THE SOFT BOYS : (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp 7" (1978)

Now then, though I've never been a fully paid-up acolyte of The Church Of Robyn Hitchcock, there's no denying that The Soft Boys knocked out a freakishly decent album or 2. The majority of their back catalogue has recently been reissued again, c/o Yep Roc this time 'round. However, despite a plethora of (download only) bonus tracks, the band's vital early singles have once again been overlooked - is Robyn making a concerted effort to distance himself from them, or what? The 2nd, 1978's "(I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp" on Radar, is arguably one of their finer moments - a near-perfect compound of lysergic Barrett-fuelled psych/wonk & Python-esque suburban Surrealism that neatly condenses the first 4 XTC albums into a single, surging 3 minute power pop blipvert. It still sounds terribly exciting, 30-odd years later, & Robyn's mock rock grunt (36 seconds in) never fails to make me smirk. First-rate Barney Bubbles sleeve too.

Though many of The Softs' initial sessions exhibited little more than a lingering comedic debt to The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band & a surfeit of borderline annoying undergraduate humour (particularly live), it's perhaps only fair to put them into the glum pre-punk context of Cambridge c.1975 & imagine how fresh an alternative their deviant music hall whimsy must've provided back then, for hungry music lovers driven to lemming-like seppuku by the soporific drivel of Jackson Browne & The Eagles, et al. Ultimately, the flab-free rush of "Anglepoise" & the sinister Magic Band boogaloo of it's B-side, "Fatman's Son", atone for any earlier, rhetorical indiscretions, ditto A Can Of Bees' fearsome angularity. Crucially, Robyn's songs have always suggested that his eccentricities were/are, on the whole, genuine, whereas the gurning smart arses who followed in his wake (a.n.d.y.p.a.r.t.r.i.d.g.e.) always looked & sounded as if they were trying w-a-y too hard.

I'm sure it goes without saying that Underwater Moonlight is one of the best LPs of the immediate post-punk era, but give the lesser known Invisible Hits a listen too - despite it's somewhat impromptu nature, it's actually a beast of an album.


CAN : Turtles Have Short Legs 7" (1971)

Can Turtles
Can 71
Despite Can ascending to near deity status over the course of the last decade, it's surprising how few people know about this uncharacteristically daft 7". Recorded during the Tago Mago sessions & released on Liberty in 1971, it's sufficiently odd to suggest that both band & label realised Can's only opportunity for blagging a little chart action would be via the "weird" novelty hit route. "Turtles Have Short Legs"could, I guess, be ranked alongside similarly peculiar early 70s smashes like "Mouldy Old Dough" & "Popcorn" though, typically, Can's effort failed to chart anywhere. Intriguingly, though it was recorded in 1971, it actually sounds as if it might've been extracted from one of their far later Virgin-era LPs, the humdrum Flow Motion for instance? Incidentally, there's a marginally longer alternate mix of "Turtles Have Short Legs" doing the 'rounds on various bootlegs.

The B-side is a savagely truncated version of Tago Mago's "Halleluwah" suite, pared down from 18+ mins to just over 3. Bizarrely, it still sounds great & has never been reissued in this form to my knowledge (schnell!). It's the groovy mid-section that sounds like a listless, flower power Happy Mondays loping around a psychedelic bierkeller that made the cut, of course. Apparently there's a 3 minute edit of "Future Days" on the b-side of UA's seldom seen "Moonshake" 7" - anybody heard it?


B.C. GILBERT & G. LEWIS : Ends With The Sea 7" (1981)

G+L Front
G+L Back
Magritte Mirror
In the interests of balance (or something), here's a little more post-Wire fallout, from Bruce Gilbert & Graham Lewis this time. Released on 4AD in April 1981, it's interesting to see the all-too-evident conceptual division between the 2 factions of Wire when comparing "Ends With The Sea" with the previous 7" I posted, Colin Newman's comparatively commercial "We Means We Starts". That said, "Ends With The Sea" is one of Lewis & Gilbert's least alienating releases from their early 80s period but - & we might as well concede this from the off - it was never likely to set the Top 40 alight, was it? In essence: further exploratory, loop-based, almost Eastern-sounding processed / percussive music along the lines of their 3R4 album (another 4AD obscurity), or their earlier Cupol 12" (ditto), all of who's trajectories hurtled out of the controlled chaos of Document & Eyewitness with remarkable velocity. Just like Newman's first few post-Wire releases actually, but in an entirely different direction - towards Dome, in fact.

N.B. I couldn't find any decent L/G pics but René Magritte does the job rather nicely I think?


COLIN NEWMAN : We Means We Starts 7" (1982)

Virtually impossible to locate nowadays, Colin Newman's "We Means We Starts" 7" was released by 4AD in 1982, in-between his Provisionally Entitled The Singing Fish & Not To LPs. "We Means...", with it's honeyed guitar-led pop sensibilities & crafty lyrical abstractions, explicitly pre-figures the reconciled Wire's 1988 nearly-hit "Kidney Bingos" & would doubtless have been one of Not To's highlights if Newman had seen fit to include it. The B-side is a remixed version of that album's mellifluous title track & is possibly my favourite of all his solo recordings.
Both songs reappeared (briefly) in the late 80s when 4AD reissued both of Newman's LPs as a single CD. The 1st 3000 copies included CN1, an interesting "6-track companion" EP that rounded up various period outtakes omitted from the packed-out 2-fer reissue due to inevitable time constraints. Anyone interested in Newman's solo work, or Wire's Mute era, will definitely appreciate it.


THE DIED PRETTY : Out Of The Unknown 12" (1985)

Continuing the Sydney lineage... I first encountered The Died Pretty when Peel blasted this tremendous single out over the airwaves sometime in early 1985. The Out Of The Unknown 12" was actually a British re-release (via What Goes On) of the band's 2 previous 45s on Citadel Records, home to The New Christs, Lime Spiders, The Stems, Porcelain Bus & innumerable other underground Australian psychonauts.

It's Brett Meyer's extraordinary slide guitar playing on "Out Of The Unknown" that made me stop whatever I was doing back then & listen, & I'm guessing it'll have a similar effect now, a quarter of a century on, if you've not heard it before (N.B. I've lost count of how many mixtapes I've included it on!). With hindsight, I can see why Peel was drawn to it, there are definite similarities with his mid-60s protégés The Misunderstood. Though "World Without" might initially seem slight by comparison it's inarguably a lovely track, a melancholy Beatlesque ballad & a real grower (it's not the Peter & Gordon song btw). Overleaf, the 10+ minute "Mirror Blues" is a monstrously intense marriage of early electric Dylan & The Doors circa Morrison Hotel, & sounds like a pharmaceutically energised Nuggets band playing to the absolute limits of it's abilities. It's not a complete 60s-fest though, Frank Brunetti's surging keyboards suggest that the band were as au fait with Martin Rev as with Ray Manzerak. It's the kind of sprawling, stream-of-consciousness (& fromage-free) epic that most bands are too depressingly mediocre to even consider attempting nowadays, more's the pity. All 3 songs were recorded at a single session at Sydney's Honeyfarm Studios in August 1984, & the 10 minute "Mirror Blues" was originally split in half across 2 sides of a 7". For me, this early run of singles & the following year's Free Dirt LP remain not only The Died Pretty's finest recordings, but possibly the greatest Australian rock music of the last 30-odd years. Awe-inspiring stuff, frankly.

The Free Dirt album was remastered, expanded & re-released a couple of years ago. It's not cheap but it's worth every penny. Failing that, you'll be able to pick copies of all of these records in their original vinyl editions on eBay if you're vigilant. Click hereabouts for period interviews with Bucketful Of Brains & Tarantula.