Saturday, 30 June 2007

With their broken backs and their Pac A Macs saying that's the way it goes

My parents recently chanced upon copies of the 1984 & 1985 Smash Hits Yearbooks (£2 the pair - a snip!) at a car boot sale, and, correctly surmising that these books would be right up my strasse, so to speak, bought them for me.

And what a marvellous find they were. The '84 book is especially enjoyable: from Boy George's mock-pugnacious pose on the front cover (he makes fists like a girl!), to the behind-closed-doors features (one of JoBoxers was living in a squat, even while they were enjoying chart success; and Bananarama all shared a poky eleventh floor council flat in London, despite having been pop stars for two years), there really was something for everyone in this publication. Well, something for everyone with an interest in the mid-80s UK pop scene, at least.

My favourite feature of all - there are so many! - undoubtedly has to be the Fifteen For Eighty-Four feature, in which writers from ver Hits predicted the up-and-coming bands and artists who they thought would make major breakthroughs in the coming year. Most notable among these at-the-time unknowns were Prince and Madonna - who ended up having reasonable enough sorts of careers, I suppose!

At the other end of the spectrum there were a few predictions that didn't quite come off - hands up who remembers Physique, Virginia Astley, or Naked Eyes, for example? Me neither. And then there was Seona Dancing, a dumper-bound synth-pop duo notable now only for the identity of their lead singer - one Ricky Gervais.

In fairness to the Hits, though, most of their predictions turned out to be remarkably prescient. As well as Prince and Madge, other Fifteen For Eighty-Four bands who ended up carving out successful careers in the industry included: Everything But The Girl, The Waterboys, Billy Bragg, The Alarm, and today's featured combo, Aztec Camera.

The history of Aztec Camera has been well documented many times - Roddy Frame's remarkable achievement in writing one of the decade's best albums, High Land, Hard Rain, while still at school, before going on to enjoy sporadic success in the rest of the decade - so I won't dwell on that too much here. But if you've never heard the album in its entirety you're really missing out on something special, and I'd recommend that you snap up a copy as soon as poss. In the meantime, here's a couple of my favourite tracks to tide you over - The Boy Wonders and Down The Dip.

Aztec Camera - The Boy Wonders mp3 (available for seven days)

Aztec Camera - Down The Dip mp3 (also available for seven days)

Buy Aztec Camera stuff here

Thursday, 28 June 2007

"Give me a smile. Things aren't that bad, are they?"

Two great songs with a common title today: In Your Life.

In Your Life #1 is by hip-hop(ish) duo Day One, but this song is far more pop than hip hop. It's a very sweet, laid-back ditty which grabbed me from the very first second I heard it. Day One are Phelim and Donni from Bristol and were signed to Massive Attack's Melankolic label for their debut album, Ordinary Man, in 2000.

Day One - In Your Life mp3 (up for 7 days)

Day One Website | Buy Day One album 'Ordinary Man'

In Your Life #2 comes courtesy of American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel. Taken from the album 'West' in 1997, this song is similar to the previous one in that it's about being around through tough times and it's really rather good. Judge for yourself.

Mark Eitzel - In Your Life mp3 (up for 7 days)

Mark Eitzel website | Buy Mark Eitzel CDs

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

All of my sorrows were gone


Elias and the Wizzkids are the latest signings to Sweden's rather wonderful Hybris label, home of such luminaries as The Sweptaways, Andreas Mattsson, El Perro Del Mar and TIAC. The Wizzkids' new single, The Dance, is an absolute belter of a tune (I defy anyone to listen to it without tapping their feet throughout!), with the lyrics finding our man chronicling his feelings of unspecified restlessness one day. Just what is it that's missing from his life? Could it be coffee, could it be tea? Chocolate? Or is he just feeling lonely and in need of a friend? Well, no. After trying all of the above with no success, he suddenly experiences an epiphany and all is revealed: dancing is the cure for his woes! (which I suppose makes him a sort of modern-day equivalent of the Dancing Priest in that episode of Father Ted.)

Anyway, those nice people at Hybris are very generously giving The Dance away as a free mp3, so I'm including it here for your listening pleasure, along with two other songs - I Wish and Regret - that Elias & the Wizzkids have made available for download on their own website. Mighty fine they are too.

Elias and the Wizzkids - The Dance (radio edit) mp3

Elias and the Wizzkids - I Wish mp3

Elias and the Wizzkids - Regret mp3

Elias and the Wizzkids on My Space

Monday, 25 June 2007

"You thought that you had heard it all"

Today we're going to sample the world of Estonian pop rock. (Wait, come back!) The band in question is Claire's Birthday, formed in 1997 when lead singer and songwriter Vaiko Eplik was only 16. By 2000, the band had become popular in their native country, but I first became aware of them in 2003 when they represented Estonia in the Eurovision Song Contest under the name Ruffus. (Wait, come back!) Their song Eighties Coming Back stood out for me because it was clearly far too good to be there, hence it finished 21st of 26 entries!

Claire's Birthday - Eighties Coming Back (available for 7 days)

Sadly, I have to assume the band have now gone their separate ways since their website has not been updated since 2003, but they've left behind them three quality albums full of pop rock. Plus they were hailed as the "saviours of Estonian rock" and supported Alice Cooper on tour in Estonia and Lithuania. Not a bad achievement.

Ladies Love Me from Claire's Birthday debut album 'Venus' was their breakthrough single and topped the popular TV chart '7 Vaprat' in 1999.

Claire's Birthday - Ladies Love Me (available for 7 days)

Defunct Claire's Birthday website | Buy Claire's Birthday albums

Everyone is gorgeous and so are you

More Swedes on the menu today. A couple of the finest songs of the past decade or so, these, for me. First off, there's Starfriend by Freewheel, which is quite possibly the best song you've never heard; three minutes and forty seven seconds of pure pop perfection (honestly!). Mere words can't do justice to its sheer wondrousness, so I won't even try. Just suck it and see. The fact that the song - which is now 10 years old - never became a worldwide smash is, and shall remain, a complete mystery to me. Was it even a hit in Sweden? If not, then there really is no justice. Pah!

Secondly, it's fellow Swedes Ray Wonder with We Got To Be Good To Each Other, a supreme, life-affirming blast of indie powerpop,
which fans of The Wannadies and Eggstone might well appreciate. I've only heard one album of RW's - A New Kind of Love - but I must say I do like the cut of their jib. (What strange phrases the English language often throws up - not literally, that would be hideous. Aha! etc)

Anyway, as with so many other bands you'll find on this blog, both Freewheel and Ray Wonder are sadly no longer together. Yet still Robbie Williams sells millions of records. The God of pop's a funny bugger, and no mistake.

Monday, 18 June 2007

It's so hard to fill the days without you

The Sweptaways are a 30-strong all-female acapella choir from Sweden; or "30 ladies who sing covers", as they rather succinctly put it. I know what you're thinking: the female Flying Pickets. But would that be such a bad thing, really? Well, possibly. But despite their acapella leanings and their reliance on cover versions, the Sweptaways' sound is a completely original - and refreshing - one. Their album Ooh Aah is easily my favourite release of 2007 so far; no matter how often I play it, I never get tired of any of the songs. (always a good sign, that.)

Tracks on Ooh Ahh include interpretations of classics from the likes of Kate Bush, Black Sabbath, Lesley Gore, Pet Shop Boys and Kiss, together with versions of more recent hits from Swedish artists such as El Perro Del Mar, Vapnet and the two covers I've included as MP3s here, The Embassy's It Never Entered My Mind and Jenny Wilson's Let My Shoes Lead Me Forward. For me, The Sweptaways' versions of these tracks comfortably surpass the originals, and give both songs a new lease of life.

As well as Ooh Ahh, the ladies also released a yuletide single in 2006 entitled Cry Cry Christmas, featuring guest vocals by Weeping Willows' ace crooner Magnus Carlson. This single is also highly recommended and well worth putting on your list of Christmas songs for 2007! Both releases are available to buy as downloads from the Klicktrack music store, or directly from the Hybris webshop.

The Sweptaways - Let My Shoes Lead Me Forward mp3

The Sweptaways - It Never Entered My Mind mp3

The Sweptaways' My Space page

Sunday, 17 June 2007

"This is mine forever"

Dolly Mixture were formed in 1978 by bassist and vocalist Debsey Wykes (later to sing backing vocals for Saint Etienne and front Birdie), guitarist Rachel Bor and drummer Hester Smith. I first heard them in around 2003 and immediately loved their catchy pop tunes. Their self-released, untitled double album (1983) contained 27 great songs but failed to impress the world at large. It was re-released as a CD in 1995 under the name 'The Demonstration Tapes' on Bob Stanley's Royal Mint label. Below are just two tracks from The Demonstration Tapes: How Come You're Such A Hit With The Boys, Jane? and my personal favourite, Remember This.

Dolly Mixture - How Come You're Such A Hit With The Boys, Jane?

Dolly Mixture - Remember This.mp3

You can find live mp3s of Dolly Mixture here.

Friday, 15 June 2007

I never tasted meatballs like yours

Ever since the mid-90s heyday of The Cardigans, The Wannadies and Popsicle, I've been a huge fan of Swedish indie pop - or "Swindie", to give it its proper name. But it wasn't always an easy scene to follow from the UK, bearing in mind that outside of the aforementioned bands, you'd have been hard pressed to find much in the way of Swindie in your local HMV or Virgin Megashop.

So, in the days before the internet (or at least before I personally had 'net access) I was grateful to Hotstuff in Sweden, who'd feed my Swindie habit by mailing their latest music catalogue out to me a couple of times a year. (The words "Hotstuff Mail Order - Sweden" showing up on your credit card statement have quite a high potential embarrassment factor about them, by the way - especially when the card in question belongs to your dad, and he thinks the reason you borrowed his Visa card was to send away for a load of Scandinavian porn! Took me a while to talk my way out of that one, I can tell you.)

It was thanks to Hotstuff that I first really stumbled upon the superb A West Side Fabrication, an independent label based in Skellefteå on the north east coast of Sweden. AWSF had launched the careers of, among others, Popsicle, The Bear Quartet and The Wannadies, and at regular intervals would release compilation albums showcasing the many bands that made up their roster. I picked up loads of these compilations, along with a whole bundle of AWSF CD singles, during a particularly nicely-priced Hotstuff sale.

One band who kept popping up on the CDs was Waterbug. To this day I still know precious little about this band, other than that they hailed from Gothenburg, wrote lyrics about meeting Johnny Marr at a hamburger bar, and were rather good. I'm pretty sure they're not together anymore, but it's still possible to buy their CDs from the A West Side Fabrication webshop, so the music's still out there, including the following song, the rather splendid "Meatballs". They recorded two completely different versions of this song, but this one - from the "Yellow" CD single - is by far my favourite. See what you think.

Waterbug - Meatballs ('96 Version) mp3

Buy Waterbug stuff here

Monday, 11 June 2007

It's super Tuesday on a Friday night


Hello, and thanks for dropping by. You're reading the first ever entry in the all-new MP3 blog that literally two people are calling Too Much Apple Pie. Aren't you lucky? My name's John, and I'll be doing some of the posting around here. I'll also be joined by my great showbiz chum, Spike, who'll be contributing (much better posts than this one) on a regular basis.

We thought we'd kick things off with one of our favourite songs by one of our favourite bands, the now-defunct Dutch maestros Daryll-Ann, as a sort of mission statement (slightly pompous pronouncement ahoy!) for what we hope to achieve with this blog: to get some of our favourite, often largely forgotten, musical acts "back out there" as it were, even if only on one obscure blog.

Anyway, the track we've chosen here is three and a half minutes of pop perfection, Surely Justice, from Daryll-Ann's 1999 album Happy Traum. Hope you like it. If you do, I'd definitely recommend seeking the album out as there are 13 more equally great songs to enjoy on there.

Buy Daryll-Ann stuff here