Everclear – So Much for the Afterglow

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I saw Everclear play a short set at Tower Records on Clark Street in Chicago in support of this album. Afterwards, they autographed merch, including the slipcover of my CD. They had a touring guitarist with them (Steve Birch) and he signed the album, too, and not to be a dick, but that bothered me. That dude should not have been sitting at the table, signing shit like he was in Everclear. He. Was. Not. In. Everclear. The band also had a fan contest to win a free ticket to their upcoming show at Metro. The contest involved answering a short list of written questions that they distributed at the Tower Records appearance. One of the questions was something like “What Are Your Three Favorite Bands?” I don’t remember my complete answer (I am sure the first band I listed was the Smiths and I suspect the second was the Clash), but I know that as a lark I wrote The Flying Burrito Brothers as the third band. I actually do like their first two albums, but at the time I was not actually a fan; I just thought that anyone reading the submissions would see a bunch of answers like Nirvana and Soundgarden and that they would be amused by the relative incongruity of my response. I ended up winning the tickets, and I firmly believe in my heart that Art Alexakis specifically picked my submission because of my answer to that question. I don’t think I made it to the show, however.

What I Think of This Album

If Sparkle and Fade brought Everclear into the public eye, So Much for the Afterglow made them fucking stars. It spun off five singles and sold over two million copies, and these songs were all over the radio and MTV. It covers a lot of the same thematic ground as the major label debut, but it’s much poppier, while still rocking. Part of this is due to the fact that Greg Eklund is fully in charge of the kit on all the songs this time, and he swings more than his predecessor. But mostly it’s that Art Alexakis, always the tactician, wrote his strongest batch of songs and expertly emphasized the melody while keeping the punk influence modulated to just the right degree to appeal to as wide a population as possible. Sure, it’s calculated but that doesn’t mean it isn’t authentic. 

There is not a bad song on this album. Some are slighter than others, but every single track is eminently listenable. And there are also great songs on here, full of welcome and well-thought out production touches and engaging arrangements. Indeed, the band makes a statement right away with the unexpected Beach Boys-in-the-moshpit sound of the title track, replete with inescapable vocal harmonies and irresistible handclaps, as well as a na-na-na countermelody, nice little guitar solo, and buried vocalizations from Alexakis, to say nothing of a false ending. I fucking love a false ending! This is easily my favorite song on this album.

“White Men in Black Suits” is probably the sleeper track of this disc; it is adeptly paced, and has some simple but critical guitar lines, as well as evocative lyrics. Plus, you know, the harmonies. Alexakis upends conventional notions (if not definitions) on “Normal Like You,” which would likely come off as pretentious if delivered by anyone else, but Alexakis sells it and here I am, slapping my dollars down on the counter. 

There is a delicacy to the arguably autobiographical “I Will Buy You a New Life,” which provides a convincing glimpse of blue-collar romanticism that X would be proud of. Rami Jaffe of the Wallflowers (and eventually, the Foo Fighters) adds a very Wallflowers-like organ part. When I moved to Portland, I rented an apartment with a view of the West Hills; I would sing the corresponding lyric from this track to myself almost every time I stepped out onto my balcony. As enjoyable is “One Hit Wonder,” with a great melody, a horn section, a neat little bass fill from Craig Montoya (who rarely gets to show off on Everclear songs), and more of the harmonies that dominate this album.

“Father of Mine” is devastating and more than just arguably autobiographical, and a very strange choice for a single, but hey, it was 1997. Not one of my favorites, honestly, but it is emotionally powerful in a way I cannot deny. 

Diversity and creative stretching are on ample display throughout. The Pro Tools creation “El Distorto de Melodica” is pretty cool for an instrumental; I can’t tell if the brittle, harsh sound is intentional or not, but it’s the equivalent of smashing your face into a tub full of microscopic glass shards. “Everything for Everyone” offers a heap of programming, plus more harmonies and a funky part from Eklund. There are strings on “Amphetamine,” an affecting story of a haunted but hopeful recovering addict. A banjo shows up on “Why I Don’t Believe in God.” 

Again, it was 1997, so yes, Veruca, there is a hidden track:  “Hating You for Christmas.” It doesn’t suck.

The success of this album, to be sure, is not simply the result of Alexakis’s vision. SMFTA is definitely a major label album with major label resources behind it. The Everclear mastermind may give himself top producer billing but five other guys (including Eklund and Montoya) were also involved in the production. The songs were recorded and mixed at six different studios. The list of engineers is like five fucking feet long. I’m not entirely sure what involvement Alexakis even had in “Distorto,” which is obliquely credited to Lars Fox (of Grotus) who gets a shoutout for “loops and samples.” In addition, apparently Alexakis sang his vocals to sped-up versions of the backing tracks, wanting the songs to come across as faster and more energetic.

This is my favorite Everclear album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“So Much for the Afterglow” – the honeymoon is NOT over.

Release Date

October, 1997

The Cover Art

The image here is for the slipcover. The art in the jewel case is very similar, except Alexakis and Montoya are leaning against their respective walls and everyone’s feet are lined up, so that the trio’s bodies create an inverted triangle, and also it’s sepia toned. All in all, pretty cool. Simple and artsy. Reminds me a little of The Clash cover. Oh, and it was designed by Mr. Touring Guitarist, Steven Birch (who also did the Sparkle and Fade art).

The Verlaines – Juvenelia

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

This is technically part 1 and for now the first Verlaines entry, but its the most recent of my Verlaines acquisitions and this post post-dates the other Verlaines posts, so I’m not going to say much in this section and the usual part 1 narrative will be found in one of those later/earlier posts. I’d been hoping to acquire this for some time and am really happy that I finally did! It’s an excellent album that makes me appreciate the Verlaines even more. I need to get Hallelujah All the Way Home.

What I Think of This Album

Once again, a comp whose composition is frustratingly not well explained in the liner notes. As far as I can tell, it consists of the Ten O’Clock In the Afternoon EP (six songs) plus the “Death and the Maiden” single (b/w “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me”), and then three songs that were part of the legendary Dunedin Double EP, recorded by Chris Knox (and which also included the Chills’ first recordings). That adds up to 11 tracks, spanning 1982-84. Which means there are four bonus tracks:  the “Doomsday”/”New Kind of Hero” single from 1985 and live versions of “Instrumental” and “Phil Too?” Of course, these Flying Nun-released songs are all intermingled on Juvenilia and not presented in their original order.

Does this sound like a complaint? I suppose it is, but I can overlook the bewildering decision to not provide an accurate history through the sequencing because the music is so damn great. Even as Graeme Downes humbly details the band’s naivete and inexperience (they did not know what overdubs were or what mixing was at the time of their first recordings), the songs betray his talent as a songwriter and arranger as well as the band’s enthusiasm, charm, and bravery.

The three Dunedin Double tracks from 1982 were the band’s first recordings:  “Angela,” “Crisis After Crisis,” and “You Cheat Yourself of Everything That Moves.” These songs definitely show promise. ”Angela” boasts a warm melody, pleasant jangle, some odd arrangement choices, and an inventive drum pattern. “Crisis After Crisis” is a clear-eyed response to a haughty ex, brimming with great lines. And “You Cheat Yourself” is a slow burner with desperate vocals from Downes.

A few months later saw the release of the inexplicable and stunning “Death and the Maiden” single. Indeed, “Death and the Maiden” somehow avoids several potential pitfalls on the way to becoming a standout early track. Among other things, referencing poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud would be pretentious enough without also naming the song after an artistic motif juxtaposing death with the erotic (there are tons of Death and the Maiden paintings, including by Edvard Munch, Marianne Stokes, Egon Schiele, Evelyn DeMorgan, and Henry Lévy). Also, the song incorporates at least three different time signatures, including a waltzing circus organ bridge that *should* derail everything. But no, this all works and it’s a fantastic fucking song. Downes explains that each chorus features fewer and fewer voices so it sounds prettier and cleaner as the song progresses (and by the end, you can indeed clearly hear bassist Jane Dodd’s previously buried harmonies).

B-side “C.D. Jimmy Jazz and Me” would end up being rerecorded for Bird Dog. Once again, Downes’s smarty pants approach – C.D. being a reference to Claude Debussy and Jimmy Jazz a nickname for James Joyce (and alas, not a Clash reference) – fails to get the better of him. While the album version may document technical improvement, including prominent use of brass, this rougher and more straightforward single thrums with youthful energy, unspooling in a way that seems like the song will never end and leading you to hope that it won’t. 

The six songs on the Ten O’Clock EP – variously reported as being released in 1983 and 1984 – make up the plurality of the comp:  “Baud to Tears,” “Pyromaniac,” “Joed Out,” “Burlesque,” “Wind Song,” and “You Say You.”  All are fantastic.

The lyric “he hasn’t got a shit show” appears in “Baud to Tears” and it makes me wonder if that terminology (one of my favorites) is used differently in New Zealand. More important are lyrics like “you’ll never spend a season in hell / If you lie in bed all day / And you won’t ever see anything beautiful again.” I have to assume the Baud in the title concerns Baudelaire but I am too uncultured to know how (I also have to assume at the same time that this is not a song about modems).

“Pyromaniac” benefits from the same sense of urgency that drives most of these tracks. I tend to doubt Downes’s protestations of amateurism, as the playing is uniformly very good and the songwriting is inventive and sophisticated. “Joed Out” is an uncharacteristically straightforward love song, approximating the kind of work the Go-Betweens regularly produced (is it bad form to compare a Kiwi band to an Aussie one? Am I offending both in the process?); it also provides the title of the EP on which it originally appeared. The acoustic solo at the end is lovely.

The opening line of “Burlesque” tells you all you need to know about this track:  “One day you’ll be dying of triple-throat cancer / Ha ha.” This unusual and unsettling song shudders along thanks to drummer Robbie Yeats’s syncopated pattern, with an ominous and mocking organ serving as your guide.

“Wind Song” is an atmospheric marvel, augmented by a variety of children’s toys (and Downes’s oboe) and elevated by Dodd’s heavenly harmonies. Truly beautiful. For a band that didn’t know about overdubs, this is some amazing work. Downes adds violin to “You Say You,” a song about empathy in a small bedroom that sounds like it is about murder in a gothic mansion.

The “Doomsday” single is energetic and lushly jangly, with a surprising (and lengthy) instrumental outro. B-side “New Kind of Hero” rises above it bitterness thanks mostly to Dodd’s harmonies. “Instrumental” is exactly that, and a lot of fun – who needs lyrics? “Phil Too?” is frantic and that is cool for what it is but this is easily the weakest song on this comp.

Jane Dodd (the second (?) bassist in the Verlaines) had been a founding member of the Chills, along with her sister. She also played in the Able Tasmans and designed the artwork for several Verlaines and AT releases. She is now a celebrated jewelry artist. The Verlaines went through many drummers but their second (also ?) – Alan Haig – was also a founding member of the Chills.

The Best Thing About This Album

Wow. Hard to say. I guess the fact that Downes and company were able to come out of the gate so strongly and overcome logistic obstacles on the way to turning into a phenomenal band.

Release Date

1987

The Cover Art

Ok, so this is the slipcover for the CD release. The actual art on the CD is the same image but the background color is a greenish-yellow and the other colors are also altered. The band name is difficult to make out and the album title is basically indecipherable, and for those reasons I don’t really care for this art.

The English Beat – Special Beat Service

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

The English Beat broke up in 1983. Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger formed General Public, with Mick Jones from the Clash, bassist Horace Panter of the Specials, and the drummer from Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Andy Cox and David Steele became the Fine Young Cannibals. Everett Morton and Saxa eventually formed the International Beat, with contributions from Roger. Ranking Roger was briefly in Big Audio Dynamite, also with Mick Jones. Never one to sit still, Roger released solo albums as well; Wakeling had a brief solo career, too. Eventually, Roger would reconvene a new version of the Beat in the U.K., while Wakeling led a similar U.S. group. Saxa died in 2017. Ranking Roger passed in 2019, followed by Everett Morton in 2021.

What I Think of This Album

This album sort of splits the difference between I Just Can’t Stop It and Wha’ppen?, reverting a bit to the ska sound of the debut while retaining the smoothness and sophistication of the sophomore effort. The result is a great album that serves as a more than respectable swan song for the band.

It seems weird that blowjob joke “Save It for Later” is the highpoint of the album, but that actually only underscores the quality of the band’s work. “Save It” is a masterful pop construction built around an (accidental) alternate tuning, with key percussion contributions and a subtle piano part in the background, as well as some excellent brass, a delightful clarinet, and what sounds like strings (but due to the lack of any such credits are maybe just keyboards (though I doubt it)). Dave Wakeling’s vocalizations towards the end remind me of Freddie Mercury’s similar utterings from “Under Pressure.” Pete Townshend has covered the song, as has Pearl Jam.

The other big hits from the album were “Sole Salvation” and “I Confess.” I don’t much care for the latter, particularly Wakeling’s vocals, which are a bit too smooth, getting close to disposable blue-eyed soul. That said, most of the musical backing is pretty good, particularly the polyrhythms. “Sole Salvation” is phenomenal, with a great bass intro followed by a killer sax line, and a much more organic vocal from Wakeling, sounding like maybe what the Jam were going for as they moved towards R&B.

“Sorry” follows the same blueprint as “Confess,” albeit much less successfully and with more of a funk feel. “She’s Going” is nothing special, and the band are too mature for their own good on “End of the Party.” 

The rest is very strong. The unexpected zydeco of “Jeanette” ends up meshing well with the band’s style, resulting in a highly enjoyable deep cut (despite, or perhaps because of, some ridiculous rhymes). “Sugar and Stress” is another quality track, fast-paced and fun, and “Ackee 1 2 3” is a delightful calypso number with some fantastic brass. “Rotating Head” may be filler, but it’s not objectionable at all (and supposedly inspired by hearing “Mirror In the Bathroom” played backwards). An instrumental version of this – “March of the Swivelheads” – was in a key part of the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

There are two more or less pure ska tracks, and they are predictably bright and exuberant. Wide-ranging “Spar Wid Me” (which actually veers into dub) and the more relaxed and lighthearted “Pato and Roger a Go Talk” are the kind of songs one worried the band had abandoned after Wha’ppen? Guest toaster Pato Banton went on to have a respectable career of his own.

Bob Sargeant produced again. I am confused about the membership of the band at the time of this third album. The liner notes reference the original sextet and add Wesley Magoogan for his sax/clarinet work (I am not sure what this says about Saxa’s contributions) and Dave Blockhead (original name David Wright) on keyboards. But the band portrait in the notes depicts seven people, whereas the cover art shows eight. Blockhead’s story is an interesting one. He did the lighting for the band’s shows and one day when Saxa was too ill to perform, Wright casually mentioned that he had learned all of the sax lines on the piano (an instrument he was classically trained in). He substituted for Saxa that night and then stayed on as part of the live show.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Save It for Later” is a hit for a reason.

Release Date

October, 1982

The Cover Art

Way too dark. I can barely see anything (though admittedly, this image is lighter than my copy so maybe I just have a shit copy). And I wish they had retained the Beat Girl icon instead of the silly plane graphic.

The Selecter – Greatest Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I find The Selecter to be the least immediately appealing of the two-tone movement bands (at least, of the ones whose work I own). Partly this is due to the fact that they were short-lived and didn’t produce much material in their classic, original incarnation. The other is that the Coventry band were a bit less melodic and a tad more adventurous than their peers (and more reggae-influenced than ska, and I greatly prefer one to the other).

The Selecter’s origin story is unusual, as is their later history. When the Special AKA (the original name of the Specials) had difficulty finding an appropriate song to be the B-side to their 1979 debut single “Gangster,” their drummer mentioned a tune he had recorded a couple of years earlier with Neol Davies. He asked Davies to overdub a guitar track and that song – “The Selecter” – wound up as the flip (actually the single was a double A side release), credited to the Selecter, a band that technically did not yet exist. Shortly thereafter, though, Davies recruited the other six members of the Selecter. They released debut album Too Much Pressure in 1980, experienced a line-up change, and released Celebrate the Bullet in 1981, after which vocalist Pauline Black left, and effectively that was it.

Black and Davies reformed the band in 1991 (with members of Bad Manners), but Davies left soon after; original co-vocalist Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson joined Black in the reformed band as of 1993. They persevered until 2006. Four years later, Black and Hendrickson revived the band once again, and in 2011, Davies formed his own version (though Black had the rights to the name the Selecter).

What I Think of This Album

This comp presents the Selecter’s songs out of order, which I find incredibly frustrating. So, let’s do the fucking work that EMI didn’t. The album contains 16 tracks. Eight come from Too Much Pressure; five were originally on Celebrate the Bullet; two are non-album singles; and the last song is a dub version of one of the Bullet tracks (and I am not sure of its original release format). 

Statistically, Celebrate the Bullet comes out ahead in terms of quality of selections. Four of the five tracks represented here are among the best of the collection. Most of these are far from classic ska, incorporating both new wave sounds and atmospherics. They may not necessarily be catchy and are certainly not feel-good, but they are fascinating. “Celebrate the Bullet” – apparently about the futility of revenge – is spare and spooky, with a haunting horn part and ominous guitar. 

“Bomb Scare” is faster-paced but just as unsettling and Pauline Black does a fantastic job. Black shares her lament on the affecting “Deep Water,” which skitters through the speakers; the echoed guitar part is pretty cool. The St. Paul’s rebellion of 1980 and a similar racial uprising in Miami that same year are the subject of “Bristol and Miami,” which rides on organ chords, that familiar ska guitar rhythm, a healthy bass line, and some shimmering keyboards.

Single “The Whisper” may be the best Selector song of all:  melodic, bright, bouncy, and Pauline Black doing her best to convince herself she isn’t troubled by her partner’s betrayal.

Meanwhile, even though over half of Too Much Pressure is represented here, only four selections really stand out. Those four songs, though, are pretty great. “Too Much Pressure” is a joy to listen to, relentless and infectious, with a cleansing bridge that arrives just in time (twice). The band comes to life on their cover of ska song “Time Hard” (originally by the Pioneers and released maybe in the mid-’60s?). Another cover is the irresistible “Carry Go Bring Come,” a hit for Justin Hinds in 1963. Finally, there is “Murder,” which is a bit unsophisticated lyrically but maybe that’s just how it is when you are begging for someone else’s life; in any event, its another prime melodic nugget, with some fun guitar licks and Arthur Hendrickson shouting “MURDER.” 

The rest of the tracks don’t do much for me, though most of them have something to offer. Even so, “James Bond” is silly. “Last Tango in Dub” is a fantastic title but it is just the dub version of “Washed Up and Left for Dead.”

Norman Watt-Roy of Ian Dury and the Blockheads (and guest of the Clash on Sandinista!) plays bass on “Celebrate the Bullet” and “Washed Up and Left for Dead.”

Like other two-tone bands, the Selecter was racially integrated, but unlike most two-tone bands, they were majority black *and* they had a woman member. Notably, the Bodysnatchers were an all-female band on the 2 Tone label but they only released a couple of singles (as did most 2 Tone labelmates).

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Whisper”

Release Date

May, 1996

The Cover Art

Fuck, yes. First, the font for the band name is excellent. The checkerboard ribbon ties the two-tone aesthetic together (and in fact was part of the 2-Tone label’s design). Also borrowed from the 2-Tone label is the character known as Walt Jabsco. Based on a photograph of Peter Tosh, he was the creation of Jerry Dammers (head of the label and keyboardist/founder of the Specials), Horace Panter (bassist for the Specials), and graphic designers John Sims and David Storey. What a great use of space, lines, and shape!

Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger / Bo Diddley Is a Lover

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

It is basically impossible to listen to Bo Diddley and not smile. And if Bo Diddley can make me smile, well, then he can make anyone smile. It’s also basically impossible to listen to any rock music and not understand that it wouldn’t exist but for Bo Diddley. And Bo Diddley is notable for a lot more than the well-known beat that carries his name. Ellas Bates was born in Mississippi in 1928; he was raised by a first cousin, once removed, and he took her last name, McDaniel. Still a young boy, the family moved to Chicago, where McDaniel played trombone, violin, and eventually, guitar. There is no consensus on where the name Bo Diddley came from, and that’s about the least interesting thing about him anyway. He released ten albums on Chess Records subsidiary Checkers between 1958 and 1963. He hired women guitarists in his band, including Peggy Jones (also known as Lady Bo; she grew up studying ballet, tap, and opera) and her replacement, Norma-Jean Wofford (known as the Duchess). He designed his own guitars and effects (which he built into the body of the guitars); he used Sebastopol/Open E tuning on his guitars. Marvin Gaye was his valet for a while. He opened for the Clash in 1979. Diddley died in 2008.

What I Think of This Album

Bo Diddley Is a Gunslinger

There is so much to love about this album. The title track is all rhythm (including a descending bass line by Willie Dixon and Jerome Green on maracas) and ridiculous boasting – the perfect Bo Diddley song. “Cadillac” adds uncredited saxophone (perhaps by Gene Barge) to the trademark beat; the Kinks covered this. “Ride On Josephine” is like a mashup of Chuck Berry and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, with fine backing vocals, an excellent piano part (by either Lafayette Leake (Chuck Berry) or Billy Stewart), and an irresistible guitar riff.

“Somewhere” and “No More Loving” are surprisingly part of the doo-wop tradition, while “Cheyenne” recalls the Coasters (especially the “and then?” vocal part, which is straight from “Along Came Jones.”) The cover of “Sixteen Tons” (written by Merle Travis) is phenomenal. Diddley reaches back into African-American folklore for “Whoa Mule (Shine).” More saxophone enlivens the jaunty instrumental “Diddling.”

This is apparently the end of the album proper, and tracks “Working Man” and “Do What I Say” are bonus songs, though there is no mention of this in the extensive liner notes. “Do What I Say” is particularly effective, with hypnotic guitar parts from Diddley and Peggy Jones.

This was recorded at Diddley’s home studio in Washington, D.C.

What a great album cover; the guitar is “Cadillac,” designed by Diddley.

Bo Diddley Is a Lover

It may be that “Hong Kong, Mississippi” is a tiny bit problematic, but what a fucking great vocal (“she’s from Hong Kong . . . MISSISSIPPI”), not to mention the guitar playing!

There are some not so subtle suggestions of cuckoldry in the back-and-forth of “Bo’s Vacation,” a conversation between Diddley and, I assume, Jerome (though the other person is referred to as Joe), during which Diddley strongly recommends that Joe/Jerome give his wife advance notice that he is going to be returning home (“You know, you’ve been gone a looooooong time / . . . / If I was you, I’d call home” / . . . / But if I were you, I’d sure call her – she might tell you to hold it up for a few days”).

There is some impressive guitar on instrumental “Congo,” with effects that could easily be from a song from the 2000s. The second instrumental is “Aztec,” on which Diddley drops in some flamenco guitar (which of course, is a continent away from and about three hundred years after the Aztecs . . .). “You’re Looking Good” marries doo-wop vocals to Diddley’s rougher approach, with a great lead vocal. “Bo Diddley Is Loose” is excellent from both the lead guitar and vocal perspective.

The rest of the album is fine: Diddley gets a blues workout on the predictably titled “(Call Me) Bo’s Blues,” and of course the title track is full of the braggadocio that makes Diddley so endearing. Comedy informs “Not Guilty,” while there is some fine guitar work against that familiar beat on “Back Home.” The short “Quick Draw,” based on its title, should’ve really been on Gunslinger, and it’s a surprising little instrumental with some impressive guitar work.

This was likewise recorded at Diddley’s home studio in Washington, D.C. The five bonus tracks feature Otis Spann (Chuck Berry) on the piano, and are mostly instrumentals (though “Lazy Woman” would have been better off not recorded at all).

This cover art is less interesting, but it does have the box guitar, at least, and I like the reverse lettering.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Ride On Josephine” and “Hong Kong, Mississippi”

Release Date

December, 1960 (Is a Gunslinger); February, 1961 (Is a Lover); 2012 (compilation)

The Cover Art

I don’t blame them for just sticking some extra text on the original Is a Gunslinger art. I would have done the same damn thing.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Searching For the Young Soul Rebels

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The story of Dexy’s Midnight Runners (hereinafter, “Dexy’s,” because c’mon) is long and weird. I don’t care enough about this band or this album to get into all of it, but suffice to say that leader Kevin Rowland is an incomparable control freak and egomaniac. Among other things, he dictated numerous image and musical changes for the band and at one point forced them to do group exercises and go on runs together. Of course, in the U.S., Dexy’s is known as a one-hit wonder, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s a shame, it does sell this very strange band short.

What I Think of This Album

Before adopting the Celtic jugband sonics heard on “Come On, Eileen” (and also before the overalls and bare feet aesthetic), Dexy’s – all eight of them – played straight up northern soul (and dressed like dockworkers). And it’s not bad. The truth is I rarely listen to this album, and I keep it around mostly as novelty. Kevin Rowland’s quavering yelp is mesmerizing until it’s not, and the retro horn sounds are not always married to the strongest songwriting.

But, tracks like “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” are pretty unique in early ‘80s British pop and have not-inconsiderable appeal. “I’m Just Looking” adds a bluesy element, and the cover of “Seven Days Is Too Long” is fun. “Geno” is a great tribute to American transplant Geno Washington, and “I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried” is undoubtedly excellent, with “There, There, My Dear” just a notch below it.

I think “Burn It Down” (titled “Dance Stance” in its single incarnation) lacks a consistent melody but is otherwise a slab of hard soul, which is the same for songs like instrumental “The Teams That Meet In the Caffs.” The album is not the easiest listen but it can be interesting every now and then.

The reissue I own has a couple of videos (I’ve never watched them) and some humorous liner notes from former co-leader Kevin Archer. Archer and most of the band left after this album, and Rowland built a new version from scratch (apparently stealing Archer’s idea to add Celtic influences in the process).

Drummer Stoker eventually played in General Public with members of the Clash, the Specials, and the English Beat. Knob-twiddling was handled by Pete Wingfield, who also produced the Proclaimers and was a keyboard player for Paul McCartney, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, a late version of the Hollies as well as the reunion version of the Everly Brothers, and the Housemartins.

The Best Thing About This Album

“I Couldn’t Help It If I Tried”

Release Date

July, 1980

The Cover Art

I love the green and the two-tone text at the bottom. The cover pic is enigmatic and compelling, too. Overall, a winner.

The Dawning of a New Era

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

My period of music magazine reading lasted from maybe 1986 to 2010? I am not sure about that end date, as things just sort of petered out. At no point, though, did I read MOJO regularly. But I did come across their compilations at the used record stores, and I picked up a few of them. As noted before, I used to slot all of them in the “M” section, but now I don’t think that makes as much sense as going by title.

What I Think of This Album

I love love love ska, and this is a wonderful collection of what I believe to be both popular and obscure ska tracks from the 1950s to the 1990s. The conceit was that this featured original versions of songs recorded by the Specials (hence the title, taken from a Specials song), but I think only two tracks fit that description. Who cares? This is a fun fucking album; almost every one of the fifteen tracks is excellent.

The first rarity is “Skinhead Moonstomp” by Symarip. They were a British band (whose members were all of Afro-Caribbean descent) formed in the ‘60s. The track was released in 1969 and then again in 1980, to capitalize on the Two-Tone movement. The original version of the song – “Moon Hop”  – is also from 1969, and was written and released by Derrick Morgan. The spoken intro by Symarip is modeled on Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.”

The Desmond Dekker classic “It Mek” is next, but I already owned this one on my Dekker comp. “Monkey Man” is also a pretty well known song, by Toots & the Maytals from 1969; and this was covered by the Specials. The other definite Specials cover is “A Message to You Rudy,” here in its original 1967 form by Dandy Livingstone, with future Specials collaborator Rico Rodriguez on trombone. The Livingstone original also features a saxophonist named Pepsi. The track was originally titled “Rudy A Message to You.”

A Bob Marley & the Wailers track follows (“Concrete Jungle” but not the Specials’ subsequent original of the same name), which is not ska at all but rather reggae, and I don’t like reggae. So. Also not ska is “Babylon’s Burning,” by the Ruts – this is just punk, and doesn’t fit at all with the other songs on the disc.

“Gangsters” is here as performed by Neville Staples, but this is a straight up Specials song. This version is admittedly different from the Specials’ recording, but I do not believe for a second this is the original version. Not cool, Mojo. What is VERY cool is the sound of “I Spy (for the FBI),” by the Untouchables, a Los Angeles band formed in 1981; they played with X and were in the film Repo Man (as a scooter gang), and this song was produced by Jerry Dammers of the Specials. I do need to acknowledge that the lyrics get a little stalker-ish towards the end.

The Belle Stars were an all-woman band who opened for the Clash; their song “Hiawatha” was produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley (Madness), and is one of the weaker tracks on this comp. Rico Rodriguez’s instrumental version of “Sea Cruise” (on which he is backed by the Specials) is from 1980; “Sea Cruise” was originally a Huey Smith song recorded by Frankie Ford in 1959, and has been covered a lot, including by Jerry Lee Lewis, John Fogerty (CCR), Dion, the Beach Boys, and Yo La Tengo.

Legend Eddy Grant gets a song on here – “ Baby Come Back” – as recorded by the Equators, a 1977 British band with a core of three brothers (Donald, Leo, and Rocky Bailey) whose parents emigrated from Jamaica; the song was first released in 1966 by the Equals. The Godfather of Ska, Cuban-born Laurel Aitken, is represented with his song “Skinhead.” I am not sure what the original release date of this song is. Aitken worked with producer Duke Reid and recorded with the Skatalites. Rancid covered his “Everybody’s Suffering.” He died in 2005.

Judge Dread was actually a white dude from England named Alexander Hughes who sometimes worked security for the Stones. He holds the record for most songs banned by the BBC. “Skin Lake” has a horn part based on some classical piece I can’t recall the name of right now; I also can’t tell what the release date is.

Perhaps the most entertaining song on the album is Arthur Kay’s “Play My Record,” which he delivers in a Cockney accent not far removed from Ian Dury. This is a 1980 song, and Kay (born Kitchener) was a session bassist for the Trojan label in the ‘60s. The last track is the odd but catchy “Dambusters March,” by the JJ All Stars, which was the one-off alias of British band the 4-Skins, who were around from 1979-84; the alias is apparently a tribute to the backing band of the same name from the late ‘60s who worked with producer JJ Johnson.

The Best Thing About This Album

ALL of it (well, almost).

Release Date

April, 2008

The Cover Art

I sort of like this – the pink, in particular, is nice.

Cornershop – When I Was Born for the 7th Time

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

For reasons I have not plumbed, I very much enjoy it when siblings are in bands. It is not only heartwarmingly suggestive of lifelong camaraderie, it also speaks to a certain inevitability – as if not just making music but making this exact kind of music, together, was genetically ordained. So I was deeply disappointed to learn that Avtar Singh left Cornershop, splitting with his brother Tjinder, before this album was recorded.

What I Think of This Album

The song “Funky Days Are Back Again” perfectly describes this playful, gratifying, possibly monumental album. Unfortunately – and I hate to say this about an album I really like – it is full of nonsense that detracts from the overall experience. There are instrumental passages (both short and long) sprinkled throughout that, while technical achievements, lack the cultural resonance and musical immediacy of the other songs.

Airy and uplifting “Sleep On the Left Side” has an easy groove and a complex arrangement, including an inviting harmonium intro and a hypnotic flute (keyboard) part. Tribute “Brimful of Asha” (a paean to Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle, reported to have recorded more songs – over 12,000 – than anyone else) is a stunning creation, with rock instruments, Indian instruments, strings, and synthesized and electronica sounds coming together in a perfect fashion (the drum break is also wonderful). Norman Cook (the Housemartins) had a hit with a truly excellent remix of this song.

All momentum is lost with the two instrumentals that follow (though “Chocolat” is not bad). This pattern of fitful progress never abates. “We’re In Yr Corner” leans more heavily on the traditional Indian instrumentation, marrying it to a funky groove. “Funky Days” is another achievement, its laid-back message belying the intricate web of sounds that Singh and his bandmates intertwine, finding a comfortable spot where Indian music, indie, funk, hip hop, and electronica nestle against each other.

A rough patch follows, including an execrable collaboration with Allen Ginsberg, last heard ruining the Clash’s Combat Rock. The boastful “Good Shit” rides a breakbeat (and Spanish vocals!) on the way to a synthesizer and sitar section that brings the song to a too-soon end; a bastardized version was used in a Target commercial. “Good to Be On the Road Back Home” is a country number, with vocals from Paula Frazer, that I could easily imagine David Berman covering.

“It’s Indian Tobacco My Friend” is one of the instrumentals that works, with vocal samples, a mechanized beat, traditional drums, and synthesizer flourishes. “Candyman” was itself in a commercial (Nike) and is heavy on the hip hop/Indian mix. Justin Warfield (She Wants Revenge) handles the rap, and if I’m being honest, his voice reminds me of the Stereo M.C.’s “Connected.” “State Troopers (Part 1)” is a bit of old-school funk with new school sonics that I can do without. Finally, Cornershop proudly reclaims “Norwegian Wood,” with the added benefit that we don’t have to listen to its misogynistic English lyrics.

Dan the Automator was one of the producers.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Brimful of Asha” is infectious.

Release Date

September, 1997

The Cover Art

Another winner from Deborah Norcross, synthesizing her ‘70s aesthetic with a Roy Lichtenstein-like technique. I don’t love the website address. Once again, the U.K. art is completely different.

Clinic – Walking With Thee

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I realize that I have repeatedly emphasized that I prefer it when bands stick to one sound, but I admit that there are hazards with this approach. I believe this is referred to as “diminishing returns.” Perseverate at your own risk, I guess, particularly when you have a very distinctive sound. I don’t think this is the case with Clinic . . . at least as of this second album, but afterwards, yes, I did grow a bit weary.

What I Think of This Album

More of the same? I don’t know. I don’t care. I like this album and if you don’t, that’s fine, too. This is another unnerving listen from Clinic and I think that it works, even if it is not as striking as the debut, but that’s sort of the nature of debuts. When your first baby projectile vomits on you, it’s noteworthy; when your second-born does, it’s not entirely unexpected.

This sophomore effort opens with an Exorcist-like arrangement to “Harmony;” Ade Blackburn implores you to “fill yourself with dreams” but the music is far less life-affirming than that. I was half-expecting a Clash-inspired sound to “The Equalizer,” but no – this is a groove-heavy number with a clattery percussion track that sounds like a pawn shop in an earthquake (but is actually based around a sample of “Iko Iko” by the Dixie Cups, reminiscent of how Suicide sometimes based their songs on doo wop).

The band gets almost dancey on “Welcome,” with a lively rhythm part, but the organ shrieks and Blackburn’s intensely desperate vocals evoke night sweats more than nightclubs. The title track is another paranoid, suffocating classic – the rounds of snare hits that culminate with Blackburn’s anguished “No!” are chilling. The title “Pet Eunuch” provides the only moment of humor on this album – the song itself is a terrifying freefall down an airshaft lined with vintage keyboards and errant guitar strings.

The few quieter tracks are less successful, and “Vulture” doesn’t really connect. Also, the band seems to be going through the motions on “Sunlight Bathes Our House;” this song is like B+ Clinic. Things improve with the driving “The Bridge,” which has some surprisingly conventional, almost classic rock, guitar in it.

I can’t tell you how much Clinic you need in your life, but if you want more after the debut, this is the album I would pick.

The Best Thing About This Album

I am enamored of the creatively used sample on “The Equalizer.”

Release Date

February, 2002

The Cover Art

There is a “drunk Mondrian” quality to this that I find very appealing.

Jimmy Cliff – Reggae Greats

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I actually have little use for reggae – I find the tempos way too slow, so slow that it almost causes anxiety. Ska, of course, I love. I am not sure what compelled me to pick this up, but I like it more than I thought I would. Jimmy Cliff was born James Chambers in Jamaica. After considerable success there, he went to England, where he eventually had a number of hits (none of which appear on this compilation). He moved back to Jamaica and his starring role in 1972’s The Harder They Come led to worldwide popularity . . . for reggae but not so much for Cliff personally. Cliff converted to Islam and changed his name to El Hadj Naïm Bachir. Since then, he has worked with Joe Strummer (the Clash) and Tim Armstrong (Rancid), as well as the Stones and Elvis Costello. He appeared in a Steven Seagal movie (Marked for Death). His song “You Can Get It If You Really Want” has been used as a campaign anthem by both the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the British Conservative Party (it has also been covered by Desmond Dekker, for whom Cliff did some production work). He sang on the Cool Runnings soundtrack and released a version of “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King.

What I Think of This Album

The soundtrack to The Harder They Come is supposed to be one of the great reggae albums. Every Jimmy Cliff song on that soundtrack is included in this compilation.

The liner notes on this thing are basically non-existent. It would be nice to know who played the wonderful organ on “Vietnam,” for example. Cliff has an immensely appealing voice, sweet and smooth. And his songwriting is excellent. “Struggling Man,” “Let Your Yeah Be Yeah,” and “Sitting In Limbo” (co-written with Guilly Bright) are all superb. There is a soul element to excellent “The Harder They Come,” and an incongruously joyous gospel sound to the jumpy “Sufferin’ In the Land.” The stately “Many Rivers to Cross” is a bit overcooked. “Hard Road to Travel” is fantastic. Goddammit, I really wish I knew who the musicians were on these songs. The bright “You Can Get It If You Really Want” is warm and welcoming.

The Best Thing About This Album

The anonymous musicianship.

Release Date

1985

The Cover Art

The more I look at it, the more I like it. This is by British artist Cathie Felstead – I can’t tell what the medium is. Can you spot the taxi and the motorcycle?

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