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SSR Picks: April 15 2021

Daniel

The Fall: Live at St. Helens Technical College 1981 (2021, Castle Face Records)

This is MY staff pick section for the newsletter at MY record store, and if I want to go full Fall nerd mode on you, then there ain’t shit you can do about it except keep scrolling!

The impetus for this descent into Fall nerd mode is a new release from Castle Face Records (home of the Oh Sees and a lot of other stuff): Live at St. Helens Technical College 1981. As a Fall fan, I dutifully bought this record and listened to it, and it set my mind reeling. I plan to give you the skinny on this record below, but there’s a lot I want to say generally about the Fall and Fall live recordings. I’m going to dip my toe into these waters for this staff pick, and if it seems interesting, I’ll wade out a little further.

One great thing about the Fall is that they always seemed to approach their songs as works in progress. This is something I first understood when I spent some time with the essential The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004 6-CD box set that came out in 2005. By the time I heard that box I was pretty familiar with the first dozen studio albums by the Fall (and the associated singles), and I noticed the Peel Sessions versions of songs were often very different from the “official” studio recordings. Any deep Fall head should be able to point out some key Peel Sessions tracks. I’m partial to their session from March 31, 1981. Not only does it capture one of my favorite eras of the band, but also the faster, tougher-sounding Peel Session version of “Lie Dream of Casino Soul” blows away the version released as a single that year.

You can hit the Fall message boards if you want to get into the weeds about the best versions of particular songs, but my takeaway is that the Fall’s approach to studio recordings was scattershot and arbitrary. Whereas a band like Iron Maiden does extensive pre-production before they go into the studio then integrates the finished songs into a highly choreographed stage show, this wasn’t the case for the Fall. Some Fall albums capture the band ripping through a batch of songs that are well rehearsed and fleshed out from a songwriting standpoint (like This Nation’s Saving Grace), while others (I’m looking at you, Room to Live), feature a tired-sounding band trying their best to get through songs despite not having really found the groove. Sometimes, as with the Peel Sessions version of “Lie Dream,” we can find a version of a song that’s way better than what the record company got.

The “Peel Sessions versus studio versions” debate is key to Fall fandom, but it’s possible to go even deeper than that, and that’s where the live albums and bootlegs come in. The big variable here is fidelity, as some recordings come from soundboards, while others run the gamut from terrible to very good audience recordings. When you dig into these, you learn that, besides there being a pretty big difference between the Fall on a good night and the Fall on a bad night, they often didn’t “finish” a song before wheeling it out in front of an audience. Fall live albums and bootlegs are full of alternate arrangements, fragments, castoffs, and embryonic versions. You can take a trainspotting approach to these differences, but I contend that often these differences reveal things in the music you wouldn’t hear or appreciate otherwise.

TL;DR version: the Fall was never the same band two days in a row. This makes the world of Fall bootlegs very exciting.

There’s plenty more to say, but I’ll leave that for when I return to this topic. For now, let’s get back to the record at hand. Castle Face Label owner / Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer describes Live at St. Helens Technical College 1981 as a “bootleg soundboard recording,” but when you hold the thing in your hands, the vibe is pretty luxe. Unlike the parade of horrible packaging adorning the never-ending series of Fall live albums on labels like Cog Sinister and Hip Priest, Castle Face has put together a very nice product. They dug up beautiful black and white photographs from the actual gig and presented them as an eye-catching gatefold, even springing for a little pocket to hold the 7” EP that contains the last two songs of the set (and that 7” also has a picture sleeve that matches the rest of the package). It feels prestigious, and it will look very nice filed alongside the rest of my extensive Fall vinyl library.

When you drop the needle, the album starts off promising with a track called “Blob ’59.” This is one of those weird little fragments I mentioned above that are exciting to find on a Fall bootleg. While there is a track with a similar title on Grotesque, the version on Live at St Helens is essentially an embryonic version of “Lie Dream of Casino Soul.” If you listen, you can hear that song’s main guitar riff just taking shape and toward the end Mark rattles off a few lyrics that would make it into the song’s more familiar versions (which they would record mere weeks after the gig captured here). Score!

After that, you get something I don’t expect when I approach a Fall live record: a well-rehearsed, confident version of the band playing a set of classic songs that hew pretty close to their album versions. The recording even sounds fantastic, with a beefy drum sound and all the instruments sounding great. The lineup is the five-piece Slates lineup, and the set list features tracks from Slates and Hex Enduction Hour along with a few from Grotesque and a couple of older songs, “Rowche Rumble” and “Muzorewi’s Daughter.” It’s hard to imagine a better set list… “Leave the Capitol,” “City Hobgoblins,” and “Prole Art Threat…” fuck! While there are always more songs I would add, what they string together here is god tier.

That’s the good. Here are the inevitable quibbles. A few months after this gig, mercurial percussionist Karl Burns rejoined the band. The drummer on this record, Paul Hanley, stayed on as well, giving birth to the legendary two-drummer lineup that would record Hex Enduction Hour, my favorite Fall album. The Hex Enduction Hour songs on this record sound great, but the two-drummer versions on Hex (and later live albums like Fall in a Hole) are superior. This reminds me of an analysis of Black Flag I once heard (but can’t remember where): Damaged is a bunch of songs written for one guitar and played with two, while My War is a record written for two guitars and recorded with one. Both Hex Enduction Hour and Damaged are records where there’s almost too much going on, with so much sound crammed in that it feels unstable, accentuating the menace present in the songs themselves.

My other quibble is the recording. On one hand, it sounds fantastic… like I said, all the instruments and the mix sound great, and in that respect it’s a lot like the quickly produced but sonically precise recordings bands got when they went to Maida Vale to record a Peel Session. On the other hand, soundboard recordings, when they don’t have any mics capturing the audience or the ambient room sound, can sound flat and sterile, and that is arguably the case here. This is a cliche, but I think the Fall were in dialogue with the audience when they played live. Since their arrangements were always a bit half-formed and fuzzy, they had a lot of room to respond to the energy of a particular room or crowd (can you imagine the Fall playing along to a click track?). You can’t hear much of the crowd here, and it’s a bit like eavesdropping on someone talking on the phone where you can only hear one half of the conversation.

So, that’s more than you ever wanted to know about Live at St. Helens Technical College 1981. I have a few Fall live albums in my collection and I’m not averse to adding more, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to this topic.

Jeff

What’s up Sorry Staters?

This week, I chose a record that is a bit different from the usual punk and hardcore I gush about. I’ve touched on this concept in previous newsletters, but there seems to be an era as the 70s transitioned into the 80s where earnest rock ’n’ roll became super unfashionable and almost more like gimmicky pastiche. I remember someone saying to me once that Valley of the Dolls by Generation X was the last sincere rock ’n’ roll record. But I think that if there’s one band that flew the flag for traditional, glam-influenced and heartfelt rock ’n’ roll on into the mid-80s, then it’s Hanoi Rocks.

For the longest time, mainly because of their association with Motley Crue, I assumed Hanoi Rocks sounded like a cheesy and sleazy heavy metal band. And while I’m sure some influences from their contemporaries couldn’t help but creep into their songwriting, Hanoi Rocks have way more in common with 70s bands like Mott The Hoople or Slade. I’m not sure how much success Hanoi Rocks had while they were around, but they released a string of solid albums between 1981 and their disbandment in 1985.

Sorry for the long exposition there, but I’m finally getting to my point: There are moments musically on a lot of those Hanoi Rocks records that I think are cool, but I don’t think the records ever fully grabbed me enough to get super into them. I remember a friend telling me once that the singer Michael Monroe’s first solo record is better than any Hanoi Rocks record. I bought a beautiful copy of that solo record a while back (a Japanese pressing with the obi!). Lately, I’ve been revisiting my copy of Michael Monroe’s solo debut, and I just can’t get enough.

Nights Are So Long, released in 1987, is like the perfect blend of softness and edge. There are moments that are sweet and intimate, but if you poked fun at him singing about love, Michael Monroe could definitely still kick your ass. The lyrical content of the record exhibits bad boy behavior, but the trashiness comes across as more fun and innocent rather than cringey and misogynistic. I would not say that Monroe’s lyrics on this record are the most unique or poetic sentiments by any means. Still, I find that if I can dive into listening to this record with all pretenses suspended, I totally buy into the hooks and find myself singing along. The record is beautifully recorded with perfectly overdriven, lush and pure sounding guitars. And as the platter continues to spin, pretty much every song is great, each with their own charm and huge, hooky chorus. My favorite track “Shake Some Action” by the title alone leads you to believe it will be a cheeky and possibly suggestive song like “Cherry Pie” by Warrant, when really, it’s a melodic, melancholic yet hopeful lamentation. I also don’t really think that Michael Monroe is the most naturally gifted singer in the world, but he approaches his vocals with so much conviction and attitude that I can’t help but be charmed by it. It’s clear that Monroe is a fan and has diverse taste. While the glam classics of the 70s are a clear influence, you can still definitely hear early punk affecting Monroe’s style. He even covers “High School” by the MC5 on this LP.

As far as I know, Hanoi Rocks were Finland’s biggest export in terms of producing a well-known rock band. I think the success of Hanoi Rocks is directly responsible for Finnish hardcore punk bands moving toward a more rockin’ sound. The most notable example is members of Riistetyt transforming into Holy Dolls and Pyhät Nuket.

I think one thing Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks gained notoriety for is their outrageous look and presentation in photos on their album covers. At first glance, you might flip past a Hanoi Rocks album in a record store and assume that they sound like Poison or something. You also might be quick to write them off, thinking that they were just tastelessly adopting the fashion of the time. But as a counter to this notion, I recently I saw a video on YouTube of Michael Monroe doing What’s In My Bag at Amoeba Records and he looks EXACTLY THE SAME. To me, this further illustrates that the way the band looked was not a pose and was not indicative of a lack of substance. He also just seems to have a big, friendly and charismatic personality, so of course the way he dresses is a bit eccentric. Plus, in my book, what the hell is wrong with looking cool? Personally, I’ll pass on watching a bunch of dorky schlubs attempting to hack their way through badass rock ‘n’ roll. In this Amoeba video, Monroe, along with Sami Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, put their deep knowledge and taste on display with album choices that are dominated by blues, soul and early rock ‘n’ roll. Weirdly, Michael Monroe seems to be a big Nazareth fan? I found that pretty funny.

As mentioned above, here’s my favorite track if you wanna check it out...

Thanks for reading.

‘Til next week,

-Jeff

Dominic

Hey there all you fine Sorry State friends and family. How has your week treated you?

Mine has been good for the most part, thankfully. I was able to get my first shot of the vaccine on Monday. It was a huge relief and I am very grateful. We are still not completely out of the woods, but there seems to be an end in sight. My arm was pretty sore for a couple of days, though. Good thing I had plenty of great records and music to keep my mind off it. I’ll admit to using some of my stimulus on records and have brought several good ones into the house this week, including decent OG copies of a couple of big hitters and several nice cheap and cheerful platters. Just like the Peanuts cartoon, whenever I feel low, I buy a new record and feel better. I won’t brag about which ones here, but I may pick one or two to talk about at some point.

Between the killer recent collections of used records and all the new releases and reissues that have been flooding into Sorry State, there is too much great music to listen to in any given day. I pretty much am only not listening to music when I sleep. All other hours there is something spinning. It’s the only thing that quiets the noises in my head. Ha ha.

Okay, let’s talk about a couple of records that have been on the turntable this week.

Last week on The Face radio top man and DJ Kurtis Powers played The Chi-Lites version of Inner-City Blues, the Marvin Gaye classic. It sparked a conversation with listeners in the chat forum about other versions and just how many there are. I chimed in with my contribution for a good version coming off of a Music Library record called Persuasive Jazz Album 20. Since it’s Jazz Appreciation month and because in the news we are seeing continued examples of injustice and people still feeling the blues both in the cities and out of them, this record will make a good choice to start off with this week. I wish I could provide information regarding the artists involved, but they are not credited on the release and research doesn’t come up with too much. I can tell you that the Persuasive Jazz series came out on a New York based label called Ebonite, which was itself a part of President Records, a UK based label. That label had The Equals and The Pyramids signed and played a big part in breaking the Miami disco sound in the UK with KC And The Sunshine Band among others. The Ebonite label may or may not have been a tax scam label and specialized in providing incidental music for TV/Film & Radio. Most of their many releases were covers of, or sideways versions o,f current pop, jazz, soul and funk hits. Number twenty has an almost sixteen-minute version of Inner-City Blues along with very cool covers of Show Us A Feeling by Roy Ayers and Ordinary Pain by Stevie Wonder, although titled Ordinary Man here. All three are pretty good cover versions, and the musicianship is first rate. I wish I had more information about this release and the others, but it seems that some change hands for decent money because they have drum breaks or good samples or like this particular one are just good records and perfect for DJs looking for something slightly different. I wish I had a sound clip to link so you can check it out, but if you ever see the distinctive but generic black and white Ebonite sleeves whilst out digging for records, I encourage you to investigate.

Sometime before the shutdown last year I found a good record whist digging, but unfortunately it had quite a bad warp on it. It was a copy of Odetta Sings by Odetta on Polydor from 1970. The other day Doctor D put it in the de-warping machine and was able to fix it and so this past week I have been able to enjoy playing it. The album has Odetta singing songs by Elton John, Randy Newman, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Mick and Keith plus a couple of her own compositions. It was recorded in part at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama with the core house band of musicians that had recently left nearby Fame Studios and also in part at Larabee Sound, which was also a newly opened studio in Hollywood, California. On the L.A. sessions backing is provided by, among others, Carole King, Bernie Leadon, Bob West and Russ Kunkel. In Muscle Shoals the musicians were pretty much the same guys that played on soul hit after soul hit for mostly Atlantic Records artists such as Aretha Franklin, for example. Names like Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Eddie Hinton should be very familiar to anyone who has read the liner notes to any of those great mid to late sixties Atlantic and Fame recordings.

The album also features a host of great singers on backup duties, with Merry Clayton and Clydie King being two of them. The record also has a nice, tasty drum break on the Odetta penned cut Hit Or Miss. That track and Movin’ It On also written by Odetta are kinda the best two cuts on the record and it is a shame that instead of the covers they didn’t just do a full soul album of her own songs. A bit of a missed opportunity considering all the talent on hand. Not that any of the covers are bad, because they are not. The songs are all from top songwriters and performers. The version of No Expectations by The Rolling Stones is given a good interpretation, for instance.

Odetta, full name Odetta Holmes, was literally known as the Voice Of the Civil Rights Movement through her records of American Folk and Blues that she began recording from the mid to late fifties and throughout the sixties. All the sixties folkies were under her influence in some way or other; Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Janis Joplin were fans, as were Harry Belafonte and Mavis Staples. So apparently was Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called her the Queen of American Folk music. Her legacy and importance cannot be underestimated, and if you are not familiar with her life and work, I as always encourage you to do some digging and pick up some knowledge. The world sadly lost her in 2008 after illness and just a month before she was lined up to perform at President Obama’s inauguration ceremony.

Here’s a link to the song Hit Or Miss for you to check out:

Lastly, before I sign off, a quick mention of a reissue I picked up on the Honest Jon’s label albeit with different cover art than the original. In 2011 they reissued the 1980 album The Return Of Pipecock Jackson by Lee “Scratch” Perry. This was originally released on the Black Star Liner label out of Holland and is notable for containing the very last tracks recorded at the famed Black Ark Studios. For one reason or another an original of this has eluded me over the years. Not because it is rare or expensive, you just rarely see it in record store racks.

Probably because it is a bit of a lost Lee Perry album, coming out as it did at the end of the seventies, which was his most prolific and successful period, and when everything in his world was upside down and chaotic, it wasn’t considered a classic like all the previous albums. The Lee Perry “divine madness” had been present on all his records to some degree, but perhaps on this one it shows a little too much for some? I don’t know.

The story behind the circumstances in which the record was created is told very well in the liner notes written by David Katz, the author of “People Funny Boy: The Genius Of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,” an essential biography of the artist. I only wish the font used on these liner notes wasn’t so small. You need binoculars to read these things. Also, why did they not use the original cover? Was it a rights issue? Regardless, the cover is a good photo of Perry and the music itself is what counts. As to that? Well, if you are a fan of reggae music and like his style of production and his unique voice and use of language, there is a lot to like. As a document of the very last tracks to come out of his Black Ark Studio, it is essential. I’ll leave with a link to one cut I have been enjoying and leave you to follow the rabbit holes if you so desire.

Take care, everyone. Until next time. Records rule!

-Dom

Usman

Hello friends and other readers who maybe we can be friends too in the future,

My Staff Pick is not a record, although there are some records on there... My Staff Pick is a fundraiser to help out protestors who get snatched up in the streets. There is cool shit on there, so check it out and donate some money if you have any to spare. And honestly, it could be you one day who is sitting in jail (or worse) from protest and you are praying that people can bail you out. So for real, take a look and donate some shit. There is a $5 option for a sick ass Public Acid banner I made too. It’ll all be up there for two weeks. I wrote more about the Raffle above that you probably already read where I highlighted the SSR bundle and explained more or less how it works. I hope yer all doing well. ‘Til next time...

Rich

There sure were a lotta new SSR drops getting me hyped over the last week… tapes and 7”s and LPs, OH MY. There was so much radical stuff, in fact, that I’ve barely half-digested any of it. Since I don’t feel qualified to critique anything in depth and I’m already prone to long-windedness at the tail end of this already dense staff pick section, here’s a quick rundown of my favorite recent marketplace additions:

Perro de Prenda, “Vol. 1” (B.L.A.P. Tapes) - Reissue of this Austin, TX group’s first cassette from 2019. I never heard this’un back when it was originally released, so I’m real glad B.L.A.P. (remember those individually lettered Rolex cassettes?) rebranded it. There are probably some apt old Latin American hardcore bands I could try and compare the Spanish-speaking Perro de Prenda to, but this tape really has me thinking of Italy’s Attack Punk Records first and foremost. If you dig that kinda oldschool rawdog int’l HC punk sound, look no further. Real ragin’ shit!

CDG, “Unconditional” (Domestic Departure Records) - Daniel’s Fall- and TVPs-dropping description from last week’s newsletter pretty much slammed this “Anglophonic” US post-punker nail on its head. Toss it in the middle of your “Wanna Buy a Bridge?” playlist and see if any fellow pandemic partiers notice.

Vitamin, “Recordings 1981” (Don Giovanni Records) - Speaking of old Rough Trade bangers, it’s hard to mention violin-inclusive post-punk without thinking of The Raincoats. While the one preview track posted for this Boston art-punk troupe’s new archival release definitely bears some resemblance to the almighty strained’n’funky ‘Coats, the rest of this collection treads in more Americanized pools of no wave, Ubu and Talking Heads—all topics touched on in the album’s liner notes. This also kinda makes me think of an earlier, more immediate Thinking Fellers Union Local 282… if THAT means anything to anybody.

Kyoufu Shinbun, “Death Training” (Bitter Lake Recordings) - So I’ve barely scratched barely scratching the surface of this triple-LP monster, but I’m smitten with at least three sides of it so far. If y’all fuck with Japanese DIY, line-in drum machine punk or Boiled Angel, TAKE IMMEDIATE NOTE. Additionally, if you peeped (and enjoyed) that annoyingly awesome Pilgrim Screw tape I championed a few weeks ago, Kyoufu Shinbun is a no-brainer.


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