Records

Vinyl Friday #21: The Smiths “The Smiths”

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The Smiths. The loves of my life. My favourite band since I bought this album when I was just turning 15. It was the band that turned my life around in such a dramatic way. A band that changed me like no other. Growing up with only cornfields, cows and hicks (a word I had forgotten existed until this moment), a band that referenced unknown writers and played such intricate, yet accessible music was a revelation. They became my solace in a world I knew I would never fit into. While many bands helped me gain the courage to go out into the world, The Smiths were the band that gave me confidence that somewhere there was a world that I belonged in and I would some day find it.

But there’s something strange about loving the Smiths. It’s something that I mostly noticed when I first studied abroad in London. When I told someone that I loved Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce people just… stared. I later would understand that saying your favourite band was the Smiths was one of the most cliched things you could say. Apparently at some point the band had had a cultural comeback and it had been something I missed entirely. In some ways it almost became embarrassing to admit my love for them. A band with so much beauty and keep layers became something to not share. This is something I really do hate to admit because I am firm believer in loving whatever the hell you want when it comes to music.

For a long time I stopped listening to the band (which was a dramatic change from my university days when I would listen to each album in its entirety at least once a week). Thankfully there’s plenty of other music in the world to fill my time with, but no band has ever filled my heart the same way the Smiths have. I kept a copy of Simon Goddard’s The Songs That Save Your Life by my bedside table for over five years. Goddard’s book is a song-by-song analysis and backstory to every Smiths’ recording. I read the entire thing then proceeded to read it whenever I wanted to. I don’t think I could stomach doing that for any other band. But I think it’s very much overdue that I write about the debut album from this Manchester band.

The Smiths, along with Strangeways, Here We Come, is a pretty grossly over-looked album for an iconic band. Within recent years, I’ve seen countless articles pop up about how this 1984 album is their worst by far. As a completely biased woman, I can’t possibly pick a “weak” album out of the four. Because each is excellent and crap in different parts and ways. But to say The Smiths is the worst still baffles me even as I write this. But as the story goes, this is really the second version of the album. The first being recorded with producer Troy Tate (which can be listened to on bootleg). The producer on the final product was John Porter. This version of the album was released after being recorded in fits and starts – to no one’s satisfaction.

That being said, I’m quite fond of the way it sounds. It’s quite distinct from the middle two albums and certainly worlds away from the production on the fourth and final release. For the longest time, I never bought and Smiths albums on vinyl. I stuck to constantly playing the CDs I bought at Exclusive Company – I was completely convinced this was a band that I would only buy their albums if I found them used in a shop. I needed to be a part of a longer history of the physical record.

One day I was totally stunned when I saw the complete collection of albums, along with several other “Best Of…”s and Rank at a resale shop. Being pretty young at the time, I didn’t have all the money to buy the complete lot at the time. So I hid the albums. Yes, I was that dick. But it worked. Every two weeks after payday I would return and buy the next piece. Unfortunately, many of them are now damaged beyond playing ability (to put it politely, never ever ever ever ever let a drunk ‘borrow’ your record collection for five months). Thankfully this one survived relatively unscathed. Maybe it’s due to the unpopularity of the album. I’d like to think so because at least the album and I are on the right side of music justice.

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Vinyl Friday #18: A Flock of Seagulls “Listen”

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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time now, you’ll know that I have a massive soft spot for A Flock of Seagulls. I’ve had my rant about “one-hit wonder” bands (which is what they are considered in America, but not in their home country of the UK), so I probably don’t need to go back down that road because I’ll never come back. They were a much disliked band at the time, understandably,but I am a woman of the modern era and I will like what I please.

Listen was released in 1983 off the back of a pretty successful first album. Though nothing they ever did would ever compete with “I Ran (So Far Away)”. It is a shame, but writing one of the most successful and iconic singles of the 80’s is nothing to sniff at.

As continued with the first album, A Flock of Seagulls continue with their spacey vibe. The songs literally have zooms and twinges from synths that are really fun to listen to in Stereo. The rumbling in the beginning of “2:30” always delights my ears because of how unusual it is. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough variation in sound that lets down the album a bit.

Now I don’t think Listen is superior to their self-titled debut, but I am particularly fond of the dream-like quality of this album. “Wishing (If I Had a Photograph)” is seriously one of my favourite songs ever. When I lived in Milwaukee I would always walk in the fog listening to this song. It touches a strange part of my heart that often makes me cry. It is a bit wasted, though, as the first song of Side A. It would have been so nice placed later as either the closing track or as a surprise tucked away in the track listing. The fourth single off the album, “(It’s Not Me) Talking” that does the closing. A cool song but the energy off that single really should have been placed elsewhere.

This copy of Listen was found in my favourite antique shop. Of course it was in my favourite booth with the mannequin lady (she’ll pop up in more stories, to be sure). This lonely soul resided in my favourite New Wave bin. A Flock of Seagulls are hardly the best in the bunch, but I could never pass up the opportunity to listen to “Wishing” on vinyl. In my searches, I’ve rarely found A Flock of Seagulls’ albums while searching in Wisconsin. I’m not sure what it’s like in the UK, but I imagine it would be a much more successful hunt.

I do love the sound of this album on vinyl. There is so much to be added by listening to it with the pops and hollowness of humming speakers. Especially the synth bits in tracks like “What Am I Supposed To Do”. This is very much a lonely album. I love crawling up to it and listening to it. I suppose the uber-80’s-ness of the album won’t be to too many people’s taste, but I will keep championing the album.

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Vinyl Friday #13: The Adicts “Sound of Music”

P1010210For some reason, when I was a teenager I wanted nothing more than to be “punk.” That is excruciating to write, but there it is. Being a kid is tough, but I wanted to make my life even more difficult by making myself stick out like a sore thumb in rural Wisconsin. I dressed like Joe Strummer, constantly babbled about Siouxsie Sioux being a god to whoever was unfortunate enough to be near me, and I was obsessed with The Adicts. I even painted my mouth with black lipstick like “Monkey” Warren’s joker make-up.

No photographic evidence of said event will ever reach this page.

Part of that grand affection led to me buying a couple of their albums on vinyl. The second of which was their sophomore album Sound of Music. I was really into Songs of Praise, especially their first single “Viva La Revolution” (of course I was – I was bound to start a revolution, right?), but being quite young I wasn’t really into shopping used records at the time. I bought most of my punk albums brand-spanking-new at my favourite record shop in town. Songs of Praise was never available for purchase so I took to buying the follow-ups instead.

Buying albums I had never heard before felt like a bit of a gamble but it paid off. The first time I put Sound of Music on the turn table, I got goosebumps from the carousel music that opened the album. I was so impressed by the way they turned that into the opening track “How Sad.” That simple trick of one child-like sound running head-first into a wall of guitars sent me giddy like the child I probably was.

This actually remains one of my favourite albums of the genre. I know I use this word a lot, but it really is a lot of fun. Several of the tracks are staples of the band. “Joker in the Pack” and “Chinese Takeaway” are non-political bits of what can sometimes be a tediously political group of bands. Many of the songs remind me of football chants due to the infectious sing-along choruses hooked in every track. The band even recorded their version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a song often associated with Liverpool FC – a track that would later be included as a bonus track on special CD releases of this album.

Wanting to be something you’re definitely not is pretty damn silly, but in many ways that awkward phase taught me a lot. I devoured music books at that point because I wanted to learn absolutely everything I could about a period of time I would never be a part of. I needed to know every literary reference and reasoning behind every political statement that was made.

Without The Adicts, it would have taken me a lot longer to figure out what “droogs” are and what the hell A Clockwork Orange was. Even now that remains one of my favourite books and was a profound effect on my thinking. As a kid, I became infatuated with idea that there was something more out there. It was this music that planted that seed in my mind.

Who knows, if it wasn’t for songs like “Johnny was a Soldier” or “Shake Rattle, Bang Your Head” I might not even be in London right now. And who could even imagine what life would be like then?

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Vinyl Friday #8: XTC “Skylarking”

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There is something so great about owning a completely unique record. Something that no one or hardly anyone owns. That, in my collection, is this promotion version of XTC’s 1986 album Skylarking.

This semi-concept album full of lovely imagery. The opening tracks “Summer’s Cauldron’ and ‘Grass’ are both personal favourites. Although, “Dear God” ended up being a big song for the band, even if it didn’t chart well initially. Beats me why anyone likes it because this song is pretty eudeous. I really don’t listen to this album compared to some of their earlier bits because it can be a bit thick in the middle. But whenever I go through my collection and spot this little gem, I can instantly remember how it ended up in my hands.

Being a radio DJ was always one of my dream jobs (though I would be terrible at speaking on radio because I’m terrible at speaking period). There was a married couple in Wisconsin that would DJ every weekday morning on my way to work. They played strictly 80s music and they were always spot on. I grew so attached to listening to those two every morning.

One morning I heard a promotion that their radio station was doing a yard sale of sorts.

My mom and I drove out there together to take a look-see. There were boxes and boxes full of all sorts of wonders. It was a predominately classic rock station which means they pretty much could carry whatever they felt like. I thought it would be something no one in the area would be interested, but I was completely wrong. The place was rammed with people picking through records, posters and other various objects (including cardboard cutouts of musicians like Alice Cooper).

Being late to arrive in the morning (Wisconsin people are morning people, I guess), most of the stuff had been picked over. Thankfully most people back home enjoy the more metal side of life, leaving all the weird bits for me to pick up for myself. I definitely didn’t leave empty handed.

This copy of Skylarking is from that haul. One of those stamped promotional copies that says “Not for resale” but everyone resells anyway. I wouldn’t say that this would make my favourite XTC album, but owning unusual copies of albums is my weakness. I like that this little number lived its life out in a radio station, even if I can’t.

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Record Store Day 2014 releases announced

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It is almost that time of the year again: the magical and mystical celebration of Record Store Day. It has been eight years now since independent record stores began celebrating their magic. The UK will be celebrating its 6th year in the tradition. Today the lists have been revealed for the RSD releases.

I’ve personally  found that RSD has gotten a little big for its britches and pretty far from its purpose. There’s a One Direction release this year. I suppose records are for everyone…? Eight years ago the day was about buying great records and eating pizza in your favourite shop (free pizza – in a record store!). It was a really great way to support local businesses as well as giving back to your music community. The Record Store Day releases are what have made it problematic (that and the trendiness of the turn tables on Instagram).

No longer is it about supporting your record stores, but it is about buying rare and over-priced records. My local shop at home barely run any sales anymore. The people who flip records can go to hell, and so can the record companies who dish out the ridiculously over-priced records. People will pay the prices, though, and for anyone who just wants to go out and have a good day day are likely to have a struggle.

But RSD should be every day of the year, really. Not just when there are rare records released on one day. The point of this all is to celebrate indie shops. They’re the ones that care about the customers. All that bitching aside, I really like unusual records so I still get really excited when the lists are revealed. It’s just a shame that limited releases have people pulling each other’s hair out instead of feeling a sense of comradery.

So what’s it like at your shop on RSD? Is it peace and love or hell? Any releases you’re looking forward to this year? I personally can’t wait to celebrate my first in the UK. There are lots I can’t wait for like Adam & the Ants’ ‘Dirk Wears White Socks’ (which I have NEVER found before), Joy Division’s EP ‘An Ideal for Living’ (which I’ll never get my hands on), Roddy Frame’s releases and Jake Bugg’s live album. Should be a fun year.

As much as whine, I love it. And I will continue to go every year they’ll let me.

* Just a note, these are the releases for the UK RSD, which is also on the 19th. The US releases can be found here.

“Before we post the #RSD14 list and everyone gets excited (or not) about the titles on it, we wanted to say: We do this because we love record stores, and they are behind everything we do. There may be aspects of Record Store Day you don’t like, don’t understand, think could be done differently or better. You may hate every title on the list, or refuse to visit on 4/19 just on principle. We get it. We understand. And we hope you understand that at the base of everything Record Store Day is or ever will be is the record store and the folks who love it as much as we do.”

The more the merrier

I’ve been buying vinyl since I was 13. My parents dumped their old records on me. I was 13 when my mom took me to buy my first album (Beck remixes. No idea why – the idea of grabbing something strange on the shelf is still appealing to me). Earlier this month a report from Nielsen Soundscan said that record sales have gone up 30% (see a lovely graph here at Digital Music News). In a world where music purchases are going down and more people are turning to music streaming, it seems quite unusual.

More and more people are buying vinyl, and maybe you’re thinking about taking a dive. But there really is a strange art to shopping for records. Seasoned buyers have their own art, but there is

1. Don’t be intimidated. It sounds stupid, but it’s true. I’ve had issues before with this. Some big guy things because it’s 43, single and overweight he has better taste in must than you (because there’s such thing as “good” and “bad” taste). He can tell you’re eying the Jazz Fusion records he’s standing in front of, but he won’t fucking move. Intimidation means grabbing things you probably don’t want.

This might be because I’m a young, American girl in a big British city, but I find it easy to be intimidated. If you LOVE Prince, then don’t be afraid to purchase that copy of “Controversy.” Sure that fat man might be judging you, but you get to go home and you dance to “Sexuality.”

2. Buy used. Use you like Mumford & Sons, but your bank account won’t enjoy the £25 price tag. New records are unbelievably pricey. Take a chance on a used record shop instead. There are long-lost treasures hiding in basement shops. There is a shop in the States called Half-Price Books. Even though I came from a small town, there were always surprises tucked away. Big, shiny shops are easy to be lured into but they won’t offer good prices.

3. Do your research. Different shops will carry different types of record. There are your metal shops, indie shops, 60’s girl groups, dub. Make sure you find shops in your area that suit your taste. Chances are if a shop specialises in reggae and you like folk, maybe don’t take the time to visit. The shop owners will be more useful to you if they carry what you want. My best example is when I went to Exotica records in Notting Hill (it’s no longer there, but it was so nice). I had found a Beat Happening record that made me burst out of my skin with excitement. I told the man behind the counter how difficult it was to find records by them back in the States. He seemed genuinely pleased and went behind the counter to show me another Beat Happening album. I was in heaven.

4. Music is a shared experience. When you get home, be sure to spin records with your friends. Buying a record is only one step in the journey of music. There are some people buy records for the mere ability to brag or to own something “rare” or “expensive.” Oh you have an original pressing of “Blonde on Blonde” still in it’s plastic? Great. Take the record and fucking spin it. Don’t let your albums collect dust. We buy vinyl to have a connection with our music. What’s the point if we hide it from the world?