Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One of the best deliveries I ever received


This post is for those of you who have a passion for music. If that's not your thing, you might have trouble understanding the level of excitement I felt when friends recently sent me a package of old records that I used to own.

First, here's the background story:

I left the UK in 2005 and decided to live my life in Canada. One of my decisions was to travel light, so I started giving away some of my things to friends and neighbors. At that time, I had a significant CD collection and listened to all of my music on a Marantz CD player, through a pair of Mission speakers. To my ears, music had never sounded so clear. I didn't feel the need to transplant my remaining vinyl records to another country. I hadn't even had the means to play them for several years. I ended up donating them to one of my closest friends. We spent years attending concerts together and countless evenings listening to music on the Marantz system, so he was the obvious choice.

More than 10 years passed without me giving a second thought to my old vinyl collection. Then one day, another close friend finally convinced me to give vinyl another try. I bought a turntable. That simple sentence actually required a lot more effort than you might imagine.

There are many areas where I will happily buy a budget option, but that's not the case when it comes to music. My usual thought process is to buy one of the entry level options from a proven manufacturer. I narrowed down my search and eventually found myself choosing between an Audio Technica LP120 and a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon (DC). The Pro-Ject was my final choice. Then I needed some records.

The biggest reason for attempting to improve the way I listened to music involved Modest Mouse. I had been a casual fan of the band for years, but during 2014, I found myself playing the band's music almost non-stop. The albums that I had dismissed as being too raw finally fell into place. I loved it all. How could I listen to that spectacular music in a way that would do it justice? I found myself ordering every Modest Mouse album on vinyl (I already owned the CDs). Unfortunately, the shipment was delayed until Strangers To Ourselves was released, so my initial new record collection was limited to Ugly Casanova's Sharpen Your Teeth. I gave the album one listen and I was completely sold on the vinyl experience. I found myself sitting in the dark listening to every note as if it was being played by a musician sitting across from me.

I spent about $1,000 on records and equipment before I heard that one record. If I hadn't liked the result, it would have been an expensive experiment. If you factor in concerts, the various format changes, equipment, and remastered and bonus versions of existing albums, I have easily spent $50,000 on music over the course of my life. It's safe to say that I'm a fan and that music is important to me.

That was a longer background story than I anticipated, sorry.

Ever since I rediscovered vinyl two years ago, I've had a dilemma. Just what exactly should I buy? If I just buy everything I already own on CD, am I wasting money? How many albums do I listen to on a regular basis? Can I justify buying things I might not play even once during the year? So I decided that vinyl would be the ultimate format for those albums that do receive regular play, and I would restrain myself beyond that. To further complicate things, I knew that eventually my friends would dig through their attic and return the records I gave them 12 years ago. I never anticipated asking for them back, but I didn't understand the level of passion I would feel for the old format. When I found out they weren't being played, I explained what it would mean to me if they could possibly be returned. Once that became a certainty, I had to reign in my purchases even more. What had I owned anyway? What would be in those boxes when I finally opened them?

As a result of all these unknowns, my record collection numbered just under a hundred until a certain package arrived a few days ago. I paid the shipping, which ended up being $280. To my surprise, the package took just one day to travel from England to Canada. I collected the records and sat down to document the experience. The first thing I noticed is that the entire package fit into two record cases, one black and one brown. I recognized those cases from my past. I had bought them around 30 years ago.

What would I find inside?

I started with the heavier brown box. It appeared crammed with a mixture of 12" singles and LPs.

Would I find anything embarrassing from my extreme youth? Probably not.


The first thing out of the box didn't even have a cover. Ah yes, The Beatles 1967-1970 compilation I had bought from a friend for 50 pence while I was in school. I decided to make an Excel spreadsheet as well as add everything into my Discogs collection. I didn't actually own any Beatles vinyl until that moment. While not a band I listen to very often, it was exciting to own an original pressing of something that had sentimental value to me.

Next out of the box was an album by the Fall. My favorite band from about 1980 to 1995 was heavily represented. I became more and more amazed at what was in the box. That first album, A Part Of America Therein, 1981, was one of 17 Fall albums in the box. The first 11 studio albums were all there, along with a live album, a few compilations, and the legendary Slates EP. There were also a number of 12" singles and 45s. Try to imagine yourself in a similar situation. One of the most important bands in your life is suddenly a huge part of your record collection again. The vast majority of the albums are original pressings and most are out of print (although a few are starting to see releases again).


One thing I noticed immediately was that everything was in incredible shape. No musty smell, damage, or warping of any kind. They actually look clean enough to play in many cases, but I'll definitely clean them first.

Next out of the box was Blondie. In fact, the first six studio albums were there, as well as a 12" and some of Debbie Harry's solo stuff. I almost bought Parallel Lines at the flea market every time I saw it. I'm glad I restrained myself.


All of these thoughts about music make me think about where our musical influences originate. My parents and grandparents never showed any interest when I was growing up, so my early favorites came from listening to the radio. Then, when I was about 12, my neighbor introduced me to the music of David Bowie. That has stuck with me for more than 40 years and I still own most of Bowie's output. Perhaps my biggest influences came from school and then the John Peel show. You can easily see Peel's influence here as 39 of the 111 records are by The Fall. I was delighted to find more bands originally discovered by listening to Peel's show. This first box included albums and EPs by Half Man Half Biscuit and Yeah Yeah Noh. Bands discovered at school included The Damned and John Cooper Clarke, so I was delighted to find Damned Damned Damned and two Clarke albums hiding in the box.


And so to the second box. It felt a lot lighter than the first because about half the records were 7" singles. That said, it was still an exciting package. The most welcome and unexpected record was definitely the original pressing of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. I remember buying it in the final years of school. The recent 180g remaster sounds fantastic, but it's incredible to own the original again. The black textured sleeve with its iconic logo was in superb shape.


Other welcome finds in the second box included singles from The Wedding Present, Sugarcubes, Pavement, Magazine, and Throwing Muses. My Muses vinyl collection is severely lacking and most of the albums are out of print, but it is good to have a few more singles and EPs to play on vinyl. There were a few other surprises, such as a Bill Nelson single on red vinyl and the Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP, which has always been a favorite of mine.

Music is like a time machine. It allows us to travel back and experience all kinds of things, good and bad. The memories attached to these particular records are mostly very good and it's great to have doubled the size of my fledgling collection. I can't thank my friends enough for the effort involved in making this happen.

For those of you who like statistics as much as me, here is a full list of what was in the boxes:

Artist Title Format
Beatles 1967-1970 2LP
Beck Devils Haircut 7"
Belly Pretty Deep 7"
Belly Seal My Fate 7"
Blondie Sunday Girl 12"
Blondie AutoAmerican LP
Blondie Blondie LP
Blondie Eat To The Beat LP
Blondie Parallel Lines LP
Blondie Plastic Letters LP
Blondie The Hunter LP
Bowie, David Pinups LP
Bragg, Billy Between The Wars 7"
Breeders Head To Toe 10" EP
Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch 7" EP
Clarke, John Cooper Me And My Big Mouth LP
Clarke, John Cooper Zip Style Method LP
Damned Damned Damned Damned LP
Drugstore Fader 7"
Dury, Ian Do It Yourself LP
Fall Slates 10" MiniAlbum
Fall Hey! Luciani 12"
Fall Mr Pharmacist 12"
Fall The Peel Sessions 12"
Fall Why Are People Grudgeful? 12"
Fall Telephone Thing 12" EP
Fall Couldn't Get Ahead 12" Single
Fall Free Range 12" Single
Fall Living Too Late 12" Single
Fall There's A Ghost In My House 12" Single
Fall Victoria 12" Single
Fall Call For Escape Route 12" Single + 7" Single
Fall Kicker Conspiracy 2 x 7"
Fall Bingo-Master's Break-Out! 7"
Fall C.R.E.E.P. 7"
Fall Cruiser's Creek 7"
Fall How I Wrote 'Elastic Man' 7"
Fall Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul 7"
Fall Oh! Brother 7"
Fall Rehearsal Early '77 (Vol.1) 7"
Fall The Man Whose Head Expanded 7"
Fall Totally Wired 7"
Fall 77 - Early Years - 79 LP
Fall A Part Of America Therein, 1981 LP
Fall Bend Sinister LP
Fall Dragnet LP
Fall Grotesque (After The Gramme) LP
Fall Hex Enduction Hour LP
Fall Hip Priest And Kamerads LP
Fall I Am Kurious Oranj LP
Fall Live At The Witch Trials LP
Fall Palace Of Swords Reversed LP
Fall Perverted By Language LP
Fall Room To Live LP
Fall The Wonderful And Frightening World Of... LP
Fall This Nation's Saving Grace LP
Fall Totale's Turns (It's Now Or Never) LP
Fall Fall In A Hole LP + 12" EP
Fall The Frenz Experiment LP + 7"
Foxx, John No-One Driving 2 x 7"
Foxx, John Metamatic LP
Girls Against Boys Super-fire 10"
Half Man Half Biscuit The Trumpton Riots 12" EP
Half Man Half Biscuit Dickie Davies Eyes 12" Single
Half Man Half Biscuit Back Again In The D.H.S.S. LP
Half Man Half Biscuit Back In The D.H.S.S. LP
Harry, Debbie Free To Fall (Picture Disc) 12" Maxi
Harry, Debbie KooKoo LP
Harry, Debbie Rockbird LP
Harry, Debbie/Blondie Once More Into The Bleach 2LP
Joy Division Unknown Pleasures LP
K.U.K.L. The Eye LP
Lennon, John Imagine 7"
Magazine Give Me Everything 7"
Magazine Touch And Go 7"
Nelson, Bill Furniture Music 7"
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark Red Frame/White Light 7"
Pavement Carrot Rope 7"
Pavement Stereo 7"
Pavement Give It A Day 7" EP
Peter Cook & Dudley Moore Derek And Clive (Live) LP
Pixies Debaser (Demo) 7"
Pixies Limited Edition Interview Picture Disc LP
Psychedelic Furs Dumb Waiters 7"
Queen Bohemian Rhapsody 7"
Queen Now I'm Here 7"
Riley, Marc with the Creepers Fancy Meeting God! LP
Sonic Youth Master=Dik / Beat On The Brat 12" EP
Specials Ghost Town 7"
Sugarcubes Deus 10"
Sugarcubes Planet 12"
Sugarcubes Walkabout 7"
Throwing Muses Chains Changed 12"
Throwing Muses Dizzy 12"
Throwing Muses Dizzy (Promo) 12"
Throwing Muses Counting Backwards 12" Maxi
Throwing Muses The Fat Skier 12" MiniAlbum
Throwing Muses Ruthie's Knocking 7"
Throwing Muses Shark 7"
Throwing Muses Shark 7"
Various Vinyl Conflict 2 7"
Various They Shall Not Pass LP
Wedding Present Brassneck 12"
Wedding Present The Peel Sessions 12"
Wedding Present Montreal 7"
Wedding Present Montreal 7"
Wedding Present Sucker 7"
Wings Listen To What The Man Said 7"
Yeah Yeah Noh The Peel Sessions 12" Maxi
Yeah Yeah Noh When I Am A Big Girl 12" MiniAlbum
Yeah Yeah Noh Cutting The Heavenly Lawn Of Greatness LP

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ultimate Playlists 12: Built To Spill


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:

  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more

Unlike most of the bands in this series, I have not been listening to Built To Spill for 10 years or more. The music is still quite new to me and all of the current albums were already released before I became a fan. I have only seen the band in concert once and I am yet to associate any of their songs with events in my life. If I make another Built To Spill playlist in a year or two, it might be drastically different to the one I am going to offer you today.

If you think of all your own favorite bands, you'll probably find that the album you heard first from each one is either top, or close to the top of your favorites for that band. In this instance, every Built To Spill album was first played by me over the span of a couple of days, so what I think about each does not suffer from the bias of having heard it years before the release of the later albums.

What this list is influenced by is what I find most appealing about music. That will always be the case with anything that I listen to. I am sure many of you will violently disagree with some of my choices, but all I can say is that they are honest. 

Built To Spill have produced a lot of songs with much more melody that I would typically listen to. The jewels of my music collection tend to be messier and more complex than most of the songs on this playlist. Doug Martsch founded the band in 1992 and has been the only permanent fixture. His voice is more accomplished than my favorite vocalists. Like I said, I gravitate toward messy sounds.

One thing that stands out is the sheer variety of styles present across eight studio albums. That probably has something to do with the continual changes in personnel. However, despite all of the changes, Untethered Moon (2015) seems to be one of the band's best for years, at least for my tastes. My absolute favorites from the band's discography are Perfect From Now On (1997) and Keep It Like a Secret (1999). The playlist is heavily influenced by those two in particular.

To get to the final 20 songs, I quickly ran through the band's songs and worked from a shortlist of 34. About half of the final 20 picked themselves, but the remainder of the list was not easy to pin down. The contenders each had something to offer that I think is worth hearing.

Here's the final 20. As outlined above, these are not in order of preference, but are in a sequence that I might choose for an actual live concert. Here is the YouTube Playlist if you want to enjoy the full experience.

The Plan
All Our Songs
Kicked It in the Sun
Strange
Sidewalk
Goin' Against Your Mind
Out of Site
Else
Living Zoo
Time Trap
Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)
Car
Stab
You Were Right
Trimmed and Burning
I Would Hurt a Fly

Horizon to Cliff
Broken Chairs
Randy Described Eternity
Carry the Zero



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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Ultimate Playlists 11: Talking Heads


Have you ever been to a concert and wished the band had played certain songs? I know I have. The reality is, you'll never get exactly what you want. However, you are free to build any playlist you like. I have decided to write a series showcasing the Top 20 songs from some of my favorite bands.

For those of you who are old enough to remember cassette tapes, you'll know the terrible anguish of trying to fit the songs together. How annoying when the last song you picked was still playing as the tape ran out! Those days are over and it's now a simple task to throw together a playlist using your computer, iPod or a USB. I know that having USB capability has enhanced my driving pleasure because it's so easy to update a list of songs.

But there's also more to creating a playlist than simply deciding which songs to include. Like an actual concert, or even a single song, a good playlist features changes in mood and tempo. If a band opens with the three songs that the audience most wants to hear, the rest of the performance might fall flat. My own particular method of creating a playlist has a number of considerations:


  • Mix up the duration of the songs
  • Put space between songs from the same album, unless the two are better when played in sequence
  • Build to a natural high, slow it down again, and finish with a real flourish
  • Put in some newer songs close to the start, assuming there are newer songs worthy of inclusion
  • For bands with more than one vocalist, mix up the sequence depending on who is singing
  • Speed and style matters, so mix it up unless there is a good reason not to
  • Albums often have a great choice of opening and closing song that work best in that particular spot 
  • The final three or four songs might resemble an encore if it was a real concert
  • Leave the listener satisfied and wanting more

Talking Heads are one of the bands associated with playing New York's CBGBs, along with Television, Blondie, The Ramones and a long list of other notable musicians. David Byrne's (lead vocals, guitar) reedy vocals somehow blended with the overall sound created by Jerry Harrison (guitar, keyboards), Tina Weymouth (bass) and Chris Frantz (drums).

Music is always evolving, but the seventies will always be special to me because it marked the point where my own tastes started to evolve in their own way. Talking Heads are one of the bands that really caught my attention when punk and alternative music emerged as a genuine musical force. Unlike many of the bands lumped into that category, Talking Heads could really play.

So, what defines Talking Heads' sound? That's an incredibly difficult question to answer because their sound was always changing. Early albums consisted largely of short, punchy songs, with spiky guitar. But Talking Heads were not a punk band. With the release of Fear of Music in 1979, it was clear that this was no ordinary band. The rhythm section was becoming increasingly dense and more complicated with every release, and some of the songs on Fear of Music, such as Cities, had a funky guitar sound that became even more prominent on later releases. The sound is raw, polished, funky, layered, sinister, poppy, progressive, meandering, simple and catchy. I don't want to label it, but whatever it is, the blend works for me.

Remain in Light is often regarded as the band's best album; Rolling Stone ranked it the fourth-best album of the eighties, while Pitchfork ranked it as high as second. Personally, I prefer Fear of Music, which fused together African music with the existing sound. But Talking Heads were so much more than a studio band. I would argue that their live shows added an extra dimension to the overall sound. The lineup often included extra musicians to create that layered rhythm section, as well as additional singers for the backing vocals. It was like an indie version of a Pink Floyd concert, but with a much more complicated sound.

For the purposes of this playlist, I will include plenty of examples of the band playing live. One of the best concert movies ever made - Stop Making Sense - is a great way to introduce someone to the band. It has the advantage of drawing from most of the band's catalogue. Although Fear of Music is my favorite studio album from the band, I would choose The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads as the best listening experience due to the expanded lineup and the incredible quality of the recording. I'm very happy with my limited edition from Newbury Comics:


It's time to reveal the 20 songs I have chosen for the playlist. As with all of the entries in this series, choosing the final 20 was far from easy. A lot of excellent songs did not make the final cut. I imagine Once In a Lifetime as the first song of the encore. Here is a YouTube playlist if you want to enjoy the full experience:

Artists Only
Don't Worry About the Government
Life During Wartime
And She Was
Pulled Up
Take Me to the River
Warning Sign
Stay Up Late
Crosseyed and Painless
Paper
The Book I Read
Making Flippy Floppy
The Big Country
No Compassion
Mind
Road to Nowhere


Once in a Lifetime
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Cities
Psycho Killer



 
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