Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SPAZ reviews THOMPSON TWINS' Remixes & Rarities on Cherry Pop!


A Collection of Classic 12" Mixes & B-sides


Even though Thompson Twins were one of the most successful British acts of the '80s, there are those that overlook them when rattling off a list of their favorite bands of the era.  Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, The Cure and many other bands get name-checked all over the internet but for some reason, Thompson Twins seem to get the short end of the stick.  And why?  Who the hell knows!  Their hits were far more memorable than most of their contemporaries and they did manage to shift quite a few albums during their heyday, so its certainly not because they are unworthy.  I'll even admit that I, a hardcore '80s fanatic, might occasionally forget to put a Thompson Twins track on an '80s mix I want to play in the car.  And each time I forget, I'm hit hit with a case of the guilts - how could I forget to include "Lies"?  "Hold Me Now"?  "In The Name Of Love"? "Lay Your Hands On Me"?  Each of them a stone cold '80s classic... each of them worthy of their hit status... so how could I forget?

Thompson Twins were a great singles AND album band.  Their songs were filled with melodic wonder, clever arrangements and great production.  OK, so the production does sound dated, but they layered the instrumentation so well that you can sometimes catch little things today that you missed the first time around some 30 years ago. Leader Tom Bailey seemed to be on a never-ending journey to make the perfect pop record yet he still managed to keep the quirkiness of the band intact throughout their career.  Some may have viewed them as pretentious at times, but compared to Sting, they were the fucking Three Stooges of pop - always a lot more clever and entertaining than they are given credit for.  

Though the band initially featured more members, by the time they released the album Quick Step And Side Kick in 1983 they were a trio consisting of Bailey, Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway.  This is the version of the band that dominated the charts for close to three years before Leeway split.  It was during this period that the band released songs that are not only part of pop music history, they are songs that are etched into memories like best friends from your high school days. These hits are so familiar to so many that they do get buried on occasion when other less worthy songs float to the top. Yes, we all loved Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax" and "Two Tribes" but can most people remember much beyond that (apart from us '80s geeks, of course)? Probably not. But play a Thompson Twins tune and you'll be singing along before the chorus takes your to heaven and back.

When listening to this fantastic two CD compilation, Remixes and Rarities, the magic of Thompson Twins' music leaps out and embraces the senses.  While the songs here are mostly the extended mixes, within the first 15-20 seconds, your memories start racing back to the days of hearing the track for the very first time on your radio or record/cassette player.  That keyboard hook to "In The Name Of Love" (which they cheekily inserted into "Love On Your Side") will speed up your heart rate.  The nine-plus minute version of "Hold Me Now" is flawless... and not quite long enough if you are nursing a broken heart.  "King For A Day", "You Take Me Up" and "Long Goodbye" manage to retain the same emotional atmosphere three decades on. "Doctor! Doctor", "Nothing In Common" and "Lay Your Hands On Me" are brilliant pop nuggets. Their quirkier moments like "Don't Mess With Doctor Dream" and "We Are Detective" are still as charming and fun as ever.  Oh, hell, I could go on and on but you just need to go out and buy this.  You'll hear new bits and bobs in the extended mixes that were buried or missed when you played the singles and albums to death. When you hear these songs again, you'll marvel at the passion behind what you once thought was a 'pretty cool' tune. You'll fall in love with them all over again.

For those of you who bought Edsel's TT remasters a few years back will be happy to know that there are six tracks here that have never been available on CD before so this is more than worth your time and money.  Besides, it's great to hear these tracks altogether in one double disc set (I think those remasters might be out of print now... or will soon be!)

Long live Thompson Twins. May you never forget them while you make your list of '80s favorites.

I'M JUST LIKE YOU: Sly Stone's legendary label Stone Flower gets compiled on CD and double LP!


In 1970, The Family Stone were at the peak of their popularity, but the maestro Sly Stone had already moved his head to a completely different space. The first evidence of Sly’s musical about-turn was revealed by the small catalog of his new label, Stone Flower: a pioneering, peculiar, minimal electro-funk sound that unfolded over just four seven-inch singles. Stone Flower’s releases were credited to their individual artists, but each had Sly’s design and musicianship stamped into the grooves–and the words “Written by Sylvester Stewart/Produced and arranged by Sly Stone” on the sticker. Set up by Stone’s manager David Kapralik with distribution by Atlantic Records, Stone Flower was, predictably, a family affair: the first release was by Little Sister, fronted by Stone’s little sister Vaetta Stewart. It was short lived too–the imprint folded in 1971–but its influence was longer lasting. The sound Stone formulated while working on Stone Flower’s output would shape the next phase in his own career as a recording artist: it was here he began experimenting with the brand new Maestro Rhythm King drum machine. In conjunction with languid, effected organ and guitar sounds and a distinctly lo-fi soundscape, Sly’s productions for Stone Flower would inform the basis of his masterwork There’s A Riot Goin’ On. The first 45 came in February 1970: Little Sister’s dancefloor-ready “You’re The One” hit Number 22 in the charts–the label’s highest showing. The follow-up, “Stanga,” also by Little Sister, made the wah pedal the star. The third release came from 6IX, a six-piece multi-racial rock group whose sole release, a super-slow version of The Family Stone’s “Dynamite,” featured only the lead singer and harmonica player from the group. Joe Hicks was the final Stone Flower stablemate; his pulsing, electronic “Life And Death In G&A" is one of the bleakest moments Sly Stone ever created on disc (Hicks’ prior single for Scepter, “Home Sweet Home,” the first released Stone Flower production, is also included). This long overdue compilation of Sly’s Stone Flower era gathers each side of the five 45s plus ten previously unissued cuts from the label archives, all newly remastered from the original tapes. In these grooves you’ll find the missing link between the rocky, soulful Sly Stone of Stand! and the dark, drum machine-punctuated, overdubbed sound of There’s A Riot Going On. I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70 opens up the mysteries of an obscure but monumental phase in Stone’s career.

Compilation and notes by Alec Palao
An exclusive new interview with Sly Stone himself
In-depth liner notes with first-hand reminiscences of the era from many of the participants
All tracks newly remastered from the original tapes




Now available!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with JOHNNY MARR!


An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     The British Indie scene of the ‘80s gave birth to a lot of great music — from Post-Punk to Synthpop to Dance Music and then back again. The music revolution may have started in the late ‘70s when Punk reared its snarling head, but in the ‘80s it really began to morph into something much bigger and more exciting. In 1983, a guitar-based quartet by the name of The Smiths released their debut single and over the next four years, vocalist Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce quite literally changed the course of British music. Without breaking a sweat, The Smiths re-wrote the rules of Pop music while wearing their influences on their sleeves. From jangly ‘60s influenced Rock to Rockabilly, Pop to Psychedelia, The Smiths threw everything into the blender and created a unique sound that has often been copied but never duplicated. Controversial vocalist Morrissey may have stolen the headlines, but everybody knew that Johnny Marr was the true creator of The Smiths’ sound. Marr was never a show-off – you’d be hard pressed to find any unnecessary guitar solos or licks in the band’s catalog – yet his singular style inspired a new generation of kids to pick up a guitar and form a band. After four years in the spotlight, The Smiths split up and Morrissey pursued a long, shambolic solo career filled with moments of brilliance mixed with uneven releases, canceled tours and, unsurprisingly, controversial statements that often times would overshadow his music.
     As for Johnny Marr, he began working with many other artists including Bryan Ferry, Neil Finn, The Pretenders, The The, Electronic, The Cribs, Modest Mouse and many others. His musical resume is one of the most impressive of any modern musician and it continues to grow with each passing year. It wasn’t until 2003 that he decided to put his name out in front when he released the album Boomslang under the name Johnny Marr & The Healers. While not technically a solo album, it was the first time Marr released an album with his name on the cover. For the next decade he slipped back into the shadows and joined The Cribs as well as U.S. Alt-Rock heroes Modest Mouse while achieving God-like status amongst his ever-growing legion of fans. In 2013, 26 years after The Smiths split, Johnny Marr released The Messenger, his first bona-fide solo album. Produced by Doviak (AKA James Doviak), the album featured Marr up front and center handling guitar and lead vocals as well as leading a very tight and energetic band through a batch of groovy tunes that did not disappoint his fanbase. With great press and a higher profile than ever before, Marr went right back into the studio to work on his next solo album with Doviak again twiddling the knobs. The results can be heard on the most excellent Playland album, a full length with more energy and charm than anything you’re likely to hear this year. Yes, Marr can sing and yes, he can still whip out some of the greatest chord changes in Rock music. While he may not play the role of ‘Guitar God’ like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen, Johnny Marr’s no-frills style and essence remain inspiring to young guitarists everywhere. His love of music shines through on Playland – this is not an artist who rests on his laurels. On the album, Johnny Marr sounds just as excited to be playing music as he did three decades ago. Songs like “Easy Money,” “The Trap,” and “Dynamo” sound great blaring out of $500 speakers, yet one can only imagine how awesome these tracks would also sound if they were being heard through a tiny little AM radio speaker at 3:00 am in the morning, when you could finally get a signal from your local radio station. Such is the magic of great music.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to catch up with Johnny Marr, who graciously gave some of his time to discuss the album and music in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  I just wanted to start out by saying that I love the new record.
JOHNNY MARR:  Oh thanks. Thanks for saying that. I’m happy to hear it.

SPAZ:  “Easy Money” has got to be one of the best singles of the year.
JOHNNY:  Oh, that’s very, very nice. Yeah, it really seems to be getting some feedback that is very positive. It’s great. It’s really exciting. It’s only been out a week over here and it seems very popular.

SPAZ:  Have you had much reaction to the album so far?  How are you feeling about it and what have people said so far?
JOHNNY:  Well, all the press has been very, very positive and well, I’m still kind of reeling from The Messenger really. It took me quite by surprise because I didn’t quite expect it to get so much attention. Of course, it was very, very gratifying. So, it’s just kind of carried on and people seem to get what I’m doing and they’re kind of over the initial questioning me about why I’m doing it now and I’m singing and stuff…. It’s just now all about the songs and what the songs are about and what the album means and those kinds of things. So, I’m glad that it’s just been accepted for what it is, which is essentially by a new band. That’s the way I feel about it. It seems like new music to me and it seems to be taken that way. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for it so I’m delighted.

SPAZ:  I had read an interview that you had done… that you said you had written thirty songs for The Messenger. Is this a continuation of some of those songs or is this just a whole new batch?
JOHNNY:  One of them I was writing before I finished The Messenger and that was “The Trap.”  But the rest of them are all brand new. I think the second one I wrote was “Dynamo” and that was on the first week of The Messenger tour, so I started writing immediately as we started touring. I just felt like the band that I have, what I’m doing, I don’t need to take a break right now. One of the exciting things for me putting my own band together was the idea that we would be inspired by the bands that I liked when I was growing up as a kid and when I left school. That would’ve been the New Wave and Punk bands, and there wasn’t an awful lot, you know, taking time off to go and find yourself in the Amazon! (laughs)

SPAZ:  There’s such power and youthful energy on this record – every song sounds like an anthem. How do you manage to keep that energy, that electricity going even after 30 years in the business?
JOHNNY:  Well, I just try and write songs that I think I’d like to go and hear and see at a show myself. I kind of think like a fan. That’s very important and I’m still a fan of what records can do, and I think bands are a great thing and not to be taken for granted. I’ve still got a lot of enthusiasm and exuberance for what a kind of good lyric and vocal over a glamorous guitar can do. It’s a very exciting art form for me and I do think it’s an art form. I also think its entertainment and something to be performed on the stage and none of those words are dirty words for me. I’m fine with all of that. I think its high street art and I’ve never really lost my love for it. Live shows are very important to me and I want people who come and see me and my band to remember that it was a good night, and I kind of write songs with that in mind. So, it’s not a lot of messing around on laptops, which has its place, but not for the kind of performer I am and the kind of night that me and my band put on when you come and see a show. You have to have some energy and some riffs and some kind of chanting vocals.

SPAZ:  When you’re writing these songs, is it the guitar parts that come first, or do you have a lyrical idea first, or is it a mixture of both?
JOHNNY:  Yeah, it’s a mixture of both. It really is kind of half and half. I had the idea for writing a song about commercialism (“Easy Money”) and it’s not a complaint about greed or anything like that. It’s kind of lampooning all of the running around that we all do in the pursuit of making some dough to buy new phones and pay our mortgages and get a second car and all that stuff, myself included. Once I had the idea, I knew that it had to be a commercial track because otherwise it just would have been too downbeat. As I said, it’s important that it felt satirical and something I could lampoon. There’s really two ways you can write about money – in a dreary way or almost in a kind of upbeat, almost celebratory way. I had the concept and half of the lyrics; I remember the riff came out at sound check and I just got stuck on that riff, and I could see that everybody in the building was reacting to it. I then wrote the music for the words. It’s important that the music and the words are coming from the same place.

SPAZ:  In my opinion, three of the highlights are “Easy Money,” which we already talked about, and “The Trap,” which is just amazing. “Dynamo” I love…and also, “This Tension.”  But I know that after I’ve listened to the album a few more times, I’ll probably have different favorites…
JOHNNY:  That’s amazing. That’s great, Steve. Thank you very much. That’s the kind of record I love myself. I like records that are immediate, but there has to be other stuff going on once you get used to it. That’s kind of how I know how a record is done — when I’ve loved every track… when every track has been my favorite for a while and I feel like the whole thing is strong. You live with it and then once it goes out, it belongs to everybody and you’ve got to cross your fingers and hope people feel the same way.

SPAZ:  The thing that I find fascinating about your work is that there’s the immediacy of the songs, but then a little bit later, I’m hearing this little guitar part that I didn’t notice the first time because I was concentrating on the harmonies. And then pretty soon it all comes together by the third listen or so. Do you enjoy layering all of these elements over the course of the recording?
JOHNNY:  I’ve been asked over the years so many times about the guitar players that have inspired me and I’ve always tried to mention at the same time that 45 records themselves have always been as big an inspiration as guitar players. When I started playing the guitar, it was an obsession, but it went alongside the obsession of buying 7” 45s, which I was really lucky to come out of the mid-‘70s. There were all those great Marc Bolan records and David Bowie records and bands like The Sweet and then Blondie and producers like Mike Chapman. After that, my heroes — Patty Smith and The (New York) Dolls and people like that opened my eyes to the ‘60s girl groups. So then you read about Phil Spector and Tamla/Motown and that was really important to my progression and education as a guitar player. So I had the two things going all the time. I love records and I love the guitar and I think that’s why I just haven’t been that interested in five minute solos. I’ve always viewed the guitar as a machine to make records with.

SPAZ:  When you were growing up, were you the type who knew all the band members’ names; you knew who produced it; you knew who engineered it; you knew what the label looked like; you knew what the inner sleeve….
JOHNNY:  Yeah! I was recently in a studio called RAK – the label that was owned by Mickie Most who produced The Animals and Donovan and Herman’s Hermits and all of that stuff. When I was a little kid, they had records that I think were called Bubblegum in the United States – Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate. I was in the studio, the new studio manager was talking to me about the history of the studio and I pretty much told him everything about the studio that he didn’t know. (laughs)  I was a real nerd about that stuff and that culture. It’s something I still kind of aspire to even though all the music now drops from the sky into our mobile phones. That’s absolutely okay, but in my mind I’m always trying to make a whole bunch of those kinds of 45s because frankly they’re just very, very exciting guitar records.

SPAZ:  You’ve collaborated with many great musicians over the years. Do you consider Playland a solo record or do you consider this more of a collaboration with the musicians that you worked with? 
JOHNNY:  These records are solo records. I write them and I’m ably abetted by my co-producer Doviak and my band that I’ve been working with a long time now. I suppose it’s a little bit like The Patti Smith Group or something like that. I guess that’s probably the best analogy. We don’t get together in a room and jam in there, and I make songs that way. I bring songs to the band and so it’s quite accurate to call them solo records, but I really love my band and I’m very, very proud of them. I actually think I’ve got the best rock band around. There are a few really good rock bands around. I think Queens Of The Stone Age is a very good example of a real band, but for what I do, I’m really proud of my band and I want to be with these guys as long as I can. We’ve got a real proper band spirit.

SPAZ:  I wish you luck on this record and from all of your fans — we thank you for all the years you’ve given us. Not many artists these days can be considered a ‘hero’ to so many, but you’re right up there.
JOHNNY:  Well, thank you for saying that man. I don’t take it for granted and it’s a privilege. I really just hope I can keep living up to it.

Thanks to Johnny Marr

Special thanks to Roseann Gallo, Joe Bucklew, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky



Sunday, September 7, 2014

SPAZ takes a walk down Twee Street with THE BLUEBELLS!



The first time I ever heard Scottish popsters The Bluebells was in 1983.  I was at a record shop perusing new releases when I stumbled across a 12" vinyl pressing of a single by them called "Cath."  At this point, I had never heard the band, but I was intrigued by the front and back cover.  I saw that it was on London Records and that the b-side, "All I Ever Said," was produced by the one and only Elvis Costello.  Well, being the Pop adventurer that I was, I decided to purchase the 12" without hearing it first.  When I got home and played it, I was more than pleased with my decision to buy it.  It was like a gift from the guitar pop gods.  With harmonica, slightly jangly guitars, and a few different hooks, "Cath" was an absolute gem. And "All I Ever Said" was just as fab. "Fall From Grace" was haunting and wonderful, too. It was so refreshing to hear a band that wore Beatles influences on their sleeves but mixed it with a folky flair and a knack for writing a cracking tune that wasn't catering to the Synthpop sound that dominated the charts.  It was as if they had been flown in straight from 1966 and were attempting to embrace 1983's recording technology while keeping the whole thing rather simple. At that point, I knew I had a new favorite band.

To make a long story longer, I found out "Cath" was their second single, so I bought the first ("Forevermore") and then continued buying anything the band released from that moment on.  While I was always hip to the singles, I felt their 1984 debut album Sisters, suffered the curse of 'record label interference.'  The album contained some of the previously released singles but the inclusion of the Culture Club-like "Learn To Love" and a few other songs made for an uneven album compared to what my expectations were.  But that is just me.  It did contain some of their finest tracks including "I'm Falling,", "Young At Heart," and a re-recording of "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" so it still has so much to enjoy on it.  The band's first post-Sisters single "All I Am (Is Loving You)" was outstanding.  However, it proved to be their final release.  The band split up and the members went onto other things and the Bluebells were history. In 1992, a CD entitled Second was released on Vinyl Japan Records. The album itself was not a new album but a collection of unreleased recordings (there is no info to suggest when and where the tracks come from, but there are some great moments that make it essential for Bluebells fans to own it). Surprisingly, the following year, "Young At Heart" was used on a TV commercial in the UK and the song was reissued and became their biggest hit to date, reaching #1 on the British charts nearly a decade after it's original release.  This sudden success did not inspire the band to go in and record new material and nothing escaped the vaults either.  Until now...

When I first saw that a collection of early recordings was being released, I was overjoyed.  But the album's title threw me off: Exile On Twee Street?  There was nothing in the Bluebells catalog that even hinted at being 'twee.' The Bluebells were big and robust, not shambolic and jangly! I knew that these recordings dated from 1980-82, but 'twee'? Never!

Now, after listening to the album quite a few times, it is safe to say that The Bluebells that I heard in '83 were definitely a mixture of great songs, great performances and a much bigger recording budget than these primitive, raw and often-times glorious  recordings presented here.  THIS was the sound of The Bluebells in their formative years.  The songs are melodic gems that showcase a band trying to find their sound and not letting low-budget recording equipment stop them from creating great pop music. Perhaps the album is geared more towards Bluebells fans than anything, but those into early Indie Pop/Rock, C86, Sarah Records and the like will find something to love here. 

Of the 20 tracks on the album, 10 are songs they eventually re-recorded during their London years (as A-sides, B-sides and album tracks) but most of those are almost unrecognizable from their later versions, including a fab version of "Learn To Love" that may not have the sonic quality of the album version but it has more heart and doesn't suffer from over-production.  "Small Town Martyr" is another one that is far superior at this stage.  Other songs like "Sugar Bridge," "Wishful Thinking," and "Red Guitars" sound great, although many of the lyrics and hooks are quite a bit different than the eventually released versions.  "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is the closest any of these recordings come to sounding like the eventually released version, but that could be because this was scheduled to be released on Postcard Records as the band's true debut but the label folded before that could happen.  In fact, many of these songs could have eventually ended up on the label if it had lasted long enough to release the band's debut album. Speaking of Postcard Records, The Bluebells were a lot closer in spirit to the label's Aztec Camera than they were to Orange Juice, Josef K or The Jazzateers, but The Bluebells were unique in their pop craftmanship even at this early stage.

Of the 10 previously unreleased tracks, standouts include "Honest John," "Stand Up Cowboy," and "No One Ever Waves Goodbye." It is interesting to hear the band during this early period since main songwriter Robert 'Bobby Bluebell' Hodgens sang lead on most, basically since he wrote them.  Kenneth McCluskey handled harmonica, harmony vocals and a good amount of lead vocals although Hodgens is more dominant.  That situation turned around by the time the band signed with London and Ken seemed to be the more dominant vocal force.  

Anyone looking for another "Cath" or "Young At Heart" may be disappointed, but the songs here are just as good - they just aren't recorded as well.  These are demos and the sound quality may vary depending on the source, but the historical value is absolutely priceless. The liner notes offer more info on the band than I've been able to find on the net, so that in itself is a bonus. 

The Bluebells are still one of my favorite bands.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

SPAZ reviews the 2CD Legacy Edition of THAT'S THE WAY IT IS!



Yes, he's the King Of Rock 'n' Roll, but anything that Elvis Presley has done since his stint in the Army is often written off as mediocre compared to his classic mid-'50s sides.  Well, I beg to differ.

I agree that he never recorded anything as primal as those Sun and early RCA releases, but he still possessed one of the finest voices in Rock 'n' Roll up through his death in 1977.

His 'movie' period, which lasted most of the '60s, has been overlooked. What people fail to recognize is the fact that the Elvis of the '60s had matured and moved on from his hip-swiveling younger '50s self and had become an entertainer and not a rocker.  Preferring to make cheesy B-movies instead of tour may not have been the best of ideas (thanks, Colonel Parker) but Elvis made the best of his situation and at least attempted to have fun while making a paycheck.  The music wasn't always up to par but his vocals were never short of excellent.  He almost always seemed like he was at least having fun with the material (which ranged from banal to fantastic).

When Elvis didn't 'connect' with a song, it was always obvious.  By the time he worked his way out of the movies in the late '60s, his voice was at its peak.  From '68 up through '71, any song he sang sounded great no matter how much or how little emotion Elvis invested into it.  When he took to the stage in Vegas for the first time in '69, his set consisted of new material, covers of recent hits... and quick run-throughs of his '50s gems.  At this point in his career, what Elvis wanted to sing and what the public wanted to hear were two different things.  As a man in his mid-30s, Elvis felt he had matured and wanted to perform songs that he 'connected' with.  Singing "Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" were not a priority for him anymore and he usually sped through them just so he could get to a song that he wanted to sing.  Unfortunately, Elvis' career was built upon these hits so he was obligated to churn them out in each performance.When you listen to any of his live releases from '69 to '77, he never seemed to treat the songs with the respect that they deserved. However, if you listen to some of the newer material that he performed during those same shows, he sounded far more passionate and emotional.  Basically, he wasn't sick of the new material. It was still fresh to him so he gave it his all.

Elvis was treated like an oldies act when all he wanted to do was get up and sing and entertain. He was no longer the Rock 'n' Roll rebel. John Lennon once said that Elvis died when he went into the army and its figuratively true: his wild and youthful abandon was gone by 1960 and he became the consummate performer, an entertainer for all generations.  But the voice was still there, continuing to mature at the same rate his body did.

By the late '60s, he switched his focus from the movies to a TV program (now known as the '68 Comeback Special) and then to the stage - in Vegas!

Which brings us to That's The Way It Is, the soundtrack to the 1970 live performance film of the same name.  The movie follows Elvis rehearsing, recording and preparing for a run of Vegas performances in early '70. The accompanying soundtrack avoids the live versions of Elvis' hits and concentrates on new studio recordings as well as a few live versions of songs previously unreleased by Elvis at the time. First off, Elvis's voice at this point was amazing. He had smoothed out the edges that ignited the '68 TV special and dug deeper into his emotions.  He was still with Priscilla the the time, so his emotion was based around his excitement and energy in connecting with an audience again.  "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", "The Next Step Is Love", "How The Web Was Woven", "Twenty Days & Twenty Nights" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" are just some of the studio tracks that feature Elvis at his most dynamic.  And yes, this version of "Bridge..." is a studio recording although applause has been added at the end for some reason. "Patch It Up" and "I've Lost You" were recent single sides but the versions here are live. Of the rest of the live tracks, "I Just Can't Help Believing" is one of Elvis' most essential recordings (and is even better than the BJ Thomas original).  Though the album is both studio and live, it works extremely well as a stand-alone release as well as a companion to the movie.  This Legacy Edition adds a handful of non-album singles - all in their original mono mixes - as well as some alternate takes to entice the casual fan.  The second CD features an entire live set recorded during the same series of shows featured in the film.
(there is also a deluxe box set that features five more live shows on CD as well as two DVDs that contain the original theatrical release of the movie as well as the re-edit and remastered version).

If you are looking for primal Rock 'n' Roll, then this may not be a release for you.  But if you are looking for an example of how great Elvis was as a vocalist, performer and entertainer, then this one comes highly recommended.  One of his finest '70s albums!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

SPAZ reviews the majesty that is THE LEGAL MATTERS' debut album! (UPDATED with new links)





THE LEGAL MATTERS has been reissued by JEM Recordings and is now available everywhere in the universe... except the planet Neptune (who have strange copyright issues).  Bad for Neptunians, good for everyone else!


     Ever since I was a little kid in the mid '60s, I've been a fan of melodic guitar pop.  How could I not be?  I was raised on The Beatles, The Monkees, Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond.  I discovered Punk, New Wave and Power Pop in '77 and I have spent the rest of my days searching for music that hits me in the head and heart and makes me literally say 'Holy shit!' whenever I hear a chord change or vocal melody that kicks me in the gut.  It has happened many times, although a lot less frequently over the last 20 years.  It's not because I haven't searched for great music because I have.  I'm always looking for something that moves me, whether it is a brand new release or a reissue of something I have never heard before.  I can get goosebumps hearing some rare Power Pop single from '79 or an obscure Doo Wop song from '58...  My musical tastes are vast yet my real passion is rooted in the three minute melodic Pop gems that have given me so much happiness over the years....

     I used to co-edit a fanzine in the late '80s called POPsided.  My buddy Jim Roe and I used to write the bulk of the 'zine.  Our main focus was trying to promote the new bands that we felt carried on that Power Pop tradition - although we did tend to review a lot of reissues and old favorites.  Since POPsided folded in 1999, my love for Power Pop and any variation on guitar pop was still strong in my heart, by I became very cynical and jaded about a lot of the music released between then and now.  To me, it seemed as if bands were not interested in writing great verses, bridges, choruses and middle eights anymore. Sure, the songs may have had hook-filled choruses, but the rest of those particular songs seemed to have been hastily thrown together just to get to those choruses.  I wasn't hearing the thoughtful, well-constructed songs of my youth anymore.  While I only heard a fraction of what was actually coming out, it seemed that bands were no longer influenced by The Beatles, Shoes, Badfinger, The Rubinoos, Squeeze, 20/20, The Records or The Beat anymore.  Influences tended to be the less-immediate sounds of Big Star, Matthew Sweet and The Posies - all fine bands for sure, but nothing like the hook-filled glory of what I thought was Power Pop.  I do realize that we all have our own interpretations of what defines a genre, but what I wanted was that immediate connection that I just wasn't finding with many bands over the last two decades. The search for great pop was kind of like going to try a new burger joint in town - only to find out that its just like any other burger joint in town.  Sure, its good, but its not THAT good.  There have been some bands that I've loved over the last 20 years - including Splitsville, Cherry Twister, Holiday and perhaps a dozen more - so my passion for the music hasn't dwindled.  In fact, my search for great pop has intensified over the years.  But the feeling of satisfaction just hasn't been as rewarding.  

But then I heard THE LEGAL MATTERS...

Formed by Keith Klingensmith and Chris Richards (both of The Phenomenal Cats while Chris has also recorded as Chris Richards & The Subtractions) plus Andy Reed, The Legal Matters' debut album is filled with everything I have always loved about Pop: great melodic hooks, glorious harmonies, spine-tingling chord changes, more than one lead vocalist, a complete lack of pretentiousness and a total love of creating pop music. These gentlemen have been creating music in their other projects for years, so the fact that this sounds as fresh and exciting as it does is a testament to their talents. Album opener "Rite Of Spring" is a stunner with those wonderful harmonies and lovely chord changes.  Did I mention the fantabulous harmonies?  Apart from Shoes, who else bothers with great harmonies like this these days? On first listen of the song, I was thinking that every band always puts their strongest song up front to lure you in and they never follow it up with anything quite as good.  Well, that's not the case here because the album is filled with great tunes that are now going to be part of my Pop reference points - "Have You Changed Your Mind?" is beautiful, a real stunning slice of pop glory; "The Legend Of Walter Wright" features the sorely-missed 'oo-la-las' that should be featured at least once on every Power Pop album; "It's Not What I Say" doesn't sound like The Beatles, but it wouldn't be out of place on Rubber Soul (if that makes sense); the goose-bump inducing "Before We Get It Right" could be a lost Jellyfish single; "So Long Sunny Days" is dreamy Summer pop that could be the soundtrack to a romantic sunset; "Mary Anne" is a lovely piano-led ballad with some stunning harmonies and a heart-breaking melody; the powerful "We Were Enemies" closes the album in grand fashion (and reminds me of The Rollers "Hello And Welcome Home" for some reason). The band's only misstep on the album is the fact that it ends... but that can easily be rectified by hitting the repeat button!

It must be said that I award the band bonus points for not featuring a song based on the "Taxman" bass riff.  That's a guitar pop trick that got old some 30 years ago.  

The Legal Matters is an album that renews my faith in modern guitar pop and has re-awakened my desire to track down every worthwhile Power Pop album that I may have missed over the last 20 years.  But will they be as good as this?  I seriously doubt it.

I feel like going to visit each of my friends and playing them this album.  Its too damn great not to share.

Peace, love and POP!
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Friday, August 29, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with Power Pop icon PAUL COLLINS!

The Beat Goes On:

An EXCLUSIVE interview 

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     In the midst of the Punk and New Wave movements of the late ‘70s, Power Pop looked like it was going to take over the world. The guitar-fueled bands that made up the Power Pop scene took their musical cues from The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks, Badfinger, The Raspberries and many other melodically-inclined bands of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. The songs were short and sweet – usually three minutes and under – and were filled with hooks and harmonies that seemed to come directly from heaven. When The Knack scored major hits with “My Sharona” and their debut album Get The Knack, the gates opened up and all the labels started signing Power Pop bands in the hopes they would become “the next big thing” (or at least “the next big Knack”). Bands like 20/20, The Plimsouls, The Beat and many others were snapped up by these labels, and each of them released some astounding music as the ‘70s came to a close. Like Punk and New Wave only with better songs, Power Pop appealed to longtime music fans who had been searching for the “lost chord” since the mid ‘60s. Even young fans who were frightened by Punk, but not entirely enamored by Synthpop, fell for Power Pop. However, within a year or two, the public’s attention had moved on and Power Pop never achieved massive world domination like it should have. Thankfully, the Power Pop movement didn’t die – it merely went underground where it resides today. There are still new Power Pop bands arriving on the scene every year, much to the excitement of longtime fans who never stopped supporting the scene. Even some of the original Power Pop pioneers are still releasing new music and playing to adoring crowds everywhere they go. Paul Collins, who formerly led The Beat, is one of those artists.
     Paul Collins first came to prominence in an L.A.-based trio called The Nerves. This talented trio – Collins, Jack Lee and Peter Case – released an indie seven inch EP that helped kick start the Power Pop movement. One of the EP’s tracks, “Hanging On The Telephone” (written by Lee), was covered by Blondie on their breakthrough album Parallel Lines. By the time Blondie fans figured out who had performed the original version, The Nerves had split up – Lee went solo (then AWOL), Case formed The Plimsouls and Collins put together The Beat. When The Beat’s self-titled debut hit the streets, it was discovered that there was a British band of the same name. Instead of spending years suing each other, the UK band became The English Beat outside of the British Isles, and Paul’s band became known as Paul Collins’ Beat. After two major label albums, Paul took his Beat the independent route and released more records in the U.S., UK, Spain and beyond. Eventually, he retired the Beat name and continued as a solo artist. Still waving the Power Pop flag, Paul has just released one of his finest albums to date with Feel The Noise. The album’s opening title track may be a little crunchier than Collins is known for, but the remainder of the album brings his hook-laden songs back down to earth in an energetic, almost primal way. The album’s melodies leap out on the first listen and are stuck inside your head by the third. There’s just enough reverb and compression to keep the classic Power Pop fans happy and more than enough youthful energy to remind us why he mattered in the first place. The album’s cover features a younger Paul from 30+ years ago, which works just fine since the songs on the album sound like they could have come from those golden years – they are truly timeless. Feel The Noise more than justifies his place in Power Pop history.
     Stephen SPAZ Schnee, a self-confessed Power Pop geek, was able to chat with Paul Collins about the new album, his career and music in general…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  How are you feeling about this particular record and have you had any reaction to it so far?
PAUL COLLINS:  Basically the only song that we’ve been sending out or that I can play for people is “I Need My Rock N’ Roll,” the song we made the video of, which I’m very happy about. So far, people are saying, “Oh wow, it sounds like it could’ve been on your first album,” which of course for me is a huge compliment. It doesn’t get much better than that.

SPAZ:  You’ve continued to make records over the years, but it seems like only recently you’ve embraced the Power Pop scene wholeheartedly again.
PAUL:  All the records I’ve made are important, and they’re important for different reasons. Making my previous record, King Of Power Pop, was important because I’d been off the scene. I’d been living in Europe. I finally moved back to America. I was starting to tour again and I needed to put out a record that represented the kind of work I was doing. I’d just began working with these young bands again, thanks to bands I met when I played South By Southwest. After not being here for many years, I became really tuned into the fact that there was this whole underground network of young bands that liked this kind of music, that were influenced by it and looked up to it. I saw it was this whole network of bands, clubs and fans. With King Of Power Pop, it was important for me to make a record that solidified that time, the kind of music I was doing, and the kind of crowd that I was playing to. It was basically connecting the dots from my past and getting a record that was a Rock and Roll, up-tempo, fun record. I’m not a ‘sad song’ writer – that’s not my area. I’m very sensitive to the bands that fit into the Power Pop vibe and the bands that don’t. And the vibe is very youth-oriented. It’s very rough and tumble. It’s not singing in the sense of this musical style. It’s all over the place. It can be kind of Punky hardcore-ish, very sweet Power Poppy, but there’s a definite scene. I think because of The Nerves, they all look at me like I’m some kind of Punk Rock grandfather, which is fine. I have no problem with that.

SPAZ:  Was the energy from that scene the inspiration for Feel The Noise?
PAUL:  This record was a challenging record because I’d been touring a lot, I had a lot of stress on my vocals, I was smoking and drinking, and I was not singing properly. So this record was recorded several times, and the first time it was aborted because the vocals were just so rough. I finally came to grips with that. I went to a vocal teacher, quit smoking, quit drinking, and I turned myself around. So, it was a physical challenge. I was really up against the wall because I was afraid that maybe I had blown my voice out and that I wouldn’t be able to sing anymore and that my heyday was over. So, I became a healthy man. Personally, that record is a huge accomplishment strictly from the vocal level. The vocals are clean and pure, which is so important. As a singer, it’s a huge thing. Now granted, people don’t go to my music because they think I’m Elvis Presley. They go to my music because they love my songs, but it sucks if the vocals are completely falling apart. And then the second thing was, I start out saying, “Okay, I’m gonna make this Rock and Roll record. The kids want a rockin’ record. Everybody wants a rockin’ record.” But at the end of the day, you start putting it together and you go, “Geez, I’ve got ten shitty Rock songs! Uh oh…this sucks.” There’s nothing worse than ten bad songs. So, at some point in the process, I go, “Okay, let’s stop fooling around here and let’s focus in and let’s get to the heart of the matter.” You need to put together a body of ten to twelve really good songs. Forget whether they’re rockin’ or not. Just concentrate on writing or putting together good music. And that’s what I feel I have accomplished on this record. Now, I’m at the very agonizing time where the record’s done – it’s been done for a while. When I make a record, I listen to it about four million times and then that’s it. Then I won’t listen to it for years. I just get sick of it. I’m already at that stage, so I’m just like waiting to see what the jury has to say. Are people gonna say that I still have the ability to write and sing and put out good songs… or am I an old has been?

SPAZ:  The thing that I noticed about this record is that it has a more primitive, raw Rock and Roll feel to it. Was that intentional or is it just organic?
PAUL:  Yeah, that’s organic and hopefully the next one will be even more so. I think that’s the most flattering and welcome thing that you said, that it’s getting more primitive because that’s what I’m trying to do. Basically, I think all of us, all of these artists that have been out there for a long time, are all trying to get back to where they started from because that’s when everybody loved them the most.

SPAZ:  Did you have a bunch of songs already written for the album when you headed into the studio?
PAUL:  Two days before I went to Detroit to record, I sat down with my guitar in my house. And this was after having gone over many definite options for songs. I picked up the guitar and I said, “Alright Collins, you know what the fuck you have to do…now do it!” And that’s what I did. And I just sat there with my guitar pretending like I was singing to a beautiful girl. Basically, with the exception of two songs, that’s what I ultimately recorded.

SPAZ:  Today my favorite is “Only Girl.” Yesterday my favorite was “With A Girl Like You.” Two days from now, my favorite will probably be “Little Suzy”…
PAUL:  …which features Paul Collins playing drums! That was hysterical because that was the last song of the album. It was really important to me that before we started anything, Jim Diamond (producer) understood it as I understood it, and that we both agreed we had an album – not just like, “Okay, these three songs are great and the rest of them are just okay.” What I did is I tracked the whole album myself before anything happened. Dave Shettler came in and cut the drums and then Jim cut the bass, and then Jim and Eddie Baranek cut the guitar, and then I cut stuff from the vocals. “Little Suzy” was the last song we put drums to. I said, “Look, let me just show you how I think this should go.” The drums were already set up. And so I’m out there pounding away and Dave comes and says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa… keep going!” So I did it.

SPAZ:  Now, you have this legacy and you know inevitably every record you release is gonna be compared to the first two Beat albums. You really set the bar high with those… Is that frustrating?
PAUL:  I would say especially to the first Beat album. I’m a lucky guy. I did something so good that it can be considered a bar of anything. So, no, it’s not frustrating. It’s healthy.

SPAZ:  How do you feel you fit in with today’s Power Pop scene?
PAUL:  There are so many bands out there that say, “Oh, I wanna make a record, get on a major label, and be Top 10 in Billboard.” I’ve always thought that way, and it’s never happened. But I think I’ve gotten a much better grip on what I can and can’t do, and I focus on what I can do. I found that what I can do is extremely rewarding and it’s a lot of fun. So that’s where I’m at. And for a guy my age, that’s not a bad place to be. I’m surrounded by young people, so I get their energy. I get their infectiousness. They treat me very nicely. So, I’m not the jaded rock star: “I need champagne in the dressing room.” You’re lucky if there is a dressing room. It keeps it very honest and it keeps it very real.

Thanks to Paul Collins

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Dana House