Record Review: Blondie – Eat To The Beat [part 1]

Chrysalis Records | US | CD | 1985 | F2-21225

Chrysalis Records | US | CD | 1985 | F2-21225

Blondie: Eat To The Beat – US – CD – [1985]

  1. Dreaming
  2. The Hardest Part
  3. Union City Blue
  4. Shayla
  5. Eat To The Beat
  6. Accidents Never Happen
  7. Die Young Stay Pretty
  8. Slow Motion
  9. Atomic
  10. Sound-A-Sleep
  11. Victor
  12. Living In The Real World

I was late to the Blondie train. Like many, I first heard them when “Heart Of Glass” took to the airwaves and entranced a nation. I first heard “Heart Of Glass” in 1978 while visiting relatives in South Carolina. This is important, because the song had not yet gotten to the Orlando airwaves where I had grown up. Alien as it may seem, things moved very slowly in America before the dawn of the 80s and MTV arrived on the scene. Records may build in one market and sweep slowly across the map… or not. The Charleston stations had jumped on that record in advance of the excruciatingly conservative overseers of Orlando’s airwaves. I was struck by the eeriness of the vocal, and how it had minor key verse structure in spite of being a disco song. Most disco did not roll this way! Even though I was burning out on disco by ’78, I mentally checked off the band for future reference. They had… something.

It was the next year when I fell hard for the band. By that time, I had jumped the Top 40 ship for FM Rock, and WDIZ-FM played a new album every night at midnight. When “Eat To The Beat” dropped, they played it in full and didn’t waste more than week or so before buying that album. I played it a lot. When Chrysalis released all of Blondie’s canon on the shiny silver discs in one fell swoop, I immediately bought this one since it was a favorite album that I could not wait to have on CD. By 1985, I’d swapped all of my Blondie LPs for CD trade value; confident that they would be releasing the compact discs soon – and I was right. At the same time, I also bought a CD of the followup album, “Autoamerican,” due to my historical antipathy towards that release, just to see if I had a different take on it at that time [but that’s another story].

blondie - dreamingUK7AThe hyperactive power pop of “Dreaming” was the first single from this one and I was appalled as it barely scraped into the US Top 30 at a number 27 that did nothing to honor the song’s exuberant, almost giddy rush. The hyperkinetic drumming of Clem “Lord of the Fills” Burke pummeled this one along furiously while the vocals of Debbie Harry on lead and Ellie Greenwich on backing soared like birds overhead. I delighted whenever Debbie name-checked the preceding album’s “Fade Away And Radiate” in the lyric. This track, like several from the album, would be the last time that Blondie drew on the girl group traditions that had been a formative influence on their kitsch’n’synch aesthetic. I think that once the band moved fully away from that, they kind of lost their artistic moorings. I delighted when Debbie name-checked the preceding album’s “Fade Away And Radiate” in the lyric. Finally, I also love the energy that Chris Stein’s e-bow guitar adds to this one. It all hangs together tightly and fills me with hope and energy every time I listen to this single. Which, over the course of 37 years has been a prodigious amount!

blondie---thehardestpartUS7AThe notion that Blondie were going to get very eclectic was unleashed with the next track. “The Hardest Part” was a funk rock number about knocking off an armored truck. I recall Blondie hosting The Midnight Special on TV at the time this album was released. The band did a curious blend of live performance, obvious lipsynch, and even a video was played from their ground breaking video album over the course of the evening. I also remember Robert Palmer on the show and a bit of Frippertronics from Robert Fripp himself; he being chummy with Blondie to the point of playing that solo on the aforementioned “Fade Away And Radiate” the previous year. I recall seeing the band perform this song [lipsync] on the show and there was a good reason why; the tune became the second single in North America, but nowhere else. The tune was never heard by me on the airwaves and barely made the Hot 100 at 84.

Next: …Bliss on demand

 

 

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Record Review: Yaz[oo] – Upstairs At Eric’s

Sire Records | US | CD |1987 | 9 23737-2

Sire Records | US | CD |1987 | 9 23737-2

Yaz: Upstairs At Eric’s [U.S. edition] – US – CD [1982/7]

  1. Don’t Go
  2. Too Pieces
  3. Bad Connection
  4. I Before E Except After C
  5. Midnight
  6. In My Room
  7. Only You
  8. Goodbye Seventies
  9. Situation [remix]
  10. Winter Kills
  11. Bring Your Love Down [Didn’t I]

Back when I was in college, I made it a point to regularly read Billboard Magazine, the bible of the US record industry while whiling aways the hours in the college library. I recall reading about Yaz, the new band that Vince Clarke [ex-Depeche Mode] either in the “Dance” columns or the “Import” sections. Much ado was made about “Situation,” the former B-side that had been remixed into a dancefloor breakout hit that was sweeping all of the “rock discos” that I was not frequenting at the time. While I had not been a believer of Clarke-era Depeche Mode, I nevertheless probably bought Yaz’s debut album, “Upstairs At Eric’s” the week of release as it was a high profile release. I liked it fine, but was not such a believer that I ever bought their follow-up album, “You And Me Both” in 1983. By 1985, the LP hit the trade-in pile as I doffed tons of vinyl in the uptick to the digital lifestyle.

<insert 31 year gap…>

A recent trip to the Harvest Records basement sale revealed a copy of the straight US CD for eight bits. How could I not grab it at that price? More importantly, how would it stack up after all these years off of the Yaz train? I finally gave it a spin this morning and “Don’t Go” remained a strong, if minimal kickoff to the varied synthpop program. Short, sharp 3 minute dance pop that go in under the wire and left before you had a chance to be bored, even thought the song was almost nothing but hook, in the tried-and-true Vince Clarke fashion.

I found the next track, “Too Pieces” to be more my style. The finely etched electropop seemed to owe a lot to the middle movements of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” with the motorik rhythms gently percolating. I found the contrapuntal melodies in long instrumental section prior to the middle eight to be quite lovely. The fact that the singing stopped much less than halfway into it showed a determination not to hew closely to formula. This was really nice to hear!

“Bad Connection” sounded for all the world like a leftover track from the “Speak + Spell Session.” Cheeky electropop with bold, shiny melodies of little complexity. If I wanted something more out of the ordinary, it was delivered on the next track, “I Before E Except After C.” The track sticks out like a sore thumb as the exercise in audio editing [none dare call it a song] never coalesces into anything you could have ever expected from Mr. Clarke. Synthesizers don’t even enter into it until near the 1:30 point. I can’t help but think that Clarke had heard “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” and thought “I want some of that!” Pure B-side material and it’s hard to believe that it made the cut on the album, thought I could see Mute head Daniel Miller absolutely loving this brush with the avant garde from one of this label’s cash cows at the time.

The following “Midnight” began with an edgy a capella bluesy vocal intro from writer Alison Moyet as she finally put her stamp on the album, apart from singing. After the intro, it surprised as the song settled down into a pretty electropop vibe that managed to hold two disparate stylistic threads together fairly effectively. “In My Room” managed to successfully mate the spoken audio editing hi-jinx of “I Before E…” with an actual song to achieve something far more intriguing and left-field.

In typical industry fashion, side two of the LP kicked off with the winsome hit single “Only You.” Another 3 minute [and ten second] poptune from the pen of Vince Clarke. “Goodbye Seventies” sounded at the time like a sentiment that we could all get behind as we waited for that decade’s chrysalis to fully slough off from the shiny new decade with so much potential that was wasted as it turned into a rehash of the 60s with worse drugs and music. Yes, for those who had not lived through it, the 80s was no more than the 60s with computers.

The big US single was swapped off of the UK album for a track called “Tuesday” which I only just found out the name of. I have never heard it, but “Situation” was a very groovy bit of synthfunk that had a great Francois Kevorkian remix. The 5:40 12” mix was used on the album so if you bought the US 12” you heard the same track on the A-side. I’ve never heard the 3:44 7” version, but I assume that the song ends cold before the breakdown. This was the one song that Moyet and Clarke co-wrote, surprisingly enough.

That left the harrowing piano ballad “Winter Kills” and the concluding “Bring Your Love Down [Didn’t I],” two more Moyet tracks. The last one was the quintessence of a great deep dancefloor cut. Hearing the album after so long, with the exception of the annoying “I Before E…” I can’t really complain about the album too much, and yet I see why and how I lived without a copy to hear for over three decades. The album is an admirably eclectic construction, but it fails to really thrill or even gel; perhaps calling attention to its roots as a late period synthpop excursion featuring two disparate artists that failed to make a strong impression on these jaded ears. It’s true that I never really got a yen for Vince Clarke until the point seven years after this album when I chanced to hear Earsure’s “Wild” playing in-store and it against all odds, made me a believer.

As for Alison Moyet, I never heard the first note she sang solo to this very day.  It didn’t look like I was missing anything from what I picked up from UK music rags. The second Yaz album never happened for me either. I bought the “Nobody’s Diary” b/w “State Farm” 12” and the B-side in particular bored me. I sold that and this LP off, but in the early 1990s I did run across the non LP single “The Other Side of Love” on UK 12” and purchased it since it was not a track on either album, but it has sat in the Record Cell, unplayed to this day. Perhaps the time to listen is nigh?

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Record Review: Pop Will Eat Itself – Love Missile F1-11

Chapter 22 | UK | 12" | 1987 | 12 CHAP 13

Chapter 22 | UK | 12″ | 1987 | 12 CHAP 13

Pop Will Eat Itself: Love Missile F1-11 UK 12″ [1987]

  1. Love Missile F1-11
  2. Orgone Accumulator
  3. Everything That Rises Must Converge
  4. Like An Angel

I think that the first time that I encountered PWEI was when I was watching Snub-TV and they played the video for “There Is No Love Between Us Any More.” It didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time. It remained until the video for “Can You Dig It” met my eyeballs on 120 Minutes before PWEI managed to hit my monkey nerve. I bought that album and started buying any and all singles for a time, but to this day, I only own “This Is The Day… This Is The Hour… This is This.” This in spite of my best intentions to at least own a copy of “Box Frenzy” as well.  By the mid 90s, all of the CD singles got sold off, but I kept the one 12″ single I’d ever gotten by the grebo goofballs, a record I had to buy when I saw it in the used bins of Murmur Records.

It was maybe 1990 when I bought this. I finally listened to it last week and there’s a lot to love here. The indie-rock version of the A-side is certainly fun for fans of the high tech original. My one regret is that PWEI seemed to drain the song of its political payload completely for some laddish larfs instead. The crucial lyric of the song – “multi millions still unfed” was excised, alas. Along with most of the lyrics, actually. What’s left is the Veganesque minimal rockabilly of the tune that will probably stand the test of time.

When I saw PWEI live on their US tour for “This Is The Hour…” they still reached back to their Hawkwind cover of “Orgone Accumulator” to fill out their set. I had never heard the original, nor their studio cover of it, which at roughly two minutes is but a tiny fraction of the  length of all of the Hawkwind versions floating out there in space. The tune was a minimal Krautrock variation on a blues riff with the main leitmotif played on a cheap, nasty Vox organ. It sounded like amphetamine garage rock of the best kind.

I have been intimately familiar with the original of Shriekback’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge” from “Oil + Gold.” I have to admit that I love the stripped down, almost skiffle version that the Poppies did here. The only concession to electric rock music was the tremolo fuzztone open chords that act as a sonic foundation for most of the tune’s full running time. Finally, the last cover was of fellow Black Country band The Mighty Lemon Drops indie debut single “Like An Angel.” I only have the remake on their “Happy Head” album, but the Poppies don’t stray too far from the mark made by the original, with Clint Mansell’s phrasing awfully similar to that of Paul Marsh of the Drops. For that reason the last track here was the one that sort of fell flat for me, if only because PWEI brought nothing new to the table. For the rest of us, this EP from the band’s indie-rock days, before the long shadow of Public Enemy was cast over their fates, remains a short, sharp pleasing valentine to their favorite bands.

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Requiem For A Promo Copy

Technically, I do not own these records…

Technically, I do not own these records… click to read why

When buying CDs in the basement of Harvest Records last weekend, I ran into another sign of the end times. While there were many releases in promotional card sleeves, a substantial number of them were the seriously less desirable CD-R format. Some CDs I was interested in were sealed with stickers on them screaming at me to NOT LEAK the title and that the audio on them had a unique, traceable “watermark” besides, and that at the very least I would be shamed for doing so online. Sigh. Welcome to the 21st century.


irs rainbow labelMy introduction to the world of promo copies happened in high school. I was a DJ at my high school radio station, WGAG-FM [don’t snicker] even though I was going through that awkward adolescent voice thing. We occasionally got serviced [as they call it] by very, very minor labels. The one label that responded to our call for promos was I.R.S. Records, and we got a boxful of their funky early releases with the garish rainbow banded labels. You old timers may remember these. Our LP library had been donated by WLOF-AM after a format change. All of these albums had promo stickers or stamps on them. All of them reserved ownership to the labels that had, technically, loaned them to the stations. In records from the 60s/70s, the stickers went out of their way to be helpful. CBS liked to put tick boxes with each song title on each side printed on them so the program director could select which songs he wanted the DJs to play – back in the Cenozoic era when human beings at the radio station made that decision! But these were the only promos I encountered until the senior year of high school, when I discovered the glory that is used record stores.

Used record stores offered many ways for me to stretch my music buying dollar, not the least of which was the practice of selling promo copies – explicitly illegal if you have read the stamps above. Promo copies might be as good as new, and one might be able to buy a promo ditched by some program director or DJ due to:

  • the inappropriateness of the release to their format/usage
  • their desire to obtain money for drugs

Some times, one could find these the week of the release and substantial savings would ensue, as long as you didn’t mind having a stamped copy in your collection. I was pragmatic enough back then and I had no problem getting a promo copy of a release for a fraction of full retail cost.

As I became more knowledgable about collecting and the resources to study what was out there, I eventually discovered that many unique items were promo only – sporting rare tracks or versions of tracks and releases that did not replicate commercial releases. Some of these also had unique covers or POPS [promo only picture sleeves] and thus were collector’s catnip. In time I gravitated to these releases which in some cases were not cheap. Not by a long shot. Some were albums that were compiled just for radio stations. If a release had live tracks or remixes that were not commercially available, one might pay through the nose for such items.

bowie - 1980 allclearUSPLPA

David Bowie: 1980 All Clear USP LP

It’s no joke that by 1990, at least a fourth of my Record Cell was comprised of promos. Some of these were crown jewel items of my collection. I used to joke to my friends in the 80s that if the Promo Police® ever came to my home, I’d be up the creek without a paddle. I have promos not only from from American record labels but also from labels the world over. Yes, the mind reels at the cachet of cool inhabited by UK or Japanese promo items! Without these promos, I’d be missing hundreds of unique tracks that pepper my BSOGs. Had I been tied to buying only new, commercial releases, my Record Cell would be a fraction of its size.

But it’s not just low price or exclusivity that drove the purchase of promos. If you had tastes like mine during the 80s [and let’s hope that you’re reading this far because you did…] many titles that I wanted to buy at any price, were simply not available. I vividly recall seeing the “Dancin'” clip by Chris Isaak on MTV in 1985. His “Silvertone” album was at the top of my want list for over a year before I finally found a promo LP for sale at Murmur Records and I bought like a grateful man. Until the time that I was able to buy the German CD pressing of the title in 1987 via a catalog [there was no US CD until after “Wicked Game” hit the charts], this was the only copy of “Silvertone” that I saw for over two years! If record stores don’t buy releases, you can’t buy them! To this day there are a substantial percentage of titles in my Record Cell that I have never seen non-promo, commercial copies of… ever!

I've only seen this album twice… promo stamp both times.

I’ve only seen this album twice… promo stamp both times.


But I’m here today not to praise the promo, but to bury it. The ability of a monolithic, and even indie, record industry to manufacture product, much less costly promo product, is receding to a dot in our rear-view mirrors. As seen at the sale last weekend, most promos served these days, if they are served at all in physical format, will be flaky, fragile CD-Rs. And the media used by labels is definitely not the MAM-A gold archival that I favor! These promos are designed to play briefly then decay, as the reflective layer responds to heat and humidity. I’ll need to rip these to my music drive and keep backing up the file, ad infinitum, just as if it was a download.

And let’s face it, probably most promos these days are DLs! Both of the promos that PPM has been served with thus far [I’m open for more…] have been DL copies. I get the convenience and cost factor. I accept that and for review purposes, it’s good enough. It actually serves the intent of the label much better than when music was physical. If labels could have done this in the 70s, they would have! But the collector in me regrets that future generations won’t know the excitement of tracking down that amazing promo mix that might have only a few hundred pressings littering the globe. They’ll never know the thrill of owning a rare Bowie album like the one above. And how can DJs afford their dope habit now is just another one of life’s unanswerable questions.

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Record Review: Cabaret Voltaire – Yashar 12″

Factory Records | UK | 12 | 1982 | FAC 82

Factory Records | UK | 12 | 1982 | FAC 82

Cabaret Voltaire: Yashar UK 12″ [1982]

  1. Yashar [7:20]
  2. Yashar [5:00]

cabaret voltaire - 2x45UKLPA

This curious transitional record came out in 1983, and it marked the first time that Cabaret Voltaire was seriously intended for the dance floor. In May of 1982, The last album release of the band for Rough Trade was the aptly named “2×45” double 12″/album. On it, the closest thing the band had at that point to a big beat colossus was the second track, “Yashar.” Funk was always a motivator for the Sheffield trio but you would not know it by the sound of 12″ singles such as the preceding year’s “Eddie’s Out.”

cabaret voltaire - yasharUS12AIn May of 1983, Factory Records released the only “single” from “2×45,” in John Robie’s remixes of “Yashar.” The only Cab Volt releases in my Record Cell at that time were the “Eddie’s Out/Jazz The Glass” 12″/7″ combo and “2×45.” Early exposure to “The Voice Of America” had pointed me in their direction. I did not buy this record at the time but purchased the less interesting looking US edition seen at left some time in 1985 or so. I held on to my copy until some time in the mid 90s, when my judgement clouded by who knows what, I traded off my US “Yashar” 12″ in the mistaken belief that I then had the A/B side of this release on CDs by the band. Years later I realized that only the B-side mix had appeared on “Eight Crepuscule Tracks”  and the longer A-side mix was nowhere to be found. I resolved to correct this error, and last Saturday, at the 12th annual Harvest Records Anniversary Sale, I made good on the threat.

Robie wisely started the mix off with the sinister “the 70 billion people of earth – where are they hiding” sample from The Outer Limits then quickly took the mix into novelty disco territory with what sounded like pitch shifted vocals samples of a man’s voice “passing for female.” Alan Fish’s magnificently clattering tribal drum track was still there but something akin to the kitchen sink was now accompanying it. An eerily prescient Italohouse piano was added to the mix along with some drum machine percussion hits. Synth crescendoes were also added as the top heavy mix threatened to wobble completely off the rails.

I do like how he isolated the bass synth, sounding here not a million miles away from the kind used on “Sensoria.” I’m less convinced by the soprano doubling the main synth leitmotif. Or the intrusive shouts of the title [not shouted by any member of the band] or the “over here” pitch shifted vocal drop-ins. Ultimately, the many overdubs used here arrived at a “hit and miss” aesthetic that listening to now sounds potentially jarring and compromised. One addition that I think worked was the elka string topline that added melodic complexity to the frankly minimal song. Enough to take it into single worthy territory though the end result was like lipstick and makeup crudely added to glossies of the traditionally unsmiling band. While the A-side mix was done within a year of the song’s release, it sounds like a typical post-modern mix, perhaps made years after the original. The overall effect is not unlike the shock of hearing “Blue Monday ’88” for the first time. In fact, it seems like Quincey Jones completely stole every technique from Robie’s playbook here to the same deleterious effect.

There was a reason why the B-side 5:00 dub mix was included on “Eight Crepuscule Tracks;” it’s a rather effective dub mix! The sound didn’t cross the disco line in the sand that was premature on the A-side for such a doom-laden piece of late early [?] period Cab Volt. Okay, so the soprano was still here but all other added vocals were excised. The drum track was beefed up with dubby echo that made the track more psychedelic. Another addition I liked was the distorted metallic noises that sounded like stressed metal about to rip.

One thing that is apparent while listening to this again decades later, is that it was absolutely a harbinger of the band’s fertile imperial period that officially began four months later when the now iconic duo of Kirk and Mallinder released “The Crackdown” on Some Bizzare/Virgin and were far more successful in meeting the industrial funk dancefloor on their own terms. If the somewhat compromised Robie mix of “Yashar” had any impact on Stevo thinking he could sign this band profitably, then it was perhaps acquitted by history.

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