This isn’t about nostalgia. It’s history. The New York Dolls sleazy, excitable spirit of Rock n Roll is transmitted directly through time, right now, to your volume control. Play it loud, turn down the lights and swig at something to get you tuned in to their way of thinking. Glad to report that the trashy, breathy beauty of it all remains resolute, conveying precisely the same feeling emanating from the city that informed them then as now. The very one that was inspired by what went before and then helped shape the future, blasting the way forwards. Music works by causing a reaction and the Dolls cause all sorts of reactions – not all them pretty. However, this hugely wonderful boxset highlights their youthful zest for life grabbing and shaking it to the very foundations. It’s a collection of studio recordings starting in June 1972 that predate their debut and follow-up album for Mercury Records capturing a rawer, more real experience than perhaps those ever did. Add to that a number live performances from 1973 to 1975 and you’re all geared-up, ready to go. Accompanying it all are inspiring sleeve notes by David Wells which include some great photographs, while also detailing the New York Dolls roller-coaster ride of up’s and downs. An essential in every way.
If you are new to the music contained on this companion of the decade then I envy what you are about to experience – forget the agony, this is just ecstasy. Reading Bill Brewster’s sleeve notes for the compilation of releases between ’90 and ’97 who couldn’t escape that excitable feeling only Strictly Rhythm could generate. There was always a sense of trepidation with what you would get to hear next from the label and that translates crystal clear across the three discs of prime, reclaimed time. Founded by Mark Finkelstein and Gladys Pizarro transcendent music such as After Hours – Waterfalls would hit one minute while pulverising epics like Joint Venture’s Master Blaster exploded the next. Musical possibilities were expanded via the Latin tinged River Ocean – Love & Happiness featuring the beautiful voice of India, while The Believers seminal Who Dares to Believe In Me teased out Jazzier notes next. The tough, tribal beats of Armand Van Helden’s delicious Witch Doktor sounded like a new era all over again as did Wink’s now Acid standard, Higher State Of Consciousness. I guess it’s fair to say that the label had few, if any, equivalents at the time and very much came to define those sights and sounds from the 1990’s which can relive here at your own leisure. Is this essential? Of course it is.
Discussing Northern Soul and all its implications was once described to me like opening a can of worms. Everyone had their own opinion, their own strongly held point of view. And for me having almost zero interest in much music that predated my own youth in the 1970’s it all sounded pretty much like a not so quiet storm in a teacup. Decades later when I came to interview Richard Searling and Colin Curtis about those very differing approaches to what was ‘old’ and what was then ‘new’, with the emergence of Disco and then Jazz-Funk. It did indeed feel like the clash of two era’s, which despite one laying the foundations for the other, evolved into two contrasting scenes via Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca. Personally, I always sided with the latter’s embrace of the new, although of course time has played out well in the formers collection of what are undoubtedly (for the most part) great songs about love and heartache. This compilation focuses on the Casino’s second room, Mr M’s and their defining, defiantly strictly ‘Oldies’ only playlist. Politics – plus questions about over-hyping nostalgia – aside when you listen to all three CD’s, look at the accompanying photographs (that word in itself feels delightfully dated), read the testimony curated from the sleeve-notes and then listen to one of the original DJ’s Dave Evison’s interview, it all breathes a nostalgic sigh of relief. Through the temptations of the music it is just possible to glimpse at the world the dancers experienced as they lived their lives through Saturday night/ Sunday morning. Words contained in songs which sang out to the converted essentially reached back to the origins of the Blues and the redemptive promise of the church, with its keep the faith inspired promise of better days ahead. The first song on the first CD is the highly charged ‘Hey Sah-Lo-Ney’ by Mickie Lee Lane from 1965. The final number from the collection is JJ Barnes wonderful cover of Ace ‘How Long’ from 1977. Preceding that is N.F Porter’s ‘Keep On Keeping On’ (1971). Little else needs saying at that point.
The brilliantly titled: TO THE OUTSIDE OF EVERYTHING continues Cherry Red’s equally wonderful series of invaluable histories. This time round tackling, or rather defining Post Punk. The tempting question here is about whether it was really just Punk after all. The ‘Post’ bit a journalist tag line applied to sell the repackage while continuing our national obsession with labelling everything that moves – look at the subdivision (monetization) of Dance Music during the 90’s. Punk was an umbrella term covering a wide variety of causes, stance and styles and subsequently that D.I.Y attitude remained intact, as did that sense of independent, non-conforming spirit. Maybe even more intensified as a reaction after the blatant commercialisation of Punk itself. Although, of course, everything boils right down to the music. Which in this case is so blindingly excellent that it still sounds and feels highly-charged, excitement-personified dragging you back to when possibilities seemed endless. Evolving from the breath of what was essentially the sneer of high-energy Rock n Roll bands felt free to do things that contradicted the original medium – thank god. All that Sid Vicious stood for, was, in the end, vacuous and meaningless (cheap swastika included). But on a more positive note there are five CD’s here to truly indulge yourself. Starting with Ultravox is most fitting as the fiery music feels and smells very much like Punk, thrashy guitars and shouty attitude, but underneath the sound of something else is happening – people are thinking. Besides all that strumming you will also find the early-ish strains of electronic music in the UK from the likes of Throbbing Gristle and The Human League. And as time moved on so did the incorporation of distant influences allowing room for manoeuvre showcased by the diversity of Echo & The Bunnymen, Poison Girls, Joy Division, The The, plus The Associates. So as you can see it covers the full spectrum and beyond. Then there’s The Slits and proceeding onto the liquid funk (not a term) of New Asia, 23 Skidoo, and Biting Tongues on CD five while finally reaching the destination outlined by This Heat who end with Radio Prague. At a time when lots of things all seemed to happen at once, colliding headlong, maybe you can indeed learn from history taking on board such a wealth of ideas. And maybe if you take time to look below the surface then that is exactly what is still happening today.
PS. Neil Taylor provides 48 pages of sleeve notes. So expect to have your horizons expanded and informed further.
Too hot to handle? At a total of 86 soul-soaring tracks this is almost too much to get a handle on. But that breathless feeling soon equates to inspiration plus good times galore. Detailing the electrifying era between 1957 to 1977 the story begins with the Rhythm &Blues/ Rock’n’Roll strains of The Falcons delirious ‘Sent Up’ and then proceeds to highlight the various soulful leanings, tempo’s and harmonies all employed by a dizzying array of groups from that period, initially pre-dating and then running along the same timeline as Talma Motown. Revealingly this plays as the other side to Detroit’s more readily familiar story to explore a stunning selection of music, which for those who like to study the development of such things, excitingly evolved while retaining that all essential element: Soul. Very much evident across the breadth of CD two ending suitably on the Just Brothers beautifully voiced, resolutely hopeful – Things Will Be Better Tomorrow, from 1967. The Wigan Casino ‘oldie’ Can’t Turn Around by Fork In The Road features on the third CD as the music proceeds to traverse those sights and sounds that came to typify the Northern Soul scene’s succinct, crisp story telling. While the third disc ends on the Edwin Starr penned and most joyous, Oh How Happy covered by Shades Of Blue. Soul On Fire secures an exemplary, trip down memory lane which at the very least provides a timely education in Detroit’s rich and most varied musical past. One that unquestionably helped lay the initial foundations of what eventually became today’s Dance Music – though you might not quite believe it!
As Buzzcocks once sang: Nostalgia. Dreams are afloat and you can dive headlong into this epic, expansive trip down memory lane. Beginning at the (almost) point of Punk Rock with Buzzcocks Spiral Scratch EP (still got mine) this selection co-hosted by the indispensable Manchester music archive MDMA gets seriously disorientating by the breadth of records on offer here across several CD’s. Indeed it might be a smart idea to explore the site as the sounds unfold to add a visual context. This brilliantly realised sequence – yes the time worn Factory legends are present (as always) – but this compilation impressively digs much deeper to reveal inclusions from people you’ve never heard of, evoking a riotous celebration of colour. As the title says its ‘Independent’ music from 1977 through to 1993 – not sure why it ends there, maybe there simply wasn’t room for an eighth! And all sorts of my personal favourites from the era are present from Magazine: The Light Pours Out Of Me, Joy Division: She’s Lost Control and so on. But also music from the next decade’s Dance and then House explosion with Quando Quango’s Love Tempo plus 52nd Street’s Cool As Ice and A Certain Ratio predating T-Coy: Carino and of course Gerald’s: Voodoo Ray. The list then delivers more typically ‘Indie’ sounds via James, Happy Mondays and the rest providing all sorts of reasons for you to investigate further. In ways you should just ignore this review and go look at the tracklist for yourself, as when is it not a delight to hear The Fall’s speedy Rowche Rumble or indeed music by the Durutti Column. When they said: Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, they were dead right.
If the title alone isn’t enough to get readers of Magazine Sixty elevated in anticipation I don’t know what else might be. This brilliantly enjoyable romp through music that defined its own space outside of American R&B veers between the charming synthesized melodies of Party Talk by André De Koning right down to Front 242’s pulsating, caustic Principles. Expansive sleeve notes come from Dave Henderson who fills in all the necessary details but for now this 4 CD set is a must. Relish the challenging Godot Was Here by Human Flesh or the more unforgiving electricity generated by Diseño Corbusier – Flanco Dama. Either way this selection will both entertain and then toy with ideas of what is deemed acceptable, Art and perhaps another word beginning with A, proving that life and provocative music existed in forgotten, far-flung corners (until now). Besides which, Glue Head by the fantastic Yello is to found here.
Again we return to all matters Divine as Cherry Pop re-issue this album which first appeared on Bobby O’s “O” Records back in 1982. Although this time round you’re treated to a second disc crammed with the delight of various remixes etc. But back to the original with its killer line-up of material. All the early and infamous singles are present: Native Love (Step by Step), Shoot Your Shoot plus the uber trash classic Shake It Up, as well as hidden nuggets like the proto-electro Alphabet Rap. Of course it’s all about the singer, although in reality it’s also very much about Bobby O’s fierce production ethic which kicks and screams at you, much as Divine does. So onto Disc two which has remixes by Jon Of The Pleased Wimmin and Mark Moore amongst others lending their sheen to the favourites. Essential living.
Deee-Lite exploded onto 1990 with a dizzy sense of excitement that is still very much obvious with the re-release of their debut album. And typically of that year while House Music fuelled the rhythms other elements are proudly at play too. Their music is as much a celebration of club culture both historically, featuring the likes of Maceo Parker and Bootsy Collins, while placing what had gone on before in a typically contemporary setting. Never afraid to use breaks and reference points but then they didn’t shy away from injecting a brash melody into the arrangements either with Lady Miss Kier proving to personify the groups sheer exuberance. What Is Love and Good Beat sound just as hot as back then, though some of what were new sounds from that era feel dated now, as is inevitable. But equally the final track, Build The Bridge should leave you in no doubt as to the impact World Clique had and has. The album also comes with a second CD containing all the essential remixes.
Action Time Vision: A Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979
Cherry Red Records
Cherry Red add to their sterling series of comprehension genre selections with this fresh rendering of early Independent UK Punk numbers. I’m confessing to personal involvement with the era playing bass in the initial incarnation of The Defects around the time that Belfast’s Good Vibrations records store plus label was in full swing, and it’s timely to hear the inclusions from back then by The Outcasts – Greg Cowan’s crowning glory bassline: Just Another Teenage Rebel – and Rudi’s perfect antidote to what it all became: Big Time. The title of the compilation is gleaned from Alternative TV’s dead-pan yet catchy single of the same name and what’s so breath-taking here is the sheer wealth of energy and intense commitment to some sort of belief in ourselves. In reflection perhaps it may all sound a bit naive, or crass even, through todays more cyclical (self-centred) glance but for anyone who loves this music so many of these songs still strike that chord. Funny, I thought this would all now feel terribly dated but in fact the opposite is true. It sounds even more vital, more real given today’s fantasy society of glitz and false credit. There is of course an obvious parallel to be drawn today between Punk’s picking up a guitar and saying something with it and by contemporary readily available electronics – creating something exciting then sharing the idea. Meanwhile, Action Time Vision provides a fascinating, pointed contrast to the first blaze of synthesizer inspired noises also coming out of the UK in the later seventies via Cherry Red’s equally important compilation: Close To The Noise Floor. I guess that’s all simply down to attitude? And that’s where and when the story got all the more interesting for me as new musical possibilities blended with the thought processes’ offered by Punk.
PS. Kris Needs supplies an excellent, indespensable 64 page spread of all you need to know.
Release: December 9