Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

88875195041_JK001_PS_01_01_01.indd

 

A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

Advertisements

Now This Is What I’m Talkin’About!!! Or… Sufjan Stevens – Illinois 10th Anniversary edition

illinoiseblue

Announced a few months ago, I had assumed early on that this “anniversary edition” of (the already classic) Illinois, would be like a few other artists – limited, advance order only and expensive. Music accolades aside, of which Illinois has received ‘many’, this is a first class vinyl reissue at a price that is downright inexpensive for what is included.

First, the cover features a new licensed picture of Marvel’s “Blue Marvel” replacing Superman on the original. While Superman is a household name, Blue Marvel is a relatively new comic hero that is just far ‘cooler’ than the DC man of steel. (Besides, licensing was an issue,)

Next you get a double two coloured 12” records in white and ‘Blue Marvel’ (blue with white splatter) and a star shaped red coloured vinyl single of “Chicago” in a tri-fold album sleeve.

illinoiseblue2

Finally, it is all at a price under $25.00 Canadian, and can be purchased at your local retailer.

When was first announced I missed the boat and thought I was out of luck. However, this edition is actually limited to ‘ten thousand copies.’ That is a good thing folks! The original pressing with the ‘Superman cover’ was limited to 5000. Interestingly, the Superman image had to be covered up by balloons because of copyright issues. When you see it now, it is because people peeled off the stickers to get at the actual cover. The thing sells – used – for over $150 on the reseller market.

Back in 2013, Newbury Comics released a double vinyl set in red and green wax. On that edition, the balloons were a legitimate image on the cover with Superman removed. Limited to 1000 copies, this reissue of Illinois is selling for over $130 and sold out quickly; which leads me to why I am so very happy with Asthmatic Kitty for this release.

illionis2

By printing 10000 copies, legitimate fans that missed out the first time can get an awesome package without breaking the bank. Call it a dream, but I wish more artists would go this route. Changing up the cover a bit and the colour of vinyl on the reissue, it gives old fans the collectability they desire and new fans a chance to get in and still have something unique. In a world where artists are losing money to streaming music, enticing consumers with an awesome tactile experience seems to be a great way to revive the physical market.

A Perfect Storm… or Sonic Youth – Goo

goo1

It can be difficult to quantify the importance of a single LP, not only as a piece of art, but also on its impact on the zeitgeist. Music being a quite subjective form of expression usually gets defined by observers in two very different, if not opposing standards – sales (numbers sold) and contextualization… being the present, historical and critical importance perceived by music writers and individuals alike. Every so often the two standards align within a moment that one can point at and yell (in their best Charlie Brown voice) “THAT’S IT!!!”

Goo acted as such a watershed. While being the most commercially accessible album Sonic Youth had produced to date, it changed how other artists saw themselves and their art within the music world. Without compromising their artistic vision, the band had joined a major label and sounded just as fucking insanely awesome as ever. Following Goo, Nirvana signed with DGC on Kim Gordon’s recommendation. Neil Young released Weld on the advice of Thurston Moore. Hell, they even made Steve Albini’s cries of sell outs to all major label acts seem like a distant voice lost in a strong wind. After all, if Sonic Youth were recording for DGC, then how bad could it be?

Just look back at the classic documentary 1991: The Year That Punk Broke. For many, this was ‘the’ introduction to the world of 90’s alt-rock having just witnessed Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. Babes in Toyland and more pre-grunge explosion (grunge is such a useless word). Thing is… the real subject and focus of the film is Sonic Youth and their tour in support of Goo. Everyone in the film went on to either moderate or phenomenal success.

punkbroke

Like any band that has the repertoire of Sonic Youth, arguments will always ensue about where albums rank against one another. Dirty was more commercially successful and Daydream Nation got more critical laurels, but Goo was proof positive that Sonic Youth could take their brand of indie-avant-rock into the public consciousness. Basically, if you’re a music-geek, then Goo is essential.

If you’re looking to pick up a 12” version there are a few options. Your first is the original LP from 1990, some limited quantities came with a bonus 7” of “Kool Thing” and are decently priced at under $40 through discogs. They were limited at the time to 3000 copies so some e-bay resellers are asking as much as $200 for “near mint”… so do some research if you’re looking for it.

The most coveted edition is the 1996 Mobile Fidelity 200 gram vinyl. As per usual, MF did the recording at half cutting speed to ensure sound quality and did a limited run. Of course, this also means a high price on the resale market with vendors asking for over $200 in many cases. Again you’re looking at tags like “near mint.”

goo2

The next option is for music enthusiasts and can be purchased “new.” In 2005, Goo was re-mastered and put out as a four LP set. The first two discs contained the album proper on Sides A, B and C while D had ‘B-sides and outtakes.’  The second set of records contained demos and unreleased material.  Also included was a 16 page booklet. This can be special ordered through most record stores or ordered direct through the bands website.

goobox

This year Goo got another re-master and re-release. This time out it is on a single disc. You can find the standard black vinyl at all the usual outlets, or a pink/white swirl through Newbury Comics. The coloured vinyl edition is limited to 1000 copies and sounds pretty damn good against the CD.

pinkgoo

Any way you look at it, Sonic Youth provided a road for other bands to follow, and Goo was a significant part of what would follow in the 90’s alt-rock era. It’s worth the price of admission.

New Replacements vinyl box – The Sire Years to be released on March 29th

replacements sire

For some hard core fans, The Replacements are the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. Hyperbole aside, they are definitely one of the most important and influential acts from the 80’s.

The last few weeks have given Mat’s fans a few interesting developments to cheer about. First, Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield introduced the world to their recent collaboration The I Don’t Cares. On March 1st, a new biography by acclaimed rock critic Bob Mehr entitled Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements saw the light of day. Just this past week a new interview in Spin had Westerberg clarify that the Replacements reunion “DID NOT” end with them breaking up again; implying that we may indeed see them reunite in the future. Finally, Rhino records have announced a new vinyl box set – The Replacements: The Sire Years.

The set includes four records the band recorded on Sire between 1985 and 1990: Tim (1985), Pleased To Meet Me (1987), Don’t Tell A Soul (1989) and All Shook Down (1990).

Tim saw Westerberg explore different aspects of his song writing prowess. Songs like “Swingin Party” and “Kiss Me On The Bus” had a more playful ‘house party’ feel that was contrasted by the anthemic “Bastards Of The Young” & “Lay It Down Clown.” Eventually, Rolling Stone would hail it as #136 in their ‘Top 500 Albums of All Time’ and Alternative Press ranked it as 4th in the Greatest Records recorded between ’85 and ’95 list.

Pleased To Meet Me contains some of the most recognized Replacements numbers including their nod to Big Star luminary “Alex Chilton” and the life affirming “Skyway.” The video for “The Ledge” had the distinction of being banned by MTV for its theme of suicide. While Tim still contained elements of the band’s more punk origins, Pleased To Meet Me had moments where you could mockingly envision men in smoking jackets drinking martini’s. Paste magazine ranked it at #70 in their Top 80 of the 80’s list.

Don’t Tell A Soul was the first record to feature Slim Dunlap on guitar after Bob Stinson’s unceremonious departure. In contrast to the two previous more adventurous records, this was pretty much a straight forward rock ‘n’ roll album featuring the Replacements only ‘real’ hit single “I’ll Be You.” Although lacking some of the historical accolades of other albums, Don’t Tell A Soul was both a ‘tongue in cheek’ nod to lack of success while at the same time an attempt to achieve what they so despised. “Talent Show” and “Achin’ To Be” both stand out as highlight tracks.

The Replacements’ epilogue came just as the band was beginning to get mainstream attention with All Shook Down. “When It Began” was nominated for an MTV video award and the LP as a whole found the band nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the 1991 Grammy’s. Featuring a slew of guests including John Cale (The Velvet Underground), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers), and Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde); All Shook Down saw the disintegration of the band in a glorious sounding finale.

Unlike many recent vinyl retrospectives The Replacements: The Sire Years is downright affordable, with retailers asking just over $70.00 for the four LP set. Any indie/alt rock fan looking to include some Mats tunes on the turntable should be extremely happy with this release. However, act quick… the set is limited to 8700 numbered copies, with some pre-orders containing a bonus 7” of “Can’t Hardly Wait” (Tim version) with “Portland” on the B-side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favourite Soul Obsession… or … Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

rsaadiq stone rollin

Let me start by saying that all the kudos going to Leon Bridges and Nathaniel Rateliff for last year’s outstanding albums is well deserved. However, it isn’t like old-school soul music was just rediscovered in 2015 and brought forward again. Some people out there have been carrying that torch for quite a while, and have been criminally overlooked by all but the deftest of music connoisseurs.

One of the most obvious examples of this comes from Raphael Saadiq and his outstanding 2011 release Stone Rollin’. Formerly of Tony! Toni! Tone!, Saadiq has put out a series of great solo records since the early 2000’s that highlight influences from various ‘soul’ capitals from Memphis to Detroit. What makes him a little more unique is that he pulls these sounds together with his own style. However, rather than the familiar hooks of the MG’s or the layered gospel harmonies of Motown, he wears the smooth styling’s of early 70’s Stevie Wonder crossed with the understated guitar work of Funk Brothers Robert White. Saadiq is definitely churning out classic inspired R&B and using familiar themes in the process, but you can’t help feeling you want to hear more as the record concludes.

It looks to be still in its first pressing, so the bonus CD still comes with the vinyl when you find a copy. However it is likely that you’ll need to order a copy online or from your local retailer to get a physical copy, or of course, there is always the download route. Give it a listen and I’m sure it will become your favourite new music obsession.

Give Me Crap If You Must… or… Temple Of The Dog – Eponymous

tod1

Right now… as I’m writing this, I’m feeling an epic moment of personal nostalgia. Looking over at a recently purchased purple piece of vinyl spinning on my turntable I can’t help but reflect back nearly twenty-five years. Usually when someone says that an album changed their life it is pure hyperbole. It is something said by someone to say they connected in a deep way to a certain record. In my case it literally shaped my entire university experience and the lifelong friends I made.

Let me explain. In the summer of 1991 I found myself really getting into an album that almost no one had heard of – Temple Of The Dog. Remember, this was before Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger; before Pearl Jam had released Ten and even predates Nirvana’s Nevermind. Hell, Soundgarden’s most commercial song to this point was probably “Big Dumb Sex” which had Chris Cornell screaming fuck enough to get the old “explicit lyrics” sticker on the front of Louder Than Love.

As school resumed in September I had started taking a film course and was regaling a new acquaintance on the perfection that was Temple Of The Dog. After a few moments, he interjected with… “Why don’t you review it for me?” I must admit, I was more than a little dumbfounded and probably had that “um, yeah, um, ok” look in my eyes until he explained that he was the entertainment editor at the campus paper. The next day I showed up with a hand written review and from that point on, I became an arts critic during a very interesting time in the musical universe.

Little more than a month after that conversation Pearl Jam was playing an industry gig at the Rivoli in Toronto. Trust me when I say this… the Rivoli is small, very frickin’ small. Ten had been released, but no one was caught up in it yet, and I retold the story again to my friend trying to sell him on the idea of an interview. Mike, who has a bit of a poker face, didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. It would be the first time I would stick a microphone in front of a band, so I was a little nervous and started checking my schedule the next day. My memory at this point gets a bit fuzzy on certain details, but what I remember with absolute clarity is this – I had an exam the morning after the interview. So I returned to Mike and let him know I wouldn’t be able to do it. Casually… between two friends, I cancelled an audience with Pearl Jam before they were “PEARL JAM.”

It wouldn’t be until the next summer I’d do my first interview with The Skydiggers, and from there I did have chats with a lot of great bands. Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Cracker and the Lemonheads all come to mind. However… um…, what can I say? I did well on the exam.

Now many years later I found myself searching for a vinyl copy and apparently it is a very hot commodity. Discogs has selling the original 1991 LP for $1000 USD with the average of past sales coming up at over $200 and a recent sale over $500. The same record made in Europe goes for a much more reasonable $80.

That same year a limited edition picture disc was released but I couldn’t find any for sale to fix a price point.

In 1992, with the success of both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the album was given a huge push behind the release of the single “Hunger Strike.” Several European editions were released on red vinyl and all seem to go between $50 and $100.

Eight years later, a vinyl reissue hit the market on clear vinyl that has a history of selling under $50.

Jump to 2013 and Music on Vinyl did a complete remaster of the record on 2 pieces of black 180 gram vinyl with an etched side 4. Simultaneously, they also released a limited edition hand numbered purple LP set. A&M also reissued the record on a single red platter.

tod2

Finally, last year, Music on Vinyl reissued 1200 copies of the purple set on 180 gram vinyl to be sold through Newbury Comics. The two, while described as purple, are differing shades, making it slightly cooler than the last batch. However… it seems to have already sold out. You can find copies through Discogs or e-bay for under $50 USD, or just grab the regular black vinyl which is still widely available at the usual retailers.

The Ultimate Rock ‘n’ Roll Smoothie… or Dressy Bessy – King Sized

dressy bessy king sized photo

When I was a child sitting cross legged on the floor watching Saturday morning cartoons mere inches from the TV screen, I was obsessed with fun songs. The show didn’t seem to matter as much as the cool theme in front of it. The sounds of Speed Racer, the Banana Splits, Josie & the Pussy Cats, Scoobie Doo… even Hong Kong Phooey were running through my head as I raced up and down the street on my banana seat bicycle. Certain songs would just grab me by the cranium and shake themselves into my consciousness. Obviously, it wasn’t about some deep emotional connection; there was just a gut instinct that made me want to jump, shake, run, ride, and sing even if I had no talent at such things. They just put a smile on my face.

Fast forward a few decades and some bands continue to pull that out of me. Dressy Bessy is one of those groups. They just allow me to spend a bit of time in a ‘happy place’, and their new album King Sized is another notch in a good time measure stick.

First you have Tammy Ealom, whose vocals could be compared to the more fun version of the Breeders Kim Deal. Then you get John Hill whose rhythm guitar jangle from Apples In Stereo takes the lead with Dressy Bessy. What you get is joyous mix of power-pop, indie and 70’s – 80’s pub rock, all tossed into a blender and arriving in your speakers as the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll smoothie.

Lead single “Lady Liberty” suggests that life is just too damn short to live with negativity as Ealom sings “there’s no room for angry people / trying hard to get along / there’s nothing if not taking role, folding cards / if only Lady Liberty could say it all / I’ll bet she would.” Sure, there is a message, but it’s subtle and comes out in rainbow coloured bursts. Even empowerment tune “Get Along, Diamond Ring” with Ealom’s protagonist exclaiming “don’t give, give me, give me no diamond ring – ‘cause I don’t want it” isn’t angry as much as a simple statement given with rolled eyes and raised brow; a boundary not to be crossed.

Fact is, while Dressy Bessy is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, they’ve been on my bucket list for most of those. Between their music and videos I get the impression it would be an awesome experience.

Unfortunately, a decent fan base south of the border hasn’t translated into any visits north. Hopefully King Sized will afford them the opportunity to play NXNE festival in June, or even better, a solo spot at one of T.O.’s (Toronto) smaller venues…, because… well… it’s one show I would want to be near the stage for.

 

King Sized will be released Feb 5th