No sooner is February out of the way than April comes along, at least in the land of the hypothetical mixtape. A few girls on the vox, a bit of the old post-punk skrunk, some new sounds, all tossed together with no time spent on the running order, and even less on research. Which is a shame, because only six of these artists have any history with me (answers on the back of a postcard, please), and my ignorance is bound to show through to those “in the know”.
Archie Bell and the Drells, “Tighten Up”: tighten up.
La Dusseldorf, “Time”: in which we get to hear the origins not only of a certain type of Stereolab song, from the era of “Lo Boob Oscillator”, but also, less expectedly, of Ed Kuepper’s majestic (oops, almost typed “jamestic”, which when you think about it equally applies; how about that?) “Honey Steel’s Gold”.
Andreas Dorau, “Strasse der Traeume (Dorau Rossknecht Remix)”: where have I heard this before? It must be the theme music for something, it sounds so familiar. It also sounds rather old. What gives? Perhaps it is mislabelled. Perhaps I am just ignorant and/or confusing it with something else.
Alpaca Brothers, “The Lie”: the EP whence this track comes was the second New Zealand record I ever bought. (The first was the Chills’ seven-inch “I Love My Leather Jacket” / “Great Escape”.) I can’t remember, now, what became of the Alpacas. Another short-lived Dunedin band whose members, no doubt, have turned up repeatedly playing with other combinations of members of that small but fecund scene. But if this was the only song they had ever done, it would have been worth it.
CanseiDeSerSexy, “Acho Um Pouco Bom”: there are some great post-punk-style guitars snaking away beneath this piece of essentially pop confection.
Snakefinger, “The Model”: my favourite Kraftwerk cover, from a genre which might well be called swamptronica, and half of one of my most-loved seven-inch singles, the other side being the timeless “I’m The Man In The Dark Sedan”, but the entire package wouldn’t be whaat it is without Mark Beyer’s cover art.
Richard Hell and the Voidoids, “Blank Generation”: and, from a similar time and place, the punk rock anthem that even your granny knows and loves.
Fantastic Plastic Machine, “You Must Learn All Night Long”: a big slice of danceable, infectious nonsense that would have your aforementioned granny tossing away the Zimmer frame for six minutes of frenetic boogaloo. Or hucklebuck.
The Pretty Things, “Defecting Grey”: here is a song I feel like I know backwards, but I swear that, on paper, I have never heard it in my life before. It’s a perfect selection for the “Million Dollar Riff” segment on “Rockwiz”.
The Wonder Band, “Whole Lotta Love”: a nice subversion of the dominant paradigm here, as the girls take hold of the Led Zeppelin (pilfered from the bluesmen but we all know that story) chestnut and send it out to the dancefloor. It must be a sign of the times when it’s the girl who sings “I’m gonna give you every inch of my love”. Take that, Jimmy Page.
Laibach, “Across The Universe”: sometimes, listening to a song for the first time can be a challenge. This is a perfect example. It is one of my least favourite Beatles songs (although not as bad as “Good Day Sunshine”, which was forever ruined for me by a tragic performance from Marcia Hines on her short-lived ABC television “variety”program, wherein she also took a bluntened butcher’s knife to the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”). Laibach reimagine it as performed by a heavenly choir of angels balanced on a shimmering, unbelievably thin tightrope. At any minute, you are thinking, the entire edifice is going to collapse in upon itself, and we are going to be abruptly returned to mundane reality. It is just too beautiful to be true, you think. They cannot possibly get away with it. But they do; and then, when it is over, you can take a deep breath, relax, go back to the start of the song, and enjoy it all over again.
Berntholer, “My Suitor”: it would appear that this is from Belgium from some time in the early 1980s. It figures, then, that it is, as of this moment, one of the best songs I never knew existed. Put it in a box with the Passions’ “I’m In Love with a German Film Star” and hope they start breeding like bunny rabbits.
Princess One Point Five, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix I’ll Be ...”: no, not that one. A lonely, vulnerable female voice sings about personal things, surrounded only by some rudimentary and primitive electronics. My mother once told me not to listen to songs sung by women because women couldn’t sing. This struck me as odd, given that one of the most-played records at our house was by the Seekers. (Then again, perhaps she had cottoned on to the essential truth: that nobody will ever equal Judith Durham.) I suspect now, on thinking about this after the passage of quite a lot of years, that she was probably subtly trying to steer me away from my obsession with Suzi Quatro. (She must have been beside herself when Blondie came along and the posters on my wall were updated.) Anyway, she was wrong.
Young Marble Giants, “Final Day”: now where did this come from? It’s not on the album; it’s not on the “Testcard” ep. I simultaneously love it and hate it when this happens: it’s a pinch-me moment to discover a “new” song by a much-loved but short-lived band. But on the other hand it’s very frustrating to know that you have lost 25 years of potential listening time. And the clock, it is ticking all the time.
Nathan Fake, “Grandfathered”: remember those slightly unsettling but also emotionally uplifting instrumental passages that OMD could seemingly toss out at will? This is a not half bad update that, if you like that sort of thing, you might seek out. Hi, Bart.
Ray Bryant, “Up Above The Rock”: no synths here. Just some way funky drumming, a nice vamping piano, and - “hey!” - handclaps. If this was the opening scene to a movie (and maybe it is), we would be driving in a red convertible along some European back-road in early spring, with Tuesday Weld in the passenger seat (we couldn’t afford Audrey Hepburn).
Sparrow, “The Early Years”: Franz Ferdinand via sixties bubblegum pop? Now we are in the inevitable FF-backlash years, such a description might not be instantly attractive. It might also be totally off the mark. This also reminds me of the first dBs album, and more generally that it is always the right time for a power-pop revival.
Odetta, “I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain / Water Boy”: the single most jaw-dropping moment on the “No Direction Home” film, an artefact with no shortage of jaw-dropping moments (eg, who knew there was actual footage of the “Judas” incident?), is Odetta singing this deep dark monster of a song. My theory is that when Robert Johnson went to the crossroads it was Odetta, in the guise of a big black cat, who was there to meet him.