Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Records' 3rd is Coming on CD!!!!

The Records' third album is coming out on CD this month!! During their ever-too-short lifetime, the Records put out three truly wonderful slabs of power pop. The first two have been released on CD by the UK's On The Beach label, owned by Will Birch, the drummer and one of the two main songwriters of the band. It wasn't certain whether or not that third record would ever make it to CD, but earlier this year, Will Birch sent out an emailer to confirm that he would be reissuing the third Records record, Music On Both Sides. This is great news to me! On The Beach did a great job with the remastering of the first two Records releases, adding bonus tracks and restoring UK running orders but alluding to the altered American releases. It will be great to have all three of these on CD.

To the music fan who has never heard of the Records, they're a truly great British power pop group, sadly more obscure than Big Star. The Big Star comparison is apt; both are groups which didn't get their proper due during the band's lifetime. It's funny if you really trace out the etymology of their sound; The Who and the Beatles started out aping American R&B like Stax and Motown. Big Star aped the Who, and added a lot of the Memphis soul they grew up in. Then the Records took that great Big Star, Raspberries, and created their own great sound. If you think about it, their sound has criss-crossed the Atlantic Ocean three times!!

The Records started as the logical progression of British pub rockers the Kursaal Flyers; in other words, by the time the Records got started, they'd already had a bit of experience. Once they formalized as the Records, they backed Stiff Records artists and even joined the second big Stiff package tour. The exposure this tour afforded them got them signed to Virgin Records. The debut album was called Shades in Bed in the UK when Virgin released it in 1979. At the time, Virgin struck up a promising American distro deal with Atlantic Records, and Virgin America mk 1 released the record as The Records, also changing the sequence and the cover. This American version (along with the other two Records LPs) is the one I bought at the late Jefferson Park record store Penny Lane. I heard their most famous song "Starry Eyes" on WXRT, and was smitten by the chimey Roger McGuinn-styled guitar runs and the watertight tune. The rest of the record not only was musically great, they had a wry, "British" sense of humor. Songs like "All Messed Up And Ready To Go", "Girls That Don't Exist", and "Affection Rejected" had you chuckling while you marveled at the great harmonies. Will Birch and John Wicks established themselves as the Lennon/McCartney (or would that be the Bell/Chilton?) of the group, a formidable songwriting duo if ever there was one. They made it sound so easy.

Next up, they lost their sonically flashy lead guitarist Huw Gower and gained Records-fan-turned-Records-bandmember Chicagoan Jude Cole as guitarist and vocalist for their second disc, 1980's Crashes. Again, the American release re-sequenced the tracks; listening to the UK running order on the CD is a slight readjustment. On this album, not only was the classic sound still there, the songs were even stronger. Mixed in with musically-great comic numbers like "Man With The Girlproof Heart" and "The Worriers" (a play on the then-current movie The Warriors, get it?), there were flat-out all-time classics like "Hearts In Their Eyes", "Girl In Golden Disc", and "The Same Mistakes". The already-strong debut album had been topped.

By the time of the third disc, Music On Both Sides (recorded in 1981, but belatedly released by Virgin in 1982), they'd not only lost the services of Jude Cole, but their label had lost the US distribution deal with Atlantic Records. However, Virgin had a new distro deal with Jem Records of New Jersey, and the Records had gained a new vocalist Chris Gent and a new guitarist Dave Whelan. The humor was still present, but not as acute. The addition of the new members added a new dimension to the sound. It's still classic power pop (witness "Heather And Hell", "King Of Kings", and "Not So Much The Time"), but also had been sonically updated beyond revisionistic tendencies, as power pop is often wont to do. Even though it sounds like releasing two underappreciated albums took a bit of wind out of their sails, Music On Both Sides is still a strong Records album. However, Virgin (which was at the time definitely an indie label, not a now-faceless division of struggling corporate monolith EMI) was having financial problems, and chose to drop the Records after poor sales, and the Records split.

In the ensuing years, their music gradually came out on CD in piecemeal fashion; there's a great single disc compilation called Smashes, Crashes, and Near Misses on Caroline (another US label of Virgin Records) which I will recommend to beginners. This one collects a lot of strong cuts from the three releases, adds B-sides, and provides a great overview. Once you fall in love with this disc, you're gonna want to buy all three of the CD reissues. And come the end of September, they will ALL be available in excellent, loving CD reissues!!!!

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