Product 2378 – The soundtrack to my paper round

Product 2378 was a 1990 indie compilation on the abysmal (and now defunct) Telstar label – home of Black Lace, Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor. All the songs on it were from the previous decade and its cover image is a photograph of a kettle. Altogether it’s an unpromising looking little package, but this cassette was one of my first indie music purchases and it meant a lot to me. And just take a look at the track listing;

Side One

  1. The Wonder Stuff – Who Wants To Be The Disco King?
  2. New Order – Vanishing Point
  3. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Head On
  4. The Wedding Present – Kennedy
  5. Pop Will Eat Itself – Can U Dig It?
  6. Happy Mondays – Mad Cyril
  7. New Model Army – Brave New World
  8. The Weather Prophets – Almost Prayed

Side Two

  1. Morrissey – The Last Of The Famous International Playboys
  2. Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
  3. Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
  4. Inspiral Carpets – Joe
  5. Crazyhead – Baby Turpentine
  6. Throwing Muses – Dizzy
  7. All About Eve – December
  8. The Mission – Tower Of Strength

That’s a strong collection of songs, roughly covering a variety of contemporary UK scenes;

  • C86 – The Wedding Present and The Weather Prophets
  • Goth – Siouxsie & The Banshees, All About Eve, The Mission
  • Post-Punk – The Jesus & Mary Chain, New Model Army, Crazyhead
  • Manchester – Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, New Order
  • Stourbridge – The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself

It also featured a couple of excellent American contributions (Pixies, Throwing Muses) and one from Morrissey, who was really beyond any sort of scene by then.

Looking back now, it’s a pretty good summary of the state of indie music at that time. If you dropped two or three of the lesser lights from the line-up (no need to embarrass them by naming them, we all know who they are) and added a My Bloody Valentine track and something off Sub Pop, it would be perfect.

For me Product 2378 will forever be associated with the paper round I had between the ages of 13 and 16. It wasn’t a hard core, get-up-before-dawn-every-single-day paper round, it was an evening one, delivering a free newspaper once a week. This sounds pathetically easy, but it meant delivering to every single house on an estate near mine – about 200 papers in all.

Every Tuesday the papers would be dropped off at to my house in two bundles by a nervous looking middle-aged bloke with a moustache. It wasn’t possible to carry all 200 papers at once, so I’d put one bundle in my canvas bag and trudge off into the night. 100 papers are heavy – the strap seams would cut me like a knife. Once these were safely delivered an hour or so later I’d go home, fetch the rest and trudge back out.

Sometimes, as I hauled my heavy burden around, I would think about the kid in the arcade game Paperboy, gliding down Easy Street on his bike, lobbing papers into or near post-boxes and I’d laugh to myself bitterly. Even if I could have balanced on a bike with a bag that weighed nearly as much as me, I had to deliver to an estate full of semi-detached houses, so there was nowhere to make use of one. And my customers expected their papers to go in their letterboxes, not on their doorstep.

It was hard work. The main thing that kept me going – apart from the prospect of earning up to £5, plus an extra quid if there was an advertising leaflet to be delivered as well – was wearing my Walkman.

In the early days De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising was a favourite tape for the ordeal (that album’s also indelibly linked with my paper round), later it was mix tapes either made by mates or by me from listening to John Peel. You know how that would go – let the man introduce the track, hit record and decide 20 seconds in whether it was wonderful or unlistenable. Either that or find out it was played at the wrong speed. But Product 2378 got more plays on that round than anything else.

Each song on the tape is associated with a section of the route, from The Wonder Stuff – helpfully upbeat for the opening few houses when the bag was at its heaviest – to The Mission for the walk home after a job well done.

I was listening to Mad Cyril when I saw a woman in a pink, quilted dressing gown let my best mate’s dad into her house, lead him upstairs, put the bedroom light on and shut the curtains. Obviously I told my mate about this the second I saw him at school the next day. The explanation he got from his dad was that he went round to play snooker with the woman’s husband in their spare bedroom. Yeah, right! “But best not mention it to your mum, she hates me playing snooker”.

I was listening to Joe by Inspiral Carpets when some fat old bastard threatened to kick my juvenile arse for walking across his grass. Each week I’d have a little wrestle with the Jack Russell that would snatch the paper from the other side of the letterbox to the sound of Can U Dig It? by Pop Will Eat Itself.

In three years of doing that round I received one, solitary tip – 50p from a friend of my mum’s one Christmas. Possibly satisfied customers were constantly calling me post-delivery waving fivers and I just couldn’t hear because I was singing along to Monkey Gone To Heaven. Probably not.

The nervous looking bloke who dropped the papers off at my house was understandably crushed when I quit my round at the age of 16. He asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to take it over. When I told him I didn’t his moustache trembled fearfully. Maybe whichever media baron ultimately owned that shitty periodical oversaw a regime in which undelivered papers were punished with broken limbs. It wouldn’t surprise me.

I was moving on to take up a Saturday job which was less badly paid, less physically demanding and more likely to allow my spine to develop as God intended. It would also allow me to save up for a record player, and once I had it, almost all my money from this job went on vinyl. The only trouble was it was paid monthly, like I was a regular employee. So I’d always spend every penny in one joyous record shopping trip every four weeks and be skint for the rest of the month. It was great though.

So as my career blossomed, so did my listening choices and Product 2378 got fewer and fewer plays. But to this day, whenever I hear the ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ fading out at the end of Head On I still expect to hear the 100mph opening bars of Kennedy immediately after, and Peek-A-Boo after The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and so on – it’s one of those albums. I know all the words to every song on it. And I actually like the cover image too. Kudos, Telstar. You have a lot to be ashamed of but Product 2378 was pretty cool.

‘Head On’ by The Jesus & Mary Chain covered by Pixies – Magnificent Cover Version No.16

‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’ by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, covered by The Wedding Present – Magnificent Cover Version No.4

‘When Tomorrow Hits’ by Mudhoney, covered by Spacemen 3 – Magnificent Cover Version No.22

The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr & Blur – ‘Rollercoaster’ 1992

 

 

 

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Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’, Everyone Loves The Pixies

Review of the Pixies’ 2016 album Head Carrier for Sabotage Times

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Everyone loves the Pixies. Their output from their heyday 25 plus years ago inspires so much enduring affection that it really doesn’t matter how good Head Carrier, their new album, is. Original fans and newcomers will keep listening to them, the band will sell out whenever they play and everyone will still love them.

We know this because in 2014 they released their first album for 23 years, Indie Cindy. What should have been a triumphant return ended up being slightly underwhelming, partly because Indie Cindy was nothing more than a collection of three, already-released EPs in their entirety, and partly because it didn’t really sound like the Pixies. Despite this, everybody still loved them. The Pixies have a lot of goodwill.

For most people, this affection stems from the output of the band’s heyday in the late ‘80s. The Pixies first two albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle (along with their debut mini-LP, Come On Pilgrim) are among the most memorable and influential alternative rock recordings of all time, featuring enduring classics like Monkey Gone To Heaven, Gigantic and Where Is My Mind?

Rifts within the band, particularly between frontman Black Francis and bass player/vocalist Kim Deal led to its demise in the early-‘90s, after they’d released two more excellent, but less beloved albums.

Always more popular in Europe than in the US, the band’s reputation in their homeland only grew during their hiatus. Even so, it was a shock when the original line-up reformed and started playing gigs in 2004. The truce between Francis and Deal always seemed uneasy and she left, apparently for good before new material for Indie Cindy was recorded.

Paz Lenchantin is the charismatic new bass player and female voice in the band. She doesn’t exactly impersonate Kim Deal but, you can certainly hear her influence on Lenchantin, which is understandable and her presence seems to have revitalised the band.

A strong female voice and understated basslines are not the only classic Pixies traits that have returned for this album. Their trademark loud/quiet/loud dynamics can be heard on Tenement Song and on the excellent, unconventional love song Oona, which also features characteristic violent imagery (“Oona, I will await destruction”). There are skewed pop songs like Classic Masher and Bel Esprit which also benefits from the soaring harmonies between Francis and Lenchantin, who even gets a solo song, All I Think About Now which flies audaciously close to Where Is My Mind territory.

For those who like their Pixies on the heavier side there’s Baals Back in which Francis unleashes his ferocious scream, and the unhinged rockabilly of Um Chagga Lagga which features a classic Joey Santiago guitar solo. The downbeat All The Saints includes a wobbly surf guitar that would have fit snugly onto third album Bossanova. There are even some of the undercooked lyrics that main songwriter Black Francis has always been prone to; example, on Talent, “Talent, fighting on the east side, talent, taking on the west side, talent, fucking up the north side”. All these traits, along with the high quality of the songs mean that Head Carrier sounds like the Pixies again.

So it doesn’t matter how good Head Carrier is; the important thing is that the Pixies are around as a functional, current band, doing what bands do – touring and recording new material – which should please everyone who loves them, original fans and newcomers. Nobody would have expected the new album to be as good as Surfer Rosa or Doolittle, and of course it never reaches those creative peaks, but it’s easily a match for anything else in their output. It didn’t really matter if was any good or not, but Head Carrier improves with every listen and more importantly, it showcases the Pixies sounding like the Pixies again.

A slightly edited version of this article can be read in Sabotage Times here

‘Love Or Confusion’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, covered by The Screaming Trees – Magnificent Cover Version No.15

The Screaming Trees’ version of Love Or Confusion is a respectful take on the song, never veering too far from the original. The band were all huge fans of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and their influence can be heard in all of The Trees’ output. The cover sounds like they’ve finally captured on tape something that the band would regularly jam out and, apart from the rougher and grungier production, the only real difference between the original and the cover is in the vocals.

Jimi Hendrix played a small role in the inception of The Screaming Trees. Mark Lanegan noticed Van Connor’s Hendrix badge when the two were in detention together in high school, which got them talking about music.The two were from very different social groups – Lanegan was a couple of years older and a big, intimidating stoner/jock; Conner was overweight and something of a dweeb – but they bonded over their shared taste in music, not only Hendrix, but Cream, The Doors and punk rock. In their home town of Ellensburg, Washington, these tastes were unusual.

When they ran into each other at a party a few years later they agreed to start a band. For their first rehearsal they were joined by Conner’s friend Mark Pickerel and the trio started off with Lanegan on drums and Pickerel singing. It didn’t go well until Pickerel took to the drum kit and Lanegan stepped forward to the microphone to perform The End by The Doors. As soon as Pickerel heard Lanegan’s distinctive, smoky voice he realised that they’d ‘stumbled ass-backwards into something good’.

The complicating factor in this early incarnation of the band was that rehearsals were taking place in the bedroom of Van Conner’s reclusive older brother, Gary Lee. Van and Gary Lee had been in bands together before and the two had always fought violently. For that reason the younger brother had intended to keep his older sibling out of this group, but relented under pressure from their mother and from Lanegan, who recognised that Gary Lee, as guitarist and songwriter, was ‘the one with the talent’.

The band created a proper practice space in the back room of the Conner family’s video store, used it, got good and got signed to the ultimate US punk label, SST. The band were thrilled to be on the label that had released Bad Brains, Black Flag, Minutemen, Meat Puppets and Sonic Youth. Gary Lee called it ‘the coolest and most amazing thing that happened in our entire career’.

screaming-trees

Some major labels had also sniffed around at that time, but had found the band too physically unattractive to sign. But four SST albums later, the growing popularity of the Trees’ hard-edged, melodic, psychedelia brought the majors back into the picture – this being 1990, it didn’t hurt that they were from the vicinity of Seattle either – and, following in Soundgarden’s footsteps, they signed for Epic.

The band released three major label albums and achieved a good level of popularity without ever catching the same wave as Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice In Chains et al. They did however score a fair-sized hit when their uplifting single Nearly Lost You was featured on the soundtrack to the godawful ‘grunge film’ Singles. They also gained a reputation for their drink and drug fuelled violent escapades whilst on tour, with Lanegan’s behaviour especially notorious. Dave Grohl has said of the singer, ‘you don’t wanna mess with that dude. Give him a microphone, let him sing, then get the fuck out of his way’.

The Screaming Trees’ 1992 appearance on Letterman comes close to encapsulating their entire career – playing their biggest hit, looking out of place on a mainstream TV show, the Conner brothers hidden away at the back of the set and Lanegan with a black eye from their latest brawl. They had a stand-in drummer for the performance too, because Barrett Martin (who’d taken over from Mark Pickerel the previous year) had dislocated his shoulder in the same incident.

The band released their last album Dust in 1996 and split for good in 2000. All the band’s members continue to work on various projects, most notably Mark Lanegan, whose gruffly unique voice ensures that when he’s not working solo he’s always in demand for a collaboration, with Queens Of The Stone Age, Unkle, Massive Attack, Moby and many, MANY others. There’s often talk of a reunion, but Lanegan usually quashes these rumours, preferring to keep the past in the past and referring to his time with the band as his ‘apprenticeship’.

The Screaming Trees’ cover of Love Or Confusion was the first thing I heard by the band. It was on one of the first CDs I ever bought, the classic compilation Sub Pop 200, which also features Soundgarden, Nirvana, Tad, Mudhoney and Green River. Sub Pop founders Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt, in one of their signature flamboyant marketing moves, released this as a lavish three-record box set in 1988 with the idea of presenting the label’s hometown of Seattle as having a distinct and thriving alternative rock scene. It worked.

By the time the CD came to my local Our Price Records around 1990 the vinyl boxsets were long since sold out and Mudhoney, Nirvana and Soundgarden, were advancing the Seattle sound far further than even Sub Pop’s megalomaniacal founders could have dreamed. It’s also a fantastic compilation of music, a snapshot of a scene that was about to explode and a seminal grunge album.

My original Our Price copy of Sub Pop 200 was in the possession of a friend of mine at the time he hung himself from a tree in 1996. I replaced it pretty soon after Amazon made that sort of thing piss-easy at the turn of the century. I still play the new version pretty regularly and though it’s housed in an unsatisfactory blank cardboard box with a flimsy booklet rather than in a proper, robust case like my first copy, I’m still glad I didn’t try and talk to me friend’s parents about getting in back. The tree is still there and I blow a kiss in its direction every time I pass it.

 

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‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones covered by Patti Smith – Magnificent Cover Version Number 26