Category Archives: Normal music

TALKING HEADS: Remain In Light (LP, Sire SRK 6095 NP, 1980)

Talking Heads - Remain In Light

I have a strange relationship with Talking Heads. They’re one of those bands that I feel I should really like, because they – at least the context of endless name-dropping by music reviewers the world over – tick several of my ‘this is my kind of thing’ boxes:

  • ‘edgy’, slightly angular music
  • weirdness
  • art-school sensibilities
  • post-punk/new-wave era
  • pop music at heart

For some reason, though, today they don’t really click. You can perhaps see from the beaten-up sleeve of this record that it’s not been particularly well looked after. That’s not actually down to me, as I purchased it second-hand for around ten pence from a charity shop a couple of years back, but the fact represents something. I don’t care about the band enough to have purchased immaculate quality copies of their records; to be honest I doubt I would have spent more than a pound on this, even if it had been in much better shape than it is.

Why is this? Why doesn’t this band really do it for me? I fear that the reason might be bound up in impossible pretentiousness. Let me explain. I used to love Talking Heads when I was in my early teenage years. My dad was a big fan, and I became aware of a couple of their albums by osmosis, before finally taking the plunge and making cassette copies for myself. (Hey – taking the plunge in this case may well have been piracy, but no way would I have had the money to buy an actual record at the time…)

I was once in a school play (I forget which play – perhaps The Wizard of Oz, where I played the Wizard himself as well as ‘farmhand’, but that’s another story). During rehearsals and scene-painting chores I took in my Talking Heads cassette for us all to listen to. It didn’t go down well. People thought it was ‘weird’ music.

Maybe that’s the point? Back then, it was weird music, because my frame of reference was very slim. Nowadays, though, Talking Heads seem too normal to really get me going. Have I spoilt myself with years of increasingly obscure, increasingly bizarre music? Perhaps if I wasn’t now in a musical/mental place that sees me happily (nay, rabidly) buying a 3xCD box set featuring Rhys Chatham playing the same chord for three albums’ duration, I’d still retain a happy, open approach to my music appreciation?

Perhaps I have spoilt myself? To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the solution is for me to continue listening to music, and accept the shifting tides of enjoyment that naturally occur. In a few years’ time, I may be waxing lyrical about the brilliance of this album, whilst wondering how the hell I used to listen to extreme noise music for enjoyment. Such is life. Such is music.

MIKE OLDFIELD: Tubular Bells (LP, Virgin V2001, 1973)

Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

And… the Tubular Bells! This album reminds me of a lot of things. I only bought a copy for myself around five years ago, but a copy was owned by my parents and I used to really enjoy listening to it. The B-side, in particular, with its sober voiceover announcing the huge variety of instruments played on the piece, I used to love (and still do). Maybe it appeals to the cataloguer/collector-type in me, to have the elements of the music filed into a series of proclamations across the duration of the record?

My parents had a modest but excellent quality stereo system on which records were played as I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. They used to know a couple that we lived next door to, and I recall them getting in an extraordinarily futuristic-looking Bang + Olufsen stereo when I was probably around eight or nine years old. It looked like a weird, space age table; sleek, silver. That kind of thing predated the fetishistic ‘look at my technology’ obsessions that enveloped much of the 1980s – but it looked darned cool, at the time. Funny how Bang + Olufsen haven’t really moved away from that glossy presentation of actually rather simple technology, even thirty years later.

I have a vague memory that their stereo was actually quadrophonic, but that may be a fake memory. I was young, after all. Another strong recollection of that couples’ household is that their chair and table legs were placed onto small metal disc-shaped trays, to prevent them digging holes into the carpets. Not sure why that’s a memory, as it’s possibly one of the most unimportant things one could keep in one’s mind.

Odd how this record, except for some dabblings in the record shop industry, pretty much signalled the launch of the now mega-globo-huge-corp Virgin. It was a cool record label for a time, and if a label can be defined by the first release that they decide to put out, Virgin was a fantastically hippy-dippy experimental dreamer of a label.

FALCO: Emotional (LP, Teldec 6.26380 AS, 1986)

This album was given to me as a gift by my friend Moira, after she returned from a European holiday. I must admit that I haven’t listened to it more than once, as it’s not that good. I get the impression that Falco was – in his own mind, at least – much more than just “that ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ bloke.” This record suggests somebody who takes themselves very seriously; the steely gaze of the cover’s photograph reflects what I remember to be some particularly portentous, serious music. Serious, yet still generally in the form of relatively lightweight synthetic pop, of course.

There’s nothing wrong with taking yourself seriously, it’s just that in this particular instance I’d have preferred for Falco to have produced an album full of nothing but ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ clones. That would have been great. Even more, perhaps his ‘clever’ side could have been indulged with a side-long remix of ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ with that sampled repeated bit of vocal at the start, repeated endlessly:

‘Rock Me Amadeus Rock-Rock-Rock Me Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus Amadeus…’ etc.

Now that would have been daring and bold.

Thinking about ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ has transported me back to the mid-1980s, and for some reason triggered a memory of the low-fi remixes I used to create myself. I would use my ghetto blaster (what young hipsters nowadays would refer to as a ‘boombox’, I expect), with its twin tape decks, to play through taped recordings of songs on Tape A, and carefully use the stop/start/record buttons to construct a new version on Tape B. This was an exceptionally long-winded process, but I remember that the outcome actually wasn’t that bad. I was particularly pleased with a triple-length version of New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. I’d love it if that tape turned up in my things somewhere, one day.

THE SOUP DRAGONS: Hang-Ten! E.P. (12″, Raw TV Products RTV 121, 1986)

People often bang on about the fashion/style wasteland of the 1970s, but I’d suggest that the mid-to-late 1980s were in fact one of the darkest times in Britain’s sartorial history. I remember, as a naive teenager, sporting the horrific combination of a pair of sand-coloured chinos*, a striped shirt and a reversible bomber jacket with one orange and one black side. This was beautifully topped off by some over-gelled hair, approximating some kind of Nick Kamen ‘do, but gone horrifically wrong.

And here, on the sleeve photograph of what is actually a rather good record, we see The Soup Dragons combining some utterly bizarre and misguided stylistic decisions, that could only have come out of this time in history. To wit:

  • Paisley shirt/tartan tie/braces/tartan trousers combination
  • Christmas-present-from-Auntie patterned sweater, worn underneath patterned cardigan
  • Shirts tucked into jeans, Jerry Seinfeld-style
  • The holding of a Slinky by one band member: what is this supposed to mean? Is it wacky? Is it kooky?
  • The clock is set at a quarter past ten. Why is this? The record’s name is ‘Hang-Ten!’ – not ‘Hang-Ten-Fifteen!’ or ‘Hang-Fifteen!’
  • The expressions on the band members’ faces: in all but one instance, look deep into these faces and you’ll see boredom, uncomfortableness and a strange feeling of arrogant dumbness.

But still! I do like The Soup Dragons even if, as previously mentioned on here, their entire career seemed to hang onto the coat-tails of Primal Scream, and even though they have wrapped this release in such a ridiculous photograph. We’ve all done silly things in our past, and we’ve all worn silly clothes. The Soup Dragons at least redressed the balance with some excellent sleeve artwork that would come out after this release. And not least because they seemed to quickly decide against putting themselves on their covers…

*As an aside: ‘chinos’? Where did this bizarre, ridiculous name for a style of preppy, boring trouser actually come from? According to Wikipedia, the word refers to the type of cloth. But I’m not sure I buy that – the word seems forever tied to a light sand coloured loose-fitting trouser that painfully encapsulates the entire concept of ‘smart casual’.

SUEDE: Animal Nitrate (12″, Nude NUD 4T, 1993)

Sleeve designed by Andrew Biscomb & Peter Barrett. I only picked this record up a couple of years ago, along with a couple of other Suede 12″s, from an Oxfam shop. I recall though, way back around the time this came out, thinking what a nice sleeve design it was – very simple, very effective, and with a vague bit of thought behind the imagery. This was somewhat out of kilter with many ‘indie’ record sleeves at the time, which would often focus more on either trying to make unhip band members look hip, or going down the ‘pure abstract’ route. Looking up Biscomb & Barrett on the internet now, I see that they designed sleeves for a variety of other artists too – Luke Haines, The Auteurs, and (horror of horrors) Simply Red amongst them. Quite an odd selection of clients!

Back at the time of the record’s release, along with other Suede 12″s – a flurry were released within a couple of months, as far as I remember – I recall this and a couple of other Suede sleeves hanging on the wall of a room in the house of a chap called Jigger. Well, that wasn’t his real name, but I can’t actually remember his real name. His was a house of choice of post-pub shenanigans – smoking, drinking, chatting, etc. I thought the sleeves looked cool up on his wall. I’m not going to put my Suede sleeves up on a wall – too much collector/catalogue-r mentality going on in my mind for that.

Suede later went on to work a lot with Peter Saville for their artwork. Saville’s cool, but I never much dug his work with Suede, it was a little too neo-cool for my tastes, too much mock airbrushing and shininess. A couple of years ago, I was having a band practice break outside a rehearsal studio in London, and who should pop out of the studio door but Mr Suede himself, Brett Anderson. This alone didn’t really fill me with excitement, but he then answered a mobile phone call with ‘Hello, Mr Saville,’ and I was somewhat overwhelmed with fanboy tremors at being – sort of – right next to Peter Saville. I kept a lid on it, of course, and maintained my exterior cool. I would’ve loved to grab the phone though and somehow blag a design job with Saville with a combination of guile and charm. Never going to get that opportunity again…

WORLD OF TWIST: Sons Of The Stage (7″, Circa YR 62, 1991)

The band name ‘World Of Twist’ totally takes me back to heady teenage indie-disco days; drinking to excess back when that just meant having more than a couple of pints, and getting down to what then seemed like super-underground music that the ‘norms’ hadn’t discovered yet. Sure, now I realise that I was swept up in the final lurch of ‘indie’ being minced through major label machines into a simple pigeonhole-friendly term, but 1991 was right in the middle of that process. It was before the endless ‘twelve-inch dance remix’ B-sides that ruined many a record for the first third of the nineties, but after the innocent simplicity and joy of many people discovering that music did exist outside of what was in the charts and on the radio. It all seems so quaint and archaic now; eeeeee I remember the old days.

Strange how many of the bands of the late eighties/early nineties ‘Indie Explosion’ (© any number of pointless compilations at the time) have recently reappeared. Over the past couple of years there have been gigs and tours by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Carter, Sultans of Ping FC and who knows what other bands that everybody thought had long disappeared into some floppy-haired, syncopated-beat-under-fuzz-guitar lined coffin of history. Is that how it’s to be, now? Are we on a fifteen-year cycle of repetition, or have people just gotten caught up in this ‘Don’t Look Back’ obsession with digging up the past and attempting to recreate feelings that would be best left as good memories, rather than getting spoilt by their being viewed through a modern, ‘more mature’ lens?

World Of Twist’s singer Tony Ogden died in 2006, which is a shame. They were never a huge and famous band, but they had a small and significant part to play in my music-fandom development (even though I only knew two or three of their songs). Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that he started out as the drummer in the band before graduating* to lead man in 1989. Well, I never knew that before.

*Do I mean ‘graduating’? I like drums more than singing. Maybe I meant ‘regressing’?

THE SMITHS: How Soon Is Now? (7″, WEA YZ 0002, 1993)

I really like this song, but I am in no way a Smiths aficionado. I only own a couple of their records, and I think I’m slightly younger than those music fans that had a deep and meaningful relationship with their band as they traversed their awkward teenage years. (A combination of hip-hop and indie pop helped me through that time personally, but that’s another story…) As such, I don’t have an extreme and possessive sense of ownership about the Smiths, as seems to be the case with many people of a certain age. But, as I said, I really like this song. This one and ‘This Charming Man’ are my favourite Smiths songs, if that counts for anything: although probably not, as I haven’t heard all of their songs and therefore can’t really state much of a watertight opinion on them as a whole.

This is some kind of reissue single; I presume that the original came out on Rough Trade at some point before 1993? The reason for the reissue seems to be as a promotional device for the Best… compilation that’s none-too-subtly advertised on the rear sleeve. It must be nice for major labels to press up thousands of copies of a record purely to promote another record. It compares strangely to my own experiences of pressing up one thousand records at maximum and finding it to be an incredibly difficult, time-consuming and somewhat stressful job. (But ultimately very fulfilling – even if hundreds of records still reside in my attic waiting for the very slow sales to continue rolling in…)

I’m sure there is an essay or two to be written about the Smiths’ artwork, with its many stills from films of the ’50s and ’60s. A psychology student could no doubt read all kinds of meanings into the significance of the stills as regards their connections with the music. For me, they just look nice, and make me want to see some cool old movies. This one is from Blow Up, is it not? That’s an odd movie. Before explaining the significance of the film in terms of the Smiths’ music, can somebody first explain the meaning of the mime-tennis scene at the end of the film, please?

OL’ DIRTY BASTARD: Got Your Money (12″, Elektra E7077T, 2000)

Occasionally I’ll hear some piece of music from the mainstream that totally sticks in my head and obsesses me to the point where I ultimately end up in HMV buying it whilst trying to maintain an air of independent coolness that will convince the person behind the till that although I’m buying something that’s been bought by thousands and millions of kids who just don’t know music, I’m still somehow better and more knowledgeable and more hip than any old casual purchaser. Hah! Deal with that long sentence.

This record is such a case – okay, so it might not be from the complete MOR pop mainstream, but it got what I believe is known as ‘heavy rotation’ on major radio stations upon its release. Those major radio stations were the ones that polluted my ears during my working days at the time, and this song was a huge relief amongst the relentless crap every time it came on. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s voice is so ugly, so rough, I love it – and I love the fact that such a dirty and sleazy song as this was all over Radio One for a time (even if they did have to refer to the artist as just ODB in order to fend off the inevitable flood of complaints)…

By the way – Ol’ Dirty Bastard; RIP. He seemed to live life to the full (to put it mildly).

My Wu-Tang Clan anecdote: I saw Raekwon and pals performing at an All Tomorrow’s Parties festival a couple of years ago, and a few memories stay with me:

  • The total rip-off they got away with by playing snippets of Wu-Tang faves for a minute or so before playing out a huge gunshot sound, shouting at the crowd for a bit and then moving on to the next track. Then ultimately descending into nothing more than a sales drive for Wu-Tang t-shirts from the stage.
  • How inappropriate the sleazy, dirty hip-hop of Wu-Tang seemed to be when played out to a room full of pasty-faced indie kids (in which group I consider myself firmly a member). The intense embarrassment of seeing flower-skirted indie girls attempting to shake their booty when invited up on stage.
  • A brief, drunken conversation with a couple of Wu-Tang entourage who were stalking through the crowd during the performance, selling mix CDs. I purchased a couple, and attempted a manly slap on the back whilst informing the guys that they were ‘great sallesshmen’. What did I expect to be the outcome of this lame performance? That I would get invited to hang out with the group? That I’d become an honorary Wu-Tang? Alcohol makes you do funny things.

POPINJAYS: Monster Mouth (7″, One Little Indian 61 TP 7, 1992)

Popinjays - Monster Mouth

This record currently nestles on my shelf betwixt singles by The Popguns and The Poppyheads. It was because of The Popguns that I picked this up at the time; I liked their bouncy indie-pop and figured (illogically enough) that a band with a slightly similar name, and a cute record sleeve, must be another bouncy indie-pop band. Popinjays kind of were, but they were far more commercial-sounding and somewhat slicker, which was obviously alien to my indie-pop-don’t-stop-DIY-to-the-core nature back then. Looking at the small print on the cover, I see that ‘Monster Mouth’ is produced by Ian Broudie, of Lightning Seeds fame, alongside several million production credits. I’ve never quite got Lightning Seeds, they always seem somewhat bland and stuck in an awkward halfway house between chart pop and ramshackle indie pop. Broudie’s production tends to gloss up a band too much, for me, and somewhat diminish the sketchy nature than can often enhance a sweet pop tune.

Nice cover on this record: as I said, it’s cute. A little yellow submarine making its way through the deep blue, with some neat depth of field stuff going on to focus the attention onto the bowl-haired indie girl driving the craft. I like too how One Little Indian’s catalogue numbering works – 61 TP 7 – release number 61, a 7 inch, and ‘TP’=’teepee’. Where One Little Indian might live, you see? Pointless fun.

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.