post-punk gems — Echo and the Bunnymen (33 1/3 years ago!)

Happy Wednesday, all.  I’m still basking the audio glow of the mini-box set of The Clash, but thinking about a different band I got turned onto back in the day: Echo and the Bunnymen. Following a trip to the UK and Europe in 1982 with the Boy Scouts of America, I returned home with a mix tape with all sorts of bands I didn’t know, including The Clash and Echo and the Bunnymen.

Two years later, just a week shy of my 16th birthday, I somehow convinced my parents to drive my buddy Brian and I to Berkeley Community Theater (60+ miles–thanks mom & dad!) to see Echo and the Bunnymen on the Ocean Rain tour. (It proved to be the soundtrack of choice when The Fleshtones were the opening band, and they did just fine, touring in support of the brilliant Hexbreaker LP. The crowd was absolutely primed for the Bunnymen when–lo! a special guest appearance by Billy Bragg, who of course no one had heard of. (Does anyone know if this night, ~9 Sept 84, represented Billy Bragg’s US debut?) He played a solo electric guitar, sang a handful of fun tracks including “The Milkman of Human Kindness” and, alas, was booed off the stage. I thought he was brilliant, but my fellow concertgoers must have imagined that the longer he was onstage, the longer the delay of the Bunnymen, so he had to go.

Brian and I secured a space just a row shy of guitarist Will Sergeant, who regarded the lot of us with a bemused grin throughout the evening. Ian McCulloch clutched the mike stand and swayed fore and aft just a few feet away, and the whole evening was sublime. The crowd pressed across the rows of seats toward the stage, sang along to mystical lyrics we could scarcely make sense of, and thoroughly enjoyed Sargeant’s effort to reproduce the string section bits on his Rickenbacker guitar. The light show must have been awesome, but I mostly remember Sergeant’s smirk, and McCulloch’s voice, delivering a perfect balance of urgency, outrage, and bemusement for the sorting out of life during adolescence.

33 1/3 years ago this week, the Bunnymen made their initial Peel Sessions recordings, which you can find below.

Have a delightful week!

first listen — #Soundsystem

Happy day, Clash-o-philes!

It’s a day of rest, so they say, and I’ve got The Clash’s *Sound System* on my mind–okay, not the big, expensive one, but something that amazon (and others, I figure) are calling 5 Album Studio Set–which is not to be confused with 5 Studio Album Set, which is the same thing, but presently $0.21 more expensive. Nice work, amazon!

Note: this packaging may reference Paul’s inaugural arrival in the states in ’78, when he showed up at JFK carrying nothing more than a carrying case of LPs.

The reviews, of course, are nicely compiled at theclashblog, and Tim provides useful commentary on each commentary. In brief: reviewers are happy to talk about The Clash’s importance (big), the price of the boxset (big), and are having difficulty finding the time to actually listen to the music and–most importantly–to determine whether the remastering by “Tim Young and The Clash” yields new sonic pleasures to those of us who already have the studio albums (either on vinyl, CD, or iTunes). I’m staying away from those reviews for the moment

With that in mind, I sat down with Pete, as good as a listening comrade you could find, and I loaded up the CD carousel with the original discs alongside the new discs and compared a sample of key tracks. We started, of course, from the beginning and the exercise was worth the purchase price. No other recent purchase has compelled me to sit in the sweet spot of stereophonic sound and enjoy music the way we used to.

Why I’m suspicious that some of the reviewers haven’t found the time to actually listen to the discs: the discs are vinyl black, even on the flipside. There’s no room, of course, to discuss the visuals in a 70-word review (see Rolling Stone), but for those of us who were raised on vinyl, it’s an especially nice touch, and an indication I figure of Paul’s impeccable aesthetic sensibility. (Yes, that’s my book there in the image below–more on its fate below.)


Of all the LPs, I figure Mick & co. would be tempted to mess with *The Clash* the least. It wasn’t supposed to be an audiophile object: that was the whole point of The Clash in ’77. It did, of course, prevent the release of *The Clash* in the US (CBS deemed the LP “too noisy”) and, largely because of the New York fan base, went on to become the best-selling import LP in the US to date. If you’re interested in repeating this exercise at home, make certain that you’re comparing *The Clash* UK version, rather than the US version, as the tracks on the US release of *The Clash* in 1979 got a different treatment in the final mix.

So, here goes my own interpretive dance about architecture, as E. Costello once noted … The first thing you’ll notice with the new discs is the mix is loud. It proved a challenge bouncing between CDs, simply because the *Sound* version carries extra decibels. “Janie Jones” opens sparingly, of course, with the drums, guitar strum, and Joe’s voice and, on the *Sound* version, the phasing of the vocals is sharper, the bass is a tad warmer, and the drums are sharper in the mix. With “Cheat,” the slight but still noticeable improvements hold sway: Joe’s vocals are a bit sharper, the drums a tad snappier, and it sounds great. With “White Riot,” especially, the proof is in the Yorkshire pudding. Mick’s sweet guitar lick just before the vocals sounds crisper, but it’s the opening chorus that grabbed me anew: the vocals are cleaner and still carry more urgency. The stereo phasing is great, and Terry Chimes could hit those drums damn hard, and it’s clear-as-class-warfare in this mix. (It was also good to compare this version to the US mix, which substitutes a police siren for Joe’s counting off the tempo, and is otherwise now to be regarded as a weird period piece.)

More comparative listening notes to come next week. Even the 5 album set is a big package, and there’s plenty to work through.

I hope a few of you fine readers have had a chance to check out my book, which is now presently without a publisher. If you like the book, and you have some connections to a press that might like to take it over, please be in touch. I appreciate any and all considerations, no matter how small or remote.

Have a delightful and dub-heavy week!

(post) punk gems, v. 35 — The Raincoats

Happy Wednesday, blog-o-crats! There’s lots of fun under the sun in Clash-land, with the box set, the revival of the Strummer mural in the East Village, and Misters S., H., and J. making the rounds reminding folks of the glory days of rock fandom.

I’m sympathetic to folks who want this depiction of Mr. Strummer to be a tad more handsome, but I’m simply delighted to see that it’s back. And hey: to those folks who are frustrated: grab some spray cans and DIY!

Briefly, today, the loosest of Strummer & Co. connections: I’m digging this mid-career track by The Raincoats, who were DIY exemplars: Palmolive left The Slits, got together a quartet of gals and released “Fairytale in the Supermarket” on Rough Trade back in May 1979. The sleeve, label, etc., appeared hand-printed–in true DIY style. Their debut LP came out in December 1979 (available here in lo-fi), Palmolive left shortly thereafter and, after 1981’s Odyshape (LP), they released on cassette, a la The Replacements’ The Shit Hits the Fans, The Kitchen Tapes, from a performance at the Kitchen in New York City. Richard Dudanski of 101ers’ fame and Clash comrade Derek Goddard provide percussion.

As you may recall, Kurt Cobain took a keen interest in The Raincoats and helped get DGC to re-release key bits of their catalog years later. As Cobain noted, “When I listen to The Raincoats I feel as if I’m a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark. Rather than listening to them I feel like I’m listening in on them. We’re together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above and, if I get caught – everything will be ruined because it’s their thing.”

The influence, of course, can be felt throughout the Nirvana catalog–which expands next week with the anniversary release of In Utero, in $125 and $22 packages. Krist and Dave provide a preview here.

Thoughts on mini-Sound System on Sunday. See you then!

(post) punk gems, v. 34 — Medium Medium

Thanks for tuning your browser’s dial to radio-K-SAT on this fine, fine day. I figure V. Putin must have received an advance copy of *Sound System,* tuned into “Spanish Bombs” and “Charlie Don’t Surf,” and called up that punchy Kid Obama to talk him down. Let’s hope this works.

Certainly the best thing to come from Stealing All Transmissions is the opportunity to hear key players’ first-hand accounts of making music (and selling music) back in the day. I’ve recently gained the acquaintance of a long-standing member of one of my favorite bands from yesteryears, and perhaps we’ll do a short interview and the highlights will end up here. I’m not saying anything just yet, but Medium Medium, a quintet out of Nottingham, is considered to be a big debtor to this band’s sound.

This catchy ditty, with the characteristically British, semi-anemic saxophone intro, came out in February 1981, and doesn’t technically qualify as underheralded, since it reached #48 on the US disco charts–punk, on the disco charts? Why not?

Medium medium didn’t last much longer, alas, but they’re around again now — see — and most of the band still has fabulous hair.

Do let me know if you’ve picked up *Sound System*–I figure the $40 boxset in the US (see here–is this available in the UK?) would be a fine, fine gift for any aspiring teenager music fan. That’s less per LP side than we paid when The Clash’s debut came out. Nice work, gents.

(post) punk gems, v. 33 (1/3) — Skafish

Thanks for checking things out here at stealingalltransmissions. I’m hoping my book sales may spike once again with next week’s release of The Clash’s *Sound System* (yeah!)–not for the money (which I like as much as anyone), but the glory.

Back in 1976 (or so), Jim Skafish gathered a sextet of friends to form Skafish, which makes an early appearance opening up for Sha Na Na–a show that is written up in the pages of Billboard magazine.

Their first single, “Disgracing the Family Name,” helps the band land a gig on a UK tour with The Police, XTC (when they still toured), English Beat, UB40, and Steel Pulse. In the pages of Sounds, “Disgracing” is characterized as having a “wheezing, tinny organ sound, bobbysox girlie chorus … all the devices we’ve come to associate with every new arty US band from Devo to the B-52’s, but somehow it works, building up to a dense, handclapping little epic of garage rock.” 

Skafish is also the featured act at Hurrah on December 5 when Sid Vicious, recently out on bail following his arrest for the murder of Nancy Spungen, attacks their drummer, Todd Smith, kid brother of Patti Smith. Vicious had made a move on Todd’s girlfriend and, upon Todd’s intervening, Vicious brandished a Heineken and opened up a wound that required five stiches to close. Vicious was remanded to Riker’s Island and, upon his February release, overdosed and died. Mercy.

Okay–the office awaits. Do tune in on Sunday for another installment of The Clash feature in Punk from ’79.

Coda: I came across this item on YT: aesthetic perfection!