the jason shergold music collector site

Monday, 11 January 2016


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 January 2016 edition is now online, with a look at early noughties Madonna and a tribute to David Bowie.

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:

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 / January 2016
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
Led Zeppelin - November 2015
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 / January 2016
Mansun - August 2011
Dannii Minogue - September 2011
The Moody Blues - October 2015
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 / December 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

Blogger can have a mind of it's own at times, so if you click on a year and get NO menu, click on the arrow next to the year, and you should get the list of months for that year to help you navigate a bit easier. To return to the homepage, you can click on the tab for the current year. Several blogs are in production, with articles on Spice Girls, both as a band and some of the solo side projects, 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!

David Bowie : A Tribute

I think I once said to my wife, some time ago, that when David Bowie died I would probably be so upset, that I would almost certainly have to take the day off work to take it onboard.

I woke up this morning feeling rough for the sixth day in a row. Man flu, I guess. As I watched the headlines scroll across the TV screen whilst Sky News did their newspaper review, I figured that a day of recuperation might do me good, having staggered into work throughout last week and never having managed to do a full day‘s graft. Perhaps a day of headache tablets and sore throat lozenges and a full day at home might finally cure my ills, rather than commuting and sitting in an office with no functioning air conditioning.

On Friday, I walked in an influenza induced daze from my work place to the HMV in Birmingham because David Bowie’s new album was out. Bowie is one of those few artists whose albums I need to have on the day of it’s release. I bought the vinyl edition, and got home and did that digital download thing where you get a code to get free MP3’s to stick on your iPod. For some reason, I didn’t listen to the album. Little did I know that “Blackstar” would be the first LP I would buy by somebody who was alive when I bought it, but who would no longer be here when I first came to sit and listen to it throughout.

Midway through that paper review, a breaking news item came up stating that Bowie’s Twitter and Facebook accounts were announcing his death. Sky News claimed it needed verification, it was possible the accounts were hacked, and so put the story into the background and carried on with the newspapers. At least one tweet came out about it stating “this can’t be true”. It left me a bit shell-shocked, because there was the other question - what if it was? We took the dogs out for a walk, and came back to look at the news channels again and put the radio on. 6Music was playing the Bowie-produced “Satellite Of Love“. The news was true. It was plastered all over the screen now on Sky News, half an hour after they had figured it couldn‘t be real. I promptly broke down in tears.

In a way, it is good that as I type this, I am still sneezing and coughing and feeling awful, and therefore have made the right choice to not be in work. Because if I had been feeling fitting fit, I am not sure how I could have coped today anyway. Four hours after I heard the rumours, three hours after it was confirmed, I am still utterly devastated. The news channels are showing a constant stream of Bowie images and videos, and every so often, I look at them - and start crying again. And it seems I am not the only one. Tony Visconti has been quoted as saying “it is appropriate to cry”. Why? Because Bowie’s contribution to the world of music is simply unmatchable.

Essentially, the only reason this site exists is because of Bowie. I have loved him since, well, forever. It is possible to find traces of his work in everything recorded by any indie rocker, or punk rocker, or electro pop duo ever since he first made his mark. Even Madonna will be the first to admit Bowie’s game changing adventures in the 70s inspired her to do the same within her own career.

Bowie, for me, is part of what you could call “The Magnificent 7”. The seven artists who, between them, shaped popular music forever. Seven artists who, simply, will never be equalled for their contribution to popular music. Nobody new will ever be added to this list either - Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Madonna, The Velvets - and Bowie.

The run of albums that Bowie made from 1971 to 1980 remain, still, staggeringly superb. Nobody had ever made a series of albums of such brilliance, let alone doing so whilst genre hopping from Glam to Krautrock to New Romanticism. The run of albums that the Stones and The Who made during the late 60s through to the early 70s were good, but Bowie’s own run of albums from “Hunky Dory” to “Scary Monsters” simply wiped the floor with them. And that’s even before we talk about the often astounding run of albums that he put out in the 90s and beyond, the likes of “Outside” matching, if not bettering, the likes of “Lodger”.

Do not ask me when I first fell in love with Bowie. My older brother and both my older sisters were Bowie fans, and so I probably became aware of him as soon as I realised I could hear. I do remember buying those 1983 “Lifetimes” singles that RCA had released to cash in on the post-”Let’s Dance” hysteria more or less as they were new in the shops. I would have been 10, maybe 11. So from a very, very, early age, I was hooked. It didn’t take me too long to realise that this man was something special. Part of the fascination, I guess, might have been that these records I was hearing of his from the previous decade seemed light years ahead of the often naff efforts that were polluting the UK charts at the time. Pop music was, for some reason, about to veer headfirst into a world of bland, overproduced, MOR in the 80s, meaning that these Bowie records sounded simply like they had come from another planet.

The 60s Bowie stuff was something I discovered later on. Everybody, including Bowie himself, seemed to have distanced themselves from this material until recently. But once I started to listen to it, I became quite fascinated by parts of it. Admit it, “The Laughing Gnome” is, in it’s own music-hall tradition way, gloriously brilliant. “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” was a garage rock stormer that, when resurrected for the “Hours” tour in 1999, sounded like an incendiary long lost classic.

But it was with the second album, 1969’s (second) self titled effort, that Bowie started to come of age. Try, if you can, to listen to the opening “Space Oddity” with fresh ears and you will realise just how ODD this record really is - the slow fade in, that “countdown” bit where the ensemble of musicians emulate the rocketship blast off, the swirling psychedelic finale that fades in and out. This was top 5 chart pop music - but not quite as we know it.

Within that album, you can find traces of the sheer scope of musical boundaries that Bowie would cover in the 45 years that would follow. The rambling, ramshackle joy of “Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed”, the space rock free-form epic that was “Cygnet Committee”, the anthemic roar that concludes the otherwise almost hippy-ish “Memory Of A Free Festival”. History has mostly hidden this album from the retrospective tributes, but there is an argument that the run of great albums started not in 71, but two years earlier. This claim can be backed up by the following “The Man Who Sold The World”, which often veers off into moments of exhilarating hard rock (“She Shook Me Cold”), total psychotic madness (“The Supermen”) or proggy, shape shifting genius (“The Width Of A Circle”).

One of my earlier blogs mentions the sheer mindblowing genius of the 71-80 period. But I shall remind you again. I shall just list the titles, because they say it all. “Hunky Dory”. “Ziggy”. “Aladdin Sane”. “Pin Ups”. “Diamond Dogs”. “Young Americans”. “Station To Station”. “Low”. “Heroes”. “Lodger”. “Scary Monsters”. Staggering. Just staggering. Especially “Station To Station”, where Bowie saw no reason why he couldn’t open the album with a ten minute long title track, and let the record company work out where the “hit singles” were or weren’t on the LP. And I can’t think of another, highly successful, musician who courted potential career suicide by deciding to devote half of his new album to showcasing his love of ambient instrumentals as he did on “Low”. Lou may have done “Metal Machine Music”, but he was still a cult hero at the time. Bowie, on the other hand, a year before, had been doing “Young Americans” on Cher’s primetime TV show in the USA. To have released “Low” at any time would have been daring - but to do it then, was simply incredible.

OK, let’s just focus in on that period again. Because not only was the music astounding, but Bowie was able to add a “pop art” element to it all, by altering his image every time. Just look at that stunningly beautiful cover to “Hunky Dory”. The ‘coolest album cover ever’ on “Ziggy”, so cool I am now pestering my wife to ask if we can hang a pair of our (numerous) vinyl editions of the LP on our wall - front cover of the original in one frame, back cover of the RCA International repress in another. The magnificent lightning flash image of the “Aladdin Sane” period, which has become eye wateringly iconic. The striking imagery of the “Diamond Dogs” cover, especially if you have a gatefold copy. Bowie, on pretty much an annual basis, was changing his look, and changing his music, doing it so quickly that it was impossible for the imitators to catch up. The likes of Roxy and T Rex, who for a while, were Bowie contemporaries in the glam rock days, as good as they were, were simply left behind, knowing full well they couldn’t compete with what he was doing.

The 80s were hard. He turned into a megastar, but did so whilst veering dangerously close to the middle of the road. Nobody in the Shergold household(s) could even bring themselves to buy “Never Let Me Down”, leaving it to me to go, many years after the event, for the 1995 expanded edition in order to plug the remaining gap in the back catalogue. But then we had the magnificent Tin Machine project, derided by just about everybody, but a vital, impossibly important turning point in the man’s career. An opportunity to put the “AOR” solo career on hold, and pay homage to his love of Pixies, Sonic Youth and The Stooges. They produced two albums of noisy, raucous, messy punk rock, and in doing so, managed to alienate those who had discovered him after “Blue Jean”. It sort of killed off ’Bowie The Pop Star’, not for the first time in his career, and allowed the albums that followed to return him to the esoteric brilliance of the 70s.

Indeed, whilst there are still those who think that Bowie post-1980 ’isn’t that good’, I would implore you to check out 1993’s “Black Tie White Noise”, a magnificent car crash of 90s house music, Konrads-era throwback jazz, and warped pop. Or the same year’s “Buddha Of Suburbia”, which harked back to the experimental vibe of “Low” and “Heroes”. And I can’t say enough good things about the industrial throb of 1995’s magnificent “Outside”, home to the jerky rumble of “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town”, the clattering roar of “The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction”, the techno crunch of “I Am With Name” - easily the match of, say, “Pin Ups” or “Young Americans“.

Same goes for 1997’s drum and bass extravaganza, “Earthling”, a record so inventive, it feels so sad that so many people still just don’t know about this record. The shuffling joy of “Battle For Britain”, the hyper energetic pounding of “The Last Thing You Should Do”, this was Bowie at the peak of his powers. He toured the club venues with his dual sets, headlined festivals, and played that now famous UK “small venues” tour in the summer of 1997, where he changed the set every night, opened with "Quicksand" ('Oh My God', was my reaction when I saw him do this at the Birmingham Que Club), tossed out the likes of “Jean Genie” three songs in, and generally showed everybody why he was, ultimately, better than everybody else.

Bowie kept this momentum up for the next few years. 1999’s “Hours”, was a deliberately low key affair musically, a sort of rewinding of the clock back to the acoustic strum of “Hunky Dory”, that wrong footed even members of his own band, who were expecting a continuation of the dance rhythms and metallic guitar rock of the previous two long players. Then there was the Glastonbury show in 2000, where Dame David sailed through two hours of hits, which more or less said to any new kids on the block, “listen to this...and then give up now”.

And so the genius continued. The experimental double whammy of “Heathen” and “Reality”, to me, the Noughties cousins of “Low” and “Heroes”, but not too experimental to upset the faithful. And the amazing “no hype” return of “The Next Day”, which, aside from the great music inside, simply arrived in a way that albums were rarely delivered these days. No press, no interviews, an old album cover re-used with a big white box glued over the top, and a number 1 record to boot. Genius genius genius. In these days of social media, Twitter overload and Facebook frenzies, Bowie had simply made a good, and successful, record, and managed it by not having in any way to kowtow to the generic music industry approaches in order to do so. No “here’s my new single” exploits on “The X Factor”.

Much is now being made of the “mortality” references on “Blackstar”. Visconti has stated that Bowie’s health had been dipping for the last year, which suggests that Bowie was almost certainly resigning himself to the fact that he didn’t have long left for this world. The opening line of “Lazarus” - “Look up here, I’m in heaven” - feels almost as if it was included on the assumption that the album was most likely to have come out after his passing. The closing “I Can’t Give Everything Away”, almost feels like it is a farewell statement, a reference to the often mute and secretive approach Bowie had taken with the media since the abrupt end to the “Reality” tour. And maybe we should, or should not, read into the fact that this is (sort of) the first Bowie studio album upon which his image is absent from the cover, perhaps there is some religious or spiritual explanation also for the fact that the album, officially, is not called “Blackstar”, but is supposed to be referred to by the symbol on the front, a black coloured star. But what a way to go out - with an album that has had critics falling over themselves to praise it’s cutting edge genius. Even in his final months, Bowie was still summoning enough energy to create work that was bold, daring, innovative and wildly eclectic. Had Bowie issued the title track back in 1997, you’d have been impressed. But to be doing something like this just shy of his 69th birthday? Astounding. Contender for album of the year already.

It is now lunchtime as I type this next paragraph, and I am still welling up with tears. The news channels are showing an “Aladdin Sane” mural in his hometown of Brixton, which is starting to be decorated with floral tributes. On CNN, there are mourners by his Hollywood Walk Of Fame. There are occasional visits to Heddon Street, the location of the Ziggy cover. This really does feel huge, monumental - an end of an era, the biggest thing to happen in music since the end of The Beatles or the death of John Lennon. Despite the fact that the end, apparently, was coming, it still doesn’t feel “real”. Even Visconti seems a bit numb about it all, and he has worked with him consistently for the last few years now, so was obviously aware of what was going on after the cancer diagnosis 18 months ago. It feels both perfectly “Bowie” - release an album on your birthday, then ‘disappear’ forever before people have time to congratulate you about it - yet at the same time, it feels totally unreal. Keith is still going, Iggy is still alive, so how on earth has Bowie gone first?

I love Bowie more than any other musician in this world. So much so that I am even doing my own version of his “cut up lyrics” technique, by randomly taping some of these news reports onto a DVD, to see if I can get together - in a scattergun approach - a chaotic 2 hour tribute from this never ending, ramshackle, onslaught of media coverage. So huge does this all seem, that I now feel guilty that I once threw away some of my old music magazines which had Bowie on the cover, due to “space constraints”. Perhaps we should have just rented a lock up garage and kept them. We still have a few, thank god. At least one of them has that “Aladdin Sane Flash” cover. I feel as though taping this stuff needs to be done, however hard it is to watch, because I just know that in years to come, this day will become enshrined in the pantheon of Bowie history.

My memories of Bowie? Getting a bit crushed at the Shepherds Bush Empire in 1997 when he concluded with a singalong “All The Young Dudes”. My wife and I attempting to slam dance to “Suffragette City” at a disco held above a pub in Moseley about ten years ago. First seeing the “Boys Keep Swinging” video on breakfast TV (I think), which did the whole “gender bender” things years before everyone else did it. Seeing him nearly come over to sign autographs at the stage door of the Hanover Grand, before doing a runner inside instead to ensure he would make the sound check. Perhaps it’s fate that I never got him to scribble on my piece of paper, maybe that would have destroyed the image of him being this sort of almost untouchable, alien creature, beamed down from outer space.

I figured that I had to mark Bowie’s passing on this website in some form. Hence this little article. Because Bowie’s influence on popular culture is enormous. Despite the fact that he never fully embraced the stadium rock route, and released several albums and singles that either flopped or sold in meagre numbers, the sheer number of tributes and variety of artists who have name checked him today is staggering - with everybody from Kiss to Goldfrapp to Peter Gabriel acknowledging his loss. Bowie was sort of an anti-”The Voice” style superstar, one who rarely compromised for his art, and yet seems to have left an astonishing legacy that has touched an astounding number, and wide variety, of fans. Maybe some of these do love “Let’s Dance” more than “The Bewlay Brothers”, but still, there is a real outpouring of grief - far more so than people have experienced for some time. Numerous people have said how they have never cried when other popstars died, but that they can’t help it today. I too am one of those. It really does feel as though this is a big event, less shocking than the Lennon murder, but equally heartbreaking to those of us who looked up to Bowie as a musical innovator, or as the “King Of The Outsiders” - or both. On 6Music, Lauren Laverne has defended the fans who are crying over somebody we never met because, to paraphrase, “he was somebody who was part of your life, and now he has gone, it has a profound effect”.

Part of Bowie’s genius was to “borrow” ideas from acts who weren’t quite part of the mainstream, and pass them off as his own. It meant that he was always one step ahead of the crowd - indeed, when Britpop was happening in 1995, Bowie’s love of Nine Inch Nails did seem to predict the change in attitudes that some of those Britpoppers were going to have. By 1997, Blur had released an “anti-pop” guitar racket called, simply, “Blur” and Primal Scream stopped copying The Stones to go back to their dancier past on “Vanishing Point”. Bowie had done all this stuff on “Outside” two years before. And because he was so brilliant at doing this, the people who he loved then name checked him in honour as a response, just check out “Trans Europe Express” by Kraftwerk.

It is almost impossible to list a “top 5” of Bowie records. A top 50 is equally as hard. Just look at some of these things - “Life On Mars”, “Rock N Roll Suicide”, “Wild Is The Wind”, “Loving the Alien”, “John I’m Only Dancing”, “Absolute Beginners”, “Don’t Let Me Down And Down”, “Look Back In Anger”, “Teenage Wildlife”, “Running Gun Blues”, “Dead Man Walking”, “V2 Schneider”, "Be My Wife", "Always Crashing In The Same Car" oh man, the list of moments of genius just goes on and on and on. His death is a terrible event, as it marks the end of a big, big chapter in musical history. Even during those ‘lean’ years from 2004 to 2013, there was always the chance that Bowie might come back. And he did. And he was still brilliant. But now, it’s all over. Unlike “Prairie Wind”, Neil Young’s ‘farewell’ album which, of course, wasn’t, “Blackstar” was seemingly designed as a final gift to the fans - and has turned out to be just that. It is heartbreaking.

I am fortunate enough to have seen Bowie play a few times. Not old enough to have seen the now famous “Ziggy In Bridlington” or Romford Odeon-era gigs that shook up popular culture like never before, but yes, I was there for the 1995 tour where, despite vowing to play no old hits, he knocked out “Look Back In Anger” and “Scary Monsters” within the opening 15 minutes. Whilst there have been other great singer songwriters, none of them ever quite reached the levels of ingenuity that Bowie did - sorry Bruce, but as good as “The River” is, “Ziggy” is just that bit better. I think that’s all I can say on the matter. Bowie’s death has left me tearful, there are more and more people turning up at that Brixton mural as I type this dosed up on Lemsip, and it’s just so sad to watch. I just wanted to say that, for all the bizarre and strange acts who get featured on this website, I love them all. But one man, simply, either outstripped them in terms of sheer musical ability, or in fact, actually invented them in the first place.

And that man was Bowie. These lyrics from “Dead Man Walking” perhaps say it best - “And I’m gone, like I’m dancing on angels, and I’m gone, through a crack in the past”.

The phrase ’legend’ is too often overused. Today, it gets used for the right reason.

RIP David Bowie. Bye bye. We Love You.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Madonna Long Players: 2000-2004

This is my seventh blog looking at Madonna’s (UK) albums, and this month we look at what the Queen Of Pop got up to in the first half of the noughties. Post “Ray Of Light”, her US record company were not only making fancy special editions of each of her new LP’s, but also ensured that large numbers were being exported to the UK, and could usually be picked up at the same time as the regular UK pressings whilst new. So, details of not only the UK releases, but also these imports, will be mentioned in this blog (and the next one, due later this year and looking at the second half of the noughties).


Madonna entered the new millennium at the top of her game. 1999 had seen the release of the fabulous, “Light My Fire” apeing, pop nugget that was “Beautiful Stranger”, which only seemed to confirm that the genius of “Ray Of Light” had been no fluke. Things turned a bit sour soon enough, when the half hearted “American Pie” was issued as a single, even Madonna has now admitted she was coerced into recording it. It was one of two new tunes included on the soundtrack LP to her new movie, “The Next Best Thing”.

“Music”, the album, surfaced in late 2000. It seemed to have a mischievousness about it that “Ray Of Light” didn’t - that one had been all quite serious, new mum, with an earth hippy vibe, whereas the video for the title track of the new one, issued as lead 45, had an Ali G cameo and was naughty enough to get itself a TV ban, resulting in a special “clean edit” version of the clip needing to be created.

The big image this time around was that of a cowgirl. Stetson hats and checked shirts were the look here, with both the album and it’s first two singles featuring videos and artwork which channelled these visuals. Even today, some Madonna fans will still pitch up at a gig in a cowboy hat - easier than the “underwear as outerwear” look from 1985 I guess. As for the album itself, just as “ROL” had been the ‘William Orbit' record, this one featured major input from French producer Mirwais Ahmadzai.

“Music” was issued in the UK on what were, at the time, the three standard formats - vinyl, tape and CD. The vinyl copies seemed to remain on catalogue for years, I eventually bought one about a decade late, and it still seemed to be a first edition - sealed, same cat number, etc. Warners, at the time, were doing some sort of “home taping is killing music” campaign, and made the decision to put individually numbered holograms on each of the (initial) Compact Disc pressings, designed apparently to stop illegal downloading, I think. Any copies you buy today, however, are unlikely to have a hologram at all.

Of all of the UK editions, the rarest one of all is the autographed edition. OK, doing this from memory now, but I recall that Madonna was slowly starting to become a bit more “human”, and went to the effort of personally signing 175 copies of the CD edition, which were sold exclusively in the HMV branch on Bond Street in London. Basically, they each included a card insert with Madonna’s squiggle on the back. Suffice to say, they had sold out by mid-morning, and given that it was going to be the hardcore who made the effort to sit outside the shop for a couple of hours before it opened in order to get one, you are unlikely to find anybody willing to sell their copy. And before you ask, no, mine is off limits as well.

“American Pie” was shoved onto the end of the UK version of the album as a bonus track, something that was not done in the USA. The sessions had produced an outtake called “Cyber-Raga”, which was issued in the UK as a b-side, but was tagged onto the Australian and Japanese versions of the album as a further bonus track.

Now, the US special edition. Again, partly from memory. This took the whole cowgirl image to it’s natural limits, via the production of a “hessian” design digipack, which I am sure was always referred to as the ‘belt buckle’ sleeve. On the front you had a burnished copper plate, with a special “Madonna - Music” logo, which you could see being used as a belt buckle, if you had a vivid imagination.

There were two versions - US ones exported direct to the UK without “American Pie”, and copies seemingly made across two continents, which used the same sleeve, but came with German produced discs with a slightly different catalogue number, and “Pie” at the end. This meant the German ones had a catalogue number on the spine that was noticeably different to the one on the CD itself. All copies originally came shrink wrapped, with a “limited edition” sticker on the front, and a track listing sticker on the back. Because the packaging had been made in the US, but the discs in Europe, it meant there was no mention of “American Pie” inside the packaging at all.

It was produced in four different colours, with the black pressings being the rarest - quotes of £100 for unsealed copies were being thrown about soon after the event. I found one on eBay for £190 (plus postage) in late ‘15. According to Discogs, all four colours were circulated from both countries, meaning there are eight variant versions, if you fancy it. Obviously, the most valuable ones are the sealed ones that still have their front and back stickers intact, but even if you see an opened one in a charity shop with the stickers long gone, I would go for it. The number of songs it has will tell you if it is a US one or a German one, in case your eyesight prevents you from checking the catalogue number on the disc. I believe the German ones were designed specifically to be sold alongside their “normal” counterparts in bog standard record shops (I got one in the now defunct MVC), but I also have a few US ones, and so can’t remember how I got them as this was pre-internet days for me.

Madonna toured in 2001, the first time in eight years. This was seen as an event of such magnitude, that Warners decided to issue a “tour edition” version of the album to coincide. This wasn’t the first time a Madonna LP had been reissued in such a way (see the 1987 “free poster” pressing of the “True Blue” LP), but it was the first - and to date, only - Madonna album to be revamped in expanded form to coincide with concert dates. It was a 2-disc reissue, in a suitably tarted up slipcase, with remixes, foreign language versions, and videos on disc 2. Nothing here was unreleased, but most of it WAS new to the UK, so you may or may not come across un-sealed versions, depending on how much of a geek the original owner was.


Music (LP, Maverick 9362 47865-1)
Music (Cassette, Maverick 9362 47865-4)
Music (CD, Maverick 9362 47865-2, first 175 copies pre-signed)
Music (2xCD, Maverick 9362 48135-2, 2001 enhanced “Tour Edition”, all originally sealed, without “American Pie“)
Music (US CD in ‘Hessian’ sleeve, Maverick 9 47883-2, all originally sealed, without “American Pie”, but German variant editions do include it [9362 47921-2])


In my humble opinion, 2001’s “GHV2” remains the most obscure of all of Madonna’s albums. Even more so than remix ensemble “You Can Dance”. And that’s even without mentioning that it became the first Madonna album to not be made available on vinyl.

Why is it so obscure? Well, as the title suggests, it is the follow up to 1990’s “The Immaculate Collection” (GHV2 stands for ‘Greatest Hits Volume 2’). But unlike it’s predecessor, which was subjected to a promotional campaign longer and more intense than most studio records receive, “GHV2” just sort of appeared in time for Christmas, then disappeared again in the new year. Unlike “Immac”, there were no new songs, there was no “Q-Sound” remixing, and there were no singles released to coincide. In the UK, may I remind you, “Immac” spawned FOUR 45’s - more than “I’m Breathless”.

“GHV2” just sort of seems to suffer in every respect. Don’t get me wrong, the music is for the most part glorious (only the MOR monster of “Don‘t Cry For Me Argentina“, whilst it had to be here, does stick out like a sore thumb), overall Madonna was making better records in the 90s and 00s than she had been in the 80s, but whereas she was now more consistent, and at times, more daring, there is an argument that, as good as these singles were (see “Drowned World / Substitute For Love“), they didn’t quite have the bouncy pop “punch” of some of the earlier 45s. There may have been filler on those first three LP’s, but it was also the period that produced “Lucky Star”, “Borderline” and “Into The Groove”. “GHV2”, simply, is at a disadvantage from the off because it doesn’t have “Vogue” on it.

The album sort of, but doesn’t quite, run in chronological order, so that’s never a help. Certain singles are missing, space constraints are obviously going to be a factor, but apparently, the ones that got ditched did so on Madonna’s own say so. So, no “Bad Girl” but another outing for “Human Nature”. Grumble. The lack of Q-Sound remixing or indeed, ANY remixing, also means that you have here a compilation that contains nothing new at all, radio edits are included where they exist, but remember, all of these singles come from post-1991, so ALL were issued on the shiny CD format in the first place, so this is not even a best-of which can claim “track X on CD for the first time”. So, I just bought a copy, and then stuck it in a box. It’s been there for 15 years now. Apparently, there was a Cassette pressing, although I have no memory of actually seeing one in my local record emporiums, so it could be a Euro-only import.

A planned remix companion album failed to get off the drawing board. So the only other thing to mention is the US “Special Edition”. It was a fancy hardback book style thing, regular CD size, but designed to look swish when you opened it. Copies were originally shrink wrapped, and with nothing new on this release, there was no reason to bother opening them. So don’t ask me what it looks like inside, because I have no idea.


GHV2 (CD, Maverick 9362 48000-2)
GHV2 (Cassette, Maverick 9362 48000-4, possibly only sold in the UK in very limited numbers)
GHV2 (US CD in laminated hardback digipack sleeve, Maverick 9 48257-2, all originally sealed)

American Life

I haven’t listened to 2003’s “American Life” for a while, but from what I can remember, it wasn’t quite the rubbish Anti-American album that some people seem to have described it as. When I hear the singles, I hear nice twiddly electro-pop. It was almost as if Madonna’s view of the 9/11 tragedy and it’s aftermath was too near to the event to be viewed subjectively - when Green Day issued the equally ‘unpatriotic’ “American Idiot” a year later, most people - except Brandon Flowers - loved it.

Again, it was “previewed” via a movie tie in single, when Madonna’s quite fun 007 tune from 2002, “Die Another Day”, was included in the track listing, although it was sequenced as part of the main album, rather than being included as an “American Pie” style extra track. The “official” lead single, again in the form of the title track, came complete - as did the album - in Che Guevara inspired imagery, and with a military-esque promo video that managed to get itself banned.

The more you look at the period around this album, the more you feel it’s an album worthy of re-evaluation. Be it the not-at-all-war-related glamour of second single “Hollywood” (coming in both a beautiful sleeve, and with a monumentally stylish video), the Britney and Xtina lesbian threeway at the MTV Awards later the same year, the “Into The Hollywood Groove” mashup which is surely the most well known single ever to be made available only with a pair of jeans, and the “remixes and outtakes” bonus release of the “Remixed And Revisited” EP, which included ’metal’ inspired rock remixes, as an apparent nod to one of the considered musical approaches the album was originally envisaged to have, before M and Mirwais went down the “folk disco” route. Add to that the barrage of “non chart eligible” singles that Maverick tossed out in the UK, and it’s quite an interesting time in Madonna’s career, although it’s fair to say, 2005’s “Confessions On A Dance Floor” did help Madonna re-establish her “Queen” tag in a way this one didn’t.

Having now settled into married English life, Madonna turned up to do an in-store at a London HMV roundabout the time of the album’s release in the UK. Such a thing would have been un-imaginable ten or fifteen years before. The album appeared in the UK on vinyl and CD, with the LP copies originally coming shrinkwrapped. According to my notes, the LP was “technically” an import, as the suffix of the catalogue number differed from the CD format - something never before seen on “UK” Madonna releases. Again, there also exist cassette pressings, some of which use a similar catalogue number to the LP edition, my guess is that any that are in the “48439” range are German pressings with the potential of being exported into the UK, as both the LP and Tape editions use this number. “48454” is probably your ’proper’ “for sale in the UK only” release number, and you should actually find that only CD pressings exist in the UK with this number - meaning no official tape release at all. If anybody can shed a bit more light on the MC pressings of "GHV2" and "American Life", please get in touch, or add your comments below.

The US special edition came in a bigger-than-a-CD sized box. It included a poster and a set of Madonna stamps (possibly not legal tender). The front cover design differed slightly from the normal editions, as neither Madonna’s name, nor the LP title, were shown. Copies were originally sealed, but if you opened it, you found that the bit of card that was on the back of the box was not glued to said box, and just came away in your hands. However, it did reveal a “Parental Guidance” marking underneath, which for some reason, I like. So go on, if you get a sealed one, open it - the poster is quite nice, and is of a better design than the album cover, IMO.


American Life (LP, Maverick 9362 48439-1, all originally sealed)
American Life (CD, Maverick 9362 48454-2, enhanced CD including weblink)
American Life (US CD, Maverick 48440-2, enhanced CD in box with poster and stamps, all originally sealed with track listing on rear card insert)

Thursday, 24 December 2015


Listed below are the bands and singers featured for each month in 2015, including the ongoing "Classic Albums" series which featured several acts including The Thrills (above). The December 2015 blog can be found due right, which features The Stranglers' "Rattus Norvegicus" as part of that series.

The complete list for the year is shown below:
January 2015 - Prince
February 2015 - Echobelly
March 2015 - The Beatles
April 2015 - Neil Young
May 2015 - The Stranglers
June 2015 - The Thrills
July 2015 - Yes
August 2015 - Madonna
September 2015 - Lou Reed
October 2015 - The Moody Blues
November 2015 - Led Zeppelin
December 2015 - The Stranglers

To look at blogs from January to November, just click on the relevant month.

"U better be happy that dress is still on, I heard the rip when U sat down"

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Classic Albums No. 18: Rattus Norvegicus

When it comes to discussing the best Stranglers album, two tend to rise to the surface. First, you have 1978’s “Black And White”, described by some as the first post-punk album - impressive when you consider that punk was actually still going at the time of it‘s release. And then you have 1979’s “The Raven”. By the time this one came out, the band were becoming fascinated by UFO’s, dressing in black, and were getting deadly serious about what they were doing - the tour that followed saw virtually the whole album being played on stage, whilst the likes of “Peaches” and “No More Heroes”, the band’s two biggest hits, had been wiped from the setlists.

It was almost as if the band were slightly embarrassed by their past - that the gobbing nature of the punk scene which had sort of spawned them was something to disown, that the early days reminded them of when they were being accused of being sexist yobs - and so by avoiding some of the music from that period, the band could be seen as having grown up and moved on. But for me, of the four studio albums the band issued in the seventies, my favourite is still the one that emerged at the start when all that gobbing nonsense was still going on - 1977’s debut album “Rattus Norvegicus”.

For some, “Rattus” is a problematic product of it’s time - it’s seen by some as misogynistic and politically incorrect. But if you place those offending lyrics within the right context, then read the band’s own quote about the words being deliberately “silly and absurd”, and then actually sit and listen to the actual music, you will realise that “Rattus” is a remarkable piece of work. It has an inventiveness that was replicated in one form or another on all of the later albums - essentially, whatever LP it is that you like from the band that isn’t this one, it has this album to thank for it’s existence. Without “Down In The Sewer”, you wouldn’t have had “Hallow To Our Men” or “Too Precious” or “Time To Die“ or “Another Camden Afternoon“. This was the album that got the band the ‘Punk Floyd’ tag - in other words, this was a group that at times married the aggressive nature of punk, with the psychedelic ambition of the Floyd. And if the band really WERE chauvinistic pigs, well, the amount of women I see at Stranglers gigs makes me think that somebody, somewhere, really did miss the point.

Now, given that even the band members themselves have struggled to recall the timeline of what happened during the early days, then I can only try and give you what I think is a reasonable view about “what happened next” and when it more or less happened. The origins of the album, and the band, can be traced way back to early 1973, when Hugh Cornwell was guitarist in a group called Johnny Sox. Cornwell was studying at University in Sweden when he formed the band, and after his studies came to an end, he and the band returned to England. They lost two band members along the way - guitarist, keyboard player and founding member Hans Warmling, and a drummer by the name of ’Chicago Mike’. The band located to London, and responded to an advert that had been placed in the Melody Maker by a drummer offering his services.

That drummer was Brian Duffy, AKA Jet Black. Black was older than the rest of the band, and had even had a brief brush with near fame some years earlier - he had a history of drumming in jazz bands, one of which even went to the effort of pressing up a white label 7” EP. The Omega Dance Orchestra was their name, and less than 50 copies of this single were ever made, with possibly less than that still surviving. Born in Ilford, Black had by now relocated to Guildford where he had moved away from music for the most part, and instead ran several local businesses - most famously, he was the owner of a fleet of ice cream vans, and later ran his own off licence. Black came into contact with the band in late 73.

Black thought that whilst Johnny Sox were far from the finished article, they had something lurking under the surface that he liked. He was not impressed with the band’s lead singer, Gyrth Godwin, but did feel that the songs that Cornwell was writing had a certain something. Black agreed to join the group and the band moved down to Guildford to join him.

As the band began to take shape, Black was so determined that they should succeed, that he got frustrated at those members who he felt were letting the side own. Although some reports suggest Gyrth and bass player Jan Knutsson soon became fed up at the band’s lack of progress, Black’s own account of the band at this time was that they ‘get serious or get out’. The result? Gyrth and Knutsson both made the decision to leave the group and return to Sweden.

Johnny Sox, who at some point had become the short lived Wanderlust, were thus temporarily reduced to a two piece of just Black and Cornwell. However, just before his departure from the band, Gyrth had hitched a lift with a Frenchman by the name of Jean Jacques Burnel, who became friends with the fledgling band and remained in touch thereafter. After Gyrth and Knutsson had departed, Burnel happened to mention to the band that he was a classically trained guitarist, but that he fancied the idea of using these techniques with the bass guitar instead. Burnel was thus invited into the group, and the three piece went out on the gigging circuit, with Cornwell as their erstwhile lead singer.

In the summer of 1974, Cornwell felt that the band could do with a beefing up of the sound, and contacted Warmling, inviting him into the band. The group changed their name briefly to The Guildford Stranglers, before shortening it to The Stranglers. Again, so determined was Black for the group to make waves, that he even went to the trouble of officially registering the band’s name as a business name that September.

Demos were taped with Warmling in September 74, including an embryonic version of “Strange Little Girl”. The group continued to play the pub circuit, trying out self penned material alongside cover versions to appease the crowds - legend has it that “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” was in the setlists as a bit of a joke, but Warmling soon left, citing the cover version debacle as one of his reasons for departing. Perhaps more crucially, however, is the fact that another of the covers from the time was the band’s take on “Walk On By”, even today, still a routine part of the setlist.

By early 1975, the band found themselves signing a dubious deal with Safari Records - the ’Xulu Comics’ “Stranglers Discography” mentions an unreleased 7” on the label, “My Young Dreams”, which was one of the tracks that had been demoed with Warmling (although details about whether or not this single actually exists are sketchy). This song, along with the original “SLG” and another early period rarity called “Wasted”, were later included on the 1992 “The Early Years” album. The deal may well have promised the release of a commercially available 45, but this never materialised, and the group ended up managing to escape from the deal. Safari did later claim a level of ownership over the demos the group had made with Warmling, even threatening to release the material themselves once the group had found success. After Warmling had left, there was a brief period with a sax player (thereby pre-dating the sound of “Grip“), before multi-instrumentalist Dave Greenfield joined the band in the summer of 1975, becoming their new keyboard player.

A friend of the band, Brian Crook, became their manager at this point, and set about trying to get the band a proper deal. Demo tapes of “SLG” and “My Young Dreams” were hawked around record companies but to no avail, and a single sided acetate of “SLG” was even pressed up to be played to A&R men. EMI, famously, heard it - and passed!

1976 arrived, and marked the beginning of a heavily intensive gigging campaign, with the group eventually clocking up just shy of 200 shows by the end of the year. The band were regulars on the London circuit, and eventually came to the attention of Albion Management, who signed the group and took over the management duties from Crook. By now, the cover versions had mostly gone (the band had not only stopped performing the likes of “I Saw Her Standing There”, which had been part of their typical 1975 setlist, but also, for a while, ditched “Walk On By” as well) and Albion began arranging gigs for them left right and centre. Amongst these bookings were support slots for groups that were part of the new US Punk scene, such as the Patti Smith Group and The Ramones, even though some people who saw the band struggled to see the lineage between the support act and the headliners. Even the band themselves later stated they were never really punks, but it did seem as though the association with the genre did help to beef up the sound of the group - check out some of the early material on “The Early Years” against the later, studio recorded efforts.

One of Albion’s employees, Dai Davies, was a big fan of the band, and began pestering an A&R rep at United Artists, Andrew Lauder, about this great group he ’had on his books’. During the second half of 76, Lauder started to attend Stranglers gigs, but whenever he showed up, the group would usually undergo some sort of technical malfunction - Greenfield’s bank of keyboards were famously of an OTT creation.

But Albion really believed in The Stranglers, and arranged for the band to play a “demonstration” gig in their own rehearsal studios for Lauder. This might have seemed like an unconventional approach, and could have created an awkward situation, but, away from the stresses of a pub venue, the band were able to set up their equipment correctly and put on a faultless performance. Lauder, who had sensed the band had something special, but had never fully seen it at those “technically hitched” shows, finally saw the light - and pretty much signed the group to UA there and then.

What happened next is also subject to conjecture. UA had, earlier in the year, issued a live album by another one of their acts, Dr Feelgood. They hastily arranged for a last minute gig to be held later that week by the band, with the venue chosen being one of their regular gigging haunts, London’s Nashville Rooms. The gig was scheduled for December 10th. The plan was for the band to play their usual set, and that UA would record it, in order to source material for a (live) debut album. By now, the band had built up a live following (see the stories of Dagenham Dave and the still around today Finchley Boys), and so UA were able to fill the venue despite it being at such short notice. The band played a typical set, a mix of tracks that would later appear on “Rattus”, and many more that would be held over for later releases.

Lauder was later quoted as saying that the gig was only taped to have some material held “in store”, I am guessing that any material that would be deemed to be OK for a commercial release would only have been as a B-side, or perhaps on a future live album. The band and their management team listened back to the show, and deemed it ‘substandard‘, and so any plans that there might have been for the live LP, were shelved. The date of this shelving has been given as the first week of January 77.

The band’s debut single was issued at the end of the month. It was the first of three singles to be issued that year as double-A side releases, with Cornwell taking lead on one side, and Burnel on the other (the band’s fourth 45, “No More Heroes”, featured a Cornwell vocal on both sides of the single, and thus ended the AA-side approach). “Get A Grip On Yourself”/”London Lady” was a sizeable hit, just stalling outside the top 40, and undoubtedly did so well because of the band’s burgeoning fan base. The A-side recalled the early days of the band following their relocation to Guildford, whilst “London Lady” started the debate about the band’s “sexist” stance, as it was either a lyrical attack on the journalist Caroline Coon who it was rumoured had briefly dated Cornwell, or was, according to Coon’s own website, a more generic “woman hating fantasy” which contained “evidence of the sexism and misogyny that contaminates the male dominated music industry”. In reality, the song seems simply to have been written as a vitriolic response from a spurned male lover to a female ex-lover, it could just as easily have been written the other way round. But this was the year after the slightly questionable ad campaign for the Stones’ “Black And Blue”, and by the time we got to “Bring On The Nubiles” and the strippers at Battersea Park, the band were seen as being part and parcel of a bigger problem of sexism in rock and roll, with “London Lady“ being cited as a prime example.

In Holland, the version of the single issued there included an instant rarity, as an alternate mix of “Grip” was included on the a-side, coming complete with an extended ending. I don’t quite know how this happened, but it must have been that the Dutch arm of the label had access to the original master tapes, and ended up creating a different mix - I think you can see how this happened if you listen to the 1989 remixes that were created for EMI’s reissue of the single that year. The song, which was the recipient of a video clip filmed at the Hope And Anchor pub, another old favourite of the band, effectively set up the sound of the band from the off - Burnel’s growling bass, Greenfield’s distinctive keyboard flourishes - as good as a lot of the punk bands were, none of them were quite as tuneful or musically adventurous as this lot was.

The group toured the UK the following month, and then simply kept going in the run up to the album’s release. The album had been recorded during the last few weeks of December 76, and most of January 1977, but was not released in the UK until April. Helped along by the group’s ever increasing following, it entered the UK charts at number 4. With only their second official release, the band had established themselves as major chart players.

The cover art was fascinating. The band’s famous logo, as seen on the “Grip” single and in early merchandise, was not shown on the front cover. Nor was the album title. The record was, at one point, going to be called “Dead On Arrival”, but at some point, this was changed. There also exists (proof?) artwork which shows the famous back cover art in such a way that it looks like a front cover (ie. no song titles) so that could be a clue that these changes took place late on in proceedings. That rear cover, complete with the band logo, shows the famous ’rat against the sunset’ image, still being rebooted for merchandise to this very day. The “rat” image would end up becoming an integral part of the band’s history, and the eventually chosen title for the LP was also the scientific name for the brown rat.

What we did get on the cover was a brilliant shot of the group in what looked like a big country mansion, with Burnel in his leathers looking both menacing and camp in equal measures. The 2010 best of, “Decades Apart”, also paid a passing homage to the image. The band name appeared at the top, and the legend “IV” at the bottom, in a fairly normal low-key typeface. To this day, I am still not sure what this “IV” thing was really for. Some people have assumed that the album title was “IV Rattus Norvegicus”, but given that the “Stranglers IV” legend cropped up again on “No More Heroes”, that puts that suggestion to rest. It seems as through the group, at times, were actually calling themselves “The Stranglers IV” to describe the make up of the group - when the Mark 2 line up emerged in 1991, the five piece version of the band did issue merchandise using a “Stranglers V” logo.

A lot of people prefer the “outtakes” follow up LP that appeared later the same year, “No More Heroes” - but not me. “Rattus”, overall, is a more daring, complex and groundbreaking LP. The opening “Sometimes” is astonishing - it follows the verse chorus verse structure, albeit with a lengthy extended set of solos in the middle, where both Cornwell and Greenfield get to show off their prowess. It’s nearly five minutes long, and as an opening song on a debut LP, is incredibly forward thinking - “progressive rock” even. It’s certainly one hell of a statement of intent to start your album career with and even today, still sounds astonishingly ahead of it’s time.

If you want more proof that the band were not quite the Neanderthal thugs that some parts of the media were painting them as, then look no further than “Goodbye Toulouse” - a whirring Greenfield keyboard intro, Burnel’s “bass guitar as lead guitar” snarl, Black’s powerhouse drumming and a song about “the destruction of Toulouse, as predicted by Nostradamus”. Makes that song Ed Sheeran did about Ellie Goulding dumping him sound even more irrelevant and pointless than you’d previously thought, doesn‘t it?

And on it goes. “London Lady” thrills in a truly bouncy punk rock way, short but spiky, whilst “Princess Of The Streets” swings and shimmies in a sort of off-kilter Frank Sinatra style, it was described as being “burlesque” by somebody on one website, a sort of punk rock waltz. Like much of what appeared on the album, it dated from the pub circuit days, and used to end back then with a “you’ve got me waiting for you girl” coda on stage, which was not used for the studio mix. When a version from a 1975 gig Cornwell taped surfaced in 1992 on “The Early Years”, The Stranglers (Mark 2) then went through a period where they performed the song in concert with the coda intact.

“Hanging Around”, the great Stranglers single that - in the UK - never was, concludes side 1. Always slightly more raucous on stage than on record (this was why, according to some, the Nashville gig had been scheduled, as the band’s studio demos from the period were seen to be ’under par’), it is nevertheless a piece of almost perfect (punk) pop. The classic minimalist intro, Greenfield’s thrilling keyboard lines as the verses move into the choruses, the anthemic roar of those choruses, and Cornwell’s rough around the edges guitar solo in the middle eight, helped to deservedly make this a song which has, through all the line up changes, remained almost permanently nailed into the band’s setlist. It has appeared on “hits” collections on this side of the pond despite never being released as a 45, although it was one of four songs on the US only “Something Better Change” EP issued in late 1977, in a “Grip” style picture sleeve.

“Peaches”, which was being readied as the next 45, was probably one of the most un-radio friendly songs on the record when you look at the lyrics, making it’s choice as single quite perverse. It’s written from the perspective of a slightly deluded macho man trawling the beach, and it’s leering tone is actually quite comical, straight out of the “Carry On” league, completely OTT, and deliriously stupid - a sort of punk/reggae version of those old saucy seaside postcards. It was a song so obviously tongue in cheek it hurts, with lyrics that were done possibly to try and show how “naughty” the punks could be. Over familiarity has dented it’s impact over the years, and although I sometimes wish I would never hear it again, every time that opening Burnel bass line kicks in, you realise just how fun, boorishly ludicrous and insanely catchy it actually is.

“Ugly” could also be seen as another piece of aggressive macho snarling (“I guess I shouldn’t have strangled her to death”), but again, is either very tongue in cheek or just plain silly (“but I had to go to work, and she had laced my coffee with acid...normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I’m allergic to sulphuric acid” - and so on). The song itself is a sort of ugly sounding record, with Cornwell’s spiky guitar coming at you from one direction, and Cornwell’s Doors-esque keyboards from another, whilst the song runs along like a lengthy stream of consciousness, no verse chorus verse approach here. It does pack quite a punch. And then at the end, yet again, the intelligence of the band comes through, with the line “don’t tell me that aesthetics are subjective, you just know the truth when you see it, whatever it is”. Now, that is heavy, heavy stuff.

“Down In The Sewer” just tops it all off. A four part “punk opera” with a lengthy instrumental opening, an even lengthier instrumental ending, and lyrical references to rats, it could stake a claim as being the band’s signature tune. Everybody is on top form here, Cornwell’s acidic guitar, Greenfield’s keyboard histronics, Burnel high up in the mix, and Black excelling during that ‘faster and faster, all hands on deck’ finale. I think that Black later stated that the band usually tried to play it near the end of the gig, if possible, before the encores, so that the band had time to recover! I can’t really describe it here in such a way that does it justice, but if I just say that it’s a cross between The Doors, Yes, The Pistols and the Monty Python theme, that should just about cover it.

When the LP was first issued, the vinyl edition’s first run (10000 copies) came with a free 7” (United Artists UAG 30045 / FREE 3), the free single being housed in an anonymous looking orange cover. On one side was a studio outtake, “Choosey Susie”, and on the other, the only official outing for anything from the Nashville gig, with a version from that show of “Peasant In The Big Shitty”, later to be issued in studio form on “No More Heroes”. Thing is, 10000 copies of an LP in those days was chicken feed, and most people who bought it even quite early on missed the boat, and ended up with an LP with no freebie. As such, copies of the single itself started to change hands for more than the album! A reissue of the single was later conducted, and sold through the band’s fan club - copies featured a different message scratched into the run out groove (“Ello Ellen”). There was an even later reissue from the 80s, which replaced the custom white and red UA/Stranglers labels with the bog standard Liberty labels (the band having shifted sideways to the label by this point, after Liberty swallowed up the UA imprint), which as I understand it, came in a die cut sleeve, instead of the orange original. The EMI Singles boxset issued on CD in 2001 included, interestingly, a reissue of the original single in it’s orange cover, a nice touch for anybody who might still have been trying to track down the 77 pressing.

For it’s release as the next 45, “Peaches” was subjected to a radio edit, in which Cornwell had to re-record the “oh shit” lyric for it to become “oh no“, and replace the references to “clitoris” and “bummer”. Made available commercially on the 1988 “Rarities” album, the radio mix had, up until that point, been only available on either an increasingly valuable 7” promo sent to the radio stations, or a later fan club endorsed re-pressing. The actual commercially released single itself was due to be issued as a AA with “Go Buddy Go”, written by Burnel ’pre-Stranglers’ and presenting a sort of doo-wop 50s style sound. When the single hit the charts, the lyrical content of “Peaches” meant that the band had to perform “Go Buddy Go” when they were invited to appear on “Top Of The Pops” - the line about “I’ve got me some speed” obviously being seen as more acceptable than mentioning parts of the female anatomy!

UA designed a “punk” sleeve for the single - a fairly innocuous image of the band, but with the title of the single spelt out in ’blackmail’ style lettering. The group saw it - and were incensed. The handful of copies that had been pressed were promptly withdrawn at the request of the group, and most copies that helped get the single into the top 10 were actually issued in blank white due cut sleeves. Because 45’s in those days used to just sell and sell, later repressings of the single from 1979 saw it housed in a new picture sleeve - a picture of a peach wearing a pair of bikini bottoms that were being yanked off by an “admirer”, so to speak. As for the blackmail sleeve, it soon became an impossibly expensive rarity, but then became more and more common - the 2001 singles boxset used the image, as did a 2014 Record Store Day reissue - indeed, the “peach” sleeve is now probably more obscure than the blackmail one.

During the 80s, bits and pieces from the original album sessions started to surface - officially and unofficially. A 1980 fan club single was issued with a demo of “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter”, which dated from 1976, and was being billed on some pressings as “First Demo Recording Early 1976”. As such, it really pre-dates the “Rattus“ period by several months, and indeed, the song did seem as though it had been ditched by the end of 76, as it was not in the setlists of the time, whereas material being lined up for “No More Heroes” was. Various editions of the single exist, with a limited number of 1988 pressings coming in a numbered picture sleeve. Demos of “Grip”, “Go Buddy Go” and the “NMH” album track “Bitching” appeared on a 1987 7” bootleg called “3 Early Demos” on the Pan-Vox label, and can all now be found on “The Early Years”. This LP is worth tracking down, as it also includes a tape of one of the band’s support slots for Patti Smith in late 76, and shows how the band’s setlist of the time was a mix of material from both “Rattus” and “No More Heroes” - it seems as though all of these songs were thus being considered as being good enough for release, and that the choice of the nine songs that were issued first on “Rattus” had gone through some sort of selection process. It’s never been too clear to me exactly why the likes of “School Mam” were held over for the second LP, other than the fact that this allowed the debut album to be issued on a single slab of vinyl. But it has been confirmed that some of the material for “Heroes” was actually taped during the original sessions for “Rattus”, shelved, and then exhumed for the follow up.

The first major reissue for the album occurred in 1982, when the LP was reissued by one of EMI’s budget labels, Fame (FA 3001). By this point, both of the band’s pre-Epic labels (UA and Liberty) came under the EMI umbrella. In keeping with the typical reissue approach of the time, the artwork was kept mostly intact, front and back covers in situ, but of course, there was no free single this time around. The labels on the vinyl itself were changed from the original “rat in the sunset” ones to Fame’s own yellow and red design. A Cassette pressing was also made.

In 1987 and 88, a major CD reissue campaign of the band’s “EMI” era albums was conducted by the label, focussing on the six studio LP’s and one live album that the band had put out between 77 and 82. Some reissues appeared on Fame, and others - such as “Rattus” - on the main EMI imprint (CDP 7 46362 2). Most of the albums added the odd bonus track from the period to take into account the expanded playing time of the format, with the exception of “Rattus”. This was because the three rarities from the time were shoe-horned onto other releases - “Choosey Susie” was used as the opener to the 1988 “Rarities” set, whilst the live “Peasant” appeared, as you might have expected, on the reissue of “Live (X-Cert)”. As for “Go Buddy Go”, it had turned up on 1986’s “Off The Beaten Track”, a release thus seemingly deemed as being recent enough for the song to be left off. Shame that this album, I believe, had actually been deleted at the time. Hey ho. The radio edit of “Peaches”, meanwhile, was also included on “Rarities”.

Once the reissue campaign was over, EMI decided to issue a singles collection called “Singles The UA Years” and the remixed “Grip” was issued to coincide. Two mixes of the song were made, one a 7” remix and one a 12”, and completists who fancied both could purchase either the 12” or CD edition of the 45 to tick both boxes. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added as a bonus track to both, the first time it had appeared on a ‘regular’ release, whilst coloured vinyl obsessives had the option of buying a red vinyl 7” pressing as well.

As mentioned elsewhere on this site in the past, 1996 saw the short lived EMI Premier imprint issue the band’s first two albums as expanded “double disc” sets as some sort of “20th Birthday of Punk” excuse. The second disc was used to include all of the relevant rarities from the period, so what you really had was something similar to the original LP release, a full length CD with a free EP. For “Rattus”, this now meant that both sides of the original freebie and “Go Buddy Go” were included in this reissue (PROFCD 5), although I believe it was deleted quite quickly. Of course, the bonus tracks could quite easily have slotted onto the main disc, but the advantage of this double disc approach was that the main album still concluded, as it should do, with “Sewer”.

In 2001, EMI decided it was time to revamp the back catalogue again, and reissued the seven albums from the period as expanded CD pressings once more. This time around, the attempt was made to stick all the rarities onto the expanded releases, meaning things that had turned up back in 88 on “Rarities” were this time around appearing on the corresponding LP from the relevant period. As such, the three tracks from the 1996 double disc pressing of “Rattus” were now simply glued onto the end of the album (7243 5 34406 2 6), meaning “Sewer” was no longer the climax. Boo. However, it fared better than some of the other reissues from the period, as the revamps of things like “The Raven” and “La Folie” came in altered artwork, or with impossible-to-read lyric booklets second time around. “Tomorrow Was The Hereafter” was added to the expanded “Meninblack”, referring to the time of it’s original fan club single release date, and, of course, (the re-recorded) “Strange Little Girl” was added to “La Folie”. This release also included “Cocktail Nubiles”, which had appeared on the flip of the “Hereafter” 7”, and as it’s title suggested, was a supper club version of “Bring On The Nubiles”, taped specifically for the single I do believe in 1980.

In 2003, a slightly odd release from Germany, on Capitol Records, surfaced - a “double disc” reissue of the expanded versions of “Rattus” and “Black And White” (582 3572). These discs were repressings of the 2001 versions, so “Rattus” came with it’s three bonus tracks intact. The album appeared in a thick double jewel case, with a suitably custom designed cover - the band name at the top of the sleeve, and miniature reprints of the two covers below. Inside, the booklets from the two albums were included, quite a simple - and dare I say, sort of clever, but cheap looking - move, but at least it was better than having no booklets at all - although it did make you wonder why these two albums, and none of the other five, were subjected to this treatment. It was almost as if EMI had pressed too many copies of them, and saw this as a way of flogging the excess stock. Surely not?

2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the band, based on the date that Black had registered the band’s name, and despite quotes of much “revamping” of the back catalogue to coincide, there were only a handful of cash in releases. One of these, “Giants And Gems”, was a curious boxset release by Parlophone/Warner Brothers (2564 633677), who by now, were in charge of the EMI/UA/Liberty material. The box set included reissues of the six studio albums from the 77-82 period, and thus included “Rattus” as part of the pack. This time around, there were no bonus tracks. You also got the “Live (X-Cert)” album, “Off The Beaten Track” (to make a reasonably rare album of rarities available again), and the taped-in-77-but-released-in-92 EMI release “Live At The Hope And Anchor”. But it’s a curious release because, despite being concerned with the EMI years, there is no “Norfolk Coast” - there is “Suite XVI”, as expected, but also the independently released “Giants”, which last time I looked, had had no EMI involvement in the UK at all. In other words, the Mark 1 years before they went ‘pop’ and the Mark 4 years. So, a 40th anniversary release that complete ignores everything between 1983 and 2005. Really, no “Norfolk Coast”? It seemed to have been designed specifically for those fans who threw in the towel when they heard the drum machines on “Feline”, but got excited when the band reverted to a 4-piece when Paul walked. Another baffling re-writing of history. A nice starting point for the newbies, but still, a strange release with what it did and did not include. 2014 also saw an expanded reissue of the 1993 boxset “The Old Testament”, which included all nine tracks from “Rattus” on disc 1, and all of the other rarities from the period scattered around the rest of the box.

Keeping up with the trend of vinyl loving retro-ness, 2015 saw the reissue of the band’s first two albums on their own Coursegood imprint as expensive, tarted up, Long Players. The aim was to try and recreate as much as possible how the records looked when they first came out, and so it was that “Rattus” came with it’s freebie 7” again for the first time in many a year (CGLP 1). However, the reissue was actually more ‘intense’ than the original, as it also included the SIS lyric sheet that was produced some years after the original release and distributed independently, along with a re-print of the original promo poster. 500 copies were pressed, so the original asking price of £25 is probably already starting to rise.

“Rattus” really is a good album. It does seem, nearly 40 years on, as though there is still a part of the media that has never forgiven the band for the strippers, the “piece of meat” line in “Princess Of The Streets”, the Guardian described the band as ‘punk bruisers’ in their gig listings quite recently. Which is a shame because this is one of the finest debut albums of all time, and one of the greatest records ever - an inventive, exhilarating, and flawless piece of psychedelic punk rock, and a lot more daring and exciting that any of those massive selling Adele LP’s. There has been, in recent years, an increasing adoration towards this band, and I can only hope that eventually, all those people who have never listed this album in their “top 100 greatest albums” lists will rectify the error. It’s easily up there with The Stone Roses, Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys in terms of classic first records, and hopefully soon, the public at large will catch up and realise this.

"I’ll see you in the sewer darling. Don’t be late."

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Led Zeppelin

There are a number of things about Led Zepp, apart from the music, that are quite interesting. The fact that they were formed as an incarnation of another already existing group, the fact that they refused to release any singles in the UK, the fact that they never played a gig north of Watford after 1973, the fact that they have issued not one but three “untitled” records, and the fact that they have just completed a reissue campaign which was at times so underwhelming, it makes you wonder why they bothered. More of that later on.

The band’s reputation as possible originators of heavy metal - a claim that, if it were me, I would attempt to disprove - or at least, as one of the leading lights of “hard rock”, is undisputed, and up until the end of the 70s, the group had released a series of solid, and sometimes spectacular, records upon which their legacy was built. This is a brief little overview of what was a relatively short career, but one which has had a long lasting impact. Because the UK discography is relatively simple, eight studio albums, one posthumous single, and a few other bits and pieces, catalogue numbers for each release are shown in the main article itself. This will relate to the original release, be it vinyl, CD or DVD, and the 2014/15 reissue campaign will be mentioned at the very end.

The band’s origins go back to 1967, when guitarist Jimmy Page joined The Yardbirds in time for the release of their “Little Games” album. By 1968, the band had more or less broken up, but there was the small issue of an already scheduled European tour on the cards. Page was given the nod to put together a new line up of the band to fulfil these dates, and the band were to be renamed “The New Yardbirds”. Imagine going to see the “New Oasis” and realising it consists just of Bonehead and four other random people. Anyway, this new version of the band was completed with the hiring of singer Robert “Percy” Plant, bass player John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, through various contacts that Page had, and a concert setlist consisting heavily of covers was put together, alongside the odd old Yardbirds hit, such as “For Your Love“. “Dazed And Confused”, which the original Yardbirds had covered in concert, remained in the set, and a revamped (and re-credited) version would appear on the first Zeppelin album.

Even though The New Yardbirds had been put together to complete the outstanding tour dates, the chemistry that the band members found between themselves as soon as they had done their first rehearsal was regarded as something special. This encouraged them to consider making this a full blown career, rather than just be used as a contractual obligation duty, and after the tour was finished, the group decided to go into the studio to record an LP. A UK tour was also scheduled, and initial dates under “The New Yardbirds” banner were played in October 1968, but the consensus is that the arrangement Page had been granted had just been to complete the European tour, and so when word filtered through of the continued existence of the ‘Yardbirds’ to former member Chris Dreja, the band were informed that a name change would be required. By November 1968, the group had been re-christened Led Zeppelin, although Page has quoted in some interviews that he wanted to change the name anyway to showcase this band as being quite separate from his old one. The name was derived from the phrase ’going down like a lead balloon’, in reference to a conversation Page had had with The Who’s John Entwistle during the final years of the “Old” Yardbirds, about Page’s desire to form a super group with members of The Who and Jeff Beck.

The band’s debut LP, simply titled “Led Zeppelin” (LP, Atlantic 588 171) surfaced in 1969. The band’s R&B roots appear quite heavily across the record, although John Paul Jones’ organ arrangement on “Your Time Is Gonna Come” helps to move this record away from what could otherwise have been just another UK band having yet another stab at traditional US music once again. That, and Page’s guitar histrionics, Bonham’s powerhouse drums, and Plant’s vocal range, help to lift the album‘s quality above that of, say, the first Moody Blues record. I don’t go back to this record as often as some of the others, but when I do, I realise that this is actually a very good beginning to a career that would really blossom on future releases - the blues is in there, but thankfully isn’t of snore-some modern-day Clapton stylings, but is a version spiced with psychedelic splashes, and pure rock and roll noise. Just check out “Communication Breakdown”.

The wheel wasn’t completely reinvented on “Led Zeppelin II” (LP, Atlantic 588198), issued later the same year, but there was an element of the sound being ’expanded’ - the gargantuan roar of “Whole Lotta Love”, the quiet bit loud bit thrill of “What Is And What Should Never Be”, the warped R&B of “The Lemon Song” with it’s famous squeezing the lemon lyric, and the closing “Bring It On Home”, where Percy’s vocals sound like they were recorded on a tape deck where the heads hadn’t been cleaned beforehand for about 50 years. Despite the “no singles” rule in the UK, the overseas arms of the band’s label didn’t comply with this instruction, and by now, the issuing of 45’s in other countries had helped cement the band’s reputation in the USA and beyond, with the likes of “Whole Lotta Love” turning the group into worldwide superstars. An edited version of this track was made available on radio station promos.

“Led Zeppelin III” (LP, Atlantic 2401 002), from 1970, is notable not only for it’s “wheel” artwork, but the fact that the band more or less completely changed direction here, creating an album that was heavily, heavily indebted to acoustic and folk music. You can’t find a single person with a bad word to say about Zepp nowadays, but apparently, back then, the music press hated them, and when they heard this one, hated them even more because of it‘s musical about turn. It’s now seen as a defining moment in rock and roll history, the point at which the Zepp began to make themselves harder to categorize, and helping to make folk-rock no longer be seen as a dirty word. That said, the opening number is still the best, the electrified primal roar that is “Immigrant Song”.

From many, myself included, it‘s the fourth album which was the first real Zepp classic - and is probably still the best. Famously issued without a title as an apparent two fingered salute to the music critics, the appearance of four symbols on the cover and the fact this was the next release after “Zepp 3“ explains why everybody and their dog refers to their 1971 album release as “Led Zeppelin IV” (LP, Atlantic 2401 012). Home to the much scoffed at, but epically awesome madness that is “Stairway To Heaven”, this record rocks hard - the snarling double whammy opener of “Black Dog” and “Rock And Roll”, the organ driven throb of “Misty Mountain Hop”, the acoustic swirl of the sublime “Going To California” and the thunderous pounding of “When The Levee Breaks”, where Bonham’s drums sound like they have been transported in from the depths of hell, this is a record that hipsters might want to try and moan about, but it really is as good as it’s reputation suggests. As a live band, the Zepp were now starting to move away from clubs and theatres to bigger and bolder venues, and the era of stadium rock was starting to dawn.

But the music still remained good for the next few albums. 1973‘s “Houses Of The Holy” (LP, Atlantic K 50014) may well have been home to the awful cod-reggae of “D’Yer Maker” (a reminder that, along with UB40, you should really leave this sort of stuff to the experts - or at least, to The Clash), but was also home to the storming rock of “The Song Remains The Same”, the melodic beauty of “The Rain Song” or the keyboard twizzles of the majestic “No Quarter”. Such was the quality of what made this set, was that they left the (potential) title track off the LP altogether. The group headed out on tour, and were now firmly established as arena conquering rock beasts. They played three shows at New York’s Madison Square Gardens, which were filmed for a potential concert film, only for the concept to be temporarily shelved. There was no UK tour conducted in support of the record, the band’s last UK gig having been back in January (two months before the album’s release) at the modestly sized Preston Guildhall. For some, the retrospective view here is that this was the beginning of the end.

The aforementioned recording of “Houses Of The Holy“, the song, was resurrected for the band’s 1975 release “Physical Graffiti” (2xLP, Swan Song SSK 89400). The first release by the band on their own, newly formed, record label, and again housed in a fancy sleeve (a die cut front cover, displaying a house, which allowed you to alter what you could see through the windows), it’s regarded by many who don’t view the fourth LP as the bona fide classic, as the bona fide classic. It’s a sprawling affair, being a double album, and was split more or less half and half between newly recorded material, and older outtakes, brushed off and given a tarting up. But repeated listens only help to reveal it’s brilliance, be it the boogie woogie fun of “Boogie With Stu”, the strutting funk of “Trampled Underfoot” or the enormous, gargantuan, roar of “Kashmir”, a song so massively huge, it makes the entire AC/DC back catalogue sound like Belle And Sebastian.

So popular were the Zepp, the consensus was, in their homeland at least, that there were simply no venues big enough around the provinces of the UK to house them if they wished to tour. So their UK “tour” to promote the album consisted of a 5-night residency at London’s Earls Court. At the time, the idea of a band holing themselves up in a single venue was considered highly unusual, and promo material was designed to try and sell this to people as an “event” - fans from across the UK were encouraged to take the train to visit the band play in the capital. A novel idea at the time, but a sure-fire sign that Zeppelin were effectively starting to get ‘too big’, and that the era of mega acts just playing in London as part of their so-called “World Tour” was slowly emerging.

A planned tour outside the UK to promote the album was cancelled when Plant was involved in a car crash in August 1975, which left him with serious injuries which took some time to heal. Plant was still in a wheelchair as the band began work on a new studio album instead several months later, released the following March as “Presence” (LP, Swan Song SSK 59402). It again came in a quite iconic sleeve, with a number of slightly surrealistic images of people being photographed with a strange black obelisk shaped object sitting in front of them, known as “The Object“. Critics were rather harsh on the record, which is strange, given that it is home to the stop-start groove of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and the monumental blast of opener “Achilles Last Stand”. With a tour impossible to conduct, due to the slow recovery of Plant from his injuries, attention instead turned to the “postponed” 1973 concert film. By the end of the year, footage from the gigs had been turned into the movie “The Song Remains The Same”. Given that home video was yet to be properly invented, a soundtrack album was created so fans could buy some form of document to tie in with the event (2xLP, Swan Song SSK 89402). The LP wasn’t quite a genuine soundtrack, as several songs featured in the film were absent from the record (and vice versa) whilst some of the songs that did appear on both versions were sourced from different shows for the different formats. Critics again were harsh, as were band members, none of whom felt it captured the full blown Zeppelin concert experience. It did, if nothing else, officially document the elongated versions of “Dazed And Confused” that the band played in concert, with the version here weighing in at 27 minutes in length.

By 1977, Plant and the band were ready to tour again, and conducted a tour of North America. Plans to play in the UK were not considered, as UK tax legislation had been set at such high levels for high earners, that the band would have played the entire tour at a complete loss - the days of gigging at the Dagenham Roundhouse were now over. Given that the band’s last album was now a year old, the group only played a handful of songs from it, and instead opted for a sort of greatest hits set instead. But barely two years after Plant’s car accident, disaster struck again. A fortnight before the tour was due to finish, Plant received news that his son back in the UK had died of a stomach infection. The remaining five dates were immediately cancelled, and the Zepp were back on hold again as Plant flew back to the UK.

In late 1978, the band reconvened to record what would be their eighth, and final, studio album. Legend goes that neither Bonham nor Page were in great shakes health wise, and that the album was heavily driven along by Plant and Jones. This goes someway to explaining why the album seems a bit guitar-lite, and why some of us are a bit under whelmed by “In Through The Out Door” (LP, Swan Song SSK 59410), which was released in late summer 1979. Bizarrely, for an album released in the seventies, it seems to almost be an indicator of how bland and over-produced music would become in the EIGHTIES, the record was sort of ahead of it’s time but in a bad way. Yes, the keyboard driven buzz of “Carouselambra” is quite thrilling, and the retro rock and roll of “Hot Dog” is fun, but the polished AOR sound of “In The Evening” and “All My Love” sound completely out of place when compared to anything the Zepp had done before.

The LP was housed in another fascinating sleeve, a brown paper bag designed to give it the look of a bootleg album (a bit odd, given that it was simply the new studio LP). Inside, there was a piece of black and white artwork which - and god knows why anybody decided to do this - would colour itself in if it was washed in water. The album was being seen as the Zepp’s big comeback, and the band announced a comeback gig at the ludicrously large Knebworth Park for August 1979 (to be preceded by some smaller shows in Copenhagen the month before). Despite having not played in the UK since 1975, and with punk having threatened to get rid of them, the Zepp were still hugely popular, and the show sold out. A second gig was lined up at the same venue, but for the following weekend, and although the plan was to release the album in time for the shows, technical hitches meant that by the time the band hit the Knebworth stage for the first time, the LP was still on the “to be released” schedules, and eventually surfaced after the second Knebworth show.

The Knebworth shows may well have shown how monumentally big the band were, but the Zepp themselves were unhappy with the gigs, feeling that it was too big a venue to conduct a comeback, that the crowd didn't feel fully involved, and that the band themselves were a bit shaky. But it was all supposed to be the start of the rehabilitation of the band, and in 1980, a tour of Europe was lined up. Beginning with a show in Dortmund on 17th June 1980, the band adopted a new approach - a shorter setlist, and a more stripped back style, an attempt to try and get away from the excesses of the more recent shows, and a throwback to the band’s more intimate club roots. The final show was in West Berlin on 7th July.

A US tour was due next, with the first dates due to take place that October. Rehearsals were scheduled for September, but early on in proceedings, John Bonham died from asphyxiation, caused by a heavy drinking session during the previous 24 hours. He was found by band mate Jones, and immediately, any plans to continue with the planned tour were abandoned. With the band having had no line up changes thus far, things were not going to change now, and in December 1980, the band issued a press statement announcing that Led Zeppelin were no more.

In 1982, as a sort of official “signing off”, the band issued the short but sweet outtakes album “Coda” (LP, Swan Song A 0051). It consisted of what the band claimed were the only outtakes left in the vaults, along with some live recordings and alternate versions of previously available songs. Most of the second half of the LP consisted of outtakes from the sessions for “In Through The Out Door” and were so good, you wondered how these had been overlooked in favour of some of what did make the grade. The band reformed briefly in 1985 for the US leg of Live Aid, with Phil Collins and ex-Chic drummer Tony Thompson standing in for Bonham. The performance was regarded by the band as being nothing short of shambolic, and when a DVD release of the event was being put together twenty years later, the band refused to allow any part of their set to be used, and instead donated a sum of money to charity to make up for any shortcomings their lack of involvement might have had on the release. Bootlegs of the performance do exist, whilst high quality audio clips are also floating around, helped by the fact that BBC Radio 1 included part of the band’s set in remixed form on their “Live Aid: 10 Years On” show in 1995.

By the end of the eighties, the Zepp had briefly reformed once more - with John’s son Jason on drums - in 1988 for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show, although once again, the band were slightly unhappy with their performance. The band’s back catalogue was also issued on CD. By 1990, Page had been tasked with the remastering of the band’s recordings, and a selection of his results were issued on an untitled boxset issued later that year - housed in a sleeve depicting a take on the famous alien ‘crop circles’ phenomenon of the time, it was later followed by a release called “Boxed Set 2”, so we shall refer to this one as “Boxed Set” (4xCD, Atlantic 7567 82144-5). It ran in more or less chronological order, but was designed actually to work as a vinyl or cassette release, and so certain songs were placed ‘out of sync’ so that they could open or close a particular side of the record. It included four rarities - previously unreleased performances of “Travelling Riverside Blues” and “White Summer / Black Mountain Side”, both lifted from BBC session performances, and a hybrid mash up of the two Bonham drum showcases, “Moby Dick” and “Bonzo’s Montreux”, originally to be found on “Led Zeppelin 3” and “Coda”. There was also a B-side, not bad for a band who didn’t “do” singles, “Hey Hey What Can I Do”, which had slipped out in overseas territories on the flip of the “Immigrant Song” 45 and was thus making it’s UK debut here. An edited highlights set, “Remasters” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 80415-2) was issued before the end of the year, also in a “crop circles” style sleeve, which made no attempt at all to include any of the rarities this time around. “TRB”, by the way, saw another set of lemon squeezing lyrics, for those of you who like to know about such stuff.

The aforementioned “Boxed Set 2” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 82477-2) surfaced in 93, with another variant on the crop circle imagery on it’s cover. It’s main duty was to sweep up all of the band’s remaining recorded (studio) output that hadn’t made it onto the first box, and also came with an ’incentive purchase’ track in the form of the previously unreleased “Baby Come On Home”. It was followed by the career spanning “The Complete Studio Recordings” (10xCD, Atlantic 7-82526 2), a US only import according to Discogs, which did what it said on the tin - reissues of all eight studio albums and “Coda” (it’s 10 discs because, of course, “Physical Graffiti” was a double album). The version of “Coda” included here was expanded to include the two BBC tracks from “Boxed Set”, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Baby Come On Home”. The Bonham mash up was left off presumably because it was not a ’proper’ song. The individual albums were then reissued and were, until last year, the latest versions available in the shops, and were identified by their “remastered” legend on the left hand side of the cover.

I can’t remember the exact reasoning behind why “Whole Lotta Love” (CD single, Atlantic AT 0013CD) was issued as a 45 in the UK in 1997. Perhaps it was in a advert, or it had won a “greatest ever riff” poll, I really don’t recall. But appear as a single it did, with a newly created radio edit that was shorter than the LP mix, but longer than the original shortened version that had been created for the original overseas single and promo releases in 69/70. Nothing massively rare appeared as b-sides, “Travelling Riverside Blues” from the first box, and “Baby Come On Home” from the second. All copies of the single were numbered, but in those days, physical singles still sold in big numbers, so thousands of copies were pressed. The same year saw the release of “BBC Sessions” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83061-2), which compiled most - but not all - of the recordings the band made for the BBC in 1969 on disc 1, with disc 2 devoted to the band’s heavily bootlegged BBC “In Concert” show at the Paris Theatre in London on 1st April 1971. The band were simply ‘too big’ to return to the Beeb in later years, and so whilst the release is incomplete, it still offers a fairly decent overview of the band’s visits to the Corporation in those couple of years.

After a couple of slightly pointless best of sets in the early 00’s, “Early Days” and “Latter Days” (later compiled into a box set - 2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83619 2), the Zepp once again rose back up over the parapet in 2003 with some more new material. First up was another anonymously titled release, the band’s debut DVD release, which usually gets referred to as “Led Zeppelin DVD” (2xDVD, Warner Music Vision 0349 70198-2), which included TV show footage and gig performances from across the band’s entire career, including footage of the Earls Court and Knebworth shows. It was issued at the same time as a new live album, “How The West Was Won” (2xCD, Atlantic 7567 83587 9), an attempt to try and capture the live Led Zepp sound in a way that “The Song Remains The Same” had failed to do - it was compiled from shows the band had played in the USA in June 1972.

In December 2007, the band reformed for another one off show. Their first since the often overlooked reunion at the 1995 Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, it was the band’s first full length show since Knebworth, but was another charity event, meaning tickets were only available through a lottery style random selection process. Another best of set, “Mothership” (2xCD, Swan Song 8122 79961 5) had been issued in the run up to the reunion, alongside a revamped DVD reissue of “The Song Remains The Same” (DVD, Warner Brothers Z5 72654) - the CD edition of the soundtrack was also reissued in slightly reworked form.

After yet another boxset release in 2008 of the band’s studio output (essentially a retitled repressing of the 1993 box), it all finally went quiet. The 2007 reunion show was finally issued on a variety of formats, all taking the basic gig and spreading it across multiple discs, one of the more bog standard being the 3 disc set released in 2012 as “Celebration Day” (2xCD + DVD, Swan Song 8122 79688-7), before it all went quiet again.

Until last year. Despite having said thirty odd years before that there was really nothing in the vaults, the band announced a complete expanded reissue of their back catalogue (or at least, “Coda” and the eight studio efforts) in 2014. How were you to expand an album which supposedly spawned no outtakes? Simple, just offer “different” versions of songs everybody knew. Simples!

And so, starting in the summer of 2014, we got bigger versions of albums with the promise of nothing particularly new. Aside from regular LP and CD reissues of the original albums, there were double disc releases planned (or, in the case of the already double “Physical Graffiti”, a triple) with the extra disc being a “companion” disc upon which alternate versions of material on the regular album were placed, with both expanded CD and Vinyl editions available. The nine albums appeared in chunks, with the first three albums surfacing in June 2014, and “Presence”, “In Through The Out Door” and “Coda” being released just a few months ago. Aside from the four already mentioned formats, each album was also due to appear as a £100 rated super deluxe boxset, which would simply include the double album, double CD and a fancy book. Pointless really, but with the design of each due to be “similar” in style, I guess, anybody with £1000 to spare would find it quite nice buying them all to put next to each other on a shelf.

Given that I already had most of the Zepp’s albums by this point, I gave most of them a miss - but Wikipedia helpfully has a dedicated page to the reissues which explains what you were getting for your cash. Certain albums had a different approach, “Led Zepp 1” features a period gig from the time mostly consisting of tracks from the debut, whereas “Led Zepp 2” features mostly alternate studio mixes of the same songs.

In most instances, the companion disc had a running time that was fairly brief, I guess, so that the material could be easily housed on a single slab of vinyl for the LP versions, meaning that for “Physical Graffiti”, reissued in isolation in Feb 2015, the 80-odd minute album still only came with 40 minutes of extras. The band did get a bit of a knocking for offering what were, at times, barely altered mixes when compared to the original - indeed, I bought a deluxe “ITTOD” and thought that my companion disc was mispressed because it sounded so similar to the original. However, this reissue offered an genuine “alternate album”, the same LP (ie. Identical track timings) but with variant mixes - it’s just a shame some of these variant mixes have sound differences so difficult to spot, even my dogs couldn’t hear them. Despite some songs appearing with totally different titles suggesting they were work in progress versions of the completed songs, they are not - “The Hook” is simply a mono mix of “All My Love”, codeword for “sounding muffled”. Whether this mix was produced at the time for a genuine, proper reason, or if it was just Page having to make something up to fill up the disc, I really don’t know. The sheer pointlessness of it all is, in a way, admirable.

However, the band did push the boat out a bit for the “Coda” reissue. Although they cheated a bit by selling this as “the only reissue to feature TWO companion discs”, the running time of each was designed to balance out with the original - ie. Each disc is only about half an hour long, so even though all the bonuses could have been squeezed onto a single disc, you get asked to pay over the odds for a triple album. Cheeky sods. However, because the original album was an outtakes set, Page made the decision here to use the bonus discs to provide a “history” of the band, and as such, as well as getting alternate takes of “Coda” material, you also get alternate takes of stuff from across the board, such as a “rough mix” version of “When The Levee Breaks”. Now, that’s what I’m talking about.

In theory, the deluxe reissues should put a lid on the Zeppelin history books. It’s unlikely, given that record companies have in recent years become obsessed with repackaging their heritage acts, knowing full well any old tat will sell. Just look at the now annual Dylan outtakes albums. Anyway, that’s not the point here. The point is the Zepp have now been brought back into the public eye again, and in doing so, you can see where Royal Blood got half their ideas from (the other half being Queens Of The Stone Age). There is no doubting that, whilst they are possibly hero worshipped a bit too much by some - still lagging behind The Who in my books - they made some damn fine records, and in some respects, Percy’s decision not to reform is quite honorable. They are not in danger of tarnishing their reputation by staying dead and buried, as it’s difficult to see how a reformed Zepp could ever record another “Kashmir” or “Stairway” or “Levee” - monumental pieces of rock and roll, which helped move them into the upper echelons of music history.