Re-Release, Repackage (And Do It Well)

Two box sets have recently come into my possession, from opposite ends of the rock spectrum, and opposite ends of the How To Do A Box Set Properly bookshelf. The first is the mega 3-CD box set of The Fall’s This Nation’s Saving Grace, and the other is the even more mega 7-CD set of Brooce Springsteen’s first six albums. Six!

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long essay with me wittering on about how The Fall somehow produced their finest record – and it is, don’t even think about arguing – 9 albums into their long career. Which other band, or artist, has done that? Only Bob Dylan, I suppose, with Blood On The Tracks (#15), and you’ll get quite a bit of argument from Dylan fans about that. Or how Brooce Springsteen took Dylan’s ability to document the American psyche, mixed it with raw working-class attitude and work ethic, and made the best mainstream rock albums you’ll ever hope to hear drifting from an AM radio1 whilst driving through North Dakota.

Nope, this is just a quick note to say Thank You Very Much to whoever thought of these two. TNSG is the full added tracks (that you actually want to hear!2), big booklet affair, the sort of thing that you normally only get done for albums Q readers like. Great to see a classic proper Indie-rock record get this quality treatment.

Conversely, the “Bruce Springsteen Collection 1973-1984” is stripped down to the bare bones; some lyrics, basic packaging, no extra tracks, just the records themselves in all their glory. No extraneous packaging, nothing. All for £12. For an artist who prides himself on his artistic and commercial honesty, this is a wonderfully appropriate move.

If only the rest of the record industry could wake up and do this kind of thing rather than trying to fleece us at every possible opportunity. Well done, folks.

Now I’ve just got to find the time to listen to the buggers.

1 Do such things still exist?

2 Though we all have the Peel Sessions. Thanks.

MP3: Cruiser’s Creek by The Fall

MP3: Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen

Buy “The Collection 1973 -1984” (CD)

Buy “This Nation’s Saving Grace (Omnibus Edition)” (CD)

The Pitchfork 500 Shambles – Orange Juice To The Clean

This post is all about the jangly, amateur sounds of shambolic Indie-Pop. It’s a sound that would go on to heavily influence everyone from REM and The Smiths, the C86 movement, Pavement to Brit Pop and beyond. Not that they realised it at the time of course. This lot were just wanting to make a sound their own on often rather limited funds. $60 in one case.

Orange Juice – Blue Boy
The Television Personalities – This Angry Silence
The Fall – The Classical
The Clean – Tally Ho!

Orange Juice, led by the talented Edwyn Collins, can be considered a prim, Scottish version of hardcore’s Straight Edge movement. Fey middle-class kids like shaven headed, angry punks, I hear you say? Hear me out. These Scots popsters weren’t so keen on the macho drinking culture of Glasgow and wanted to go a clean route, eschewing the drink and drugs prevalent in the local music scene, and replacing them with, well, orange juice. And some amphetamines. And Alan McGee’s organ.

As for “Blue Boy”, it’s got the feel of a band who hadn’t really learned to play (yet) but were trying to copy Television’s chops. Get that guitar solo! For a band that influenced a number of musicians I’m a big fan of (step forward, The Go-Betweens), I’m amazed this period of Orange Juice’s history slipped me by. I’ve already been onto Amazon to buy the compilation released a few years ago, The Glasgow School. What a great song. Sometimes, I’m really glad I’m doing the Pitchfork 500 when I find songs like this on it.

Can’t really say the same for Television Personalities though. Whilst “This Angry Silence” has got that post-Jam, earnest young working-clarse Home Counties boy ranting about his unfair life feel to it, it’s not a patch on the real Jammy thing. Another token entry for the Pitchfork crew.

The Fall’s “The Classical” marks their transition from noisy, shambolic rockabilly post-punkers to something far more interesting. The Fall of the mid-1980’s was one of the shining stars of British music; continually evolving, always sounding different yet intrinsically The Fall, caustic, excoriating, mystical lyrics from their leader Mark E Smith barked over shifting, restless, inventive backing.

“The Classical” is a torrid, yelping affair, with Smith at his angry best. Even better, there’s actually a proper tune and some semblance of songwriting skill rather than the “play one riff and keep it going” methodology of “Live At The Witch Trials” and the like.

It’s also the tune that allegedly scuppered a deal with Motown, with the label’s managers none to happy with the line “Where are the obligatory niggers?”. Mark E Smith, never one to back down from a fight, ended up getting punched in the face in a hotel bar in the US. Sadly I can’t remember who. And what were Motown doing signing The Fall anyway? All sounds a bit odd to me.

Personally, whilst it’s a great song, it’s still not a patch on the work from their true golden age – from Perverted by Language to Bend Sinister – during which there are about 20 tracks that are superior to this. So I’m not sure quite why Pitchfork have chosen this one; the write-up in the book pretty much says the same. So, for you unfamiliar with The Fall, have a listen to this then go and buy some of their classic albums1. Or go on Spotify or Whatever. Just make sure you listen to them.

Lastly, and not leastly, is The Clean. Now this lot really passed me by. Whilst I might have heard Orange Juice’s more famous songs (ok, “Rip It Up”), The Clean made no impact whatsoever in the UK – a point recently (and serendipitously) made in this article in The Guardian just last week 2. “Tally Ho!” reminds me of early Go-Betweens – there obviously being something in the Antipodean water to make pasty white boys play awkward, gangly pop music – and also Pavement, who admit to being heavily influenced by these chaps.

Recorded for, yes, $60, it’s got that pure shambolic feel of a band bursting with tunes and energy but without the financial means to go into a nice, big posh studio. Back in 1981, there was no Garageband, no cheap knockoff copies of Cubase or ProTools, so you had to get a decent reel-to-reel recorder worth thousands to get your song released. Unless you borrowed a mate’s cheapo recorder and just did it all yourself with some friends. The organ riff has been playing in my head fairly constantly for the past few days, which is pretty much a good sign.

So, other than the Television Personalities tune, what a great selection of music. Shambolic, yes, but full of energy, tunes and sheer bravado. Off to the States for the last four songs of this part of the Pitchfork 500.

You can find the full list here.

1 Though quite why the CD reissues have been fiddled with, putting singles and B-sides slap bang in the middle of the album, is beyond me. Ok, in this day and age it’s not too hard to edit, but still, one shouldn’t have to do this. Next time they are reissued, please sort out the track listing. Thank you.

2 And weirdly enough, I was listening to The Clean whilst reading the article in the paper, not knowing the article was in there, and not knowing I’d be listening to The Clean that morning on the way to work. How odd is that?

MP3: Blue Boy by Orange Juice

MP3: Tally Ho! By The Clean

Buy Orange Juice’s “The Glasgow School” (CD)

By “Part Time Punks: The Very Best of Television Personalities” (CD/MP3)

Buy The Fall’s “Hex Enduction Hour”

Buy The Clean’s “Anthology” (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 Oddness Hour – Branca to The Fall

Glenn Branca – Lesson No. 1 for Electric Guitar
Laurie Anderson – O Superman (For Massenet)
Joy Division – Atmosphere
The Fall – Totally Wired

A veteran of New York No Wave band Theoretical Girls, Glenn Branca wanted to merge classical music with rock. Rather than taking the ELO route and laying strings over Beethoven-inspired prog rock, he took ten guitarists, including Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (who’d go on to form Sonic Youth) plus assorted other musicians, and formed a kind of orchestra. “Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar” was the first song he released with this new band.


Starting simply, layer upon layer of guitar gradually build up until it becomes an epic sound, withouth ever descending into sheer noise (as Sonic Youth have a tendency to do). The control used by the players adds to the beauty of the song; there’s no huge wig-out at the end, just a natural climax. You can hear Sonic Youth and Swans, Slint and Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Russian Circles. Considering I love all those bands, this is the first time I’ve ever really heard this track properly. What a great track it is too.

Funnily enough, you can pretty much do the same thing yourself, in the comfort of your own home, using something like this1. I did see someone supporting Smog back in 2003, in Strasbourg2, who did something along those lines all by himself, but can’t for the life of me remember his name.

The first time I heard Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman (For Massenet)”, I was watching Top of the Pops with my brother. It’s fair to say we burst out laughing. Ok, so I was only 10, but the sight of Laurie dressed in a white gown intoning “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” robotically was, to my pre-teen sensibilities, pretty damn funny. For weeks after we’d go up to each other and start going “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!” then roll around on the floor laughing like idiots. It was very, very funny.

Of course, it’s a bit more of a serious record than that. Laurie Anderson was a New York performance artist and musician, and this track was a meditation on America’s military-industrial complex. Possibly. Possibly not.

But frankly, it sounds like a batty lady with a vocoder going “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!”. How on earth did this get to No.2 in the UK charts? Annoyingly, I can’t find the original ToTP performance (if indeed it was a performance, rather than a video – I was only 10 you know), but did find this:

Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Very odd to listen to it again, nearly thirty years later. I still find it stupidly funny though.

Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” was recorded only a few months before Ian Curtis’ suicide. With Martin Hannett playing keyboards as well as producing (by this point, he was pretty much the fifth member of the band), the song is soaked in synthetic strings cut through with Barnie Albrecht’s acidic guitar chords, and underpinned by Peter “Hooky” Hook’s doleful bass lines. Not really my favorite Joy Division song, it veers a little bit too far onto the mopy teenager side of the street for my liking. It’s no “Dead Souls”. Or “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. But it’s still a grand old song and well worth listening to again.

Alongside the obvious tragedy of Curtis’s death, there’s the other tragedy of what Joy Division could have become if he’d had better treatment for his depression (and a resolution to his dreadful, if self-made, personal situation). This lot could have filled stadiums. Mind you, they did turn into New Order and become the first band to successfully marry dance and rock (frankly, one of the few bands who’ve done that). And if I was stuck in a lift I’d much rather have New Order piped in than Joy Division, wouldn’t you?

The Fall were the other great Manchester band coming to the fore at the start of the ’80’s (The Smiths were a few years away yet). “Totally Wired”, released in 1980, is a paean to speed (amphetamines), which Mark E Smith was consuming at a quite heroic rate, along with magic mushrooms. And lots of alcohol. Guitar was, in part, provided by Marc “Lard” Riley, he of the genius DJ twosome Mark and Lard. In fact, when I first heard them on the radio I thought “Surely not *that* Marc Riley?”, but yes, it was him. Let’s just say he’s a much better at DJ-ing than playing guitar. Mind you, I think he’s a great DJ and a lovely bloke as well. Their morning shows were superb – there’s nothing better for your morning commute than listening to two pissed off Mancunians struggling to string coherent sentences together, with the occasional great record. After they moved to their afternoon show, they started really getting on the nerves of their bosses at Radio 1, especially after making comments like this:
“That was the new single by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. And here’s an old record by The Pastels. We play some good stuff on here sometimes, don’t we?” The record started, before being stopped about ten seconds later with a contrite “We’ve been told to say that all the records we play are good”.

Anyway, back to The Fall. Now, The Fall have been around for longer than the Bible, and have had about as many people in. So picking only one or two songs (“The Classical” is coming up later) for this list must have been a nightmare. Because each album from “Grotesque” onwards, right through to “Bend Sinister”, is full of cracking tunes. Me, I’d have picked “Spoilt Victorian Child”, just because it’s the pure distillation of The Fall, in a nice, easily digestible 4 minutes. But then, “Totally Wired” gives you a good, early example of what The Fall are. Jumpy, shambolic rockabilly-lite guitars, thumping drums, with enough catchiness in the tune to keep you coming back for more, all with Mark E Smith’s irascible yelping of stream-of-conciousness, often indistinct lyrics.

And for once, “Totally Wired” is actually about something fairly simple – taking drugs. And though while MES would bring in (slightly) more competant musicians for later records, this has got a simple. poppy charm which most of his other songs lack. My aunt and I agree, indeed.

So that’s that for this post, next up a short post covering Elvis Costello and a couple of US bands you won’t have heard of.

1 I’m actually trying it, in a slightly more folky and less post-rocky way. If I manage anything listenable, I’ll post it on here.

2 I am probably the only person in history to have arranged a business trip to Luxembourg so I could then drive to Strasburg later in the day to watch Smog live. He was very grumpy, I’d like to add.

MP3: Lesson No 1 For Electric Guitar by Glenn Branca

MP3: Totally Wired by The Fall

Buy Glenn Branca’s “Lesson No. 1” (CD)

Buy Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” (MP3)

Buy “The Best Of Joy Division” (CD)

Buy The Fall’s “Grotesque (After The Gramme)” (CD or MP3) (And a right bargain too)

The whole list is available here.

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