Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cocteau Twins - Love's Easy Tears EP


T. S. Eliot considered April to be "the cruelest month", but for my money, February wins the calendar cruelty sweepstakes hands down.

It's a weird time, ol' February is - the shortest month of the year, but one that invariably feels twice as long as the number of days allotted to it. It's a time for the raising of false hopes - schoolchildren and irrational optimists pause in dumb anticipation every February 2nd, waiting for a fat, rabid rodent to emerge from its fetid hole in a one-horse town in western Pennsylvania and let them know what the weather will be like for the following six weeks; a prediction that is almost invariably wrong. It's a time for unreasonable expectations and grandiose, yet ultimately empty, gestures - in other words, Valentine's Day, and everything involved in proving, for at least one day out of the year, that you actually love the person that you're with. It's a time of mirages - the strange phenomena of February 29th, Leap Day, which materializes every four years with mild fanfare in the press and little notice by the public, like a widely hyped but sparsely attended street protest.

But mostly, it's a time of boredom. Back when I was at Navy, February made up the majority of the period known as the "Dark Ages", beginning generally with the return from Christmas break but really kicking in just after the Super Bowl. The "Dark Ages" were a time of slate grey skies and icy streets, walking to class miserably hunkered down in heavy coats and wet scarves, watching the mists rise and curl off of the frosty Severn River and taking small, bitter comfort from the thought that, hell, at least you weren't up at West Point, where the cadets had it much worse. With the pro football season over, we were reduced to watching, if anything, midseason pro hoops and hockey games of low intensity and limited appeal; teams were saving their energies and enthusiasms for the end-of-season pushes of April and May. It was just a time of gloom and ennui, of gritting your teeth and gutting your way through it, which only began to let up with the first lukewarm days of March. Usually by the time the college March Madness basketball tournament began, the "Dark Ages" would officially be over.

Before my Academy days, February had a different (but no less disagreeable) meaning. As a child of devout churchgoing Catholic parents, the coming of February usually meant the onset of Lent, the six-week leadup to Easter. I really didn't understand the whole concept and meaning of Lent as a kid; the two main things I took away from it during that time was that 1) I had to go to church after school on the first day of Lent and get soot rubbed into my forehead, which I wasn't supposed to wash off until bedtime; and 2) my parents 'encouraged' me to give up something I loved (chocolate, sweets or a favorite toy) for the duration - an aspect of the season that I loathed and dreaded, but one that invariably fell by the wayside as the days progressed, as my folks both took pity on my misery at being deprived, and/or got tired of constantly trying to enforce the weeks-long ban.

In other words, for most of the first two-plus decades years of my life, February translated into "No Fun" . . . except for one brief, shining moment. That was in 1983, the year I experienced my first true Mardi Gras.

For reasons that have never been properly explained to me, soon after retiring from the Navy, my dad decided to leave Monterey, California and settle 2,000 miles away in a place he had heretofore never visited nor evinced any interest in - Slidell, Louisiana, hard by Lake Pontchartrain and a short distance from New Orleans. So in the summer of 1982, we said goodbye to Monterey (at that point, the greatest place we'd ever lived) and for several days drove across the arid Southwest and Texas to our new and unfamiliar home, arriving at temporary lodgings in The Crescent City late one July evening. I will never forget my first morning in that city, when I stepped outside my air-conditioned room into a veritable steam bath; I was instantly soaked with sweat, and stayed that way all day, even through three shirt changes. The place, weather-wise, was brutal.


During my first few months in the state, I got to know New Orleans a little better. It's an odd city, a jumble of contrasts and juxtapositions, a melange of old and new, black and white (figurative and literally), with varying shades of grey in between. Neighborhoods full of beautiful Greek Revival-style buildings stood cheek-by-jowl with crumbling, decrepit slum areas. On some days, in the heart of the modern business district, you could smell the primeval mud and rot rising from the murky Mississippi River slowing flowing through the center of the city. The city boasts about the positive actions it took to avoid much of the upheaval and turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60's; yet by my estimation, it's one of the most de facto segregated cities I'd ever been to. The quaintness of the scrolled iron balconies in the Bourbon Street area were counterbalanced by the unsettling spookiness of the city's cemeteries, consisting of acres upon acres of elaborate marble vaults (New Orleans sits so far below the water table that any buried coffins would just float back to the surface, so everyone is entombed above ground), veritable cities of death. I think the whole 'N'Awlins voodoo' thing has been way overplayed nowadays by the media . . . but enough of it was present in the city at the time to add another dollop of strangeness to an already strange place. All in all, New Orleans was an odd combination of the living and the dead, excess and morality, unbridled partying and religious severity, abiding joy on the surface . . . and deep sadness underneath. For those first few months, it was a place I appreciated, a place I tolerated - but a place I never really enjoyed or loved.

Then came that February and Mardi Gras season, and my entire perception of New Orleans changed.

Actually, Mardi Gras is more than just a single day or weekend. The Carnival season there officially begins on January 6th, the twelfth day after Christmas (also known as, shockingly enough, "Twelfth Night"). Various fraternal organizations/social clubs, known as "krewes", sponsor dances, balls and parades throughout the season, with the number and frequency intensifying as Mardi Gras gets closer and closer. The weekend before Mardi Gras is when they really start to kick out the jams, with tourists flocking in from across the nation and world to party, get drunk, show their respective tits, and view the parades of the major krewes (Endymion, Bacchus, Zulu, Rex, etc.).

My family and I went into the city on the last Sunday of the season that year to see the Bacchus parade. We arrived early, in a vain attempt to beat the crowds, and thus had time to wander around the French Quarter and Bourbon Street for a while. I was amazed at the transformation I saw in the city's demeanor. It was a complete carnival atmosphere, with laughing, smiling revelers walking the streets, mingling with singers, dancers, acrobats and people in all sorts of masks and costumes. Music was heard everywhere - a lot of Dr. John and Louis Armstrong, as I recall. But the song that I remember hearing the most was Professor Longhair's "Mardi Gras In New Orleans", the proper theme tune for the celebration. New Orleans didn't seem dangerous or dirty or weird or spooky during that time - it was as if the ever-present shadowy side of the city was completely (if momentarily) pushed aside away by the bright, fun, happy glare of fun and enjoyment happening that weekend. Of course, it didn't last; in a few days, the Crescent City was back to its old light-and-dark self. But the memory of the city's brief, glorious annual transformation stayed with me for a long time afterward.

My family left Louisiana shortly after I left for Annapolis later that year. The next time I was anywhere even remotely close to that area was nearly five years later, when I lived in Athens, Georgia for a few months, attending a school related to my military speciality. During the time I lived in Georgia, I never put much thought into making the long road trip to New Orleans; I mean, that college town had nearly everything I wanted, in terms of great music venues (like the 40 Watt and the Uptown Lounge) and fun, cool things to do. The University of Georgia radio station, WUOG, was always playing off-the-wall, cutting edge stuff, so it was on constantly in my home and car. And when I wanted some different atmosphere, well, Atlanta was less than an hour down the road. Driving any further, much less out of state, never really crossed my mind. I'd been away from Louisiana for so long that when that February rolled around, I had all but forgotten about the whole Carnival season there.

As I recall, the thing that put the idea of Mardi Gras in my head again was a short local news segment I saw that Friday night about the upcoming weekend events in New Orleans. It sounded intriguing, but I didn't know one way or another if I would make the journey. In fact, it wasn't until the next morning, only a couple of hours before I jumped in my car, that I finally made up my mind to go. And go I did - I left just after 9 am that day, and made the 530-mile run from Athens, Georgia to New Orleans in a little less than six and a half hours, which was frickin' hauling it. In hindsight, the rate I was traveling was a little nuts. First of all, keep in mind that I was speeding through Alabama and Mississippi, states with a somewhat, um, interesting history of law enforcement. If friggin' Boss Hogg and his cronies there had nabbed me blasting through their states . . . hell, I'd probably STILL be in jail. Secondly, it wasn't like I was all fired up to get into the city and get buck-wild. At the time, I didn't drink at all, and thus wasn't much of a gung-ho partier. I guess I just wanted to be at a place where the action was, as soon as possible.

On my way out of Athens, listening to WUOG, they played a lovely little ethereal song called "Orange Appled" by The Cocteau Twins, a Scottish alternative/dream pop band. The lyrics were all but unintelligible, but the female voice uttering the obscure syllables was amazing and beautiful, as was the dense instrumentation backing her.


By mid-afternoon, I had arrived in Louisiana, and decided to take a brief detour. I got off at one of the first exits across the Mississippi/Louisiana border, and for the first time in years drove into Slidell, my old hometown. The place still had a sort of rundown, beat-up, hangdog feel about it - Slidell to me always felt like it was only a couple of steps removed from reverting back into the swampland from which it had been carved out of. I took the car back to my old neighborhood on the far eastern edge of town, hard by the Pearl River, driving down a mile and a half down a dark ribbon of narrow road, threatened on either side by glowering oak and cypress trees heavily veiled in kudzu. The area had been flooded once when we lived there, and apparently had at least one other flood in the intervening years. But the current residents were doing what they could to fight back and hold on; in a couple of cases, homeowners had raised their houses on stilts. Being back there, going down that road again, seeing that beaten down neighborhood attempting to keep up appearances against the inevitable - it was all pretty depressing. I didn't linger for long; I just couldn't take very much of it. Whatever lingering nostalgia I had for the place was wiped out by that visit; I've never been back. I was eager to finally get to New Orleans and shake the sights and memory of my old living place out of my head.

I got into the city, found a place to park, and started strolling around amongst the throngs of revelers. I knew that there was going to be a parade by one of the minor krewes later that afternoon, so I tried to make my way over to the parade route. In the years that I had been away, I had all but forgotten how much of a zoo Mardi Gras was, but I was quickly reminded. There's a certain "I'm dancing as fast as I can" element to the carnival, as if some people were trying a little too hard to have (and prove they're having) a good time. The French Quarter was jam-packed with a sea of people laughing, dancing and drinking - all three activities with abandon. And when the parade started, it got even more frenzied and weird. You could see the odd glare of determination, almost desperation, in the eyes of some revelers as they grabbed for the cheap plastic trinkets and doodads thrown from the parade floats. More than once that day, I saw grown men and women knocking over children and each other while snatching up a bead necklace or fake doubloon. I didn't stay at the parade very long; there was something depressing about watching people "making merry" in that fashion. I left, and made my way back over to the heart of the French Quarter.

While wandering through the bars and shops in and around Bourbon Street, I had a completely unexpected encounter with one of my former Naval Academy classmates, who I hadn't seen since our graduation a year earlier - I suppose this person, who at that time was in flight school in Pensacola, Florida, apparently felt the same sort of urge I felt that drew them to New Orleans. They were known for being a renowned party maniac back at Navy, so I really shouldn't have been surprised by their presence there. I ran smack-dab into this person as they were reeling down the middle of the street; it was obvious that they arrived much earlier to the city than I had, and had no compunctions about partaking liberally in the refreshments being offered. Despite this person's obviously inebriated condition, they immediately recognized me and screamed happily as I was enveloped in their sloppy bear hug. I was practically knocked to my knees, not from the unsteady impact of the collision itself, but moreso from the powerful booze fumes wafting off out of their lungs and off of their body - it was like they had been swimming in rum. This person's left hand clutched a big plastic cup containing the dregs of the latest in a series of Hurricane cocktails drained during the day; as I was pulled in, they managed to dump a goodly portion of these remnants down my back. Despite all of this, I was happy to see a familiar face. I tried to carry on a conversation, but my attempt was brief, as this person was too far gone to comprehend much of what I was saying, and in no condition to respond. After a while, they just sort of wandered off down the street, and that was that. A weird encounter, but one par for the course during Mardi Gras.
 [Note that I have refrained from providing any specifics identifying this person, as I have no desire to impugn their current status and reputation - the next time I saw them was years later, on television, where they were part of the crew on the International Space Station. Funny how people turn out . . .]
After a few hours of wandering around, dodging drunks, poking my head into shops and listening to music, I got a little tired of fighting the crowds and weirdness - I was starting to feel a little like Yossarian in Rome. It was getting towards dusk, so I decided to make my way over the waterfront area for a bite to eat; I figured it might be less crowded down there than in the French Quarter. I made my way south, looking for a decent-looking restaurant. But en route, I came across the local Tower Records store (now long gone) a couple of blocks south of Bourbon Street, close to the riverfront. Of course, I decided to step inside for a bit.

There were a lot of people in Tower as well, but the scene in there wasn't as nuts as it was outside the store, so it was a semi-oasis of relative calm. I avoided the jazz and blues sections, which were understandably getting most of the action, and made my way over to the rock/alternative cassettes. As I get there, I remembered that Cocteau Twins song I heard out of Athens on my way to Louisiana, and decided to look it up. I wasn't too optimistic - the pickings at that New Orleans store seemed to be pretty slim. But lo and behold, there in the "C"s was an EP by the band, Love's Easy Tears, which contained the song I was looking for.

After a fine meal of spicy crawfish (the first I'd had since I left Louisiana years earlier) at some nondescript joint close by the river, I made my way back to the Bourbon Street area. It was full nighttime now, and the revelry, as it were, was in full swing. If I thought that people were going overboard during that afternoon, that paled in comparison to what was happening that evening, the last weekend before the start of Lent. I made my way as carefully as I could down the avenues through the roaring, jostling throng, my wallet safe in my front pocket with my hand over it. The entire area was a whirlwind of movement and undirected energy and noise, people shouting, laughing, singing and reeling around. But near the edge of the French Quarter, where I managed to find myself, I noticed that the revelry was pretty well concentrated; a lot of the streets and alleys leading directly away from the area were nearly pitch-dark, with none of the lights, crowds or excitement present from literally the next street over. It's a pretty spooky and unsettling feeling, looking to your left and seeing brightness and energy, then glancing right and seeing essentially . . . nothing, a veritable black hole. I can't think of a more literal demonstration of the whole "black/white" New Orleans dichotomy I was referring to earlier.

After a while, I began to tire of the whole scene; watching people striving to fulfill a need to get away from themselves and their ordinary lives, to make beasts and fools and satyrs of themselves (if only for a day or two), gets old and a bit depressing very quickly.  Being in the midst of it all, I got a close-up view as to how dark, venal, dirty and ugly it all seemed, and I'd had enough, of both New Orleans and the entire celebration. I decided to leave. I finally made my way out of the French Quarter, searching for the street where I parked my car, feeling filthy and a bit disgusted with myself for being part of that scene, if only as a spectator. At that moment, Mardi Gras in New Orleans seemed like the worst thing in the world.

But then, I looked back towards the Quarter . . . and saw the glistening puddles of beer (or whatever) and glinting shards of broken glass covering the streets . . . and heard the various sources of music blending into a beckoning, cacophonous melody . . . and watched the gaily-dressed people who remained swirling and milling around underneath the bright multicolored lights of the bars and restaurants. And despite it all, I couldn't help but think how fun and inviting - how beautiful - it all looked . . . so much so, that I nearly turned around and went back into it. But in the end, I went and found my car and left for home.

I stopped in Mississippi overnight at some fleabag motel, and made it back to Athens later that afternoon. En route, I opened my new Cocteau Twins cassette and played it several times during the journey. Here's the song lineup:
1. Love's Easy Tears
2. Those Eyes, That Mouth
3. Sigh's Smell of Farewell
4. Orange Appled
 All of the songs were sweeping, soaring and majestic, but I noticed within them all an undertone of longing and sadness, a hint of menace in the music.  And after a bit, it struck me that there were parallels between The Cocteau Twins and The Crescent City celebration. Mardi Gras is about joy, about cutting loose and having a good time. But like Love's Easy Tears, there was an undercurrent of melancholy in the annual event. Mardi Gras is New Orleans dressed up, but like an old woman who puts on gaudy makeup and age-inappropriate clothes in order to appear to be something she is not, there's something a bit 'not right' about it.

I went into New Orleans intent on seeing the bad side - the dirt, and the drunks, and the darkness, and that's what I came away with, only seeing the beauty at the very end of my visit.  But I was wrong to focus on the negative features of the city and the event. It's that combination of gaiety and despair, laughter and screaming, brightness and shadow that makes Mardi Gras what it is. It's not sanitized and perfect . . . but it works, just like the combo of majesty and misery works in the Cocteau Twins music. It was through listening to these tunes that I finally began to understand Mardi Gras. Love's Easy Tears was the first Cocteau Twins release I ever purchased - but it would be far from the last.

Here's The Cocteau Twins' Love's Easy Tears EP, released on 4AD on September 1st, 1986.  Let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoyed your February, wherever you are.  

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Sonic Youth - 4 Tunna Brix EP


Here's an odd little release of covers of songs originally done by my all-time favorite band . . .

In October 1988, Sonic Youth went into the studios of BBC Radio 1 in London to record a session with legendary DJ John Peel (the first of five sessions the band would record with Peel over the next dozen years). Their critically-acclaimed breakthrough album Daydream Nation has just been released earlier that month, so it should have been expected that the group would play selected cuts off of that disc on Peel's show. Instead, Sonic Youth went in an entirely different direction, spending their entire session playing four covers as an homage of sorts to the English band The Fall - who, incidentally, were one of Peel's favorite groups.

The Fall tracks SY covered were as follows:
1. Rowche Rumble
2. My New House
3. Victoria (yes, I know that this is a Kinks original, but The Fall released their own take of this song earlier that year on their album The Frenz Experiment . . . so essentially Sonic Youth did a cover version of a cover version)
4. Psycho Mafia
The results were . . . strange, to say the least. The tunes sound exactly like you would expect them to sound - a combination of The Fall thrown into Sonic Youth's guitar/feedback/sludge rock buzzsaw. It's all a bit ramshackle and tongue-in-cheek, but overall not bad.

Upon broadcast, the reaction to the session was fairly positive in most quarters, with one crucial exception - when Fall majordomo Mark E. Smith found out about Sonic Youth 'meddling' with his songs, he was (predictably) more than a bit ticked off. He was so upset about it that he refused to sanction the session's commercial release - not that that particularly mattered; this Peel session was quickly bootlegged in England in the following month (on yellow vinyl!) on a 7" EP entitled All Fall Down. Only three songs were on this EP; the "Victoria" cover was left off.

A year and a half later, an outfit called Goofin' Records put out their own vinyl "bootleg" of this session, now including all four songs. I say "bootleg" in quotes, because the sound of this disc is suspiciously pristine, as though it were produced from the original master tapes . . . Nowadays, it's generally acknowledged that Sonic Youth themselves put together the Goofin' release, probably as a way to get back at Smith for being such a dick about the whole thing. For his part, for the past two decades Smith has never missed an opportunity to disparage Sonic Youth, a few years back telling a London Times reporter that Thurston Moore, SY's lead singer, should "have his rock license revoked" (then again, Mark E. Smith slags off pretty much every group and musician nowadays, so it's hard to take his criticism of Sonic Youth seriously).

I recall reading about this disc back in the mid-1990s, and of course being a big Fall fan, I HAD to have a copy. However, it took me quite a while to find this one; I finally tracked one down on eBay about fifteen years ago, being sold by a guy in South Carolina. I enjoy pretty much every song on the EP, although in my opinion the band's version of "Victoria" sounds like an English football chant. Anyway, the music I'm presenting here was burned off of my own copy.

So here you go - here's the four-song 'official bootleg' 4 Tunna Brix EP from Sonic Youth, originally recorded as a John Peel Session on October 19th, 1988, and released on the band's own Goofin' Records label in 1990. Enjoy and as always, let me know what you think of it.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Various Artists - 1-2-3-4: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 (5 Discs)



For such a precedent-shattering and groundbreaking genre, the Golden Age of punk rock was relatively short-lived. Although it's tough to nail down a definitive start to the punk era, 1975 seems to be the consensus, based on the rise that year of such New York City bands/musicians as The Ramones, Patti Smith and Television, and the emergence of The Buzzcocks and The Sex Pistols in the UK. But long before the end of the '70s, punk was already disintegrating, splintering into several different genres - post-punk, New Wave, hardcore, No Wave, Oi!, psychobilly, etc.

Even during its heyday, "punk" was more about the methods, means and attitude by which these musicians approached their music, rather than defining a uniform sound and approach. The Clash, The Jam, Talking Heads, X and The Damned are all considered some of the classic bands to come out of that era, but you'd be hard-pressed to come up with an all-encompassing description/definition of "punk" from their music. This wide variation in the sound and style of what was considered "punk" is one of the genre's strengths, but an aspect that makes the era particularly difficult to summarize and anthologize.

Now, I own a gazillion single- and multi-disc punk and New Wave compilations: Burning Ambitions: A History of Punk (Vols. 1 & 2); Rhino's D.I.Y. series from the mid-90s; The Number One Punk Album, and so forth and so on. I've got overviews of American punk, British punk, Australian punk - you name it. Some of them are pretty good, most of them are OK/so-so, and a couple are absolutely terrible. None of them serve to effectively capture the entire era. And for years, I figured that there would never be a release of any length that could do so. That is, until the late 1990s.

I recall reading about this set in the late winter/early spring of 1999, when I lived in Texas. There was an article about its upcoming release in one of the UK music magazines I regularly read back then - Q, the NME . . . I don't recall which one. But I do recall the glowing review the magazine gave to this box set; it completely whetted my appetite for it. There used to be a Virgin Megastore at the mall near where I used to live in Grapevine - I made a beeline down to it and immediately put in a special order for the set, since it was not slated to be released in the States. The thing finally arrived in May, a month after its UK release - a long black slab with protruding silver studs numbered "1, 2, 3, 4" on the front of the box, containing five enveloped CDs of music and a mammoth book of liner notes containing details on every single song.

Now, I'm usually against overarching compilations in general; I have been disappointed time and time again by these sorts of overviews falling short of their intentions. In my opinion, the only music comps in the past fifty years that have even come close to thoroughly cataloging and celebrating a specific genre are as follows:
  1. The Nuggets garage rock compilation;
  2. Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music;
  3.  . . . and this one.
The compilers do their best to pull together most of the highlights (and a few low-lights) from those years; check out the song lineup:

Disc 1:
1. Complete Control - The Clash
2. Anarchy In The UK - The Sex Pistols
3. New Rose - The Damned
4. Blitzkrieg Bop - The Ramones
5. Shadow - The Lurkers
6. Thinking Of The USA - Eater
7. Ain't Bin To No Music School - The Nosebleeds
8. Borstal Breakout - Sham 69
9. I Hate School - Suburban Studs
10. GLC - Menace
11. One Chord Wonders - The Adverts
12. Right To Work - Chelsea
13. Johnny Won't Go To Heaven - The Killjoys
14. Bone Idle - The Drones
15. Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone - Slaughter & The Dogs
16. C.I.D. - UK Subs
17. Can't Wait 'til '78 - The Wasps
18. Ambition - Subway Sect
19. I'm Stranded - The Saints
20. Orgasm Addict - The Buzzcocks
Disc 2:
1. In The City - The Jam
2. Your Generation - Generation X
3. First Time - The Boys
4. Get A Grip (On Yourself) - The Stranglers
5. Don't Dictate - Penetration
6. In A Rut - The Ruts
7. Big Time - Rudi
8. Don't Ring Me Up - Protex
9. Justa Nother Teenage Rebel - The Outcasts
10. Solitary Confinement - The Members
11. Emergency - 999
12. 19 And Mad - Leyton Buzzards
13. I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher - Not Sensibles
14. Romford Girls - Riff Raff
15. Sick Of You - The Users
16. Gabrielle - The Nips
17. Where Were You - The Mekons
18. Murder Of Liddle Towers - Angelic Upstarts
19. Oh Bondage Up Yours - X-Ray Spex
20. Sweet Suburbia - Skids
21. Television Screen - The Radiators
22. Alternative Ulster - Stiff Little Fingers
23. Teenage Kicks - The Undertones
Disc 3:
1. Teenage Depression - Eddie & The Hot Rods
2. Rich Kids - Rich Kids
3. Baby Baby (I Know You're A Lady) - The Vibrators
4. Suffice To Say - Yachts
5. Roadrunner - Richman, Jonathan & The Modern Lovers
6. Don't Care - Klark Kent
7. Nervous Wreck - Radio Stars
8. Up Against The Wall - Robinson, Tom Band
9. So It Goes - Lowe, Nick
10. Police Car - Wallis, Larry
11. Hard Loving Man - Moped, Johnny
12. Love And A Molotov Cocktail - The Flys
13. Where's Captain Kirk - Spizzenergi
14. Sonic Reducer - Dead Boys
15. Search And Destroy - The Dictators
16. Born To Lose - The Heartbreakers
17. Modern Dance - Pere Ubu
18. Fuck Off - The Electric Chairs
19. California Uber Alles - Dead Kennedys
Disc 4:
1. I Belong To The Blank Generation - Hell, Richard & The Voidoids
2. 10.15 Saturday Night - TheCure
3. Rip Her To Shreds - Blondie
4. I Can't Stand My Baby - The Rezillos
5. All I Want - Snatch
6. Looking After No 1 - The Boomtown Rats
7. Take Me I'm Yours - Squeeze
8. Sex And Drugs And Rock 'n' Roll - Dury, Ian & The Blockheads
9. Spanish Stroll - Mink DeVille
10. Is She Really Going Out With Him - Jackson, Joe
11. Whole Wide World - Wreckless Eric
12. Part Time Punks - Television Personalities
13. Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart - Fitzgerald, Patrick
14. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory - Thunders, Johnny
15. Psycle Sluts - Clarke, John Cooper
16. Jilted John - Jilted John
17. Kill - Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias
18. Paranoid - The Dickies
Disc 5:
1. Public Image - Public Image Ltd.
2. Warsaw - Joy Division
3. Staircase Mystery - Siouxsie & The Banshees
4. Damaged Goods - Gang Of Four
5. You - Au Pairs
6. How Much Longer - Au Pairs
7. Read About Seymour - Swell Maps
8. Young Parisians - Adam & The Ants
9. Monochrome Set - The Monochrome Set
10. We Are All Prostitutes - The Pop Group
11. Typical Girls - The Slits
12. Mannequin - Wire
13. Shot By Both Sides - Magazine
14. Science Fiction - XTC
15. Do The Standing Still - The Table
16. Another Girl Another Planet - The Only Ones
17. Young Savage - Ultravox
18. Puppet Life - Punishment Of Luxury
19. Jocko Homo - Devo
20. Marquee Moon - Television
As I alluded to earlier, the purpose of box sets such as this one is to provide the listener with an overview of a particular era or type of music. I know full well that it's damn near impossible to include everything - that would defeat the purpose of having such a set. Instead of providing the whole kit and kaboodle, a compilation like this one should effectively answer two questions:
a) "Does this set provide the listener with a insightful look into the genre?" and
b) "Upon completion, has the listener learned something useful about the genre?" 
In the case of 1-2-3-4: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979, the answer to both questions, in my opinion, is YES.

It's been almost fifteen years after the release of possibly the most definitive punk compilation of all time, and you NEVER hear anything about this set. In fact, 1-2-3-4 is currently out of print, which I regard as just another example of the recording industry's insanity and ass-forward thinking. This comp should never be allowed to lapse.

Therefore, it lives on here. For your listening pleasure, I present to you the superb 1-2-3-4: Punk & New Wave 1976-1979, released on April 19th, 1999 by Universal Music (UK) Ltd. Enjoy these one hundred prime cuts of '70s musical goodness . . . and as always, let me know what you think.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Beatles - Conquering America (Purple Chick) (Discs 1 & 2) . . . plus, a special treat


Well . . . here we are - the 50th anniversary of one of the landmark dates in popular music history. On a Sunday night fifty years ago today, an estimated 73 million people (nearly 50% of all televisions existing in the U.S.) tuned in to watch The Beatles debut on CBS's Ed Sullivan Show, an event that signified not only the start of the storied British Invasion, but also the dawn of the modern rock era. Their appearance was the first of three consecutive appearances on Sullivan during the month of February 1964.

Now today, everybody and their cat and dog is going to inundate you with stories, memories, recollections, commentaries, critiques and dissertations on and about this performance. It's going to get old very quickly, even for the most dedicated and patient Beatlephile. Therefore, I'm going to keep this short.

These two discs include the music from all three Sullivan shows (the songs shown on the February 23rd program were actually taped in the theater during the afternoon of the 9th, prior to their evening appearance, since The Beatles were scheduled to be back in England on that later date), along with previously unreleased rehearsals for the various shows. In addition, these discs contain the entire set from their first official U.S. concert, held at the Washington, D.C. Coliseum on February 11th, 1964 [side note: This isn't a plug, but I heard a very good story yesterday on NPR about this venue (now a dilapidated warehouse used as a parking garage), the event, and some of the people involved with it - here it is, if you'd like to have a listen; it comes highly recommended]; music from the Around The Beatles UK TV program from April 19th, 1964; songs from the NME 1964 Poll Winners Concert held two weeks later; and excerpts from a Danish show the band played that June. The most unusual addition to this set is a spoof of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream the boys participated in as part of Around The Beatles - George played the part of Moonshine, Paul Pyramus, Ringo Lion and John played Lady Thisbe(!).

Considering the non-stop screaming, the sound from the Washington concert is actually pretty good, and unlike concerts to come in the very near future, The Beatles made an effort to stay in tune and put on a good show. However, the Copenhagen show recording is atrocious . . . but Purple Chick did the best it could with them, as always. Don't blame them for the quality of this part.

So, here you are - The Beatles' Conquering America set, the definitive record of the Fab Four's first visit to the United States and the immediate aftermath, released by our friends at Purple Chick in 2008. For those of you who were lucky enough to be alive to see the band on Sullivan all those years ago, I hope that this set brings back fond memories for you. For those of us who didn't exist yet, this set helps us revel in the excitement and optimism from that period, and realize what we missed. Either way, enjoy - and as always, please let me know what you think.

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* * * * * * *

Oh, and I mentioned a special treat, didn't I?

Just before The Beatles left for America in February 1964, the British TV company Granada contracted with two American documentary makers, Albert and David Maysles, to film the band’s first visit to the States for a 30-minute UK TV special. They were initially supposed to film just the arrival at JFK and related ceremonies. But the movie makers and The Beatles got along so famously that the band asked them to stay and continue filming for several more days. A miniscule amount of the footage the duo shot made it onto British TV later that month. But the Maysles brothers went on to make a feature-length theatrical documentary from the extensive amount of footage they shot with the group. The film was called What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A. But unfortunately due to the impending release of the band's first movie A Hard Day’s Night later in 1964, the Maysles’ film was shelved, and was never released commercially to theaters, only shown occasionally over the years at a couple of film festivals.

However, in 1991, Apple released an edited version of the Maysles' film (subsequently reissued on DVD in 2004) called The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. This edit combined some of the content from What's Happening! with other footage from that February 1964 trip including clips from Ed Sullivan and newsreels, replacing a lot of footage centered around Brian Epstein.

This film is great in that it captures The Beatles in their most private, unguarded moments - outside of the studio/concert performances, nothing in this movie is scripted or pre-arranged. The Maysles got full, unbridled access to the group, and in their recordings you get to see the band cutting up, laughing and having fun - after watching this, you'll be amazed at how much their 'real' life on the road resembled what made it onto film in the purportedly fictional A Hard Day's Night. Due to the latter film, I'd always thought that The Beatles were practically imprisoned in their hotel rooms during their tours, victims of circumstance. But The First U.S. Visit includes scenes of the group having a night on the town, dancing at the Peppermint Lounge, and hobnobbing with fellow travelers on the train down to D.C.

The First U.S. Visit also includes extensive scenes with New York disc jockey Murray The K, the self-proclaimed "Fifth Beatle". Personally, I found Murray The K to be a maddeningly annoying combination of jive-talking huckster and boot-licking sycophant - so much so that I asked a friend in the know if The Beatles actually liked/tolerated Murray's crap. The word I got was that the band members actually WERE friends with the DJ, and appreciated his personality and his efforts on their behalf . . . so there you go.

I received this film the year it came out on DVD, and to this day I never get tired of watching it (neither do my kids - this, and not A Hard Day's Night, was the movie that made them big Beatles fans). If you haven't seen it before, you're in for a treat!

So here you go - a special bonus for this special day: The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit, converted to .mp4, so it's ready to watch on your iTunes after downloading. Enjoy, and Happy Beatles Day again!

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Various Artists - Club Ska '67


OK, OK . . . the people have spoken, and I have heard.

Along with the huge demand for my last post, More Intensified! Volume 2 - Original Ska 1963-67, for the psst two days requesters have been clamoring for the other disc I mentioned in that writeup, Club Ska '67. This is one of the original ska compilations, and is even harder to find than More Intensified!; like its brother, it too has been out of print for eons. I recently noticed a CD copy of this one for sale on Amazon . . . for $150. Glad I bought mine when I did!

Club Ska '67 differs somewhat from my previous posting in that it mostly eschews rarities and instead focuses on the classic recordings from that period. And what classics they are - some of the all-time great Jamaican hits are here.  Here's the lineup:
1. Guns Of Navarone - The Skatalites
2. Phoenix City - Roland Al And The Soul Brothers
3. 007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
4. Broadway Jungle - The Maytals as The Flames
5. Contact - Roy Richards With Baba Brooks
6. Guns Fever - Baba Brooks
7. Rub Up Push Up - Justin Hines & The Dominoes
8. Dancing Mood - Delroy Wilson
9. Stop Making Love - Gaylads
10. Pied Piper - Rita Marley
11. Lawless Street - The Soul Brothers
12. Skaing West - Sir Lord Comic & His Cowboys
13. Copasetic - The Rulers
It's hard to choose favorites off of this one - EVERY song is outstanding!

Enough of my yip-yap - I heed the call of the masses, and acquiesce. Here, for your listening pleasure, is Club Ska '67, originally released on vinyl in Jamaica by West Indies Records Ltd. in 1967, in Britain on Trojan Records in 1970, and finally re-released on Mango Records (a subsidiary of Island Records) in 1980. Skank on, my brothers, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Various Artists - More Intensified! Volume 2 - Original Ska 1963-1967


I think it was around 1985 when I first heard this album. Someone had given my brother a copy of both this album and Club Ska '67 (another equally outstanding compilation that I was seriously considering posting instead of this one - maybe I'll do that sometime soon (well, that was quick - see the next post)) dubbed onto a long-playing cassette, and he loaned it to me
one day. More Intensified! was the follow-up to Intensified! Original Ska 1962-1966, released in 1979, a year earlier. I had been fully into the whole British ska revival/2 Tone genre of the late '70s/early '80s, but I hadn't had much exposure to the original '60s songs and sources of that movement. To be frank, by the mid-'80s, with the demise of The Specials, The Selecter and The English Beat, and Madness's shift towards the pop mainstream, that initial ska explosion had all but petered out. The next wave of the ska revival, under development in Australia, Japan, several other European countries and in U.S. locations such as Orange County, California (Fishbone, The Untouchables) and New York (Operation Ivy), was still a couple of years away from completely breaking out. So in a way, I was looking for something to fill the ska void . . . and these taped albums worked out nicely.

From the first song on the tape, "Six and Seven Books of Moses", I was hooked. As the album's name implies, all of the songs on this compilation were recorded in Kingston, Jamaica between 1963 and 1967, the heyday of ska in that country. Here's the track listing:
1. Six and Seven Books of Moses - The Maytals as The Vikings
2. Dr. Kildare - The Skatalites
3. Congo War - Lord Brynner & The Sheiks
4. Woman Come - Marguerita
5. Man In The Street - Don Drummond
6. What A Man Doeth - Eric Morriss
7. Lucky Seven - The Skatalites
8. Miss Ska-Culation - Roland Al & The Soul Brothers
9. Dr. Ring-A-Ding - Roland Al & The Soul Brothers
10. Run Joe - Stranger Cole
11. Sucu-Sucu - The Skatelites
12. The Great Wuga Wuga - Sir Lord Comic
13. Dick Tracy - The Skatalites
14. Mount Zion - Desmond Dekker & The Four Aces
15. Marcus Junior - The Soul Brothers
16. Train To Skaville - Ethiopians
While ska was huge in Jamaica and much of the Caribbean, what's remarkable is that it went all but unheard and unnoticed by most of the rest of the world, which was immersed in Beatlemania during that period. Except for brief flashes of recognition (The Beatles included a brief ska bridge in their 1963 song "I Call Your Name"; ska bands played at the 1964 New York World's Fair), ska was for all intents and purposes an underground sound. By the late '60s, it had all but faded away, evolving into the slower, heavier rhythms of reggae. If it weren't for a couple of 1970s Coventry youngsters who grew up hearing this music and decided to try to emulate it - creating the influential 2 Tone sound - ska might have gone the way of calypso, another once-popular tropical genre now almost wholly forgotten.

In any event, I couldn't believe how great these songs were! This disc is full of rarities (like Marguerita's "Woman Come") and classics (such as Don Drummond's "Man In The Street"). Personal favorites include Lord Brynner's "Congo War", a summary of the mid-60s conflict (he even names most of the major players); Stranger Cole's "Run Joe"; and the odd and funny proto-rap of "The Great Wuga Wuga" by the great Sir Lord Comic.




In some cases, they had to dig deep to track down these prime cuts - many of the songs on this compilation were dubbed directly from the vinyl disc, due to the unavailability of the original master recordings.

I taped a copy of this cassette for my own use, and played it to death for years before finding and purchasing this album on CD. This has been out-of-print for decades, but here it is for you to enjoy: More Intensified! Volume 2 - Original Ska 1963-67, released in 1980 on Mango Records, a subsidiary of Island Records. Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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