Two hours into the future…30 years later

120 minutes logo

The original late-80s opening I remember so well

Over the last few weeks, there’s been an uptick of newly uploaded videos on the 120 Memories YouTube channel that feature almost-full episodes of the venerated show.  There’s a few other channels out there showing partial episodes (usually the host segments but no music videos) like MrBriefcaseTV2 and other users.  There’s also the great reference website The 120 Minutes Archive, which provides extensive playlists of nearly every episode*, and links to the videos if they’re available.

* – Back when this site was first being built sometime in 2004 or so, I still had a lot of my old VHS tapes with many of the episodes, so I was able to provide them with a lot of playlist information.  A lot of the 1987-1989 episodes have my name listed on the site.

It’s fun watching some of these now, nearly thirty years later…

For instance, I remember watching the above episode as Dave Kendall (at that point still only the producer and doing the countdowns and new releases) featuring a segment on the then-new Sisters of Mercy album, Floodland.  Even though he treated it in his usual over-the-top way, dripping with snark and pomposity and just a hint of humor, that segment actually convinced me to go out and buy the album.

I’d say Kevin Seal was my favorite host, considering he played it like the student doing a show on college radio: the barest of preparation, rehearsal or professionalism, but he was having a hell of a fun time doing it.  It also helped that he was also the class weirdo out of all the veejays there at the time.  Dave Kendall was the station manager, doing what he could with what little he had on hand, more focused on providing awesome music than decent production.

Those early years were definitely lo-fi.  They’d become more slick during the early 90s when Nirvana & Co came in, followed by the Ultimate Music Nerd in the shape of Matt Pinfield in the mid to late 90s.  But those early years, that era from 1986 to about 1990 when it was still all about whatever was playing on college radio at the time, that was where it worked best.  It was the visual equivalent of turning on your favorite college station for two hours after everyone else had gone to bed.

Meanwhile, 30 years ago…

Status: back half of sophomore year in high school.
Writing: finishing up the Infamous War Novel; starting Belief in Fate; trying out various ideas but not getting too far with them.
Radio: splitting time between college radio (WAMH and WMUA), AOR (WMDK and WRSI), rock (WAQY and WAAF), and a few pop stations.
TV: Still watching USA Network’s Night Flight occasionally. Taping episodes of 120 Minutes and watching them the following afternoon, plus numerous rewatches of Monty Python and other British alternative comedies.
Personal: single and sick of feeling sorry for myself; getting rid of my 80s spiky ‘do and letting my hair grow out a bit; just about sick of these damn braces.
Social: bouncing between two different social circles.
Music Collection: Approximately two milk crates full of vinyl, a small collection of singles, and a quickly growing cassette collection. At least a few dozen ‘radio tape’ mix tapes at this point.

Listening to…

…which, if you think about it, is not that different from the sounds I’m currently listening to.  🙂

Recent Music Purchases, March Edition

D’OH!  Forgot to do one of these last month, so here you go.  I’ll have April’s up in a few weeks.

This year is continuing to surprise and delight me with some absolutely solid albums.  A lot of new albums by old favorites, and numerous releases by bands I hadn’t heard of previously.  I’m looking forward to more of this!

Minus the Bear, Voids (released 3 March).  I’ve been hitting this one hard lately…they kind of remind me of Shearwater, with the odd melodies that somehow fit together perfectly.  LOVE this album.

Bush, Black and White Rainbows (released 10 March).  Glad to see them having a second life with a consistent run of excellent new albums.

The Creation, Action Painting (released 17 March).  A fascinating garage band from the UK, this one packages their single 60s album (We Are Paintermen) and the singles from the same era.  They were influential to a hell of a lot of UK musicians, from Jimmy Page to Paul Weller.  [And yes, the UK record label was named after them.]

Spoon, Hot Thoughts (released 17 March).  Probably my favorite Spoon album since Kill the Moonlight back in ’02.  It’s weird, heavy, and there’s a hell of a lot of funk going on as well.

Lloyd Cole, In New York (Collected Recordings 1988-1996) (released 17 March).  A lovely counterpoint to the box set he released for his Commotions work, this contains his first five albums plus an album of demos.  An exellent and underrated songwriter.

Depeche Mode, Spirit (released 17 March).  A return to the darker and more electronic DM.  I’d say this is on par with Ultra, with its heavier, angrier sound.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Damage and Joy (released 24 March).  Wait, this is 2017, not 1987, right?  Seriously, though…it’s a welcome return.  It sounds a lot like their mid-era sound, very similar to Honey’s Dead, but that’s definitely a good thing.

Jamiroquai, Automaton (released 31 March).  Jay Kay still has the funk, and he doesn’t skimp on it here.  I often find myself listening to this in the afternoon as a lift-me-up.

Wire, Silver/Lead (released 31 March).  What can I say?  I will buy anything and everything by this band.  They’ve never let me down once.

It Was Fifty Years Ago…

You may have heard the BIG NEWS from hither and yon that Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is getting a super deluxe edition from Apple in celebration of the album turning 50.  It’s BIG NEWS because this is the first Beatles album to get this kind of remaster/expanded reissue.  The deluxe edition will contain a new remix from Giles Martin, two discs of outtakes, and a dvd and blu-ray of even more goodies — including a 5.1 mix (!!) and the Making of Sgt Pepper documentary from 1987.  The new stereo remix, per Martin, is not the original remaster we heard on the 2009 box set, but a true remix, in which he shifted the sounds to make it sound more like the original mono mix.*

Yer darn tootin’ I pre-ordered it as soon as I heard about it!

Anyway…I’m looking forward to hearing this new mix.  I gave the album a good listen the other day (the mono mix, actually) and it really did break a hell of a lot of rules and boundaries.  Hundreds of other bands who heard the album for the first time were completely blown away by it, even more influenced by it.  When people call songs ‘Beatlesque’, they usually mean it sounds like something from this album.

Me?  I’m looking forward to hearing “A Day in the Life”…it’s what I think of as their finest moment, not just in songwriting but in production.  It transcends being just a pop song and turns into an orchestral piece.  Hearing a new stereo mix of this song should be a treat.

To quote from my ‘Blogging the Beatles’ series from a few years back, plus a few added notes:

Though this track was recorded relatively early in the sessions (19-20 January, with additional work done a week or so later), by the time they finished recording, they knew that this absolutely had to be the last track on the album, no question. It’s long been considered one of their best compositions, and given the amount of time dedicated to it (a total 34 hours, twenty-two more than the entirety of Please Please Me!), it’s by far one of their most complex productions.

There are three distinct parts – the first and third, written mostly by John and taken from recent newspaper articles (the death of friend Tara Browne in a car accident, the report that the roads in Blackburn were filled with potholes, and so on), and the middle section provided mostly by Paul (a simple nostalgic trip of riding the double-decker bus through Liverpool when he was younger), each with its own personality.

The first part is performed with deliberate slowness, starting quietly but growing increasingly louder until we reach the end. [EDIT: Ringo’s drumming here is to the fore, punctuating each line of the verse, mixed high and given a thunderous echo.  The deliberate slowness of this first part adds to its haunting mood, which makes the first orchestral swell sound like a maelstrom.]

The link to part two is via a crazy idea from Paul and Martin, in which an orchestra plays an unscripted rise from the instrument’s lowest E up to its highest in the space of 24 bars. [EDIT: if you listen closely, you can just about hear Mal Evans under the din, counting out said bars, leading up to the alarm clock going off.] That link serves not just to wind up the listener but the speed, as Paul’s section comes in double-time, a bouncy and simple melody meant to evoke a commuter running late.

The second gives way to a third part via an absolutely breathtaking eight bars – it’s not complex, but listen to how Martin takes a simple four-note score and makes it dynamic by gradually increasing the volume of the brass, pulling them from the back to the foreground, while simultaneously pushing John’s angelic ‘aah’s being pushed back into the increasingly echoey mix.  [EDIT: In the mono mix, John merely fades into the mix, but in the stereo mix he pans from right to left as well. This entire section is by far one of my favorite moments of any Beatle song ever.  A few simple mixing and scoring tricks, but they’re done so beautifully.]

In part three we’ve returned to an abbreviated repeat of John’s first section, played double-time as well…only to be brought back to that nightmarish ascension again. This time, once everyone hits that high E, we’re left floating up in the air for a brief second…only to come crashing down – hard – on a final low E chord. That final breathtaking moment is played by John, Paul, Ringo and Mal Evans on three pianos and George Martin on a harmonium, and is drawn out to nearly forty seconds via the recording level being brought up as high as possible as the piano’s natural reverberation slowly fades.

The Super Deluxe Edition of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band will be released on 26 May, one week shy of fifty years of its original release.

 

* Some background here…the Beatles were present for the original mono mix of the album back in ’67, but were not present for the stereo mix, which was done afterwards.  Audiophiles often say the mono mix is much better, as it’s closer to what the band wanted.  It also has a fuller, tighter sound, whereas the stereo mix feels a bit spacious.  Oh–and “She’s Leaving Home” is at the right speed on the mono mix, and in my opinion makes it a stronger song, where the stereo mix was slower and more maudlin, maybe too much so.

Listening to the Seventies

You know, for all the classic rock I’ve listened to over the years, I haven’t really focused too closely on the 70s other than the hits.  I’ve got a decent mp3 collection that covers a lot of discographies, but I’ve always tended to limit my ‘classic’ listening to the 80s (my teen years) or the 90s (my college/post-college/HMV years).

Granted, my age was in the single digits in the seventies, so my familiarity with the music from that era comes from the listening habits of my older sisters, the records I took out of the town library, and the usual culprits you hear on classic rock stations like Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel and Led Zeppelin.  The rest of it tends to be filled with easy listening pop that we escaped like Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand, and variety specials filled with corny humor and the same central casting guest stars.

It is kind of fascinating, though, when you realize that this song..

…and this song…

…came out in the same month, November 1977.

I’m thinking it’s time for me to do another decade overview, this time of the decade where I was the bratty little kid brother.  I mean, going past hearing “The Piano Man” for the 1,485,035,436th time.  Expanding the genres between punk and sunshine pop, prog rock and early metal.  If there’s one thing I enjoy immensely when listening to music, it’s listening to it within the context of its history.  I’m curious to hear how they all intertwined.

Favorite Bands: The Damned

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of The Damned.  They’ve been a favorite band of mine since I heard “Alone Again Or” on college radio in the late 80s.  I’d heard of them, even remember their appearance on my favorite episode of The Young Ones doing the song “Nasty” (written specifically for the episode of the same name).  My friend Chris loved the ridiculous punkiness of the b-side “Jet Boy Jet Girl” and got me hooked on it.  But like some bands, I never got around to picking up their catalog until much later.

They’re kind of an unsung band, really.  Like the Kinks, they’re shuffled off to the side because they’re hard to pin down.  Not quite punk, not quite post-punk, not quite goth.  And very British.  They’ve got well-known singles from their entire career that still pop up on college radio from time to time.  [And one of their claims to fame is that their debut single, “New Rose”, is officially the first UK punk single, predating the Sex Pistols’ debut by a good few months.]

They’re also a surprisingly melodic band.  Listen to “Love Song” (from their third album Machine Gun Etiquette, from 1979) and you’ll hear some really interesting pop phrasings there, not to mention some really cheeky lyrics that aren’t that far from the Beastie Boys at their goofiest.

But on the other end of the spectrum — and from that same album — we have the fan favorite “Smash It Up”, with its lovely instrumental intro and its punkier second half, which features some interesting time signature shifts.  It’s a classic song of rebellion, but instead of the volatility and anger of the Sex Pistols, it’s more on par with the DIY ethos of The Clash.

Their follow-up album, The Black Album, from 1980, is probably my favorite of theirs.  It may have gotten mixed reviews from the critics and fans, considering they were shifting more towards that post-punk sound musically.  It contains a lot of fascinating tracks that really show their musical chops.  It’s also a double album, featuring three sides of studio recordings, and a fourth side of live tracks.  And yes, they did in fact have the Beatles ’68 eponymous album in mind when they named it.

It also contains my favorite track of theirs, a sprawling seventeen-minute track previously available as a 12″ b-side for their “White Rabbit” single (back then they were known for doing odd covers as only they could do them).  It’s an ambitious track that works in a slow-build prologue, the metaphor of life as a performance, some fabulous piano work, a midpoint breakdown that features a recorded loop of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade”, creepy sound effects, and a reprise tying it all together.  And interestingly enough, it’s got the same musical construction as The Beatles’ “What’s the New Mary Jane”.  That’s a damn complex song for a band usually thought of as a goofy disposable punk group.

By their 1985 album Phantasmagoria, they’d become more of a goth-lite band, sounding more like a cross between Siouxsie & the Banshees and The Mission only with a much lighter outlook lyrically and musically.  Consider the campy “Grimly Fiendish” (named after a UK comic book character from the 70s) with its excellent use of harpsichord:

…or the poppy “Is It a Dream” that almost veers into Echo & the Bunnymen territory:

…or even into Pink Floyd territory:

By 1986’s Anything, they’d sort of been written off as has-beens (especially considering chief songwriter Captain Sensible left just after 1983’s Strawberries album for a solo career) (yes, the “Wot” guy).  They released a stellar career retrospective in late 1987 called The Light at the End of the Tunnel (highly suggested) before splitting up.

But just like every other band from the 80s, the Damned never really went away.  The 90s were filled with a ridiculous amount of official and semi-official live albums, greatest hits and rarities collections.  They resurfaced in 1996 with a sort-of-official album Not of This Earth (also known as I’m Alright Jack and the Beanstalk) and a few singles such as “Shut It” and “Prokofiev”, and resurfacing again in 2001 with Grave Disorder.

They’ve toured off and on since then, and keeping themselves visible with excellent reissues of their discography during the 00s, and releasing another new album in 2008 called So, Who’s Paranoid? which has brought their sound full circle, back to the punk-goth-postpunk hybrid.

Their discography is quite long and convoluted, and it’s mostly due to having been on numerous different labels over the years — sometimes for a few albums, sometimes for just one single — but they’re definitely worth checking out.  There may be a few weak points and some filler tracks, but they’re still a lot of fun to listen to.