Tag: 1983

Aztec Camera – High Land, Hard Rain

ARTIST: Aztec Camera 220px-High_Land,_Hard_Rain

TITLE: High Land, Hard Rain

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #129 US, #22 UK

SINGLES: Pillar to Post, Oblivious (#18 UK), Walk Out to Winter (#64 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I doubt

LINEUP: Roddy Frame, Campbell Owens, Craig Gannon, Bernie Clark, Dave Ruffy

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Melodic jangly pop rock written by a young Scottish wunderkind.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Roddy Frame was 16 when he formed Aztec Camera, and by his 19th birthday he was recording their debut album for Rough Trade. But this wasn’t some teenage love story – Frame was much like Michael Brown of the Left Banke and Emmit Rhodes of the Merry-Go-Round. He was writing sophisticated pop songs at a young age with complex themes and melodies.

The first track, “Oblivious”, is an all-timer. Written with a keen sense of melody, with a great hook, the arrangement is sophisticated and the lyrics are deft wordplay. It’s hard to believe that it’s not the work of someone with years of experience behind him.

The rest of the album isn’t as bright and pop-friendly as that track, but Frame and the band still have a maturity beyond their years, and the album sounds fresh especially when comparing to the more production and electronics heavy records of that time.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They released two singles in 1981 that aren’t really compiled anywhere.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, three additional B-sides.

GRADE A-: One all-timer and the rest decent-to-good pop songs. It’s well worth some spins.

The Replacements – Hootenanny

ARTIST: The Replacements 220px-The_Replacements_-_Hootenanny_cover

TITLE: Hootenanny

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Color Me Impressed, Within Your Reach

LINEUP: Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A shambolic record that epitomizes the Replacements at the time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s some growth and maturity by The Replacements here. Tracks like “Color Me Impressed”, “Within Your Reach” and “Willpower” expand their sonic horizons and sharpen their wit.

Then there’s the messes of “Treatment Bound” and the title track, “Hootenanny” where the band switches instruments for the heck of it. (They did that during their shows sometimes). And the outright stealing of some melodies during “Mr. Whirly”, also for a gag probably.

Is it entertaining? Yeah. Is it consistent? Nah. But “Within Your Reach” and “Color Me Impressed” are definitely all-timers for the group, and rock in general.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Lovelines” featured actual classified ads from the Minneapolis City pages.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a few outtakes and alternate vocals.

GRADE B: Fun, but really messy and erratic.

Death Cult – Death Cult

ARTIST: Death Cult (The Cult)  Death-Cult-EP

TITLE: Death Cult

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: No

SINGLES: It started as a 4-track EP, and added tracks in 1988 and 1996

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Horse Nation was on their debut LP

LINEUP: Ian Astbury, Billy Duffy, Jamie Stewart. Ray Mondo played drums in the first sessions, then Nigel Preston played on the later cuts.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Tentative start by the future Cult find them feeling their way around their early sound.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The guitars aren’t as big, the production is simple, and the songs aren’t that great, but still, when Ian Astbury opens his mouth, you know it’s The Cult, albeit way early in their career when they were known as Death Cult.

Migrating from a couple of other bands (one being Southern Death Cult), the band soon to be known as The Cult recorded a four track EP that at least got them a little notice. Later they recorded a single “God’s Zoo”, which was a marked improvement. That lead to their debut record, where they repurposed a song here and cast the rest into history.

There are some high points here, but the flat production, meandering tracks, and the lack of redeeming kitsch makes this EP disposable to all except the curious. Death_Cult_(EP)

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The lead track of the EP proper, “Brothers Grimm”, was written by Duffy and Steve Abbot from UK Decay when they both were unemployed from their previous bands.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Originally it was a 4-track EP, then they added the “God’s Zoo” single, and then a BBC session that led up to their Dreamtime album as the Cult.

GRADE C-: For the curious only, except for “God’s Zoo” and maybe “Brothers Grimm” if I’m generous.

Swans – Filth

ARTIST: Swans                                     

TITLE: Filth

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: Are you serious?

SINGLES: None, but the EP Swans is appended.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Um….

LINEUP: Michael Gira, Jonathan Kane, Roli Mosimann, Norman Westberg, Harry Crosby

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pummeling your senses into oblivion.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I’ve had issues in adding some really out there and art damaged records to my catalog (See Throbbing Gristle, Einstruzende Neubauten, Foetus, etc. on Ugggh!) but Swans makes the cut, even though it is also grimly difficult and damaged.

Michael Gira and his band of noise terrorists do have song structures, and even songs that you can move a bit too. What they also have is a holy clatter and noise made by two drummers, two bassists, and a guitarist interested in making sheets of noise. Gira sings, er, shouts his tales of degradation and real-life horror. The effect is heightened by the use of repetition in both music and lyrics.

This is not for everyone – probably not for most people. But if you get it (and it may take a while) it’s worth a ride. 

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Michael Gira said he wanted the music to obliterate, just because it felt good. Mission accomplished.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Several different packages, and some have their debut EP along with this album

 GRADE B+: I get this, not that I’m going to put it on to cook dinner (unless I have to tenderize something with a mallet).

Billy Bragg – Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

ARTIST: Billy Bragg                    220px-Life's_a_riot

TITLE: Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #30 UK

SINGLES: It’s kind of an EP in length, though it made the LP charts in the UK.

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Milkman of Human Kindness, A New England

LINEUP: Billy Bragg

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First seven song collection from Billy Bragg, alone with his guitar and voice.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Billy Bragg had a failed career as a punk rocker in Riff Raff, and dropped out of the British Army, before busking around London and playing small concerts with just him and his electric guitar. He alternated love songs and political rants and grew a fan base. After some intrigue behind the scenes, this became a hit in the UK.

These seven songs don’t lack for a lack of instrumentation. Bragg’s guitar and voice make up for that in passion and heart. The songs are fully formed – at times sentimental – at times angry. He’s a pure heart in the music business and it shows here, and his lyrical game was on point from the beginning.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This was mastered at 45 RPM, and John Peel first played a track at the wrong speed. Oops.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, outtakes and demos that double the length.

 GRADE A-: Two of the tracks are all timers, and the rest aren’t that bad, once you get used to the solo guitar and voice.

Jason & the Scorchers – Fervor

ARTIST: Jason & the Scorchers          220px-Jason-scorchers-fervor

TITLE:  Fervor

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None – it was an EP

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Help There’s a Fire, Absolutely Sweet Marie

LINEUP: Jason Ringenberg, Perry Baggs, Warner Hodges, Jeff Johnson. Michael Stipe backs up on a track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A band to put the ROCK in country-rock, the Scorchers created a proto alt-country sound with some hot rock guitar and cool country ballads.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: From Cornfield, USA (Sheffield, IL), Jason Ringenberg journeyed to Nashville and formed the Scorchers as a raw rock band with definite country leanings. After a four-track EP that was more style than substance, EMI put out this seven track EP to whet the appetite of the public.

The Dylan cover “Absolutely Sweet Marie” kills, as does the original “Help There’s a Fire” (remade from the original EP). They show their range with “Pray for Me, Mama (I’m a Gypsy Now)”, where Jason sings a sad country song.

Warner Hodges’ guitar work on electric and steel is stellar. Jason’s croon fits every song. It’s seven tracks of fun.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The four track EP, Reckless Country Soul (credited to Jason & the Nashville Scorchers), is on a compilation called Wildfires & Misfires)

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but it’s on an EMI Years compilation though

 GRADE: A-: It’s a damn roadhouse party in seven tracks.

U2 – War

ARTIST: U2                           220px-U2_War_album_cover (1)

TITLE:  War

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #12 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: New Year’s Day (#53 US, #2 Mainstream, #10 UK), Sunday Bloody Sunday (#7 Mainstream), Two Hearts Beat As One (#12 Mainstream, #18 UK), Surrender (#27 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Seconds, “40”

LINEUP: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen with a little help from Kenny Fradley, Steve Wickham, and the Coconuts

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: U2 coalesces all of its strengths into one unifying force, creating an album that put them on the map all over the world and MTV too.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Beginning with a martial snare drum, and ending with a plaintive Psalm, U2 recovered from the uneven October with a classic that focused their sound, their lyrics, and their attitude.

Each member of U2 plays with a fire and passion befitting the songs, especially Larry Mullen on drums. He varies his sounds and attack to suit each track, but never interferes with the other elements. Bassist Adam Clayton’s work with Mullen creates a very solid rhythm section, allowing the Edge’s guitar (and e-piano) space to color and shape the tracks. “New Year’s Day” is one of THE tracks of the rock era.

Bono gets a little heavy handed and preachy in a couple songs (it IS Bono) which makes a couple songs less than stellar, but most every track is worthy of heavy play. This is where to start – it’s the bedrock of U2 for years to come.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Edge sings the first two stanzas of “Seconds”. I…I did not know that. Also, the Coconuts (from King Creole’s band) sing backup in three tracks

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, B-sides and remixes.

 GRADE: A: Had Bono reigned himself a skosh on a couple tracks, it would have been an A+

The Fixx – Reach the Beach

ARTIST: The Fixx                                      220px-The_Fixx_-_Reach_the_Beach

TITLE: Reach the Beach

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #8 US, #91 UK

SINGLES: Saved By Zero (#20 US), One Thing Leads to Another (#4 US, #86 UK), The Sign of Fire (#32 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably not. I doubt many people listened to the second side.

LINEUP: Cy Curnin, Rupert Greenall, Jamie West-Oram, Adam Woods. Alfie Agius played bass on three songs (two of them hits and he wrote the bass line for One Thing Leads to Another). Dan Brown joined to play bass on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Fixx, thanks to MTV and catchy new wave hooks, gain a US foothold as they were being ignored in the UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Barely getting any notice in their native land, the Fixx got a lot of traction in the US thanks to very MTV friendly (yet overly- arty and pretentious) videos for “Saved By Zero” and “One Thing Leads to Another”.

The hooks and videos hid a secret of the Fixx – they had designs on being progressive art rockers but also wanted to make hit records. The deep tracks here show more of this dichotomy. Cy Curnin’s lyrics are philosophical fiddle-faddle most of the time, and the music lets Rupert Greenall go nuts with his keyboards.

But the hits were insidious, and there’s enough glimmers in the deep tracks to at least keep this around as a whole album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Alfie Agius recorded three tracks with the band, then left in a personality dispute. They did without a bassist until the last track they recorded, when they definitely needed one.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, two unneccessary remixes, and B-side, and a pretty decent song from a soundtrack (“Deeper and Deeper”)

GRADE: B-: Philosophy students should avoid the lyrics (ok, everyone should, really) but they do have a few decent moments after the hits. A few.

Butthole Surfers – Butthole Surfers / Live PCPPEP

ARTIST: Butthole Surfers                          220px-Butthole_Surfers_Front

TITLE: Butthole Surfers / Live PCPPEP

YEAR RELEASED: 1983 / 1984

CHART ACTION: #21 UK Indie (!!!!!)

SINGLES: None (these were two EPs)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave, Bar-B-Q Pope

LINEUP: Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, King Coffey, Bill Jolly. Teresa Nervosa is on the live tracks. Brad Perkins drum son two tracks.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first emittance from these weirdos from Austin is chaotic, shambling, and yet after a while it makes sense, sorta. 220px-Butthole_Surfers_Live_PCPPEP_Front

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first rule of Butthole Surfers is to not take them seriously. That’s kind of obvious, but most of what they do are ingenious genre parodies with unexpected twists and turns (the ending of “The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave where Paul Leary just keeps yelling “shut up” in a defeated way and some people may not get that and just hear chaos and noise.

There is definite some form and structure and some definitely advanced ideas here. It’s just sifted through a lens of demented weirdness. The live EP showcases the same kind of derangement, with more saxophone from Haynes that adds to the entire stew of madness and his golf commentary on “Bar-B-Q Pope” is pure genius.

It may take a while for you to grasp this. Heck, it took me a while.

Brown_Reason_to_Live

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band had a hard time keeping drummers and bass players until they found Coffey, and later Nervosa.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There are a few bonus tracks – more live material and a demo.

GRADE: B+: I get what they’re doing, and it’s fun, but…it’s not for everyone

Depeche Mode – Construction Time Again

ARTIST: Depeche Mode             Depeche_Mode_-_Construction_Time_Again

TITLE: Construction Time Again

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #6 UK

SINGLES: Everything Counts (#17 Dance, #6 UK), Love, in Itself (#21 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not over in the US, no.

LINEUP: Martin Gore, Alan Wilder, David Gahan, Andy Fletcher

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: An artistic turnaround, and the path forward for Depeche Mode.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Alan Wilder joined Depeche Mode as a full member for this album, and whether it was that, or Martin Gore’s evolution as a songwriter, Depeche Mode definitely moved in a positive direction.

The band was now adding depth to its sonic palette, with a darker mood, complex song structures, and samples of industrial-type sounds that helped add a more experimental edge to their sound. Vocals were also utilized as more than just a melody-carrier as well as the layered vocals with Gahan and the band added to the moody atmosphere.

“Everything Counts” got their first real notice in the US after their initial hit, even though it was just in clubs and dance floors. It also was a dance tune with a political message, which led the band to include more political and social messaging in its songs. More importantly, it had a hook to die for which got people moving.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Wilder wrote two songs on the album, and continued to contribute songs until his departure.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Originally the CD had a hidden track (a reprise of “Everything Counts”). In 2007, a deluxe version with their pre-album single “Get the Balance Right” (#13 UK, #31 US Dance), which set the stage for the album.

GRADE: A-:  Depeche Mode moves from just a synth-pop band to something more ambitious.