ISAAC HAYES: Shaft – Music From The Soundtrack (2LP, Stax 2659-007, 1971)

Isaac Hayes - Shaft - Music From The Soundtrack

Isn’t Isaac Hayes cool? Look at him up there in the top right hand corner, he’s all untouchable hipster, shades, slaphead and all. Was it him that did the album called (I think) Hot Buttered Soul or something like that, with a cover depicting nothing but an extreme close up of his bald bonce? If you’ve got it, flaunt it, I guess…

I’ve still never seen Shaft in full, or indeed any other of the famed ‘blaxploitation’ pictures of the ’70s. Are they actually any good, and worth seeing? You’d think that I was some kind of major fan though, as I own not only this official soundtrack, but also the eponymous theme tune on a 7″, as well as an album consisting of a complete cover version of the soundtrack by the gloriously-named Soul Mann and the Brothers. This is what happens when you scour charity shops for music over years and years and years. Owning multiple copies of essentially the same thing seems perfectly rational when they’re just 50p or a quid a pop.

Opening up the gatefold sleeve I’ve actually just answered my question above re: Hot Buttered Soul. Yes, it was Isaac Hayes, and that artwork is pictured here alongside that of some of his other works including the marvellously-named Black Moses. What a time for empowerment, for confidence, for rights and for music!

BLUR: Song 2 (7″, Food FOOD 93, 1997)

Blur - Song 2

Twelve years on and this still sounds fresh as a daisy – one of Blur’s musical pinnacles. There were many. This cover is great and it sums up the song perfectly: a stupid, brightly-coloured American car comin’ straight for you. And it’s, er, flying across some kind of Martian landscape for no good reason. The yellow of the car and the Blur logo contrasts beautifully with the purple vinyl, it’s truly an aesthetic delight. The packaging was designed by Yacht Associates, who worked with the band during their weirding-out American indie rock phase. Before that it was Stylorouge, I believe, who helped to create some of the band’s memorable early sleeves. I remember once visiting a certain design agency in London and being impressed by the hypercool minimalist interior decor I found myself within – but I was even more impressed by the fact that Stylorouge had the office upstairs. Not sure what I was expecting to happen – a representative to pop downstairs, know that I was a fan of their work and offer me a job on the spot? It didn’t happen… it just seemed to be an office like many others. Always good to remind oneself that heroes are just people, I suppose.

The sticker in the top left corner of the sleeve states ‘Also available: CD1 / CD2’. Do labels still do this kind of nightmarish multi-formatting? It was all the rage back in the nineties. Has downloading and belt-tightening stamped out this greedy strategy?

VARIOUS: Different For Domeheads (LP, Creation CRELP5, 1985)

Various - Different For Domeheads

Creation Records don’t half cop a lot of flak these days; mainly, I guess, as a side effect of bringing Oasis to the masses (I love them myself, but you can’t sell that many records without a lot of people getting snarky), and also perhaps because of head man Alan McGee’s increasingly out-of-touch, I-used-to-be-somebody ranting blog posts. Somehow it was easier to accept the latter when they were in the form of typewritten missive press releases from a guy in the post-punk era carving out a musical empire with blood, sweat, tears and drugs, but it doesn’t wash so well when coming from the reformed elder gent, tapping away on his laptop, who seems to have relentlessly signed pure crap for the past decade or so.

However: he did bring us Creation Records throughout the 1980s and for the first half of the 1990s, and during this period this meant a hell of a lot of fine music finding its way into our lives. I can guarantee that if you’re any kind of music fan, at least one record that you love was released by Creation or was somehow, something to do with McGee. And for that, it’s hard to bear him any kind of grudge.

Different For Domeheads was one of several compilations that formed the majority of the early album-sized Creation releases. On here we’ve got The Loft, The Jasmine Minks, Primal Scream, The Pastels, Biff Bang Pow!, Slaughter Joe, The Bodines and The Weather Prophets. Not heard of more than a couple of them? You should have. It’s a compilation like this that affirms early Creation releases as well worth the status of ‘collect anything this label puts out’. It’s also worth picking this and other similar-period releases up to remind yourself of just what faux-naïve indie pop kids Primal Scream once were. Who’d have predicted what they became and what they achieved?

SONIC YOUTH: Evol (LP, Blast First BFFP4, 1986)

Sonic Youth - Evol

Aha, the first Sonic Youth record that I’ve written about on here. I’m sure that there will be many more.

Sonic Youth are the number one band for me – a mid-level obsession that has been in my life since the very early 1990s. A friend of the younger of my two sisters made me a couple of compilation tapes back in that time, after we’d spent time working together over a summer, packing earrings into ever-larger boxes. On one of these tapes, amongst the much-expected James/Inspiral Carpets/Stone Roses-type fare that was taking over the world at the time, was a strange track called ‘Mary Christ’ by a band I’d read the name of before, but never heard. My mind was blown. This sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before; so energetic, weird and yet listenable. Within a matter of days I was scouring every record shop in the Midlands, picking up every piece of vinyl I could find with the band’s name on it.

This continues still: Sonic Youth could release records of themselves chanting “This record is a rip-off: we are laughing at you” through a wall of laughter, and I’d be in line to buy them. (Some would say that some of the more recent SYR series of releases are not far from this, ho ho). I still obsess about them and I think I always will. On reflection, the 1980s is for me their peak period, and Evol comes a close second to Sister as my favourite album of theirs from this time. (Although, naturally, Daydream Nation is a close third, and Confusion Is Sex a close fourth, and so on…) Evol sums up their weird fascination with Hollywood star fetishisation (see ‘Starpower’, ‘Marilyn Moore’, ‘Madonna, Sean and Me’ – as ‘Expressway To Yr Skull’ is known on the rear sleeve here). This would then blossom into mainstream acceptance with the release of Goo a few years later.

Sonic Youth are the band that have for me gone beyond being something I merely like, and they have now been a constant companion for nigh-on twenty years. That might sound creepy and stalkerish but I’ll tell you this – I’m certainly not on my own feeling this way.

MAKITA: Rover (7″, The Great Pop Supplement GPS03, ?)

Makita - Rover

Another release on the always-beautiful Great Pop Supplement label: this one looks particularly fine, with its tracing paper wraparound sleeve, hand-finished with a stamp and a comic strip cut from what looks to be an old Dandy or Beano. This is one of GPS’ earlier releases, back when every one came as a limited run of just 111 copies. Mine is hand-numbered 60, and also contains a tracing paper insert. Tracing paper a-go-go. Tracing paper is often favoured by the hand-production indie pop/post rock crowd, and with good reason. It virtually never fails to look cool and special.

I really like the style of the cartoon that’s affixed on this sleeve – that classic British comic strip style with faked halftone textures painstakingly finished by the illustrator, and the addition of sound effect-type words like the ‘SPELL‘ in the third panel here. It’s such a classic and particular style, and it always seems so effortless and sketchy – whilst being in fact completely consistent in characterisation and pseudo-realism. Love it.

SONIC BOOM: (I Love You) To The Moon And Back (7″, Silvertone SONIC 2, 1991)

Spectrum - (I love you) to the moon and backI can’t remember where it was that I picked up this record. It’s a promo-only 33 1/3 rpm single that marks the point at which Sonic Boom began using the Spectrum name for his music. Whilst the labels state Sonic Boom as the writer of the two tracks here, it’s difficult to miss out on that whacking great Spectrum that’s emblazoned across the front cover. According to the back cover, ‘A colour sleeve for this limited freebie is available as part of the “Outer Limits” fanzine – the magazine covering Spacemen 3 related topics’. Now, I never had a copy of that fanzine, I never even saw one, so I certainly didn’t get the record from that or anything to do with that. Why, if I had have done, my collector instinct would have almost definitely kicked in to see me securing a copy of that colour sleeve. So, Watson, it seems that I must have acquired this record some time after it was released – at least, long enough afterwards for me to think that “Outer Limits” would no longer be active.

A quick Sonic Boom anecdote: once, the man himself stayed at my house at the same time as The Telescopes, after they’d both performed at a show I was helping to run. We watched part of what I think was that Scorsese documentary about the blues, and I was dumbfounded by the amount of knowledge that Sonic seemed to have about this stuff at his fingertips. Pretty amazing. This was counteracted, however, by realizing that he’d been snuck off and been through the kitchen cupboards, snaffling some mixed nuts to eat. Now that’s fine, but did he offer them around? No. Tchuh!

FREE: The Free Story (2LP, Island ISLD 4, 1973)

Free - The Free Story

Wow: this two-album compilation is a line drawn in the sands of self-belief. You won’t find many bands that a mere five years after their inception merit a collection of such perceived importance and value as this one. Gatefold sleeve; numbered (“The Free Story is released in a limited edition”, state the huffy liner notes); printed inner sleeves that themselves contain further record-protecting bags; and a stapled-in four page booklet that talks through, in more detail than most people would like to know about, the history of the phenomenon known as Free. And you thought that they were just that band that did ‘All Right Now’? Hell, no. If you’re taken in by the majesty of this tribute, you’d be justified in thinking that they’re the greatest musical event of the past fifty years.

There’s a whole ton of long-haired, flare-trousered, coke-fuelled 1960s-fallout self-confidence on display here. It’s hard not to be seduced. Bands these days just don’t seem to mean it quite so desperately or convincingly as those that emerged blinking from the excesses of the ’60s into the mysterious 1970s. I want every band to mark their fifth anniversary with this kind of double-album tribute to their Story So Far. It’s like the music industry equivalent of a celebrity kiss’n’tell (ghost-written) biography.

EARTH: Extra-Capsular Extraction (LP, Sub Pop SP 123, 1991)

Earth: Extra-Capsular Extraction

Well, what are the chances. Out of the huge range of random-number-generator-driven possibilities that were available for this post, it’s another Earth album. I’ve already written about Earth 2 on here in the past. I bought this at the same time as that. This is their first album, featuring some dude named Kurt Kobain (sic) on extra-curricular duty – playing guitar? It doesn’t say.

Is this something of a theme album, perhaps? The cover picture shows a double-pupilled eyeball, and the text on front and back, bang on about eye surgery-related stuff, alongside a load of ‘look how weird and out there we are’ snippets of text such as ‘An edge to lay bare entrails’ / ‘Cut-out tongue and sex’ / ‘Each of the attributes is called a flame’ / etc etc. It’s like all of the most self-consciously woah-maan-eccentric post-rock song titles have been collected together and placed on the back cover of the record.

And the record? It includes, of particular interest, ‘Ouroboros is Broken’, the simply marvellous proto-stoner-repeato-doom-sludge template for so much of the music that’s exciting hip young indie gunslingers these days. Even eighteen years after release (!!) this still sounds utterly cool, and utterly serious. Sling some robes on them and call them drunken soothsayers.

Fact for you: extracapsular extraction = the removal of a cataract. Doesn’t sound as cool though, does it? An album named ‘Cataract Removal’ sounds too much like a public health information recording, maybe.

THE GO-BETWEENS: Streets Of Your Town (7″, Beggars Banquet BEG 232, 1989)

The Go-Betweens: Streets Of Your Town

I’m not normally much of a ‘multi-formatter’ – I don’t tend to buy the same release on every format that a record company feels the need to issue. I’ve never reached the level of fanboy obession that’s driven many to covet the same songs on 7″, 12″, CD1, CD2, tape, eight track, flexi, wax cylinder etc etc. Even the ‘bonus’/’extra’/’previously unreleased’ filler material that normally backs up the main songs tends to be slightly outside the reach of interest for all but the most special of bands.

Weirdly though, I’ve got ‘Streets Of Your Town’ on both 7″ and 12″. Not by design or by obsession, but by virtue of having an awful memory and hence having bought each format completely separately, years apart from each other, in different places, with no clue that (in the latter case) I already owned this record.

BUT… for some reason the 7″ is BEG 232 and the 12″ is BEG 218T, suggesting that they’re not actually multiple formats of the same release at all. Checking the Beggars discography online confirms this: the song was released twice within as many years, with different B-sides taking up the slack on each version. No idea of the story behind this, but Beggar (ho ho) me if I in fact don’t own the same release in two formats – I own two releases from Beggars’ and The Go-Betweens’ discographies respectively, and I am hence a better collector than I realised.

To finish, Grant McLennan R.I.P.

RODAN: Rusty (LP, Quarterstick QS 24, 1994)

Rodan: Rusty

Back in the early ’90s I remember picking up on a musical thread that often seemed to pop up, almost in passing, in many of the fanzines I was reading at the time. I kept reading the phrase ‘post-rock’, without really giving much thought to what it meant, beyond being another handy yet meaningless hook on which to hang reviews. With hindsight, the phrase begins to make some sense: as grunge quickly got swallowed up by the mainstream, underground guitar music out of America seemed to diversify in a couple of directions. There was the slowing-down ethic of bands like Codeine and Low, alongside the progressive, largely vocal-free directions of bands like Slint and Rodan. Obviously there was no clean-cut cultural shift from one style of sound to another, these things always cross over and bleed into one another, but looking back now there was certainly a move towards a new, stranger take on guitar noise that had been hinted at previously but which nowadays, fifteen years later, is pretty much the accepted norm.

Rusty was the only album released by Rodan and it encapsulates this shift pretty well. Long, meandering songs, with out-there structures, tempo changes and vocals hidden in the mix to the point of being more like thoughts captured on vinyl. And, especially, the extreme dynamic range that now sounds so passé when reflected through the lesser skill set of a thousand follow-on bands. Quiet passages suddenly exploding into screaming noise. Aggressively non-commercial music that, against all odds, now informs more independent music than anybody could ever have predicted.

Somebody needs to write a book about this period of music. For now, look at the album cover above and mull on its importance. Those of you who’ve got the record and the free poster contained within, look over the credits/thanks information to see how Rodan fit into the musical landscape of the time: the list includes Bob Weston, Simple Machines, Compulsiv, Touch’n’Go, Don Caballero, and many more. Regardless of all this historical analysis, make sure that you listen to the record: it is great.