vinyl

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 #19: “Dudes: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Album”

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I’ve watched all of Penelope Spheeris’ films time and time again. I love her early documentaries (The Decline of Western Civilization, of course), her sense of humour in films like Wayne’s World and her attention to music as seen in Suburbia. I love most of the things she does… besides Dudes. Now I have to say there is nothing wrong with this 1987 film, but it is unusual in a not-always-great way. I mostly watched this movie because I was dead-obsessed with Jon Cryer and The Vandals at that moment in time. This film combined both of those loves, but it was such a bizarre (and slightly boring) film that I never bothered to watch it again.

The soundtrack is pretty hit-and-miss. Highlights are, of course, “Urban Struggle” and an early version of Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song”. But personally I was never into metal that much, and that’s what dominates this album. Bands like W.A.S.P. and Megadeth are fine enough, but I think I was a misled child believing that like many of Spheeris’ films, there would be a lot of early-80’s punk music. Though I never stopped to consider the fact that this movie was released in 87 – much too late for a soundtrack to be similar to Suburbia. I have to admit, I grabbed this soundtrack merely because I loved the cover and vaguely remembered watching the movie (of which I only could recall the opening scenes).

Yes, this was definitely an impulse buy. Sorry, Penelope, but I probably have only listened to this only twice in its entirety, mostly praying for the next bearable track to come along.

I’m always surprised about what shows up in the strangest of places. This album came from Oshkosh, where my best friends used to go to university. Oshkosh is pretty much a nondescript city filled with mostly students and chain restaurants. But there’s an antique mall there that’s fantastic (or it was, as it’s mostly shabby-chic business now). There is a stall I always made sure to check when I made the trip. For the most part the seller had the usual knick-knacks. But there was always plenty of surprising albums there to dig through. Of all places, this is where I found this soundtrack, and Fear’s The Record. Clearly someone was a  big Lee Ving fan (the man makes an appearance in Dudes).

I grew up hating living in Northern Wisconsin, but clearly there were plenty of people around that I needed to meet. Only I suppose they were at least twenty years older than me if they were buying Fear records. Another pain of being born too late.

This isn’t my favourite sountrack ever, but it’s still something I’m glad of owning. Even though it’s not very unusual, it looks nice. Mostly because Jon Cryer looks pretty damn good in that cowboy outfit. Just saying.

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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 #17: Simple Minds “Once Upon a Time”

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I always get the feeling that it’s pretty uncool to like Simple Minds. I’m not sure why, though. Of course “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is an absolute classic tune, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with genuinely liking them as a band.  Anyway, despite its terrible album name, Once Upon a Time is a decently good album with some solidly composed songs mixed in with fantastic singles. “All the Things She Said” isn’t pretty good for some rocking 80s snapping dance moves (you know what I’m talking about), but “Alive and Kicking” is the golden song. It’s one of my favourite songs ever.

And yes, I will willingly admit this, I do listen to that song many times when I’m trying to tell myself “I can do it!” The song is pretty much my equvilant to those bad motivational posters that everyone’s mom’s post on Facebook. Now that I think about it, the music video – which was filmed in New York state – is set in a place that looks perfect for a nice motivational saying:

I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday! I’m going to make the rest of my life the best of my life!

Or something. I just did a quick search for motivational quotes because apparently my mind is too full of other useless information. But this whole album just sounds of early-Sunday light sounds. It’s easy to pass it off as fluff, but as I’m re-listening to it while I write, this is actually better than I remember. Certainly a great seventh album. Better than a lot of other bands’ seventh albums.

It’s pretty apparent from the photos that this album is a pretty weird copy. For one, this is apparently from the Beloit Public Library. I don’t even know where Beloit is, but thanks to a quick Google search, it’s apparently in the very south central part of Wisconsin – a couple hundred miles away from where I picked this up. I found this baby in the back of this really weird thrift store my friends and I would frequent in high school.

This isn’t like a nice Goodwill-type thrift shop, but one of those religiously-based ones that sometimes has great vintage blouses, but is mostly full of scarf belts and overly-worn terrycloth bathrobes. Their media section in the back is a literal hell. Full of tapes, N*Sync compilation CDs and the scariest record section. People scoff at the album selection at most thrift stores, but this is literally the worst of the worst. Everything there goes for 15 cents because the selection usually consists of albums that not even Lawrence Welk would want.

Thankfully the collective ignorance of the people in Northern Wisconsin meant that this actually good album found its way into the mix. Once Upon a Time for 15 cents, literally the cheapest find in my collection. Since it was at one point a prisoner of a library (imagine borrowing albums from a library now-a-days), the sleeve has been torn up completely to fit into its special little plastic case. I like to think this casing keeps the sleeve protected, you know, despite the fact that some horrible person completely deconstructed this album like a savage. But bonus points because there is still the old school envelope in the front full of stamps from the dates checked-in and checked-out. I can confirm that this was a pretty popular with the kids in Beloit.

This is the grand joy of buying second-hand albums. Who was the little devil that owned this before? Did he rob the Beloit Library of their 80s new wave selection? Did the Beloit Library finally have enough of the burden and cast their albums to the wind to scatter and spread across the state? Oh I’ll never know, but I like to think whoever had this was cheeky enough to kick it off a library and never ever return it.

On a completely unrelated note, I always forget that Simple Minds are Scottish. That just makes then that much better.

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Vinyl Friday #15: Bow Wow Wow “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy”

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Like several punk bands in London during the late 70s, Bow Wow Wow were led (see “created”) by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Produced to sell Westwood’s New Romantic line, the band was composed of several Dirk Wears White Socks-era members of Adam & the Ants and the young Annabella Lwin.

See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy has to be one of the most unnecessarily long album titles ever. Their first album, Your Cassette Pet, was released on EMI, and after a falling-out the band went to RCA for their sophomore effort. The story of this album cover is now famous (and probably utterly and completely manufactured like much of Britain’s music was at the time).

Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe served as the inspiration for the cover. The painting depicts two men having a luncheon with two women: one nude and one lightly-dressed. The painting at the time was controversial and even was initially rejected by the Salon. Drawing upon that controversy, the cover of See Jungle! depicts the band in a similar outdoor setting, including a nude Annabella Lwin, who was only 15 at the time.

The cover would then go on to be featured again on their EP The Last of the Mohicans. This copy I have is the “alternative” version of See Jungle! After a Scotland Yard investigation into the photograph, the US release featured this cover – one with a clothed Lwin. What never made any sense to me was the fact that they wanted a band that was constructed to sell clothes would have the only female in the band nude, but what do I know know about the inner-workings of show business?

Idiotic controversies aside (the music never really got as much attention as the photo did), this is a pretty good album. Annabella Lwin was someone I wanted to grow up to be when I was a teenager. There was so much attitude there. She was ferocious, girly and sassy – all things I still have yet to manage to become. But the band combined surf, “jungle beats” and the chanting cries of young British youth.

I do think the band seems to be constantly over by their “I Want Candy” cover. For the most part they still remain a sort of one-hit-wonder. They’re a pretty harmless band that were much more effortlessly cool than a lot of other pop groups at the time. “I Want Candy” is a pretty obnoxious song, to be completely honest. But a lot of what is on See Jungle! is a lot better, it’s just a shame that no one seems to want to listen to it anymore. There are some great singles here like “Go Wild in the Country.”

I found  this album in one of the suburban cities outside of Milwaukee (no clue which one, but they’re all essentially the same place anyway). I bought it on my last ever Record Store Day outing in 2013. My then roommate and I had been out since 7 in the morning and it was utter chaos at every record shop we went to.

On a whim, we went into a small shop. It wasn’t strictly a record shop, nor did they have any sort of sale going on but we entered any way. The place was full of old VHS tapes and other odd knick-knacks. In the middle was an arrangement of records that spanned from the obsucure to the truly awful. My roommate and I searched every bin and we both walked away with some interesting bits. This was one of them.

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Vinyl Friday #15: The Icicle Works

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It really is a shame when good things are left forgotten. I really apologise to this album. I really do. Because this The Icicle Works is an piece of early 80s alt that is really quite good.

The Icicle Works’ debut album was released in 1984 on Beggars Banquet records. It’s quite a good album that has little to no acclaim to it – not because it isn’t a good album but because it seems to have laid forgotten (much like my copy of this album has been). The band had the same sort of grand, sweeping psychedelic flare of Echo & the Bunnymen (possible due to the common Liverpool tie), with the sort of story-teller voice of Ian McNabb. This freshman album brings comparisons to Ocean Rain, which is a fair enough, but it is very much worth a listen in its own right.

The Icicle Works are one of those bands that seemed to have trickled through the cracks of music history. This is by no means a poor album either. It’s quite an enjoyable listen, even if it’s not always the most original sounding.

This is one of those instances where the change in track order makes a difference to how the album sounds. This is a U.S. release of the album, and that’s not only noticeable because of the alternate cover, but from the fact that the album opens here with the single “Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly).” Truth be told, the UK original version probably edges out the US and Canadian versions. Track “Reaping the Rich Harvest” was removed and replaced with “Waterline,” which is fine but not really an improvement in any way.

For the life of me I cannot remember where this album came from. There is literally no memory of picking it up. Perhaps it is memory loss because this is one of the newest bits I own (blame it on going back to a full-time job). I remember really being into “Whisper to a Scream” because it really is one hell of a single, but this poor album never made it more than a few spins. In fact, this is one album that is still sitting in storage in America. In a way I do feel a bit guilty because it probably deserves a proper listen again.

For this post, I have listened to it on the laptop (which I guess is  cheating since we’re talking about vinyl here). I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one of those albums where I think it excels outside of the singles. I was never totally blown away by “Love is a Wonderful Colour,” but there are definitely other songs here worth listening to like “Chop the Tree” (which is how the UK album opened).

What The Icicle Works proves is that there is always something to uncover in the vaults of 80s music.

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Vinyl Friday #14: Robyn Hitchcock “I Often Dream of Trains”

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First things first: this is one of the most biased bits of writing I have headed in to. Everything about this bloody album is probably everything I love about life. And this, of course, could only be music created by Britain’s special songwriting gems – Robyn Hithcock.  Often Dream of Trains was Hitchcock’s third album, released in 1984. While there is a mountain of admirable work, this one particularly remains one of his finest moments. I did go through a period where I listened to nothing else but this album on constant repeat. From front to back. From “Nocturne (Prelude)” to “Nocturne (Demise).”

It’s almost a lonely sounding album in many respects, but I suppose that is his allusion to trains and dreams.  This record also includes many of Hitchcock’s signature tracks like “Uncorrected Personality Traits” – an a cappella tune of gender norms and almost Freudian ideas.

When I did a little bit of reading, I came across the statement that this was an acoustic album. It took me a minute to understand that was actually true, but it hardly sounds like it. I usually find these sorts of albums to be utterly dull, but rarely do they fill the sound in this sort of way. Plus the P1010132book-ending of the “Nocturne”s is really a nice touch. I do love an instrumental leading into a song with a massive punch (and nothing really is more deserving than the ultra-strange “Sometimes I Wish I Was a Pretty Girl.”)

Without sounding too pretentious, this album remains one of the most mature albums I have heard. It is full of ideas, thoughts and sounds to grow into. Hitchcock always has unusual lyrics – he rarely sticks to traditional optics or tired lyrics. Each time I listen to this album, I always take something different away from it.

In many ways, it is like reading a great piece of literature: the meaning of the author is one thing, and important, but sometimes it is what the consumer takes from it too.

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When I returned home to America after my studies, I was in a bit of a strange place. I was back in Wisconsin and felt entirely removed from myself when I wasn’t in England. But one day I went into a resale shop in my hometown for a quick look. It totally took me by surprise when I saw I Often Dream of Trains.

This is one of those “pieces” that are so worth owning on vinyl. The lyrics and Hitchcock’s own cartoon drawings are so interesting and special. Plus the cover work is just so intricate. All of these parts just create one really great whole.

Part of finding this album in Wisconsin makes it feel all the more special. On one hand finding it where it was produced would have been great, but I love knowing that someone else in my small hometown also had a connection with Robyn Hitchcock. Little bits like that make buying second-hand always feel that bit more personal.

I’d like to think whoever owned this copy before me got as much out of this album as I do. And when it is my turn to pass this on, I hope whoever receives it next knows that it has come from a line of people who really cherish the music etched in its grooves.

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