Vinyl Moments – The Human League – 1980-1981

Last week’s vinyl moment ended with Heart, which provides us an opportunity to cross over to The Human League and listen to Open Your Heart, from their 1981 album Dare, which we listened to here in its entirety a long time ago.

IMG_1487

This era of The Human League provides some interesting opportunities, but I’ve started with the Holiday 80 EP. Exactly where it belongs chronologically is a matter of some debate, but it almost certainly doesn’t belong here – most of it was recorded around 1980, but it was reissued as a reminder of their earlier times in 1981.

The single actually includes an exclusive track, a version of Marianne, but it’s nothing particularly special, whereas Being Boiled definitely is, even in the less atmospheric Travelogue version which appears here.

Open Your Heart should probably next, but in my infinite wisdom, not having heard it for a while, I flip straight to Side B for Non-Stop. That turns out to be a bit of a mistake – it’s cheesy in the extreme. I can’t help but feel rather glad when it ended, as it gives me the opportunity to move on to Love Action (I Believe in Love).

Chronologically, this should have come earlier actually – I got a bit confused. My version is the 12″, which mixes from Hard Times into the title track over the course of ten minutes or so.

This turns out to be a particularly well scratched 12″ single (in fact, it almost looks intentional) so what should have been ten minutes is inevitably rather shorter. Both Hard Times and Love Action are good songs though, and the longer track did at least give me the chance to sit down and gather my thoughts.

It’s strange in retrospect to think that this was the second single from the album, giving them not only their first top ten hit, but also a top three smash. Don’t You Want Me, which we think of now as their definitive hit, wouldn’t appear as a single till the end of the year.

Love Action, meanwhile, has been happily skipping to itself. The LP version of Dare comes next, and unfortunately we don’t have time for the whole thing. I opt for Things That Dreams Are Made Of (no “the” on this release, for some reason) since it’s my favourite song on here. Finally, Dare, in its rather beautiful gatefold packaging, provides The Human League with an opportunity to sound as good as they can.

Since I skipped it earlier, I decide to let the album continue playing, with Open Your Heart. It’s so much better than its b-side – and gave the League a sturdy second top ten single back in 1981.

The final record in this set is the 7″ single for Don’t You Want Me, but in their infinite wisdom both tracks on there are lifted directly from the album. Since it’s easier to just turn the current record over, I decide to finish with Don’t You Want Me.

That turns out to be easier said than done. My turntable isn’t in the best lit part of the house – it does have a little light on it, but I’ve never found it to be a lot of use – and so locating Don’t You Want Me is a little difficult. Finally getting there, it’s difficult not to be struck by the song. It’s so good.

So this particular vinyl moment may have been a little confused, but in the end, it brought us to Dare, one of the best albums in the history of pop music. So no complaints here.

I do own more Human League vinyl, of course, but that will have to wait for another vinyl moment. This is the last in this series – the next should follow in the summer.

Advertisements

Vinyl Moments – Pet Shop Boys – 1985-1988

As you’ll remember, the previous vinyl moment saw me thinking about taking a trip back to 1985, to listen to Pet Shop Boys not too long after the start of their careers.

IMG_1486

Inevitably, West End girls has to come first, but as you know I only listened to Please a couple of days ago, so I decided to go for the b-side, A man could get arrested. On Alternative, it’s a dark and atmospheric piece, but the single version, produced by Steven Spiro is a slightly vacuous pop version which makes me wish I’d started with Side A after all.

Fortunately, I also own the 12″ version, giving me the opportunity to hear one of my favourite versions of West End girls, the Dance Mix. Some of the extra bits detract a little from the atmosphere, but the longer form suits the song too, and the extra verses are a joy to hear.

The second single I own is Love comes quickly, a German version, where someone with no graphic design skills and frankly limited English has added the words “Original-Version” to the cover in a font that looks like the 1980s equivalent of Comic Sans. Again, having heard the a-side recently, I opted for Side B, That’s my impression.

This is exactly what I was looking for – dark and gloomy, and rather glorious too. There’s something about this period in Pet Shop Boys‘ history – they were definitely making pop music, but they weren’t afraid to put their own stamp on it either.

I wasn’t sure what to listen to from the Opportunities single, which must be, incidentally, one of the low points of Pet Shop Boys‘ typically wonderful design history, with a silver sleeve and not a whole lot else to say for itself. I’m sure that was the idea, but it’s not one I’d have gone for. In the end, I chose Side B again, Was That what it was?

Again, it’s deep and dark, and I always find myself wondering why on earth they hid things as good as this away on the back of their singles, but it’s definitely a nice present for the people who buy your records.

I should probably track down the double 7″ version of Suburbia one of these days, but for now the next single I own is the 12″ of Always on My Mind, and although I haven’t heard this recently I opted for the b-side, Do I have to? as it’s a great song (as you might be realising, Alternative is, perhaps improbably, one of my favourite albums).

This is a particularly crackly vinyl – definitely the worst of this bunch. I always take care to clean everything before listening again, but the vast majority of my vinyl was bought second hand, largely from obscure bargain bins in record fairs, so they have often been well loved long before I got my hands on them.

Do I have to? though, is definitive Pet Shop Boys – it almost explains some of Chris Lowe‘s photo poses, but it’s also an exceptionally beautiful piece of music. Always on My Mind is great too, but one for another time, I think. Although it’s worth a mention for the wonderful design on this single, particularly the sly joke at the bottom: “Not from the album, Actually.”

This particular journey has to end with Heart, and since I don’t know Shep Pettibone‘s Dance Mix on Side B too well (it never made it onto any of the later reissues), I decided to go with this version. As with a lot of Pettibone’s remixes, it’s just a little bit cheesy in places, but it is fun too, and it brings out some different elements in the song.

This isn’t the last we’ll hear from Pet Shop Boys in the Vinyl Moments series, but this has been a fun little journey for now. Where next? Well, from Heart we’ll move on to a group who just a few years earlier wanted to Open Your Heart – The Human League.

Vinyl Moments – Electronic

Following last week’s session listening to vinyl from New Order, an obvious next step was to move onto Bernard Sumner‘s side-step with Johnny Marr, Electronic.

IMG_1468Electronic burst into most people’s consciousness in 1989, with the magnificent one-off single Getting Away with It, a collaboration with Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys. Inexplicably (inexcusably) omitted from their debut album on its initial release in the UK, it made it on to the US version, and subsequently the later UK releases too. I chose to listen to the 7″ version, from the sleeveless single which I remember finding in a record shop in Surfers Paradise in Australia some time around 1996.

Side B on both the 7″ and the 12″, which I found somewhere else a lot later, is the pleasant instrumental Lucky Bag. While this may have never changed the world, it definitely has its place in history – if nothing else, as the b-side to Getting Away with It.

Following a couple of years later was Get the Message, noticeably better mastered on its 7″ single. It’s also an even better single than the first – somehow Marr’s guitar work and the electronic backing come together perfectly, and Sumner is on fine form here.

The second side of this disc brings another lovely instrumental. This one, Free Will is short and sweet, and also considerably better than Lucky Bag. Somewhat unusually, this is a particularly great 7″ single.

The third release from the album was the more subdued Feel Every Beat, the back cover of which was included on the image above (I think that’s the back cover, anyway – it’s a little difficult to tell). Side A of the 12″ single features Danny Rampling‘s 12″ mix, but that’s been released elsewhere so I jumped straight to the exclusive dub mix.

Having initially picked the wrong speed to play it at (I guessed 33rpm), I discovered that  Rampling had had a lot of fun mixing in elements from Kraftwerk‘s then-recent album The Mix. As with any good dub version – and there are plenty of bad examples – this takes interesting elements from the original and 12″ mix, and draws them off in some interesting and unusual directions. Electronic never included a lot of remixes on their UK singles, and this one is a particular treat.

There’s just one bonus track on the 12″, Lean to the Inside. I remember not being too impressed by this when I first heard it, but actually it’s pretty good. Another instrumental, not entirely dissimilar to Soviet on the album, it bobs along pleasantly with its pizzicato lead for four minutes or so before this particular journey comes to an end.

Of course, the next single, Disappointed, which sadly I don’t have on vinyl, saw Electronic collaborate again with Pet Shop Boys, which gives us a good link to next week’s vinyl moment, when we’ll be exploring their early days.

Vinyl Moments – New Order

There’s something almost spiritual about listening to Blue Monday on vinyl. This is a format being used at its best, and it’s absolutely the way it was meant to be heard. In the first of a new series of Vinyl Moments, it’s only right that New Order come first.

IMG_1467

Listening to Blue Monday always transports you to Manchester in 1983 anyway, regardless of the part of the world you grew up in and whether you have ever even visited the rainy northern city. There’s something particularly evocative about it. It’s so good, in fact, that I had to play Side B, The Beach, as well.

The Beach is, essentially, an alternative version of Blue Monday with ideas above its station. As part of the 12″ single, it’s a key piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and is always worth a listen in its own right.

The next 12″ single I own is equally important, the brilliant True Faith. Originally released to promote the first singles album Substance in 1987 and subsequently reissued in less good form in 1994, this is really New Order at their best – a huge, catchy song with a clever lyric and an appropriately big Peter Hook bass line.

On Side B, you get 1963. More melancholic but every bit as good as the A-side, this really makes for another great single. The vinyl may be less essential this time around, but it still sounds very good indeed.

By the way, I know the image above shows The Perfect Kiss as well, but to my intense disappointment, when I bought that a number of years ago, it turned out to have a record by someone else inside the sleeve. There’s a lesson there about checking what you’ve picked up before you buy it.

Instead, as a side-step, The Other Two & You comes next, the one-off album by the two members of New Order who weren’t at the time part of Electronic or Revenge, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert. Since it’s all I own, it was the LP that I was listening to when I reviewed the album last year, and since it’s not a particular favourite of mine, I won’t put it on again.

Instead, let’s close with the fantastic Regret. After the collapse of Factory Records, it wouldn’t have been too surprising if New Order had collapsed as well, but instead they reappeared with Republic, containing four superlative new singles and some other highlights besides. It would take something much more fundamental to make New Order collapse – as far as I can make out, primarily in-fighting and egotism – and even then they bounced back.

Whatever the circumstances, Regret is truly exceptional – every bit as good as True Faith and all the other classics. Unfortunately my 7″ single must have a slight warp in it, as it seemed to wobble a bit a couple of times. I couldn’t make my mind up whether to play New Order‘s own remix from Side B, but it’s a good version, so I decided to go with it anyway, rounding off the trio of singles in fine fashion.

Next time, we’ll stick with the works of Bernard Sumner, and move on to his side-project with Johnny Marr, Electronic.

Vinyl Moments – Röyksopp

There’s something particularly Nordic about Röyksopp. Somehow their music really captures the cold, lonely, and deeply beautiful pine forests and fjords. For this Vinyl Moment, I decided to start with the lovely Someone Else’s Club Mix of Remind Me.

IMG_1088

This is a curious single – Side A clocks in at well under four minutes, and for some reason runs at 45 RPM while Side B is 33. I’ve reflected previously on what might have happened with this version, and can only conclude that it’s a work in progress between the original version and the Someone Else’s Radio Mix that brought Röyksopp to my attention back in 2002. What would become the chorus – the “remind oh remind oh remind me” part – is still hiding in the middle section, and the squealy synth part that was originally where the chorus ought to be is still here.

So it’s maybe not quite as good as the final radio version, but it’s still very good indeed. From the second 12″ of the same single (or it might be the first – who knows which way around they’re meant to be heard?) I picked Ernest Saint Laurent‘s pleasant Moonfish Mix, an electro version which skips most of the lyrics, but still explores some interesting territory over its seven minute duration.

I don’t recall being entirely convinced about either side of the two-track promo for Sparks, so on a whim I picked Derrick Carter‘s So B.H.Q. remix of So EasySparks was an awkward final single from Melody AM, with some very odd remix choices, and this is a particularly curious one, although it’s better than I remembered. It’s mainly built on some tribal beats and a funky acid bassline, working around the computerised “so easy” from the introduction. There’s even the occasional hint of the original melody here and there, if you listen very carefully. I’m still not sure how much I like it, but it isn’t too bad.

Jumping ahead a couple of years, we arrive at the “difficult” second album, and its exceptional lead hit Only This Moment. The remixes were a mixed bag, but I opted for Alan Braxe and Fred Falke‘s version on Side A of the 12″ single. This mix turns out to be a massive, throbbing deep house reworking of the original, which is actually reasonably good, in spite of some slightly awkward chord changes.

The 7″ single for Only This Moment provides something very special – at the time, it would have been the first taste of the adorable What Else is There? but even now it’s an exclusive edit, which is something to treasure. Hidden away on Side B of a long-forgotten single, it sounds particularly fantastic, although it does end rather suddenly, leaving you wanting the unedited version.

Second single 49 Percent delivers another selection of remixes, and I decided to go for Ewan Pearson‘s Glass Half Full remix. It’s an interesting version, mainly building on the original by adding some more beats and bonus noises here and there. It works though – this is every bit as good as the original version.

Last but not least, the curious 7″ picture disc of 49 Percent, for the time being the last Röyksopp single that I own on vinyl, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually listened to before. As its b-side, it includes a track which also appeared on the bonus disc of The Understanding. Maybe it’s not as good as most of the things on the album, but it’s still pretty uplifting, and it makes a pretty strong statement to conclude this first run of Vinyl Moments.

So for now, Go Away. The next series of Vinyl Moments will follow in the New Year.

Vinyl Moments – Apollo 440

Apollo 440‘s Liquid Cool may be a slightly unusual concept for a piece of music (some versions use the subtitle “Theme for Cryogenic Suspension”), but there’s something rather uplifting about the epic track, with its enormous choral backing and reverberating guitar solos.

I chose to start this Vinyl Moment with Side B of the 1993 Rumble EP, which also sounds particularly fantastic on vinyl. Disappointingly though, this version of Liquid Cool only clocks in at ten and a half minutes, rather than the album’s twelve, so I flipped the disc over for the non-album Hydraglide, a tribal piece which plods on sedately for six minutes or so.

If vinyl has become something for the hipster generation, then listening to a 1990s dance band from before they were famous is probably a slightly unusual way to express oneself. Fortunately, even a relatively dull track like Hydraglide sounds amazing. Why did we ever switch to CDs in the first place?

From the beautiful 12″ picture disc of Astral America, I chose the first track, Spirit of America. Watching a foot-sized round American flag spinning round on your record player is particularly satisfying, and actually the sound quality isn’t nearly as bad as I remember it being (like many picture discs, I’m fairly sure this one does suffer a bit in places, but apparently not on Side A).

If I were choosing my vinyl collection right now, Apollo 440‘s second album Electro Glide in Blue probably would be one of my choices, but as it turns out I just have the three singles – the original Rumble EP, the promo for Astral America, and a regular release of Krupa from the second album. So, as the needle makes its way towards the centre of the flag, the next track has to be Krupa, and with a large selection of unmemorable remixes to pick from, I decided to go for the original version.

That was the intention, anyway – it didn’t sound much like the original, so I flipped it over to the other side, thinking I’d picked the wrong side, and found myself listening to the edited Alcatraz within the Joint vs. @440 version that kicks off Side B, remixed by Alcatraz. This version takes the bouncy original, and makes it a bit more dance-orientated, and actually turns out rather well after all, although the fade at the end is a bit unexpected.

But there’s one release left over, in fact from last week’s Vinyl Moment which was dedicated to Jean-Michel Jarre. In 1998, he collaborated with Apollo 440 on a new version of his 1986 single Fourth Rendez-Vous. Now titled Rendez-Vous 98, it became an enormous, contemporary dance version, and actually did a lot better on the charts than the original.

Sadly, Rendez-Vous 98 didn’t see an official 12″ release in the UK, but somehow I seem to have ended up with the single-sided promo version, which just features Apollo 440‘s main remix as featured on the Odyssey Through O2 remix album. It’s a shame that none of the bonus tracks made it onto here, but it’s an exceptional piece of dance music nonetheless, and a great way to conclude this Vinyl Moment.

By the late 1990s, vinyl was close to hitting its nadir, but for dance music it was still the format of choice, and as far as I can see from these four singles, it served Apollo 440 well. In the next Vinyl Moment, we’ll cross into another decade, and take a spin through an assortment of Röyksopp singles.

Vinyl Moments – Jean-Michel Jarre

What’s great about listening to Oxygène on vinyl is that this is entirely how it’s meant to be heard. I’m lucky that this copy was owned by someone other than me, so is in fantastic condition, sounding crisp and clear, but you can still tangibly feel the warmth of the vinyl.

IMG_0956OK, maybe that is nonsense, but it does sound great, listening the soft introduction to Part I, it does feel as though you have a tangible connection to the young Jean-Michel, recording this on analogue equipment in his bedroom back in the mid-1970s. The deep synth that turns up, a few minutes in, reverberates and sounds every bit as dramatic as it was meant to.

I think Part I and Part II might be my favourites of this album – the mega-hit Part IV is great, but it’s the atmosphere of Side 1 that makes Oxygène so special for me. I wasn’t going to listen to Part II this time, but as the rippling arpeggios mix in, it would seem extremely rude to stop the needle from playing.

What’s fascinating about Oxygène for me is that it really hasn’t dated particularly. The drums sound a little bit naff when they finally turn up a minute or two into Part II, but other than that this sounds amazing.

Of course, this being vinyl, it perhaps isn’t surprising that I need to take the needle off and adjust the head weight, as it starts to skip. There is a downside to this obsolete format too – I’ve lost my place in the music now, and worse – it’s spoilt the mood. Perhaps this isn’t such a great copy after all. Time to change the record.

My copy of the Orient Express single includes an edit of Équinoxe (Part IV), from The Concerts in China, which I’ve always preferred to the original version. I picked this up at a tiny record store in Surfer’s Paradise, in Australia, about twenty years ago, and it still sounds fantastic.

Strangely, at a time when many electronic artists were flourishing, the late 1980s and early 1990s weren’t kind to Jarre, and it wasn’t until 1997 that he was able to forge much of a comeback. Now a quarter of a century into his career, revisiting his biggest hit was seemingly the only way of clawing his way back to popularity, and the first single was Oxygène (Part 8).

Unfortunately in the 1990s, the trend was for the most part not to release your own tracks on vinyl, just remixes, so I’m faced with a slight dilemma about which to pick – I go with the first track on Side B, which is mislabelled in every way – this is the twelve minute Sunday Club “edit”, remixed, apparently, by Takkyu Ishino (it’s actually the Sunday Club mix).

Having skipped twenty years in a couple of minutes, it’s interesting to hear how Jarre’s remixers are now shaping their sound around him. The most commercial of the tracks on Oxygène 7-13, it’s pretty much a four minute pop song on the album, but here it’s been reshaped into a huge, atmospheric piece. It really is very good indeed.

A lot of purists probably hate Sash!‘s take on Oxygène (Part 10), but I’m rather fond of it. It doesn’t sound much like the original, it’s true, but across the three or four different versions he put together, he takes the original track off in very varied directions. If you needed a quick introduction to Jean-Michel Jarre in the mid-1990s, this was a great way to get it.

But that brings this week’s Vinyl Moment to a close – some great slices of soft, gentle, atmospheric synth music, and the dance remixes they inspired, all enjoyed in the way they were meant to be. There is one more – the most recent 12″ single I have for Jarre is a promo for his often overlooked 1998 single Rendez-Vous 98, a collaborative reworking of Fourth Rendez-Vous with Apollo 440, but since I’ve got some singles of theirs as well, I’m going to save that one for next time instead.