Monday, October 16, 2017

Misstep Mondays: The Fixx

Time to dust off another less than stellar piece of vinyl from my collection. As I mentioned last Monday, this week's pick is another band from the UK that couldn't buy a hit in their homeland but struck gold (platinum, actually) with those of us in America who couldn't keep their eyes off of upstart MTV. That's a pretty apt description of me in '83 when the Fixx's 'Reach the Beach' climbed the Billboard ladder.

My hometown didn't get MTV until the fall of that year, but I was already hooked on the music-video genre through friends' cable systems in other towns and programs like TBS's new show "Night Tracks", USA Network's "Night Flight", HBO's "Video Jukebox" and NBC's "Friday Night Videos". If you timed your channel surfing just right, you could even catch a video on Nickelodeon between shows. I just got nostalgic to see the opening sequence of "Friday Night Videos". The first clip I found says the Fixx will be coming up. Figures.

What can I say about the Fixx? Bland comes to mind. New wave for the masses, maybe. Anyway, my 13-year-old self thought lead single "Saved By Zero" was great. Loved the spooky video too. By the time the song was being used to tout zero-percent financing on television adverts, let's just say the novelty had worn off. The song peaked at No. 20 over here. It didn't even bother to chart at all in the UK.

Follow-up single "One Thing Leads to Another" is, without a doubt, the band's signature tune, reaching the dizzying heights of No. 4 on Billboard's Hot 100. In the UK, an anemic No. 86 would have to suffice. The third and final single from the album, "The Sign of Fire", only got to No. 32, but that was still much better than not charting at all at home. When the dust settled, 'Reach the Beach' would sell two-million copies in the United States. Not sure what that says about us, but it can't be good. Other hits would follow, but 1983 would be the Fixx's finest hour.

The Fixx. Not the worst, but a misstep, nonetheless. Did I really just follow Aretha Franklin with the Fixx?

"Saved By Zero"

Saturday, October 14, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 8)

Skipping around the letter F quite a bit, but there is no way I'm going to waste an opportunity to pay homage to the Queen of Soul. It would be too predictable to go to Aretha Franklin's '67 or '68 output, and I probably should just so I can write all about how she had four (yes, four!) top 5 albums during that two-year run on Atlantic Records, but today I'm opting for her lesser known early years.

'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin' was her second album for Columbia, released in 1962 when she had just turned 20 years old. Franklin was being called the "New Queen of the Blues" then, and the music sounded a lot like what another favorite of mine, Ray Charles, was doing at the time. Still, you can already hear her range, and that patented yell of hers was already evident during some of the numbers, albeit accompanied by standards such as "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive".

Many of her songs during these first albums were written and/or arranged by John Leslie McFarland. He's probably best known for co-writing "Stuck on You", Elvis Presley's first hit following his two-year stint in the Army. One of those songs may just very well make you blush. "Rough Lover" is about as politically incorrect as anything you'll find in my collection. Well, maybe I give that nod to the Bacharach/David composition "Wives and Lovers" as sung by Frank Sinatra, but when you consider Franklin was a teenager when she was in the studio belting this one out... you might squirm a bit. Let's just say Franklin sings this one like she means it.

"Rough Lover"

Now, listen here, girls
I'm gonna tell you
What I want right now

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
And I'll find him if I can

He's got to bite nails
Fight bears
And if I get sassy
Be a man who dares
To shut me up and kiss me
So I know he cares
I want a man

Don't want a mean daddy
I want a boss
I want a mean, sweet daddy
Who the devil wouldn't cross

He's got to spit fire
Chew iron
Get mad and start roaring
Like a mountain lion
Then whisper that he loves me
So I know he's mine
I want a man

I'm looking for a guy
Who's big and strong
But weak for me
I'm looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man, oh, yeah

I'm looking for a guy
Who's raving strong
But weak for me
I’m looking for a guy
Who'll ride around
But never, never set me free

I want a rough lover
I want a man
I want a rough, tough lover
With a sentimental plan

So he can kiss nice
Hug tight
He's gotta be sweet and gentle
Day and night
But mean enough to make me
Want to treat him right
I want a man

I want a man
I don’t want no creampuff, baby
Don’t want no butterfly
I want a man

Oh, yes, I do
Oh, yes, I do

To contrast the booming sounds of "Rough Lover", let's turn it down and listen to what I think is Franklin's best moment on the album. As for 'The Electrifying Aretha Franklin', this one wouldn't bother to chart, and it would be quite a few more years before the general public would succumb to Franklin's charms. Of course, you know all about that.

"Blue Holiday"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 7)

Although I never stopped trying, I just couldn't get into the Fiery Furnaces. I found the work of siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger to be too much of a challenge to my pop sensibility. Yes, the duo tried my patience, but I always gave their latest work a listen out of loyalty to the fact they originally hailed from Oak Park, Illinois, which was very near where I was living during their heyday.

With the Fiery Furnaces on a hiatus that has stuck to this day, Eleanor released her first solo album in 2011, and the song "My Mistakes" got stuck in my head that summer and has seemingly never left. Unlike her previous band, she keeps it simple here, and I'm entranced by her laid-back sing-speak style that reminds me a little bit of Patti Smith. There is an intimacy to the entire album that makes you feel like she is sitting there with you, spinning yarns about friends and places you both have in common. Eleanor has had two albums since then, and I have enjoyed them both immensely, but it's 'Last Summer' I spin the most.

"My Mistakes"
"Roosevelt Island"

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 6)

I don't know about you, but after the latest Monday Misstep, I'm feeling the need to cleanse the palate. This beautiful piece of sophisti-pop, in the same vein as Carmel, Everything But the Girl and the Style Council, should go down better than lemon sorbet. "Window Shopping" from the Friday Club would be in the conversation for my favorite single in the collection. It's one of the most coveted on the shelf, too, regularly selling for $100 or more on Discogs. Why? It's not so much because "Window Shopping" is the only release the somewhat obscure seven-piece outfit from Scarborough ever put out. Rather, it comes down to the label and the timing. You see, this is the last recording and the penultimate release in the legendary 2 Tone discography.

In 1985, the Friday Club found out where Jerry Dammers lived, which was a squat in Stockwell, and they dropped a tape and a gig flyer in his mailbox. Dammers actually came to the show. Afterwards, he laughingly told the band he had "never heard a band so out of tune". So they were shocked when he called the next day and told them he wanted to produce and release "Window Shopping" on 2 Tone. Simon Bates started playing it on Radio 1, and "Window Shopping" broke into the top 100. Unfortunately, he went on vacation, and that was that. The Friday Club spent the last couple of months of the year opening for Madness. I will surely make the "Mad Not Mad" tour one of my first stops when we all have time machines, but there isn't too much more to say about "Window Shopping." No, it's never going to be remembered like the songs of 2 Tone's salad days, but, as Dammers summed it up, it's a nice song about being skint."

There is a 12" extended version of "Window Shopping" that's even tougher to find than the 7", and it's the one piece of vinyl I most desire. So, keep your eyes peeled and remember your old pal Brian. Thanks.

"Window Shopping"
"Window Shopping" (Instrumental)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Misstep Mondays: A Flock of Seagulls

Yep. A Flock of Seagulls. In general, I only flew with the flock for about a second, but I never did completely grow out of this particular single, released in late 1982. There is a haunting quality to the song that has stuck with me, and I have always preferred the mammoth 12" version. If this band gives you the shivers, don't play this one. It clocks in at more than nine minutes, and you'll by in the corner curled up in the fetal position by the end.

A message to my fellow countrymen: We have always been told a Flock of Seagulls were solely an American phenomenon, created by MTV, and that the Brits were far too smart to fall for this schlock. I have subscribed to this theory for 35 years, but I just checked the charts... not really the case. We did take to early single "I Ran (So Far Away)" with much more zeal, but the UK stuck with the band longer. As for "Wishing," the song peaked at No. 10 in their home country and No. 26 here in America. That was more or less the end of the line for the folicly-confused band in these parts.

Back next week with another UK band from the letter F, and this one actually was a bigger deal in this part of the world.

"Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)" (Long Version)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 5)

I have written about my love for the Flatmates and the Subway Organization ad nauseam. Saying this is my favorite band from my favorite label will have to suffice today. Just like Fire Engines featured last week, a stellar CD compilation of the Flatmates has seemingly made taking the time to pull out the old singles seem like a chore, but then I played the vinyl last night and realized that's a completely foolish sentiment. Not only do they sound great, pops and all, but just looking at the details of the covers, inserts and sleeves is such a treat.

Here is the complete 12" single of "Shimmer," the audience pick for second-best Subway single earlier this year on these very pages. Coincidentally, "Shimmer" peaked at No. 2 on the indie chart in 1988. Where are you, Debbie Haynes?!?

"On My Mind"
"If Not For You"

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 4)

For me, Minutemen were practically over before they began. I was 14 when 'Double Nickels on the Dime' came out, and it was one of those life-changing albums that, as the Robster would say, I will take to my grave. This one release opened up the entire world of SST Records to me. That same year, Minutemen would make a tour stop at Mabel's in Champaign, Illinois, a legendary club about 80 miles from where I grew up. I begged my parents to let me go, but there was just no way that was going to happen. It wouldn't be long before D. Boon would die in a van accident. I never got to see my beloved Minutemen.

By the time I went off to college in Chicago, Mike Watt and George Hurley had reunited, along with Ed Crawford, to form fIREHOSE. I love Ed's story. In a nutshell, Ed was a huge Minutemen fan attending Ohio State when he caught wind Mike and George might be ready to give it another go. He found Watt's phone number and called him in California to ask for a tryout. That didn't work, but he didn't give up. He left Columbus for San Pedro and asked him again. Next time you think about shirking a challenge, think of Ed. There weren't many band's working as hard as fIREHOSE. Between 1986 and 1993 they would release five studio albums, a couple of EPs and play nearly 1,000 shows. Chicago was a regular stop when touring, and I caught fIREHOSE every time they would swing by, which was often.

fIREHOSE was one of those early '90s alt bands that got swept up in the indie pilfering the major labels pulled after Nirvana took over the world. Although I hated to see them go to Columbia, in my opinion, fIREHOSE was one of the rare bands that didn't dip much in quality when they moved to the big leagues. Having said that, I'll take side one of their first album, 'Ragin, Full-On", over anything in their discography. There are still vestiges of Minutemen found here. Yep, this trio definitely knew how to jam econo. Here are three songs to prove it.

"Brave Captain"
"It Matters"
"Another Theory Shot to Shit"

Monday, October 2, 2017

Misstep Mondays: Fiction Factory

As many of you know, I have spent more than a year now (closer to two, actually) transferring my vinyl to a digital format. It's a huge undertaking, even with skipping many less-than-vital albums and singles, and it turns out I have a bevy of those. This is especially true of the synth-driven bands of my youth. Rather than flipping by these not-so-proud moments, I have decided to come clean with these missteps.

As I mentioned last week, from 1982 to about 1985, there didn't seem to be a new wave or new-wave inspired hit from across the pond that I didn't buy. Sure, I have shared a few of these, such as B-Movie, but most of the bands featured on Misstep Mondays will be a step or two down the musical ladder from a song like "Nowhere Girl". Then again, that will be for you the audience to decide.

That brings us to this inaugural pick. I'm busy transferring vinyl from the letter F, and that's where we will find our first couple of inclusions. Fiction Factory ticked a few boxes for me in 1984, but the most important was that they were from Scotland. You will certainly know the pretty ballad "(Feels Like) Heaven", a No. 6 smash in the UK that also went top 10 in Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Ireland and did quite well in other places around the world. The song did nothing in my home country, but the video did get a few plays on shows I was watching at the time. Funny thing is, thanks to a certain nostalgia-fuelled satellite-radio station, I hear it more now than I even did when I was a kid. I have to admit when it comes on I don't touch the dial.

As for the album the song comes from, "Throw the Warped Wheel Out", it's one I'm not sure I have played since 1984... well, at least not until last night. Utterly forgettable. Perhaps I have played it before but just don't remember. The follow-up single to "(Feels Like) Heaven" was "Ghosts of Love". Wow, what a momentum killer. It peaked at No. 64 in the UK and only charted in one other country. There were better choices from the album but only marginally so. There would be no other hits for Fiction Factory, and the band would release their last album a year later. I'm not a big fan of the term one-hit wonder, but if the shoe fits. Back next Monday with another misstep from the letter F.

"(Feels Like) Heaven"
"Ghosts of Love"

Friday, September 29, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 3)

Alan Horne wanted them, but Bob Last was the one that snagged Fire Engines. Their first shows outside of Edinburgh were with Orange Juice and Josef K in Glasgow, playing for the likes of Bobby Gillespie, Alan McGee and the brothers Reid. Can you imagine? Actually, if you think about who was there, it all starts to make sense. In their short time together, the impact of Fire Engines would be dramatic and far reaching.

If you weigh both sides, I think the "Candyskin" 7" is the band's best single, and that's where we start today. Davy Henderson trades in the yelps for more conventional vocals and produces an indie smash, but it's the instrumental B-side akin to the earlier recordings that gets more plays in this house. What a racket! Follow-up single "Big Gold Dream" is as commercial as Fire Engines ever got, and it would prove to be the end of the road for the band. Henderson said shortly after, "Around the time of the second John Peel Session, we were shit -- our compass was a fake -- we should have trusted our magnets -- we should've trusted our inability." A great song, nonetheless.

I really enjoyed pulling out these two seven-inch singles last night. In 2007, Acute released the band compilation 'Hungry Beat' on an inferior format, and I was first in line. Ever since, whenever I have needed a fix of Fire Engines, I have played this CD, leaving these perfect pieces of vinyl to collect dust. I pledge to right that wrong starting right now.

"Meat Whiplash"

Big Gold Dream"
"Sympathetic Anaesthetic"

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 2)

It's pure coincidence I find myself up to Bryan Ferry at the same time JC has had two interesting posts on Roxy Music. I have always been a much bigger fan of Roxy Music than I ever was of Ferry's solo work, but I was really into his two mid-'80s albums, 'Boys and Girls' and 'Bête Noire'. I can think of a few reasons for this.

This was the time of my life I was most into Roxy Music. So, it just made sense to buy Ferry's new music. I was also into the aesthetic. As an impressionable teenager, I loved Ferry's look and the way he carried himself. He was the essence of cool. Still is, actually. The album covers and sleeves were sharp too. Finally, and maybe most importantly, my girlfriend really liked him. I have it on good authority she still does. I should know. I married her.

I would say Ferry's work with Johnny Marr during this period played a part as well, but that relationship didn't get me to buy "Avonmore' in 2014, did it? In fact, I never owned any albums by Ferry after 'Bête Noire', but I always give his new releases a listen with the hope this will be the one to bring me back in the fold. I may not own anything after 1988, but I do have a slew of 12" singles by Ferry from the 1980s. Here are a few of my favorites. Class.

"Slave to Love" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"Don't Stop the Dance" (Special 12" Re-Mix)
"The Right Stuff" (12" Dance Mix)
"Kiss and Tell" (Extended Remix)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

ABCs of My Vinyl Collection (Letter F, Part 1)

I took the entire summer off from this vinyl-ripping series because, well, I got burned out. Tonight, I feel refreshed and raring to go, but I am going to be more selective with my choices. I may only choose 10 to 12 bands per letter to keep things moving. I also thought it would be fun to come clean about some of the more cringe-worthy selections from my vinyl collection. When I was a lad, specifically between 1982 and 1985, I seemed to buy just about every hit that came from across the pond... as long as it had a synthesizer in it. Save your laughs and groans for next week when I unveil Misstep Mondays. In the meantime, let's get this f-ing thing started.

The Feelies have featured on these pages many times in the eight-and-a-half years this blog has been operating, and I believe all six of their LPs have already had a proper airing. That doesn't leave much for me to play today, but there is no way I'm going to pass up an opportunity to tout a band in my collection I consider to be in the upper echelon of absolutely essential. So, how about a cover?

The Feelies have been performing inspired covers from the word go. Songs by the Beatles, Stones, Velvet Underground, Stooges, Monkees, Jonathan Richman and Neil Young have appeared with regularity on LPs, B-sides or as crowd-pleasing show closers since 1980. VU's "What Goes On" is my absolute favorite (already featured here before), but a close second would be Patti Smith's "Dancing Barefoot". The band has been playing that one at shows since the '80s, and a recording of the song showed up at least twice during that decade, including as a B-side of the 12" promo single for "Away" in 1988 and on a flexi that came with an issue of The BOB magazine in 1989. Tough finds, though.

Fortunately, in 2016, a four-song vinyl EP of covers called "Uncovered" was released for Record Store Day, and "Dancing Barefoot" was included. With my days as RSD lemming long behind me, I wasn't willing to wake up early and line up for it. Luckily, my local mom-and-pop shop still had a copy when I stopped in the next day. Bassist Brenda Sauter takes the lead vocals, and she does a hell of a job with one of Smith's most beloved songs.

"Dancing Barefoot"

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Orchids Retrospective Strives for Perfection

How's this for a name drop? I found out about Cherry Red's upcoming release 'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' from the John Scally, guitarist for Glasgow-based band the Orchids. You never know who is out there reading, do you? This set is split between a 20-song best of on disc one and an impressive odds-and-sods collection of rarities on disc two.

As the title suggests, the songs on the best-of disc are evenly spread across the band's career. The first 13 songs are from the Sarah years, and the disc opens with one song from each of the first three singles. There is little to nitpick about, but choosing "Apologies" over "I've Got a Habit", from Sarah's second-ever release, is the only real head-scratcher. Initially, the same could have been said about using "Defy the Law" rather than "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink", but there is a reason for that choice that we'll get to in a bit. The rest of the disc is perfection. If you're a fan that uses the 1992 Sarah compilation 'Epicurean - A Soundtrack' as your go-to Orchids long player, you will want this set too. There are only six songs that overlap, and you get the bonus of seven songs from the band's second life. The three albums that came out between 2007 and 2014 are all must haves for fans of the Orchids. If you haven't heard them, however, the songs chosen for this set are just the taster to get you to pick them up.

Disc two is chock full of the demos, alternative versions and radio sessions that are sure to get the completists off the sofa. The real highlight is the first track. "From This Day" comes from the 1987 split flexi the Orchids did with the Sea Urchins for Sha La La, Matt Haynes' fanzine label that came before Sarah. One release that's missing here is "An Ill Wind That Blows", the 7" Bob Stanley put out on his Caff label in 1990, but many of you may already have it as a bonus track on the 'Lyceum' reissue LTM released in 2005. The disc closes with a 2017 re-recording of "Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink". Would you rather have the original, or are you curious about this new version?

'Who Needs Tomorrow... A 30 Year Retrospective' is fully remastered and comes with liner notes by ex-BBC radio DJ John Cavanagh and the uber Sarah producer Ian Carmichael. This one comes out Sept. 29, and there are a limited number of signed copies available at the Cherry Red shop. Preorder now. Here's the complete tracklist from Cherry Red. I have added the relevant original release info for disc one because I'm into that sort of thing.

Disc One: The Best Of...

1. APOLOGIES ("I've Got a Habit" 7", Sarah 2)
2. DEFY THE LAW ("Underneath The Window, Underneath The Sink" 7", Sarah 11)
3. WHAT WILL WE DO NEXT? ("What Will We Do Next?" 7", Sarah 23)
4. IT’S ONLY OBVIOUS ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
5. CAVEMAN ('Lyceum' 10" mini album, Sarah 401)
6. SOMETHING FOR THE LONGING ("Something for the Longing" 7", Sarah 29)
7. LONG DRAWN SUNDAY NIGHT ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
8. PEACHES ('Unholy Soul' LP, Sarah 605)
9. BEMUSED, CONFUSED AND BEDRAGGLED ("Penetration" 12" EP, Sarah 42)
10. THAUMATURGY ("Thaumaturgy" 7", Sarah 66)
11. OBSESSION N°1 ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
12. A KIND OF EDEN ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
13. STRIVING FOR THE LAZY PERFECTION ('Striving For The Lazy Perfection' LP, Sarah 617)
14. ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT ('Good to Be a Stranger' LP, Siesta, 2007)
15. SHE’S MY GIRL ('The Lost Star; LP, Pebble, 2010)
16. THE GIRL AND THE SOLDIER ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
17. THE WAY THAT YOU MOVE ('The Lost Star' LP, Pebble, 2010)
18. HEY! SOMETIMES ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
19. SOMETHING’S GOING ON ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)
20. WE MADE A MESS ('Beatitude #9' LP, Acuarela Discos, 2014)

Disc Two: Rarities

17. OOH WEE!