Side Trips: A Certain Ratio (1979-1980 mix)

This post presents a very small slice of the earliest output of the band A Certain Ratio. It's intended for people who don't already know them well and who are generally into 1978-1982 postpunk, who like Gang of Four, Joy Division, or Public Image Limited, and/or who are interested in the Manchester, UK scene, 1977-1986. 

A Certain Ratio (ACR) was a Factory Records band-mate of Joy Division and others, produced (in their early years) by JD’s producer/studio-translator, Martin Hannett, for better and for worse.

ACR was and was not conducive to the Joy Division treatment. They were a postpunk funk band that was also very gloomy in their early years. Balancing the funk and the gloom was the challenge, and I judge the official results to be extremely mixed. The band complained that Hannett often took the sound too far from the live band’s ethos, and I’d say that they were correct. 

After/during the period documented here, ACR went to NYC on tour, inspired Talking Heads to funk it up, soaked up a ton of influences and percussion instruments – and leapt forward with their next LP, the postpunk masterpiece “Sextet,” in 1981, which is now available as a perfectly-executed double-CD. After “Sextet,” ACR would continue to evolve into a more mainstream funk band, sliding successfully into the “Madchester” scene. There is no release that documents their 1984-1986, 12-inch/EP output, but they gave New Order and Primal Scream worthy competition. They still exist, with their three essential/unchanging original members, releasing challenging music sometimes, and playing live sometimes. 

Despite being an ACR super-fan, who collected and later meticulously ripped all of the original vinyl and cassette releases, I can’t fully endorse their earliest output. The vibe is consistent, if you’re in the mood for it, but the songwriting and the groove are inconsistent. One song, or version of a song, will lock into a great place, while another will be a cold fish. They were a young, experimental band, and they got it exactly right sometimes.

With today's single, LP, Peel Session, and live options, you can play to the strong points. The only reason I'm posting this mix is that I've been trying to find it since the early '80s, and I think I'm very happy with this "less is more than more" approach.

If you're into it, ACR is re-releasing (in late 2017) their two major, early documents, “The Graveyard & The Ballroom,” and “…to Each," which contributed songs to this mix. 

32-minute zipped mp3 file here

  • Flight (The Graveyard, cassette rip)
  • Loss (live 10/80, Groningen CD)
  • Oceans (To Each vinyl rip)
  • Choir (Peel Session 1979, Early CD)
  • Forced Laugh (live 10/80, Groningen CD)
  • My Spirit (To Each vinyl rip)
  • The Fox (single, Early CD)
  • Shack Up (single, Early CD)
  • All Night Party (Peel Session 1979, Early CD)

Side Trips: The Clash – “Sandinista LIVE!”

I imagine that many fans of The Clash have taken a shot at reducing, expanding, or otherwise mutating “Sandinista!,” in search of whatever it is they feel needs finding in that album. To me, there’s an overcooked, dimly-lit lack of dynamism that keeps me at arm’s length.

This post’s live approach to the album’s (period’s) songs provides a decidedly different slant on things. None of the “Sandinista!” songs were played live before they were recorded for the album, and nearly half a year went by between its completion and their next live performance.

So, they had to learn how to play their slow-cooked studio songs live as a rock band, and then they knocked them out on stage alongside “Career Opportunities” and “Janie Jones.” Sandinista v2.

This compilation comes mostly from two performances from the first two months of that touring period (Amsterdam in May, a NYC Bond's show in June). I have added a few recordings from earlier and later to expand the coverage of relevant songs as far as I can. (Recording dates/locations are included on the song title tags.)

Halfway between the cubicle-gray (stoned all night in the mixing booth) vibe of the studio album and the immediacy of this chaotic live Clash is the “Sandinista!” that I like best. This period was the beginning of the end of the classic lineup with Topper Headon.

67-minute zipped mp3 file here 

  • The Leader
  • Somebody Got Murdered
  • Lightning Strikes
  • Bankrobber
  • Ivan Meets G.I. Joe
  • Charlie Don’t Surf
  • This is Radio Clash
  • One More Time
  • Broadway
  • Street Parade
  • The Call Up
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Lightning Strikes
  • Corner Soul
  • Washington Bullets
  • Armagideon Time
  • Junco Partner
  • Police on My Back

Side Trips: Beck – “Beautiful Way” (1998-2014 mix)

Cover art by Odilon Redon.

I rate Beck as a major talent. Lyrically, he can break your heart or conjure up a startling, surreal image as well as anyone. He’s a great observer of relationships, emotional turmoil, and the weirdness of contemporary culture. Musically, he’s covered a vast spread of styles with excellent results. 

When he won a GRAMMY in 2014, it was for “Morning Phase,” an album made in his “lush beauty” style – which has a history going back to nearly the beginning of his recording career. It is possibly his most instinctual mode of songwriting, based on the quantity of songs in it and his frequent returns to it.

How to describe it? It has something of the 1969 Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”/”Pale Blue Eyes” vibe. (The song “Beautiful Way” rips off the melody of VU’s “Countess from Hong Kong.") I’m also reminded, a lot, of Acetone’s later records. Nick Drake is in there somewhere, but this music also features vast-sounding arrangements and production that put you into late Beatles/George Martin territory. But then, there’s also a C&W twinge to most of it. It’s got rhythm, a groove even, but it’s narcotic. It is a giant, slow wave of beautiful sadness. 

I cherish this kind of Beck, but the same characteristics that make it consistently alluring also result in a sameness fatigue factor. I wouldn’t have given a GRAMMY to “Morning Phase,” but I fully support a GRAMMY for the music Beck has made in this style, across the years. This mix is my argument in support of that position. 

Sources: Morning Phase (4), Sea Change (4), Mutations (3), Midnite Vultures (1), The Information (1)

13-song, 55-minute, 320kbps, ripped-from-CDs, mp3 mix here

  • Blackbird Chain
  • Dead Melodies
  • Beautiful Way
  • Heart is a Drum
  • Paper Tiger
  • Turn Away
  • Lost Cause
  • Guess I'm Doing Fine
  • Waking Light
  • We Live Again
  • New Round
  • Nobody's Fault But My Own
  • The Golden Age


Side Trips: David Bowie - "BOWIEAMERICANYEAR" (1974 reconfiguration)

This is a fake 2-LP Bowie album from 1974, made up of 19 officially released songs. It is intended to be the soul-funk-disco Bowie edifice that the year’s albums implied but never quite pulled off, IMO. 

I’m talking about “Young Americans,” “The Gouster,” “David Live,” and to a limited extent “Diamond Dogs.” (There’s also an outtake here, from the “Sound & Vision” collection.) Soul-funk-disco Bowie got put in a lot of different places. 

I would argue that the year’s output was great, but that it was not a trail-blazing moment for Bowie. Instead, it was mostly a shaggy homage to varied Black American music, some of it old, some of it contemporary. He was definitely intuitive about where popular music was going in the mid-to-late 1970s, but he didn’t make it thoroughly his own the way he did glam beforehand and Krautrock/”new wave” afterwards. 

So, I don’t think you get to the strongest case for 1974 soul-funk-disco Bowie by trying to find the 10 best songs; you aim to cover as many angles as possible, with as many songs as possible. I got to 19 before I thought I was pushing the premise too far.

The Rolling Stones: Taylor-Era Studio Companions (1969-1974)

My dive into innumerable, overlapping, frustrating Stones bootlegs yielded three studio companions to the Mick Taylor years (1969-1974). A handful of interesting “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” alternate takes didn’t fit into this arrangement, but otherwise, this is pretty close to a thorough account of unreleased songs and a generous curation of all available material. Going deeper into iterative bootlegged versions of this sort of Stones material is a recipe for madness, based on my experience.

Shake Your Hips (outtakes ’69-’72)

This mix is comprised of "Exile" outtakes and kindred material. I have not taken into account what was released  on the “Exile” bonus disc from a few years ago (some tracks overdubbed by today’s Stones); everything here comes from bootlegs and is as-recorded originally. The dating goes back to 1969 because some of these songs were demoed that far back. They played “Loving Cup” at Hyde Park, July 5, 1969, their first – and historically gigantic – show after their drug busts and Brian Jones’ death. 

Sidetrips: Prince – Best Obscure Tracks Vol. 1 & 2

These are all finished Prince tracks that didn’t appear on his general release albums. Many of them were released online through the NPG Music Club. One appeared as a CD b-side. Some remain unreleased.

If you like 1990s Prince, and don’t know this material, you will be knocked out. If you like Prince, but aren’t sure you can name any of his 1990s albums, these compilations are probably a good way to persuade you to look into that decade. He could seem to be trying a little too hard (to do/be what?) on some of those albums, but this stuff all sounds effortless.

The two fake albums presented here came about in the usual way. I swam around in oceans of non-album/unreleased Prince for a long time, until tracks I couldn’t get tired of started to sort themselves into groups. (The dates with the titles are recording dates taken from the invaluable Prince Vault site.)

Pop Album (52 minutes)

  • Vavoom (2000)
  • Eye Am the DJ (1995-1996)
  • Van Gogh (1995)
  • Peace (1999-2000)
  • Northside (2000-2001)
  • Horny Pony (1991)
  • The Sex of It (1987)
  • Get Blue (1990)
  • Feel Good (1995)
  • Beautiful Strange (1998-2000)
  • Empty Room (live 2002)

Groove Album (72 minutes)

  • The Daisy Chain (2000)
  • Sadomasochistic Groove (1997)
  • Well Done (1990-1993)
  • Poor Goo (1993)
  • Good Life (2000)
  • Paradigm (1990-1992 & 2000 with George Clinton)
  • The Undertaker (1993)
  • Habibi (1998)
  • Nagoya (2002)
  • My Pony (1990-1991 with George Clinton)
  • U Gotta Shake Something (1985)

Both in one mp3 file here

Sidetrips: The Clash – “Midnight to Six” (1978)

49-minute mp3 folder here

  • English Civil War
  • White Man in Hammersmith Palais
  • Tommy Gun
  • I Fought the Law
  • Groovy Times
  • Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad
  • Guns on the Roof
  • Gates of the West
  • Last Gang in Town
  • Pressure Drop
  • Safe European Home
  • Stay Free
  • Time is Tight
  • Capital Radio 2

This mix aims to be the absolutely fantastic second Clash album that might have been. At least as good as “The Clash” and “London Calling.”  It might even have been the one you would have given to a friend to try to convert them to the band – far more mature than the first album, shinier and less shaggy than the third one. 

The main problems with “Give 'Em Enough Rope” are that all of the 1978 songs that sound most alike are on it, some of them are the weakest of the year, and there are only 10, total. Tempo and mood keep coming back to the same place. It feels like a heavy slab and an insubstantial album at the same time.

Side Trips: The Rolling Stones – “Winter” 1971-1974 (Made in the Shade LP 2)

In 1975, about to go on tour with Ron Wood and unable to get Black and Blue out in time, the Stones released Made in the Shade, a canon-building, tour-supporting compilation drawn from their four most recent albums: Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup, and It’s Only Rock and Roll. The album defined the early Seventies as “Bitch,” “Angie,” “Tumbling Dice,” “It’s Only Rock and Roll,” etc. – the foundation of what would become the permanent post-Sixties Rolling Stones brand. 

This companion compilation is drawn from the same four albums as Made in the Shade and is intended to be its opposite. 

Side Trips: The Rolling Stones “Some Girls” Companions

Three disc companion, in mp3 format, here

I spent untold hours collecting and assessing Rolling Stones bootlegs, 1969-1981, and ended up with a 13-disc live/studio companion that I shared with  a few friends via a flash drive titled “Jumping Jack Flash Drive.”

For the purposes of this dodgy bootleg blog, I’m including just three installments associated with the “Some Girls” sessions/tour, which the Stones really failed to represent adequately with their recent re-release and bonus disc.

This period was arguably the band's last gasp as a working band, and the sessions resulted in a huge number of songs, finished, half-finished, and roughly-sketched. At least one version of everything that was at least close to half-finished is included here, unless the only version I could find had audio too shitty to tolerate.

Side Trips: The Concise Beatles Get Back/Let It Be Sessions

75-minute mp3 zipped file here

I downloaded and studied something like 28 discs of these sessions. They mostly sucked as hard as every two-LP bootleg of them that I bought in my youth. I came away with one disc that reliably delights me and suggests/simulates a band that was really going for it, collectively. Most of their supposed recordings of (seemingly juicy) covers during these sessions were lame piss-takes that inspired no real band performance. So, my picks are mostly focused on interesting/hot performances of original tunes, which they attempted 1000 times each, plus some outliers.