Category Archives: Pop Culture

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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The Good Life With Good Neighbors

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Tom Good had a midlife crisis at age 40 and decided to drop out of society, if not the neighborhood. Tom wanted to work at the job of life itself and leave the 9-to-5 drudgery and consumerism behind. So he, along with his understanding wife Barbara, turned their middle-class home and yard into a suburban farm. He was determined to be as damn near self-sufficient as possible.

I’m talking about the wildly successful British sit-com The Good Life (1975 – 1980). It was called Good Neighbors in the United States when it premiered on PBS in the early 80s. There had been an American sit-com with the same name a few years earlier and the presenters wanted to avoid confusion.

I remember seeing ads on PBS at the time, touting a new “Brit-Com” that would be debuting soon. It had a scene from the second episode, I believe, showing Barbara (Felicity Kendal) smashing the glass out of their greenhouse so Tom (Richard Briers) could convert it to a chicken coop. (Yep, they were going to keep chickens, too. And pigs. And a goat.) She was wearing a scuba mask to prevent glass shards getting in her eyes. Tom told her she looked utterly ridiculous and she called him “Honey Tongue.”

I think it was my mom that convinced me to start watching the show. Before long I was smitten. Sure, Barbara was cute as a button and awfully sexy at the same time, so that helped peak my interest. But, I wasn’t just smitten with Barbara. The show had wended its way into my heart. (If you tell people I said I have a heart, I’ll deny it!)

The Goods lived next door to the Leadbetters: Margo (Penelope Keith) and Jerry (Paul Eddington). Tom and Jerry (that sounds familiar) had both worked for the same plastics company that manufactured toys for breakfast cereals. They both started on the same day eight years previous. Tom was more talented, but Jerry knew how to play the game. Jerry rose to the executive level while Tom languished working with younger men, who would soon rise to the executive level as well.

Margo Leadbetter plays the lovable foil. She’s prim and proper. Very conservative. She has difficulty understanding why something is funny. She’s a snob, but she truly cares for Tom and Barbara. Well, Barbara. She tolerates Tom.

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The two couples represent different ends of the economic spectrum. The Leadbetters are affluent and love their luxuries. The Goods are damned poor, but they love their life and their freedom from the trappings of middle class society. Despite these differences, they are friends. Fast friends. In fact, although Tom likes to think he and Barbara are self-sufficient, the Leadbetters come in very handy from time to time. Margo and Jerry come through for their friends even while being embarrassed by them. And, on more than one occasion, Jerry reminds Tom of the reality of dealing with society, not matter how dropped out they think they are.

The show is also genuinely funny. Particularly the episode titled The Wind-Break War, in which Margo’s new wind-break for her backyard keeps ending up in the wrong place for the Goods. A frustrated tradesman finds himself trapped in this battle of miscommunications between neighbors. The viewers are sympathetic to his plight, but we’re still laughing. Cooler heads prevail and the homemade wine pours. Innocent flirtations between couples come close to not being so innocent. And Margo gets the last laugh.

28 episodes plus two specials (one a command performance for the Queen) are all that there is. In the old days of American television that would be one season. But through those episodes the audience comes to know and love four very real characters. We struggle right along with Tom and Barbara, through a difficult harvest to a roof with a hole in it to the runt of the pig litter and to not having anything worth stealing. And we feel pride when the Goods brush themselves off and push on.

The Goods (and the Leadbetters) live the good life.

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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In Search Of…Good Evidence

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In 1973, television producer Alan Landsburg made an hour long TV documentary called In Search Of Ancient Astronauts. It was based on the highly popular yet poorly evidenced book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Von Daniken was convinced ancient humans were just too dumb and unskilled to be able to build and erect the massive structures and statues they left behind. How could those primitive peoples have done it without the help of space aliens?

Not long after the release of von Daniken’s tome of pseudoscience and pseudohistory, PBS’s program Nova examined his ideas. Nova presented much more logical and consistent with the evidence explanations. You can watch the entire program here. The video quality isn’t great, but the science is.

I’ll let Nova cover the skeptical angle, while I reminisce about a favorite TV series of my youth.

Landsburg produced two more hour long pseudoscience programs in 1975: In Search of Ancient Mysteries and The Outer Space Connection. All three programs featured Rod Serling as narrator and were popular enough to lead to the syndicated program: In Search Of…

Serling was set to be the narrator and host, but his death made his availability questionable, so Leonard Nimoy stepped in. I can’t think of a better second choice. Nimoy’s voice, look, and demeanor were perfect. He gave the show a sense of dramatic gravitas that few other actors could. Serling might have done well, but I think good ole Mr Spock was lightning in a bottle.

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It was April 1977 when In Search Of… first aired and for the next five years, Landsburg and Nimoy would set the template for the many, many pseudoscience promoting programs that followed. The writing style, the tone of narration, and the kind of music featured on the show became that template. The topics covered were the typical mysteries: Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, psychic powers, etc. Everything was presented with as little regard to science as possible, while dressing it up as though there was science being done. The mysteries must be preserved.

And I loved it!

Yes, I was a kid then and pretty naive. I believed it all. The show thrilled and scared me. I thought ghosts might visit me in the night. If I was walking through the woods, I was certain bigfoot was following me. Right there! See it? Oh, that’s just a dead tree. No! Behind the dead tree!! Ahhhh! Run!

Ahem. Sorry.

Not all of the shows were paranormal in theme. There were shows about Jack the Ripper, DB Cooper, Carlos the Jackal, Vincent van Gogh, Eva Braun, and Jim Jones. The Jim Jones show was actually a pretty good little documentary covering Jones’ rise and fall. The show was produced less than three years after the murders and mass suicide that brought Jonestown to an end. There were interviews with people who had been involved in Jones’ cult. They gave an inside account of how his church had started with such promise, but its leader’s paranoia and God complex became too much to sustain. There were even people interviewed who were living in the camp and escaped the day of the tragedy in November 1978. It’s well done and truly fascinating.

In 2012, the entire series was made available on DVD. I splurged and bought it. The set includes the three shows with Rod Serling and the brief reboot series from 2002 featuring Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files’ Assistant Director Skinner). I’ve rewatched the entire original series and I watched the Serling shows. I haven’t watched the 2002 reboot. No offense to Pileggi, but he’s no Rod Serling or Leonard Nimoy.

Since the show had gone off the air, I have become a skeptic. I no longer believe many of the things I did as a kid. I recognize the evidence presented on In Search Of… was very flimsy. As I watched the shows again, I kept reacting skeptically to what was being presented. “Oh, come on! Atlantis didn’t exist! Plato made it up!” “Yeah, great anecdote. Where’s the evidence?” “That’s a device to talk to ghosts? It looks an old phonograph with some surplus electronic doo-dads and some Christmas lights tied to it.”

I have plenty of favorite moments, but I’ll only lay one on ya.

In the second episode of season two, the show profiles the 18th century gentleman Count of Saint-Germain or, the more ominously named, the “man who would not die.” You see, this Count was a worldly gentleman, clearly an educated man who was said to speak several languages, each so well he fooled natives. He would tell stories of historic events that were so intimate and detailed people believed he was there. How could he have been? He looks to be only 40 years old, but could he actually be hundreds of years old? How could he tell such detailed stories, if he hadn’t been involved? (Geez, had those people never read fiction? “Oh, my! Hogwarts is described with such detail. JK Rowling must have been there! The wizarding world is real!”)

The Count also never said where he was from. This led to an awesome Leonard Nimoy moment. In all seriousness, with no hint of a snicker, but with that Spock eyebrow lift at the appropriate moment, Nimoy speculated, “But where was he actually from? Portugal? Egypt? (Cue eyebrow!) Atlantis?”

Sure. Atlantis. Why not? Why not Asgard? Frostbite Falls, MN? Ceti Alpha V??

Each show had the following disclaimer:

“This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”

My skepticism has led me to giving that a little rewrite:

“This series presents information based mainly on guesses and lots and lots of conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some improbable explanations, but not necessarily the actual ones, to the mysteries we will monger.”

But, I still love it!

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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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Pods Looking Back: A List of My Favorite Nostalgic Podcasts

You know, I’m no different than anybody else. I start each day and I end each night. (10 points if you get this reference.) And like most everybody else, I listen to podcasts. Comedy podcasts, science podcasts, podcasts on skepticism, podcasts about movies. I even do my own podcast (Dimland Radio – look for it on iTunes) that has a little of all those things and more.

Well, I thought I’d recommend a few of my favorite podcasts that are nostalgic in nature and content. Are you game?

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Just One More Thing: A Podcast About Columbo Hosts Jon Morris and RJ White invite a guest to each show to help them examine an episode of the world’s favorite TV detective: Lt. Columbo. They give their impressions of each show, including the original episodes from the 1970s and the more recent ones from when the rumpled detective returned in 1989 and ran through 2003.

The show is funny and the hosts give plenty of production and background information of this classic murder mystery-solving program. They speculate about the existence of Mrs. Columbo (they’ve even done a review of an episode of the short-lived Mrs. Columbo series), they try to pin-point the moment Columbo catches onto who the murderer is, and they marvel at how the detective out-thinks his suspects as they constantly underestimate him.

RJ tends to excitedly blurt out interruptions of the others during the podcast, but it is part of his charm. The only other drawback I can think of is they actually liked Last Salute To The Commodore.

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Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast & Gilbert and Frank’s Colossal Obsessions Each show, comic genius Gilbert Gottfried is joined by Frank Santopadre as they alternate between the main show and the mini episodes. The main show features a guest, often with one foot in the grave, to talk about the old days of entertainment. The stories get very bawdy and we frequently hear of the strange sexual practices of celebrities of yore, as well as plenty of discussion of the size of Milton Berle’s naughty bit.

The mini episodes have Gilbert and Frank talking about a particular obsession with old movies, TV shows, songs, etc.

Be warned! Gilbert sings on virtually every show. Otherwise, the podcasts are thoroughly entertaining.

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The Greatest Generation No, it’s not about Tom Brokaw’s favorite generation. This podcast is hosted by Benjamin Harrison and Adam Pranica, who admit they are both a little bit embarrassed to be doing a podcast about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s silly and it’s fun with plenty of dick and fart jokes thrown in.

The hosts watch an episode, going in order, and try to figure out if it was a good show or not. They have running jokes about an inappropriate relationship between Capt. Picard and young Wesley Crusher (the boy?), Cmdr. Riker’s absolute need for sexual consent and his lascivious use of the holodeck, and how Data is way too dangerous to be allowed to remain in Star Fleet. And each host has their pick of a “Drunk Shimoda.” You’ll have to listen to learn what that is.

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You Must Remember This Host Karina Longworth takes listeners on a journey through the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Not as funny as the other podcasts on this list, but this show is well-researched and is endlessly fascinating. The production is very good with Longworth and other voice talent playing parts of the producers, writers, actors, and moguls of old Hollywood.

If you are a fan of old Hollywood and are interested in its history, this should go to the top of your list.

Each of these suggested podcasts use adult language and themes, so they may not be suitable for all listeners. All are available through iTunes.

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