How do you keep your record collection going and still afford to eat? Frazer Cooke schools us in the art of the bargain bin rescue of cast off and forgotten music.
One of the problems with being a music fan is that itâs an expensive habit to maintain. This was especially so in the ’90s when record companies were at their apex as sophisticated customer fund draining devices.
The rise of the CD, that cheap bit of plastic with its supposedly superior sound, allowed them to sell us back our existing record collections at twice the price of vinyl. Singles were no longer two-sided bits of vinyl but two or three disc remix compilations released over a number of weeks to maximise chart performance. It was during this time, as a student, I found myself having to choose between basic sustenance and the extra limited CD gatefold with enhanced CDRom content.
I developed a number of ways in which to feed my audio addiction (and stomach on occasion); if a song I liked charted in the Top 40 then I would simply wait until it exited the chart and make my way to Woolies where it would immediately be available at a reduced price in the ex-chart bin.
Iâd also find myself rooting around in the racks of independent record stores or second hand shops for heavily stickered CDs in worn and cracked cases.
But, by far, the most musically and economically rewarding endeavour was trawling the monthly record fairs in the various town, guild or masonic halls around the country. There were always a handful of retailers who had massive boxes stuffed with industry-only promos – the free CDs that pluggers would fling out to DJs, TV bookers, journalists or whoever could give a band a wispy breath of publicity.
These boxes would have been stripped of anything of value beforehand; the limited promos of the established bands would have been plucked out and flogged for a tidy profit (usually by said DJs, TV bookers and journalists). What was left in these troves were the bands that nobody played, booked or wrote about; yet there were always gems to be found.
Mostly, having never heard of the band, you had to make an educated guess on the content. They might be on the same label as a band you knew, there could be remixers involved that you liked, sometimes it was just the look of the cover or a curious sounding song title that convinced you to part with your 50p and at that price it was cheap enough to take a gamble.
The promo system highlights the notoriously difficult process for a band to get their music into your ears, which even with the advent of the internet isnât really any easier. Pluggers simply send out unsolicited CDs to people in their database in the hope that someone will listen to it â often they donât.
I no longer visit record fairs but I still get hold of promos. My girlfriend works for a TV production company and they get sent a huge array of promos, most of which go into a big storage box. Every so often, before it gets shipped off to the charity shop, they let me root through the box and take what I like. As exciting as trawling through tons of free CDs is, itâs tinged with pathos, because in my 20-odd years of doing this, I know that many of these talented bands come to naught, while a multitude of mediocre groups, who have access to record corporations with massive promotional budgets and DJs and journos willing to take a back hander for a play or a favourable word, have flourished.
Of course, none of these ill-fated bands received a single penny in royalties from my âpurchasesâ, even when I was paying for them they were âfreeâ, âusedâ CDs and all the profits went to the seller. This probably makes it no better than illegal downloading, so hereâs my attempt to redress the balance and give a late airing to these obscure bands whose journey to fame didnât stretch much further than their initial crawl from the creative primordial stew.
1. The Hard Corps â Back In Black (1992)
AC/DCâs âBack In Blackâ is a hip-hop track. Like Aerosmithâs âWalk This Wayâ itâs all about the beat and the groove – the blueprint for most early rap, or at least the stuff Rick Rubin had a hand in. It was sampled by The Beastie Boys and BDP and, following the success of Run DMCâs take on âWalk This Wayâ, it was an obvious candidate for a cover. The Hard Corps are one of the earliest rock/rap combos and they do a cracking job, it was no coincidence that Jam Master Jay was involved. They donât just sample it and rap over the top, they faithfully reconstruct the riff and deliver the original lyrics in rap form. The Hard Corps only ever recorded one album, which I bought in a second hand shop in New York and subsequently lost. I donât remember it being very good. This is their career highlight.
2. Lifeâs Addiction â Jesus Coming In For The Kill (1997)
I bought this on the strength of the title alone. How could you not? Itâs a curious one to pigeonhole. It has swampy blues guitars, gospel vocals and booming Bonzo Levee-esque drums, things weâd associate with Americaâs Deep South but wouldnât necessarily put together. However, thatâs exactly what Lifeâs Addiction do – and it works. This was the last thing they ever released. I still donât know what the lyrics mean.
Like the Beastie Boyâs âPaulâs Boutiqueâ, the first Hoodlum Priest album âHeart of Darknessâ is something we will never see the like of again: A sample smorgasbord that complex licensing laws and nervy record company lawyers have effectively killed off. In fact, the album has now been deleted from the catalogue of label ZTT. Itâs a hit and miss affair. Musically itâs a fantastic sound collage ruined in parts by some inept rapping by never-to-be-heard-of-again emcee Sevier. The album peaks with the instrumental âRebel Angelâ, a darkly satanic, Milton-quoting epic. Hoodlum Priest went on to sporadically release music over the next decade, but thankfully has made his entire back catalogue available on hoodlumpriest.net
I saw Headswim supporting Ice-Tâs Body Count in Manchester in 1994. They were far better than the headline act but the crowd was largely disinterested. They had bad hair, looking like a heavy metal band attempting an awkward lurch into grunge. Their initial recorded output didnât capture their live energy and sounded fairly subdued by comparison. Then they seemed to disappear for the next four years. In 1998 I found them again; theyâd got better haircuts and sounded like Radiohead. They still had a heavy-metallers ear for a chugging chord and had mastered that Pixies quiet-loud-quiet-loud thing which, coupled with some plaintive wailing, stabbing strings and electro-noise sat quite nicely in a post OK Computer-world. But the public wasnât interested, so Sony fired them.
Now this is a lesson in how a decent remix can reinvigorate a song. The original is a standard, straight ahead driving rocker. This mix turns it into an acidized stomper, adding texture and contrast that is audibly absent from the original. Iâm not aware of anything else the remixers have ever done. By comparison the band chucked a few quid at Adam Freeland for a remix. He massively short-changed them with an insipid electro-disco by numbers effort. It probably bankrupted them because they havenât made anything since.
6. Stina Nordenstam â People Are Strange (1998)
Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam takes The Doors carnival ditty, beloved of self-styled freaks, misfits and vampire botherers, and turns it into something altogether more eerie. As bleak as a Swedish winter, itâs the piteous cries of a ghost of someone who drowned in the bath accompanied by a poltergeist hammering the central heating pipework. The single was backed with an UNKLE remix, which has never appeared on any retrospective and frankly tops any other remix theyâve done. It was difficult to know what version to add to the playlist but Iâve gone for the original version which quite simply betters The Doors.
There was a time when people thought Oasis might follow The Beatles creative trajectory from belting out crowd pleasing sing-a-long-a-songs to stretching the seams of the creative envelope, especially when Noel started knocking around with the Chemical Brothers and other guitarless types. In the end they just continued to belt out increasingly less crowd pleasing sing-a-long-a-songs. Forget the rather rubbish Noel/Chemical collaboration ‘Setting Sun’; One Inch Punchâs ‘Angela Davis’ is a better ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ re-imagining â dirty grinding guitars over a crunchy hip hop beat with nonsense lyrics sung in a Lennon style. The song doesnât even feature on the bandâs only album.
8. Skatenigs â Loudspeaker (1992)
The sound of a slap bass always recalls the horrible funk metal bandwagon that trundled along in the late eighties / early nineties, particularly early Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose existence I still believe demands a formal apology. Loudspeaker just about escapes the associations courtesy of industrial sized riffing and some gruff vocals. The Skatenigs roots are in the industrial scene. Their initial release appeared on Wax Trax and singer Phildo Owen was in the Revolting Cocks. In fact they sound like a funky Ministry, which on paper sounds like the worst thing ever. Iâm not really selling this too well, so like the song says âshut up and listenââ¦