Kicks
2. Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK
3. Damned - New Rose
4. Buzzcocks - Orgasm Addict
5. Adverts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes
6. Ruts - Babylon's Burning
7. Rezillos - Top Of The Pops
8. Generation X - Ready Steady Go
9. Stiff Little Fingers - Alternative Ulster
10. X Ray Spex - Identity
11. Bow Wow Wow - C30 C60 C90 Go
12. This Perfect Day - The Saints
13. Sid Vicious - My Way
14. Damned - Neat Neat Neat

Song #2 is the start of punk rock, essentially. forwarding through long, furious argument about New York Dolls, Ramones, Velvet Underground, Stooges... Debate it all you like, perception is reality and the song is what it is - ground zero for punk. Not a week of junior high and high school went by without me listening to it at least once. During the Sex Pistols reunion show in 1996 (aka Sham '96 to those too snobby to enjoy it) I had chills during the end of it. So why, after all these decades of listening to this song, am I telling you it's not all that good? Well...because it's not really all that good. For reference, I have re-ordered this list, best to worst.

1. Damned - New Rose
2. Buzzcocks - Orgasm Addict
3. Ruts - Babylon's Burning
4. Stiff Little Fingers - Alternative Ulster
5. X Ray Spex - Identity
6. Generation X - Ready, Steady, Go
7. Bow Wow Wow - C30 C60 C90 Go
8. Rezillos - Top Of The Pops
9. Undertones - Teenage Kicks
10. Damned - Neat Neat Neat
11. Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK
12. Adverts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes
13. This Perfect Day - The Saints
14. Sid Vicious - My Way

"This Perfect Day" is on the second Saints album. The first one is top to bottom great but I don't even have the second one. "My Way" is a little stupid, even if I like it. I debated putting "Anarchy In The UK" after the Adverts song but I figured you would just dismiss the whole thing if I did that. You can make the case that Bow Wow Wow and the Rezillos are not straight up punk bands. You can lean on the fact that "Anarchy In The UK" wasn't written with the benefit of other punk rock songs serving as a blueprint. While you make that argument, remember that "New Rose" actually came out FIRST. To this day, I can't believe how good "New Rose", "Orgasm Addict", and "Babylon's Burning" are.

"Anarchy In The UK" starts with "right now" and then some goofy laughing. There's draggy parts (Steve Jones sounds better on almost every other song) and a lot of unnecessary vocal inflection. It lags behind most of the other songs on "Never Mind The Bollocks...". "Holidays In The Sun", "Bodies", "Pretty Vacant", "No Feelings" are easily better. OK, it's better than "Satellite" and "Liar". "Seventeen" has the "lazy sod" bit, which is pretty great, but I'll be generous and put it ahead of that one too. Otherwise, forget it. Even its own B-Side, "I Wanna Be Me", is better.

I guess I could change my mind on this. Maybe I'll start to love the non-cute Velvet Underground songs too. And don't think I hate it or the band. I still have this thing hanging in the living room.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Port Chester 1/19

No one else engendered this reaction but with him it seemed constant. Usually in a record or book store. Sometimes, if I had gotten closer, in my room. I don't know how many times I saw one of those girls, those Tesla Girls, pick up a record or magazine and see his picture and do the same thing. Her body weakened a little and she reached one hand out and touched his picture. In that moment I always felt the same thing. Inadequacy. Envy. Oh, definitely envy. Disappointment. All my hopes for worming my way into her heart relied on my ability to understand her better than the multitudes of very cool but loutish boys who were more attractive, charismatic, older, whatever. What chance did I stand when someone an ocean and a quiff away could do it better without ever even walking past her in the hall? What chance did all my attentive listening, art film suggestions and mixed tapes have when he could tell her what she felt before she even felt it for the first time? It seemed like a fool's errand to bother to hope. And the goddamned asexuality and vegetarianism. I still wonder how many of them named their boys Steven, a little secret they keep between themselves, Him and, of course, him. Coming up with some bogus reason it had to be spelled with a 'V'.

I saw him play last night. I have seen him over the years. I never saw the band, though. And I never will, if I am to believe him. I am forty now and he has been with me, never my nemesis as I once feared, since I was about thirteen. I stood with my friend Nicole, who has been with me almost as long.

it's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate, it takes guts to be gentle and kind

It took me a long time to practice this one. Nicole never had that problem. She was listening more carefully I guess. Why wouldn't she? She didn't have to deal with him trampling all over her youthful romantic possibilities again and again. The show went on and I was astounded by how good songs I had never heard sounded.

all of the rumours keeping me grounded, i never said i never said they were completely unfounded

These songs are great. Why did I stop buying his records? He was right all along so why did I stop listening? Suddenly, he changed shirts, threw the new one into the audience and put on another. Couple more songs and he would be done. He gave a short lecture about how the phrase "free gift" is redundant and then something like this :

we all die embarrassed, we all die trying to better ourselves, we all die hoping people think we're ok, so get on with it

and then

see the luck i've had can make a good man turn bad...

Would it be wrong to change the dog's name to Steven?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Steve, Record Karma and the Holiday Season

The Kuge (legendary, possibly Norwegian, record collector) once told me records are karmic. This comment has been proven true many times, even if The Kuge never made good on our one trade. He got a Vatican Commandos record and was supposed to give me Nubs and Gai 45s in return. Well, he didn't. By now he may have traded them to someone else. Anyway, this is not about sour grapes. In fact, that whole situation may just be one more example of how his statement holds true.

The collection pictured above is Steve's. was his collection. Looks bad, right? I met Steve yesterday. We were walking out of a thrift store at the same time. I had a few not-very-exciting records under my arm. He had some glassware. I know this because he got into it with the thrift store people about how much newspaper to use to wrap the glassware. Classistly, I get a little nervous whenever voices raise in a thrift store. I know that's not a word, by the way. Also classistly, I don't want anyone to think I don't know that it isn't a word. Anyway, Steve notices my purchase and asks me if I buy records. I said it seems I do He told me he wanted to get rid of his records and asked if I would be interested. Sure, yeah, maybe. He said there were about 150 and that they were mostly 60's and 70's rock, some albums, some 45s. I asked if they were in good condition and he said they were. He also mentioned a custom rack he had for them. He wanted about $60 for all of it and could meet up in the afternoon. Sure, yeah, definitely. He told me to call him when I freed up and he would direct me.

I called him a few hours later. He told me he had been living in a motel up the street from the thrift store for the last two years. I didn't know where it was, despite having driven past it hundreds of times. He told me it was on the left, up the street. Odd directions. He was older, maybe 55. Maybe he doesn't realize the magic a GPS can work? The "living in a motel up the street" part told me to accept the directions as is.

I found it. He was standing in the parking lot, talking to another motel guest. Tenant? Resident? Classistly, I associate living in a hotel with people living at the Waldorf. Steve shook my hand, brought me over to his room, and pointed to a cardboard box on the bed. That's them in the picture above. There's some Kiss records, a couple ELO, one Queen. A bunch of 78s and 45s. A couple of the 45s would have been decently valuable garage records but they were pretty beat up from being sleeveless for 30+ years. As I looked at the records, I slowed down. He was talking about them and what he was doing when he bought each one. I have heard this routine a thousand times. Someone selling their records telling me stories about accumulating them. I tuned him out and looked around the room. Everything he had to his name was in this room or his van outside. The room had horribly stained wall to wall and one light. There were clothes hung neatly on a standing rack. Shoes lined up neatly underneath. He had some storage containers against one wall with the typical labels - pictures, kitchen, "Mom & Dad". The only thing on the walls was a piece of paper with a handwritten biblical quote. The end table had a bible on it. It mostly covered up the unemployment paperwork underneath it. I tuned back in to him and he was talking about how we would also sell the rack, that he wouldn't need it anymore.

He told me he was going back out to the parking lot to talk to his friend. The records were garbage. There was not one thing I wanted and I would be lucky to get the $60 back by selling them. I looked around the room again and pondered how to tell him I would not be taking them. I thought about how he said they were in good condition. He was lying, I thought. Not really, not to him. These were his records, collected long before this motel became his reality. They were dirty and dusty and wrapped in old newspapers. I looked around again and walked out to the parking lot and handed him $60. He helped me put them in my car. He was careful to make sure I took the rack - I had tried to leave it.

I drove out of the motel and down the street. There's an antique shop run by Russians on the right about half a mile down the road. I pulled in. There were two crates of Sinatra records on the ground, all horrendously overpriced. I asked the presiding Russian if they had more records. "Da", he motioned at a foot locker and opened it. It was full of records, mostly classical. Egh. Not my day. I decided to be thankful they were not dusty and dirty. I went through them all and fished out these :

The Tommy Turrentine record is in almost perfect condition. In this shape it has sold for $150, even $300 once. The Tenors Anyone record is also nearly perfect and runs around $100. The Ray Charles is a first pressing. They're all great. I'm not sure what to do with Steve's records. Most will wind up in the bin. But if I'm to believe The Kuge, I'm listening to Tommy Turrentine right now because I gave Steve that $60. I guess it's time to let got of the Nubs and Gai records and call that Vatican Commandos record a Christmas present.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Seasonal Music

I'm sure this only makes sense to me but I subconsciously associate records with seasons. After writing that sentence I think it may be more accurate to say I make associations between bands and seasons. Seeing as I have already adjusted things slightly it should be clear that this paradigm has been EXTENSIVELY researched. It's probably even more accurate to say that some bands, not all, are tied to a season. I better finish this post soon. I can't readily explain why this is so. Probably it has to do with the time of year I first noticed the band. Since it's Fall now, here's a record that's firmly tied to this time of year for me.

New Order : Temptation / Hurt 45 rpm

Temptation is probably the single song I've listened to the most in my entire life. The 7" and 12" have different vocal takes and slightly different lyrics. Very different from the later re-recording, this is simply perfect. It's something I associate with cold weather. Not sub-zero weather. I spent a lot of time walkmanning with this song in the Fall. Joy Division is a Winter (like in the Shining), New Order pre-Brotherhood is a Fall and everything else is warm-weather fun. This is the song I measure all songs against. Probably nothing will ever equal or surpass it for me. There's simply no way for a new song to evoke some obscure and meaningful nostalgia from me. My comparison is more along the lines of "would this have meant a lot to me if I was sixteen and lonely?" The B-side is good but certainly never resonated for me like Temptation. This is starting to seem like an excuse to babble on about this record. Anyway, it's Fall and this is for walking in the leaves. According to me.

Temptation (7" version)


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Hypocrisy / Election Season

Speaking as a New Englander, Fall is my favorite time of year. As a voter, I suppose it should be too. I know this is an odd year (well, numerically at least) but I'm certain I'll have similar reservations about the 2012 presidential election as I do every year. I'm increasingly unable to feel 100% good about any candidate. I guess that's natural since none of the candidates are actually me. The more I think about it, the issue is more to do with the way our media covers candidates. There's an unwillingness to point out obvious hypocrisy. The international media seems a little better at it but I'm just so bad about seeking out web sites that don't have distracting sidebars full of neat little factoids. I've grown so accustomed to single-sentence paragraphs that a fully formed thought spelled out over several sentences seems plodding. So really, it's my fault that I'm frustrated. This whole gripe could be laid to rest with some acceptance and effort on my part.

The Dead Kennedys never had any reservation about pointing out hypocrisy. There were a lot of reasons I bought their first record but mostly I needed to see what they were about. The shocking name, the organized parental outrage over lyrics, the t-shirts. So I bought it, listened to it, changed my entire outlook on music and life, etc, etc. "Holiday In Cambodia" jumped out at me, like it did for anyone who heard it. But, as I did with a lot of songs that initially drew me to punk, I got sick of it. As time went on I skipped over it when I listened to the album. Recently, I came across a copy of the "Holiday In Cambodia" 12" at a thrift store. I only had the 45 so I bought it just for completeness. That being the reason for the purchase, I didn't listen to it when I got home. But a few weeks before I had seen the Tom Tom Club and they played "Psycho Killer" as an encore. Even coming from a non-David Byrne half-Talking Heads, I was surprised at how totally great it sounded. With this in mind, I played "Holiday In Cambodia" all the way through for the first time in probably 15 years. It was turned up too. Holy sh*t! If you're reading this I know you've heard this song before but really - listen again. At about the three minute mark it gets so intense I can't believe it.

The lyrics (posted above - you're welcome) are an indictment of a loud-talking limousine-liberal type. The words are almost disorienting to read. I'm so conditioned to seeing opinions that wholly subscribe to exactly one, well-defined point of view. These lyrics shoot in a few directions at once. The Dead Kennedys had a unique way of skewering everyone in sight for their bullshit. Sure they hate Pol Pot and fascists as much as anyone else. But they seem to despise the hypocrisy of the rich kid even more, even suggesting that Pol Pot could help him learn a thing or two. Whose side are they on? Or maybe it's not about the side you're on but about not being a hypocrite? What a novel idea. No wonder people thought they were weirdos.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Making People Listen Whether They Like It Or Not

I had a lengthy career as a mixed-tape maker.  This went from about 1985 through 1999 or so.  Everyone I knew wound up with one eventually.  I think I was actually pretty good at it since I occasionally got requests for them.  Once I got to college I started working in the on-campus pizza parlor as a DJ.  This was great since I could really drive home my point with a captive audience.  Captive for as long at it took to eat a pizza is more like it.  Sometimes I purposely played irritating or aggressive music out of spite for my fellow students.  Big Black for lunch is not the usual collegiate whitehat's idea of a good time.  One day I played a Frankie Goes to Hollywood interview from Smash Hits several times in a row.  "I've got a weird assortment of freckles when the sun comes out".  Other times, overcome with a sense of populism, I'd relent and play a friendly bunch of one-hit wonder new wave.  This led to a spate of requests for tapes and "what's that song where they say...?" questions.   Eventually, I made a tape of typical 80's new wave songs to be copied in order to satisfy these requests without having to listen to "The Safety Dance" again.  

Generally, tapes were made to reflect my own taste and to push obscure music on others.  There were lots of personal favorites that made it onto those tapes.  Almost everyone got them at some point.  One of these was "88 Lines About 44 Women" by the Nails.  The Ravers were a weak punk band from Denver that wound up in New York City renamed as the Nails.  They made a great 12" EP on Jimboco Records with that song and some other good ones.  The original version of "88 Lines" is one of my favorite things.  I typed up the lyrics and posted a printout on the wall of my dorm.  In 1994, my roommate was prescient enough to have Archers of Loaf play in the pizza parlor.  Eric Johnson stood in our dorm and read the lyrics and said "the Nails, right?"  Right on.  The band signed to RCA and re-recorded the song but it lost a lot of the charm.  Their two RCA LPs were so-so.  They did a reunion CD in the 90's.  Of course I have that too.  None of that material gets close to "88 Lines About 44 Women".  

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Record Store Day

Today was Record Store Day.  This began in 2008 as a way to rally music stores around their product (er... music).  It is also an excuse for special, limited edition records to be issued by bands and labels looking to drum up interest in their flagging product.  In 2008 a handful of special releases were issued.  In 2011 there are over 100.  To paraphrase a certain midget, that gum you like has come back in style.  Records are back in a big way.  The truth is, they never went away.  But now they're back in force.  Vinyl had its best year since 1991.  Almost 3 million units sold, and that doesn't include 45's.  Why has this happened?  Why was Johnny's mobbed today like it hasn't been in years, if not ever?

Let's talk about the record at the top of the page.  You're wondering - is it one of this year's participants?  No, it's not.  This is a 1981 record by an Australian band called the Discounts.  As far as anyone knows this is the only thing they ever did.  The cover makes the point that "selling records in your shop will have a dramatic impact on sales".  This was clearly intended in a joking manner in 1981.  But by 2006 it probably seemed like sage advice.  If stores actually try to sell records to the public, they may buy them!  That's not really the beginning and end of the story.  Technology had to evolve enough to kill (or at least mildly maim) the compact disc.  The advent of music downloads made it feasible to create a vinyl package, insert a coupon for a download of the music, and sell the whole thing - for way more than a CD ever would cost anyhow!

This record is an entrant in Johan Kugelberg's top 100 D.I.Y. record list.  It's pretty spectacular stuff and I won't try to rephrase the Kugelberg description, "sub-sub-sub Blockheads DIY stumble".  There some inspired, carefully thought out lyrics : 

  "they make records in dark places, they make new ones every day"
  "you want a record - I've got a record"

When the guy runs out of things to say he just says "records records records".  For all the Record Store Days that happen, it's not likely that the Discounts will participate.  They said their piece in 1981.  But I'm not a jaded fool, if a 15 year old kid is walking out of Johnny's holding a copy of the reissued Bad Brains' "Pay To Cum" 45, something has gone right.  Here's a youtube link to the Discounts one and only moment.  Go buy some records.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dexys Midnight Runners

I love this band so much I have their live concert film on Beta.  I keep a working Betamax so I can watch it.

Most people consider this band to be a one hit wonder and nothing more.  This is a common opinion in the U.S and it may even be true in the U.K., despite having had two number one and four total top ten singles.  I understand that "Come On Eileen" relegated them to CD compilations alongside "Too Shy", "Whirly Girl" and other 80's masterworks.  But there is a difference between understanding and acceptance.  

Dexys Midnight Runners had three distinct phases : Horns, Strings, Accountants.  The first singles and album, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, are completely Northern Soul influenced horn-based songs.  The second batch of singles (including Come On Eileen) and album, Too-Rye-Aye, still have horns but are driven by string arrangements.  The last phase is hard to define but it will become clear why "Accountants" is the best descriptor if you keep reading.  In their career, Dexys Midnight Runners released thirteen singles and I have at least one copy of every one.  I have Kevin Rowland's pre-Dexys punk single by the Killjoys (it's great - see this) and a few records by The Bureau, the band the horns section started after working with Rowland became too challenging.

Now, maybe I have some kind of problem to have amassed the collection below.  Nevertheless, I will try to be objective.  I would say it's safe to call Kevin Rowland a very ambitious musician.  A lot of the original class-of-1977 punks (the Clash for one) went different ways pretty quickly once the initial fire went out of punk.  Morrissey was the singer for the Nosebleeds, Billy Bragg was in Riff Raff.  So no one can blame him for getting out of punk early - he clearly had other things in mind.  Another thing that is pretty safe to say about Dexys Midnight Runners is that there is no band that can really be compared to them.  All the other bands with horns at that time were aping the Specials and playing ska.  Not these guys.  Let's see what they did.

Dance Stance b/w I'm Just Looking
(Oddball R6028)

It may only be their first single but Kevin Rowlands has gone ahead and given himself a fake name ("Carlo Rolan") just for the fun of it.  Perhaps he didn't want his name on it if it bombed?  The A-side is pretty weak soul that was later re-titled and re-recorded as "Burn It Down" on the first LP.  The B-side though - that's the first real sign of life.  A great song that was also re-recorded for Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.

Geno b/w Breakin' Down The Walls Of Heartache
(Late Night Feelings R6033)

Ah, Geno.  The first classic, an ode to Geno Washington.  Watch this and try to tell me this is not a great song.  And the cover photo is spectacular.  This is probably the zenith of the Horns version of the band, though some of the album tracks on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels are very good.  The B-side is a cover of a 1968 Northern Soul single by the Bandwagon.  I can't really say I like the original or the cover all that much.  But with an A-side as indestructible as this, the B-side could be blank and it would be a great record.

There, There, My Dear b/w The Horse 
(Late Night Feelings R6038)

"There, There My Dear" is a very good example of the first iteration of Dexy's Midnight Runners.  Kevin Rowland does too much vocal goofiness in the first few verses but then it all comes together and forms a great horn-driven song.  "The Horse" is a pretty frantic and great instrumental that doesn't make it onto a proper album, just the 1983 odds-and-ends compilation called Geno.

Keep It Part Two (Inferiority Part One) b/w One Way Love
(Late Night Feelings 6042)

"Keep It" is even more guilty of vocal goofiness than "There, There My Dear" and it doesn't really work.  It's a slower song and doesn't go anywhere no matter how overly emotional and Scottish Rowland manages to make simple words sound.  This song was on the Searching For The Young Soul Rebels LP.  The B-Side, while not great, would be a better album track.  It's a better example of what made this phase of the band good.  The band busted apart after this single came out, with several members forming the Bureau.  One of those members, Mick Talbot, formed the Style Council a few years later with a lad named Paul Weller.

Plan B / Soul Finger
(EMI R6046)

Interesting things afoot here.  "Plan B" is a very good Northern Soul-inspired song, here recorded and released by the re-furbished Horns version of the band during a contract dispute with EMI.  The song is good and would easily fit in on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels.  "Soul Finger" is a non-album instrumental that is solid but not nearly as good as "The Horse".  "Plan B" was re-recorded by the Strings version of the band and included on Too-Rye-Aye.

Show Me b/w Soon

"Show Me" is a song recorded by the Horns but subsequently re-recorded by the Strings and included on Too-Rye-Aye.  What a great song and perfect in both incarnations.  It's up-tempo and a little ragged - right on the money.  "Soon" is a short, soulful song that was not released on an LP but was reprised partially on Too-Rye-Aye as an intro to the re-recorded "Plan B".  This is a great, great single.  It was originally issued with a two-sided insert and only the lyrics on the back of the sleeve.  Later issues of it did away with the insert and stuffed everything on the back in tiny type.  As a back-handed way of explaining that I have both variations, I scanned both versions above.

Liars A To E b/w ...And Yes We Must Remain The Wildhearted Outsiders

The last of the in-between singles, the A-Side here was also re-recorded for Too-Rye-Aye.  In this case, the 45 version is better than the LP version.  The song itself is great, very melodic and beautiful.  The LP version adds some irritating harmony vocals and a slicker production that takes away from the sincerity of the song.  The B-Side (what a great title...) is another instrumental that alternates between melodic, exhilarating and a bit of a jumbled mess.  All of it adds up to a perfect single, on a par with anything they did.

The Celtic Soul Brothers b/w Love Part Two

The first product of the Strings version of the band.  This single is credited to "Dexy's Midnight Runners & The Emerald Express".  This would mark the beginning of a lot of mucking around with the band name.  This song is the first song on Too-Rye-Aye.  It's a really good song that has all of the elements that made "Come On Eileen" so popular, just not pieced together in such a deliberately commercial way.  "Love Part Two" consists of Rowland talking over a piano about how the holiday season makes him sick.  Pretty much worthless.  No matter, they had another single up their sleeve...

Come On Eileen / Dubious

Everyone's heard the A-side once or twice.  If you are not a fan, you most likely once were but now can't get through it due to overplay.  "Dubious" is another pretty stellar rollicking instrumental.  Notice we're still including the Emerald Express in the name.  This is another name for the fiddle section.  The 12" version of this single includes the re-recorded "Liars A To E".

Jackie Wilson Said b/w Let's Make This Precious
(DEXYS 10)

The third single from Too-Rye-Aye.  Note the name change to "Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners".  Incidentally, this is the name on Too-Rye-Aye as well.  This is my personal favorite in their discography.  The full title of the song is "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)", a SPECTACULAR cover of the Van Morrison song.  Absolutely phenomenal in every way.  I recently bought an extra copy of the 12" of this record at a flea market just because I couldn't let it set there and get destroyed by careless flea marketers.  The B-side is a song from Too-Rye-Aye that is almost as good and has a line about "guitars too noisy and crude".  As an FYI, the 12" includes a cover of "T.S.O.P.", originally done by MFSB and done tremendous justice by Dexys.  This record is so good I simply can't say enough about it.  If you have worn out "Come On Eileen" on your copy of Too-Rye-Aye, you should really do yourself a favor and listen to the rest of it, including these two songs.  If you'd like a copy of the 12", you know where to find me.

Let's Get This Straight From The Start b/w Old
(DEXYS 11)

The A-side must be an outtake from the Too-Rye-Aye sessions because it sounds exactly like the rest of the album even though it's not on it.  "Old" is an slower album track.  It's a nice song but it definitely belongs on the B-side.  I don't really know what happened with this song - it's certainly better than "Old" so why it was left of the album is beyond me.  We've finally settled on a band name here that makes it clear who's in charge.  By the way, the photography is done by a young Anton Corbijn.  The 12" replaces the studio version of "Old" with a much improved live version that almost answers my questions about why it's on the album ahead of "Let's Get This Straight From The Start".  The 12" also adds a live version of "Respect".  "R E S P E C T".  B A D.

The Celtic Soul Brothers b/w Reminisce Part One
(DEXYS 12)

Rather bizarre reissue of the first single from Too-Rye-Aye with a different mix and B-side.  The full title of the A-side is "The Celtec Soul Brothers (More, Please, Thank You)".  The people credited on the back are different than the people on the original DEXYS 8 edition of the 45.  Rowland has thoughtfully updated the band name.  The B-side is a new one.  There's a sequel to this song on the Don't Stand Me Down album called "Reminisce Part Two".  These songs both consist of Rowland telling a story from his youth over some toned down Dexys music with some singing on the outro.  Nothing to write home about.  There is a version of the single that comes out with a six-panel fold-out poster of, you guessed it, Kevin Rowland.  The 12" adds on a great live version of "Show Me".  This band was clearly a great time live.

This Is What She's Like b/w This Is What She's Like (Finale)
Marguerita Time b/w Reminisce Part One
(DEXYS 13)

You can now see why this was called the Accountants phase.  Out are the dungarees and scruffy look.  In are suits and sweaters and shaving.  The full-color picture is from the inside of the gatefold.  I don't actually have the regular one-record version of this single.  I only have the double 7" set, along with the 10" and 12" versions.  The song "This Is What She's Like" is very hard to deal with on the album because it has a two minute intro of Rowland talking, warming up his voice etc.  The song is good once it gets going and the single edits out most of the trash.  Rowland is careful to note that this is "An Extract From This Is What She's Like", as though it's his magnum opus and should not have been tinkered with by the record label.  He was apparently opposed to issuing any singles at all.   The B-side is more of the album version of the song, which totals over 12 minutes by the time it's all put together.  "Marguerita Time", the A-side of the second record is a part-Hawaiian, part-country, part-Irish, part-Dexys disaster that almost works at times.  It's a tribute to Kevin Rowland's talent that he could even come close to pulling something this ridiculous off.  The B-side of the second record is the same as on the second version of "The Celtic Soul Brothers" (DEXYS 12).  The 10" gives you the album version of "This Is What She's Like" with "Marguerita Time".  The 12" has the album version, an instrumental version (just what you needed) and "Reminisce Part One".

Because of You b/w Kathleen Mavourneen

This is another, better, attempt at the part-country, part-Irish, part-Dexys style first tried out on "Marguerita Time" on DEXYS 13.  Rowland's voice is not really smooth enough for it and it gets a little distracting.  The music is pleasant enough but that's part of the problem too.  Dexys Midnight Runners was never just pleasant.  It was soulful or raucous or excited or sad or something other than just plain old pleasant.   "Kathleen Mavourneen" is a traditional English song given a pleasant country-ish Irish arrangement.  No more Dexys to be found.  Last note - the name of the band is now "Kevin Rowland FEATURING Dexys Midnight Runners".  That was all.

Dexys Midnight Runners broke up after that.  Kevin Rowland went on to a failed solo career.  In the span of four years from 1979 to 1982, Dexys Midnight Runners issued eleven singles and two albums.  One song remains in most people's consciousness and that's fine.  I'll be over here watching them on my Betamax.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Need vs. Want and the Plimsouls

Linus brought home a permission slip today. It's for a thrilling field trip to the local supermarket to learn about the difference between needs and wants. Sounds like a good lesson to learn. I realized quickly that I should also probably attend this field trip.

When I was in high school it was "I need this record". As in, "that record is so good I need to get it". The first time I heard the Plimsouls it was in the film Valley Girl. At some point a few years later I decided I needed to get a copy of the song "A Million Miles Away" since it's basically the best song ever. Of course, by about 1988, finding a copy of this song was a near-impossibility. There were no downloads, no compilations of 80's obscurities, not even a friend with a copy on tape. So I looked. And looked. Around 1990, I came up with this 45.

A very plain looking 45 with the very perfect song and a decent B-side, "I'll Get Lucky".  Indeed I had.  With my need satisfied, I listened to it a thousand times, put it on tapes for all my friends, put it on tapes for the car etc.  Naturally, about a month later, I came across this.

Wow.  Much, much better cover.  Same B-side.  I most certainly did not need it.  I wanted it.  What was I to do?  It was cheap.  I bought it.   Because I wanted it.  This would be the first time I did this.  And by "this", I mean "buying something completely and totally unnecessary".  I actually remember telling myself it was frivolous and that I would not be doing it again.

So there I was literally DAYS later in a store in Philadelphia in the LP section.  Who would have thought this song came out as a 12"?

Totally the same right?  Well the cover of the 12" actually writes out the name of the B-side.  The same exact B-side as on the two 45 copies, by the way.  No matter, it was technically a different cover.  And it looked really great with a bigger cover.  I didn't need it at all, but boy did I want it.  I mean I really, really wanted it.  The bad thing is that I didn't even hesitate or pretend to debate with myself.  I grabbed it like the store was teeming with people looking for this thing and went straight to the register to relieve myself of five more dollars on this song.

A quick aside : this "when it rains it pours" happens all the time when you collect records.  I'll go years looking for a certain record and then find three copies in the span of a week.  And if the hunt has been long enough I will buy each copy.  For no good reason at all.

So now I'm up three copies of the Plimsouls song, well past the point of need.  It went quiet for a couple of years.  Early 1993.

Oh my.  Absolutely, positively one of the best picture sleeves ever made.  I was in my junior year of college and basically broke.  I spent $10 of my last $20 on it.  A divorce lawyer once told me, "Don't get too attached to money.  You can always make more of it."  I won't pause to scrutinize that advice too carefully but it appears I was following it years before I met him.  In some ways, despite having three copies already, I needed this record.  I'm not sure I would benefit from the "need vs. want" field trip.  I don't really think I could have handled the situations above any differently.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brian Wilson

The other day, at the playground, I told my son that it was time to leave and to tell his sister the same. "Tell Madchen it's time to get your things and head to the car". This rarely works as planned but I feel like I have to keep trying. He nodded his understanding and slowly walked in her direction. Judging from the distance I knew he would need to cover before he could pass along the message, I knew he would not get the job done so I started to follow him. He started to wander off the path and I wondered where his mind had taken him. He wasn't headed in the direction of anything in particular, just deeply lost in thought. Watching him allowed me to conjure up the feeling of my own childhood daydreams. I don't remember exactly what I thought about nor do I have any idea what my peers were pondering. When I caught up with him I reminded him that we needed to go. He responded by telling me he liked a particular bush more than a particular tree. Fascinating. Apparently he was formulating a personal preference of the specific flora present in the park. When I thought about it later it seemed like that was probably what I was doing in my daydreams too. If not actively making decisions about preferences, the subjects of my minds gravitation spoke volumes about who I would become and what would touch me.

Even though I haven't written in this blog for a long time, I always think I'm about to start again and the idea is the same - to write about obscure music. I'm not sure if this entry is a promise of more to come but it is not about obscure music. It's actually about someone really really popular and extremely un-punk. If you had told me in high school that I would own a stack of Beach Boys records I would have been angry enough to argue with you. But the thing is, as much as Dazzle Ships is meaningful and moving to me, there is little chance that my children or their children will really discover its beauty. They will find their own beautiful things. There are a few things that will transcend generations. As much as seriously collecting records can be a serious waste of time, it, coupled with having my own children, brought me to understand fully the place of certain pieces of our (pop) culture.

I drove Madchen to gymnastics an hour ago and "God Only Knows" was on in the car. Everyone who knows anything knows this song is a centerpiece of Pet Sounds, the 1966 apex of the Beach Boys' career. As it went along, Madchen decided to let me know that "Daddy, this song is really pretty". Doesn't seem like a big deal? What I realized at that moment is the indestructible perfection of the recording which allows it to transcend any generational gap and keep it in the cultural consciousness for generations. The lyrics were written by Brian Wilson and Tony Asher. Brian Wilson is the composer and producer of the Beach Boys' recording.

From Wikipedia
In Asher's own words, "The general tenor of the lyrics was always [Brian's], and the actual choice of words was usually mine. I was really just his interpreter."

So this is effectively Brian Wilson's thing all the way through. And, for my money, it's his single greatest achievement. This is not a new realization for me, I've thought this for years. I didn't exactly stumble upon this and it's a pretty common opinion. But what I realized today is that his gift to me (I'm being ego-centric) is that somewhere down the line, my great grandchildren will hear that same recording and probably feel the same way about it as Madchen did. Without ever knowing those downstream from me in my family tree, I may already know something tiny about them. I would love it if Dazzle Ships was on their playlist too but I have to be realistic.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barbi and the Kens

A very with-it friend of mine circulates an occasional email list with links to mp3s from bands he is hearing a lot. I will listen to anything once and, sadly, I usually do. One day the list included a cover of "Walk On By" by Richard X. When I listened to it I immediately noticed that the female coldly speaking the words sounded awfully similar to Deborah Evans - of course you all know she was one of the female singers in the Flying Lizards, right? I emailed him to ask if it was her (I didn't use to be the most proactive googler) and he said "No - couldn't be." Pleased, I sat expectantly at my computer. After about ten minutes, another email appeared. "Wow it is her. Weird. Wonder where he found her?"

Now, since I don't have the three or four days needed to properly cover the Flying Lizards, I'm instead going to go on and on mindlessly about a band (this word may be a bit of a stretch) that employed a similar approach but yielded much less output. In all likelihood this band was a studio project of Bobby Orlando, AKA Bobby O, who founded the thoughtfully named O Records. To say this guy had his hands in a lot of stuff is an understatement. My favorite achievement of his, other than this record, is his production of the original version of "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys. Spectacular. But nothing of his can top the Barbi and the Kens record.

The cover is very nice. A very cold-looking woman in a very stylish-at-the-time sweater. I guess that's supposed to be Barbi? The back cover consists of a cast of names and credits that make little sense. This band had a drummer? OK - maybe on a couple songs. If their name is Barbi and the Kens why is there a guy named Klaus? Despite the long list of credited musicians, the record itself credits all the original songs to either "O" Music or Intersong Music. That plus a quick listen to this record will tell you all you need to know - Bobby O put together some stuff in his NYC apartment and got some girl to sing when he said to sing. And if anyone ever tells you how good this band was live I'd think twice about that loan they're about to ask for.

Everyone knows this band for the song "Just A Gigolo" - an original, not a cover. It was played on WLIR in New York throughout the early 80's and it showed up on some of those compilations of more obscure 80's songs. But there's four songs here so let's get to it. This is a weird example of a record where every song is better than the one before it. The two songs on the A-side, "Pay My Bills" and "Uptown Downtown Cruising" are decent, tight new wave songs. "Pay My Bills" is kind of lame though. "Uptown Downtown Cruising" is a better quirky new wave song that shows Bobby probably saw the B-52's a few times. Or at least heard "Rock Lobster". Also, both songs manage to sound alarmingly like the Flirts. Hmm - it says here on my Flirts records that Bobby Orlando wrote all their songs.

The B-side is where the money is on this record. "Just A Gigolo" leads off. Here's a link to someone's youtube link with the song. I know, that's a pretty low-rent way to get a song posted and I apologize if you thought this was some kind of upscale blog. Cool song and all. 80's hit. If you picked this record up expecting it to have an 80's hit and some filler (I'm raising my hand slowly...) you would be wrong. There is an essential new wave song on here and it's not the one on the compilations. "Not Your Steppin Stone" is indeed the Monkees cover. It's a good song to begin with but it is been drastically overhauled as if the instrumental half of the Flying Lizards had gotten an adrenaline shot while Deborah Evans went about her business as usual.

To be clear, ANY Barbi and the Kens record is a rare one but they were never worth a thing - no one cared. But, when the cool people elected to make synthesizers cool again, someone (not me) got smart and put an mp3 of this up on an ebay listing along with the words "minimal synth". $150 later it was its own mini-legend, with some people kicking themselves for not having picked up a few copies when they were free for the taking.

Here's a clip. Bobby O should really get the band back together.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

1+2 er... One Plus Two - Watercolor Haircut EP

As a young lad, I became aware of a band called REM. They had put out a record called "Murmur" and they were from somewhere called Athens. I was in 5th grade - what did I know? I read about them before I heard them. They were the champions of something called "College Radio" along with another band called the Replacements. As it turns out, there was a lot going on in a lot of places in 1983 and the South was one of them. One band that came out of this frenzy was One Plus Two.

One Plus Two (or 1 + 2 - even they couldn't seem to decide - see above) was from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their self-released 7" EP, Watercolor Haircut, came out in the late summer or fall of 1984. They went on to produce a demo tape, a 12" EP and a full-length LP, both on Homestead Records, Gerald Cosloy's pre-Matador label. For the EP, the band consisted of Holden Richards (guitar), Maryclyde Bridgers (drums), Eric Peterson (bass) and Andy McMillan (vocals). After the Watercolor Haircut EP was recorded, Peterson left to join the dBs and McMillan started Snatches of Pink with Michael Rank. They were replaced by Susan Kent on guitar and Rob (not Rod) Stewart on bass. Of the 6 people involved, it seems like Holden Richards was the driving force in the band, mostly because all the songs are credited to him.

The record consists of 4 songs. All are great examples of the sound that defined this new genre of music. I haven't said the word "jangle" yet but it's going to be hard not to do it. "Look Away" has shades of REM, Let's Active and Guadalcanal Diary. "Much More" starts off in the same way as those bands but gets a little punchier in the chorus. Probably this was pretty good fun live. "Over You" is another good one. The production (by Eric Peterson the bassist and Wes Lachot, who now runs Overdub Lane Recording in Durham, North Carolina) is good, actually, but it makes me wonder what could have been if they had been thrown in the studio with more equipment and experience. The slightly muted sound is very much like REM's at the time. But there's some potential for some seriously shimmering guitar that didn't quite come out. The last song, "Pictures" is not bad, but for me it's a step below the other three. Not quite as developed maybe but still not bad. Truth be told, I love this record too much to say anything bad about it.

When I came across across a copy of the Watercolor Haircut EP it proved to be a great artifact of American College Radio. Not just because of the music either. The copy had been delivered by Holden to a magazine editor / reviewer / writer named Steve. Steve (unless Steve's no longer with us he's got no excuse for letting this out of his collection) was asked to listen to it, hopefully review it well and send a copy back to 1+2 so they could add it to their ever-expanding press kit. You're so interested by now that you're wondering what was in the press kit? Luckily, I have scanned in everything that was stuffed in with this record when I found it. I guess it proves that Steve got it a little bit later than some others.

At some point during their Homestead stint, IRS Records (naturally...) put them on the MTV show/commercial they had called The Cutting Edge. I don't know what happened but One Plus Two didn't make it like REM did. Or even Let's Active or Guadalcanal Diary. But for me, this record is a moment frozen in time. Googling "Watercolor Haircut" will get you back about 10 active, non-ebay, links. It's almost like this record didn't exist. But it certainly does.

Holden Richards is still active in music. He has a website here. It's late and the dog is wondering why I'm not tucking him into bed so you'll have to do the legwork on the rest of the band.

Someone was kind enough to rip the Homestead LP, Once In A Blue Moon.

Friday, September 4, 2009

As I Was Saying...

When I started writing this blog I didn't have some grand idea about what I was going to do with it. Without thinking too hard I guess the idea was to write about ignored music. I did a little bit of that. I also wrote a few things that served two purposes. First, I related a story with some oddballs acting oddly. Second, I managed to brag shamelessly about some items in my collection.

Did I mention these things are in my record collection? Have you seen this? Or this? I guess not. Good thing I showed you or you'd never get to see it...

As much as I'd love to go on and on with this stuff, I'd eventually run out. Not before finding some way to work this into conversation...

...and reminding you that Pete de Freitas wasn't in the band yet when they recorded this, their first single, so it's actually fully autographed. I'd also find a way to explain, slowly, for maximum effect, that I have something really, truly awesome. Like what? Oh like this...

You : "Wait a minute - everyone knows the uncompromising, critically worshiped and massively influential Mission of Burma made 5,000 copies of that record, half in the color sleeve and half in the black and white sleeve. Why makes you think I'm going to care?"

Me : "Oh, I'm sorry. I meant to show you the other side."

You : "Oh please - you've shown me so many autographs at this point I'm numb to them. Why couldn't he write in the middle of the big blank space? And this isn't too hard to get anyway - I saw Clint Conley autographing records for someone backstage in the Mission of Burma documentary film"

Me : "Funny you mention that - that was me and this is the record he was signing. But I really meant to show you the record itself..."

So now that you know about how this relationship would have gone, I think we can all see it's best to end it now. Seriously, does any more need to be said about a band like Mission of Burma or the Psychedelic Furs or REM? Starting tomorrow, since it's too late right now, I'll get back to the point and write about records that no one ever noticed. Well, almost no one. No more of this high-fiving myself about how cool I am for having something so cool that you could never be as cool as me...




because you didn't find something so, so, so cool

one day

around 15 years ago

in the dirty back room of a store in Nowhere, Connecticut

you didn't find anything as impossibly, unbelievably cool as this...

OK, sorry, I'll stop. Mostly. Maybe. First up is the Watercolor Haircut 7" EP by 1+2.

PS - that's cool as you think it is. A Joy Division test pressing with a handwritten note from their manager and an original sticker for the first album.

Stopping again. Good night.