Friday, 31 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 87 - The Dickies 'The Dawn of The Dickies'

There are two words in the English language guaranteed more than any other to trigger elation in the hearts of men (and some women) who are aged between about 40 and 50. And those two words are ‘coloured vinyl’.
And of course one of the finest purveyors of coloured vinyl to those middle-aged men (and women) were The Dickies. And one of the most notable collection of The Dickies 7” singles on coloured vinyl lives here, with me, in my house. And another very similar collection lives with my brother in his house.
When we were both considerably younger than we are now we placed my red vinyl copy of ‘Fan mail’ (one of the many fantastic tunes on our cassette experiment subject today ‘The Dawn of The Dickies’) onto the turntable at home. We got out pens and paper and we played that single over and over again at 33rpm, taking note of the lyrics that just couldn’t be understood when sung full pelt at 45rpm. It took us a while, but eventually we got them all, and, well over thirty years later when I have problems remembering PIN numbers and passwords, I can still remember every last word of 'Fan mail'. I’m pretty sure that my brother can too.
Best known now for their 100mph cover versions (of which there is only actually one, ‘Nights in white satin’, on this album), The Dickies are often seen now as a sort of ‘comedy Ramones’. This may be as a result of their cover of ‘Banana Splits (Tra La La song)’ (on yellow vinyl of course) and it’s really unfair, because The Dickies, while they do have a sense of humour, are much, much more than a comedy band.
Have a listen to ‘The Dawn of The Dickies’ and I’m sure that you’ll be convinced in around 30 minutes that The Dickies have been criminally misunderstood.
With tracks possessing titles such as ‘Where did his eye go?’, ‘Infidel Zombie’ and ‘I’m a Chollo’ you can be assured that this album won’t be particularly intellectually challenging. In many ways that’s the whole point – it’s just an album of pure punk/pop played loud and at breakneck speed. It’s not really meant to be analysed – just enjoyed.
Tracks of particular distinction are the aforementioned ‘Fan mail’, ‘Manny, Moe & Jack’ and the flip-side of the 7” single of ‘Fan mail’, ‘(I’m stuck in a pagoda with) Tricia Toyota’.
Absolute punk brilliance in fun-size little chunks.
Label – A&M Records
Year – 1979

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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 86 - Martin Stephenson and The Daintees 'Boat to Bolivia'

I wonder what kind of music Bruce Springsteen would have made if he’d been born in the USA into a rich family? What kind of records would Elton John have made if he’d grown up playing the guitar instead of the piano? How would Jonathan Richman have sounded if he’d been raised and steeped in the traditions of North East England?
I’ve got no idea about the first two, but for quite a while now I’ve considered Martin Stephenson and The Daintees to be the North East’s very own version of Jonathan and his Modern Lovers. Just like Boston’s own, Martin and the boys are able to flip effortlessly from funny to touching, na├»ve to knowing in the blink of an eye. And our subject today, their 1986 debut on the legendary Kitchenware Records, ‘Boat to Bolivia’ might just be their best.
I say ‘might’ because it constantly vies with their next two albums, ‘Gladsome, Humour and Blue’ and ‘Salutation Road’ for my musical affections.
‘Formed in Tyneside, Scotland’ according to (I think you’ll find Tyneside isn’t actually in Scotland, allmusic, and many of your other Martin Stephenson facts are also a long way wide of the facts too!), Martin Stephenson and The Daintees became local heroes in North East England during the 1980s busking and play gigs to small but delighted audiences.
‘Boat to Bolivia’, (which initially didn’t actually include the chirpy title track – although it was included on subsequent editions, including my cassette copy) deftly covers subjects as diverse as alcoholism (‘Little red bottle’ which is still a great crowd-pleaser when performed live), bereavement (the brilliant opening track, ‘Crocodile cryer’), the break-up of a lesbian love affair (the wonderful ‘Coleen’) and miscarriage (‘Caroline’, which is almost definitely the only song about miscarriage in my whole collection).*
In anyone else’s hands these subjects would almost certainly make for a downbeat album, but here they’re written and performed with such love and hopefulness that the whole world seems like a brighter place after listening.
There are other great tunes here too, but there’s a danger that I just end up listing all of the tracks. It would be remiss of me not to mention ‘Tribute to the late Reverend Gary Davis’, a lovely guitar instrumental, described by Martin as ‘Ragtime stylee’ in the comprehensive and enlightening insert notes.
This could be the best album you’ve never heard. If, however, you have been lucky enough to hear it then I’m sure you’ll be keen to catch Martin (sometimes with and sometimes without The Daintees) on one of his almost permanent tours.
Label – Kitchenware records
Year – 1986

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* This may not be entirely true as there’s bound to be something on a Tori Amos album

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 85 - B.E.F. 'Music of quality and distinction volume 2'

I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of the ‘Cutting-room casualty’. Actors turn up on set, give the role their best shot, go home to their lovely families and then discover, six months later, that they literally didn’t make the cut.
Kevin Costner thought he was going to get his big break in ‘The Big Chill’, Tobey Maguire must still wonder what happened to his appearances in ‘Life of Pi’ and the under-rated ‘Empire Records’, Robert Pattinson expected to find himself in ‘Vanity Fair’ (but didn’t) and Harvey Keitel, as it turns out, wasn’t in ‘Apocalypse now’.
I often wonder how this must make an actor feel.
Our cassette experiment subject today also has a ‘Cutting-room casualty’ that you’ve probably heard of – John Lydon.
B.E.F.’s ‘Music of quality and distinction volume 2’ is, in name and concept only, a follow up to their ground-breaking set of cover versions released as ‘Volume 1’ in 1982 and featured all that time ago on day 5 of ‘The great cassette experiment’.
A much more soulful album than ‘Volume 1’, ‘Volume 2’ matches top-drawer (and 'Top Draw') vocalists with classic tunes from yesteryear. It’s much more polished and generally ‘classier’ than the first volume, but nowhere near as musically or culturally significant.
In some cases the renditions are tremendous (for example Billy Preston’s ‘Try a little tenderness’ is obviously a ‘slam dunk’) but can be a little bit predictable.
Where the album works best, such as Green’s brilliant interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘I don’t know why I love you’ or the always brilliant Billy Mackenzie’s re-working of Deniece Williams’ ‘Free’, it’s an absolute delight.
Where it doesn’t work so well, such as Terence Trent D’Arby’s frantic rendition of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding’ or Richard Derbyshire’s slightly monotonous take on The Gap Band’s ‘Early in the morning’, it’s nowhere near as engaging.
Most of the tracks lie somewhere in between, with the majority landing slightly closer to the bulls-eye than threatening to inflict harm on bystanders. Ghida de Palma’s ‘Feel like making love’ (never one of my favourites in its original guise) has more than a hint of helium about it. Tina Turner’s understated ‘A change is gonna come’ is an extremely likeable version of Sam Cooke’s classic.
Sadly, neither of the two reggae tracks recorded with John Lydon made the final cut, as they ‘didn’t fit into the eventual album concept’. Shame.
The insert also lists the artists who were approached, but for one reason or another didn’t take part. This list includes David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Barry White, Kate Bush, Aaron Neville and Dr. John. Now that’s an album I would have loved to hear!
Incidentally, B.E.F. have just released ‘Music of quality and distinction volume 3.
Label – Ten records
Year – 1991

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 84 - Prefab Sprout 'From Langley Park to Memphis'

I think I’ve mentioned before that while I’m definitely addicted to accumulating music, I wouldn’t class myself as a ‘completist’. There are very few artists where I obsessively seek out everything that they have released.
I do own most of the recordings made by Prefab Sprout however, although I’m happy to tell you that I never ever felt the need to purchase any of the Jimmy Nail stuff that Paddy McAloon had a hand in.
The Prefab Sprout album with which I’m least familiar, understandably, is the only one that I only have on cassette, ‘From Langley Park to Memphis’. All of the others I have on CD or vinyl (or both).
Prefab Sprout have long been thought (possibly incorrectly) to have been named after a misheard lyric in the song ‘Jackson’. I chuckled today when I read a theory on Wikipedia that the group may be so called as a result of there being a large number of pre-fabricated houses in the North East of England (which will be my specialist subject if I’m ever on Mastermind). If the writer of this Wikipedia article visits the North East of England they may be surprised to find that we have other types of houses as well.
The cassette opens with probably Prefab Sprout’s best known song (in fact the only one you’d think they’d recorded if you listen to BBC Radio 2), ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ which may or may not include the lyric ‘fine friggin’ candy’. Track 2, the brilliant ‘Cars and Girls’ tries to see life from Bruce Springsteen’s point of view, and largely succeeds, although Paddy’s insistence on calling him Brucie tends to conjure up mental pictures of a doddery tap-dancing octogenarian light entertainer rather than an American rock idol in jeans and T-shirt.
My favourite tune here, nestled halfway through side 2 is the atypical ‘The golden calf’, where the band get nearer to rock music than at any other point in their career – having said that it’s still Prefab Sprout’s version of rock, rather than, say, Deep Purple’s. I also have a soft spot for ‘Nancy (let your hair down for me)’ – I’m a sucker for Paddy’s girls name songs.
Some interesting guest stars turn up too, including Pete Townshend and The Andrae Crouch Singers. And somebody called Stevie Wonder plays harmonica on ‘Nightingales’. In the 1980s you’d only truly arrived if Little Stevie agreed to blow on your album.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable album – oh, and just to mention I’ve been to Langley Park loads of times – they have a very good St Cuthbert’s Hospice charity shop. I’ve never been to Memphis though, although I Imagine the two places are fairly similar.
Label – Kitchenware records
Year – 1988

Monday, 27 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 83 - B.E.F. 'Music for Stowaways'

Between 1978 and 1982 British pop music was awash with groups of pale young men who so dearly wanted to be Kraftwerk. Armed with their basic synthesisers and drum machines they beavered away for hours trying to replicate the sound of the masters.
Some came fairly close to succeeding (failing mainly as a result of the one thing they couldn’t do anything about – they weren’t German), but as time wore on they all developed their own styles and all reached a spot somewhere on a scale between international mega-stars and absolute obscurity.
The ones who did succeed went on to make some of the most memorable music of the 1980s, and, in some cases, far beyond.
One of the groups who came close to emulating Kraftwerk’s superiority were The Human League. Phil Oakey, Martin Ware, Ian Craig Marsh and, later, Philip Adrian Wright, made some of the most ground-breaking electronic music of the late 1970s – at which point they unceremoniously split up. Phil and Philip got custody of the name, recruited some new members and the rest is history.
Martin and Ian recruited Glenn Gregory to become Heaven 17, who, as we know, also achieved quite considerable success.
But, before either of these two groups released their first 'post-split' albums, Ware and Marsh, under the guise of B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) released our experiment subject of the day, the cassette only ‘Music for Stowaways’. The Stowaway in question being an early name for the personal cassette player, or ‘Walkman’. Absolutely nothing to do with Shirley Temple.
There are eight tracks of largely instrumental, atmospheric electronic music, much closer in style to the early work of The Human League than to the impending Heaven 17 classic ‘Penthouse and Pavement’.
There’s an ‘uptown’ side and a ‘downtown’ side (much more special than simple 1 and 2) and the former opens with what is unfortunately the least engaging track on the album, ‘The optimum chant’. Once that one’s out of the way, however, things start to improve considerably. Best bits are almost certainly ‘Groove Thang’ an earlier, more instrumental version of ‘(We don’t need this) fascist groove thang’ that so brilliantly acts as the opener on ‘Penthouse and Pavement’. On the ‘downtown’ side the tracks to look out for are ‘The old at rest’ and the haunting ‘Decline of the West’
Apparently only 10,000 copies were made (there’s currently one for sale on Amazon for £200 if you fancy!). My copy is not for sale though.
Label – Virgin
Year – 1981
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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 82 - Todd Rundgren 'The ever popular tortured artist effect'

There are many titles in an artist’s back catalogue that they must dearly wish could be expunged from history.
I’m sure David Bowie would love ‘The laughing gnome’ to be wiped from the face of the earth. I’m not sure Randy Newman goes to bed every night considering ‘Simon Smith and the amazing dancing bear’ to be his own personal musical high point. I’m pretty certain Robbie Williams would love to forget ‘Rudebox’ (I’d quite like all of his other stuff to disappear too if that’s ok with you, but it would seriously deplete the stock of many charity shops if this were to come to pass). And of course, for some inexplicable reason, David Sylvian would be happy if we’d all forget he was ever in Japan (the group, not the country).
Our cassette subject today is one that the artist himself doesn’t consider one of his best. Appropriately titled ‘The ever popular tortured artist effect’, Todd Rundgren recorded this album to fulfil a contractual obligation (how often have we all done that!). Of course, Sod’s Law being what it is, it turned out to be one of his most popular and a pop album in the good old-fashioned mould (ie just over half an hour long and no more than ten tracks)..
It’s a bone-crunchingly good album but at the same time it feels undeniably ‘cobbled together’.
For some reason the two sides of my cassette have been transposed, so what feels like it should be side 1 is actually side 2 and vice versa (obviously!).For that reason I’ve always thought that the most commercial tracks here are the album’s openers when in actual fact they open side 2. You didn’t really need to know that though.
There’s a great version of Small Faces’ classic ‘Tin Soldier’ and one of Todd’s best known songs, the brainless (and I mean that as a compliment) ‘Bang on the drum all day’, a less than subtle hymn to forgetting about spending the day doing what you have to do and instead spending the day doing what you want to do.
There are some brilliant, if slightly ‘slight’ classic power-pop tunes here too and you can feel the influence here that manifested itself on some of XTC’s classic albums. All being considered though, my favourite track is the overblown ‘Emperor of the highway’ – pitched about halfway between Sparks (who Todd produced in an early guise) and Gilbert and Sullivan. That this is my favourite probably tells you more about me than I would care to reveal in learned company. Very strange, very wonderful, very silly, fairly short. The track, not me, although come to think of it!
And doesn’t Todd look just like ‘our Liam’ on the insert/cover?
Label – Lamborghini Records (although I’m not sure why because it should really be on Bearsville)
Year – 1982

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 81 - De La Soul 'De La Soul is dead'

I don’t like to be wrong, so I try to make sure that I hardly ever am. And when I am I try to make sure that hardly anyone notices (this life coaching thing’s not really all that complicated is it!).
I found out today however that I was wrong on day 56 when I said that the best hip-hop album ever released was De La Soul's first album 'Three feet high and rising'.
Repeated plays recently have shown me that, in fact, the greatest hip-hop album is actually our cassette experiment subject today, 'De La Soul is dead'. Everything that 'Three feet high' has, 'Is dead' has too. But it also has much more. So complex is this album that repeated plays reward the listener with a new experience every time.
From the dying daisies on the cassette insert to the lyrics on many of the tracks it's pretty clear that Maseo, Trugoy and Posdunos (or whatever they’re choosing to call themselves nowadays) were only too keen to leave behind the hippy 'daisy age' reputation perhaps unfairly earned by their first album.
Flowing effortlessly from funny to serious and back again, Kermit, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and Serge Gainsbourg are just a handful of the many icons who pop along for the ride.
Fantastic tracks abound and it's almost unfair to single any out - the most immediate are probably ‘Talkin’ bout hey love’ and ‘A roller skating jam named “Saturdays”’, but the major joys here are not in the immediates, but in the growers and the developers.
Special mention though must go to the phenomenal cycle that starts about 1/3 through side 2 and just gets better and greater as the album reaches its brilliant climax.
If I've achieved nothing else with this cassette experiment then my rediscovery of this classic is reward enough! Even the skits are fun, and how often can you say that?
Label – Big Life
Year – 1991

Friday, 24 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 80 - The Human League 'Romantic?'

Here’s an interesting parlour game for you nerdy music types – pick a classic album, choose which three tracks you’d like to drop from it, then choose three tracks from elsewhere in the artist's career that you’d replace them with.
You can play it on your own, or with friends – the latter is much more likely to descend into furious ‘disagreements’ though, so beware.
Go on, give it a shot! Which three tracks would you drop from ‘Abbey Road’? How about three from ‘Hunky Dory’? ‘Born to run’? ‘Sign ‘o’ the times’? ‘Grand Prix’? And which three would you replace them with?
Today I popped The Human League’s 1990 album ‘Romantic?’ into the player and absorbed the first two tracks and thought, uncharitably, ‘there’s not one single track on this album that could hold its head up on ‘Dare’’*. The first track, the clumsily funky ‘Kiss the future’ even chooses, in a low-point in a career capable of veering between the poignant and the clunky to rhyme both ‘uproot ya’ and ‘suit ya’ with the track’s title.
But then, slowly and surely, things improve. Side 1 track 3, ‘Heart like a wheel’ (one of only two produced by Martin Rushent) turns out to be pretty darned good. Side 1 track 4 ‘Men are dreamers’ may very well be one of the group’s best lesser known tunes.
Side 2 track 1, ‘Soundtrack to a generation’, with the infectious ‘Holy Cow, you do it to me now’ chorus is also good, but track 2, ‘Rebound’ is better still and sounds as though it would be much more at home on The League’s before and after cusp albums, ‘Travelogue’ and ‘Dare’.
So all in all a much better album than the first two tracks suggest, and there are three or four here that wouldn’t necessarily be out of place on ‘Dare’.
So, let’s kick off the discussion –
Three tracks to drop from ‘Dare’;
‘Darkness’, ‘Get Carter’, ‘Seconds’
Three tracks to replace them with;
‘Men are dreamers’, ‘Heart like a wheel’, ‘Rebound’
Label – Virgin
Year – 1990
* Is ‘Dare’ the best ever album recorded in Reading?

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 79 - Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe'

Like so many people, when Punk and New Wave came knocking on my door, I responded by selling off my LPs by artists like Genesis, Yes and Rush.
Off to the second-hand record shop I skipped, accompanied by ‘Foxtrot’, ‘Going for the one’ and ‘A farewell to kings’, swiftly returning home with my new friends, ‘London calling’, ‘Germ-free adolescents’ and ‘Coming up for air’.
And for a while everything was fine but then, inevitably, I started to miss my old friends.
I’ve been promising/threatening for a few weeks now that I would feature our cassette today, the self-titled ‘debut’ by four former members of the 1970s line-up of Yes, ‘Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe’ (hereafter referred to as ABWH for brevity).
This really is a Yes album in all but name, but as neither A, B, W or H had the legal rights to use that name at the time, they decided, after considering a number of alternatives, to stick with boys surnames in not quite alphabetical order.
I’ve always considered Yes (or in this case ABWH) albums to be the musical equivalent of mountaineering in the fog. You trudge for ages through impenetrable murk suddenly to encounter something of stunning and fragile beauty. Then after a short while the fog descends again.
On this album the moments of stunning and fragile beauty can be encountered on ‘Brother of mine’ (10 minutes and 18 seconds in three parts), ‘The meeting’, ‘Quartet’ (9 minutes 22 seconds in four parts) and ‘Order of the universe’ (9 minutes 02 seconds in four parts).
‘Birthright’ explores the British Government’s atom bomb testing in Maralinga, Australia and the effect that it had on the aboriginal occupants. I suspect that Jon Anderson had a very big hand in this (the song, not the testing). Beware, there does appear to be the involvement of a didgeridoo on this track, but it sounds synthesised – I suspect no real didgeridoos were harmed in the making of this album.
‘Teakbois’ (pronounced Teak-bwah if you were wondering, and you probably weren’t) is a carnival style song with the intriguing and perhaps prophetic subtitle ‘The life and times of Bobby Dread’. If you have any maracas, then this is the point at which you might wish to get them out and shake them a bit. The album finishes with a pleasant if unremarkable track co-written with Jon’s old friend and musical collaborator, Vangelis.
I saw Jon and Rick together in concert recently and very entertaining it was too. Other than music it largely involved Jon talking about ancient mystics, spirits and Native Americans while Rick pulled faces and rolled his eyes in the direction of the audience. He wasn’t wearing his cape, which was disappointing.
Label – Arista (with specially designed Roger Dean Arista logo)
Year – 1989

Monday, 20 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 78 - Visage 'Visage'

Do you ever take five minutes at work to ponder your career path? Is the job you’re doing now the one you thought you’d be doing when you had your little talk with your careers master or mistress all those years ago?

I’ve had a pretty strange career path myself – if I’d only passed my ‘A’-levels I’ve no doubt that my place at Stirling University would have led to a long and sparkling career in accountancy. Exam failure took me down a far more chequered and interesting route to the exciting job I do today. (Although not actually today, because even though you’re probably reading this on Monday, I’m actually writing it on Sunday).

I wonder how formerly pointy sideburned Scot Midge Ure (O.B.E.) saw his career path when growing up in Cambuslang? Did he foresee his time in criminally under-rated pop band Slik, who had a number one single with ‘Forever and ever’? Or his spell with former Sex Pistols in The Rich Kids? Or Ultravox? Or his brief interlude with Thin Lizzy? Or writing a multi-million selling charity single with the man who wrote ‘Mary of the fourth form’?

What a strange and interesting musical journey our Midge has been on!

Somewhere in between The Rich Kids and Ultravox and a little bit during Thin Lizzy, Midge and Rich Kids band mate Rusty Egan joined forces with members of Ultravox (Billy Currie) and Magazine (John McGeoch, Dave Formula and Barry Adamson) and a night club host (Steve Strange) to form Visage.

Visage’s first album, the imaginatively titled ‘Visage’ was part of the early soundtrack to what was known then, but is hardly ever referred to now, as the ‘New Romantic’ movement. This album was recorded before, but released slightly after, the first outing of Ultravox with Midge as lead singer, ‘Vienna’.

Tunes from both of these albums were firm favourites in what was pretty much Sunderland’s only ‘New Romantic’ type venue (don’t snigger, it really did exist), ‘Heroes’. A place where you could quite happily go at age 16 or 17 (but officially 18) and dance the night away to tracks from both of these albums as well as early favourites from the B-52s, Spizz Energi, Spandau Ballet and The Human League - wearing a baggy white shirt and very dodgy plus-fours that you’d made on your Mam’s best Singer sewing machine.

‘Mind of a toy’, my first encounter with Visage is one of my favourites here and is far superior to the better known ‘Fade to grey’ largely due to the employment of one of my favourite devices, a musical box. Early single ‘Tar’ also features – I was never sure whether this was meant to be a pro or anti smoking song and it’s still difficult to tell.

There are some lesser known wonders present too though – ‘Moon over Moscow’, ‘Blocks on blocks’ and ‘Malpaso man’ all still sound fantastic. The final track, slightly detached from all the others is a slightly out of place slower piece similar to David Bowie’s ‘Crystal Japan’.

This cassette (and a 12” single of ‘Mind of a toy’) have remained with me throughout my unusual career path. Thankfully the plus-fours haven’t.
Label – Polydor
Year – 1980

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 77 - Kevin Rowland 'The Wanderer'

At the risk of starting with a football tale for the second day running, the best manager that England never had was the incomparable Brian Clough. Brian was one of only a small handful of people whose self-assured arrogance was entirely justified. He wasn't sure if he was the best manager in the country, but he was absolutely certain he was in the top one.

Constantly prone to offering advice to anyone who would care to listen, Brian often ended his words of wisdom with what was to become one of his many catchphrases - 'Young man' Unusual training methods abounded in Brian's training sessions, as did unusual punishments for any of his players who didn't come up to scratch. I have a strange recollection of Peter Withe, naked from the waist down, being forced to run to and fro in a field full of nettles. Or maybe that was just a dream I had.

I was reminded of Brian (that's Mr Clough to you!) when I broke out today's cassette 'The wanderer' for two reasons.

1.    It's by another unconventional genius with Brian Clough levels of self-belief, 'Kevin Rowland' ('of Dexys Midnight Runners' as the insert asserts, somewhat unnecessarily)

2.    The opening track is called 'Young man' and I can't resist singing along to it in my best Brian Clough voice.

This album is perhaps best-known for being Kevin's least-known album. It’s the one after the Dexys Midnight Runners albums and the one before the one where he wears a dress on the cover. It's perhaps Kevin's most obviously commercial and mainstream album, and ironically his least successful and the one held in least regard by those who consider themselves to be in the know.

I find this unfortunate as it's a great album if you're prepared to take the time to get to know it. (Over) produced by Deodato, there are some fantastic tracks here including the under-appreciated single, ‘Walk away’ and, with a nod towards Kevin's next album 'My beauty' (his masterpiece as far as I’m concerned), Kevin turns in a version of ‘Heartaches by the number’ which, depending on your point of view is wonderfully effortless or soullessly karaoke. I lean toward the former rather than the latter.

Side 2 is, if anything, a touch better than side 1. Whoever thought of using doo-wop arrangements (particularly on my favourite here, ‘Age can’t wither you’) was a genius. Whoever thought of using synthesised pan-pipes on a couple of the tracks was very clearly not.

Label – Mercury
Year – 1988
Brian Clough’s wife as Brian gets into bed – “God, your feet are cold”
Brian to Brian’s wife – “When we’re in bed you can call me Brian”

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 76 - Prince '1999'

You know when your football team destroys the opposition in the first half then re-emerges for the second half only to sit on their 3-0 lead, conserve their energy and coast to a comfortable 3-0 victory? I don't - I support Sunderland, I can't even remember the last time we were 3-0 up.

I can very much relate to being on the other end of it though.

Ultimately we’re talking about an impressive win, but don't you just sometimes wish the same stops could be pulled out in the second half as were used in the first. Matches like that are often the most memorable of all.

Our cassette today, Prince's breakthrough '1999' has one of the most impressive side 1s you could ever wish for. Title track '1999' seems unbeatable, until it blends seamlessly into the classic track that was the one that probably broke Prince to a worldwide audience, 'Little Red Corvette'. Frantic electronic masterpiece ‘Delirious’ is then followed wonderfully by ‘Let’s pretend we’re married’. Originally released as a double album, this was inexplicably truncated for single album release, with 'D.M.S.R.', the eight minute penultimate track on side 1 (and a fantastic lesson in ‘groove’ for bands like Daft Punk) being one of the tracks chosen for the chop. Side 1 finishes peacefully and inspirationally with ‘Free’, one of the diminutive genius’ many understated classics.

Side 2 has its moments too, but there's nothing here to match anything on side 1 (unlike the vinyl version, the cassette version features the fantastic 'Free' at the end of side 1 rather than being part way through side 2). It feels very much like Prince is sitting on the comfortable lead that he built up on side 1, although he does manage a very strong finish, in ‘Fergie time’ with ‘International lover’, in which he seems to manage to be both coy and exceedingly brash at the same time.

‘Lady cab driver’ put me off taking a taxi for a very long time. Like a few of the other tunes here you shouldn’t really play it to your Granny (if you have one (or two)).

And, lest we forget, this was released 17 years before the actual 1999.

Label – Warner Bros. Records
Year – 1982
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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 75 - ABBA 'The Visitors'

It’s that time of year again. Not Spring (obviously!). The Eurovision Song Contest.
A time when all of the countries in Europe that can still afford to put forward their most accomplished singers who sing the best songs they can lay their hands on in the hope of becoming champions. Obviously the old Royaume-Uni has therefore chosen Bonnie Tyler as their representative and it is on Bonnie that all of our collective hopes are pinned. The winners subsequently push themselves closer to bankruptcy by becoming the host for the finals in 2014.
Loved and hated in equal number, Eurovision seeks to unite Europe by preying on our collective love of bagpipes, violins, bodhrans and euphoric euro-disco beats.
In the 1970s the Eurovision Song Contest wasn’t the highly polished behemoth that it has become today. There was a real orchestra for a start. And real conductors. And most of the contestants wore costumes that seemed to have been run-up on their mother’s sewing machines back in Stockholm, or Barcelona, or Rome, or Dublin, or Copenhagen.
The biggest ever Eurovision winners (in 1974 in Harrogate) were, of course ABBA. With their shiny outfits and their platform boots and their conductor dressed as Napoleon they simultaneously took a picturesque Yorkshire spa town and the rest of Europe by storm.
Only seven short years later after huge international success, ABBA released ‘The Visitors’ and it is to this, their final album that we turn today.
The album opens with the unusual title track ‘The Visitors’. I like to think of this track as ABBA’s re-reading of The Beatles’ ‘Within you, without you’. I’m not kidding – have a listen if you don’t believe me!
Elsewhere the album is shot through with more sadness than any of their others, and I guess that’s to be expected given their unusual personal circumstances at the time. The best known tunes here are ‘One of us’ and ‘Head over heels’ at which point their success in singles charts was starting to wane just a little.
For my money the whole package is defined by two tunes that nestle together for warmth on side 2. In ‘Two for the price of one’ a man is attracted by an advert placed by ‘Alice Whiting’ (presumably so named to rhyme with ‘exciting’) who offers, as the title suggests, ‘two for the price of one’. How we laugh when we discover that the third person in this suggestive trio is, in fact, Alice’s mother. It’s rubbish, but it’s fun rubbish. But then from the opposite extreme comes ‘Slipping through my fingers’, a song about children growing up and growing away that will reduce all but the most flint-hearted to floods of uncontrollable tears.
Label – Polydor
Year – 1981
Incidentally, Sweden next won in 1984, with the glorious ‘Diggi-Loo, Diggi-Ley’, by Herrey’s, and I’ve dug very deep within my own Eurovision collection to bring you a picture of their winning single. Hope you’re grateful.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 74 - Kid Creole & The Coconuts 'Tropical Gangsters'

I’ve explained the concept of the dreadzone at length before – but just in case you weren’t paying close attention it’s a pile of cassettes that, for one reason or another, I’m not looking for to re-acquainting myself with.
In some instances this reluctance turns out to be justified (Paul King’s ‘Joy’ – an ill-thought out name for an album if there ever was one) and in others not to be (‘Mask’ by Bauhaus surprised me greatly).
For a few weeks now I’ve been close to listening ‘Tropical gangsters’ by Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Every day I approach the pile and this one literally shouts ‘pick me, pick me!’ I love it when people misuse the word ‘literally’ don’t you?
‘Tropical gangsters’ is a tailor-made candidate for the dreadzone for a number of reasons;
1.    It’s a concept album
2.    The insert includes hair, make-up and wardrobe credits
3.    Everything about it screams ‘we have a quirky sense of humour’
So, on a journey to South Bank, Cleveland (UK not USA!) I removed the shocking-pink cassette from its box, loaded it into the JVC, gritted my teeth and pressed the play button.
The first thing that struck me was how much better, how much less ‘gimmicky’ the opening track ‘Annie (I’m not your Daddy)’ is in extended album form than in its slightly grating single guise. The strident hymn to self-esteem ‘I’m a wonderful thing, baby’ turned out to be hugely enjoyable too.
By the time I’d made it to the halfway mark and ‘Loving you made a fool out of me’ arrived, I turned up the volume, dropped the windows and reminded all of the other drivers on the A19 of what I had so unfairly forgotten – this is a great big album of summery fun.
Track 3, ‘Imitation’ is the only one that seems to forget to bring its brightly coloured suit to the party.
So, to Kid and his Coconuts, I’d like to offer my unreserved apology. I had fun. Again.
Label – Ze Records
Year – 1982

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 73 - The Smiths 'The Smiths'

In 1984, while studying for my 'A' levels I got my first job.(if you don't want to know the score look away now - I failed Maths and German, but did manage an unremarkable E in Economics).
Every Saturday plus three nights a week I donned a rather fetching blue overall and plied my trade at Laws Supermarket in Southwick, Sunderland. At the risk of sounding like a CV, my main duties included taking stock from the warehouse to the shop-floor, cleaning underneath the conveyor belt, loading and unloading the cardboard bailing machine and mopping the aisles. If I was really lucky I was also asked to use the scraper to de-chewing gum the shop floor. I was probably fortunate that there were no chimneys to sweep.
To ensure that all of the money (approx. £13.50 per week) earned could be used to buy records and cassettes I used to strap on my Walkman (not a real Walkman, a Sanyo copy) and walk the two miles to work and back to avoid the bus fare.
By this point my music collection was growing steadily and I had a considerable choice of cassettes for the journey. Three stood out from the crowd at the time however, and this ‘Holy Trinity’ got more than their fair share of play time. The three tapes in question were 'Forever now' by The Psychedelic Furs, 'Life's a riot with Spy vs Spy' by Billy Bragg and our subject for today, 'The Smiths' by The Smiths.
The Smiths' first album is now a part of our collective musical folklore but in 1984 it was merely a fantastic debut by an exciting new band that we'd all loved since first hearing them on the John Peel show (where else!).
With memorably quotable controversial lyrics, brilliant music, and images of gladioli-strewn stages the album became an instant classic which landed half-way between punk attitude and 1960s kitchen sink drama sensitivity. The high points are many but it would be remiss of me not to mention my own personal favourites, in order of preference;
·         Reel around the fountain
·         This charming man
·         Suffer little children
·         Still ill
Sandie Shaw’s version of ‘Hand in glove’ is very slightly better than The Smiths’ own for my money. And ‘Miserable lie’ still gives me exactly the same kind of headache as it did 29 years ago.
Another of the ‘Holy Trinity’ will feature soon – sadly it won’t be The Psychedelic Furs because when I removed it from its box this morning I noticed that the tape had snapped. I’ll have to find a replacement if life is to continue as normal.
Label – Rough Trade
Year – 1984

Friday, 10 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 72 - R.E.M. 'Green'

Any idea what the difference is between a cusp and a tipping point? Me neither.
I ask because I find the point of a musical artist’s cusp to be one of deep fascination. The album in an artist’s discography that was released just prior to stellar success is often one of the most satisfying items in their back-catalogue.
It doesn’t happen with many artists though as most artists don’t experience a slow rise to glory – most just retain relative mediocrity throughout their careers or in much rarer cases find sudden and early success.
To give a better idea of this rather muddled theory I’ll give you a few examples of albums released as artists stood upon the threshold of their musical cusp.
U2 – October (UK chart No. 11)
R.E.M. – Green (UK chart No. 27)
The Human League – Travelogue (UK chart No. 16)
Abba – Waterloo (UK chart No. 28)
All now correctly regarded as classics, but not one of them managing to crack the UK top ten when first released.
One of these albums, R.E.M.’s ‘Green’ just happens to be the subject of our cassette experiment today. It’s also the only one of the above that I purchased on first release (from W.H. Smith according to the price sticker on the box).
R.E.M.’s first offering for their new record label, Warner Bros, ‘Green’ was not a typical R.E.M. album. This was an apparently deliberate ploy by Bill, Peter, Mike and Michael to write and record an album that wasn’t particularly ‘R.E.M.-like’.
So they swopped their instruments around a bit and came up with this little beauty.
‘Stand’ stands out, with its lovely fairground organ style opening and just the perfect blend of noise and tunefulness. ‘Orange crush’ might just be my favourite R.E.M. tune, with little (presumably unintentional) nods towards ‘The call up’ by The Clash, which is no bad thing in my book.
But great albums aren’t made by the best-known tracks being brilliant. Great albums are made by the least-known tracks being brilliant. And that’s certainly true of the likes of ‘You are everything’ and the gloriously murky list-song ‘I remember California’.
Please be careful as there’s also an un-credited 11th track on here too – much easier to miss on cassette than on vinyl or CD.
Also – just the right amount of mandolin – not too much, not too little.
Label – Warner Bros
Year – 1988

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 71 - Genesis 'Abacab'

I bet you thought that immersing myself wholeheartedly into the cassette experiment would present me with no opportunities to hear new music. Well today’s cassette, ‘Abacab’ by Genesis isn’t exactly recent (it’s actually 32 years old), but it’s new in the sense that, before today, I’ve never actually listened to it.
I’d like to qualify what I’m about to tell you by revealing that I’m a firm believer in an artist limiting their output to no more than 10 albums. Once they’ve reached that 10 album point most artists are creatively spent. Don’t believe me? Try and think of an absolute classic album released by any artist more than 10 albums into their career. If you are able to think of any I bet you can count them on the fingers of one hand.
There are a few rules – live albums and compilations don’t count for example,and once you start a new band or solo career you can reset the counter, but otherwise I put it to you that this 10 album rule holds water.
I know I’m in the minority, but I quite liked Genesis’ 10th album, ‘Duke’. I think it makes a strange and interesting companion to (or even bedfellow with) Peter Gabriel’s third solo album which was released just a couple of months later.
‘Abacab’ is the 11th album to be released by Genesis.
Obviously not all of ‘Abacab’ is new to me. I’ve heard the singles before, particularly the mediocre title track. ‘No reply at all’ (with Earth Wind & Fire’s horns if you please) sounds like it would be more at home one of Phil’s (non Granny-scaring) solo albums, as does ‘Man on the corner’ and ‘Like it or not’, where Phil whinges on about his private life in a way that no-one else can – or would.
The only example of ‘traditional Genesis’ to be had here is in the twin opening tracks of side 2, ‘Dodo/Lurker’. Any joy, however, is relatively short-lived.
Watch out too as Phil reverts back to his Artful Dodger persona (and accent) for the awful ‘Who dunnit?’ If you have any teeth you should prepare yourself for them to be set on edge.
Incidentally the cover (or insert) was available in four different colour combinations. Sadly this fact may be the most interesting thing about this album.
Label – Vertigo (I have a German copy for some reason)
Year – 1981

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Cassette experiment day 70 - The Clash 'London Calling'

I’d like to start with a little musical history lesson today. It’s aimed at those who grew up in the CD and mp3 generation. If you pre-date this period (as I do) then you may wish to skip the next paragraph as you might find it just a little bit patronising – sorry.
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s an album that contained 70-80 minutes of music was known as a double-album. Single albums generally consisted of 20 minutes per side, give or take a few minutes – so if you had any more music than this you would either keep it for the next one, or release a double album consisting of two discs, often contained in a gatefold sleeve.
Some of the greatest albums ever made have been double albums. ‘The Beatles’ by The Beatles, ‘Blonde on Blonde’ by Bob Dylan, ‘Out of the Blue’ by ELO, ‘Songs in the key of life’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘The lamb lies down on Broadway’ by Genesis, ‘Tusk’ by Fleetwood Mac. I could go on (as you know!).
One of the many, many things that the ‘Punk movement’ used to sneer at was the music ‘establishment’, and one of the most ‘establishment’ aspects of music was the double album. Then something changed. A punk band (in attitude if not in music) released one of the greatest ever double albums – possibly the greatest ever.
Released just before Christmas 1979, ‘London Calling’ by The Clash is one of the most consistently exciting albums ever released. From the slightly over-familiar title track all the way through to the un-credited closer ‘Train in vain’ the album sparkles with energy and quality.
Personal favourites are ‘The right profile’, ‘Clampdown’, ‘The guns of Brixton’, ‘Death or glory’ and the aforementioned ‘Train in vain’. But play me anything and I’ll just grin from ear to slightly sticky-out ear.
The album’s iconic artwork mirrors that of Elvis Presley’s debut LP, which I also own. Unfortunately the cover of my copy of Elvis’ debut is badly torn. Spookily, as you can see from the picture above, so is my ‘London Calling’ cassette insert.
And of course following ‘London Calling’, The Clash proceeded to record one of the all time great triple albums, ‘Sandinista’, of which I have two vinyl copies and one CD copy, but no cassette copies. So it won’t feature in the cassette experiment in the weeks to come. Sorry.
Label – CBS
Year – 1979
If you can't be bothered to look up the first 40 days of The Cassette Experiment individually, then you may wish to hunt down 'The great cassette experiment - The first 40 days' on your kindle by following the link below;