Sprout Head Uprising: Throw Some Water In / Nothing to Sing (Part II)

sprouthead1

Format: 7″

Label: Stiff (BUY121)

Country: UK

Year: 1981

Price paid: $2

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

Service your engine if you want it to function

Check your oil and clean your radiator

What can I possibly say about Sprout Head Uprising that hasn’t been expounded upon numerous times by greater minds than mine since the band first broke on the scene like a sonic typhoon way back in 1981? Much like the Beatles before and Nirvana after, rarely has a band had such a deep and lasting impact on the face of music.

But I kid.

‘Throw Some Water In’ is a cover of a song originally performed by reggae/dub artist Lee “Scratch” Perry. It wasn’t a hit for Mr. Perry and equally not a hit for Sprout Head Uprising.

Little is known today of Sprout Head Uprising. Based on Stiff’s fondness for signing rather obscure short-lived acts I’m wagering little was known of Sprout Head Uprising when this single was released.

What is known: Sprout Head Uprising put out this lone single on July 10, 1981. In 1982 they released their first LP ‘Early Spring’ on the small Manchester label Rock Steady Records. After what could have only felt like an eternity for hardcore Sprout Head Uprising fans a second album ‘White Band Speak With Forked Tongue’ (a collaboration with the band Suns of Arqua) was released in 1989 in cassette-only format on the (not too shockingly named) Bop Cassettes label. In 1991 a third album sprung forth, ‘Lone Star & The Sprout Head Uprising’ on the seminal Belgian label Antler-Subway Records NV. After the early 90s the trail goes cold…

Their sound is described at various sources as a fusion of country and reggae. If that combination doesn’t make you sit up and take notice then you’re dead inside. Giving a listen myself I find their music in general a mad montage of sounds that’s hard to pin down stylistically. This single in particular has a crude honesty about it, so free-form that it all but defies pigeonholing. Reminds me of the Flying Lizards performing while on a smoke break.

All that being said I guess the sleeve works? It’s pleasantly ‘Stiff-y’ in tone. The collage of copyright-free images coupled with what I assume are band members Maria Louis Jackson and Martin Gibson paints an appropriately Da-Da post-punk image. The cool blue pallet mirrors the aloof and (purposefully?) marginal early 80’s hipness the band projects.

 

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Tom Tom Club: Pleasure of Love

tomtom_pleasure

Format: 12″

Label: Sire

Country: US

Year: 1983

Price paid: $3

Purchased at: Books and Melodies, Syracuse NY

 

I tell you he was a masterpiece

“How are you?”, says I

“Just cool.”, says he

It’s fairly common knowledge that The Tom Tom Club were started as a side project by Talking Heads’ members Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. Details on the band’s history and accomplishments will undoubtedly be covered in greater detail in future blog posts; suffice it to say that the band’s longevity has outlasted the Heads, their most recent album  ‘Downtown Rockers’ was released in 2012.

Admittedly their greatest period of activity and chart success was in the early 80s with a string of strong singles including ‘The Pleasure of Love’, ‘Wordy Rappinghood’, and this single. ‘Pleasure of Love’ was the second (and last) single from their 1983 album ‘Close to the Bone.’ It reached #23 on the US Dance charts, but sadly found little success abroad.

The sleeve art is a nervous rainbow riot of urban life which rhythmically compliments the tone of the song. It was designed by Brooklyn artist James Rizzi, who would help define the early 80s visual tone of the band through several sleeve designs and video animation for ‘Genius of Love’ and this single. Rizzi’s work is know for its dense style littered with anthropomorphic subjects, not totally dissimilar to NYC artist Kenny Scharf.

 

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Blondie: Atomic / Die Young Stay Pretty / Heroes

blondie_atomic12

Format: 12″

Label: Chrysalis

Country: UK

Year: 1980

Price paid: $6

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, rochester NY

 

‘Atomic’ was the fourth single released off of the band’s fourth studio album, 1980’s ‘Eat to the Beat.’ It only reached #39 on the US charts, but went all the way to #1 (and gold) in the UK.

The bonus B-side track ‘Heroes’ was recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon in January 12th, 1980. Robert Fripp provides guitar on this track.

The sleeve art is simply stunning; it’s objects like this that make collecting such a joy. Simple and bold, Debbie Harry’s visage could easily steal away the attention from even the largest radiation-infused mushroom cloud. And it does.

This is the UK 12″; it’s unclear whether a US picture sleeve 12″ was ever made. 12″ Basically the same front sleeve art was used here as on the US, UK, and French 7″ versions… only much bigger and impressive. The back sleeve art differs greatly from the US 7″, but is very similar to the UK and French art.

The sleeve warns that ‘YOU SHOULD NOT PAY MORE THAN 49P FOR THIS RECORD.’

 

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Devo / The Flaming Lips: Gates of Steel (live)

devo_rsd

Format: 7″

Label: Warner Brothers

Country: US

Year: 2014

Price paid: $7.99

Purchased at: The Soundgarden, Syracuse NY

 

The earth it moves too slow, but the earth is all we know.

‘Gates of Steel’ is a track originally from Devo’s third studio album, 1980’s ‘Freedom of Choice. It made an appearance a year later on the live album and EP ‘DEV-O Live.’ It was not released as a single (until now) and did not chart.

Part of Warner’s ‘Side By Side’ series, this 2014 Record Store Day (RSD) release was limited to 7,500 copies. The Devo version comes from the 1981 ‘DEV-O Live’ EP, while the Flaming Lips version was previously unreleased. Theoretically the single is a tribute to Bob Casale (Bob 2) who died on February 17 this year, but that’s unconfirmed.

Aesthetically there’s not too much to talk about. It’s a silver-colored disc in a clear plastic sleeve… but isn’t that enough? The ‘wrinkles’ in the vinyl are caused by a purposefully uneven mixing of pigment during the pressing process.

Graham Parker and the Rumour: The Pink Parker EP

thepinkparkerFormat: 7″

Label: Mercury

Country: US

Year:1978

Price paid: $4

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

When the sun go down the moon is near

I’m scared to death ’cause your face appear

Ok I admit it, the real draw here for me is the luscious pink vinyl this thing’s pressed on. I’m not much of a Graham Parker fan; he falls into that Elvis Costello blues/pub rock blue-collar subgenre that I just can’t relate to at this point in my life.

Be that as it may, the man has an impressive back catalog with over forty studio and live albums both with The Rumour and as a solo act. Many from the late 70s to 80s period met with a measure of chart success.

‘The Pink Parker’ EP was his second-highest charting LP/EP reaching #24 on the UK singles charts in 1977 with the tracks ‘Hold Back the Night’ and ‘(Let Me Get) Sweet on You.’ These tracks reached #58 and #107 respectively on the US hot 100.

Track Listing:

  • Hold Back The Night
  • (Let Me Get) Sweet On You
  • White Honey *
  • Soul Shoes *

* live tracks, both from ‘Live At Marble Arch’ Bootleg

The sleeve art has a real ‘Stiff’ feel to it, looking like it could have easily been released by that indie label during the period. This may not be a total coincidence; Parker would have several recordings on the label between 1980-1982 including ‘The Up Escalator’ in 1980 (SEEZ23.) In 1975 (two years before this EP’s release) Parker recorded several demo tracks with Dave Robinson; Robinson would found Stiff Records shortly thereafter. Nick Lowe produced for Parker around this time and also acts as producer for the two live tracks on this EP. Lowe (probably best known for his1979 hit ‘Cruel to Be Kind’) was the first ever artist to release a single on Stiff (BUY1- ‘So It Goes’) in 1976.

thepinkparker2Also of note on this sleeve is the weird black dot at the lower left on the front, which looks totally out of place. The EP was originally released in the UK on the Vertigo label; when released in the US in 1977 by Vertigo the art made it through with only minor regional changes. A year later the EP was re-released in the US, this time by Mercury. They hastily covered up the original Vertigo logo and called it a day. The backside of the sleeve fared a little better, as the ‘artist’ tasked with making the modifications took more care when swapping out the various logos.

Other than these few cosmetic differences, the sleeve art on all three is basically the same. Oh, did I mention that fans in the US got the better end of the deal as their versions (both Vertigo and Mercury) are on neon PINK VINYL?

 

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Buy or Die! 1980 1/2 EP

buyordieFormat: 7″

Label: Ralph Records

Country: US

Year:1980

Price paid: $10

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

Darkness fell upon the garden, as I sadly sat alone

Ralph Records was created fundamentally as a vehicle for the conceptual group The Residents; close to half the label’s output consists of the band’s material. Primarily active during the 70s into the 80s, the label began releasing product in earnest again around 2010 after a near twenty year absence. This recent upswing in production could have been due to the label being sold off around that time… more research is needed.

buyordie3The label’s slogan “Buy or Die!” was used as the title of their mail order catalog and a series of 7″ compilation EPs. I’m not sure how many of these compilations were released; I can confirm a volume for 1980, 1980 1/2 (this one), and 1981. ‘Buy or Die’ numbers 14 and 14 1/2 were released in 1987, but- other than being compilations- have nothing to do with the early 7″s as far as I can tell.

If the overall sound of this EP had to be pigeonholed I’d have to file it under ‘Experimental’ with a hefty dose of ‘Minimalist Synth.’

Track listing:

The Residents: Easter Woman, The End of Home, Amber– The Residents are a self consciously shadowy art collective with accomplishments too numerous to even hint at here. These three quirky little jewels clock in at about one minute each.

Snakefinger: Trashing All The Loves Of History– British singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Snakefinger (aka Philip Charles Lithman) moved to San Fransisco in 1971 and began a working relationship with the Residents that lasted for decades. He died in July, 1987 of a heart attack.

Yello: Rock Stop– Swiss band probably best known for the song ‘Oh Yeah’, which was featured in the film ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ This track is slightly less marketable…

Fred Frith: Come Across– A British multi-instrumentalist (best known as a guitarist) and composer, Frith has worked with many avant-garde groups over the years including The Golden Palominos, Material, and yes, The Residents. He was also a member of the Art Bears, who released some material on Ralph as well. He is the subject of the 1990 documentary ‘Step Across the Border.’

I try not to throw around the word ‘iconic’ too often, but this single’s sleeve certainly lives up to that label. It was illustrated by Gary Panter, an influential artist known for his comic ‘Jimbo’, set design on the 80’s TV show ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’ (for which he won three Emmy’s), and (from 1978-1986) married to the manager of the LA punk band The Germs (Nicole Panter.)  With it’s noxious palette and confrontational death imagery it perhaps exudes more of a hardcore vibe than plinky plinky art-rock cool, the sleeve nonetheless is a memorable statement to say the least.

 

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The Fall: Hey! Luciani / Entitled / Shoulder Pads #1B

fall_luciani

Format: 12″

Label: Beggars Banquet (BEG 176T)

Country: UK

Year: 1986

Price paid: $8

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

They made out you were are an ultra nut

And had no time for your Christianity

You paid with your life for their treachery

I’ve only known of the Fall in the abstract- a mere name that came up now and again- until recently. Brix Smith, Adult Net, and the Beggars Banquet pedigree finally caught up with me and I gave them a listen.

I liked what I heard. To my still mostly ignorant and unrefined ear Mark E. Smith’s voice is a gravely rambling mess… but that’s part of the allure. From what I’ve discerned so far the typical Fall song is a chugging free-form behemoth that meanders from point A to point B with the force of a bile-filled wheel-less street car. That’s a compliment BTW. I find their stuff delightfully experimental in the best Robert Fripp sense of the word.

 

 

Highly influential but all of unheard of in the US, the Fall have a long rich history with more than a few modest hits that fall just south of the top 50. ‘Hey! Luciani’ reached #59 on the UK charts in 1986. The song’s theme is that of the death of Pope John Paul I in 1978, who died after only 33 days in office; bubblegum pop this is not.

The sleeve art is horrid- no two ways about it. It fails completely to capture the spirit of the song or the tone of the band; eye-candy this is not. I could find little information on the painter Suzanne Smith, other than she is responsible for the artwork on several Fall releases of the period.

 

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Annie Lennox: Little Bird / Love Song For A Vampire

lennox_littlebird

Format: 7″

Label: RCA

Country: UK

Year: 1992

Price paid: $2

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

They always said that you knew best

But this little bird’s fallen out of that nest now

Not being critical, but overall I feel that Annie Lennox’s material gets stronger the further back in time you go. I really love her work in the Tourists and early Eurythmics, up until their apex on the ‘1984’ soundtrack… by the mid-80s she became increasingly serious and soulful. I realize that’s a gross simplification- I guess I just like things quirky and sinister by nature.

This 7″ is considered a ‘double A-side’ single, or ‘A’ and ‘AA’ as the record label proclaims. You can call a fish a horse, but in my book it’s still a fish. But I digress…

 

 

‘Little Bird’ was the fifth (and last) single released from her first solo LP, 1992’s ‘Diva.’ It was her second highest charting single, coming in at #3 on the UK charts (her next single, ‘No More I Love You’s’, reached #2.) It only rose to #49 in the US charts.

The AA side ‘Love Song For A Vampire’ is from the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of ‘Dracula.’ Technically it came in at #3 as well in the UK due to the double A-side status of the single but, well, I’m still not sure how that works. It also rose to #24 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in the US.

Although released as a CD single in the US and UK, this vinyl 7″ version is a UK exclusive. The sleeve was designed by Lawrence Stevens, an artist who had been working with the Eurythmics in a graphic capacity starting with the ‘Love is a Stranger’ 7″ way back in 1982 as the band’s exclusive art producer. Ellen von Unwerth provided Annie’s portrait; she has a long history with New Wave artists, having photographed the likes of Bananarama (Pop Life), Duran Duran, Dido, and more recently artists such as Lady Gaga.

 

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The J. Geils Band: Freeze-Frame / Flamethrower

geils_freezeframe

Format: 7″

Label: EMI (B-8108)

Country: US

Year: 1982

Price paid: $2

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

Her hot-spot love for me is strong

This freeze-frame moment can’t be wrong

When you’re writing a blog about New Wave sometimes you’ve gotta contemplate questions that wouldn’t typically pop into your head on any given day. A question like- “Is The J. Geils Band actually New Wave, or were they just a band that had been around since the late 60s and happened to acquire some stylistic attributes of the genre, while being in the right place at the right time to receive a heavy dose of MTV airtime?”

And then there’s those times when you just gotta make the call and go with your gut…

Turns out The J. Geils Band had been around long before they stuck mega-gold with the holy trinity of ‘Love Stinks’, ‘Centerfold’, and ‘Freeze-Frame.’ Who knew? Formed as a R&B/blues outfit in 1967 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the band had a few minor hits including 1974’s ‘Must Of Got Lost’ (which reached #12 on the US charts) before evolving a not unpleasant radio-friendly pop sound as the 80s dawned. Having spat out those three aforementioned nuggets of gold they decided to call it a day in 1985.

‘Freeze-Frame’ is the first single taken from the band’s 1981 album of the same name (their twelfth LP!) It reached #4 on the US Billboard charts in April of 1982 and stayed at that position for four weeks. It peaked the UK charts at a more modest #27. The B-side ‘Flamethrower’ was picked up by black radio stations at the time and reached #20 on the Billboard Soul Chart.

The sleeve art for the single isn’t bad but it’s kind of a cheat, as it consists primarily of images from the LP art- cut, pasted, and re-arranged. On the plus side, the source material is top notch and the composition tastefully executed- complete with a tasty pink-and-green color combo, a genre staple. Although somewhat cheesy, the plug for three of the band’s albums on the reverse at least works from an aesthetic point of view.

 

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In The City #5

inthecity

Format: Fanzine

Publisher: Compendium Books Record Counter

Country: UK

Year: 1978

Size: 8.25 X 12″

Editors: Peter Gilbert, Francis Drake

 

“When I saw Billy Idol arrive at the dressing room door with tomato ketchup sticking to his hair, nose, ears, etc… I thought it would somehow affect his performance this evening…”

If the number of music fanzines in late 70s Britain (and London especially) are any indication of their significance in the music scene then, well, they were very important indeed. The amount of DIY publications was truly inspiring.

Named after the song “In the City” by The Jam, if the fanzine had an edge it was it’s (often) full-color covers that certainly would have caught the eye of trendy shoppers back in the day. With a cover price of 25p it was significantly more expensive than the larger publications such as Melody (15p) maker and NME (18p.) As far as fanzine’s go it had a rather long life at 16 issues (1977-1981) with at least one ‘special’ (Ultravox!) issue that may-or-may-not be part of their issue-numbering system.

This issue contains:

  • A scathing commentary on Patti Smith and her snubbing of the fanzine-level press
  • Review of the major music tabloids (see inset)
  • Generation X interview (yes, an actual interview!)
  • A scathing review of an ‘Automatics‘ live gig
  • Review of a Generation X live gig
  • A page devoted to TRB (Tom Robinson Band) consisting mostly of lyrics to ‘Up Against the Wall’
  • Steel Pulse– their credibility, relationship to punk, and audience
  • Radio Stars
  • Ultravox!– Major fan-service article; the next issue of ‘In the City’ was most probably the Ultravox! special issue
  • Single reviews (see partial inset)

The publication is not dated, but based on the single reviews for the month and their release dates (Elvis Costello’s ‘Stranger in the House’ was released on March 17th 1978 and the Spex ‘The Day the World Day-Glo’ April 21st) and the quick publication window afforded by the fanzine format this issue #5 was most probably released in mid-April.

On January 17, 1978 the Pistols played their last show. Rotten was out of the band and members Cook and Jones flew to Rio to work with Ronnie Biggs on further material. On October 12th Nancy Spungen is found dead. 'The Great Rock and Roll Swindle' soundtrack isn't released until the 24th of February the following year, with Edward Tudor-Pole (of Tenpole Tudor) and Malcolm McLaren himself providing some vocals. Based on an assumed release date of April 1978 this cartoon predates Sid's death by nearly a year. Although portrayed as a negative trait here, McLaren's adaptability and seemingly effortless ability to take risks is an attribute that would serve him well in the future...

On January 17, 1978 the Pistols played their last show. Rotten was out of the band and members Cook and Jones flew to Rio to work with Ronnie Biggs on further material. On October 12th Nancy Spungen is found dead. ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’ soundtrack isn’t released until the 24th of February the following year, with Edward Tudor-Pole (of Tenpole Tudor) and Malcolm McLaren himself providing some vocals. Based on an assumed release date of April 1978 this cartoon predates Sid’s death by nearly a year. Although portrayed as a negative trait here, McLaren’s adaptability and seemingly effortless ability to take risks is an attribute that would serve him well in the future…

Aesthetically ‘In the City’ fits the template of the late 70’s music fanzine, other than the aforementioned color cover. Photocopied, single-staple at upper left corner, crude cut-and-paste DIY layout, shamelessly nicked logos and images- nothing but the best! Strangely twelve (of the fourteen) pages are single-sided, the last two double-sided. The second sides are in both cases ‘ads’ for LPs (Generation X and Automatics, respectively) so they may have been last-minute additions?

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Nice contemporary view of the main music rags of the period (click to enlarge.) Interesting that such a high importance would be put on gig dates- these were living, breathing documents of crucial importance to youth of the day. No internets back then don’t forget; I can see many a fan hanging out at the record shop with nervous agitation waiting for the latest issue to drop. Sounds and Record Mirror discontinued publication in 1991, Melody Maker merged with New Musical Express in 2000, New Musical Express is the sole survivor with primarily an online presence and hard-copy circulation of less than 20,000 as of 2012.

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