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My Cassette's Just Like A Bazooka?

Jul. 9th, 2007 11:19 am So: Farewell Then, Eclectic Compilations: Tape Worm, Straight No Chaser and All Africa Radio

Catalogue Numbers: NME 017 (Tape Worm), NME 018 (Straight No Chaser) and NME 019 (All Africa Radio)

 

Released: Late spring 1985

 

Track lists:

 

Tape Worm

Side 1: The Juicy Bananas Bad Man/The Fine Young Cannibals Love For Sale/The Pogues The Wild Cats Of Kilkenny/The Robert Cray Band Phone Booth/Champion Doug Veitch Not The Heart (NME Remix)/Paul Quinn Ain’t That Always The Way/The Faith Brothers Stranger On Home Ground/Win Unamerican Broadcasting/Chakk Cut The Dust (Demo)/The Jesus And Mary Chain Inside Me/Frank Sidebottom Anarchy In The UK

 

Side 2: Wayne Smith Under Mi Sleng Teng/Trouble Funk Drop The Bomb/Shirley Brown Love Fever (Remix)/Savajazz Everything We Do/Simply Red Money’s Too Tight (Dub)/Guadalcanal Diary Watusi Rodeo/The Blasters Common Man/The Beat Farmers Reason To Believe/Los Lobos Volver

 

Straight No Chaser

Side 1: Cannonball Adderley with Miles Davis Alison’s Uncle/Kenny Dorham Afrodisia/Ike Quebec Loie/Hank Mobley This I Dig Of You/Thelonious Monk Straight No Chaser/Clifford Brown Brownie Speaks/Jimmy Smith I’m Movin’ On/Herbie Hancock Watermelon Man/Johnny Griffin It’s Alright With Me

 

Side 2: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Mosaic/Bud Powell Blue Pearl (Alternate Take)/Sonny Rollins Wonderful! Wonderful! /Thad Jones April In Paris/Lee Morgan The Sidewinder/Horace Silver Quintet Finger Poppin’/Jackie McLean Let’s Face The Music And Dance/Kenny Burrell Midnight Blue

 

All Africa Radio

Side 1: Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie/Bibi Den’s Tshibaye Le Best Ambience/Youssou N’dour Immigres/Toure Kunda Santhiabo Silo/Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited Tondobayana/Mahotella Queens Mabone/Orchestre Virunga Malako/King Sunny Ade and the African Beats Ase/Manu Dibango Pata Piya

 

Side 2: Souzy Kaseya Monsieur Simon/Sankomoto Mad House/Bosca Together/Fela Anikulapo Kuti Cross Examination/Mandingo Kansale/Somo Somo Mele/Super Rail Band Foliber/Ladysmith Black Mambazo Bakhuphuka Izwe Lonke

 

Verdict

 

1985 was a quiet year for NME tapes, with only this batch of three released.

 

Tape Worm is the penultimate “contemporary” tape, and the last one with an eclectic take on the music world as a whole.  Which is a shame: these tapes may have been prey to modishness and a certain didactic quality, but they were formidably good at opening ears – better, in some ways, than John Peel was.  This is neither the best not the worst of the set – like the all-time low that was Racket Packet, it suffers from an uncertain start (The Juicy Bananas track, from Repo Man, is a tiresome novelty track, and the Fine Young Cannibals, who follow, are as annoying as ever), but it’s full of forgotten treasures, and unlike a lot of the others catches quite a diverse spread of acts just as they were seizing their moment (The Pogues, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Wayne Smith, Trouble Funk and, err, Simply Red).  It includes some truly irritating acts (The Fine Young Cannibals, Win).  Yet again, it includes some pleasing but staid American bands (the last four tracks) but strives to ignore lots of interesting groups from the USA who were active at the time (Sonic Youth, The Replacements, The Meat Puppets, The Minutemen, and the early REM, to name but five).  There’s some marvellous things you’d totally forgotten (like Paul Quinn, Champion Doug Veitch, Chakk and even the Faith Brothers), and some stuff you’ve just forgotten (Savajazz).  The token soul track, by Shirley Brown, is actually stunning.  And then there’s Frank Sidebottom who, in the wake of anarchy coming to the UK, might buy a washing machine.  As the last of its type, it’s quite a good memorial, being as eclectic as these tapes at their best, and including some stuff that represents both how good and how bad these things could be.  It also makes a decent fist of 1985, serving up more good stuff than my memories of a particularly poor pop year could dredge up.

 

Straight No Chaser is a faultless taster of the jazz treasure trove that is the Blue Note catalogue.  As an introduction to jazz, it’s probably not as good as the earlier Night People set, as it’s not as diverse, but as an introduction to Blue Note, and just as something to listen to, it’s pretty much faultless.  When your only complaint is “They could have picked a better Sonny Rollins track”, you know you haven’t really got any complaints.  A number of genuinely iconic Blue Note tracks are included – Straight No Chaser, Watermelon Man, The Sidewinder and Midnight Blue – but the less celebrated are no less good, and in some cases, like Horace Silver’s Finger Poppin’, they’re better than more lauded titles.  It’s nothing more or less than magnificent.

 

Then there’s All Africa Radio, from which all proceeds went to the then-current Band Aid famine relief fund.  Laudable stuff, obviously, and it kicks off with Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie, on which the superstars of African music created their own charity record, a storming thing which is easily the best of all musical responses to the situation.  As for the rest, well, I struggle, and the reasons I struggle are rubbish.  I just can’t get excited by African music.  When it’s playing, I enjoy it (I have the tape on now, and the sounds coming at me are absolutely lovely), but with rare exceptions, the minute the song ends, I forget it.  I do rather like Ethiopian music from the sixties, which is basically weird (a lot of it sounds like the bands were told to play like The Doors, but had never heard them and were relying on a description), but for the rest I can’t get past that awful, lazy, borderline racist and usually inaccurate comment “It all sounds the same”.  People say that about reggae and jazz too and it’s absolute nonsense, so as an explanation, while it’s the best I can come up with, it’s just not good enough.  I felt bad about this twenty years ago and I still do.  I’m going to have to go off some place and figure this out.

 

Best Tracks: On Tape Worm, it’s Paul Quinn’s run through an exquisite and forgotten Edwyn Collins song, the astonishing racket that was the early Jesus and Mary Chain (I’d failed to remember just what an exhilarating, mad uproar that was), and Shirley Brown’s preposterously funky Love Fever.  On Straight No Chaser, everything’s great, but I have deepest feelings for two pieces which just sing to heaven in voices that are almost too beautiful to exist, Alison’s Uncle and, above all, This I Dig Of You.  This I Dig is the best thing on any NME tape – and this is where I first heard it.  As for All Africa Radio, as noted, it’s not really my thing, but Tam Tam Pour L’Ethiopie is a mighty work.

Worst Tracks:  Fine Young Cannibals and Win, both exemplars of that awful “We have nothing to do with rock, we’re a soul band” eighties trend.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Debatably, that’s all of both the jazz and the African tapes, but it could also apply to Chakk’s Cut The Dust.  Cut The Dust is actually a rather brilliant soundalike of the Pop Group in 1979, though quite what it was doing in 1985 is anyone’s guess.

Hey, We May Be The NME But We Down With The Brothers: They try to do this with Trouble Funk and Shirley Brown, but Go-Go and soul revivalism never really took off with eighties black audiences.  But for once, they’ve absolutely nailed it with Under Mi Sleng Teng, a great track, a huge hit in the reggae market and of massive significance, as it pretty much turned the Dancehall style of the day into the Ragga that still dominates Jamaican sounds.

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: The Juicy Bananas, Champion Doug Veitch, Paul Quinn, The Faith Brothers, Win, Chakk, Savajazz, Guadalcanal Diary, The Blasters, The Beat Farmers.

Most Misguided Trend-Hopping: The NME bust its balls trying to break Go-Go music, represented here by Trouble Funk, in the UK.  Go-go was a raw, highly percussive variant of Funk.  It was great, but possibly because it was raw, could be accused of being old fashioned, and didn’t translate into hit single material, it never really took off.  But the NME tried and tried, bless ‘em.

NME Hope Springs Eternal Moment: They cannot top this as a way to get us to like African music.

How Of Its Time Is It?  It catches Wayne Smith, the Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Simply Red all on the cusp of their breakthroughs; it’s hard to be more redolent of late spring 1985 than that.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Savajazz and, let’s face it, pretty much all of the African tape.

Best Title: Watusi Rodeo

Worst Title: Watusi Rodeo

Memories: Hearing This I Dig Of You for the first time – I was in bed at the time – and knowing life had, in a tiny but very real way, changed

Still At The Coalface: The Pogues, Robert Cray, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Simply Red, Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Manu Dibango, Youssou N’dour

No Longer With Us: Miles Davis, Hank Mobley, Jimmy Smith, Art Blakey, Thad Jones

Best Line:

Frank Sidebottom “Anarchy for Timperley, it’s coming some time/But I’m not sure when”

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Jul. 9th, 2007 11:09 am Somebody Buy That Cowgirl A Beer! - Raging Spool, Little Imp and Neon West

Catalogue Numbers: NME 014 (Raging Spool), NME 015 (Little Imp) and NME 016 (Neon West)

 

Released: Late 1984

 

Track lists:

 

Raging Spool

Side 1: Marc Almond The Pink Shack Blues/The Three Johns Sad House/Everything But The Girl Laugh You Out The House/Bronski Beat Screaming (Demo)/Floy Joy Into The Hot/The Kane Gang Gun Law (Demo)/Zeke Manyika Red Hot International/Manu Dibango Abele Dance/Alterations Hank’s Pantry/Test Department VFM/Cabaret Voltaire Mercy Man

 

Side 2: The Neville Brothers Fear, Hate, Envy, Jealousy (Live)/The Rebels You Can Make It/Screamin’ Tony Baxter Get Up Offa That Thing/Hugh Masekela Pula En Na-It’s Raining/Black Stalin You Ask For It/Aztec Camera Jump (Loaded Version)/The Daintees I’m A Hypocrite (A Crocodile Cryer)/The Go-Betweens Part Company/Strawberry Switchblade Deep Water/The Long Ryders Final Wild Son/The Skiff Skats Cripple Creek

 

Little Imp

Side 1: Amos Milburn Chickenshack Boogie (No 2)/Thurston Harris Do What You Did/Jimmy Liggins I Ain’t Drunk/Shirley and Lee The Flirt/Billie Holiday Detour Ahead/Lloyd Glenn with Jack McVea Chick-A-Boo/Earl King Trick Bag/Louis Jordan Messy Bessy/The Showmen Country Fool/Fats Domino I’m Walkin’/Illinois Jacquet Blow Illinois Blow

 

Side 2: Roy Brown Saturday Night/T-Bone Walker Say, Pretty Baby/Patti Anne Shtiggy Boom/Lynn Hope Miserlou/Amos Milburn One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer/Dave Bartholomew Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear/The Five Keys Serve Another Round/Thurston Harris featuring Rufus Hunter Purple Stew/Fatso & Flaire Rock ‘N’ Roll Drive In/Fats Domino Let The Four Winds Blow/Charles Brown Merry Christmas Baby

 

Neon West

Side 1: Jimmie Rodgers Blue Yodel No 1 (Excerpt)/Waylon Jennings Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way/Vince Gill A Victim Of Life’s Circumstances/Dolly Parton A Gamble Either Way/Jerry Reed Honkin’/The Judds John Deere Tractor/Earl Thomas Conley Don’t Make It Easy For Me/Ronnie Milsap She Loves My Car/Gus Hardin After The Last Goodbye/Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson The Year That Clayton Delaney Died/Jimmy ‘C’ Newman Daddy’s In His Pirouge/Alabama Green River/Jimmie Rodgers Blue Yodel No 1 (Excerpt)

 

Side 2: Hank Williams Jr Family Tradition/John Anderson Black Sheep/Gram Parsons Return Of The Grievous Angel/Karen Brooks Tonight I’m Here With Someone Else/The Whites You Put The Blue In Me/Rodney Crowell Stars On The Water/Shelly West Somebody Buy This Cowgirl A Beer/David Frizell I’m Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home/Emmylou Harris Feelin’ Single, Seein’ Double/Guy Clark Homegrown Tomatoes/David Frizell & Shelly West You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma

 

Verdict

 

The 1984 quality surfeit continues.

 

Raging Spool is the inverse of the earlier Department of Enjoyment, in that the balance veers away from Student Music (represented here by second-tier campus cults like The Three Johns, Aztec Camera and Go-Betweens – none of yer big hitters like The Smiths or Billy Bragg) and towards soul, other black music and a smattering of Arty Stuff. As with its predecessor, it’s a smooth listen, though it does have a few egregious moments.  The worst track, by a very wide margin, is by Floy Joy, who represent that most mid-eighties of phenomena, white folks trying desperately to dissociate themselves from “rock” by all too obviously embracing black styles.  There’s also a sticky moment from Everything But The Girl, on which an otherwise averagely dull outing by the Myrmidons of Mope becomes actively offensive due to unnecessary use of cocktail jazz piano.  It exemplifies that “Oh, rock music, it has no rhythm and guitars are so reactionary” discourse that was so prevalent in the mid-eighties (fact: on his BBC Radio London show, Robert Elms is still peddling the same line; an anachronism so striking it should have a Blue Plaque put up).  Those alarming reminders of Racket Packet aside, though, and excluding a dull workout by the permanently dull Manu Dibango, there’s nothing else here that will spoil your day, and much of it is rousing.  On rehearing, the arty patch at the end of side one, beginning with The Alterations, is surprisingly engaging, full of invention and not in the least self-indulgent.  The Cabaret Voltaire piece, which directly addresses the “I wish I was black” tendency in mid-eighties white folk’s music and basically flays it to death, is very fine indeed.  Plus Aztec Camera’s brilliant reinvention of Van Halen’s Jump as though it was by the Velvet Underground, one of the mighty Go-Betweens’ best songs, a truly lovely offering from Hugh Masekela, a camp riot from the Dear Old Queen herself Marc Almond, the much loved (by me, anyhow) Long Ryders’ brilliant tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis, and a reminder of the existence of Glaswegian love goddesses Strawberry Switchblade, and you’re talking one of the very finest “contemporary” sets.

 


Little Imp is yet another exploration of a classic R&B label catalogue, this time the Imperial and Aladdin archives.  It focuses more closely on a shorter time period (basically, the fifties) than some of the other tapes (giving a less eclectic, more integrated feel).  That, along with so much of it coming from New Orleans, the fact it has more uptempo and more blatantly silly tracks than the others, and – above all - because so much of it is about boozing, gives it the most sustained party atmosphere of any of the NME R&B cassettes.  It is, basically, an absolute riot.

 

Neon West was, in its day, as bold a challenge to readers as the NME had ever come up with.  It’s a country compilation, taking in music from the RCA (side one) and WEA (side two) vaults, all of it (ironic Jimmie Rodgers snippets apart) from 1973 onwards and most of it from the early eighties.  In 1984, Country music was far less acceptable to even the most I Like My Rock And That’s It Thank You Very Much reader than blues, soul or jazz.  Country was considered corny, reactionary, and naff, for the most part.  Much of it was (as is true of every musical genre on earth, of course), but the prejudice against it was – and sadly still is – deeper than most.  This tape sets out to prove that country can be as diverse, inventive, soulful, funny, mournful, physically exciting, romantic, spiritual, and even – in Gram Parsons’ achingly lovely surrealist road trip – mind-expanding as anything else.  It certainly succeeded for this listener; prior to this, I had no country music in my collection.  Ever since, it’s been a small but treasured and steadily growing section, and one I turn to more often than many others.  That’s largely due to the work done by this excellent compilation.

 

Best Tracks: The loveliest and greatest thing on all three tapes is Gram Parsons’ Return Of The Grievous Angel, which couples heartbreaking romanticism with an amazing reinvention of the American heartland as a weird psychedelic playground and a sense of spiritual redemption.  All while sounding like nothing more than an update of the Louvin Brothers. An astonishing piece of music, and this tape was the first time I’d ever heard it – or indeed anything by Gram Parsons.

 

On Raging Spool, the quality is pretty good throughout, but Cabaret Voltaire, Screaming Tony Baxter’s besotted and wild James Brown tribute, Aztec Camera, Hugh Masekela, The Go-Betweens and the Long Ryders are all worthy of your love.  The quality on both other tapes is ridiculously consistent, but both have a three-in-a-row run of songs about drinking on their second sides that are hard to resist.

Worst Tracks:  We’ve already mentioned Floy Joy and Everything But The Girl.  No harm in mentioning them again.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: There’s not a lot of that going on, though some might say it applies to all of Neon West.  On Raging Spool, there’s a slight hint of NME “improving” us with The Neville Brothers, the African acts (Manyika, Dibango, Masekela) and the hitherto unveiled world of soca (the splendidly named Black Stalin) but apart from Dibango’s five minutes of nowt happening, there’s no pain in this.  Ditto, and surprisingly, the arty inclinations at the end of side one.  Of course, this whole notion is preposterous in the face of Little Imp.

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: Floy Joy, Zeke Manyika, Alterations, The Rebels, Screaming Tony Baxter, Black Stalin, The Skiff Skats.  And I would have said Test Department till they started all the building work outside my office.

Most Misguided Trend-Hopping: The Skiff Skats continue the dalliance with Cowpunk, while Cowpunk of a different sort comes from the Long Ryders, one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen but old-fashioned in comparison to many American bands of the time.  It’s odd to have the Ryders, love ‘em as I do, as the only representative of the Left of the Dial generation.

The Robert Wyatt Award for Persistent Management: Cabaret Voltaire put in their fourth appearance on an NME tape

NME Hope Springs Eternal Moment: They’re still still trying to get us to like African music.

Thinking Very Bad Thoughts: Strawberry Switchblade, and, even worse, mother-and-daughter duo The Judds.

How Of Its Time Is It?  It’s just popped out to buy a replacement Coal Not Dole badge.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: At least until replaying for the purposes of this review: Floy Joy, The Alterations, Test Department, Fatso & Flaire, Gus Hardin

Best Title: Who Drank My Beer While I Was In The Rear, I’m Going To Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home, You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma

Memories: General associations with the girl who was The Reason God Made Number 11, The Avenue, Durham City

Philosophical Observation: At the time this came out, I had a degree of visual flair.  These days, it’s all fatso.

Still At The Coalface: Marc Almond, Jon Langford, Manu Dibango, Sid Griffin, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and probably a good many more

No Longer With Us: Grant McLennan, Waylon Jennings
Best Line:Runner-up: The Long Ryders "I'm sorry, Mr Philips, 'bout Presley and the rest/But as you know I'm Elmo's boy, I'm different, I'm the best".  First prize: Jimmy Liggins "I ain't drunk - I'm just drinking!'

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Jul. 9th, 2007 10:56 am Big Man On Campus - Department of Enjoyment, Chess Checkmate and Night People

Catalogue Numbers: NME 011 (Department of Enjoyment), NME 012 (Chess Checkmate) and NME 013 (Night People)

 

Released: Spring 1984

 

Track lists:

 

Department of Enjoyment

Side 1: Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Perfect Skin/The Smiths Girl Afraid (Live)/Orange Juice A Place In My Heart Dub Mix 2/The Boothill Foot Tappers Get Your Feet Out Of My Shoes/Paul Young and the Royal Family I’ve Been Lonely For So Long/The Cocteau Twins Millimillenary/The Waterboys A Pagan Place/Wah! Come Back/Nick Cave and the Cavemen I Put A Spell On You/The Prisoners Reaching My Head/The Moodists Some Kinda Jones/Husker Du Real World

 

Side 2: Robert Wyatt & Hugh Hopper Amber and the Amberines/The Redskins Kick Over The Statues/Billy Bragg Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend/Bourgie Bourgie Little Red Rooster/Dr John Dorothy/Wynton Marsalis The Star-Spangled Banner/African Connexion C’est La Danse/Papa Levi Mi God Mi King/Timezone The Wild Style/The Art of Noise Beatbox Diversions 3&4

 

Chess Checkmate

Side 1: Howlin’ Wolf Smokestack Lightning/John Lee Hooker Walkin’ The Boogie/Little Walter Juke/Muddy Waters I Just Want To Make Love To You/Lowell Fulsom Reconsider Baby/Jimmie Rogers Chicago Bound/Sonny Boy Williamson Help Me/Willie Mabon I Don’t Know/Don & Bob Good Morning Little Schoolgirl/Chuck Berry Almost Grown/Bo Diddley Bring It To Jerome

 

Side 2: Ramsey Lewis Trio Wade In The Water/Tony Clarke Ain’t Love Good Ain’t Love Proud/Koko Taylor Wang Dang Doodle/Sugar Pie DeSanto Soulful Dress/Billy Stewart Summertime/The Radiants Voice Your Choice/Fontella Bass & Bobby McLure Don’t You Mess Up A Good Thing/Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces Searchin’ For My Love/Maurice & Mac You Left The Water Running/Etta James Tell Mama/Little Milton Feel So Bad

 

Night People

Side 1: Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Ping Pong/Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker Carioca/Chet Baker Do It The Hard Way/Dave Brubeck Quartet with Paul Desmond This Can’t Be Love/Thelonious Monk Epistrophy/Mose Allison Eyesight To The Blind/Sonny Rollins Will You Still Be Mine/Bill Evans How Deep Is The Ocean/Art Pepper Mambo Koyama

 

Side 2: Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie Salt Peanuts/Red Rodney Quintet Rhythm In A Riff/Sonny Stitt Cool Mambo/The Modern Jazz Quartet Concorde/Steve Lacy Reflections/Miles Davis I Could Write A Book/Eddie Jefferson Mercy, Mercy Mercy/John Coltrane I Love You/Wes Montgomery Trick Bag

 

Verdict

 

1984 was the peak year for NME cassettes.  They released six and while that figure was exceeded in 1986 and 1987, with eight each, the consistent quality of the two 1984 sets was unrivalled.

 

Department of Enjoyment, the year’s first “contemporary” set, was indicative of a sea change in the NME and its audience.  The paper’s hacks started to divide more clearly into Rockers and Soulies while the Arty types with a foot in each camp (sort of) gradually disappeared.  The Rockers, of course, were advocates of what’s usually considered NME music and that consolidated in 1984 after a year or two in which things had been very fluid.  A generation of students – always the core NME readership - had turned over completely since the C81.  The C81 generation of students – my lot – had loved the bands who weren’t punk but who had come directly out of it – the likes of Joy Division, The Banshees, the Bunnymen, the Teardrops, and the Two-Tone groups.  By 1984 a new set of student favourites had arrived, with much weaker links to punk, if any (and, correspondingly, less sense of collective purpose and, for the most part, much less creative ambition).  Department of Enjoyment, more than any NME tape before it, blatantly allies itself to Student Favourites – emphatically so, kicking off with new Hall of Residence idols Lloyd “I’ve read more than four books, you know” Cole and The Smiths.  Other campus faves found here include The Cocteau Twins, The Waterboys, and Billy Bragg, plus Robert Wyatt and The Redskins for the Student Union politicos.  There are notably fewer black artists than the preceding tapes and when non-student music finally arrives (with Dr John, halfway through side two), it’s such an abrupt shift it feels like a different compilation entirely.  Overall, though, Department of Enjoyment is a much smoother listen than most of the earlier tapes.  The overall quality is more consistent, but while there are fewer depressing lurches into the tedious and/or pretentious, there are fewer flights into the empyrean too.  Which – genius creators like The Smiths and Nick Cave notwithstanding - is indicative of its less ambitious era.  Ironically, the USA was the home to the most creative music of the era, but this tape only hints at that with the inclusion of Husker Du.  Note also, if you will, the graphics, which in their juxtaposition of Soviet constructivism and fifties-style advertising mascots say “mid-eighties” more effectively than anything on the tape itself.



 

You’ve already spotted Chess Checkmate as the latest trawl through a classic R&B label catalogue, and it does the job as well as any of its predecessors.  Side one is the electric blues Chess were most famous for, while side two looks at its less celebrated but in some ways more engaging soul output.  I have no problems with anything here – and Howlin’ Wolf is just one of the greatest talents of all time, in any field – but there’s something about the image of Chess Records that depresses me.  I think it’s because the early seventies version of rock history, which I grew up with, never mentioned any form of blues but the Chess variety, and then mainly in connection with the repertoire being adopted by a legion of ugly, tedious and earnest boogie bands.  I ended up associating Chess with everything joyless and drearily macho that came out of blues in the pre-punk years, and resenting the fact that so much joyous blues (the type you get on the earlier NME R&B tapes!) was overlooked.  But that really is my problem – this is a great tape, and every second of it is priceless.  I just like side two more is all. 


 

Night People, in its perfectly apposite Miro packaging, cherry-picks the various small jazz labels that by the eighties had fallen under the “Original Jazz Classics” umbrella.  This includes Prestige, Riverside, Fantasy and New Jazz, so it’s quite an extraordinary archive to pick from – as the list of artists above indicates.  Consequently, Night People is probably the best sampler there’s ever been for what used to be called “modern” jazz – the jazz that arrived between 1945 and the early sixties, which was fiercely independent, fiercely exploratory and profoundly rebellious.  Indeed, as rebel music goes, jazz of this era makes punk seem like S Club 7.  What makes this tape so good a sampler is its variety – it’s anything but the stereotyped image of track after track of macho tenor players running up and down the scales.  You get everything from Blakey’s seismic rhythm through the airy, slightly disorientating space of the Mulligan quartet’s counterpoint to Mose Allison’s seemingly effortless urban and urbane blues to the MJQ’s ability to swing like crazy in the middle of an 18th century baroque form to the fascinating contrast of Miles Davis and John Coltrane when the latter is a sideman to the former.  It’s pretty fair to say that if you don’t like at least one thing on here, you’re not going to like any jazz at all, ever.  And if you don’t like Chet Baker’s singing on Do It The Hard Way, well, you don’t like music.

 

Best Tracks: On Department of Enjoyment, Dr John’s lovely Dorothy, a solo piano instrumental dedicated to his mum, is so beautiful everything else is in its shadow (though don’t, as I did, seek out the album it comes from, Dr John Plays Mac Rebennack, which is very dull for the most part).  I’m also very fond of Billy Bragg’s version of John Cale’s Fear.  On Chess Checkmate and Night People, you’re spoilt for choice, and it’s really down to how you feel on any given day.

Worst Tracks:  On Department of Enjoyment, it has to be the seven minutes of studio- wank by the Art of Noise.  It’s no coincidence that around this point in time I shed my long-term fear that Paul Morley was stood behind me judging all my record shop purchases.  If this was the great man’s own output, I no longer felt any qualms about handing over a few of our English pounds for St. Dominic’s Preview or a Steely Dan compilation.  The Redskins’ smug and bullying lecture about how we should join the Socialist Workers Party is also very annoying (fact: both the Art of Noise and the Redskins feature NME writers).  There’s nothing bad on the other two, though the Wes Montgomery track isn’t that strong an ending for Night People and Art Pepper, though grand, is a bit out of place as his track was recorded over a decade after everything else.

Fact I Am Obliged To Point Out:  Little Milton is the only blues legend to share his name with a village in Bedfordshire.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: I’d obviously disagree, but I bet a few people would think that applies to the whole of Night People.  For me, the inclusion of Wynton Marsalis’ understated version of The Star Spangled Banner does hint at NME anti-rock types trying to tell us this is much better than that loud, undignified version by Jimi Hendrix.  It isn’t (though it’s perfectly fine in its own right).

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: The Boothill Foot Tappers, The Prisoners, The Moodists, Bourgie Bourgie, African Connexion, Papa Levi.

Most Misguided Trend-Hopping: The Boothill Foot Tappers represent the short-lived “Cowpunk” movement, in which a couple of Camden pubs briefly embraced a punk-country hybrid.  Other bands included the Skiff Skats, The Long Tall Texans, Pink Peg Slacks and the Shillelagh Sisters.  It was good fun, but too light-hearted to ever be anything but a diversion (rock and pop can’t handle laughter).  It did help The Pogues come to prominence, though.  The Trappers track itself is a sweet, witty and tuneful song about the end of a relationship and doesn’t deserve obscurity.

The Cabaret Voltaire Award for Persistent Management: Robert Wyatt puts in his third appearance on an NME tape

NME Hope Springs Eternal Moment: They’re still trying to get us to like African music.

Best Title: Tie: Epistrophy, Bring It To Jerome

Worst Title: Amber and the Amberines

How Of Its Time Is It?  It’s just popped out to buy a Coal Not Dole badge.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: The Moodists, African Connexion

Memories: My long-lost friend Lindsay once slept with Paul Young, and found the experience underwhelming.

Still At The Coalface: Many of the Department gang, notably Lloyd Cole, Morrissey and Marr, Nick Cave, Dr John and Wynton Marsalis.  Both Edwyn Collins and Bo Diddley are in recovery from strokes, and Chuck Berry is alive though retired. See also below.

No Longer With Us: All the bandleaders on Night People, except for Dave Brubeck and Sonny Rollins, both still active despite being very, very old indeed.  I don’t think anyone from Department of Enjoyment has died, but have no idea about the Chess gang (many of whom were already long gone before the tape came out) apart from John Lee Hooker.

Worst Line:

Papa Levi: “Maddest comedian a Kenny Ev’r’att/Dracula turn into a vampire bat”

Best Line:

The Boothill Foot Tappers: “Get your hands out of my drawers”

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Jul. 2nd, 2007 11:11 am You're Welcome So Long As You Bring Your Two Friends - Mad Mix II, Ace Case and Smile Jamaica

Catalogue Numbers: NME 008 (Mad Mix II), NME 009 (Ace Case) and NME 010 (Smile Jamaica)

 

Released: November 1983

 

Track lists:

 

Mad Mix II

Side 1: James Brown Bring It On… Bring It On/Aretha Franklin Get It Right/Eurythmics Satellite Of Love/Sandii and the Sunsetz with David Sylvian Living On The Front Line/Frank Chickens Shellfish Bamboo/Kas Product Pussy X/The Kane Gang Small Town Creed/NYC Peech Boys Don’t Make Me Wait/The New Black Montana Magumede/Yellowman Who Can Make The Dance Ram?

 

Side 2: U2 Two Hearts Beat As One/You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath Halo Flamin’ Lead/Xmal Deutschland Sehnsucht/The Associates Aggressive and Ninety Pounds/Bonsai Forest The Great Escape/Prefab Sprout Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)/The Special AKA Lonely Crowd/JoBoxers Crime Of Passion/JB’s All Stars One Minute Every Hour/Cabaret Voltaire Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself)/The Style Council Party Chambers/Tom Waits Frank’s Wild Years

 

Ace Case

Side 1: Etta James Good Rockin’ Daddy/Charles Brown & Amos Milburn Educated Fool/Young Jessie Hit Git and Split/Bobby Marchan Quit My Job/Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns Don’t You Just Know It/Arthur Alexander Anna/Irma Thomas Time Is On My Side/Benny Spellman Fortune Teller/Richard Berry Oh! Oh! Get Out The Car! /The Chanters She Wants To Mambo/Alvin “Snake Eyes” Tyler The Peanut Vendor

 

Side 2: Ike and Tina Turner I Can’t Believe What You Say/Shirley Ellis The Nitty Gritty/The Olympics Baby Hully Gully/Mary Love You Turned My Bitter Into Sweet/Bobby “Blue” Bland Call On Me/B.B. King Ain’t Nobody Business/Johnny “Guitar” Watson She Moves Me/ Little Richard Directly From My Heart/The Jive Five Rain/The O’Jays Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette)/The Impressions Keep On Pushing

 

Smile Jamaica

Side 1: Lord Creator Independent Jamaica/Jimmy Cliff Miss Jamaica/Eric Morris Solomon Gundie/Don Drummond Man In The Street/Delroy Wilson Dancing Mood/Soul Vendors Swing Easy/Desmond Dekker 007 (Shanty Town)/Toots and the Maytals 54-46 Was My Number/The Melodians Rivers of Babylon/Scotty and Lorna Skank In Bed/The Heptones Book Of Rules/Augustus Pablo King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown

 

Side 2: Jacob Miller Tenement Yard/Burning Spear Slavery Days/Junior Murvin Police And Thieves/Culture Two Sevens Clash/Bob Marley and the Wailers Smile Jamaica/The Wailing Souls Bredda Gravillicious/Sugar Minnott Hard Time Pressure/Dennis Brown Sitting and Watching/Gregory Isaacs Night Nurse/Black Uhuru Slaughter

 

Verdict

 

Three tapes this time round, with a contemporary one and an old R&B one accompanied by an exploration of another musical genre.  Mad Mix II is a return to the form of Mighty Reel, even to the extent of the quality tracks being so good and so memorable you forget how poor t’other half is.  Of course, starting with The Last Great James Brown Record and finishing with a legendary Tom Waits track doesn’t exactly harm the cause.  Elsewhere, the ailing body of post-punk adventure has a few attempts at coming back to life with a spectacular track from Cabaret Voltaire (the finest of their “commercial” moments), Jerry Dammers’ sonic vision, Jim Thirlwell doing his Foetus thing, and the arrival of Prefab Sprout’s oblique, literate worldview.  Yellowman’s toast is fantastic, and the NYC Peech Boys track makes me wonder why anyone ever thought House music was so new when this sounds exactly like it, several years earlier.  Even U2 are still in their pre-shite phase.  However, it’s not all good news: there’s too much retro-soul from punk era people losing their nerve (none of it is unpleasant on the ear, but it’s gutless), there’s a lot of self-indulgent crap, and the Aretha Franklin track (identikit early 80s pop soul on which the abdicated Queen of Soul doesn’t so much phone in her performance as get her secretary to make the call) is emblematic of the 80s NME tendency to applaud soul records because of who made them rather than because they’re any good.  Which this one isn’t.  Overall, though, this does a pretty good job on extracting a lot of decent music from one of the worst years in pop history.

 

Ace Case trawls the vaults of R&B reissue specialists Ace Records much as Pocket Jukebox did for their rivals Charly and produces just as much pleasure.  If I think Pocket Jukebox is better – and I’m not sure I do – it’s only because Pocket Jukebox came first.  It’s as diverse, as funny and as accessible as the earlier tape and judiciously mixes relatively familiar songs with the more obscure to great effect.

 

Smile Jamaica celebrates twenty-one years of Jamaican independence with one reggae track per year from 1962 to 1983 (confusingly, that’s twenty-two tracks), all from the Island back catalogue. As a condensed history of reggae it’s virtually faultless and unrivalled by anything except Island’s own Tougher Than Tough – which had the luxury of 4CDs, rather than one cassette, to tell the tale.  You could make minor criticisms – it doesn’t really put enough emphasis on the deejay/toaster, and ending with Black Uhuru’s conscious stylings rather than the emerging dance hall sounds of the era seems wrong, with hindsight – but that’s churlish in face of such a superb tribute to the compiler’s art as well as to the music it contains.

 

Best Tracks:  On Mad Mix II, it’s tied between James Brown, Tom Waits, Prefab Sprout and Cabaret Voltaire.  On the others, it’s impossible to say anything is “best”, but my favourites are (Ace Case) Huey “Piano” Smith and (Smile Jamaica) Culture, both of which make me come over all unnecessary.

Worst Track:  Mad Mix II contains two absolute stinkers.  The Eurythmics, awash in the stench of self-regard, desecrate one of Lou Reed’s greatest songs.  Actually, that’s not fair on desecration.  As for Kas Product, their “knowing” dialogue between a girl and her cat is physically painful to listen to – ne’er was the phrase “These people need a slap” more apt.

Fact I Am Obliged To Tell You: The Cabaret Voltaire track takes its title from a line in Hancock’s The Rebel – specifically, an existentialist girl at a party is outlining her philosophy to Hancock.  The girl is played by existentialist icon and Fairy Liquid pimp Nanette Newman.

Another Fact I Am Obliged To Tell You: I was once interviewed by one of the Kane Gang for a story in the Sunderland Echo.

Sadly Not The Song You Know:  Madness spin-off Bonsai Forest’s twee little pop song is not Blur’s Great Escape, and to my endless disappointment David Sylvian isn’t guesting on a cover of Eddy Grant’s Living On The Front Line but helps out Sandii and the Sunsetz with some tedious Japanese electro rubbish of their own making.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Sandii and the Sunsetz, Kas Product

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: See previous answer, plus The Frank Chickens, NYC Peech Boys, New Black Montana, Foetus, Xmal Deutschland, Bonsai Forest, JoBoxers and JB’s All Stars.  And quite possibly Yellowman.

The Beat Award For A Persistent Manager: Whoever managed to get Cabaret Voltaire onto their third NME tape.

Most Unabashed Imitation Of Another Band: Xmal Deutschland sound so much like The Banshees that Siouxsie could have put them on her tax return as dependents.

NME Hope Springs Eternal Moment: New Black Montana, for marking the fourth contemporary tape in a row in which the grand old rag is trying to make us love African music.

Best Title: Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself?)

Worst Title: Pussy X

How Of Its Time Is It?  It feels like an attempt to celebrate good stuff that was being lost at the time, so it’s totally of its time but doesn’t feel like it at all.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Sandii and the Sunsetz, New Black Montana, The Associates

Still At The Coalface: Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, U2, Paul Weller, Tom Waits

No Longer With Us: The Godfather

Best Line:

James Brown (“You’re so bad you gotcha OWN thang”) comes close, but how could it be anything other than:

“Never could stand that dog”
Graphics:



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Jul. 2nd, 2007 11:05 am Letting The Side Down - Racket Packet and Stompin' At The Savoy

Catalogue Numbers: NME 006 (Racket Packet) and NME 007 (Stompin’ At The Savoy)

 

Released: April 1983

 

Track lists:

 

Racket Packet

Side 1: Everything But The Girl English Rose/Heartbeat Spook Sex/Madness Grey Day (Live)/Gregory Isaacs Love Is Overdue (Live)/Curtis Mayfield Dirty Laundry/The Republic My Spies/Shriekback Mothloop II/Palais Schaumburg Hockey/Benjamin Zephaniah Dis Policeman (Is Kicking Me To Death)/Eric Bogosian Live At The ICA (Extracts)

 

Side 2: Orchestre Jazira Love/The Mighty Diamonds Lucky/Imagination Follow Me/Prince Charles and the City Beat Band Cash (Cash Money)/Animal Nightlife Shark Fin Soup/Lene Lovich Never Never Land/The Box Out/The Corporation Hard Times/Eddy Grant Hello Africa (Live)/The Bluebells Aim In Life

 

Stompin’ At The Savoy

Side 1: Errol Garner Stompin’ At The Savoy (Excerpt)/Little Esther T’Ain’t What You Do/H-Bomb Ferguson My Brown Frame Baby/Sam “The Man” Taylor Midnight Rambler/The Three Barons The Milkshake Stand/Big Joe Turner Howling Winds/Art Pepper Brown Gold/Tiny Grimes Romance Without Finance/Little Esther & Mel Walker Cupid’s Boogie/Gatemouth Moore I Ain’t Mad At You/Johnny Otis All Nite Long

 

Side 2: Fats Navarro Spinal/Babs Gonzales Ornithology/Eddie Jefferson The Birdland Story/Charlie Parker Another Hair-Do/Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart The Jam Man/Miss Rhapsody Sweet Man/Helen Humes Rock Me To Sleep/The Ravens Write Me A Letter/Sam Price Rib Joint

 

Verdict

 

They lost the plot with Racket Packet.  It starts in an excessively mopey manner with Everything But The Girl (mopey by definition, and covering one of Paul Weller’s most annoying songs to boot) and never really gets going.  Only five tracks in, with Curtis Mayfield’s last masterpiece Dirty Laundry, is there anything worth listening to (the normally sound Madness and Gregory Isaacs being in very tired live form).  The rest of side one is a waste of time apart from – debatably – the excerpts from comedian Eric Bogosian’s one-man show at the ICA, right at the end.  Side two has more that’s worth hearing, but the bad stuff on side two is really bad, unlike on side one, where it’s mostly just dreary.  With hindsight, it’s a strong indication that the spirit of post-punk adventure is just about extinct – and when it surfaces, it’s become overly whimsical and self-indulgent (check The Republic, stinking the place out).  This adventure was replaced among many musicians and journos by a guilt-driven and misguidedly uncritical embrace of all black music, good or bad, and that led to an awful lot of rubbish.  Racket Packet, then: the crap starts here.

 

I’d condemned Stompin’ At The Savoy out of association with Racket Packet, remembering it as almost as dreary as its partner, but on re-hearing it’s actually very good indeed.  It’s not as poppy or diverse as the earlier Pocket Jukebox, which may be why it seemed a disappointment at the time, but for the most part it’s a pleasure.  The last four tracks on side one let it down – four dreary bits of routine R&B (there’s early Charlie Parker on the Tiny Grimes track, but the historic interest doesn’t compensate for the overall dullness) – but that aside, it’s splendidly entertaining and uplifting.  And it means that within the same forty minutes I heard such titans as Big Joe Turner, Art Pepper, Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, and Slim Gaillard for the first time.  That’s got to be forty of the greatest minutes of anyone’s life.

NB a modified version of this tape is available on CD, under the title Still Stompin' At The Savoy, on the Giant Steps label.  You can get it for around a fiver on Amazon, though it's probably harder to find on your local high street.  Good news: six additional tracks (two from Johnny Otis, Charlie Parker's legendary Now's The Time, and one each from Stan Getz, Paul Williams and Wild Bill Moore) and liner notes from original compiler Roy Carr.  Bad news: three of the best tracks from the original tape (Little Esther, Sam "The Man" Taylor and Sam Price) have vanished, but the four dull ones have survived.  That said, the sound quality is much improved, and they don't seem so dull anymore.  Pointless change: the relatively obscure Charlie Parker tune Another Hair-Do has been replaced by the relatively obscure Charlie Parker tune Barbados.  Still a good way to spend a fiver, mind though but.
 

Best Tracks: On Racket Packet, it’s Curtis Mayfield, with the silver going to – of all people  - Lene Lovich and a desperately sad song by The Bluebells in third place.  On Stompin’, the quality is very consistent, so it’s harder to decide, but the Three Barons’ close harmony, Big Joe’s primal moan and Art Pepper’s miniaturist vinegary elegance form a one-two-three punch of rare charm and power.

Worst Track:  Sad to say, Benjamin Zephaniah.  He’s a top bloke who thoroughly deserves the MBE he declined, if you get me.  Unfortunately this sets a poem on a very serious topic – racist police brutality – to an almost childish rhythm and it all comes across as a bit Overly Earnest Theatre For Schoolkids.  Other people here are more annoying, but this is more depressing as it’s someone good under-achieving.

Most Unlikely Act Ever To Appear On An NME Cassette:  Imagination, most famous for dressing like gladiators and writhing on the floor on Top of the Pops.  Their camp soul is unique in that it’s as far as you can get from anything the NME has ever endorsed, even at its most contrary.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Heartbeat, Shriekback, Palais Schaumburg

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: See previous answer, plus The Republic, Animal Nightlife, The Box and The Corporation.

Old Even Then: Lene Lovich, who had vanished in mid-1979 and not been seen since.  Great track though, full of Nuggets echoes.

Most Misguided Trend-Hopping: The NME embraces “Hard Times”, a short-lived hype started by Robert “Bobby Helmet” Elms in which pampered media types acted poor by ripping holes in the knees of their jeans and pretending to like soul music.  Represented here by Prince Charles (a US funkateer whose Cash - admittedly a fine track – led earnest NME types to think he was a Marxist when in fact he was a complete breadhead), Animal Nightlife (with excruciating “sophisticated” lyrics and some of the flattest singing you’ll ever hear) and The Corporation – said media types making a shocking attempt at a funk track.

NME Hope Springs Eternal Moment: For reasons no-one ever fathomed, they put a lot of effort into trying to get the world to think of amiable but minor talent Eddy Grant as a genius.  Here he is, amiable but minor.

Best Title: My Brown Frame Baby

Worst Title: Spook Sex

How Of Its Time Is It?  It doesn’t reflect the charts, but it’s an all too depressing snapshot of how music was going in the eighties.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Heartbeat, Shriekback, Palais Schaumburg

Memories: Nothing much apart from generalised impressions of revising for my finals.  I still have anxiety dreams about them, which may worsen my view of Racket Packet.

Still At The Coalface: Everything But The Girl, Madness, Benjamin Zephaniah.

No Longer With Us: Gregory Isaacs, Curtis Mayfield.

Best Line:

Joe Turner:

“You know I love you

Cause the rain wrote it on my window pane”
Graphics:


 

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Jun. 29th, 2007 10:49 am The Beat Goes On - Mighty Reel and Pocket Jukebox

Catalogue Numbers: NME 004 (Mighty Reel) and NME 005 (Pocket Jukebox)

 

Released: November 1982

 

Track lists:

 

Mighty Reel

Side 1: Elvis Costello and the Attractions Town Cryer/ Haircut 100 Calling Captain Autumn (Live)/Kid Creole and the Coconuts Loving You Made A Fool Out Of Me/Weekend A Day In The Life Of…/Elfas Zondi Umkumbane/Brother “D” And Collective Dib-Be-Dib-Be-Dize (How You Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise)/Fashion White Stuff/Yello Sensation/The Honeymoon Killers Petit Matin/Billy MacKenzie and the British Electric Foundation The Secret Life Of Arabia/Mari Wilson Are You There With Another Girl

 

Side 2: King Sunny Ade and the African Beats Kita Kita O Mo La/ Ornette Coleman Sleep Talk/Robert Wyatt Round Midnight/The Ravishing Beauties Futility/The Three Courgettes Now Dance/Rockers Revenge Walking On Sunshine/Fun Boy Three The Alibi/Cabaret Voltaire Loosen The Clamp/Liaisons Dangereuses Dancibar/UB40 Forget The Cost/Michael Smith Trainer

 

Pocket Jukebox

Side 1: Nina Simone My Baby Just Cares For Me/T-Bone Walker Too Much Trouble Blues/The Spaniels I Like It Like That/Jimmy Reed Take Out Some Insurance/Jerry Lee Lewis Big Legged Woman/Julia Lee Can’t Get Enough Of That Stuff/Betty Lavette Let Me Down Easy/The Prisonaires Don’t Say Tomorrow/Gene Chandler Duke Of Earl

 

Side 2: Robert Parker Barefootin’/Lee Dorsey Ride Your Pony/John Lee Hooker This Is Hip/Little Junior’s Blue Flames Feelin’ Good/The Dixie Cups Iko Iko/Betty Everett Getting Mighty Crowded/Jerry Butler He Will Break Your Heart/George Perkins Crying In The Street/Aaron Neville Hercules

 

Verdict

 

The template for a contemporary tape plus an archive tape (as set by Jive Wire and Hit The Road Stax) continues, though Mighty Reel is a good deal more left-field and less obviously populist than its predecessor.  The overall feel is quite grown-up and eclectic, and, rightly or wrongly, that suited my mood at the time it came out (I was all of 21).  I had fond memories of Mighty Reel, remembering it as my favourite among all the contemporary tapes.  However, when I tried to play it yesterday the cassette was so mangled that both the tape decks I tried gave up on it, though not before I’d got an idea of what Kid Creole would sound like if you were absolutely out of your head on psychoactive fungi.  Unable to check everything out, I had to fall back on memory, and found that about half of the tracks I can remember incredibly vividly, but the rest I can barely remember at all.  This suggests that Mighty Reel is not necessarily (as I’d thought) the best of the contemporary tapes, but may be the most schizoid.  And I’m very pissed off my copy is FUBAR, as two of the best tracks (Mari Wilson and Hackney pub jukebox favourite Ornette Coleman) are completely unavailable at the moment.

 

As for Pocket Jukebox, it’s debatably the best old R&B compilation ever, and almost certainly the most joyful.  Even Nina Simone, who spent most of her career sounding like a pissed-off moose, sounds playful.  This sense of fun may be due to its diversity, as all tracks came from Charly Records, who had rights to pretty much everything at that point in the eighties.  With only 18 tracks, it leaves you begging for more, and it induces more ear-to-ear grins of pleasure per minute than can be considered wholly safe.  This is partly because so many of the tracks set out to make you laugh – NME reissued it on CD in the mid-nineties, and, while it was expanded to 28 tracks, they dropped two of the funniest ones from the original (Julia Lee, T-Bone Walker) and it just wasn’t the same.

 

Best Tracks: On Mighty Reel, Brother D’s raging political hip-hop tramples on everything. Though Robert Wyatt, Mari Wilson and Ornette Coleman do outstanding work too.  On Pocket Jukebox, every one’s a winner, but at a push, Crying In The Streets, an astonishingly bereft tribute to Martin Luther King, gets the honours.  Its tone isn’t particularly consistent with the rest of the tape, but the sheer beauty transcends the dissonance.

Fact I Am Obliged To Point Out:  Unlike most rappers, Brother D is so politically committed he refused to re-release this for over 20 years until he found a sufficiently ideologically sound label to lease it to.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Elfas Zondi, The Honeymoon Killers, Liaisons Dangereuses

Old Even Then: Haircut 100, who’d somehow become archaic in less than six months

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: Weekend, Fashion, The Ravishing Beauties, The Three Courgettes

Best Title: Tie: Take Out Some Insurance Baby/Big Legged Woman

Worst Title: Calling Captain Autumn

Most Cabaret Voltaire Title Of All Time: Loosen The Clamp

Did I Really Hear That Right?  Michael Smith’s track is dub poetry delivered in such thick patois it's impossible to work out what he’s on about.  Except for one point when the music stops and all you can hear is him saying “Kiss me aaaaaaarrrrsssse”.

How Of Its Time Is It?  Mighty Reel is reflective of the NME at the time but probably not of the wider world.  Pocket Jukebox is truly timeless.

Oh Dear That’s Not Aged Well: Kid Creole.  Some of his work still stands up, but not this one.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Deep breath: Weekend, Elfas Zondi, Yello, Honeymoon Killers, The Three Courgettes, Cabaret Voltaire, Liaisons Dangereuses, UB40.  And it took ages before the Fun Boy Three track came back to me too.

Memories: My flatmate at the time, Mr Sheehan, took a great shine to Don’t Say Tomorrow and Duke of Earl.  Walking home drunk from the centre of Nottingham, on numerous occasions, we took great delight in singing these to the populace.  How they must have loved us.

Still At The Coalface: Elvis Costello, Kid Creole (assuming he hasn’t drowned in the Sheffield floods), Mari Wilson, Ornette Coleman (who’s about 120), Robert Wyatt, Kate St John from The Ravishing Beauties (she was heavily involved in the Syd Barrett memorial show at the Barbican last month), Barb Jungr from The Three Courgettes, various Fun Boys and – astonishingly, from the Pocket Jukebox – Jerry Lee Lewis, Aaron Neville and Jerry Butler.

No Longer With Us: Most of the Pocket Jukebox crowd, and, from the Mighty Reel, Billy MacKenzie and Michael Smith.

Best Line:

Julia Lee’s verdict on dancing:

“I like to do the tango

Sometimes I like to truck

But what I like the best is…

…when we hucklebuck"
Graphics:



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Jun. 28th, 2007 12:44 pm Third Time Lucky - Jive Wire and Hit The Road Stax

Catalogue Numbers: NME 002 (Jive Wire) and NME 003 (Hit The Road Stax)

 

Released: May 1982

 

Track lists:

 

Jive Wire

Side 1: The Thompson Twins In The Name of Love/David Gamson No Turn On Red /Leisure Process Love Cascade/Buzzz Tonight’s Alright/Pig Bag A Live Orangutango/Aswad Ghetto In The Sky/Scritti Politti Asylums In Jerusalem/The Beat Get A Stand Down Job Margaret (Live)/Gil Scott-Heron B-Movie

 

Side 2: Suicide Dream Baby Dream/Kraftwerk Das Model/Altered Images Happy Birthday/Theatre of Hate Dreams of Poppies/The Gun Club Ghost On The Highway/Tav Falco’s Panther Burns Ms Froggy/ Black Uhuru Happiness/Defunkt Illusions/Rip Rig and Panic Billy Eckstine’s Shirt Collar/Carmel Storm/Vic Godard and the Subway Sect Just In Time/Pablo Madeleina

 

Hit The Road Stax

Side 1: Booker T &The MGs: Green Onions, Red Beans and Rice/Carla Thomas B-A-B-Y/Arthur Conley Sweet Soul Music/Eddie Floyd Raise Your Hand, Knock On Wood

 

Side 2: The Mar-Keys Last Night, Philly Dog/Sam and Dave You Don’t Know Like I Know, Hold On I’m Comin’/Otis Redding Respect, Try A Little Tenderness

 

Verdict

 

1982 was a great year for chart pop – possibly the last one there ever was.  Student faves like Echo and The Bunnymen, Fun Boy Three, Altered Images and Simple Minds (still quite good at that point) broke into the charts.  Oddballs like The Associates, Soft Cell and Dexy’s had huge hits.  Black American musicians as diverse as Grandmaster Flash, Kid Creole (who’d been very irritating as an NME hack cult figure the year before but who made a great Pop Star) and Marvin Gaye made a huge impression.  Mainstream teen pop was dominated by characters like Boy George, Nick Heyward, Martin Fry, Adam Ant and Phil Oakey – genuine eccentrics, the likes of which could never become pop stars these days.  And The Jam and Madness simply ruled the world.

 

There was something in the air that seemed to inspire the NME.  If C81 had been too much like living in a feminist squat eating nowt but brown rice, and Dancin’ Master too much like driving round Essex with furry dice hanging from your rear view mirror, they finally nailed it with Jive Wire and  Hit The Road Stax (accompanying the contemporary stuff with an archival tape for the first time).  These two formed the template for a further six sets of tapes all of which, with only one exception, truly delivered.

 

It seemed like they stumbled across four key facts and built the tapes around them:

  • Our target audience consists of students
  • Throw in existing student faves (Thompson Twins – still campus pets at that point -  The Beat, Altered Images) for most of ‘em, and upcoming ones (Rip Rig and Panic, Pig Bag) for the self-consciously hip, and we’re onto a winner
  • Students don’t like smooth, mainstream contemporary soul and funk, but they’ll melt for something funky that’s abrasive (Defunkt) and/or political (Gil Scott-Heron) and/or from the Third World (Pablo, Black Uhuru and, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter that Aswad were from Ladbroke Grove, students think all reggae comes from Jamaica)
  • White people in the UK like old black American music more than anyone else in the world except the Japanese 

 

Jive Wire addresses 1-3 brilliantly and Hit The Road Stax nails number 4.

 

Jive Wire, as a result, is the first of the NME tapes that really works.  It’s an absolute gem.  Even the bad bits aren’t that bad.  And as for Hit The Road Stax, highlights from the 1967 Stax-Volt tour of the UK, it’s one of the most exciting things ever made by anybody.  I played them both a lot at the time, but I must have played Hit The Road Stax five times as often as Jive Wire.  And I spent the whole summer buying old soul albums.

 

Best Tracks: On Jive Wire, Gil Scott-Heron, by a ridiculously wide margin.  If modern hip-hop was one-hundredth as eloquent, cutting and engaged with things that actually matter as this, I’d never listen to anything else.  On Hit The Road Stax, everything’s great, but Sam and Dave probably edge it.

Fact I Am Obliged To Point Out: Gil Scott-Heron’s dad played for Celtic.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Carmel, Rip Rig and Panic

Someone’s Manager’s Doing A Grand Job: The Beat.  It’s a great recording, but more to the point it ensures they and they alone were on all three NME tapes to date

Old Even Then: Suicide. Great, but already several years old

Hey, We May Be The NME, But We Down With Da Brothers: Doesn’t apply.  This time round, nothing feels like tokenism.  That said, the Pablo track does make you think someone at the NME is thinking “Okay, you think you’ve caught up with us about funk, so here’s some African music, bet you don’t know anything about that, na-na-na-NA-na”.  Great track mind though but.

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: Leisure Process, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns

Best Title: Billy Eckstine’s Shirt Collar

Worst Title: A Live Orangutango

Most Pleasant Surprise: Pablo.  Who knew African music sounded this good?

Did I Really Hear That Right?  Vic Godard singing an old Dean Martin hit, and Tav Falco, which sounds like rockabilly performed by drunken tramps.  My Mum thought it sounded like the theme tune to Hi-De-Hi.

How Of Its Time Is It?  It’s supporting Northern Ireland in the World Cup

Oh Dear That’s Not Aged Well: Leisure Process, though perfectly listenable, are very much of their day, probably because the track has a long Gary Barnacle sax solo, as did every other record in 1982.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Buzzz

Memories: None in particular, apart from playing Jive Wire at home once and my Dad’s utterly random question “Is there a bass player on that?” (“that” being Rip Rig And Panic).

Still At The Coalface: Scritti Politti, The Beat, Joe Bowie from Defunkt, Andrea Oliver and Neneh Cherry (TV chefs!) from Rip Rig and Panic, and the very lovely Clare Grogan, blessed be the earth she walks upon.  And Joe Boyd, Defunkt producer, was the organiser of the recent Syd Barrett tribute show at the Barbican.

No Longer With Us: Jeffrey Lee Pierce from The Gun Club, Puma from Black Uhuru.  And Gil Scott-Heron, though still alive, has fallen on very hard times.

Best Line:

Well, the first thing I want to say is “Mandate, my ass”.

Graphics:





Both by the great French cartoonist Serge Clerc, no less

 

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Jun. 26th, 2007 11:46 am I Thought This Was An NME Tape? - The Dancin' Master

Catalogue Number: NME 001

 

Released: October 1981

 

Track list:

Side 1: Tom Browne Funkin’ For Jamaica/Linx I Wanna Be With You/Grace Jones Feel Up/Talking Heads Cities (Live)/Elvis Costello and the Attractions Big Sister/Beggar & Co Laughing On/Funky 4 + 1 That’s The Joint/Ian Dury and the Blockheads Inbetweenies (Live)/Kid Creole and the Coconuts There But For The Grace Of God Go I (Live) /Lounge Lizards Stompin’ At The Corona (Live) /The Polecats Rockabilly Guy (Dub)/Lloyd Coxone Zion Bound/Madness Shadow On The House

 

Side 2: The Beat Hit It! /Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five The Birthday Party/Junior Giscombe Mama Used To Say/B52s Give Me Back My Man (Instrumental)/Susan 24,000 Kiss/The Jam When You’re Young (Live)/Dennis Bovell Better /The Plastics Last Train To Clarkesville/James White And The Blacks Contort Yourself/The Teardrop Explodes Traison (C’est Juste Une Histoire)/U2 An Cat Dubh – Into The Heart

 

Verdict

 

Has anything ever looked less like it came from the NME?  Play the C81 all the way through and then put this on.  You go directly from an unreleased Subway Sect outtake from 1976-7 to a slick piece of New York jazz-funk that was a major chart hit on both sides of the Atlantic.  They’re both great, but it’s hard to think of two things which are further apart.  That’s indicative of the change that came over the NME in 1981.  They were haemorrhaging readers as youngsters flocked to Smash Hits, and art students to The Face, where they could look at pictures of other art students in comical clothing without being distracted by anything as old fashioned and boring as words.  The NME’s bizarre response was to deliberately alienate its few remaining readers by focussing attention on funk, Kid Creole and French post-structuralist critical theory.  There was a point in late 1981 where it seemed the target audience consisted only of philosophy students with an abiding fear that every time they went into a record shop, Paul Morley was lurking behind them to pour scorn on their purchases.  In fact, for two hours one Tuesday in November that year, I was indeed the only NME reader in the country.

 

A slight exaggeration, but the beloved old rag had certainly changed.  Conscious of the need not to alienate the readers too much, this tape is actually full of “NME acts” (Elvis C, Talking Heads, Dury, Madness, The Beat, The B52s, The Jam, The Teardrops and the young U2) but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time, as us poor old fashioned guitar-loving readers recoiled in shock at all the reggae, rap and, above all, funk.  Like, I suspect, many people, I mainly bought this because I didn’t want Ian Penman coming round and calling me a rockist.

 

Listening to it these days, after years of exposure to all sorts of music, it’s hard to see what was so shocking about it, and it’s a mostly enjoyable listen.  It also set the template for the eclecticism of the subsequent NME “contemporary” cassettes. But they were never quite so eclectic as this again.  Over-slick funk rubs up against core New Wave idols, deep reggae, early hip-hop, New York No Wave Skronk, horrid pre-teen Japanese electropop and a dub version of a rockabilly revival “classic”.  And I still don’t believe anyone at the NME ever really liked Beggar & Co.

 

Best Tracks: Elvis Costello is the winner, with a version of a track from Trust that outstrips the original by miles and is so different it’s barely the same song.  Good work also from Dennis Bovell, Junior Giscombe (Best.  British Soul Record.  Ever), The Teardrop Explodes’ French language version of Treason, and the Lounge Lizards with what they themselves called their “reptilian fake jazz”.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: It’s four tracks in before you even get to “an NME act”, and it pretty much stays that way.  But the worst, by far, is “NME act” The Beat, whose Hit It! – a nine-minute attempt at Real Reggae – is unspeakably tedious.  Honourable Runner-Up: Susan’s 24,000 Kiss, teeny electro-pop from Japan which even a Kyoto paedophile would consider unbearably childish.  Bronze medal: Beggar & Co, with a joyless piece of forced "fun" only too typical of most jazz-funk; verbally emphasising "good times", but failing to deliver them in its grim professionalism and lack of humour.

Someone’s Manager Got These Terrible Old “Rarities” Released To Make A Fast Buck: Pretty much all the “NME acts”, but in particular The Beat. Most of them aren't that terrible, but they tend not to be the "proper" versions, with live tracks particularly common.  And Madness aren't a great country band. 

Terrible Old Rarity That’s Actually Quite Good: Elvis

Hey, We May Be The NME, But We Down With Da Brothers: Where do I begin?

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: Beggar & Co, The Funky 4 + 1, The Lounge Lizards, The Polecats, Susan, The Plastics

Best Title: Traison (C’est Juste Une Histoire)

Worst Title: 24,000 Kiss

Most Pleasant Surprise: The early hip-hop, which is as open-hearted, good-natured and uplifting as 1940s R&B songs about drunkenness.  And the young, pomp-free U2 sound good too.

Did I Really Hear That Right?  The dub version of Rockabilly Guy

How Of Its Time Is It?  It’s definitely the NME’s October 1981, but I don’t think it’s anyone else’s.

Oh Dear That’s Not Aged Well: The Dury track sounded ancient even then but now has classicism in its favour.  The Kid Creole one sounds most creaky these days, and James White sounds quite arthritic too.

I Have No Memory Of Ever Hearing This In My Life: Lloyd Coxone

Memories: Quite a few: happy recollections of my appallingly lazy second year at University in general, but, more specifically, talking to the Much Beloved But Frequently Difficult Old Flame about the U2 track the night we met; for some reason, this tape also reminds me of reading the Frank Miller Daredevils as they came out; and a vivid memory of hoping no-one in my hall of residence would hear Funkin’ For Jamaica, and consequently laugh at me, every time I played the tape

Still At The Coalface: I think Kid Creole now lives in Sheffield and does the Phoenix Nights circuit, and David Grant, as noted in the previous post, has a Career of Shame.  Elsewhere, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Madness, The Beat, The B52s, Paul Weller, Julian Cope and U2 are all still active.  Basically, the NME acts.  Funny, that.

No Longer With Us: As with the C81, the much-missed Lord Upminster.  I think Tom Browne may now be funkin’ for St Peter too.

Best Line:

It nearly went to Cope’s “Juste qu’est-que vous voyez/C’est juste une histoire”, but it’s got to be Elvis’ “She is the blue chip/That belongs to the big fish”.  Maggie, Maggie, Maggie!  Out! Out! Out!
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Jun. 25th, 2007 03:22 pm All Aboard: The C81

Catalogue Number: COPY 001 (NME/Rough Trade co-release; later released through shops on Rough Trade)

 

Released: Spring 1981

 

Track list:

Side 1: Scritti Politti The “Sweetest Girl”/The Beat Twist and Crawl Dub/Pere Ubu Misery Goats/Wah! The 7000 Names of Wah!/Orange Juice Blue Boy/Cabaret Voltaire Raising The Count/DAF Kebab Traume/Furious Pig Bare Pork/Specials Raquel/Buzzcocks I Look Alone/Essential Logic Fanfare In The Garden/Robert Wyatt Born Again Cretin

 

Side 2: The Raincoats Shouting Out Loud/Josef K Endless Soul/Blue Orchids Low Profile/Virgin Prunes Red Nettle/Aztec Camera We Could Send Letters/The Red Crayola Milkmaid/Linx Don’t Get In My Way/The Massed Carnaby Street John Cooper Clarkes The Day My Pad Went Mad/James Blood Ulmer Jazz Is The Teacher Funk Is The Preacher/Ian Dury Close To Home/The Gist Greener Grass/Subway Sect Parallel Lines

 

Verdict

 

Sometimes called “the start of indie”, but it’s actually the end of an era: the last hurrah of post-punk puritanical eclecticism associated in particular with the early days of Rough Trade, who provide around half the tracks from their own catalogue.  Six months later the NME was obsessed with what Alexei Sayle called “shiny new yellow pop CACK!” as its most high-profile hacks sneered at the type of stuff to be found here.  The signs are there, if you look hard enough: Scritti Politti’s decision that a tune is ideologically acceptable after all, the romanticism of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, and above all the Linx track, which made everyone ask “What the fuck is this doing on here?”.  Most of what was meant to “challenge” is simply irritating these days, and what once seemed impossibly demanding (Ulmer) now sounds rather amiable.

 

So, this seemed incredibly vibrant at the time, but it’s archaic now.  You’d never think of sitting down to play it unless you were a hopeless nostalgic.

 

Best Tracks: Scritti edge it, closely followed by all the Postcard stuff, the Blue Orchids, Wyatt, and, surprisingly, the Buzzcocks, with the last thing they recorded before their long rest period.

Don’t Think You’re Here To Enjoy Yourself, We’re The NME And We Know What’s Good For You: Cabaret Voltaire, Furious Pig, The Red Crayola, Virgin Prunes

Someone’s Manager Got These Terrible Old “Rarities” Released To Make A Fast Buck: Specials, Ian Dury, Subway Sect

Terrible Old Rarity That’s Actually Quite Good: Subway Sect

Hey, We May Be The NME, But We Down With Da Brothers: Linx

Groups You Haven’t Thought Of In Twenty Years: The Gist, Furious Pig, Virgin Prunes

Best Title: Kebab Traume

Worst Title: Bare Pork

Most Pleasant Surprise: Buzzocks

How Of Its Time Is It?  If it was any more Spring 81, it would go off to form the SDP

Most Dated Concept: Sending letters (Aztec Camera)

Special Memories: None in particular, though I saw the Blue Orchids around this time and they were phenomenal

Still At The Coalface: Scritti Politti (who made my favourite album of 2006), Pere Ubu, The Buzzcocks, Robert Wyatt, Roddy Frame (presumably), John Cooper Clarke, David Grant (a voice coach for “talent” show contestants!)

No Longer With Us: Lord Upminster.  Thankfully, Edwyn Collins continues to recover.

Best Line:

The kitchen had been ransacked, ski-marks in the hall

A chicken had been dansacked and thrown against the wall

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Jun. 25th, 2007 01:45 pm What's THIS For?

It's here because, as far as I can see, it's nowhere else.

"It" being a definitive directory of the cassettes produced by the NME back in the eighties.

What a strange world it was.  To gain access to new music, you had to clip coupons from a magazine for three weeks and then send them off with payment - with payment! - and, if you were lucky, four weeks later, your cassettes would turn up in the post.  Yup.  Snail-mail.

No downloads.  No cover-mounted CDs.  Indeed, in the early days, no CDs at all.

But those tapes, because you had to pay for them, because you had to wait for them, and because they came from what was then the most authoritative pop mag in the world, were loved and venerated in a way that just might not happen anymore.  They also opened eyes and ears to sounds you might never have heard otherwise.

They were great.  Or at least they felt that way at the time.

They seem to have vanished from the collective memory, though.  There doesn't seem to be anywhere on the net that gives you the details of what was on them, and whether or not it was any good.  Maybe no-one but me gives a damn.  But, just in case, I'm going to be providing details on all 37 of them, starting in spring '81 with the C81 (whose cover image is the blog icon here), and working through to 1988's Indie City.  The reviews will come in batches, as the cassettes did.  The first two, C81 and Dancin' Master, were stand-alone items, but for the next few years, a tape of contemporary stuff would be accompanied by one or more buddies exploring archive items, usually looking at a particular label or genre.  After a while, they ditched the contemporary ones, and just went archival.

We'll be covering them all.

Brace yourselves.  We're about to press "play".

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