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Simian Substitute Site for September 2009: The Lonesome Stranger

SPANK GOLD: Younger Than The Stones: Pick Of The Year 1993

Because I wasn't doing sleeves back then, obviously This is where it all started. I've already told the origin story behind the Pick Of The Year compilations back in 1998, which was the first year that I made one on a CD. But in the five years prior to that, they were cassette-only affairs, with only two copies in circulation: one for Lou, and one for me.

As a result, the track listings for the compilations we'll be covering here over the next five months may turn out to be a little more idiosyncratic than those of the CDs you already know and love: there are a couple of in-jokes between myself and Lou buried in there, some of which I might discuss here, some of which I might not. Where possible, I'll include links to videos of the songs in question, with all the usual caveats about those videos being at the mercy of IP lawyers (especially those bastards at WMG). Here we go, then...

Side One

1. WORLD PARTY – Give It All Away (from Bang!, Ensign) (video)
1993 was the peak of my Being A Dick On Pub Jukeboxes period, and this World Party song was one I'd regularly put on at The Glassblower near Piccadilly Circus whenever I drank there. For one thing, I'm a sucker for those go-go beats, such as the ones that Karl Wallinger sampled from Trouble Funk here: for another, Give It All Away was one of those tracks that ended in 25 minutes of silence before a hidden song kicked in, and it amused me to select such tracks on a jukebox. Like I said: Dick. This song's actually split in two on the album, so part of the attraction of including the full length version on the cassette was to show off my mad editing-just-using-the-pause-button skillz. (If you want to try this at home, make the cut 3'53'' into part one.)

2. AIMEE MANN – Jacob Marley's Chain (from Whatever, Imago) (video)
Blame this one on Sean Hughes, of all people. This was around the time that Radio 1 was going through its 1FM era, chucking all the Smashies and Niceys on the scrapheap and recruiting hot new talent like, um, Emma Freud. As part of the process, the comedy quotient on the station was ramped up quite a bit, which included giving over a Sunday lunchtime slot to a rotating selection of comedians playing their favourite music. In one single programme, Sean Hughes introduced me to the delights of both Aimee Mann and The Divine Comedy (you'll have to wait for the 1994 compilation for them, though). It's almost enough to forgive the man for making such a bollocks of Puckoon. Almost.

3. PULP – Razzmatazz (from Indie Top 20 Volume 17, Beechwood) (video)
It's a Pulp single rather than an album track (subsequently collated on Intro), and like many indie singles during this period I heard it on one of Beechwood's Indie Top 20 compilations. They released more than twenty of them, and I have them all, which means I've got over 350 tracks worth of indie landfill alongside a few good 'uns like this. (See also: Volume, the self-styled Magazine That Fits Up Your Arse. I've got all of those, too.)

4. BLUR – For Tomorrow (live) (from Great Xpectations Live, XFM) (video)
I'm in the audience on this one, somewhere. Great Xpectations was a benefit gig for XFM radio, who at the time were trying to raise the cash to apply for a full broadcasting licence. All the usual indie suspects played full sets at Finsbury Park that day - The Cure, Carter USM, Belly, The Frank And Walters - but in an acknowedgement of how big they were about to become, Blur only did one song, and only Albarn and Coxon turned up. Having said that, I think the unplugged version of For Tomorrow wees all over the full band one, so it was probably the right call.

Great Moments In Television History: New Order on a 1993 edition of Top Of The Pops, performing live by satellite from the set of Baywatch. Look it up if you don't believe me. 5. NEW ORDER – Special (from Republic, CentreDate) (video)
Republic was probably the last great New Order album - there are four or five tracks I could have chosen from it, Special was just the one that was my favourite at the time I made the tape. I'll take this as my opportunity to put forward my theory on what made New Order great, because nobody else seems to think this: it's Gillian Gilbert. People are always sniffy about her contribution to the band, how she was just the drummer's girlfriend brought in to fill in on keyboards. But it's undeniable that once she started taking a back seat in the band, their ear for a melody appeared to instantly vanish. Coincidence? I think not. Still, we'll see later this year how Sumner and Morris get on with their new Bad Lieutenant project, and if they can make records good enough to make people forget that they share a name with a film with the worst trailer punchline of 2009.

6. SUEDE – Pantomime Horse (from Suede, Nude) (video)
Always had a love/hate relationship with Suede, meself. Brett Anderson's desperate attempts at faking androgyny were almost as convincing as The Sweet's were back in the day: and those of us who remembered that far back already owned all the Bowie albums he was recycling, so why would we need to buy them again? But, irritatingly, because they did it so well, we did. Dammit. Still, it's hard not to want to heckle the "have you ever tried it that way?" coda with repeated shouts of "you're talking about bumming, aren't you?"

7. KATE BUSH – Why Should I Love You? (from The Red Shoes, EMI) (video)
The usual press line on Kate Bush is far too eager to place her on the wrong side of the inspired/barking boundary, for my liking. Take this extraordinary thing: a song which features contributions from Prince, Lenny Henry, and The Trio Bulgarka. It should be an enormous dog's breakfast with a fried egg on top. But it isn't. She should do more, frankly: I found her long-delayed 2005 followup Aerial a little disappointing, but I still hope we don't have to wait till 2017 for the next one. 

8. BJORK – Play Dead (from Debut, One Little Indian) (video)
The Sugarcubes never quite did it for me, but Bjork on her own does. In a solo career that's lasted as long as this compilation series (as indicated by her album title), she's always shown impeccable taste in her choice of collaborators, and changes them frequently enough that you can never quite tell what she's going to do next. Though lest we forget, Play Dead (where she worked with film composer David Arnold) was her contribution to Danny Cannon's otherwise terrible Britgangster flick The Young Americans, so she doesn't always get it right.

9. RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE – Killing In The Name (from Rage Against The Machine, Epic) (video)
Rage Against The Machine: because some days, guitars and swearing are all you need. Yes, I played this one on a lot of pub jukeboxes too, why do you ask?

Oi! Elvis! Yer lawyers are tossers! Side Two

1. ELVIS COSTELLO & THE BRODSKY QUARTET – This Offer Is Unrepeatable (from The Juliet Letters, Warner)
I still have a lot of fondness for Elvis Costello, even after the mishap I suffered because of him earlier this year: a karaoke night where I performed Olivers' Army to a racially mixed crowd, without thinking about what happens at the end of the second verse. His collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet had several fine songs on it, but I think I chose this one because it applied specifically to the sales job Lou was in at the time. (At one point we considered the thematic links between Elvis' huckstering on this song and Tom Waits' similar approach on Step Right Up, and the possibility of them forming the basis of an album called Songs For Swingin' Salesmen or somesuch.) Unfortunately, Warner Music Group have blocked the Felix Project video I uploaded to YouTube for this track, so you can't hear it here. (If you're looking for an Elvis/Brodsky video to compensate, I have to admit that nowadays I think Jacksons Monk And Rowe is a much better song.)

2. JOHN HEGLEY – Sumo (from Saint And Blurry, Hannibal) (video)
If you've been following the Edinburgh reports on Spank Gold this year, you'll have noticed how many times I saw John Hegley perform there between 1989 and 1995, and how I frequently struggled to remember anything specific about each performance. But I can definitely remember him doing this at one of those Edinburgh shows, albeit in a one-man version with audience backing vocals (alternate 'sumo's from each side of the room in turn). The band arrangement, happily, hasn't damaged its ever-so-slightly racist charm one bit.

3. THE THE – Bluer Than Midnight (from Dusk, Epic) (video)
There are certain records which just hit you at precisely the right age, and Infected by The The was one of mine in the mid-eighties. (We deserve a DVD release of the Infected video album.) After that, nothing Matt Johnson did ever quite hit the same heights for me, although there were always one or two decent tracks per album. I was quite a miserable bugger at times back in 1993, so the introspection of this one must have led me to choose it. That or the trumpet. (Cheers, Guy Barker.)

4. PET SHOP BOYS – One Thing Leads To Another (from Very/Relentless, EMI) (video)
I know nobody does this - hey, I get figures from Amazon that prove it - but just indulge me for a second and have a quick peek at the Amazon purchase links at the bottom of the page. Spotted the odd one out yet? If you're planning to recreate this compilation at home, then this Pet Shop Boys track is probably going to be the toughest to get hold of. Very was their hit 1993 album with Can You Forgive Her? and Go West among the tracks: Relentless was a limited edition six-track dance EP thingy that came bundled with the first (cough)ty thousand copies. I've always loved the smartness of One Thing's beautifully reversed narrative, which is what inspired me to make a Felix Project video that used the same gimmick. I'm coming to terms with the Felix Project's audience being primarily stoners (it's most obvious in the comments on Invocation), and it's fun to be able to freak them out every so often.

5. GAVIN BRYARS & TOM WAITS – Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet (Parts 4-6) (from Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Philips) (video)
If we're talking about these early cassettes in terms of in-jokes between myself and Lou, then here's 1993's innest joke: Lou asks me to put together a compilation of new music that's as good as his beloved Tom Waits, and I give him a tape that climaxes with a 27 minute collaboration between Waits, minimalist composer Gavin Bryars, and a dead tramp. (Strictly speaking, a 27 minute extract from a 75 minute song, but let's not split hairs.) The story behind Jesus' Blood only gives you a hint of the power behind its deceptively simple structure: its full impact really only becomes apparent over the full hour and a quarter, but the chunk I included on the tape (which includes the whole of Waits' contribution) makes for a reasonable alternative. It's an album that pops up in the most unlikely of places (most recently as hotel background music), and it's always nice to welcome it back when it does.

In case you're wondering about the compilation title: as with all the others that followed, it's a line from one of the songs, in this case Give It All Away. Although at the time I gave the tape to Lou, it was just called Pick Of The Year 1993. It wasn't until I made him another tape the following year that I thought of a good title for Pick Of The Year 1994, realised I'd come up with a titling system, and demanded that Lou give me back the 1993 tape so I could relabel it to match. A stickler for detail, that's me. Being a monkey, and all.


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