Monday, June 26, 2017

Before We Say Goodbye to 'Cruel World'

Admittedly, while trying to illustrate how Elvis Costello may have saved a couple of songs from 'Goodbye Cruel World' by reworking them and giving them to other artists, I have been rough on his 1984 album. Let me tell you, it's no fun to speak ill of a hero. What's something I can say that's positive about the album? While proclaiming my affinity for Roy Orbison's "The Comedians" and Tracie's "(I Love You) When You Sleep," I hope I made it clear when you strip away the Langer/Winstanley production, the demos from this era, particularly the solo ones, prove the bones of fine (if not great, in some cases) songs were there. In the liner notes for the 1995 reissue, Costello writes that "the latest fad," the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, "along with the veneer of Solid State recording... does more than anything else to 'datestamp' this record." I think that more or less sums it up. The demos are pretty clear evidence he wasn't originally shooting to sound like 1984, but that was the result.

When the album was finished but before it was released, Costello embarked on his first ever solo jaunt of America. Before 'Goodbye Cruel World' even hit the shelves, he had already "discovered some of the mistakes [he] made" and "began to rescue [his] newest songs from the fog." Here's a quick listen from that tour:

"Worthless Thing" (Live)"

Not at all bad, but I think the best moment from the "Goodbye Cruel World" era, however, was the B-side "Turning the Town Red," which appeared in most countries as the flip to "I Wanna Be Loved" and is most remembered in the UK as the theme to Costello pal Alan Beasdale's television series "Scully." We listened to that one on these pages in 2015, but it can't hurt to hear it again. A nice memory from your youth for many of you, I'm sure.

"Turning the Town Red"

In 1995, Costello had the honor of curating the Meltdown Festival on the South Bank. By all accounts, it was a fine bill that included Jeff Buckley, the Fairfield Four, the Re-Birth Brass Band, the Jazz Passengers and many more. Costello himself appeared on stage several times during the nine days, including a set where his voice and Bill Frisell's guitar complemented each other to perfection. To me, this performance is the best save of a song from 'Goodbye Cruel World.' Beautiful. Even if this album is Costello's worst, as even the artist himself hinted, the songs of 'Goodbye Cruel World' were not entirely worthless things.

Elvis Costello and Bill Frisell - "Love Field" (Live)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Another Save From 'Goodbye Cruel World'

I almost put a question mark after this headline because this one is bound to divide the peanut gallery. Tracie Young was a protégé of Paul Weller's. He found her by placing an ad in Smash Hits when he was looking for talent to kickstart his own Respond label. Weller incorporated Young immediately, using her for backing vocals on the Jam's swansong, "Beat Surrender, as well as the Style Council's first single, "Speak Like a Child." Weller envisioned Tracie (as she would simply be called) as a solo artist, however, and her first single, "The House That Jack Built," went top 10 in the UK a few months later. There were a couple of other singles in 1983 and early 1984, but this proved to be Tracie's biggest hit.

Tracie's only officially released album during the Respond era, the Weller-produced 'Far from the Hurting Kind,' came out in 1984. The single "(I Love You) When You Sleep" was penned by Elvis Costello. From her liner notes on the 2010 album reissue, here is what Tracie had to say about the song:

I met Elvis on a plane on the way back from doing The Tube in Newcastle. We just got chatting. He was talking about other artists he'd written songs for and said that he'd really like to give me a song. It was a reworking of his song "Joe Porterhouse." He changed the lyrics and the tempo but we did struggle with it while rehearsing at Nomis Studios. I loved the lyrics but it was very slow and I found it hard to sing. We had a chat with him and he said, try using a bossa nova rhythm, so that was the starting point, although it became less rhythmic the more we worked on it. I was always very proud of it.

Tracie's version doesn't bear much resemblance to the "Joe Porterhouse" found on 'Goodbye Cruel World.' A few of you may like Tracie's version. Many will not. As for me, in the mid-'80s, I fell hard for sophisti-pop, and that's what this song sounded like to me. I bought the 12" as soon as I heard it. How could I possibly pass it up? The connections to Costello and Weller were there, and I liked her voice. This single is the only piece I would own by Tracie until the 2010 reissue of 'Far from the Hurting Kind.' Unlike Roy Orbison's take on "The Comedians," Tracie's version of "Joe Porterhouse" is of a time and place and doesn't quite hold up in 2017, but I found myself enjoying it today, anyway.

One last aspect of this song to ponder is the timeline. Tracie's single came out in May 1984. 'Goodbye Cruel World' was released in June 1984. In other words, Costello was already reworking "Joe Porterhouse" before the public even heard it. If I ever have a pint with Costello, I would love to hear about his motivation. I'll have one more post of a different ilk on 'Goodbye Cruel World' next time.

"(I Love You) When You Sleep"

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Successful Save From 'Goodbye Cruel World'

'Goodbye Cruel World' is Elvis Costello's worst album. I know it. You know it. He knows it. If you have listened to any of the demos from that era, you may agree some of the songs might have stood a chance, but going to the Langer/Winstanley well a second time, coupled with 1984 being a dark time in Costello's life, proved to be too much to overcome. Costello would go back to the drawing board and attempt to improve some of those songs, rewriting verses and changing tempos with other artists in mind.

I humbly submit Costello was incredibly successful handing off "The Comedians" to Roy Orbison. The song, produced by T Bone Burnett for Orbison's posthumously released album 'Mystery Girl,' was heard by most for the first time when it was performed live with an all-star lineup in 1988 (taped in 1987) for the Cinemax television special "Roy Orbison and Friends: A Black and White Night." Orbison was backed at the Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles by Elvis Presley's TCB Band, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits and many other greats, including Costello himself. If you have read Costello's memoir 'Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink,' then you know what a treat it was for him to be a part of that evening.

Costello's changes to "The Comedians" made the song sound and feel like a long lost Orbison track unearthed for this special night. The soulless clunky synth-driven original had been replaced by that patented Orbison storytelling and drama. Although Burnett did a fine job in the studio, personally, I think this live version was better than the one that appeared on 'Mystery Girl.' So that's the one we will listen to today. Don't feel like this is a slight on Burnett. He was the musical director for the live show too. Another reworked song from 'Goodbye Cruel World' next time.

Roy Orbison and Friends - "The Comedians" (Live, Sept. 30, 1987)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Rat Fancy's Mix Tape Recalls Be-Kind-Rewind Era

Without question, "You Stole My Xmas Sweater," from L.A.-based Rat Fancy, was the best of last season's holiday tunes. I described it then as "all hand claps, head bobs and betrayal. In other words, indie pop at its best." You couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the newly formed trio of ex-Sweater Girl Diana Barraza (vocals/guitar), Gregory Johnson (guitar/keyboard) and Gavin Glidewell (drums), and the recently released "Suck a Lemon" EP (HHBTM Records) has more than lived up to the lofty expectations set by that first single. On the surface, this new set is sunshine and lollipops, but as you begin to sing along (and you will sing along!), you'll realize the world isn't quite as perfect as the catchy melodies....



The B-side to that holiday single was a cover from Ramones. That's when I knew we would be in good hands. As you regulars know, '80s indie pop is the cornerstone of this operation, and I asked Rat Fancy what songs from that era tickled their, ahem, fancy. As you're about to see and hear, despite being young whippersnappers, this band knows its stuff. Click on the graphic below to get to the video mix, and then enjoy reading why these songs mean so much to them. Thanks to Rat Fancy and the folks at HHBTM for making this happen. What a blast!


1. Orange Juice - "Blue Boy"
Greg and Gavin: When I first think "'80s indiepop," I immediately think of Scottish pop. My love of Scottish bands actually influenced my decision to move to Edinburgh for grad school. Scotland is an amazing place on this planet and Orange Juice is my favorite band on Postcard Records. The only time I woke up early for Record Store Day was when they did the Orange Juice reissues. I got everything I wanted to add to my collection of singles.

2. Altered Images - "I Could Be Happy"
Diana: Like Orange Juice, Altered Images isn't really "indiepop" per se, but they wrote some killer pop tracks. This is my favorite Altered Images track and it's wonderful that this video exists. From the art direction, to dancing lion and sing-a-long moment, it's everything I want in a music video. Also, I love how Talulah Gosh got its namesake from Altered Image's Clare Grogan. That's a serious indiepop influencer!

3. Strawberry Switchblade - "Let Her Go"
Greg: Strawberry Switchblade are such legends. We were listening to them heavily while we were writing "Suck A Lemon." Not only did they write such beautiful pop songs, but they have such appeal to the punk/"goth" crowd. I love that versatility -- especially with Rose's later collaborations. I wonder if they still have those looks. Can we raid their closet?

4. The Vaselines - "You Think You're a Man"
Diana: It's amazing when a band introduces you to something equally amazing. Originally, I learned about the Vaselines via Nirvana. I admit, I'm a child of the '90s and thankfully I paid attention to references and found 53rd & 3rd and K Records pretty early on. Thanks to The Vaselines, I found Divine. This is an amazing cover and hopefully we can do a drag cover ourselves... maybe of Alaska Thunderfuck for our next Christmas single. We are huge fans of drag at Rat Fancy headquarters. I think it's important for bands to do things that are a little unexpected.

5. The Primitives - "Thru the Flowers"
Gavin: There is this episode of "Eerie, Indiana" that has haunted me since childhood. On the show, these twins were able to stay young by preserving themselves in giant Tupperware. That's what comes to mind when I think of Tracy Tracy from the Primitives because she looks like she hasn't aged! In fact, the band sounds as fresh as ever today. We have a tendency to relate everything to '90s TV shows.

6. Beat Happening - "Other Side"
Diana: Beat Happening is everything. I was never able to see Beat Happening live, but I saw Calvin live a few times. I have a poster somewhere of a black and white Beat Happening cat that I colored in myself. Calvin signed it with crayon.

7. The Wake - "Crush the Flowers"
Greg: We're back to Scottish pop! Also related to Altered Images, the Wake sounds so impossibly cool. I love this single so much. Sadly, I don't have the original Sarah Records version, but a friend was able to find the reissue in the Bay Area and sent it to me. I love when pop friends do nice pop things for each other.

8. Shop Assistants - "All Day Long"
Diana: I have a bunch of Shop Assistants releases I was able to snag in Scotland. Their sound is absolutely what I look for in a pop band: fast with a little noise. I actually tried covering this one at a solo show at Monorail Music in Glasgow to a group of friends who were a captive audience.

9. Chin Chin - "Why Am I So Lonely?"
Diana: When we were writing "Suck A Lemon," the idea of doing a slow and fast version of a song came from Chin Chin. Their slow version of "Why Am I So Lonely?" sounds so melancholy, yet the fast version seems so fierce -- almost questioning why they would let someone make them feel that way.

10. The Dead Milkmen - "Punk Rock Girl"
Greg: So this is an atypical pop playlist, because we're including the Dead Milkmen. I hate when bands take themselves so seriously. I grew up in Philly playing in the punk/emo scene and these guys were legends! Punk rock girl just reminds me of being in my late teens and doing stupid shit around town with my friends/girlfriends. I don’t see how you could be in a bad mood when the dead milkmen are on. Plus joe jack’s voice is so unique and endearing. If only I was old enough in the 80s to go to a show.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Swell Covers From Jason Falkner

It's funny, the twists and turns that take you to a song. After sitting in the house for more than a week, I finally opened Robyn Hitchcock's new album yesterday. One listen in, I was pleased as punch to hear him with a band again. The album is produced by power-pop aficionado Brendan Benson, and seeing his name on the sleeve made me think of his pal, Jason Falkner. Always happens. I made a mental note to pull out some Falkner soon. It's been too long.

I had a little trouble sleeping last night and decided to read for a bit. I had a copy of 'Rip It Up and Start Again' by Simon Reynolds on the bed stand. Having read it before and just needing to get drowsy, I opened the book on a random page. It was from the chapter "Autonomy in the U.K.: DIY and the British Independent-Label Movement." Reynolds was going on about Swell Maps, and he mentioned the song "Midget Submarines." I immediately recalled Falkner covering that song on the two-disc Japanese import 'Everyone Says It's On' in 2001. Now the signs were clear as day... in my tired mind, anyway. I was meant to listen to that song, and I would never be able to sleep without hearing it. Luckily, my iPod was charging on the bed stand too. I rolled over and started scrolling only to find I didn't have Falkner's "Midget Submarines" on there.

Awake as ever, I made my way downstairs to the music room and took 'Everyone Says It's On' off the shelf. If you know the album, disc one is called "Me," and the second disc is called "Them" because it's all covers by the likes of Kinks, Brian Eno, Magazine, the Left Banke and many more. Inspired choices. You can guess what happened. Paying for it today, but I stayed up and listened to the whole damn thing. It was worth the cost. Here's a great summary of 'Everyone Says It's On' in Falkner's own words. This is from an excellent in-depth interview conducted by magazine Bucketfull Of Brains back in 2010, followed by a couple of covers from the album. I need a nap.

Yeah I just wanted to release some of my 4 track demos because I'm really proud of how they sound. I miss the urgent sound of that machine 4 track cassette machine, so warm and syrupy and delicious. The covers that comprise one disc of that double were actually recorded in 1994 when my short lived post Jellyfish band The Grays were dissolving. The head of Epic had flown out to Chicago to talk me into keeping The Grays together for one more record even though Jon Brion had quit. I was really over that group as well so I negotiated that I be able to make a SOLO (my first solo performed record mind you) record of obscure covers and if that could happen I would make another Grays record without Jon.

My idea was given the green light so when I got back to LA I booked a studio and started recording this cover record. I remember the A&R guy from Epic leaving tons of messages at the studio but I just kept recording and never called him back. I figured whatever he had to say couldn't be as important as this record I was making. Ha ha the nerve! This was a wonderfully exciting time making this record because it was the first time I was in a proper studio playing all the instruments and I chose a very diverse collection of songs that had impacted me deeply. I also thought I might turn the world on to these great obscure bands like The Monochrome Set, The Left Banke and Magazine. Well obviously I didn't do any of these bands a favour because the reason my A&R guy was calling so much was to tell me to STOP and inform me that The Grays were dropped from Epic. So I finally put that out in 2001 on a Japanese label run by a crook. Long story.....If I did another covers record now? Hmmm....maybe a Public Nuisance track, and "Space Ace" by Brett Smiley, Something mid 90's by Guided by Voices....maybe I'll start this after the interview!


"Midget Submarines" (Swell Maps cover)
"Pretty Ballerina" (The Left Banke cover)
"A Song From Under the Floorboards" (Magazine cover)

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Church Grims Come Out of the Shadows

About a month ago, I shined the spotlight on the jangle of Scottish band Remember Fun. A couple of names were bandied about in comparison to help you, dear reader, understand their sound. It was brought to my attention one of those bands was a bit obscure and may not have been heard by you. Let's remedy that today.

This will be short and sweet because the Church Grims don't have much history. That's unfortunate, too, because when they did make it to wax (well, cassette, in most cases), each artifact turned out to be a perfect piece of indie pop. Like Remember Fun, the Paisley band was signed to Egg Records out of Glasgow, along with groups like the Prayers, Even as We Speak, the Hardy Boys, the Bachelor Pad, Baby Lemonade and several others. There was never an album during their five years together. In fact, the Church Grims' officially released discography was only four songs, all on compilations. As you'll hear in a moment, that's a travesty.

The Church Grims may have been forgotten all together, but a resurgent interest in bands influenced by the 'C86' sound that began at the turn of the century prompted Egg founder Jim Kavanagh to dig up the long out of print music from his roster with the goal of getting it out there. In 2003, many years after the band called it a day, the Church Grims finally had a somewhat proper release with 'Plaster Saints: The Church Grims Basement Tapes 1987-1988.'

"Mr. Watt Said" was the only song from the Church Grims that ever made it to vinyl. It appeared on the four-song Egg sampler "A Lighthouse in the Desert" in 1989. If you only hear one song by them, this should be the one. You know I'm a sucker for trumpet with my pop, and there is plenty of that here. Within seconds, you will think of the June Brides. I can't give a better compliment.

"Mr. Watt Said"

Friday, June 9, 2017

Miaow on Peel

We began the week with music from Manchester, and I thought we could begin the weekend with another band that got its start in that fine city. I listen to a lot more Cath Carroll through her work with Julian Henry in the Hit Parade than in any of her other guises, but I do have a soft spot for the short lived Miaow. Officially, there were only three singles, two of them recorded for Factory Records in 1987, at least one of which we will listen to in more detail when we get to the letter M in my vinyl-ripping series. I think Miaow always seemed bigger than the paltry discography because of their appearance on the legendary NME 'C86' cassette, as well as two memorable sessions for John Peel.

To the Peel Sessions we go for today's tracks. Recorded for the program in June of '86, "Did She?" would go on to appear as the B-side to the indie hit "When It All Comes Down." To the best of my knowledge, Miaow never recorded "Thames at High Water" outside of the January '87 Peel Session. I assumed for years it was meant to show up on the shelved album 'Priceless Innuendo,' but the demos have seen the light of day without this one. Both of these sessions can be heard in full on the 2003 LTM compilation 'When It All Comes Down.'

"Did She?" (Peel Session)
"Thames at High Water" (Peel Session)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cut a Big Pink Cake for Matinée Recordings

This is going to feel like "This Is Your Life," but it's a life well worth celebrating. As Matinée Recordings turns 20, I'm struck by how much of my favorite music has come from the label. From its humble D.C. beginnings, when founder Jimmy Tassos bucked late '90s trends and actually put out 7" singles by indie-pop bands from around the world, to the left-coast move and an expanded stable of stars, including even an American band (Math and Physics Club) that unexpectedly fit Matinée's distinct aesthetic, Matinée has been nothing but quality.

Like many of you, it was the Lucksmiths that brought me to Matinée. More specifically, it was the "Untidy Towns" 7". I imagine those Aussies helped pay many of the label's bills, but there have been so many memorable releases among Matinée's 79 albums and 93 singles that only a list will do. To celebrate 20 years as a label, here are my 20 favorite Matinée releases. No rules. Singles, compilations and anything else from the label are eligible. Apologies in advance for releases that show my age.

The Matinée 20 on 20
20. Airport Girl - 'Honey, I'm an Artist'
19. Remember Fun - "Train Journeys" EP
18. Seabirds - "Real Tears" 7"
17. Sportique - 'Modern Museums' 10"
16. Tender Trap - '6 Billion People'
15. Math and Physics Club - 'Our Hearts Beat Out Loud'
14. Razorcuts - "A Is For Alphabet" EP
13. The Popguns - "Lovejunky" 7"
12. Brighter - 'Singles 1989-1992'
11. The Sugargliders - 'A Nest With a View 1990-1994'
10. Brighter - 'Out to Sea'
9. The Perfect English Weather - 'Isobar Blues'
8. The Lucksmiths - 'First Frost'
7. Northern Portrait - 'Ta!'
6. Razorcuts - 'R Is For Razorcuts'
5. The Catenary Wires - 'Red Red Skies'
4. The Siddeleys - 'Slum Clearance'
3. The Popguns - 'Pop Fiction'
2. Cats on Fire - 'Our Temperance Movement'
1. The Lucksmiths - 'Warmer Corners'

Matinée is on fire right now, with new bands and albums just around the corner. So, obviously this list is fluid. You already know about 'Sugar Kisses,' the new one from the Popguns that's sure to make the list above soon, but we now know about some other poptastic releases out now or just around the corner. The Lucksmiths are sorely missed, but Marty Donald returns to the fold with a new band, called Last Leaves, and some of the fellas from his old band will make appearances on a new album due out this fall. There are other new signings, too, including Tinsel Heart from Sweden and the Royal Landscaping Society from Spain.

To mark 20 years, the just released compilation 'Matinée Idols' includes a song from all three of these new bands, as well as songs from many of your favorite bands on the label's roster. Best of all, these are previously unreleased, exclusive, or rare recordings. My copy is on the way, and I have been stalking the postman all week. Here is the tracklist and a few of the songs to stream. Happy birthday, Matinée!

'Matinée Idols'
1. Champagne Riot - Ingrid Bergman
2. The Popguns - So Long
3. The Electric Pop Group - Postcard
4. Last Leaves - Something Falls
5. Tinsel Heart - Talk
6. Strawberry Whiplash - Me, My Selfie and I
7. The Royal Landscaping Society - Moon
8. Math and Physics Club - Shadows Longer
9. The Catenary Wires - You Save Me From Myself
10. Seabirds - Independent Horses
11. The Perfect English Weather - Under My Feet
12. Bubblegum Lemonade - Set The Boy Free
13. The Hermit Crabs - Game Plan
14. Azure Blue - New Moon

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Even Manchester's Footnotes Are Fine

Thinking of Manchester today and trying to decide which '80s indie band to play from that city. So many to choose from. Let's listen to the Waltones. They were one from a stable of stars on Medium Cool Records. The label wasn't around long, 1986 to 1989, but if you saw the logo on a record, you could be guaranteed quality. The Raw Herbs, the Siddeleys, the Rain, the Corn Dollies and even my beloved Popguns had a moment there.

The Waltones found the indie singles chart three times during that period, with "Spell It Out" being their biggest moment, peaking at No. 20 in 1988. There was one album, 'Deepest,' released in 1989, and I think these lines from an NME review of the LP sum up the band succinctly: "They're shaping up as the best band to emerge from the guitar pop glut of '85. People are bound to comment that they are trapped in an indie ghetto - but this is commercial, it won't turn Woolworth's girls' heads but it's bloody good. If you like beat, melody, strong guitar lines and choruses you'll go for it in a big way. The major problem is perhaps their lack of cynicism and anger (two obvious Mancunian traits) - a rosy glow cheerfulness remains throughout."

"She Looks Right Through Me" just barely made the chart, No. 49 in 1987, but it's my favorite and the one that seems to be remembered most fondly by fans. How was this not a bigger hit? The B-side "Special 20" isn't half bad either. The 12" had a the bonus B-side "Burning Conscience." Today's trivia: After the demise of the Waltones, guitarist Mark Collins went on to greater success with what band?

We're with you, Manchester. Regardless of the turmoil this weekend, the show should and must go on.

"She Looks Right Through Me"
"Special 20"
"Burning Conscience"

Friday, June 2, 2017

Two Great Songs That Sound Great Together: Response Songs

Two Great Songs That Sound Great Together is an occasional series on these pages where we listen to songs I often coupled on mix tapes in my youth. Today's picks don't quite fit that criteria because two of the four songs below come from this century and many years after I bought my last Maxell XLII-S 90 cassette, but I have certainly played them back to back on mixes made for my iPod.

These are best described as response songs... a composition inspired by an earlier one. In fact, that's exactly how Elefant Records described this song by the School in the fall of 2015: "'Do I Love You?' is an upbeat Northern Soul-inspired track, a girl's response to the famous Frank Wilson song." I have one of two known original copies of Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)," anonymously bought at an auction in 2015. Just kidding, Drew. I hope the doctor didn't need to use the paddles on you after reading that. I have Wilson's song on 'The Best Northern Soul All-Nighter... Ever!' Terrible name and packaging but there's no arguing the 60 classics spread over two discs is a wonderful place for a novice to start.

Frank Wilson - "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)"
The School - "Do I Love You?"

Elefant again! Two fine examples to illustrate why they are just about the best label out there. This one is surely in the running for the best answer song ever. Certainly helps when you have someone so brilliant posing the question in the first place. I'm going to cut this short. I get so blue thinking about the death of Carey Lander. If you don't have all five of Camera Obscura's albums, go get 'em right now.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?"
Camera Obscura - "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken"