Tag Archives: Record Store Day

Rocks In The Attic #722: The B-52’s – ‘Cosmic Thing’ (1989)

RITA#722The B-52’s fifth studio album, Cosmic Thing, has just been reissued for this year’s Record Store Day – Black Friday event. It’s a nice little release, on rainbow-coloured vinyl to match the album’s cover art.

Cosmic Thing marks a point of transition in the B-52’s career. Up to this point, they had been a quirky new-wave act, a cross-breed of surf-rock and thrift-store aesthetic. They looked and sounded like they had walked out of a John Waters film, and aside from a #1 single in Canada, they had barely troubled the pop charts.

In 1985, the band lost original guitarist Ricky Wilson to AIDS-related illnesses, and drummer Keith Strickland took over guitar duties. The last album they recorded with Wilson, 1986’s Bouncing Off The Satellites, reached #85 in the US album charts – a new low for the band – and you might have been forgiven for thinking that the band’s days were numbered.

A new record contract with Reprise led to the band’s resurgence, and they delivered Cosmic Thing in June 1989. With production duties shared between Nile Rodgers (6 songs) and Don Was (4 songs), the album sounds bigger and slicker than anything they had put out previously, and commercial reception was similarly positive.

The album reached #4 in the US, #8 in Canada and the UK, and #1 in Australia and New Zealand. Singles Love Shack and Roam both reached #3 in the US Billboard Top 200, and the more ubiquitous of the two, Love Shack hit #2 in the UK, and took the top spot in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.

One has to wonder what level of influence Nile Rodgers had on the guitar sound of the album – his clean, funky guitar tone is all over the record (although he only plays on one track), and Love Shack benefits greatly from the production of Don Was, sounding more like a madcap Was Not Was offcut than the more two-dimensional output of the B-52’s first four records.

The B-52’s will always make me smile. They’re a fun band anyway, but two reasons specifically stand out for me. Firstly, vocalist Kate Pierson has one of the best female singing voices of the 1980s. Powerful, raucous, and lush, it’s hard to imagine R.E.M. crossing over into the mainstream as effortlessly as they did without her contributions to 1991’s Out Of Time (on Shiny Happy People, Near Wild Heaven and Me In Honey).

The other reason I love the B-52’s is for one of the best male singing voices of the 1980s – Fred Schneider. Fred’s campy, over-enunciated hollering over the band’s work is truly unique and has provided much amusement over the years as I’ve walked around the house randomly shouting “Funky little shack…FUNKY little shack.”

Hit: Love Shack

Hidden Gem: Dry County

B-52's & Wilson, Cindy & Pierson, Kate & Strickland, Keith & Sch

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Rocks In The Attic #696: Pink Floyd – ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ (1967)

RITA#696Is there a more important year in music than 1967? It seems to exist as a pivot between then and now, the old and new, the past and the future. Thanks to that year’s rebooted technicolour of the Beatles, and similarly colourful debuts by (the) Cream and (the) Pink Floyd, the floodgates were opened and the rules were rewritten.

Pink Floyd must have been some whacky sight to behold around this time. Who would have thought that such a pretentious bunch of architecture and art students playing freak-out music in front of a trippy light show would become one of the world’s biggest stadium rock bands? At this point, it’s still very much Syd Barrett’s band – his off-kilter rhymes and childlike lyrics drive the record along, with very little of the form and function that would characterise the band after Roger Waters took control.

Compared to the comparatively conventional beat music that had peppered the charts over the previous five years, the primitive and experimental feel to Floyd’s early music is almost proto-punk, a pre-echo of that other seminal year in music a decade later.

RITA#696aHearing a Pink Floyd song on the soundtrack to a film is thankfully a rare thing, but I appreciated the appearance of the brilliant Interstellar Overdrive on the otherwise dull Doctor Strange a couple of years ago. The outlandish asking price for last year’s Record Store Day 12” live version of the song was too much for me, but for this year’s Record Store Day I hunted down this mono reissue of the album, in a lovely redesigned outer sleeve by Aubrey Powell at Hipgnosis.

Far out, man.

Hit: Astronomy Domine

Hidden Gem: Lucifer Sam

Rocks In The Attic #682: Fleetwood Mac – ‘Alternate Mirage’ (1982)

RITA#682It’s Record Store Day tomorrow. Independent record stores around the world get to increase their coffers as thousands of casual music fans race in for an extremely limited picture-disc of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing in the shape of Mark Knopfler’s sweaty headband.

Among the many reasons to visit participating stores on RSD – giveaways, food and drink, in-house performances by local bands – are the exclusive releases themselves. These range from the unbelievably awesome (such as the rare Foo Fighters’ Laundry Room EP from a few years ago, featuring demos from their great first record) to the unbelievably gimmicky (such as last year’s reissue of Nilsson Schmilsson, pressed on split yellow / white vinyl – yours for only $80).

I’ve learnt over the last 10 years or so to steer away from the gimmicky cash-in releases (I had my eyes on that Nilsson Schmilsson record last year, as I didn’t have the album in my collection at the time, but found a nice second-hand copy in the wild just a few weeks later for $2). These days, I look at the list, spot one or two releases and look for them online. Yes, it defeats the purpose of the day – getting people in-store – but it’s not really a day for diehard record collectors, who prop up these shops the other 51 weekends of the year.

Some of my favourite releases over the last couple of years have been the alternate Fleetwood Mac records. Lifted from the material previously available on the Super Deluxe box sets, these exclusive RSD releases present demos and alternate takes for each album, with the songs presented in the same running order.

Record Store Day in 2016 gave us The Alternate Tusk, 2017 gave us this, Alternate Mirage (strangely without the definite article), and this year the release is The Alternate Tango In The Night. I’m really looking forward to hearing alternate takes of what is probably their polished, over-produced album.

With Lindsey Buckingham (reportedly) fired from the band, and replaced by Crowded House’s Neil Finn, and the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell, the alternate Fleetwood Mac will be touring the world later this year.

Hit: Gypsy

Hidden Gem: Can’t Go Back

RITA#682a

Rocks In The Attic #588: Various Artist – ‘The Wrestling Album / Piledriver: The Wrestling Album 2’ (1985 / 1987)

RITA#588I recently saw The True Story Of Wrestlemania, a 2011 documentary produced by the WWF (I refuse to refer to the organisation by any other initials). I really enjoyed it, not only to see the years I knew like the back of my hand (Wrestlemanias I through VII), but also for the years after that I’d missed, after I’d…er…grown up.

I have a real soft spot for that classic era of WWF. I don’t regret missing the so-called ‘Attitude’ era of the late ‘90s where everybody seemed to wear black, guzzle beer and walk to the ring to awful music from the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, but that first six or seven years was a technicolour blast of entertainment I really loved at the time.

RITA#588bSo it wasn’t a hard decision to pick up this two-LP set a few years ago on Record Store Day. The original 1985 record is presented in clear red vinyl, while the 1987 follow-up is presented in clear yellow vinyl. But it’s not the first time that I’ve owned The Wrestling Album.

In 1990, a friend introduced me to WWF, and from Wrestlemania VI onwards, I was hooked for a solid two years or so. I was such an addict, I would spend all my pocket money and paper-round money on anything wrestling-related, which to begin with was very sparse. Sky TV had the rights to transmit WWF in the UK, and as I was the first person that we knew to get Sky, I became the supply guy, taping shows and sharing them with friends at school.

RITA#588cIt took the rest of the UK a little while to catch on, but eventually other things started filtering through. I still remember the day when my local newsagent started stocking the official WWF magazine – the July 1990 edition featuring Macho King Randy Savage. A short while later, Toys R Us started stocking the official line of WWF figures, including the to-scale wrestling ring. This is where my obsessive collecting streak started – I had to have it all, anything I could find with that official silver and gold logo.

I wasn’t waiting for UK shops to catch on to the WWF buzz either. By this time, I had already joined the WWF Fan Club in America and was ordering merchandise directly from them. T-shirts, posters,  videos, whatever. And that’s where I first came into contact with The Wrestling Album.

The thought of a record performed by the superstars of the WWF was too much to bear, so I saved up and sent off for it alongside a bunch of other stuff. And this was in the pre-internet days when ordering anything from the USA would take at least six weeks to arrive. I still remember my Dad arriving home from work with a box the size of a child’s coffin, full of official WWF merch.

One thing was wrong though. The album I’d ordered as a record had turned up in a different format. It was still packaged in the 12” LP cover, but instead of a shiny black disc inside it had a white plastic cassette tape stuck to the front. I remember being disappointed about this, but what the hell (my 38 year old self secretly rues this switcheroo as I’d now kill for an original pressing).

As an album, it’s pretty forgetful except for the inclusion of Rick Derringer’s Real American, which from this point forward would become Hulk Hogan’s theme tune (his cartoon show theme tune by the WWF All-Stars is also included on the record). Rick Derringer deserves a lot of credit, not only for Real American – a bloody brilliant song – but for producing much of the record, and making it sound reasonably good. I’d hate to think what it would have sounded like, without his input.

The rest of the record is an embarrassing karaoke sing-through of covers and originals by wrestlers from the WWF rosta at the time of recording. My eleven-year old self didn’t bother listening to the album too much, preferring instead to listen to the free tapes that would be sent to me as a member of the fan club. These tapes featured the entrance music to the current members of the WWF at the time and were far more interesting – the futuristic synth drone of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, the guttural growl of The Legion Of Doom, the Communication Breakdown borrowing theme of the Ultimate Warrior.

RITA#588aI wasn’t aware that there was a second edition of The Wrestling Album – subtitled Piledriver – until it was released retrospectively in this RSD edition. That record leans more towards the entrance music for the wrestlers, with Koko B. Ware, Honky Tonk Man, Slick and the tag-team of Demolition all contributing music that would accompany them to the ring in the years following. Again, Rick Derringer is in the producer’s chair, and again this gives the record an air of legitimacy that would otherwise be lacking.

Hit: Real American – Rick Derringer

Hidden Gem: Demolition – Rick Derringer with Ax & Smash

Rocks In The Attic #551: Frank Sinatra – ‘Songs For Young Lovers’ (1954)

RITA#551.jpg1954? That makes this recording over sixty years old. It still sounds crystal clear – it would, it’s the 2015 Record Store Day reissue – but regardless, it’s still magical sounding. In the next couple of decades we’re going to start approaching being able to listen to 100 year old recordings. Insane. Well, I guess we can listen to 100 year old recordings now, but considering that nobody put out anything worth a salt until the 1950s, it won’t be worth considering for a while yet.

In fact, that’s wrong. Glenn Miller’s a boss, and he was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943. So 1939 would mean twenty two years until the centennial celebrations for the likes of In The Mood and Chattanooga Choo Choo. But just imagine when we reach the 100 year anniversary of the first Frank Sinatra hit, or Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel, or the first Beatles album. Good grief. Will we start referring to it as classical musical?

Running in under a sprightly twenty two minutes, this 10” album comes from a time before the 12” record won the war to become the primary record format. This happened a few years later around 1957, just in time for the rock and roll explosion. It’s a nice format, but obviously the shorter running time leaves you wanting more. We’d call it an EP these days, but back then they’d probably just refer to it as Frank’s latest record, regardless of the running length.

Hit: I Get A Kick Out Of You

Hidden Gem: The Girl Next Door

Rocks In The Attic #462: The Clash – ‘The Clash’ (1977)

RITA#462.jpgMy love/hate relationship with the Clash continues. Re-released on Record Store Day’s Black Friday in 2015, I really only bought this because of the lovely split vinyl in white riot / Protex blue. It’s too good just to look at though.

One of the things I love about this debut album is the tracklisting versus the running time. Fourteen songs breeze past in thirty five minutes. What’s not to like about an album where the average running time is two minutes and fifty three seconds? If you don’t like a certain song, by the time you reached that decision, there’ll be another one coming around the corner in a matter of seconds.

I should like the Clash. They’re clearly the most talented of all the bands that came out of the punk movement in the UK. They can really play and they’re great songwriters, which you can’t say for a lot of the punk bands that got by on a mixture of attitude, nose rings and spit. It isn’t the band that’s to blame though for my apathy towards them, it’s the bloody fans.

Clash fans are one of the worst subcultures in music fandom. To Clash fans, the Clash are the beginning and end of everything. And don’t get me started on the deification of Joe Strummer. As part of a well-balanced musical diet, the Clash are a healthy pursuit, but moderation is everything and the Clash are really nothing more than the best of a bad bunch. Or are they something more? What am I missing?

Hit: White Riot

Hidden Gem: Police & Thieves

Rocks In The Attic #331: The JBs – ‘Food For Thought’ (1972)

RITA#331My sole purchase (so far) from this year’s Record Store Day releases – a re-release of the 1972 debut album from the JBs (James Brown’s backing band, for the uninitiated).

This is as good as anything James Brown was releasing around this time (he’s listed as not only the producer, but also ‘the creator’). Still, even though it’s (mainly) instrumental, you still get the odd cry or whelp from James in the background (after the opening chant of ‘Pass the peas, like they used to say’, that’s clearly him shouting ‘Pass them then!”).

I was lucky enough to see Fred Wesley play in Auckland last year, and highlights of the show were definitely Pass The Peas and Gimme Some More, from this album. It’s shows like that which restore my faith in Auckland society. I can go for months (years sometimes!), thinking there’s no culture in this city, or anybody close to having the same interests as me, and then I find hundreds all at once in the same place.

Sadly, while Record Store Day gave me Food For Thought this year, it also provided some figurative food for thought. I think this year’s Record Store Day will be the last year I attend at opening time. Last year was bad enough at Real Groovy in Auckland at 9am. This year it was even worse – double the amount of people as 2013, all clambering over each other to get records on one small double-sided rack. What should be a happy, joyous occasion is just turning nastier and nastier every year. This year, it even smelt bad – it’s poorly attended by chicks, so all you get is overweight, bearded men reeking of body odour.

Both years I’ve then gone onto Southbound Records in Mt Eden around 10am, and it’s been much nicer – on Record Store Day, they have a couple of helpers walking around asking if you’d like (free) coffee. Still, I reckon Southbound at 9am on RSD would be just as unpleasant at Real Groovy at the same time. It’s so small, there’s hardly any room to move when 10 people are in there, I can’t imagine what it’d be like with 20 or 30 people (or more).

I’ll take my chances later in the day, and maybe from next year, take the kids along – who knows, they might enjoy the festive mood. Surely that’s the point of the day, not the early doors, every-man-for-himself, display of music-industry capitalism at its worst.

Hit: Pass The Peas

Hidden Gem: Wine Spot