Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SPAZ reviews SHOES/Elektrafied: The Elektra Years 1979-1982 (4CDs)!


From the start, Shoes was one of those bands that hit you both in the head and the heart. They made records filled with melodies that would wrap themselves around your brain and lyrics that would reach deep down into your heart. They never played the part of ROCK STARS – they were normal guys that loved to play music. To be more precise, they were ordinary guys with extraordinary talents. With John Murphy (bass, vocals), his brother Jeff Murphy (guitar, vocals), and Gary Klebe (guitar, vocals) up front and drummer Skip Meyer (R.I.P.) holding down the beat, Shoes was a band that many of us needed then – and now. Thankfully, Klebe and the Murphys are still together and making music, albeit at a much slower clip than the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And each release is a cause for celebration.

It is not that often that a band has three equally talented singer-songwriters in their ranks. Jeff, John, and Gary have penned songs that are now considered ‘Classic Shoes’ tracks. It would not be surprising to find out that there are discussions going on right now that begin with the question, “Who is your favorite Shoe?” While often classified as Power Pop, Shoes was much more than that. The band ingested all the best elements of their musical influences and created a sound that was uniquely their own. Their sound was dreamy, hard-hitting, soul-searching, heart-breaking, and melodic as hell. Guitar-driven and fueled by love and youthful energy, Shoes was the perfect Pop band. If you’ve never heard them, then it is time to grab Cherry Red Records’ ELEKTRAFIED: THE ELEKTRA YEARS 1979-1982, a four CD set that contains their three albums for Elektra Records and a plethora of bonus tracks. Serving as a perfect companion to 2018’S three CD set BLACK VINYL SHOES: ANTHOLOGY 1973-1978, ELEKTRAFIED continues the band’s musical journey, focusing on their ‘major label’ years. Each of the three albums – PRESENT TENSE, TONGUE TWISTER, and BOOMERANG – is bolstered by demo versions of every song on the album. The fourth disc – RARITIES – includes even more demos, unreleased tracks and rare live recordings. This is a gift from heaven and YOU decide whether that is meant to be taken literally or figuratively!

PRESENT TENSE (1979) was their major label debut. Produced by Mike Stone, the album was certainly Rock, but the layered vocals and generous amounts of acoustic guitars added many layers to the band’s tender melodies. But don’t think that these guys were wimps – they knew how to crank out rockers just as easily as airy Pop. “Tomorrow Night”, “Too Late”, “In My Arms Again”, “Cruel You”, “Hangin’ Around With You”, and “Every Girl” were prime examples of what made Shoes click – they played unpretentious Pop Rock with their hearts on their sleeves. On the other hand, “Your Very Eyes” and “Three Times (See Me/Say It/Listen)” were downright beautiful slices of Pop that would melt the heart of the most hardened criminal. The album served as the soundtrack to many a broken heart yet it was still uplifting, invigorating and as spiritual as Pop music gets without singing about… you know, the guy upstairs. The demos of the album’s tracks sound like what the follow-up to BLACK VINYL RECORDS would have sounded like had the band not signed with a major label. In other words, delicious!

TONGUE TWISTER (1981) was produced by the band and Richard Dashut (who was best known at the time for producing Fleetwood Mac’s RUMOURS and TUSK). Instead of traveling down the same musical avenues they explored on PRESENT TENSE, TONGUE TWISTER was a tougher album, reigning in the airy production of PRESENT TENSE and replacing it with a leaner, meaner sound. However, the melodies and harmonies were present and accounted for. Perhaps closer to what once would consider Power Pop, TONGUE TWISTER showcased Jeff, Gary, Skip, and John’s talents as a working unit – their chemistry was undeniable. Still offering up songs for the head and heart, this was an album that not only passionately embraced your senses, it also slapped you into submission. Brilliant. Highpoints include “She Satisfies” (which received a fair amount of radio airplay), “Only In My Sleep”, “Karen”, “Girls Of Today”, “Burned Out Love”, “Found A Girl”… Oh, hell – every track was a gem! Again, the demo versions of the album’s tracks offer up an ‘alternate universe’ version of Shoes where they recorded for an indie label and NOT a major. Still fab.

BOOMERANG (1982) found the band taking the reins and continuing to explore new avenues while also maintaining the edginess of TONGUE TWISTER. Perhaps a more eclectic collection of songs than their previous two releases, BOOMERANG succeeded in expanding the band’s sound without losing any of their (tested) charm. While playing with different sounds, the band sounded more confident in their talents, crafting their songs into blissful Pop nuggets. In some ways, this was the album that cemented the band’s signature sound and one that they would expand upon throughout the rest of their career. Highlights include “Too Soon”, “Curiosity”, “The Summer Rain”, “Mayday”, “Double Talk”, “Tested Charms”, and “In Her Shadow”.  And again, the demos offer a fascinating glimpse into the band’s natural creativity.

RARITIES is a fascinating and much-needed peek into the band’s archives, filled with tasty treats that are sure to please Shoes fans. Klebe’s “Jet Set” appears here in three different forms including one that was recorded during the PRESENT TENSE sessions. The heavy rocker certainly would not have fit on that album but is essentially the blueprint for what came next. But if you listen closely to the second demo version of “Jet Set”, you’ll hear the guitar solo that Gary eventually used for “She Satisfies”! Other unreleased songs include “Ever Again”, “Take You Away” (two versions), and “A Voice Inside Me” (two versions) plus more demos and the entirety of the SHOES ON ICE promo EP. Yeah, pretty much a treasure trove of Shoes audio artifacts!

And there’s a pretty extensive booklet with an excellent essay by David Wells.

So, once you’re finished spinning ELEKTRAFIED, come back and answer this question: ‘Who is your favorite Shoe’?

Hang in there, baby
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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