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!!!!

Ramblings from the Basement...

Sometimes, you get perfect days. Life lets you chill out just enough for you to look around, observe the hand you've been dealt, and say, "You know, I really don't have it so bad after all." You'll have to forgive me if I get a bit sappy; I am Irish, and it's one of our personality quirks to get that way. Hell, we even invented the word maudlin. But I digress...

Today was one of those perfect days, a really nice day off. The weather was perfect; I played with my kid in our backyard in a far-ish suburb of Chicago. My wife is due at the end of the month with our second child (we don't know boy or girl; we'll be just as surprised as you). The expected, hellish weekend plans we thought we would be in the middle of happily fell through. We were allowed to just do a bit of work to get ready for child #2, and the rest was ours to actually enjoy the weekend off. Even now, when I'm writing this, I'm enjoying myself. It's almost 11pm, there are two of our three cats just chilling with me down here on the couch, the wife and kid are asleep two floors above me, yet my music is pretty damn loud without bothering them, and I'm listening to some excellent power pop on vinyl (it's too damn easy to forget how good those records sound). You tell me how things can get any better. Oh yeah, I have tomorrow off work too... Because of this extra time I have, I feel like sharing with you the reader where I listen to music.

For those of you who read this who haven't been to my house, you probably don't know the space where I do the majority of my listening, but for me, that space would be my ever-so-partially finished basement. So for you, the Internet Reader, here is a quick photo gallery of my own little slice of heaven. First shot is the view from the bottom of the stairs. In this shot, you can see the basement fridge, the laundry table, and most important, the music area. And yes, I share the area with Little Dude Murph (thus the toys strewn around); I have to introduce him to music somehow, why not while he's playing with toys? (BTW, click each photo for a clearer view.)
In the next shot, you get the view from the second-hand couch. The couch is a beauty from another age; it and the tuner you see in this shot come from the same generous aunt and uncle, who have since upgraded to more modern models of tuner and couch. Also second-hand are the speakers; a different aunt bought these wonderful tower speakers in 1980; they're DCM Time Windows. I kid you not, that's what they're called. When she moved on to a new set of speakers, she gave them to me free of charge. They still work wonderfully, but unfortunately show that I have three cats who are too damn dumb to use the two scratching posts in the basement, and have opted to use the speakers. Some day, I'll get the speaker grille material replaced, but until then, why bother? The television was purchased from a pawn shop in Rogers Park, and still works.The next shots are details of the tuner, and the turntable. The aforementioned tuner is an early '70s Sansui model which has phono inputs, and comes from a time when it was cool to boast on the front panel that it has solid state circuitry. And this sucker is LOUD! The turntable, a Technics SL1200, is not second-hand; it was purchased new. Most DJ's will recognize this from either their danceclub rigs or, in my case, their high-school and college radio stations. While this is not the finest turntable that money can buy, it is still a truly wonderful turntable, with direct-drive (as opposed to belt-driven) platter, pitch control, a strobe on the front-left to let you know if it's on "true" 33 or 45. And it's dead silent; when you are playing a record, you only hear the record, and not the turntable. I once had a cheap Sears turntable which groaned loudly, regardless of what record you put on it. I bought the Technics four years ago when my wife realized that I needed a turntable, and asked me which one I wanted. I didn't have to think; I wanted the SL1200, for both sentimental reasons but also because it's a fucking awesome turntable.
You know how you end up with two lava lights? When you marry into one. I got a lava light long before I, ah, used it while smoking those left-handed cigarettes. My wife got her lava light in college. And you know what's one of those cool signs that you've picked a great girlfriend? That both of you own lava lights. And that both of you own copies of Tom Waits' Bone Machine CD. Note the double CD Replacements boot Goodbye Bozos in the shot too; it's not currently filed under R (like it should be) due to the fact that I'm paranoid that the CD-R's that it was sold to me on will eventually degrade, and I'll be out the $44 I paid for it. I want to back .iso images of these discs up to computer, so God forbid that happens, I've got them backed up.
Next up are the "twin towers" which house my CD collection. I'm fortnate enough to have around 1300 CDs, and considering when I a) had the most disposable income and b) was a DJ/writer, most of them have copyright dates in the mid-90s, haha.
Next up, a detail of possibly the three coolest CD box sets I own, which comprise the entire singles output of Stax Records, the greatest R&B/soul label there ever was or ever will be. So tell me: do your CD towers have a "Sammy" on them, which is a radio trophy you got just for being a long-time DJ who gave his college radio station many years of great service?? The award was named a Sammy in tribute to Samuel Danna, a good professor at Loyola University who taught me CMUN law.The final shot is of yours truly, sitting on the second-hand couch in the basement. Next to me is Tuffy; normally, his eyes don't glow like that, and the carpet doesn't usually give off a ghostly white light. So sue me; I never claimed to be a photographer!! I hope you all enjoyed this look at my music space. It's not glamorous, but it means a lot to me. Now that I've finished this post and the one which precedes it, it's 2:20am, and I'm going to bed!!