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Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story
09.28.2018
04:38 pm
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I’m a huge Soft Cell/Marc Almond fan and I have been ever since “Tainted Love” was a hit and their memorable 1982 Solid Gold TV appearance—where Marc beat the stage with a leather belt and generally camped it up bigtime—caused my father to become visibly agitated and angry. It was an incredibly subversive thing to see on such a goofy middle-of-the-road disco hits program—one that usually followed The Lawrence Welk Show or Hee-Haw on Saturday evenings, depending on where you lived—and I wholeheartedly approved.

From that point on, I had every Soft Cell album, EP, 12” remix, book, VHS, fan club issue, bootleg, you name it. I still have them all along with practically every Marc-related release, Dave Ball’s solo album, everything by The Grid and many things produced or remixed by Dave Ball. I even own the entire discography of Vicious Pink Phenomena. In short, I am not only qualified to properly evaluate their new career-summing box set Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story, I am squarely within the fanboy Venn diagram that this exhaustive compilation is meant to appeal to. Truly I am the target audience for this product by any metric.

Admittedly after the above preamble, it will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has read this far to find that I’m absolutely unashamedly nuts about this compilation. If you’ve only ever heard “Tainted Love” and are intrigued enough to still be reading, this box set might be for you. I’m admittedly biased but I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard all year. Let me count the ways…
 

 
Soft Cell were—and still are—practically unknown in America. However true that statement might be, everyone in this entire country aged nine to 99 knows “Tainted Love” as it’s still played on oldies radio and in drugstores, shopping malls and supermarkets nationwide on a daily, even hourly basis. It’s playing in a CVS or a Walgreens location somewhere in America—if not several of them—right this very second. “Tainted Love” has never left the outer periphery of popular awareness since it first hit the American top ten in 1982. That song has a uniquely ubiquitous pop culture persistence, a staying power rivaled only by the likes of something by Fleetwood Mac or the Beach Boys, even if virtually no one on this side of the Atlantic has ever heard a second song by the duo who recorded it or could name the group themselves. (The more culturally savvy might have noticed the heartbreaking use of quite a long swatch of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” in the big final scene of series two of Master of None.) Anyway, think of that as an opportunity. If you are looking for something “new” to listen to, look no further.

It’s TEN discs. Freaking TEN discs from a band who have only released four proper albums in their career and if you already own those albums—and every Soft Cell fan does—almost nothing from those albums is repeated here. (The exception is that their 2001 reunion album, the annoyingly overlooked Cruelty Without Beauty—one of the finest “comeback” albums I can think of—is excerpted heavily here with the strongest tracks present plus three great numbers left off the album that would have made it an even better release. As few heard this album, I agree with this approach. Those songs are worthy and should be heard.)

There is very little (none really) overlap with last year’s similarly packaged Marc Almond career box. Speaking of, the packaging is glossy, sturdy and first rate. The design, by Philip Marshall, is elegant and slick. The extended essay by Simon Price is terrific, even someone who has followed the duo from the start will find much new information and insight into the creation of their music and the insanity of being shoved to the forefront of the global music industry the way these two were. It’s a great story, well told and a thoroughly good read.
 

 
Here’s a rundown of what’s on each disc.

Disc #1 has each of the 12” extended versions of their Phonogram singles. With most acts, this sort of thing holds no interest for me, however with Soft Cell the opposite is true. Their extended mixes had additional verses, and new instrumentation. Ball didn’t merely slice and dice their music like everyone else, he resculpted it and redid it in a radically different fashion from the 7” and album versions. I tend to hate remixes and find them generally speaking pretty useless as a listener, but not here.

Disc #2 has the B-sides from these 12” singles. They might have only released three albums during their first incarnation, but they actually did release a fair amount of material during their brief run, issuing several extended EPs and their B-sides were never throwaways… (“Tainted Dub/Where Did Our Love Go?” which leads off this disc is included in the Spotify playlist below selected by yours truly, along with several more tracks from this disc. Note the two John Barry compositions—“You Only Live Twice” and “007 Theme”—and Barry’s obvious influence on Dave Ball and the Soft Cell sound.)

Disc #3 consists of new extended mixes of less obvious tracks by Ball that utilize, with rare exception, solely the original master tapes from the era. I didn’t expect to like this disc as much as I did, but I did like it, very much. It also made a lot of sense in the overall sequencing of the set. It might seem like a daft comparison but the way the music is broken down into its component parts and reassembled throughout this entire set reminds me of Yabby You’s Conquering Lion album in the way that the constant repetition of certain themes and phrases start to sound almost like a symphony of sorts. The mixes here sounds “analog” and not like something some smartass did on a laptop.
 

 
Disc #4 is the “curios” collection and includes the early classic “The Girl With the Patent Leather Face” along with things like their incredible “Hendrix Medley” (“Hey Joe”/“Purple Haze”/“Voodoo Chile” done ala Soft Cell will fry your mind) and the harrowing “Martin” based on the George Romero creepy loner vampire film. All of these, and the 7” edit of “Numbers”—AS IF a song based on a John Rechy novel was going to get played on the radio!!!—are included in the playlist below.

Disc #5 collects demos, early punky DIY experiments, some things recorded with MUTE’s Daniel Miller and their first release the Mutant Moments EP.

Disc #6 collects various radio sessions and the strongest tracks from their 2001 reunion album Cruelty Without Beauty. Also included are three additional tracks from those sessions that were not selected for the album, but perhaps should have been. “God Shaped Hole” is one of the best Soft Cell songs, period, so why was it left to languish on an obscure Some Bizarre compilation? (Listen for yourself as it’s included, along with their excellent cover of Frankie Valli’s “The Night,” in the playlist below.)
 

 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.28.2018
04:38 pm
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Discussion
For an unbelievable trove of indie/punk bootlegs from the 1980s, the McKenzie Tapes has you covered
06.19.2018
08:55 am
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Any music fan from the New York City area knows what an important part of the city’s music scene Maxwell’s was, until recently located in Hoboken, New Jersey, directly across the Hudson River from the West Village. Yo La Tengo, the Feelies, and Sonic Youth are three frequently cited bands in connection with Maxwell’s but it was so much more than a regular venue for great local bands. I became familiar with the venue well after its true heyday of the 1980s but I still saw a ton of incredible bands there—the Wrens, Archers of Loaf, the Frames, Bobby Conn, Future of the Left, Os Mutantes, the Unicorns, etc. etc. For decades now, Hoboken has been on an implacable course of gentrification, of course, to the point that scruffy and legendary music venues can’t hack it there anymore. Sadly, Maxwell’s closed its doors for good in 2013.

One of the Maxwell’s employees back in the day was a fellow named David McKenzie, who cleverly recorded a huge number of gigs at the venue (and elsewhere). Recently he entrusted his buddy Tom to get them online in a responsible fashion, and the result is The McKenzie Tapes, a charming blog that features high-quality uploads of McKenzie’s, er, tapes. Every post includes a modest amount of context (just right, a couple of key facts but it’s generally just a paragraph) as well as pictures of the cassette, the ticket, and the show’s listing in the Village Voice, where available. It’s this last bit that has me so fascinated:
 




 
I learned via those listings something I didn’t know, which is that Maxwell’s used to show movies like Fritz the Cat and Los Olvidados and Rumble Fish.

The McKenzie Files covers approximately 1985 through to the early 2000s, and while most of the shows took place at Maxwell’s, you also get a nice cross-section of Manhattan venues of the period such as Brownie’s, Bowery Ballroom, CBGB’s, Irving Plaza, Coney Island High, and so forth. (City Gardens in Trenton also gets represented.) Once in a while you get a true outlier like a show from The Hague in the Netherlands but Dag Nasty at Maxwell’s (1988) is what the blog was constructed to provide.

The mid-1980s was an interesting period during which the grassroots fandom of indie rock had reached a groundswell of sorts (cf. Huskers jumping to Warner Bros.), with some of the no-fi champs from earlier in the decade showing impressive maturation (Sonic Youth). The blog features some incredible documents, such as SY playing a big chunk of Daydream Nation before the album’s release, the Feelies filming a set for a Japanese documentary crew, Frenz Experiment-era Fall, and Pixies right after releasing Surfer Rosa.

I mentioned much of this stuff happened before I was going to shows, so I was dubious I would find any gigs I’d been to, but damn if the blog didn’t deliver. I was present at this Rollins Band show at CBGB’s in early 1990, I positioned myself right at the main monitor and Hard Hank sweated on me for the whole show. To this day I don’t think the Rollins Band ever came close to topping Life Time, which is mostly what they played that night.
 
After the jump, listen to the Butthole Surfers play the Marquee in 1991…....
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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06.19.2018
08:55 am
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Discussion
Meet Ensign Broderick: The secret glam rock star who was obscured and unheard—until now
05.31.2018
08:11 am
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Beauty nor Ashes
 
It’s taken a long time, but Jason Sniderman has finally let the world hear glam rocker Ensign Broderick. The Toronto musician created the Broderick persona in the early ‘70s, around the time he started writing songs. He recorded these compositions in his bedroom, rarely playing them for anyone. Sniderman has been in bands—including punky new wave outfit, Blue Peter—and worked as a session musician, all the while leaving his Ensign Broderick recordings to gather dust.

But that’s all changed. Six Shooter Records released Ensign Broderick’s debut, Feast of Panthers, a few months ago, and two new albums, Beauty nor Ashes and Ranger, just came out. His next one, Only Love Remains, is due out on June 15th. There’s an abundance of strong material on the records, which feature glam tracks, new romantic-style synth-pop, string-enriched ballads, and straight-up rockers. His baritone is reminiscent of David Bowie, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, and, notably, Bryan Ferry, but has its own distinct flavor.
 
Ensign Broderick 1
 
The Ensign Broderick albums largely consist of recent recordings, though elements from the original tapes were used. Take the funky glam-soul number, “True Shame,” in which his ‘70s vocal, sax, and guitar parts were all incorporated into the mix.
 

 
Dangerous Minds recently interviewed Ensign Broderick via email.

When did you start writing songs?

Ensign Broderick: I started writing songs when I was ten or eleven. I had been taking classical piano lessons at the Royal Conservatory of Music when I was three (tagging along with my brother), but I did not enjoy many aspects of what I was being taught. I really wanted to be a drummer, so to encourage me to practice piano my parents appeased me by buying me a drum kit, piece by piece. E.g. snare drum at Christmas, a cymbal for my next birthday, a bass drum for my next birthday etc. By the time I was seven I had acquired a full kit (which I still have). I practiced drums a lot. Three to four hours per day. Playing along to full sides of the first Jimi Hendrix record, Led Zeppelin, the Who’s Live at Leeds and Who’s Next, and stuff like that. Along the line (at nine or ten), I discovered Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. And then Nicky Hopkins and Leon Russell and Elton John, and realized that piano playing and players were ok too. I also started to play Chopin at piano lessons, and I recognized harmonic structures in serious music, which I could relate to rock and roll. Listening to those players, and having a better understanding of classical music, gave me the inspiration to write songs.

What sort of recording equipment did you use, back in the day?

Ensign Broderick: A cassette deck and sometimes a reel-to-reel. I would bounce tracks so that some of the bedroom recordings would have close to twelve tracks, but really reduced fidelity. All vocals were done through either a Fender Quad or a Tapco mixer.
 
Ensign Broderick 2
 
How did you come to share your archival material with Six Shooter?

Ensign Broderick: I was far too shy to share my stuff with anyone. Very few people had heard it. Even the people who played on it rarely heard finished versions.

I had my stuff on a Soundcloud that I was keeping to myself and Shauna de Cartier (Six Shooter Records) discovered it on her own.

Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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05.31.2018
08:11 am
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Discussion
Tiger Lily Records: The wild story of the tax scam label run by the notorious Morris Levy (Part II)
04.16.2018
11:43 am
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Morris Levy and Tiger Lily
 
Recently, Dangerous Minds shined a light on the shady Tiger Lily Records, the tax shelter label owned and operated by the infamous Morris Levy. We explained that the albums released by the company were meant to lose money, resulting in higher tax breaks for investors. We also told readers about some of the musicians who willingly signed deals with the label. Part two of our Tiger Lily exposé will focus on the artists who were wholly unaware—for decades—that an album of their material was released by the company. In each instance, just a few known copies of each LP are known to exist. Why so few? Well, that’s one of the mysteries surrounding the label, but it’s believed Levy shipped the majority of the Tiger Lily stock to the local landfill.

In record collecting circles, one of the biggest stories in recent years was the eBay listing for one of the rarest and coveted of all the Tiger Lily LPs. The 2014 auction of the album, credited to a little-known group by the name of Stonewall, ended with the winning bid of $14,100 (no, that’s not a typo). Incidentally, the seller found the record at a Goodwill store in New Hampshire; the purchase price there was $1.
 
Stonewall cover
 
Stonewall were a heavy rock quartet from New York City. The band members were Bruce Rapp (lead vocals/harmonica), Bob Dimonte (guitar), Ray Dieneman (bass), and Anthony Assalti (drums). Assalti recently did an in-depth interview with the magazine, It’s Psychedelic Baby, in which many of the unknowns surrounding the band were revealed. As Assalti tells it, in 1972, Stonewall were put in touch with Jimmy Goldstein, the proprietor of a Manhattan recording studio. Goldstein offered the group free studio time, if they’d be willing to record after normal business hours. Before the evening sessions, the Stonewall guys would smoke a ton of hashish, then show up to the studio, where they’d smoke even more with Goldstein. Then, with Goldstein on keyboards, they’d start recording.

Stonewall and Goldstein would jam for hours, then use the best sections as the basis for songs. After half a year of experimenting and recording, Goldstein and the band’s manager took hold of the tapes, telling the group they would shop them around to prospective record companies. Eventually, Goldstein told them there were no takers. The band would soldier on for a period before breaking up.

Years later, after Assalti had relocated to Florida and started a family, he received a phone call from a European collector who had questions about the Stonewall album—which Assalti hadn’t known existed. He was stunned. “It’s kind of sad,” Assalti confessed during the magazine interview last year. “We were four young guys that were ripped off and never got the recognition I believe we deserved.”

Jimmy Goldstein is credited as the copyright holder of the tapes—a strong indicator he was Tiger Lily’s source. The Stonewall LP came out in 1976, the only year the label issued records.
 
Stonewall Side One
 
So, what does a $14,000 record sound like?
 
Find out, after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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04.16.2018
11:43 am
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Discussion
What’s Up Tiger Lily?: The wild story of the tax scam record label run by the notorious Morris Levy
04.06.2018
08:55 am
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Morris Levy
 
Last April, we told you the story of Richard Goldman, the singer/songwriter who found out that albums of his songs were released without his knowledge or permission. The LPs were issued as part of tax shelter deals, a common practice from 1976-1984. Albums of this sort were ostensibly designed to fail; vinyl collectors later dubbed them “tax scam records.” This article is the first in a two-part examination of the label that set the standard for issuing tax shelter albums. It’s a company that was started by one of the most infamous figures to ever make a buck in the music business.

Morris Levy was born in New York City on August 27th, 1927. As a teenager, Levy started working in nightclubs which were controlled by the mob. In 1949, he opened Birdland, a venue that would go on to become one of the most beloved jazz clubs in the world. In 1957, he founded Roulette Records, a label that subsequently issued a number of hit records, including “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starliters, and “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Levy learned early on the value of music publishing, and would often add his name to songwriting credits, even though he didn’t have a hand in their creation and had no musical talent.
 
Levy credit
 
In his book, Me, the Mob, and the Music, Tommy James says Levy never paid him royalties, despite the fact he had recorded quite a few hits for Roulette. James does concede that he was given artistic freedom, which he wouldn’t have had if he’d signed with another label.
 
Hanky Panky
Tommy James and the Shondells, Morris Levy, and a Gold record for “Hanky Panky.”

A number of mafia figures were regular visitors to the Roulette building, including Gaetano “Corky” Vastola, a New Jersey gangster and one of the owners of the label. Tommy James also frequented the company’s office, observing enough to learn why Levy had a reputation for using strong-arm tactics.

It is always reported that there are five major crime families in New York—Gambino, Genovese, Colombo, Lucchese, Bonanno—and that’s mostly true. But back in the sixties, there were six families. All of the above and the Roulette family. It was not for nothing that Morris Levy was called the Godfather of the music business. People from all over the industry called him or came to him to sort out problems. If somebody from Atlantic Records or Kama Sutra found out that their records were being bootlegged, they called Morris.

It seemed like once a month Morris would grab [his associate and bodyguard] Nate McCalla and a few baseball bats, which were in his office, and take off for somewhere in New Jersey or upstate New York. It was a ritual. “KAREN,” he would yell out to his secretary, baseball bat in hand. “Call my lawyer.” And off they would go. (from Me, the Mob, and the Music)

 
Logo
 
There were a number of subsidiary labels connected to Roulette, including Tiger Lily Records. The company was incorporated in 1976, and released over 60 albums that year. Levy gathered content from seemingly anywhere he could find it, using such cast-offs as demos, outtakes and live recordings for the Tiger Lily LPs. He even reissued a handful of albums that originally came out on the Family Productions record label, which wasn’t affiliated with Roulette. The majority of the artists on Tiger Lily would be unknown to the general public. In my view, this was done, in part, to ensure a plausible deniability if the I.R.S. was to come calling. “Tax scam records” were meant to bomb, giving investors the maximum amount they could deduct on their taxes, while spending as little cash as possible. By putting your money into an artist that showed promise, a case could be made that, ‘Hey, we took a chance, but nobody bought it.’ This also meant that the label looked for artists that exhibited a certain level of talent, resulting in a number of Tiger Lily albums by obscure acts who had exceptional material.

One of the easiest (and cheapest) Tiger Lily albums to acquire is L.A. Jail, a collection of Richard Pryor stand-up recordings. There has been much speculation about whether Pryor authorized this release, and there are a couple of clues that he was, at the very least, aware of the LP’s existence.
 
L.A. Jail cover
 
In the December 24th, 1977 issue of the influential trade magazine, Billboard, there are three chart listings for Pryor noting that Tiger Lily contributed to sales of his records. This leaves little doubt that Pryor knew about the album. It also implies that L.A. Jail sold well, which is odd, considering how Tiger Lily seems to have had little interest in promoting or circulating copies of their other records.
 
Pryor label
 
Another indication of Pryor’s involvement comes via another major publication, Variety, and a Morris Levy interview that appeared in a spring 1978 issue of the magazine. It’s also the most fascinating. Levy’s admission of releasing a Pryor LP for tax shelter purposes provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the label.

He [Levy] said he did one tax shelter deal, with Richard Pryor tracks, and made money, adding “I wouldn’t go into a tax shelter deal unless I was in the record business.”

Much more follows after the jump…

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Posted by Bart Bealmear
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04.06.2018
08:55 am
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Discussion
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