I know I said at least one post a week and promised all kinds of subjects. I say a lot of things. And if I deliver on 1/6th the promises I make, that’s still quite a bit of deliveries. I’ve got some updates and recaps coming up as well as some news and briefings, but for now I’ll just tell you about my latest Viva Radio show, Strange Kicks, another collection of slightly off rock and or roll. Check it out soon before it’s replaced with my forthcoming Viva show which will be all techno, all of the time.
There was no particular theme or genre for this show, but I was probably inspired by a package of CDs I got from Overground Records in the UK which included reissues of records by Alternative TV, The Mirrors and Vic Godard & Subway Sect. It’s not even as if these three bands sound alike and it’d be impossible for me to explain what would tie this selection together. I suppose it’s all rock-n-roll. It’s all a bit damaged, a bit fuzzy at parts. I should just get started. It’s getting late and there’s a lot to do.
1. Lou Reedâ€“Real Good Time Together
I was really late to this record, totally slept on it for years. Man how my life would’ve been better if I had a copy of this in high school instead of New York. I’ve always been a sucker for conventional wisdom and only recently came around to the bulk of Lou’s post Berlin, late 70s/early 80s output, and Street Hassle is arguably the peak. First of all, the production is some of his most fuzzed out sounds, no wonder Spacemen 3 wrote a song called “Ode to Street Hassle”. The whole thing sounds like it was recorded 1/3rd in the studio, 1/3rd live and 1/3rd in the bathroom. Awesome female backing vocals. Don’t even get me started on the song Street Hassle, 11 minutes of cellos, poetry residing somewhere between Transformer and the Blue Mask, and a visit from Bruce Springsteen.
2. Car-sick Carsâ€“Rock ‘n’ Roll Hero
One of the great benefits of myspace.com, other then the free Macy’s gift card and the photos I can’t believe she would post them online, is the random friend requests from bands. I know you got 10 yesterday and they all sucked. Well I run a record label, which means I got 100 yesterday and they all sucked. Believe it or not, this particular post-punk reissue label is not interested in your heavy-metal emo trip-hop band from Moscow. But I try to take the time to check out the bands because for every clueless act that wants to get signed, there’s actually bands who are familiar with the music Acute has released, maybe they’re even fans.
One day I received three friend requests from bands/acts in Beijing, China. A bit of research led me to realize the common thread was an artist named Shou Wang, who seems to be a central figure in what is being called the “No Beijing” scene. The three pages were for himself, a project called White and the Car-sick Cars. The range of influences listed on the White page and his own page are wide-ranging and faultlessly hip, not to mention very much in line with my own. Einsturzende Neubauten, TG, Glenn Branca, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, etc. The music on those two pages are an eclectic selection of noise and minimalist inspired pieces.
I was more excited, however, by Car-sick Cars, his “rock” band. This particular list of influences pretty much sums up a large selection of my record collection. Branca, The Clean, The Fall, Joy Division, Neu!, Sonic Youth, Suicide, Swell Maps, Theoretical Girls etc. The music they make is noisy indie-rock with the minimal, chiming riffing of the early 80s post-punk and NZ bands and big accessible hooks like Daydream-era Sonic Youth. According to his myspace page, Shou Wang has played with Glenn Branca, Elliot Sharp, Neubauten and Car-sick Cars even appropriately opened for Sonic Youth. Hopefully they’ll get a full-length out soon, maybe they’ll even come play in NY. Check out all their songs on the myspace page, they’re great.
3. The Bizarrosâ€“White Screen Movies
What was in the water in Ohio in the 70s? Don’t answer that. The Cuyahoga River may have caught fire, but that was in Cleveland. Whatever was going on in Akron was equally bizarre. Like their counterparts in Cleveland, the Bizarros had a severe case of Velvet Underground fever. This song, the last on their 1979 LP, has that 1-4-5 repetition, chugging guitars and killer droning combo organ that so many of the best Velvets followers mined. It pretty much starts and never lets go. Also like some of their counterparts in Cleveland, the Bizarros have been severely overlooked. Post-VU rock that fell through the cracks of the mid/late 70s. Clearly too accomplished and too adult to be punk-rock, but too angry and too weird to be mainstream.
4. Mirrorsâ€“Another Nail in the Coffin
Speaking of Cleveland. For those new to CLE rock, well, the Velvets played there and Boston, so in the 70s we get Pere Ubu and the Modern Lovers. That’s the simplified story. There was an exciting scene of several interconnected bands, The Electric Eels, perhaps the noisiest band of the 70s, if not just in Ohio, the Styrenes, who had a considerably artier approach with keyboards and art-rock songs, and right in the middle of the two, The Mirrors, simply a great rock band, operating very much as I described The Bizarros above, a mix of post-velvets rhythm and the kind of grungey art-rock song that could only come from Ohio. What original recordings existed were compiled on Overground Record’s great “Hand in my Pockets” compilation, but the band reunited in 1989 and recorded Another Nail in the Coffin, now available in an expanded version on Roir. These songs, and many more that appear on this playlist, would fit nicely on an earlier Viva playlist I did called “Drano in My Veins”. Well worth checking out if I may say so myself.
5. Anthony Mooreâ€“Judy Get Down
Where do I start with Anthony Moore, or More, as he’s sometimes known. He wrote some of the lyrics on Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason record. No, that’s far from his greatest accomplishment, though I assume he’s friendly with Dave Gilmour and I’m always touched to see remnants of the Floyd’s past as a british art-rock band, like bringing Robert Wyatt on stage to do the “Hello…is there anybody out there” portion of Comfortably Numb. Anthony Moore has more interesting things in his history, starting in the early 70s when he ended up recording two wonderfully fun, slightly silly, often beautiful albums of minimalist type music, Pieces from the Cloudland Ballroom and Secrets of the Blue Bag, as well as another more quirky and less listenable experiment called Reed Whistle and Sticks. About that same time, Moore and childhood pal Peter Blegved, along with Moore’s girlfriend Dagmar Krause, formed my favorite band of all time, Slapp Happy, and recorded some awesome records with Faust as a backing band. I’m not going to spend hours talking about Slapp Happy, but will recommend you read Phil Turnbul’s essay here. I’ll write my own appreciation eventually, I’m sure! The mid 70s brought his first solo art-pop LP, Out, which features some delightful songs, but this was followed by two records, 1978′s Flying Doesn’t Help and 1981′s World Service which rock that punk/post-punk/new wave influence anger, angst and sound, but with his unique style of art-rock/pop. Judy Get Down/Lucia is the single taken from Flying Doesn’t Help.
6. The Fansâ€“Dangerous Goodbyes
The Fans were arguably the first New Wave band in Georgia. Now, that may not sound impressive at first, but when you think about what followed…The B-52s, Pylon, Method Actors, The Brains, R.E.M., etc, an interesting picture emerges. The main players were Alfredo Villar and Kevin Dunn, and they both seemed to have, amongst various other classic rock influences, a very serious Brian Eno thing going on, which is not a bad thing. However, because of their English art-rock fandom, and having records come out on the UK label Albion (also home to the dB’s), people thought they were british. Some of the sources I learned about them seem gone from the internet, but I think like some of the NY punk bands, while they formed and were an influence as early as early/mid 70s, the records didn’t come out till later on. After their break-up, Kevin Dunn had a vastly underrated solo career putting out a series of LPs and singles that are very cool and well worth picking up, and you should still be able to find them cheap. Dunn also produced Pylon’s Cool and the B-52′s Rock Lobster, and if that doesn’t get him into the hall of fame along with R.E.M.(who’s Mike Mills played with the Fans on a few occasions)…
However, the song I’ve included here, Dangerous Goodbyes, was written by the more mysterious Alfredo Villar, who I think left the music biz. The fuzzy, droney nature of the guitar and snarling vocals and squealing noise has always killed me. The flipside, Dunn’s Cars and Explosions, is no less awesome, and I recommend this single to anyone who likes good music, and nobody who likes bad. The Fans released 2 other singles, which weren’t quite as good, but well worth checking out. True/Deathwish has a classy power-pop song backed with an artier new wave/rock number, while the very rare first single, Lonely Girls/Telstar/Ekstasis is alltogether something else, arch art rock pop and a version of Telstar. Apparently this single made it to the jukebox of CBGBs where it was set at the wrong speed, and the bizarro sped up (or slowed down?) version of Telstar was quite a hit.
One final note about the Fans…prior to breaking up they were joined on synthesizer by Larry Tee, later famous for Ru Paul, and even later, infamous for Electroclash. Now, I’m too young to say I was there when the Fans played in Atlanta, but at least I can say I was at the first (and second) Electroclash festivals. Fischerspooner stole the show, nobody was prepared for Monotrona, and A.R.E. Weapons were not at the top of their game playing to a giant empty nightclub.
7. Devoâ€“The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise
Devo are an obscure band from Akron, Ohio who tried to ride the coat-tails of the Bizarros and Tin Huey. They formed in 1973 and are best remembered for several laser disk video releases in the early/mid 80s. Little else is known about them.
8. Adam and the Antsâ€“Car Trouble
9. The Monochrome Setâ€“Alphaville
Before he was Adam Ant and before discovering the Burundi Beat, before dressing like a pirate or appearing on american TV, he was a punk, and Dirk Wears White Socks is one of the coolest records of the era, and this song is one of the best songs of any era. Punk/post-punk/new wave/glam, whatever, it’s a great record. I love the burundi beat stuff, the pop stuff as well, but this is something else. Even this record however is a progression from his very earliest stuff. Check out this clip of a performance of “Plastic Surgery” which also appears in Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee, which stars Adam as a naive young punk singer. And this very vintage bit of London punk history, a video for the song Dirk Wears White Socks, featuring his co-star from Jubilee, Jordan.
Some of the line-up changes in this period involved 2 members, Lester Square and Andy Warren, leaving one after the other to form The Monochrome Set with the awesome Bid. The first similarity (or was it a reference?) is the first song on the Monochrome Set’s first LP, Strange Boutique, called “The Monochrome Set (I Presume)” which opens with what else, the Burundi Beat, as well as jungle noises. Not the most culturally sensitive moment for the Monochrome Set. Coincidence or a dig at their old bandmate?
Another fun discovery however was from a bootleg of early Adam and the Ants live material from when Lester Square was still in the band. Here they are performing a version of the song Fat Fun sometime in 1978/79, which The Monochrome Set would record later that year with a bit more fidelity on a Peel Session.
Adam and the Antsâ€“Fat Fun, live 78 or 79
To hear the Monochrome Set version, I recommend picking up the compilation Volume, Contrast, Brilliance, which is a collection of their early Rough Trade singles and Peel Sessions. Some of the Peel Sessions tracks would end up on their first few albums, but often these versions are better. The song included in Strange Kicks is Alphaville, the b-side to their first single, He’s Frank which was Rough Trade’s 5th release. A severely underrated band, The Monochrome Set wrote tons of great songs that mixed arch/twee/camp with punk/post-punk awesomeness. Bid is still writing and performing as Scarlet’s Well and even made it to NY a few years ago to play a small show at Knitting Factory backed up by some Brooklyn indie-pop kids. Many Monochrome Set classics were included to my great pleasure.
10. The Fallâ€“Entitled
Following a thread from the Monochrome Set on Rough Trade to the Fall during their post-Rough Trade, Brix era. I’m the type of Fall fan who thinks Brix added a lot to the band, from her back-up harmony vocals (and occasional lead, Hotel Bloedel is amongst my top 10 Fall songs) to her more accessible strumming guitar. Entitled is the B-side to Hey! Luciani, one of the singles from the mid 80s LP Bend Sinister. It’s also available on the 458489 B Sides double CD, something I hadn’t fully dug through for many years, and admittedly only came upon this song pretty recently. What was fun was noticing a melodic similarity to the recently released song Someone Great by LCD Soundsystem. Now, they’ve always worn their influences on their sleeve and I’ve never faulted them for that, there’s a difference between hommage and rip-off. But this is pretty subtle, less vocalizing in a manner reminiscent of Mark E. Smith but playing off his melody. Maybe I’m imagining it. Not that it matters, Someone Great is easily my top song of the last year, so I don’t care where it comes from. What this song really brings to mind is just how beautiful a melody Mark E. Smith could come up with, something not talked about enough.
11. The Nightingalesâ€“Which Hi-Fi?
The Nightingales and the Fall have often been mentioned in the same breadth. Both lead by cantakerous and irate working-class (or at least drinking class) British poets and surrounded by a revolving door of musicians. The Nightingales, and the punk band they grew out of, the Prefects, and several other Robert Lloyd projects were favorites of John Peel, giving Robert the second most Peel sessions after Mark E. and company. While researching for the Acute release of the Prefects recordings, I came across an ancient interview with Mark E. Smith where he chides Lloyd for being a great lyricist but not sticking with things. Well, Robert Lloyd has been back in action for a couple of years now and just keeps getting better. Our Prefects CD came out, a string of new Nightingales singles, reissues of the old Nightingales records and several tours. I’m not going to go on about how great they are live now because I need to post about their upcoming tour soon. Meanwhile, while looking for that old quote all I found was a recent one, Mark E. Smith saying “…as usual with Robert Lloyd, excellent lyrics.”
12. Subway Sectâ€“Stool Pigeon
The Subway Sect was one of the original punk bands. Arguably they can be seen as the first post-punk band as well. While their contemporaries were dyeing their hair and ripping their clothes, the Subway Sect wore plain gray sweaters and trousers and sang dour lyrics. They can be seen as a template upon which The Prefects, Joy Division, Fire Engines, Josef K and other punk bands built their sounds and styles, a road different then emulating the Pistols or Clash, I suppose. After 2 singles, in early 78 they recorded their LP but it was never released and eventually lost. The band line-up completely changed and Vic Godard came back with a more old-fashioned style. Great songs, but not the primal seminal punk of the early years. Now, many years later, Vic got back together with some original members and some new and re-recorded the entire album as “1978 Now” and it’s available on Overground Records. As highly recommended as this comes, look for some of the Vic Godard/Subway Sect comps that have come in and out of print over the years so you can check out those early singles and some of the early versions of the LP stuff. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Parallel Lines. Less essential for your listening pleasure would be the version of We Oppose All Rock & Roll/Sister Ray from the Clash White Riot tour where Subway Sect is joined by the Slits and Prefects.
13. Grow Upâ€“River
Grow Up are a mysterious band, or I suppose, a band little is known about. Guitarist John Bisset played in the Spherical Objects and helped run Object Music, the weird ugly duckling of a record label that existed in the shadow of Factory Records. Object Music released a small but eclectic catalog of bands ranging from some pretty out there stuff to some perfectly accessible pop and rock and roll, none of it destined for popularity accept amongst the loyal cult following that would exist over the years (of which I’m a junior member).
The Passage had their first release on Object, which is probably as close to stardom as the label would get. Steve Miro put out two totally wonderful singles and some records. IQ Zero were “Manchester’s answer to Devo” and released 2 singles on Object including the classic “Everybody Kills Insects” which features our anthem “Quirky Pop Music” (lyrics to be posted at a later date).
Most interesting to me is Bisset’s non-Spherical Objects band, Grow Up. There’s 3 singles I know of, this one features three extremely short and extremely sharp art-punk/post-punk type songs that even remind me a bit of the Urinals. Another one, You Are the One/Night Rally is a bit more conventional, with the A-side a perfectly friendly bit of indie-pop. The next single Joanne, is an immaculately produced bit of jazzy new pop sounding like an even better Dexy’s Midnight Runners with great lyrics (will you marry me before I go gray? will you marry me before I go gay?). On top of that there were TWO LPs, neither of which I’ve heard yet despite asking many people including Bisset himself. Any help?
14. The Wild Staresâ€“All We Want
OK this is getting too damn long and I really don’t know much about the Wild Stares so I should keep it short. I know they started as part of the Boston punk/post-punk scene in the early 80s on Propellor Records and were based around Steve Gregoropoulos. I know they moved to LA at some point and put out a series of weird, unique and cool records through the 80s and Steve ended up working with Lavender Diamond. Read some here.
15. The Stranglersâ€“Bear Cage
Now I know I don’t have to go crazy writing about them, there’s this thing called google. Apparently they were a huge band, which probably comes as odd to most young american type music fans working their way back through punk…The Stranglers are one of those bands who’s records are everywhere and you’re supposed to avoid them. Anyway, I already wrote about them in my post about the Wave the Rave Goodbye mix.
16. Alternative TVâ€“Strange Kicks
After being a pioneering punk journalist, a pioneering punk band, a pioneering punk/dub hybrid, Mark Perry of Alternative TV went in some pretty avant-garde directions for a bit with Vibing Up the Senile Man, The Good Missionaries, The Door and the Window. In 1981, Alternative TV perhaps took a stab at the charts with this totally charming and accessible LP on IRS, also issues on CD care of Overground Records. It even has one octave-bassline proto-electroclash new wave dance track in “Communicate”.
17. The Bildersâ€“Starry Day
Oh man it’s getting late I really should just post the tracklisting and ask all my thousands of readers to fill in the blanks, I’m sure somebody can do more justice to Bill Direen then I can. Direen is an underrated and overlooked low-fi rock genius from New Zealand, an entire country of underrated and overlooked low-fi rock geniuses. Flying Nun records released a series of CDs compiling his stuff of which I have two, Max Quitz and Beatin Hearts. They are often every bit as good as Chris Knox/Tall Dwarfs, Xpressway etc etc. Jay from Detailed Tang/Agony Shorthand had more to say.
18. John Caleâ€“Dead or Alive
Sometimes it’s the most accessible and typical songs that are the most powerful. There’s no brutal guitar, no Eno playing the Eno, no droning viola, just pure rock-n-roll heart of the highest order.
19. Lou Reedâ€“Shooting Star
No need to repost the photo. You don’t need to see how cool Lou looks when listening to this song, it just seeps cool out of every note, every distorted guitar riff, every saxaphone blurt. And we’ve come full circle and the cycle is complete.
20. Clive Langer & The Boxesâ€“Had a Nice Night
Or is it? Consider this a coda or something. This is a discovery care of college housemate Oliver, I think on the same mix-tape as Strange Kicks perhaps. There’s plenty to read about Clive Langer on the internet. He was the main songwriter and one of 3 vocalists for post-glam pre-punk art-school outsiders Deaf School. He produced big records for Madness and Dexy’s Midnight Runners with his partner Alan Winstanley and he wrote the music for the movies Still Crazy and Brothers of the Head (which I have on my DVR right now). But what people don’t talk about is his own music, which included this wonderful LP, partially produced by his buddy Elvis Costello. The entire record isn’t as good as this song…few things in this dreary world are, but there are a few highs. But even better was the EP he recorded for Radar/WB called I Want the Whole World. 5 perfect songs…not punk, maybe a bit of the british angry young man thing going on. I don’t know, I just love it. Really big, amazing production, really touching lyrics, easily one of my favorite records that nobody ever talks about. You can get one on eBay right now for 10 bucks. A deal at any cost.