Great Album Retro Review: The Beat By The Beat

I love ’70s & ’80s pop power. The Raspberries, The Knack, The dB’s all have great catchy tunes with lots of crashing guitars and danceable beats. Out of the ’70s Los Angeles music scene comes this underappreciated power pop band. The band that was responsible for the UK’s popular two tone, ska band being know as The English Beat in the States.

The Beat were led by veteran musician Paul Collins. And I admit it, I don’t know much about this band. I do recall WKRP In Cincinnati having a poster of the album cover in the DJ studio. (Try as I might, I couldn’t find an image showing that poster in the show, so we’ll just have to rely on my memory.) I think it was that show that led a friend of mine to pick up this debut album and share it with me. It may not be as well known as previous records I’ve reviewed on this blog, but it is so filled with great tunes that it had to be included in the series.

It was released in 1979 and its 12 tracks, written by Collins, breeze by in less than 32 minutes. The songs, for the most part, pack quite a pop punch. And when you’re done reading this, be sure to head over to Spotify to give The Beat a listen.

The Tracks:

Rock N Roll Girl – An anthem in tribute to rock n roll and the girls who love it. Collins laments about the popularity of disco and his desire to find a rock n roll girl as the jangly, driving guitars demonstrate this ain’t no disco.

I Don’t Fit In – The song feels like a marching tune inviting all those who feel the same to step in time.

Different Kind Of Girl – Written with bassist Steven Huff, Collins gives us the first of two ballads on the album. It’s the longest track on the album and it showcases the lead guitar prowess of band member Larry Whitman.

Don’t Wait Up For Me – This track starts with quiet pent up energy driven along by drummer Michael Ruiz, but then bursts out with the great three part harmonies that are all over this record. The song pulls back and builds and bursts over and over again. Something the Pixies would later make their signature sound.

You Won’t Be Happy – A nice little breakup song with a touch of ska.

Walking Out On Love – Another breakup song. Coming in at one minute and forty-five seconds, this is the shortest track on the record, but it sure packs a wallop. Best hook of any of the tracks and filled with great harmonies. It’s a blast! And it’s my favorite track.

Work-A-Day World – This one feels a little bit like filler to me, but it’s pretty good filler.

U.S.A. – This track was co-written by Peter Case, who had been a bandmate of Collins years earlier in their band called The Nerves before going on to form The Plimsouls. In fact, three of the songs (Walking Out On Love, Let Me Into Your Life, and Working Too Hard) on this album were originally written and recorded for The Nerves‘ self-titled 1976 EP. There’s a hint of The Beach Boys on this track.

Let Me Into Your Life – This track was co-written with Eddie Money, who received special thanks in the liner notes. The great harmonies are present and well as a bit of 60’s pop.

Working Too Hard – I’m reminded of The dB’s track – Working For Somebody Else – from their excellent 1987 release The Sound Of Music. There’s a little country twang to this track.

You And I – This is the second ballad on the album and it’s the most markedly different song of the collection. It’s piano-based, in fact there are no guitars to be found. There is a hint of what sounds like a mandolin though. It’s an ambitious track that doesn’t quite land for me.

Look But Don’t Touch – Ahhh. The guitars are back. Lots of drive and great riffs on this track. It’s a fun song. The song ends with Collins asking, “Is that enough for ya?” It would have been a great last track, but…

There She Goes – The album ends with this jangly, bouncy love song. Like much of what had gone before it includes the harmonies, riffs, and hooks that make this such a great record. It’s a last track that leaves the listener hanging just a little.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Great Album Retro Review: Skylarking By XTC

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After The Who, XTC is my favorite band. And their 1986 release Skylarking is my favorite album by them.

Long about the summer of 1985, I discovered XTC in two ways. First was the concert film Urgh! A Music War (1982). Urgh! features lots of the more interesting and entertaining musical acts of the alternative scene from the late ’70s and early ’80s. The Police, Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, Gang Of Four, Oingo Boingo, Wall Of Voodoo, X, Magazine, The Go-Go’s and Klaus Nomi are just a few of the acts involved. And XTC’s performance of their song Respectable Street was one of the stand-outs for me.

Not long after seeing Urgh I purchased a compilation album featuring artists on the Virgin label. It was called Cash Cows and XTC’s Respectable Street was included. I instantly liked that song. Probably because I was vaguely familiar with it having seen Urgh. However, at the time, I had forgotten that earlier exposure to the song.

No matter. I thought XTC was excellent and on the strength of that song I bought the album on which it appeared – Black Sea (1980). Black Sea is a terrific record, produced while the band would still perform live. By the time I bought it, however, XTC had become a studio-only band.

I was bummed that I wouldn’t ever see them in concert, but I was excited to learn more about their music and to know that they were still making records. And in September, 1986 they released the first single for their upcoming album, Skylarking. The song Grass was the A side with Dear God and Extrovert as non-album cuts for the B side. Dear God would soon take on a life of its own, more on that later.

Skylarking was produced by Todd Rundgren and the stories of the difficulties between Rundgren and band leader Andy Partridge are the stuff of legend. This was Andy’s band and Todd was acting too much like the boss. He could also be bitingly cruel to Andy. But, despite the acrimony, or because of it, Skylarking turned out to be a brilliant concept album exploring the stages of life, growth, decay, and death.

And I bought it as soon as it was released. Man! Am I old!

The Tracks:

Summer’s Cauldron – Drowning has never sounded so appealing. Andy Partridge’s imagery evoked by his lyrics is wonderful. This song sounds like a long, hot summer day.

Grass – First of four songs on the album written by Colin Moulding, Grass could have a double meaning. The song, which is linked to the previous track (song linking was one of Rundgren’s ideas), is about the sexual connections two young lovers made on grass. But does Moulding mean the grass they are laying on or the grass they just smoked? The video suggests the non-drug interpretation.

The Meeting Place – Written by Moulding, this song could be about the same couple in Grass trying to continue their affair while dealing with work. I really like the ticking, clomping, steaming sounds that permeate the song. It suggests the industrial presence of machinery.

That’s Really Super, Supergirl – Ever the fan of comic books, Partridge uses the up feeling music to offset the downbeat lyrics of a man who has been dumped. Nice jangly guitars!

Ballet For A Rainy Day – A song about sitting inside on a rainy day, looking out the window and marveling at the beauty of the rain soaked scenes of the street below. Wonderful.

1,000 Umbrellas – This one flows from the previous track, but this time the rain imagery is used to describe the heart-aching pain of loneliness. A nice use of strings and acoustic guitar.

Season Cycle – Andy always had a way of working with metaphor. Here he ponders the turn of the seasons by comparing it to someone riding a bicycle. The beauty of each season is explored, however this song feels more Spring than the other seasons.

Earn Enough For Us – This song opens with what might be the best guitar riff (provided by guitarist Dave Gregory) XTC has ever recorded. It should have been a hit. It follows the desperate determination of a blue collar worker trying to make ends meet with a baby on the way. Work may be tough and humiliating, but it will be suffered to make a better life. This is my favorite track.

Big Day – “Marriage! Marriage is what brings us together today.” Moulding warns that, sure, everything is all wonderful today, but will this last? There’s a slightly unconventional take to the music that suggests both the importance of the day, while hinting at future challenges.

Another Satellite – A song about feeling the pull of another, when already in a committed relationship. It’s my understanding Andy wrote this song in response to being in just such a situation.

Mermaid Smiled – Booted from later pressings of the album when Dear God proved to be a surprise hit, Mermaid Smiled is pure whimsy. It’s a longing for the lost days of youth. It has a beautiful, soaring melody and it should have been treated with more respect.

The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul – Andy’s attempt at writing a James Bond theme. And, damn it, Hollywood! There should have been a 007 flick with this as the title song! This song is the most unusual of the whole album. It sticks out and some might think it doesn’t fit. Hey, it works for me.

Dying – Moulding’s sweet, sad song about death. Similar to the ticking heard in The Meeting Place, there’s a kind of clock sound in the background of this song. In The Meeting Place it was about being on the clock at work, here it’s reminding us we only have so much time to live.

Sacrificial Bonfire – Another soaring melody, this one by Moulding. This closer tells of endings, but that the cycle continues. Life goes on.

Dear God – As I mentioned earlier, this song didn’t make the cut on the original pressing. It was regulated to the B side of the first single. However, an American DJ liked it and decided to play it and it took off from there. Andy wasn’t entirely happy with the lyrics of this atheistic anthem, but its power was picked up on and it became XTC’s biggest hit in America.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: Great Divide By Semisonic

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Lest you think my musical tastes never advanced past the 1980s, I have a great album from 1996 to discuss. It’s the first full length album by Minneapolis band Semisonic. Formed from the ashes of another influential band from that fabled city of the Upper Midwest, Trip Shakespearse; Semisonic carried on the psychedelic ’60s influenced sound of Trip Shakespeare while giving it a more polished, heavier guitar feel.

The songs of Great Divide are catchy with the warm and welcoming vocals of lead singer and guitarist Dan Wilson. There’s sensuality mixed with bombast on this album. Romantic and grand. The swirling and layered guitars are occasionally accompanied by sound affects to add texture. It’s a pleasure to listen to this one.

The Tracks:

F.N.T. – Standing for Fascinating New Thing, F.N.T. starts of with a great guitar riff and kicks the album off right. It’s a song about that strong attraction one can feel for someone new. It’s an exciting feeling. But the song also take the long view in that this “new thing” will still be fascinating even when no longer new.

If I Run – This is a great road song. It about a guy who feels the need to drive on. It will be alright if he could just leave it all behind. All, that is, except that one person.

Delicious – Seems like this is a bit of a sex song. Dan Wilson’s vocal take on a sensuous nature as he describes the desire he’s feeling for that certain someone. Kinda sexy.

Down In Flames – This song shows that bombastic side of the band. It’s big. It’s grand. It’s pretty good. Starts slow and small, but builds quickly.

Across The Great Divide – Sort of the title track, this is my favorite song on the album. Another love song. This one is about devotion to a loved one despite the distance separating them. It seems autobiographical as Wilson sings of heading far off to a place and a life unknown to him to record this song.

Temptation – Wilson adopts a falsetto for this song about desiring someone that maybe he shouldn’t, but the temptation is too great.

The Prize – Another big song. More bombast. Some nice call and response vocals between Wilson and bassist John Munson. A little plodding in its pace. This is a rerecorded version of a song that appeared on the band’s 1995 EP – Pleasure.

No One Else – Another love song on an album loaded with love songs. This one is low key and quietly played. It’s as if it’s being sung to a lover in bed after a romantic encounter. A bit of pillow talk.

Brand New Baby – Another rerecording of a track from Pleasure, this song is about the brave face one puts on when their ex has a new love interest. They said they wanted their freedom, to be on their own, but there they are with someone else. Hey, that’s great. Good for you. Just keep smiling. Keep smiling.

Falling – Love again. This time the object of Wilson’s desire seems to want to keep things at arm’s length, but something’s brewing. I like the use of the amusement park ride as a metaphor for falling in love.

In Another Life – John Munson takes the lead vocal for this quiet, thoughtful track about a broken relationship that is beyond repairing. Too much time has past. The damage is done. Move on.

I Feel For You – The quietest track on the album closes it out. Guitars, bass, and plenty of whirling and swirling sounds work their way around your head. It’s a trippy lullaby.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: The Blurred Crusade By The Church

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One of my favorite bands from the 1980s produced this, one of my all-time favorite albums. The album is The Blurred Crusade, released in 1982, and it was recorded by Australia’s guitar-based alt-rock band The Church. It was their second album.

There’s an adage in the music industry that asserts artists have a lifetime to write their first album, but then only a year or two to write their second. The adage is meant to explain why the sophomore efforts of so many recording artists seem to drop off in quality from their freshman work. The adage may have some merit, but not in this case.

The Blurred Crusade is a brilliant album that improves on the band’s first release, Of Skins And Hearts (1981). This album is more focused and cohesive. It’s also more of a full band effort than their first album, which was more influenced by lead singer/bassist/songwriter Steve Kilbey. The guitar work of Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper is fantastic and flows so well together. And it’s jangly guitar. I love jangly guitar!

This is one of those albums that is best listened to from beginning to end. I strongly suggest that’s how you experience it.

The Tracks:

Almost With You – Holy smokes! What an outstanding opening track. If I were asked to suggest which song of The Church’s early career best defines their sound, this would be the one. Great guitar interplay, great pace, Kilbey’s deep voice, with plenty of that ethereal feel for which the band was (and still is) known. It’s my favorite track.

When You Were Mine – There’s that big 80s drum sound going on throughout the album and it’s quite noticeable here in Richard Ploog’s drumming. This is one of their rockers!

Field Of Mars – Wilson-Piper takes lead vocal on this trippy, ethereal track. I’m not sure what the lyrics mean, but so what? Most of The Church’s songs are more about the feel of the lyrics than the literal meaning. I’m sure there’s some meaning in here, but why ask why?

An Interlude – Written by the entire band, we once again get plenty of jangly guitars and trippy, albeit few, lyrics as the song builds in intensity, backs off, and builds again. The intermittent use of the hushed female vocals is a nice touch on this mostly instrumental track.

Secret Corners – A brief track that is a nice little breather to cap off the first half of the album.

Just For You – This track opens with a little theatrics. Kilbey is heard strumming away on an acoustic guitar and humming when he is interrupted by a knock on the door. He responds to the knock and opens the door to the beginning of this song. It’s a great love song, but there’s a better one yet to come.

A Fire Burns – Some good buzz to the jangly guitar on this track. Good riff.

To Be In Your Eyes – This is the better love song I was referring to earlier. It’s really good. “I want the person inside me to be someone I’d recognize, if he was in your eyes…” Nice line.

You Took – An epic track that takes the listener on quite a musical journey. Slowly building at first, but then it rocks threw most of its eight minutes, it culminates with the lyric that became the album’s title. This was always a show-stopper when played in their live sets.

Don’t Look Back – A gentle, mostly acoustic, track to wrap up such an excellent album.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Great Album Retro Review: Suzanne Vega By Suzanne Vega

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Returning to the ’80s, which is where a very sizeable chunk of my favorite music originates, so get used to it, I will once again review what I think is a great album. In this installment, I will tout Suzanne Vega’s first album.

Released in 1985, the album is self-titled and is beautiful and melancholy. Vega’s singing and songwriting are as graceful as they are thoughtful and poignant. The songs are mainly acoustic and have a folksy feel. They are quiet, simple, and straight forward in their production.

I must have discovered this album at a point in my life at which I most needed it, because it really dug its way into my psyche. I love this album. It is in my Top Ten All Time Favorites.

The tracks:

Cracking –  This song opens with my favorite acoustic guitar riff on the album and uses a  lilting synthesizer to fill in the sound as Vega talk sings much of the lyrics. It’s a moody piece that sets up the album very well.

Freeze Tag – There’s a lilt to this song as well, as Vega appears to reminisce on playful times with a flame from her past. And a song that drops a reference to Bogie and Bacall can’t be bad.

Marlene On The Wall – My favorite track on the album, this is a more up tempo song about getting romantic advice from an ever-observing poster of Marlene Dietrich. At least, I think Vega means Dietrich.

Small Blue Thing – This song returns to the moody atmosphere of the first track. To me it seems to be about obsession and being controlled by the object of that obsession. She becomes a small thing being held in her obsession’s hand.

Straight Lines – A little up tempo again, Vega sings of a woman changing herself. Cutting her hair, casting away lovers, simplifying her life until she is finally alone. With that accomplished, I can’t help but to feel some sadness for her.

Undertow – Still on the slightly up tempo side, I’m not entirely certain what this song means. But, like much of the album, there is a feel of melancholy filling every corner.

Some Journey – This song has some nice jangly guitar accents along with a flowing electric violin. Vega sings of what might have been had she met a certain person. Would they have been lovers?

The Queen And The Soldier – This song is a fable of a young queen, isolated, impetuous, and powerful, and a loyal soldier who had finally decided he couldn’t continue to do battle for her. Instead, he offers her a chance to end the constant violence and to find love. To break her out of the trap of her royalty. Does she accept his offer?

Knight Moves – I’m not certain if Vega intended this song to be about the same queen in the previous track, but I always thought it was. The melancholy continues as the queen is questioned as whether she loves one, many, any, or me.

Neighborhood Girls – This closing track is the most bouncy of any of the tracks on the album. It almost feels out of place, it’s practically jaunty, but it still works. There are plenty of excellent popping guitar lines throughout this song about neighborhood sex workers.

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Great Album Retro Review: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship By Love Tractor

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I’m going a little hipster here by looking at an album by one of the lesser known bands to come out of Athens, GA in the ’80s. Also, as this series continues, you will probably notice quite a few of my picks are from the ’80s. What can I say? I guess I’m stuck.

It was 1987 and my friend John, who was my cohort in the discovery of music that matters, not that crappy pop and hair metal getting all the radio airtime, found out about this band. They’re called Love Tractor. I hadn’t hear of them before John discovered this their fifth album: This Ain’t No Outerspace Ship.

I have to admit, I don’t know much of anything about their other musical output. I will try to remedy that, but I just love this album.

If you need an example of lilting guitars, this is it! Along with the lilting guitars is plenty of excellent melodies and hooks. This album just feels so good.

The tracks:

Cartoon Kiddies – This is my second favorite track on the album which is an ode to TV cartoons, most particularly Top Cat. Now, Top Cat wasn’t one of my favorites, but this song is a great kick off

Small Town – There’s just something about Mark Richmond’s vocals. There’s an ease to them as well as just the merest hint of snarl. Nothing threatening though. And his frequent forays into falsetto really work for me.

Chili Part Two – This song is more of an instrumental, which touches on the band’s roots as they started out an instrumental band, with a few bits of lyrics thrown in. And I find it so effective when the lyrics come rolling in – “Heeeeeere cooomes that feeeeliiing agaaaaiiin!”

Night Club Scene – The lilting guitars glide over the big ’80s drumbeat as this song opens. It’s a slower song that contains the line that gives the album its title. What does the song mean? I dunno.

Outside With Ma – For me, this is the weakest track on the album. That’s not to say it’s a bad song. It has a darker feel than the rest of the album. It also has a funky feel, which doesn’t quite work.

Rudolf Nureyev – Returning to their roots, this is the album’s first of two fully instrumental tracks. Plenty of lilt and I can almost see the dancer after whom it is named dancing gracefully along.

Beatle BootsHands down, my favorite song on the album! It just feels so good. It’s got a great ’80s dance vibe. The lyrics speak of an emotionally complicated woman who is both a hero and a mess. I love this song!

Amusement Park – This song sounds like Summer. It’s about hanging out and seeking thrills. “Meet me here. Meet me there.” Let’s go downtown, to the record store, and, of course, to that amusement park.

Party Train – A fun, rockin’ yet still funky cover of The Gap Band hit. Love Tractor makes it their own. And it’s pretty good.

We All Loved Each Other So Much – On the original vinyl release, this was the last track of the album. It was also the second fully instrumental track. It’s a quiet contemplative tune and, at just over seven minutes, the longest track on the album. Lilting to the very end.

Got To Give It Up – This bonus track is another funky cover song. This time the band covers the great dance party track by Marvin Gaye. Lots of falsetto and lots of fun. It’s a nice bonus.

Wanna give it a listen? Of course, you do! It’s available on iTunes and Spotify. Check it out!

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This Is XTC! This Is Pop!

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Andy Partridge simply hates rock documentaries. That’s what he tells us in the opening moments of a new rock documentary called XTC: This Is Pop, which began airing on Showtime in January 2018.

Andy Partridge is the leader of a rock/pop band called XTC and he finds himself taking part, a large part, in that very thing he hates: A rock documentary. And XTC fans are so glad he did.

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Andy Partridge

Placed in the One-Hit Wonder bin in the American music market, I’ve often stated that it is criminal that XTC never got as big as their contemporaries The Police. It’s about time the greater public learn about how good this band really is and this documentary will help. Musician Stewart Copeland of The Police and actor Harry Shearer, along with other musical artists and fans, are there to heap praise on this excellent band from Swindon, England. XTC may not have found a big audience, but they had a far reaching influence on many of the pop bands that followed them.

The documentary is as much about Partridge himself as it is about the band. And that’s a drawback, because we’re not given much of a backstory about the other members of the band: Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers, and Barry Andrews. Moulding, Gregory, and Chambers do contribute to the film (and the three of them all have an odd whispered, raspy tone to their voices).

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L to R: Partridge, Colin Moulding, Dave Gregory, Terry Chambers

Andrews is missing from the film. That may be due to the friction between him and Partridge while they were in the band together. Partridge’s attitude was – “This is my band!” Andrews wanted it to be his band. The friction led to Andrews leaving and then co-founding Shriekback. In later years, the two headstrong artists did work together on Partridge’s 2007 album of improvised instrumentals – Monstrance.

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Barry Andrews

As we learn about the band’s formation in the ’70s and growth through the ’80s, ’90s, and into the ’00s; going from glam to punk to rock to lush and beautiful pop, we also learn about Andy growing up an only child having a mother with OCD, his drug-addiction that began to develop when he was 13, and we get a deeper explanation of his crippling stage fright that turned XTC from a touring band into studio artists in 1982. The stage fright was a double-edged sword. It prevented XTC from breaking through just as they were on the verge of a major American tour. But, it gave the musicians a much, much larger “box of paints” to use to create such wonderful music.

It’s a fascinating look at such an intriguing artist and his awesome band. However, clocking in at a mere hour and fifteen minutes, to quote XTC’s song All Of A Sudden, “there’s plenty missing in the middle.” There is barely any mention of XTC’s last two albums: Apple Venus Vol. 1 and Wasp Star: Apple Venus Vol. 2. And I would have liked to learn about the seven year strike the band went on, from 1992 until 1999, against their record label Virgin. But, as it is said in show business, always leave them wanting more.

Give it a watch. Your new favorite band is just waiting for you to find them.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.