Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hits, Cult Classics & Obscurities: 1980

Part two of our new, monthly series of posts where we pick a year from the '80s or '90s and present three favorite songs that fall into one of these three categories: Hit, Cult Classic or Obscurity.

Of course, it's not always easy to decide to which category a song fits in - surely, a hit cannot also be categorized as an obscurity, but it is possible that a song that had huge commercial success in one part of the world remained, at best, a cult classic in other territories.

This is exactly the case for the single I've chosen as my favorite hit of 1980: on March 10 of that year, The Jam released the double A-side 7'' single "Going Underground / Dreams of Children" which went straight to the top of the UK chart and remained there for three consecutive weeks. It was The Jam's first number one in their country (three more would follow before Paul Weller's shock decision to break up the band at the top of its popularity in 1982), but success for them never came on the other side of the pond, so, as far as North America is concerned, this one rather belongs to the Cult Classic category. No matter how you choose to categorize it, though, there is no doubt that "Going Underground" is one of the finest rock tracks of the '80s:

Choosing just one Cult Classic from 1980 is certainly a tough task. Just about any entry in our Top 50 Singles list of that year (apart from the few other obvious hits, of course) can be classified as a cult classic, so I could really just pick a random number and go with that one. Instead I'll break the tie with an obvious choice from one of the countless classics that The Fall have recorded throughout the '80s (and '70s, and '90s, and '00s, and so on) - here's "Totally Wired" from September 1980, released on Rough Trade as a 7'' single with "Putta Block" on the B-side:

Our final selection from 1980 was chosen as "Single of the Week" in all major British music newspapers in the spring of that year but failed to break into the charts. "Seven Minutes to Midnight" by Pete Wylie's Wah! Heat (one of his many Wah!-related incarnations) is undoubtedly a classic, but given that it is perhaps the least well-known track in my 1980's Top 10, I will pick it as the year's obscurity. On a positive note, its critical approval led to a contract with a major label where Wylie released the following year "Nah = Poo -The Art of Bluff", his debut album as Wah! (no more Heat, but not yet Mighty, if you know what I mean) which included this excellent song about the cold war and the era's nuclear paranoia:

On another positive note, Pete Wylie is preparing his first album in this century, titled "Pete Sounds" and you can help by pledging your support here.

Check out here the first part of Hits, Cult Classics & Obscurities with our selections from 1985.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Live: The Vacant Lots @ Six D.O.G.S (Athens, March 21, 2015)

If you take a look to the list of musicians who have collaborated with Burlington, Vermont psych rock duo The Vacant Lots, you'll get a pretty accurate idea of what they sound like: Alan Vega of Suicide has done remix work for them as well as Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, while Galaxy 500's Dean Wareham has played guitar on a song off their debut album "Departure". Add a bit of The Jesus And Mary Chain's barbed wire guitar noise to the whole psych-garage-punk sonic collision and the picture is complete.

Guitarist Jared Artaud and electronic manipulator/cymbal crasher Brian MacFadyen don't bother with niceties between songs. They concentrate on their instruments, frequently going from one song to the next by adding droning sounds in-between, to make sure there are no gaps to their noise attack.

Repetition has served well many bands before them and The Vacant Lots subscribe to this sonic approach which adds to the intensity of their wall of noise. To break the monotony, the danger of too much repetition, they share the vocal duties between the two of them, while the noise is put on hold on a few occasions in favor of a more melodic, psychedelic approach - the moments where their Suicide-Mary Chain attack gives way to the specter of Spacemen 3.

After witnessing their live set and comparing it to the way they sound on their record, it seems clear that The Vacant Lots are progressing as they gather experience. It is still early days, but judging on the company they keep and their very satisfying performance on Six D.O.G.S's stage, this is definitely a band we should be keeping an eye and ear on.

The show opened by Closer, a much more experienced local guitar pop band which formed in the early '90s. Their tight, hour-long set combined past hits with new material from their as yet unreleased new work and proved that they remain a force to be reckoned with in the local rock scene.

Closer, live @ Six D.O.G.S
Here's a sample of The Vacant Lot's set at the Six D.O.G.S club:

The Vacant Lots, live @ Six D.O.G.S (March 21st, 2015)