When Records Say ‘Buy Me!’ – Strawberry Switchblade

Rose McDowalll and Jill Bryson and Glasgow technical College ca. 1982

Rose McDowalll and Jill Bryson and Glasgow technical College ca. 1982

Sometimes, you just have to give in to a record and buy it because it just looks perfect. My friend Tom and I ran into such a record one day while perusing the bins at Murmur Records some time in 1984. Kiss® famously thought that “if one Alice Cooper was a sensation – then a whole band of Alice Coopers would rule the world!” This looked like a duo made up of women with the aesthetic sensibilities of Lene Lovich. I can’t remember if it was Tom or myself who saw the sharp black and silver cover, but upon examining the record a bit more closely, we both ended up taking a copy home that afternoon. The band were named Strawberry Switchblade, the cover was beautifully printed in black ink on silver paper, and as if to whack our skulls with a 2″ x 4″ the pressings we bought had stickers proclaiming “FREE POSTER” inside. At that time I think an import 12″ at Murmur was still $5.00. How could we not try it?

Korova Records | UK | 12" | 1984 | KOW 38T

Korova Records | UK | 12″ | 1984 | KOW 38T

Strawberry Switchblade: Since Yesterday UK 12″ [1984]

  1. Since Yesterday
  2. Sunday Morning
  3. By The Sea

When the needle hit side A we were immediately rewarded with an ebullient rush of perfect synthpop [digital style] and an overflowing euphony of vibrant melodies. Best of all, the giddy vibe of the production was totally at odds with the downbeat breakup lyrics; giving those frissons of contrast and paradox that mark much of my favorite pop music. This was one of those singles that we bought because it looked promising, and we couldn’t have imagined how perfect it actually was once we played it.

Better still, the B-side of the record had two tracks that were light years away from the  sugary pop sound on the A-side. The venerable Velvet Underground classic “Sunday Morning” was given a sensitive, introverted performance that was completely acoustic. We love it when artists can drive on the electronic or acoustic road with equal aplomb. This was the bonus track on the 12″ single with the remaining song, “By the Sea” also on the 7″ of this title.

“By the Sea” was another song in the vein of “Sunday Morning.” It was an introverted little song. As modest and shy as the A-side was bold and brassy. Together, all three songs marked Strawberry Switchblade as the kind of talents that blended incredible harmony and melody brought together with an introverted sensitivity that was belied by the sound of the production on the A-side. Euphoria cheek by jowl with introspection and getting on like a house on fire.

“For I hate the trees

And I hate the flowers

And I hate the buildings

And the way they tower over me
Can’t you see

I get so frightened
No-one else seems frightened

Only me, only me” – Strawberry Switchblade

Strawberry Switchblade became a new obsession with any and all releases targeted and four the Record Cell. “Since Yesterday” was their major label debut. We quickly backpedalled and bought their debut single, “Trees + Flowers” and were rewarded with the most beautiful song about agoraphobia possible. We stayed on the Strawberry Switchblade bus for the 18 or so months that it lasted before the inevitable acrimonious split. Their final single was their great hi-nrg electro production of Dolly Parton’s weeper “Jolene.” Unbelievably, that was the first time I ever heard that song but certainly not the last.

At least their album got a release before the end happened, but “Since Yesterday” was a top five UK hit and the album and follow ups all underperformed, but in the 80s, bands were known to break up when their single hit #36 instead of #4. It was the Thatcher era [sighs]. What we’d all give for a #36 in 1984 that sold 100,000 copies versus a top ten today that clears 20,000, eh? Still, all of the 12″ers as well as the album/Japanese CD [and even the Canadian remix CD] have a berth in the Record Cell. Rose McDowell went on to perform with Current 93 but I never picked any of that music up. However, I did buy the Ornamental 12″ single of “No Pain” which was a brilliant mashup of Strawberry Switchblade and Sugarcubes with Einar duetting with Rose on the magnificent dance number… but that’s a record for another day.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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14 Responses to When Records Say ‘Buy Me!’ – Strawberry Switchblade

  1. chas_m says:

    Ah, the era of buying records just because of the cover (sometimes backed up by foreknowledge of the general quality of the label or producer)! I remember buying both Heaven 17’s debut and Lene Lovich’s first because of the covers, and being so rewarded by the contents within. Another record I took a chance on that was completely down to the cover was the first Romantics record, and to this day I love it to pieces. Never mind what the hell happened after that first one, that first record is great, and despite the fact that “What I Like About You” eventually became a standard (and still popular!) commercial pitch song. That first record is pure Detroit rock with a New Wave spin.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chas_m – Agreement on the primal Romantics! That song is so good I can’t burn out on it. I bought the early BOMP! EP by The Romantics and it is the goods! I should probably pick up that classic debut album one day.

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    • Echorich says:

      SO much of the new music added to my record collection prior to 82 was purchased based on the album cover. Best example is The Comsat Angels debut Waiting For A Miracle. Martyn Goddard’s light-trail photography capturing a British M roadway still captures my imagination, especially if you were staring at the cover as the opening guitar cry of lead song Missing Action begins and then picks up speed as if entering said motorway with the intrduction of the bass and drums. The photos is as off kilter as the music and the song ends in an almost car crash finality.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Echorich – Well, what happened in 1982 to stop you from impulse buying on cover alone?

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        • Echorich says:

          Well my favorite neighborhood record shop morphed into a comic book shop and then a paint store by 1982. As much money as I spent their, I know they couldn’t pay the rent on a corner store with my purchases alone…by then there were 4 or 5 amazing shops in the East and West Village that I could get imports within 48 hours of their UK release and they became my go to record stores. I would strike up a conversation early on with the proprietor or clerks so when I came in they new I had cash in hand and the store sound system would become my personal listening station. One or two of them would just have albums and single set aside in a box for me, learning my habits and when they could expect to see me.
          Also by 82 I was SO hooked into NME, Melody Maker, The Face and Blitz, that little was getting past me that I didn’t know about in advance. Discovery of new bands would come from the pages of NME mostly as it was a heady time at that paper for indie music and the rise and fall of bands they had brought to light over the 5 or 6 years prior.
          I will contradict myself by saying that by 81/82 I was becoming enamoured of the graphics of Vaughn Oliver/23 Envelope, and Stylo Rouge. Their name alone sometime was enough to get me to listen to a record or single.

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  2. Simon Heavisides says:

    Hi
    Re the Comsats cover, to me it’s a classic of that period, very evocative.
    Many years ago I interviewed Stephen Fellowes and he mentioned that the Polydor art department weren’t so keen, they suggested the same picture but with shop window dummies strewn across the road….makes me chuckle!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon Heavisides – Welcome back to the comments. Since I was an American, I distinctly remember how I first encountered The Comsat Angels. I’m sure chasinvictoria will also remember this because it was from his copy of Polydor’s “Made In Britain” compilation that had four tracks each by Comsat Angels, The Invaders, Protex, and Excel that I first heard the band.

      Polydor - Made In Britain US LP cover

      Only Comsat Angels and The Invaders made an impression on me, but quite frankly, The Invaders were by far the most obsessive band for me on that New Wave Sampler. They were like Polydor’s moral equivalent of The Tourists and I quickly bought a copy of this album for my own because for years, it was the only way that I could hear The Invaders. I finally found their “Test Card” album in a cutout bin in 1989 and it’s awaiting remastering in the Record Cell. With the advent of Discogs.com, I came to find that the female vocalist who co-wrote the material with Sid Sidelnyk was Soo Lucas, a.k.a. Punk icon Soo Catwoman! It is for this reason that the “Magic Mirror” 7″ picture sleeve featuring her photo, sells for decent money to Punk collectors, even though the dreamy pop tune is 10,000 miles from Punk.

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      • Echorich says:

        That Made In Britain compilation was brought to my attention after I had purchased the Comsat’s debut and I ate it up. The Soo Catwoman connection to The Invaders came to my attention because rock photographer Bob Gruen, who was among my fold of photographers, and had documented the early Dolls, Heartbreakers, Pistols, Clash, Ramones in pictures had a wonderful collection of Soo Catwoman, Jordan, Marco Pirroni, Bromley Contingent (Siouxsie and Severin) images from the early Pistols nightlife days and he mentioned to me that Soo was really a songwriter and wanted to be a singer, but that McLaren took advantage of her look to help sell the Pistol’s/Punk’s image.
        Protex always sounded like the Bay City Rollers attempting to sing punk tunes. Of course if original bassist Glen Matlock was able to have his way that’s what the Pistols would have been. Of course Cook and Jones just wanted to be The Faces.
        Finally Excel was nothing more than a really bland attempt at copying The Jam but with no wit or memorable tunes.
        Actually, I don’t know what The Comsat Angels were doing on this compilation…they didn’t have a power pop or punk note in any of their songs from the get go.

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  3. Simon H says:

    Hi Monk
    Always intrigued by the Invaders but only have two tracks on a couple of volumes of a semi legitimate new wave compilation series (Shake Some Action), they sounded really promising.
    Totally unaware of the Soo Catwoman link though! Love the Magic Mirror cover, remember it from one of my first ever Issues of Melody Maker back in 1980.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – Wow! The Invaders were very commercial New Wave pop and their album is highly melodic pop rock with less of a 60s feel than The Tourists had, but just as much musical accomplishment. The blend of traditional instruments with just the right amount of synths was a winner for me. Soo Lucas sang lead on “Backstreet Romeo,” a tune which would melt the heart of the staunchest anti-romantic. Her vocals were fantastic and she co-wrote most of the songs with Sidelynk. Who knew that a woman known for her iconic hairstyle was so talented? That was a track on “Made In Britain” as well as the awesome “Magic Mirror” single. One day, I need to drop $40 [plus worldwide shipping] and get all three Invaders singles on 7″ [there were two that were non-LP, “Best Thing I Ever Did” and “Girl’s In Action” as well as “Magic Mirror”] and then remaster the whole shebang on a REVO CD. And then I need to drop $50 on a new stylus. I’ve been immobilized for a year now [sigh].

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  4. Simon H says:

    The two non LP singles are the tracks I have on CD, prime new wave! Those were the days:)

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  5. jsd says:

    I’m a sucker for female-fronted synthpop with Scottish accent. Check out CHVRCHES for a 2013 take on that formula. One of my fave albums of last year.

    Strawberry Switchblade are great. I’m not surprised to see them on your site. I didn’t discover them until years after the fact but better late than never, eh?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      jsd – Ah, CHVRCHES. I was all prepared to love them. Jim Kerr is giving them his endorsement co-writing with members and they are a Scot synthpop band. They were playing in town and I’ve been known to attend shows at The Orange Peel by Scot bands I’ve never heard of just on principle. It’s how I finally found out about Camera Obscura, much to my delight. But I gave CHVRCHES a spin on iTunes, and have to say I just didn’t care for the vocals at all. Too easy. Too slick. Too facile.

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