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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Talking Heads

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Talking Heads

Posted on 05 January 2013 by Dorian

It is hard to remember what the first album that I purchased (with my own money for myself at any rate) was. I believe that it was Peter Gabriel’s So in 1986 aged 14, neither a terrible start nor one that I look back at with a huge degree of fondness. I do know what the first great album I purchased was, The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads in the same year (from the long gone Tilbury Gig in Brighton’s St.James’s Street). Now this was a great collection of live recordings by a band that would shape my love of music as much as any other.

Talking Heads

I first heard the band in a friends bedroom around a year earlier, the soundtrack to the legendary concert film Stop Making Sense’. In those days (nostalgia time) acquiring lots of music was difficult without a lot of disposable income (we didn’t have a tape to tape recorder yet) and that meant albums got a lot of repeat plays. This means that the first Talking Heads song I remember hearing was the solo acoustic version of ‘Psycho Killer’ that opens the performance. It is a wonderful song and a brilliant performance, but it is one of the least representative songs in a very varied body of work. Other than the vocals and lyrics of David Byrne none of the signature elements of the band is on show. One of the great things about Stop making Sense is the way it builds and shows the band in several stages of development, leading up to the big new-wave-funk-pop big band that they would be best remembered for.

Now I am a big fan of their earlier more sparse sound, but there is a real magic to the extended Talking Heads live show from the mid-80s, with some of the best musicians of the era augmenting the core quartet. Even better in some respects than the band on show for Stop Making Sense was the band line-up that toured Remain In Light, featuring King Crimson’s Adrian Belew on guitar. A brilliant performance of ‘Crosseyed And Painless’ live in Rome is embedded below.

I was lucky enough that the year I discovered the band was the year that they would release Little Creatures and have a two top 20 hits with ‘Road To Nowhere’ and ‘And She Was’. These were brilliant singles with great videos and represented the first time that one of “my” bands would cross over into the pop mainstream. The downside of discovering the band at this time was that after the tour that spawned Stop Making Sense would be their last and they would never play live again (other than at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame). I’ve managed to see three quarters of the band live (albeit not in one place) but not getting to see them play as Talking Heads will always be a hole in my musical life. It also means that none of the songs from their last three albums have ever been played outside of the studio by the band which seems a terrible shame.

The good news about discovering the band in 1985 was that I heard five album from their back catalogue to discover, each of which remain firm favourites to this day. They are also the albums that I have owned in the most formats having purchased cassette, vinyl and CD copies of most of them, with remastered CD versions of a couple meaning I have purchased them four times over the last quarter century.

Each of these albums from the jerky sparse  new wave on 77 to the synth laden funk-pop on Speaking In Tongues is uniquely brilliant and show a peerless progression of sound. It is remarkable how few false steps the band took in their career to that point. A couple of songs don’t quite hit the mark, and I feel that Remain In Light tails off a little on side two, but considering the overall quality of their output I’m picking holes here.

After Little Creatures things do start to move downhill a little as the band started to fracture and tension between David Byrne and Tina Weymouth in particular drove the band to split. True Stories sounds like what it was, a collection of soundtrack songs played by the band and, although I have grown to love it, Naked seemed very disappointing on release day.

All four members of the band have done good things away from Talking Heads, Jerry Harrison mainly as a producer, Frantz and Weymouth as Tom Tom Club and Byrne in a variety of guises (including my personal favourite album of 2012) but nothing that matches their best work as a combo. This is highlighted to great effect on the brilliant Chronology DVD that takes you through the bands live performances from their early days as a trio through to the big band on the mid-80s and they brief reformation in 2002.

Picking ten tracks from one of your favourite artists is always hard, pretty much every one of their albums is brilliant from start to finish, but pick ten tracks I will. My selection is hardly likely to surprise as it features several of their singles, a fuller list can be heard on Spotify here. (If you want to hear some more songs plus some music by related acts, and acts that have a clear Talking Heads influence in their sound that can be found on Spotify here).

  1. Love -> Building On Fire
  2. No Compassion
  3. Found A Job
  4. Mind
  5. Crosseyed And Painless
  6. Making Flippy Floppy
  7. Psycho Killer (Stop Making Sense version)
  8. And She Was
  9. Love For Sale
  10. (Nothing But) Flowers

By Dorian Rogers

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The Wedding Present

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The Wedding Present

Posted on 29 April 2011 by Dorian

Here’s the fifth part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives. To see the other bands previously  featured in this series click here.

Part 5 – The Wedding Present

Some people will see this article and be surprised at The Wedding Present as a choice for a landmark band, to many they will represent the mundanity of pre-Madchester indie. To a 15 year old fledgling alternative music obsessive in 1987 they represented something more, the first new British indie act to grab me in my teenage years.

Formed in 1985 by David Gedge and Keith Gregory, from the ashes of their first band the Lost Pandas, the line-up was completed by Peter Solowka and Shaun Charman. This line-up would record a handful of singles and Peel sessions (the band recorded 9 sessions with the DJ) ,released in 1988 as Tommy, and their classic debut album George Best.

The Wedding Present circa 1990

The Wedding Present circa 1990

George Best was my first encounter with the band and soon became my favourite album of my mid-teens. The Wedding present were seen as second rate to The Smiths in the indie-hierarchy, but to me they were the superior band in every way. I love The Smiths now, but as a teenager in the south of England they said little to me. I wasn’t interested in Morrissey’s fey approach or his poetic references, Gedge’s tales of wet bus stops, disappointment and girl troubles said a lot more to a 15 year old who was just discovering girls and the complications that brought.

The bands time on the major label RCA was a brilliant period which produced the bands two best albums and saw the band going from creative strength to creative strength. Bizarro showed an increasingly abrasive edge to the bands frenzied guitars and spawned their first top 40 hits. ‘Brassneck’ was released as a single and rerecorded with Steve Albini, who would oversee the follow-up album Seamonsters, beating PJ Harvey and Nirvana to recording with the Big Black legend. The B-side to the single included a cover off the Pavement song ‘Box Elder’ some 8 years before Blur picked them up as an influence in the wake of Brit-pop.

I saw the band live several times in the late 80s and early 90s and they were never less than excellent. Gedge a dry witted and understated front man and the sets full throttle and filled with crowd pleasing favourites. Even the band’s trademark refusal to play and encore added to the enjoyment of the live show.

The Wedding Present had a landmark contract with RCA, it not only meant they could work with any producer or their choosing but also meant that if the label rejected any of their singles they could choose to release it with any other label. As a result the label didn’t resist their decision to release a single a month for the whole of 1992, which were later released on the Hit Parade 1 and 2 compilations. This proved to be a good move as the band equalled Elvis’s record of having 12 top 30 hits in a single year, despite each single being limited to 10,000 copies. One of my regrets is only picking up three of the singles, my record buying at the time being at the mercy of the stock in the Our Price on Eltham high street, and missing out on the inventive cover art and interesting cover versions on each b-side.

The Wedding Present today

The Wedding Present today

With the release of Watusi in 1994 (the first album by the band to only feature Gedge from the original line-up) I had started to lose interest in the band. In retrospect this was a mistake as that album stands up as one the bands best (and demands a reissue) but as a fickle indie kid I had moved on to other acts. After a few releases were ignored by the record buying public Gedge joined me and brought the band to a close to focus on his new act Cinerama.

Cinerama pulled me back in, they were basically the same band but with less of the drab indie reputation that The Wedding Present had established over time. After a string of excellent albums Gedge reverted back to the Wedding Present moniker to release Take Fountain in 2005.

The band continue to this day, playing gigs, releasing records and running mini-festivals in Brighton and Holmfirth. they deserve to be remembered as one of the great British bands of the last 30 years and David Gedge held up alongside Morrissey as one of the great lyricists and songwriters.

Ten Wedding Present Tracks To Check Out:

  1. You Should Always Keep in Touch With Your Friends
  2. My Favourite Dress
  3. I’m Not Always So Stupid
  4. Kennedy
  5. Corduroy
  6. Dalliance
  7. California
  8. Spangle
  9. Sports car
  10. I’m From Further North Than You

And for a selection of songs listen to this Spotify playlist. (Only live tracks are available on Spotify from the pre-Bizarro era, and the albums towards the end of band first time around aren’t present).

By Dorian Rogers

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The Mountain Goats

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The Mountain Goats

Posted on 14 March 2011 by Joe

Here’s the fourth part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives. To see the other bands previously  featured in this series click here.

Part 4 – The Mountain Goats

The Mountain Goats are among the most recent addition to our list of bands that changed our lives. While we have grown up with the likes of other entries such as  Camper Van Beethoven and XTC, it wasn’t until 2005 that I first heard the band, which is fronted by one of America’s best living songwriters John Darnielle.

I’ll set the scene back in 2005. I was scrolling through one of those Last.fm recommended artists lists. I think I was somewhere near Okkervil River, when The Mountain Goats name popped up.

The track was ‘This Year’, one of the best tracks from the album The Sunset Tree, which promptly found its way into my collection. It’s a great starting point. This 2005 album is a concept album of sorts, about Darnielle’s recollections of growing up in an abusive home. Living in fear of his violent step father, listening to music on his little record player (Dance Music) and escaping into teenage drugs and drink oblivion (This Year). It’s a masterclass in survival.

The strange thing about the album, even with its harrowing subject matter, is that at no point is it depressing. Its uplifting, its full of hope and in final track ‘Pale Green Things (which made our Top Top Ten Tearjerkers feature ), he recalls his step father’s death and happier days with him at the races. It offers hope to all those struggling with their demons.

Music with depth, lyrics with meaning. They are out there, but rare. This is why the likes of Darnielle, and another of our favourite US artists David Lowery, are so impressive. That is why Mountain Goats became my new favourite band.

From Sunset Tree I dug further, discovered that Darnielle used to be a psychiatric nurse, was one of those bedroom recording artists, churning out lo-fi tracks on cassette. Eventually he was snapped up by 4AD, where a full band developed and eventually became a trio, of bassist Peter Hughes and the  bullet like drumming of Superchunk’s Jon Wurster.

Among other highlights are 2002’s Tallahassee, 2008’s Heretic Pride and the latest from 2011 All Eternals Deck. The more I heard the more I fell in love with Darnielle’s song writing.

He sings about his own life, but also others. He is a story teller above all. ‘No Children,’ on Tallahassee is a particular favourite about an elderly couple full of hate for each other and the world.

Themes began to emerge; when he wasn’t driving fast in a teary rage he could often be found in someone’s arms, crying like a ‘babbling brook’. I realise that I’m creating a depressing picture here. But I repeat, while his subjects are sad and emotional at no point do the songs make me sad. All I hear is hope.

So how has Darnielle’s babbling brooks of teary songs changed my life? It’s revitalised my love of good song writing. Discovering the band also came at a time of my life when I became a father and moved from my childhood City to the rural landscape of Somerset. It was a reflective time and Darnielle’s songs offered a powerful reminder of how important a nice safe home is for kids.

The Mountain Goats have also stirred my belief that music can help people. As a freelance journalist I write a lot about children’s social care and hear some harrowing stories. I can see no reason why The Sunset Tree isn’t made freely available at children’s homes. Even if it offers hope to just one child living in fear or battling demons  then I’d be a happy man. I suspect Darnielle would be too.

Ten Mountain Goats Tracks To Check Out

1. The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton

2. Southwood Plantation Row

3. No Children

4. This Year

5. Dance Music

6. Pale Green Things

7. Heretic Pride

8. Sax Rohmer#1

9. Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace

10. Damn These Vampires

by Joe Lepper

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The B-52s

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – The B-52s

Posted on 02 November 2010 by Joe

Here’s the third part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives.

Part 3. The B-52s

I first heard The B-52s as a teenager during the 1980s. The track was a re-release of ‘Rock Lobster’ from their 1977 self titled debut album. The Duane Eddy style guitar, the odd vocals, the even odder lyrics and ability to sound old fashioned and futuristic at the same time left me entranced. It reached 12 in the UK singles charts at the time, with my pocket money helping it on its way.

There were three tracks on the b-side, including the sci-fi instrumental Planet Claire, and that was enough to convince me I’d found my new favourite band.

Cassettes (remember them?) of their albums followed, with  their second album Wild Planet fast becoming one of my all time favourites along the way. This was thanks in part to the breathtaking ballad ‘Give Me Back My Man’, sung by vocalist Cindy Wilson. It was hearing this that I realised that The B-52s were no mere novelty act singing about lobsters.

There’s a comment in a recent Pitchfork book on classic tracks that points out that The B-52s were blessed with three great singers. In the quirky almost camp drawl of Fred Schneider, the perky Southern vocals of Kate Pierson and the blues of Cindy Wilson I can’t argue with this.

‘Give Me Back My Man’ is the perfect example of Wilson’s vocal talent in particular. For me she is up there with the great female vocalists of all time, Joplin, Fitzgerald and more. She bridged the gap between country/blues and new wave and punk. She screamed, she wailed, she sang with the rawest of emotions. This and other Wilson tracks like ‘Dance This Mess Around, are quite simply superb and show off the skills of one new wave’s greatest ever divas.

So why did this band change my life. Well, a few decades on I still listen with awe to tracks such as those mentioned and other favourites like ‘Hero Worship’ and ‘Song For A Future Generation’. Not many bands have that longevity.

The family feel to the band is another factor in their impact on my life. Formed in the mid to late 1970s in Athens, Georgia, by family and friends: Cindy, her brother and guitarist Ricky Wilson, along with Schneider, Pierson and drummer Keith Strickland. This gives them a warmth and genuine sense of being more than just a band.

I’ve also grown with the band through their changes. And although I don’t have much time for their latter studio albums Funplex and Good Stuff, up until the early 1990s I was a firm champion of their latest releases.

Take 1985’s Bouncing off the Satellites. It’s the perfect summer pop album but also one of the saddest collection of tracks. Ricky Wilson, who was the chief song writer and the most naturally gifted musician of the band died during production. The sadness and grief is inescapable when listening to this album. I can’t hear songs such as ‘She Brakes For Rainbows’ without thinking of the band’s grief.

The band took a long break after that but re-merged with their most successful album to date, Cosmic Thing. While for many Cosmic Thing is known for the party track Love Shack, there’s so much more to this album, which was largely written by Strickland, who in switching from drums to guitar emerged surprisingly as among the most pop savvy artists from the new wave/punk era. Tracks such as ‘Junebug’ are among my favourites.

It was shortly after Cosmic Thing was released that I managed to see them live in London. It was good seeing my heroes, but the tour was when Cindy took a break from the band. Instead Julee Cruise filled her shoes and no matter how well she sung there really is only one Cindy Wilson.

Top Ten B-52s Tracks

1.Rock Lobster

2. Dance This Mess Around

3. Hero Worship

4. Private Idaho

5. Give Me Back My Man

6. Mesopotamia

7. Nip It In The Bud

8. Song For A Future Generation

9. Junebug

10. Roam

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives Part 1 – XTC, Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives Part 2 – Camper Van Beethoven

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Ten Bands That Changed Our lives – Part 2

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Ten Bands That Changed Our lives – Part 2

Posted on 22 September 2010 by Joe

Here’s the second part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives.

Part 2 – Camper Van Beethoven

I don’t remember exactly what the first Camper Van Beethoven record I heard was. I think it was either the song ‘Seven Languages’ (from the beautifully titled Vampire Can Mating Oven EP) or the final album before the band split up Key Lime Pie. What I do know is that it wasn’t ‘Take the Skinheads Bowling’, the closest thing the band had to a hit. It would have been in early 1990 the year that the band was supposed to come and play in my home town, Brighton, but broke up before the end of the tour.

I was disappointed that the amazing band I had just discovered had split up sure, but this was tempered somewhat by the fact that I had found a band that matched my musical tastes so closely. There was humour in the music and as wide a variety of styles as I’d ever heard from one band. Country, punk, psychedlia, pop, ska, folk and even waltzes getting outings on their albums.

Camper Van Beethoven

They formed in California in 1983 and released their first album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, in 1985. Various musicians spent short stints with the band but the core of vocalist/guitarist David Lowery, bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitarist Greg Lisher, drummer Chris Pedersen and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segal recorded the bulk of their music and are all involved in the band today.

The band is seen by most people (out of the relatively small group that have heard of them) as being a bit of a novelty act, largely due to the success of Take the Skinheads Bowling. It is a great song and has been covered by (amongst others) Teenage Fanclub and the Manic Street Preachers, as well featuring in the film Bowling for Columbine. Delving deeper into their catalogue reveals a band of real depth and quality, in terms of song writing as well as performance.

David Lowery is my favourite lyricist, and his lyrics got better and better throughout the bands career. He is a master at producing clever and witty lines, but can also break your heart or make an astute political point as well, often all in the same song.

The playing on the early albums can be loose and lo-fi in places, but always fits the songs perfectly and is never less than inventive and spirited. The two albums that the band recorded for Virgin are much slicker better produced affairs, but retain the essential adventurous spirit of the band. The final album before they split still stands out for me as their greatest achievement (despite Jonathan Segal having left the band) featuring Lowery’s finest compositions including ‘Sweethearts’ which may well be the greatest song they ever recorded.

When the band split the various members kept busy for the following decade. Lowery formed Cracker as well as playing on and producing other artists, including most of the first Sparklehorse album. Segal recorded solo records and also played with Sparklehorse as part of the touring line-up. Krummenacher, Lisher and Pedersen recorded as the Monks of Doom and recorded with Eugene Chadbourne under the name Camper Van Chadbourne.

The band got back together in 2001, and recorded a version of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk as a test of whether they could play together again. In 2004 they released their first album of new material for 15 years, New Roman Times, a brilliant concept piece about a Texan becoming disenchanted with his time in the military and becoming a terrorist. It was one of those rare moments when a band could come back together after such a long break and pick up right where they left off.

I was lucky enough to see the reunited band at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2003, fulfilling my dream from 13 years earlier. The band were older, greyer and heavier than when they broke up, but proved that they could still play the songs superbly, and the set-list was worth the wait.

No albums have come out from the band for the last 6 years, but they still play gigs regularly and I’ll just have to wait patiently for them to come to the UK or get back into the recording studio.

Picking a top ten is hard, the band has done so many amazing songs of such great variety, but here I go (in no particular order):

1. Border Ska
2. Take the Skinheads Bowling
3. We’re a Bad Trip
4. We Saw Jerry’s Daughter
5. Good Guys and Bad Guys
6. Seven Languages
7. She Divines Water
8. Sweethearts
9. All Her Favourite Fruit
10. That Gum You Like is Back in Style

If you would like to hear these songs (and a bundle more) I have put together a Spotify Playlist.

If you would like to pick up any of their albums your best bet is to get the Cigarettes and Carrot Juice box set. It contains the first three albums, the Camper Vantiquities rarities collection plus a live disc composed mainly of tracks from the two virgin albums. The two Virgin albums are essential buys as well, and the reformation album, New Roman Times, is a sensational comeback. If you just want to dip in, then the best-of collection, Popular Songs, is an excellent selection, although all songs from the Virgin era have been rerecorded specially. Only completists need venture near their cover of the entirety of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, or the patchy Camper Van Beethoven is Dead oddities collection.

By Dorian Rogers,

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Part 1

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Ten Bands That Changed Our Lives – Part 1

Posted on 22 September 2010 by Joe

Here’s the first part in our list of bands that changed our lives. These are more than just our favourite bands, these are bands that altered how we think about music and provided the soundtrack to our lives.

Part 1 – XTC

Since I was a child I don’t think a week has gone by without listening to an XTC track. They kept popping up on children’s TV hawking their next single like Sgt Rock or Towers of London when I was young, but what got me hooked was a TV documentary on new wave and punk shown in the mid 1980s. The XTC track featured was Neon Shuffle, all jerky rhythms, frantic vocals, bizarre keyboards from their first album 1978’s White Music. This was punk like I’d never heard before and showed a far edgier side to the band that appeared on kid’s TV and Top of the Pops.

The next day I bought White Music and more enlightenment followed. The songs such as ‘Newtown Animal,’ were not just rants about boring suburban living or about the urban decay of The Clash’s Westway. These were considered, intelligent songs about well, normal English life, about towns like their native Swindon.

XTC

Over the next few years I snaffled up all their albums. Some had already been released, others were new at the time. Skylarking, Oranges and Lemons and more, I devoured them all. They actually got better as they went on, with 2000’s cruelly overlooked Apple Venus showcasing some typically unusual arrangements and song structures. The band even took time out to form a psychedelic act The Dukes of Stratosphear, that ended up being as good and even better in places than the hippy bands they were paying tribute to.

XTC make me think more about being English, not in a patriotic way, just what it means to be on this little island full of newtown animals, young men called Nigel being pushed into jobs at British Steel (Making Plans for Nigel) and middleclass hypocrisy (Respectable Street).

As I grew older and became a parent, XTC were still there, with songs such as ‘Holly Up On Poppy’ about the joys of fatherhood. Or the Dukes ‘Affiliated’ about the end of teenage life and beginning of the world of mortgages and staying in on Saturday nights watching TV.

The story behind the band made them intriguing as well. Lead singer Andy Partridge’s stage fright meant they stopped touring at the peak of their career. With no world tour to help promotion their audience dwindled. The hits may have stopped, but critical acclaim carried on. They also fought back against their record company Virgin, going on strike for years.

Drums and Wires

They were an almost-huge, globally recognised band that could never quite get out of their Swindon roots, like George Bailey and his unsuccessful attempts to leave Bedford Falls in the film It’s a Wonderful Life. To this day Partridge and Colin Moulding, the chief song writers, still live in Swindon, albeit the posher bits.

XTC have ended now, sometime around five years ago, despite pleas from fans to reunite. Nevertheless their legacy carries on. I still hear them on the radio from time to time, still have all the albums and listen to them regularly. I hear an XTC track in other band’s music as well. This is particularly the case with some of the most innovative modern, bands around like Grizzly Bear and Field Music.

Ten of our favourite XTC songs

1.    Neon Shuffle
2.    New Town Animal
3.    Making Plans for Nigel
4.    Senses Working Overtime
5.    Scissor Man
6.    Then She Appeared
7.    Chalkhills and Children
8.    Dear God
9.    I’d Like That
10.  The Wheel and the Maypole

by Joe Lepper

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