Collecting Bands I’ve Not Yet Heard – Crazy Or Not?

The Vels: Charles Hanson, Alice DeSoto, Chris Larkin [L-R]

Three years ago I ended up going down a certain path due to a record my friend Ron Kane had given me. I was visiting his Casa De Los Discos® for the first time after knowing him for 29 years [there were records… everywhere]. and he bade me run through his discard pile to see if there was anything I might be interested in. Of course I found more things there than likely in even the best of record stores. One of the dozen or so LPs I picked was the “I never knew that even existed” second album by The Vels. I recalled The Vels. I used to see their far more common debut US LP in every record store in the land.

“Velocity” was released in 1984 and was States-based synthpop of the period. As such, it was not on my radar at the time. I thought I had bigger fish to fry then. The band seemed to have hailed from Philadelphia and represented a parochial local synthpop scene, presumably. Contemporaneously, and even up to now, I had not heard The Vels, so I ignored them’; preferring all of the bright, shiny things I did know…and want! Looking back, it may have been the cover art; a curiously atypical bit of work from the normally slick Manhattan Design [Frank Olinsky]. The garish cover looked like a Sally Cruikshank animated cel. Kind of goofy and playful. Of course, once I became The Post-Punk Monk, it was precisely material like this [recognizable yet never heard stuff from the Post-Punk/New Wave era] that had far more cachet with me going forward.

So now once I had the far more scarce second album by The Vels, 1986’s “House Of Miracles,” I might as well see about making a BSOG of the group’s complete output! I hot-footed it to Discogs and saw that there was not much to collect; two albums and a trio of promo 12″ singles, so I put the material on my want list and hibernated.

It was early this year when The Vels finally came home to roost for me. I purchased the following singles from my favorite record dealer [who perhaps not coincidentally, also hailed from Philly] with all three of the band’s 12″ singles arriving in one fell swoop.

Private World B/W Hieroglyphics
Mercury ‎– 880 138-1 M-1

  1. Privare World
  2. Private World [dub]
  3. Hieroglyphics
  4. Hieroglyphics [dub]

Look My Way B/W Tell Me Something
Mercury ‎– 880 407-1

  1. Look My Way
  2. Look My Way [dub]
  3. Tell Me Something
  4. Tell Me Something [dub]

The Girl Most Likely To
Mercury ‎– 888 132-1-DJ

  1. The Girl Most Likely To [12″ club mix]
  2. The Girl Most Likely To [dub version]
  3. The Girl Most Likely To [7″ remix]

I then acquired a holy grail of sorts… a sealed copy of “Velocity.” Until then it had been the still missing debut album. I paid $8.69 – what was probably full 1984 retail for the pressing, but when mastering from vinyl, a sealed, unplayed copy of an album is worth magnitudes more than a noisy VG copy for $2.00. I may be cheap, but I’m not stupid.

So there will be two stand alone REVO editions with the appropriate 12″ remixes appended to the discs. One may look down one’s nose at mere dub mixes for the first album, but did I mention that the first album [and its remixes] were produced by Tom Tom Club producer/mixer Steven Stanley? You’re welcome. The second album was courtesy of Steve [Culture Club] Levine, so undoubtedly it will be a completely different vibe. Now all I have to do is sit down for several hours and get digitizing. Wish me luck and watch this space.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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32 Responses to Collecting Bands I’ve Not Yet Heard – Crazy Or Not?

  1. Taffy says:

    Well, I guess I’m the first to send you that good luck, and let you know that I’m watching and waiting! I’ve owned and loved that first Vels album for decades. Never even knew at the time there was a follow-up, but eventually (i.e. – in the internet era) a pal sent me an MP3 of the Girl Most Likely To single (it’s OK, nothing special really). I’ve still yet to hear anything else from that second album (which I thought was called House of Miracles, but you confusingly refer to as Different World), so am quite interested to read the official PPM review.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – I guess my brain was taking a well deserved nap, since the second Vels album was in fact actually titled “House Of Miracles,” and not “Different World!” Nice to see that I’m on the trail of a “live one” at least in regards to the first album. I truly saw it everywhere back in the day. Unlike “House Of Miracles.” Hopefully I can remaster this quickly. This Saturday looks unlikely. We’re having dinner guests and the Climate March will take up a few hours.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I remember dabbling in a bit of The Vels back in the 80s. I always heard a lot of Tom Tom Club/B-52’s influence in them. In fact as the first album is a Compass Point production that makes so much sense. I think back in the 80’s my focus was elsewhere and I wrote them off a bit at nonessential. But listening to them now, I have a much more open ear to their sound.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – A familiar tale! I also wrote many things off as nonessential back in the day. I was too busy buying OMD, Foxx, and Midge Ure related material! The time for these pleasures is now!

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  3. Shelf says:

    I have never heard of The Vels, and as a lifelong Philadelphia native, my interest was piqued by your post. Monk, I imagine you conducted your own meticulous research, but I was inspired to learn more about the band, so off to the interwebs I went. After the obligatory stop at Wikipedia, the first interesting nugget that I discovered was this very favorable review of the group’s first album by legendary Robert Christgau:

    The Vels “Velocity” [Mercury, 1984]. These three Steven Stanley-produced Philadelphians don’t just dance in their heads. Not only do they command the spare formal pop eloquence that many popdance minimalists claim and few get next to, they have a generous regard for pop pleasure. Their simple hooks add up to full-fledged tunes, their basic-English lyrics are more than runes. And singer Alice DeSoto is unaffected and vivacious, a rare combination. B+

    Then I dug up this music column from the November 16, 1984 issue of The Philadelphia Daily News:

    “Last year, the dominant sound on rock -radio was synthi-pop, mostly from Europe. This year, all-American guitar bands are the rage, and an anti-European, anti-synthesizer bias seems to have struck radio city. In its wake, all but the most eloquent and popular practitioners of the music (such as Eurythmics) have been removed from the broadcast playlist. One group I think has suffered unfairly is The Vels, a Philadelphia-based trio whose “Velocity” album was released two months ago on Polygram Records. Their lightly percolating, girl-voice-keyboard-synthi-drums sound, a cross between Eurythmics and Cyndi Lauper, has been getting good reviews from print critics in People, Us and International Musician magazines. Yet radio play for the group, even in their home town, has been “less than we hoped for,” concedes the lead singer in their midst, Alice DeSoto. “We haven’t given up hope yet,” adds DeSoto, who used to go by the name Alice Cohen when she fronted Fun City. “The record company has put out a couple of 12-inch singles for dance-club play, to get a groundswell going, but they’ve yet to release a 7-inch single and start promoting us to radio. Consequently, radio hasn’t been able to rally behind a single.

    The recording sessions stretched through most of February and March at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, not a bad place to spend the winter, but an expensive one. The Vels have been laying low since the LP sessions, waiting for the promised tour support from Polygram to come though “so we could get our live show together the way we want,” says Larkin. New instruments have just been purchased, and tonight The Vels will be coming on strong at the Empire Rock Club, in a show carried live on WMMR (93.3 FM). The band has been fleshed out with a real live drummer and a second keyboardist. Adding a guitar player, notes Alice DeSoto, is “probably next on the agenda.” Five Philly stations have played five different songs off the album. Maybe in January, when the first single (“Look My Way”) comes out, things will get better. A video would also help.” (My top choice for a single is the Lauper-ish “Day After Day,” followed -by “Hieroglyphics,” “Coming Attractions” and “Secret Garden.”) Chris Larkin, the Vels keyboardist and Linn Drums operator, agrees that the group “might have taken off faster” if they’d put their music out on the market a few months back. While the band signed to Polygram last November, negotiations with the label had actually started an entire year before that when the Euro-dance beat was all the rage.”

    Unfortunately, I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the local club scene in Philly during the early-to-mid 1980s. Would like to hear more of The Vels, though. Good luck with the REVO project, and thank you for participating in the Climate March.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – Alas, minimal research was made for this posting! Just memories; unlike your awesome comment! Ah yes, the Nationalistic, Anti-Gay, Anti-Synth Backlash® There’s a thread of posts right there! Let me assure you kids, it was very real, and I blame R.E.M.! Sure, sure. Michael Stipe is gay, but that was not the immediate perception at the time.

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      • Tim says:

        I blame hair metal bands. Although feel free to take pot shots at Mr. Stipe. REM…..shudders….80’s Emperor’s New Clothes, right down there with sacred cows U2.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I remember American punk bands [but also Stray Cats] endlessly grousing in the pages of Trouser Press about British bands that didn’t play “real music” but who actually got radio play in the “New Music” era. Think L.A.’s X, or even Ramones (whose gripes were far more legitimate, because they didn’t suck). But the “guitar backlash” of 1984 was very real. It was the next generation of the “disco sucks” movement. After “rockism” ceased to be a dirty word. Ooooooh, bop. Fashion.

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          • Shelf says:

            You know the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same. I concur with Tim that hair metal was very much to blame for the music culture aggression/regression in the mid-1980s. MTV’s programming changes and the rise in popularity of rap also contributed to the demise of synthpop. And while I never thought that R.E.M. was somehow part of the problem, I can fully comprehend that condemnation in retrospect (never liked those bastards, either).

            Referencing that Philadelphia Daily News article above, the Empire Rock Club gained notoriety for giving exposure to metal bands. Also, it was located in Northeast Philadelphia, which is the white trash armpit of Philadelphia proper (I can say that because I grew up there). I can’t imagine a synthpop band faring well in that atmosphere. And to this day, WMMR is a mighty white classic rock station – The Vels would not have been on its playlist (MAYBE on the local music show).

            Ever heard the Dead Milkmen’s “Instant Club Hit?” Whether serious or sarcastic, that song well represents the rockist attitude (and by coincidence, they’re another Philadelphia band).

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Shelf – Brilliant point with The Dead Milkmen! I am guessing they were serious and sarcastic with that one! But the truth be told, by the time that song got released many of the bands they decry were past their sell-by date. And I always disliked the Communards!

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              • Shelf says:

                True true, although Depecka Commode had yet to fully ripen.

                And who are/were Naked Truth? (last band on the bash list)

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                • Tim says:

                  I was going to say something very similar, a lot of the bands that dominated CHR and MTV that were, for a lot of middle America, representative of the New Wave were really past their best if used by date by 1984, 1985 at the most generous. It could have gone on but the fame machine just chewed up a lot of these groups – Duran Duran cranking out 7 and the Coked up Tiger being a prime example. There was a lull and into that gap descended the Whitesnakes, Guns and Roses, the Poisons. There was some new blood after the mid decade mark (Pet Shop Boys, Swing Out Sister) but the damage was done, too many bands had imploded or for every Alphabet City there was four Through the Barricades. For mid 80’s forward actual alternative music never really crossed into the mainstream, just diluted stuff that was off the beaten path enough to be marketed as edgy but not so much so that some tweens parents wouldn’t have a fit that their kid was caught buying it (cough cough REM).
                  The New Wave was a victim of it’s own brief excess/success. Video played a huge part in the rise of the new wave and what followed the end of the early 80’s acts was pretty much an 80’s version of the 70’s music that it was the antithesis of, just louder, bigger and dumberer.

                  Depeche Commode heh heh heh….good one.

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                  • postpunkmonk says:

                    Tim – …and I didn’t think that “Alphabet City” was all that great, either! Wire made great music mid-decade but few others were operating at that standard. Okay, so Shriekback were, but even they got hit by the fever in 1988, the year of “Go Bang.” As for ’84-’84 that was pre hair metal. The era of MTV superstars like Prince, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen. At least Prince was still drawing from the New Wave well. Hell, in 1985 he made his Paisley Underground album!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Shelf – Dang it!! I couldn’t make the march yesterday since we had a big dinner party we were hosting. So much prep work that civic duty fell by the wayside. As it was I barely made it out of the shower as our guests arrived. Today, I’m officially beat, but cleanup awaits.

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      • Tim says:

        After the Out Comes The Freaks megapost perhaps an in-depth look at the mid 80’s where it all went horribly wrong. Drugs, separate limos, drugs, weak albums, drugs, band breakups, drugs & solo careers. The suggestion box runneth over.

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      • Shelf says:

        You were at the march in spirit, Monk – besides, the battle is just beginning…

        And surely an entire blog could be devoted to the implosion of New Wave bands in the mid-1980s. Al least there’s some consolation in that house, techno, and other electronic dance music was developing underground in the last half of the decade while things were falling apart in the mainstream. And then that all started to collapse in the mid-1990s and there’s been nothing but crap since the advent of the new millennium.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Shelf – I have to admit, I’m pretty resistant to house, techno, and basically most dance music from the late 80s to the early naughts. The rise of House/Techno on one hand and grunge on the other, pretty much put the nails in the coffin for any desire of mine to stay contemporary with pop music, but I had a good run from ’71-’91. That was 20 years, and after that long, it seems like things just repeat in two decade cycles using the new technology. I certainly thought I’d never hear sludgy hard rock like I recoiled from in the early 70s make a comeback but it sure did; as grunge exactly 20 years later. Since the early 90s I have taken care to protect my ears from new sounds until I can thoroughly vet them first. This had led to phenomena like hearing Franz Ferdinand only after they linked up with Sparks first, but you can’t be too careful about these things.

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          • Shelf says:

            I’ll be the first to acknowledge that tracks comprised solely of samples and repetitive beats are not for everyone (nor are they necessarily ‘good’). As my (future) wife often exclaimed back in the 1990s, “I need music with words!” And even vocal house (the natural evolution of disco) doesn’t float everyone’s boat.

            When grunge became popular, I gravitated toward dance music because it shared some common D.N.A. with synthpop – a lot of the electronic music I favor is melodic and based on conventional song structure. As for the beat-driven, tuneless tracks – I suppose an excess of booze and a crowded dancefloor helps one to develop an appreciation for that sort of nonsense :-)

            The flipside to the dancefloor mayhem of the 90s (as well as the alternative to grunge) was Brit Pop. Could never really get into that movement though, beyond some of the Madchester bands and a bit of shoegaze.

            You’re quite right that music trends are cyclical, and the quality of a copy is always degraded from the original. It’s sad to no longer look forward to the release of new albums, only the reissue of old ones.

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            • postpunkmonk says:

              Shelf – By ’88 club music had gotten so reductive that I refer to things of that ilk as “dance porn.” Strictly functional beats that have little allure for me. I’m there with your wife. I need a human element. There’s nothing I hate more than repetitive beats with repetitive vocal samples. Not even a vocal performance but tiny samples of one! Even with vocals I found house music really boring. Most of the time.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Shelf says:

                It’s probably safe to say that the popularity of electronic dance music can be credited more to drug dealers than producers. That being said, I’ve never partaken in illegal substances but I did get my groove on in the early-to-mid 1990s. However, you’re quite right about club music having been far more fun and memorable in the 1980s – I had a better time dancing at my high school senior prom than any NY nightclub!

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                • postpunkmonk says:

                  Shelf – Since you called out the elephant in the room, yeah. The negative influence of drugs on dance music was a total bummer, speaking as one who used to dance for 3-4 hours straight about 2-3 nights a week with nothing but enthusiasm and water for hydration. Dance clubs did alter my consciousness in one way. They did foster in me an about face on matters of Sisters Of Mercy. I used to be indifferent to them from ’83-’86 until repeated club exposure hammered into me how great they were. Now I have it all.

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                  • Shelf says:

                    Drugs are for thugs. Similar story on my side: graduated from the teen discos in the 80s to proper nightclubs in the 90s. Water turned to booze, but that never stopped the dancing – great exercise. Funny you should mention The Sisters Of Mercy – I’m also a fan, but their records always cleared the dancefloor at my favorite club in Philly. (shameless blog plug: thebankvault.wordpress.com)

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        • Tim says:

          I found a tremendous amount of good new music around 2000. Very little of it had any direct linage to the post punk music of the early 1980’s however for about two years olid my wallet was taking a beating and then the great dry up began,
          The early 90’s….suppressed shudders…..that was a great wasteland.

          Cinema in the States took a pronounced nosedive around the same time. My wife and I used to look at the newspaper (back when the city that we live in had five theaters showing indie fare for a city of 200k) and try to figure out what to see and went to the movies 1-2x week. Now if we see one movie made for adults in the theater in a year it’s a miracle.

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          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – John Waters hasn’t made a film in forever because the bottom dropped out of indie cinema in the 21st Century. The ideal of the modest $6M production has dried up. The economic models in vogue either support sub-$1M or blockbuster cinema. In America the “comfortable middle echelon” of cinema production is no longer considered viable. Sort of like society at large. Waters refuses to return to poverty values in filmmaking in his seventies.

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          • Shelf says:

            Music, movies, television, theater, books – I think that all entertainment has gone downhill since 2000. There’s a funny moment in the 1996 comedy “Kingpin” that I feel perfectly reflects the lowest common denominator mentality of contemporary entertainment. While driving through Reno, NV, Woody Harrelson’s character comments on one of the theater billboards: “Jeffersons On Ice!” Look at that. I love Sherman Helmsley!

            Now that “Groundhog Day: The Musical” is on Broadway, can “The Jeffersons On Ice” be far behind?

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            • Tim says:

              For me something that has been detrimental to both film and music in the last 10 – 15 years is that there’s too much emphasis on climaxes and not enough on story telling. They pretty much flat out stopped making movies for adults and the films that are made play like video games – action > kablooey > level cleared rinse/lather/repeat. Just a soulless succession of set pieces.
              Music, geez it’s just gone down the toilet. I’d swear that the A&R staff have been replaced by MBA’s who know nothing about music. Back in the 80’s we had a ton of labels and I’d like to believe that in addition to staying financially liquid that some of these had people driving them with some Rob Gordon DNA. The only place I’ve found ”new music” that really makes me crack a smile for about ten years now is the mashup community.

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              • postpunkmonk says:

                Tim – You are describing all of the films I have easily avoided. My problem is that too often I watch films that are all mood building, with scant storytelling and NO climax. One of my indie cinema pet peeves are films that arbitrarily end with no warning! They are plentiful in the new millennium.

                As for MBAs, yes. They have been in charge of the music industry… for generations now. Clive Davis was one of the harbingers of this trend in the late 60s. I blame him. His recent autobio, which I read out of morbid curiosity was as awful as I had imagined that it would be.

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                • Shelf says:

                  Big-budget superhero movies, low-budget horror tripe, willfully quirky indie yarns, remakes, sequels, adaptations – that’s modern-day Hollywood. And goddam Disney is to blame for about half the problems.

                  And Clive Davis is the music industry’s Mephistopheles.

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                  • postpunkmonk says:

                    Shelf – Davis’ autobio was sort of like reading “Darth Vader: My Story” as if the author were inordinately proud of his achievements. I remember back in the early 80s, there was a Mick Farren column in Trouser Press bemoaning the fact that whenever the media needs a quote on a topic from the music industry perspective, Davis was the go-to mouthpiece for the whole industry. And it freaked Farren out. As well it should have.

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  4. Shelf says:

    Ugh. Based on that Mick Farren comment, Davis is even worse than I thought.

    I give up – integrity is absent, corruption is rampant, and everything is now tainted. And I’m not just referring to the entertainment industry…

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