Imaginary Records 1988. ILLUSION 002
Covering Beefheart tracks is rarely a good idea; they really are best left to the man himself. However I was young back then and knew no better, I was tempted by the strong line-up and the novelty (then) of the concept.
The album is of course quite a mixed bag. There are tracks which grate (The Dog Faced Hermans for example) and some which are close copies of the original (XTC – impressive but why bother?). It works when the material is taken somewhere new – I like The King Of Luxembourg for being bonkers and the Screaming Dizbusters just play some great noisy rock n roll.
Really though, if you haven’t already done so, get some Beefheart rather than listen to this stuff. Trout Mask Replica for his weird masterpiece, Safe As Milk for early blues based stuff, and Clear Spot for, well, my favourite.
SST 1988. SST 249
The cover of this album implies that it’s a film soundtrack, but as far as I can tell it wasn’t. It’s just SST artists from the late 80s covering songs you’ll mostly be familiar with. Apart from Sonic Youth the bands represented aren’t that well known, but SST had a house sound during this time, so if you like late 80s US punk, you’ll feel at home.
Inevitably some of it works, some of it doesn’t. I reckon SOS is by far Abba’s best song but their voices grate so this was an open goal as far as I was concerned – but the version here is rather lacklustre. Highlight for me is Tales Of Brave Ulysses – it betters the original in my view, and the cover of Hawkwind’s Master Of The Universe works well too. There’s also a competent cover of the Beatles Wild Honey Pie which is worthy of mention for the guitar work.
Blast First! 1989. BFDJ 1 – 10
Ripping this boxed set of 10 7″ singles was a job for a rainy day, and since it rained yesterday, it got done at last. It’s a compilation from the heyday of Paul Smith’s consistently excellent Blast First! label, containing mostly exclusive tracks from bands which are too important to ignore. Detailed info is hard to come by, but there’s only one track here (by Sun Ra) which I know is definately available elsewhere. To add to the confusion, this also came out on CD, cassette and LP as Nothing Short Of Total War with a different tracklisting on each format.
Sonic Youth are at their chaotic best, mixing the fairly conventional rock sound they perfected on Daydream Nation with the more experimental material they were better known for back then. They also appear as their bizarre Ciccone Youth alter ego. For me though, Steve Albini’s contributions; 2 tracks as Big Black and another as, well, I can’t bring myself to type it, are the highlight here. There’s an electrifying version of Kerosene, a truly depressing track about small town nihilism and a surprisingly laid back take on He’s A Whore. Dutch Courage by the unmentionable band is a shockingly badly recorded live version, but oddly, all the better for it. Big Stick contribute a version of their classic Drag Racing, which frankly is the only thing they did really worth hearing. UT, the all women New York noise monsters are here with a re-recording of Evangelist, the stand-out from their In Gut’s House album which I’ll post another time. Dinosaur Jr. are reliable as always, and there’s a suitably unhinged live version of a track from Locust Abortion Technician by the Butthole Surfers, slightly ruined by being way too long to fit on a 7″.
Blast First! was known as a noise label, and so this boxed set is predictably noisy. There was more to Paul Smith than that though, and like Alan McGee over at Creation, he used the label as a platform for his own musical interests. That side of him appears on disc 9, which has a rare 60s recording from Sun Ra paired with a Glenn Branca piece from his orchestra of electric guitars project.
As you might imagine, the box is a bit inconsistent in places, but overall the quality of the music is remarkably high. The essential tracks more than make up for the filler; this was a compilation the label made a real effort with, and it shows.
Fierce Recordings 1988. Fright 015/016
When this was released, Fierce implied that it was a bootleg and very much part of their identity as a subversive label. However it later transpired that they had permission from Sonic Youth to to this, a pattern that was repeated with later releases. It also continued their habit of releasing little music for a lot of money – this was originally 2 one sided 7″ singles, although my second pressing dispenses with that silly format.
The music here is interesting. The A side, Stick Me Donna Magic Momma is a Peel session version of Expressway To Yr Skull which later appeared in a more polished version on Evol. It’s undermined by the format of this release – a 33rpm 7″ single which makes the sound quality a bit dodgy. Given how expensive this single was, they could have sorted that out, but if you’re into early SY, it’s still worth hearing.
The B side is a re-issue of the insanely rare first single, (Over) Kill Yr Idols, and since it plays at 45rpm it sounds better than the A side. Like the A side, it isn’t an easy listen, but it’s worth persevering with.
Blast First 1989. BFFP 46
More Sonic Youth cover versions today. This is a split single; on the A side Sonic Youth cover a Mudhoney song, and on the B side, Mudhoney cover a Sonic Youth song, all done as a promotion for their UK tour that year. Both bands were on great form and it shows on this really strong pairing.
This is a first pressing (with mauve cover) if anyone’s bothered about such things.
Goofin’ Records 1990. GOO 01
As promised, some more weird Fall covers, this time from Sonic Youth. This was a Peel session from 1989, and, as I recall at the time, The Fall’s Mark E Smith was so upset by it that he refused to sanction the release. It was immediately bootlegged, and this was the best sounding of them.
Mark E Smith’s reaction was an odd one, because Sonic Youth are huge Fall fans, and these are very respectful cover versions. Even Victoria, originally a Kinks track, is played as the Fall rather than The Kinks did, although it does sound a bit like a drunken singalong.
Despite all of this it has Sonic Youth’s signature guitar sound – their guitars were heavily modified and with weird tunings, although not being a guitarist, I wouldn’t know about such things.
Rumour has it that Sonic Youth themselves bootlegged this, presumably irritated by Mark E Smith’s reaction to it, which would explain the excellent sound quality. They would of course have had access to the master tapes.
Caroline Records 1989. CAR CD 5
This album is from the days when tribute albums were quite a new idea, and it has a most impressive list of contributing artists; impressive enough to make it worth having for most people interested enough in music to end up reading this blog.
As is always the case, the album is less than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just provokes an overwhelming desire to dig out the Neil Young originals, which of course is no bad thing. Loop for example are so faithful to the original that there doesn’t seem much point, but Bongwater take Mr Soul somewhere entirely new. Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr and Nick Cave all contribute in ways that are entirely predictable, but they were on such great form in 1989 that predictability works here.
If you’re not familiar with Neil Young and like the songs here, you could do worse than get a compilation like Decade which has the original versions of some of these tracks.