Thursday, 9 June 2011

‘Hex Enduction Hour’ – The Fall (1982)

"White collar hits motorway services;
It’s the hip priest.
From the eyes he can see they know;
It’s the hip priest."

"What’s this meant to be?!" That was pretty much the shared reaction from the sixth form common room whenever my friend Chris or I popped an album on the stereo. Which just encouraged us further. Climaxing in us attending a Prince-themed party with a copy of ‘Hex Enduction Hour’. Yes, I know. Let’s rewind. A lot to take in there.

One: Why am I at a party? Well, I think I went to about three parties in total between the years 1980 and, well, present day really. I like to go to one every decade to remind myself why I don’t go to more. Two: Prince-themed? Really? Yep, Chris and I had a mutual friend named Christopher ("Well, that's just confusing") who loved Prince and had a birthday bash every Christmas Eve. I think I’ve mentioned him before. Yes, I have, in my very first post. Keep up. Anyhoo… he lived on a steady diet of Prince. He had every record by his Purple Majesty you could imagine. ("Even the Black album before it was officially released?" Yep, even the Black album before it was officially released.) So any party Christopher held was in effect a Prince-themed party. Three: You’re taking 'Hex Enduction Hour' to a party? Well, it would seem so. But I can’t quite recall why. I think Chris and I were just so captivated by it at the time that we carried it around to share with people at every opportunity. Just look at that wonderful sleeve for starters. Banned from the windows and shelves of Virgin record stores at the time for being too amateurish, fact fans.  

Now after three hours of non-stop Prince records, I think you’ll agree it was about time someone hi-jacked the stereo. But I guess what you may not agree with is us hi-jacking the stereo to play such party floor fillers as ‘Jawbone and the Air-rifle’ and ‘Mere Pseud Mag. Ed’. We actually never made it that far through the album – from memory we got to about track three (‘Hip Priest’) before the revelers broke through our makeshift sofa cushion barrier and Prince was restored. You can perhaps now see why it was another ten years before I ventured out to my next party. But I left ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ at home that time.    

Spotify linky: 

On this day …1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I always forget a face. Because I always feel uncomfortable looking at people. I remember more useless things. The way people eat. Things that can be brought into conversation. But faces escape me.”

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

‘On Tape’ – The Pooh Sticks (1988)

"You want it,
I’ve got it,
I’m talking about everything.
I’ve got the Monkees’ ‘Head’ soundtrack …
On tape."

Always be suspicious of anyone with a good-looking record player. They’ll have the most awful record collection. Fact! No point arguing. Music lovers spend money on vinyl. Level 42 fans spend money on turntables. This is true. I conducted a survey. Yes, when I was about 15, admittedly. A couple of kids at school were very proud of their ‘hi-fis’. It’s just a shame that they only owned about two records between them. And those records were both ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ compilations.

Every penny that came my way growing up was spent on records. That’s a lie to emphasise my point. Every penny that came my way growing up was actually spent on records and Star Wars figures, cards, comics, transfers, pencil cases, bubble bath, etc. Every record player that came my way growing up was a present. I had two. Both of little monetary value, but they meant everything to me. The first was manual (you lifted the arm yourself) and you could play 78s – only really useful if I wanted to listen to my mum’s old Adam Faith singles. Which I didn’t. The second, about five years later, was automatic and had a central spindle where you could stack records and they’d drop down after each side ended. A revolutionary way to scratch and warp your beloved collection. I’m only on my third record player now – had it a good 15 years – and would still rather spend money on new music than new equipment. Although I’m happy to invest in a good record duster if anyone has ever found one – I really should stop using my shirt sleeves.

This track by The Pooh Sticks always made me smile, with its wonderfully astute lyrical digs. Still does. I bought it in the Friary Shopping Centre in Guildford. No idea why I remember that so clearly. I’m sure it’d sound great on a top-end record player. But it feels perfectly at home on mine.   

Obviously Spotify has failed me again, but here’s the song on YouTube (with a great pic showcasing a haircut I copied for my upper sixth form school photo): 

Everyone should express their greatest loves through the medium of badges (or buttons, if you're reading this in the US) - here's my parka:

Monday, 6 June 2011

‘Palomine’ – Bettie Serveert (1992)

"Well, I wish I had known you then,
Well, who knows, I might have been a better friend."

Favourite Christmas present of 1992. ("This is very seasonal, Michael.") From my sister. I doubt she remembers it. Would have been plucked from my annual wish list, which was most usually dominated by obscure indie records. Only now have I realised how annoying it must have been for my aunts and uncles trying to find anything from this list in their local Our Price. Putting ‘Pornography’ by The Cure on the list one year probably wasn’t a great idea either.

Every record that found it in to my Yuletide stocking though was much cherished and worth every effort it must have taken to find. ‘Palomine’ in particular (released on 4AD's short-lived spin-off label Guernica). This album, and its accompanying limited edition bonus 7-inch single ‘Brain-Tag’, rarely left my record player the following year. A ridiculous exaggeration, I know, but you get the idea. Carol van Dijk’s stark vocals – at turns mournful and strident – were quite irresistible and the band were never better than on this affecting debut. And how cute’s that toy dog?

No Spotify linky available for this album, so here's the video for the title track ...    

On this day …1986 (aged 15)

Scribblings from my diary …

“School camping trip. Hike 12km across Exmoor. Find loads of dead sheep. Sleep in a bin bag, in a hole, covered by a polythene sheet. Get no sleep.”

Monday, 30 May 2011

‘In The Sky’ – The Fire Escapes (2011)

"Here come the icebergs
in the South Seas,
Here come the icebergs
for you and me."

The fear of traveling. Is there a name for that? I’m guessing so. Hang on … the Internet is telling me its ‘agoraphobia’. Always thought that was just the fear of wide open spaces, but apparently not. Well, whatever its name, I definitely have a touch of it. If you ever see me beyond the borders of South London, then you can be sure it took some effort and I’m counting the minutes until I return.

Waiting at airport departure gates on my lonesome remains the most daunting proposition. All the couples and families around me already seem to be embracing that ‘holiday spirit’ I hear so much about. Not me. I can’t begin to relax until I’m actually in the hotel room and unpacking. And then about an hour later I start stressing about the return journey home in a week’s time. I’m just too much of a homebody.

Which is why I adore songs that hint at poetic places and fantastical worlds beyond my front door. Grace Cathedral Park, Strawberry Hill and San Geronimo come immediately to mind from just the Red House Painters (I really must book that flight to San Francisco). Hearing tales of these places inspires me to confront my fears and venture out more often.

And that’s why I adore this iridescent new EP from The Fire Escapes. Lucy’s lucent vocals … ("Hold it there, Michael. Do you really think you’re going to pull off this ‘Lucy’ and ‘lucent’ thing. Are you perhaps being a bit too clever for your own good? What are you going to use for Mark’s guitars? Mark’s 'marbling’ guitars? Really? You were going to do that?") So, anyway, Lucy’s vocals and Mark’s guitars entwine quite exquisitely on these seven songs to entice you on the most wondrous of adventures. Want to ride icebergs in the South Seas, flame on to the Satellite City, and catch sight of seahorses in a snowstorm? Here’s your departure point.

Myspace linky:

Saturday, 28 May 2011

‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ – Big Star (1972)

"Years ago my heart was set to live, oh.
But I've been trying hard against unbelievable odds."

If David Bowie was playing in my car parking space right now, I wouldn’t even look out the window. Well, ok, I’d probably take a peek, because I love Bowie. But I know I should really have seen him as Ziggy at the Hammersmith Odeon on July 2nd/3rd back in 1973. My excuse is I was only two years old. The same is true of Bob Dylan (who turned 70 this week - happy belated birthday, Bob!). When I get my TARDIS working I’ll be setting the controls for the Manchester Free Trade Hall on 17th May 1966 to see him move beyond his folk roots and dare to to plug in an electric guitar, much to the horror of the "Judas!"-heckling audience. But I just can’t get excited about seeing Dylan in the modern day.

80/90s indie bands reforming to play their ‘classic’ albums at the Brixton Academy have the same effect on me. Pixies playing ‘Doolittle’. Dinosaur Jr playing ‘Bug’. Suede playing, er, ‘Suede’. All great, but I saw them the first time round in small North London pubs and university halls while the songs were often still unrecorded. Play me something new and I’ll be there.

So you can imagine I was somewhat surprised back in 1993 to find myself all smiles to hear that Big Star were reforming after almost 20 years and heading to the Reading Festival. Perhaps it was because they achieved such little recognition for their magnificent trilogy of albums back in the 70s, that it felt like their greatest performance was still ahead of them. My friend Chris was certainly bemused on that Sunday night at Reading as I left him watching New Order while I disappeared through the pungent haze of burning plastic beakers to the Melody Maker stage. Let’s point out here that there are few bands I’d choose over New Order, but we’d seen them at Reading four years earlier playing the sublime ‘Technique’ so I felt pretty certain I’d made the right decision. And I wasn’t disappointed. Orginal members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens had enlisted two Posies (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, fact fans) and treated us to songs from all their albums. It was a revelation to hear ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ and all my other favourites played live for the first time.

Chris and I argued all the way back to Reading station that night about who had seen the greatest show. We’ll never really know. But let’s just all agree I had.      

RIP Alex Chilton, Christopher Bell and Andy Hummel.

Spotify linky:

‘Thorn of Crowns’ – Echo & the Bunnymen (1984)

Men on mars
April showers"

On Sunday 9th July 1989, I had this nonsense refrain stuck in my head all afternoon. I’d gone to meet my friend Toni down at our school’s bridle path. We’d arranged to take one of her Alsatians for a walk over the fuel allotments. She had half a dozen of them (perhaps more). And a goat. I shy away from all animals (and most people), but for Toni I made exceptions.

I gave her a pair of shoelaces. She gave me a packet of Dolly Mixtures. Do kids still do this? Did any other kids ever actually do this? No? Just us then.

The Bunnymen were continually popping in to my head that summer. Which was a bit distracting. And I really didn’t need any further distractions in my head. I’d just left school and was supposed to be looking for a job in order to avoid my Dad’s plan, which was to pack me off to university. But I was far more focused on going to see The Cure in concert with Toni at the end of the month, so was kind of postponing the job search until then. Can you guess how this works out, folks? Stay tuned.

Spotify linky:

On this day …1990 (aged 19)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I’ve reached the usual revision period time when I believe I’ve covered it all and am not exactly trying too hard to see if I’ve missed anything. This involves getting all my books out on my desk, but actually sitting on the bed and listening to records.”

Friday, 20 May 2011

‘Hand In Glove’ – Sandie Shaw (1984)

"Yes, I know my luck too well,

And I'll probably never see you again."

Why is it that you only ever hear dance music pumping out of cars? Well, ok, not in every case. You get the odd bit of metal and sometimes some poppy radio station. But, without exception, it seems everyone who rolls their car windows down to broadcast their stereo to the high street always has the most appalling taste in music. I’ve never once heard anything inspiring, intriguing or intoxicating spilling from these social miscreants. Why is that?

It used to be the same with ghetto blasters back in the early 80s. In US movies, the kids were always listening to ‘super phat’ hip hop beats. In Farnborough town centre, the kids were usually listening to ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ tapes.

So I continue to wait for the day when I’m startled by a driver waiting at a traffic light who’s playing Sandie Shaw’s ’Hand In Glove’ (featuring The Smiths minus Moz) or some such delightfully curious oddity.

Spotify linky:
Sandie Shaw – Hand In Glove (Original Single Version)

This post reminded me of the great video below where Aziz Ansari carries a boombox around New York loaded with the worst mixtape of all time (aah, Dawson's Creek) – thanks, Emma W:

Monday, 16 May 2011

‘Superman The Movie’ – John Williams (1978)

“Daa da da da daa. Daa daa daa.”

Small pleasures, part 1: Popping in to [insert name of record shop] on the way home from seeing a great film and buying the soundtrack to listen to when I get home. Last year brought many such delights, including ‘Winter’s Bone’, ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’.

I think this tradition stretches back to the ‘Superman’ double vinyl soundtrack which my Dad bought me. Well, actually, after my sister griped that she didn’t get a present, we had to share it – though since she was only two at the time, it ended up in my care. (If you’re reading this now, sis, I bagsy Record 1 as it contains the majestic ‘Planet Krypton’.)

Obviously, going to the cinema was a whole different experience when I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s. ("Was it, grandad? Tell us more.") We got a Silly Symphonies Disney cartoon, a B-movie (usually a 15-minute Disney nature documentary), Pearl & Dean ads, local ads, cinema food ads, an intermission for the ice cream tub lady, trailers and (finally!) the main movie – every screening seemed to last all day. All for about fifty pence. But no-one paid, as there was always an older kid who let you in through the fire exit. And adults were allowed to smoke if they sat on the right-hand side of the theatre. Which I always found odd, as their fumes still obviously drifted across the whole auditorium anyway. And every cinema reeked back then, so it made no difference.

Perhaps my oddest childhood cinema experience though was when I went to see ‘Airplane 2’ with my nan and cousins. It was one afternoon in 1982 – so I would have been 11. And we’d driven to some unfamiliar, all-but-empty cinema in south London – possibly Purley Way in Croydon. Expectations were high. But they were about to get quickly grounded as the cinema manager came out and explained there was a fault with the projector. But he had a plan. And that plan involved wheeling out a 17-inch TV and sticking on a video copy of ‘Airplane 2’ !? Now, looking back at the age of 40, a few questions come to mind. How did they have a video copy of ‘Airplane 2’ when it had only just been released in to cinemas ? Did they ever actually have a copy of the film on, er, film? Why didn’t we ask for our money back ? And why did we continue sitting in the back row trying to make out what was showing on the screen two dozen rows away when we could easily have moved to the front of the virtually deserted theatre?

I do miss those cinema days though. Staying in your seat for the next performance. Joining the mass sing-along of "Butterkist! Butterkist! Ra-ra-ra!" and shouting "Hey! Crusader! Have you any nuts?" at inappropriate moments. And 3D films were just a silly, headache-inducing fad that you’d endure but all along wish they’d just made the thing in 2D and focused a bit more on the narrative structure and character development. Oh … ("See what I did there?")

And now a word from our sponsors ...

Spotify linky:

Saturday, 14 May 2011

‘19’ – Paul Hardcastle (1985)

“Im Zweiten Weltkrieg war
das Durchschnittsalter der Frontsoldaten 26.
In Vietnam war es 19”

Yep, that’s right : the German Version. I came a tad obsessed with this song. At a time when every song was released on multiple formats, it quickly became an expensive obsession for a teenage school boy (especially as I was only getting about a pound a week pocket money) I was used to going to ridiculous lengths to complete my collection: buying the 7-inch, the 7-inch gatefold double disc, the 7-inch fold-out poster version, the 12-inch, the limited edition 12-inch remix, the 10-inch, the cassingle (always disliked that name), the picture disc, and the collectors’ box (basically an empty thin cardboard box that you’d get sent through the post). But this was something new. Now I had to collect the foreign language versions too.

But this was still not actually enough to satiate my appetite for this song. So I began making my own remixes. I’d seek out the rather rare 120-minute-length blank TDK cassettes so I could create versions of ‘19’ that would run uninterrupted for the maximum length of time. And then I’d make my own cassette covers. All for my own amusement. I don’t think I ever shared any of these epic hour-long versions of the song with anyone. I mean, who would really want to listen to them ? But it got me into mixing and that would lead to further adventures – to be continued.

Last year saw another two dozen versions of ‘19’ released by Mr Hardcastle to mark its 25th anniversary. I managed to resist temptation this time, but still very much adore these original versions.

Spotify linky to the 1985 ‘Destruction’ version (my fave):

On this day …1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

“I’ve started chewing the side of my mouth. And picking at my fingers. And stumbling in to things. Which are sure signs that I’ve got a lot of work on. And I have. And there’s figures, so it’s not exactly very enjoyable. And everyone is in the library. And so am I. (Except when I’m out shopping for the new Curve and Cranes EPs.)”

Sunday, 8 May 2011

‘Push Th’ Litte Daisies’ – Ween (1993)

"It's all you,
And it's me too."

Writing about ‘Yon Yonson’ yesterday got me thinking about this oddity that also leapt into my life one Saturday morning through The Chart Show.

It ticks all the indie band boxes of the day. Home-made, black and white video, with some stop-motion animation and idiot dancing? Yep. Ludicrously affected vocals? Double, yep. Painfully infectious chorus? Triple, yep.

But at its heart, it’s just a wonderfully unabashed love song. That happens to be hatstand bonkers. And includes The-Worst-Ever-Use-Of-A-Prince-Sample™ on the video version below. Fact.

Spotify linky:

On this day … 1991 (aged 20)

Scribblings from my diary …

"Drop into college. Meet Roslyn. Flick bits of plastic at her in the canteen."

Saturday, 7 May 2011

‘Yon Yonson’ – The Dave Howard Singers (1987)

My name is Yon Yonson,

I work in Wisconsin,

I work in the lumber mill there.

The people I meet as I walk down the street say:

‘Hey, what’s your name?’

I say …”

Hard to imagine these days, but there used to be music shows on TV. That’s right. Music shows. On proper telly. During daylight hours. Not just Jools doing some boogie-woogie piano over the new Adele single or a one-off documentary about punk tucked away on BBC4 at midnight. And certainly not the karaoke nonsense that’s annually inflicted on us by Simon Cowell Incorporated.

These shows had great names like Snub TV and The Tube and Rapido. And they had rubbish names like The Chart Show. But, whatever their names, the best thing about them was that they’d throw up an unexpected musical treasure just as you were eating a fish finger. It’s how I found ‘Yon Yonson’. Except it was a Saturday morning, so swap in Weetabix. And how great was that. You’ve just suffered through another 9-minute Madonna video exclusive on The Chart Show, when suddenly you’re ambushed by this marvel of repetitive insanity. Here’s a young guy I’ve never seen before (and will never see again) getting increasingly irate while spouting nursery rhyme lyrics and pushing a keyboard around on a wheelchair in some bleak urban conurbation. This is what Saturday morning telly should be like.

At the time, my knowledge of The Dave Howard Singers stretched no further than this song. And my knowledge of this song stretched no further than a line on the back of the sleeve that told me Yon Yonson was a fictional character originally inspired by the novel ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And that’s all I’ve wanted to know. I knew from that first time I heard it that the song’s mystery was its strength. Though I was very recently compelled to do a smidgen of research to learn if Wisconsin is actually known for its lumber mills. I’m pleased to report back that it is (thanks, Jonna).

It would be great to think that I’m going to sit down with a fish finger tonight and discover another song that’s as exciting or surprising. But it’s just not going to happen. Though some of that’s my fault as I haven’t got any fish fingers in the freezer.

As to be expected, this song doesn’t appear to have made it on to Spotify yet. But it seems more appropriate to show you the video anyway …

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

‘Some Candy Talking’ – The Jesus And Mary Chain (1986)

“But it’s too much for a young heart to take,

'cause hearts are the easiest thing you could break."

Happy birthday! To this blog. One year old today. (“Oh, this is getting all very self-congratulatory, Michael – you’ve only been back two days.”) It’s not by chance it was conceived on 4th May. But that’s for another post on another day. (Yes, narrative arc. Ooh.)

We began with my most favourite album ever: the Mary Chain’s ‘Psychocandy’ – celebrating it’s 25th anniversary last year. And I can confirm that a year on it remains my most favourite album ever. And it seems fitting that we toast today with another Mary Chain gem celebrating 25 years: ‘Some Candy Talking’. (Can you guess next year’s anniversary record already, folks?).

Lots of the usual drug-related outrage from Radio One around this single (shown here in its limited edition, gatefold double 7-inch EP version, including acoustic Peel sessions – I can see you’re impressed). I always liked to think it was about one penny shrimps and fizzy cola bottles from the Woolies pick ‘n’ mix.

What I remember most from the time was the fringe-tastic Jim and William actually gracing the cover of Smash Hits, which also printed the lyrics and some wonderfully juxtaposed photos of the brothers in a field of blooming flowers that spent the year fading on my teenage bedroom walls. I’d love to find that copy of Smash Hits again. In fact, I’m off to track it down now as a birthday present to my blog – I’ll let you know how I get on. Probably.

Spotify linky:

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Some Candy Talking

'Curse Amazon and its open-all-hours trading policy'

Yes, a new (regular?) column to mark the birthday celebrations. Think of it as my present to you. (‘Thank you’ letters to the usual address.) Basically, it’s just a look at the CDs and stuff that arrived in the post today – a snapshot of what I’m consuming at the moment.

‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ and ‘Tinderbox’ – Siouxsie and the Banshees

I’ve become rather smitten again with the Banshees over the past month (far more than I probably was back in my goth days) and these reissues from a couple of years back were today’s crimped hair fix.

‘Very Best Of’ – Morrissey

What a dreadful title. And yes, I’m buying all these songs for about the fifth time just to get one previously unreleased track. This is why you must never fall in love with Morrissey, kids.

‘In A Special Place’ – The Waterboys

Piano demos for 1985’s ‘This Is The Sea’. Including ‘The Whole Of The Moon’. ‘Nuff said.

‘Darkness & Light – The Complete BBC Recordings’ – The Only Ones

Had their radio sessions on vinyl from 20-odd years back and often wondered if they’d ever be released on CD. And now they are. It’s this sort of thing that makes me happy. Has inspired a future blog post. Now I know you’ll be back.

‘Lowside Of The Road – A Life Of Tom Waits’ – Barney Hoskins

Usually I avoid books disowned by singers (yes, Johnny Rogan, I’m looking at you). But this has got such good reviews and I really want to learn just what it is he’s actually singing about.

Monday, 2 May 2011

'Run' - New Order (1989)

"So what's the use in complaining,

when you've got everything you need."

This was so very almost the final song I ever heard. See, how’s that for a come back? Straight in to the drama. Bet you’ve missed that.

It’s a sun-drenched Monday, 30th January 1989, and New Order have just released their very last album that was any good (fact!): ‘Technique’. And, oh, was it good. I still remember the Chris Roberts review from Melody Maker that week: ‘It was worth the wait. In Gold.’ And it was. New Order were always my concession to the joys of what we’ll call here ‘dance music’. It’s something I know very little about. But every three years New Order would pop up talking about ‘Chicago house’ or ‘Balearic beats’ and for about a week I’d feel connected to another musical world – with ‘Technique’ it was the thrills of Ibiza in nine perfect pop moments. And then I’d go back to floppy-fringed indie-boy stuff.

So my friend Chris and I have been bursting for the school lunch break so he can drive us in to Camberley town centre to pick up our copies. I’ve spent my £4.49 on the cassette version so we can listen to it immediately in his car (well, actually his mum’s Mini) on the way back. We’ve listened to the first half of the album as we stop at the bottom of a hill near the school gates to let some fellow pupils cross. And that’s when I stare death in the face. Well, in reality, that’s when I close my eyes and quickly curl into a ball in the passenger seat having just glimpsed a car come speeding Dukes of Hazzard-style over the crest of the hill behind us. Then there’s all the sounds you come to associate with car crashes from watching them every night on the telly – tyres squealing, metal scraping, etc. But now with added New Order. The fact that I can still hear Bernard singing, and have felt no impact, means Chris and I have had a near miss. And on opening my eyes, I can see the car behind has managed to steer itself on to the pavement alongside us without harming anything more important than a school railing.

I knew we’d be all right really. At 18, you picture yourself dying to Morrissey or Robert Smith, not New Order. They became like my patron saints of travel. I used to hang the cassette round my neck. No, I didn’t; so no angry comments please.

Note: My 'Technique' cassette is nowhere to be found today, so above is the 12-inch sleeve for the 'Run' remix - fact fans.

Spotify linky:

New Order – Run