DEBBIE GIBSON: Only In My Dreams (7″, Atlantic A 9322, 1986)

Debbie Gibson - Only In My Dreams

It’s not all super-hip underground noisemakers and whacked-out psychedelic mayhem with me, you know. I am a big fan of proper, no-messing pop music. And regardless of whatever any number of ‘top XX’/’the best XX of the XXs’-type TV shows might suggest, the mid-1980s was a prime period for pop music. Or maybe it wasn’t. However, it was slap bang in the middle of my adolescent angst years, and therefore I was a prime target for the hitmakers of the time. When I was thirteen, Debbie Gibson was my ideal: totally clean cut, but with a hint of naughtiness in there somewhere. Maybe I had dreamt up the naughtiness, but that’s what adolescent boys do.

Pop music of the 1980s, despite being so blatantly manufactured and contrived, often had a simplicity and innocence about it. Okay, okay, it was designed to come across that way, everybody knows that with hindsight, but it worked. I prefer that to the relentless sexualisation and faux-‘grown up’ pop music of today. Production-wise, it was as shiny as it gets, too. Perfect teenage school disco fodder.

This single reminds me of a couple of things:

  • The film Pretty In Pink: the song is nothing to do with it, but that film was a big part of my teenage years. Probably the film I have seen more than any other.
  • Smash Hits: everybody says “yeah, Smash Hits used to be great”, but it really did. I distinctly remember reading about Talulah Gosh, Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Wedding Present and no end of other ‘cool’ bands in amongst the mainstream pop, whilst at the time not knowing who these weird bands were, and wondering where the ‘Only In My Dreams’ lyrics were to be found.

    GANGER: Geocities (7″, Wurlitzer Jukebox WJ16, 1997)

    Ganger - Geocities

    Never sure whether the title of this single refers to Geocities as in the legendary free webspace provider that was responsible for around a billion home-built websites, almost all featuring those early graphical hits of the internet:

    The multicoloured rainbow horizontal rule

    Rainbow HR

    The animated .gif showing letters flying into a mailbox

    Send us mail!

    According to Wikipedia, the name GeoCities was first used in ’95, so perhaps Ganger were right on the internet’s cutting edge and decided to write a song about a webspace provider. Who knows. If it’s true, it’s never happened again, as far as I know: where are the songs about other online providers? It’s a whole seam waiting to be mined.

    On a related note, the cover art of this record is horrible enough to accurately reflect the design nightmares of the late ’90s internet. A shame, as the music contained within is sublime repeato-post-rock that still sounds fresh, smooth and slick. Like an oil spill. Members of the Glasgow-based Ganger went on to form the controversially-named Fuck-Off Machete, as well as Aereogramme. I always liked the band name Fuck-Off Machete: very satisfying. It was a disappointment when they shortened it to just FO Machete. Sell-outs!!!

    CUD: Hey!Wire (7″, Imaginary MIRAGE 018, ?)

    Cud - Hey!wire

    Yet another Cud record – the third one I’ve written about on here. This was never meant to be a Cudblog, but you can’t argue with the orders of a random number generator. Ever wondered how I decide which record I’m going to write about each time? No? Never? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. I use a random number generator that is, apparently, a ‘True’ Random Number Service. According to the website:

    The randomness comes from atmospheric noise, which for many purposes is better than the pseudo-random number algorithms typically used in computer programs.

    So there. That could be absolute, one hundred per cent garbage, but I’m easily taken in by pseudo- or even real scientific explanations for things that I always thought were very simple.

    This record is a one-sided seven inch, a format I like. It focuses the attention on, usually, a single song, and it also means that there is a delicious expanse of virgin vinyl to contemplate. Like some treacly, shimmering icing rink it stares back at you, promising everything and nothing in the depths of its vinylcular soul. Know what I mean? And don’t get me started on one-sided twelve inch records – that expanse is almost too much to bear at times.

    The sleeve for the record states, as you can see, ‘Another Imaginary Records Red Hot 45 Limited Edition’ – I’d hazard a guess that Imaginary actually meant it, and that there weren’t more than 1,000 of these pressed at most. Interesting to compare that with the ‘limited edition’ Cud releases that would later come out on A&M: those generally being pressings of around 500,000 or something (okay, maybe not that many but not far off). Limited in a very strange sense.

    HUMBLE PIE: Natural Born Bugie (7″, Immediate IM 082, 1969)

    Humble Pie - Natural Born Bugie

    Ahhhh, this record takes me back. Not to 1969 when it was released, obviously, as I was yet to be born then, but to my excitable youth, delving into the world of the 1960s and pseudo-mod culture at around the age of 18 or so. My listening to the Small Faces led to my listening to the Faces, which inevitably lead to Humble Pie, the band that briefly took up Steve Marriott’s time in between. The three bands are a clear line drawn from the ramshackle mod excitement of the early ’60s to the boozy, rockin’ late ’60s. Humble Pie, of course, also feature legendary curly-haired rocker Peter Frampton, who you will have seen – whether you realise it or not – on the Frampton Comes Alive cover, looking all starry-eyed and airbrushed.

    Around the time when I was right into this stuff, I briefly dabbled in a covers band with some friends, which included my singing of the Small Faces’ ‘Song Of A Baker’. If you don’t know me, that won’t mean much; if you do know me, it might be hard to imagine. It’s hard for me to imagine. I still have a recording on tape somewhere – it will never, ever be aired.

    The B-side of this single is ‘Wrist Job’, which features some extraordinarily warm, beautiful Hammond organ swells, all Leslie-speakered up to the eyeballs. I love it. An old friend of mine in the mid-90s bought a Hammond organ with some Leslie speakers and installed it in his bedroom in our shared student house. Now, I can’t play the keyboard for toffee, but I can – and did – get countless hours of enjoyment warming up the ol’ Leslie valves and giving it some random chord thumping. Happy days!

    THE NATION OF ULYSSES: Sound Of Young America (7″, Diskord 46 1/2, 1990)

    The Nation Of Ulysses - Sound Of Young America

    The first Nation Of Ulysses record, released on the cheekily-named Diskord imprint – a combination of Dischord and K Records, you see, I picked up this record around ten years after it came out, as Nation Of Ulysses were a band that I retrospectively discovered and explored, having first got into later associated bands Make-Up and Weird War. Part of what I like about collecting records is this ‘fill in the gaps’ mentality – uncovering something new and exciting from the past and knowing that there are some very specific, distinct items that will help join the dots in my mental mind map of music.

    It’s clear to see the influence that NOU had on bands like Huggy Bear from the packaging of this record. The band create a mythology around themselves, presented in the form of typewritten manifestos, faux-historical documentation and mugshot-style photography. It’s spectacularly arrogant and self-serving, naturally, but it really works. I like the idea of Nation Of Ulysses and their members being some kind of youth terrorist organisation/cult, involved in an endless struggle against the man. It could be interpreted as less than tasteful in these post-9/11 times perhaps, but I have a feeling that if NOU started up today they’d do exactly the same thing. Musically, and alongside all of the posturing, this is a fantastic record. I dearly wish I’d have had the chance to see the band play live, as footage I’ve seen makes it look like it was amazingly exciting. The closest it has got for me is seeing Ian Svenonius fronting Weird War at an All Tomorrow’s Parties some years back – and that was pretty damned good. It was totally eclipsed, however, by the mind-blowingly brilliant performance from Hella that I experienced on the same day. But therein lies a separate story.

    On a separate note, track down the Ian Svenonius-fronted Soft Focus show on VBS TV, it’s worth your time, he’s an erudite and confident interviewer and has managed to get decent commentary out of all kinds of musicians including Genesis P. Orridge, Ian Mackaye, Calvin Johnson, Henry Rollins and Kevin Shields.

    THE SOUP DRAGONS: The Sun Is In The Sky E.P. (7″, Subway SUBWAY 2, 1986)

    The Soup Dragons - The Sun Is In The Sky E.P.

    A confession; I’m not so cool that I bought this record when it first came out – I was only thirteen years old at the time and, in fact, listening more to Rick Astley and Debbie Gibson. So maybe I’m even cooler than cool. Or something. As I got into indie-pop throughout the late eighties and early nineties, this record very quickly became something of a holy grail for me – back in those pre-eBay, record-shop-scouring days, some records were genuinely hard to get your hands on. This one had the dual attractions of being the first Soup Dragons record and a very early Subway release. Double indie-pop gold. I can’t actually remember where I finally tracked down this copy, but I have a feeling it was during one of many record shopping trips to Birmingham; excitedly handing over the £15 or whatever it cost as a ‘valuable’ (eee, that was a lot of cash back then) and mentally ticking off one more indie-pop aim in my mind.

    I really like the look of these old records – bold, multi-colour printing that eschews full CMYK for a simpler two- or three-colour process that allows for some marvellous overprinting (be in accidental or not). This style of printing, combined with the Letraset-esque lettering and reuse of clipped-out imagery from any number of 1960s/1970s annuals or magazines, is totally evocative of the whole fanzine/indie-pop scene. The Soup Dragons were right there at the start, really, appearing on C86 along with Primal Scream and many others. I mention Primal Scream as they seemed to always be a step ahead – moving from indie-pop into their hard rock phase, then their neo-psychedelic-blissout phase, closely followed by the Soupies. I don’t know if the latter band were copying, or just drawing on similar influences and experiences that were around at the time. Perhaps there’s something to find out there.