The Go-Go’s: This Old Feeling / It’s Everything But Party Time

gogos_this old feelingFormat: 7″
Label: IRS Records
Country: US
Year: 1982
Price paid: $2
Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

 

Talk about decorating, a room that needs sophisticating

When conversations become straining, no one’s good at interest feigning…

gogos_this old feeling2The Go-Go’s were a pretty big deal back in the day. One the best selling and hit-making female bands of all time, they chiseled away at the sausage factory that was pop music and opened the doors for many female artists to follow.

Their record label IRS knew this, or a the very least could smell the money to be made from a bunch of skirts holding guitars, and exploited their resource for all it was worth. In their zeal to release Go-Go’s product questionable choices like this single came about…

Both tracks hail from the band’s sophomore effort, 1982’s US certified gold album ‘Vacation.’ The LP spawned three hit singles- the title track, which reached #8 on the US Hot 100, ‘Get Up And Go’ which reached #46 on the US Mainstream Rock chart, and ‘ He’s So Strange’ which also reached #46 on the same chart.

‘This Old Feeling’ is decidedly a second-tier offering, coming off as a 7″ hoping to ride the coattails of the ‘Theme of Summer ’82’… and as such it’s one of the rare Go-Go’s singles that DIDN’T actually chart. It’s notable that sax is provided by Steve Berlin, a member Los Lobos and the Blasters; as a session musician he’s worked with such varied acts as The Dandy Warhols, Sheryl Crow, and The Tragically Hip.

The generic yellow Go-Go’s sleeve is believed to first used on this single, but also sheathed the ‘Yes Or No’ 7″ (both versions) released in 1984,

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Platinum Girl: A Tribute To Blondie

blondie_tribute

Format: CD

Label: Cleopatra

Country: US

Year: 2000 (March 7)

Price paid: $1

Purchased at: thrift store, Rochester NY

 

Compilations are a tricky thing. When a music company sits down to hammer out a musical compendium there’s two major tracts they can take after the relatively easy concept or theme has been determined.

The first, and usually most successful, is to go out and hunt down pre-existing tracks, ponying up what needs to be paid to get the highest level of talent available. This is the most traditional route; rarely before the nineties do you see the second more insidious method pop up…

It looks great on paper: You’re a small-to-midsize indie label with a great roster of artists. A compilation album seems like a great fun way for consumers to become familiar with your talent; they buy the disc based on the few artists they do know, hoping that they’ll be introduced to new artists of a similar ilk. The problems really start to pop up when you then take those artists and attempt to shoehorn them into your ‘concept.’ Some don’t fit stylistically. Others don’t have the chops to do justice to the source material. And some just don’t give a shit.

It got pretty bad for a while there, this glut of mediocre and pointless compilations. Used CD bins seemed to be filled with them and they couldn’t give them away. You’d pick up a disc to check out the artists and be hit with a dozen or so names you’d never heard of. This first time coming across one of these was great as it seemed like quite the bargain, but by the second or third or fiftieth compilation it was apparent that you’ve never heard of these artists for a reason. In many cases the ‘artists’ didn’t even exist, or just barely so (see below.)

What it boils down to is that there are two ways to do a Blondie tribute album, the ‘right’ way and the ‘wrong’ way. Oh I’m sure there are shades of gray between these two extremes (the ‘mostly right way’ and the ‘decidedly horrible but still listenable’ way to name but two), but I’m going into this with the attitude that the compilation being reviewed here today is either a pleasant listening experience or not worthy of being used to scrape the poop off of Debbie Harry’s shoes.

A few ground rules:

This Blondie compilation will be dissected song-by-song, and at the end the results tabulated. I’ll use a one to ten grading system, with ten equaling ‘awesome’ and one being ‘pretty shitty.’ Subjective as hell I know. The categories under consideration are:

Listenability– Perhaps the most important aspect. Is it a good song?

Originality– Any idiot with a guitar can cover a song. A truly talented idiot can cover a song well. But it takes a real artist to take what has come before and run with it, mutating and transforming the source material into something unique and engaging. If this hasn’t been accomplished then, well, I might as well just listen to the original.

Blondieness– Ok, so you’ve got the ‘originality’ thing covered and it’s sufficiently melodic that I don’t feel like running out of the room screaming. But is it still Blondie? If the song is changed beyond recognition then it’s not very successful, or at least not effective enough to pass as a tribute.

Alright, let’s dig into this puppy and see what we’ve got:

 

Mephisto Walz: ‘Hangin’ On the Telephone’– Goth band that’s been around in one form or another since the mid-80s, Mephisto Walz (formerly ‘Waltz’) was formed by Barry Galvin upon his departure from Christian Death. This cover is rather spry for the group, a jangly wall of sound with distant vocals as if sung from in a cavern.

  • Listenability: 7
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 5

 

Berlin: ‘Shayla’– This 80’s supergroup Berlin need no introduction I’m sure. The vocals are of course top notch, I could do without the cheesy 90’s-sounding rap nonsense that brings to mind Duran Duran’s ‘White Lines.’ Not a compliment.

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 7
  • Blondiness: 6

 

Spahn Ranch (featuring Vylette): ‘Dreaming’– Another Goth (or Electro-Industrial to be more specific) band on the Cleopatra payroll, this group was active through most of the 90s and have an extensive back catalog. Early vocalist Scott “Chopper” Franklin would go on to be the bassist for The Cramps and in ’93 they were joined by drummer David Glass from Christian Death. The band called it a day around the time this compilation was released. I’m rather fond of this version, although with its deadpan tongue-in-cheek heavily modulated vocals it doesn’t lend itself to frequent listens.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 4

 

blondie_tribute1a

Tiffany c. 2012 appearing on the TV show ‘What Not To Wear’

Tiffany: ‘Call Me’– 80’s teen heartthrob Tiffany (aka Tiffany Renee Darwish) is no stranger to covers. ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (Tommy James and the Shondells did it first and came in at #4 on the charts, her version reached #1 in both the US and UK) and ‘I Saw Him Standing There’ (Beatles cover, her version reached #7 in the US and #8 in the UK) were two of her biggest hits after all. Her take on Blondie is rather academic and ‘safe’, not truly doing justice to either Debbie Harry or Tiffany. Competent but unremarkable.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 2
  • Blondiness: 8

 

Swing Cats (with Christi Ellen Harris): ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too– Thanks to Brain Seltzer retro-swing was all the rage back in the mid-90s. Former Stray Cats associates Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom formed the Swing Cats to cash in on the craze (or bring their ‘creative interpretation’ to the genre, whichever you prefer), along with form Honeydrippers’ guitarist Danny B. Harvey. Who Christi Ellen Harris is is still a mystery; suffice it to say her music career was brief at best. And that’s really a shame ‘cause she’s really good! As is this cover, easily one of the strongest of the lot. Reminds me of The Dickies ‘Banana Splits’ cover.

  • Listenability: 9
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 8

 

Michelle Crispin: ‘Rapture– Former lead singer of the first openly (albeit sleazy) lesbian group Fem2Fem, Michelle’s solo career seems to have never taken off. She released a lone 12” single in the late nineties and then completely fell off the radar. The music sounds like off-the-shelf video game filler from some B-list turn-of-the-century driving game and the rap parts are completely butchered beyond recognition.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 4
  • Blondiness: 2

 

Rosetta Stone (featuring Mula): ‘Sunday Girl– Yet another Goth band on the Cleopatra label (this one from the UK), the band had a UK top forty hit with their rather odd cover of The Rattles’ song ‘The Witch.’ Who is Mula? A complete mystery; like several other bands on this compilation it appears they enlisted a female vocalist, the sausage fest that was Rosetta Stone perhaps deemed too masculine? It’s slow and plodding, but against all odds this one’s surprisingly good… and not half as cheesy as it could have been.

  • Listenability: 6
  • Originality: 7
  • Blondiness: 8

 

The Electric Hellfire Club: ‘Rush Rush– Formed by Buck Ryder (aka Thomas Thorn, formerly of My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult) in 1991, this industrial-metal outfit has a history spanning decades. Another odd band choice for a Blondie cover album, but obviously Cleopatra had to work with what talent they had at hand. And again I’m shocked that this unlikely marriage of styles turned out so well. Hard and alight with buzz sawing guitars, it’s tempered by a sweet delicate female voice and crafted with loving care by musicians that not only appreciate Blondie, but ‘get’ what it means to BE Blondie.

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 9
  • Blondiness: 9

 

Sheep On Drugs, c. 2013

Sheep On Drugs, c. 2013

Sheep On Drugs: ‘The Tide Is High– British techno/dance-punk raver band formed in the 90s and still around today. I’m not sure of their relationship with the Cleopatra label, but they appear on several tribute compilations around the time of this CD’s release. I do not like this cover. It’s a frantic mess, surprisingly empty for all of the aural flotsam being thrown at my ears.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 3
  • Blondiness: 1

 

Ex-Voto: ‘Accidents Never Happen– Goth/deathrock band from New Orleans, Ex-Voto have four studio albums to their name and appear to have been active at least up until 2009. Their typical work is of the depressive droning male-vocal variety typical of the genre but this tune is peppy, lively, and delightfully heavy on the synthwork. Altogether enjoyable!

  • Listenability: 8
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 7

 

Angela Bruyiere: ‘Heart of Glass– I know nothing about this artist, and a quick Google search pulls up absolutely nothing about her… other than she appears on this compilation and nowhere else. Competent but completely uninspired cover. Angela seems to be channeling Donna Summer, as the breathy wispy vocals evoke images of discos and roller skating rinks.

  • Listenability: 5
  • Originality: 3
  • Blondiness: 7

 

Razed In Black (featuring Shirley Dayton): ‘Rapture– I’m beginning to sense a theme here. Yet another goth band, this one with supposed elements of dark-wave, synthpop, and techno comprising their typical sound. The artist Shirley Dayton is relatively unknown; she appears on several other Cleopatra compilations as well as the 1999 Razed In Black (going under their alternative name ‘Transmutater’) album ‘Colony of Sluts.’ With this track we break the cardinal rule of compilation albums- ONLY ONE COVER OF THE SAME SONG PER COMILATION! Either this track or Michelle Crispin’s version should have been given the boot… it’s kind of a toss-up as to which one, as quite frankly they both kinda suck. More breathy sub-Donna Summer vocals overlaid on a barren uninspired syth track.

  • Listenability: 4
  • Originality: 1
  • Blondiness: 5

 

Cherie Currie and her chainsaw art, c. 2013

Cherie Currie and her chainsaw art, c. 2013

Cherie Currie: ‘For Your Eyes Only– They made a rather odd choice in enlisting ex-Runaway, sometimes-actress, and professional chainsaw wood carver Cherie to make a contribution. An even odder choice (arty or annoying, you decide) that her contribution be ‘For Your Eyes Only’, a rather disposable song from Blondie’s rather disposable sixth studio album, 1982’s ‘The Hunter.’ The song was originally written for the James Bond film of the same name, but ultimately rejected by the producers. Cherie’s take is, perhaps not surprisingly, somewhat of a bloated self-indulgent mess. Bond on lithium.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 4
  • Blondiness: 3

 

Puppie: ‘One Way or Another– Nothing is known of the band or artist known as ‘Puppie.’ Perhaps the singer was a secretary working at Cleopatra Records when the producers of this album came running out of the studio, desperate to find a vocalist in order to finish off the last track to meet a tight deadline. That’s my theory anyway and true or not, it sure comes off that way. The treatment of this song might have looked good on paper and it’s cute for about five seconds, but quickly becomes shrill and annoying.

  • Listenability: 2
  • Originality: 6
  • Blondiness: 2

 

  • Overall listenability: 4.62 out of 10
  • Overall originality: 5.57 out of 10
  • Overall Blondieness: 5.35 out of 10

 

The numbers pretty much play out my thoughts. A slightly better than average tribute album, brought down by a few weak acts and Cleopatra’s limited roster of talent. If they had trimmed the number of tracks from 14 down to 10 and ditched a few of the weaker links the experience would have been much more pleasant.

The package design itself is another weak link; had it been stronger this disc probably would be more widely known. As it is it comes across as one of those generic compilation albums put out by session artists. So bland and flat is the layout that when I came across this disc at a thrift store I almost passed it over. Bonus points for the incorporation of ‘platinum’ ink… but inside a jewel case it just looks gray.

blondie_tribute2

The Shams: Only A Dream / 3 a.m.

shams1

Format: 7″

Label: SOL

Country: US

Year: 1990

Price paid: $2.50

Purchased at: Angry Mom Records, Ithaca NY

 

Folksy New York girl group active during the late eighties and into the early nineties, The Shams were Amy McMahon Rigby, Sue Garner, and Amanda Uprichard. Their sound and ethos (proto-No Depression) may only tangentially warrant their inclusion on this blog, but they serve as an interesting stylistic juxtaposition to contemporaries such as the Riot Grrrls.

‘Only a Dream’ was their first and only single, released on Bob Mould’s ‘Singles Only’ Label. The band would go on to release an EP and full album on the Matador label before they split to pursue solo ventures.

Member Amy McMahon Rigby has released five studio albums between 1996 and 2005, but appears to have gone dormant musically for the last decade. She is currently married to former Stiff Records’ artist Wreckless Eric. They live in upstate New York.

Sue Garner was also active during the late nineties into the early 21st century, releasing three studio albums. The last- ‘Shadyside’- came out in 2002.

Amanda Uprichard’s whereabouts are unknown, no relation to the fashion designer/clothing line of the same name.

 

shams2

Cocktail Slippers: St. Valentines Day Massacre / Heard You Got A Thing For Me

cocktailslippers_valentineFormat: 7″

Label: Wicked Cool Records

Country: US

Year: 2009

Price paid: $4

Purchased at: The Bop Shop, Rochester NY

 

“I appreciate the glimpse into your misery…”

There has certainly been an explosion of top-notch girl groups and female-fronted bands coming out of Europe over the past decade. Sahara Hotnights, Vibeke Saugestad, and The Sounds to name but a few. The Cocktail Slippers hail from Norway and must certainly be that country’s greatest musical export since the world took on A-Ha.

cocktailslippers_valentine3I picked this single up cold, based solely on the killer cover art and the fact that they’re a girl group. Since I’m kind of a sucker for both. All too often female bands of the past twenty years have relied on their sex appeal to sell their music… I know that’s always been the case- and not unique to women- but it frequently results in a pretty package masking a dreadfully bland creamy center. I was braced for the worst, but upon spinning this disc I was pleasantly surprised…

The Slippers have an enjoyable sound, not totally dissimilar to The Dum Dum Girls with a tinge of sass ala Tuuli or Halo Friendlies. Melodic, upbeat, and unabashedly pop. The band has been around since 2001, releasing three studio albums and appearing on stage with the likes of Crowded House and Elvis Costello.

The sleeve art is magnificent and stylish, continuing a surprisingly long tradition of ‘mock movie poster’ design in music art. The sleeve was created by Louis Arzonico (aka ‘Arzonisaurus Rex’), an artist who’s designed posters/cover art for such indie artists as The Infinities and The Rascals.

cocktailslippers_valentine2

Precious Metal: That Kind of Girl

Format: LP

Label: Chameleon Records

Country: US

Year: 1988

Price paid: $2.50

 

I admit it, I’m rather bias against all-girl metal bands. Or women in metal bands at all. Or men for that matter. Ok, the very concept of most metal is repulsive, or at least I find it cheesy in the extreme.

There are a surprising number of all-girl metal bands. The only one I could probably name off the top of my head is ‘Vixen’:

Metal Ladies

…and, of course, Precious Metal. I first discovered the band back in the late 80s, when I picked up their first LP in the super-bargain bin. I was amused by the campy art. It’s actually somewhat listenable, as far as pop metal goes. Thought their album was a one-off… and promptly forgot about them for the next 25 years.

Until a few Sundays ago when I came across this, their THIRD album. Turns out they stumbled through the first half of the 90s intact, released a total of four albums, and a posthumous ‘best of’ CD. The album’s still sealed and will probably remain so for the immediate future.

The Applicators: What’s Your Excuse

 

Format: LP
Label: C.R.A.S.
Country: US
Year: 2002
Price paid: $10
Location purchased: Exchange, Kent Ohio

 

I have a soft spot for all-girl groups. Rarely do they have ‘staying power’ to span multi-decade careers or garner an abundance of kudos from music snobs… but I’ll take them over some dusty old acoustic crooner anytime. The Applicators have released three full length LPs (this is the first) so they obviously have some enough of a fanbase to keep the flame alive.

My primary way of learning about new music is to dive right in and just buy what I don’t know. As I always say- unlike books, you CAN often judge a record by its cover. I mean, just look at it! Adorable.

I was sold when I flipped it over and saw track names like ‘Puke on You’ and ‘She Smells Like Me.’ Pure gold. Their sound is, well, I can probably name a dozen all-girl bands of the last decade that have a similar attitude. Sort of like The Muffs, only sloppier. Perhaps a little X-Ray Spex thrown in. Overall an early 90’s ‘Riot Grrrl’ sound. Here’s a sample:

Applicators- She Smells Like Me