A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend #4

I’ve not written one of these for a while, and a couple if things prompted me to dig out today’s compilation CD.

Firstly, on this week’s edition of The Chain, Alex G suggested a track by All About Eve, which reminded me that I had bought a compilation album entitled CD88 back in 1988 that had a track by them on it.

Secondly, I found that the ever wonderful Cherry Red Records have released a triple CD of Indie tracks from 1988, entitled C88, which, looking at the track-listing has just entered my list of must-get albums at number one.

CD88 was one of a long series of Indie Top 20 albums released by Beechwood Music Ltd which started back in 1987 and ran into the mid-1990s. There’s a pretty wonderful and comprehensive blog which focuses on these albums here.

The albums were released two or three times a year, with the occasional Best of the Year editions thrown in every now and then for good measure. CD88 was one such volume, sort of. For it’s important not to be misled by the title: it’s not a Best of the Indie tracks which were released in 1988, it’s a Best of Indie tracks which was released in 1988. Confused? Let me put it another way: it covers the first five volumes of the Indie Top 20 compilations, which were released in 1987 and 1988.

Here’s what it says on the booklet that accompanies the CD (which, I have found when writing this, also got a vinyl release):

“CD88 is a testament to the vital role played by the independent chart. Many of these hit singles have never been and might never be available on CD elsewhere.

CD88 is a collection of outstanding singles that have since become indie classics, and for many, subsequently served as the springboard from their Independent roots to major label and Gallup chart status.

Each track is chosen from the successful Indie Top 20 compilations, plus four classic tracks previously not included in the series. Indie Top 20 is released every three months to highlight the best of the new singles which have made a high impact on the National Independent Chart.”

It’s funny when you find yourself getting all wistful and nostalgic at the mere mention of the Gallup charts, isn’t it?

Anyway, I was going to just post the songs that I love from this compilation – a Best of the Best, if you will – but, on reflection, have them all, along with their original artwork. Perversely, for an album celebrating the Indie Top 20, there are only nineteen songs on it:

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  1. All About Eve – Our Summer

I’m not a massive fan of All About Eve (the band, not the film, or The Wedding Present track), but this is okay enough, and definitely fits the “before they were famous” mould that defines many of the acts/songs here, for this record reached the giddy heights of #87 in the UK charts in 1987.

2. Cardiacs – Is This The Life

If you’ve ever wondered where Chain Gang regular The Robster got the inspiration for the title of his excellent blog, then look no further.

As well as making me think of Rob, this record always reminds me of my first year at college, when me and my buddies would traipse along to the Student’s Union every other Tuesday to attend “Funk Off”, the Indie Night, and it was here that I first heard this tune.

This was before I started DJing there myself – I wrote about how I started DJ’ing at college, and how the chap who taught me to DJ had introduced me to quite a few records (here) and this is one of them – and one of the resident DJs, Jolly Jim, had played it; generally someone in our gang would be able to tell you what a record was if you didn’t know, but this one drew blank looks from everyone. I couldn’t not know, so I nervously shuffled up to the DJ booth which would soon become practically my second home.

“‘Scuse me mate,” I called to Jim. “What’s this record?”

Jim looked at me with some mixture of surprise and joy; surprise because admitting you didn’t know a record was definitely not considered a cool thing to do at Funk Off, and joy because he was able to impart some wisdom.

So the Cardiacs track was probably the one most responsible for me buying this album in the first place. If you’ve never heard this one before, I urge you to give it a listen (Part 1 of 2).

3. Fields of the Nephilim – Preacher Man

Goths, but Goths By Numbers. Wannabe Eldritches. That’s all I got.

4. Danielle Dax – Cat-House

This, on the other hand, is another absolute belter of a forgotten track. Although, having said that, a few years ago, Hel and I DJ’d a couple of times at the now defunct Mucky Pup bar in Islington. I happened to be there on a night when we weren’t playing, and was staggered when the DJ played this, partly because I was annoyed that I hadn’t played it the week before, but mostly because I genuinely didn’t think anyone else remembered it, much less did I expect to meet anyone else who did. As it played, I spoke to the DJ, commending him on his choice. He looked at me with an air of bafflement. “You know this record??” he asked. Oh yes. If you’ve never heard this one before, I urge you to give it a listen (Part 2 of 2).

5. Crazyhead – Baby Turpentine

This lot cropped up on my Replenishing the Vinyl series a couple of weeks ago, and The Robster left a comment about how this was his favourite track by them. Mine too, mate, mine too.

6. The Wedding Present – Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm

In the late 1980s, no Indie compilation worth it’s salt was without a track by The Wedding Present, a band who I still love to this day, as I have mentioned many, many times on these pages. This is one of their greatest (early) singles. Take it away, Grapper!

7. The Soup Dragons – Hang Ten!

Ditto: The Soup Dragons, whilst they were still in their playful pop mode, as they were here. Many happy memories of pogoing around the Students Union dancefloor to this one.

8. The Rose of Avalanche – Velveteen

Not really my cup of tea, this one, though it’s one of my brother’s favourites, so at least he’ll get chance to hear it again.

9. Half Man Half Biscuit – Dickie Davies Eyes

Any excuse to blow the dust of this one.

10. Michelle Shocked – Fog Town

Thankfully, the version lifted from The Texas Campfire Tapes, rather than the (nowhere near as good) rock version which crops up as a bonus track on Short Sharp Shocked.

11. The Chesterfields – Ask Johnny Dee

My old mate Rich got in touch after I last posted a track by this lot to tell me that this tune reminded him of when we were kids listening to records in my bedroom. I’m not sure there’s a finer definition of late 80s jangly indie pop than that.

12. Wire – Kidney Bingos

I’d never heard of Wire before I picked this CD up, but this is great. Not as great as similar period Eardrum Buzz and nowhere near as good as their earlier stuff, but a bad Wire record is still a pretty good Wire record in my book.

13. Bradford – Skin Storm

This lot were, not least because of the blessing they received from one Steven Patrick Morrissey, once tipped to be the next big thing, but it never happened for them. Mostly because every other record of there’s seemed to sound almost exactly like this, but not as good.

14. Sweet Honey In The Rock – Chile Your Waters Run Red Through Soweto

Perhaps the surprise inclusion on this compilation. Nowadays, this would doubtless attract sneery comments about diversity targets being met, but that would detract from the fact that this is a brave and beautiful political record, latterly covered by Billy Bragg.

15. A Certain Ratio – Mickey Way (The Candy Bar)

Manchester legends, who I’ve never really got into for some reason. My loss, I’d imagine. And having just listened to that for the first time in god knows how many years, it is pretty ace.

16. Ciccone Youth – Into The Groovy

A side project of the Sonic Youth gang, plus Firehose and Minutemen member Mike Watt and J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, taken from a tongue in cheek tribute to Madonna which I’m not going to name as I have a sneaky feeling that if I did, it might crop up again on these pages quite soon….

17. The Beloved – Forever Dancing

From before they became successful, one listen to this will tell you why commercial success eluded them for another year or so.

18. The Shamen – Jesus Loves Amerika

The sound of another band, soon to be quite large indeed, still honing their musical sound. The deliberate mis-spelling of America is, I suspect, making a point still relevant today.

19. Pop Will Eat Itself – There Is No Love Between Us Anymore

Taken from Box Frenzy, their first album where they stepped away from their grebo sound and started using samplers.

One last thing before I go: this compilation holds a special place in my heart, for it was the first record of many that I ever bought in the oldest record shop in the world, Cardiff’s “Spillers Records”, a store which became a regular haunt for me over the following twenty years. It’s moved premises since I last lived in Cardiff, but this is how I remember it:

spillers-2

Now that’s a proper record shop. And now I’m getting all wistful and nostalgic again.

You can read about it here, or, better still, go here and spend a few quid to keep them going.

More soon.

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A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend #3: “Take The Subway to Your Suburb”

I bet you all thought I’d got bored of writing this series already, didn’t you? Well, truth be told I’d decided I would try to go through this list of compilation albums that I’ve bought in the same way as the main theme of this blog (is supposed to), that is in the chronological order in which I bought them. Not that any of you will know what I bought and when, of course, but I have standards, godammit.

But truth be told, I found today’s selection quite tricky to write about, as there seems to be so little info out there on that there interweb thing on a couple of the bands featured.

But what the heck, here goes anyway.

“Take the Subway to Your Suburb” is a ten track sampler released in 1986 for The Subway Organization, an independent record label founded a year earlier in Bristol by Martin Whitehead.

In the mid-1980s, if you were a new jangly guitar indie pop band you needed to be from Manchester so that you could pretend to be friends with The Smiths. If you weren’t, then Bristol was the next best thing, and if you weren’t from there either (or the west country generally), then having some affiliation to the city was essential.

Step forward The Subway Organization. (And yes, it does annoy me they chose to spell it with a Z, since you’re asking.)

Some great bands released records on Subway: Shop Assistants, The Charlottes (I went to school with the guitarist’s brother, name drop fans!), The Groove Farm, Bubblegum Splash!, Rodney Allen (who went on to join The Blue Aeroplanes), and The Soup Dragons (their wonderful 3-track Buzzcocks-sound-a-like “Whole Wide World” 12″ was released on the label).

But none of those feature here. Instead, the ten songs are divided between six bands, four of them (The Chesterfields, The Flatmates, Razorcuts, and Pop Will Eat Itself – when they were still a grebo band, and long before they had discovered the joys of sampling) getting two tracks each, and two bands (The Clouds and The Rosehips) getting one track apiece.

Oh, and just in case none of those names mean anything to you and you want an idea of what they all sound like: think of the bands on Subway’s roster as the less winsome, more shambolic brother to Sarah Records. Hope that clarifies.

I bought the album on the strength of it featuring The Chesterfields, whose “Kettle” album I was, and still am, profoundly in love with (it’s one of those albums that has “stayed with me” since the day I bought it), but this compilation introduced me to the delights of The Flatmates, who I went on to buy several records by (the two songs featured here convinced me that they were the new The Shangri-Las, and nothing I’ve heard since dissuades me from that view), and to a stone cold classic of the jingly-jangly C86-ish genre by The Clouds (a song I consider to be on a par with the blooming wonderful “Therese” by The Bodines, which featured in #2 of this series).

When I used to prepare a new mix-tape to play in the sixth form common room – something which, as I’ve mentioned before, I used to do pretty much every other evening – I would always be annoyed if there was too much silence at the end of one of the cassette sides of the C90, Side One in particular. Leave too much of a gap there, and somebody might stick the radio on instead, and then all of my Side Two handiwork would go unappreciated.

This would often lead to furious rejigging of the running order, a time consuming feat back in those days when you had to re-record them all. Luckily, one of the songs by The Chesterfields on this album is so short (0:54) that it would often feature at the end of Side One of any mix-tape I compiled with such a gap (where either “Velocity Girl” or “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time” didn’t quite fit.)

As with many great record labels – Factory, 4AD – you can tell it’s a Subway record just by looking at it, so distinctive were the designs by The Terrible Hildas, who created the sleeves for much of the label’s output.

I couldn’t decide which songs to post and which to miss out from the ten featured, so I figured, I’d post the lot, especially bearing in mind the brevity of the aforementioned track.

Now, I’ll be honest, most of these are very much “of their time”. Which is precisely why I still love them, 31 years after I first bought this album:

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Side One (or, as they put it on the album sleeve: “On One Side of This Record”)

The Clouds – Get Out Of My Dream

Razorcuts – I’ll Still Be There (Re-Mix)

The Chesterfields – Best of Friends

The Flatmates – So In Love With You

The Rosehips – The Last Light

Side Two (or “On the Other Side”)

The Chesterfields – Cupid’s Outlaw

Razorcuts – Snowbirds Don’t Fly

The Flatmates – When I’m With You

Pop Will Eat Itself – Orgone Accumulator

Pop Will Eat Itself – Like An Angel

And before any of you write to tell me, yes, I know that at some point or another, in the world of CDs, this album got a make-over and an expanded twenty-two song version was released. I didn’t buy that, I bought this ten track vinyl version. And no, I don’t feel cheated by that.

Particularly as I’ve subsequently brought the all encompassing double CD ‘The Best of The Subway Organization 1986–1989’, released, somewhat predictably, by the wonderful Cherry Red Records in 2005. Which will feature at a later date, of course.

More soon.

A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend #2: “Purveyors of Taste – A Creation Compilation”

So, after last week’s post on compilation albums, Swiss Adam from Bagging Area got in touch to say he had no issues with me writing a few more, since he gets tired of doing series posts very quickly.

I know exactly what he means: every now and then I’ll think of a song I want to write about, think of another song, and then I’m off!…only for it to peter out a couple of weeks later when I can’t think of a third.

In evidence, I give you my “You Couldn’t Get Away With This Nowadays” series. Seemed a great idea at the time. First Post in Series: December 4th 2016. Last Post in Series: January 8th 2017. Total series posts: 3.

Anyway, Swiss’s magnanimous gesture means I can squeeze a few posts out of this, so here’s another one which I bought – yes, bought, not peeled off the front of a magazine like last week’s featured cassette.

Released in 1986, “Purveyors of Taste” was a Creation compilation, seven tracks by bands from the label’s roster, and each one quite magnificent.

Tracks from this album featured regularly on the tapes I used to prepare for the sixth-form common room, which I used to record on my Dad’s stereo, situated in the dining room of the family home. Often, the vinyl I had used would remain there for a few days, and I used to ensure that I left this one at the front of the pile I had brought, because I knew it really annoyed my Mum. Can’t think why:

Various - Purveyors Of Taste

The Bodines – Therese

One of two songs to feature here as well as on the seminal NME “C86”compilation, this is an absolute stone cold classic, a phrase which I will undoubtedly be repeating before this post is done.

Felt – I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You

The first record I ever heard or owned by Felt. In fact, until I bought this album, I don’t think I’d even heard of Lawrence (from Felt); now I own records not just by Felt, but by Lawrence in later guises Denim and Go-Kart Mozart. Knowing Lawrence, there’s doubtless numerous other projects he has been involved in that I’m not aware of. He also looms large in Song Man, a novel by Will Hodgkinson, about, as the cover blurb puts it: “One Man’s Mission to Write the Perfect Pop Song”. Chapter One is called, simply: “Lawrence”, and if you’re going to start trying to write the Perfect Pop Song, then I can think of worse places to start than with Lawrence. (I’m looking at you, Cowell.) You can get the book here if you fancy it (although I’d much rather you bought it from a company that doesn’t avoid paying it’s taxes).

For a good chunk of their history, Felt also featured a keyboard player, called Martin Duffy, who many of you will recognise as being a stalwart of this next lot:

Primal Scream – Velocity Girl

What is left to say about this, the opening track on “C86”, that hasn’t already been said? This is the reason I bought this album (this and The Bodines track); my brother owned “C86” on vinyl, and I wanted to own those two songs all for myself too. Quite simply, it’s perhaps the most perfect 1:22 ever committed to vinyl. A…wait for it…stone cold classic.

The Jasmine Minks – Cold Heart

Although in 1984, the NME named them as one of the eighteen most hopeful bands in Britain (is hopeful the same as promising….?), The Jasmine Minks are one of those bands that, although they released some great stuff, never quite made it. There’s some lovely stuff in their back catalogue, “Cold Heart” being a particular high-point.

Biff Bang Pow! – Love’s Going Out of Fashion

Named after a song by one of Creation boss Alan McGee’s favourite bands, The Creation, and featuring McGee himself on vocals and guitar (and, at one point, Andrew Innes, albeit on a part-time basis, and also of Primal Scream fame), Biff Bang Pow! are another band who, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, especially when you consider McGee’s involvement, never quite made it.

The Weather Prophets – Like Frankie Lymon

As with Felt, my first encounter of a band who I came to love very much. I was completely oblivious that the band had risen from the ashes of The Loft, who of course had made waves in the world of indie records a few years earlier with “Up The Hill and Down The Slope”. Lead singer Pete Astor is still doing the rounds, and I can heartily recommend his 2016 album “Spilt Milk”.

Meat Whiplash – Don’t Slip Up

It’s a shame that this has to be the song to end the album; it’s the only one I’m not overly fond of, and the only band I’ve never really made any effort to get hold of any of their other stuff, which may be great, but since here they seem to me to a band trying their darnedest to sound like Psychocandy-era Jesus & Mary Chain (and not coming anywhere close), I’ve always thought: Why bother when I can just listen to it done properly? At which point Psychocandy gets the dust blown off it one more time.

A couple of bonuses for you, since I’ve mentioned them:

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The Creation – Biff, Bang, Pow

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The Loft – Up The Hill and Down The Slope

And, finally, I’ll try to leave you on a cheery note: just in case you don’t know who poor Frankie ‘dead-on-his-grandmother’s-bathroom-floor-from-a-heroin-overdose-at-the-age- of-25’ Lymon was, here he is:

frankie-lymon-and-the-teenagers-why-do-fools-fall-in-love-roulette

Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers – Why Do Fools Fall in Love

More soon.

A Mix-Tape Maker’s Best Friend #1: “Strum + Drum”

Strum

Compilation albums seem to be cropping up all over the place at the moment; over at Bagging Area yesterday, Swiss Adam posted three great ones released by Creation, and readers of the Comments section here may have noticed that Martin (who I assume is the same Martin who writes the New Amusements blog – if it isn’t enjoy the free plug anyway!) popped up last week to offer a suggestion – a correct one, as it turns out – about where the acoustic version of The Wedding Present’s “Give My Love to Kevin” I’d posted first appeared.

Now it looks like Swiss might be making a series out of this, so I’ll not step on his toes (not just yet, anyway, although I will probably return to this once his series has finished to post any that I bought but which didn’t feature over at his place), but I will get in early with a couple of songs from the cassette that Martin correctly identified.

When I was in the upper at sixth form, as I think I’ve probably mentioned before, I used to prepare a new mix-tape to play in the common room if not every night, then every other night, much to the annoyance of my parents who had this strange idea that I’d somehow be better off spending my time doing my homework. So, with limited funds available to me, the occasional purchase of a compilation album was a necessity, even better were I to pick up a free one with the NME or some other music mag.

Such was the case with “Strum + Drum”, a cassette which came free with “Underground” magazine. Released in April 1988, I don’t recall ever buying another copy of the magazine either before or afterwards. So what made me but this copy, I hear you ask? Well, for a start it had The Flatmates, of whom I was, and still am, very fond, on the front cover. Also, and I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention, but it had a free cassette stuck to the front.

Other than the aforementioned “Give My Love…” it had a few other songs that I loved. Here’s the track listing in full:

Drum

The Raw Herbs – She’s A Nurse

This is an absolute “lost” classic, although it did reappear on 2013’s mammoth 4-disc compilation “Scared to Get Happy”, although it was titled “She’s a Nurse But She’s Alright”. If you like that, then I would heartily recommend that you pop over to Brian’s place Linear Tracking Lives! and give your ears a treat by giving The Waltones tracks he posted recently a listen.

Miaow! – Belle Vue

Coincidentally, Brian has also posted some stuff by Miaow recently. It’s at this point that I wonder if whoever was responsible for the design of the Strum + Drum cassette knew what they were doing, for I’ve never seen Miaow written with the exclamation mark anywhere else, but there you go, that’s how it’s credited, so that’s what we’ll call them too.

Anyway, Miaow! sound not unlike early Stereolab on this one, so if that’s your bag, give it a listen.

A few months ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t particularly familiar with The Go-Betweens, and, aware that many of my blogging peers revered them, had asked for some suggestions as to where to start investigating their back catalogue (which they duly provided, thanks to you all by the way). You can probably hear the sound of me slapping my forehead and kicking myself when I realised I’ve had this track in my collection since 1988. Doh!

The Go-Betweens – Karen

And finally:

Alex Chilton – No Sex

In 1988, I had no idea who Alex Chilton was, and was not overly fond of this track. However, when I later learned Chilton had cut his teeth in The Box Tops and, of course, Big Star, being the revisionist sycophant I am, I revisited this and decided it was…only okay. Let’s just say it’s not his finest moment.

Although this does give me the excuse to post what I think is one of his finest moments, this, from 1967:

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The Box Tops – The Letter

And it also gives me the chance to post this clip of them performing on “Upbeat” in 1967; I love this clip because Chilton is trying so desperately hard to seem mean and moody but just can’t keep it up, in much the same way that keyboards player John Evans makes no real effort to keep up the pretence that they’re not miming:

Incredible to think that Chilton was just sixteen years old when that was recorded.

More soon.