Saturday, 27 December 2014
Listed below are the bands and singers featured for each month in 2014. The December 2014 blogs can be found due right, and include articles on The Beautiful South and Paul Weller.
The complete list for the year is shown below:
January 2014 - Genesis / Elvis Presley
February 2014 - All Saints / The Charlatans
March 2014 - Madonna
April 2014 - Morrissey / Ash
May 2014 - Foo Fighters
June 2014 - Biffy Clyro / Green Day
July 2014 - Siouxsie And The Banshees / The Stranglers
August 2014 - Supergrass
September 2014 - David Bowie / Super Furry Animals
October 2014 - The Stranglers
November 2014 - Badly Drawn Boy
December 2014 - The Beautiful South / Paul Weller
To look at blogs from January to November, click on the relevant month, then for the blog you wish to look at, click on the relevant link that will then appear. Each month of 2014 is also home to part of a 12 month long article called "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting", looking at the marketing techniques of the UK record industry. Jan 2014 is part 1, Feb 2014 is part 2, and so on and so forth.
"Well I've met God, and he had nothing to say to me"
Friday, 26 December 2014
The Beautiful South were always an odd proposition. On the one hand, they seemed to peddle a rather mainstream, almost AOR brand of pop, and in the 20 odd years they existed, didn’t sound particularly different at the end to what they had sounded like at the beginning. But on the other hand, there was always something far more daring going on underneath - the lyrics were often clever, or biting, or just plain vicious. Even the band name was a sneering grumble about those London-centric types. They didn’t always hit the spot - even members of the band themselves thought the anti page 3 girl diatribe “36D” was going for the wrong target - but overall, they left behind some decent records, including some genuinely classic 45’s. The group are sort of still going, albeit in two halves, but it’s the original stuff that we are looking at here.
The group were formed in 1989 out of the ashes of Hull based political indie types The Housemartins, and were signed to the same label, Go! Discs. They were formed as a five piece around the dual vocalist pairing of Paul Heaton and Dave Hemingway, but by requiring a female singer for several numbers, Briana Corrigan was employed as an additional member for the first album, before later “officially” joining the group. Their debut 45, “Song For Whoever”, set out their stall from the off - an almost polite and polished piece of music, but the lyrics were of the clever-clever variety (maybe too clever for some...”I love you from the bottom of my pencil case...oh Cathy, oh Alison, oh Phillipa, oh Sue, you made me so much money I wrote this song for you“). B-side “Straight In At 37” was a sly reference to the lesser performing chart heroes of the day.
Debut LP “Welcome To The Beautiful South” caused upset to some, as it was originally housed in a controversial sleeve depicting a photo of a woman with a gun in her mouth - later copies replaced this with a “Cuddly Teddy Bear and Fluffy Rabbit” sleeve. Once again, this showed that the music was actually masking a more sinister band. “Straight In At 37” was added to Cassette and CD copies as a bonus track, whilst all three singles from the album went top 40. It was followed by 1990’s “Choke”, the album which spawned the band’s only chart topper, a duet between Corrigan and Hemingway called “A Little Time”. The b-side of the extended play versions of the single, “What You See Is What You Get”, was included on selected pressings of the album, but not all - the copies that do include it seem to be German editions with a slightly different catalogue number to the UK ones.
Late 1991 saw the release of the first single from the band’s next LP, “0898 Beautiful South” (0898 was a premium telephone dialling code number in the UK at the time). “Old Red Eyes Is Back” was a storming comeback of a 45, melodically powerful, complete with lyrics about a character deep down in the gutter, a regular subject matter for the group. Future singles stuttered, even though the quality of said 45’s were not in question. Work began on the follow up album in early 1993, but Corrigan was beginning to fail to see eye to eye with some of Heaton’s lyrics, and after hearing rough copies of some of the new material, decided to quit the band. She was replaced by an unknown singer, Jacqui Abbott, whom Heaton had seen sing at a party some years before, and was very impressed. When Corrigan left, Heaton contacted Abbott and asked her to join - she was working in a supermarket at the time, and was amazed that Heaton remembered who she was.
1994’s “Miaow” was both the rebirth of a revitalised band, sales wise, but was also the start of a troubled period in Heaton’s life resulting in some bleak lyrics on this and follow up album, “Blue Is The Colour”. “Miaow” was originally housed in a sleeve mimicking the famous HMV “Nipper” image, but HMV cited copyright theft, and subsequent pressings used a completely different “dogs in a boat” image. The first two singles featured Abbott quite significantly, indeed, she was the sole vocalist on their cover of “Everybody’s Talkin”, released as the next single after the LP had been issued. First single from the LP, the horn driven blast of “Good As Gold”, became one of the band’s most recognizable singles.
By the end of the year, the band prepared to release their first “hits” set, “Carry On Up The Charts” - again, using a pop culture reference, this time to the Carry On films. A new song, “One Last Love Song”, was included on the set, which was also issued as a single. As well as being issued as a VHS collection, double disc pressings were made with a second disc of random B-sides, with some copies playing an alternate version of “Let Love Speak Up Itself” as well.
Rather confusingly, the following summer saw a “new” Beautiful South song hitting the airwaves, when the band’s cover of “Dream A Little Dream” was sent out on a promo. It was released commercially in numerous overseas countries, and had been included in a movie called “French Kiss”, but it would take until 1996 for the track to receive a proper UK release, when it surfaced as a B-side. Equally confusing was that the next UK single was a stunning stand alone release called “Pretenders To The Throne”, not found on the recent hits set.
The very title of 1996’s “Blue Is The Colour” should give you an indication as to where Heaton’s head was at. The record did, at times, veer off the tried and tested path - opening track (and future 45) “Don’t Marry Her” was completely filthy, whilst Heaton attempted to channel Tom Waits on “Liars Bar”, amazingly later released as a single. It represents a strange period in the band’s career - whenever I look at this record, it does conjure up an image, rightly or wrongly, of a band in the middle of a mid life crisis, a miserable looking album that I want to avoid, but the fact was, the band were actually huge at the time - lead single “Rotterdam”, a gentle waltz like shuffle, remains one of their biggest hits, the band had recently supported REM on their stadium tour, and they were now in the middle of the whole Britpop thing, and were gaining a sort of second wind. It just seemed that this LP was that much darker than what had come before, and so seemed less welcoming than the previous releases.
1998’s “Quench” seemed to put the “pop” back into the band, as heard in the vibrant bounce of lead single “Perfect 10”. Initial copies of the album came in a die cut slipcase, thus more or less obscuring the “normal” album cover. It transpires that the artwork was by a painter called Peter Howson, who sued for damages (and won) after claiming the imagery was used without his permission. I am not sure if the slipcase was done to try and “reduce” the amount of damaging being done? Follow up 45s “Dumb” and “How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry” both dented the top 20, and the band played Glastonbury in the summer of 1999, yet again blurring the lines between their links to the indie world and their “boring“ persona. In what seemed to be another attempt to show their Northern roots, a number of b-sides from the period were old BS hits played by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Brass Band.
2000’s “Painting It Red” was initially released in the UK as a double album, the running time of the 20 tracks just pushing it beyond the boundaries of a single CD. I listened to it recently, and can confirm it’s a bit of an underrated gem, the slightly sprawling nature of the thing allowing for a myriad mixture of styles, but all with the underlying melodic pull of the band in place throughout. Only two singles were issued, the second being a double A side of bouncy pop outing “Just Checkin’” and the astonishing tearful big ballad “The River”, which failed to dent the top 40 and which thus saw the promo campaign promptly stopped in it‘s tracks. Either that or the band had run out of B-sides for anymore singles, having shoehorned so much stuff onto the LP in the first place.
A second best of set, the modestly titled “Solid Bronze”, surfaced in 2001. It included radio edits, previously stand alone 45s and new songs in the form of a remixed “The Mediterranean” and “The Root Of All Evil”, the latter issued as a single to help promote the set. It would turn out to be a release that marked another major change in lineup, as Abbott had announced her departure due to family commitments just after the release of “Painting It Red“, making this album something of a signing off point. Shows in late 2000 were conducted without any female singer on stage at all. Her replacement was (eventually) “Lady” Alison Wheeler, so dubbed due to her Cambridge education being in direct contrast to the more working class background of the rest of the group.
Thereafter, the band seemed to fall off the radar slightly. Radio play moved from Radio 1 to the more MOR driven Radio 2, and the attendant singles were generally charting lower, but the pop nous of the group remained intact, with the likes of “Just A Few Things That I Ain‘t“ and “Let Go With The Flow” from 2003’s “Gaze” retaining the trademark sound. A covers album, “Golddiggas Headnodders And Pholk Songs” followed in 2004, although one of the so called covers was simply a Beautiful South original, with the band concocting a fictitious story (and webpage) about the so-called group who had allegedly recorded it originally.
2006’s “Superbi” would turn out - retrospective releases aside - to be the band’s final stand. The final single from the album was backed with a b-side called “Farewell”, suggesting that the band had their finale planned well in advance. They famously split due to “musical similarities” the following year, before a chunk of the final lineup reformed as “The New Beautiful South“, later shortened to “The South“. Heaton and Abbott have also recently recorded an album together.
The Beautiful South once got referred to as making “Mondeo Music”, Mondeo being a make of car. This is sort of reflected in their discography - the band, almost always, included bonus tracks on the CD editions of their singles, making the 7” and Cassette pressings worthless, as they were missing these songs. In their earlier days, the band did actually used to issue 12” singles that had identical track listings to the CD editions, but yes, it is possible to own the band’s entire back catalogue on the Yuppy-esque CD format.
I have listed below the “EP” styled singles that the band issued, as in many instances, these still remain the only way to get some of the flipsides. There were occasional releases on 7” and Cassette which were released as maxi singles, mirroring the track listing of their cousins, and these are also shown. Not shown are any singles which came in special packaging - the Cassette pressing of “Closer Than Most” used a different cover to the CD editions, whilst a number of early period 7” singles were pressed as special editions, with altered artwork - but with selected B-sides still missing. You can see the artwork differences by looking at the BS entry on the 45cat.com website. The only other 45s listed are those which were missing b-sides when first released, but whose interest factor is now greater after said b-side(s) turned up on the double disc “Carry On” release.
As for the albums, the CD pressings are probably the easiest to find, as you can buy pretty much all of them on Amazon in this form still, so I have listed the original compact disc pressings only for clarity. The pre-2001 ones are available on Cassette, and vinyl pressings exist of everything up to “Solid Bronze”, although finding them might be a bit harder. Video releases also exist but I would hope to cover these in a later feature rather than squeeze them in here.
Welcome To The Beautiful South (CD, Go! Discs AGODCD 16, “gun” p/s)
Choke (CD, Go! Discs 828 233-2)
0898 (CD, Go! Discs 828 310-2)
Miaow (CD, Go! Discs 828 507-2)
Carry On Up The Charts (2xCD, Go! Discs 828 569-2)
Blue Is The Colour (CD, Go! Discs 828 845-2)
Quench (CD, Go! Discs 538 179-2, later copies without slipcase have alternate catalogue number)
Painting It Red (2xCD, Go! Discs 548 266-2)
Solid Bronze (CD, Go! Discs 586 444-2)
Gaze (CD, Go! Discs 9865694)
Golddiggas Headnodders And Pholk Songs (CD, Sony 5186329, in hardback book style sleeve, later pressings in jewel case and with alternate catalogue number)
Gold (2xCD, Go! Discs 06024 9836292 1)
Superbi (CD, Sony 82876 831132)
The BBC Sessions (2xCD, Mercury 9845873)
At The BBC (3xCD+DVD, Mercury 5333213)
Song For Whoever (Edit)/Straight In At 37/You And Your Big Ideas (12”, Go! Discs GODX32)
Song For Whoever (Edit)/Straight In At 37/You And Your Big Ideas (CD, Go! Discs GODCD32)
You Keep It All In/You Just Can’t Smile It Away/I Love You (But You’re Boring)/It’s Instrumental (12”, Go! Discs GODX 35)
You Keep It All In/You Just Can’t Smile It Away/I Love You (But You’re Boring)/It’s Instrumental (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 35)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/(LP Mix)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (White Vinyl 10”, Go! Discs GODT 38)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (12”, Go! Discs GODX 38)
I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Edit)/(LP Mix)/But Til Then/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Orchestral Mix) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 38)
A Little Time/In Other Words I Hate You/What You See Is What You Get (12”, Go! Discs GODX 47)
A Little Time/In Other Words I Hate You/What You See Is What You Get (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 47)
My Book (Edit)/Big Beautiful South/Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better/Speak To Me (12”, Go! Discs GODX 48)
My Book (Edit)/Big Beautiful South/Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better/Speak To Me (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 48)
Let Love Speak Up Itself (Edit)/Danielle Steele (The Enemy Within)/Love Wars/Headbutting Husband (12”, Go! Discs GODX 53)
Let Love Speak Up Itself (Edit)/Danielle Steele (The Enemy Within)/Love Wars/Headbutting Husband (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 53)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC (7”, Go! Discs GOD 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC/Diamonds (12”, Go! Discs GODX 66)
Old Red Eyes Is Back/Fleet St BC/Diamonds (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 66)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out (7”, Go! Discs GOD 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out/I Started A Joke (12”, Go! Discs GODX 71)
We Are Each Other/His Time Ran Out/I Started A Joke (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 71)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (7”, Go! Discs GOD 78, with 4 postcards)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 78)
Bell Bottomed Tear/A Thousand Lies/They Used To Wear Black (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 78)
Bell Bottomed Tear/Woman In The Wall (Live)/You Should Be Dancing (Live) (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 78, different p/s)
36D (Edit)/Throw His Song Away/Trevor You’re Bizarre (7”, Go! Discs GOD 88, with 4 postcards)
36D (Edit)/Throw His Song Away/Trevor You’re Bizarre (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 88)
36D/From Under The Covers (Live)/You Keep It All In (Live)/36D (Live) (CD, Go! Discs GOLCD 88, b-sides later included on "At The BBC")
Good As Gold/Love Adjourned/Minicorrect (Demo Version) (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 110)
Good As Gold/Frank And Delores/One Man’s Rubbish (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 110, different colour p/s)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (7”, Go! Discs GOD 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/A Way With The Blues/Let Love Speak Up Itself (BBC Radio 1 Emma Freud Show March 1994) (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 113)
Everybody’s Talkin’/Nearer To God/A Piece Of Sky (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 113, pink p/s)
Prettiest Eyes (Remix)/The Best We Can/Size (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 119)
Prettiest Eyes (Remix)/Why Can’t I/Missing Her Now (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 119, different colour p/s)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (7”, Go! Discs GOD 122)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 122)
One Last Love Song/Right Man For The Job/Java (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 122)
One Last Love Song/Mr Obsession/You’re Only Jealous (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 122)
Pretenders To The Throne/Virgin/A Long Day In The Field (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 134)
Pretenders To The Throne/Virgin/A Long Day In The Field (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 134)
Rotterdam/A Minute’s Silence/Pollard (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 155)
Don’t Marry Her (Single Mix)/God Bless The Child/Without Her (CD1, Go! Discs GODCD 158)
Don’t Marry Her (Single Mix)/Dream A Little Dream/Les Yeux Ouverts (CD2, Go! Discs GOLCD 158, different p/s)
Blackbird On The Wire/Lean On Me (Live)/You Just Can’t Smile It Away (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD1, Go! Discs 582 125-2)
Blackbird On The Wire/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/The Sound Of North America (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD2, Go! Discs 582 197-2, unique p/s)
Liars Bar (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/Dumb (Original Version)/You’ve Done Nothing Wrong (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD1, Go! Discs 582 239-2)
Liars Bar (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”)/The Opening Of A New Book/Hold On To What? (Live from “Later With Jools Holland”) (CD2, Go! Discs 582 241-2, yellow p/s)
Perfect 10/If/I’ll Sail This Ship Alone (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD1, Go! Discs 566 481-2, cassette copies exist minus track 3 [566 480-4])
Perfect 10/Loving Arms/One Last Love Song (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD2, Go! Discs 566 483-2, different p/s)
Dumb/Suck Harder/Especially For You (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD1, Go! Discs 566 753-2, cassette copies exist minus track 3 [566 752-4])
Dumb/I Sold My Heart To The Junkman/Blackbird On The Wire (performed by the East Yorkshire Motor Services Band) (CD2, Go! Discs 566 755-2, different p/s)
How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry (Edit)/(Remix)/Perfect 10 (Acoustic) (CD1, Go! Discs 870 821-2)
How Long’s A Tear Take To Dry (Edit)/Big Coin (Acoustic)/Rotterdam (Acoustic) (CD2, Go! Discs 870 823-2, unique p/s)
The Table/Old Red Eyes Is Back (Acoustic)/Your Father And I (Live) (CD1, Go! Discs 562 165-2)
The Table/Don’t Marry Her (Acoustic)/Look What I Found In My Beer (Acoustic) (CD2, Go! Discs 562 166-2, different colour p/s)
Closer Than Most/Moths/The Table (Live, Cambridge Folk Festival 29.7.2000) (CD1, Go! Discs 562 967-2)
Closer Than Most/The State That I’m In/Blackbird On The Wire (Live, Cambridge Folk Festival 29.7.2000) (CD2, Go! Discs 562 968-2, unique p/s)
The River (Edit)/Just Checkin’ (Remix)/Valentines Day W**k (CD1, Go! Discs 572 755-2)
Just Checkin’ (Remix)/The River (Edit)/Little Chef (CD2, Go! Discs 572 756-2, green p/s)
The Root Of All Evil/Free For All/Perfect 10 (Video) (CD1, Go! Discs 588 870-2)
The Root Of All Evil/Chicken Wings (Original Version)/Rotterdam (Video) (CD2, Go! Discs 588 871-2, different p/s)
Just A Few Things That I Ain’t/Cheap/Care As You Go/Just A Few Things That I Ain’t (Video) (CD1, Go! Discs 981 303-8)
Just A Few Things That I Ain’t/The New Fence/A Long Time Coming (CD2, Go! Discs 981 303-9, different p/s)
Let Go With The Flow/Skool Daze (CD1, Go! Discs 981 5083)
Let Go With The Flow/Don’t Stop Movin’ (Live)/Song For Whoever (Live) (CD2, Go! Discs 981 5084, pink p/s)
Livin’ Thing/I’m Living Good (CD1, Sony 675371 1)
Livin’ Thing/Lovin’ You/Another Night With The Boys (CD2, Sony 675371 2, different colour p/s)
This Old Skin/Lipstick Traces (CD1, Sony 675684 1)
This Old Skin/Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now/Livin’ Thing (Video) (CD2, Sony 675684 2, different colour p/s)
This Will Be Our Year/For The Good Times (CD1, Sony 675746 1)
This Will Be Our Year/Never Mind/This Old Skin (Video) (CD2, Sony 675746 2, different colour p/s)
Manchester/If Teardrops Were Silver (CD, Sony 82876 831132)
The Rose Of My Cologne/Farewell (CD, Sony 82876 872892)
Sunday, 7 December 2014
When I started this website back in 2010, the record industry was in a state of flux. On the one hand, the album had been resurrected by the invention of the deluxe edition reissue, and although there was a continual threat that the CD was on it’s last legs, the end never came. As for the single, well, sales had reached pitiful levels, but some bands seemed to be unaware that this was the case.
The cost of vinyl singles had risen - mainly because their popularity was so niche, that very few were actually selling, and so labels had to raise the price to cover any losses they might have otherwise incurred had they still been knocking out 7 inches at 99p a pop. The CD single was still hanging on, the latest wave of pop princesses like The Saturdays still opting to issue physical releases on the format. That photo above, of Frankie, is just a blatant picture to allow you to join me in worshipping at her altar.
Anyway, I digress. The original inspiration for the site was drawn from this situation - I remember buying a Stephen Malkmus 7” for £4.99 and thinking that the price tag must have been some sort of admin error. The cost of singles was rising so much overall. I had, in my collection, numerous CD singles boxsets, where old 45’s were repressed on CD, housed in a reprint of their original sleeve, and then all shoved into one big box. For anybody just discovering a band, or simply wanting to play catch up, these boxsets were glorious things to own. Coldplay, The Stranglers, The Smiths, large swathes of bands and singers were issuing them at one point, and in some respects, made the concept of trying to hunt down the original pressings slightly pointless. In the Coldplay box, they included a reissue of their “Blue Room” EP, the original of which was valued at MORE than the boxset! So, as a sort of half hearted two fingered salute to the record industry, this website was set up to - at times - showcase these “shortcuts”, to highlight some of these boxsets and how you could kill two, three, or maybe four birds with one stone in buying them - as well as saving a bit of money at the same time.
OK, so not every article has explicitly gone down this route, but my articles on Deep Purple, Buzzcocks and Depeche Mode all showed how, with a well timed hunt on eBay or Amazon, you could grab yourself a big chunk of the band’s history at a cut down price. There are still some articles in the planning stage as I write this that will follow a similar path. My love of these boxsets was two fold - I loved music, and I loved owning music in a physical form, and whilst I am anti streaming, and anti downloading, this still didn’t mean I was prepared to give my blessing to the likes of EMI to charge any old amount for any old tat. The idea was to show, where possible, how you could avoid throwing money away to the eBay scalpers, or buying records still being sold as “new” on Amazon, albeit with the price tag hiked up since it’s original release date. Just look at the OTT prices being attached to former Record Store Day releases that you can still find online - in many instances, these are nothing more than reissues of something that probably cost LESS when it first came out!
I developed something of a love/hate relationship with record collecting soon after I started the blog. By the summer of 2010, the three HMV’s that were located in Birmingham were acknowledging the death of the 45 by becoming rather selective about what they would or would not stock. One of them just stocked the CD singles of acts it thought would have a decent chance of cracking the charts, the biggest one stocked nothing. The other stocked most of what was being released, when it could be bothered, but decided to hide them behind the headphones section. It once took me two weeks to find them. There was a curious situation going on - the price of the average vinyl single was obviously far too high, but such was their relative rarity status, that I couldn’t resist buying the ones I wanted when I found one. I hated the labels for hitching the prices up, but the collector in me couldn’t stop from going back for more. I was like Keith Richards circa 1977, but substituting Heroin for Vinyl.
One day, I found myself in HMV’s flagship London store on Oxford Street. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a huge singles section, row after row of vinyl - it was obvious that the ones in Birmingham had been VERY selective about what they had been stocking. I needed to buy something, but the choice was so huge...I ended up picking up slightly randomly some numbered Yeah Yeah Yeahs 45, on the basis it was likely to become quite rare if I didn’t. And then, when I was back in Birmingham the next week, it was back down to earth with a bump. A miniscule selection of 45’s and CD singles. It was almost as if there was a provincial divide between what the shops in the capital would stock, and what everyone else would.
When I did my Pixie Lott article in early 2011, it was inspired by the fact that Lott had filmed, by that point, about five or six music videos, but had only “released” about two physical singles. It was becoming increasingly obvious that the single was being phased out, or at least, run down - and this meant that my local HMV’s were in danger of possibly even stocking LESS than what they already were. I made another trip to the Oxford Street store - but something had changed. The singles section had been heavily depleted - it was hidden near the back of the store, with a reasonable chunk of imported/deleted CD singles on one side, but the new releases were limited to being displayed around a pillar in the middle of the floor. The 7” single section was heartbreaking - a random, non alphabetical, mini selection, unceremoniously dumped at the end of the vinyl LP section. There were about 40 or 50 singles, but not 40 or 50 individual titles - 40 or 50 in total! About 10 Imelda May ones for her latest release, some others I didn’t want, it was all a bit of a comedown to what I had seen about 6 months previous. It wasn’t a north south divide after all - the 45 really was now a “specialist” format.
Whilst I was on the one hand bemoaning the murdering of the single, it was also becoming increasingly hard to “love” record collecting at the same time. It became more of a job - and one that I wasn’t very good at either. I still remember my jaw dropping when one of the Birmingham HMV’s decided to stock Moz’s “Glamorous Glue” 45 in the spring of 2011 - of which there were two vinyl editions, both at £6.99 each. An extortionate amount of money to pay for an album track backed with a half hearted demo recording, but I was still a music fan, and still a (often lapsed) record collector, so I had to still buy at least one of the formats. Because I knew that this was the future. Vinyl had quite quickly become even more niche than it already was, and the labels had to hitch up the prices even more to cover the fact that so few copies were required to be pressed to meet the “demand”.
It’s been more or less like this ever since. The invention of the Super Deluxe boxset finally finished me off, in terms of being a “completist”. Being asked to rebuy, at inflated prices, records I already owned usually incurred the wrath of god within me. This, coupled with most new albums appearing as “limited edition, buy now or else!” releases with price tags more than the “not as limited” edition, made it doubly hard to keep up. And then, as the CD Single quietly slipped away, to the point where the one HMV left in Birmingham saw no need to even have a CD Singles section left in the shop, vinyl curiously took over as THE format of choice as regards the old 45. We had, in the space of 40 odd years, simply gone back to where we had started. Except the 7” single now cost the same as an old back catalogue album you could find elsewhere in the same store. The value for money aspect of the single was completely gone. Things of beauty yes, but without doubt, completely overpriced for what you actually got in terms of MUSIC. Even Frankie and her friends sort of semi-ditched the format, moving instead to releasing mail order only autographed CD singles that, once sold out, surfaced second hand on the likes of Amazon where they retailed for more than the cost of their latest LP. Go on, try and find a copy of "Disco Love" for less than a tenner now.
My approach to record collecting now is, at times, a bit random. There is still the desire to own every album, and every single, but the cost implications of getting absolutely EVERYTHING, such as all the mail order live albums and compilations, or getting the biggies on the “most special” format, can at times can be frightening. I have decided that the new Dylan release will be purchased on the cheap 2-CD edition rather than that overpriced boxset - it comes with a slightly different title, so at least I feel like I am getting something special for my money. Occasionally, I will stumble across things seemingly only available online, and so will decide not to buy them because they are “not proper releases”. Cheating, I know, but my house, my rules. Freebie 7” singles with new albums? At £20 a throw? Sorry, once you have one (such as, say, “Walk On By” by The Stranglers), you don’t really need anymore. Not at that price.
It’s still in the blood though, and it always will be. I have just gone through something of a Beatles phase again, which saw me buy “Revolver” in Mono on LP for £25, because five of the songs are different to their stereo brothers. Yes, I know, a lot of money to pay for something I TECHNICALLY ALREADY OWN, but these things happen. I still love music, and I am still fascinated by alternate mixes, foreign releases, and different sleeves - I just have to be a bit more “selective” about what I buy. I quite like the idea of picking “favourites”, rather than trying to have it all. I have just read an interview with Sophie Ellis Bextor, who collects dolls, but only those she “likes the look of”. So why not try it with music? In an attempt to live within my means, I feel I have no choice.
As I have mentioned before, I guess those with bigger disposable incomes and/or more narrow minded musical tastes have it easier. People often come round our house and say, “you have a lot of CD’s”, only for us to say “in your opinion, maybe - the trouble is, the collection is actually only half complete”. The industry has simply made it harder. In 1992, all you had to do a lot of the time was buy somebody’s latest album on CD, each of the accompanying singles on CD, and nine times out of ten, that often did the job. But now? There is a dividing line between the rich and poor - if you want to get each album with all it’s bells and whistles, it’s going to be £30 for a deluxe boxset, or £80 for a super deluxe. For the latest physical single release - well, apart from those CD singles you see on Amazon at a fiver a go, that may or may not actually just be Polish imports and not proper UK singles - you are looking at a release on vinyl only, which because of it’s “niche” situation, is nowadays likely to set you back a tenner. Ouch. For people who don’t really like music, the people who download left right and centre, and even then only selected tracks, “the hits”, well, they have it easy. Because everything is cheaper on iTunes, especially if you are not even downloading full albums. But for those of us who have kept the faith, our reward is to be asked to pay over the odds for basically the same material. This seems a bit unfair. It’s like asking a football season ticket holder to pay for entry again every time they go to a match. But if it is in the blood...well, sometimes, it’s difficult to resist. Or to at least go for the cheaper option, as long as it is still in physical form.
This may explain why some of the articles on here can be a bit ramshackle - why my U2 blogs list the original album releases as opposed to the expanded CD reissues that came later. I’d already bought the bloody things on vinyl fifteen years before, I couldn’t afford to go and get them all again! (Except “War”, because I couldn’t resist it. As I say, it's in the blood.)
And so that really is how I learned to hate record collecting. The constant stream of new product, old product, new “old” product - I only earn so much money, and I can’t give it all to Bono. The concept of record collecting, which was born out of a record industry that did things that caused certain things to become collectable, had the tables turned on it - labels began making records designed to BE collectable from day one, and it eventually got out of hand. I still collect records - always have done, and always will. If I hear somebody talking about “streaming from the internet”, I may give them a slap. But it’s not always a very enjoyable hobby, more of a chore at times. Yet I can’t really give it up. I’ve started, so I will attempt to finish. Yes, the ludicrousness of the Super Deluxe Edition has turned record collecting into, at times, a hobby for the rich boys, but somewhere, the music still remains. Unblemished by the industry’s disdain for the fanbases, and still as good as it ever was. You just need to find a way to enjoy hunting it down. Remember, downloading doesn’t count. And streaming certainly doesn’t. Keep it real. And even though it is hard, keep the faith.
Wednesday, 3 December 2014
Whilst on holiday in Edinburgh this year, we had our annual visit to Unknown Pleasures, the record shop at the OTHER end of the Royal Mile. I picked up a copy, 11 years after it’s release, of Paul Weller’s “Fly On The Wall”, which was issued to mark the end of his record contract with Island Records, who by this point had consumed the Go! Discs imprint, the label upon which most Weller solo singles had been released thus far. The rarities set actually appeared after his first album(s) for his next label, Independiente, and cheated a bit by including something taped for a magazine CD cover mount freebie from 2002, but it’s a nice overview of the man’s flipsides from that first decade, along with the obligatory “previously unreleased song” included in carrot-dangling mode.
The early period of Weller’s career seems almost the work of another man. By the end of the 90’s, he had gone from being the celebrated Modfather, to the man who had invented “Dadrock” and lots of bad Oasis tribute bands, and even the man himself seems to have a bit of a problem with some of the things he recorded at times - the sleeve notes for “Fly On The Wall” included quotes from Weller admitting that some of these B-sides were massive throwaways. And in recent times, his latter period albums have featured levels of sonic experimentation that make even his Soul Boy days in The Style Council seem positively mainstream. But there are some decent songs in this part of the back catalogue, and some of those b-sides are exactly what b-sides are supposed to be - slightly off kilter, and a bit odd at times. Buying this boxset reminded me it was time for a Weller early years article.
Weller’s solo career might never have happened had there not been a falling out between The Style Council and their record label. In 1989, the band released a stand alone 45 called “Promised Land”, which was heavily influenced by the US house music scene. It was due to be followed by an entire album recorded within the same genre, called “Modernism” - but Polydor refused to release it, seemingly on the basis that it was just too far removed from the sort of music Weller had become associated with. The band promptly split up there and then, and after a brief break, Weller made the decision to carry on with music.
Much has been made of Weller’s early years as a solo performer, with numerous reports of how his first gigs as a solo artist were in miniscule dives of venues, but within about a year, he was playing slightly larger club venues, the sort of places he would inhabit frequently until the late 1990s. He formed a new band called The Paul Weller Movement, and set up his own label, Freedom High. The band’s debut single was 1991’s “Into Tomorrow”, a return of sorts to the power pop growl of The Jam, and a sound that would inform much of what he would record in the years that followed. Weller was excited by the songs he had recorded, and gained a new found confidence, even though the single itself went mostly unnoticed.
The band didn’t last too long - they managed one other release, a concert VHS called “Live!”, before Weller was signed to Go! Discs, and assumed the role of solo artist. His first single under his own name, 1992’s “Uh Huh Oh Yeh” was a masterful effort, mixing the guitar sounds of “Into Tomorrow” with an almost dance like groove, which was then overlaid by some psychedelic beeps and noises courtesy of producer Brendan Lynch. Lynch’s influence would be heard on numerous Weller recordings over the next few years.
His self titled debut LP was released, at first, in Japan in the spring of 1992 - which can sometimes suggest a UK label is stalling over a release (Alesha Dixon‘s debut never came out here, but did surface on RCA in Japan, for a modern example). But it did eventually surface in the UK in September, with an altered track listing. Weller still seemed like a cult figure at this time - Britpop hadn’t quite yet really happened, and neither the album nor follow up 45 “Above The Clouds” did a great deal chart wise, but it’s love of 60’s R&B ran through the album, and it essentially set up Weller’s soon-to-be-popular ‘back to basics’ sound for pretty much the rest of the decade.
It was with 1993’s “Wild Wood” that Weller’s comeback was finally sealed. Not that dissimilar to it’s predecessor, but here was a record that just arrived at the right time - it was home to a pair of sterling 45’s, the raucous thump of “Sunflower” and the Nick Drake-esque acoustic strum of the title track, and it catapulted him back into the mainstream. Lynch’s involvement helped to give the album, at times, that sort of left-field feel, there were a number of mini instrumentals placed at specific points throughout the record, and although it may well have paved the way for the likes of Oasis to emerge soon after, few of the bands that followed in it’s wake really did anything other than borrow the “guitary” bits of the record.
“Wild Wood” was the first time for which Weller would issue singles that featured identical track listings on each format, with the title track issued as a 2-track release irrelevant of which edition you purchased, and “The Weaver” was later issued as a 4 track EP on multiple formats, Weller’s first such release. Indeed, every (regular) subsequent single he released on Go!/Island were always issued in the same manner, meaning that some of the vinyl and cassette pressings are just as worthwhile hunting down as the CD versions. With the man himself now on a critical and commercial roll, he issued a stand alone single, the sublime beauty that was “Hung Up”, soon after the album’s release. “Wild Wood”, the LP, was then reissued in 1994 with said 45 tagged on as a bonus track followed by a live album, the punningly titled “Live Wood”.
The next two studio albums were both previewed, many months in advance, by what might have seemed at the time to have been stand alone singles. 1995’s “Stanley Road” was preceded by a masterful late ‘94 single called “Out Of The Sinking”, all Who-esque strutting and a power chord romp of a chorus, that was so good, it was later reissued in revamped packaging in Feb 96 to coincide with Paul getting a couple of nods (and a win) at the Brit Awards. In the weeks leading up to “Stanley Road” (which took it’s name from the street in Woking that he grew up in), the album was previewed by a second 45, the Lynch-assisted “The Changingman”, which stole it’s famous riff directly off an old ELO single, “10538 Overture”, which probably went straight over the heads of the youngsters who were now digging Weller via the Britpop link.
“Stanley Road” remains, for many, Weller’s stand out solo album - possibly even more so than the later “left field” releases like “Wake Up The Nation”. It retains it’s love of mod, it’s obsession with R&B and wears it’s Beatles and Traffic influences on it’s (tailored) sleeve, but it’s never less than enjoyable - be it the slushy piano mush of “You Do Something To Me”, the soulful groove of “Broken Stones” or the snarling roar of “Porcelain Gods”. You could even view it as his own “Sgt Pepper” - the man himself loves it, and it even came in a Pepper-esque collage style sleeve designed by the very same Peter Blake, complete with images of Lennon, Georgie Best and the circular Mod target on the front. Unashamedly retro perhaps, but all in all, very cleverly done. Weller, by now being lauded by just about everyone, and given the ‘Modfather’ tag on a “Time Out” magazine cover, was putting those troublesome post-Style Council years behind him, and was becoming a huge star yet again. In the summer of 1996, he even put on his own festival - with himself as headliner - at Finsbury Park, dubbed “Lazy Sunday Afternoon”. A far cry from those little gigs at Subterania in 1991. So confident was he by now, that he had mostly abandoned performances of old Jam and Style Council songs from the setlists, and usually filled his shows with material drawn exclusively from his solo repertoire. A newspaper issued a three track freebie CD led off by "Into Tomorrow" the day before the gig, to coincide.
1997’s “Heavy Soul” was, again, previewed by a single a year earlier, another spiky piece of slightly agitated guitar rock in the form of “Peacock Suit”. As for the LP itself, released after he had shifted sideways from Go! Discs to Island, it seems to divide opinion. Some will tell you it’s a work of genius, the sound of a man moving onwards and upwards, away from what he had done before, but I am convinced the music rags at the time grumbled a bit about it, more or less dubbing it “Stanley Road-lite” and moaning that he still sounded exactly the same as he had done in 1992. Still, I love the cover (a big “Heavy Soul” logo, but no mention of the artist’s name - a bit surreal really), and the fact that the title track was so long, it had to be split into two halves (Prog Mod, anybody?), whilst there is no denying the melodic joy of “Mermaids” nor the anthemic catchiness of the short, sharp, but sweet “Friday Street”.
1998’s “Modern Classics”, which spawned a ‘follow up’ in 2014, was his first hits set. It doesn’t mess about - all 16 of Weller’s singles released thus far, albeit in “random” order, and thus does what all singles collections should do. Initial copies included a free 13 track live album taped at a gig that summer in London’s Victoria Park. The show had originally been recorded for radio, but the track listing on this freebie disc differed to the original FM broadcast.
As with “Heavy Soul”, depending on who you ask about “Heliocentric”, 2000’s last studio outing on Island, they will tell you it’s either the sound of a man going round in circles and ultimately getting stuck in a rut, or is the sound of a man outgrowing and outstripping his past and continuing to make forward thinking good music. The NME loved it. I particularly like the cover again, Weller looking like he’s stepped straight out of the 60s, with similar retro activity in action courtesy of the song titles being printed on the front. For those of you who have been, perhaps, cryogenically frozen for the last 25 years, you can play catch up with the five studio efforts courtesy of another recent release, “Paul Weller Vol.1 : Classic Albums Selection”, which includes repressings of these efforts in their original sleeves, with “Hung Up” still in situ on “Wild Wood”.
Weller’s deal with Island came to an end with this record, and he moved to Independiente, debuting on that label with a live album, which was a tad odd. “Fly On The Wall” was released in 2003 on Universal, and succeeded in making several of the now hard-to-find flipsides from the Go! And Island era available once more.
“Fly On The Wall” was designed as a boxset - each disc in it’s own sleeve, with booklet and photo. The cover versions that were included were siphoned off and placed exclusively on disc 3, which was given it’s own individual title of “Button Downs” (a Mod reference), housed in a cover showing a Pop-Art image of Weller and model Kate Moss.
It’s not complete, by the way - some B-sides appeared multiple times in alternate forms, and at no point does the box ever cover this repetition. Live tracks did, or did not, make the cut, depending on...well, I have no idea really. So whilst certain singles saw all their B-sides make it into the box, others, simply, didn’t. Therefore, you will see that for some releases listed below, only the “extended play” formats are shown, and this is because their 7” and Cassette cousins omitted flipsides that even today, are only available in the UK on the original 12” or CD pressings.
The 45’s list below, as ever, lists formats that are of interest if you have “Fly“, and also the recent-ish expanded deluxe editions of Weller’s first three LP’s, as these between them do include many of the flipsides that failed to make “FOTW“ (but, again, not quite all of them - still). A handful of singles were later reissued, and these are detailed alongside their original releases for ease of use. For the albums, I have listed the original pressings, for those of you who simply want a copy without added bells and whistles and for some reason don’t want to get the recent box set, alongside important limited/deluxe pressings, for those of you who simply have to have everything. The likes of “Paul Weller” were issued in digipack form, and then later, in “standard” casing, but I have just listed the “standard“ catalogue numbers.
Paul Weller (LP, Go! Discs 828 343 1)
Paul Weller (Cassette, Go! Discs 828 343 4)
Paul Weller (CD, Go! Discs 828 343 2)
Paul Weller (2xCD, Island 06007 5322339, 2009 “Deluxe“ reissue)
Wild Wood (LP, Go! Discs 828 435 1)
Wild Wood (Cassette, Go! Discs 828 435 4)
Wild Wood (CD, Go! Discs 828 435 2)
Wild Wood (LP, Go! Discs 828 513 1, 1994 reissue with “Hung Up“)
Wild Wood (Cassette, Go! Discs 828 513 4, 1994 reissue with “Hung Up“)
Wild Wood (CD, Go! Discs 828 513 2, 1994 reissue with “Hung Up“)
Wild Wood (2xCD, Go! Discs 530 1916, 2007 “Deluxe” reissue)
Live Wood (LP, Go! Discs 828 561 1)
Live Wood (Cassette, Go! Discs 828 561 4)
Live Wood (CD, Go! Discs 828 561 2)
Note: there were also corresponding VHS/Laserdisc releases issued simultaneously.
Stanley Road (LP, Go! Discs 828 619 1)
Stanley Road (6x7” Boxset, Go! Discs 850 070 7)
Stanley Road (Cassette, Go! Discs 828 619 4)
Stanley Road (CD, Go! Discs 828 619 2)
Stanley Road (CD in 12” box, Go! Discs 828 629 2)
Stanley Road (2xCD + DVD, Go! Discs 928 840 1, 2005 “Deluxe” reissue)
Heavy Soul (LP, Island ILPS 8058)
Heavy Soul (Cassette, Island ICT 8058)
Heavy Soul (CD, Island CID 8058)
Heavy Soul (Limited CD, Island CIDX 8058, foldout sleeve)
Modern Classics (2xLP, Island ILPSD 8080)
Modern Classics (4x7”, Island IBX 8080)
Modern Classics (Cassette, Island ICT 8080)
Modern Classics (CD, Island CID 8080)
Modern Classics (2xCD, Island CIDD 8080, with free “Live Classics” bonus CD)
Heliocentric (LP, Island ILPS 8093)
Heliocentric (Cassette, Island ICT 8093)
Heliocentric (CD, Island CID 8093)
Into Tomorrow/Here’s A New Thing (7”, Freedom High FHP 1)
Into Tomorrow/Here’s A New Thing (Cassette, Freedom High FHPMC 1)
Into Tomorrow/Here’s A New Thing/That Spiritual Feeling/Into Tomorrow (Original 8 Track Demo) (12”, Freedom High FHPT 1)
Into Tomorrow/Here’s A New Thing/That Spiritual Feeling/Into Tomorrow (Original 8 Track Demo) (CD, Freedom High FHPC 1)
Into Tomorrow/Wild Wood/Out Of The Sinking (The Guardian freebie CD, Go! Discs PWGCD 1)
Uh Huh Oh Yeh/Fly On The Wall (7”, Go! Discs GOD 86)
Uh Huh Oh Yeh/Fly On The Wall (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 86)
Uh Huh Oh Yeh/Arrival Time/Fly On The Wall/Always There To Fool You (12“, Go! Discs GODX 86)
Uh Huh Oh Yeh/Arrival Time/Fly On The Wall/Always There To Fool You (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 86)
Above The Clouds/Everything Has A Price To Pay (7”, Go! Discs GOD 91)
Above The Clouds/Everything Has A Price To Pay (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 91)
Above The Clouds/Everything Has A Price To Pay/All Year Round (Live)/Feeling Alright (12“, Go! Discs GODX 91)
Above The Clouds/Everything Has A Price To Pay/All Year Round (Live)/Feeling Alright (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 91)
Sunflower/Kosmos SXDub 2000/Bull Rush - Magic Bus/That Spiritual Feeling (New Mix) (12“, Go! Discs GODX 102)
Sunflower/Kosmos SXDub 2000/Bull Rush - Magic Bus/That Spiritual Feeling (New Mix) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 102)
The Loved (Big Issue Flexi Disc, no catalogue number)
Wild Wood/Ends Of The Earth (7“, Go! Discs GOD 104)
Wild Wood/Ends Of The Earth (10“, Go! Discs GODT 104)
Wild Wood/Ends Of The Earth (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 104)
Wild Wood/Ends Of The Earth (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 104)
Wild Wood (LP Version)/(Paul Weller VS Portishead - The Sheared Wood Remix) (7”, Island IS 734)
Wild Wood (LP Version)/Science (With The Psychonauts - Lynch Mob Remix)/Wild Wood (Paul Weller VS Portishead - The Sheared Wood Remix) (12”, Island 12 IS 734)
Wild Wood (LP Version)/(Paul Weller VS Portishead - The Sheared Wood Remix)/Science (With The Psychonauts - Lynch Mob Remix) (CD, Island CID 734)
Note: every B-side, including those from the reissue, are on “Fly On The Wall”.
The Weaver EP: The Weaver/This Is No Time/Another New Day/Ohio (7“, Go! Discs GOD 107)
The Weaver EP: The Weaver/This Is No Time/Another New Day/Ohio (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 107)
The Weaver EP: The Weaver/This Is No Time/Another New Day/Ohio (10“, Go! Discs GODT 107)
The Weaver EP: The Weaver/This Is No Time/Another New Day/Ohio (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 107)
Hung Up/Foot Of The Mountain (Live)/The Loved/Kosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats) (7“, Go! Discs GOD 111)
Hung Up/Foot Of The Mountain (Live)/The Loved/Kosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 111)
Hung Up/Foot Of The Mountain (Live)/The Loved/Kosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats) (12“, Go! Discs GODX 111)
Hung Up/Foot Of The Mountain (Live)/The Loved/Kosmos (Lynch Mob Bonus Beats) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 111)
Shadow Of The Sun (Live in Wolverhampton)/Sunflower (Lynch Mob Dub Edit)/Wild Wood (Paul Weller VS Portishead - The Sheared Wood Remix) (NME freebie AAA 7”, Go! Discs PNME 1)
Out Of The Sinking/Sexy Sadie/Sunflower (Lynch Mob Dub) (7“, Go! Discs GOD 121)
Out Of The Sinking/Sexy Sadie/Sunflower (Lynch Mob Dub) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 121)
Out Of The Sinking/Sexy Sadie/Sunflower (Lynch Mob Dub) (12“, Go! Discs GODX 121)
Out Of The Sinking/Sexy Sadie/Sunflower (Lynch Mob Dub) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 121)
Out Of The Sinking/I Shall Be Released/Broken Stones (KRO Radio 3 1.10.1995)/Porcelain Gods (KRO Radio 3 1.10.1995) (7”, Go! Discs GOD 143)
Out Of The Sinking/I Shall Be Released/Broken Stones (KRO Radio 3 1.10.1995)/Porcelain Gods (KRO Radio 3 1.10.1995) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 143)
The Changingman/I’d Rather Go Blind/It’s A New Day Baby/I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You (Live) (7“, Go! Discs GOD 127)
The Changingman/I’d Rather Go Blind/It’s A New Day Baby/I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You (Live) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 127)
The Changingman/I’d Rather Go Blind/It’s A New Day Baby/I Didn’t Mean To Hurt You (Live) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 127)
You Do Something To Me/My Whole World Is Falling Down/A Year Late/Woodcutter’s Son (Live) (7“, Go! Discs GOD 130)
You Do Something To Me/My Whole World Is Falling Down/A Year Late/Woodcutter’s Son (Live) (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 130)
You Do Something To Me/My Whole World Is Falling Down/A Year Late/Woodcutter’s Son (Live) (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 130)
Broken Stones/Steam (7“, Go! Discs GOD 132)
Broken Stones/Steam (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 132)
Broken Stones/Steam (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 132)
Peacock Suit/Eye Of The Storm (7“, Go! Discs GOD 149)
Peacock Suit/Eye Of The Storm (Cassette, Go! Discs GODMC 149)
Peacock Suit/Eye Of The Storm (CD, Go! Discs GODCD 149)
Brushed/Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City/Shoot The Dove/As You Lean Into The Light (Acoustic) (7“, Island IS 666)
Brushed/Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City/Shoot The Dove/As You Lean Into The Light (Acoustic) (Cassette, Island CIS 666)
Brushed/Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City/Shoot The Dove/As You Lean Into The Light (Acoustic) (CD, Island CID 666)
Friday Street/Sunflower (Live 1997)/Brushed (Live 1997)/Mermaids (Live 1997) (7“, Island IS 676)
Friday Street/Sunflower (Live 1997)/Brushed (Live 1997)/Mermaids (Live 1997) (Cassette, Island CIS 676)
Friday Street/Sunflower (Live 1997)/Brushed (Live 1997)/Mermaids (Live 1997) (CD, Island CID 676)
Mermaids/Everything Has A Price To Pay (‘97 Version)/So You Want To Be A Dancer (7“, Island IS 683)
Mermaids/So You Want To Be A Dancer/Everything Has A Price To Pay ('97 Version) (Cassette, Island CIS 683)
Mermaids/So You Want To Be A Dancer/Everything Has A Price To Pay (‘97 Version) (CD, Island CID 683)
Brand New Start/Right Underneath It/The Riverbank (7“, Island IS 711)
Brand New Start/Right Underneath It/The Riverbank (Cassette, Island CIS 711)
Brand New Start/Right Underneath It/The Riverbank (CD, Island CID 711)
He’s The Keeper/Helioscentric/Bang Bang (12“, Island 12 IS 760)
He’s The Keeper/Helioscentric/Bang Bang (CD, Island CID 760)
Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea/Back In The Fire (BBC Radio Theatre 27.5.2000)/There’s No Drinking After You’re Dead (Noonday Underground Remix) (12“, Island IS 764)
Sweet Pea, My Sweet Pea/Back In The Fire (BBC Radio Theatre 27.5.2000)/There’s No Drinking After You’re Dead (Noonday Underground Remix) (CD, Island CID 764)
Helios EP: Frightened (BBC Radio Theatre 27.5.2000)/There’s No Drinking After You’re Dead/Bang Bang/Helioscentric (Record Store Freebie CD, Island WELLERCD1)
Sunday, 23 November 2014
The November 2014 blogs feature a look at the classic debut LP by Badly Drawn Boy, and part 11 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at either of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.
"You quiver like a candle on fire, I'm putting you out"
Sunday, 9 November 2014
It was Summer 2000, and I was watching some sort of late night MTV “alternative” rock show. On came a video by somebody called Badly Drawn Boy, for a song called “Another Pearl”. It was strange. It started off with the camera snaking up a staircase as the song slowly faded in - the intro had a shuffling drum beat, and an almost sinister guitar and organ riff over the top, and as it ended, and the singer started to sing, the camera was poking into a room where a man with a tea cosy on his head was sat playing at a piano. The vocal seemed to be live, echoing around the empty room, and as the camera entered the room and headed in the direction of the singer, he gave it an almost dismissive stare as it came past his head. It was almost as if you were peeking into something secretive, and really, he didn‘t want you there. He just carried on playing as the camera then focused on the street outside. It was, quite simply, a surreal start to what sounded, to these ears, like a left field masterpiece.
As the video continued, a constant roll call of circus characters came into the room, and the song continued in it’s astonishingly catchy, but equally downright subversive manner. At one point, following the middle eight, the video changed from daytime to night-time, and at one point, the camera viewpoint was from a man outside on the street - the room was full of sparkling lights, and the music could be heard only as a muffled rumble. From an outsider's perspective, the viewpoint was that a major rave was taking place. But inside, it was just a man in a tea cosy, sat at a piano, surrounded by clowns, as this strange, un-rave-like piece of minor key genius rang out around the room. The overall effect was staggering. It felt like I was watching something from another planet, a genuinely odd video sound tracked by a piece of “indie rock” that almost defied convention. Even watching that video now, nearly 15 years on, it seems ground breaking, slightly psychedelic, and simply mind altering.
All of which sums up the career of Badly Drawn Boy, really. Briefly repositioned into the mainstream after sound tracking “About A Boy” several years later, he has never really fitted in at all. His music has always had an air of left field-ism about it, but often combined with a mainstream tint. Several later singles were so catchy, so “pop”, it remained a mystery as to how he never quite became a superstar, but perhaps that was because there was this undercurrent of “alternative music” always sitting beneath the surface. In some respects, he was the UK equivalent of his hero Bruce Springsteen - creator of often straight ahead, anthemic rock music, but from somebody who didn’t quite fit the mould, and whose back catalogue revealed gems that maybe the mainstream didn’t get. You had “Born In The USA”, but it had been preceded by “Nebraska”. And before “About A Boy”, Badly Drawn Boy had released “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast”.
BDB’s debut album, issued in the fall of 2000, is probably still his best. Later releases smoothed down the rougher edges, and although none of them ever lost the melodic brilliance that runs through his music, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” still sounds alarming even now. It darts from one genre to another, veers between beauty and awkwardness, often within a single song, and is almost impossible to pigeonhole. It is one of the finest debut albums ever released, but seems to only get talked about as such in the darkest recesses of the internet - like here - with the accepted common conception being that the first Arctic Monkeys album is the best, or The Stone Roses one, and nothing else gets a look in. But as good as those albums are, neither really come close to the sheer bloody mindedness that runs through the first BDB long player.
Born as Damon Gough, and relocating to Manchester in his youth, BDB met Andy Votel and helped to create the Twisted Nerve record label. The first BDB release on the label was the impossible to find 7” EP, titled “EP1”, in 1997. A second EP, the obviously titled “EP2” appeared the next year, which spawned a musical box release - yes, really - when an excerpt of lead tune “I Love You All” was issued by the label as a promo release on this archaic format. Just 400 of these boxes exist.
For the next BDB release, a deal was struck with XL Recordings, who would assist in the distribution of releases on the label, and this also coincided with the first release by Gough on CD, when “EP3” appeared on both 7” and CD later on in 98, albeit with different track listings on each. A single was taken from this EP, of a sort, when a live version of “Road Movie”, featuring Doves, was issued as a 7” backed with “My Friend Cubilas” from the CD version of the EP.
Next up was the “It Came From The Ground” release, dubbed by some as a mini album, but actually more of a standard single release, albeit with some lengthy track listings on certain formats. Two different 10” singles were released, with different track listings and in different sleeves, and like all of the early BDB releases, are not easy to track down.
It was at this point, mid 1999, that the pre-release promo for the album, in a round about way, started, with the release of the first single to later make it onto the LP, “Once Around The Block”. Complete with a catchy “wah wah” rhythm, and more shuffly drums, it was a glorious piece of left field pop, complete with semi comic video, in which Gough could be seen with a more regular piece of headgear - the tea cosy image came later. It gave him his biggest hit to date, just failing to dent the top 40, helped along somewhat by a bout of multi formatting by the label and minor MTV support. “Another Pearl” was then issued as the next single in June 2000, three weeks before the album was due for release. By now, the concept of issuing multiple formats, with a mix of B-sides and remixes, was par for the course and this helped this single chart higher than “Once Around The Block”, at number 41.
It is difficult to fully explain what “Bewilderbeast” sounds like. It’s the work of a singer songwriter, but seems to incorporate electronica, power pop, prog, baroque pop, piano pop and plenty more besides. It’s ambition is staggering, and although there is an argument that suggests Gough just threw everything in the mix and waited to see what worked, it’s impossible not to be charmed by the sheer originality that comes out of the speakers.
The opener, “The Shining”, which has become the most well known of the album tracks on the record, is a near perfect start. Opening with a beautiful, but utterly heartbreaking, string and brass section intro, it then shifts into a stunning Damon-plus-acoustic strum - but this is no dull “pared down” form of MTV Unplugged piece of acoustic work, but actually runs along at a fair old tempo, with some glorious key changes, with Damon’s vunerable vocals creating a piece of work that is tearful, mournful, but curiously uplifting at the same time. Why can’t everybody recording an ‘acoustic number’ create something as flawless and stunning as this?
Immediately, the sheer genius of this man kicks in on track 2, the brilliantly titled “Everybody’s Stalking”. Twangy guitars, crunching drum patterns, vocals that sound like they’ve been produced by a robot, it bears nothing in common at all with the opening track - a sure fire sign of a real talent, somebody who is happy to never record the same thing twice. And the key change into the chorus is another absolute killer. Two songs in, and already, the record sounds better than most things ever recorded.
The first of the album’s “mini” songs, “Bewilder”, follows next. 48 seconds of melodica, on any other album it might seem like a pointless throwaway. But here, it simply sets you up for the next piece of genre hopping, which is “Fall In A River” - as the echoing ending fades away, in comes another piece of weird sounding music. A drum machine that sounds like it has been taped on a faulty tape machine, with some clearer jingle jangle over the top, and Gough’s vocals again sounding slightly frazzled, as if they have been ripped straight from a 4 track demo and just glued on top. Then, just before it ends, a crash of water, and it sounds as though the final section has indeed been taped in an actual river. Total genius yet again.
“Camping Next To Water” is another stunner, a cross between Simon & Garfunkel and Kraftwerk, a beautiful acoustic strum with flashes of electric guitar, and a structured rhythmic strut, it builds and builds into something nearly Springsteen-esque in terms of it’s anthemic sound, whilst “Stone On The Water” is even better, a sort of flamenco style waltz, with some great guitar picking, glorious piano chords, and deft brushes on the drum kit. In the hands of somebody like James Morrison, this would be awful, but Gough’s talent elevates it to something of astonishing beauty.
Following the spaced out woozy vibe of “Another Pearl” is “Body Rap”. As the title suggests, it sounds like it has come straight from a Grandmaster Flash album. It struts, it grooves, and I simply cannot put into words how brilliant it is when it stops stone dead and the “wah wah” intro of “Once Around The Block” kicks in straight away. This is simply brilliant pop music of the highest order.
“This Song” is another tune subject to some odd “wobbly” vocal effects, with some lovely lyrics reminiscent of the George Harrison song of the same name and a really beautiful vibe - you want to just wrap your arms around it, and give it a big cuddle...”this song will heat you when you’re cold...blessed by this song and the gifts that it brings, beautiful song it has wings”. The words say it all.
“Bewilderbeast” is a “full band” reworking of the earlier “Bewilder”, and to my mind, just a bit prog, and thus always the sign of an album staking a claim for greatness. The choruses are great, a big booming roar of handclaps and guitar, this could have come straight off “The White Album”. “Magic In The Air” takes things down a peg, a pleasant thing of beauty, but the nearest the album comes to giving us a bit of throwaway piano pop. Still, being BDB, it‘s actually streets ahead of anyone else, and the harp solo near the end is really quite magical. It was originally the subject of a legal issue, where Gough was accused of “borrowing” a line or two from 1980s hit “Love Is Contagious”. Any copy of the album you buy now will not have those lyrics, but Gough continued to sing the offending lines in concert.
“Cause A Rockslide” takes us back to the world of wobbly and wonky indie rock, more strutting drums, psychotic guitar licks, and warped vocal effects. Imagine the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” being covered by Pink Floyd circa 1971, and you’re halfway there. Then, halfway through, it veers off into a completely freaked out sound collage, a sort of bastard mini son of “Revolution 9” before restarting as a piece played on a Monty Python style church organ, before changing tack again to end on a simple acoustic strum. All within 6 minutes. Suffice to say, it’s nothing short of brilliant.
“Pissing In The Wind” takes us into the world of country rock, segued into from “Rockslide”, and thus forming a sort of bridge between the chaotic madness of the preceding number, and the Neil Young style simplicity of this future hit single. From the ridiculous to the sublime, you could say. It’s really quite charming, potentially underwhelming when compared to the rest of the album, but it’s simply so beautiful, and when the Dylan-esque harmonica kicks in, it’s hard not to be moved by the sheer sadness that this song seems to conjure up, helped in part by Gough almost choking his way through the lyrics “just give me something...I’ll take nothing” as it builds and builds into something which, if you like that sort of thing, could be considered a “lighters aloft” moment.
After another semi electronic/semi acoustic mini song, “Blistered Heart”, we dive into the glory that is “Disillusion”. It is the most pop thing here, but is thus also, possibly the album highlight. After all the ramshackle lo-fi madness that has peppered the album so far, hearing Gough deliver a piece of mainstream music that is this flawlessly melodic, a piece of perfect, catchy, and quite faultless pop, is simply exhilarating. It bounces along with an infectious energy, and sounds like John Lennon, The Cars and Tom Petty jamming together. If it doesn’t make you smile when you hear it, you must officially be dead.
The ending section, another spooky piano run, which for some reason always makes me think I am sat in a haunted house when it plays, takes us into the chugging “Say It Again”. More left field oddness, it trundles along at a slow pace, a sort of waltz like piece of pop, building and building until the horn section is back again as it finally approaches the final straight, where they sound not unlike the funeral march in the opening scene of “Live And Let Die”. It feels like it is setting us up for a big finale.
And that‘s exactly what we get. “Epitaph” is astonishing. Incredibly lo-fi, sounding more like a 2-track demo let alone a 4-track, it’s a (near) duet between Gough and girlfriend Clare Hewitt. There are birds whistling outside, the acoustic guitar crackles into life, and Gough, sounding like he’s about to break down into tears, opens with the remarkable line “please don’t leave me wanting more, I hope you never die”. There is a whistling solo that could bring you to tears, it’s that stunning. When Hewitt joins in, you kind of get the impression she is not a professional singer - and that makes it all the more affecting. It really just sounds like a couple in love singing along to some battered old tape, with an aura of love in the air between them - what it lacks in vocal perfection or in sound quality, it makes up for in sheer beautiful exuberance.
“Disillusion” was issued as the next single after the album was released, complete with the now classic “Taxi” video, and “Bewilderbeast” was nominated, and deservedly won, the Mercury Music prize in the fall. In keeping with the earlier singles, multi formatting was used again on "Disillusion", and this helped to give BDB his first top 40 single. This was then followed by a reissue of “Once Around The Block”, using more or less the same artwork as the original release, but with new flipsides and remixes, whilst the promo for the album was concluded in 2001 with the release of “Pissing In The Wind” as a single, with a re-recorded (and retitled) version made for radio in the form of “Spitting In The Wind”. As something of a sign as to how big a star Gough was now becoming, Joan Collins appeared in the video.
Of course, BDB was never one to compromise, and he managed to confuse and delight his audience as his star started to grow. I was there at the now famous Royal Albert Hall gig in 2001, where his support act was the St Anne’s Bellringers playing his hits on, yes, bells, and the gig went way past the curfew as he seemingly played everything on the album, every B-side, and probably a lot more besides. It was slightly ramshackle, and there was the feeling that it could collapse at any minute, especially as he walked through the audience and handed out family photos to be passed around the crowd, but I guess that was part of the charm. By now, the tea cosy was in situ whenever he was in public, complete with a “Born to Run” badge attached, and Hollywood would soon come running after this un-Hollywood-like brit indie rocker. The year ended with the release of another hard-to-find stand alone Christmas single, “Donna And Bltizen” - thankfully, CD promo copies are easier to hunt down - which you almost think was done deliberately to baffle and bemuse his ever increasing fan base.
When Gough played in Birmingham at the Town Hall in 2010, it wasn’t sold out. He commented “not a bad turn out for a Monday night”, an acknowledgement that even after “About A Boy”, he did not quite turn into a superstar. And maybe that’s because the music he makes is a lot more complex, and left field, than some might think. Perhaps Gough is simply TOO GOOD to be a festival headlining, unit shifting act. He is not Example. He is certainly not Calvin Harris. And over a decade after it’s release, “The Hour Of Bewilderbeast” kind of proves it. It’s a magnificent record, one that is not afraid to wander off all over the place. It reminds me, in parts, of “The White Album” - it has a scattergun, wildcard approach to each song, and isn’t afraid to act in such a manner. Despite being less than an hour long, there are 18 songs here, which simply screams “epic”, and it certainly does feel, by the time “Epitaph” comes to a close, that you have listened to something quite special, as though you have been on a real musical journey. This is not an album to listen to whilst you are making a cup of tea, this a record to immerse yourself in, and marvel at it’s sheer staggering genius. It recalls the “reach for the sky” style approach of classic rock acts, I guess it is his own “The River” - with added prog flourishes.
Gough was never able to make anything quite as varied as this ever again, instead offering a slightly more mainstream, but still magnificently clever, sound on the likes of “Have You Fed The Fish” and “Born In The UK”. But this album is where it all started. I simply can’t recommend this record enough - it has a glorious “devil may care” attitude throughout, it’s almost as if Gough decided to try and do, in one LP, what Bowie did for nine years between 71 and 80. And he doesn’t come far off from succeeding. The melodic pull of the record, the inventiveness on each and every song, and the sheer genre hopping insanity that runs through those 18 songs, are something to cherish. One of the finest albums ever made, and possibly the best debut LP by anybody, ever.
Listed below are the original UK pressings of the album, along with a selected fancy import that I own, which if you can find it, is my choice of format. Also listed are the singles, on each format, from 1997-2001. Many of these include exclusive tracks, but look closely, and you will see one or two “pointless” releases (such as the CD1 edition of “Spitting In The Wind“), simply included here for completeness. Later BDB releases will be covered in a future blog.
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (LP, Twisted Nerve TNXLLP 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (Cassette, Twisted Nerve TNXLMC 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (CD, Twisted Nerve TNXLCD 133)
The Hour Of Bewilderbeast (French 2xCD, XL Recordings 7243 8504482 3, with free CD-Rom which plays the “Disillusion“ video and a TV documentary)
EP1: Riding With Gabriel Greenberg/Shake The Rollercoaster/No Point In Living/Sugarstealer/No Point In Living (Reprise) (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 001)
EP2: I Love You All/The Treeclimber/I Love You All (I Loop You All)/Thinking Of You (7”, Twisted Nerve TN 002)
EP3: Spooky Driver 2/I Need A Sign/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001T)
EP3: My Friend Cubilas/I Need A Sign/Interlude/Meet On The Horizon/Road Movie/Kerplunk By Candlelight (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 001CD)
Road Movie (Live)/My Friend Cubilas (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 001R)
It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix)/Whirlpool (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002R)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2 (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 002T)
It Came From The Ground/Walkman Demo 1/Outside Is A Light 1/Outside Is A Light 2/Walkman Demo 2/It Came From The Ground (Andy Votel Remix) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 002CD)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003S)
Once Around The Block (Andy Votel Mix)/Another Pearl (2nd 7”, XL Recordings TNXL 003R, different p/s)
Once Around The Block/Soul Attitude/Once Around The Block (Radio Luxembourg Live Broadcast) (CD, XL Recordings TNXL 003CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/Chaos Theory (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 004T)
Another Pearl/Distant Town/Chaos Theory (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD)
Another Pearl (LP Mix)/(The Broadcast Remix)/(The Fridge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 004CD2)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Wrecking The Stage/Disillusion (Mr Scruff Remix) (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 005T)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/Bottle Of Tears/Wrecking The Stage (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD)
Disillusion (Single Mix)/(Blue States Remix)/(Black Lodge Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 005CD2, unique p/s)
Once Around The Block/Tumbleweed/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix") (7”, XL Recordings TNXL 009S)
Once Around The Block/The Shining (The Avalanches “Good Word For The Weekend Remix")/(Capitol K Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD, blue p/s)
Once Around The Block (LP Version)/(Andy Votel Remix)/(Nick Faber Remix) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 009CD2, “keyboard” p/s)
Pissing In The Wind (Lemon Jelly Remix)/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix)/Spitting In The Wind (10”, XL Recordings TNXL 010)
Spitting In The Wind/Pissing In The Wind/The Shining (Minotaur Shock Remix) (CD1, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD)
Spitting In The Wind/Magic In The Air (Live)/Everybody’s Stalking (Live) (CD2, XL Recordings TNXL 010CD2, unique p/s)
Donna And Blitzen (Promo CD, Twisted Nerve TNXL 011 CDP)
Saturday, 8 November 2014
In the summer of 2010, my wife and I got into a debate about David Bowie’s cover of “Wild Is The Wind”. At some point, I dropped the bombshell that I did not own the album it appeared on, “Station To Station”, on CD. Somebody in the Shergold household had bought it in the seventies on vinyl, whilst I bought the 1991 expanded reissue on Cassette, after deleted US Rykodisc copies turned up in WH Smiths in Romford at a fiver a pop a few months after it‘s original (re)release.
We had a look online to see how much a CD copy would cost. The bonus-track-less 1999 edition was on there, also down to about a fiver, but we also saw a September 2010 release date for a new “Super Deluxe Edition” version of the album. The price tag? About £80. Ouch. A lot of money for something I had bought on Tape for £5.
This wasn’t the first time I had seen a ridiculous price tag being attached to a “normal” album (see Dylan’s “Tell Tale Signs” boxset, the vinyl repressing of Neil Young’s “Greendale”), but it was the first time I had seen a boxset version of a normal album I already owned, whereby the price seemed to be hitched up mostly due to the extra non musical bumpf that was due to appear inside. Aside from the album, and it’s free “bonus” live double record, there were other bits and pieces that were due to be included - reprints of old Bowie fan club memorabilia, vinyl pressings of the album and the live album, a DVD featuring extra mixes of the album, etc, etc. It really didn’t seem like it was offering anything approaching ’value for money’, although it did, in total, have about 9 “discs” in one form of another, but I had to admit, it looked fascinating. Christmas was coming, and so my wife offered to buy it for me as a present.
It is a thing of beauty. The strange “padded cell” imagery on the cover was replicated on the underside of the lid of the box, with squishy bits of foam sticking out from underneath, and the extra bumpf, whilst ultimately pointless, was quite fun to play with. We played, at random, one of the alternate mixes of the album that was on the DVD and nearly fell off the sofa when a monumentally altered version of “WITW” came out of the speakers. OK, there was no getting around the fact that this was, really, nothing more than a triple album being heavily over priced, but hey, this was Bowie - the greatest rock artist of all time, and it was a one off. Nobody else was going to do something as OTT and as mad as this - were they?
There was one glaring omission. CD3 in the set was called “Singles Versions”. When the LP had originally been released, different divisions of RCA around the world tried different promotional tricks. Of the six songs on the record, five were edited for single release (either as an A-side or a promo mix), and this CD handily included all five. But here’s where the missed opportunity is. The one song not edited in 1976 was “Wild Is The Wind”. But when Bowie issued the “ChangesTwoBowie” comp in 1981, the track was included on the LP and then released as a single, in edited form. This meant that by the time he left the label, shortened versions of EVERYTHING on “Station To Station” had been created. Wouldn’t it have been brilliant if the CD had included all six edits, you know, a 50 minute album condensed into about half an hour?
But no. The “rules” were that it all had to represent what Bowie was doing in 1976, so the edit of “WITW” was AWOL. You had got a lot of bumpf for your £80, but not quite the full monty. And that, unfortunately, set the precedence for virtually all future Super Deluxe Edition releases. “Station To Station” was not, in the end, a one off - but was actually the start of a strange, and usually baffling and expensive, new format that - along with the “official bootleg” live album releases everyone was doing by now - finally made record collecting, as a hobby, impossible to “do” properly.
The Super Deluxe Edition was, to be honest, a typical “Mojo” style format. It was usually pitched at old fogies, people who “in their youth”, had wanted to fight the powers that be, smash the system, and bought Bob Dylan records for political reasons - but all of whom were now sell out managing directors of unethical global companies and all of whom had money to burn. The idea was that you would have enough disposable income to buy, at a highly inflated price, a record you already owned - only with added bells and whistles. The concept was about as far removed from punk rock as it was humanly possible to get. The record label may just as well have come round your house, and asked for your credit card details at gunpoint, such was the sheer money making cheek of the format. OK, so usually, the choice of album getting the treatment was often worthy, but sometimes, the choice of album was a record whose reputation was that it was a classic, when really, it was weaker than lesser known gems from the artist’s back catalogue (“So” and “The Wall”, to name but two).
You were being reeled in by the “bonus material”. Not the coasters and scarves in the Pink Floyd ones, but the extra CD of unreleased material, the DVD of “previously unseen” gig footage. Whenever somebody announced a new SDE release, you knew there was going to be something never-before-available in there somewhere.
At first, I did wonder if I could get all of the ones I wanted by getting people to buy me them as presents, and several more were indeed acquired. I couldn’t resist the “Dark Side Of The Moon” one, with it’s 1972 gig footage, and it’s second CD of “the whole album played live on stage“. But I did scratch my head over the packaging, as the discs seemed to be designed to slot into a bit of cardboard at the back, but which seemed to become dislodged every time you picked it up. I also couldn’t resist “Live At Leeds”, which included not only a 7” repressing of the period “Summertime Blues” single (required for my Who 45 collection), but also the (in)famous Hull City Hall gig as bonuses on discs 3 and 4. But I remember playing those discs, and feeling completely underwhelmed - it sounded like a band on autopilot, and a crowd seemingly half asleep. But hey, this was all “previously unreleased” material so you needed to own it, right?
Here’s where I started to lose interest. The second Floyd SDE release was “Wish You Were Here”, out in 2011, which as you all know, is the band’s defining masterpiece. A 2-CD set, cleverly replicating the original “double sleeved” LP record, was to include a second disc of alternate material. The multi disc SDE boxset edition was obviously going to include this as well. There were also loads of other discs, including a DVD and Blu Ray, which boasted the inclusion of “1975 Concert Films”. What this meant was, the original films shown on stage above the band when they had toured the record in 1975. Not film of the actual BAND playing in 1975. So, what extra proper “new” audio and visual material of the Floyd did you get by paying eight times as much for this one as opposed to the double CD pressing? Er, none.
When it came out, online reviewers on the Amazon site tore it to shreds. Hardcore geeks were pleased that the Quad mix was in there, whilst anybody who had seen the band play in 75 would presumably have got a twinge of nostalgia watching the concert films, but £80 was a lot of money to pay for something that just seemed to be...inconsequential. The band got knocked for including those coasters and marbles, whilst the Blu Ray disc seemed to duplicate what was on the DVD, and so questions were asked as to why so many discs had been included “pointlessly”, and whether or not the price would have been less had the scarf been excluded. There were also issues about the actual pressing of one the discs itself, as quality was “dubious” I am told. Questions were being asked about how much VFM people were really getting from these sorts of releases.
The problem with the Super Deluxe Edition, aside from the cost grounds, was what should or should not be included. “Live At Leeds” was perfect, as there was simply nothing else from that period that could be included - but when Gabriel’s “So” box was released, he got slated for refusing to include any B-sides from the period, whilst including some new previously unavailable stuff on a 12”. People grumbled about these new songs “not being in digital form”. I am sorry people, but if you are a supposed record collector, not owning a turntable is the equivalent of being a fan of Formula 1, and then moaning when somebody buys you an old Formula 1 car because “it’s too fast to drive on the motorway”.
Anyway, I digress. Gabriel’s view was that the sort of people buying the boxset were going to be the hardcore, the people who already had - or had a desire to own - the original singles from the period, and thus, all the flipsides. Fair comment. But at £80 a throw, shouldn’t a boxset celebrating a SINGLE album therefore tell the complete history of that album? When the concert DVD included later got released independently as well, people wanted his head on a stake.
By now, 2012-ish, the Super Deluxe Edition boxset was fast becoming established as an accepted format. Even new albums started to get issued with price tags seemingly aimed to entice people on Premier League footballer wages, no longer did you have to be re-releasing an accepted classic to justify inflated price tags. I have already mentioned in passing on an earlier blog the “Special Edition” boxset releases, at the £35 mark, of things like the third Cheryl Cole album, or the Lana Del Rey debut, but new hits albums like the Stones’ “Grrr!” were turning up as multi disc releases, with extra slabs of vinyl, and big hardback books, at SDE prices. They seemed to be appearing at an alarming rate, at least when you factored in the cost implications of what you would need to spend if you wanted to buy them all. And there, in a nutshell, was how I learned to hate record collecting. The good old days, when all you needed to do to own everything by your favourite band, was buy each single and album until they split up, was long gone. Now, you were being asked to rebuy, in an expensive boxset, something you already owned, just to get a discs worth of “lo fi demos”. Soon, even the quality aspect of the records being subjected to “super deluxe” repressings started to get questionable - I kind of like it myself, but when Dylan announced a SDE revamp of the much maligned 1970 effort “Self Portrait”, some people wondered if it was a massive joke by a Columbia Records exec. Dylan’s latest SDE release is a “complete” release of “The Basement Tapes” - yep, £110 for a boxset full of songs that, back in 1968, even Dylan didn’t think were worth releasing.
As these releases continued to come out, it became increasing difficult to justify buying any of them, as they all seemed to have “flaws” - the famous “Quadrophenia” boxset, with it’s “not quite finished” surround sound mix of (part of) the (concept!) album on one disc. The SDE release of “Tommy”, a decade after the “Deluxe” release, with several tracks from that one now missing in action, replaced instead by some slightly superfluous “live in 1969” recordings and “Townshend only“ demos already available on bootleg since the year dot. The Elvis Costello “Songbook” release that, when he heard how much the label were asking for it, was dismissed by the man himself as “obviously being a typing error”.
I did get “The Wall”, and was both fascinated - and horrified - by the Roger Waters home demos that were included. There were lots here, which was nice, but all had been deliberately edited - meaning that for your £80, you were only getting to hear extracts of what was actually in the vaults. U2’s “Achtung Baby” (also available in a ridiculous “Uber Deluxe” edition at about £200, where I think, for that price, The Edge personally delivered it to your house) was good, 10 discs, but still “incomplete” - material from the fan club only “Melon” CD made it onto here, but not all of it. Designed, obviously, to placate those who had it already, but could it not have at least been included somehow?
These things just don’t stop coming. Suede have released a 20th anniversary edition boxset of “Dog Man Star”, only a couple of years after a supposed “definitive” 3 disc release of the very same record by Edsel. Some will tell you it’s not even their best album. And don’t get me started on the basic concept of a SDE release of Primal Scream‘s “Screamadelica”, released by a band who have always been left field politically, who you would have thought would have been the first to stand up to their record label over an overpriced reissue of an old LP, but whom now seemed to be happy for them to take £80 off the fans for a record that, back in 1991, was a statement for the working classes, a record recognising the plight of the underdog that was resolved through hedonistic partying. A record that acknowledged the misery of being a slave to the wage, that wanted to rise up against “The Man”. I guess a lot of those poor students who originally bought it for under a tenner on Tape are now deemed rich enough, post-Masters Degree, to be able to pay over the odds to relive their youth, especially as some of them probably became “The Man“ they were originally railing against, just like all those old punks who are now all bank managers. Still, the irony of it is difficult to come to terms with. Even more morally suspect is the SDE reissue of “Never Mind The Bollocks”. Even Lydon has disowned that one. And, seriously, does anybody really want a 20th anniversary edition of the Floyd’s “Division Bell”? It’s a decent enough record, but £100 for something that is arguably no better than “Obscured By Clouds”? And getting the nod in front of something like “Meddle”?
When rock and roll was the new kid on the block, it was part of youth culture. Now, I am not here going to start talking about how great it is that Radio 1 refuses to play anything by anybody who has released more than two albums, or the way in which the BBC’s “kids” channel, BBC Three, one time failed to acknowledge during one of their festival coverage shows, that Kraftwerk - who had invented everybody on the bill that day - had even played at the very same festival, because these are obviously stupid approaches to take towards music. Shame on you, BBC. Again, I digress. But, yes, when Elvis invented rock and roll, music was viewed as being part of youth culture. When Scott Walker’s fifth solo record tanked, it was partially because it was his third record in a year, and the consensus was, his fan base simply didn’t have the financial clout to keep up.
Now, we are at the other end of the spectrum. The consensus being that these people now have the disposable income needed to shell out whatever the labels want them to pay, without question. Records being pointlessly reissued to coincide with some sort of anniversary, and with price tags to make you baulk. New albums being available on standard CD for the plebs, or with extra tracks on a “ten disc multi experience boxset” even though the album itself is a bit crap, for the hardcore. Years ago, unreleased material was left unreleased for a reason, and when some of it was deemed OK to release, you’d either get a rarities album for 11 quid, or it would be shoehorned into a career spanning boxset, for about £40 a time, where it would nestle alongside 7” edits and long lost b-sides. Now? £80, shoved into a boxset reissue of a record you already own. Where, prey tell, has the concept of “value for money” actually gone?
Of course, I am as guilty as the next man. Yep, I own a couple of those Smashing Pumpkins “super deluxe” boxsets from a few years back, mainly because I wanted to get them on CD to stick on my iPod, and I figured if I was going to rebuy them, I may as well get them with all the bells and whistles intact. But it just feels like there is no end in sight. As if no label is prepared to reissue an old album in a simple style, like when EMI had their Fame imprint, but feels it HAS to be revamped into some form of mega expensive, and expansive, multi disc release, irrelevant of how good (or bad) it might be. Hell, even the guy who runs the Super Deluxe Edition website occasionally adds his own comments to some of the news items he posts, and can sometimes be less than complimentary about what he sees. When the editor of a website which celebrates SDE’s is actually complaining about the product he is mentioning, you know something somewhere has gone wrong.
It’s a format that is here to stay. Any album that hasn’t already appeared as an 8-disc £80 boxset is thus fair game, hence the pointless, and rather underwhelming, current Led Zepp reissue campaign which is being dragged out for months on end, decades after these things first turned up on CD, with a scant choice of bonus tracks being issued as part of the process. And with plenty of potential “classic rock” artists to choose from, this sort of nonsense is going to go on forever. Christ, there are even “deluxe” reissues of PWL-era Kylie albums being knocked out at wallet emptying prices, a sign that nothing within the music industry is considered out of bounds. What next? A 6-CD repressing of Black Lace’s “Going To A Party”?
Why is this happening? Well, it may be that the labels are scared that downloading has killed the physical format concept, maybe they are worried that too many people are downloading individual tracks, that perhaps there is a struggle to get new artists to “sell” units. So, the way around it? Stick out Elvis’ “That’s The Way It Is” again, this time as a 4-LP boxset and - hey presto! More money from the obsessives' bank accounts going direct to the RCA coffers. There is something about this relentlessly retro, “looking back” approach that slightly saddens me. New albums by heritage acts, no problem. But another reissue on CD, at £80 a pop, for a Who album that has already been reissued two or three times? Where will it all end? Given by the comments I see on SDE, where somebody will put “not a great album, not much in the way of bonus material...but I love [insert band name here] so I have just ordered it from Amazon straight away without hesitation”, then why would the labels NOT carry on? Money for old rope, extracted from compulsive collectors, who need to have everything, irrelevant of how awful the material might be, and how much it might cost them.
So, I just gave up. The “Grrr!” boxset filled up the last space we had on that particular shelf in our front room, so that technically prevented me from buying anymore. I go on that SDE website every day, and am amazed at how there seems to be a new boxset being released by somebody EVERY SINGLE DAY. The record companies knew that record collectors were fair game, and so decided to “create” collectible records to get them to shell out more of their hard earned cash. With several acts releasing download only EP’s, which in my view, “don’t count” in terms of record collecting, I was already in a position where I was no longer thus purchasing everything by my favourite bands. So what would it matter if I turned down a boxset of Dylan outtakes? I did not die when I bought the single disc version of “Tell Tale Signs” for £100 less than the 3 disc one, the world did not stop turning when I decided against rebuying “Greendale” again. Some might say I shouldn’t have bought it originally in the first place. And so, I became a bit of a lapsed record collector. Somebody who bought this, didn’t buy that, and realised that by not trying to complete my collection of coloured vinyl, and to just be happy with the ones I had, I would make a saving of about £2000. Record collecting had finally beat me, and I accepted defeat. I hated it for what it had done, but I accepted it. The pressure was now off. I could buy each album on “any format”, each single on “one format only, of my choice”, and others were optional. There was no way I was going to be able to buy every one of those Pearl Jam official bootleg releases - I had four or five, why bother with the other hundred or so they had put out? Know your limits, and know when it is time to call it a day. Although, that can sometimes be easier said than done. When you love music, you can feel a bit guilty about leaving things on the shelf. But the record companies made it hard not to do so. In the final instalment next month, we shall look at how the dying physical format single finally joined the Super Deluxe boxset in the world of overpriced insanity, a world where us working class kids kept wondering if rock and roll had abandoned us for the champagne and caviar crowd.