31 July 2008

La De Das - Morning, Good Morning

La De Das Morning Good Morning

Label: HMV
Year of Release: 1972

In the last entry, I mentioned the fact that one rarely finds genuine rarities in random piles whilst visiting second hand stores. There is only one tale I can tell which contradicts that fact, and it harks back to a time I was staying and working in Melbourne, and living close by to a giant thrift store on Chapel Street known as The Bazaar.

One of the stall holders in this giant indoor market had a wooden crate filled with old seven inch singles. Much of it was the usual fare you'd expect to find - Cliff Richard hits, The Beatles, Jimmy Little (remember how we talked about him?), and the usual load of old orchestral cover versions of the hits of the day. Nestling in that box, however, were some peculiarities that nearly made my heart stop. An Australian pressing of the Standells. Some Kinks singles with A-sides which were never issued in that form in the UK. Led Zeppelin singles.

Sadly, in each and every single case, I'd pick it up and it would be the same old story - whilst the singles all had unharmed sleeves, the condition of the contents was shockingly bad. I nearly cried when some US garage single looked as if somebody had been roller skating over the top of it - even with the naked eye, I could see the thing was completely unplayable. Had I been back in London, I might have bought these just as a talking point, especially as I had no knowledge that some of them even existed - there was absolutely no point in shipping them back from Australia, though.

I managed to find two exceptions in the box, a Led Zeppelin seven inch of "Black Dog", and the single you see above. The former was slightly warped around the run-in grooves, the latter torn around the label (as you can see) and slightly scratched, but still playable.

In case you're unaware, The La De Das were a New Zealand band who were quite successful in their home country for a period, and are best known in the UK for their storming garage punk single "How Is The Air Up There?", which found its way on to the Nuggets II box set. One of the finest garage singles not to emerge from America, it consists of sheer fuzz mayhem, a squawking organ, and some of the most sneering class warrior lyrics of the period about a wealthy girl.

By the seventies, however, the La De Das sounded like an almost entirely different band, to the extent that I found myself wondering if there were two bands of that name when I first played "Morning, Good Morning". It sounds nothing like a bunch of pissed-off blokes from Detroit singing through gritted teeth and smashing away at their instruments, and sounds more like a laidback bunch of bearded good old boys from Alabama playing with maximum proficiency. It was almost as if they'd spent their entire careers slowly travelling south across the USA, shifting their style as they went. It wasn't a hit in New Zealand, and they never did make it in the UK either, although a cover version they did of The Beatles "Come Together" apparently came close... until the Beatles released their version as a single (yet another example of this ludicrous sixties phenomenon for your notebooks.)

To be bluntly honest, the seventies La De Das leave me quite cold, but the below mp3s may be of interest to some. I've bundled in "How Is The Air Up There?" to try and make up for the possible disappointment that may ensue - and if you really have never heard that track before, that's a situation which needs to be rectified immediately.

29 July 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 13 - Wolfgang - Sandman

Wolfgang Sandman

Who: Wolfgang
What: Sandman
Label: Bell
Year: 1970
Found: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Cost: One pound

Brilliant flop records in the sixties were ten a penny, which is why there are so many Rubble, Pebble and Nuggets compilations out there, not to mention numerous illegal bootleg spin offs and label cash-ins. It was estimated at one point in 1967 that 60% of all young people in America alone were claiming to be in a band - with that amount of activity going on, it's no wonder so much good material got buried.

This has since lead to people like me desperately digging every single flop record from the period out of remainder boxes in second hand record stores in the hope that I've found another "one", moving a step ahead of the compilation compilers. Invariably, this stance goes horribly wrong, and I end up returning home with yet another woeful singer-songwriter disc with half-arsed orchestral backing (it's astonishing how many of these people got financed in the sixties - studio orchestras must have made a pretty penny backing mediocre provincial solo artists singing ballads. How come nobody has done a bootleg compilation of these yet, eh?)

Once every so often, I may find something which just about passes, though. And this is one example. Wolfgang's "Sandman" is not a breathtaking lost classic, but is a piece of short, chirpy, slightly bubblegum pop which possibly seemed rather too retro by the time it was issued in 1970. Its honking harmonica riff and twee simplicity probably seemed like a relic of the early sixties to the ears of the children of the new decade, which would explain how it ended up being ignored entirely.

The trouble is, I haven't really managed to find any information out about Wolfgang at all. The songwriting credit goes to "Schmidtt", so it may be the same Wolfgang Schmidtt who issued "Girl from Monmouth County" on RCA in 1969 - but from there, the trail goes cold, and I can't say I've ever heard or encountered that single either. The label also tells us that the song is a UK studio recording, so this is unlikely to have been a European hit which was issued on Bell in Britain.

So then - should anyone know who this Wolfgang character is, please leave a comment below and put me out of my misery. Feel free to embarrass me by telling me this was a massive hit in the Netherlands or somewhere if you like, or that he was later a major figure in some glam rock band, just so long as I know...

The B-side "You" is a lazy piece of filler which isn't worth the bother, but I include it bundled into the download for the Wolfgang completists out there.

28 July 2008

The Brilliant Corners - Brian Rix/ Teenage

"Not another YouTube update!" I hear you cry incredulously, and my answer is "Yes, I'm afraid so". I was originally going to post this much later on this week, but it's unbearably hot outside, and I fear that if I dig any vinyl out to upload it will simply melt to the turntable. And also, I've been struggling to unearth any facts at all about the single and artist I was planning to upload today, so I'll put it on hold for a bit on the offchance that there's some titbit of information out there somewhere...

But back in the here and now, let's take a look at Bristol's Brilliant Corners, shall we? Unsurprisingly, they were loved and despised throughout the eighties in almost equal measure. One regional magazine I wrote for gave a compilation of theirs nought out of ten on one occasion, and the resulting copy read like the gnashing fury of a man who had been locked into a very bad student comedy revue.

The jangly/ shambling/ C86 scene (call it what you will) may have been many things, but the fans did tend to take their feyness and sensitivity rather seriously, which is why I found the Corners so downright refreshing. Rather than hide behind their fringes and sing about holding hands with girls whilst reading Penguin paperbacks (or insert a preferred stereotype here if you want), their lyrics celebrated their awkwardness with humour. "Brian Rix" has one of the best lines in eighties indie history - "We fumbled around in front of the budgie/ she started to laugh - what was so funny?" followed by one of the most ridiculous choruses ("It's just you remind me of Brian Rix/ when you pull down your trousers it sends me in fits") Eddie Argos would kill for this song. And this video, in fact.

It just about scraped the Top Hundred in 1986, which considering how damn hard it was for indie bands to chart in those times was no mean feat - but then behind the scoffing mockery also lay a top pop song I still play now, over twenty years after its release.

Also worth a view is 1988's "Teenage", which doesn't really show a great deal of progression, but follows the same ridiculous theme exceptionally well.

How well you get on with many of their singles really does depend upon your tolerance levels for humour or at the very least sledgehammer wit in music. For me, lead singer Davey Woodward was the prototype for every self-depracting indie humorist to come out of the British scene since, whether that is Eddie Argos or, spinning further back, the likes of the Sultans of Ping (who I have to confess do irritate the hell out of me). Whether you would like to hang him from the gallows for that or buy him a beer is up to you.

As an aside, I could add that I had a housemate in the nineties who knew him, and said he was managing OK with lots of royalties from Japanese sales. I hope he's still getting the odd windfall here and there to this day.

25 July 2008

S*M*A*S*H - Barrabas (Piloted)


Label: Sub Pop
Year of Release: 1994

S*M*A*S*H must surely rank as being one of the most forgotten NME hype bands of all time. Not for them the mocking references reserved for Menswear, or the curious nods given to Godspeed You Black Emporer - they're almost never mentioned at all these days, despite reforming to make another album in 2007.

How different it all was. From the stories, reviews and celebrity plaudits that were given at the time of the band's first singles, you'd have thought that they were the next brave band of American conquerors, the great hope of British music generally. Tales were told of grown men crying in their presence (no, really), frenzied gigs, and an angry, intelligent left wing political agenda (it's difficult to imagine now, but that kind of thing was considered really bloody important to the music press before Britpop came along). Whilst a lot of these stories were bog-standard hyperbole, I did witness S*M*A*S*H live a couple of times and can verify that they were an astonishingly powerful band when on form. At one gig, Joe Strummer stood near the front jumping up and down enthusiastically, which must have seemed like the baton being passed on from one act to another at the time, as well as seeming like a dream come true for the band.

Sadly, it was not to be for them - they wouldn't be on this blog otherwise, would they? This was their last single to generate any press interest, though, their one America-only release put out to try and crack that "all important" market (ambitious as they'd barely cracked their home market at the time). For my money, it's also one of their finest pieces of work, expanding upon their punkish beginnings and creating something which sounded more modern and brittle. There's a marvellous false ending, some brilliant lyrical sloganeering, and lots of unexpected musical twists and turns. The B-side is a cover version of the Afghan Whigs "Turn on the Water", possibly included to seem friendly to the US market.

S*M*A*S*H's initial career was cruelly brief, and they only managed one album ("Self Abused") before disappearing. Nonetheless, when I lived in University Halls of Residence at the time, it could be heard blaring out of various rooms, not least from the room of my immediate neighbour who worshipped them - so there was some truth to the NME's claims that they had an army of devoted young fans. The only lie in that sentence was the use of the word "devoted" - they were as fickle as anyone else, and couldn't wait to drop them as soon as Britpop arrived.

23 July 2008

>> YouTube Update <<

Just a quick flick through the YouTube videos for some of the artists I've mentioned over the last month...

First up, here's the rather basic promotional video for David McWilliams' "Days of Pearly Spencer", undoubtedly one of the best flop singles of the sixties. It was re-issued three times, but only Marc Almond could actually take it into the top ten...

I was also thrilled to learn yesterday that some kind soul has put more Earl Brutus videos up on the service, and here's "The SAS And The Glam That Goes With It":

Other videos for "Navyhead" (shot in Portsmouth of all places, although blink and you'll probably miss it) and "Life's Too Long" can be found here and here: & Thanks to Simon from Sweeping the Nation for pointing all those out.

And finally, Microdisney with "Birthday Girl" on the Tube, being introduced by Ivor Cutler ("Heh, look at that, 'We Hate You South African Bastards', isn't that perfect!"):

21 July 2008

Second Hand Record Dip Part 12 - David McWilliams - This Side of Heaven

David McWilliams

Who: David McWilliams
What: This Side of Heaven
Where: Reckless Records, Soho (RIP)
Label: Major Minor
Year of Release: 1968
Cost: One pound

The "reduced" box in the dusty corner of the musty old second hand record store is seldom an embarrassment of riches, it must be said. If the Second Hand Dips on this blog have focussed most frequently on novelty records, TV spin off singles and the flop follow ups of one hit wonders, it's purely because that's what you tend to find when you stick your mitts in the bargain tray. Once every so often, though, I can sing "Hallelujah" and dig up a real gem... and that's what happened a few years back with this David McWilliams single.

An absolute steal at one pound (it can and should retail for at least seven times that), it goes to prove that sometimes collectors don't know what's good for them. McWilliams will always be best known for his magnificent "Days of Pearly Spencer" single, a Brel-esque piece of pop about homelessness. It was played endlessly on the radio at its time of release, but actually (contrary to popular belief) wasn't a hit - it would have to wait until Marc Almond covered it in the nineties before it could be taken into the top ten, and by that time McWilliams received no royalties due to complex legalities surrounding his work - legalities which always seem to favour record companies rather than artists, for some strange reason.

If "Pearly Spencer" was without question his key song, he definitely has plenty of other material worth dipping into, and this is but one example. Both sides of this single are worth your time, the A side "This Side of Heaven" being an orchestrated piece of sixties pop which was probably a bit too subtle to register with the public. The B side "Mr Satisfied" is a rumbling piano driven piece of mean moodiness which always pleases my ears.

Perhaps too well-known to be a friend of the lovers of obscure curios, and too unknown to really be a famous name amongst the general public, David McWilliams' career has been ignored too much in the mainland UK for my liking, even if he is something of a hero in Northern Ireland. Whilst other rejected singer-songwriters of the era like Bill Fay and Vashti Bunyan have since been dug up for critical reappraisal, he hasn't had retrospectives on quite the same scale, even in the wake of his death in 2002. Unlike Fay or Bunyan, though, his work isn't particularly gentle and pastoral. Both sides of this disc show that it could fair zing along in a rush of ideas, his speedy baritone delivery of the lyrics at times recalling the somewhat cool energy of many beat poets. It's zestier and poppier than the work of most serious singer-songwriters, which means that - despite the frequently downbeat lyrical content - he was probably never going to be a poster boy for that particular set. For what it's worth, though, I rate "Pearly Spencer" as being up there with any 45 Scott Walker put out in the same period (despite Walker's superior vocal talents) and happen to think he wipes the floor with Fay.

As an aside, I would also like to say that Major Minor had the best label and sleeve design of the era too. Their records scream out at you from the racks (or dusty boxes, in this particular instance). Somebody should revive the imprint for a bit, just because I find it genuinely thrilling to look at, sad old soul that I am.

17 July 2008

More Beatles Cover Versions

Spectrum Ob La Di Ob La Da

Band: The Spectrum
Single: Ob La Di Ob La Da
Label: RCA
Year of Release: 1968

As I'm sure I've said before, an entire MP3 blog could probably be created dedicated solely to Beatles cover versions - in fact, one probably exists already, but the subject doesn't fascinate me enough to go looking for it.

You see, for every inspired Beatles cover version there are at least 6,000 which ignored the sage wisdom behind the cliche "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" (or, as a forthright ex-colleague of mine used to say: "If it ain't your concern, don't f__k about with it"). To cover a Beatles song effectively, you've really got to do something surprising with it, something which either shows the world what weird really means (The Residents) or something which highlights raunchy or aggressive elements of the track some of us might have missed (Otis Redding's version of "Daytripper").

Sadly, the vast majority of sixties cover versions of Beatles tracks were somewhat pedestrian cash-ins. A favoured trick amongst record companies of the time was to issue Beatles album tracks as singles. You would simply put a band in the studio you'd been waiting awhile to break, give them a relatively new Beatles tune, and get them to bang it out quickly in the hope that it would be a hit, and their careers would be launched.

If you were really being a silly arse about it, of course, you released your favoured band's single in competition with another band covering exactly the same song, meaning somebody had to lose (or both did) in a rather unusual battle of the bands contest. In this case, The Spectrum's studio clock-watching yawnfest of a cover of The Beatles already quite uninspired "Ob La Di Ob La Da" went head-to-head with The Marmalade's slightly less dreary version. The public must have been thrilled to have had three Ob La Di Ob La Das in the same place at the same time*. The Marmalade went to number one and subsequently lasted a few more years despite hippies screaming "sell out!" in their faces, whereas The Spectrum's effort flopped, and they didn't trouble us for much longer.

"Why should we care?" I hear you ask, and as always I have no reasonable reply, except to say that the B-side "Music Soothes The Savage Breast" is an unusual piece of orchestral popsike, and should be given a chance - unlike The Spectrum generally who, it has to be said, leave me somewhat cold with their other singles, although there are plenty of folk online happy to defend them. Takes all sorts. But before you go...

Orange Bicycle Carry That Weight

Band: The Orange Bicycle
Single: Carry That Weight - You Never Give Me Your Money
Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1969's The Orange Bicycle with their particular stinker. Essentially an amalgamation of session musos created by Morgan Studios, The Bicycle nonetheless had a number one hit in France and did create some seriously interesting pieces of light psychedelia during the late sixties. It's only recently been deleted, but if you can manage to pick up a copy of the Morgan compilation "Psychedelic Pstones III: House of Many Windows", then do so. Besides featuring three Orange Bicycle tracks, most of the other acts on the CD usually involve the same musicians, either in production, engineering, session or songwriting roles. Far from being cheap plastic Carnaby Street styled novelties, the vast majority of tracks on there are interesting and unusual pieces of period work.

Of course, this doesn't feature, and no wonder. Again released at almost exactly the same time as a rival version** (in this case Trash's "Carry That Weight - Golden Slumbers", which I've actually never heard - if anyone has an MP3 of it, please let me know) The Orange Bicycle take one of the better tracks off "Abbey Road" and make it sound like a tired rehearsal in a metal dustbin. The flip is a curious guitar solo strewn effort entitled "Want to B-side".

Download them all in one bundle below:

(*And that's if we ignore the "Ob La Di Ob La Da Story" by Jimmy Scott, who coined the phrase in the first place. It's a completely different tune, but certainly milks the topic. It's almost surprising an "Ob La Di Ob La Da" concept album wasn't issued).

(**In fairness, I suppose I should add that putting rival versions of songs head-to-head on the charts seemed to be quite standard music industry practice until the mid seventies, even if it does seem quite mind boggling now).

15 July 2008

Salad - Motorbike to Heaven

Label: Island Red
Year of Release: 1995

So let's get one thing straight from the start - to begin with, nobody liked Salad much. The music press were suspicious of them, the public didn't really snap up their records in any great quantity, and when I got a call from their promotional company asking if I'd like to interview them in 1995, I was told "Look, I know they used to be a bit shit, but they've really got good in the last year or so". Never have I ever heard less of a sales pitch for an act in my life.

To understand quite how they found themselves in this unfortunate position, you only really have to look at the previous careers of lead singer Marijne Van Der Vlugt, who had a history of being a successful model and an MTV presenter. In an interview from 1994, she states:

"I wanted to become a model, and I became a model. It was my determination that got me there rather than my looks. Sure, I'm tall, and I had the right figure, but I had to work to get that. More importantly, I wanted to do it and I wanted to be bloody good at it. I had the attitude, I was really bloody cocky. I worked in Paris for a year and, in a few months in Tokyo, I earned £20,000."

"Then I wanted to be on TV and I became an MTV presenter, just literally walked into the job. I was taking in a Merry Babes video and someone just asked me to audition there and then. So I made my decision, went for it and, I got the job."

Now, if the above doesn't make you want to vomit, you're a better person than I. The ridiculously charmed Marijne had seemingly walked into two very glamorous jobs through determination alone (which, contrary to her claims, wouldn't be enough for most of us however determined we were) and had now begun a career in a band with a string of distinctly average singles ("Kent", "Diminished Clothes", "On A Leash"). As much as it's tempting to whip the music press under most circumstances, at the start of Salad's career I have to confess I wasn't sold either. It all smacked of an It girl deciding she'd like to front a scratchy indie band.

Then something weird happened. "Drink The Elixir" came out, and was actually pretty damn good. This was then followed up by "Motorbike to Heaven" (above) which was actually, in my opinion, brilliant. Far from being just another model who had decided to have a career as a singer, Marijne's voice is actually fantastic on this track, changing from gentle purring to full-on rawk snarls. It's expressive, and suits the melodramatic, sixties cinematic feel of the track extraordarily well. Then the album "Drink Me" came out, and whilst it wasn't start-to-finish genius, it was nonetheless far stronger than similar works put out that year by other female fronted Britpop bands the press lumped them in with.

Nonetheless, the music press still weren't having any of it, and went for their jugulars on a weekly basis. It's a sign of how much things have changed. If a youth TV presenter went on to front a band who signed to a major label now, I have little doubt the NME would put them straight on to the front page without even asking any questions. For as much as I found myself getting frustrated by their continual lazy dismissals of Salad's work in the nineties, I do much prefer their cynicism of that time to their marketing-lead attitude of the present.

So then, I am forced to conclude that had Salad been around during this decade, they probably would have had more success - but that doesn't necessarily make the industry fairer or more interesting now than it was then. And contrary to what Marijne says, it's not all about confidence. You're usually a successful model because you're in some way beautiful as well as determined, which she most certainly was (and probably still is). In a fair world, your music would also sell by the shedload according to your talent, irrespective of your personal history, but sadly the music industry isn't necessarily as straightforward as that. Still, "Drink Me" managed to scrape the top twenty of the album charts, which isn't a bad score compared to many of the bands featured on this blog, even if it did deserve a hell of a lot more.

13 July 2008

Wire - Our Swimmer

Our Swimmer

Label: Rough Trade
Year of Release: 1981

Somewhat shockingly, I could have chosen just about any Wire track for inclusion on this blog, since they were never a conventionally successful band by most measures. They were denied hits throughout both their punk heyday (although it's possible "Outdoor Miner" might have charted if EMI hadn't been caught trying to hype it) and their eighties career on Mute. Like The Velvet Underground, Wire are a band whose sales figures impressed less than their critical acclaim or subequent degree of creative influence.

Given that they have a new album out now ("Object 47") it's worth casting our minds back to their pre-Mute, post-EMI career wilderness. "Our Swimmer" was released after they'd been booted off of The Greatest Record Company in the World(TM) and into the wild to fend for themselves. Pressed and distributed by Rough Trade before they'd discovered The Smiths (and therefore before they had anything approaching a budget), "Our Swimmer" was positively received at the time, but understandably didn't bring them success any more than their major label offerings.

It would cause a lot of unnecessary upset and bring forth tons of accuasations of hyperbole if I honestly said that this single was a "lost classic", but nonetheless it's still a damn fine addition to Wire's already sturdy canon. There's a grinding, almost krautrock insistence to the A-side which nags away at your feet, whilst the B-side "Midnight Bahnhoff Cafe" is an eerie piece of work which hints at the more electronic sound they'd develop on Mute Records. Due to the fact that this single was a Rough Trade one-off which fell between the stools of their EMI and Mute careers, it's been allowed to languish in relative obscurity ever since, a victim of licensing rather than its own quality. Of course, it's situations like this one that MP3 blogs were made for...

10 July 2008

World Of Twist

Talking of Earl Brutus - as we were, several times over - World of Twist also featured Gordon King and Nick Sanderson in their line-up, but were an entirely different proposition, being a stylistic crush of seventies disco, early nineties electronica and the Manchester scene of the time. They're only featured on this blog by the skin of their teeth since they narrowly missed the Top 40 a number of times, but are surely one of the best bands of the era not to have bothered Mark Goodier during the chart rundown.

Their sole album "Quality Street" is usually talked about with a certain amount of caution. "It could have been so good but the production's all wrong/ they're the wrong songs/ it doesn't capture their live sound" - so many fans seem to feel that as a piece of work it was unrepresentative and flawed. There may possibly be a grain of truth to all these accusations, but from beginning to end it still sounds to me like the electronic cousin to The Stone Roses' debut - both albums have the same sense of endless optimism, scaling euphoric peaks and dropping blissed out, defiant lyrics regularly. It may not be perfect, but when compared to more critically acclaimed albums of the era - The Inspiral Carpets' "Life", anyone? - it easily comes out on top most times. Too varied in its stylings to really be completely vogue-ish, it still stands up now. Alan McGee felt that World of Twist should have had the success Pulp later came along and took instead (which I slightly disagree with as a piece of hyperbole, but we'll let him have his say) and Oasis used to play "Sons of the Stage" at their early gigs.

Lead singer Tony Ogden decided he didn't want to be the band's vocalist anymore shortly after the album came out, and the band rapidly disintegrated shortly after. An explanation has never really been given for his decision, and it seems unlikely we'll get one now since he passed away in 2006. A World Of Twist reformation will therefore never happen in a hundred years of Madchester revival tours, purely because two of the key contributors (Sanderson and Ogden) are now no longer with us, but their album has become available online via iTunes and other MP3 sites with bonus tracks attached, and is a must-buy. No self-respecting fan of early nineties alternative music should be without a copy.

And whilst I'm dropping my opinions about, why don't we take a look at their single "The Storm" getting reviewed on Juke Box Jury?

Bernard Sumner not making a great deal of sense, there.

And here's an MP3 of "Lose My Way":

7 July 2008

Serendipity Singers - Beans In My Ears


Label: Phillips
Year of Release: 1964

When the team behind "Spinal Tap" put out "A Mighty Wind", critics were very quick to pick up on why it was a less effective piece of work. Whereas Tap seemed to be partly about pricking the pretentions of every wannabe rock genius, and highlighting the hidden absurdity behind the seriousness of many a "spokesperson for a generation", Wind picked a humble, earthy target that didn't really make bold claims for itself in the first place. Plenty of the lighter, less politically orientated Greenwich Village folk artists of the sixties knew damn well they were slightly preposterous anyway.

I mean, how else do you explain this?. Describing the song before you download the MP3 would ruin the surprise and also partly the charm of the thing - although suffice to say it does find a way of becoming more lyrically absurd than even its title would suggest. Clearly aimed at the children's market, "Beans In My Ears" nonetheless caused me to nearly fall off my chair laughing the first time I heard it (which possibly explains a lot about my mental age). It's a triple whammy of syrupy close harmonies, endless repetition of ridiculous lyrical ideas, and also a little bit of light comedy gold.

If we really needed more proof that it's not just the British who pounce upon eccentric novelty records, this entered the Top 30 in the USA quite comfortably, although it failed to chart over here. Clearly we were having a taste lapse in its week of release on Philips.

Sorry for not being able to find a photograph or a scan of the sleeve or label for this one, by the way... Apologies also to anybody who thought this might be some sort of psychedelic Captain Beefheart-inspired track, although a Beefheart cover of this would surely make some sort of peculiar sense.

5 July 2008

Silicon Teens - Memphis Tennessee

Label: Mute Records

Year of Release: 1979

Mute Records these days are (regrettably) a subsidiary of EMI, with an almighty juggernaut of a back catalogue of albums by Depeche Mode, Erasure, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Inspiral Carpets, and... er... Art Brut in their canon. In 1979, it was all a wee bit different - they were just a tiny operation run by Daniel Miller which put out his own work (under the name The Normal) and that of Boyd Rice and Fad Gadget.

The Silicon Teens were actually no more than Daniel Miller again, operating under a different pseudonym. Actors were hired to play the roles of teenagers who had got into synthesiser technology, and the idea was presumably that the band would be futuristic synth heart-throbs who might bring on a new young computerised music revolution. Releasing a series of quirky covers like "Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)" and "Memphis Tennessee" (above) they took primitive rock and roll into the monophonic digital age. Drum machines that sounded absolutely nothing like drums provided the rhythmic backdrop, although there's something oddly satisfying (and these days unusual) about that generic "bffff-chhhkk" noise which populated a lot of Throbbing Gristle, early Human League and early Mute work.

It almost goes without saying that the Silicon Teens became something of an irrelevance around Mute headquarters when a genuine teenage synthpop band - namely Depeche Mode - got added to the roster, and the time for pretending was over. Unless, of course, Depeche Mode are also a bunch of actors playing a role in a giant Daniel Miller scam, but that's rather unlikely.

2 July 2008

Microdisney - 39 Minutes

39 Minutes

Label: Virgin
Year of Release: 1988

"If a power were to lift him up/ make him rich, would he admit it was luck?/ or say he'd earned it/ claim a state of grace..."

We've already been acquainted with Microdisney thanks to my entry on "The Clock Comes Down The Stairs", of course, and in that I claimed that "39 Minutes" was their most satisfying major label album. I might also be so bold as to claim it's the album where their identity became the most solid, Cathal Coughlan's lyrics suddenly finding untold levels of bile whilst the arrangements of the music became more lush and fully realised.

The stories that surround this period of their recording career are legendary in some circles. When I interviewed Sean O'Hagan back in the mid-nineties he claimed that Virgin Records were a particularly "predatory" company to be signed to, and the effects of this environment began to eat away at his psyche almost as much as the salad years on Rough Trade had some years before. The Microdisney who were now being fed still didn't seem any fitter or happier. When they asked to be given control of their own mechandising, they ran off a series of "Microdisney are Shit" T-shirts, an act which may now seem like a rather childish piece of rebellion, but in the context of the marketing obsessed times actually seemed amazing. This was, lest we forget, an age of multi-format picture discs, square shaped records, overpriced CDs, free posters with the twelve inch single, etc. It made complete and total sense to mess with and parody everything with an anti-slogan. Virgin, to their credit, appeared not to mind much.

It didn't end with the T-shirts, however. There's a sneaking sense on "39 Minutes" that the band knew their number was up with the label, and were pissing on their remaining chips. The lead single "Singer's Hampstead Home" was a very thinly veiled attack on labelmate and cash cow Boy George. As Cathal Couglan stated at the time, it's a lyrical tirade against the mentality of celebrities who compain about their lack of privacy then invite the press around to talk about their houses and locations, purely to show off their wealth. Precisely what Boy George was doing in Hampstead at the time, of course. "He only had planned lines to say/ but he said them in a witty and stylish way" sneers Cathal indignantly on the track, mocking the pseudo-Wildeisms of the star in question.

Amidst the lush production of the album, there's also a sense of some very eccentric overspending which at times seems hilarious. Stock Aitken and Waterman protegees The London Boys feature on the anti-Benetton track "United Colours", for instance, although there are some other similar sounding backing vocalists credited elsewhere who are known as The Fabulous Golden Showers. We can only hope that this wasn't a pseudonym. Additionally, there's a joyful tap dancing solo on the anti-Royal Family track "Send Herman Home". Rumours have persisted that they actually hired professional tap dancers to deliver this in the studio, but that seems like an expensive kitchen sink too far.

Whatever, there's no doubt that whilst "39 Minutes" isn't a perfect album (nor the best Microdisney LP, in fact) it is possibly the only one I can think of that marries apparent anarchy with eighties gloss so successfully. It's more or less impossible to see the joins between O'Hagan's soft and sleek (and occasionally orchestrally enhanced) visions and Cathal's seething contributions. At its best, in fact, it's like a savage parody of the worst excesses of late eighties culture - embracing the thing it despises so hard that it shatters its rib cage. You might not like the album, but it's certainly a difficult thing not to admire. More so than any other album of the period, it gives an honest impression of the styles and attitudes of the time, condemning them not long before the cracks began to show. As a cultural artefact, it's worth 39 Minutes of anyone's time.


1. Singer's Hampstead Home
2. High & Dry
3. Send Herman Home
4. Ambulance For One
5. Soul Boy
6. Back To The Old Town
7. United Colours
8. Gale Force Wind
9. Herr Direktor
10. Bluerings