Best albums of 1989: #5 The Wonder Stuff “Hup”

Much like I said of their debut album’s appearance at number two on my Best Albums of 1988 list, the inclusion of The Wonder Stuff’s sophomore album here can be chalked right up to the nostalgia factor.

Indeed, I’ve already admitted a few times on these pages that Miles Hunt’s group of hooligans were my favourite band throughout the first half of the 1990s. It all started off when a friend of mine turned me on to them with their debut long player, “Eight legged groove machine”. I would later purchase a copy of their third album, 1991’s “Never loved Elvis”, on cassette tape and after the initial surprise at the change in sound, proceeded to wear it out with countless plays on my Walkman. Then, another of my friends, Tim, purchased a copy of “Hup” on vinyl and made a recording of it for me on cassette tape. It was like the missing puzzle piece, the light switch that illuminated the previously obscured path between the first and third albums.

“Hup” was the first album on which we hear the contributions of multi-instrumentalist, Martin Bell, though as I recall, he didn’t become an official member of the group until “Never loved Elvis”. “Hup” was also the last album on which appeared the original bass player, Rob ‘The bass thing’ Jones. (A changing of the guard of sorts.) The bass thing would leave the group a couple of months after “Hup”‘s release, head off for the United States to pursue other musical interests, and die a handful of years later. It’s very possible that the first change had a precipitous effect on the second. Jones left the group because he was unhappy with the direction things were moving in and you could clearly hear the change coming through various songs on the record. On certain tracks, you could feel the peppy, catchy, and thunderous guitar rock that playfully toys with samples, all reminiscent of the debut, but perhaps less succinct and bigger in scope. On other tracks, the folk and country influence was more slightly creeping in, an apparent result of touring stateside, a sound they would hone and go on to make their own on the two following albums.

Reading the above, you might get the impression that “Hup” is a disjointed and unsatisfying listen and that might certainly have been the case had frontman Miles Hunt not been quite as good a lyricist or had as good a grasp on writing a catchy pop song. Of the three songs I‘ve picked for you below, two were highly successful singles and the other one likely would have been had it been released as planned. Enjoy.


”Piece of sky”: Machine gun fire drumming and handclaps. Backwards guitar effects drudged in to muddy the rainbow jangles. Malc and Miles harmonizing snarls and swoons. The odd vibraslap thrown in for good measure. Not even two and a half minutes long, “Piece of sky“ was originally meant to be released as the third single but was shelved after Rob Jones left the band. And later, after he died, fans wanted to hear the Stuffies play this track at shows, not because they had necessarily written it about him or with him in mind, but the hard living themes were apt and hit home. “How did you get so very high? You got so high you almost touched the sky. Lady luck couldn’t wish you more luck than I so take a jump and steal your piece of sky.”

”Don’t let me down, gently”: The first single released off the album and the first of their singles to hit the UK top twenty, a trend that continued for a string of their next bunch. It features Gilks’ floppy and heavy handed drumming, lots of roaring guitars, the call and response sounding intro is particularly fun, and of course, there’s James Taylor’s whirling Hammond organs. “It would be great to die together on the first day of the year, ‘cos then we’d be quite legendary. Could you volunteer?“ Yeah, it’s another fun track that packs a punch in a very short time frame. High energy and ammo for doing the pogo. Right? Right.

”Golden green”: “She’s taken all my vitamins, used up my lighter fuel, I’m sure she stole all of my pencil lead in school. Don’t flap. I’ll give it back, but woman its not the lack of my possessions that is making me feel cruel.” The second single to be released off the album is a real stomper. A song about a love gone sour or about to do, the two-facedness of it all, the good times and bad. And it’s set to an old Country theme, albeit with a Wonder Stuff tinge. It’s got Martin Bell’s fingers all over it, twanging banjo, as well as screaming fiddles. And The Bass Thing shines here as well, the bass line definitely feeling upright and solid and jumping, especially on that outstanding bridge. If you hadn’t known better, you might’ve thought a hoe down had exploded all over the place, sending hay flying and beer glasses smashing. So much fun.


Check back next Monday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South  “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”

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

100 best covers: #73 (a tie!) The Wonder Stuff / Morrissey “That’s entertainment”

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What’s this? A tie?

This is not something you’ll see too often in my lists because it feels like a bit of a cheat. If you’re going to rank things, do so with conviction is what I say. However, in the case of these two covers, they will be forever inextricably linked and it would be near impossible for me to place one over the other.

I’ve already mentioned somewhere in these pages that I was pretty heavily into The Wonder Stuff in the early 1990s, especially in grade 13 (or OAC, as we called it at the time in Ontario, Canada). In January 1992, the Stuffies released the single, “Welcome to the cheap seats”, as a double EP and I duly purchased it on cassette. One of the eight tracks was their cover of The Jam classic, “That’s entertainment”. I wasn’t super familiar with the original but I loved the tune, along with the rest of the cassette, so I decided to share it with my friend Andrew Rodriguez, whom I knew was a fan of The Jam*. I offered him my Walkman on the bus ride home from school one afternoon and I watched his face as he listened but I couldn’t tell by the rapidly changing dramatic expressions whether he liked it or not. At the end, he took off the earphones, pressed stopped, and handed it back to me with: “It’s quite good actually. Quite faithful to the original. Definitely better than Morrissey’s cover.”

Then, Rodriguez went off about the original, waxing poetical about how Paul Weller wrote the song in about 10 minutes, probably drunk, probably on a bar napkin, but my mind was way behind him, still processing his last comment. Morrissey also covered this track? Why yes, JP, he did. In fact, it was done just the year prior and released as a B side to the single, “Sing your life”. It took some time for me to track this one down, I think. Things weren’t so easy before the Internet, you see. It was probably my friend John who had a CD copy of the aforementioned single and from whom I recorded a copy of this second cover to blank cassette.

Upon listening to both these covers, it is obvious that my friend Andrew was right about the fact that The Wonder Stuff cover was definitely closer in spirit to the original but that doesn’t necessarily make it better than Morrissey’s version. Say what you will about him these days, there was always something about Moz’s delivery. His version is slowed down, which lengthens the song by a whole minute, allowing us time to thoroughly process Paul Weller’s words and reflections on the crazy world happening all around him. The Wonder Stuff take the song on as it is, adding their own folk-punk-influenced pop sound and Miles Hunt’s easy snarl.

Waking up at 6 A.M. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking ’bout your holidays
That’s entertainment

Are either of these better than the original? Probably not. But I love them anyway.

Cover #1:

Cover #2:

The original:

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

* I’ve since realized that Andrew Rodriguez is quite possibly the world’s biggest Paul Weller fan (or maybe just Canada’s biggest). He’s been promising a Top Five Tunes post about The Jam for a couple of years now. Maybe next year…

Best tunes of 2002: #23 Miles Hunt “Everything is not ok”

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I might have mentioned once or twice already on these pages that my very favourite band in the early 1990s was Stourbridge, England’s The Wonder Stuff. When they split in 1994, I was quite heartbroken. Then, after news crossed the ocean that the various band members had formed a couple of groups (We Know Where You Live and Vent 414), I went on the lookout for any output from either one. But of course, in the days before the internet, such a quest was a near impossible one, given that both of those groups were short-lived. Then, one day at work in 1999, I caught wind of a new Miles Hunt solo record, “Hairy on the inside”, on the radio and stopped what I was doing to listen to the new song they played. It goes without saying that I went out to buy the album upon its release and listened to it over and over and saw him live on all three of his swings through Toronto on the corresponding solo tours.

A few years later, Miles put together a band and released another album, a more electric and upbeat album than the previous stripped-down affair. Some of the songs on “The Miles Hunt Club”* were reworkings of tunes on Miles’s debut and “Everything is not ok” is one of these. The original was intimate acoustic pluckings and fiddle meanderings but while beautiful, didn’t quite fit the bill of the song, especially when placed side by side with the opening track on “The Miles Hunt Club”. This re-recording is more straight ahead rock, electric guitars and peppy drums serving up the required bite for Miles’s words.

“Everything is not okay
Things will not turn out to be just fine
All is not well, not this time.”

Originally penned in the days and months leading up to the infamous Y2K, Miles seems to be musing on the end of days and for him, it’s nothing good. Luckily for all of us, all the worry was for naught. Great tune nonetheless.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

* I was never sure whether this was just the name of the album or the name of the group and the album eponymously named.