Sidetrips: Summer Evening (an eighties mixtape)

Since we’re heading into the season of the long, slow sunset, here’s a mix I created for that scenario 35 years ago. I was a prematurely sentimental-romantic-nostalgic type of person, about the finish college in Ann Arbor. The places I lived had exceptional views of the sunset. 

Started in 1985, the mix steadily expanded from one cassette to two-and-a-half-hours, then, around 2000, I sub-curated it into a single CD that I could burn. This is that version.

I and this mix are a mutually-reinforcing seasonal loop at this point. Is there an actual, coherent vibe that could work for anyone else in 2021? I have no idea. I make no excuses or apologies for this musical message from a different time (of me and the world). 

Try this for your own golden hour on some summer evening, and then make your own mixtape and share it back.

CD-length mp3 mix here

  • Spanish Moon (live): Little Feat
  • Fun to Be Happy: Love Tractor
  • Warm & Soothing: Kate Bush
  • Lions: Dire Straits
  • Orchid Girl: Aztec Camera
  • Wild Kingdom: Alex Chilton
  • The Ink in the Well: David Sylvian
  • Prisoners: The Rain Parade
  • North Star: Robert Fripp & Daryl Hall
  • In Your House: The Cure
  • Les Amoureux: Bill Nelson
  • Horizons: Genesis
  • Flesh #1: Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians
  • Thrasher: Neil Young
  • The Birth of the True: Aztec Camera
  • Evaporation: Shriekback
  • The Chauffeur: Duran Duran
  • Follow Me Home: Dire Straits
  • California: Joni Mitchell
  • The Charm of Transit: Bill Nelson

Cover: John Hilgart collage for the first cassette iteration of this mix, 1985.

The Dream Syndicate: Live 1982-1983

This mind-melting curation of early live recordings by The Dream Syndicate is testimony from a witness: Los Angeles writer Matthew Specktor. He has created three live albums that carry you from the band’s first show, through “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and into a full live preview of “The Medicine Show.”

Matthew Specktor:

If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles as a visitor you know how hard it is to estimate distances. Like any city, perhaps, LA is small only to those of us who live here, whether because we’ve hacked the shortcuts to avoid traffic or because we’ve constricted our private map of it enough to make it feel convenient, but when I was a boy, growing up in Santa Monica, Hollywood was the back of the moon. Punk rock, which happened to hit just as I reached puberty, was hardly accessible. The Starwood, the Vex, the Whisky—places where bands like X or The Germs were playing on the regular—felt far away, never mind that it was only a matter of a handful of miles, and so those bands were alive on my turntable but no more present to me as “local” than the ones I was listening to from England. 

But there was a club on Pico Boulevard called the Music Machine, which happened to be reachable by bus. It was almost in Santa Monica, in a liminal zone that bleeds closer to Westwood and Mar Vista, and if it wasn’t a punk venue exactly, it was likewise punk-adjacent. The Gun Club played there, and paisley-revivalist bands like The Three O’Clock. And also one, erroneously lumped in sometimes with a scene called the Paisley Underground (which was probably an erroneous category to begin with; the bands involved sure didn’t sound alike, and seemed to share in common only a more affectionate awareness of rock history), called The Dream Syndicate.

There’s really no way to explain what it was like to walk into the Music Machine on a fall evening in 1982 and hear the Dream Syndicate live for the first time. I’d read about them—an article in the LA Weekly had alerted me that they may have sounded a bit like the Velvet Underground—and I think I’d purchased an EP at Rhino Records in Westwood by then too, but to be confronted by the band’s full-on trebly, howling, feedbacking glory in the flesh was a whole other matter. It’s difficult to explain because it wasn’t just the music, or even the presentation (sure, they were cool as hell, and they looked it, but there was some other factor involved here, a gestalt that meant they weren’t trying to look that way at all, the way other bands did). 

It was a cohesion expressing itself as an argument: four musicians who absolutely belonged together, but who also (in musical terms, I’m talking; I have no idea what the interpersonal dynamic was like) cannot possibly agree. It gave the music a force, a vitality, a second-to-second spontaneity like nothing I’d ever then witnessed. I fell in love on the spot.

I’ve gone searching for that feeling everywhere ever since, and so I was shocked when I discovered recently that there are dozens of early Dream Syndicate shows that were recorded, whether by audience member with a Walkman or posterity-aware sound engineer or radio station, available on Archive.org. What shocked me isn’t so much that the shows were recorded—of course they were recorded; anyone who heard them for thirty seconds knew this was something to be preserved—but that the quality I describe above is absolutely legible in the recordings. 

David Bowie: The Late White Duke (1999-2016)

Someone asked me if I thought it was possible to assemble a 21st Century Bowie album that could stand with his late-Seventies albums. This mix is how I answered yes.

In addition to album tracks (well-known & deep cuts), the mix includes b-sides, off-to-the-side recordings, and remixes that are currently unavailable for purchase or to stream. Some of these “lost” recordings are peak tracks to me – “Nature Boy,” “Bring Me the Disco King” (Lohner mix), “Sunday” (Visconti mix) – as are the deep cuts "5:15" and "She Will Drive the Big Car."

21st Century Bowie has two really interesting and pleasurable plots (within the whole of the period):

  • Strange and ambitious compositions and vocal performances, rendered magically in the mix – my favorites of which are featured on this compilation. 
  • A charming, crooning David Jones throwback mode, initiated by the attitude of “Hours.” This angle featured here and there on album songs, but it was focused around the turn of the century and was supposed to be represented by an album named “Toy.” Bowie eventually leaked that album, and additional tracks showed up as b-sides. (Another good candidate for a future mix.)

I’m going out on a limb sharing commercially available tracks, but as there’s no official compilation that touches more than a few songs from Bowie’s final 15 years – and because most of the albums were greeted as returns-to-form, only to be mostly filed-and-forgotten again – consider me an earnest A&R man, arguing that the final 15 years deserve sustained love (purchases, streams, rarity-laden reissues, etc.).

I’ll be surprised if the mix doesn’t make you dig deeper into 21st Century Bowie.

Cover photo by Jimmy King, 2014.

One-hour proof-of-concept mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Blackstar (2nd half, from Blackstar)
  • 5:15 the Angels Have Come (from Heathen)
  • We Shall Go to Town (b-side)
  • Sunday (Visconti mix of Heathen track)
  • Nature Boy (non-album track)
  • Where Are We Now? (from The Next Day)
  • Bring Me the Disco King (Lohner mix of Reality track)
  • Slow Burn (from Heathen)
  • The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (from The Next Day)
  • Brilliant Adventure (from Hours)
  • Heathen (The Rays) (from Heathen)
  • She’ll Drive the Big Car (from Reality)
  • Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) (from Blackstar)
  • No One Calls (b-side)

Howard Devoto: We Simply May Be Evil (1983-1990)

This mix curates Howard Devoto’s music in the period between Buzzcocks/Magazine (1976-1981) and his 1990s hiatus. 

I’m not going to brief anyone on who Devoto is. For those who don’t know, this mix is not the place to start. (Try this Spotify mix.) For those who already bow to Devoto, but who don’t remember his 1980s records, this is for you.

I rank Devoto as one of rock’s great lyricists and one of its most ambitious, unorthodox singers. His 1980s work is an excellent, organic extension of the path he was charting with Magazine. Odd compositional structures, big arrangements, dramatic storytelling, and riffs and phrases that worm their way into you.

You can sing-speak along with contemporary conviction or koan bemusement to pretty much every line Devoto ever uttered. He’s been scripting challenging one-liners for you to spin through your brain since forever. 

Devoto was an unlikely candidate for 1980s music success and failed to make a living at it. He and his collaborators didn’t run from the  aesthetic tendencies of the decade, but they made them their own. In retrospect, Devoto’s arch, erudite, baroque, contrary, take-no-idiots angle on everything resulted in ‘80s music that isn’t facile in 2021. 

Devoto released three albums in the 1980s (supported by at least two tours) and collaborated with other artists here and there. The first of the three albums, “Jerky Versions of the Dream” (1983), was developed with Magazine’s Dave Formula. Devoto and multi-instrumentalist Noko (Norman Fisher-Jones) then teamed up as Luxuria and released two albums (1988, 1990).   

This mix combines studio tracks from those albums, their b-sides, and outlying collaborations. The second “disc” presents a short collection of bootleg-derived live tracks.

90-minute mp3 mixtape zipped up here.

Disc One (studio, 64-minutes):

  • Some Will Pay (for what others pay to avoid)
  • Our Curious Leader
  • Ticket
  • Beast Box
  • Public Highway
  • Pound
  • Redneck
  • Lady 21
  • Jezebel
  • Out of Shape with Me
  • Taking Over Heaven
  • She’s Your Lover Now (parts 1 & 2)
  • Railings (w/Mansun)
  • Holocaust (w/This Mortal Coil)

Disc Two (live, 25-minutes):

  • Mlle (live)
  • Parade (live)
  • Rubbish (live)
  • The Light Pours Out of Me (live)
  • Luxuria (live)


KISS 1976-1977 (Spotify playlist)

My 12-year-old-self was right about at least this much of KISS. In 1976, I was listening only to the Beatles. By 1978, I was listening to Sex Pistols and DEVO. 

In 1976-1977, the turgid early KISS was becoming skilled and snappy enough to occupy the elaborate glam space they always aspired to. At the same time, the attempt to produce them into a crisp, pop, AM-radio-friendly sound was dovetailing with the trebly sound of punk/new wave. 

“Love Gun’s” sonics are closer to “Marquee Moon” than an ELO or Fleetwood Mac record, or the Ted Nugent and Nazareth albums of the day. It sounds like it was recorded ingeniously on a four-track in a garage, the drums especially bad and excellent.

It’s accidental punk – cock-rock Ramones, who are pulling it off. Pretend this was the only music they ever made - a lost band from the Max's Kansas City scene. Or, embrace the fact that KISS had become a major label success, and think of this material as their "Some Girls" moment – a lucky convergence of ironic manly camp, crunchy songs, and the zeitgeist. 

The songwriters are hitting their stride, while still trapped within the distinctive fingerprints of their creative limitations. The band can't jam, and they want hits, so they cram a lot of ingredients into their 3-3.5 minute tunes.

A minute later, KISS would become entirely fake, but for a hot second, they checked in as a fully-realized concept.

Spotify Playlist Here

Mark Mothersbaugh: “Muzik for Insomniaks” (1988)

“Please play at a low volume. Muzik for Insomniaks is designed to interface with your world.” - Mark Mothersbaugh  

For some reason, this wonderful, two-volume album of Mark Mothersbaugh’s Fairlight and Roland compositions has fallen off the map. I see no evidence of re-releases after 1988, and it doesn’t seem to be available for purchase or streaming anywhere official. 

This music has been a regular companion to my days, and my daughter (now 21) has been a fan of “XP137” for nearly her whole life. 

It was recorded during the period when Mothersbaugh was writing music for “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” and not long before he started scoring “Rugrats.” His big-time movie career, including extensive work with Wes Anderson, followed. 

Cover art is by Mothersbaugh - a detail scanned from one of the posters that came with the CD edition.

28 songs, 2 hours 21 minutes

zipped up mp3 download here

Sample: XP137

DEVO: Beautiful Mutants (1974-1978)

DEVO put the future on tape long before they were signed and made records with Brian Eno. Before and after Eno, they were a research laboratory for the 1970s’ break with the past and the leap into the 1980s. They were also one of the best live bands of the punk/post-punk era. 

This mix offers a curation of early, unreleased material that supports the case for DEVO’s eminence. It divides into a double LP - studio and live. 

mp3 mix zipped up here

LP 1: Studio (1974-1978)

The first LP is a studio concept album that sequences primordial, weird, intense, and astounding early items into a devolved Sgt. Pepper with no commercial potential - same length, most tracks segued. It’s heavily overproduced and sonically-overdriven by the randomness of primitive recording technology and the ravages of time. Bob Dobbs/White Heat.

  • Because (from The Truth About De-Volution)
  • The Death of Booji Boy
  • The Smart Patrol (version 1)
  • Fraulein (live 1974, Akron, OH)
  • Shrivel Up (demo)
  • Hey Hey My My (long version)
  • How Many Ropes
  • Secret Agent Man (Mark M. vocals)
  • Lost At Home (Tater Tot)
  • U Got Me Bugged (instrumental version)

LP 2: Live (1977)

Booji and the Stooges. The selections come from February 1977 in Akron, augmented with some of the tracks the band excluded from their release of a May 1977 Cleveland show (“Miracle Witness Hour”). The tapes sit well together, and I only included really good stuff.

  • Nutty Buddy
  • Secret Agent Man
  • Shrivel Up
  • Too Much Paranoias
  • Space Junk
  • Blockhead
  • Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy
  • Sloppy
  • The Words Get Stuck in My Throat
  • Social Fools

Early DEVO:

The band had at least three or four albums of material by the time they were signed, some of which would be re-recorded for early singles and their first two albums (Q/A, Duty Now). The songs and the band’s attack changed a lot between 1974 and 1978, so the early versions are always fascinating.

Gang of Four: Live Entertainment 1979 (Spotify Playlist)

In 2020, Gang of Four made a large number of 1979-1995 live recordings available to stream on Spotify and purchase on Amazon.com.

This Spotify playlist curates the 1979 recordings - one version each of the 20 songs represented on that year’s tapes. It’s the bootleg I’d have chewed my leg off (paid $20) for back around 1979.

The first 12 tracks are the complete 2/24/79 Nashville Ballrooms, London set, which is the earliest, best sounding, and most amazing of the tapes. It documents the band four months after the release of their initial single and ahead of the recording of their first album. 

Eight songs that weren’t in the February London set are picked up from two other dates. 

Stream on Spotify here

2/24/79 Nashville Ballroom, London (full set)

  • I Found that Essence Rare
  • 5:45
  • Anthrax
  • Elevator
  • Hold Up My Weekend
  • Armalite Rifle
  • It’s Her Factory
  • Glass
  • Damaged Goods
  • Ether
  • At Home He’s a Tourist 
  • Return the Gift

8/25/79 Toronto - The Edge

  • Contract (early show)
  • Not Great Men (early show)
  • Guns Before Butter (late show)
  • Rosanne (late show)
  • Can’t Stand My Baby (late show)

11/22/79 Bournemouth Town Hall

  • Blood Free
  • Natural’s Not In It
  • Information

Charlie Christian: Extended Solo Edits (1940-1941)

This mix creates long electric guitar solo edits from multiple takes of Charlie Christian’s performances in the Benny Goodman Sextet. Twenty-five solos are combined within six songs, lasting half an hour.

Charlie Christian, “the genius of electric guitar,” died at age 25 in 1942. He arrived and left just in time to be an extraordinary pioneer in the early 1940s small group scene, which replaced big band jazz with nimbler units, who discovered the way forward.

Christian was spotted by the golden-eared John Hammond in Oklahoma City in 1939, who recommended him to Benny Goodman. Though limited mostly to 15-to-45-second solos in his recordings with the Goodman Sextet, Christian played in all kinds of directions – toward bop, west coast jazz, and Chuck Berry’s blartney-blartney. He’s credited as one of the originators of modern guitar solos.

The document of record is the four-disc, “Charlie Christian: The Genius of Electric Guitar.” It’s great both for Christian and for the Goodman Sextet. The Goodman and Artie Shaw small groups were the  disruptive, post-punk, insect-rock of the early 1940s. Also pop superstars who got their clothes torn off by screaming fans. Elvis and The Beatles didn’t invent that stuff.

My selections for edits are based entirely on there being sufficient takes, and sufficient Christian soloing, to make an edit a worthwhile value-add. Jerry Garcia and Steely Dan listened to Charlie Christian. The history of jazz since 1940 listened to Charlie Christian. You should, too. I’ve made it easy with edits that present him as the featured rock star of the album.

28-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Wholly Cats (6 solos)
  • Breakfast Feud (9 solos)
  • I Surrender Dear (2 solos)
  • Good Enough to Keep (3 solos)
  • Solo Flight (2 solos - the whole song)
  • I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (3 solos)


Shriekback: Clink Jam ’83 (Save Your Face Edit)

This post presents a continuous, 17-minute edit made up of pieces of Shriekback’s archival release, “Clink Jam” – a recently-discovered 1983 rehearsal tape. You can buy the full release on the Shriekback store.

Specifically, this edit is made up of edits of half-a-dozen “Clink Jam” tracks, which were then segued together into one track. It was an informal jam session, with slack and finding-the-next-move moments, and I just took those out, so corners get turned as frequently as your ear wants them to be turned. I am posting the edit at the request of the band.

(b-side below the page break)

Shriekback is an active band, releasing frequent new albums lately, which feature three-fourths of the original lineup heard on “Clink Jam.” I’m a big fan. In 2018, my brother and I flew from the U.S. to Amsterdam specifically to see Shriekback mount a rare, large-band live show at the Paradiso. 

So, whether you know Shriekback or have never heard of them… what is documented on the “Clink Jam” tape?

  • Dave Allen: bass (following his departure from Gang of Four)
  • Martyn Barker: drums (Dave Allen’s new Hugo Burnham, but funkier)
  • Barry Andrews: keyboards (following his time in XTC and Fripp’s League of Gentlemen)
  • Carl Marsh: guitar (following his time in the great, obscure Out on Blue Six)

Andrews and Marsh are also the band's lyricists and singers, though that’s not really a factor on the “Clink Jam” tape. I’m reasonably sure all four of them made all sorts of sounds on the studio recordings.