Detroit’s leading pop funk surrealists Was (Not Was) initially came to prominence through their association with New York “mutant disco” label ZE Records, and rather like ZE’s other big stars Kid Creole and the Coconuts, while they’ve always been critical darlings, their invention and satirical edge has often led the wider public to perceive them as the wrong kind of novelty. But that’s the general public for you.
1980 debut single “Wheel Me Out” actually pre-dates their association with ZE, coming out on Island Records’ Antilles imprint, but it definitely sets the trend for their future career, setting down a solid disco-funk groove with weird spoken lyrics on top, and a typically eclectic mix of guest performers, from David Was‘s mum Elizabeth Weiss on vocals to top session guitarist Bruce Nazarian and veteran jazz trumpter Marcus Belgrave.
And of course you get the B side as well. Though personally I prefer the very different “short version” of “Hello Operator” that came out years later on the “Listen Like Thieves” CD single… that’s right, they covered an INXS song, but that’s for another time, maybe.
From 1980’s Super Trouper, by which time ABBA were getting into the bleak stuff, comes this magnificently pessimistic new year song. Oddly enough, although there’s plenty of writing out there about all the dark stuff that found its way into Abba songs, this particular track always seems to get overlooked. Sod “Auld Lang Syne”, these people know that birth is a curse and existence is a prison, and every new year is just the prelude to another twelve months of disappointment and misery.
Sometimes I see
How the brave new world arrives
And I see how it thrives
In the ashes of our lives
Oh yes, man is a fool…
And then there’s the desperate emptiness of the chorus, an ode not to optimism but to denial as a coping mechanism…
May we all have our hopes, our will to try
If we don’t we might as well lay down and die
This is why ABBA were effing brilliant. I mean, I fully expect the “reunion” songs to be a you-can’t-go-back disaster of Carry On Columbus proportions, and I have no interest in going to see Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!, though I did quite like the first film, but sometimes they just totally got it…
Link: “Happy New Year” by ABBA
I haven’t milked this particular gimmick in over a month, so it’s high time I posted some more songs that share their names with musical acts and vice versa.
Dusty Springfield was a popular target for tributes from the indiepop community in the 1980s/90s… well, I say popular, but that’s based on the fact that I can think of a whopping two examples off the top of my head. Of course one is the ace Chicago indiepop band The Springfields, named after Dusty’s original band, The Springfields. Kind of like how the Chemical Brothers started out as the Dust Brothers, named after the Dust Brothers. Except I think the Springfields managed to avoid any legal threats. In contrast, equally ace janglepopsters The Haywains managed to sidestep any potential confusion by not naming themselves Buddy Holly And The Crickets or anything like that, and simply stuck to singing about Dusty Springfield.
I think everyone knows I like Stereolab. Texan experimental rockers Transona Five clearly like Stereolab too. I’ll be honest, I did deliberately pick their most Stereolab-like track for this, but I think it proves my point.
And finally, a very clear reference to a well-known performer, but what’s this Scissor Sisters song actually got to do with Paul McCartney? Well, nothing really. But apparently Jake Shears had a dream in which he chatted with Paul McCartney about songwriting, and it would appear that the inspiration he got from this was to name a song after Paul McCartney. You’d kind of hope Macca would have given him better advice than that, I mean, not even Paul McCartney ever named a song “Paul McCartney”. Macca’s own song here is from his 1980 album McCartney II, the one that sold a trillion copies off the back of the rocking single “Coming Up” only for buyers to find the rest was weird synth noodlings which most people only played once. “Temporary Secretary” was a single. It flopped.
No, not Colin Vearncombe.
Before becoming Kid Creole, the man listed on his birth certificate as Thomas August Darnell Browder, sometimes known as Tommy Browder but more usually as August Darnell, was an in-house producer at new York’s uber-cool art-pop indie label Ze Records. (And before that, he was in his brother Stony’s Grammy-winning, genre-busting disco group Doctor Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, but that’s for another post sometime.)
For an overview of Darnell’s pre-Coconuts work, I very much recommend the compilation Going Places: The August Darnell Years 1976-83. It’s a somewhat scattershot collection, but full of gems, including this, a proper stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks reworking of Leiber and Stoller‘s 1969 composition for Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”. The original was bleak enough, but this version is seriously out there.
Leiber and Stoller didn’t take kindly to this treatment of their song, and got it withdrawn, which led to the few existing copies becoming insanely valuable. Fortunately, by the time Cristina’s catalogue was reissued in 2002, Leiber and Stoller’s feelings toward the reinterpretation had softened somewhat, and they finally gave their blessing for it to be made legally available once more.
The download also includes the original B-side, a Darnell original which would have suited Bow Wow Wow.
Link: Cristina – Is That All There Is? (1980 single) (password: salad)
1. Is That All There Is?
2. Jungle Love
Sunny for two days in a row… incredible.
Here’s a delightfully twee seaside-themed EP from 1992 by Confetti, which is Mark Randall of Fat Tulips and someone called Virginia Aeroplane, which I’d like to think is her real name, but probably isn’t. The EP had the overall title Sea AnemonE.P. and they followed it with PresentlE.P. (covering three songs by The Wedding Present) and eventually put out their collected works as a CD titled RetrospectivelE.P. Though it seems most people didn’t get the pun on that last one, given that every online reference I can find, leaves out the “l” and just calls it Retrospective EP. They should have used a serif font so it didn’t look like a vertical dividing line instead. On such tiny details do throwaway gags live or die.
When I first heard Confetti, I thought their minimal style was rather unusual and striking. At the time, I hadn’t heard of Young Marble Giants…