Category Archives: colored vinyl

The Clash • The Clash [LP, CD]

In early April 1977, punk rock was something us Yanks enjoyed from the relative tranquility of our overstuffed living room chairs via nightly network newscasts and their exaggerated coverage of the UK’s latest outrage. Twenty-somethings with safety pins for earrings (and noserings!), ratty leather or Levi’s jackets emblazoned with patches and pins of their favorite bands – bands we’d never heard of here, with crazy names and logos – were shown constantly. It was real exciting for a 14 year old just starting his first band! I, like most of America, bought into the hyped-up, dumbed-down coverage, believing that “punk rock” must be pretty stupid judging from what our US talking heads were reporting. Of course, most of the stories on TV were shallow, not telling us how the movement was both a slam against the mega-rich rock stars of the time and the fact that there were no jobs for the working class, who were forced to try and live “on the dole” with no hope and quite likely no future.

By the time THE CLASH had their debut album, The Clash, released 40 years ago, punk was everywhere. The Damned had already issued their first records (see my review of Damned Damned Damned elsewhere on this blog), the Sex Pistols had a single out, and bands were forming everywhere in garages across the land. Here in the States, small, punk-infused movements were getting going in New York, L.A., San Francisco and nearly every city with more than four disaffected youths, and even way down under in Australia there was The Saints (see my review of I’m Stranded) singing about the same things! Fact of the matter is, teenagers and young adults all across the civilized world were feeling fed up with what appeared to be their lots in life and music was a real good way to express it. Anyone could pick up an instrument and play it, and some could even play together well enough to create songs – the rest could buy a cheap 7″ and sing along with the woes their new heroes had set to music. Punk rock wasn’t as homogeneous as it has been portrayed; some bands came up with great tunes and melodies while others set basic war chants to music. Some bands were political, others weren’t. If you had ears to listen there was something for you.

Photo by Chalkie Davies.

The Clash was for those who were through with what the government was giving them. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones, with Paul Simonon and Tory Crimes, sang about “Hate and War,” a “White Riot” and “Career Opportunities” (“the ones that never knock”). The music was primitive and powerful. Strummer’s lead vocals weren’t so much sang as spat. Jones’ guitar was played with all the grit you could get out of a Gibson. This is a record that demands the listener to don full-on riot gear in order to avoid the blood splatter blasting from the grooves! “London’s Burning,” indeed.

In retrospect it’s strange that this album was considered so raw that it wasn’t even released in the USA until after the following album, Give ’Em Enough Rope, was issued. When it was finally released here (after it had sold over 100,000 units as an import), the A&R dude at Epic Records stripped a handful of songs from it and replaced them with some newer, more “radio friendly” cuts plus a 7″ single with two brand spankin’ new non-LP tracks. (See, even back in the late ’70s record companies were trying to get you to buy more and more copies of a release you already owned. “’Cause killers in America work seven days a week!”)

I’ve got a few different versions of The Clash. On CD there are both the 1999 issues (UK and US configurations, of course) and the 2013 remaster included in The Clash Sound System mega-boxset. Vinylly, I spin the pictured 2013 Record Store Day issue pressed in “white riot/Protex blue split color” wax. Both recent versions were mastered by “Tim Young & The Clash” (presumably minus Strummer!) and sound great considering the rawness of the recordings, unlike most of what was being released by major record labels in the ’70s. I imagine any 1999 or later CD or vinyl of legitimate issue will suffice – what we’re talking about here is a punk rock cornerstone, an album that would actually benefit from shoddy quality. If it was supposed to sound polished and proper it wouldn’t be punk!

4.5/5 (Epic Records, 1977)

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The Damned • Damned Damned Damned [CD, LP]

Some anniversaries make you feel old. Some of ’em make you feel young. And some – like the 40th anniversary of this, punk rock’s quintessential and inaugural album – make you feel both old and young at the same time. THE DAMNED‘s first album, Damned Damned Damned, was released in late February 1977 on UK upstart Stiff Records and in the last year it’s been reissued on both vinyl (Drastic Plastic USA) and now CD via BMG UK. It’s one of those records that never loses its cheeky appeal.

Yours truly didn’t discover The Damned until 1981-1982 (via an IRS Records sampler featuring 1980’s “Wait for the Blackout”), and by then they’d undergone a bit of maturing. But on their debut disc, The Damned were a rowdy, youthful quartet just happy to be making noise and having someone record it. Producer Nick Lowe was that someone, and you don’t have to consult reissue liner notes or Wikipedia to tell that his job was primarily to keep the youngsters focused long enough to get a dozen songs on tape. Just listen to Damned Damned Damned and you can hear all the joy and energy these guys exuded. Whether it’s their debut single, “New Rose” (“is she really going out with him?”), followup single “Neat Neat Neat,” or any of the other punk classics here (I’ll cite “Fan Club,” “Born to Kill” and “Feel the Pain” as my favorites), this barely 30-minute “long player” charges out of the gate like a horse not just going for the win but running for its life. By the time closer “I Feel Alright” (aka The Stooges’ “1970”) finishes, there’s no doubt that this album deserves its inclusion in the top of the punk pops.

Damned Damned Damned still has a lotta life in it. Whether you pick up the late 2016 vinyl reissue on Drastic Plastic (available on 150 gram yellow or 180 gram black vinyl; excellently mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio), or the brand new 2017 BMG CD (no weight or mastering credit), you can’t go wrong. I like the vinyl for Gray’s beefy mastering job (the CD’s a tad bit thinner-sounding), but the CD comes in a book-style package with some great liner notes and photos. Neither has any extra tracks, though, so for those you’d have to grab one of the compilations like 2005’s 3CD box set, Play It at Your Sister, et al.

There have been way too many changes in personnel, temperament and outlook over the last four decades to detail here, but in ’76-’77 The Damned were vocalist Dave Vanian, guitarist/songwriter Brian James, bassist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies; a buncha guys with colorful names making raucous rock ’n’ roll. Today only Vanian and Sensible remain (the latter having switched to guitar a long, long time ago), but the band – who have made a number of great records since 1976 – still tours regularly and this year they’re touring that killer record they made forty years ago. It’d be a shame to miss the chance to hear this punk classic performed nice ’n’ loud right in front of yer face by the only band that still matters, The Damned.

5/5 (Drastic Plastic DPRLP76, vinyl; BMG BMGAA01CD, CD)

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Pugwash • Almond Tea [LP], Almanac [LP]

pugwash-almondtea_350pxFirst off, get over to Sugarbush Records right now and order a copy of each of these before they run out. I’ll wait for ya. Okay, now that you’re back: PUGWASH is the best Irish band since The Undertones and one of the best bands of the last two decades, period. Their first two albums, 1999’s Almond Tea and 2002’s Almanac, have been reissued in very limited editions for the first time on (colored) vinyl and they’re stunning! If you haven’t heard of Thomas Walsh’s band it’s not surprising – Pugwash is as obscure here in the States as a hot dog is in Ireland. And it’s hard to understand why, in this Internet/Wikipedia/“Google it!” age, that a cursory search of “power pop,” “Irish rock bands,” or “those guys with the big-hearted, big guy who writes the catchiest tunes this side of 1960s Liverpool” doesn’t serve up the name Pugwash. The band, fronted by Walsh and including his current, more-than-able mates Tosh Flood, Shaun McGee and Joe Fitzgerald, has had a career-spanning “best of” (A Rose in a Garden of Weeds: A Preamble Through the History of Pugwash, 2014) and a further CD released here in the States in recent years, and a new 2017 release on the way. (You can support that release on Kickstarter here.) But this is where it all started.

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Almond Tea in “mint tea green” and Almanac in orange.

Almond Tea (”as served by Pugwash”) was the band’s debut release, and one of those albums that comes out of nowhere (or in this case, Dublin) with a sound that is at once of its time and of no time. Put out by now defunct Vélo Records, it was Walsh’s first fully realized project after years of making his own demos in a shed out back. This time he and his mates go all out. Their songs sometimes recall ’60s greats like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Beach Boys, plus later heroes ELO and XTC, but none of them are out and out copies. “The Finer Things in Life” (pronounced “tings” in Walsh’s particular Irish accent), a tender yet semi-rockin’ love song, recalls John Lennon with its Rubber Soul meets Double Fantasy melancholy vibe. Further songs are in a more power pop place, like “Two Wrongs” and “Missing the Point.” Throughout Almond Tea you hear references to all kinds of records in your collection.

pugwash-almanac_350pxWalsh’s talent to come up with canny concoctions continues on Almanac, Pugwash’s sophomore release (also originally released by Vélo). More upbeat than its predecessor, the band’s second LP features guitar gems like “Monorail,” “Keep Movin’ On” and “Apples,” among a harvest of other treats straight out of The Big Book of Psychedelic Psunshine Pop. Thomas’s voice is a sonorous one, equal parts nasal and not; his range and note-hitting precision is something lacking in most of today’s lead singers. There’s not a hint of gimmicky affect or studio trickery anywhere. The other band members’ voices help carry Walsh’s to a place that is seldom seen or heard anymore.

Thanks to the folks at Sugarbush Records these early Pugwash albums are available on beautiful, 180 gram colored vinyl LPs. In your choice of two colors each, they are limited to 250 copies per color and rumor is this breed is just about extinct. Considering the original CDs are also an endangered species (they fetch big bucks on Ebay), you might just want to hop to it.

(Also of note: Sugarbush has many fine, limited edition releases available, including some by Seattle psych-pop greats Green Pajamas. Finally, I reviewed Pugwash’s 2015 release, Play This Intimately, right here.)

3.5/5, 4/5 (Almond Tea, Sugarbush SB021; Almanac, Sugarbush SB028)

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The Flaming Lips • “Space Oddity” [7″]

flaminglips-spaceoddity_350pxThis is Ground Control to major David Bowie fans everywhere: THE FLAMING LIPS have a new 7″ out, their cover of “Space Oddity,” one of our hero’s best known songs. Coming out a year after Bowie’s death, it’s a fairly faithful yet interesting take, very similar to the version they did on Stephen Colbert’s TV show last April. The fact that it comes out at the same time as the Lips’ new album is also of interest: is this a sideways promotional tie-in to Oczy Mlody or a heartfelt tribute? Here in the year 2017 I’d have to say it’s both. There’s no way to hear about one record and not the other since the advent of the internet, keyword searches, SEO and the rest. And my job is to let you know about things I like, find interesting, moderating or even disgusting, so I naturally inform you.

flaminglips-oddity-vinyl_350pxWayne Coyne and his bros do a nice version of Bowie’s breakout song, keeping to the recipe for the most part, adding a dash of Lips spice here and there but not so much that you taste only the pizzazz and none of the actual showcase dish. It’s got a nice picture sleeve, is pressed on red vinyl, and has a big hole in the middle so us Americans can have our 45 served the way we like it. “Jest (There Is…)” on the flipside is pretty standard Lips fare but important to Flaming collectors because it’s not on the new album either. If you want ’em both LP + 7″ you can order them as a bundle from the band’s web site and save some money.

Anyway, “Space Oddity” is a nice DB cover, a worthwhile addition to the Lips discography and the video’s pretty cool, too.

3/5 (Warner Bros.)

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Sun Ra & His Arkestra • “Rocket Number Nine” [10″]

sunra_rocketnumbernine_front_300pxThere’s a lot of activity right now in the universe of SUN RA. Just who or what is he/it? Short answer: He was a jazz pianist and composer who created some of the craziest music ever committed to vinyl. The guy who was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in 1914 was definitely a cosmic cat, and in the last year (over twenty since he passed into the great beyond) there has been some notable additions to his discography, including a double album of singles and a recent Record Store Day live release.

This 10″ record, put out by Sundazed’s new Modern Harmonic label, is but a trio of slices of his multi-flavored pie. “Rocket Number Nine” originally came to my knowledge via a cover version by rock ’n’ roll’s Sun Ra equivalent, NRBQ. It’s a bit kooky, and not surprisingly, the ’Q’s version ain’t that far off from this. Recorded in 1960, this version is “one of the earliest renditions” of the song so apparently he recorded it more than once. It starts off with an uptempo groove and a small chorus singing “Rocket number nine take off for sunra_greenduo_300pxthe planet Venus, Venus!,” then comes a quiet section with a moody and slightly off-kilter cello (part of the rocket trip to Venus?), followed by a short piano bit (presumably by Sun himself), and the “second stop is Jupiter” finale. It’s a fun piece to hear and I’m curious to know what other renditions are like. The other two cuts, “Ankhnation” and “Project Black Mass,” are previously unissued cuts and are a bit more normal – whatever that is in early ’60s, semi-bebop jazz. The latter is basically solo piano with someone banging a solo hubcap for rhythm. (Interesting but a little on the annoying side.)

One of the things that really makes this record cool, to me, is the artwork. The cover illustration is by Ian Schoenherr and it, along with the typography, make this record a real nice addition to your library. The fact that it is a ten-inch on clear green vinyl just adds to the fun. Modern Harmonic has a number of Sun Ra records out, all licensed from the man’s estate, and I plan to collect ’em all, along with  the aforementioned singles 2LP set.

3.5/5 (Modern Harmonic/Sundazed)

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Elton John • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road [40th Anniversary 2LP]

gybr-1We heard “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” on the radio yesterday and so today I pulled out the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to give it a listen. The 1973 classic by Elton John still remains his greatest accomplishment, and in 2014 – a year late in celebrating the album’s 40th anniversary – the two-record set was reissued as both a deluxe CD box set and an amazingly great sounding 2LP set. I picked up both at the time but this vinyl edition is one you ought to hunt down. Issued on special yellow vinyl for the first 1700 copies (peculiar amount, don’t you think?), GYBR is pressed on 180-gram vinyl in the EU and benefits from a beautiful mastering job courtesy of legend Doug Sax and Robert Hadley at The Mastering Lab. The instruments come through nice and clear, without hiss and high-end sizzle (as you might hear on percussion such as shakers or high hats) and with solid bass (for the era – they didn’t mix it as loud back then as we do now). The album cover is as it was for the original US pressing, in a triple gatefold configuration with all the song lyrics, cool illustrations for each song and pictures of the band members. You can still find this pressing in stores or online, though I imagine the colored vinyl is out of stock, and if you’re as big a fan of this album as I am, you should pick it up.

gybr-2Now on to my big observation. Back in the ’70s, for double albums, they pressed the sets with sides one and four on the first record and sides two and three on the second, so if you had a record changer you could stack the records and have the sides play in the correct order. (For you younger folk, record one/side one plays first, then record two/side two drops and plays next; you then take the records off the spindle and flip them over together, put them back on and then record two/side three plays, followed by record one/side four. Brilliant, huh?) Sometime in the ’80s they started putting sides one/two and three/four together, as record changer use had fallen by the wayside and it wouldn’t make sense to split the sides the way they used to. Nowadays those old two record sets are novel because of their side pairings. But I got to thinking: I wonder if sides one and four are my favorites from GYBR because they were paired together on the same record and I was too lazy back then to shuttle the records to and fro to play them in the right order, meaning the songs on sides two and three were played less often because they were on the other record, or if I prefer sides one and four because they have the best songs on them. I mean, “Dirty Little Girl,” “Grey Seal,” “The Ballad of Danny Bailey” and the title track are all great songs and they all appear on sides two and three. But the aforementioned “Funeral for a Friend,” as well as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” “Roy Rogers” and “Harmony” are all on sides one or four…

Perhaps you think I have too much time on my hands. And perhaps you’re right.

5/5 (Mercury/Universal Music [originally MCA])

Please enjoy Elton John lip syncing the title track on Top of the Pops from 1973:

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The Kinks • Sleepwalker [LP]; 3 EPs [7″]

418457742734-800Record Store Day, Black Friday 2016 brought a kuartet of records by The Kinks to my local vinyl emporium – and yours. This time we got a black and white marbled vinyl reissue of the band’s 1977 LP, Sleepwalker, plus three more EPs in the kontinuing series of 7″ releases kourtesy of Sanctuary Records. But first, the long player.

Sleepwalker was the initial release in the ’77 resurgence of The Kinks as a world-class rock ’n’ roll band. Issued worldwide by Arista Records thanks to mogul Clive Davis’s belief in Ray Davies & Ko., it told the world that these Brits had gotten a second wind and were back with a vengeance. As it turned out, the band made a handful of great records between then and the mid ’80s that were every bit as meaningful as the great singles they made in the mid ’60s. It just so happens that Sleepwalker isn’t as great as the later Low Budget or the live One from the Road, but it wasn’t a bad restart. The title track is quite good, as is “Life on the Road” and a few others. Totally worth your trouble if you can still find a copy. Friday Music pressed it on a colorful 180 gram piece of wax so that’s a plus. (It’s priced a little high but is limited to 1500 copies, so that and the marbled vinyl are probably why.)

Kinks EP Till Death Us Do Part Kinks EP David Watts Sanctuary Records, who handles The Kinks ’60s output, brought out three EPs for Black Friday ’16. This time we get two vintage titles, Till Death Us Do Part and David Watts from 1967, and the newly created God’s Children, made up of songs from the band’s soundtrack to the 1971 film, Percy. There’s nothing new here – all of these tracks, 12 across the three records, have been released before (though a couple aren’t the easiest to find) – but if you’re already kollecting the EPs then there’s no reason to stop now. The pressings are nice, the sleeves are kool looking, and the music is, of kourse, top notch.

Kinks EP God's ChildrenI’m hoping the powers that be keep putting out new Kinks kollectibles, but that they’ll get an infusion of kreativity and kome up with some titles or kompilations that haven’t been done before. Phew! I kan’t keep up with all of these k’s. God Save The Kinks!

3.5/5 (Friday Music [Sleepwalker], Sanctuary)

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The Dogs • “Ain’t Going Nowhere” (7″ EP)

dogs-aintgoingnowhereWhat makes a punk record today? Über clean ‘n’ whiny vocals amidst perfectly tuned guitars bought for the band by mom and dad? Major label distribution during a tour that the band paid to get on? Or is it a 4-song EP on white vinyl, limited to just 200 copies, put out by a tiny label that’s not in business to make money, by a band of three friends who’ve been playing together off and on for decades just for the sake of playing together? I’d say that’s more likely to be it.

In this case, The Dogs‘ new 7″ “Ain’t Going Nowhere” has a quartet of original punk tunes that rock harder than most of what’s being put out today, by a band that’s got experience in both playing the music AND living the life. The title track, which is the better of the four songs – though the other three are awfully good, too – is about “living the dream” that’s become a nightmare and is likely going nowhere. Fed up? Yeah! Giving up? Hell, no!

Unlike lots of releases that are “limited editions” (say something put out for Record Store Day), this release is highly unlikely to come out again. That’s part of the punk rock ethos – let’s put this out now because this is what we’re feeling NOW. It ain’t gonna last forever, either, so if you want one you’ll have to get off yer ass and find it in your local punk rock record shop NOW. Or, better yet: go see The Dogs when they play your town. If neither of those is an option for ya, then follow the link below and order yourself one, now.

4/5 (Smelvis Records; more info at: http://www.smelvisrecords.com/the-dogs.html)

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Devo • Freedom of Choice (LP)

21506264Nice of Rhino to reissue this, Devo‘s third album, in a special “red, white and blue vinyl” edition. Freedom of Choice was the band’s breakthrough, what with “Whip It” leading the way on MTV and even on hit radio. The album, released in 1980,  has some of my favorite songs by the Red Domed Men of Akron, including “Gates of Steel,” “Girl U Want,” “Planet Earth” and the title track. In hindsight I think the production – by Stevie Wonder colleague Robert Margouleff (with Devo) – lacks the edge that their previous effort did. Duty Now for the Future has aged so well that it gives this one a lot to live up to.

My first copy of this redevo-foc-colorvinylissue was in colored vinyl as noted on the sticker but it had a super NASTY “sweeeccccch…. sweeecccch… sweeeeccccccch…” on it and I had to take it back. I then picked up this copy from a different store and the record was fine. What’s really cool is the red, white and blue that was promised is more of a white, blue ‘n’ violet affair (at least on mine, pictured). The pressing itself is pretty quiet and GOSH is it purty to look at! It’s a limited edition of 4,000, though, so grab this before all the other spuds beat you to the record store.

3.5/5 (Warner Bros./Rhino)

Info on this and other reissues in Rhino’s new Start Your Ear Off Right series is here.

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