Wednesday, 7 June 2017
One of my treasured possessions is a signed photo of Clare Grogan. In the days before Twitter and selfies, the thing to do was to write to a celebrity requesting an autographed picture. In the late 90s, Grogan was a TV presenter on VH1, so I popped my request off to the MTV Studios in Camden, which VH1 shared with their older (but more youth oriented) sister, and she dutifully replied to my letter, sending me a signed photo with the message “I’ve got my eye on you”. Twenty years on, it still makes my heart flutter when I look at it.
Before VH1, Grogan had been the lead singer in Altered Images, a post-punk group who became Top Of The Pops regulars after they had made their music a bit more “pop”. They were a band whose time came and went as quickly as it takes most groups nowadays just to record an LP, but they left behind some glorious records. Recent months have seen their three Long Players reissued as fancy LP + 7” sets, and are in the process of being reissued again as double LP sets, seemingly for no other reason than to acknowledge the ongoing retro obsession with vinyl. However, since the early Noughties, Grogan has fronted a reformed Altered Images, albeit with a fluctuating lineup and the original band members no longer in situ. This does sort of make sense, given that their label, Epic, began to portray the band as if it were a Grogan solo project towards the end, with most of the band’s later releases featuring artwork which ignored the rest of the band. Anyway, this all provides me with an excuse to look at the band’s back catalogue.
Formed in 1980, the group’s early sound was a lot more spiky than their later, more streamlined, pop hits. A demo tape sent to Siouxsie And The Banshees landed them a support slot on their next tour, helped quite possibly due to Grogan’s distinctive voice which had a Siouxsie-esque wail, whilst the band’s choppy post-punk sound echoed the sound of recent Banshees releases. It’s no surprise that Steve Severin was involved in the production duties on their debut LP.
The band were picked up by major label Epic, who issued their debut single, “Dead Pop Stars”, in early 1981. A cassette version, at the time still a rarely used format but issued to acknowledge that tapes were starting to gain a following with Walkman owners, added a track which would be re-recorded for the band’s forthcoming LP, entitled “Leave Me Alone”. A follow up 45, “A Day’s Wait”, which like it’s predecessor failed to do much chart wise, was the first release from the LP. It was later reworked into a B-side, “How About That Then (I’ve Missed My Train)”, which appeared on the flipside of “See Those Eyes”.
The band’s artwork at the time used surrealist pop art, and a distinctive arty logo, and all these elements were in place as the band dented the upper reaches of the charts that summer with the catchy new wave bounce that was “Happy Birthday”. All of the band’s releases up to and including “See Those Eyes” (the lead off single from LP number 2) maintained this look, although the band’s debut LP, also titled “Happy Birthday”, opted to feature an image of the band on it’s cover rather than some abstract artwork for the first time, complete with a hand drawn “gift wrap” design over the image. “Happy Birthday” was the band’s first single to be released on 12”, with a 12” mix of the A-side replacing the album mix that adorned the 7”, and also featuring an extra non-album B-side in the form of a cover of T.Rex’s “Jeepster”.
The next single, the magnificent “I Could Be Happy”, where Grogan’s voice clearly showed the band’s Scottish heritage (“I’ll go to Skye on my holideeys”), featured an image in which the band appeared in front of another pop art style image. A variant version of this sleeve was later used when the single appeared alongside three other chart smashes on the “Greatest Original Hits EP” release in early 1983. This was the first release from the band’s second LP, “Pinky Blue”, with the track being edited down for inclusion on the 7”, whilst the LP played the longer version as found on the 12”. However, the album mix has become known as the “Dance Mix” for this very reason, so the easiest way of knowing what version of the track you are playing is to simply look at the playing time (the “edit” comes in at three and a half minutes). The b-side was a re-recorded version of a track from the debut LP, “Insects”, whilst the 12” added “Disco Pop Stars”, a reworked version of the band’s debut single.
The aforementioned “See Those Eyes” was up next, which included a remix of the A-side on the 12”. No effort was made to even acknowledge this version on the sleeve or the labels, so it often just gets referred to as the “Long Version”. The title track of the album came next, which abandoned the pop-art sleekness of the earlier releases, and came in a rather garish pink and blue (obviously) sleeve. To differentiate the 7” from the LP, which looked identical, the single sleeve came in a pink cover with blue lettering, the album, a blue cover with pink lettering. The 45 was backed by a track from the album called “Think That It Might”, and even though it was listed as being a dance remix, by all accounts, it seems to be the same as the album version. The 12”, housed in a unique sleeve in which the band photo from the 7” was totally omitted, included extended mixes of both sides of the single.
By the time we got to 1983’s “Bite”, the band - having already undergone one line up change after the release of their second single - rejigged the line up again, and were now a four piece, after Grogan’s future husband Steve Lironi came in to replace drummer Michael Anderson and second guitarist Jim McKinven. The album, which completed the band’s transition from post-punkers to glamorous, synthpop chart stars, featured Grogan alone on the cover in an “Audrey Hepburn” style image. Indeed, most of the singles from the album appeared in sleeves in which the remainder of the band were nowhere to be seen, although there was a photo of the rest of the group on the inner artwork of the “Bite” LP and the poster bag edition of the “Love To Stay” 45.
Whilst the LP does sometimes get dismissed for being too pop, “Bite” remains a major part of the Images cannon. It spawned no less than four singles, more than any previous AI album. The lead single, “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”, was the last of the band’s singles to appear in a ’surrealist’ sleeve, as the rest of the 45s lifted from the album used portrait images of Grogan on their covers. “Don’t Talk...” was edited down for release as a 7”, and the 12” - housed in a different sleeve - used an extended mix instead. Rather curiously, subsequent compilation albums which have included the so-called “12” Mix” all seem to actually include a shorter ’extended version’, with about a minute and a half stripped off the running time. There was also a 7” picture disc, using a still from the video as it’s front image, which again, concentrated mainly on the band’s glamorous singer. All formats featured a non album B-side in the form of “Last Goodbye”.
Follow up 45, “Bring Me Closer”, was also issued on 7”, 12” and picture disc formats. This time around, there were both 7” and 12” picture discs, with the 7” opting for a different photo of Grogan from that found on the cover of the black vinyl edition, whilst the 12” used the same image. The 12” versions played an extended mix of the A-side, whilst all four formats included another new non album flip in the form of “Surprise Me”. “Love To Stay”, issued next, included an “extended version” of the A-side on the 12” edition, although this was actually the LP mix - another instance of the “Dance Mix” of a track being placed onto a studio album in preference to the 7” mix. There were no picture discs this time around, but some copies of the 7”, as mentioned earlier, were housed in a poster bag sleeve. Album track “Another Lost Look” appeared as the B-side, although this was a version recorded “live”. It sounded very much like the standard album mix to these ears last time I heard it, but I really need to go back and have another listen, as the forthcoming expanded version of "Bite" is making a point of including it on it's bonus disc - so my hearing must be really bad.
The band bowed out with “Change Of Heart”, which included the same image of Grogan on it’s front as the one featured on the “Bring Me Closer” 7” picture disc. By now, the band had run out of B-sides, and the single simply used a variety of older tracks as flipsides on the 7” and 12” formats. The single appeared in a slightly different mix to the album version. As for “Bite” itself, Cassette versions of the album took advantage of the longer playing time the format offered, by including the 12” versions of “Don’t Talk...” and “Bring Me Closer”, their corresponding B-sides, and an exclusive track “I Don’t Want To Know”.
The band then simply went their separate ways. Grogan tried to launch herself as a solo artist later in the 80s, but after a sole solo single, and an unreleased album, ended up moving back towards acting and TV presenting. In 1984, Epic released the “Collected Images” best of set, which in it’s LP form, included the album/12” mix of “I Could Be Happy”, and the 12” mix of “Bring Me Closer”. The edited versions of “Don’t Talk...” and “Love To Stay” were included in preference over the (original) album versions. There was also a cassette release which, like “Bite”, opted to include extra tracks on side 2. The entire second half of the tape was devoted to the band’s dance mixes, and thus included all of the band’s seven 12 inch A-side revamps from “Happy Birthday“ to “Love To Stay“ (no appearance for the B-side 12“ mix of “Think That It Might“ though). And just to stress/clarify, the 12” mixes included on the studio sets as “album” versions are on here. I only own this LP on vinyl, so I have no idea if this means the same versions of “I Could Be Happy” and “Bring Me Closer” thus appear on each side. Feel free to confirm by adding a comment below, or emailing me.
Despite the fact that “Collected Images” did a fairly decent job of covering the band’s relatively short career, there have been numerous more best of sets since. Those issued in the CD age have taken the opportunity to include extra material to take advantage of the format, such as 1996’s “Reflected Images”, housed in a sleeve using the same photo of Clare as found on “Bite”. Bookended by the “Intro” and “Outro” versions of “Happy Birthday”, the set also includes several 12” mixes towards the end, namely “Happy Birthday”, “Love To Stay” and “Bring Me Closer”, alongside the ‘shortened’ 12” mix of “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”.
In 2004, specialist reissue label Edsel released the band’s three studio albums in expanded CD form. To acknowledge this, all of the albums were retitled to end with the suffix “Plus”, so “Bite” became “Bite...Plus”. Each of the reissues included the relevant rarities from the period, with one or two exceptions. “Happy Birthday” included all the rarities from the first three singles with the exception of the Cassette version of “Leave Me Alone“ - the sleeve notes incorrectly referred to the version on the album as having been released initially on the “Dead Pop Stars” single, hence it‘s accidental absence.
“Pinky Blue...Plus” also made a mistake, by including the LP version of “Insects” as one of the bonus tracks, instead of the re-recorded B-side version. All of the related edits were included, as were the 12” mixes of each of the LP’s three singles. The other B-sides from the period were included, along with “Happy New Year / Real Toys”, which had been a new recording originally tossed away on a free flexidisc given away with “Flexipop” magazine in late 1981 - this particular edition also featured the band on the cover.
“Bite...Plus” is probably the most intriguing of the reissues. The decision was taken to replace the album versions of three tracks, and include alternate mixes instead. So “Love To Stay” appeared in it’s 7” edit form, with the original Album mix/Dance mix added as one of the bonus tracks. “Don’t Talk” was the 7” edit, seeing the 5 minute long album version disappear into thin air - the unedited 12” mix was also missing from the bonus tracks, as the 'shortened 12” Mix' was included instead. “Change Of Heart” appeared in it’s 7” remix form. The remainder of the bonuses consisted of the period B-sides, “I Don’t Want To Know” from the original Cassette pressing, and the 12” mix of “Bring Me Closer”.
As for the flurry of activity in late 2016 and 2017. The Vinyl 180 label reissued the band’s three albums on vinyl, each coming with a free bonus 7” from the period, pressed on coloured vinyl and housed in a clear PVC sleeve. The reissue of “Happy Birthday” came with what was essentially a repress of the band’s first 45, with “Dead Pop Stars” on the a-side, and “Sentimental” on the flip. “Pinky Blue” went down a similar path, with an “I Could Be Happy”/”Insects” 7” on blue vinyl, which music-wise replicated the original 7” by playing the edited mix of side 1, and the re-recorded version of side 2. “Bite” attempted to rectify the issue over using single mixes over LP versions on the “...Plus” reissue, by featuring the original LP running order this time around. The freebie, a white vinyl 7”, didn’t replicate any earlier releases, but featured the edited mixes of “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” and “Love To Stay”, presumably to acknowledge that these versions had been in the main running order of “Bite...Plus”. Or maybe, as the only two songs from the album to be heavily edited for 7” release, it made sense to pick them over anything else.
Anybody who has read any of my other blogs on here will know I don’t care much for Record Store Day, but it does make sense here to mention the second reissue Vinyl 180 did of “Happy Birthday” this year. This was a double LP version, with the rarities that were unable to make it onto the LP + 7” version, being stacked up on the second slab of vinyl. This edition of the LP does include the original version of “Leave Me Alone” on side 4, whilst the two rarities from the “Happy New Year” flexi were included as well. “Dead Pop Stars” and “Sentimental” are absent from this edition. Discogs was offering copies for £25 the day after the event, but given that you could go round buying the original LP and singles for less, it again puts a question mark over what this event is trying to achieve, and whether or not it has turned into a cash grabbing exercise with superfluous releases, whilst not really benefiting the indie stores.
Of interest, is that a similar themed reissue of “Pinky Blue” has been issued recently - as a bog standard, non RSD release, meaning you have more chance of getting one without breaking the bank (still a bit pricey though). The second disc for this one includes the 12” mixes of “See Those Eyes”, “Pinky Blue” and “Think That It Might”, the B-sides “Disco Pop Stars” and “How About That Then”, plus a genuine rarity in the form of the US version of “See Those Eyes”, which I think has made it’s debut UK appearance by appearing on this release. There is also a double vinyl reissue of “Bite” planned for release next month, and may see the appearance of the full 12” mix of “Don’t Talk...” for the first time in decades. It's certainly listed in the tracklisting I have seen, it's just whether or not it has that extra 90 seconds to it...
Altered Images reformed in 2002, to appear on the 80’s tinged “Here And Now” tour. As the well known face of the band, Grogan probably knew she could get away with filling the rest of the lineup with, well, anybody - and thus it was that the new look, all-girl, Altered Images went down the same route as The Fall, by having the lead singer as the complete focal point. In recent years, perhaps due to legal issues, the band have continued to appear on the gigging circuit as “Clare Grogan’s Altered Images”. It’s a bit tacky, but then again, I never liked the “Marc Bolan And T.Rex” legend either.
Well, given that it is possible to get everything the band released in the UK via a variety of combinations, I just figured I might as well list pretty much everything. To keep it slightly under control, I have listed - for the LP’s - the original vinyl and tape editions, alongside each of the expanded versions that have appeared in the Noughties and 2010s. All of the (UK) singles are listed, along with all of the UK compilations.
Happy Birthday (LP, Epic EPC 84893)
Happy Birthday (Cassette, Epic EPC 40-84893)
Happy Birthday...Plus (CD, Edsel DIAB 8048)
Happy Birthday (LP + Red Vinyl 7”, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP109)
Happy Birthday (2 x LP, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP110, Record Store Day release)
Pinky Blue (LP, Epic EPC 85665)
Pinky Blue (Cassette, Epic EPC 40-85665)
Pinky Blue...Plus (CD, Edsel DIAB 8049)
Pinky Blue (LP + Blue Vinyl 7”, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP115)
Pinky Blue (2 x LP, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP116)
Bite (LP, Epic EPC 25413)
Bite (Cassette, Epic EPC 40-25413)
Bite...Plus (CD, Edsel DIAB 8050)
Bite (LP + White Vinyl 7”, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP117)
Bite (2 x LP, Vinyl 180 VIN180 LP118)
Dead Pop Stars/Sentimental (7”, Epic EPC A1023, yellow p/s)
Dead Pop Stars/Sentimental/Leave Me Alone (First Version) (Cassette, Epic EPC40-A1023)
A Day’s Wait/Who Cares? (7”, Epic EPC A1167)
Happy Birthday/So We Go Whispering (7”, Epic EPC A1522)
Happy Birthday (Dance Mix)/So We Go Whispering/Jeepster (12”, Epic EPC A13-1522, initial copies with free “Iron-On“ transfer)
I Could Be Happy (Edit)/Insects (New Version) (7”, Epic EPC A1834)
I Could Be Happy (Edit)/Insects (New Version) (7” Picture Disc, Epic EPC A11-1834)
I Could Be Happy/Insects (New Version)/Disco Pop Stars (12”, Epic EPA A13-1834)
Happy New Year/Real Toys (New Version)/Leave Me Alone (First Version) (7” Flexidisc, Flexipop 14, red, blue or orange discs produced, given free with “Flexipop” Issue 14, with band on cover)
See Those Eyes/How About That Then (7”, Epic EPC A2198)
See Those Eyes (Long Version)/(Album Version)/How About That Then (12”, Epic EPC A13-2198)
Pinky Blue/Think That It Might (Dance Mix) (7”, Epic EPC A2426, some pressed in pink, blue or “pinky blue“ vinyl, some in PVC sleeves instead of picture sleeves)
Pinky Blue (Dance Mix)/Jump Jump - Think That It Might (Segued Dance Mix) (12”, Epic EPC A13-2426, unique p/s)
Greatest Original Hits EP: Happy Birthday/I Could Be Happy (Edit)/Dead Pop Stars/A Day’s Wait (7”, Epic EPC A2617)
Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Edit)/Last Goodbye (7”, Epic EPC A3083)
Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Edit)/Last Goodbye (7” Picture Disc, Epic WA3083)
Don’t Talk To Me About Love (Unedited Extended Version)/Last Goodbye (12”, Epic A13-3083)
Bring Me Closer/Surprise Me (7”, Epic A3398)
Bring Me Closer/Surprise Me (7” Picture Disc, Epic WA 3398)
Bring Me Closer (Extended Version)/Surprise Me (12”, Epic TA 3398)
Bring Me Closer (Extended Version)/Surprise Me (12” Picture Disc, Epic WTA 3398)
Love To Stay (Edit)/Another Lost Look (Live Version) (7”, Epic A3582, some in poster sleeve)
Love To Stay/Another Lost Look (Live Version) (12”, Epic TA 3582)
Change Of Heart (7” Mix)/Another Lost Look (7”, Epic A3735)
Change Of Heart (7” Mix)/Another Lost Look/Happy Birthday/I Could Be Happy (Edit) (12”, Epic TA3735)
Happy Birthday/I Could Be Happy (Edit) (7”, Old Gold OG 9663, die cut sleeve)
Collected Images (LP, Epic EPC 25973)
Collected Images (Cassette, Epic EPC 40-25973, expanded edition)
The Best Of Altered Images (CD, Connoisseur Collection VSOP CD 177, 1992 release with “Leave Me Alone”)
Reflected Images (CD, Epic 484339 2, 1996 release with ’short’ 12” mix of “Don’t Talk To Me About Love” and all 7“ edits)
Destiny: The Hits (CD, Epic 510465 2, 2003 release that revamps “Reflected Images“, but with most 12“ mixes missing)
Happy Birthday: The Best Of Altered Images (2 x CD, Music Club Deluxe MCDLX 046, 2007 release, 36 track selection including B-sides “Sentimental”, “Disco Pop Stars” and “Surprise Me”, plus the entire “Pinky Blue“ LP)
The Collection (CD, Sony 88697 738522, CD, 2010 release, includes original LP mix of “Don’t Talk To Me About Love”)