(Upcoming Release) Giant 6 LP Boxset Compilation of John Hughes Film Soundtrack Songs – Life Moves Pretty Fast – The John Hughes Mixtapes Out November 11th, 2020 – A Deeper Dive

No single filmmaker captured the zeitgeist of the 1980’s better than John Hughes. His catalog of films loom large on the landscape of what we think of as 1980s culture with big blockbusters of the teen condition like “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985), “Pretty In Pink” (1986) and the immensely quotable “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986).

Hughes wasn’t the only filmmaker making movies targeted at adolescents in the 1980s, but for that run of films he certainly set the standard for what they should be– heartfelt and funny, often involving a cross section of teen culture, which ultimately allowed those of us who were teenagers at the time the ability to see ourselves in the characters– even if it was largely a whitewashed one.

Hughes was more than his teen movies, however. He got his start writing for National Lampoon, and his first big hit was “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983). By 1987 he stepped away from teen films with the epic road adventure starring John Candy (with whom he would create a number of films) and Steve Martin “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” He would continue to make films through the early 1990’s before finally retiring from writing, producing and directing in 1994. Hughes passed away of a heart attack in 2009 while on a trip to New York City visiting his son James.

One constant through Hughes films was the placement of music and often the soundtrack albums were as popular as the films themselves. Like many, I found out about bands like The Psychedelic Firs (“Pretty In Pink”), New Order (“Shell Shock”), Kate Bush (“This Woman’s Work), Oingo Boingo (“Weird Science”), Simple Minds (“Don’t You (Forget About Me)”), Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (“If You Leave”) from these soundtracks. One beef I always had was that the soundtrack albums didn’t have all of the songs from the film on them or sometimes the album simply didn’t exist, or focused on the score. In most cases when the soundtrack did exist, they would include the most prominent songs, and albums for the soundtracks to “The Breakfast Club,” “Pretty In Pink” and “She’s Having a Baby” are all great standalone listens.

Before record labels and rights holders got aggressive about takedowns in the early 2010’s, the collective efforts of soundtrack fans on the Internet would create comprehensive soundtracks for many films. One notable site that suffered the takedown fate was The Inferno Music Crypt, which started as a way to collect rare soundtracks to horror films which by and large may never have had a soundtrack release (these days this effort continues, and labels like the amazing Terror Vision label resuscitates lost music from bands like Tangerine Dream!). The Music Crypt complete version of the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack had a few iterations before landing on the final version which had 320Kbps mp3’s of all of the songs as well as samples of film dialog and even alternative versions of some of the songs as bonus tracks (his version included the vocal version of The Dream Academy’s cover of The Smiths “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” for example). His version also included the Star Wars Theme (used when the parking attendants took the Ferrari for a spin), the “I Dream Of Jeanne” theme, and even parade songs: Wayne Newton’s “Danke Shoen” and The Beatles “Twist and Shout.”

So, when I heard about a massive box set of soundtrack songs from the John Hughes films titled Life Moves Pretty Fast : The John Hughes Mixtapes (out November 11th), I was really excited! Initially, the preorders were only from the UK– Demon Music Group, who produced this set, is run by the BBC, but now the compilation is available as a pre-order from Pop Market for around $142.00 as a 6-LP box set with book. There is also a CD box set which comes with a 14-track cassette and 7-inch, and a 2 LP version.

The compilation is curated by Tarquin Gotch who was Hughes’s primary music supervisor for his films. The compilation is presented as a mixtape of songs from all of the films, rather than in order of the soundtracks as a tribute to how Gotch and Hughes would collaborate on the music supervision.

“Back when we were working on these movie soundtracks, the best way to send music around the world was the cassette, by Fedex,” Gotch remembered in a statement. “We sent John cassettes of newly released music, of demos, of just finished mixes (and in return he would send VHS videos of the scenes that needed music).”

Presenting the songs this way makes the compilation more listenable, since Hughes had a tendency of jumping around stylistically as the scene demanded, plus even at 74 songs, this is far from comprehensive. Some films are only represented by one song, for example. The Breakfast Club is represented only by “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (though arguably the most famous song from the film), Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” makes an appearance representing all of the various “Vacation” films (also a song that is sort of hard to find since Buckingham never seems to include it in any releases), Pop Will Eat Itself shows up for “The Great Outdoors” (an unmemorable soundtrack, honestly, and seemingly a way to pay licensing to “Elwood J. Blues” (aka Dan Akroyd) with no less than 5 songs (none of which are here).

What this compilation seems to try to do is walk the line between appeasing died-in-the-wool fans of the soundtracks of these films and also presenting a compilation of songs that general fans of the films would enjoy. In that regard, I think they might have gotten it right– particularly when you look at the 2 LP version. Clocking in at 25 tracks, it represents pretty much only the “big” songs from these soundtracks and is kind of a greatest hits of these. Most people would only be interested in getting this version, I expect.

The 6 LP/4 CD version is clearly targeted at the fans who already have the original soundtracks and want to get some of the songs that were skipped due to album length or licensing. If you already have The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Weird Science you won’t feel gipped here. Most of the songs on these soundtrack albums aren’t here.

Interestingly, we pretty much get all of the “missing” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack in this collection. There was never an album release for this, though in 2016, LaLaLand Records put one together (still missing some tracks due to licensing), and it includes the Ira Newborn score which is pretty nice. We don’t get the parade “Danke Shoen/Twist And Shout” on Life Move Pretty Fast, and that’s likely due to licensing. Having “Beat City” by the Flowerpot Men, “Love Missile F-111” by Sigue Sigue Sputnik and “March of the Swivelheads” by The Beat (The English Beat in the U.S.) as well as “Oh Yeah” by Yello really captures this soundtrack’s big moments.

Life Moves Pretty Fast also makes up for the ridiculous attempt at a soundtrack album in 1984 for Sixteen Candles. The original release was an EP clocking in at around 16 minutes. In some regards, it was pretty much a way to prop up the brilliant “If You Were Here” by The Thompson Twins. We get 11 songs on this box set, which includes the aforementioned “If You Were Here,” but also includes some of the really on-point tracks from the wedding preparation, the Peter Gunn theme and “True” by Spandau Ballet. All we’re missing is the Stray Cats cover of “16 Candles, the Annie Golden track and “Geek Boogie” which was a song created for the film by Ira Newborn (a signature track that really should have been on here).

Quite a bit of the soundtrack to “She’s Having A Baby” is included here, both new songs and songs from the album. The key songs from the soundtrack album proper make it here, though sadly leaves off the awesome XTC song “Happy Families.” But, where it really hits are the “classic” songs that propped the film up, but weren’t licensed for the album: Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,” and the use of “Music For A Found Harmonium” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra (which HAD to influence its inclusion in the post-dance scene in Napoleon Dynamite). The funny addition is the cover of the Gene Krupa track “Drummin’ Man” by Topper Headon, who was the original drummer for The Clash.

The original soundtrack album to Planes, Trains and Automobiles seems to lose any sort of cohesion from both not including some key songs from the film itself, and the fact that the songs don’t really fit together. Steve Earle’s cover of “Six Days on the Road” is fantastic, and really the only reason to have ever bought it (I had it on cassette…). Don’t even get me started with “I Can Take Anything” by E.T.A. which is a club track with samples from the film (sort of like “Batdance” from Batman I suppose). This, thankfully isn’t included on Life Moves Pretty Fast, but we get both Steve Earle songs: “Six Days on the Road” from the album as well as “Continental Trailways Blues.” Yello is back with “Lost Again” which originally appeared on their 1983 album Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess. To me it seems that by 1987, the soundtracks to the Hughes films had moved from being the leading edge of New Wave tastes, but that was probably also a symptom of Hughes moving from teen films. In that regard, this box set and album smartly leans heavily on those earlier films.

As someone who has been a big fan of the music in John Hughes’s films, this box set is a welcome release, and certainly a tribute like this has been long overdue. Since I already have some of these original soundtracks in my collection, this is a great companion to those (and I realize I need to get some of those on LP).

Click here to order the 6 LP red vinyl box from Pop Market (currently about $142 with free shipping)

Click here to order the 4 CD, 7″ and cassette box from Pop Market (currently about $120 with free shipping)

Click here to order the 2 LP black vinyl version from Pop Market (currently at $53.79 with free shipping)

Below is the tracklist for the 6 LP box set. I’ve added in bold the film the songs appeared in, and put an asterisk next to the songs that were on the original soundtrack albums.

Side A:
Kajagoogoo – Kajagoogoo (Instrumental) – Sixteen Candles
* Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Breakfast Club
* Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – If You Leave – Pretty In Pink
* Oingo Boingo – Weird Science – Weird Science
* Furniture – Brilliant Mind – Some Kind of Wonderful
* Dave Wakeling – She’s Having a Baby – She’s Having A Baby

Side B:
The Flowerpot Men – Beat City – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty in Pink – Pretty In Pink
* Flesh for Lulu – I Go Crazy – Some Kind of Wonderful
* Dr. Calculus – Full of Love – She’s Having A Baby
* Lick the Tins – Can’t Help Falling in Love – Some Kind of Wonderful
* Steve Earle & The Dukes – Six Days on the Road (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Side C:
* Kirsty MacColl – You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby (Soundtrack Version) – She’s Having A Baby
* Suzanne Vega & Joe Jackson – Left of Center – Pretty In Pink
* Pete Shelley – Do Anything (Soundtrack Version) – Some Kind of Wonderful
* Carmel – It’s All in the Game – She’s Having A Baby
* The Dream Academy – Power to Believe (Instrumental) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
* Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work – She’s Having A Baby

Side D:
The Beat – March of the Swivelheads (Rotating Heads – Dub Version) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Nick Heyward – When It Started to Begin – Sixteen Candles
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Tesla Girls – Weird Science
Big Audio Dynamite – BAD – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* Killing Joke – Eighties – Weird Science
The Specials – Little Bitch – Sixteen Candles

Side E:
* Gene Loves Jezebel – Desire (Come and Get It) (US Club Mix) – She’s Having A Baby
Flesh for Lulu – Slide – Uncle Buck
* Love and Rockets – Haunted When the Minutes Drag – She’s Having A Baby
Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11 (Ultraviolence Mix) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* Lords of the New Church – Method to My Madness – Weird Science

Side F:
* The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Hardest Walk (Single Version) – Some Kind of Wonderful
* Echo & the Bunnymen – Bring on the Dancing Horses – Pretty In Pink
General Public – Tenderness – Weird Science
The Blue Room – I’m Afraid – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* Belouis Some – Round, Round – Pretty In Pink
* Thompson Twins – If You Were Here – Sixteen Candles
The Dream Academy – Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (Instrumental) – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Side G:
Yello – Oh Yeah – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* Book of Love – Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Otis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness – Pretty In Pink
* Patti Smith – Gloria: In Excelsis Deo – Sixteen Candles
* Westworld – Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Divinyls – Ring Me Up – Sixteen Candles
Topper Headon – Drummin’ Man – She’s Having A Baby

Side H:
Billy Idol – Catch My Fall – Some Kind of Wonderful
The Association – Cherish – Pretty In Pink
Penguin Cafe Orchestra – Music for a Found Harmonium – She’s Having A Baby
Zapp – Radio People – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
* The Blue Room – Cry Like This – Some Kind of Wonderful

Side I:
Ray Charles – Mess Around – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Joe Turner – Lipstick, Powder and Paint – Uncle Buck
Darlene Love – (Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry – Sixteen Candles
Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) – She’s Having A Baby
Perry Como with Mitchell Ayres and His Orchestra and the Ray Charles Singers – Juke Box Baby – Uncle Buck
The Chordettes – Mr. Sandman – Uncle Buck
Ray Anthony and His Orchestra – The Peter Gunn Theme – Sixteen Candles

Side J:
* Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road – National Lampoon’s Vacation
* Emmylou Harris – Back in Baby’s Arms – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Hugh Harris – Rhythm of Life – Uncle Buck
Spandau Ballet – True – Sixteen Candles
Propaganda – Abuse – Here – Some Kind of Wonderful
The Dream Academy – The Edge of Forever – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Side K:
Yello – Lost Again (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
* Bryan Ferry – Crazy Love – She’s Having A Baby
The Rave-Ups – Positively Lost Me – Pretty In Pink
Los Lobos – Don’t Worry Baby – Weird Science
Steve Earle – Continental Trailways Blues (Album Version) – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Revillos – Rev Up! – Sixteen Candles

Side L:
Boston – More Than a Feeling – She’s Having A Baby
* Balaam and the Angel – I’ll Show You Something Special – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Rave-Ups – Rave Up / Shut Up – Pretty In Pink
* Pop Will Eat Itself – Beaver Patrol – The Great Outdoors
The Vapors – Turning Japanese – Sixteen Candles
* Silicon Teens – Red River Rock – Planes, Trains and Automobiles

(Upcoming Release) Athens, GA Legends Squalls Release Vintage 40-Watt Club Performances : Live From The 40 Watt Out 8/19 – A Deeper Dive

Live From the 40 Watt Cover Art

The national awareness of Athens, Georgia as a vibrant art and music scene in the 80’s was largely accomplished due to a plucky, quirky and loose 1986 documentary film by director Tony Gayton titled “Athens, GA: Inside/Out” and its associated soundtrack on I.R.S. Records, which at the time was R.E.M.’s label.

In many ways, the film happened at the right time: R.E.M.’s Document, their last and biggest album on I.R.S. Records would come out in Fall of 1987 and blow up with “The One I Love.” Fans like me who were hungry for everything related to R.E.M. ran out to pick up the VHS tape of the film and the soundtrack to hear and see the two R.E.M. tracks performed in the Seney-Stovall Chapel: acoustic versions of “Swan Swan H” from Lifes Rich Pageant and a cover of an Everly Brothers classic re-titled “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream.”

A side note: the legend of R.E.M. includes the fact that they lived in an abandoned church and their first concert was in this same church. Until today, I assumed that the performance in the film was in that church, but they really lived in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which was demolished in 1990 by developers. The steeple still stands today as a landmark to R.E.M.

As someone growing up in a very small midwestern town in the 1980’s, I had very limited access to underground non-Top 40 music. I didn’t even have MTV! So, the soundtrack and filmed performances in “Athens, Ga : Inside/Out” were eye-opening experiences! In many ways this soundtrack defined the music I would follow for many years. As a compilation, the songs and bands are all over the map: soon-to-be radio darlings R.E.M., twitchy frenetic post punk of Pylon (who recently got their much-deserved recognition in a boxset I covered here.), the instrumental workings of Love Tractor (the use of “Fun To Be Happy” as the opening music was brilliant and set the tone for the film), moody guitar rock of “Dreams So Real” (whose major label debut Rough Night in Jericho disappointingly made them sound like The BoDeans and not like the moody and beautiful “Golden”), The B-52’s were included in the film, but not the soundtrack, the hardcore punk of Bar-B-Q Killers, the hyper retro two-piece rockabilly of The Flat Duo Jets (who are obvious influences on The White Stripes). The thoughts of these bands playing bars and stages in Athens was breathtaking, and my friends and I all wanted to make a trip there. (It’s still on my bucket list of places to visit)

Squalls perform “Na Nanana” in Athens, Ga: Inside/Out

Out of all of those bands on the soundtrack, the ones that really stood out for me (and are favorites to this day) were Pylon, Love Tractor and Squalls. Squalls had two songs on the soundtrack, their big hit (such as it was) “Na Nanana” and “Elephant Radio.” Both of these songs were on their debut self-released EP from 1984, and by 1986, when this film came out, they were regarded as one of the bands who deserved to make it to the national spotlight. The Squalls mix of epic harmonies and melodies combined with smart and sometimes progressive rhythms to me makes them a shoo in for a band that could follow in the footsteps of bands like Talking Heads and Adrian Belew.

Squalls

The Squalls were signed to R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt‘s label Dog Gone Records, and released two albums there before the band hung it up in 1989.

On August 19th, the band is releasing a compilation of live recordings made over five dates made at the legendary Athens, GA bar The 40-Watt Club between 1983 and 1985 (predating the performances in the film). These performances were recorded by 40-Watt soundman T. Patton Biddle. Titled Live from the 40 Watt, the songs span the EP and the two albums and are a great representation of the band’s body of work. Here is the tracklist, with my notes of performance date and what album the songs come from. I’ve also provided links to the tracks that have been released for streaming.

  1. Bride Of Frankenstein (8/2/1985) from No Time and “Crickets” 7″
  2. Catholic Girls (2/11/1983) unreleased
  3. The Prince Of Wails (5/31/84) from Rebel Shoes
  4. Ellie Dee (8/2/1985) unreleased
  5. Relax (5/31/1984) from Squalls EP
  6. Cindy (2/14/1985) from Rebel Shoes
  7. Na Nanana (5/31/1984) from Squalls EP
  8. Pop Roots (5/31/1984) unreleased
  9. Waltzing Mathilda (8/2/1985) from Rebel Shoes
  10. Information (5/31/1984) from Squalls EP
  11. Crickets (8/2/1985) from “Crickets” 7″
  12. Snowman (5/31/1984) unreleased
  13. Dancing Example (8/2/1985) unreleased
  14. Satellite (11/29/1984) unreleased
  15. Tell Me Now (8/2/1985) unreleased
  16. Unrelated Happenings (8/2/1985) unreleased
  17. Kathy (11/29/1984) unreleased
  18. The Sheik (2/14/1985) from No Time
  19. Kalinka (8/2/1985) from Squalls EP
  20. S.P.Q.R. (8/2/1985) from No Time
  21. Strolling Bones (11/29/1984) from Squalls EP
  22. Modern World (11/29/1984) unreleased
  23. What You Get (11/29/1984) unreleased
  24. Elephant Radio (11/29/1984) from Squalls EP

The striking thing about this compilation is how much unreleased music is included! I exchanged messages with Bob Hay, the principle songwriter in Squalls whether this release was indicative of the live sets from this pre-Dog Gone era of the band, or whether he was attempting to get these unreleased songs released formally. He said:

It’s kind of both. On “LIVE” I wanted to include every song that was released on vinyl before 1986. (8 songs – the EP and the single.) and also rescue from the sands of time a bunch of songs that were staples of our live shows in those days and a few that we played only a few times but are too good to be forgotten. We were primarily a live dance band and played live for almost three years before we set foot in a studio.

Facebook chat 7/10/22

The idea of a band packing bars playing all original songs seems foreign, if not kind of quaint these days. Bob sent me a scan of the show calendar for The 40-Watt Club from February, 1986: the month that they filmed the performances for Athens, GA: Inside/Out. I commented about the incredible lineup of bands that were playing that month– (not to mention all of the bands who were in the film)– Alex Chilton played a Thursday night show, The Georgia Satellites and the Del Fuegos (who would share a tour with Tom Petty the next year), Giant Sand, and Jason and the Scorchers played a three night stand. Bob replied, “I tell you, it was something during that time.”

In addition to capturing a wildly creative time for Squalls, Live from the 40-Watt also is a reminder that Athens was (and still is) a very special place where bands were drawn to be more free creatively and where audiences were excited to hear new music. The recordings show a band wide-eyed and excited to bring their art to the world.

Live From The 40-Watt will be released on August, 19th, 2020 and will be available on beautiful 2 LP blue vinyl, CD or digital. Click here to order from Strolling Bones records site, or you can order it from Bandcamp.

(Upcoming Release) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Angel Dream : Songs and Music from The Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’ 25th Anniversary Reimagining Out 7/2 – A Deeper Dive

new cover art for She’s The One

At some point I found a copy of She’s The One in a CD cutout bin not too long after the album was released in 1996. From a Tom Petty fan perspective, ironically, I heard this before I ever heard Wildflowers completely. 1995 and 1996 were years of exploration for me musically. I was living in Minneapolis (Eagan, specifically) and my ears were filled with the alternative nation of REV-105 and I was discovering new bands and music every day it seemed and I wasn’t focused on classic rock. I missed the Wildflowers release completely and ended up picking up its neglected sibling purely coincidentally. The irony being that She’s The One became the home for tracks that were lopped off Wildflowers when Warner Brothers suggested it be a single album rather than Petty’s original vision of a double.

As much as I have come to love Wildflowers and its 2020 bloated retort to the eternal Pettyfan joke “When is Wildflowers going to be reissued?”, Wildflowers… And All The Rest gave us nearly every minute of tape we could stand of the album, with every possible session that could be considered related to Wildflowers proper, I still hold a fondness for She’s The One, the quirky non-sequitur of songs collected spanning incidental music, covers and multiple takes.

One of the criticisms put forth about Wildflowers… And All The Rest was that it didn’t include any of the at-the-time new songs from She’s The One. Most people looked at She’s The One as kind of an extension of Wildflowers— particularly since the soundtrack benefitted by the inclusion of four very strong songs from those sessions: “Climb That Hill,” “Hung Up And Overdue,” “California,” and “Hope You Never.” The rest of the original soundtrack was new material recorded specifically for the film including two songs which would become important songs in Petty’s catalog, “Walls” with its amazing chorus “‘Cause you’ve got a heart so big/ it could crush this town/And I can’t hold out forever/Even walls fall down” and Petty’s tribute to his future second wife Dana, “Angel Dream” which became a staple in later live shows.

Amidst all of the personal turmoil in Petty’s life including the firing of drummer Stan Lynch from the Heartbreakers, divorce from his wife of 22 years Jane and the beginning of a heroin addiction that was hidden from public view until Warren Zanes’ “Petty” biography came out in 2015, he was approached to curate the soundtrack for the Ed Burns film She’s The One. Quoted in “Petty,” he says about the project, “I was approached about putting together a soundtrack for the movie. I liked what I’d seen of Ed Burns’s work. But, when I took the job I didn’t think it through. I wound up in a situation where they wanted different artists for a soundtrack. They had a few, but they wanted me to call more artists.” Eventually he called his manager Tony Dimitriades and told him he couldn’t do this. Dimitriades suggested that he should do the soundtrack himself, “like Paul Simon did for The Graduate.”

Ultimately, it was a failure on many levels. Petty was forced to rush to meet a deadline, “I was completely off my game.” he says in his biography, “I was doing something that was against my grain.” The film’s release was pushed back six months, leaving the soundtrack to appear to be a Heartbreakers album, “Some people thought I was following up Wildflowers… My record came out with no movie, I was so depressed– that just made me more depressed.” The album sold only 490,000 copies and ultimately went gold, but marks the sole disappointment in his catalog.

All the work that was put into the 2020 release Wildflowers… And All The Rest left the team of the Petty Estate, The Heartbreakers and producer/engineer Ryan Ulyate to take a closer look at the soundtrack. With the four Wildflowers songs on She’s The One returned to the fold (as part of the original 2015 10 track sequencing of All The Rest, the 2nd CD for the original concept for a Wildflowers reissue tentatively called Wildflowers: 2), the question of what to do to put a new focus on the rest of the songs was presented.

I would say that the 1996 version of She’s The One suffers from being a somewhat literal listing of the songs included in the soundtrack. We get two versions of “Walls”: one version is what was the single (“Walls (Circus)” and the other is “Walls (No. 3)” apparently created to satisfy Burns’s request of having a different one for the closing credits. We get two versions of “Angel Dream” as well and things cap off with a 57-second bouncy piano/organ instrumental “Airport.” The strings/piano/guitar instrumental arrangement of “Hope On Board” is positively breathtaking and too short. Another complicating factor are the two cover songs, which Petty typically didn’t include on proper albums. The resulting release comes off as kind of a cast-off in that regard, and if anything a bit unbalanced particularly considering the usually careful sequencing on Petty albums.

What the team ultimately settled on is now titled Angel Dream: Songs and Music from The Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’ and capitalizes on the great songs included on She’s The One: “Walls,” “Grew Up Fast” (a personal favorite), “Zero From Outer Space,” the Lucinda Williams cover “Change The Locks” (a typo according to Dana Petty in her interview with David Fricke on SiriusXM since the correct title is “Changed The Locks”) the Beck cover “Asshole,” “Supernatural Radio” (which is presented now as an extended take) and adds two songs recorded in July 1993 (in the middle of the sessions for Wildflowers, incidentally) during the sessions that produced “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” for the Greatest Hits album (“Something’s In The Air,” the other new track, was recorded in February that year). These songs are notable as having Stan Lynch on drums. None of the songs on the original Wildflowers nor the original She’s The One had him on them. These songs are a JJ Cale cover “Thirteen Days” (recorded on July 22, 1993, this shows up in a photo of a proposed tracklist for Wildflowers included in the box set), “105 Degrees” (recorded on July 23, 1993) and “One Of Life’s Little Mysteries” (the earliest track, recorded on August 4, 1992). We also get an instrumental reworking of “Angel Dream” titled “French Disconnection.”

blurry picture of 25 song sequence of Wildflowers from the box set showing “13 Days” being considered
Official lyric video for “Angel Dream”

For the first RSD Drop in 2021 on June 12th, a cobalt blue vinyl pressing of Angel Dream was released limited to 12000 copies. I managed to pick up a copy during my trips. The regular release comes out on 7/2 in black vinyl, CD and download.

It’s interesting to note that the song “Lonesome Dave” from the Wildflowers sessions which was included in the An American Treasure box set and not in the …All The Rest boxset was recorded on July 23 as well. In the “Petty” biography by Zanes, George Drakoulias remembers cutting many more tracks than “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and we’re getting a bit of a peek into those sessions with Stan Lynch with the posthumous releases.

The idea of a reboot of She’s The One as if it existed in the alternate reality of a 1994 2 CD Wildflowers is certainly a compelling one. Ryan Ulyate gives his perspective in a post on the Steve Hoffman forums on 6/15:

“…The idea behind Angel Dream was to make it a tighter album, and something that would make sense with this music after the three original Wildflowers tracks were taken off of it (for inclusion on Wildflowers All The Rest). It was important to have a really tight set of songs, sequenced in a way that honors Tom’s sense of how important albums are, in the story that they can tell. (This logic is behind the decision to leave certain songs off of the original Wildflowers, as McCool discussed in his earlier post.)

For Angel Dream the decision was made to not include the second versions of two songs (Walls and Angel Dream) that are on the She’s The One soundtrack, and also to not include the music cues that related more to the film. This was reconfigured to be a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, not a film soundtrack album. Since we needed more material to fill out the album, we went back to three tracks that were recorded during the Wildflowers sessions, and an unreleased instrumental track.”

Steve Hoffman Forums post 6/15/2021

Ulyate touches on the inclusion of the new songs, “Can songs that were not recorded at the same time as others live on the same album? Yes they can, if they fit into the “vibe”. Without Tom there will always be second-guessing, but please know we did our best.”

The album is a really good listen and while I question the absolute necessity of its existence, it’s a record I’ll play frequently. The idea is that this is the version that will “replace” the original album in the new cataloging of Petty, though the original 1996 version (which was remastered in 2018) will continue to be available as a download.

Angel Dream Tracklist with my notes (special thanks to Mark Felsot for corrections):

Side 1:

  1. Angel Dream (No. 2) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  2. Grew Up Fast from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  3. Change The Locks (Lucinda Williams cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  4. Zero From Outer Space from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  5. Asshole (Beck cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release

Side 2:

  1. One of Life’s Little Mysteries new track recorded August 4, 1992 with Stan Lynch
  2. Walls (No. 3) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  3. Thirteen Days (JJ Cale cover) new track recorded July 23, 1993 with Stan Lynch
  4. 105 Degrees new track recorded July 24, 1993 with Stan Lynch
  5. Climb That Hill from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
  6. Supernatural Radio (extended version) new version recorded June 4, 1996
  7. French Disconnection (Instrumental) new track recorded April 11, 1996

Pre-Order Angel Dream from tompetty.com.

(Upcoming Release) Aimee Mann – Bachelor No. 2 : 20th Anniversary Edition for Black Friday RSD – A Deeper Dive

Cover Art for the 20th Anniversary Reissue of Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2

I’m a sucker for earnest songs about heartbreak. Clearly.

When I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, I was struck by the songs from Aimee Mann. Like many, I was familiar with her band, the MTV darlings Til Tuesday, but I hadn’t really kept up. Though, there wasn’t much to keep up with. The classic yarn of a band breakup followed by a couple of brilliant solo albums that her label didn’t know what to do with caused her to crash land in 1999 with no label and a record in the can that wouldn’t be released.

As the story goes, Paul Thomas Anderson was moved enough by the demos of this album to craft Magnolia around it and get some more songs from her. He connected to Mann through her husband Michael Penn who scored Anderson’s first two films. She got an Oscar nom for “Save Me” (a song that was written for the film).

I rewatched Magnolia recently. A horrific storm called a “derecho” blew 130+ MPH winds across Iowa, removing over 65% of the tree cover of Cedar Rapids and knocking power out for days and cell service and internet for weeks. Once power was restored, my wife and I still didn’t have internet and cell service was spotty, so we took to digging through our sadly-neglected collection of DVD’s and Blu-Rays for stuff to watch. We hadn’t seen it probably since I bought the DVD when it came out in 2000. The film’s three hours is not an easy watch, and twenty years later the heavy-handedness of the story arc and plot devices seems almost dated. Considering this was Anderson’s carte blanche film following the breakout success of Boogie Nights, it’s apparent he was pulling out all of his directorial tools for this. The soundtrack and score of the film end up being an essential part of the narrative with songs belonging to the characters, the culmination of which is when the film pauses for the characters to sing “Wise Up.”

This part of the film was a real lump-in-the-throat moment for me and how I became a fan of this soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2. I wrote an article back in 2008 proposing a mix people could make of the two CD’s to make a perfect version of the album.

Bachelor No. 2 was released in May 2000 on Mann’s own record label Super-Ego Records. It included “How Am I Different,” “Deathly,” and “You Do” from Magnolia. “Nothing Is Good Enough” appears on the soundtrack as an instrumental. Interestingly, “Wise Up” was originally intended for the film Jerry McGuire. A really great article breaking down the soundtrack by A/VClub by Alex McLevy makes the observation that in a literal sense the song says that the film “is not going to stop” until the characters wise up. Certainly the scene in the film where the characters sing “Wise Up” is a point of inflection.

According to the Wikipedia article on Bachelor No. 2, Mann secured a distribution deal after selling the album from her website and Soundscan data as of 2008 showed that 230,000 copies had been sold.

In 2006, Mobile Fidelity Soundlab corrected sin of this album not existing on vinyl by pressing a limited run of 200g half-speed mastered LP’s based on the original US CD (which means it doesn’t have “Save Me” on it in place of “Driving Sideways” as the UK version did). These days copies of this are running around $200 and I was keeping an eye out to see if any might show up for a deal.

Thankfully, Aimee Mann is reissuing Bachelor No. 2 for its 20th anniversary for Black Friday Record Store Day as a 2 LP expanded version taking the original album and adding the Magnolia songs at the end. (this approach makes sense since it is a reissue of Bachelor No 2 primarily, but I think my mix is more fun) as well as a re-recorded version of “Wise Up.” Looking at Amoeba’s website, it will be priced at a reasonable $34.98. This is being touted as an “RSD First” which means that it will be generally available after RSD, though it’s hard to tell if the 4000 copies they’re showing is the total of all of the pressings or just what is available for RSD.

It will be interesting to hear that new version of “Wise Up.” If I had to guess, it probably removes the drum machine. In the press release she mentions that she “used a lot of drum loops” and nowhere is it more apparent than on “Wise Up.” Though for me, that works great.

The Super Ego Records twitter account posted the packaging:

The packaging is really nice with what appears to be a version of the cover art that looks like someone practicing calligraphy over it. The green vinyl and labels are gorgeous.

Here is the track listing from The Vinyl District (which had it by sides).:

Side A

  1. How Am I Different
  2. Nothing Is Good Enough
  3. Red Vines
  4. Optimist

Side B

  1. Deathly
  2. Ghost World
  3. Calling It Quits
  4. Satellite

Side C

  1. Save Me
  2. Driving Sideways
  3. Just Like Anyone
  4. Susan
  5. It Takes All Kinds

Side D

  1. One
  2. Wise Up Re-record
  3. Momentum
  4. Build That Wall
  5. You Do

(Upcoming Release) New West Records Reissues Seminal Pylon Albums and Limited Pylon Box Out 11/6/2020 – A deeper dive

Pylon Box – Colored vinyl version limited to 500 out 11/6

On August 26th, New West Records announced that they will be reissuing the first two Pylon albums as well as an extensive box set with the two albums, an LP of extras and an LP called “Razz Tape” of a recording that pre-dates the albums along with a gorgeous 200-page hardbound book.

For the uninitiated, Pylon was a band from Athens, GA that started in the late 70’s by some art school students at the University of Georgia. For context in the larger history of Athens bands, they’re post-B-52’s and contemporaries of R.E.M. Their distinctively angular and beat-heavy sound would be described as post-punk and follows a path blazed by New York City bands like Talking Heads and Television.

The first phase of their career started in 1978 and after two albums on the now-defunct label DB Recs Gyrate and Chomp and enjoying some well-deserved exposure supporting bands like R.E.M. U2 and Mission of Burma on tours, they split up in late 1983.

Pylon would have just been a footnote in the history of the Athens music scene if it hadn’t been for the 1987 documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” which turned leagues of R.E.M. fans like myself on to the band. R.E.M. also recorded a cover of the Pylon song “Crazy” and released it as a b-side to “Driver 8” and it was the first track on Dead Letter Office, a collection of outtakes and b-sides. Peter Buck said in the liner notes, “I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record.”

The jittery energy of the live version of “Stop It!” with the militant growled vocals by Vanessa Hey was like nothing I’d ever heard before and even though it was the R.E.M. songs that drew me to the film and soundtrack, it was the Pylon track that ended up being my favorite part of that soundtrack. (Honestly, I always kind of felt like R.E.M. sort of phoned in their contribution with that Everly Brothers cover…)

Pylon reunited and in 1989 released a compilation called Hits which had notable tracks from the two albums as well as some tracks from singles. In 1990 they released another studio album Chain.on Sky Records. They went on tour with R.E.M. and then split up again in 1991. The band reunited for shows sporadically over the years that followed until they finally broke up for good after guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009. Vanessa Briscoe Hay fronts a Pylon tribute band “Pylon Reenactment Society” along with members of other area bands and have even recorded a couple new songs.

In 2007 DFA Records, owned by Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem reissued Chomp and Gyrate on CD with bonus tracks . Titled Gyrate Plus and Chomp More, they went immediately out-of-print and the CD’s are now super-expensive in the secondary market. So, clearly there is demand for this catalog to be reissued again.

For Black Friday Record Store Day in 2019, New West Records sort of tipped their hand in the matter by reissuing Pylon’s debut single “Cool”/”Dub.” I reached out to the label about whether they were going to reissue the albums and at the time they confirmed it, but weren’t going to announce anything for a few months. Then COVID happened which messed up record manufacturing, so I’m guessing that’s why the announcement happened much later for the albums and the box set.

The box set comes in two versions, black vinyl and a limited-to-500 colored vinyl version. Four 140g LP’s include new remasters of Gyrate and Chomp, an LP of Extras which include singles, b-sides and other rarities, and Razz Tape, which is a recording of the band which pre-dates their 1979 debut single recorded in their practice space by Chris Razz. 47 tracks total with 18 of them unreleased.

Since they aren’t also reissuing the 1989 compilation Hits which also included some non-album tracks and there were extra tracks on the DFA releases, how do the tracks compare and what are we missing with the box set?

We’ve seen “Cool,” “Dub,” “Crazy” single mix and the “Danger!!” remix from the !! import EP on Hits and the DFA reissues as I indicate below. We have two completely new songs “Untitled” and “3×3” plus a couple of new mixes of “Danger III” and “Spiders.” Not to mention all of the new versions and tracks on the Chris Razz tape.

Notably missing are some tracks included on the DFA reissues. “Crazy (Original Version)” on the Chomp More reissue seems to also be referred to as the single version. “Yo-Yo (Pylon Mix)” or “Male version” (it has slowed-down versions of the vocals) and “Gyrate (Pylon Mix) are two versions that were recorded during the tracks that were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In, but the versions that were used on the album came from the sessions at Channel One. We’re also missing the 6-minute version of “Beep” that is called “Four Minutes.”

Interestingly, “Functionality” was listed on the Gyrate Plus reissue as a “Studio Demo.” But the liner notes say it was recorded in 1979 in their practice space in Athens, GA, so that is from the Razz tape.

Here are all the tracks for the boxset and the breakdown of where the Extras have been released before:

Gyrate LP

  1. Volume 04:13
  2. Feast On My Heart 03:35
  3. Precaution 02:48
  4. Weather Radio 02:16
  5. The Human Body 03:11
  6. Read A Book 02:02
  7. Driving School 03:53
  8. Gravity 02:37
  9. Danger 05:38
  10. Working Is No Problem 03:29
  11. Stop It 03:06

Chomp LP

  1. K 04:32
  2. Yo-Yo 04:14
  3. Beep 03:23
  4. Italian Movie Theme 02:01
  5. Crazy 03:13
  6. M-Train 03:48
  7. Buzz 02:58
  8. No Clocks 02:57
  9. Reptiles 03:56
  10. Spider 03:58
  11. Gyrate 04:06
  12. Altitude 03:19

Extras LP

  1. Untitled – New track
  2. Cool – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
  3. Dub – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
  4. Recent Title – from Hits
  5. Danger!! (Danger Remix) – from !! EP also Gyrate Plus
  6. Crazy (Single Mix) – from “Crazy” single and Hits and probably Chomp More.
  7. Reptiles (Channel One Version) – New version
  8. No Clocks (Channel One Version) – New version
  9. Spider (Alternative Mix) – New version
  10. 3 x 3 (Live) 02:19 – New track
  11. Danger III (Live) – New track

Razz Tape LP – all new tracks except “Functionality”

  1. The Human Body 03:08
  2. Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 1)
  3. Read A Book (Instrumental)
  4. Working Is No Problem
  5. Precaution
  6. Cool
  7. Functionality – from Gyrate Plus
  8. Efficiency
  9. Information
  10. Dub
  11. Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 2)
  12. Danger
  13. Feast On My Heart (Working Version)

Pre-order the box set from New West Records HERE or at their Bandcamp site (where you can stream some of the tracks).

(Upcoming Release) Hiss Golden Messenger Collects Pre-Merge Catalog and Rarities In ‘Devotion’ Box Set Out 11/2/2018

News of a new Hiss Golden Messenger release was nestled discretely in a new interview with frontman M.C. Taylor in The Atlantic today. The article mentioned that he’s also working on a new album, keeping up with the nearly-yearly release schedule he’s been maintaining. The article is a nice snapshot of where he is these days, balancing the demands of home life and working musician. The article provides a quick history of Taylor’s career, which is probably new information for many who are only familiar with his recent releases.

This blog started around the time of his previous band The Court & Spark’s last release Hearts in 2006. In fact, I think my review of it might have been the first or second review I did. Just over a year later the band called it quits and Taylor and Scott Hirsch started working on the nascent version of Hiss Golden Messenger. At the time I was exchanging messages on MySpace with Taylor and he sent me rough mixes for what would be the first studio release Country Hai East Cotton. The article in the Atlantic describes it as “[not] bad, just listless.” When I was still in regular communication with Taylor, I used to suggest that he resurrect those songs live, but it was clear he was drawing a line in the sand of his catalog. His 2010 release Bad Debt represented a reboot of his songwriting. He’s quoted in the article: “I had to figure out how to sing a song that I meant, that I could carry around every night for months or years. I didn’t have that when I was in my late teens. I sure as shit didn’t have it in my 20s,” he says. “When I made Bad Debt it felt like I wrote the book of my life. I had never had that feeling creating music before.”

So, this is where the new boxset from Merge Records Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children starts. Due out 11/2, it is a gorgeously appointed package with the three main Hiss Golden Messenger releases that were released on the Paradise of Bachelors label (Bad Debt (2010), Poor Moon (2011), and Haw (2013)) plus a collection of rarities called Virgo Fool. The three albums have been out of print for a while and are now remastered for this box set and will be offered also as regular releases in the Merge catalog with new similarly-themed cover art. Here is what Merge says about the box:

“Individually numbered in a one-time pressing of 2,200 of each format, the four-album set is housed in a beautiful cloth-wrapped slipcase with three-color foil detailing and includes an exclusive foldout poster. Each CD is packaged with liner notes and complete lyrics inside a mini-gatefold wallet with a debossed cover. Each LP, pressed on black vinyl, includes a two-sided insert with liner notes and full lyrics plus a download card, all inside a heavyweight jacket with a debossed cover.”

For the ardent HGM collectors among us, the chance to get the rarities on one LP is worth the price of admission– it is only available in physical format in the box sets. Here is the track list for Virgo Fool along with where the tracks came from:

1. Rock Holy – From the Merge Records 25th Anniversary 7-inch box set Or Thousands of Prizes
2. Black Country Woman – Led Zeppelin cover from the Mojo Magazine compilation Mojo Presents Physical Graffiti Redrawn
3. Joyce & Joel – previously unreleased, but “Joyce & Joel Martin” are credited as being the house where “Brother Do You Know the Road” was recorded.
4. Lion/Lamb – Not sure if this will be the same version, but this song was included on the Root Work, Live on WFMU LP.
5. Father Sky – From the 2012 compilation of outtakes called Lord, I Love The Rain.
6. Issa – Haw outtake included in the digital only Glad EP. We’re missing the other original song “Roll River Roll” from that collection.
7. Back to the River Again – previously unreleased
8. Tell Everyone – Ronnie Lane cover from Lord, I Love The Rain.
9. Karen’s Blues – from Lord, I Love The Rain
10. The Revenant – Michael Hurley cover from Lord, I Love The Rain
11. Hard Promises – previously unreleased

Not one to give it all away, we’re missing a few rarities that maybe we’ll see collected in the future:

“Shiloh Town” : a Tim Hardin cover that was included on a split 7″ with Moviola. RSD 2012 limited to 200.

“Fennario” : a Michael Chapman cover which was included in the tribute album Oh Michael, Look What You’ve Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman. Was also included in the Glad digital EP.

“Brown Eyed Women” from the Day of the Dead Grateful Dead tribute.

“Lion of Judah” : a cover of Clive’s Original Band song. Included on the Glad digital EP.

“The Beast and Dragon, Adored” : Spoon cover from the digital only Or Thousands of Prizes covers collection.

“My Cousin’s King” – Elephant Micah cover from the shared split 7″

“I Wish I Had Not Said That” (JJ Cale cover), “Still Life Blues” (Elephant Micah cover), “Smoke Rings” (David Wiffen cover) from the Three-Lobed Recordings split LP with Michael Chapman as part of their Parallelogram series of collaborative releases.

“Jesus Dub” : Dub version of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” that was the b-side to the RSD 7″

“Passing Clouds”/”Passing Clouds Dub” – Hiss Golden Messenger meets Spacebomb benefit 7″

There might be other songs I’m forgetting. I like the other songs on the Lord, I Love The Rain, so those could show up on a future collection.

(Upcoming Release) David Sylvian’s Dead Bees On A Cake Gets *Another* Vinyl Reissue With Bonus 10/19/18

 

From Universal/Virgin Records:
“Following on from the phenomenal success of the RSD 2018 white vinyl edition of David Sylvian’s album from 1999, we now present the album on 180 gram black vinyl for the first time. Now expanded with the addition of four non-album tracks, “The Scent of Magnolia”, “Albuquerque (Dobro #6)”, “Cover Me With Flowers” and “Aparna and Nimisha ( Dobro #5)”. The artwork differs from the RSD edition and features a photograph by David’s ex-partner Ingrid, plus some rare photographs by Anton Corbijn.”

I’ll admit that I’ve been occasionally searching the internet to see if Universal would do a regular reissue of one of my favorite David Sylvian albums Dead Bees on A Cake since they did the UK/Australia/Canadian Record Store Day reissue, that I reported on HERE. In a Steve Hoffman forum discussion about the RSD release someone said that there was going to be a black vinyl version of it coming, so rather than bid on the eBay auctions which are running up over US$100, I just kept hopefully waiting. People were reporting bad pressings of the white vinyl version, too.

Yesterday a few places mentioned the release, including a post from Sylvian’s Facebook page:

Some people complained about the original artwork which was a picture of Sylvian and then-wife Ingrid Chavez. It’s a shot similar to the back cover on this release. I’m not sure why they are not using the original artwork.

Like the RSD pressing (which was limited to 1000) the expanded edition takes the release to 2 LP’s by adding four non-album tracks: “The Scent of Magnolia”, “Albuquerque ( Dobro #6 )”, “Cover Me With Flowers” and “Aparna and Nimisha ( Dobro #5 )”. All four of these tracks were included on the 2000 compilation Everything and Nothing.  “The Scent of Magnolia” was the single released with that compilation and is one of my favorite songs from this period and is really completes this album. The “Dobro” tracks feature guitar work from Bill Frisell.

There is also a PledgeMusic Page for it, so you can pre-order the release now for $28.50, but the shipping from the UK to the US is $12.00. When I used PledgeMusic to order the new Calexico, at least I could justify the postage due to the fact that I was getting the unique City Slang pressing (which was signed, too) that had a bonus 12″ with extra songs. This will be a big enough release that I should be able to wait for the always awesome ImportCDs.com to carry it, and if they put it on their eBay site, then the shipping is free.

The It’s Time to Play B-Sides Top 20 Albums of 2017

2017 to me felt like a transition year in many ways– personally, politically, culturally and certainly musically. For me personally 2017 will represent the year that my wife and I made the biggest steps away from 2011 when I was unemployed for eight months following a 13-year run in IT middle management. We bought a house after renting for over six years– the house hunt was a crazy one with lots of ups and downs. But we found a house that we love and it ends up being kind of perfect for being a place our grandson can come hang out and listen to records with Papa.

2017 was another year in a troubling pattern of musician deaths. The biggest of these is the unexpected passing of Tom Petty which for me was as big a loss as Prince was in 2016. I discovered Petty in 1986 with the release of Southern Accents. Although I had heard the big singles on the radio up to that, Southern Accents was released when I was searching for music that spoke to me. In that regard I look at Tom Petty as being “my Beatles.” The Beatles were a big part of my musical rearing, but they were already broken up by the time I started striking out on my own musical tastes. Petty was someone whose career set a benchmark for everyone who made guitar driven rootsy rock and roll. Petty continues to be something I can put on at any time and never tire of listening to. I was fortunate to be able to see him during his 40th Anniversary tour this summer in Des Moines and it was kind of full-circle as I was there with my dad and my brothers– just about 30 years after the first Tom Petty concert we saw in Chicago.

As far as new notable albums for 2017, I’m kind of out in left field again. My other writing gig as album reviewer for Little Village Magazine ends up determining what I listen to the most at any given time as I crash-listen to new Iowa-based or related albums and that is reflected again in my list.  That said, these are all really strong releases that hold up against the deluge of new major releases. Albums that others are including in their lists that I probably need to give at least a cursory listen to include the new Foo Fighters album Concrete and Gold, Queens of the Stone Age’s Villains, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. Some releases that nearly made the list were the new National album, the new Fleet Foxes album, and the new War on Drugs.

Here’s my Top 20 for 2017 (In no particular order):

Beth Bombara – Map & No DirectionBeth Bombara has been cranking out really solid albums for a while now. She’s a gifted songwriter and musician and her releases are always really strong. With her 2017 album, she has taken her spin on folk, Americana and rock and turned the “rock” knob up a bit putting out a record that is up there with the best releases Sheryl Crow put out. Bombara is kicking off 2018 with her first tour of Europe which will give her more deserved exposure.

Pieta Brown – Postcards – Brown’s latest album is a collection of “musical postcards” which are made up of collaborations with folks like Calexico, Mark Knopfler, The Pines and David Lindley. The resulting album still sounds like a Pieta Brown album which is always a good thing. You can read my interview with Brown for Little Village Magazine here.

Charlie Parr – DogDog is Charlie Parr‘s second release for Red House Records and he’s continuing the full band trend for releases. Dog doesn’t have Phil Cook and friends behind him like Stumpjumper did, but the album still has the same energy and blistering slide guitar and picking we’ve come to expect from Parr.

Crystal City – Bartenderly – Iowa City’s Crystal City is primarily the duo of Dave Helmer and Sam Drella who stylistically occupy an intersection somewhere between John Prine and Paul Westerberg. Their latest album Bartenderly is a celebratory salvo of headbuzz rock for the bruised blue collar. You can read my review for Little Village Magazine here.

Deer Tick – Deer Tick 1 & 2 – This couple of albums from Deer Tick is as close to a #1 as I’m willing to commit to on this list. Aside from John McCauley’s stint in the supergroup of Middle Brother with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit I really hadn’t listened to any Deer Tick until this two LP release this year. The band took a four-year hiatus while the members did things like start families. They came back together and pulled a Use-Your-Illusion two album release this year. The band says that these are not to be considered as one release, but really it would be tough choice to only buy one of them. The band said that they were always kind of two bands: an acoustic folk band or an electric rock band. So, this is what we got, an acoustic album in Vol 1 and a rock album in Vol 2. These records are both full of brilliant songs– no filler (unlike the Guns ‘n’ Roses pair mentioned earlier).

SUSTO – & I’m Fine TodaySUSTO is a “friend of Codfish Hollow” band that’s played there a few times and I managed to catch them during the first GARP Festival in 2016 and was really impressed. They played a few songs from this album, so I was interested in hearing it when it came out this year. & I’m Fine Today is an album that slides around stylistically with ease and comfort making this album musically more interesting than their previous releases to me. This album was on a very regular rotation for me in 2017 and one that I never get tired of spinning. The song that rips me up every time I listen to it is what I consider to be the spiritual successor to “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat : “Gay In The South.” Brilliant song.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Hallelujah Anyhow – If you’ve been following my Year End posts, it shouldn’t be surprising to see this album on here, since M.C. Taylor has been a favorite of mine since before he launched Hiss Golden Messenger. His partnership with Merge Records and with Phil and Brad Cook (formerly of Megafaun) has created a music juggernaut: touring nearly incessantly and creating four albums in three years of head-nodding rhythm and groove albums which draw inspiration from the golden era of Van the Man and The Dead. Releasing Hallelujah Anyhow so soon on the heels of the double album Heart Like A Levee and Vestapol is counter-intuitive based on the typical album release/tour/album release cycle. Taylor said that when he and manager Brad Cook were talking about wanting to release an album right away, they thought it felt good to do it and Merge was amenable to the idea, and certainly it was the right time because this album fires on all cylinders.

Game Theory – Supercalifragile – Prior to his unexpected passing in 2013, Scott Miller of Game Theory and The Loud Family was working on a new album of collaborations. To be titled Supercalifragile, it was going to be the first album of songs under the Game Theory moniker since the 1988 album Two Steps from the Middle Ages (itself was reissued in 2017 as part of the massive Omnivore Records reissue campaign). Miller’s wife Kristine took the mantle of finishing the album by taking the notes and her memories of what he had planned and called in friends, former bandmembers and collaborators in to finish the album. The songs were in varying degrees of completeness: some had demo recordings Miller had created, some just notes. The resulting album is bittersweet: equal parts official posthumous release and tribute to the fallen songwriter. I find it to be a fitting closure. You can read my post on this site here.

Grateful Dead – Cornell 5/8/77 – When the Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux announced that Cornell 77 was going to be released as a Dead Archives official release, I was really excited (as many were). Cornell was one of the first full Dead tapes I ever heard and was really amazed by how good it sounded– both performance and recording itself. I had pretty much been avoiding Dead tapes due to how much of a mixed bag they were. As luck would have it, one of the early peer-to-peer trading networks (pre-dimeadozen) had the full cache of the Betty Boards tapes, which included the legendary 5/8/77 show. These were early rips of the reel-to-reels done by a close-knit group of Dead fans who bought the contents of the storage facility that she’d let lapse. Eventually the Dead pulled electronic trading of soundboards, but I had the show I cared about downloaded. I managed to snag one of the 5 LP box sets of which 7700 were pressed used on eBay. It had a crumpled box corner, but the contents were in fantastic shape. They did a fantastic job of cleaning up this recording and somehow even fixing the first missing couple of minutes. The bootleg that circulated had spliced in part of an audience recording which created a really annoying transition. The box has has re-energized my interest in the Dead, and I’ve added some LPs to my vinyl collection and I’ll continue to do that, I’m sure.

Ryan Adams – Prisoner B-Sides – 2017 brought the newest album from Ryan Adams titled Prisoner. It was his third release since his signing to Blue Note Records, and second album of original work (his full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 was also on Blue Note). In many ways Prisoner was kind of self-titled part 2. Most of the songs to me seemed like outtakes from Ryan Adams. Pretty good, but ultimately just more of the same 80’s influenced power pop mixed his trademarked Americana. For me, Adams is most interesting when he’s experimenting, and to that end, the massive 17-track collection of “B-Sides” from Prisoner is far more satisfying a listen. He still brings on the Smiths-influence here, but I just like the songs more. The B-Sides were released as a box set of 7-inch singles (that I should consider picking up at some point) and digital download. I’d love to see the 17 tracks released as a 2 LP (hint, hint Blue Note).

Loess – Pocosin – 2017 brought the glorious reunion of Clay Emerson and Ian Pullman as Loess. Their particular spin on electronic music comes from the Boards of Canada and early Autechre diced up and distorted ambient influence. I have loved everything that Loess has put out and Pocosin was an exciting addition for me this year. You can read my article about the release here.

The Right Now – Starlight – Chicago R&B and Soul band The Right Now’s third album came out this year and it veered a bit away from their more classic sound towards a sound very influenced by more recent disco and funk. While still fronted by the signature powerhouse vocals of Stefanie Berecz, the update is a welcome one as the push in this direction has inspired some of the best songwriting to date from the band. All Killer No Filler indeed! Here is my article about the release on this site. Here is an article about a remix from Starlight that has a 60 minute mix of songs that inspired the album, Here is an article I wrote for Little Village Magazine about a show at The Mill.

Gloom Balloon – Drying the Eyes of the Goddess of Gloom, Underneath the Stars and the MoonGloom Balloon is the moniker for Des Moines producer/artist/label head Patrick Tape Fleming. This album ends up being kind of the sonic brother from another mother of Christoper The Conquered’s album I’ve Given Up on Rock and Roll. I love this record– it sits somewhere around The Flaming Lips and ELO for experimentation and bombast at times. My review for Little Village is a good place to start reading about what I think.

Har-di-Har — we will will you – Julie and Andrew Thoreen released their first full length album as Har-di-Har in 2017. They used to live in Cedar Falls, but relocated to St. Paul a few years ago. we will will you is an album that captures a marriage in a precarious state of doubt. The resulting album is a compellingly personal album featuring their signature vocal harmonies and spiderwebby chord and percussion infrastructure.

The Pines – Pasture IIThe Pines returned with a second EP of covers. This time we get covers of a Bo Ramsey and a Pieta Brown tune. Read my review for Little Village here.

TIRES – LP1 – Phil Young is in a whole bunch of bands in and around Des Moines including The Wheelers. His instrumental side project TIRES put out their debut album in early 2017. It comes from the same “emergency rock” post rock space as bands like Trans Am and Cougar and I dig it a lot. The vinyl has a hand-screened cover, which is really cool. Here is my review for Little Village.

Colleen – Vol. 1 – Cedar Rapids synthpop duo Colleen put out their debut EP in 2017. Reminds me of Polica or Portishead. They have a new EP already recorded and should come out pretty soon. Read my review for Little Village Magazine.

NAOMI – Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish – Iowa band NAOMI is named after its lead singer and cranks out “snarky pop rock” which is as apt a description of the proceedings as any. A fun, anthemic guitar driven album that picks up where Avril Lavigne and No Doubt left off in the early oughts. Check my review for Little Village here.

Ryne Doughty – Date Night – Ryne Doughty has been crafting is particular singer-songwriter folk for a few years. I happened to catch him opening for The Pines at CSPS a while ago. He openly admits to worshiping at the temple of Greg Brown and that influence is obvious, but he’s got his own style and really we don’t have enough of the storytelling songwriters around. Read my review of Date Night for Little Village.


The Dawn – WoolyThe Dawn are the jam band ambassadors for the Quad Cities. Their latest album Wooly is the first for Cartouche Records and, I think is a bit of a departure for them. Wooly draws more R&B influences– specifically Prince into the mix which makes this album my favorite of their catalog to date. Here is my review for Little Village.

(Upcoming Show) River Glen and Band with DICKIE and Beth Bombara at Dick’s Tap & Shake Room 11/17

River Glen

We’re in the days of indecisive weather and confused clocks. It feels deceptively like fall in the daylight but nighttime’s dark, cold fingers close around the plants from summer extinguishing what optimistic reaching for the sun they had left. The days are shorter and even if you race home from a day at work, the dark is nipping at your heels reminding you that before long it will be settled in around you. A long winter’s guest. As you pull the last of summer’s shorts and tees from the wash– only to be banished to a drawer until the earth is warm– you wonder what you can do to stall the inevitable.

River Glen Breitbach is a member of the extensive and musical Breitbach clan from Dubuque. Performing simply as River Glen, he is a multi-instrumentalist that mixes a blend of  Folk, Pop, Rock, and Hip-Hop and Friday night he’s bringing a full band to Dick’s Tap & Shake Room promising a sunny and warm respite from the impending weather. What I’ve listened to so far fits pretty well with artists like Keller Williams or Jack Johnson.

If that wasn’t enough, two of my favorite artists are opening the show.

Beth Bombara

I’ve been following St. Louis singer/songwriter Beth Bombara‘s career since the beginning and three albums and one EP’s worth of rustic and yearning Americana prove that she’s in it for the long haul and a songwriter to keep an eye on. I was excited to hear her on SiriusXM’s The Loft this summer! Her latest album Map and No Direction is a more rock-leaning record than the previous two, but shows how her songwriting fits pretty much any mold. She draws easy comparisons to Natalie Merchant, I think. I love the George Harrison-ish slide hooks in “I Tried.”

DICKIE

Also opening the show is Dick Prall– daytime proprietor of Dick’s Tap & Shake Room and nighttime purveyor of pristine pop as DICKIE. After a few albums as Dick Prall and The Dick Prall Band and Starch Martins, he relaunched with a new name and a self-titled biographical song cycle in 2015 which I said in my review for Little Village Magazine, “…has the introspective pop we’re used to from Prall-—the head-hanging desperation, the wistful turn-of-phrase, the hopeful wishes all delivered in a brigade of earworm-wrangling hooks.”

Maybe we can’t completely avoid the cold, but with this line up on Friday night, we can stall it a bit as we listen to three really amazing musicians bringing their art to the stage at Dick’s.

There is no cover, but it starts at 9PM.

Here is the Facebook event, so you don’t forget.

(Upcoming Release) Friends Gather to Finish Last Game Theory Album – Supercalifragile Out 8/24/17

At the time of his death in 2013, Scott Miller of seminal power pop bands Game Theory and The Loud Family was working on a new record. He was in varying degrees of completed on a bunch of songs– some songs had vocals and guitar, some of them had detailed notes. His wife Kristine reached out to Ken Stringfellow of The Posies to help coordinate finishing this record titled Supercalifragile based on conversations she had with Miller about the album (which, incidentally always included collaborations of singers and co-writers). In May of  2016, a Kickstarter was established to help fund the completion of the record. By July 4th it was 161% funded! At the time of the launch of the Kickstarter, they had already been recording for over a year, so the fundraising was primarily to wrap up some of the sessions, get mastering done and the rest of the process to get physical and digital product completed and distributed.

The list of contributors to Supercalifragile include former members of Game Theory (Jozef Becker, Nan Becker, Dave Gill, Shelley LaFreniere, Gil Ray, Donnette Thayer, and Suzi Ziegler) and notable guests including (of course) Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, R.E.M., Big Star), Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star), Aimee Mann, Ted Leo, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Doug Gillard (Guided By Voices, Nada Surf), Mitch Easter, Alison Faith Levy (The Loud Family), Anton Barbeau, Jonathan Segel (Camper Van Beethoven), Allen Clapp (The Orange Peels), John Moremen, Stephane Schuck, Chris Xefos, Dan Vallor (GT Reissue producer for Omnivore),  The inclusion of the former Game Theory members helps add continuity of this release to the Game Theory catalog, which has enjoyed renewed focus in the Omnivore Recordings reissues.

In a post to the Facebook group dedicated to Scott Miller, his wife has posted a lot of wonderful insight into how she and Stringfellow curated the release.

“This album is as close to what Scott would have created as is possible. I knew the artists he wanted to work with (he had even contacted a couple himself before he died as the artists confirmed this with me), and in a few cases which instruments he wanted them to play or which songs he wanted them to sing. Yes, he wanted guest vocalists and cowriters all over the record. Scott and I talked about his ideas and as he had worked with (and socialized and played tennis with) Ken Stringfellow, he proposed Ken help him organize and help produce this project. Scott spoke of having various artists bring their “arcs of influence” to the record. He said he would ultimately have veto power if anything got too out of hand (😉), but he was looking forward to having lots of great artists he admired and/or worked with to participate. (Scott even considered making track breaks mid-song when a new artist was introduced to the album. This was an idea we went with in the traditional sense by bringing on artists for entire songs. Not sure Scott would have brought this unusual idea to fruition or not.) So, in this case, with this record, completed without Scott’s final “veto,” no, we can’t possibly make the exact record Scott would have made. (And in fact, even Scott wouldn’t know what it would become until after working with everyone and it was done!) But with so much overwhelming respect for Scott’s work and in honor of his life, we all kept as much of it “Scott” as we could. All his ideas, all his lyrics, all his riffs, all his ideas for bridges and choruses…everything preserved and used as much as musically possible. In some ways, it might in fact be more “Scott” than the record Scott would have made. ❤️ And that’s why I think we all love it so much.”

In August of 2017 the finished product was shipped out to everyone who contributed to the Kickstarter and early reviews and posts to the Facebook group have been glowing. Now that the Kickstarters have been shipped out the team is ready to make the release generally available. In an email sent to people who signed up from the website, the album will be available on Bandcamp (the link isn’t available yet) this week: August 24th in download, CD and vinyl.

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Tidal featured the first song from the album, a duet with Aimee Mann called “No Love” and it is striking how Mann’s vocals compliment Miller’s.

Here is a video of a rough take of “I Still Dream of Getting Back to Paris” shot at Abbey Road Studios in London during the recording sessions with Anton Barbeau on vocals. Miller (credited as The Loud Family) and Barbeau put out a kind of split release in 2006 titled What If It Works?

As a long-time fan of Scott Miller’s work, I’m really looking forward to getting this release. Like many, Miller’s sudden and unexpected loss was painful; too early in a career arc that certainly would have generated more significant releases. Supercalifragile brings some closure with this release in that regard and should provide influence for future artists the way the Big Star catalog has.

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