Making Up For Lost Time In The 90s With Associates [part 3]

billy mackenzie ©1994 Gilbert Blecken
Billy MacKenzie ©1994 by Gilbert Blecken of Destination Pop

Part 3: Obsession MAGNIFICENT…

With my perceptions permanently altered by my encounter with Associates, I really started purchasing vinyl records once again after pretty much a five year layoff. By the early 90s, it was apparent that whole swaths of material was going to not make the “leap to digital,” and would get swept under the carpet of culture otherwise if I didn’t look out for them. Simultaneously, I was also aware that the ability to record a CD was coming soon. And I was planning on not missing that boat.

So with my gaze fixed in the rear-view mirror, I was now looking for new musical kicks that were 8-10 years old. I began buying 12″ singles I had missed earlier for making my long-planned BSOGs [Boxed Sets Of God] with all manner of a band’s rarities collected and compiled by my own hand if the industry was not doing it otherwise. This was the mindset I was operating under after buying “Popera.” and number one on my collecting list was the entire decade of Associates records I’d missed.

Actually, I’d also bought the brand new Associates CD, “Wild + Lonely,” which was also in the used bins as a promo at Park Ave. CD at the same time as “Popera,” but the tepid disc was like an impossibly bland Pet Shop Boys album [albeit with better singing]. It was not compelling to me but “Popera” was so deep into my pleasure zone that I simple ignored the contrary evidence on “Wild + Lonely.”

WEA | GER | CD | 1988 | 240 005-2

The next CD I got was from the Sound City 2000 catalogs I ordered a lot of my late 80s/early 90s CDs from. I was thrilled to see that a CD of the highly regarded “Sulk” was in print at the time. It was the severely altered US/GER edition with remixes and song substitutions galore…but it was better than nothing! It represented six songs that were not on “Popera,” and in different mixes [there would be a lot of this tomfoolery] as well. The deathless grandeur and high drama of “No” was the clear stunner here, as was the John Barry frolic that was “Skipping.” But hard core fans can see that the two best songs on the album [“Bap De La Bap” and “Nude Spoons”] had been excised undoubtedly due to their uncompromising strangeness.

Strange Fruit | UK | CD5 | 1989 | SFPSCD075

The only other Associates CD in print at that time was the Peel Sessions EP, so I ordered one of these from the catalogs too. Hearing songs I already had hipped me to the fact that Billy MacKenzie was not interested in singing a song the same way twice. “It’s Better This Way” was performed very different from the recording on my CD of “Sulk.” With those CDs now in the Record Cell, I think I had every Associates CD available at the time. The growth area was going to be most definitely in vinyl for me. But as usual, the Orlando record bins were starved for Associates records. I would have to travel further afield.

sam the reocrd man on yonge street
The full Sam monty…

In 1992 I did just that. At the time I was trading videos with a friend in Pittsburgh and we conspired to take a trip through Eastern Canada that summer. I flew into Montreal and she met me there as we drove through Ottawa and to Toronto. It was my first time in Canada and was that ever a fun trip! Alas, I was only buying CDs in Canada at the time. My heart sinks in retrospect at what delights that Sam The Record Man on Yonge Street might have had on record only in their full pomp! The Canada trip was amazing. I realized that I really loved that city and even got to meet a Jane Siberry collector friend who I’d swapped with through Goldmine ads. The back end was spending some time in Pittsburgh with my friend and in that city I was definitely buying more than CDs. Traveling with a fellow record store junkie was a very easy thing to do and she took me to several great stores in Pittsburgh, but none were more amazing that one called “The Collector’s 12 Inch.” Here’s what I got in one place.

It makes me swoon just recalling it and that was 30 years ago. But that was by far from the only Billy MacKenzie excitement that year! Shortly after my summer vacation I got a new CD catalog and the first Billy MacKenzie solo album, “Outernational,” was coming and I pre-ordered a copy of it along with the CD single for “Colours Will Come.”

Circa | UK | CD | 1992 | CIRCD 22

The “Outernational” album was head and shoulders more exciting than “Wild + Lonely” had been. The music was far more inspirational as it has been made with musical contributions from the likes of Boris Blank and three members of Palais Schaumburg: Thomas Fehlmann, Ralf Hertwig, and Moritz Von Oswald. With Fehlmann also being part of Ambient House monsters The Orb.

This album shocked me in 1992 because it was largely a Deep Eurohouse album that was actually incredible sounding. The downtempo title track was cinematic with a full storyline conveyed by the sound design and ambient sound of a city at night sounding more like a film than a song. The deep groove of “Feels Like The Richtergroove” lived up to its name as the pulsating machine rhythms were utterly relentless.

But the apex of the album was its third track. “Opal Krusch” was an immense, widescreen soundscape, with swelling synths trilling like birdsong over the stomping beats. Mr. MacKenzie’s vocal entry to the song was a call and response of a tentative, feminine “Hello?” answered with a decisive, and masculine “Hello!” It’s always a spine tingling moment to hear that song take off into the stratosphere and thirty years of listening haven’t dimmed its allure one iota.

After a Eurohouse front end, the back end of the album was a series of four tracks in a row as produced [and with the song “Baby,” also co-written] by Boris Blank of Yello. I’d imagine that “Baby” might have been earmarked as the title track to the Yello album but instead it found its way here. These songs were all sumptuous, widescreen ballads of the highest caliber, but the climactic “In Windows All” pulled out all of the stops courtesy of MacKenzie’s heart wrenching vocal performance.

And who wants to know when bridges are burning

When biting winds blow, and you’re slowly turning

Into that wind, that bully of nature

We’re all in this swim, for lesser or greater

“In Windows All”

With songs like that, Billy proved he didn’t need partners to co-write with to achieve greatness. Shortly afterward, in the early days of the internet I came upon a cut price wholesaler who solf half price Cds and when I rattled through their stock I founf gold. A 1995 Associates CD of “Radio 1 Sessions” with far more than the five Peel Sessions I previously had on CD. This disc was packed with 16 tracks and made a big impact at the time. It was only the third Associates full length CD available.

East India Trading | US | CD | 1994 | DEI8133-2

It sported some radically different takes of familiar songs. “Love Hangover” was in a completely different intro arrangement with backing vocalist Martha Ladly trading off vocals with Billy as the song meandered its way to what eventually became the song we all know. “Waiting For The Love Boat” was in a recording with Alan Rankine before the schism and it sported a completely different music bed to what we eventually heard on “Perhaps,” logically. best of all were the songs that were never recorded in any other capacity except radio sessions like “give,” or “Obsession Magnificent” and the electric “A Severe Bout Of Career Insecurity” that came from the “Sulk” era and wore that eccentricity proudly on its sleeves.

I kept my search up but the next big influx happened during our honeymoon four years later, when spending it in New Orleans. We happened upon a store called Underground Sounds on Magazine Street, and it was packed with vinyl goodness. Another significant cache of Associates records awaited me there and also more foreign Roxy Music 7″ singles than I have ever seen anywhere! I bought a lot and mail ordered more items upon returning home that I had second thoughts about.

In 1996 I was not yet buying records online as the mechanism were not quite there yet. This might have been pre-ebay, even. But in 1996, it was now four years on from the last MacKenzie album, “Outernational.” That was a long silence since it had only been two years between “Wild + Lonely” and that one. I didn’t know it at the time but I did the right thing by immediately ordering the “Outernational” CD as Billy’s label Circa had only pressed up 500 at a time when that was probably as small a run of CDs as was possible.

My collecting has come along but info was still difficult to come by in the early days of the web. I’m wondering if I was a member of The Affectionate Bunch, the online Associates mailing list yet. It may have been the case, since I can’t think of anywhere else where I might have gotten the terrible news that January day in 1997.

Next: …Aprés Billy

Posted in Core Collection, Scots Rock, Surviving The 90s | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

My Tragically Late Recognition of Associates Changed Everything [part 2]

Associates US Sire promo photo courtesy of Lansure’s Music Paraphanelia blog

Part 2: The EPIPHANY…

As we was in the last post, I had many opportunities to be exposed to both Billy MacKenzie and The Associates and I was curiously deaf to the evidence. Nothing clicked for me. Until that fateful day that I was browsing the bins at Park Ave. CDs. It was 1990. I was in the middle of falling out of love with British pop music and maybe wasn’t even aware of it. The proliferation of House Music in many various forms in the UK charts led to every single by groups I liked having a “House Remix” trumpeted on its cover. No matter how unlikely the pairing might be.

The Post-Punk music I liked had certainly crested by 1983 and was in fatal ebb by 1988. Digital synthesizers and the domination of the charts by PWL were hacking away at any enjoyment I was getting from British bands. Outside of the “Blonde Movement” [Voice of the Beehive, The Darling Buds, The Primitives, Transvision Vamp] I was not really enjoying much outside of the persistent threads of British Synth Pop still hanging on like Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, and Erasure. And their time in the sun was not long as they would end up having their upcoming singles [that I collected at the time] mixed into overly repetitive, and often downright unmusical “dance” mixes that had almost no connection to the album tracks it was ostensibly derived from which just annoyed me. In America, which was never my focus as a music fan, little did I know that Grunge was poised to explode in 1991 with what sounded like the direst expressions of hamfisted Hard Rock brought around again twenty years later to vex me all over again. I hated that vibe the first time around!

associates popera cover art
Sire | US | CD | 1990 | 9 26461-2

So I was inspecting the “New Arrival” bins at Park Ave. CDs and saw a [brand new] used promo CD by Associates. Entitled, “Popera: The Singles Collection.” Interesting. I remember reading a lot about the band but I never managed to really hear them. I’d been buying CDs for five years by 1990 and could never recall seeing the band on the silver disc. This would be an ideal starting point. I examined the contents on the back insert. Hmmmm… track 17…”White Car In Germany.” That sounded promising. The good thing about Park Ave. CDs was that they had CD players and phones where buyers could listen to used titles before buying. So I popped the disc in and went straight to the final track to hear “White Car In Germany.”

Situation Two | UK | 12″ | 1981 | Sit11t

Leiber Gott Im Himmel!

The curdled, yet cinematic synths of the track howled like feral alley cats over a martial beat that was daringly slow and methodical. The vibe seemed to be like something that could have been from an imagined Bowie album to follow “Low” and “Heroes,” had the Thin White One not gone off on a radical tangent on “Lodger” instead. Then the tense atmosphere was broken by the assured crooning of Billy MacKenzie. Taking the stage set by the music and amplifying it a hundredfold with his lyrics and performance.

Aberdeen’s an old place

Dusseldorf’s a cold place

Cold as spies can be

Lisp your way through Zurich

Walk on eggs in Munich

Rub salt in its knee

I’m not one for surgery

Premature senility

White car in Germany

“White Car in Germany”

“Walk on eggs in Munich…!”

I was spellbound! I snapped up that CD and immediately had a new toy! The sequencing of the disc began with the commercial breakthrough of the 1982 “Sulk” era, and went forward through to 1990’s “Waiting For The Love Boat [Slight Return]” from the “Poperetta EP” it took me ages to track down a copy of. And then the CD version had seven bonus tracks. Adding the version of Yello’s “The Rhythm Divine” where Billy managed to outsing Dame Shirley Bassey, who was vocalist on the hit single version from “One Second.”

associates kitchen peerson cover art
Situation Two | UK | 12″ | 1981 | SIT7T

Intriguingly, all five singles from “Fourth Drawer Down” closed out the disc at tracks 13-17. So the rawest and most radical material came last. I remain awestruck by the unfettered chaos of
“Kitchen Person,” which is to this day, my favorite Associates track. The music bed dominated with the berserk rhythms courtesy of drum machine loop and an electric typewriter with its “return” key secured down to provide a barrage of relentless mechanical rhythm at a frantic pace! Then the roaring devastation of Alan Rankine’s jet engine guitars seared the very air with their intensity. Between these ends of the music spectrum, the one other melodic feature than jumped out of the mix was the…marimba being played throughout the song! And then MacKenzie capped it all off with an unrestrained vocal at the edge of hysteria until the shock ending of the sustained organ block chord which persisted for a few seconds after the rest of the music bed dropped out.

The other material ran the gamut of smooth, Walker/Bowie pop with those amazing vocals by revealing MacKenzie hitting any targets he was aiming for. His range encompassed what I could only call a male diva range. He could give his vocal any potential gender shadings he wanted to. I was hearing femme Jazz vocal phrasing influence in the mix. There was a touch of Sarah Vaughan in some of his vocals.

associates breakfast 12" single cover
WEA | UK |12″ | m1985 | YZ 28T

The elegant piano ballad “Breakfast” in fact could have been a Sarah Vaughan cut! With its elegant string and piano orchestration it followed a timeless blueprint that allowed Mr. MacKenzie’s vocal assume center stage and really tug at the heartstrings, even with its cryptic and unsettling lyrics that defied easy interpretation.

How many men would dare to tackle a song like Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” much less redefine it as Billy did with dazzling aplomb? His vocal glided from stentorian baritone to high falsetto with all points in between. The hit single “Club Country” seemed a backhanded swipe at the New Romantics framed in a tense setting of near-hysteria that thrilled like few singers could.

associates - heart of glass cover art
WEA | UK | CD3 | 1988 | YZ310CD

The lush and cinematic Synthpop version of “Heart Of Glass” was here to jog my already dim memory of having actually encountered the song once in a club a few years earlier. So that’s who it had been! One of the songs here was a cove of Die Zwei’s “Country Boy” with Die Zwei producing and providing their distinctive close harmony vocals ala the famous Comedian Harmonists. The liner notes revealed that is was an unreleased single from the unreleased album “The Glamour Chase.” Right from the start I was being given an idea of the intrigue that would dog MacKenzie through his tumultuous career as there was little of it that was straightforward.

While the bulk of the album ran the gamut of slickly produced Art Pop and dance tracks, those final five songs of dark and foreboding or even nerve shredding Art Rock really gave me an idea of the stylistic breadth that Associates were capable of covering. This seemed to be a band that delivered anything that I might care deeply to hear!

The fall out of this 1990 revelation was the inescapable conclusion that I had really missed out on an incredible band that should have been one of my core collection groups for a full decade. Looking around in 1990, I was hardly seeing the heights of music that the Post-Punk era had copiously provided! truthfully, that ship had sailed by1985 and these were leaner times. This delivered to me the stunning revelation that if I had managed to utterly miss the glory and grandeur of Associates, maybe there were other bands that I had managed to miss from back in the day that would deliver far more thrills than the contemporary music that was not sating my tastes?

Following my acquisition of the aptly named “Popera,” I began to focus on my musical rear-view mirror going “forward.” I became more interested in unheard older music than in contemporary efforts. I’d spent twenty years devouring the latest Pop music from childhood to the age of 27, but I would be getting off of the Pop merry-go-round to do some deep diving into the many bands whose names I might recognize from other references, but with little else that I could claim knowledge of. And I had the truly stunning epiphany of [finally] hearing Associates to thank for this change of focus. But the first thing I needed to do was to get more Associates music into my Record Cell…and quickly!

Next: …Obsession Magnificent

Posted in Core Collection, Scots Rock, Surviving The 90s, Those First Impressions | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Billy MacKenzie Has Been Gone For 25 Years Now… [part 1]

Billy MacKenzie by Eugene Adebari


Where does the time go? It feels like he just died last month. I can remember the awful pit in my stomach when I discovered, somehow, on the internet [which in 1997, I only had at work] that he had committed committed suicide 25 years ago to this day. I had pinned a lot of hope on that guy as I had been very late to the game in appreciating his work. And when I finally heard it, it was a pivotal moment for me as I was floundering in the morass of what the 90s were becoming musically.

Given what I know now, I really should have had The Associates as one of my all time core collection artists from 1980 at least. Right up there with OMD, Ultravox, JAPAN, and Simple Minds. But back in high school, money was tight and venues to expose me to new sounds were highly limited in the Central Florida environment where I lived. It was far from a cultural center in the USA. I managed to hear of but crucially, not actually hear The Associates probably as early as 1981. I might see their name in the press but I never heard the band played on the college radio that I was listening to. Exposure to them was limited to music press that I might have seen in passing. I didn’t make a habit of buying UK music papers and magazines on a regular basis; too expensive for one with limited resources at the time. Money was better spent on actual records.

music of quality + distinction boxed 7" cover art
Virgin | UK | 5×7″ box | 1982 | VV2219

In 1982, my good friend chasinvictoria was living in Atlanta and Miami and would send me one of his legendary tape letters where he included highlights from albums he was buying at the time. Being the guy who introduced me to Heaven 17, he was all over the B.E.F. album that the band had put out in 1982. He bought the 7″ boxed set version and I got to hear the two tracks that Billy MacKenzie had recorded for the project. Covers of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” and my favorite Bowie song, “The Secret Life Of Arabia.” I was exposed to MacKenzie’s operatic vocal style matching Orbison on his classic song, and I was wildly enthusiastic about the levels of hysteria that he imbued “The Secret Life Of Arabia” with! In fat, as of 1982, the B.E.F. cover version became my go-to version of the song. I felt that had taken Bowie’s best and kicked it up several notches. Not the least with MacKenzie’s incredible vocal.

Virgin ‎| UK | LP | 1982 | OVED 7

Later that year, chasinvictoria sent another tape letter and included highlights from the compilation album called “Methods Of Dance Vol. 2.” He was smitten with various tracks and one of the peaks was Billy MacKenzie’s cover of “The Secret Life Of Arabia,” in a dub mix. Now even longer and more impressively cinematic. I’d like to say that I became an Associates fan right there on the spot, after this exposure. But no. That didn’t happen. I reasoned at the time that, sure, sure. This MacKenzie kid really had the pipes but I was sort of mistrustful of talented singers. That was not why I listened to music, and my experience had taught me that anyone who could sing that strongly, was not usually too careful about what they were actually singing. I associated accomplished vocals with a MOR perspective. Mea culpa.

I was gunning for my own copy of “Methods Of Dance Vol. 2” but it took me some years to source one. I can vividly recall the one Associates record that I ever saw in the bins was a US edition of “Sulk” that was perpetually in the used New Wave bins at Retro Records in the ’82-’83 period where I first discovered the lure of used records. But crucially, I never did more than pick it up and look at it. To be honest, if it had a Peter Saville sleeve, I probably would have gone for it. Lots of music I loved sported those and the bracing cover to “Sulk” was too idiosyncratic to play into my visual bias there. Instead the Peter Ashworth photo was vibrant yet obscure. Not giving up any easy answers, though having now heard the album, I can’t imagine a different or more appropriate cover for it!

Another factor influencing my purchasing in the late ’82 window was the emergence of MTV in my cable market. I was discovering a lot of music via the medium of music videos and I can vouch that I never saw The Associates on MTV. Ever. To this day, I don’t even know if the band even made them! As far as I know, they rode to success on the basis of Top Of The Pops appearances that have been described as having a David Bowie-like impact in their studied oddness. And TOTP was a non-event in America.

warwick records the hit list cover art
Warwick Records | UK | LP | 1982 | WW 5123

By 1982, there was an even worse lapse in my second chance to trim my sails towards a destination of Associates fandom. Again back to chasinvictoria, he had exposed me to the Dollar single as produced by Trevor Horn on a UK Ronco album we’ve discussed before here at PPM. Smitten, I looked for Dollar records other that on that LP, which I duly purchased, and the only other one I ever found in America was a similar UK compilation of chart songs put out on the Warwick Records imprint, also in 1982, I had never heard of the label but they were a vastly MOR label given to hundreds of albums that your British grandmother might buy at the chemist. This was a singular outlier to nowhere in their releases called “Hit List” with yet more fake computer graphics of dancers. It had artists on it that were alive and less than 55 years of age. I bought this strictly for the Dollar track “Give Me Back My Heart,” and it has the following contents:

Various: Hit List – UK – LP [1982]

  • Dollar – Give Me Back My Heart
  • Shalamar – I Can Make You Feel Good
  • Pluto – Your Honor
  • Tygers of Pan Tang – Love Potion No. 9
  • Candi Staton – Suspicious Minds
  • Buzzz – Sorry My Dear
  • Gary Numan – Music For Chameleons
  • Rico + The Special A.K.A. – Jungle Music
  • Meatloaf – Dead Ringer For Love
  • The Associates – Party Fears Two
  • Starsound – Stars On Stevie
  • Motorhead – Iron Fist
  • UB40 – I Won’t CLose My Eyes
  • Natasha – Iko Iko
  • Girlschool – Don’t Call It Love
  • Techno Twins – Can’t Help Falling In Love
  • Private Lives – Because You’re Young
  • ABBA® – Head Over Heels
  • Chas ‘n’ Dave – Ain’t No Pleasing You

Like K-Tel or Ronco albums of the type, the tracks were edited down beyond what might have been done for the 7″ A-sides to cram the maximum of them on each side of the disc. I once played “Party Fears Two” since I’d by 1983 read interesting things about the song somewhere and I have to say that the single time I played it, no frissons of delight ensued. Maybe it was the edit, but it did nothing for me. So that’s a tragedy. Fate was conspiring to get the music of The Associates to my deaf ears. And there was one other series of incidents that I’m not proud of.

Yello goldrush cover art
Vertigo | GER | CD5 | 1986 | 884 877-2

From 1981 I had been collecting the music of Yello; the eccentric Swiss technopop trio that had slimmed down to a duo by 1985’s “Stella.” Their first single from their 1987 album “One Second” was called “Goldrush” and it featured Billy MacKenzie [him again!] prominently on backing vocals that could not be relegated to anything but the spotlight. Billy’s vocals seriously escalated the drama of the cut and I had no problem with him singing with yet another band I followed, like B.E.F., but even though I was buying record by mail order catalogs at this time, and probably could have finally gotten all of the Associates records that I swear I never saw in the Orlando bins, it never occurred to me. Why, I can only surmise was down to my utterly clueless nature. The universe had been doing its best to beat me over the forehead with the notion that Billy MacKenzie might have been someone I should have been pursuing avidly, and yet I kept failing the test.

Next: …Disc Of Revelations

Posted in Assorted Images, Bowie, Core Collection, obituary, Scots Rock, Surviving The 90s, Those First Impressions | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Want List: Graeme Thomson Gives Simple Minds Their Due with “Themes For Great Cities: A New History Of Simple Minds” Book

Little, Brown/Constable | ISBN-13: 9781472134004 | 360 pp. | 2022

It was almost two years ago I got wind of a new Simple Minds biography from the pen of Graeme Thomson. I had heard from Ross Stapleton, the Virgin A+R genius who got the band signed for their rightful ascent on the charts, that he’d been interviewed for this book. At the time there was another book also in the works that eventually became “The Heart Of The Crowd” and I sat back waiting to see when this other tome would manifest, and in spite of a global pandemic, that time is now.

As we found out, the “Book Of Brilliant Things” changed focus to become “The Heart of The Crowd” and that was ultimately, a bunch of fans weighing in on their Simple Minds experiences. Involvement with the band itself was extremely minimal for that one, and I was hopeful that Mr. Thomson would be giving us the kind of in-depth, penetrating analysis that we crave in respect to this band. Who’ve had an incredible career with the most productive and astonishing artistic arc in their early career of any band I could name. I’d say only Roxy Music’s achievements were greater, given that they appeared fully formed as though from the head of Zeus. Elvis Costello’s came close.

Mr. Thomson has previously written works on artists as varied as John Martyn, Kate Bush, and Phil Lynott, and he writes for The Guardian, Uncut, and Pitchfork. Word has it that he’s most interested in helping the band to reclaim the glorious achievement that constituted their rise to the top of the charts as it remains a body of work that compels me to revisit it frequently. The band have been more cognizant of this different time when their commercial pull was not yet there. For their arena years, they tended to dismiss this period, but recent years, including their amazing “5×5” tour playing only material from their first seven albums, has shown that they are giving that period the respect that it demands.

I am salivating to see that new perspectives and insights that Mr. Thomson can bring to this most riveting story even after I’ve hacked out over 120,000 words on the band’s career myself in a nearly year-long thread on this blog. The pull is such that I cannot get enough of this portion of the band’s story. But the joy is, that apart from a near-decade in the band’s career following the “Sparkle In The Rain” album that I did not care for, they have been gradually and assertively, re-connecting with the artistic mojo that had carried them through their developmental years to great success. In 2022 I’m equally interested in hearing about Simple Minds’ journey that has taken them from stadiums to wilderness and back again even as their continue to move from strength to strength.

Of course, the band’s principals were all interviewed for this tome. Messrs Kerr, Burchill, MacNeil, and Forbes were consulted and we also know that Ross Stapleton [without whom we might not even know about Simple Minds] will also be present in the pages for the band’s re-birth and rise with Virgin Records. The volume is available in e-book and hardcover for its rightful place in my Record Cell’s library. The book is priced to own at a sensible £20.00 [$27.17] and can be pre-ordered at the button below.

post-punk monk buy button

I can’t wait until I have this one in house to review. I suspect that I will burn through those pages in a weekend. Until then…join us with bated breath for the inevitable review.


Posted in Core Collection, Scots Rock, Want List | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Simple Minds Revisit “Act Of Love” From Their Earliest Days Today

simple minds act of love cover art
The spot-on fanzine style art spoke eloquently of “Act Of Love’s” 1978 origins

Simple Minds: Act Of Love – DL [2022]

  1. Act of Love 4:01

Friday we got a shock from the Simple Minds camp, who’ve been pretty quiet with the Covid Pandemic torpedoing the band’s formerly ceaseless live romp. Their 40 Years Of Hits tour [of 2020] will end up being something else, once it happens. Simple Minds are a band who are defined by their live touring so the impact on them must be significant. I first saw mention of this new single in the Steve Hoffman Music Forums, so I quickly went to and when I saw the cover art I knew that we were in good hands. Kudos must immediately go out to designer Stuart Crouch for his absolutely spot on vintage fanzine pastiche cover that put two Laurie Evans photos to expert usage in the revisit of “Act of Love.”

“Act Of Love” was significant to the band because it was the first song they ever played live at their debut concert on January 17th, 1978. It was 44 years ago to the day as they opened in Glasgow for Steel Pulse. With that in mind, Charlie Burchill returned to the song a few years ago while on vacation and had gotten some new inspiration. The song was revisited during their 2020, 2021 sessions for the next Simple Minds album but it was released today to commemorate their 44 year long journey and it will be a one-off single and won’t be on the new album. Well…maybe it might be a bonus track on the DLX ED of the new album. You never know these things. So what is it like?

The intro was all roiling synth loops and Jim Kerr’s haunting BVs until the drumbeats kicked in and got this song cruising on the wide lanes of the current Simple Minds sound. Fans of their sound on “Walk Between Worlds” will be glad that the band haven’t taken things in a dubious new direction. This was a sleek modern revisit to the song that was on their withdrawn “Early Years” compilation in a much stodgier 1978 demo recording. Burchill’s guitars were streamlined and ferocious and had none of the Acid Rock hangover that the teenage Charlie employed 44 years ago.

Similarly, Jim Kerr today had none of the Lou Reed mannerisms that he once was happy to revel in and he’s taken the song on as a mature artist. The structure of the verses and the chorus was familiar but all new verses were written and they added a new middle eight to the song that the original lacked. The chorus was pretty much the same but the dense sleek mix [courtesy of mixmaster Alan Moulder] absolutely spoke to the now of Simple Minds. This new version pulsated with an exciting energy that simply wasn’t there on the original. As Jim Kerr put it on the band’s website:

‘When we listened to the original demo, we loved its spirit and its general form, but it sounded like a youth club band song. How could we do that now, adding extra pieces without losing the essence?’

Jim Kerr

While I can enjoy the teenage Simple Minds [more accurately, Johnny + The Self Abusers, all the more likely] having a stab at a Glam Rock version of the Velvet Underground [the electric piano really stuck out] I’m with the new version. What else can I say than after its 4:00 minutes were up, I was already pining for more. I can only hope that Mr. Johnson Somerset gets an opportunity to give the new edition one of his widescreen twelve inch [more like eighteen inch remixes, actually] remixes. “Act Of Love” is out today digitally for streaming and download in the usual places. We’re not done yet with Simple Minds. Join us tomorrow for more.

post-punk monk buy button


Posted in Blast From The Past, Core Collection, Record Review, Scots Rock | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 24]

blow monkeys blue-red monktone
Blow Monkeys were reunited and it felt so good…

[…continued from last post]

“We Can Win” could have been a track from “Flatlands” from the sound of it. An acoustic folk number with brushed drums and acoustic guitars. But that was a deceptive simplification. Where it more closely reflected the current was in the caliber of the songwriting. As well as the framing of the song with a Memphis horn hook being the deciding Blow Monkey factor, though Dr. Robert’s reverberant tremolo guitar also made it more than something that would have been recorded on a Dr. Robert solo album.

Far more radical was the lurching Art Rock rondo of “Only Joking.” The obstinate drum pattern owned this song. It was front and center with the bass right in our faces with it. The nagging, dissonant saxes really positioned this one like a throwback to the sound of their “Punk Jazz” roots given an update with all they had learned in the intervening quarter century. The berserk touch of Dub only made it stand out more in sharp relief. And the cold ending where Dr. Robert simply said “stop!” to have the song end on the next measure reminded me of “Under Heavy Manners” and Robert Fripp’s similar command.

After that left field outlier [to nowhere], it was time for something more melodic. “I Dream Of You” began with a more conventionally beautiful beginning with strummed whistles and Neville Henry’s ocarina. Then with the first chorus, it revealed its bifurcated structure with a tempo shift and a tonal shift to major chords and vibrant handclap rhythms.

blow monkeys travelin' soul cover artThe single released from the album was the sprightly acoustic folk of “Travelin’ Soul.” The Fred Neil influence in this song was palpable, but Dr. Robert certainly rose to the occasion. The gentle shaker rhythms and acoustic guitars were great counterpoint to the vocal harmonies here. The cheerful sax of Mr. Henry served, as ever, to put the Blow Monkeys stamp on the song, as did the string arrangement. The later, always a Blow Monkeys defining trait. The CD single here remained the last commercial physical Blow Monkeys single release, with a new B-side version of “The Man From Russia!”

It’s a mark of how exciting that the track “Save Me” was that I had been listening to the album for many years before I noticed that the song was a massive eight minutes long! The widescreen Soul-Funk opus was ripped from the Barry White Love Unlimited Orchestra playbook, with sweeping, cinematic strings and funky handclaps giving its engine room a massive power. The percussion hook was redolent of Andrea True’s “More, More, More.” So the late 70s vibe was extremely strong. Nigel Hopkin’s vintage Moog solo simply added more fuel to that fire.

Dr. Robert’s vocal floated elegantly over the music bed and near the six minute mark, he stopped singing to let his guitar do the talking with an elegant, jazzy solo that really made its mark on the song. then the string re-asserted primacy in the climax of the song dropped out dramatically for seven bars of the piano looping.

 After that tour de force, the album ended on a plaintive note with the intimate folksiness of “When Love’s In Bloom.” The ocarina and acoustic guitars were touched with a little accordion to support Dr. Robert’s most intimate vocal on the album. Ending the eclectic and sprawling album on a gentle note.

In many ways, “Devil’s Tavern” was business as usual for The Blow Monkeys. It was another album [their fourth in a row] where the songs were all stylistically unrelated to each other. In that way, it was not dissimilar [in theory] to the one that had preceded it by 18 years. But that album was the furthest from the band’s modus operandi in its construction. It forswore a string section which had always been a Blow Monkeys staple to venture into world music territory.

“Devil’s Tavern” found the strings back with the band. Three of these songs had acoustic folk roots that would have been at home on a Dr. Robert solo album, but the band had been integrated with them in ways that would not have happened under those circumstances. The album touched on Jazz, Funk, Soul, elegant Disco, and Folk music. The point was that it was all done masterfully.

This was an album that satisfied with no filler, even through the varied stylistic and tonal shifts. The pacing and sequencing was such that the album unfolded in a supremely satisfying arc. With all contributors getting their chance to make it really shine. After an 18 year layoff, the band reconvened and were clearly fighting strong and ready to pick up, not where they left off, but streets ahead. The band returned to the studio even stronger than when they had stepped down. I was immediately impressed with “Devils’ Tavern” on receipt and the intervening 14 years have done nothing but burnish its manifold accomplishments in my mind. My greatest hope was that the band could stay together but how would they manage to better the standard that they set here?

Next: …A Temporary Stopgap Measure

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Rock G.P.A.: The Blow Monkeys [part 23]

The Blow Monkeys

Devil’s Tavern | 2008


The best possible way to engage this Monk is to emphasize in-your-face bass playing. What better way to signal the triumphant return of The Blow Monkeys than to give the spotlight to Mr. Mick Anker and his double bass engaging in the purest Cool Jazz that this band had ever committed to disc? While Jazz DNA was all over their debut album, they soon moved outward and into Soul territory.

“The World Can Wait” saw them circling back to Jazz with a vengeance. In a world of electric bass and bass synth, the feel of Anker’s fingers vibrating the strings on the neck of his instrument were as palpable an actual texture as recorded bass playing could ever get! This song never fails to excite me and immediately engage me from the very start! The angular guitar licks Dr. Robert sparingly contributed allowed the rhythm section their time in the limelight.

The slow tempo and melody lurched to and fro in a frisky zig-zag of attitude and sound. Dr. Robert began singing and lingered a half beat behind the rhythm to better pull the listener into the nocturnal environment of the song. Until the chorus.

The chorus turned the neat trick of bringing the house lights up for the showstopper that ois was. One where every note played and sung was held for twice as many beats; elongating the drama without altering the actual tempo. The swells of the string section added to the sense of euphoria to better contrast with the furtive Jazziness of the verse structure. Or the middle eight with hints of Acid Rock in the Doctor’s guitar solo.

And thus the song did lurch forward in a call-and-response fashion until the song’s conclusion where the Jazz in the mix allowed for Neville Henry’s sax to enter into the climax the rest of the instruments veered off into Jazz Space and gave up their syncopation as the song broke down thrillingly. If the Blow Monkeys wanted to reassure this fan that their return was not in vain, then they could have hardly done better than with this stunning album opener!

For their next trick, the band went to a completely different place as they managed to evoke the classic Soul sound of an Al Green single with “I Don’t Mind.” Keys and string man Nigel Hopkins got some classic Hammond organ sound in the song and the saxes of Mr. Henry were straight out of Memphis. This was the sound of the band acing the Soul Test and showing that they could hit the familiar targets of yore with an aim that had only improved in the years apart.

blow monkeys - bullet train label artThe next song [and a promo single] showed that the band were comfortable trying on completely new musical clothes. Krautrock had not been anything that I’d say the band were influenced by but the undeniable mototik beat underlying “The Bullet Train” as well as the urgent rhythmic violin motif insured that this train was only moving ahead. But the congas and the acoustic guitars were the least likely instruments in this one. yet the song managed to keep what were paradoxical energies bound together in flight and sailing smoothly forward.

The tempo shifted radically downward for the jug band psychedelia of “Frontline” with funky acoustic guitars being strummed and slid with fat layers of dreamy sax wafting through the song like afternoon sunlight through trees thick with Spanish moss. The album next dropped an epic ballad with the stunning “A Momentary Fall.” As much as I enjoyed the earlier Blow Monkeys music, the quality of Dr. Robert’s songwriting only got much, much stronger with time under his belt. This is the sort of song that felt like an instant classic. Easily on par with the likes of Fred Neil, Nick Drake and Tim Hardin. And the impassioned singing he brought to the song’s climax was simply stirring; holding his own against the strings and saxes as the song’s coda faded. Leaving only Dr. Robert’s vintage Philicorda electric organ chord sustained to have the last word.

Next: …Not Joking

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