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Vinyl

Vinyl love: Happy Mondays “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches”

(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: Happy Mondays
Album Title: Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches
Year released: 1990
Year reissued: 2015
Details: 25th anniversary, reissue, 180 gram, yellow, RSD exclusive

The skinny: A few weeks ago, I shared photos of my translucent yellow, 20th anniversary copy of Coldplay’s debut album, “Parachutes”. For this edition of ‘Vinyl Love’, I decided to keep with the same colour scheme and another anniversary edition, of yet another classic alternative rock album. Picked up on Record Store Day 2015, this Rhino Vinyl reissue of Happy Mondays’ seminal third album wasn’t even on my radar when I ventured into one of my favourite independent shops that day. Indeed, I didn’t even know it was on the list of releases ahead of time but when I saw it on the shelf, the snap decision was made. And it’s one for which I’ve been thankful I’ve made ever since. Not only is the 180 gram slab of yellow vinyl quite pretty and the original album art as confusing and as arresting as ever, but the sound is amazing. “Pills ‘n’ thrills and bellyaches” is one of the greatest examples of what made Madchester so much fun: a swirling conundrum of punk DIY, druggy psychedelics, and dance floor ready beats. “You’re twistin’ my melon, man!”

Standout track: “Step on”

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Albums

Best albums of 1991: #3 Primal Scream “Screamadelica”

I’m not sure if it was 1997 or 1998. I know it was one of the two because I was walking to class at York University from my apartment in the student slums just south of campus on Sentinel road. I remember being accosted while just strolling past the old Schulich school of business building on the way to my shortcut through Vari Hall. He was a long-haired grad student wearing retro framed glasses, the kind that were considered nerdy before becoming hipster cool again. He wanted me to know that he liked my t-shirt and that the band name printed on the back was probably influenced by some radical psychology therapy from the 60s (I think he said) but I wasn’t really listening as he droned on about it. Not only was I already late for class but I also got the impression that the t-shirt lead in was just an excuse to show off his esoteric knowledge. So I nodded politely several times and as soon as was humanly possible, interrupted him with thanks and a brief explanation about my destination. I promised him that I’d check out whatever was he was speaking of but as of yet, still haven’t gotten around to it.

I had bought that very t-shirt a few years before when I saw Primal Scream open for Depeche Mode at the Kingswood Music Theatre at Canada’s Wonderland. I went to the merch stand hoping to find the t-shirt I had seen a cute girl wearing earlier that summer at an alternative music bar in Waterloo called Phil’s Grandson’s Place. And wouldn’t you know, there it was, tucked in the corner reserved for the support acts, greatly outnumbered by the Mode concert tees (of which, I bought one too). It was bright red with the telltale sun, the one that appeared to be drawn by a child*, the same one from the “Screamadelica” album cover shown above, and the band’s name, Primal Scream, in yellow script on the back. I wore that t-shirt everywhere and had it for years, finally getting rid of it sometime in the 2000s when my wife convinced me to rid my wardrobe of all the “holey and ratty” concert shirts. Sigh.

“Screamadelica” was a revelation to me, a masterpiece album right up there with some of my all-time faves. And it was a game-changer for Primal Scream too. Bobby Gillespie had put together the band almost a decade prior to the album’s release, but they were really only a live outfit until the Reid brothers put to him the ultimatum of dropping this “second” band or leaving his post as drummer for The Jesus and Mary Chain. He chose the latter in 1986. Some early Primal Scream singles drew buzz but their first two records were mostly panned by critics. Then, after a few years of being plied and peer pressured by Gillespie’s schoolboy chum, Creation founder Alan McGee, the Primals succumbed to the wiles of the acid house scene.

“Screamadelica” is a direct result of the band’s adventures and misadventures while deeply immersed in club and drug culture. In fact, the album could almost be said to be the story of a trip, riding the arc from dance explosion to psychedelic wonder to ecstatic freakout and finally, to its calm and low deflating denouement. It mixes samples and beats with gospel and soul inflections and oft features the inimitable vocals of Manchester singer Denise Johnson. As I said earlier, the album changed everything for Primal Scream, selling tons of copies, winning them the first ever Mercury Prize in 1992, as well as legions of new fans, and started them off on a long and storied career that continues to this day.

Chances are you’ve heard of Primal Scream or at least would recognize this iconic album cover on sight, but if you’ve never listened to “Screamadelica”’s contents, you should not delay and at the very least, have a taste of my three picks for you below.


”Movin’ on up”: Very recently, Swedish indie folk duo First Aid Kit covered this very track (you can find that version here), which I think highlights what a classic track this is, being covered yet again, 30 years after its original release. It is just shy of four minutes and way too short at that. It’s gospel blended with drugged out psychedelics and Mick Jagger swagger. Yeah, that’s a thing. The guitars wail, the hands clap, the keys shuffle, the bongos get you dancin’, and the choirs get you singin’: hallelujah! It is miraculous and ecstatic and a hell of a good time. How else do you open a brilliant album but with an instant adrenaline punch like this? Sing it, Bobby! “I was blind, now I can see. You made a believer out of me.” We’re all believers now.

”Come together”: This was the second single to be released from the album, and much like the tune to follow, was an advance single. The version of the track that I know and love is eight minutes of funky piano, gospel choirs, bongos mixed with drum machines, roaring guitars, and Bobby Gillespie’s slippery and smooth vocals flitting and flirting with horn flourishes. “It’s beautiful. It’s really beautiful.” This is the Terry Farley mix of the track that appeared on the version of the album that was released in North America and that I bought on CD and listened to ad nauseam. However, the original version of the track (check it out here) was mixed by Andrew Weatherall, was two minutes longer, appeared on the British release of the album, and lacked any of Gillespie’s vocals. I prefer the Farley version. In fact, I almost feel like if my copy of the album had Weatherall’s mix, I might have had an entirely different experience with it. But let’s not go there.

”Loaded”: Track number seven on the album was literally the template from which this album was borne. “Loaded” is in fact a remix by DJ Andrew Weatherall (RIP) of a single from the band’s previous, self-titled record called, “I’m losing more than I’ll ever have”. Weatherall took a wicked riff that finishes off an otherwise mellow track, threw in a bunch of samples, drum loops, vocal rips, and some dialogue from a Peter Fonda flick called “The wild bunch”. And yeah, “we wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time”. The original single was released in 1990, a full 18 months before “Screamadelica” was released, became a massive club hit, and turned everyone’s previous perceptions of band (including their own) on their heads. This funky, seven minute groove was my introduction to the band and having nothing else from which to judge them, fell for them immediately, and it is still my favourite tune by the band today**. I can still see Gillespie dancing, eyes closed, and hands clapping to this track on the Kingswood Music Theatre stage, in a memory, amongst many that are tied to this tune. And that always brings smiles.

*Legend has it that Paul Cannell’s inspiration for the cover art was a water spot on the walls of Creation Records’ offices that he zoned out on while tripping on acid.

**”Loaded” appeared at number three on my Best tunes of 1991 list.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #2. 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”
4. R.E.M. “Out of time”

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

Categories
Albums

Best albums of 1991: Albums #10 through #6

Here we are, exactly three weeks into 2021 and this here will mark my sixth post of the year (though I consider the first one a continuation of the themes of 2020). And so far, I’ve been hanging out quite a bit in the early 1990s – happier and simpler times, in this blogger’s humble opinion. I’ve shared a couple of ‘Vinyl love’ posts on treasured pieces of my vinyl collection, albums originally released during a high point in my youth, and a few days ago, I wrapped up my Best tunes of 1992 series with Ride’s amazing “Leave them all behind“. So I thought I’d keep with the era and have another look back thirty years ago to explore my ten favourite albums from 1991.

As I mentioned when I counted down my thirty favourite songs from that year, 1991 was a big year for me in terms of musical exploration and discovery and because of this, it is one of my favourite years for music. To this day, a lot of my favourite albums ever were released in 1991. So as you can imagine, this one was another tough one for me to narrow down. Indeed, when the dust cleared, albums that I thought would be on this list, were not here. (Apparently, there can only be ten albums in a top ten.) Similarly, there are a bunch of iconic and influential albums that many of you might expect to be in this list that didn’t make the cut. Thus, I’ll forewarn you from now and spoil the twist ending in which you won’t find “Achtung baby”, “Nevermind”, nor “Loveless” anywhere in this particular series (though this last just narrowly missed the cut).

If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. However, I’m changing things up with this series from here, and I’m not just talking about dropping the pretence that these first five albums are honourable mentions, though I’ve decided to do that too. Normally, after this one, I would lay out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the next five Thursdays, one per week, but given that 1991 is one of my favourite years for music, I’ve decided to stretch things out and take my time with it. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up by the beginning of April.

Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 1991, in the comments section provided with each post.


#10 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “God Fodder”

The debut album by the five-piece from Stourbridge, England was just all kinds of energy and fun. Recorded when a couple of the band’s members were still just teenagers, “God fodder” and its songs are not deep lyrically, focusing instead on flashy and memorable titles and letting the rest just fall into place. Of course, it helped that their tight, Grebo sound that mixed punk thunder with electronic samples and dance floor rushing beats, had enough depth to cover off. The drumming was hectic and complex, the guitars loud, but it was the two bass players that really had Ned’s Atomic Dustbin standing out. I blasted so many of these songs at high volume when I originally purchased this album on CD. “Kill your television” is probably the track that most will remember from the album (it appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at #21) but I also really dug the track below.

Gateway tune: Grey cell green


#9 Spirit of the West “Go figure”

My introduction to the now iconic Canadian folk rock band from North Vancouver came by way of this, their fifth full length record. I caught the video for the song below, “D for democracy”, on the music video show, “Good rockin’ tonite”, and the love affair took off from there. I loved the sound but it was the depth of the lyrics that really hooked me. “Go figure” was a political record. It wasn’t that Spirit of the West didn’t venture here prior or since but there was a definite bent against the Brian Mulroney-led Conservative government at the time. This was also the point in the band’s storied history that they ‘went electric’, toying with rock, and adding drummer (gasp) Vince Ditrich to their official roster. This effectively alienated some of their previous folkie fans but drew in a larger alt-rock audience. For me, though, this is simply eleven unforgettable tunes.

Gateway tune: D for Democracy


#8 Chapterhouse “Whirlpool”

When people talk about the iconic shoegaze albums, the names often bandied about are “Loveless”, “Spooky”, “Souvlaki”, and “Nowhere”. I would humbly posit that “Whirlpool” should be considered as part of this same conversation. Chapterhouse’s debut was, for me, especially at the time, among the best that the genre could offer up. The five-piece from Reading, England collected for their debut nine beautiful tracks that walloped you from the inside. It was reverb-drenched washes of strobe lights, shoegazing with a danceable beat. It was organic but felt electronic, subterfuge and magic, perhaps foreshadowing their next move. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll just leave this near perfect single I’ve reference below for you to chew on.

Gateway tune: Pearl


#7 Blur “Leisure”

It’s funny that this album directly follows Chapterhouse’s “Whirlpool” on this list (and I swear that this wasn’t by design). I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I used to have a C90 cassette back in 1991, upon which these two albums were recorded on either side. So yeah, inextricably linked are these two albums for me. But where Chapterhouse’s debut knew exactly where its feet were planted, Blur’s wasn’t so sure. In the past, frontman Damon Albarn has called “Leisure” a bit of a mess. However, I feel that he’s being a bit hard on the album. Sure, it played both the shoegaze and baggy cards, but it played them well and there were some excellent songs that are still favourites of this big Blur fan today. You can include the one below, “Sing”, which appeared on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack”, and “There’s no other way”, which appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at number six.

Gateway tune: She’s so high


#6 Levellers “Levelling the land”

I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I discovered these guys watching MuchMusic’s City Limits when their video for “One way” was played on the show. I bought “Levelling the land” on cassette tape just based on hearing this one song. (We did such things back in those days.) And it became my Sony Walkman’s favourite cassette for a time. The fiddle/mandolin/harmonica/foot-stomping folk punk on the band’s sophomore release was great for walking around my small town, something I did a lot of in those days, because there wasn’t much else to do. It got so that I was singing along under my breath to each and every song and the many upbeat numbers put a hop in my step. Levellers are still a going concern today with many great tunes to their name but this is still quite possibly their high water mark.

Gateway tune: Liberty song


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.