Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79)

Various Artists
Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79)
(Rhino, D.I.Y. Series, 1993)

My MLK Day shopping score of the day (well, after nabbing the last two pairs of Medium 60-40 Cotton-Poly Blend Men's Pajamas at WalMart for my 7-fresh-PJs-per-week-wearing dad!) was this Rhino "D.I.Y." compilation of UK punk and powerpop singles from 1978-1979, which I picked up for $5.99 from the Soundgarden used record bins. I thought maybe I had it already, but he who hesitates is not only lost but also not worthy of the name "hoarder," so I took a chance and am glad I did because it turns out that all of Rhino's excellent 1993 D.I.Y. series titles are out-of-print and hence expensive and hard to come by except for used copies.

I have most of the tunes included here - as a card-carrying Punk and Powerpop enthusiast, I have everything by Buzzcocks and The Undertones and most of the other groups on vinyl 45s or albums (e.g., The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, The Jags, The Records, The Tourists - the latter featuring future Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) - so this was a score mainly for car- and boombox-listening convenience, not to mention the half dozen tracks that were truly obscure/rare and probably unavailable anywhere else but this compilation: Belfast's Starjets ("Schooldays"), Dublin's The Radiators (who no doubt resent being lumped in with "United Kingdom" bands and whose leader Phil Chevron went on to join The Pogues; "Let's Talk About the Weather"), Leeds' The Squares ("This Is Airebeat"), Manchester's The Distractions ("Time Goes By So Slow" - one of the first singles on Factory Records), Glasgow's The Zones ("Mourning Star"; Zones bassist Russell Webb and drummer Kenny Hyslop later joined The Skids), and London's Mod revivalists Purple Hearts ("Millions Like Us").

The Jags: "Back of My Hand" 45

And I really, really wanted a digital version of my Jags 45 "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number)" (UK #17) because not only is it a great powerpop song, it's also one of my favorite Telephone Songs (if only for the lines "I'm not a fuck machine, a 1960s dream" and "When I call you I get a stack of lies/You whip them out before you dry your eyes," the latter line sounding to my ears like "You wipe 'em out before you dry yer ass" thanks to singer Nick Watkinson's oft-indecipherable brogue).

Watch The Jags play "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number" (TOTP)

You see, every pre-New Millennium pop band worth its salt either had a Girl's Name Song, a Car Song, or a Phone Song in their setlist and, yes, I compile those sort of playlists (especially Phone Songs - from The Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" in the '60s to ELO's "Telephone Line" in the '70s, and Tommy Tutone's "Jenny (867-5309)" in the '80s to contemporaries like Lady Gaga's "Telephone").

The compilation takes its title from The Records' bitter anti-Record Biz rant (set to possibly the most beautifully disarming jingly-jangly 12-string guitar chords ever) "Starry Eyes," but it's another Records' tune, Will Burch's "Hearts In Her Eyes" that is of greater interest here, because we get to hear it covered by an original, 1st Gen powerpop band (then just called "Merseybeat"), Liverpool's The Searchers.

And speaking of Merseybeat, there's even an answer song to Liverpool's famed beat group-inspiring river in this anthology: "This is Airebeat" by The Squares. The Aire river runs through Leeds and though no anthemic "Ferry Cross the Airey" song emerged to rival Merseybeat's place in history, "This is Airebeat" ("This is Airebeat for deadbeats/This is Airebeat for sound freaks/Airebeat it's so neat/Airebeat keeps me off of the street") amused John Peel enough to get played on his radio show, which led Sire Records to sign the Leeds lads - Paddy Hogan (bass & vocals), Brian Hogan (guitar & backing vocals), and Kev Bates (drums, maracas, organ) - in 1979.

Listen to The Squares play "This Is Airebeat."

Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams" is a great pop song that belongs on another Rock Songs List - to wit, songs about inflatable girlfriends. Add it to the short list alongside The Police's "Be My Girl Sally" and Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music paen to the emptiness of opulence, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."

"Girl of My Dreams": Cheap, portable, lightweight & never talks back!

And, lest I forget, there's the fun single "Where's the Boy For Me" by The Revillos, the band (named after a cafe in a Marvel comic) singers Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed after the breakup of (the Jo Callis-led) Glaswegian New Wave retro-rockers The Rezillos - whose Can't Stand the Rezillos has been called by some (OK, well, by one!) The Greatest Rock & Roll Record of All-Time. (I still rue missing The Revillos when they played Baltimore's Marble Bar back in the 1980s! What could I possibly have been doing more important than that?)

Watch The Revillos play "Where's the Boy for Me?"

Needless to say, the all-femme post-punk Mo-Dettes are great fun as well, and years of enjoying "White Mice" on various punk/D.I.Y. compilations such as this led me to purchase their 2008 anthology The Story So Far, a digitally remastered reissue of their lone 1981 album plus some bonus tracks. These gals, fronted by Swiss singer Ramona Carlier (who sounds like she either has a speech impediment or is singing with a mouthful of food), were once London squatmates of Joe Strummer and Sid Vicious. Guitarist Kate Korus (nee Katherine Corris) was a Yank and an original member of The Slits, while bassist Jane Crockford went on to marry Daniel Woodgate of Madness and drummer June Miles-Kingston ended up playing with Fun Boy Three, Everything But the Girl, Thompson Twins, and The Communards. They also did a song about the Kray Twins, which would have made them OK in my book even without the gem that is "White Mice" (and its great chorus of "Don't be stupid, don't be limp!").

Watch Mo-Dettes play "White Mice."

Besides all the great music on offer, the Starry Eyes liner notes are quite nice and accurately point out the massive late '70s influence of one Elvis Costello who, though not appearing on this compilation, clearly influenced the fierce rock, rapid-fire clever wordplay, and mumbly invective of The Jags and Joe Jackson. And I like the observation that the members of XTC (whose Colin Moulding-penned "Life Begins At the Hop" appears here) "grew up to make the most quintessential English records that are loved everywhere but England."

"Starry Eyes" Tracks and Artists:

1. Ever Fallen in Love? - Buzzcocks
2. Get Over You - The Undertones
3. Yachting Types - The Yachts
4. Is She Really Going Out With Him? - Joe Jackson
5. Schooldays - Starjets (bonus track) *
6. Girl of My Dreams - Bram Tchaikovsky
7. This Is Airebeat - Squares
8. Life Begins at the Hop - XTC
9. Up the Junction - Squeeze
10. Back of My Hand (I've Got Your Number) - Jags
11. Let's Talk About the Weather - The Radiators
12. Starry Eyes - The Records
13. Mourning Star - Zones
14. Millions Like Us - Purple Hearts
15. Time Goes by So Slow - Distractions
16. Hearts in Her Eyes - The Searchers
17. Where's the Boy for Me? - Revillos
18. White Mice - Mo-Dettes (bonus track) *
19. So Good to Be Back Home Again - The Tourists

"Starry Eyed" Videos:

Watch Buzzcocks play "Ever Fallen in Love" (live).

Watch The Undertones play "Get Over You."

Watch The Records play "Starry Eyes" (live)

Watch Squeeze play "Up the Junction."

Watch XTC play "Life Begins atthe Hop" (TOTP)

Watch Joe Jackson play "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" (TOTP)

Watch Purple Hearts play "Millions Like Us."

Watch Starjets play "Schooldays."

Watch Radiators play "Let's Talk About the Weather."

Watch The Tourists play "So Good To Be Home Again" (TOTP)

Watch The Yachts play "Yachting Type."

Listen to The Searchers play "Hearts In Her Eyes."

Listen to the Distractions play "Time Goes By So Slow."

Listen to The Zones play "Mourning Star."

Listen to Bram Tchaikovsky play "Girl of My Dreams."

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