Saturday, April 25, 2020


Well, this was a link-up too good to miss, Human League-r Phillip Oakey's Together in Electric Dreams with Giorgio Moroder, and, now, the ones that got away with their own side project. I'm not going to revisit the League backstory two posts in a row, but, take it from me, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were the two to watch on their escape from that band, being the musical brains to Oakey's brawn. And the B.E.F., for a while, were their only project, the only release coming out of cassette, in 1980. This was Music for Stowaways, the "stowaway" being the original name given Sony's Walkman in the UK, listening to music on the move being then a novelty and in its infancy. Tell me then about mp3 streaming on a telephone, which doubles as a camera, and I'd laugh in your face.

Decline of the West/B.E.F. (Music for Stowaways)

Heaven 17, the band, were initially just part of B.E.F., Glenn Gregory merely one of the circus of singers used for their next record, Music of Quality and Distinction, Volume 1, although, confusingly, H17, the band, had hit the ground running first. Music of Quality and Distinction was an ambitious covers project featuring a mix of singers drawn from disparate backgrounds, tacked to the electronic production techniques Marsh and Ware were also liberally applying to individual recordings by such as Tina Turner and Terence Trent D'Arby. Gregory was a photographer friend who had been involved with an early incarnation of Wang Chung, and had the sort of voice they were looking for, ironically not a million miles removed from that of Phil Oakey. Other participants were 60's popstrel Sandie Shaw, the yet to be disgraced and denounced Gary Glitter and the aforesaid Tina Turner, alongside more contemporaneous names as Billy McKenzie and Paula Yates, the now deceased ex-wife of Bob Geldof, better then known as a TV face on breakfast television.

Perfect Day/B.E.F. feat. Glenn Gregory (MoQaD V1)

The project seemed to be then put aside, as H17 built themselves a sturdy and reliable name. But, following a nine year gap, a second volume appeared, reprising the appearances of Gregory, McKenzie and Turner, and introducing the likes of Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Mavis Staples and Lalah Hathaway to the team, the latter providing them with a welcome hit single.

Family Affair/B.E.F. feat. Lalah Hathaway (MoQaD V2)

You would think that would have been that, not least as Marsh formally quit working with Ware in 2006, surely signifying the end of both H17 and B.E.F.. However, both projects continued, but given Heaven 17 were also using additional vocalists, notably Billie Godfrey, and performing cover versions, it would sometimes now become difficult to see where one project began and the other ended. This schizophrenia expanded further as a third B.E.F. project slipped out, Volume Three (aka Dark), in 2013, with the likes of Boy George and Kim Wilde entering the fray, each long after their 80s heydays. In 2016 the two projects even toured together, an array of guests plumping out the B.E.F. catalogue ahead of an array of guests plumping out the H17 catalogue. Confused? Here's their website to explain it all again.

God Only Knows/B.E.F. feat. Shingai Soniwa (MoQaD V3)

As of 2020, lockdown has significantly hampered their 40 years anniversary tour, although dates are rescheduled for late in the year, all things equal. I am planning to catch Ware and Gregory as whomsoever/whatsoever they are in December, hoping for some B.E.F. to slip into a nominally H17 celebration.

Switch on!

Friday, April 24, 2020

electricity: ELO galore

purchase [ole ELO compilation ]

As should be expected for any band that has been around for that long, Electric Light Orchestra has been through personnel changes. In fact, today's incarnation is officially Jeff Lynne's ELO and the only other original member of the 70's band who particiapted on the 2019 album is keyboardist Richard Tandy. Original members Roy Wood and Bev Bevan appear to still be involved in music one way or another.

ELO seemed like a logical choice for the theme. I mean, how many bands are there with the word <electric> in their names? More than I thought. Electric Prunes, Electric Toilet, Electric Express, Electric Elves and more.

Seems likely that most folk born after about 1990 wouldn't have many reference points for ELO, but throughout the 70 and some of the 80s, ELO was big - coming out with something like 10 top albums. Jeff Lynne is the name you would associate with the band, primarily vocals and guitars.

Wikipedia notes that when Lynne and Roy Wood started out, they aimed to mix rock and classical. The live version of Chuck Berry's <RollOverBeethoven> is a pretty good example: starts off VERY classical & essentially follows Berry's main style and showcases Lynne's abilities.

But most of ELO's hits were more melodic.
Their highest chartings were <Evil Woman>,

<Can't Get It Out of My Head>,

<Strange Magic>

and  <Sweet Talkin' Woman> - all from the mid-70s. All "pop melodic" verging on the dominant style of the decade: disco.

That said, they never made it into Rolling Stone magazine's list (and there are folks that pan the list as a result. Maybe so. I mean, they were all over the charts: 27 Top 40 songs in the UK/20 in the US)

I hadn't been following Electric Light Orchestra recently, so it comes as a kind of vindication of my choice for this theme: ELO's 2019 <From Out of Nowhere>  posted a top of the charts position at the end of 2019 - something like 35 years after their 1970's heyday. And you thought they were done for?
Lynne of course has done stints both as a sought-after producer and a member of the Travelling Wilburys

Electricity: Magnolia Electric Co.

Magnolia Electric Co.: The Dark Don’t Hide It

Back in 2013, a few months after Jason Molina died at the age of 39, of “alcohol abuse-related organ failure,” I wrote about one of his songs for the “Punctuation” theme. The song, “John Henry Split My Heart,” was credited to Songs:Ohia, from an album called Magnolia Electric Co., and I noted that there’s some dispute over whether or not this album was the last Songs:Ohia album or the first Magnolia Electric Co. album.

Today’s song, though, is from What Comes After The Blues, which is definitely a Magnolia Electric Co. album, and it’s a good one. It’s kind of obligatory to refer to Neil Young when discussing Molina’s music, and it’s definitely there in this one—feedback laden guitars, heartfelt, quavery singing, and dark songwriting demonstrate Molina’s debt to Young. But it’s far from a ripoff, and probably more than an homage, because Molina’s music sounds like Molina.

As I noted in my prior piece, I’m not incredibly familiar with all of his work, but most of the songs that I have heard have grabbed me, and none moreso than “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” which might have been the first Molina song that I ever heard. Although I’m not sure where (but WFUV would be a good guess). There’s definitely some Neil in the intro, but it also reminds me a bit of the Jayhawks’ “Waiting For The Sun,” and the song is elevated by female harmony vocals from Jennie Benford.  The lyrics are clever, but dark, for example:

Now the world was empty on the day they made it 
But heaven needed a place to throw all the shit 
Human hearts and pain should never be separate 
They’d tear themselves apart just trying to fit 

Magnolia Electric Co. released only three more albums after What Comes After The Blues, including Sojourner, a box set, which in its full incarnation included three full-length albums, one four-song EP, one documentary movie on DVD, a celestial map and a medallion, enclosed in a wooden box. All of the releases are worth checking out.