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100 best covers: #59 Placebo “Bigmouth strikes again”

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One Sunday night in January, very shortly after New Year’s day in 1997, I ventured downtown Toronto to meet up with my friend Darrell from my Prose fiction workshop. I’m pretty sure the place was called Lion’s Bar and I am reasonably sure it was on College street somewhere near Kensington market but I now couldn’t tell you for sure. I remember the bar being in a basement and that it was a relatively small space but what I remember the most was that the music was awesome. Of course, that was why we were there.

The DJ that night was a friend of Darrell’s and I knew him, but only as a nodding acquaintance, mostly from a couple years of seeing him and requesting songs while he manned the decks on Saturday nights at one of York University’s college pubs. It was this same DJ that drove both Darrell and me back up to North York afterwards, long after last call, rather than subject us to the joys of the night bus. Once at his car, he handed us both promo copies of Catherine Wheel’s “Like cats and dogs” from his trunk and then played for us an advance copy James’s upcoming album “Whiplash” on his car stereo on the way home. But I am digressing here…

At some point that evening, I was on the dance floor taking a swig from my bottle of Labatt 50 just as whatever song it was that I was dancing to came to an end. It was replaced by a familiar guitar strum intro but one that was slightly edgier. Still, I placed it as “Bigmouth strikes again” and got back into dancing mode. By the time the vocals kicked in and instead of Morrissey’s plaintive warble, a Richard O’Brien-like sinister sneer chimed in, I knew that this was more than a different mix or take of the original Smiths track. And this brought a smile to my face, a smile that only widened and broke into outright laughter when the “hearing aid” lyric was modernized to “Walkman” and “Discman” for a bit of brazen hipness. This version was harder, noisier, and most definitely more glammed up than the original and that extra thirty seconds in length and increased tempo had this particular dancer slightly sweatier by the end. At its closing notes, I hurried over to the DJ to ask after the artist, which I repeated to myself over a number of times and even procured a pen to scrawl it on the inside of my cigarette pack because I no longer trusted my drunken brain to retain it.

Just over a year later, my ears pricked up when I heard the same band announced over the radio with a brand new song called “Pure morning”, which I loved immediately and this song ended up being a big hit for Placebo. I later came across the “Bigmouth strikes again” cover on the bonus disc that came with the deluxe edition of their 2003 album, “Sleeping with ghosts”, and I was immediately transported back to that very fun evening. And I experience the same sort of joy every time I hear this song now.

Is the Placebo cover better than The Smiths’ original? I can’t say that it is. But it’s probably just as fun to dance to.

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.

Categories
Playlists

Playlist: “Raging Retro” (a mixed tape)


So I was downstairs in the basement a few days ago, looking for something else entirely, when I came across a treasure trove of my old cassette tapes. Yes, you read that right: cassette tapes. And with that clarification, you may be asking yourself why I still have cassette tapes in my possession, especially when I no longer have the appropriate hardware on which to play them. Well… it would be the same reason why I still have piles of old concert tickets, old floppy discs, rough drafts of long forgotten and unfinished short stories, and other random bric-a-brac from my past, all cluttered together in the same roughneck storage bin. The memories attached to these things are priceless and irreplaceable and even though I only ever come across them once or twice a year (while looking for something else), I can’t bring myself to part with them.

It was while sorting through these cassettes, remembering when and for what reason I made each, and reading through the track listings, that I got the brilliant (well, you might not think so) idea to share one or two of these as part of my (Spotify) playlist series. I’m starting off with this one, “Raging retro”, because it’s one of only a handful of those in the box that I didn’t in fact make, but instead, was made for me. Susan, a scenester friend of mine in university (and who I haven’t spoken to in years), actually made a few mixed tapes for me, though this might be the only one that I still have.

As evidenced by the faded but still legible in some places playlist pictured below, the mix was conceived in October 1995. Susan wanted to share a taste of the songs that had been in constant rotation at an eighties night she started attending regularly the previous summer. I feel like this was one of the first times I ever heard the term “retro” being used in regards to music. I was dubious at first because the memories I had of the music from that era were not great but I ended up listening to the tape quite a bit.

Pretty soon, I was hearing the term “retro” everywhere, mostly in reference to music from the 1980s, and not necessarily the mainstream music to which I grew up listening . A couple of years later, I found myself going to a Toronto club named “Whiskey Saigon” pretty regularly on Sunday nights. Of course, that was the night the club had an eighties night that was so wildly popular that the radio station, Edge 102, broadcasted live to air every week and the club was constantly filled to capacity, on all three floors. Retro, for a time, almost became like a sub-genre of music all its own, which for some reason even appealed to young hipsters that were too young remember this music when it was originally released.

In 1997, the film “Grosse Point Blank” was released starring John Cusack (incidentally, another 80s icon making a comeback) with a soundtrack featuring a number of eighties songs, including ones by The Clash, The Beat, and The Specials (there were three other Specials songs in the movie that were not on the soundtrack). This movie and the ubiquitous presence on eighties night playlists is how songs like the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the sun” resurfaced in the nineties, was infinitely more popular than when it was originally released in 1983 and is now considered a classic in popular music.

But I’ve gone off on a tangent, let’s get back to this mixed tape. For me, “Raging retro” was the springboard to regaining an appreciation of the 1980s. So many of those tunes on this tape became favourites of mine. And for those bands of which I wasn’t already a fan, it led me to delve deeper into their catalogues. Such is the magic of a well-executed mixed tape and the main reason why I’ve decided to share it with you all today.

As I mentioned above, some of the tracks in the listing are no longer legible. Apparently, purple ink doesn’t have the staying power against the sun and the passage of time as has black ink. Nonetheless, I was able to piece it all together and laid it out for you below. At least three of the songs were apparently too obscure to be found on Spotify but I at least managed to find YouTube links for those of you who want to know what you are missing as you peruse this delicious Spotify mix.

But before I get right into the playlist itself, here are some highlights that you definitely should check out and incidentally, half of those are ones that Spotify hasn’t made available:

      • “Sinful”, the debut solo single by Pete Wylie, who got his start in punk bands with Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch and led a band in the early 80s with multiple names, all including the word “Wah!”
      • The version of the early The The single, “Perfect”, that appears in the YouTube video linked below is the one that was on my cassette but I’ve never been able to locate a physical copy of it
      • Scottish new wave band Endgames never truly broke through but their single “First last for everything” was a mainstay on Edge 102.1’s 80s shows
      • The Chameleons UK were an English post-punk band that I always meant to explore, mainly on the back the very excellent “Swamp thing”, and I’m happy to say that I finally picked up a copy of “Strange times” this year
      • This a cappella cover of Yazoo’s “Only you” by The Flying Pickets is just as good as the original in my books
      • Canadian new wavers Boys Brigade were pretty obscure everywhere but here at home but their single “Melody” is definitely worth checking out

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist further below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as it appeared on the original mixed (complete with side titles):

Side one “Trapped in the 80s”:
1. Dexy’s Midnight Runners “Come on Eileen”
2. The Icycle Works “Birds fly (Whisper to a scream)”
3. A Flock of Seagulls “I ran”
4. Pete Wylie “Sinful” (unavailable on Spotify)
5. Naked Eyes “Always something there to remind me”
6. Big Country “In a big country”
7. The The “Perfect”
8. Alphaville “Forever young”
9. Endgames “First, last for everything” (unavailable on Spotify)
10. Chameleons UK “Swamp thing”

Side two “Disgruntled 20 somethings”:
11. New Order “1963”
12. Soft Cell “Tainted love”
13. Talk Talk “It’s my life”
14. R.E.M. “Superman”
15. The Boomtown Rats “I don’t like mondays”
16. Split Enz “I got you”
17. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Head on”
18. Nena “99 luftballons”
19. The Flying Pickets “Only you”
20. Boys Brigade “Melody” (unavailable on Spotify)
21. The Dream Academy “Life in a northern town”
22. The Smiths “Unhappy birthday”

And here is the promised embedded Spotify playlist for your listening pleasure. Get out your Vuarnet sunglasses and neon spandex and enjoy.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Categories
Vinyl

Vinyl love: The Smiths “Rank”

(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: The Smiths
Album Title: Rank
Year released: 1988
Year reissued: 2011
Details: Remastered, includes promotional poster, double LP, part of box set that includes booklet and poster

The skinny: I’m finishing off this eight-part series (thankfully, for some) with the album that I will rarely be apt to spin, this out of all the pieces in this “Complete” box set. I am not really all that fond of live albums. Indeed, this is one of only three live albums in my vinyl collection and I likely would have never purchased this one had it not come included with the set. “Rank” was an obligatory release by the band’s British and North American labels, coming out over a year after the group split and over two years after the live show at which it was recorded.  It’s an interesting listen but would probably only be that to their most hardcore fans. However, it is one of only two places in this collection where one can hear the excellent track featured below, which as Morrissey admits on the live recording was the band’s newest single at the time.

Standout track: “Ask (Live)”