Thursday, April 15, 2010

Guest VJ mini set Volume 2: the RCA years

20 years ago, I worked for RCA Records. First I was just a lowly intern, making copies and stuffing envelopes. But then, I became an Alternative Marketing Rep, which sounds awesomely important, but I was still basically making copies and stuffing envelopes.

At the time, RCA's biggest selling record was the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, which came out three years before I got there. Before that, the thing that kept them afloat was the Elvis catalogue.

When I first got there, I was wide-eyed and idealistic. I thought I would be working with lots of other people who were just as into music as I was. Within a month, I had no doubt that, with very few exceptions, most people there didn't know anything about music and certainly couldn't be bothered with the "weird" music in the Alternative Dept.

For me, it was a time of discovery. I came across so many bands that would shape my tastes for years to come. It was also, unfortunately, a pretty bad time for music videos.

My favorite album that I worked as an Alternative Marketing Rep (it sounded a lot less corndog 20 years ago) was Bizarro by the Wedding Present. I still come back to it a lot nowadays and the Weddoes just did one of those tours where they played the album in its entirety. It was the first time I heard the band and the first song on the album, "Brassneck" still pummels my head in the best possible way every time I hear it.

My second favorite album was A Gilded Eternity by Loop. Again, I'd never heard of them, but after hearing this, I quickly bought up their back catalogue which was then only available as imports. I listened to A Gilded Eternity recently and was forced to admit it hasn't aged well. But it still holds a special place in my heart.

My third favorite album is only my third because I was familiar with the band beforehand and it wasn't my favorite record of theirs. But by any measure, Sack Full of Silver by Thin White Rope is an above average record. These guys were actually weird. They were part of the "paisley underground" and blended '60s psychedelia with a peyote-induced mirage of the desert southwest. They were from Davis, CA and in my humble opinion, to this day have not received their due in the annals of indie rock history. They were awesomely powerful, rugged, funny, and didn't sound like anyone else. Their cover of "Yoo Doo Right" on this album introduced me to Can. So, for that alone, I think I owe them a rusty trombone. I can't find any official videos by them, but here's a clip of them live in Ghent, a concert which was recorded for their swan song, the supremely satisfying 2-disc set, The One That Got Away.

The early '90s was the time of Madchester and RCA had two of the best bands from the scene. The Charlatans UK got crapped on a lot as Johnny Come Latelies to the movement, but you can't look me in the eye and tell me Inspiral Carpets were better. I saw them live right after Some Friendly came out and they were shockingly good.

Last, but by no means least, there were the Stone Roses. Their debut album remains one of the most vital recordings of the time and is a touchstone of 20th century Brit-pop. There were so many brilliant songs on it, but I'm going to go with "Fool's Gold" because I'm a sucker for a well-played wah wah. The Roses took 300 years to record the followup record, called The Second Coming, and after its release, they immediately drown in a pool of their own urine, never to be heard from again.


  1. I was surprised by how much I liked that Wedding Present song... Aside from Loop, these were all bands that I thought were way-too-pop for my snobby musical taste. I guess I was so engrossed with Jesus Lizard, the Swans, Neubauten and Fugazi that I didn't even notice the good stuff they had to offer.

    You know, that band Loop was one that I was always lukewarm about. But their later band called "Main" is one that I am a huge fan of.

  2. Bizarro was originally mixed by Steve Albini and was the version that came out in the UK and is on the video. When the album was released in the U.S., RCA thought the mix was a little too rough and had it remixed. I actually prefer the other mix to the Albini mix. A few of their subsequent records are also very good, especially "Seamonsters."

    I'm with you on Main and was actually considering doing a post about them. I thought "Hydra Calm" was way superior to anything Loop did and that was their most "rock" record. I saw them live once at Trees and they totally, totally sucked. It was Robert Hampson playing samples and one guy playing a cymbal. It was one of the most disappointing shows I'd ever seen.

    I highly recommend Thin White Rope to you. Check out "Moonhead" or any of them, really.

    As far as the Madchester stuff, it was never really my bag. I just had to work the records. I will say that the Charlatans put on an excellent show. Never saw the Stone Roses, but I did like their first album quite a bit.

    Though my music snobbery quotient was already quite high by this point, it really didn't take off through the stratosphere until I started working at RPM about 6 moths later.

  3. Actually, I'm sorry, let me refine that comment... Thin White Rope doesn't even come close to the "way-too-pop" category... Thanks a lot for the post. This has made me pull out my vinyl copy of "The Ruby Sea" by Thin White Rope that you "sold" me many years ago at the end of the forbidden records days.

    There is nothing Manchester about these guys... I might describe them as Husker Du, Tom Waits, The Pogues, and Merle Haggard getting into a bar fight.

  4. I'd completely forgotten about that. Ruby Sea was their last record and probably their most polished. I like it a lot. But if you want something really raw, check out Exploring the Axis or Moonhead. Both are great. And that live one, The One That Got Away is really good, too. Your description is pretty much right on target.

    I was supposed to see them once when I worked at the label, but their bus blew up on the way up from Austin and the show was canceled. They were legendary live. There's an entire show someone uploaded to youtube where Guy Kyser plays naked. Most people I played them for couldn't get past the voice. But I've always had a thing for weird singers...