Song Of the Day: December 10, 2005
Miller AKA Big Boy Pete AKA Pete Miller
is probably one of those characters who, despite a long and storied career, is too genuinely wierd to ever become a household word, and this, his first solo single, is an excellent illustration. Shuffled into a set of freakbeat tracks with which it is usually compiled,
it almost immediately establishes itself as the work of an odball. That guitar whammo at the top is typical and priceless, but instead of jumping in with the pilled-up-mod-as-soulboy routine, we instead get the chap from the local library earnestly pledging his love, backed by Peter Frampton and the Herd.
I would love to own an original 45 of this. Since they seem to frequently go for 400 GBP, I've had to be content with one of those bootlegs of freakbeat classics that are making the rounds right now. Sound quality is just OK, probably not as good as the version on Searching In the Wilderness
comp LP. But as my pal Steve Mitchell says, "You can't beat having stuff on a 45."
Song Of the Day: December 9, 2005
I debated for the longest time before submitting this song to Jon for the website, because in some ways, this pretty little country-tinged pop ballad is not really Little Hits material. (Although if you liked the Reivers back in their late '80s heyday, it's not at all far of a leap from there to here.) But in another, more philosophical way, it certainly is, because "Brighter Than The Moon" was a song out of its time. If it had been released in the early '70s, during the commercial flush of country-rock, it would have been a fondly remembered radio hit. If it had been released in 1995, when No Depression magazine and its related bands were turning "alt-country" into its own buzzword (and thank god that one won out over the gaggingly bad "y'allternative," a truly icky neologism that I feel dirty just having typed), then Tin Star would have been bejeaned indie kid badasses alongside Hazeldine, the Handsome Family and various bands who wanted to be the second coming of Uncle Tupelo. (And in either case, it would have been better produced: this is definitely one of those records that suffers badly from Late 80s Production, especially in the inappropriately reverb-heavy drums.) But in 1989, the heyday of the Sunset Strip hair metal scene, Tin Star were an L.A. band playing country-tinged pop. They never stood a chance, especially since they were signed to Rhino Records, a label that never did know what to do with new artists. (See also Steve Wynn's outstanding solo debut Kerosene Man, or Chris Stamey's Fireworks.)
Song Of the Day: December 8, 2005
Before she was the second-hottest Go-Go (Jane, who else?), Kathy Valentine was the rhythm guitarist and secondary songwriter for the Textones, Austin-to-L.A. roots-rock transplants led by Carla Olson, owner of the longest, straightest, blondest hair this side of either Joni Mitchell or Gregg Allman. Although the Textones bummed around town for a long time, they never really made it, largely because Carla's songs weren't all that interesting. Kathy's two primary contributions to the Textones eventually became much better known as Go-Go's songs: "Can't Stop the World" was basically lifted directly from the Textones' original, but as you'll see, this version of "Vacation" is only about half of the song you're familiar with. In particular, that great chorus is apparently what Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin did to earn their songwriting credits on the Go-Go's hit. Still, you can tell already from what's here that Kathy Valentine was more than ready to split from the Textones.
Song Of the Day: December 7, 2005
Don't hold me to this, but I'm pretty sure I bought this from the dollar bins at the late great Pennylane Records on Queen Street East in Toronto around 1997. Surplus Stock appear to be a joint Anglo-Deutsch product led by synth player Robert Giddens, who had previously been D.A.F.'s producer. They also had a small connection to the Fall, who are thanked in the liner notes "for their help and inspiration." So the trio had their avant-rock connections down, but in fact, "Spiv" is your basic doomy synth minimalism, not at all far removed from early Human League. I love this particular era of post-punk, when bands were genuinely shooting for something beyond the strictures of rock and roll as it had been, but they weren't quite sure what they were trying to do yet. This kind of innocence can't be faked, which is why the current crop of bands mining this era for inspiration are getting it subtly but importantly wrong.
Incidentally, the flip of this single is called "Vips." Yes, it's the a-side backwards. Neither version appears on Surplus Stock's sole album, 1980's Holland In Not.
Song Of the Day: December 6, 2005
I really like Sleepyhead, who were an interesting bridge between Yo La Tengo/Antietam-style Hoboken indie and the more pop-oriented aspects of the Elephant 6 groups. But as much as I love most of their records, the Scott Miller fan in me has to go with this, a cover of Game Theory's "Like A Girl Jesus" from the flip of their "Punk Rock City USA" single. This cover is much more in the YLT half of the above equation, covering the spare acoustic original in a very post-flannel layer of lo-fi guitar fuzz and ending it with a Neil Young-inspired guitar solo that sounds like it was lifted off a Teenage Fanclub record. Good stuff.
Song Of the Day: December 5, 2005
We've gone on about the Three O'clock on Little Hits, and some of you may be aware of Michael Quercio's current band, Jupiter Affect, but let's not forget the good stuff Quercio did with Permanent Green Light in the interim. Their best material had the slick, polished sound of Arrive Without Traveling
minus the keyboards.
Song Of the Day: December 4, 2005
I do love this song, not least because of my own lifelong history of poor eyesight and little luck with contact lenses. (Try growing up in west Texas and wearing contacts: one March sandstorm and you're taking 20 pounds of topsoil out of each eyeball.) But mostly, this is here so I can give a shoutout to the best podcast in the world. Smugglers leader Grant Lawrence is also a radio dude in his native Vancouver, British Columbia, and he hosts the CBC Radio Three podcast, a weekly condensation of his nationally-broadcast Saturday night radio series showcasing the latest in Canadian indie music
. I am well known among my peers for being just about the geekiest Canadiana fanboy who has never actually lived above the 48th parallel -- I'm not kidding, as I write this, I'm wearing a t-shirt with the logo of a defunct Canadian hockey team, the Quebec Nordiques
, and a baseball cap that has a badge on the side bearing the '50s-vintage logo of the CBC
, the national broadcast company -- but even those who don't consider Toronto the greatest city in the world will find much to love here.
Song Of the Day: December 2-3, 2005
Two of our seasonal favorites. The Parasol EP also contained tracks by Cowboy and Spin Girl, Girl of the World, and White Town. This track also turns up as a bonus track on one of the THT CDs. The Giant Sand 45 was some kind of promo-only thing, I think. Peace.
Song Of the Day: December 1, 2005
Entry #3 in Little Hits' ongoing series "Stewart Mason's wispy-little-girl-singers," "As Skittish As Me" (from the flip of 1996's lovely "The Best Days" single) is everything I love about the Softies in a little under 110 seconds. A decade or so ago, while the Softies were still a going concern, I was on a mailing list that erupted into a days-long flame war about whether or not the Softies were, or were not, "punk rock." In fact, if I recall correctly, that episode was about the time I thought "Good lord, what am I doing here?" For the record, however, I would say that for their time and place, the Softies were exceedingly punk rock, in the sense that quiet, drumless twee-pop songs built on vaguely jazzy chords and delivered in winsomely ragged harmonies were a needed reaction to the flannel-clad dick-swinging that took precedence in the post-Nirvana age.
Song Of the Day: November 30, 2005
The Woodentops were one of those odd bands for me. You know how there was that one girl/guy in college who you fell passionately in bed with for about three weeks? Then one day it was over and not only were you not heartbroken about it, but to the extent that you ever thought of that person again, it was with a certain bemused wonder, like "Huh. That was fun. Well, moving on." Yeah, well, the Woodentops were kinda my musical equivalent to that girl. I was a senior in high school when their debut album, Giant
, came out to a brief but fervent wash of ecstatic press, and I snapped it right up. For a few weeks there, possibly even a couple of months, Giant hit all the same pleasure centers for me that my big obsessions of the time, Prefab Sprout, Everything But the Girl and Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, did, but in a kind of quirky way that I found really appealing. In particular, I really loved the way the acoustic rhythm guitar was playing about twice as fast as the rest of the band. (However, you must remember that I was a high school senior in Lubbock Texas in 1987, and therefore I had not yet heard the Wedding Present. When I did, about a year later in college, my first reaction was something along the lines of "Ah. So that's where the Woodentops got that.") But certainly by the time I graduated, Giant
was no longer on or even near the top of my next-to-the-stereo pile; I had noticed that I never really bothered to play side two at all, and on side one, the only song that didn't tend to drone on too long was "Good Thing," which is the song I still remember when I think back fondly on the Woodentops, the same way that almost all of my passing thoughts about Wendy Chavez involve her breasts.
Right, the song. Back when CDs were still wicked expensive, magazines used to give freebie flexi-discs with their newsstand issues, and occasionally, an actual 7" vinyl single like this one, which includes a stonking version of the Shangri-Las' "Train From Kansas City" by my beloved Shop Assistants and a couple of minor tunes by the Icicle Works and the Mighty Lemon Drops along with this live-in-LA rendition of the Woodentops' "Love Train" (not the O'Jays song), which ups the energy level hugely and sounds much more exciting in retrospect than the comparatively tame and slick studio version.
Song Of the Day: November 29, 2005
It's an oft-repeated but untrue story that all of the albums by Amon Duul I (the freakier precursor to Krautrock Kult Faves Amon Duul II) were recorded in a single acid-fueled 24-hour session that was eventually edited down into album-length chunks. As a result, the Shapiros probably win the award for having the most fruit fly-length existence of any band that released more than one single. According to the timeline in the posthumous compilation released in 2001 (also on Library Records), the Shapiros had their first rehearsal on September 7, 1994, played their first show nine days later, played their last show six days after that, and broke up by the end of the month. Four singles and a couple of compilation tracks (all from one session produced by Velocity Girl's Archie Moore) dribbled out over the next year or so, all of them rare enough that by 1997, lead singer/guitarist Pam Berry made me a mixtape of all the Shapiros material she had because the records were impossible to find.
Those who remember the names Pam Berry and Archie Moore from earlier Little Hits appearances (see November 5, 2005, Glo-Worm's "Wishing Well") have an idea of what the Shapiros were like. Although unlike Glo-Worm, the Shapiros had a proper rhythm section, they were equally defined by Berry's lighter than air voice and lovelorn lyrical sense. "Gone By Fall" is actually one of their more lighthearted tunes!
Song Of the Day: November 28, 2005
The Monochrome Set clearly thought very highly of this song, as they recorded it at least four times that I know of. (Don't forget Tracey Thorn's lovely cover of it on the flip of her "Plain Sailing" single, either.) However, the canonical version for me has always been this take, originally on their 1980 debut album Strange Boutique
. Continuing a Little Hits mini-trend of songs that mine almost unbearable tension from a simple voice and guitar format, this version of "Goodbye Joe" is the tensest by far. For all of the Monochrome Set's early image as a wacky, zany band, this is an exceedingly dark song that's made all the more unsettling by the oblique lyrics, which create an atmosphere of menace without ever spelling out who Joe is or what he's done that Bid's so wound up about. Finally, the absolutely genius way that the clattering, reverb heavy guitar line slowly fractures into a kaleidoscopic dub mix of itself -- with a sinister bit of circus music creeping in just to complete the sense of unease -- before snapping right back for the final verse is one of my favorite musical moments of the entire UK post-punk scene.
Song Of the Day: November 27, 2005
Sort of a companion track in my mind to Barbara Manning's "Don't Rewind" (both songs originally appeared on the 1990 AIDS charity compilation Acoustic Music Project), Sonya Hunter's "Paint" is more expansive and pretty than Manning's song, but it seems similarly tightly wound and oddly obsessive. Though Hunter is a folk-based singer-songwriter, she's not just another coffeehouse Phoebe: in other hands, this song's lyric, a fantasy about painting all the everyday objects in your sight, might be unbearably twee, but Hunter doesn't try to turn the idea into a metaphor for anything other than a surreal art project, to "beautify some things that beauty has stumbled by." The other keys to this song are the absolutely gorgeous chorus melody and ex-Wire Train/World Party guitarist Jeff Trott's trebly, psychedelic electric guitar, which adds an entirely different feel to what would otherwise be a completely straightforward acoustic folk song. If you ever lay hands on a copy of Favorite Short Stories
, do so: as much as I love this song, it isn't even the best on the record.
Song of the Day: November 26, 2005
Throughout Barbara Manning's career, there have been three constants: New Zealand, baseball and her former bandmate Cole Marquis. Constant #1: Manning is perhaps the only more ardent fan of '80s and '90s Kiwi music than Jon Harrison, and "Don't Rewind" has the same nervous tension as many of the great early Flying Nun singles, particularly since Manning sings the lyrics (especially the chorus) as if only tremendous personal control is keeping her from reaching out and smacking the person she's singing to. Constant #2: although the song was originally recorded for a terrific Bay Area AIDS Charity compilation called Acoustic Music Project (Alias Records, 1990), most people know it from her odds and sods compilation One Perfect Green Blanket, the cover and title of which reference Manning's sports obsession. Constant #3: "Don't Rewind" was written by Manning's former 28th Day bandmate Cole Marquis. Although this song dates from the earliest days of her solo career, around the same time as her other signature song "Lately I Keep Scissors," the truth is that as great as some of Barbara Manning's later records have been, this is still her masterpiece.
Song of the Day: November 25, 2005
I love rip-offs of bands I love, perhaps because that's all I ever accomplished as a musician. The Hard Times were obviously a talented bunch of kids (there's a bio
at the Rev-ola site, where they also offer a career-spanning compilation CD), but this one lurches into Byrds territory in a number of not-terribly subtle ways. Result? Frequent spins at Little Hits Record Night.
Song Of the Day: November 24, 2005
Mari Wilson was a protégé of Tot Taylor, who had previously led the late '70s UK power pop band Advertising. Wilson's pop career, which lasted all of two years from early 1982 to early 1984, was a carefully constructed collaboration between herself, Taylor, songwriter Teddy Johns, producer Tony Mansfield (New Musik, etc.) and photographer Richard Ashworth. Tongue in cheek glamour was the rule of the day, with Wilson dressing unfailingly in opera gloves and evening gowns, a foot-tall beehive hairdo completing the picture. Her music was similarly inspired by Julie London, Dionne Warwick and the other middle of the road pop singers of the pre-Sgt. Pepper's era, given a distinctly early-'80s UK synth-pop gloss. Her sole album, 1983's Showpeople, shows how limited the pose really was, but in small doses, it could be hugely enjoyable, as on this brilliantly gimmicky and infuriatingly catchy single. Wilson reappeared in the early '90s as a straight jazz-pop singer. More recently, she sang the old Doris Day tune "Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps" as the theme to the highly recommended British sitcom Coupling. (Trivia note: future AAA singer/songwriter Julia Fordham was one of Wilson's backing singers, the Wilsations.)
Song Of the Day: November 23, 2005
Go Sailor didn't last long, just three EPs and a couple of compilation tracks, all of them collected on the 1996 self-titled CD. Regardless, I think they were easily the best of all of Rose Melberg's '90s projects, largely because her bandmates Amy Linton (formerly of the Albuquerque-based popsters Henry's Dress, more recently leader of the Aislers Set) and Paul Curran (nowadays of the lovably goofy Onion Flavored Rings) were her best foils, providing the best showcase for her sweet'n'sour worldview. "Long Distance," the title track from their second 7" EP, leans distinctly towards the sour half of that equation, even though it takes a couple of listens for you to notice that in the adorable, winsome chorus, she's openly stating that she wouldn't mind if the guy pestering her died. And people thought the twee pop bands were all about hearts 'n' flowers 'n' rainbow-colored unicorns.
Song Of the Day: November 22, 2005
Someone could write a book about Amelia Fletcher, and someday, somebody probably will. Since the mid-'80s, Fletcher's Everygirl vocals have been at the center of an elongated string of bands, or rather, basically the same band with a new name for each major personnel change: first Talulah Gosh, then Heavenly (TG plus keyboardist Cathy Rogers), then Marine Research (Heavenly minus Amelia's drummer brother Mathew Fletcher, who committed suicide in 1996), then Tender Trap (basically the core duo of Fletcher and bassist Rob Pursey). She was the face of the twee pop scene: Little Hits could do a week just on songs with guest vocals by Amelia, and you have no idea how many women I knew in the '90s who were either directly or unconsciously copping Amelia's signature slicked-down short back and sides with bangs. The way she deliberately played with gender roles in Heavenly's songs was also highly influential to a scene filled with straight girls vaguely flirting with the idea of not being quite so. (My understanding is that many of Heavenly's lyrics were written by Mathew Fletcher, and Amelia simply didn't change the gender pronouns of Mathew's songs, although she was in a relationship with guitarist Peter Momtchiloff since before Talulah Gosh formed.)
On the other hand, "Sperm Meets Egg, So What?" is all girl, a first-person song about a woman who thinks she might be pregnant, but really really really hopes that she isn't. This is one of my favorite song lyrics of all time, because it does something you rarely see in a three-minute pop song: it deals with messy, conflicting emotions in a decidedly real-world fashion, with cockeyed humor and moments of sheer panic. It's also a sterling example of what became a Heavenly trademark during this era: Fletcher and Rogers' voices are artfully arranged on this song, with Rogers' harmonies darting in and out of Fletcher's lead as a kind of commentary on the story. Plus, the song itself is just unbelievably catchy. Truly, this is one of the great indie songs of the '90s.
Incidentally, Heavenly had beyond a doubt the best day jobs of any band in history: Peter Momtchiloff is the Philosophy editor at Oxford University Press, Rob Pursey has a long career as a producer at the BBC (his long-distance romantic drama series NY-LON recently ran on BBC America), and Cathy Rogers is the creator and host of a British competitive reality series called Scrapheap Challenge, which runs in the US under the name Junkyard Wars. And Amelia? Well, at the time Talulah Gosh was starting, she was an economics student at Oxford. By the time Heavenly were going strong, she was a lecturer there, and now she's Dr. Amelia Fletcher, chief economist at a UK governmental organization called the Office Of Fair Trading. I mean, really. How cool is this woman?
Song Of the Day: November 21, 2005
The last really great single Sarah Records ever released (Matt and Claire really did decide to pack in at the right time, because there's a definite decline in quality in the label's final year or so), "Paris" is the grand high point of Northern Picture Library's short career, a hazy, careening five-minute slice of neo-psychedelic atmospherics and a sense of palpable heartbreak. Unfortunately, Northern Picture Library are mostly forgotten these days as the brief bridge point between the Field Mice and Trembling Blue Stars, the other two bands formed by singer/songwriter Bob Wratten. Their records are exquisite, however, and I'm going to go so far as to say that Northern Picture Library are a better band than either of their brethren, largely because Wratten largely keeps his mouth shut and lets Annemari Davies (who's simply a better singer than Wratten ever was, or has been since) handle the lead vocals. Don't get me wrong, "Emma's House" and "ABBA On the Jukebox" are great, but "Paris" is, for me, the pinnacle.
Song Of the Day: November 20, 2005
True musical naïvete can never be taught, and when it's gone, it can never be recaptured. Such is the story of Shonen Knife, whose '80s and early '90s stretch of punk-naif albums and singles still enchants me, even though I find everything that came after their 1992 major label debut Let's Knife to be somewhere between dull and lame. Shonen Knife were smarter and funnier than even a lot of their fans gave them credit for; I feel strongly that they knew they had an appealing hook as far as their American fans went, but at the same time, I don't think songs like this dead-simple wish of Christmas cheer are the least bit contrived: they did, in fact, want us to enjoy the holidays, and Naoko Yamano's usual obsessions (bison, marshmallows, space travel) appear because it wouldn't be a Shonen Knife song without them, the same way that it wouldn't be Christmas if your uncle Elwood wasn't wearing those goofy reindeer antlers.
Song Of the Day: November 19, 2005
I'm getting married in a few weeks and some time ago, I ripped this classic preparatory text from The Cosmpolitans for my bride-to-be. She wasn't terribly impressed, but it's a hoot, especially the Siouxsie-like choral chant of the title. If audio books are such a big thing, lord knows why this early take on /The Rules/ didn't make the Cosmopolitans into star advice columnists.
Jamie Sims and Nel Moore started off as the Cosmopolitan Dance Troop, following the dB's to New York from North Carolina and accompanying them on stage as go-go dancers (the dB's with go-go dancers must have been a sight to behold, but the only aid to the imagination is the sleeve below). dB's drummer Will Rigby then accompanied the Cosmos as they evolved into a musical act in their own right, though still wielding batons, marracas and tambourines, before heading into the studio with Mitch Easter, who added guitar and drums. The beloved /Shake to Date/ compilation LP, which includes two of the three tracks from the EP, says "Wild Moose Party" was a local radio hit in NYC and claimed an LP was "in the works."
Two and half decades later, we're still waiting. Moore stuck around NYC a long time, becoming an acclaimed classical harmonica instructor, session performer and studio manager before eventually returning to North Carolina where she still teaches and records as well performs with blues act Tommy B & The Stingers. Not sure where Sims has gone.
Song Of the Day; November 18. 2005
This is the best song from one of those records that in its released form is a sprawling, slapdash, overlong mess, but I know from personal experience that if you try to edit this two-disc set down to a sleek 45 minutes or so, it all falls apart. However, it also all makes a lot more sense if you know the backstory.
The Leslie Spit Treeo (the Leslie Spit is a topographical feature of their native Toronto, and no incarnation of the band actually had three people in it) were given the Best New Artist award at the Junos in 1990, and apparently, that screws you up just like winning the Best New Artist Grammy: in the states, they were signed to I.R.S. Records, a label that all but ceased to exist in terms of visibility and promotion around the time R.E.M. bolted in 1988. After a difficult second and all-but-unnoticed third album and a long period of lawsuits and the usual crap, the band's two main members, singer Laura Hubert and guitarist Pat Langer (now is as good a time as any to mention that the couple's dog, Tag, was always considered a full-time member of the band, and was also officially their manager and the president of their new label) holed themselves up to record the scattershot and occasionally deeply odd Chocolate Chip Cookies. A sort of rock opera, with narration by Canadian cult actor/writer Don McKellar, whom the Spits knew from their ongoing association with the maverick director Bruce McDonald (they appeared in two of his movies, Roadkill and Dance Me Outside), Chocolate Chip Cookies is a barely veiled satire of their time with EMI Canada, packaged in a white paper bag that was deliberately reminiscent of the logo of Christies, the Canadian subunit of Nabisco. A lawsuit was duly filed, and remaining stock of this version was burned in a ceremonial bonfire on Yonge Street, in front of Sam the Record Man, where as you can see is where I bought this copy during the few weeks it was available.
So, after all this, what's the music like? The ongoing problem with the Leslie Spit Treeo is that they were so completely schizoid that you can't really say what kind of band they were. "Nebulous" is and has always been my favorite song of theirs, three minutes of Hubert's hoarse, scratchy voice, Langer's tense, percussive acoustic guitar and a few stray bits of noise that float in and out of the mix, including a vocal cameo by the aforementioned Tag at one point. Mostly, it's always sort of reminded me of the Mekons. Regardless, lovely song. The album as a whole overreaches by a mile, but in a really charming way. If you ever see a copy (and be prepared to pay a mint if it's the original cookie-bag issue), pick it up. The couple and the band split up not long after this album, incidentally. No word on what became of Tag, although I'm afraid he's most likely in Doggie Heaven by now.
Song Of the Day: November 17, 2005
Hailing from Norfolk, VA the Waxing Poetics were HUGE in their hometown. They sold out local venue The Boathouse regularly, but drive two hours in any direction and it was a totally different story. Imagine playing for 1000 people one night and 3 the next. Signed to Emergo (a subsidiary of Roadrunner Records) their first album Hermitage
was recorded at the Drive-In Studio and produced by Mitch Easter and Mike Mills. "If You Knew Sushi" was a great little hit for '80's college radio.
They followed Hermitage
with a more mature Manakin Moon
in 1988 which contained a great cover of Eno's "Needles In The Camel's Eye". They finally called it quits after the sadly overlooked "Bedtime Story" in 1990. They had a one-off reunion on 2003 which is well documented here
Song Of the Day: November 16, 2005
One-off rolling powerpop feather-touch rocker from south-of-London bearded
'n' cowboy-booted crowd-pleasers, weened on the 'Feat but shaken by the "My
Aim Is True"-ness of the New Wave. Privately-pressed and paid-for,
purposefully parlayed around local shows but not much further afield, the
single's melancholic beauty has survived intact and is presently, the world
over, breaking more hearts than ever. As a rootsier (what isn't?) "I'm Not
In Love" (and even those who question the superpop greatness of "I'm Mandy
Fly Me" or, especially, the hyperactive multiple-personality fun'n' froth of
"The Dean And I", must surely acknowledge the 256-vocal-overdubs and
fader-playing of "I'm Not In Love" as a defining moment of all post-Beatles
pop/rock) it's, well, the fucking shit. When I last looked, which was no
more than three years ago, The Bozos were still together and playing live: I
was invited, but declined to go, unwilling to have "Weekend Girl" reduce me
to tears in public as it so often does in private. When Pilot sang of
"Magic", this was one of the records they were imagining.
Song Of the Day: November 15, 2005
The Shop Assistants are one of the great UK indie bands of the mid-'80s, trailblazers of the sound that the Primitives and the Darling Buds would soon take into the college radio charts and an incalculable influence on an entire generation of indie bands that followed, from Talulah Gosh on down. "It's Up To You" is an anomaly for this band, who mostly favored little two-minute buzzbombs on the order of the early Jesus and Mary Chain. This is as close as they ever got to pretty, and I can't help but think that the folks on the quieter end of the Sarah label (Blueboy, etc.) paid a lot of attention to this song.
Song Of the Day: November 14, 2005
Taken From Trouser Press (and the liner notes of "Take That You Bastards"):
These Atlanta jokesters made an underground splash with Dig?
a collection of goofy Simon and Garfunkel covers (plus a version of Paul Anka's "Having My Baby"). Amazingly, The Coolies followed the one-joke Dig?
with the brilliant Doug
, a trenchant "rock opera" about a skinhead who murders a transvestite short-order cook, gets rich by publishing his victim's recipes, falls into paranoia and substance abuse and ends up in the gutter. The sad tale is related through ingenious knockoffs of the Who ("Cook Book"), John Lennon ("Poverty"), The Replacements ("Coke Light Ice"), rap ("Pussy Cook") and metal ("The Last Supper"), and a comic book designed by Jack Logan of Pete Buck Comics fame. Doug
is a work of demented genius.
The Coolies Take That You Bastards
, which compiles Dig?
(plus 3 bonus tracks) was released in 1995 on Casino Records.
Song Of the Day: November 13, 2005
Not a lot of people remember this anymore, but prior to the semi-success of the Red Rockers' 1983 single "China" (like their labelmates Translator's "Everywhere That I'm Not," a song that people remember as being a much bigger hit than it actually was), these guys were politically-minded hardcore punks. "Voice of America" was announced as the band's next single just before Columbia took over their label 415 Records (part of the same deal that signed Romeo Void and Translator to Columbia) and relegated it to the flipside of "China," so there's no telling what might have happened if it had come out as an a-side. Probably not much of anything in terms of sales, but this fiery single is such a huge step up from the derivative Clash-lite of the Red Rockers' debut album that I like to think they would have become the darlings of the American political punk scene. They had the pedigree, anyway: the Red Rockers' drummer was Jim Reilly, formerly of Stiff Little Fingers.
Song Of the Day: November 12, 2005
I have to give it up for any band who names themselves after a song from the Bee Gees' first album, but this is a complete gem of a song no matter what the band is called. Just under two minutes of neo-psychedelic guitars twisting back and forth underneath a sing-songy vocal melody (courtesy of Shirley Souter, another one of those wispy-little-girl singers I'm so fond of), "July Is A Long Time Coming" is one of the rare convergences of twee pop and freakbeat, styles that normally don't really go together so well. The heart of Red Chair Fadeaway -- which I believe only existed for this one single, of which "July Is A Long Time Coming" is one of two b-sides -- is guitarist Tim Vass, whose name will likely be familiar to the sort of people who collect Sarah Records singles.
Song Of the Day: November 11, 2005
The flipside of the immortal "South Street" -- maybe the first pop hit to use the word "hippies," in 1960, yet! -- "Them Terrible Boots" is a perfect example of what was lost when the 45-rpm single basically disappeared. This is a classic example of a killer b-side, a silly knocked off novelty that's nonetheless performed with such vigor (dig the way that male voice slides in to deliver the title line in each chorus, each one goofier-sounding than the last) that in a way it's better than the flip. Shockingly, the recent Orlons best-of on the revived Cameo-Parkway label doesn't include this song. Yet one more thing for Allen Klein to be ashamed of.
Song Of the Day: November 10, 2005
Proof of how different the pop marketplace was in 1981, the unapologetic '60s throwback "Girl's Night Out" was released by a major label, if one can use that term to describe the post-Presley RCA, then as now a near-moribund label that never quite did manage to find its way in the rock music marketplace. "Girl's Night Out" is a gloriously Spectoresque bit of retro girlypop more or less in the manner of the Go-Go's or Josie Cotton, but the New York-based Lawrence was more of a Shangri-Las-style bad girl than her sunnier California compatriots. Comparisons to early Blondie are also entirely apropos: much as Blondie courted instant girl-group cred by inviting Ellie Greenwich to sing the backing vocals on "In the Flesh," the dramatic chorus of this song is sung by Arlene Smith, leader of the much-beloved Chantels.
Song Of the Day: November 9, 2005
The only artists more consistently productive than Stephin Merritt in the '90s were Stereolab, who clearly must spend 23 out of every 24 hours in the studio, taking turns napping for a few minutes underneath one of the vintage Moogs, to amass the depth of catalogue they have. In this situation, a tiny wonder like "Fried Monkey Eggs," which boils down everything that's wonderful about the group's idiosyncratic blend of ABBA, bossa nova and krautrock to just under 127 seconds of relentless forward motion, can end up relegated to the b-side of a limited-edition tour single and never be collected on one of the band's frequent odds-n-sods compilations.
Song Of the Day: November 8, 2005
In the '90s, Stephin Merritt was so productive that at one point, he had four different bands going (the Magnetic Fields, the 6ths, the Future Bible Heroes and the Gothic Archies) and he was still churning out songs faster than they could get onto CDs. A blasé but devastating kiss-off to an ex who's run off to Hollywood to sell out, set to a lo-fi collection of synths and rhythm boxes that sound like they're decaying as they play, "Rot in the Sun" is primal Merritt from the period well before his gradual conversion into his generation's Irving Berlin. The song's only release came on the b-side of a fairly rare Merge 7" that predates the 6ths' first album by over a year. The a-side is an early version of "Heaven In A Black Leather Jacket" with the Bats' Robert Scott on lead vocals. The main oddity of this song is the fact that it's one of the rare occasions when Stephin Merritt drops his normal deadpan vocal style: on the tart, bitchy first verse in particular, he sounds genuinely pissed off at someone for perhaps the only time in his career.
Song Of the Day: November 7, 2005
For years, this was the most mysterious record I owned. I bought this single at Ralph's Records in Lubbock, Texas the summer before my senior year in high school, simply because it was on Factory Records, at the time a label I bought on faith. There are no copyright dates, and no names on this single's lovely, minimalist sleeve, except for the art designer. (Designer Mark Farrow does deserve props; even when Peter Saville wasn't in charge, Factory had absolutely the best graphic design of the '80s.) It's only been in the last few years, since the development of the impressively thorough Factory discographies available online, that I've learned anything at all about the participants, and even then, it's not much: it was released in July 1984, it was produced by Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert of New Order (the credit reads "A Bemusic Production," which was the semi-anonymous credit that New Order members took when working on outside projects), and...well, actually, that's it. There is literally no other information available on this single or its 1985 followup "Better." I've come to suspect that this is an early solo experiment by Morris and Gilbert, with Gilbert as the appealingly artless lead singer, although this brand of summery, swirling indie pop has little in common with New Order's dancefloor experiments of this era. Instead, think of the underrated Fall offshoot the Adult Net, whose Brix Smith worked this same intersection of indie jangle and glossy synth for the latter half of the '80s.