With the passing of time, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint exactly when Indie Top 20 Volume 9 actually came out. I was finishing my first year exams in May ’90 and saw a listing for it on a typed upcoming releases list on the counter of KG Discs. As outlined in detail on the excellent Indie Top 20 – The Blog! review, distribution problems seriously impacted the launch and caused a delay. Certainly, my diary indicates an August purchase with copies flying out of the shop on all formats as the new college year started. There were two tracks omitted from the CD pressing – Nitzer Ebb’s edgy & atmospheric Lighting Man and the single version of Galaxie 500’s Blue Thunder (with added saxaphone). In hindsight, if the compilers ditched the Club Mix of Round & Round for the 7″ edit, they would have fitted the former on the CD. Blue Thunder can be found on the sprawling Japanese compilation set 3×20 Colours, well worth a purchase and really captures the spirit of that indie scene.
With one exception, each label and band have submitted sleeve note comments:
The Farm – Stepping Stone: “The indie-dance movement reaches its highest point yet with Farley mixing the Scouse urchins into blistering immortality. (Record Mirror)”
The Soup Dragons – Mother Universe: “. . . is taken from the album Love God.”
Revenge – Pineapple Face: “When I saw them live they were just like a load of brickies farting around with guitars and synthesisers they’d found, and that was the good bit, let’s hear no more about them. Hopefully their tombstone is being carved already.”
New Fast Automatic Daffodils – Big: “They are from Manchester, but amid the freaky dancing melee, they’ve kept their identity and kept their cool. Scratchy guitar, pulsating basslines, and a psychedelic daffodil splurge on the cover, Big is the final piece in the New Fast Automatic Daffodils jigsaw. (Steve Lamacq, NME)”
The Charlatans – Indian Rope: “Undoubtedly the darlings of the society mag Cheshire Life, The Charlatans stuff you inside their kaleidoscope and fling you in time to the days when The Doors seemed as dangerous as the Vietnam War – an excellent first single. (James Brown, NME, 20 January 1990)”
The Shamen – Pro>Gen: “Play this loud in a very dark room and little green men will come and beat you on the side of your head with silver hammers shrieking ‘Let us in, let us in, we have some good sounds for you’. Fast, furious and sometimes a mite frightening, Pro Gen makes all the right moves in the right places. (Record Mirror)”
New Order – Round & Round (Club Mix): No sleeve notes provided.
McCarthy – Get A Knife Between Your Teeth: “The title comes from a cover of an Anti-Bolschevik pamphlet of the 1920s. It showed a crazed and hairy savage with a knife between his teeth who was presumably preparing to stab a respectable citizen to death. He represented what reactionaries believed a revolutionary communist to look like.”
Finitribe – Monster In The House: “If you’ve seen the Finitribe live, you start to understand what their records are all about. Being almost cabaret in a housey sort of way, they come on stage dressed in bowler hats, looking like something out of A Clockwork Orange. (Rave Magazine)”
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – Sheriff Fatman: “Carter’s driver Terry, says ‘Jim Bob and Fruitbat, I hate them, with their whacky names, pig awful guitars and that poxy tape machine, boring the pants off everyone with their stupid little songs about South London of which this one is probably the worst'”
Fatima Mansions – Blues For Ceausescu: “A bruising riff, declamatory remarks, wah-wah overload, the lot – definitely a contender for single of the year. (Dele Fadele, NME)”
Wolfhounds – Rite Of Passage: “. . . is about the sights you have to lower to hold down a job, and having dreams beyond the weekend and that job. A bigger sound, bigger ambitions. We are now campaigning against the Rates of Passage.”
Birdland – Sleep With Me: “Birdland’s reckless rock rampaged into the charts with this scintillating slice of singalong sex. (Rave Magazine)”
The Heart Throbs – Dreamtime: “. . . a band who epitomise all that is groovy and good in the female-fronted serious guitar scene. Over the last two years they have produced some of the most articulate and impassioned singles to emerge from the indie charts. (ID)”
The Sundays – Joy: “Equally as important for giving style back to the independents as putting integrity back into the mainstream. (NME, January 1990)”
See See Rider – She Sings Alone: “Stumbling and sliding through a morass of sexual sophistication with S as a central cypher in the iconography of See See Rider.”
A.C. Marias – One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing: “This is lovely… A.C. Marias’ One Of Our Girls” is marvellous, revelling in melancholy and loss just so them big ole ice guitars can come a-rolling in one mo’ time. (David Quantick, NME)”
Lush – De-Luxe: “Lush’s first single reached number 53 in the Gallup chart in March.”
The late spring of 1990 – the time when most of these singles were released – was rapidly approaching peak baggy. The World Cup was coming soon and football fans, The Farm, unleashed their Monkees’ cover Stepping Stone. Toughened up with dance beats and a rather anodyne vocal delivery, it remains oddly compelling and I remain drawn to its dourness. Not many people remember that it was released as a AA-side with the super loose but more endearing Family Of Man. Dream E forever: The Soup Dragons jammed the indie disco dancefloor rush with their cover of the Rolling Stones’ I’m Free. A new version of Love God LP track Mother Universe was its hedonistic predecessor. A blast and total overload that’s wildly euphoric. “Glow with all the colours of the rainbow.” Next comes Peter Hook’s baby Revenge and the meandering but very listenable Pineapple Face. Another track that appears in 12″ guise, the 7″ edit loses two minutes and is all the better.
Manchester United: often associated with Madchester, some might say that the New Fast Automatic Daffodils were never really part of it. Big slots in fine though, a motorik groove of absolute melodic focus that doesn’t let up over its six minute running time. The song remains their absolute career peak. The Charlatans follow with their introduction to the world, a solid ’60s organ groover called Indian Rope. There’s no video but it gradually built a steady momentum saleswise over the early months of the year. Curiously the band’s first greatest hits compilation – 1998’s Melting Pot – omits it, instead choosing to start with The Only One I Know. Thankfully Forever: The Singles (2006) rightly reinstates it. Both retrospectives are worth picking up. Their lyric “Who am I to fade away” seems almost laughable now given The Charlatans’ longevity. Long may they run.
Finitribe’s Monster In The House is almost ambient, a delight that reminds me of The Shamen’s Omega Amigo. I wrote about the En-tact era in my review of Indie Top 20 Volume 8. Pro>Gen was remixed on numerous occasions during 1990 and 1991 eventually becoming known as Move Any Mountain. Here we get the original 3:26 7″ mix and while it wasn’t a success initially, the track would eventually bridge the gap to stardown and beyond. Keeping the mood, New Order’s Round & Round which was by that point, almost 18 months old (released February 1989). The lengthy Club Mix (7:08) fits in quite well but I really wish that Beechwood used the 4:00 7″ version which was co-produced by Stephen Hague and emphasises the melody, synth pads, and vocals. It has a similar structure to the album version, but replaces the instrumental break with a repeat of the intro and fades out in conclusion. This is the version used in the music video. The single’s main B-side was an intriguing instrumental, Best & Marsh, which was written as the theme for a Granada TV series of the same name, featuring footballers George Best and Rodney Marsh.
“The most perfect record, a Communist manifesto with tunes.” (Nicky Wire talking about McCarthy’s debut 1987 album I Am A Wallet)
McCarthy were a primary early influence on the Manic Street Preachers who covered three of their songs: We Are All Bourgeois Now as a hidden track on the Know Your Enemy album; Charles Windsor turned up on the B-side on the Life Becoming a Landslide EP while Red Sleeping Beauty appeared on their single Autumnsong. More Wire love: “McCarthy – the great lost band of the ’80s they redesigned my idea of politics and pop, it could be intelligent, it could be beautiful. They were frail, tragic, romantic idealists. The songs soothed your body but exercised your brain. They were my education, my information and they are partly to blame for the realisation of the Manic Street Preachers. I still fall in love with this album every six months, it makes me feel guilty because it’s so good.” Get A Knife Between Your Teeth was the band’s final single, a buoyant and uptempo number that fits in perfectly with the baggy sound therein. I still listen to it nowadays and hope that the band don’t mind a capitalist digging their scene.
I first heard Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine just before we broke up for Christmas 1989. A tale about unscrupulous landlords, Sheriff Fatman was amazing. A sardonic sideswipe and the subsequent debut album 101 Damnations was mint and full of energy. Sheriff wasn’t a hit in 1990 and instead would have to wait until the following summer (after the success of two 30 Something singles) before having its day in the sun. And I saw Fatima Mansions round noon at Féile 1991. Angry. Intense. Sadly most people were too hungover to notice. Blues For Ceausescu, their second single and released between the Against Nature and Viva Dead Ponies LPs is a torrid wave of anger. Fellow Wexford native and WRTC attendee, Dave Walsh does the song justice in a brilliant review here. Death for Christmas. Ceausescu would also appear on the sleeve of A House’s I Want Too Much LP.
The darkness continues with the rather doom-laden Rite Of Passage from indie veterans, The Wolfhounds. Opening dialogue from Joey Ramone. As I type, the 40th anniversary deluxe edition of It’s Alive has been announced. 3CDs and 2 LPs. The mere presence of CDs has annoyed some *fans*. While it’s great to see soaring sales of vinyl after the bleak years of the 1990s, there’s no doubt that the format’s revitalisation has really brought out the dickheads. Moving on: Birdland’s Sleep With Me is somewhat underwhelming after the thrilling Hollow Heart and Paradise 45s. A musical family: Echo & The Bunnymen drummer Pete De Freitas died in a motorcycle accident in June 1989. His sisters Rose and Rachel were founding members of The Heart Throbs while brother Frank is the bass player of The Woodentops. The former’s Dreamtime appears here, described as “Blondie meets Joy Division” or just a shimmering slice of wonderfully resigned melancholia.
The final quarter (or quartet if you’re listening to the CD) evokes the spirit of the Cocteau Twins and begins with a single that never was – The Sundays and Joy. White labels exist but Rough Trade’s teetering financial position meant that a full release never happened. Here’s Where The Sunday Ends would have been a more immediate choice of 45. You can read a full appreciation of The Sundays and what they meant to me in last year’s review of Now That’s What I Call Music 1998: The Millennium Series. We continue on a rather understated tip with the mysterious See See Rider (just released two 12″ singles) and the magnificent She Sings Alone. Equally fantastic is Angela Conway’s project A.C. Marias and the ghostly One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing (extremely resonant in 1990s Ireland). If Beth Orton had fronted Wire. Here, Angela is ably assisted by Bruce Gilbert. Indie Top 20 Volume 9 ends with the sound of 4AD newbies Lush and De-Luxe, the leading track from their Mad Love EP, a brief, storming and abrasive wall of sound. Upper / downer.
A.C. Marias – One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing
See See Rider – She Sings Alone
Lest we forget
Fatima Mansions – Blues For Ceausescu