“It’s the best thing in life that you don’t have to buy…”
For a recent benchmark birthday, I hinted at 45s for gifts, and some friends indulged me. The haul also included three bottles of whiskey so that may play a part in the fun ahead. I should probably disqualify this first one immediately as it’s a 7” single that runs at 33⅓ but we’ll call it an EP and get on with it. Elvis Costello was a big deal to me for a time, when my heartsickness needed hyperarticulation—not that he couldn’t communicate viscerally as well, but Live at Hollywood High is an oddly subdued portrait of his first year with The Attractions, starting with an Elvis and Steve Nieve duet (and someone’s encroaching feedback) amusingly listed on the cover as “Adcicents Will Happen.” This 7″ was a bonus to Armed Forces so it makes sense to include a radically different take on that album’s opener. As the piano rings out, Pete Thomas starts going crazy on the drums (maybe “Mystery Dance”? “Lipstick Vogue”?) but is abruptly faded out. Thrills thwarted, we get another slow one in “Alison” with the backing band he should have had on his first album. 33⅓ allows for a 6-minute “Watching The Detectives” and more stretching out than the song really needs. Another rave-up is teased as this one ends, and it literally feels like leaving a high school dance after getting “No Action.”
I grew up with Prince on the MTV but was never compelled to secure even a cassingle, despite plenty of reassurances from smart people that he was amazing. But now I must contend with “Little Red Corvette” yet again, and it’s always troubled me a little bit that he sings “believe it or not” just like the guy on that Greatest American Hero song. It’s all a bit anemic with boringly naughty lyrics which might as well be a KISS song (not “Kiss” mind you—even I know that’s a total jam). But I like unheard b-sides where an artist can get weird (not that Prince needed a designated place to do) and while UK fans got something called “Horny Toad” the flip here is just another 1999 cut called “All The Critics Love U In New York.” It’s considerably more lively though, with a funky bass and some of that famous guitar shredding from Prince that people seem to admire so much—my frame of reference for both of these is Busta Jones playing with Robert Fripp, so clearly I’m not to be trusted on the matter. But hey, its the “4th day of November and we need a purple high…”
The Fluid is prime era Sub Pop, some of which I was hip to when I lived in the Northwest. I remember hearing a buddy’s Glue EP quite a bit, but the only one I had by these guys was their last one on a major label, so another case of my missing the boat. “Tin Top Toy” (1989) sounds like a more melodic Mudhoney with cleaner production while “Tomorrow” comes off like politer Die Kreuzen. Such reductive comparisons probably aren’t fair to the band, and if I didn’t feel so much the white dude my age right now I’d probably admit to liking it more.
The hope for these solicited birthday surprises was to uncover something completely unknown to me, and I’m looking at a picture sleeve with three wicked snow cats on it by a band called Trillion (1978). I’ll give these guys one thing, they had a jump on the hair metal game by a half decade, but are clearly under the spell of early Queen too, with operatic harmonies and an instrumental section full of all kinds of crazy prog flourishes. The lyrics are as blandly inspirational as a song title like “Hold Out” would imply (hang in there, “cause it’ll pay if you do”). I can’t say I like this music but it sure as hell makes me smile. I’m even gonna flip it over, if just the same song again in mono…
I never warmed up to Tone Lōc as much as friends and millions of other people did, but I appreciate a good Alex Van Halen drum fill (actually, this is the only one I can think of) so as Tone says, let’s do it. I find myself nodding my head to “Wild Thing” more than I have before, and with the 45 backed with the censored radio edit of the album’s title track, I’m reminded that I’ve got Lōc’ed After Dark on LP in deep storage. It’s all fine and (mostly) inoffensive, but there’s literally hundreds of records I’d reach for before this one, and may never get to it again (gotta start making harsh calls like this with mortality staring me in the face).
Next is a 10″ that runs at 45, so I’ll allow it. The cover is a star-shaped array of text evoking 1s and 0s that I looked at for a long time before figuring out the artist is called ERAS and Portals the name of the EP (the bearer thought it looked cool and had no idea what it was either). I imagine this is for people who have been out clubbing and need something to come down to as the sun is coming up that doesn’t stray too far from the EDM palette. “Deus” in particular could be a lullaby for the tired and tranced out. Not my world at all (my birthday party wasn’t anything like this) and all a bit glitchy and squiggly for my tastes, but not as alienating as my previous run-ins with techno.
I say goodnight with a present to myself, but not an extravagant one. Syreeta‘s early career was written and produced by Stevie Wonder, and I don’t know where I heard “Harmour Love” (1975) but it hit me enough to make a note of it. I don’t normally go for flute-driven, vaguely tropical, calculated feel-good music, but I’d have to be dead to not be seduced by this great song. The most amazing part is that Syreeta and Stevie made this single and a full album after getting divorced, and the b-side “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” may be about their enduring friendship. So if they can recover from such heartbreak there’s hope for all of us (and I may have a little bit o’ soul after all).
If anything this exercise clarifies what music I need more of in my life, and what from my long-lost youth (or someone else’s) that I no longer have use for. Thanks for playing everybody. Save the date for my 78 party.