Bag Blogging: Record Store Takeaways

I am such a record store geek that I have a pile of bags that I have inadvertently “collected” from my travels. I have not saved every bag, but I couldn’t have helped noticing that quite a few have been filling the scant nooks and crannies of the Record Cell. Why not have a post with them since they practically constitute a collection of their own?

Wax N’ Facts – Atlanta

Atlanta’s Wax N’ Facts

A budget effort from  the venerable Wax N’ Facts. They give a simple black on white T-shirt bag that has the benefit of being fully recyclable at any grocery store or curbside location. The old school clip art at the top was probably what they have been using since opening in the mid 70s. I’m not sure why the zodiac image is at the bottom, though. Possibly Satanic hippie influence?

Amoeba Records – Berkeley/San Francisco

The “budget” Amoeba plastic carrybag

Amoeba Records really don’t have different bags for each location. I grouped this two color plastic carrier bad with their Berkeley and San Francisco locations simply due to the fact that I spent less at those locations than I did during my visits to the Hollywood store. If you spend under three figures, you can expect this straightforward branded bag.

Amoeba Records – Hollywood

The “Executive Version” of the Amoeba carrier

Customers who spend more freely get the reusable recycled plastic tote bag should they drop more serious coin in the three figure range. The bag is still available to tourists on a budget, but they’ll have to pay a few dollars up front for the privilege. Not surprisingly, both of my visits to Amoeba Hollywood garnered me one of these bad boys as a courtesy.

The Groove – Nashville

The Groove in Nashville is of the “artisinal” record store variety, which is clearly reflected in the aesthetic of their carrier bag

The Groove was a newer store in Nashville, that clearly aspires to artisinal status. Note that their common kraft paper carrier bag was screen printed by undoubtedly the same shop in town that does gig posters: Grand Palace Silkscreen. The typical ironic retro imagery [very common to carrier bags post-1985-ish] was given a split fountain vignette here. Any bag might have a run of two mixed colors for a subtle, yet, lush effect as seen here. By the way – zoom in on that artwork [click it] and you’ll see the “Never Mind The Bollocks; Here’s The Sex Pistols” and “The Clash” album art among those discs on the floor. Can anyone else identify the other covers obviously dropped in?

Rockaway Records – Los Angeles

Another yellow plastic carrier bag – what could it mean?

Hmm. It looks like Rockaway Records have been using the same bag art since 1979. Will this look be hipster ironique in 2029? Not much to see here. Move along!

Record Surplus – Los Angeles

Record Surplus might be using non-ironic art, though it looks remarkably similar to the bag for The Groove

I kind of like the frenetic imagery used on the Record Surplus carrier. I sort of gyrate like that when listening to records but not while seated in a mid-century modern plywood chair. This store is right in the heart of the neighborhood I was born in. Gosh! Too bad I moved away when I was seven. By the time I was really haunting record stores in my teens, they might have been there at walking distance.

Orchestral Manœuvres In The Dark

Technically a record carrier, this was what my US LP of “History Of Modern” came in when I did OMD VIP in 2011

Woah, daddy! When I plunked down for OMD VIP in 2011, the swag [including the US LP of “History Of Modern”] came in this full color, silkscreened tote bag with Peter Saville designed artwork. Since the LP was in this, this managed to get called a carrier bag,, though not affiliated with a store, per se. I use this one when shopping at Harvest Records during their legendary anniversary sales with stacks of $1.00 CDs from the basement. I always think that someone else might see it and say “wow, you like OMD too?” but it never happens. Does that make me a geek? [don’t answer – that was a rhetorical question]

Wuxtry Records – Athens/Decatur

First the front…

Wuxtry Records has three locations and their carrier bag has some serious vintage irony happening that isn’t ironic at all. We all know that buying records used was the way to stretch your music buying dollars, and the artwork makes sure to get that point across with their mascot. This is simply a beautiful design for me.

…and the back

The back tells you all you need to know about the Wunxty Empire, including Bizarro Wuxtry, their non record store shop that sells stuff that [thankfully] doesn’t take up space in their record stores! Would that all record stores kept their tchatkes that weren’t music under a separate roof and I’d be a lot happier!

That’s it for today. I’ll now save every bag that comes along going forward because what else can one do if we have The Collector’s Sickness as badly as I do?

– 30 –

Posted in Designed By Peter Saville, Record Store Bags | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Dr. Strangebass, Or: How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Kajagoogoo

Klassik Kajagoogoo ca. 1983


The very name alone could strike scorn in the hearts of the staunchest rock critic. They were cotton candy boys with cotton candy hair, and cotton candy tunes. They first appeared as an appendage to the media monster that was Duran Duran in their imperial period, ca. 1983. I remember that my Duran Duran obsessed friend was telling me about this new band that Nick Rhodes of Double Duran had produced with Colin Thurston; Duran’s regular producer. In advance of the mothership recording “Seven + The Ragged Tiger,” Rhodes had somehow found time to nurture this fledgeling New-Ro band called Kajagoogoo. Their singer went by the mononym Limahl. Of course he did!

The band’s debut single was inescapable. “Too Shy” would be known to anyone reading these words 35 years later. It was a megasmash piece of swooning pop fluff from the oh-so-appropriately titled album “White Feathers.” It reached number one in the UK in advance of the Duran mothership. It charted high around the world and even made number five in America; then falling hard for the “New Music” of the “Second British Invasion.”

I never heard more than this single at the time. I was pretty resistant to its charms, apart from that admittedly killer bass line courtesy of Nick Beggs. After hearing it about 600 times as it was in heavy rotation all over MTV from day one, I began to just groove on the bass line and could let the rest of the insubstantial song evaporate out of the speakers. Which it did without much effort.

The next year brought big changes as the band [in America, at least] were now named Kaja, and Limahl was ousted in a coup; leaving bass player Nick Beggs the lead singer. As I did back in the day, I made “middle of the night” MTV tapes whenever I had fresh tape and would then tape around anything good enough to save. All of the “Low Rotation” interesting stuff, could be seen this way, if you had patience. And luck. Imagine my surprise when on one such tape the Kaja video for “Turn Your Back On Me” manifested to my utter shock and awe. As seen below.

Yow! That’s some hot stuff! The gimmicky US version of the music video was fun, too. Run that one right after M+M’s “Black Stations, White Stations” for maximum op art effect. Against all odds, the band had gotten about 500% more ambitious for their phase two period. Beggs was a capable vocalist but his talent for bass exploded with his adoption of the Chapman Stick, the coolest rhythm instrument in that it can also play melody for a neither fish nor fowl sound that has always entranced me. I now badly wanted this album that the MTV video touted, called “Extra Play.” Apparently, it was five cuts from the second UK Kajagoogoo album, “Islands” with a pair of US remixes on the flip side for seven total tracks. Long for an EP but this was the 80s – a time where nothing succeeded like excess!

<insert decade long span here>

Except that I never found a copy. I was attending record shows [remember those?] in the mid-90s and I finally came upon the full “Islands” album, where it has sat in my Record Cell ever since. It was not too much longer when I also came across the Kajagoogoo 8″ US laserdisc of the three clips from “White Feathers.” On principle, since I bought any even marginal 8″ music video on laserdisc [there weren’t many].

The three clips on there were typical of their time period, and are a fizzy time capsule of early-mid 80s style influences now. Which is more than I can say for the songs. I mean, what can one say about a song that has the audacity to name itself “Ooh To Be Ah?” I just gave this a spin while brushing my teeth this morning and I can’t say it made much of a musical impression. But the later material with Beggs in the driver’s seat was much more interesting indeed! Far more interesting was this record that I finally saw and bought on my last trip to Atlanta earlier this year!

EMI America | US | 12″ | 1984 | V-7850-1/2

Kaja: Turn Your Back On Me US 12″ [1984]

  1. Turn Your Back On Me [flipped disc mix]
  2. Turn Your Back On Me [dub mix]

These US mixes were by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero and represent a much more interesting 12″ mix than what the UK got. The band created a lurching, almost sinister dance-funk here with Beggs doubling on popping funk bass as well as the grinding funk grooves proffered by his Stick. The synths were PPG Wave as favored by Dolby at the time. The sampled percussion breakdowns were fairly innovative here, while the sample flute highlights were the only featherlight thing about this darker, much more muscular sound. This song sounded like the cream of Level 42 [think “Hot Water”] touched with King Crimson at their dancefloor best [think “Sleepless”]. I had been waiting way too long to have this luxuriant 7:00 mix of this dynamic song. The B-side dub mix was a fair to middling attempt at an honest dub of the track. Better than some but you won’t be forgetting Adrian Sherwood.

Nick Beggs has gone on to be something of a favored son for the Stick community. They released some of his solo albums and he’s currently the featured artist for 2018 on the Chapman Stick site. Like anyone who makes the Stick their environment, he’s much more Prog now than his bygone pop era would have suggested. Playing with Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, and John Paul Jones show that his bleached roots were ignored. Only the power that he brought to the table mattered, and as his leadership turn with Kaja/googoo showed, he was capable of making dark, rich, powerful dance material not terribly removed from where Shriekback were venturing at the same time.

p.s.: Im my haste I forgot to mention that I had planned to write about this last Friday then Pete Shelley suddenly died, so that went out the window. A day or two later, djjedredy @ My Vinyl Dreams coincidentally blogged about this exact same record! And djjedredy posts rips, so if you want to hear htis exact mix and B-side, click here.

– 30 –

Posted in How I Stopped Worrying, New Romantic, Record Review | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Midge Ure Rocks 1980 40 Years Later

I was wondering what Midge Ure playing the “Visage” album would sound like – now we’ll know!

How timely can we get? Just last week when we dug into the DLX RM of Midge Ure’s first solo album, “The Gift,” there was a comment I made about wanting to hear him play more than “Fade To Grey” and “The Dancer” live from the Visage songbook. Just days later, Ure has announced his tour for 2019/2020 which sees him revisiting his 1980 output with a full airing for the seminal “Vienna” album as well as highlights from the equally seminal “Visage” album. This far, the world has heard “Fade To Grey” and “The Dancer” sounding very well, but I am exceedingly interested in hearing him take on tracks like “Visage” and “Malpaso Man.” Sure, sure, anyone reading this would sign up to hear the full “Vienna” album, but it’s the nooks and crannies of “Visage” that I’ll admit that I’m most excited in hearing.

Now, do I for a minute think that this tour will play anywhere except for his strongholds of the UK and Germany? Not really, and for that reason I’m interested in the notion of Ure capturing this show on a CD. Because I can’t just fly over there and make it happen. His 2016/2017 tour of The States had a show where 4/9 tracks from “Vienna” got played, and for that I’m grateful. But yeah, I really want to hear that Visage material live in Ure’s hands! That’s why even though I am snowed in at home [I’m still working though] I have made the effort to get this timely news out there anyway.

MIDGE URE | The 1980 Tour – UK | 2019

Oct. 6th | Norwich | Theatre Royal
Oct. 7th | Birmingham | Town Hall
Oct. 8th | Leicester | De Montford Hall
Oct. 10th | Cambridge | Corn Exchange
Oct. 11th | Cardiff | Tramshed
Oct. 12th | Aylesbury | Waterside Theatre
Oct. 13th | Glasgow | Barrowlands
Oct. 15th | Guildford | G-Live
Oct. 16th | Leamington | Assembly
Oct. 18th | London | Palladium
Oct. 19th | Southend | Cliffs Pavilion
Oct. 20th | Ipswich | Corn Exchange
Oct. 21st | York | Grand Opera House
Oct. 22nd | Gateshead | Sage
Oct. 25th | Manchester | Albert Hall
Oct. 26th | Liverpool | Philharmonic Hall

The Midge Ure website says that German dates will be forthcoming any day now, with other territories to follow. Like I said, I don’t expect to see any US dates but I’m ready to be pleasantly surprised should they happen. Any tour might come as close as Charlotte or Raleigh. We’ll see. With Ultravox a non-starter, we’ll have to be thankful for the reunion shows a decade ago. We got a live album/DVD/EP out of it. I don;t need a DVD of this but I’d be very content with a CD of such a show. It’s hard to believe that “Vienna” is coming up to the 40 year mark, but almost everything I cherish musically is that old. Where did the time go? UK and Euro fans be sure to catch this and to share your thoughts.

– 30 –

Posted in Core Collection, New Romantic, Organ Auction Live Event, Scots Rock, Tourdates | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

REDUX: A Young Person’s Guide To: The Dickies – Nights In White Satin

July 30, 2014

A+M Records | UK| 7" | 1979 | AMS 7469

A+M Records | UK| 7″ | 1979 | AMS 7469

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin UK 7″ [1979]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Waterslide [remix]

Back in the New Wave era we had a crate load of irreverent, smart-assed cover versions. Cover versions usually follow new genres. Disco was filled with ’em. It’s how new styles become ripe for exploitation after the pioneers define them. What set New Wave apart is that is was full of cover versions that were intellectual responses to a lot of what came before. Much of the genre was a reaction against: rock pretension, smugness, and accomplishment. As Meatloaf said, “two outta three ain’t bad.” The record we’re looking at today certainly hits the target for the first two criteria, but don’t let their amphetamine speed fool you; The Dickies had talent to spare even as they were practically allergic to using it in the ways that, let’s say, Rick Wakeman, might have done. They partially existed to mock rock royalty’s penchant for pretension and smugness.

And nowhere is that ethos more encapsulated than within the grooves of this record. If ever there was a standard-bearer for middlebrow pretension in rock, it was probably The Moody Blues with their laughably kitschy, albeit game-changing, second album. When I was nine years old, for some reason, “Nights In White Satin,” the 1967 single by The Moody Blues was inexplicably a number one single in America five years later! As a child, I found the song impossibly maudlin and depressing. Five years later, as a pretentious adolescent, it became for a year or two, my favorite song ever! Fortunately, I came to my senses and when I had more education and experience under my belt, I could see it as the processed cheese that it always was.

White vinyl from A+M UK, of course!

White vinyl from A+M UK, of course!

So the time was ripe in 1979 for The Dickies to give this stodgy piece of middlebrow aspiration an injection of irreverent speed and fun; the last quality being completely alien to The Moody Blues, who were as stiff as boards. They rip through this with aplomb, but it’s perhaps not quite as fast as their blistering take on “Paranoid,” which actually was a great song before they covered it. Here, they are content to merely spray seltzer in Justin Hayward’s face, metaphorically, at least. As usual, the primary, A+M UK 7″ was, like almost every Dickies single, issued on colored vinyl. This time it was white, of course. Sadly, this is not a record in my Record Cell, but I should get a copy since the B-side is a remix of “Waterslide” from the band’s debut album. Fortunately, copies of this seem to be plentiful and at low prices.

A+M Records | Portugal | 7" |1979 | PAM 20069F

A+M Records | Portugal | 7″ |1979 | PAM 20069F

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin PORTUGAL 7″ [1979]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Infidel Zombie

Strangely, enough, their is another sleeve variant for the Portuguese release, also made in 1979. As we can see, the tie + tails splendor of the UK sleeve has been eschewed for a straight run of the cover to the attendant “Dawn Of The Dickies” album. Why, I can’t quite say. Sure, the type treatment differs, understandably. But only Dickies completists need apply here, since the colored vinyl stayed in the UK and more importantly, the B-side with a remix variant was swapped for a straight cut from the “Dawn Of The Dickies” album.

A+M Records | US | 7" | 1980 | 2225-S

A+M Records | US | 7″ | 1980 | 2225-S

The Dickies: Nights In White Satin US withdrawn 7″ [1980]

  1. Nights In White Satin
  2. Manny, Moe, and Jack

Throughout my history of collecting records, there are more than a handful that I count myself lucky to own. Records that I simply can’t believe ever found their way to the sleepy hamlet I grew up in and into the right record stores, awaiting my purchase. And then there’s this one! A+M US was a year late to the game in releasing this single compared to the UK and Portuguese divisions of the label, but in terms of packaging, they more than made up for it! Looking at this sleeve, it’s hard to imagine how such a incendiary image would ever have gotten green-lighted! Even more shocking was that I did not buy this in 1980, but 18 years later! Heck, I didn’t even know about this sleeve until I walked into Rock & Roll Heaven in 1998 and saw it pinned to the wall for, what, six or eight dollars?! As a Dickies fan, I didn’t think twice and today, if I wanted the pleasure of its company, I would be looking at serious money to own this.

The B-side is yet another album cut, albeit one that was a single as well in the UK. The band’s song of praise to the three Pep Boys, who sell car parts all over this great land of ours. But who cares about that; just look at that sleeve! These guys were mocking the Ku Klux Klan long before that became mainstream with “O Brother, Where Art Thou!” But, somehow, I can’t help suspecting that this release may have a lot to do with why The Dickies soon found themselves off of A+M Records and faced a three year banishment from the record stores until “Stutkas Over Disneyland” appeared on PVC Records three years later.

– 30 –

Posted in Blast From The Past, Record Review | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Pete Shelley: 1955-2018

Pete modeling the second coolest shirt of the 80s.

Late yesterday afternoon, the junior designer came up to me bearing news that “the singer from The Buzzcocks has died!” Incredulous, I had no idea that Pete was dead, but his relevance to the Punk and Post-Punk worlds was significant. I first heard The Buzzcocks when I saw the video for “What Do I Get” on Rockworld. I never really bit for that band, for one reason or another while they were first active. They re-wrote the rules for everything that followed when the original lineup had the audacity to press up their own 7″ record. Making the D.I.Y. ethos of the Punk movement officially begun. If Shelley had never recorded another note, that would have been enough for a place in the history books.

But by the time that I knew about the Buzzcocks, I was already deeper into synthesizer music, making the breakup of The Buzzcocks in 1980 an entry point for lots of Pete Shelley in the Record Cell since his solo career that kept him busy from 1981 to 1988 was awash in technological pop. I first heard “Homosapien” on college radio and had to have this album. I first sprang for the mandatory 2×7″ pack of “I Don’t Know What It Is” to get one of the best B-sides of all time – “Witness the Change.” That song was so hot, that WPRK-FM [the aforementioned college station] was playing it with regularity.

Pete was working with the newly electronic oriented Martin Rushent as these two old Punk dogs were learning new techno tricks at the dawn of the 80s. After witnessing the gestation of Visage, Rushent obtained the Roland Microcomposer and a Linn Drum machine and Pete’s songs for the abandoned Buzzcocks album he would not be recording in 1981 became demos for his solo album. Pete sang and played electric and acoustic guitars and the Microcomposer was used as the compositional tool that it was designed to be for songwriters; only when they were done with the demos the notion was “these sound great – why not release them as is?”

At the time, the juxtaposition of acoustic rhythm guitars with synths and drum machines was defiantly exotic. A new sound was being brewed and the “Homosapien” album was the play lab that enabled it. The stage was set here for the next step on Human League’s “Dare” later in the year,” which would bust open the charts with the new way of making albums. Meanwhile, Pete had a solo career that was as far from the punk pop roots of The Buzzcocks possible. The queer core embedded in “Homosapien” insured that it would not become the hit that “Don’t You Want Me” eventually would become, but don’t tell that to the club denizens who took to this anthem and the very first excursions into electro-dubspace that filled the 12″ singles from Pete Shelley.

Rushent applied honest dub technique to electronic sound and in the process became the go-to producer of 1982; at least until “Poison Arrow” byTrevor Horn dropped and changed the game overnight. I had heard that Pete Shelley was doing a solo tour of the US with machines and tapes in tow, but the closest it came to me in Orlando was Atlanta and those games didn’t happen for years. Meanwhile, I haunted the Record City store asking when Pete’s second album was ever getting released.

It seemed like an eternity but in early 1983 it finally got a domestic release and I wasted no time in buying it or the pre-release 12″ single of the mighty “Telephone Operator.” “XL-1” was a more consistent outing than “Homosapien” had been. I had the US version of the former album, and it had some B-sides swapped int the running order for a few of the left-field tracks that were a strange fit for the album. At least “XL-1” was intact in comparison.

After  three year wait, Shelley re-emerged with an album produced by the inescapable Stephen Hague. It wasn’t bad. The singles were strong, but it seemed to lack a certain flair the first two albums had in excess. Maybe the sad fact was that by 1986, everything pop was synthpop. In the last decade I’ve been tracking down the 12″ singles from this album as they are the only Shelley rarities not on CD.

Following that album, Shelley seemed to disappear, until three years later the ’81  Buzzcocks lineup reformed for a series of gigs. The main duo of Shelley and Steve Diggle would helm various versions of the band and in 1993 they made a new album that is the only Buzzcocks in the Record Cell: “Trade Test Transmission.” No… wait. That’s not quite true, I just remembered that I have a Buzzcocks laserdisc [which I’ve never seen] that came out in the USA [!] in 1990 called “Live Legends.” I think it’s a show from 1980. I’ll need to crank that one up and finally watch it this weekend.

1994 finally brought the CDs of “Homosapien” and “XL-1” but owing to the budgetary impact of my first computer purchase [a top of the line 1993 Macintosh @ $4500 – really]  and a move that happened at the same time, I did not get these CDs for another 7-8 years. The “Homosapien” CD had some clear editing errors that saw the beginnings and endings of the bonus tracks all messed up, but if listened to in a linear fashion, it sounds just fine. All of the bonus tracks that either album required were added.

Around that time was the one time that I actually saw The Buzzcocks live at the club at Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. My friend Tom was just back from the UK with a British wife who loved two bands more than any other: Gong and The Buzzcocks. I know, I know. I can’t make up that sort of thing. Would I be interested in seeing them in St. Pete? Most definitely! I got to meet Tom’s wife and I drove us all the 90 minutes to the gig. The band were inside the club at Jannus Landing, not the patio/outdoors venue. It was a zippy, upbeat concert that had everyone singing along with the closing “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” We got back into town after 3:00 and fortunately, I was a lot younger then. Four hours later it was off to work with me. Looking back, I’m so glad that I made the effort! It would be my only Pete Shelley concert moment.

One thing that has stuck in my craw was how difficult it was to get the Buzzcocks albums on CD. The “Product” box in 1989 would have been the thing to buy to finally take the Buzzcocks plunge, but I never saw it in anything but the cassette version in any record stores I traveled in. It’s still on my want list. I’ve been a little better at buying all of the ’84-’88 solo singles that were not on CD, with the exception of “Homosapien II” from 1989. That one I’ve never seen, but I have “On Your Own” and recently got “Blue Eyes.” I still need “I Surrender,” “Never Again,” and “Waiting For Love” [in addition to “Homosapien II”] to craft that Shelley rarities REVO edition, Be sure to play some Pete Shelley; Buzzcocks or solo, this weekend as we mourn the loss of a vibrant talent who managed to blaze vital D.I.Y. trails in addition to being the 800 lb gorilla of punk-pop, and also a maker of dynamic club music that blazed new trails for synthpop at the dawn of the genre.

– 30 –


P.S. – Stop the presses [?] It looks like the first tribute to Shelley happened yesterday with Leæther Strip’s cover of “Telephone Operator.”


Posted in The Great B-Sides | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments

Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 5]

The US cassette

[continued from last post]

Live tracks from Ure’s Christmas ’85 date at Wembley Arena filled out the program. Two songs, “When The Winds Blow” and “After A Fashion” came from the “Call Of The Wild” 12″ B-side. Of the two, the latter was much more interesting. While the former was much better pop than the number one song that came from this album, the latter was a one-off single from ’83 with Mick Karn of JAPAN. At the time, it was an underwhelming experiment. Nowhere near the ideal of JAPAN Meets Ultravox that could have caused us all to burst into flames if it had lived up to the full promise of that premise. But the live take here took a dryly reserved bit of art rock and gave it a vocal performance that bit down hard into the song’s neck. He’s singing it like he meant it here.

Finally, two more live tracks from that Wembley show were added to the DLX RM as previously unreleased tracks. “That Certain Smile” wins no favors with me. The cloying opening lyric is hard to overcome, no matter how much the middle eight tries. The title track from “The Gift” is a stuffy bit of art rock that makes more sense on a record than trying to imaging 60,000 people in a stadium hearing in a Midge Ure concert. Wembley was ill suited for such introverted material.

This album felt like a mashup of maybe three different projects; a move into chart pop, an instrumental album, and the bones of an Ultravox album. Some of the pop was not to my liking. The first two singles were problematic for me. Ure was hitting too far below his weight for my tastes on “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.” But I felt that “When The Winds Blow” and “She Cried” worked for the pivot to pop that Ure was obviously trying to make. I suppose he thought that there’s no reason why he couldn’t manage to get a Phil Collins-like solo career out of this. They each had a rock past [Prog Rock, in Collin’s case] but were at home on the pop charts. And Ure was certainly a much, much better singer. But Collins’ career was built on transatlantic hits of the sort that evaded Ure, who couldn’t get arrested in The States.

The instrumentals ran the gamut from perfunctory to revelatory. At worst, these were like late period Ultravox B-sides of little consequence, but “The Chieftain” was a stunning track. It held none of the bloodlessness that sometimes typified the album. The appearance of “Wastelands” and the title track… and maybe “Living In The Past” all contributed to a little back pedaling by Ure; as if he were still keeping a foot on Ultravox soil. Paradoxically, the only two songs here with an Ultravox styled motorik beat were the least ‘Vox-like songs on the disc: “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.”

We know it as “the pink thing…”

And the fallout from this album would have a lingering effect on the future of Ultravox. I couldn’t help but notice that after designing the first single and the LP cover, long-time designer Peter Saville was replaced with Michael Nash Associates instead. They had designed the “Love’s Great Adventure” single and “The Collection” album it was added to the previous year. They took over on Ure’s solo material from “The Gift” and when Ultravox re-convened, they were the design team who helped make “the pink thing” possible. Similarly, Mark Mark Brzezicki of Big Country drummed on “Wastelands” and found himself asked to sub for the sacked Warren Cann on “U-VOX” the next year. These were external signs of a sea change in Ultravox.

I also found that the lack of aggressive rock drive that typified a side of Ultravox at their best was something that would be in very short supply from him going forward. Fiery songs like the “The Chieftain” were thin on the ground for Midge Ure post-1985. As much as he wanted to be a pop star, to me at heart he’s a rock guy with rock values. Visage may have been a “dance band” but their ties to rock were much stronger than many would think at first. That band had muscular rock sensibilities at their core. The one song I could enjoy on Ure’s 2000 album “Move Me” was another powerful instrumental called “Monster.” Like “The Chieftain” it came out of nowhere to grab me by the lapels and make me notice it. In fact, the context was much stronger in 2001 when I bought a copy because it had been the 15 years and “The Chieftain” since I had heard Ure making as bold a musical statement.

“The Gift” was certainly a high water mark for Midge Ure. It generated a number one single in “If I Was.” That was a feat that evaded Ultravox’s grasp thanks to Joe Dolce. The album charted at number two, and he was able to have a live date at Wembley Stadium. That’s rock on a level heretofore unknown to Ultravox. But not to the co-architect of Band Aid.  This solo career launch was, in a sense, a valedictory lap for the talented and affable Ure. After over a decade of moving and shaking, partially behind the scenes, and at other times as the face of Ultravox in their run in the spotlight, Ure had arrived with his well-honed rock chops ready to grab the brass ring. He touched it a few times, but did not get to grasp it for long.

As things stood in 1985, Midge Ure was the old guard peaking and maybe not realizing it just yet. His music oriented chops would be less important to pop going forward. The seeds of the PWL empire were growing underfoot in 1985. Buy 1986 they would be the tail that wagged the UK pop dog. And dance oriented house music would be taking the place of New Wave rock [on its last legs by this time, in any case] on the UK pop charts. Midge Ure would never have a berth in the UK Top 20 again, and the notion of playing a solo gig to tens of thousands of people as he did at Wembley on December 23rd, 1985 would be a distant pipe dream. Afterward, Midge Ure became an elder statesman of Rock. The go-to man for the Prince’s Trust concerts for several years afterward, but a stranger to the charts.

Following the release of “The Gift,” it  was as if a five year dream of success was ending for Ure with the cold reality that he would never again command the sway that he had from ’81-’85. This album was the line in the sand for him in many ways. I had a hard time with this album when it came out and I was biased against it for the longest time. Now I find it the apex of Ure’s solo career. If I were to make a Midge Ure Rock G.P.A., this would rank at 2.5/4. Maybe 3 on a good day. It was not a bad run. There are many musicians whose time in the limelight was much shorter but “The Gift” will always have a bittersweet whiff to me for all of the sea change that it represented on what I could expect from Ure and even Ultravox moving forward.

– 30 –

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Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 4]

JPN LP with obi

[continued from last post]

The second supplemental disc managed to round up almost every affiliated rarity that surrounded the album. There were a few items missing, which we’ll duly note. The 7″ version of “Call Of The Wild” was missing, and while the “No Regrets” single discussed in the next paragraph was here, “After A Fashion,” his team up with JAPAN’s Mick Karn wasn’t. It would have been nice to get those 12″ single tracks on an album like this. Since this was a “definitive edition” of course they had to add some previously unreleased bait for the fans to buy again. While “The Gift” was al album of the ’85-’86 period, the bonus tracks began with something that went all the way back to 1982, and was the first solo Midge Ure release, and we’re so glad that they did.

“No Regrets” was a UK single that when released in the summer of 1982, went top 10 in the UK. The Tom Rush heartbreak ballad had been a single for the writer in 1967, so it had knocked around a bit in the 15 years before Ure covered it. It looks like dozens of artists took a crack at this one. It was last heard in the UK charts as the late-in-the-game hit single by the reformed 1970s Walker Brothers in 1975. Ure was definitely a Scott Walker fan as he’s admitted that “Vienna” was influenced by “The Electrician” and on this song, he stuck fairly close to the arrangement that The Walkers made a hit with; even sticking closely to the iconic guitar solo.

Ure, chopped off an extra verse and ramped up the tech and buffed the final product to a fortissimo 4:00 length. This single was killer great stuff that I first heard when MTV would occasionally play the video in the early 80s, in defiance of the fact that the song had never been released here until 1993 on a Ultravox/Midge Ure “best of” compilation. I finally got the song in the Record Cell when it showed up as a B-side on the “Wastelands” 12″ single. It took me long years to finally get the 7″ of this and the 12″ [pictured here – I still don’t have one] had a different sleeve but was musically identical to the 7″ version. The instro B-side was notable for naming Ure’s music publishing company and little else.

Next, the full contents the “If I Was” 12″ single appeared. The extended A-side ramped up the instrumental quotient of the song with standard buildups favored at the time. It’s nothing that made the song any better or worse. The version of “The Man Who Sold The World” was another of Ure’s 1982 side trips brought back into the fold. He recorded it for the 1982 soundtrack album of the movie, “Party, Party,” a rather fun group of mostly covers by UK pop stars of the time. I had to have this in 82 for his version of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World.” I had not heard the original at that time, but it was Bowie with Ure covering it! It had to be amazing.

Well, the song has never done anything for me to this day. Even the Bowie original, which I heard by the 90s. The version on the B-side of the “If I Was” 12″ is a 5:30 version and the version on “Party Party” is a 5:50 take. I have heard that it’s a newer recording in 1985 but I’ve not bothered to do the forensic listening and analysis to determine this or not. It’s still a dreary, turgid song; now with added synthesizers and drum machines. The real prize of this single was the instrumental non-LP B-side, “Piano.” It showed that Ure had been listening to Philip Glass back then and was taking notes! It’s all piano and [sampled] piccolo ostinatos and builds in an infinite loop of swirling tension. It’s an exciting 2:30 at just the right length.

One of the defining features of the 12″ single of “That Certain Smile” was that there was no extended 12″ remix; and almost unthinkable notion in 1985! That did not mean that they didn’t try. There is a 6:30 extended mix on this CD; the only place where it can be heard. For a reason! It sounds like a rough mix that might have been abandoned since anyone could see that it was not meant to be. The EQ darts all over the place here and what little integrity the song had is eviscerated in the attempt. I did like the extended coda on the fadeout though! They had something going there.

The other 12″ B-sides featured here. The instrumental version of “The Gift” was less anguished without Ure’s vocal on top. As usual, the winner here was still the B-side from the original 12″ single. The live version of “Fade To Grey” from Ure’s rehearsals for his big solo tour of late ’85 featured Mick Ronson on the left channel playing guitar. Slide, by the sound of it. Ure took the leads on the right channel. The whole thing had a wild west, Morricone tinge to it and we had always waited to hear this song sung by Ure, so it managed to fulfill the dream well enough.

The first real winner on 12″ mixes from Ure was the “Wastelands” extended version. It managed to build up the levels of the song’s melodrama exceptionally well. The extended intro built, and built, until it was finally undercut by a single piano note just prior to Ure’s joining in on the song. While the album mix was a highlight, the 12″ version stood as definitive to these ears. Mark Brzezicki, of Big Country played the drums on this track and cemented his place in the future Ultravox lineup, though no-one here knew that it would happen! The other tracks from this 12″ were the live @ Wembley Stadium versions of “The Chieftain/The Dancer.” Live band drummer Kenny Hyslop [ex-Slik] does his best but the monster drum machines of “The Chieftain” were not to be topped, and Kevin Powell does his best to walk in Mark King’s footsteps in an admirable attempt. The live version wisely segued after 2:30 into the first ever live Visage track; “The Dancer.” This lively track from the Visage debut came across exceptionally well. Almost making us wonder what a full Visage tour by Ure and his band might have been like.

The créme de la créme of Midge Ure’s solo career was definitely the 12″ version, remixed by Rik Walton, of “Call Of The Wild.” This was probably a full Messenger’s track that never got released since Colin King was also credited on the writing of it with Daniel Mitchell and Ure. The 12″ mix was radically re-structured with the thunderdrums dropping the listener right into the middle of a team of horses running at full gallop. The bass of Kevin Powell managed to keep up with the rapidly firing drum machines here rather well. The metallic squeals of Ure’s guitar added frissons of howling rock tension to the song. Whenever I hear this it’s pulse-racing time. Ure never sounded better than he did here, and the 8:00 12″ mix always ends way faster than I would have preferred it to! It’s too bad that Razormaid didn’t make a killer 10:00 version of this one.

Next: …Live At Wembley



Posted in Core Collection, Designed By Peter Saville, Mid-80s Malaise, New Romantic, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments