Chart for stowaways – 12 August 2017

A top ten full of electronic legends!

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Saint Etienne – Sweet Arcadia
  3. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  4. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  5. Erasure – Be Careful What You Wish For!
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  7. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  8. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  9. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  10. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
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Stowaway Heroes – Robert Moog

The last of our Stowaway Heroes for now is one of the fathers of electronic music, Robert Moog. He might not have actually made a lot of music himself, but his fingers have remotely touched more genres than you can name in the last few decades. Here he is, demonstrating his own creation:

Moog famously started out in the 1950s, selling kit Theremins, launching his first modular synthesiser in 1964. After a couple of years of early devices, he met Walter (later WendyCarlos, who provided many people’s first taste of the Moog Synthesizer with Switched-On Bach (1968):

Picking a Moog Synthesizer classic from later in his career is difficult, as his devices turned up on music by everyone from the Beach Boys to Gary Numan. So instead, I think we should keep it predictable, and go with Kraftwerk‘s breakthrough hit from 1974, Autobahn:

Sadly, Robert Moog passed away relatively young in 2005, but his legacy – and company – are still going strong, and you’ll find his sounds throughout the last fifty years or so of pop music. So he’s well-deserving of his place amongst the Stowaway Heroes.

The Shamen – Boss Drum

In 1992, The Shamen were truly in control of their careers. The five years that came before had been turbulent, as they journeyed from indie to pop-dance

Fifth album Boss Drum opens with the self-produced version of the title track, later released, in reworked form, as the third single from the album. Most of the singles were remixed at the hands of The Beatmasters, and frankly those that weren’t do suffer noticeably. So the album version of Boss Drum is a bit dull and noisy, particularly when compared to the single.

For L.S.I.: Love Sex IntelligenceThe Beatmasters were at the helm as producers, and this is consequently brilliant. Mr. C‘s rap is typically awkward, but hey, these were the early 1990s – pretty much nobody in the UK was an expert at rapping back then. This was released as the first single in June 1992, and immediately hit number four.

With seven singles from a ten-track album, there’s little room for anything else here, but Space Time is one of the few album-only tracks. It did appear on The Face EP in remixed form, and with some acid chirps it’s a bit deeper than some of the other tracks on here, but ultimately it isn’t really anything special.

Librae Solidi Denari literally means “pounds, shillings, and pence” in Latin, but you have to wonder from the initials and some of the other tracks on here whether it took its inspiration from another source. It’s a pretty dull tribal instrumental that also made it onto The Face EP and the subsequent remix album Different Drum.

Then comes the number one hit Ebeneezer Goode, released just a couple of weeks before the album appeared. In a curious step, listeners of the LP version get The Shamen‘s own (vastly inferior) version, whereas on the cassette and CD you get an extended version of The Beatmasters‘ single version. It’s a great track, very much of its time, and yes kids, it is about drugs. Don’t do them.

The second half of the album kicks off with the final single, Comin’ On. If there was ever a track that needed to be reworked by The Beatmasters, this is definitely it. On the album, it’s a dreadfully misguided attempt to sound Indian (or possibly West Indian? It’s difficult to tell at times – or perhaps that’s the joke?) full of silly voices and sitar samples and descriptions of people as “yellow” (was that really ever acceptable?) It would be hard to believe that this seemed funny to anyone, even shrouded by illicit substances as they probably were when it was recorded.

But amazingly, there was a good song hiding in there. The 1993 single version strips out all the silly and racist bits and turns it into something quite brilliant. The Beatmasters, it seems, are indeed capable of magic.

They also had their hands on the single version of Phorever People, released just in time for Christmas in 1992, but in this instance the album version holds the song together well. It’s followed by the dreadful album-only track Fatman.

Things do improve towards the end though, with the pleasant instrumental Scientas, which could have only been improved if it had been a bit more melodic, and finally the eight-minute single Re:evolution, featuring the drug-inspired ramblings of neophilosopher Terence McKenna.

I like the track – actually I like it a lot, particularly some of the remixes on the single from The Future Sound of London and others, but bluntly, he is talking total nonsense. Even the first sentence, “If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed,” doesn’t really make sense if you stop and think about it. I’ve really tried – I’ve been listening to this song for at least two decades now, and ultimately I’ve had to just conclude that the whole thing is gibberish. But close your eyes, try not to listen to the actual words too carefully, and maybe imagine you’ve injected a lot of cannabis pills, and you can enjoy it as an intriguing, experimental piece of music. Which is reasonably true for the album as a whole actually, on balance.

But in the end, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The CD version of the album gets you a couple of additional dub versions of Boss Drum and Phorever People, but honestly it isn’t worth the bother. Save yourself the money and just get the singles album The Shamen Collection instead.

If you do fancy a copy of Boss Drum, it is still available here. It’s worth taking a few minutes to enjoy the reviews first.

Chart for stowaways – 5 August 2017

Here are the top ten albums right now:

  1. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  2. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  3. Erasure – World Be Gone
  4. Pet Shop Boys – Release
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  6. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  8. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  10. New Order – Music Complete

Stowaway Heroes – Delia Derbyshire

Time for another of our Stowaway Heroes now. This week, one of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s most important and influential musicians. Delia Derbyshire is the person who brought Ron Grainer‘s Doctor Who theme music to life in a quite extraordinary way.

Derbyshire joined the BBC in 1960, and stayed for thirteen years, working on numerous well-known and loved series and one-off shows, one of which was The Last Caravans, an episode of The World About Us, for which she composed the brilliant Blue Veils and Golden Sands:

Little is known of her work after leaving the BBC, although following her untimely death in 2001 an extensive collection of tapes were found in her attic and digitised. Perhaps her most famous non-BBC work was as a member of the group White Noise, who released the early electronic album An Electric Storm in 1969.

Delia Derbyshire‘s musical career was a lot shorter than it really should have been – somebody this influential should definitely have a back catalogue of albums to their name. Maybe one day she will. But for now, with a career shrouded in mystery, she is one of the most important of our Stowaway Heroes.