Archive for January, 2015

Back in the early ‘80s, the USA network featured a show called Night Flight on Friday and Saturday nights. The show focused on alternative music (showing videos that were censored on MTV or banned on other programs), cult movies, and documentaries, among other topics. This was in the relatively early days of cable and networks were on the lookout for original and unique material to lure the younger demographic. This is where I saw many music documentaries and cult and B movies, and where I came across a movie called Smithereens (directed by Susan Seidelman years before Desperately Seeking Susan). Released in 1982, it’s a gritty movie about the dwindling New York City punk scene and doing whatever it takes for that “15 minutes of fame.”

The film follows a narcissistic young girl named Wren (played by Susan Berman) on her quest to find celebrity in the NYC punk music scene (only to find the scene has moved to L.A.), and all the toxic relationships and misadventures that go with it. Wren doesn’t necessarily have any talent but doesn’t let that get in the way of ruthless ambition. The film also stars punk legend Richard Hell as a musician in a one hit wonder band (Smithereens) that she desperately wants to hook up with in order to get her ticket to L.A. The film, which had an original $20,000 budget, didn’t fare well with critics upon its release. Despite this, it was the first American independent movie invited to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. It has also gone on to be praised for its realistic look at the slums of the Lower East Village, its portrayal of the early ‘80s music scene, and its great soundtrack.

The soundtrack is a mix of new wave, pop, and post-punk and features several songs from the New Jersey group The Feelies. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Richard Hell & The Voidoids (“Another World,” “The Kid with the Replaceable Head”), The Raybeats, Dave Weckerman, and a gem by ESG called “Moody.” Although the movie doesn’t quite live up to its soundtrack, it’s worth checking out as a great time capsule of the period and, of course, the music.

The opening scene of the movie features The Feelies’ “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.” It also shows how Wren illegally supplements her accessories.

 

Wren dancing in slow motion to The Feelies’ “Original Love.”

 

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I’ve recently succumbed to the vinyl trend, which means I’ll be spending way too much money on music I already own. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a stash of albums from my teen years that my mother had the good judgment to not throw away. Unfortunately, I soon realized I’d need to start expanding my collection. After purchasing a new turntable, the first “new” albums I bought were Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands. Bypassing the temptation to purchase JaMC’s Psychocandy, I opted for their sophomore effort. After playing the album from front to back, the decision was a good one. From the opening guitar strums of “Darklands” to the haunting “About You,” the album still holds up.

The first song I heard from Darklands was “Happy When it Rains.” It was featured on MTV’s 120 minutes and was soon captured on video tape, and found lots of play on my cassette player. Tired of the electronic synth music of the mid-eighties, the Reid brothers decided to bring back guitar-based music. Moving away from the feedback and noise pop of their debut effort, Darklands was more melodic and was oddly simultaneously dark and optimistic. The album, recorded by the brothers with the aid of a drum machine, was a critical success. I’m sure it’s the first of many JaMC albums I’ll be purchasing in the near future.

One of my favorite songs from the album, “Happy When it Rains.” The video features the Reids at their moping best.

 

“April Skies” was the first single released from the album and reached #8 on the UK charts. The only single by the group to break the top ten.

 

The English trio Kitchens of Distinction were considered a precursor to the shoegaze movement of the late ‘80s. Formed in London in 1986, they were often compared to The Chameleons and Cocteau Twins, due to their swirling, psychedelic sound. The group was also known for their blunt lyrics and outspoken views, which most likely contributed to their lack of mainstream success. Taking their name from a home décor company that specialized in kitchens and plumbing fixtures (guitar player Julian Swales saw the ad on the side of a bus), the group was active for ten years before disbanding in 1996. During that time, they released four albums and several EPs and singles.

The group’s first single, 1987’s “The Last Gasp Death Shuffle” was named single of the week by NME and got the band signed to One Little Indian Records. This led singer Patrick Fitzgerald to put his career as a medical doctor on hold and devote his full attention to the band. Their first two singles for the label, “Prize” and “The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule,” made it on “NME Writers’ 100 Best Indie Singles Ever” list. Although the future looked promising, the mainstream music industry didn’t embrace the band, largely due to lyrical content. (The song “Margaret’s Injection” was a fantasy about killing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.) Also complicating matters was that Fitzgerald was openly gay and the lyrics often reflected this, which didn’t sit too well with the general public. Although finding moderate success on US college radio in the early ‘90s, the group faltered in the mid ‘90s. They were dropped by their record label during that time and decided to disband. They reformed in 2012 and released an album, Folly, in 2013.

“The Last Gasp Death Shuffle” was the band’s first single and sounds like a combination of early Echo & the Bunnymen and Talking Heads.

 

The group’s debut album, 1989’s Love is Hell, produced the single “”The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule.” It found the group moving towards a more psychedelic sound and is considered “a perfect Kitchens moment.”