Monday, March 30, 2020

Stiff Covers Stiff

Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera were clever Trevors. They had a knack for promotion, an eye for a gimmick, and a propensity to poke fun at the music industry. Stiff had provocative advertising slogans, attention-grabbing package tours, and innovative graphic artists (Barney Bubbles chief among them). Elvis Costello's arrest for busking outside a London convention of CBS Records executives was one of Stiff's most effective promotional stunts.

Here's a list called The Strangest Stiff Records, which catalogs novel packaging ideas like the scratch & sniff record cover, the 6" single, and 3-D picture discs. To promote the Be Stiff tour, the label released five albums on the same day (one by each of the artists on the tour) plus a Be Stiff Tour LP with the five touring artists performing versions of the Devo song of the same name. Devo wrote a theme song for Stiff, and Nick Lowe recorded a tribute called "I Love My Label".

It made sense for both artistic and financial reasons to encourage Stiff artists to perform songs composed by Stiff songwriters. This culminated in Tracey Ullman's hit version of "They Don't Know" (#2 in the UK, and #8 in the US charts). Ullman recalled, “One day, I was at my hairdresser, and Dave Robinson's wife Rosemary leant over and said, 'Do you want to make a record?'" Ull-timately, Tracey recorded four Kirsty MacColl compositions, plus a gender-switched version of the Madness song "My Girl" (which had been a #3 hit for the nutty boys).
Promoting the "Do It Yourself" LP in Oxford Street

Some of the songs in today's set are performed by Stiff alumni, and not all were released on Stiff. The Members only released one single on Stiff, but they later covered "Police Car" by Larry Wallis. "On Parole" (the b-side of "Police Car") dates back to Wallis' days as a founding member of Motorhead. Nick Lowe and Larry Wallis also served as producers for many of the early Stiff releases.

Wreckless Eric's tribute to the late Larry Wallis (1949-2019) is a touching read.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Let's Stiff Again (Like We Did Last Summer)

An anonymous reader suggested Stiff Records as a topic for the blog. I thought, "What a great label for songwriters!"  Stiff was co-founded by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson. Riviera soon left to form Radar Records, and took Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and the Yachts with him. 

Radar released The Pop Group's first album and The Red Krayola's "Wives In Orbit" before both groups decamped to Rough Trade. Radar also put out the Soft Boys' "Anglepoise Lamp" single before they signed to Armageddon. One of my all-time favorite LP's was a Radar release: Bram Tchaikovsky's debut, Strange Man Changed Man. The Yachts were great too. I should do a Radar Records feature... but let's get back to Stiff!

Early days at the Stiff HQ
Even after losing Lowe and Costello, Stiff was a label with a stable of estimable songwriters. Among them were Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Kirsty MacColl, Shane MacGowan, Mickey Jupp, Jona Lewie, and Clive Gregson (who led the band Any Trouble). 

Here's the first of several sets of Stiff covers, with two songs written by each of the aforementioned artists, plus two each from the pens of Brian James, Eddie Tudorpole, and members of Madness.

Thanks once again to Rock On Vinyl for that Darryl Cotton single: it has a Clive Gregson tune on the A-side, and a Moon Martin cover on the flip! Thanks also to HFM (the hospitable proprietor of the rudely named blog Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole). HFM shared Marti Jones' lovely version of another Clive Gregson song. And thank you to the anonymous reader who came up with the whole idea!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Moon Martin Songbook

I've been a Moon Martin fan ever since hearing "Rolene" on the radio forty years ago. John "Moon" Martin was a member of the country-rock band Southwind from 1969 through 1973. Plans for a 1974 solo LP with Jack Nitzche fell through. Moon worked as a session guitarist until producer Craig Leon put him in the studio with Moon's fellow Okie Phil Seymour on drums and Gary Valentine of Blondie on bass. Capitol Records issued Moon's first solo album, Shots From A Cold Nightmare, in 1978.

Meanwhile, Moon's songs were recorded by a variety of artists, notably Mink de Ville's version of "Cadillac Walk" and Robert Palmer's hit version of "Bad Case Of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)".

Jack Nitzsche produced Mink DeVille's 1977 debut, and Nitzsche also brought Moon's songs to the attention of Michelle Phillips, who recorded three of them for her 1977 solo album, Victim Of RomanceCraig Leon produced Lisa Burns' 1978 self-titled LP, which included three Moon tunes.  Frankie Miller has recorded three of Moon's songs, and Alvin Stardust's 1983 comeback album includes both "Victim Of Romance" and "Dreamer".

Moon put together a band that included 18 year old Jude Cole on lead guitar, and they made a second album, Escape From Domination (1979). It was quickly followed by 1980's Street Fever and 1981's Mystery Ticket. Here is an interesting Moon Martin interview about Robert Palmer producing that record.

Moon's last solo album for Capitol, 1985's Mixed Emotions, was not released in the US. He made four more albums in the 1990's. As far as I can tell, he is now retired. Fun fact: John David Martin was born on Halloween in 1950.

I often thought that Moon Martin was miscast by Capitol as an "angry young man" of the New Wave (just as Joe Jackson and John Hiatt were initially marketed to mimic Elvis Costello's image). I'm not denying that Moon wrote a number of songs from the perspective of a creepy, vengeful loner. But he was primarily influenced by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Del Shannon, and the Beatles. Then again, so were Dwight Twilley, Tom Petty, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and others in the early years of New Wave and power pop.

Here's a set of Moon Martin compositions that were recorded by other artists. Two of them ("The Aching Kind" by Michelle Phillips and "My Eye On You" by Bette Midler) were not recorded by Moon himself; the latter was cowritten by Bill House, Moon's producer on Mixed Emotions. "X-Ray Vision" was also a cowrite. 

"Bootleg Woman" was written by Moon's Southwind bandmate Fontaine Brown, and was covered by Moon on Escape From Domination. (Fontaine Brown has had a long and fascinating musical career.)

"Bad Case", "Cadillac Walk", "Dreamer", "Victim Of Love" and "Bad News" have been covered most frequently. He was evidently very popular in Europe: these and other Moon Martin songs have been translated into French, Swedish and Finnish.

Thanks to AussieRock at Rock On Vinyl for sharing the Darryl Cotton single, and to Down Underground for the Michelle Phillips and Lisa Burns albums.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Here's Where The Rough Trade Covers End

A representative of Corwood Industrial Records flogs Throbbing
Gristle's latest to Geoff Travis; Richard Scott is unimpressed
According to Rob Young's book Rough Trade: Labels Unlimited, several bad decisions led to Rough Trade's 1990 collapse. RT HQ moved to a five story building in Finsbury Park, where they installed a poorly chosen computer system to manage distribution and accounting. Debts went unpaid, and artists stopped receiving royalties. Rough Trade also failed to pay customs taxes -- a fatal mistake.

Damon Krukowski recalled that Rough Trade "declared bankruptcy without warning, even shutting their own employees out with a padlock on the door." Years later, he bought Galaxie 500's catalog at an auction. Lee Ranaldo complained that his songs were "sold without my permission to somebody I've never heard of." More than fifty of Britain's "most significant independent labels (were) unable to shift their stock until the receivers had done their work," wrote Rob Young.

Three unlikely lads from Leamington Spa, lost in Ladbroke Grove without a map
This last set covers ten years, from 1981 to 1990. It includes lovely ballads from songwriters such as Roddy Frame, Stuart Moxham, Martin Bramah, Grant McLennan, Mark Mulcahy, Vic Godard, Lucinda Williams, and Dean Wareham. Don't worry, there's a few rockers and some noisy bits. And don't worry about Rough Trade: the label was soon rebuilt by Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee (that's Mrs. Gareth Sager, donchaknow). 

It was March 5th, 2018 that jonderblog began with a birthday tribute to the late Mark E. Smith. Two years later, The Fall's music remains vital, and continues to enrich my days.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Put Some Stink On It!

Stinky brings the noise with more Sound Effects Records! Telephones ring, doors slam, and sirens blare. Stinky's got tons of tunes and tones, with everybody from Tony Orlando & Wings to Paul McCartney & Dawn! From surf to psych, and from synths to ska!

Do you prefer Billy Zoom or Billy Joel? Do you like your Cher without Sonny? Do you have a taste for the Tikiyaki Orchestra? Would you savor a soupçon of "Green Slime"? If your answer is "yes" to all of the above, then Stinky's your man.

Take a trip in the "Squad Car" with Jackie & The Cedrics, "See Emily Play" with the Wondermints, and "Journey To The Stars" with the Torquays! All this and more can be yours for a price so low that we can't print it here!

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Working On A Vision: More Rough Trade Covers

Tired of cover songs from the Rough Trade catalog? Today is not your day, and this is not your blog. I found 40 more songs to share, so this is part 3 of 4.

Rough Trade was unique: a retail store, a distributor, and a record label. The store came first, then RT began distributing independent releases to other record stores. As the DIY movement grew and artists brought in their self-released records, Rough Trade would mark the labels with their stamp as distributor. 

When the French punk band Metal Urbain came into the store with their "Paris Maquis" single, it was released as RT 001, and the Rough Trade record label was born.

Rough Trade was also unique in offering one-off contracts with a 50/50 deal. Nowhere else did artists receive half the proceeds for their records. Some singles were co-released by Rough Trade and the artists' own labels, or were re-released by RT for wider distribution. Artists were not contractually bound to stay with Rough Trade. After the success of Inflammable Material (Rough Trade's first LP, ROUGH 1), Stiff Little Fingers were free to sign with a major label. 

The Smiths were the first group signed by Rough Trade to a long term contract. Geoff Travis and his colleagues had become disenchanted with working to promote groups like Scritti Politti and Aztec Camera and then losing them to major labels. Morose-y would soon become disenchanted with Rough Trade, but that's a vulgar story for another day. Let's enjoy some songs from the carefree early years of 1977-1980, before Armageddon comes.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

More Stinky Sound Effects!

Stinky LePew, All-Time Number One guest contributor here at the blog, has another Homemade Record to share in his series of Sound Effects Records! For those of you keeping score at home, this is Volume Four.

Stinky draws from a wide range of styles in his tireless search for songs containing sound effects. How do you think he does it? I don't know.

Today's set includes a number of cover songs, including Summertime Blues, Eight Miles High, Detroit Rock City, Blitzkrieg Bop, For No One, Sweet Dreams, and Raining In My Heart. It also includes a personal favorite of mine, Living In The USA by The Steve Miller Band. That one dates back to 1969, when William "Boz" Scaggs played guitar with Steve "Maurice" Miller.

Stinky has another volume of Sound Effects Records coming up, plus more Songs Of Footwear. Don't miss his Songs Of Lipstick, Answer To Elvis (my personal favorite), or his other contributions. All of them can be found by clicking the link right here.