the jason shergold music collector site
Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Hello there and welcome to the "Jason Shergold Music Collector Site".
This blog features articles about various bands and singers, and how to go (more or less) about collecting their records. In the main, the articles will be aimed at people trying to get a collection together from scratch, looking at shortcuts to doing so where they exist, but some articles will be a bit more specialised, with features of video releases, Japanese pressings, etc. As it's built using a Blogger template, it can - at times - look a bit DIY, just think of it as the internet version of "Sniffin' Glue".
As a UK based music fan, most of these articles will revolve around UK discographies, but not necessarily just for UK bands. Although, for some artists featured, their discographies will continue to grow, the post-iTunes scenario is that you can more or less guess what formats albums and singles will be released on nowadays, so these blogs in the main will help to fill in the gaps when multiple physical formats were all the rage.
The blog will be updated at least once every month - if you find that the homepage does not show the Tamla logo above, it will be that the site is being updated, and may not be available for viewing for an hour or two. The updates are expected to occur initially at the start of each month, any later blogs to be published that month will appear at random as the weeks progress. You will be able to click on older editions using the menu buttons in the top right.
The September 2015 edition is now online, with a look at number 17 in my Classic Albums series, Lou Reed's "Street Hassle".
The blog is also home to my "novel within a website", 'How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting', looking at the workings of the UK record industry. Click on any month from 2014 to view one of the twelve parts that form the whole article. And also check out my online photo collection of tour t-shirts, the accurately titled "Rock & Roll T Shirts" by clicking here: rockandrolltshirts.smugmug.com.
Please note: If you ever notice "newer" pages listed top right, this will be the new issue "in progress" - if you click on it, the whole page will not load. When the new issue is ready, it will be mentioned on this page. You can click on previous years tabs to get previous articles. Once you have selected that year, you can click on a different month to look at different acts.
The acts featured appear in the months listed below:
Adam And The Ants - October 2013
All Saints - February 2014
Lily Allen - August 2010
Ash - April 2014
Atomic Kitten - June 2013
Badly Drawn Boy - November 2014
The Beatles - September 2011 / March 2015
The Beautiful South - December 2014
Beyoncé - May 2013
Biffy Clyro - June 2014
Blondie - January 2011 / September 2013
Blur - August 2011 / July 2012 / October 2013
David Bowie - September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / January 2011 / June 2012 / September 2014
Kate Bush - July 2013
Buzzcocks - December 2011
Belinda Carlisle - October 2013
The Charlatans - February 2014
The Clash - May 2011
Elvis Costello - January 2013 / September 2013
Sheryl Crow - June 2013
The Cure - December 2011
Deep Purple - March 2010
Depeche Mode - May 2012
The Doors - December 2013
Bob Dylan - November 2013
Echobelly - February 2015
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - August 2011
Embrace - November 2013
The Flaming Lips - November 2011
Foo Fighters - May 2014
Peter Gabriel - August 2013
Genesis - April 2011 / January 2014
Girls Aloud - August 2010 / November 2013
Goldfrapp - August 2013
Green Day - June 2014
Deborah Harry - January 2011
Jimi Hendrix - September 2010
Inspiral Carpets - April 2012
The Jam - May 2013
Elton John - August 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012
Joy Division - March 2011
Kenickie - October 2010
The Kinks - November 2010 / April 2011 / May 2013
John Lennon - May 2013
Pixie Lott - February 2011
Madness - November 2011
Madonna - April 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / March 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / March 2012 / November 2012 / January 2013 / November 2013 / March 2014 / August 2015
Mansun - August 2011
Dannii Minogue - September 2011
Morrissey - April 2014
Kate Nash - February 2011
New Order - October 2012
Nirvana - June 2011 / December 2012
Oasis - April 2013
Pet Shop Boys - May 2011 / June 2011
Pink Floyd - January 2011 / July 2011
P!nk - April 2012
Elvis Presley - March 2011 / October 2011 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014
Prince - January 2015
Pulp - August 2011
Queen - December 2010 / September 2011
Lou Reed - September 2015
Cliff Richard & The Shadows - July 2011
Rolling Stones - July 2010 / October 2010 / March 2011
The Saturdays - April 2011
Siouxsie & The Banshees - March 2013 / July 2014
Slade - May 2012
Sleeper - December 2013
Smashing Pumpkins - June 2012
The Smiths - June 2010
Britney Spears - November 2010 / December 2010
Bruce Springsteen - February 2012
Status Quo - January 2012
Cat Stevens - February 2012
Rachel Stevens - July 2011
The Stranglers - February 2010 / December 2011 / May 2013 / September 2013 / December 2013 / July 2014 / October 2014 / May 2015
Suede - August 2011
Sugababes - August 2012
Super Furry Animals - September 2014
Supergrass - August 2014
TRex - December 2010
Theaudience - August 2011
Thin Lizzy - February 2013
The Thrills - June 2015
Tin Machine - December 2010
U2 - March 2012 / December 2012
The Velvet Underground - October 2010
The Walker Brothers - June 2011
Scott Walker - September 2010 / February 2013
Paul Weller - December 2014
The Who - May 2010 / August 2012 / July 2013
Kim Wilde - October 2013
Yes - July 2015
Neil Young - April 2015
To return to the homepage, you can click on the tab for the current year. Several blogs are in production, with articles on Led Zeppelin and The Moody Blues due over the next few months.
You can email me using the link above, and if you can add any information, you can add comments to the blog using the link at the bottom of the relevant page. Regards, Jason.
Frankie say NO to downloads!
In 1989, Lou Reed released a ‘comeback’ album called “New York”. Critics queued up to worship at it’s altar, whilst Reed himself provided some very brief sleeve notes about it being a return to the basic 3-man “guitar, bass, drums” rock band set up. Reed was newly signed to Warners offshoot Sire Records, and it was one of three glorious releases Warner Brothers put out the same year, alongside “Like A Prayer” and “Batman”.
By the end of the year, one of Reed’s former labels, RCA, decided to cash in on Reed’s new found fame, by issuing a compilation LP called “Retro”. Now, there may have been some record company ‘issues’ going on, but with the exception of mid-80s fluke hit 45 “I Love You Suzanne”, EVERYTHING on the record dated from a period between 1972 and 1976. Had Reed been so unproductive in the following 13 years that he only managed one album?
In the days before the internet, you had to work harder to find out what you had missed - and when. And slowly but surely, the gaps began to get filled in. I found myself in a record shop in Reading in December 1991, where I picked up a copy of the 1984 double-LP “Live In Italy”. It had the hits on it, Velvets tunes and a load of songs I had never heard of - these were songs that I later found out had been featured on what was, at the time, Lou’s latest studio venture, 1983’s “Legendary Hearts”. When I saw Lou on his 1996 tour, he wheeled out the title track of 1984’s “New Sensations”. I heard people, some time later, talking with great excitement about 1982’s “The Blue Mask”. The video for “No Money Down”, from 1986’s “Mistrial”, got the Beavis and Butthead treatment.
If we add to the mix 1980’s “Growing Up In Public”, then that was the eighties sorted out. But what about the late 70’s? Well, I did hear a story about the tour to support 1979’s “The Bells”, where during one show at the Hammersmith Odeon, Lou and his band apparently finished with a lengthy heavy metal jam, done seemingly to infuriate the crowd so much, that they would take it as their cue to leave. And I eventually heard about “Rock And Roll Heart”, the first Reed album to appear on Arista in 76, but only that it was a so-so, passable follow up to the sublime “Coney Island Baby”.
Before she moved out to Norfolk, my sister Sharon lived in Leytonstone, and then Harold Wood - both on the edges of London. Me and my mum would go to visit every so often, where I would rummage through her record collection. I remember seeing a copy of an album by Lou called “Take No Prisoners”, which despite being released whilst Reed was still signed to Arista in the UK, was some form of Dutch pressing on RCA. I think she said that it was a hard album to find, and this was the only way she had been able to get a copy. It explains also how several of the Genesis albums I inherited from her when she got married were pressed in Portugal.
I borrowed the record and taped it off her to have a listen (she would eventually buy me a CD copy some years later which, again, was a European RCA pressing that she had had to trawl the internet for - this was an album that, quite obviously, was not as common to find as “Transformer” in any form). It was a strange record. On several songs, Reed would launch into the opening chords of one of his most famous songs, then stop to tell jokes and rant about rock critics. There is a 17 minute long version of “Walk On The Wild Side”, during which Reed manages no more than about half the lyrics of the song, spending the rest of time doing his rock star / stand up comedian routine, as the band just plays the riff over and over.
Whilst this is, in it’s own way, kind of entertaining, it’s a shame - because when, elsewhere on the record, Reed simply decides to play something straight, the effect is devastating. The version of “Berlin” that is on here, is based on the original ’rock and roll’ version on the self titled debut LP, and it’s rocks hard. The LP was compiled from a series of shows Reed had played at the Bottom Line club in New York in May 1978 - again, another story I heard about these shows was that on one night, he turned up late, got heckled before he had even played a note, and that set the tone for the evening. Whether or not the “rambling” versions of the hits on “TNP” were from this show, or whether or not Reed was routinely treating his back catalogue with a sort of bored disdain, I am not sure. But the album did prove that when Reed and his band let rip, they were nothing short of unstoppable.
Included on here were three songs that had appeared in studio form on the album Reed was promoting at the time of the Bottom Line shows - 1978’s “Street Hassle”. They were three of the most impressive pieces of work on the whole LP. Side 1 offered the politically incorrect “I Wanna Be Black”, an anti-racism rant which has it’s origins, as you’d expect in typical Reed style, in black music - specifically Soul Music, just check out those E Street style horns - whilst featuring the sort of lyrics that nowadays, in this world of social media, would have had the less than intelligent types berating Reed for being stereotypical, or possibly even being an actual racist himself (“I wanna be black...and have a big prick too”) but which actually paints a darker picture of the USA (“wanna be like Martin Luther King, and get myself shot in spring”). Then there was the snarling, scowling, one chord wonder that was the closing “Leave Me Alone”, in which Reed seemingly demands the entire world, well, leave him alone. I get it Lou, I get it. But arguably the masterpiece was the 10-minute-plus multi-part rock opera that was “Street Hassle”, complete with more lyrics that even now sound shocking (“hey, that cunt’s not breathing”), but whose main selling point was it’s almost poetic, and epic, form of song writing - building and building to a big climax, and despite it’s lengthy running time, something that felt like it was all over all too quickly.
Round about the time that the Virgin Megastore chains were turning into Zavvi, I recall going into their shop in Birmingham on a weekly basis in the mid-noughties. They were having a clearout. “Less celebrated” CD’s were being knocked out at a fiver a pop. Those late 70’s Lou ones were all there. Looks can be deceiving, but there seemed to be something of a “who cares” attitude that surrounded these records. They, despite all originally coming out on the same label in the UK, were now on slightly different labels. “Rock And Roll Heart” had been repackaged quite nicely to make it look swish, with the legend “A 70’s Classic” printed on a sticker on the front, but I wasn’t so sure - I’d never heard anybody claim it to be better than, say, “Sally Can’t Dance”. Both it and “The Bells” had been reissued on a relatively obscure label called Buddha Records, which suggested the main division of Arista didn’t care a great deal for it (although the labels were all part of a bigger conglomerate).
“Street Hassle” was also in there. It had suffered the biggest indignity. Whilst the other pair had been given the fancy reissue treatment to at least try to revamp them for a new generation, this one was the very same CD edition that had been made back in the early 90s. The original album cover, for reasons unknown, had been shrunk in size, and placed inside a thick, sky blue coloured border. It had a copyright date for when it had been pressed (1992), which sort of showed how long it had been left in the wilderness when compared to the more recent reissues of it‘s cousins. It didn’t really have anything approaching what you might call sleeve notes - this was par for the course with 80s/90s bog standard CD pressings (check out all those almost lo-fi Cohen and Dylan reissues that CBS used to toss out without any real care in the same period), so you just got a fold over piece of card attempting to act like a booklet, with the track listing and nothing else. It was the old style silver CD, with no fancy label design. It was almost as if Buddha believed a bit in “RNRH” and “The Bells”, as if they were long lost classics seeking re-evaluation, but cared little for “Street Hassle” and so simply didn’t bother. It was almost as if Arista had, back in 92, just thought, “well, we’d better stick it out on CD - RCA have put “Metal Machine Music” out so we really can’t justify leaving this one out in that case“, and just knocked it up, design wise, during a lunch break. It felt unloved, and uncared for. I bought it to complete the set, and took it home expecting it to just be another one of those ’quite pleasant’ records that you, as a collector, have to buy, but which you are unlikely to go back to very often.
I had a listen to it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After just one listen, “Street Hassle” had left me gobsmacked. It was - excuse my language - fucking astounding.
History, increasingly, seems to be showing “Street Hassle” as Reed’s REAL long lost classic - perhaps even more so than “The Blue Mask”. It was a record that was released slap bang in the middle of punk by somebody who had been in the industry for well over a decade, but who had succeeded, somehow, in making a record that was far more “punk” than some of the records being made by the so-called “punk” bands. It was far more raucous than, say, any of the records made so far by The Jam and at times, lyrically, far more daring, challenging, and downright brutal than anything on “Never Mind The Bollocks“ or “The Clash“. This was, at times, rock and roll at it’s most cutting edge.
The opening “Gimmie Some Good Times” begins with what is possibly the cleverest first 30 seconds on any album EVER. The riff from “Sweet Jane” kicks in. A heckler (voiced by Reed) shouts the opening line “Hey, if that ain’t the Rock N Roll Animal himself”, whilst Reed, as himself, sings the opening line “standing on the corner...suitcase in my hand”. The album has barely started, and Reed has managed to self-reference both his former band and the name of one of his live solo records without even breaking sweat. This is, without doubt, pop art of the highest order. Total and utter genius.
“Dirt” reminds me of Iggy Pop, a sort of growling, dirgy, snarl that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “The Idiot”, with guitars that sound like a sort of warped version of the riff that would later be used on Bowie’s “Fashion”, as Reed once again plays with pop culture references so brilliantly, it sounds like he could do this sort of stuff in his sleep...”do you remember that song by a dude named Bobby Fuller...I fought the law and the law won” he slurs. Monumental.
The title track still, all the years after I had first head it, had the power to shock and amaze. The beautiful orchestral intro that extends throughout the first section, the plaintive female vocals that “ooh ooh ooh” away quietly in the middle, the spoken word (and uncredited) passage courtesy of Bruce Springsteen - the King of New York and the King Of New Jersey on the same record, Holy Cow. The middle section is quite violent in it’s imagery (“you know that bitch will never fuck again”) but it’s obviously Reed writing, and speaking, from the perspective of a third person, whose coarse language is simply the way they choose to express themselves, and is, in a way, no different to the vicious language you might get from a Scorsese gangster film. It is, in some respects, an astounding piece of daring art. By the time Springsteen reads out the “tramps like us, we were born to pay” line, in another piece of self-referential pop culture brilliance, and the song starts to slowly build to the climax of it’s 11 minute long journey, it’s difficult not to feel astonished by what you have just heard. Ditto “I Wanna Be Black”. Just as eye wateringly offensive as it was when I first it, it was still just as brilliantly clever lyrically, and musically, as funky as hell.
“Real Good Time Together” was the latest in a long line of re-recordings of, at the time, unissued Velvets tunes by Reed. It starts off with Lou and his guitar wobbling in and out of the speakers, as if it was recorded on a dodgy C90, and the microphone was dangling underwater. Then, as it approaches the finale, you start to hear a more “professional” version approaching slowly, fading in, getting louder and louder until it drowns out the “shaky” version. It’s glorious - full blown, hi-octane, high energy rock and roll, and it is absolutely awesome. Suddenly, the spirit of the rock and roll is in the room, powerhouse drumming, saxophone wailing, and the effect of the change of pace is devastatingly exhilarating.
A number of songs on the album were actually recorded live, or at least partly recorded live, and you can hear the crowd mumbling as “Shooting Star” kicks into life. Probably the one song on the LP that needs more listens to stick in the head than the rest, but still, pretty much flawless. More sax, more growling electric guitar, and more of Lou’s trademark drawling vocal, it sounds like a cross between T Rex, anything off Transformer and mid 70s Bowie. And then you have the masterful “Leave Me Alone”, with it’s sample line “leave me leave me leave me leave me leave me alone” and “John I’m Only Dancing”-esque sax breaks. Also recorded live, it - just like the others - uses this to it’s advantage, the sound booms, it’s simply feels bigger and bolder and brasher and warmer - I apologise if it was actually recorded fully in the studio, but it certainly FEELS live, and not watered down by any tinny production a studio concoction can sometimes produce.
“Wait”, on first listen, sounds like it’s the first take of a demo. But that’s the secret of it’s brilliance. Opening with a none-more-Bruce and the E Street band influenced sax-driven starting section, Lou sounds like he’s on the verge of a breakdown throughout, whilst sounding simultaneously quite sweetly charming and even lovelorn, delivering his lines with an air of almost worryingly edgy vulnerability, whilst a female singer sings a completely different set of lyrics at the same time. There’s so much going on - I love it. It’s both ramshackle, shambolic, and monumentally pop all at the same time. As the female backing vocalists pitch in at the dying end with what I think is a line which goes “I met him on a Sunday”, evoking the spirit of The Ronettes or The Crystals, well, it’s just the most perfect end to a most brilliant album.
I would be lying if I were to claim that “Street Hassle” is better than “Transformer” - after all, that’s the one with “Vicious”, “Andy’s Chest”, “Perfect Day”, “Satellite Of Love” and “Hangin’ Around” on, 36 minutes of glam rock brilliance. But the sheer unexpectedness of “Street Hassle”, an album which until I heard it, had never even come close to registering on those “100 Greatest Albums Ever” polls, and yet when I heard it throughout for the first time, left me open mouthed at the sheer brilliance of it all, is something that should be celebrated. Where had this record been all my life? And why, even now, is it still never mentioned in the same breath as “Rubber Soul”, or “Surf’s Up”, when it’s not far off the greatness of those records - or is, perhaps, actually even better than both? Who knows. But all I can say, is that whenever I go back to this album, which I do far more than “The Blue Mask”, it never ceases to amaze. It is, in it’s own way, one of the great punk records of our time. Albeit one seemingly unknown to most human beings. A crying shame really. Now is your time to discover it.
Oh, and I know it’s been a while now, but Lou, thanks for the music - especially the stuff on this one. Rest In Peace.
Now. For whatever reason, Lou hasn’t had much of a makeover of his back catalogue, with only a handful of releases being given expanded reissues. Others have been repressed to keep them on catalogue, but otherwise look and sound just like they did when they first appeared. But, to try and give you an idea of what is currently available, the list below are what I am 99% certain are the most recent editions of all of Lou’s studio and live albums. I haven’t listed some of his more recent collaborations (the Metallica one, the one recorded by his Metal Machine Music band, etc) but I have listed the John Cale releases (“Drella” and “Bataclan”) because of the obvious VU links. And also because “Drella” is absolutely essential.
You will see a wide variety of labels here - many of them are, nowadays, part of a single bigger outfit...this explains how there are releases on Buddha of both RCA and Arista albums, which in the 70‘s, were completely separate from one another. “American Poet” and “Batalcan” were both originally released by labels to which Lou never had any connection, which probably explains why the most recent releases are on totally different labels as well - it would seem the rights to these recordings are available to anybody who fancies having a go at releasing this material, so don’t be surprised if they reappear on yet another indie label in a few years time. I have not listed the ever growing list of similar “unofficial but not bootleg” live albums that, by being radio broadcasts, also seem to get round copyright issues, as the list of these is difficult to get 100% accurate, so I have left them alone for now.
It’s also worth pointing out that a number of these releases have been included in boxsets that, especially if you want more than one album, are often cheaper than trying to buy a regular single CD release. The latest versions of “Lou Reed” and “Transformer” were included in a 2-in-1 boxset release in late 2002, whilst the run of the five studio albums from the Warners years from “New York” to “Ecstasy” can be bought en masse courtesy of the “Original Album Series” release.
There are two RCA era “Original Album Classics” sets - one which runs from “Lou Reed” to “Coney Island”, although it ignores the live albums and “MMM”, but includes all the bonus tracks from the previous expanded reissues of what is here, and another which covers all the studio and live albums for the period from “Blue Mask” to “Mistrial”. The merging of labels means there is a third one, which includes the expanded “Rock N Roll Animal”, “Rock N Roll Heart”, “The Bells”, “Growing Up” and “Street Hassle” itself. Buying these last four will give you a massive chunk of the back catalogue for less than £60. Which is a lot less than what each of those individual Led Zepp super deluxe reissues have been knocking about for!
LOU LP DISCOGRAPHY
Lou Reed (1972, CD, Camden Deluxe 74321 727122)
Transformer (1972, CD, RCA Heritage 07863 65132 2, 2002 expanded reissue with bonus demos of “Hangin‘ Round“ and “Perfect Day“)
Berlin (1973, CD, RCA 88697 104162)
Rock N Roll Animal (1974, CD, RCA 07863 67948 2, 2000 expanded reissue with previously unissued versions of “How Do You Think It Feels” and “Caroline Says I”)
Sally Can’t Dance (1974, CD, RCA 07863 69383 2, 2001 expanded reissue with unreleased bonus track and single mix of title track)
Lou Reed Live (1975, CD, RCA ND 83752)
Metal Machine Music (1975, CD, Buddha 74465 99752 2)
Coney Island Baby (1976, CD, RCA Legacy 82876 78251 2, 2006 expanded reissue with bonus B-side material and previously unreleased alternate takes)
Rock And Roll Heart (1976, CD, Buddha 74465 99657 2)
Street Hassle (1978, CD, Arista 262 270)
Take No Prisoners (1978, 2xCD, Arista Heritage 07822 10609 2)
The Bells (1979, CD, Buddha 74465 99659 2)
Growing Up In Public (1980, CD, Buddha 74465 99658 2)
The Blue Mask (1982, CD, RCA 07863 542212)
Legendary Hearts (1983, CD, RCA ND 89843)
Live In Italy (1984, CD, Sony/Music On CD 86272 21051, available for some years as a budget price release called “Live In Concert” in a unique p/s, pressings from 2005 reverted to original title in new sleeve, this 2014 release replicates the original vinyl release)
New Sensations (1984, CD, RCA ND 90671, some websites currently advertise a 2013 repressing which may use a different cat number)
Mistrial (1986, CD, RCA ND 90253)
New York (1989, CD, Sire 7599 25829 2)
Songs For Drella (1990, CD, Sire 7599 26140 2)
Magic And Loss (1992, CD, Sire 7599 26662 2)
Set The Twilight Reeling (1996, CD, Sire 9362 46159 2)
Perfect Night: Live In London (1997, CD, Reprise 9362 46917 2)
Ecstasy (2000, CD, Reprise 9362 47425 2)
American Poet (2001, CD, Easy Action 23566 03802, 2005 reissue)
The Raven (2003, 2xCD, Reprise 9362 48373 2)
Animal Serenade (2004, CD, Reprise 9362 48678 2)
Le Bataclan 72 (2004, CD, AEPI 291012 900821, 2013 reissue)
Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007, CD, Sounds True M1117D)
Berlin: Live at St Ann’s Warehouse (2008, CD, Matador OLE 8492)
PS. A Lou UK singles blog will appear on this site at some time. It took me several years to finally get this one on here, so don’t hold your breath.
Wednesday, 5 August 2015
With the release of 1995’s “Something To Remember” being designed as a showcase for ‘Madonna The Singer-Songwriter’, the stage was thus set for a comeback by the Queen Of Pop. Her return to the throne was a two pronged attack - starting with the none-more-mainstream hysteria that was “Evita”, followed by the futuristic sounds of 1998’s “Ray Of Light”, in which Madonna simultaneously revisited her disco inspired past, whilst also bringing the Electronica genre fully into the pop charts. Welcome to part 6 of my look at Madonna on Thirty Three and a Third.
Elsewhere on this site, I have mentioned that Madonna plugged the first single from “STR”, “You’ll See”, via a Top Of The Pops TV appearance - the first time she had appeared on this (now mostly defunct) UK pop institution for more than a decade. This was achievable mainly because Madonna was already in London anyway, recording the soundtrack for the “Evita” movie. Ever since talk about trying to adapt this musical for the big screen had been started in the late 1970s, Madonna’s name had long been associated with it, and now, finally, her dream had come true.
For much of the final quarter of 1995, Madonna was holed up in a London hotel, heading out after lunch to the local Whitfield Street Studios to record the score of the film. She returned the following May to finish filming on the movie itself, this time renting a house - with a huge front wall - in West London, by which time she was pregnant with her first child. She was thus camera shy this time around, and would come out of the house with an open magazine held in front of her face to try and shield herself from the photographers. By the end of May, filming and recording on “Evita” was thus finished, and Madonna focused then on delivering Lourdes that October.
Promotion for “STR” had trundled on alongside all this activity, with singles being issued on both sides of the Atlantic during the first half of 1996. After a remixed “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” had surfaced in the US, and “One More Chance” had turned up on 45 in the UK, Madonna’s next single was “You Must Love Me” - the first release from “Evita”, and a new song written specifically for the movie adaptation.
Madonna’s involvement in “Evita” gave Warner Bros an excuse to really push the soundtrack album. It was promoted as heavily as any ‘normal’ Madonna album might have been, with not one, but three singles being released in the UK, just as they had done with the earlier non-Madonna but Madonna-heavy “Who’s That Girl” soundtrack LP. Furthermore, they issued not one but two variant editions of the soundtrack itself - firstly, to coincide with the movie release in late 1996, they put out a 19 track “highlights” set on both CD (Warner Bros 9362 46432 2) and Cassette (Warner Bros 9362 46432 4) and then followed this up with a version featuring the full (nearly) unedited movie score as a 2xCD set (Warner Bros 9362 46346 2). This edition came in a new sleeve, with a slightly altered title, and I am convinced it was issued in the UK in early 97 to coincide with ‘Awards Season‘ despite showing a “1996“ copyright date. I could be totally wrong, it was a long time ago. As for the movie itself, both Madonna and the film picked up honours at the Golden Globes, whilst “You Must Love Me” got “Best Original Song” at the Oscars. This was the nearest Madonna ever got to bagging herself an Academy Award, but at least she sung the winning song, so you could say she had an Oscar by proxy.
With the whole “Evita” project now over, it was time to go back - properly - to the day job. In May 1997, Madonna began working on material with former collaborator Babyface, who had co-written the majestic “Take A Bow” for 1994’s “Bedtime Stories”. The songs the pair came up with recalled this pop triumph a bit too closely, and sensing a feeling of déjà vu, Madonna abandoned the partnership.
Madonna then briefly worked with one-time Belinda Carlisle collaborator Rick Nowels. In just over a week, the pair came up with seven songs, but any plans to use these songs with Nowels producing seemed to be either non-existent, or were also abandoned, as Madonna was soon working with another collaborator soon after, old pal Patrick Leonard. Again, this partnership was short lived, as the songs they were coming up with did not fit Madonna’s vision for the album - at least not with Leonard‘s planned production techniques - but a number of songs from both these sessions were put “in the bag“ for future reference.
A suggestion was made by Maverick Records head honcho Guy Oseary to Madonna that she might consider working with electronica act William Orbit. Orbit had worked with Madonna before, but only in a remix capacity - he had created reworkings of “Justify My Love” and “I’ll Remember”, but Madonna was interested in trying to create an entire album of Orbit-helmed music.
A number of the songs that Madonna had already written with Nowels and Leonard were played to Orbit, who thought they sounded a bit too polished, but some of which he figured could be re-worked. Three of the songs from the Nowels session thus survived, “The Power Of Goodbye”, “To Have And Not To Hold” and “Little Star”, the first two of which were to benefit from production work by Orbit and Leonard, with the latter being produced instead by Marius De Vries. Several songs from the Leonard sessions also survived to make the final cut - “Skin” and “Nothing Really Matters” were overseen by Orbit and De Vries, whilst Orbit and Leonard co-produced “Frozen” and “Sky Fits Heaven”. One thing you can see here, is that despite the album often being referred to as a full blown Orbit/Madonna collaboration, there were actually three other co-producers on this record alongside the lady herself.
Nevertheless, Orbit’s involvement was crucial and substantial, and he came up with various electronic inspired pieces which were played to Madonna, to which she attempted to write lyrics. At least eight songs were completed by the pair, with seven given the nod for official release. One of these, “Has To Be”, was a collaboration between Madonna, Orbit and Leonard, with Orbit producing, but was left off the regular album, surfacing as a B-side in the UK instead. Of the remaining six, three were straight ahead Madonna/Orbit songwriting/production efforts - “Swim”, “Shanti Ashtangi” and “Mer Girl”. The other three songs featured help from outside songwriters, although the shared credits for the title track came about because Orbit’s original demo was based heavily on a 1971 song by Curtiss Maldoon, called “Sepheryn”. Orbit had worked with a relative of one of the members of the band on a version of the song, which was then reworked by Madonna with the blessing of the group.
Work on the album began in earnest in mid June 1997, and with most of the album being designed to follow the “electro” vibe of Orbit’s own solo material, much of the music was created using computers, meaning that few people other than Madonna, the engineers, and Orbit, were ever in the studio. Orbit’s computers were prone to breaking down, and Madonna had to wait whilst he fixed them, something she found frustrating. As a result, despite being a computer driven recording experience, the time frame of recording lasted longer than any previous Madonna album had taken, with finishing touches not being applied until November that year.
The album had something of a hippy, earth mother vibe - Madonna had become fascinated with Kabbalah and mysticism in general, and had started to study Hinduism and Buddhism. She took up Yoga. The front cover image also looked nothing like the stocking-clad sex kitten image that had appeared in the early 90s on “Justify My Love“ and in the “Sex“ book. The song “Shanti Ashtangi” featured lyrics in Sanskrit, and the video for lead single “Frozen” showed her with Mendhi imagery on her hands.
Motherhood also seemed to filter into proceedings. The terrifying finale, “Mer Girl”, featured numerous family references, with the “daughter that never sleeps” line being an obvious reference to Lourdes, as was the entire “Little Star“ single. A later single, “Drowned World / Substitute For Love”, featured a video which concluded with Madonna hugging a child, whilst the lyrics of “Sky Fits Heaven” included the line “child fits mother, so hold your baby tight”. It’s safe to say that there was a lineage here between the death of Madonna’s own mother at such an early age, and the reaction that it seemed to be having on her now she was a mother herself.
When it wasn’t coming over all spiritual, or indeed all miserable, “Ray Of Light” bristled with a vibrant energy. Whatever you might think of Orbit’s own solo records, the combination of his dance music stylings with Madonna’s pop suss, created something genuinely forward thinking. The title track was a blaring, hi-energy romp, that almost made “Into The Groove” sound like a Tindersticks B-side, whilst the monumental build up of “Drowned World” helped to create one of Madonna’s more unusual, and stunning, pop nuggets. The pounding throb of “Sky Fits Heaven”, the off kilter crunch of “Candy Perfume Girl”, the techno rumble of “Skin” - as impressively grand and bold as “Evita” was as a movie, the music itself was dangerously AOR, so much so that it even sounded dated seconds after you’d first listened to it (it was an old musical though, really, to be fair), but “Ray Of Light” sounded like it had been beamed in from the future. Just as Bowie had gone drum and bass the year before on “Earthling”, Madonna too was ahead of the pop crowd - this was a record that predated the Xenomania designed future-pop of Girls Aloud some five years before they happened, and even now, it still seems light years ahead of what sometimes passes for “modern pop” these days (yes I’m talking about you, Taylor Swift).
In terms of releases, “Ray Of Light” appeared in the UK on the three standard formats of the time - Double LP (Maverick 9362 46847 1), Cassette (Maverick 9362 46847 4) and CD (Maverick 9362 47487 2). The cassette edition eventually went out of print, whilst the CD version - of course - remains on catalogue, thanks to Madonna’s disinterest in repackaging her back catalogue. The vinyl version was technically reissued in 2003 as a 180g edition, and although some copies were issued - especially in Europe - in a suitably stickered sleeve, others weren’t, and given that the original catalogue number was retained, there is nothing visually different between a 1998 original or a later repress. Similarly, anybody buying a CD edition of “ROL” today may not get a copy with the “featuring the hits” sticker that appeared on the original 1998 release, but it is otherwise to all intents and purposes, exactly the same. It is also available in the 2012 “Complete Studio Albums” boxset, housed in a simple card sleeve, retaining the front and rear cover designs and also the original graphic display as found on the disc itself, plus the less comprehensive "Original Album Series" 5-CD box issued at the same time. I intend to do a full look at these boxes in due course.
As mentioned in earlier “Madonna on LP” blogs, Warners had - by now - abandoned the concept of UK specific catalogue numbers, and all pressings of the album were essentially made in Europe, and then distributed around the continent. However, original UK pressings had a special Warner Brothers hologram with the “UK” legend printed over the top, so effectively, any without these are German imports or later repressings (at least regards the CD edition). The US was also treated to a special limited edition version in a fancy 3-D reflective digipack - some copies were exported around Europe, and listed both the US catalogue number and a “European” one on the back only (Maverick 9362 46884 2), but copies were not stocked in that many stores IIRC. I don’t have one, and I used to go to HMV on a weekly basis back then. Along with a similarly “swish” version of 1994’s “Bedtime Stories”, the 90s saw the beginning of a lengthy period in which all ‘new’ Madonna albums were treated to a more special US release than their UK counterparts (finally ending, sort of, with this years “Rebel Heart“) - more detail in my future Madonna album blogs.
“Ray Of Light” was the subject of much excitement by the critics - it was seen not only as a return to form, but was claimed by some to have been single-handedly responsible for the movement overground of the hitherto underground “electronica” genre. This might be pushing it a bit, given that the likes of The Chemical Brothers had been having hit singles in the UK at least two years before. But it certainly was a contemporary sounding release, and is cited by some as being Madonna’s finest effort. Warners seemed thrilled by it, issuing a gargantuan five singles from the record, and it seemed to get Madonna on a roll again - it was followed by the Doors-inspired psychedlic-electropop of “Beautiful Stranger”, Madonna’s (one time) stand along single from May 1999, another collaboration with Orbit, and seen as further evidence of Madonna’s now undisputed “Queen Of Pop” status being totally confirmed. But the five years that followed were a bit more troublesome, and Madonna had to conduct another “comeback” in 2005. My next blog, possibly due before year end, will look at the albums released in that sometimes awkward 2000-2004 period.
Monday, 13 July 2015
Up until a few years ago, my entire Yes collection was on vinyl only. This was because of two reasons. One, was that my interest in the band was mainly in the pre-”Owner Of A Lonely Heart” material, all of which, of course, dated from the days before CD’s had even been invented. But the reason I had managed to get them all on vinyl in the first place, was that I had been introduced to them at a very early age, early enough to have been able to hunt down the second pressings of these records that could still be picked up - new - in record shops in the early 1980s. It is a bit strange looking at the current obsession with vinyl, and it’s “inflated” price tags, considering I paid no more than a fiver for my copy of “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, which came in it’s original gatefold sleeve and with it’s original custom labels. Buying one of the more recent “collectors edition” versions will cost you about four or five times as much.
Like early Purple, early Yes were a thing of wonderment. Described by some as ’symphonic rock’, those pre-83 albums were gloriously inventive, all mad key changes, songs within songs, occasional psycho guitar solos, keyboard twizzles, and tracks that usually went on for about 10 minutes. They later got chastised, along with the entire Prog genre, of being too pompous, but just look what we eventually got as a reward in their place once they were successfully ousted - Wham, Whigfield and Ed Sheeran. Ouch.
Yes threw in the towel in 1981, and only came back when a number of ex-members began working on a poppier sounding album a couple of years later, under the working band name of Cinema. Once the realisation sunk in that virtually everyone involved in the band had been in Yes at some point (including their producer), it was decided that using the Yes name could be a money spinner. And so it was that Yes returned in 1983, sounding nothing like the Yes I knew from those earlier albums. I’ve struggled to come to terms with everything they’ve recorded since.
So, for now, Yes are another band for whom the main sphere of excitement to me is the first phase of their career. You simply can’t deny the genius that runs through the likes of “Close To The Edge” or “Going For The One”. So, to tie in roughly with a new album and boxset of live recordings taped entirely during the glory days of 1972, “Progeny”, and as a mark of respect to the man who was there from day 1 onwards, Chris Squire, who passed away last month, here is my tribute to the band whose complex music, at times, does make Radiohead sound like the Brotherhood Of Man in comparison.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, the Yes lineup was established during 1968 with Jon Anderson on vocals (John in those days), Chris Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, Peter Banks on guitar and Tony Kaye on keyboards. Like a lot of new groups, they were short on material so had no choice but to play covers in their live set. However, rather than just play note for note renditions of these songs, the band put their own jazzy twist on some of them, elongating them and bending them out of shape. This got them noticed on the gigging circuit and they came to the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed them to the label the following year.
1969’s self titled debut effort shows signs of these early beginnings - there are several covers on the album, and both the takes on tracks by The Byrds (“I See You”) and The Beatles (“Every Little Thing”) are more or less double or nearly triple the length of the original recordings. Housed in a simple sleeve, a black cover with the band’s then logo inside a speech bubble, it shows some vague signs of their proggier future - at eight songs long, it is (by Yes standards) an LP consisting of potential hit singles in waiting, albeit a bit longer than those in the hit parade of the time! “Sweetness” was indeed issued as a single in the UK, but didn’t do a great deal. Poppy follow up 45 “Looking Around” was withdrawn from sale before, or possibly just after, it’s planned release date, either way, few copies exist and the price for a copy is a three figure sum. The stand out track on the LP is the closing “Survival” - like most of the record, it does more or less follow the pop structure verse-chorus-verse approach, but has a lengthy instrumental intro that sounds like it has come from a completely different song, which is then reprised in slightly noisier form at the song’s climax. Six minutes in length, it gives some indication of the multi-part songs that would fill up much of the band’s repertoire in the future.
For the 1970 follow up “Time And A Word”, Anderson decided he wanted an orchestra on most of the album, but they seemed to have been instructed to play the parts that would otherwise have been played by Banks. This infuriated the guitarist, who was convinced it left him with little do on the album, and after recording was finished, he either left the band or was fired by Anderson - one rumour was that Anderson was of the opinion that Banks was not able to cope with the increasingly complex material they were writing, which might be why he wheeled the strings in in the first place. By the time the LP was released, new guitarist Steve Howe had been drafted in as his replacement.
Despite reservations by some critics about the “intrusive” use of an orchestra, I have always felt this record was a big leap forward from the debut. The opening cover of Richie Havens’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” is as thrilling a start to a record as you are ever going to hear - the strings kick things off with the theme from “The Big Country” - whilst the psychedelic trippy vibe of “Astral Traveller” points at the direction the band were starting to head. In Germany, initial copies came in a different sleeve (the same photo that had appeared on the US copy of “Yes”) and featured alternate mixes of the Havens cover and “Sweet Dreams”, this latter track (in it’s normal mix) was one of two issued as the band’s next UK 45s (the title track was the other one, but like the withdrawn “Looking Around“, is seemingly hyper rare). The UK release came with an ‘artistic’ image of a nude woman on the front, but this was deemed “too filthy” by the US leg of the label, who released the LP instead with a photo of the band - trouble was, they used a picture of the new line up, and not the actual lineup who had recorded the album.
The band’s next album, 1971’s “The Yes Album”, was where the story really starts to take shape. Howe revealed himself to be something of a guitar virtuoso, and the band began to write songs that were lengthier than anything they had ever attempted before, with two songs (“Starship Trooper” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”) featuring several sections grouped together, with these different sections being listed as individual pieces on the credits complete with their own titles. With the exception of “A Venture” and the recorded-on-stage in 1970 acoustic solo piece by Howe called “Clap”, nothing on the LP was shorter than six and a half minutes in length. It was the real beginning of the band’s genuine “prog” phase, and represented a move towards increasingly inventive and forward thinking music. The album was housed in a now famous shot of the group posing with a mannequin’s head and Kaye in plaster after the band were involved in a car accident after a gig in Basingstoke the night before. Although the US division of Atlantic decided to issue the first section of “I’ve Seen All Good People” as a single, under it’s subtitle of “Your Move”, no commercially released single was issued in the UK - indeed, the next Yes UK 45 would not surface until early 1974. “Your Move” did surface as a promo, with a section of “Starship Trooper” (“Life Seeker”) on the flip.
Although Atlantic UK were unsure of the band as being potential hit single makers, their attraction as a live act was cemented, and their success as an albums group was established with “The Yes Album”, becoming not only their first LP to hit the top 40, but one that made it into the top 5. As work on the follow up LP began, Kaye became the next to leave the band - his decision to not use new-fangled electronic keyboards like the Moog, was seen by other band members as the sign of another band member being unable to keep up with the band’s changing approach to writing and recording, but Kaye seemed to jump before he was pushed, and left the group after claiming his style of playing conflicted with Howe’s guitar work. Other reports however suggest that, like Banks, he was fired from the group because of his refusal to “keep up with the trends”.
Kaye’s replacement was one time Strawbs keyboardist Rick Wakeman. Yes had crossed paths with Wakeman before, who had increased his earnings by being a quite prolific session player on some genuinely classic records - he appeared on so many Bowie records, he was just a stones throw away from becoming one of the actual Spiders From Mars. His arrival into Yes marked what was, for some, the classic lineup of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Squire. The resultant album was 1971’s flawless “Fragile”. The first time upon which Roger Dean designed artwork was featured, this record showcased both the individual talents of the five band members, as well as revealing how good they worked together as a unit. There were five pieces designed to highlight each band member, with each credited only to the individual player - Anderson’s multi-tracked vocal chant “We Have Heaven” was included twice on the record, with an uncredited reprise being used to close the album. Bruford indulged in some jazz drumming exploits in the short but sweet “Five Per Cent For Nothing”. Wakeman reworked “Cans And Brahms” as a solo piece consisting of electric piano, harpsichord and synthesiser sections. Chris Squire’s contribution was the bass heavy (mostly) instrumental workout “The Fish”, although the ending section features harmony vocals repeating the phrase “schindleria praematurus”, which is itself the name of a saltwater fish found in the Pacific. Howe’s contribution was the acoustic strum of “Mood For A Day” which, like Squire’s contribution, were the longest of the five solo pieces.
What remains are some of the best things Yes had ever committed to tape. The opening “Roundabout”, despite being eight and a half minutes in length, was chosen by the US label to become a single, where it was not so much edited, as opposed to being chopped into pieces, with one of the remaining pieces being used as the 7” edit. Story goes that when the US public latched onto this bouncy pop nugget, they were shocked when they heard the more-than-twice as long LP mix. “South Side Of The Sky” was a soaring piece of psychedelic prog, where the snarling guitar licks, keyboard flourishes, and in-your-face vocal production created something of monumental epicness. The equally glorious bombast of the closing “Heart Of The Sunrise” featured a psychotic Wakeman driven intro so good, that 6Music’s Lauren Laverne later decided to feature it during the opening section of her radio show.
Arguably the pinnacle of Yes’ career came in 1972 with the release of “Close To The Edge”. Dean had now designed a new band logo (the original one had been reused on some later foreign 45’s, but had laid dormant as regards UK releases also immediately after the first album had been issued), and this logo remained in place for every Yes release up until the split. This new logo would often be used in conjunction with some highly elaborate artwork (think Dungeons and Dragons, or Lord Of The Rings, or for you kids out there, Game Of Thrones), but not on “Edge” - instead, the band logo and the album name, in similar typography, were printed at the top of what was otherwise a blank, green, cover. Musically, Yes were pushing the boundaries. For the first time ever, they managed to fill up an entire single side of vinyl with just one song, the gargantuan title track filling up all nineteen minutes of the first side of the LP. Just two more songs were squeezed onto side 2. Again, several songs consisted of separately titled sections, and the US label issued the “Total Mass Retain” portion of the title track as a B-side on a 45. The album represented a move forwards towards increasingly clever, and you could say, slightly pompous music, but the guitar shredding antics of Howe, the insane keyboard histrionics of Wakeman, and Anderson’s high pitched vocals (how odd it is to hear him being interviewed in his normal Accrington speaking voice) helped to create music so bold and colourful...seriously, if you don’t like “Close To The Edge”, well, you don’t like being alive.
But despite this work of genius, it was not enough to stop Bruford throwing in the towel, doing so as soon as recording was completed. Musical differences were the old chestnut, I think Bruford’s complaint was that Yes were becoming more picky, and thus more prog, when it came to writing, whereas his background was more freeform jazz oriented. He joined King Crimson and was quoted as saying that “in Yes, there was an endless debate...in King Crimson, you were just supposed to know”. His replacement was Alan White, who, if you include the reunion years, would end up becoming the second longest standing member of the band after Squire. This new configuration of Anderson White Wakeman Howe and Squire, would, for those who didn’t go for the Bruford years, be seen as the “other” classic Yes lineup.
White had one practice session with the band before a tour to promote “Close To The Edge” was conducted. In May 73, the band’s first live album was released, “Yessongs”, complete with wonderfully OTT Dean designed packaging. In true prog style, the album was issued as a TRIPLE, in a fold out sleeve. Everything bar three songs were recorded on the most recent tour, with the remaining trio being taken from the “Fragile” tour, featuring Bruford (“Perpetual Change”, “Long Distance Runaround” and “The Fish”).
The next album remains the sticking point in the band’s career. The album which is like Marmite - loved by some of us, despised by others and held up as the single reason for hating prog and thus creating punk. That album is “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, the first Yes studio album to be released as a double, and in a way, the band’s first concept album. Anderson wrote sleeve notes for it in which he says the album was inspired by ‘four classes of Hindu Scripture, known as the Shastras‘. Anderson had read a book which referred to the phrase “shastric rules”. The book noted there were four classes of scripture called Shruti, Smriti, Purana and Tantra. Anderson became fascinated in what he was reading, and began to work with Howe on the creation of four “interlocking” pieces of music, each of which would be inspired by the concepts each scripture spoke of.
When it was released in late 73 in the UK, a number of critics tore it apart. The very concept of what Anderson was trying to explain does seem slightly baffling, whilst the fact that it was not only a double, but consisted of just one song on each side, was seen as being the ultimate in proggy excess. Now, I have always quite enjoyed this album - each song, again, consisted of multiple sections although no “sub sections” were listed in the credits...so in my view, it is no different to listening to a pair of late 60s Moody Blues albums back to back (they used to crossfade every song on every album). But no, it was seen as “psychedelic doodling” by some. The album was actually shorter than it should have been, Howe claims that the opening “The Revealing Science Of God” had about six minutes of material edited out - what does exist is a version with a longer ambient opening, which was first issued on the “In A Word” boxset but has been used on all subsequent CD repressings in the UK, over the original “short” vinyl mix.
Wakeman was less than keen on the whole concept, and was only a minor contributor to the album, caused in part by the fact that Anderson and Howe had more or less written the entire record themselves. The subsequent tour was home to the now famous “curry incident”, where during one show, Wakeman was so bored with what he was playing, he ordered a curry and side dishes, that were passed up to him by a roadie during the performance of songs from the album, which he was able to dip into as time passed, hidden as they were behind his wall of keyboards.
The tour initially started before the album was released, and because of the “concept” nature of the record, the band took to performing it in full. There are conflicting reports about how soon the band began to realise this was not going down too well, even after the album was in stores, and how many songs were dropped, but it’s generally considered that at least side 2, “The Remembering”, was ditched as soon as the Spring 74 shows in the USA took place. Other reports suggest side 3, “The Ancient”, got binned at some point as well. Once the tour was over, Wakeman left the band - it seemed to be, in part, that he too didn’t like the “psychedelic doodling”, although you have to remember, this was the man who then in 1975 presented the “King Arthur On Ice” madness. Midway through the tour, Atlantic - confusingly - issued an unedited “And You And I”, the 10-minute side 2 opener on 1972’s “Close To The Edge”, as a UK single, backed with the also-unedited US hit “Roundabout”. The disc, unsurprisingly, had to be played at 33rpm in order to cram these two on, and even then, the grooves must have been squeezed together at a ridiculously intense ratio. Anyone else know of a 20 minute long (over two sides) 7” single being issued in the UK? Ever? “And You And I” had been issued as an American 45 in 1972, but was spread out across both sides of the single.
Wakeman was replaced by Patrick Moraz in time for 1974’s “Relayer”, which did seem like a semi-conscious effort to scale things down from it’s sprawling predecessor. We are back to “Close To The Edge” style track times here, with two songs on side 2, and only one “20 minuter” in the form of the sometimes quite punky “Gates Of Delirium” - the middle “battle” section is quite brash, noisy and bristling with energy, no psychedelic doodling here. Again, over on the other side of the pond, a section of this track called “Soon” was issued as a US 45, backed with an edited version of one of the tracks off side 2, “Sound Chaser”. Both these edits were added as bonus tracks to the 2003 remastered edition of the album when it was reissued on CD in expanded form.
The band toured the album until the summer of 1975, where they took a break to allow each band member the opportunity to record a solo album. To fill the gap, Atlantic issued the retro compilation “Yesterdays” early in the year. It mostly concentrated on material from the early years, a period that predated the Roger Dean years, but came housed in a Dean designed sleeve once more. Rarities appeared in the form of 1970 b-side “Dear Father” and their 1972 recorded cover of “America”, which had appeared on an Atlantic Records ‘Various Artists’ set, and had also appeared in highly edited form as a US 45 the same year.
The band toured again in 1976, with what seems to have been dubbed the “Solo Albums Tour”. Some material from these solo albums was squeezed in, but for the most part, the setlists were full of nothing but “the hits”. The band then reconvened to begin work on what would be their eighth studio album, “Going For The One”. However, early on in the proceedings, the band felt that Moraz was not “playing like he was involved”, and he was asked to leave. Rick Wakeman was invited back into the fold, who found the lifestyle changes since he was last in the band had improved, whilst the rough versions he heard of the new songs represented something he liked the sound of more than the “Topographic Oceans” period. And so the “second” classic lineup was back again.
When released in 1977, “Going For The One” did seem to represent a “new” Yes. The artwork design, by Hipgnosis, was striking to say the least - a nude man staring up at the Century Plaza Towers in LA. There were no less than five songs on this record, which was pressed on just a single slab of vinyl, making it the most “pop” album the band had released since “Fragile” if you base it on ‘number of songs per 20 minutes’. Atlantic realised this and released not one, but two UK singles, the spiky power pop buzz of the title track and the slightly hey-nonny-no, but charming, jangle of “Wonderous Stories”. For a band who had suddenly, possibly thanks to the onslaught of punk, decided to go ’mainstream’, there was the surreal sight of both these singles being issued as limited edition 12 inch pressings, even though the songs themselves were short enough to fit on the 7” pressings with little trouble! For technical clarity, “Going For The One” was slightly edited, with the removal of part of the intro, whilst the flipside was an edit of the one “prog” moment on the album, the 15-minute closer “Awaken”, dubbed “Awaken Part 1”. To confuse matters, both of the two singles were released in identical sleeves, the sleeve itself being a reworking of the album artwork. What hadn’t been lost in the middle of this reinvention, was the melodic hum of the band, with “Turn Of The Century” being as joyously beautiful as anything the band had created before.
What nobody knew then, was that this “comeback” album was more or less the beginning of the end. 1978 saw the release of “Tormato”, which legend has it, was going to be called “Yes Tor”, referring to the peak of Dartmoor, and a canvas showing the planned sleeve design was created by Hipgnosis. Somebody, in reaction to the cover, threw a tomato at the design, which splattered across the front, and a photo of the result was used instead, which caused the album name to now be changed from “Tor” to “Tormato”. At least three people, including Wakeman, all claim to have thrown the object in horror at what was considered to be a poor sleeve design, before it was “redesigned“.
The album seemed to be an attempt to align the band even more with the new wave, with numerous songs fitting within the four-minute time length, and the likes of “Release Release” crackling with urgent energy, but critical reaction was mixed, with band members themselves commenting on both the musical direction of the album and the production technique. The band toured in support of the album, and the pro-animal rights anthem “Don’t Kill The Whale”, a throwback (in a way) to their more hippy days, was a hit.
In late 1979, the band regrouped to work on a planned tenth studio album. But the move away from the more proggy early 70s material didn’t sit well with either Anderson or Wakeman. The remainder of the group wanted to carry on in the same ’heavy rock’ sound that had run through “Tormato”, and material that Anderson was putting forward, was being sidelined by the trio. Wakeman was mostly absent as this breakdown between the two camps gathered pace. In the spring of 1980, instrumental demos were being taped without Anderson even being present in the studio, and there was some concern as to whether he still had a place in the band. In the end, a financial dispute involving Anderson was the final straw and he walked, whilst Wakeman followed soon after, seemingly fed up at the ’inactivity’ that had been in place since the completion of the last tour some nine months previous. The situation hadn’t been helped by Anderson and Wakeman’s desire to salvage something from the wreckage of “Tormato”, and had been keen to record as soon as the last tour had ended - but with the remaining band members seeming at times reluctant to even try to release a follow up, it created disillusionment for both Anderson and Wakeman. It was only after they had left, that Howe Squire and White really decided to try and carry on.
It was luck more than anything which saw Yes manage to record and release a tenth studio effort, issued later that year as “Drama“. The remaining trio were still together, although seemingly unsure what future the band had. They were working in the same rehearsal space as electro-pop duo The Buggles. Both members of the band, singer Trevor Horn and keyboard player Geoff Downes, were huge Yes fans, and had a song which they figured would work better being recorded by Yes rather than themselves. They met up with the remaining members of the band to provide them with the song, and to record a demo. At this point, there was the realisation that the two members of the Buggles could provide a fit for the now departed Anderson and Wakemen, and with Squire himself being a fan of the recently released debut Buggles LP, Horn was invited to join the band as their new singer, and Downes as the new keyboard player. This injection of youth sparked a creative rebirth within the band, with a sound that featured a mix of the new wave leaning of The Buggles, sometimes lengthy compositions which recalled old school Yes, and the heavy rock of “Going For The One” and “Tormato”. The sessions themselves featured a mix of material - songs from the Buggles songbook were introduced into the fold and worked on by the band, as was material demoed before Anderson’s departure. The demo used to introduce the two parties, “We Can Fly From Here”, remained unreleased, but was slotted into future live performances, although a renamed version called “Fly From Here” was later recorded by a more recent incarnation of Yes, the Mark 3 (ish) lineup of 2011 with singer Benoit David (employed after Anderson had quit for a second time).
As if to suggest this was another comeback, and one to be celebrated, Roger Dean was invited back into the sanctum to produce some suitably Yes-like imagery for the album sleeve. An edited “Into The Lens” was issued as a single, whilst an edited “Run Through The Light” surfaced as a 45 in the USA. The band headed out in support of the album, and despite the change in personnel, were treated like homecoming heroes in the States, where the tour included a multiple night run at New York’s Madison Square Gardens. But by all accounts, the UK shows that followed were less successful. The Buggles were more or less a studio creation, and the regular gigging began to take it’s toll on Horn’s voice. Other crowd members seemed less than pleased about this version of the band - despite all those other lineup changes, the departure of the lead singer was obviously a change too far. As regards the setlist, older numbers were mixed up with “Drama” selections, something achievable reasonably well as Horn had a similar singing style to Anderson, slightly high pitched, although not quite in the same league.
As the band continued to tour the UK in the winter of 1980, Anderson’s departure was marked with another live LP - this time a (slim line) double album called “Yesshows”. Culled from the tours conducted in 1976, 77 and 78 (once again meaning different band members from different time frames were documented - this time, keyboard players Moraz and Wakeman), it featured a slightly more varied collection of material than “Yessongs“, simply because the decision had been taken to play “Time And A Word” on the “Tormato” tour, and a live recording of the song from Wembley’s Empire Pool was thus included. The album was designed to try and run in some sort of “setlist order”, which explains why the live version of side 4 of “Topographic Oceans”, “Ritual”, appears in full - but split into two halves and spread over the bulk of side 3, and most of the start of side 4. Subsequent CD editions include this track with the two halves ’stitched together’, although cassette copies released at the time seemingly still featured the two parts as separate entities, even though the format would have allowed the track to be mixed into a single song.
After the “Drama” tour was wound up a few weeks later, with a batch of 6 London dates across three different venues, Horn announced his departure from the band. He admitted to feeling uncomfortable at being Anderson’s replacement, the relatively lukewarm reaction that surrounded the UK tour seemed to have had an effect on him (even though a look at the itinerary will show it was not only in London that multiple shows were booked to meet demand). He said he preferred to work behind the scenes, and later became more well known as a producer (although there was actually a second Buggles album in late 81). Slowly but surely, other band members drifted away, including Squire, who seemed to retain the legal rights to the band name (even though he hadn’t come up with it, he was, by now, the only original band member left). Howe and Downes were left, but instead formed a new band, Asia, rather than to try and get together a third (sort of) version of Yes. By the start of 1981, came the official announcement that Yes were no more.
The send off to the band came just in time for Christmas, with the November 81 release of “Classic Yes”. A 50 or so minute trawl through what was mostly proggy album selections from the 70s (nothing from “Yes” or “Drama”, but a nod for “Wonderous Stories”), it’s main selling point was the inclusion of a pair of previously unreleased recordings from the 1978 tour of “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” on a free 7” single tucked inside the packaging. These tracks were also included at the end of sides 1 and 2 respectively on the cassette release, whilst a mid-1990s CD pressing, now deleted, included them as bonus tracks at the end.
Reissues and Comps
Long before vinyl repressings were done seemingly as special, “buy it now or else” style over-priced limited editions on 180g vinyl, vinyl albums were bog standard entities, that would fill up entire record shops for years on end. You could wander into a shop and simply pick up a late 70s/early 80s reissue of a record that had originally been issued some years before - no hunting around on eBay or jumping through hoops to track it down. Yes’ back catalogue was repressed by Atlantic throughout the 70s, and copies produced (and presumably, re-produced) in such large numbers, that they could still be located after the band had split in 81.
A number of my Yes records seem to be mid 70’s pressings made in Germany - these come on slightly more flexible vinyl, and even though the catalogue numbers sometimes might be the same, or fairly similar, to the originals, the first giveaway is sometimes the change of label - the first few Yes albums were originally pressed with the red and purple label design, such as the debut release (LP, Atlantic 588 190), whereas my 1975 reissue of this one uses the green and orange one (LP, Atlantic ATL 40034 Z). I think the “Z” on my copy may donate a later reissue. German pressings also used to have the “33rpm” playing speed logo printed inside an upside down triangle on the label, the typography was different, and they used to have a Warner Brothers “W” logo embossed into the back of the sleeve, so even though, for “Yes”, the lyric insert was still intact, and the gatefold still in situ, you knew this wasn’t a first edition that you was holding.
The repressings of “Time And A Word” and “The Yes Album” I have retain lyric sheets and gatefold sleeve designs where necessary. Again, “Time And A Word” was originally issued with the orange and purple labels, by which point Atlantic’s UK cataloguing numbering system had changed (LP, Atlantic 2400 006). Later pressings seem to have been made in both the UK and Germany for the UK market, with slightly different catalogue number and typography designs, but even so, my German repressing (LP, Atlantic ATL 40085) still looks very much like the original, complete with it’s “nude” cover and lyrics insert.
Ditto my “Yes Album”, which was another one originally on the orange and purple label (LP, Atlantic 2400 101) but which I picked up in reissue form in the early 80s. Again, it’s a German reissue, but the gatefold is still intact (LP, Atlantic 40106). The catalogue number doesn’t use the “ATL” code as found on my “TAAW”, this again seems to be the case of it being a later reissue of a reissue.
By 1972, Atlantic records were using a “K xxxxx” format in the UK for their cataloguing system, so any records such as 1971‘s “Fragile” (LP, Atlantic 2401 1019) that you found with this catalogue number instead, were a later UK pressing, but would often still look the business - this album (LP, Atlantic K 50009) again retains it‘s gatefold design, although the booklet given away with the original is missing. Starting with “Close To The Edge”, the catalogue numbers of any UK reissue simply matched that of the original, so you had to look for tell tale signs about the date of your pressing, if you seemed to have a UK produced one. My “CTTE” was a budget release denoted by having a “Prime Cuts” sticker on the front, and was housed in a single, not gatefold, sleeve (LP, Atlantic K 50012). But the original inner bag with the lyrics on was reproduced, although there was a strangely shaped white border around the edge, confirming to even the uninitiated that this was a photographic reproduction of an earlier, differently shaped, inner bag from an earlier pressing. It also included an insert detailing other Atlantic reissues available at ‘nice price’ in your local LP emporium.
For the records from 73-81, it seems as though there were a variety of sources from which I managed to obtain my vinyl versions. My edition of 1973 live album “Yessongs” is a curious US pressing (3xLP, Atlantic SD 3-100), which comes in it’s fold out sleeve, retains it’s photo booklet, but rather bizarrely has UK records inside with the “K 60045” catalogue number system. My “Topographic Oceans” is a later German repress, using the ATL catalogue number system (2xLP, Atlantic ATL 80001), whereas the UK ones used the slightly different “K 80001” number, but still has the gatefold and custom labels - note also that these pressings/repressings of course come without barcodes, so when you look at them now, it seems quite amazing to me really that I have things that cost me next to nothing that are now quite historically important.
“Yesterdays” was hunted down in a charity shop years after the event, so I think I have an original (LP, Atlantic K 50048) whilst my “Relayer” also uses the original cat number (LP, Atlantic K 50096), but must be a later pressing, if not a revamped reissue, of the original release, because I bought it brand new - and it was not 1974 when I did it. But German pressings and repressings would still make it into UK stores alongside these UK ones, as my “Going For The One” may well look like a UK one (gatefold sleeve, custom labels, etc) but has the German ‘ATL’ catalogue number instead of a UK ‘K’ one (LP, Atlantic ATL 50379).
I am fairly convinced my introduction to Yes came just as they were splitting up, so the records I bought near the end of their career would have been purchased so soon after the event, that they would have been original (or at least, first reissue) editions. My copy of “Tormato” has it’s inner sleeve and custom labels (LP, Atlantic K 50518), although it took me a while to track down “Drama”, eventually picked up in a charity shop but again, a gatefold sleeve housed original release (LP, Atlantic K 50736). “Yesshows” is also knackered enough to show it is an original, albeit a US one again (2xLP, Atlantic SD 2-510), whilst I know my copy of “Classic Yes” is also an original, because I bought it soon after the event in the now long defunct Parrot Records in North Street, Romford, complete with it’s free 7” (LP+7“, Atlantic K50842).
Most of Yes’ back catalogue was reissued on CD in the late 80s/early 90s, with “remastered” editions surfacing circa 1994. This second batch saw the entire studio and live back catalogue made easily available again, after the likes of “Yesshows“ had been overlooked for the earlier reissue series. Some of the more celebrated releases have been reissued on other occasions with variant track listings, with expanded double disc reissues in 2013 and 2014 of “The Yes Album”, “Relayer” and “Close To The Edge”. “Yesterdays” also got a second lease of life in the mid 90s, presumably on the basis that it included some otherwise hard-to-find material, and “Classic Yes” also got reissued in 1994 with it’s bonus 7” material intact.
In 2003, the studio albums from the period were all reissued in expanded form with bonus tracks, themselves a mix of previously released rarities, and previously unreleased material. The amount of material on each disc varied from release to release, although most (but not all) featured at least one previously unreleased track. All of these reissues were later included in a 2013 boxset which covered a period from 1969 to 1987, 1987 representing the second split of the band and the end of their association with Atlantic Records. “Classic Yes” was deleted in 2003, but the two live albums remained on catalogue, and still do. Also deleted now is the 1994 reissue of “Yes” which was housed in the US “group” sleeve, but hunt around and you may still be able to track it down online.
Given that, occasional splits aside, Yes are still an ongoing concern, a number of subsequent compilation releases have surfaced in the intervening years, pretty much all of which cover both the pre-1981 and post-1981 years. However, given the adoration afforded to the first phase of the band’s career, they do tend to be biased heavily towards the 69-81 period.
First up was 1991’s boxset “Yesyears”, which included things like the early period B-side “Something’s Coming” (albeit in a rare stereo mix), BBC session material, the US edits of “America” and “Soon” and various bits of previously unreleased material, both studio and live. A companion highlights release, “Yesstory”, was issued soon after as a double CD, which includes several of the rarities from the boxset, but does not include any of the previously unreleased material.
1993’s “Highlights” was a fairly straightforward single disc overview of the band, and saw “Soon” once again make it onto a UK compilation. 1997’s “Something’s Coming” was a 2-CD release featuring the band’s 1969 and 1970 BBC Sessions output, which was renamed (and repackaged) as “Beyond And Before” for the US market when issued the following year.
2002 saw the release of “In A Word”, marketed as a ‘revamped’ version of the “Yesyears” box, but for the most part, featuring a totally different track listing. Disc 2 includes the unedited version of “America” and the expanded “Revealing Science Of God” as mentioned earlier, whilst the start of disc 4 features material recorded with Anderson during the late 1979 aborted sessions for the tenth studio record. It was followed by two releases in 2003, another “hits” set called “The Ultimate Yes”, and a set of newly commissioned remixes called, simply, “Remixes” - this set is notable for only featuring material from the 1969-1981 period.
2005’s “The Word Is Live” was billed as a live companion to the “In A Word” box, with the majority of the three discs including previously unreleased live material from 1970 to 1980. And then there are the other “hits sets” which between them, cover differing time periods - “The Best Of Yes 1970-1987”, and “Wonderous Stories: The Best Of Yes” which runs from 70 to 83. The latter is another release upon which “Soon” makes an appearance.
Anybody interested in getting hold of the other “single edits” and B-sides will probably find that to get them all, will require actually hunting down the original 7” single upon which they appeared. But the 2003-04 reissue campaign of the original studio albums saw some of these rarities get tagged on as bonus tracks - the expanded “Yes” includes the mono mix of “Something’s Coming” and an alternate mix of “Everydays”, which turned up on the flip of the ‘withdrawn’ “Looking Around”.
The reissued “Time And A Word” includes the single version of “The Prophet”, as well as the alternate mixes of “No Opportunity” and “Sweet Dreams”. This reissue comes in the original ‘nude’ sleeve, following a period when the most common CD edition available was a bonus-track less edition housed in the US “Group” cover issued as part of the 1994 reissue series.
The edits of “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Starship Trooper” were made re-available on the 2003 edition of “The Yes Album”, and “Total Mass Retain” turned up on the expanded “Close To The Edge”. As mentioned earlier, “Soon” and the short version of “Sound Chaser” appeared on the expanded “Relayer”, whilst “Abilene” is on the expanded “Tormato”. “Drama” was reissued in 2004, and includes the edited versions of “Into The Lens” and “Run Through The Light”.
For anybody starting from scratch, it would make sense to start by going for the expanded editions, where they exist, of the albums - either by hunting down the boxset, or simply going through and buying them one by one. The 2013/4 reissues mentioned above offer a slightly altered set of bonus tracks when compared to the 2003 editions, so are worth a go if you stumble across them first. All were released on the Panegryic label, a specialist prog label, with catalogue numbers not too dissimilar to the cat numbers used on the original 1970’s releases and repressings. In addition to including the material added to the 2003 reissues, they also include material exclusive to these editions, so are currently the definitive pressings, and are thus detailed in the list below. All were issued as CD+DVD releases, and also as CD+Blu Ray pressings.
For the remainder of the list, I have listed the complete run of live, studio and best-of releases from the original 1969-1981 period - the list shows the most recent CD edition, which as you can see in some instances, is still the Atlantic issued CD editions from the 90s.
The two live albums from the period can still be hunted down, and although the two compilations from the period are now officially deleted, I would still recommend trying to locate a copy of “Classic Yes” that includes the live material. Completists will then need to go for the vinyl original of “Yesshows” to get the chopped up mixes of the two halves of “Ritual”, and any pre-2003 version of “Topographic Oceans” to get the ‘short’ mix of the opening track.
Yes (CD, Rhino 8122 73786 2, 2003 expanded edition)
Time And A Word (CD, Rhino 8122 73787 2, 2003 expanded edition)
The Yes Album (CD+DVD, Panegryic GYRSP 40106, 2014 expanded edition)
Fragile (CD, Rhino 8122 73789 2, 2003 expanded edition)
Close To The Edge (CD+DVD, Panegryic GYESP 50012, 2013 expanded edition)
Yessongs (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 82682 2, 1994 remastered version)
Tales From Topographic Oceans (2xCD, Rhino 8122 73791 2, 2003 expanded edition)
Relayer (CD+DVD, Panegryic GYRSP 50096, 2014 expanded edition)
Yesterdays (CD, Atlantic 7567 82684 2, 1994 remastered version)
Going For The One (CD, Rhino 8122 73793 2, 2003 expanded edition)
Tormato (CD, Rhino 8122 73794 2, 2004 expanded edition)
Drama (CD, Rhino 8122 73795 2, 2004 expanded edition)
Yesshows (CD, Atlantic 7567 82686 2, 1994 remastered version)
Classic Yes (CD, Atlantic 7567 81583 2, 1994 remastered version)
Sweetness (7” Edit)/Something’s Coming (7”, Atlantic 584280)
Time And A Word (Edit)/The Prophet (Single Version) (7”, Atlantic 584323)
Sweet Dreams/Dear Father (7”, Atlantic 2091 004)
And You And I/Roundabout (7”, Atlantic K 10407)
Wonderous Stories/Parallels (7”, Atlantic K 10999)
Wonderous Stories/Parallels (12”, Atlantic K 10999, available on blue or black vinyl)
Going For The One (Edit)/Awaken (Part 1) (7”, Atlantic K 11047)
Going For The One (Edit)/Awaken (Part 1) (12”, Atlantic K 11047)
Don’t Kill The Whale/Abilene (7”, Atlantic K 11184, different pressings use different spelling of b-side)
Into The Lens (Edit)/Does It Really Happen? (7”, Atlantic K 11622)
Friday, 19 June 2015
Back in the days when buying the music papers was an almost essential, weekly, ritual, the NME and the Melody Maker would like to try and out-do each other by claiming they had discovered so-and-so first. In the early part of 2003, it was Irish band The Thrills who were the recipients of excitable hysteria from the press. They had existed in one form or another for several years, but it was after demos started doing the rounds in mid 2002, that labels began fighting over getting the band’s signatures on a record contract.
It was Virgin Records who won the battle, and by the end of 2002, had released a 4-track EP led by the title track “Santz Cruz”. It revealed itself to be a record of sublime indie-rock beauty, marrying the jingle jangle of classic REM with Beach Boys style harmonies, and throwing in a bit of a Neil Young-esque country-rock vibe just to finish things off. They sounded like a Californian based band who had never even heard of Ireland, but what they might have lacked in subtlety over the wearing-of-influences on their sleeves, they more than made up for in the quality of their sheer anthemic, joyously, sunny pop, the likes of “Your Love Is Like Las Vegas” being so catchy, it felt as though this was a record that had been made in some sort of bouncy-indie-rock factory, so utterly glorious was the result.
Once the EP was out, people fell over themselves to show their adoration towards the band. As such, with the band’s debut LP in the can, the promotional push for the album’s release was watched extra keenly than usual. Radio programmers jumped at the chance to playlist the follow up release, “One Horse Town”, another piece of near-perfect summer-indie, all pounding off-the-beat drums, banjo riffery, xylophone-driven pop of the highest order. It made waves in the lower reaches of the charts, possibly helped along by the fact that most copies of the vinyl edition that were pressed were pre-signed by the band, offering an instant collectible. When the even more summery “Big Sur” was issued as the next 45 in the summer, it sounded tailor-made for the season, and complete with it’s brilliant “hey hey we’re The Monkees” lyrical steal, helped seal the band’s sudden reputation of making the most happy sounding pop music heard on these shores in years. “Big Sur” dented the top 20, and, in a very short space of time from those demo-hawking days, The Thrills were stars.
The summer of 2003 belonged to The Thrills. I saw them play a swelteringly hot London Astoria that July, which was a sell out - and came hot on the heels of a successful Glastonbury show. A follow up UK tour announced roundabout the same time also shifted tickets quickly, so quickly in fact, that my wife (to be) and I had to settle for upstairs seats only for one of the two shows the band were due to play at the Shepherds Bush Empire that October. In August, they returned to the Astoria as the opening act for The Stones, doing another one of their “stadium warm up” club gigs. Debut LP, “So Much For The City”, hit the top 3 in the UK, and received positive write-ups all over. It came in a slightly surreal sleeve - the five band members with what seemed to be two random women in shot, and recalled those 60s sleeves by listing the song titles on the cover. The band’s logo, in situ on all the recent (and future) single releases from the LP was abandoned for a more generic design, for some strange reason.
With the band now big stars, Virgin reissued “Santa Cruz”, this time as a more regular ’multi-formatted’ 45, whilst a fifth single release was then issued to coincide with the autumn UK tour, the equally summery “Don’t Steal Our Sun”. The tour gave the band the opportunity to try out new material, and future 45 “Whatever Happened To Corey Haim” was one of the new songs played during the tour.
“Corey Haim” was issued in August 2004 as the lead single off album number 2, “Let’s Bottle Bohemia”. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have played this album over the years. Whilst it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, it has a bit more diversity within it’s sphere than the debut, veering from slowed down, more downbeat numbers, through the summer-indie sound of before, and beyond onto to some occasionally heavy and quite rocking numbers. I absolutely adore it. As I have said before, I find it hard to describe the sound of music - after all, you are supposed to listen to it, not read it - so all I can say is, it is so catchy, it hurts.
By the time it was released, The Thrills were already starting to be seen as “last year’s thing”. We saw them play at the Stafford leg of V2004, where the band seemed to go a bit over everybody’s head for some reason - the joyous, celebratory, vibe of the 2003 shows replaced by a festival crowd seemingly unaware of just how magnificent this band was, and indeed, by the time the promo campaign was being wound down in 2005, radio was losing interest and latter period singles were failing to do much at all. The BBC were shunting them from Radio 1 to the more MOR-oriented Radio 2, and units were not shifting as fast.
But who cares for festival crowds, radio playlisters, and record sales. Because “Bohemia” is a glorious record, and one of my all time favourites. Again, another strange choice you might think, mentioning this one before “The White Album “ (it’s time will come I am sure), but the sheer summery bounce of this record, at least as far as the musical side of it is concerned, is utter genius, and it is at times so hook-driven, you almost end up in tears of sheer joy at the unbridled brilliance of it all.
“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” opens with a clanging guitar riff, which sets out the “heavier” stall from the off. The choruses are incendiary - led into by a key change in the preceding verse, then another one, and then dominated by some pounding drums, throbbing guitar licks, and harmonies that sound like they have been transported straight from heaven. You just want to punch your fist in the air like a loon. Then, when it calms down for breath after chorus number 2 for a relaxing saunter through the middle 8, a glorious “whoo hoo hoo hoo” by singer Conor Deasy appears in the middle, lifted straight out of the school of genius pop music. What a start.
“Corey Haim” is driven along by a magnificent string section and a keyboard line that sounds like it’s been nicked, then rejigged a bit, from Stevie’s “Superstition” - the jingle jangle tag that threatened to follow them around forever replaced here by something a bit more sophisticated. But whilst the summer pop roar that mostly defined the band is still more or less in situ, at least in terms of the anthemic vibe that the song still manages to produce, the lyrics themselves also go someway to trying to move the band away from that joyous summer sound - the subject of the song, Corey Haim, was a troubled actor who found problems in trying to deal with his gaining of fame as a child actor, and had more or less disappeared from view by the end of the 90s. He is now, also, no longer with us.
“Faded Beauty Queens” plays up to the REM obsession by getting Peter Buck in on guest mandolin. The choruses, again, are sublime...Deasy’s vocals, which often felt like he was struggling to be heard over the music, have a frailty which works brilliantly here - as the hook-laden chorus kicks in, Deasy delivers the withering diatribe “well, I don’t know how it ends up here...wide eyed and new money, with faded beauty queens”. It feels both gloriously upbeat in terms of the music, but slightly miserable in terms of the lyrical content. This seemingly downbeat fascination continues on the majestic “Saturday Night” - again, unbelievably catchy throughout, but with Deasy seemingly distraught at the state of the world...as the song once again wheels through another massive key change, he sings “I’m just a man, not even a great one...is this what they call love on a Saturday Night?” It feels like a disdainful attack on night club culture, youth, life, and, well, just about everything. And you thought The Smiths were leaders in bedsit humdrum.
“Not For All The Love In The World” takes the tempo down, and finally, the feel of the music - sad piano riffs, sadder guitar ones - matches the tearfulness of the words...”and so you crave recognition, but the keys to the city went missing..I guess everybody went to a better party”. Staggeringly brilliant. More strings in the background lend this song a certain poignancy, and by being released as the second single from the album, thus became the first Thrills 45 to bear little resemblance to the far bouncier ones that had preceded it. This was the point at which the chart positions started to suffer.
“Our Wasted Lives”, which opens up the second half, returns us to a faster pace but Deasy still seems unhappy (“hey kids, there’s no romance in fate”) but it’s easy to miss this gloomy view, as the verses race along in a blur of piano romping and electric guitar roars. The choruses then suddenly change course, the song going into a bit of space-rock style ambience, before the REM-esque harmonies kick in once more to bring it back up to speed again. “You Cant Fool Old Friends With Limousines” is a more piano driven piece, sounding not unlike “About A Boy”-period Badly Drawn Boy attempting to cover 70s era Bruce Springsteen with an Irish accent. And still, the lyrics remain quite bleak - “I don’t love you, I just love myself” Deasy scowls at one point.
“Found My Rosebud” is astonishing. At times, it is the sound of Teenage Fanclub and Ozzy-fronted Black Sabbath fighting in a car park. Within just 30 seconds, it has built up into a noisy, catchy-as-hell bastard-son mashup of “One Horse Town” and “Big Sur”, the choruses an incendiary roar of jingle jangle guitar, Deasy’s “sore throat” vocals fighting for space over the top, whilst Charlatans-esque keyboards and Elton John-style piano ensure everything sounds like it is turned up to 11. Deasy is still unhappy - “it’s not like I said that I loved you” he snarls.
“The Curse Of Comfort” recalls the sadness of “Saturday Night” - it trundles along in a sort of minor key misery, interspersed with some marvellous “baa baa ba ba” backup vocals, then explodes into more space-age choruses, marked by one of the greatest key changes ever committed to vinyl, as Deasy cries “wouldn’t want a heart that’s been dented by you”, followed by one of the second greatest key changes ever committed to vinyl. This is music of such beauty, my limited journalistic skills (ie. absolutely none) make it difficult for me to tell you just HOW good this song is.
“The Irish Keep Gate-Crashing” remains one of the great lost 45s, issued as the third and final single from the LP - and a massive flop. “Lust, Top 40 fame, I can smell your catholic shame” Deasy spits as the song rocks along, throwing out hooks and catchy harmonies left right and centre. Another string section soon comes in to up the ante, and towards the end, it sounds like Sgt Pepper-era Beatles battling with Billy Joel, The Shadows and The Byrds all at the same time.
Hidden track “A City Of Long Nights” doesn’t necessarily deserve to be hidden away - it’s shuffly, almost drum-machine like beat, does seem to put it at a bit of a disadvantage compared to what has come before, but there are still some great words here, as Deasy mutters about used car salesmen and plastic surgeons. It brings the album to a bit of an odd close, you would think at this point that the anthemic stride of “The Irish” would work better as a proper finale, although there is still something to admire in it’s jingle jangle guitar rhythms. But then, things are brought full circle with an orchestral reprise of “The Irish”, and the record suddenly feels like it is springing towards a classic album finale. The reprise reminds me of early period ELO - which is only ever a good thing. And that’s it.
“Let’s Bottle Bohemia” was a top 10 hit in the UK, and a number 1 in their native Ireland - helped along, possibly, by the fact that initial copies of the album there included a free DVD unavailable with regular UK copies. But with The Thrills being seen as “last year’s news”, the lack of radio play combined with the music press already having found somebody else to slobber over, meant that it was going to be difficult to keep momentum - and the final single from the LP stalled outside the top 40. The group, in danger of burnout from what felt like a non stop 2 years, took time off before work began on a third LP, with a desire to try and keep expanding their sound. Numerous songs recorded during sessions in 2006 were abandoned because they were deemed to be under par, too similar in sound to what had been released before, but eventually, enough material was deemed suitable for the band’s 2007 effort, “Teenager”. However, their return was not greeted like the second coming, and the only people interested were the indie kids who had loved them first time around - the “floating voters” were unable to be coerced, as radio play of the album’s first single was limited, so sales of the album were restricted really to the hardcore following. “Teenager” failed to dent the top 40, and a second single from the album was cancelled as Virgin feared that the band had lost their pulling power. After a summer tour in 2008, the band went on hiatus, Virgin dropped them from the roster, and that really was that. Interviews in the following years suggested a return was possibly likely, but it never happened. A curious mail order only “hits” album was issued in “Teenager” style packaging on Amazon’s website, and the group became yet another indie band to sadly fade away.
Which is a shame, because The Thrills, at the time, were genuinely, well, thrilling. Some of those songs were, and still are, sublime, so having them dumped into pop’s dustbin is a bit sad. I know, there are plenty of other 90s and 00s indie bands in there as well, but the fact that one of BBC’s “Sound of 2003” bands have sort of just withered away, is not something to celebrate. I remember the excitement of those shows from that period, and for it all to be now just a fading memory...the fact that the bass player, last I heard, was an accounts manager, barely a decade after sharing a recording studio with the guy out of REM, is a bit heartbreaking. Guitarist Daniel Ryan says that the release of “Teenager” coincided with Virgin’s parent company, EMI, being taken over by private equity firm Terra Firma, which didn’t help matters, numerous EMI acts soon after attempted to jump ship as the running of the label went downhill. He said the band “never split up, but there came a point where we just did not want to do anything anymore. I feel we made a good third album...but there comes a point in the music business when your credit just runs out”.
Oh well. But at least we still have the music. And those Thrills records, especially, “Bohemia”, remain glorious pieces of work. Their jingle jangle bounce is infectious, and the hooks that run throughout that LP are near perfect. I am not sure, if you don’t know this band, if I can really convince you to go and pay a fiver for an 11-year old indie rock album by a now defunct band...you know, what with Radio 1’s obsession with “youth culture” and “new music” which prevents anybody from being allowed to listen to anything that was recorded more than 6 months before. But if, unlike Radio 1 bosses, you actually LOVE music, and quality music at that, then you will love “Let’s Bottle Bohemia”. It is beautifully constructed pop music of the highest order, and that’s what counts.
ALBUMS - RECOMMENDED EDITIONS
So Much For The City (2xCD, Virgin 596 533 2, with 7-track bonus disc)
Let’s Bottle Bohemia (Irish CD+DVD, Virgin ICDV 2986)
Teenager (CD+DVD, Virgin CDVX 3037)
UK COMMERCIALLY RELEASED SINGLES
Santa Cruz/Deckchairs And Cigarettes (White Vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1840)
Santa Cruz/Deckchairs And Cigarettes/Your Love Is Like Las Vegas/Plans (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1840)
One Horse Town/Don’t Play It Cool (Orange Vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1845)
One Horse Town/Car Crash/Don’t Play It Cool (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1845)
Big Sur/Your Love Is Like Las Vegas (Acoustic Version) (Blue Vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1852)
Big Sur/No One Likes To Be Upstaged/One Horse Town (Demo)/Big Sur (Video) (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1852)
Santa Cruz (Radio Edit)/Don’t Play It Cool (New Version) (Burgundy Vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1862)
Santa Cruz (Radio Edit)/Blue September (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1862)
Santa Cruz (Video)/It’s So Easy/Just Travelling Thru (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 2003)/The Thrills Home Movies (Video) (DVD, Virgin VSDVD 1862, unique p/s)
Don’t Steal Our Sun/The One I Love (Live, BBC Radio 1 Jo Whiley Show 27.6.2003) (Green vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1864)
Don’t Steal Our Sun/One Horse Town (Live, London Abbey Road Studios 2003) (CD1, Virgin VSCDT 1864)
Don’t Steal Our Sun/Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me/Santa Cruz (Acoustic Version)/Don’t Steal Our Sun (Video) (CD2, Virgin VSCDX 1864, different p/s)
Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?/A City Of Long Nights (Acoustic Version) (7”, Virgin VS 1876)
Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?/Big Sur (Brooklyn’s Own D Sardy Mix) (CD1, Virgin VSCDT 1876)
Whatever Happened To Corey Haim?/If I Wasn’t So Pretty/Whatever Happened To Corey Haim? (Live, London Maida Vale Studios 4.8.2004)/(Video) (CD2, Virgin VSCDX 1876, white p/s)
Not For All The Love In The World/Saturday Night (Acoustic Version) (7”, Virgin VS 1890)
Not For All The Love In The World (Radio Edit)/What A Cruel Trick To Play Upon Myself (CD1, Virgin VSCDT 1890)
Not For All The Love In The World (Radio Edit)/This Guy’s In Love With You (Live, BBC Radio 2 Ken Bruce Show 3.8.2004)/Not For All The Love In The World (Sebastien Teller Remix)/(Video) (CD2, Virgin VSCDX 1980, unique p/s)
The Irish Keep Gatecrashing/Not For All The Love In The World (Acoustic Version) (7” Picture Disc with poster insert, Virgin VS 1895, numbered, original copies sticker sealed)
The Irish Keep Gatecrashing/Viva Las Vegas (Live) (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1895)
The Irish Keep Gatecrashing (Video)/Movie Premieres/The Making Of “So Much For The City” (Video) (DVD, Virgin VSDVD 1895)
Nothing Changes Around Here (Radio Edit)/Second Guessing (Pink Vinyl 7”, Virgin VS 1947, poster sleeve)
Nothing Changes Around Here (Radio Edit)/Some Other Day (Blue Vinyl 7”, Virgin VSX 1947)
Nothing Changes Around Here (Radio Edit)/That Boy (CD, Virgin VSCDT 1947)
Note: promo editions of all of these exist, including CDR promos of things such as the first “Santa Cruz” pressing - some feature all of the tracks listed, and some come in unique “titles” sleeves. These may be easier and cheaper to find than some of the pressings listed above.