Friday, March 31, 2017

Joy Division: Atmosphere (1980)

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On March 18, 1980, Atmosphere was released in the UK on a 12" single. I am happy to have a mint copy of that pressing. I have seen some insane prices for this record around town. The flipside is She's Lost Control, which is one of my favourite JD tracks. Again, from Wikipedia:
Ned Raggett of AllMusic wrote, "'Atmosphere' is another one of those prime Joy Division songs, like 'Transmission' or 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', where Martin Hannett's production becomes so essential to the end result that it couldn't have been heard otherwise", noting that, in regards to Ian Curtis's mental state and subsequent death, "there's a feeling of a requiem here, an awesome musical farewell."

 Joy Division bassist Peter Hook has said he regards the song as the band's greatest.[source]
I was delighted to hear this tune used in Stranger Things. Atmosphere is perhaps the only track by Joy Division that I would describe as beautiful, perhaps hauntingly beautiful.I have to say that I like the video that was made for it years later, and I also really like the jacket image.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Joy Division: Transmission (1979)

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Transmission was released as a 7" single in the UK on October 7, 1979, after Unknown Pleasures and before Closer. In December, 1980 (after Closer was released) the first edition of the 12" single was released, which is the pressing I have. The flip-side is Novelty. This is a brilliant, bleak, and perhaps depressing song. There is something tortuous in the music.Wikipedia provides this summary:
Greil Marcus has a chapter on this song in his book The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs. According to Marcus, "'Transmission' is not an argument. It's a dramatization of the realization that the act of listening to the radio is a suicidal gesture. It will kill your mind. It will rob your soul." Marcus also quotes the band's bassist Peter Hook about the importance of this song: "We were doing a soundcheck at the Mayflower, in May, and we played 'Transmission': people had been moving around, and they all stopped to listen. I realized that was our first great song." [source]
The idea that this song is "a dramatization of the realization that the act of listening to the radio is a suicidal gesture," seems to me to make a lot of sense in hindsight, but I can't imagine anyone coming to this conclusion at the time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures (1979)

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Years ago, I was standing in a record store, getting ready to purchase what would become one of my favourite records of all time. The good news is that I bought a copy of Unknown Pleasures.  The bad news is that I bought a cassette copy instead of the vinyl! That was an epic mistake. I remember listening to a Doctor Deadwax video on Youtube where he reported a similar experience. If I remember correctly, he had a copy of a Flock of Seagulls LP in one hand and a vinyl copy of Unknown Pleasures in the other, and he walked out with the former. That was another epic mistake.

So, my first copy of this record was on cassette. I later picked up an early-80s pressing of this on vinyl. As much as I'd like to have an original pressing, it's not critical. I think the recent 180 gram reissues (from the original master tapes) are good quality too, and those can be had for under $25.

When I purchased the cassette tape, I had only heard She's Lost Control, but I was immediately enamored with Disorder, which may still be my favourite Joy Division track. This record may well be the greatest debut record of all time.

Allmisic says this: "...the ten songs inside, quite simply, are stone-cold landmarks, the whole album a monument to passion, energy, and cathartic despair."

And then there is this statement, none of which can be argued against by any serious music fan: "Pick any song: the nervous death dance of "She's Lost Control"; the harrowing call for release "New Dawn Fades," all four members in perfect sync; the romance in hell of "Shadowplay"; "Insight" and its nervous drive toward some sort of apocalypse. All visceral, all emotional, all theatrical, all perfect -- one of the best albums ever." [source] I couldn't agree more and I couldn't have said it better.

Unknown Pleasures deserves praise for the jacket as well. It's a brilliant example of minimal, understated design. This record is simply fantastic, a real classic, a true desert island disc.

Some time ago, I watched this live show by Peter Hook and the Light. Man, did they ever nail the sound. But, I have to say that I am not in love with Peter's vocals. Still, you should watch it.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Joy Division: An Ideal for Living (1978)

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I can't think of too many bands that live up to the billing of 'legendary', but Joy Division is one of them, even though they released only two proper records. Joy Division had a short but influential tenure, ending with the suicide of Ian Curtis at age 23. After his death came the birth of the subsequent incarnation of the band, the improbable New Order. Some Joy Division compilation records also followed. On some days, I might be inclined to argue that Joy Division was the best rock band ever, but I think there is one other band that might take that title, like The Smiths. It depends when you ask me.

Allmusic calls Joy Division "the definitive post-punk group." That's probably accurate, even though I have an issue with the term post-punk. Isn't that just a fancy term for new wave? And, JD in no way qualifies as new wave, so I will have to allow the use of the post-punk label. To me, the band owed more to the punk movement than to the new wave movement.

I used to have a counterfeit copy of this Anonymous Records release of Joy Division's debut EP, An Ideal for Living, but I let it go, during my period of misguided CD love. On RSD in 2014, Warner released an official limited edition pressing of this EP, and I opted to buy a copy. The four tracks are:

Warsaw 
No Love Lost
Leaders of Man
Failures

A couple of months back, I saw a copy of the Anon bootleg for $25. I prefer to stick with the RSD version, as it was made from a new master, and who knows the source of the bootleg?

This is a great intro to JD and it's indispensable for any serious Joy Division fan. It's a long way from the smooth groove of Love will Tear us Apart.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Howard Jones: Cross that Line (1989)

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The weight of expectation seems always to doom releases when there are large gaps between them. Three years after One to One, Jones dropped Cross that Line. I think it would have been better had it come out two years earlier. Still, there are some good tracks, but perhaps people were expecting something more.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Howard Jones: You Know I Love you Don’t You? (1986)

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You Know I Love you Don’t You? is taken from One to One, Jones's third record. It might be the best track on the record. Side A of this 12" single contains the Dance In The Field Mix. Side B has an instrumental version as well as a tune called Dig This Well Deep.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Howard Jones: One to One (1986)

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I think the verdict on this record is that it is far more mature and laid back than his earlier recordings, but that fact didn't really mean that this is a good record. It's OK, but I think the earlier stuff is better.

Some CD releases of this album contain the re-imagined version of No One is to Blame.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Howard Jones: Dream into Action (1985)

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Dream into Action contains a bunch of popular tunes, like Things Can Only Get Better, Life in One  Day, Like to Get to Know You Well, Look Mama, and the original version of No One is to Blame, which was subsequently re-recorded and rearranged by Phil Collins. I prefer the re-recorded version of that track. This is probably the record to get if you want to hear Jone at peak pop. I have a Canadian pressing. I think that the cover is ugly.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Howard Jones: Human’s Lib (1984)

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Human's Lib was the first LP from Howard Jones and it's pretty good. It contains the aforementioned What is Love?, plus New Song, and a bunch of other good tracks, such as Pearl in a Shell. I recall that the late Don Berns, of CFNY (he was later known as Dr. Trance) claimed that Hide and Seek was his favourite song. Berns meant his favourite song, not simply his favourite song from Howard Jones. I could never reconcile that. I remember Berns saying that on the air, I had a very difficult time even remember the melody. I feel the same way now.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Howard Jones: What Is Love? (1983)

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Howard Jones was a new waver from the early 80s and someone that I casually liked. A song or two here of there sounded OK to me, but I was never fanatical. And, here's a Canadian connection. Jones lived in Canada for a while, when his family relocated here, but then he returned to the motherland some time later.

This UK 12" single (it was only released on 7" in Canada) contains What is Love? on the a-side, with It Just Doesn't Matter and a live version of Hunt the Self on the b-side. My UK pressing is not in a picture sleeve, as suggested by Discogs, but in a plain sleeve. I'm not sure if this was a replacement, or of there were other versions in a plain sleeve.

What is Love? is a pretty good track, for a new wavish pop song.I think Jones might still be touring, but I have no idea if any new music came out after the 80s, when I lost interest in most 80s acts.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)

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Originally, I was a bit wary of Grace Jones, primarily because my brother liked her. He liked disco. I didn't. He bought singles from all of the disco queens. I retreated into Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Over time, I came to enjoy Grace Jones' music. This might be the only time that my brother was right about anything.

Anyway, Grace is awesome.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Jon and Vangelis: The Frinds of Mr. Cairo (1981)

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Check out the Allmusic review, below.

The second album-length collaboration between Jon Anderson and Vangelis is almost perfect in its blending of elements; it's only when the pair tries to do some serious rocking on "Back to School" that things take a bit of a nosedive. Other than that, though, there are some classic cuts to be found on this record, including the breathtaking "I'll Find My Way Home," "State of Independence" (which became a popular tune to cover), and the brilliantly optimistic "Mayflower," which catapults the listener into a star-traveling future. Grand stuff. [source]

And yet, the reviewer awards this three out of five stars. I consider this to be a better record that the first, but that might have something to do with my fascination of the title track, back when the record was released.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jon and Vangelis: Short Stories (1980)

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Jon Anderson of the band Yes and Greek composer Vangelis might seem like an unlikely pair, and yet they recorded four records together. I think the music they recorded was interesting, but I don't find that I go back to it very much. There is a part of me that thinks this record would have been better without the vocals, or maybe just without the vocalist. I do like some of the music provided by Vangelis, on the other hand.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Matt Johnson: Burning Blue Soul (1981)

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"And my aching little soul--has started burning blue!"
Infected, The The

In 1993, this record was released on CD, as per Johnson's wish, under the moniker The The, Matt Johnson's oddly-named new "band." I put that in quotes because Matt was the only member, at the outset anyway. I have a copy on CD as well. By the way, try searching for The The on Amazon. It's impossible. You can, of course, search the titles of records, but not the band.

The The ranks, in my ever so humble opinion, as one of the best groups to hail from the 80s. I'm a big fan, owning pretty much everything they released in one format or another. I even saw them in concert, when the band was really a band.

As much as I like this record, I feel that Johnson really hit his stride with Soul Mining, the debut record from The The. Allmusic sort of agrees with me:
Matt Johnson's work thrives on the tension between accessible pop and dissonant experimentation; between joyful wonder and despairing bleakness. Burning Blue Soul was a more disjointed solo album Johnson released under his own name in 1981 before these tensions were fully integrated. The reissue is a valuable sketchbook for The The fans interested in dissecting the early inner workings of Johnson's art, but the meandering tape-collages that serve as framework will leave most others cold. [source]
Still, I love this record. Johnson wrote all of the songs and played every instrument, but obviously not at the same time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Elton John: Breaking Hearts (1984)

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Sad Songs (Say So Much) is a terrible song. It's so bad that Elton offered it to Sasson for a stupid advertising campaign. Enough said. There is nothing remarkable about this record, except how bad it is. I have no idea how it came to be in my possession. And that reminds me that I was once given copies of Reg Strikes Back and Sleeping with the Past. I never played them, and they sat in a crate until I decided to unload them, a while back. I should do the same with this one. If you think my opinion of later Elton is harsh, just do this test. Listen to his greatest hits releases, volumes one through three, and then objectively decide which is the lesser record. If you do not agree that it is the third collection, we cannot be friends.

OK, I suppose Sad Songs (Say So Much) is probably an OK pop song, and it's certainly much better than Who Wears these Shoes? All in all, though, it's difficult to believe that Bernie Taupin rote most of the lyrics.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Elton John: Jump Up! (1982)

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The only redeeming thing about this record is Empty Garden, a wonderful and heart-wrenching tribute to John Lennon. I would call this one of Elton's greatest songs.

What happened here
As the New York sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And now it all looks strange
It's funny how one insect can damage so much grain

And what's it for
This little empty garden by the brownstone door
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And we are so amazed we're crippled and we're dazed
A gardener like that one no one can replace

And I've been knocking but no one answers
And I've been knocking most all the day
Oh and I've been calling oh hey hey Johnny
Can't you come out to play

And through their tears
Some say he farmed his best in younger years
But he'd have said that roots grow stronger if only he could hear
Who lived there
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
Now we pray for rain, and with every drop that falls
We hear, we hear your name

Johnny can't you come out to play in your empty garden

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Elton John: The Fox (1981)

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The 1980's were unkind to many former stars, and Elton was no exception. I'll add this record to the long list of things I should part with. I have no idea where I got it. On the other hand, I'll have to give it props for the track Elton's Song, for its frank look at gay love when such topics were deemed to be controversial. As Wikipedia notes, "The theme of gay love caused a controversy, inspiring such tabloid headlines as "Elton's gay video shocker". [source] It looks like we have learned nothing in the intervening years


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Elton John: Victim Of Love (1979)

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1979 was a fantastic year for music, but it was a terrible year for Elton John. The demise of a formerly-interesting signer continued with this train wreck of a record. He covered Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode with disastrous results. Let's just say that disco and Elton should never have met. I know, some people like this. My brother probably does, but that would be a troubling endorsement. This LP should go into the purge pile.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Elton John: A Single Man (1978)

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A Single Man is the first Elton John record that did not feature the lyrics of Bernie Taupin. For me, there isn't much to like here, and I wonder why I hold onto it. I don't begrudge any artists forging new territory, and I think that the move to more accessible areas is his decision, but the results didn't work too well for me.

Again, I have to mention that this was a gift, of a sort. My dad brought home a big box of records one day, and he let me choose whatever I wanted, but the pickings were slim. This is the only record I still have from the ones I had chosen. Out the door went records from the likes of the Rossington Collins Band and even Rick James.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Elton John: Elton John's Greatest Hits Volume II (1977)

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The second Elton John collection of Elton John hits is probably the second Elton John record I ever owned, though I had heard lots of his music from the other records many times over the years. This is a bizarre record because it includes some tracks that probably should have been on the first greatest hits record. There are also some questionable choices. A few different versions of this release were made, but I have the original Canadian pressing with the lyric booklet.

This record contains Elton's cover of The Who's Pinball Wizard, a song that I was sure Elton wrote, until I learned otherwise. I will also admit that I thought Elton had written Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. These were the days of innocent youth, and I only had a basic knowledge of the Beatles, being far too young to really know too much about them. The Beatles had ceased to be a band long before I had any interest in music.

I really wished that the record had excluded Don't Go Breaking My Heart because I detest that song. As previously mentioned, I am not a big fan of Island Girl. I suppose I should confess that I bought 7" singles of both songs, way back when. Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word is yet another track that leaves me cold. One other borderline song appears here, and that tune is Philadelphia Freedom. That's a miss for me, but I don't hate it. It had been released as a single, and was first collected here, though later bastardized CD copies of Captain Fantastic add it as a bonus track. I have no idea why, apart from the fact that they are from the same year.


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Elton John: Blue Moves (1976)

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I would have to call this record the end of the line for Elton John. Allmusic concurs: "The immense creativity that had spurred Elton John to realize no less than 11 studio albums in under seven years was beginning to show signs of inevitable fatigue" [source] This is not to say that Blue Moves is a terrible record. I would say that time has been kind to it, and I certainly would not dismiss it. The record is mellower than its predecessor, for the most part. There are some good moments. In the end, though, it has to be said that nothing Elton released subsequently matched anything to this point.

I particularly like this review excerpt from Wikipedia:
A contemporary review for Rolling Stone said the album "contains nowhere near enough good songs to justify the extended length" and that the interludes and instrumentals were done "to the exclusion of sense."[source]
That made me laugh.

If there is one track that most people know, it's likely Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, a track I don't really like. Tonight, and a few others, are OK


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Elton John: Here And There (1976)

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Here and There is a live record that contains excerpts from two concerts. Side A features five tracks entitled Live In London At The Royal Festival Hall. Side B contains four tracks under the heading Live In New York At Madison Square Garden. I suppose the London show was Here and the NYC show was There, but who can know for sure?

On this record, you will find an array material dating back to Empty Sky. It's a representative collection and it's not bad, expect for the decision to include Crocodile Rock.

Much later, a greatly expanded CD was released. Evidently, this record was released as part of a contractual obligation to his record company. I have the US pressing.