Category Archives: Music

The Year Is 1977. The List Is Ten Alternative Albums From That Year.

The world was witnessing the early stages of Punk Rock in 1977, sounding the death knell of Disco. OK, maybe not that dramatic, but the music listening public was seeing the first main wave of Punk albums being released in 1977. Seven of the ten albums I will list are debut releases. 1977 was fertile ground for new recording artists.

One of my entries might not be considered alternative, but it is difficult to categorize. Besides, this is my blog and I can include what I want. Also, the first reggae album I’ve ever ranked is included in this list.

So far I have done lists for 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986-1989. And, as always, this is my list, your results may vary…

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10) Equal Rights – Peter Tosh Right off the bat is the first reggae album to be featured in one of these lists. I like reggae, but I don’t listen to it often and I don’t have many albums of that music from Jamaica. But, I do have this one. The opening track (my favorite) was co-written by Bob Marley and was originally recorded by The Wailers, but I prefer Tosh’s version. I also prefer Tosh’s voice to Marley’s. This is a nice, relaxing album about the need for equal rights and justice with a little religious undertone throughout.

Favorite track: Get Up, Stand Up

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9) Spiral Scratch – Buzzcocks The first debut release on this list is an EP by one of my favorite bands to emerge from UK’s Punk scene. Four pretty raw blasts of Punk energy featuring Howard Devoto on vocals. Devoto would not be with the band for long, but he did help set the tone and direction the band would take in his absence, when Pete Shelley would take over lead vocals.

Favorite track: Boredom

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8) Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick Maybe not exactly alternative, this debut album by the power pop rockers from Illinois is awfully hard edged when to compared to their albums that followed. They address pedophilia (Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School), serial killer Richard Speck (The Ballad of TV Violence), and the suicide of a friend of the band (Oh, Candy). It also features their excellent power ballad Mandocello.

Favorite track: Hot Love

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7) Pink Flag – Wire 21 tracks on this first studio release by these British art punkers. Wire demonstrated that Punk didn’t have to follow any rules. They went where their art took them, including into some very catchy pop (Mannequin). More than half a dozen songs clock in at less than one minute!

Favorite track: 12 X U

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6) Rocket To Russia – Ramones This is the third album by the original punk rockers from New York, so they’ve been showing those Brits how to do it for a while by 1977. A couple excellent covers (Do You Wanna Dance? and Surfin’ Bird) along with plenty of classically twisted Ramones originals (Cretin Hop, We’re A Happy Family, and my favorite track) make this a must-own for any fan of alternative music.

Favorite track: Teenage Lobotomy

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5) Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – Sex Pistols A tighter collection of songs than you might expect from the kings of the UK Punk Rock scene. This is the only official studio album released by the Pistols and that seems completely proper considering the volatile nature of this band. This album set the template for a great number of lesser punk bands to follow. It has plenty of kick ass tracks including Holiday in the Sun, Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen and EMI, the band’s screed against their record label and the music industry itself.

Favorite Track: Pretty Vacant

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4) The Clash – The Clash Another debut album, this one is by what would become known as “the only band that matters.” It’s the US version of which I am more familiar, so I’m kinda bending the rule here, because, technically, that version was released in 1979. Oh, well, the US version is being used here because it’s the Punk thing to do and it does contain my favorite track. There are plenty of good songs on this one: Janie Jones, White Riot, Career Opportunities, and (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais to name a few.

Favorite track: I Fought the Law

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3) Talking Heads: 77 – Talking Heads Yep, another debut album. New York’s Talking Heads took a more artful approach to the Punk Rock sound. David Byrne’s unusual and detached vocals preside over a really tight band. They explored and embraced a kind of quirky worldview both lyrically and musically. (Can you explore a worldview musically? Oh, well, it sounded good when I wrote it.) And there’s a sense of fun to this album that is missing from much of the alternative music of this time.

Favorite track: Psycho Killer

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2) Low – David Bowie Part of his “Berlin Trilogy,” Low is my favorite album by Bowie. Much of the music was written with the intent of being used as the score for Bowie’s film debut, The Man Who Fell To Earth, but the director didn’t think it worked. The second half of the album consists of mostly instrumental tracks. Very moody.

Favorite track: Sound And Vision

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1) In The City – The Jam Heavily influenced by my favorite band The Who, how could this debut album from the UK’s top Mod rock band not be number one on my list? Filled with forceful, brash, and blaring rock songs with power chords aplenty, The Jam quickly shot to the top of my list of favorite bands. The Jam were also influenced by 60s garage rock and the Motown sound, mixing all of it to become one to the UK’s most popular acts. They even cover the Batman Theme!

Favorite track (Tie): In The City and Art School

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My Favorite Band?

Over the last couple of days, on the Facebook, people have been posting lists of ten musical artists they have seen in concert, with one entry being a lie. Those willing to participate were challenged to guess which of the ten their Facebook friend hadn’t seen. In my enthusiasm, I posted two lists.

List one:
Let’s Active
Reverend Horton Heat
Johnny Thunders
Liz Phair
Buzzcocks
The Screaming Blue Messiahs
Pretenders
Rush
The Guess Who
Hunters & Collectors

List two:
The Fleshtones
The Screaming Tribesmen
David Byrne
Stereolab
Jefferson Starship
Kansas
Pete Townshend
Duran Duran
Husker Du
Skinny Puppy

A lot of folks hopped on and had some fun with this latest social media meme. A few cynics lashed out. And a special few made rather clever and funny parody lists. My favorite was a list of ten chemicals – “one of them is a lye.” Get it?

My first list reminded me of a night from the summer of 1984. I went with a group of high school buds, all Class of ’83, to The Cabooze to see The Guess Who. It turned out to be a night of inebriated over-enjoyment of that middle-of-the-road, classic rock band from Canada.

The Cabooze is an interesting and intimate live music club in Minneapolis. It’s not as famous as the legendary First Avenue & 7th Street Entry, but it is a good place to watch a band play. The layout of the venue is unconventional. It’s long and narrow, much like a caboose. Cabooze. Get it? Its stage was not much more that four feet high and it isn’t very deep, so larger bands tend to get rather cramped in when they perform.

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Galactic performing before a packed house at The Cabooze 4/11/07. Photo by Cory Funk.

But the audience can get right up there. Right up close. Very intimate.

Well, that summer night not only offered the finest of classic rock from the Great White North, it was also two-for-one beer night. For some reason, the fellows I was with would give me their free beers. Now, I won’t say I got hammered, but I was a little lit up by the time the band took the stage.

This being the summer of ’84, I had been through my first year of art school. Halfway through that year, I had embraced the punk/post punk/Mod/Gothic music scene and I had begun to dress and wear my hair unconventionally. I was breaking away from my high school identity and stretching out to express and explore my weirdness.

I had also started going to concerts at which slam dancing (I hate the term moshing) was likely to happen. And I enjoyed getting into the pit and flailing around. In my drunkenness, I brought a little of that enjoyment to the floor in front of the stage as The Guess Who played hit after hit. Now, I wasn’t exactly being violent. It’s just that, in my enthusiasm for hearing those familiar tunes, I began to be less considerate of the folks around me and I bumped into them as I danced around.

Before my friends could settle me down, two dudes, not bouncers, who were there to enjoy the show gently took me aside. They were actually pretty cool about it. As I recall, they told me they appreciated the fact I was really enjoying the show, but I was getting out of hand and being a bit of a jerk to those around me. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but in my buzzed state I hadn’t noticed that’s exactly what I was.

I apologized to the fellows and I settled down. Everyone was then able to enjoy the show. And I didn’t get beat up.

As the band’s set was coming to an end they played their song Share The Land. At the end of the song, most of the instrumentation dropped away and they harmonized the line “shake your hand, share the land.” While they did so the band members reached out to shake hands with the fans.

Two guesses as to who the two dudes were who climbed over my back and the backs of others in front of me to get their hands shook. Yep. They were my two advisors on public etiquette. How ironic.

From that night and for years after, my friend John, who was one of the people before whom I had drunkenly over-enthused myself, took to referring to The Guess Who as my favorite band.

Well, they were that night.

Oh! The two musical artists I haven’t seen in concert are Liz Phair and Pete Townshend.

Packing Peanuts!

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Another Ten Pretty Passable Alt Albums, This Time From 1983

Well, they are more than merely passable. They’re pretty damn good and a few are great, in my opinion. The year is 1983 and these albums all fall into the alternative category, although a couple of them are by artists who were on their way to the big time. One of these bands was about to become rock superstars. Hint: It wasn’t The Replacements.

So far I have done lists for 1979, 1980, 1982, 1985, and the combined years of 1986 – 1989.

As I always say, this is my list. Your results may vary.

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10) Burning From The Inside – Bauhaus Due to illness, Peter Murphy’s contribution to this the fourth album by UK Gothic rock pioneers was lessened. David J and Daniel Ash did more of the song writing than before and took on more lead vocals. It’s been suggested that Murphy’s absence and the increased involvement of J and Ash led to the break-up of the band shortly after its release. The dark and disturbing title track, along with Slice Of Life, Honeymoon Croon, and the uplifting Hope are all standout tracks.

Favorite track: She’s In Parties

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9) Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes The debut album of this sex-angst-ridden band out of Wisconsin is largely acoustic in sound, but punk to its core. However, who could possibly have known in 1983 that the opening track – Blister In The Sun – would become a staple song clip played at sporting events all over America? Weird. Oh! Did I mentioned there’s xylophone! Well, there is!

Favorite track: Gone Daddy Gone

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8) Subterranean Jungle – Ramones Three cover songs (Little Bit O’ Soul, I Need Your Love, and Time Has Come Today) and a harder edge to most of their original songs for the album had critics describing Subterranean Jungle as somewhat of a return to these New York punkers’ roots. Of course, the album didn’t sell as well as any by REO Speedwagon, but I do recall hearing Little Bit O’ Soul on the radio, however briefly. And ever the romantic, Joey delivers one of the band’s better love songs – My-My Kind Of A Girl.

Favorite track: Psycho Therapy

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7) Hootenanny – The Replacements A little disjointed with a couple of the tracks capturing this Minneapolis band’s legendary drunkenness, but the album also sees Paul Westerberg maturing as a songwriter with such songs as Color Me Impressed and Willpower. Lovelines is an entertaining trip through the personals ads with lyrics pulled directly from actual ads.

Favorite track: Within Your Reach

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6) Speaking In Tongues – Talking Heads It took five albums, but the artsy fartsy punk band from New York finally got a Top 10 single with the opening track – Burning Down The House. The band was on its way to becoming stars in the rock world, but they are not the superstars to which I was referring.

Favorite track: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

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5) War – U2 This is the band I meant when I mentioned rock superstars. They hadn’t gotten there as of 1983. It would take a another four years and the release of The Joshua Tree to make these Irish rockers kings of the world of rock and pop. However, this album was awfully damn successful, selling 11 million copies worldwide. Sunday Bloody Sunday, Seconds, Two Hearts Beat As One, and Surrender are all great tracks.

Favorite track: New Year’s Day

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4) Metal Circus – Husker Du Main rivals of The Replacements, these hardcore punks out of St. Paul were rising fast in the indie/college rock scene. It’s been said Husker Du practically invented alternative music. Technically an EP, Metal Circus had the band transitioning from the speed/thrash hardcore of their earlier efforts to the more melodic alternative sound of their next two albums – Zen Arcade and New Day Rising.

Favorite track: First Of The Last Calls

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3) Mummer – XTC The first album recorded by this band from Swindon, England after they had confined themselves to the studio due to Andy Partridge’s live performance ending stage fright. No longer concerned about playing the songs live opened new avenues and textures for the band to explore. Drummer Terry Chambers would leave the band before the recording of Mummer was complete, because he preferred to be in a band that would play live. Their music continued moving away from the early quirkiness and then more rocking sound to a more acoustic and pastoral sound, the one exception being the last track – Funk Pop A Roll. Notable songs include Wonderland, Great Fire, and In Loving Memory Of A Name.

Favorite track: Love On A Farmboy’s Wages

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2) Murmur – REM REM could be considered to have reached that same rock superstardom as was achieved by U2. Maybe not quite as super, but they got close. Along with Husker Du, REM was instrumental in setting the foundation of what would come to be known as alternative rock. And Murmur is a landmark album. Indistinct vocals by Michael Stipe were surrounded by the driving, jangly guitar sound of Peter Buck throughout this collection of catchy college radio pop featuring such terrific songs as Catapult, Moral Kiosk, Laughing, and Pilgrimage.

Favorite track: Radio Free Europe

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1) Soul Mining – The The As this debut album was made, Matt Johnson was essentially the only member of the band. He did have several musicians lend a hand, but there was no official band. From the opening track – I’ve Been Waitin’ For Tomorrow (All Of My Life) – to the final track (on the American vinly release) – Perfect – it’s nothing but fantastic songs. Sophisticated and danceable and totally pleasurable. Jools Holland of Squeeze sits in to play my most favoritest piano solo on my favorite track. It’s killer!

Favorite track: Uncertain Smile

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1982 Gave Us These 10 Excellent Alternative (Mostly) Albums

Continuing with my look at excellent alternative albums from the days of yore (or from when I was young and kept up with what was going on), this week I’ll be listing ten albums released in 1982. I have previously covered 1979, 1980, 1985, and in one blog the combined years 1986-1989. Yes, I’m jumping around, but it keeps you on your toes.

Since I do only ten albums, there are years that some great releases are left off my list. I limit my choices to albums I know, so some really good albums don’t make the cut because I don’t know them well enough. For example, Devo released their fifth album – Oh, No! It’s Devo!– in 1982. I’m only familiar with three or four of the tracks, so it’s not on the list.

Enough preamble! On with the list.

As always, these are my choices. Your results may vary.

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10) Pleasure Victim – Berlin This EP didn’t make the cut initially, but Wikipedia goofed up and I had to replace an album on this list (see correction below). Good thing, too, because I really like this record, even if it might not be considered high art. It produced a minor hit for the group – Sex (I’m A…), before they exploded in popularity by having a song on some airplane movie soundtrack a couple years later. Very synthy and very catchy. And more than a little kitschy.

Favorite Track : The Metro

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9) The Gift – The Jam By the time The Jam, one of the UK’s most popular bands to emerge from the Punk/New Wave scene, recorded this their last album, their sound was far more ’60s Pop than the crashing drums, clanging guitar, and thumping bass of their first few releases. They were much more refined in the sound and, as it turned out, Paul Weller was ready to move on. As swan song albums go, this one is awfully good.

Favorite Track: Town Called Malice

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8) The Sky’s Gone Out – Bauhaus This third album by the Godfathers of Goth is my favorite by the band. There’s an excellent opening track which is a cover of Brian Eno’s Third Uncle and plenty of other dark and brooding tunes to be found. Spirit would have gotten the favorite track status, but I prefer the single version.

Favorite Track: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

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7) All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes – Pete Townshend Of course, this entry explains the use of “mostly” in the headline. Townshend really can’t be considered alternative, but he’s my favorite songwriter, so he’s on the list. This album was more musically challenging than the more accessible Empty Glass (1980), Townshend’s most commercially successful solo effort. Among the more challenging songs such as The Sea Refuses No River, Stardom In Acton, and Exquisitely Bored can be found the pop gems Face Dances Pt2 and Stop Hurting People.

Favorite Track: Slit Skirts

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6) Chronic Town – REM This EP announced the arrival of a small college town band that would become superstars of rock by the end of the decade. Five tight, bouncy, jangly guitar-dominated tunes with mumbled lyrics are all that is offered, but it was enough to change the direction of alternative music for decades to come. It’s a landmark.

Favorite Track: Gardening At Night

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5) Peter Gabriel (Security) – Peter Gabriel Gabriel was still reluctant to name his albums, but this album was labeled Security when released in the States and in Canada. Whatever its name, it may be my favorite album by the former member of the UK prog band Genesis. My favorite track turned out to be a hit and the video of the song demonstrated that videos could be (should be) more than just featuring the artist miming the song in a faux concert performance. Videos could be (should be) art.

Favorite Track: Shock The Monkey

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4) Stink – The Replacements Another EP makes the list with the second release by the critic’s darlings from Minneapolis. Just eight blazingly quick tracks, none lasting more than three minutes and most under two, showcase the punk ethos of these rock ‘n’ rollers. There are glimpses of the more refined pop sound that would come with age and experience. For now the boys are still pretty hardcore.

Favorite Track: Kids Don’t Follow

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3) Combat Rock – The Clash Sure, this album made it to #7 on the US album charts and earned double platinum status also in the States, but The Clash were still a bunch of punk rockers. Joe Strummer went on walkabout and disappeared from the public eye for a time because he was overwhelmed by the band’s success. Well, it is a very good album that produced a couple of hits: Should I Stay Or Should I Go and Rock The Casbah.

Favorite Track: Know Your Rights

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2) English Settlement – XTC This was the last album XTC would record before the band stopped touring. It’s a transition album showing how the band was moving from the heavy guitar pop/rock with a little quirk thrown in to more lush productions. No Thugs In Our House is really the only rocker on this double album which is giving over to a more pop yet pastoral sound. Stand out tracks include Runaways, English Roundabout, Snowman, All Of A Sudden, and Jason And The Argonauts.

Favorite Track: Senses Working Overtime

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1) The Blurred Crusade – The Church This sophomore effort by Australia’s The Church might just be their best. The guitar playing is fantastic and Steve Kilbey’s vocals are mesmerizing. There is plenty of the ethereal atmosphere that was signature to the band’s sound included in the more rocking tunes (my favorite track is a good example). Almost With You is a great opening track and To Be In Your Eyes is one of my favorite loves songs of all time. The band would produce other terrific albums, but I don’t think they ever quite matched this one.

Favorite Track: You Took

Correction! 3-30-17: While preparing another 10 albums list, this time for 1983, I noticed Wikipedia had led me astray. I use Wikipedia to see which albums were released in a given year. When looking through the list of albums released in 1983, I saw that Wikipedia had the debut album by Violent Femmes on that year’s list – April 1983. But, they also had it on the 1982 list – November 1982. You can check for yourself.

Well, I had to fix that. Violent Femmes was released in 1983, so I’ve replaced it with Berlin’s second release – Pleasure Victim.

Packing Peanuts!

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An Unexpected Rabbit Hole

In January, the world was saddened by the news that Mary Tyler Moore had died. Lots of us had grown up watching her on TV, first as Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) and then as Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). And over the years she further impressed us with her many acting roles in television and in film. Most memorable for me was her performance as the cold and controlling, yet deeply wounded, mother and wife in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (1980).

Her death has generated numerous tributes to her as a person and to her life and her work. And that’s what led me to a rabbit hole that took me on a rather interesting and, at times, frustrating journey of discovery. Not the discovery of my inning self and my emotions. I don’t have any of those.

No, it was a journey to discover just what is that line in the lyrics of Love Is All Around, the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show?!

For all these years, I had thought the lyrics to the chorus were:

“Love is all around, no need to waste it.
You can have this town, why don’t you take it?
You’re gonna make it after all.”

But last Friday morning, in the Bulletin Board (an online forum in which regular folks can tell stories, jokes, make observations, share pictures,etc) a contributor noted that a recent Nancy comic strip’s tribute to Mary had quoted, according this fellow, the lyrics wrong.

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The incorrect line was: “You can have a town, why don’t you take it?”

According to this Bulletin Boarder, the actual line is: “You can never tell, why don’t you take it?”

The person rather snarkily noted that people whose hearing was intact back then, and even now, could be certain it was “never tell,” not some line about having a (or in my case, this) town. In fact, the person noted, “I wish I’d kept track of how many tributes I’ve seen with the misheard version.”

Nearly 47 years and now this revelation? I was stunned!

However, I’m a skeptic, so I thought I better do some digging to see if I could verify this “never tell” claim. Thus began the journey of discovery.

You should be aware of a phenomenon known as priming. Priming can happen when a person is told what they should be able to hear when they listen to poor quality audio or even audio played backwards. Once you are told what to hear, it’s rather difficult, maybe even impossible, to not hear it. That’s priming.

And I found out that knowing about priming doesn’t protect you from falling victim to it.

In my search to determine the true lyrics, my first step was to look up the lyrics online. I found conflicting information. A couple websites had the “never tell” line, while others had versions of the “town” line. Hmm. However, one of the websites with the “never tell” line was the Boston Globe. They are a well-respected news source, so I started thinking I had been wrong about the “town” line. Or was I being primed?

Next I found several versions of the song on YouTube. The song was written and recorded by Sonny Curtis (not Paul Williams as some people have thought), who was a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets and had been previously best known for writing the Bobby Fuller Four hit – I Fought The Law. Several of the versions I found were recorded by Curtis. There were two versions for the show: One for the first season and one for the rest of the series with some changed lyrics, but both versions retained the “never tell/town” line. Curtis also recorded two additional versions, which he released as singles, one in 1970 and the other in 1980. They still had the same lyrics to the disputed line, even though the instrumentation of the songs was different.

There are also several cover versions of the song. Sammy Davis Jr, Joan Jett, and, 80s punk band from St. Paul, Husker Du have all covered it. It’s not quite clear if it’s “never tell” or “town” on Sammy’s and Joan’s versions, but Husker Du clearly say “town.” In fact, they even sing it the way I’ve heard it as “this town” not “the town” or “a town.”

I was beginning to lean toward “never tell,” because I had put my faith in the Boston Globe‘s journalistic prowess, but I still wasn’t sure. It’s really hard to determine just what is the line.

Then it hit me! Sonny Curtis is still alive! At least according to Google. I found that he has a Facebook page and an official website. I couldn’t be certain he would get my messages, but I sent messages to both sources. I pleaded to him for an answer.

By the end of that Friday’s tumble down the rabbit hole, I received an email from the man himself. (Well, the email claimed it was him. I don’t want to go down another rabbit hole, so I’ll just accept that it was him.)

I’ll allow Mr Curtis to settle this once and for all.

“Hi Jim,

Thanks for your interest in the Mary Tyler Moore Theme.  Below with my compliments are the lyrics.

Mary Tyler Moore Theme
Words and Music by Sonny Curtis

Who can turn the world on with her smile
Who can take a nothing day and suddenly
make it all seem worthwhile

Well it’s you girl and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement
you show it

Chorus:

Love is all around no need to waste it
You can have the town why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all

Published by Sony/ATV Music

Hope this is helpful.

All the best,
Sonny Curtis”

Very helpful! Thank you, Mr Curtis!

Oh! And, in your face! Mr Bulletin Boarder who thinks his hearing is so good!

Packing Peanuts!

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Ranking XTC: Less Great to Most Great

There’s a thing about lists ranking movies, TV shows, albums, etc. by their level of quality – subjectivity. These kinds of lists are just opinions and, no matter how reasoned the list-makers think they’ve been, someone is bound to disagree. At best, the list gives people unfamiliar with the topic an overview and recommendations on where to start exploring the theme. At worst, it gives the list-maker the chance to smack talk about a subject they might think to be overrated in general.

A list ranking the British Pop band XTC‘s albums from worst to best has surfaced on an XTC Facebook fan page. It has stirred up some controversy. First of all, even though I understand the technicality of language when describing a ranking list, how can a consistently great recording artist, such as XTC, have a worst album? In my opinion, they just don’t have one. They may have worst songs, some I flat out don’t like or even hate, but not a worst album in the bunch.

That’s why my list goes from less great to most great. I will handle this list in much the same way as my other ranking lists, but I might include a song pick which demonstrates a failure, in my opinion, in the band’s usual high quality. I’m also including the two albums by XTC‘s alter-ego: The Dukes of Stratosphear.

Again, this is my list, my opinion. Your results may vary.

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14) White Music (1978) This one is a bit uneven, I think mainly due to the band attempting to find its voice. Overall, the album has all that quirkiness that defined the band in their early years, which works most of the time. It seems Colin Moulding is trying a little too hard to be quirky on two of the three songs he wrote, but I’ll Set Myself On Fire is a good early effort. Radios In Motion is a fantastic opening track and Andy Partridge also scores well with Into The Atom Age, New Town Animal, and This Is Pop? (I do agree with that other list-maker that the later single version of this song is much better). However, their cover of Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower really does fall flat.

Favorite track: Statue Of Liberty

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13) The Big Express (1984) Plenty of greatness to be found, but for me the album tends to go a little heavy on the bashing drums side, as on Reign Of Blows and Train Running Low On Soul Coal. However, there is some quiet subtlety to be found on This World Over. Other stand-outs include You’re The Wish You Are I Had and I Remember The Sun. And my favorite song on the album is another fantastic opening track.

Favorite track: Wake Up

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12) Go 2 (1978) Released the same year as their first album, Go 2 shows Partridge and Moulding getting better at their songwriting. They are more focused on this their sophomore effort. Keyboardist Barry Andrews contributes two songs (My Weapon and Super-Tuff) which are early efforts for him and are OK. There’s some quirkiness still to be found on Meccanik Dancing (Oh We Go!), Buzz City Talking, and Jumping In Gomorrah; but more thoughtful songwriting emerges with Battery Brides (Andy Paints Brian).

Favorite track: Are You Receiving Me?

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11) Psonic Psunspot – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1987) This is the second album for which the fellows donned their disguise as a 60s Psychedelic band. If you are a fan of 60s Pop and Psychedelic music, you will be a fan of the Dukes. Lots of catchy tunes and another terrific opening track : The Vanishing Girl. Other greats include Pale And Precious, Collideascope, and Shiny Cage.

Favorite track: Brainiac’s Daughter

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10) Mummer (1983) Continuing in the direction of more a pastoral Pop sound that was started on 1982’s English Settlement (I’ll get to it!), Mummer was XTC’s first studio album after the band decided to stop touring. It sounds like an album that wasn’t intended to be played live. Softer, more acoustic songs (Ladybird, Wonderland, In Loving Memory Of A Name) dominate, with the exception of Funk Pop A Roll, written by Partridge when he thought the band was about to be dropped by their record label.

Favorite track: Great Fire

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9) Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol. 2) (2000) XTC’s swan song album is better than some folks give it credit as being. It’s got plenty of catchy tunes, including what I think is Moulding’s best song since My Bird Performs from 1992’s Nonsuch (Yes, I’ll get to that one, too!): Standing In For Joe. The band’s tradition of excellent opening tracks continues with Playground. And there are other gems to be found: I’m The Man Who Murdered Love, In Another Life, and Church Of Women.

Favorite track: The Wheel And The Maypole

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8) Nonsuch (1992) XTC’s last album before their seven year strike against and subsequent liberation from the Virgin label builds on the groundwork laid by their 1989 album, Oranges & Lemons. (Yes, yes! Be patient.) Some have said it’s a little too similar to that previous effort. Perhaps, but there’s still some really good stuff on here. Dear Madam Barnum, The Disappointed, That Wave, Omnibus, the aforementioned My Bird Performs, and Wrapped In Grey. All great tunes. But I was never fond of Rook and Bungalow. They just don’t work for me.

Favorite track: Then She Appeared

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7) Oranges & Lemons (1989) Another great opening track, Garden Of Earthly Delights, leads to an album filled with earthly delights: King For A Day, The Loving, Scarecrow People, One Of The Millions, Pink Thing… Whew! I haven’t even gotten to my favorite track yet. There’s also Poor Skeleton Steps Out, in which I learned I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought of our skeletons as separate living entities trapped inside our bodies. Andy and I are on the same page there.

Favorite track: (And just how the hell wasn’t this a mega-hit?!) Mayor Of Simpleton

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6) 25 O’Clock – The Dukes Of Stratosphear (1985) This was the first time the boys adopted new identities and brought in Dave Gregory’s brother Ian to play drums to produce an homage to their favorite tunes and artists of the 60s. The budget wasn’t big, which is why it was kept to a mere six songs, but they put every penny’s worth on the vinyl. It’s great from start to finish.

Favorite track: The Mole From The Ministry

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5) Drums & Wires (1979) Barry Andrews was out and Dave Gregory was in on this the third XTC album. Gregory’s entry not only eliminated Andrew’s manic keyboards, it expanded the guitar sound of the group. He also helped lead the band into their more pastoral, less quirky sound of their later releases. Moulding’s songwriting had greatly improved by this album and he steals the show by contributing all its best songs, which includes my favorite track and Day In Day Out, Ten Feet Tall, and That Is The Way. They all outshine Partridge’s songs. Not that Andy’s songs are bad. Oh, no. When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty, Millions, and the terrific Complicated Game are nothing to sneeze at.

Favorite track: Making Plans For Nigel

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4) Apple Venus Vol. 1 (1999) It had been seven years since XTC fans had some new material from their favorite band. Did they break up? What had they been doing? The band went on strike against Virgin in 1992. They didn’t like their deal and the way Virgin didn’t promote them. The band finally won their freedom and went to work on this masterful album. Partridge called it an orchoustic effort, combining orchestral arrangments with mainly acoustic songs. It really is very good. Moulding’s songs, two in total, are fine, but they just don’t quite measure up to his prestrike songwriting. Partridge, however, is firing on all cylinders. Greenman, The Last Balloon, Easter Theatre, I Can’t Own Her, Harvest Festival are all lush and beautiful. The circular orchestration of the brassy River of Orchids may make it a challenging opening track, but it is a piece of excellent songwriting. Even the bitter and sad song about the dissolution of a marriage, Your Dictionary,  has its beauty and manages to uplift by the end. This album was worth the wait.

Favorite track: I’d Like That

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3) English Settlement (1982) This is where XTC began to go into more acoustic and pastoral songs. A lushness began to find its way into their sound on songs such as Runaways, All Of A Sudden, Jason And The Argonauts, Yacht Dance, and Snowman. There’s even a couple attempts at straight up dance songs: Melt The Guns, Down In The Cockpit. This double album also has the distinction of containing both my favorite and my most hated XTC songs. I can’t stand, and never could, Leisure. Its herky-jerky, start and stop pacing punctuated by Partridge barking, “Leisure!” really puts me off. The song only gets going at the very end just as it begins to fade. But my favorite XTC song is there to balance everything out.

Favorite track: Senses Working Overtime

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2) Black Sea (1980) This is the first XTC album I ever heard. It also contains the first XTC song I ever heard, Respectable Street. This album has the group almost completely losing their quirk factor and rocking out some very hook-laden pop tunes. I don’t think there’s a dud on the entire album. Partridge might disagree as he wasn’t too fond of Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me), but I think that song has a certain light-hearted charm. Moulding only contributes two tracks, but they do include the excellent Generals & Majors. But it’s Partridge who is in complete command of this album. Living Through Another Cuba, Rocket From A Bottle, Paper & Iron, Burning With Optimism’s Flame, No Language In Our Lungs…Whoa! Outstanding!

Favorite track: Towers Of London

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1) Skylarking (1986) That controversial list that inspired this blog at least got this one right. The writer also put this album at number one. And it is brilliant. Out of the struggles between Partridge and producer Todd Rundgren, came this loose concept album of the passing of a single summer day. Rundgren came up with the concept and the running order of the songs they were to record after listening to the demos, but before consulting with Andy. Contentious recording sessions still yielded this masterpiece. From start to finish it is a brilliant piece of Pop music. And it provided XTC their first radio hit in America. Sort of. The song was Dear God, but it wasn’t included on the first pressing of the album. It was a B-side for the first single, Grass. American DJs liked it and played it into a hit and onto the second pressing. Stand out tracks on an album of nothing but stand outs include Summer’s Cauldron, Season Cycle, The Meeting Place, and The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul. In 2010, the album was remastered and an audio problem was corrected and it was re-released on vinyl. The song Mermaid Smiled was returned to the album, it had been removed to make room for Dear God, but the atheist anthem was still included. The original album art concept by Partridge was also used for this reissue, but it’s a little too risque to go with here. You can Google it if you are curious.

Favorite track: Earn Enough For Us

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10 Excellent Alternative Albums From 1980…

I am continuing with my love of the alternative rock/pop music of my youth with the year 1980. 1980 was a pretty good year for alternative music, having so many excellent debut releases. In fact, half of this list is made up of first albums. You might disagree as to my rankings, but this is my list which, I admit, is completely subjective. Your results may vary.

So far, I’ve covered 1979 and 1985 each on their own. And I did a combo top ten pulled from the second half of the 1980s. Just in case you are keeping track.

Here’s my list for 1980:

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10) In Combo – The Suburbs Part of that first wave of punk, New Wave, DIY bands from the 80s’ alternative music capitol, Minneapolis, The Suburbs are difficult to categorize. Staccato guitars, throbbing basslines, cascading keyboards, driving drums and inscrutable lyrics fill this fantastically slamdanceable debut album. These guys were a blast to see play live.

Favorite track: Cows

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9) New Clear Days – The Vapors Thought by most to be a One Hit Wonder, which they pretty much are, The Vapors did produce plenty of catchy guitar-driven tunes on this their debut album. Of course, there’s their one hit – Turning Japanese – but there are a few other highlights including News At Ten, Spring Collection, and Sixty Second Interval.

Favorite track: Waiting For The Weekend

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8) Crocodiles – Echo & The Bunnymen This is the third debut album on my list so far and it also is pretty damn good. Hailing from The Beatles‘ hometown, Echo & the Bunnymen had a sound more akin to The Doors. But, don’t hold that against them. They could produce aggressive punk songs such as title track and more arty tracks as demonstrated by Villiers Terrace. And they could craft a mighty good pop song such as my favorite track on the album.

Favorite track: Rescue

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7) End Of The Century – Ramones This is the godfathers of punk meets the genius of Motown album. The original punk rockers teamed up with producer Phil Spector creating a more lush sounding version of their high-powered punk. Stand out tracks include Rock’n’Roll High School, Chinese Rock, and the cover of The Ronnettes classic Baby, I Love You.

Favorite track: Do You Remember Rock’n’Roll Radio?

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6) Remain In Light – Talking Heads Picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the decade, Remain In Light had Talking Heads teamed once again with producer Brian Eno. The band continued to explore African rhythms and worked with other musical artists including Nona Hendyrx, Adrian Belew, and Robert Palmer.

Favorite track: Once In A Lifetime

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5) Peter Gabriel (Melt) – Peter Gabriel On this, the third of his four self-titled albums (fans called this one Melt due to the album cover artwork), Gabriel continued to craft artful pop and rock songs, inching closer to the highly successful pop sound realized on his fifth solo album, So. Much like Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel brought in several talented musicians to help record this album, including Paul Weller, Dave Gregory, Robert Fripp, and, former Genesis bandmate, Phil Collins.

Favorite track: Games Without Frontiers

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4) Sound Affects – The Jam Intentionally spelled incorrectly to indicate the title is an action rather than a thing, this fifth release by the UK Mods introduced a funkier and heavier bass sound, as on Pretty Green and Start!, and a smattering of horns on the track Dream Time.

Favorite track: That’s Entertainment

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3) Pretenders – Pretenders Another fantastic debut album, one of the best ever, enters the list. Chrissie Hynde’s vocals and attitude were a breath of fresh air in the male dominated world of rock music. Tough (Precious, Tattooed Love Boys) and tender (Kid, Lovers Of Today) describe this album. Awesome also describes it.

Favorite track: Brass In Pocket

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2) Underwater Moonlight – The Soft Boys This band was introduced to me by a DJ spinning records for the radio station on the Beloit College campus. She told me and two of my friends as we watched her work that The Soft Boys were a brilliant band and that we had to check them out. She was right. Led by British surrealist rocker Robyn Hitchcock, this album is great from start to finish. Catchy tunes, soaring guitars, tight harmonies, and some pretty odd lyrics make this debut so irresistible.

Favorite track: Queen Of Eyes

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1) Black Sea – XTC It’s no secret this criminally underappreciated band from Swindon, England is one of my most favorite in all of rock/pop music. And this was the first album of theirs that I had ever heard. A harder, more straight forward rocking album than their previous releases, Black Sea still has loads of great hooks and pop melodies. The opening track Respectable Street was the first XTC song I ever heard and I loved it instantly. I cannot over-stress just how good I think this album is. It is well deserving of being number one on this list.

Favorite track: Towers Of London

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