You Disappear From View

The other day I started writing a post about The Teardrop Explodes and went to dig out my old 7″ of their single “Treason” (the original one on Zoo Records) with a view to recording its b-side for inclusion here but discovered that I didn’t have it any more. Not only that but I didn’t have any Teardrop Explodes on vinyl, all their other singles and both their albums were gone too, I’d completely forgotten I’d sold them along with a whole lot of other vinyl during a bout with poverty I had in the 90s. It was a bit of a pisser and I’m wondering why I flogged them when I still have all my Echo & The Bunnymen and Wah! Heat records and The Teardrops were by far my favourite of the Liverpool bands formed by one of The Crucial Three.

I know this is all deeply uninteresting but it sort of ties in to a point I was going to make about thinking that The Teardrops have been a little forgotten. For all the blog posts written about great post-punk bands of the past you never seem to hear their name mentioned much, at least not anywhere I’ve been visiting lately. Am I the only one carrying a torch for their greatness? It’s not as if I used to overhear people talking about them at the bus stop all the time but these days I have the sense they don’t get thought of much at all and certainly don’t inspire the same devotion that The Bunnymen do. I know they only made two albums but having a small back catalogue has never stopped the creation of a cult-like following for certain bands (hello, Josef K) and there isn’t a single Teardrop Explodes fan site on the web. So this is my way of throwing a bit of love and respect their way, and how could you not love a band that called their (aborted) third album “Everybody Wants To Shag… The Teardrop Explodes”.

While The Bunnymen could be a tad overwrought and Wah! in all their various guises were a little slapdash, both Teardrop albums are gems of bright pop thrills and offbeat eccentricity that sound as fresh now as the day they were picked. Luckily I also happen to have both of them on CD though you can’t beat still having the original records and it would have been nice to have the version of “Books” (a song also recorded by The Bunnymen) that was on the b-side of “Treason” if only to remind myself if it’s any different to the one on their first album.

Download: Books – The Teardrop Explodes (mp3)
Download: Colours Fly Away – The Teardrop Explodes (mp3)
Download: The Great Dominions – The Teardrop Explodes (mp3)
Buy: “Kilimanjaro” (album)
Buy: “Wilder” (album)

PS: In case you didn’t know where they got their name from, here it is. From an old Daredevil comic.


My Mother’s Records

The hippies liked to sneer at the older generation for being too uptight and square to ever tune in, turn on, and get high. But just because they didn’t sit in a field with flowers in their hair didn’t mean they never got spaced out — they just did it with different drugs. My mother was very partial to the occasional Cinzano Bianco and popped a Valium or two whenever the pressure of raising two kids on her own got too much. And I don’t doubt that chilling out with The Sandpipers on the record player helped a lot too. This wispy Easy Listening vocal group were probably the complete opposite of what was hip and turned-on but their version of “Louie Louie” is as blissed-out and spacey as the most trippy psychedelia. Not only that but they sing the damn thing in Spanish — how far-out is that, man?

Download: Louie Louie – The Sandpipers (mp3)

The sun has got his hat on

Ahhh, the first day of summer. I lived in Florida for several years and a hot, sunny day means nothing there, it’s hot and sunny every day which gets a bit boring after a while – ho hum, another day in paradise. But now I’m again living in a place that has actual seasons I get that same wonderful feeling I did in London when the sun finally comes out after a long, cold, miserable winter and the whole city comes alive at once, suddenly free from the shackles of heavy coats and wooly jumpers. The parks are full of workers enjoying their lunch sitting on the grass, the pavements around pubs are crowded with relaxed souls having an al fresco pint, happy to be outside feeling the warm sun on their faces, all the girls suddenly seem a hundred times prettier and you just feel glad to be alive. Unless of course you have hay fever then it can be a bloody miserable time, not to mention the pollution-choked air and the sweltering hot Tube trains that smell of BO.

And luverly records like this sound so much better too.

Download: One Summer Dream – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)
Buy: “Face The Music”

My favourite record, age 13

Some old groups resist nostalgic rehabilitation, being just too irredeemably naff to ever be reclaimed by the passing of time allowing a new appreciation of their talent. There have been times when, for example, Abba, Barry White, ELO or disco-era Bee Gees have made me cringe with embarrassment but when the dust of youth settles you look back and see incredible pop craftsmanship and forget that you were ever put off by their lack of coolness or their poor choices in trousers and hairdos.

I can’t imagine that ever happening with Showaddywaddy, they were and will always be a rather cheesy novelty act, dressed up like cartoon Teddy Boys in their rainbow-colored drapes and brothel creepers and having hits (lots of them) with limp cover versions of 1950s rock and roll tunes like “Three Steps To Heaven” and “Under The Moon of Love”. They weren’t even as good as Mud who had a similar image but at least had the good fortune to have their songs written for them by Chinn and Chapman. The only good thing I can think of to say about them was that their drummer was called Romeo Challenger which I think is one of the greatest pop names ever.

I’m pretty sure I thought they were a bit rubbish even when I was a kid but Lord how I loved their 1975 single “Sweet Music” which was one of the few hits they wrote themselves. When I was alone at home I’d play it at full blast (well, as “full blast” as our crappy mono record player could manage) and would literally pump my fist in the air to the chorus (oh, the shame) as if it was some banging rock anthem. Listening to it now it’s not nearly as hard rocking as I thought it was back then, but the chorus is catchy as hell and it has a more of a Glam Rock edge than their usual fare so maybe there was a halfway decent Glam band lurking inside their drape jackets, or maybe they really were as duff as I thought. Probably the latter.

Download: Sweet Music – Showaddywaddy (mp3)

You’re the best, Joe

I remember my mother coming back from the pictures one night in 1969 and telling us she’d been to see some film called “Midnight Cowboy.” She never told us what it was about (imagine telling a seven-year-old “well it’s about this man who goes to New York to sleep with women for money…”) and for years I literally thought it was a Western, and then somewhere along the line I also thought Glenn Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” had something to do with it. It wasn’t until the late 70s that I got to see it myself (on good old BBC2 most likely) and I think it was because it had been shrouded in mystery for so many years it became a sort of icon of the “adult” world to me, something I wouldn’t understand until I was older. Even though I’ve seen it a thousand times now it still has that cachet of adult sophistication about it, it’s not my film in the way that “Taxi Driver” is but it represents that mysterious place my mother went to without me and my sister: dates with other men, X-films, cocktail parties, Cosmopolitan magazine, and Erica Jong novels.

The film’s actual theme song was, of course, this beauty and not “Rhinestone Cowboy”.

Download: Everybody’s Talking – Nilsson (mp3)

One interesting nugget of trivia you might find handy to liven up boring dinner parties is that Jon Voight’s brother is the legendary pop composer Chip Taylor who wrote “Wild Thing.” Not only that, but the same year the film came out he produced the album “Any Way That You Want Me.” for the lovely Evie Sands which includes a song he wrote inspired by the film called “Crazy Annie.” The song is about Joe Buck’s hometown girlfriend Annie who only appears in the film in his daydreams and nightmares, including a particularly harrowing one where the two of them are gang-raped by local thugs and she gets carted off to a mental institution. It was a long while before I figured out exactly what happened in that scene, maybe I was just too innocent to believe those guys were actually shoving something up Joe Buck’s arse but it was all done in a trippy, hallucinatory style which was very late 60s and a little confusing to me at the time — I’d led such a sheltered life.

Download: Crazy Annie – Evie Sands (mp3)

It’s a beautiful song written from Annie’s point of view (well, you couldn’t expect Evie Sands to sing a song as Ratso Rizzo could you?) using her few lines of dialogue in the movie as lyrics and rescues her from being a mere phantom in Joe’s memory and turns her into a real person who wasn’t crazy and is still in love with him. I can’t think of another example of someone writing a song about a minor character in a movie (unless there’s a really obvious one I’ve forgotten), it’s like someone writing one about one of Alfie’s girlfriends.

PS: That Evie Sands album is well worth buying, glorious sunny pop-soul from the woman no less than Dusty Springfield said was her favourite singer.

Like the corners of my mind

I was going to include this song in the bike post I wrote the other week but it didn’t fit in with the tone of the piece, being rather more wistful and melancholy than that was and it’s such a lovely tune I wanted to ramble on about it a bit longer.

The Clientele always remind me of London, not just because they’re from there (though curiously I think they’re more popular in the States) but their records sound drenched in fog and drizzle with a blurry, impressionistic quality which evokes those fleeting moments that are so hazy and intangible they barely qualify as memories but still give you a nostalgic ache. Listening to them makes me think of shimmering reflections in the inky black pavement after a rainstorm, the half-light inside a smoky pub during the day, steamed-up cafe windows, clouds hanging low in a slate gray sky, a beautiful girl seen for only a second on a crowded tube train who you’ll think about all day, the musty smell of a tiny second-hand bookstore, a neon sign flickering above a doorway in a dark alley, dust particles dancing in shafts of sunlight streaming through net curtains, long shadows cast by the trees in Hyde Park at the end of a languid summers day, Chelsea Bridge all lit up at night seen from inside a train crossing the Thames into Victoria Station.

The lyrics of “Bicycles” alone are enough to set me adrift on memory bliss:

Bicycles have drifted through these leaves still wet
with rain
August now has faded in the silence of the rain
I remember one Sunday, riding in through the gate
Three balloons in a white sky, 1978

Playgrounds where we spent our days
Return within our dreams
What it is, it isn’t up to me
I’ve been driving in my car
On Sunday in the rain
And my life is slipping so away

But they sound even better when they sing them…

Download: Bicycles – The Clientele (mp3)
Buy: “Suburban Light” (album)