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