- LISTENABLE — In most cases hearing 20 versions of a song that lead to the “classic” version I like only detracts from the impact of that song. Plus, do you really want to hear a dozen outtakes or remixes of the same song in a row? Of course you don’t.
- FRESH — Just because a song was recorded in 1979, doesn’t mean it has to sound like it. I was surprised as to how many of these songs sound just as vital as the bands that are happening now.
- INFORMATIVE — Labels have largely given up on the CD format, issuing new releases in sparse Eco-paks, void of booklets, artwork, lyrics or liner notes. Most of these collections provide hours of entertainment, both from the music and from pages upon pages of over-stuffed liner notes.
Millions Like Us — The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989
This past week, Cherry Red Records completed its trilogy of this decade’s most essential reissues of Eighties’ Indie rock with the 4-disc masterpiece Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival 1977 – 1989.
Predecessor Scared to Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop 1980-1989 is the Star Wars of the three sets. Scared was the paradigm shifting feel good blockbuster: 5 discs packed with 134 beloved bands at or on their way to stardom (Pulp. Everything But The Girl, Jesus & Mary Chain, Soup Dragons, Wonder Stuff, James) or college radio stapledom (everyone else).
C86: 3 Disc Deluxe Edition (see below) is The Empire Strikes Back of the three — a darker, edgier, more majestic curation of many of the same famous, infamous and super obscure indie bands using the original NME promotional cassette as a jumping off point. To replace the hissy cassette with sonically superior mixes on Disc 1 was alone worth the price of admission; two more discs that more than hold their own in terms of quality and vitality are just gravy.
Millions is the series’ Return of the Jedi — bright, optimistic and populated by scruffy and adorable bands in sharp suits and polished shoes in lieu of naked & furry Ewoks.
Growing up in early 80’s pre-internet Ohio, my awareness of the UK’s Mod revival scene was pretty much limited to Paul Weller and the Jam — and as offensive as this might seem, I viewed the Mod and Ska revival scenes (English Beat, Fun Boy Three, et. al) as one in the same. Cherry Red sets the record straight with 100 tracks by almost as many bands spread across 4 very action-packed discs. You might not know any of the bands by name, but don’t let that stop you. Bands such as Secret Affair, The Chords, The Lambrettas, The Untouchables and The Truth all scored top 40 hits in the UK, and for good reason. The songs are crisp, urgent, melodic and boast instantly hummable, sing along (or chant along) choruses. If the Jam is your jam and Vespa scooters are your thing, this set aims straight for your sweet spot. But its appeal extends way beyond Mod aficionados, if you adore the Clash, the Skids, Elvis Costello, the Libertines or Green Day (especially their Foxboro Hot Tubs offshoot), this collection will keep you on your toes for months to come.
Millions’ booklet is completely enthralling, the editorial combines the best fruit from both Cherry Red trees:
- Scared’s track-by-track commentary about how each band came together, the success they had, what broke em up and where are they now
- C86’s longform editorial about the scene, the culture, the political climate and the overall impact of the music
- Like both previous sets, Millions’ artwork is generous and all-encompassing, reproducing scores of album and single sleeves, gig flyers and band photos
- As with the previous box sets, you, you might recognize more of the musicians than you do the bands, including: The Pogues’ Shane McGowan (The Nips), Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis (The Reaction), The Charlatans’ Martin Blunt (Makin’ Time), Paul Young (Q-Tips), The Alarm’s Mike Peters (Seventeen), The Style Council’s Mick Talbot (Merton Parkas) and The Woodentops’ Rolo McGinty (The Upset).
When Millions was announced, I was interested due to my allegiance to the previous sets, but I was also prepared to not like it as much because I was so unfamiliar with the Mod scene. I was quick to discover just how exciting and captivating it all is (or was). These songs hit the same visceral nerves as my favorite modern albums by Rancid and Dropkick Murphys. By bringing many of these songs to CD for the first time, it gives a hundred bands who burned bright and fast an introduction to new generations. Want to dig deeper? Many of the acts in all three sets also have album reissues on one of the Cherry Red imprints.
This YouTube playlist gives you a sampling of a few of the set’s original songs, but keep in mind, on Millions remastered CD’s, these songs sound absolutely fantastic:
Pick up Millions Like Us at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
C86 — 3 Disc Deluxe Edition
Earlier this year, we sang the praises of the C86 compilation in our Cherry Red celebration. Now that the holidays are upon us, we should not forget about it. If you want to wow that music nerd on your list with something that will absolutely floor them, this is the set. If they jones for dark 80’s indie rock and their vinyl collection is filled with WTF obscure bands, C86 will keep them invigorated for years to come.
I still have my original C86 cassette and have the playlist set in stone within my heart. The deluxe edition does the impossible: it mines the scene so expertly, every one of the 72 tracks across the 3 CD’s sound absolutely essential; how they were left off the original is beyond belief. Neil Taylor’s eye opening, mind blowing and ear-expanding 46-page editorial about the era challenges, contradicts and clarifies a lot of what I knew about the New Wave scene, but that just adds to the set’s overall excitement.
Pick up C86 Deluxe Edition at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
Suzi Quatro — The Girl From Detroit City
If you only know Suzi Quatro by ‘Stumblin’ In’ and her role as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days — or if you’re under the age of 40 and have never heard of her at all, Cherry Red brings you up to speed with Suzi Quatro: The Girl From Detroit City. This four-disc set is as gorgeous as she is, packed with a lethal array of singles, b-sides and rarities from her heyday up through today.
This set, along with Cherry Red’s equally awesome Rachel Sweet B-A-B-Y: The Complete Stiff Recordings compilation, shines a long overdue spotlight on the rock and roll trailblazers who kicked down boy’s club doors and set the stage for the Runaways, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, the Go-Go’s, the Donnas and every female rock band that followed.
Girl is an in-depth retrospective, a glorious comeback and ample evidence Suzi actually never stopped producing incredible music. The faithful have steadily packed her concerts since Day #1, so this set is an invitation for the rest of us to catch up. By Disc #3, 70’s classics give way to surprisingly good, recent covers of Goldfrapp (a sinister ‘Strict Machine’), Abba (a meaty ‘Does Your Mama Know?’) and Rihanna (‘Breaking Dishes’) as well as two new tracks exclusive to this compilation, including the title track.
The enlightening 56 page booklet includes liner notes, record sleeves, gig art and other artifacts from her five decades in the business. As if that wasn’t enough, check out Suzi’s in-depth interview with Popdose from a few weeks ago.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/174049948″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
Pick up The Girl From Detroit City at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
Big Country — Steeltown: 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Universal Music has been giving the Big Country catalog a long-overdue second spin, starting with the deluxe edition of their global smash, The Crossing and a 4 disc revisit of the band’s BBC recordings. They only slightly miss the mark with Steeltown: The 30th Anniversary Edition. Steeltown joins the ranks of classic albums that were originally under-appreciated sophomore efforts (Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Weezer’s Pinkerton, the Killers’ Sam’s Town). The album is notable not only for singer Stuart Adamson’s most impassioned vocal performances but for drummer Mark Brzezicki’s wildly innovative percussion. I beg you to offer up other discs from the era with such wild fills, rhythms and beats — in this new mix, they positively crackle. Soon after, Brzezicki also provided the Cult’s classic album, Love, with propulsion that band never saw again.
The 2-disc set is essential for a few reasons:
- A crisp audio remaster of the original album
- The inclusion of ‘Wonderland’ and b-sides from the era that have only cropped up spottily on past CD issues of the album
- A fascinating, insanely long (and worth every word) editorial about the band, the era and the sessions at ABBA’s Polar Music in Stockholm, Sweden.
- The 12″ singles from the era. Big Country is second only to Prince (Purple Rain thru Sign O’ The Times era) for delivering the unusual and truly creative extended and dance remix re-workings of their hit singles. Producer Steve Lillywhite only used source recordings to reinvent the songs for club play — and rhythm section Tony Butler (Bass) and Brzezicki gave him loads of compelling material to work with. These remixes explode with energy and urgency, making them ripe for the dance floor without detracting from the lyrical weight. So far, they’ve only appeared on CD once, the long out-of-print, Greatest 12-inch Hits Vol. #1.
The demoes on Disc #2 are interesting, but only prove how critical Lillywhite was to making this album the defining moment for a band whose charismatic frontman would be gone way too soon.
Pick up Steeltown: 30th Anniversary Edition at Amazon in the US or UK.
Thompson Twins: Remixes & Rarities
Over the course of 30 years, the Thompson Twins were a big band, a trio, a duo and a one-piece. This set focuses on their biggest era as a trio, delivering all of the singles, remixes, rarities and long-overdue on CD b-sides. The set is essential for die hard fans and newbies alike for two reasons:
- A pristine remastering — the songs crackle without sounding too loud (as is the trend these days).
- 16 pages of delightful liner notes where frontman Tom Bailey (as interviewed by Paul Sinclair in July, 2014) shares anecdotes, insight and good humor about the band’s glory days. Plenty of photos and artwork from the era too.
While the remixes were never as innovative as the aforementioned work of Prince and Big Country, they always served the songs and the DJ’s well. With hooks as wonderful as (clap clap clap) ‘The Gap’, you can’t ever get too much of a good thing.
Pick up Thompson Twins Remixes & Rarities at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe (2 Disc Expanded Edition)
Sounds like a law firm, but Anderson, et. al is actually a much better Yes album than most of the Yes albums that came after 90125. In fact, I always assumed it was a bit of legal jockeying that kept the Yes logo off this album in the first place. All the essential elements are in place: 100% beloved Yes members; iconic Roger Dean artwork; and sonically perfect, long and ambitious song suites. ‘Brother of Mine’ — a suite from ‘Fist of Fire’ appears in its original form on CD1 and in long and short edits on CD2. ‘Order of the Universe’ another track that stacks up with the Yes men’s career best, also gets a spiffy single treatment.
Pick up Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe: Expanded & Remastered Edition at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
Holly Johnson: Blast (Expanded Edition) • Blank & Jones, So80’s Present’s ZTT
Everything’s coming up Frankie Goes to Hollywood in 2013 and 2014 thanks to a pair of pristine double discs.
First up is Cherry Red’s expanded 2CD + a DVD reissue of lead singer Holly Johnson’s appropriately titled solo debut, Blast. Outside of Frankie’s breakthrough album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Blast ranks among the best work of the gifted singer. Disc 1 is more than enough reason to buy the album. The original set gets a brisk remaster, every track coulda, shoulda been a single and would fare as well today as it did in 1989. The original album was produced and co-written by the late Dan Hartman (‘I Can Dream About You’). Blast was a #1 hit in the UK, but after a follow-up flopped and Johnson was diagnosed HIV+, he disappeared from the charts until this year’s welcome return, Europa.
Disc #2 staples together six remixes of ‘Love Train’, five ‘Americanos’ and one each for album-highlight ‘Atomic City’ and ‘Heaven’s Here’. The DVD compiles the videos for the four singles plus an Atomic City remix. The real gem here is the booklet — lyrics and artwork for all the singles, plus a lovely set of liner notes penned by Johnson in 2010.
Pick up Blast: Expanded Edition at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
At first glance, this album looks like one of those unauthorized 80’s cash ins where a third tier producer/DJ adds generic synths or beats to the original mix or a muzak company craps out elevator worthy knockoffs. The end result couldn’t be further from the truth and is now one of the most sonically beautiful discs in my CD collection. Huge thanks to Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken who sang the album’s praises during our recent interview to promote her new album, …where else. I picked it up for $30 based upon her accolades of the set’s 3 Propaganda tracks (a 12-minute ‘Duel’, a 10-minute ‘Dr. Mabuse’ and a 9-minute ‘Dream Within a Dream’). Despite the inclusion of ‘Moments in Love” by Art of Noise, the real star here is Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Nine of their biggest hits get the BJ treatment, wait that sounds awkward, Blank & Jones treatment.
Blank & Jones don’t add any new synths or beats to these classics. They use only source material from the original tapes, supplied to them by producer Trevor Horn. While they could have easily hacked the tracks to pieces to make them sound like Radiohead, instead they build upon what is already a master class in production (among Horn’s greatest work). What we have are arguably the definitive versions of these songs, glorious, ambitious and eternal (in length and playability). If you ever wondered — damn! I wish that lasted longer than 3-minutes! — this set is well worth tracking down.
Martika: Expanded Edition
Mention that you just listened to a Martika album, and you’ll likely be asked “the Prince one or the one with Toy Soldiers?”. Cherry Pop recently reissued the latter and it’s amazing how deliciously cheesy the affair sounds all these years later. Not as compelling as singer/songwriter/producer Debbie Gibson’s work from the era, Martika nevertheless was a fun listen.
The liner notes are packed with photos, an interview with producer Michael Jay, and an international array of album art and gig posters. For a truly insightful analysis of this album, the artist and her career, click over to The Second Disc.
Pick up Martika: Expanded Edition at Amazon in the US, UK or directly from Cherry Red.
The A’s: Self-Titled & Women’s Got The Power
Ladies and Gentleman… The Bangles!
With relatively little fanfare at all, some long lost power pop classics have emerged this fall as digital releases. So not appropriate for stocking stuffers, but the perfect way to spend the gift cards you receive this holiday season.
The Bangles reissue scrapes together their early work (primarily as The Bangs), a brisk collection of surf rock, Children of Nuggets and power pop singles, most notably the digital debut of their self-titled EP. The demoes are sweet but don’t add much to the story. The set ends with two left field curios: a :37 lyrical reworking ‘Getting out of Hand’ to promote No Mag magazine and an original (repetitive but carelessly fun) theme song for The Rock and Roll Alternative.
Pick it up on iTunes or Amazon (US or UK).
The A’s were a short-lived Philadelphia power pop band whose biggest single from their second album of the same name, ‘Woman’s Got The Power’ lives on primarily through inclusion on new wave classics compilation CD’s. Their two albums for Arista only briefly got the CD treatment (good luck finding copies of that for under $90). Thankfully, both are now on iTunes and Amazon for the low price of $8.99 (US).
Pick em up on iTunes or Amazon (US or UK).