Vinyl love: Levellers “Levelling the land”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Levellers
Album Title: Levelling the land
Year released: 1991
Year reissued: 2016
Details: 2 x LP, 25th anniversary edition, includes bonus live disc

The skinny: Even if you are a regular on these pages, you could be forgiven for not noticing that I have been counting down my favourite albums of 1991 since midway through January, especially given the lackadaisical pace I am setting. But it’s true and I am enjoying it. In fact, just this past Thursday, I posted album number four and the album of our focus today appeared at number six a month ago. Levellers’ sophomore record, “Levelling the land”, is definitely my favourite by the band and when they announced this 25th anniversary reissue, I jumped all over it. The pressing includes “Fifteen years”, a song that wasn’t on initial pressings but was tacked on to the end of the cassette copy I purchased way back in the day. Also included is a bonus disc that features a live performance by the band of the album in full for its 20th anniversary back in 2011. I’m not typically one for live albums myself but it was a nice surprise nonetheless. It definitely captures the riotous, folk rock energy put forth by the fiddle, the didgeridoo, and an ecstatic crowd singing along with every word. Yeah, I’d be right there with them.

Standout track: “One way”

Best albums of 1991: #4 R.E.M. “Out of time”

This blog is now exactly two months shy of celebrating its fourth anniversary and already, R.E.M. has been featured on this pages in eight separate posts, this one, now, being the ninth. I’m starting to get worried that I am going to run out of nice things to say about the iconic rock band from Athens, Georgia. Because, yeah, I am fairly certain that this won’t be their last appearance, as long as I continue making lists and blathering on about music.

So let’s start with this:

“Out of time” is the seventh studio album to be released by the quartet of Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Michael Stipe. It was the group’s second major label release and third collaboration with producer Scott Litt. This was the album that finished the job started by 1988’s “Green” in turning a cult, college radio band into an international rock phenomenon and household name. It sold four and a half million copies in the U.S. and more than 18 million worldwide, earning them gold and platinum status in a bunch of countries, and winning them three, count them, one, two, three Grammys.

And how about this:

I don’t often agree with what’s written on venerated music site Pitchfork.com, but they make three excellent points on their hindsight review of “Out of time”’s 25th anniversary reissue: 1. There are many who wish “Shiny happy people” out of existence; 2. It is the sunlight to the nocturnal sequel of “Automatic for the people”, and; 3. It is a rare example of an album that nets a group exponentially more followers without pissing off the diehards.

I remember borrowing a CD copy of “Out of time” from my friend Tim shortly after its release because I had already fallen in love with “Losing my religion” and as I’ve already recounted in a post on that very song, I had the album on repeat while attempting to strip the wallpaper from the walls in the upstairs hallway in the house in which I grew up. The bright, yellow rays of music eased the mundane task to which I was set and by the third go around, I was singing along to many of its tracks and smiling to myself. Sore and tired, I recorded a copy for myself to cassette later that night but it wasn’t one that lasted or saw many plays. And that was only because I not long after bought a proper copy for my burgeoning compact disc collection.

There’s so many great tracks on this album, eleven, to be exact, and you probably don’t really need to be reminded of or introduced to the wonders “Out of time”, but I do have a template to follow with these posts. So to that end, here’s my three picks for you. Enjoy.


”Near wild heaven”: Track number four was the third single to be released off “Out of time” and is the first one to be released by the band whose lyrics were written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It is jangly and boppy and full of sparkles and lemon yellow sunlight. Stipe adds his touch on vocals in the background during the chorus, alongside those of Kate Pierson (The B-52s) who also appears on “Shiny happy people”. And though both those tracks are heightened with her touch, the bubble gum bubbles blown just that much bigger, this one lacks some of the kitsch of the other, leaving the good mood smiles without so much saccharine. With all these good feels it’s easy to lose track of the fact that it’s a song about the beginning of the end of a relationship.”Whenever we hold each other, we hold each other, there’s a feeling that’s going. Something has gone wrong.” And yet, you can’t help but feel, with all those “ba ba ba ba”s, that there’s some silver lining in there somewhere and somehow things will all turn out.

”Belong”: A rumbling bass line, the snap of fingers, and a world-filling jangle of guitars. Michael Stipe speaking through the verses in that deep, serious voice of his, demanding to be heard, demanding change, demanding everyone to take up the fight. “Her world collapsed early Sunday morning. She got up from the kitchen table, folded the newspaper and silenced the radio. Those creatures jumped the barricades and have headed for the sea.” And at the chorus, if you can even call it that, it is voices without words, all plaintively calling into the ether, ecstatic messaging against hatred, and a music so beautiful and so insistent. It is a woman and her child, it is a man and his wife, it is two teenagers figuring out love, lust, and sex, it is all of us. We all need to belong and Michael Stipe is just the one to lead us forward.

”Losing my religion”: Yeah. “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot-light, losing my religion.” If you’ve done any other reading on this song, especially on this site, or even if you’re just in the know, that last bit is quite poignant. Because who hasn’t had that moment where you’ve just lost your sh*t and feel like everyone is there looking at you and there’s nowhere to which to escape. Hell. Stipe is playing with a breakdown and painting it so beautifully, as only R.E.M. can do. It’s that mandolin that strikes you from the first, sticking out like a sore thumb against Bill Berry’s rock and roll drum and Mike Mills stomach rumbling bass line. If you pretend that three decades haven’t passed listening to it and that all the songs that have followed have never happened, you might think to yourself that it’s not an obvious pop song, not an obvious hit single. And yet, there it is with all the accolades bestowed upon it (it has also appeared on these pages at #13 on best tunes of 1991 list and #3 on my all-time favourite R.E.M. tunes list), it really is just a wondrous bit of religion.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 1991: #5 The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”

Throughout the first half on the 1990s, I made no apologies and did not waffle either way. The Wonder Stuff was my favourite band. Period. And though I’ve listened to them less and less over the years, I’ve learned, while doing these Best tunes and Best albums list series for this blog, that they are, in fact, still, one of my favourite bands.

I’ve already written the story of how I discovered them a number of times on these pages so I won’t tread those paths again. If you’re interested, you can read about that in my post on their debut album, “The eight legged groove machine”, when it appeared at number two on my Best albums of 1988 list, or the post on “Hup”, their sophomore album, which appeared at number five on my Best albums of 1989 list. I was almost apologetic at their appearances so high on those two lists, blaming the nostalgia factor. And while that was most certainly case for those two records and the same can be said of all of The Wonder Stuff’s early work for me, there’s more to it than that when it comes to their third album, “Never loved Elvis”.

I bought this album on cassette tape, with my own money, from “Hooked on video”, our small town’s only music store at that time, where and when I went looking for more music where “The eight legged groove machine” came from. It turned out to be not at all what I expected but I fell for it just the same. “Never loved Elvis” became a constant fixture in my walkman. I learned every nuance of the fiddle, mandolin, and juke-joint piano influenced folk-rock that underpinned Miles Hunt’s biting pomes (yes, I misspelled that on purpose).

Legend has it, the original working title for the album was “F*ck Elvis”, which absolutely toes the line of Miles’ typical combative, don’t give a shit attitude in those days. However, the title got a tone down when he heard comic Dudley Moore state in a television interview that he “never loved Elvis”. The album was anti-pop and rock and anti-establishment and fit its moniker. Funny, then, that it became the band’s biggest selling album to date, initially all on the back of the band’s first huge hit, “The size of a cow”. Not to worry, the irony of it all was never lost on Miles, who has always appreciated the song and the fact that it made him lots of money.

This version of The Wonder Stuff* would only make one other album after this, their fame and Miles’ innate self-destructiveness were the main culprits, but for “Never loved Elvis”, the stars aligned perfectly. Or maybe it was just the alcohol and those late nights hanging out with The Mission’s Kevin Hussey.

I can forever listen to each song on this record, just enjoy the originality of it all, and to sing along with and deconstruct Milo’s excellent lyrics. Every one of them has been and will be a favourite of mine through the past and the future. The three songs I have picked to highlight for you are all ones that have a lot of personal significance but are also excellent examples of The Wonder Stuff’s, in my mind, very underrated talents. “Thanks for your time and ears to lend…”


”Maybe”: Speaking of which, I’m starting things off here with track nine of thirteen, a song that was never released as a single but was one of my favourites by the group nonetheless. “Maybe I should be a writer, write a book and feel much brighter, share my thoughts with the world.” Those first three lines that start off Miles Hunts’ musing on being at a crossroads, trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life, it’s those words that completely rung true with me as a teenager. Even back then, I wanted to be a writer, dreamt of writing the great Canadian novel, was serious about meaningful lyrics in songs, all of which hooked me on to this band in the first place. I identified with all the questioning going on, since I was yet a teen and had no idea then where I would end up. I loved singing along with these words. I loved the whirl of organs, the rambling harmonica and of course, those fiddles that start off the proceedings against Martin Gilks shuffling drum beat. And each of these make an appearance all the way through, taking turns accompanying our man Miles as he name-checks the lead singer of R.E.M. and questions the sanity of the world and his own spot in it. Yeah, it’s still a favourite.

”Caught in my shadow”: The second single to be released in advance of the album was this one, featuring the following lines that run through it thrice: “These streets used to look pretty. This town used to look like a city. These people used to talk to me.” It sounds to me like Miles is feeling nostalgic for home, but not just home: the home of his youth. A sentiment with which many of us can identify and one that I’ve known every time that I’ve swung through the town in which I grew up and found it unrecognizable. Fittingly, the video for this track was filmed in Birmingham, not far from the band’s roots in Stourbridge. Originally planned as a commando, surprise busking gig, requirements for city approvals meant that a sizeable crowd appeared and were treated to acoustic renditions of a bunch of the band’s hits and of course, this tune. Bongo drumming, acoustic strumming, a shine of the beautiful mandolin, and Hunt’s snarling memories, all highlight this otherwise driving pop song. And heroically done.

”Welcome to the cheap seats”: “Arriba!!!” Released as the fourth single to “Never loved Elvis”, my last pick for you today has already appeared on these pages in the number eight spot on my Best Tunes of 1991 list. It was actually released the following year to headline a double EP and was accompanied by a documentary film of the same name, both of which I owned copies of in the past, the former on cassette and then compact disc and the latter on VHS. “Welcome to the cheap seats” features the accordion work of Linda McRae of Canadian folk-rockers Spirit of the West (with whom the Stuffies toured and became friends) and the backing vocals of everyone’s favourite, Kirsty MacColl. It puts excellent use to these two extraordinary talents, contrasting Kirsty’s smiles with Miles’s snarls and pairing the accordion with the fiddle, all set against the driving strum on the acoustic and the peppery drums. It all makes for a ridiculous waltz, a tear and reel through a shattered looking glass, everything distorted and nothing as it seems. The lyrics are equally nonsensical and surreal, adding up to three wonderful minutes of whimsy. “Imagine his suprise when he opened his eyes and I’d run the lawnmower over his thighs. Imagine the disturbance at the time of the occurrence, when his life became a burden and we laughed at his cries.”

*The Wonder Stuff broke up in 1994, which I’ve bemoaned in other posts on these pages. Miles resurrected the band in 2000 and they’ve soldiered on with their intrepid leader and a varying supporting cast ever since.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.