singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
22 October 2016
(listening through speakers)Avid Acutus
Funk F·XRII
Linn Kilmax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove
TEAD Vibe 1.5 / Pulse 2
TEAD Linear A
TEAD Model One

I haven’t bought any singles lately, but I want to do a bit of writing. So, here’s a project.

I have a database of all my records, (yeah, I know. Leave it, okay?) and a couple of weeks ago I thought it might be fun to write a script to loop through it and use the Discogs API (along with, it turned out a bit of good old-fashioned screen-scraping) to find out what everything is worth. The results were remarkable, primarily because seemingly everything is worth far more than it could ever really be worth, but also because the things I thought would be worth the most, in general, weren’t.

Today’s project, then is to take the top twenty highest priced seven-inch singles (not including box-sets and suchlike) in my collection, and see if I think their value is in any way justified. I’ve got the house to myself, I can turn it up, and take my time.

Top of the pecuniary pile, at the time of writing, is this. The most anyone’s paid for it on Discogs is £449.58, but I am certain that back at the height of the White Stripes’ popularity I saw one go on eBay for well into four figures. According to my database I paid £3.45 for mine, so either way it’s a healthy return. I expect I bought it because it was on Sympathy for the Record Industry, and back then I used to buy more or less anything I found from them.

The ‘a’ sounds pretty much like any other White Stripes record which is fine I suppose, but they’ve never done an awful lot for me. The ‘b’ sides are more interesting, particularly Pain, a cover of a Jack Starr song. Jack Starr ploughed a similar furrow to Jack White, but in a filthier, noisier, ramshacklier, fuzzed-uppier, way.

Worth the money? NO. But still pretty good.

4

The most expensive record I have bought in my life. The seller wanted £60 for it, which I thought was outrageous, but I wanted it so much. I think I ended up swapping a couple of Radiohead singles for it, which, barring the couple of New Order and Joy Division records that went in the bin when we moved house, is pretty much the only time anything has left the collection.

This copy’s been spun a million times but, treated with respect, played on a proper record player with a good cartridge, and wet-cleaned, and it looks as good as new. The poster’s not much of a poster, and I don’t really like the sleeve art. But none of that matters does it.

It’s an evocative record for me, and it’s hard to be very objective at all. Pristine Christine is one of my favourite songs, ever, you see. It’s proper “lightning in a bottle” stuff. It has a magic you can’t put your finger on. The harder you concentrate on what it might be, the more elusive it is. Genius always slips through your fingers when you try to hold it, but it feels so good as it does.

Sullen Eyes sounds a bit like a rough sketch for Pristine Christine, but slower and less sure. Everglades rambles a bit aimlessly. None of this matters either, does it.

Worth the money? YES.

5

Now called “The Hinds” because “The Dears” decided to be dicks about it, this was the band’s first record, and I assume I bought this because it was a girls-with-guitars indiepop 7”. Even at my age, I can’t pass that stuff up. I raved about it at the time and for once I was right.

Damn, this is a good record. Yes, it’s derivative (as Everett True insists all Spanish music is) but it doesn’t matter because it’s done so well. You can’t help but think Headcoatees, but who doesn’t love Headcoatees? And I’m not sure they ever did anything as slinkily interlocking and catchy as Bamboo. I love the weirdly woozy beach-at-night guitar sound they have. I’m automatically good willed to anything with two singers. (Boy + Girl is best, but any combination works for me.) B-side is less straightforward, but none the worse for it.

Worth the money? Obviously no record is really worth a hundred quid, but YES.

5

You’d expect SARAH 1 to fetch a few quid. You’d expect Jack White oddities to be in demand, but the fourth Allo, Darlin’ single? That’s just weird. I checked, and it’s right. People are happily paying over “a ton” for this. I wondered if it was anything to do with the label (WeePOP!, who I always associate with 3” CDs) but nothing else on there seems to be fetching anything extraordinary. Maybe it’s just an amazing record. I can’t remember a thing about it.

In this kind of situation, I ask myself, “what would Monk do”? Perhaps the packaging gives us some clues why the record might be so prized. It’s on very nice orange vinyl. It comes with a nice orange booklet of lyrics and photos. It was a run of 300 copies. Mine is 76. Perhaps someone paid £100 for number 1, on the misguided assumption there were less of those than there were of number 76. None of those add up to much of an answer. I’ve a hundred other numbered, coloured, insert-stuffed sevens that people wouldn’t even pick out of a bin for free. I give up. Music, then.

It plays at 33rpm which, for coloured-vinyl indiepop, is INCORRECT. The title track is twee and catchy as mononucleosis, that most indiepop of illness. The lyrics are brilliant. Except the bit where she complains “you don’t even like the Grease megamix”. As a very, very, deep lover of Grease, I don’t like the Grease Megamix either. It cheapens it. There isn’t a Spiderland megamix is there? Or one of the soundtrack from Twin Peaks, and that’s how it should be.

Another thing I don’t rate is Stephen Hawking, to whom the first of the b-sides is dedicated. It annoys me when people think that someone who is good at physics is automatically way smarter than someone who is good at engineering, or poetry, or maths, or cabinet making. Or anything really. I did physics. It’s no harder than anything else. And you should see the mess that gets made of computer systems when physicists stick their oar in. Also, as these things go, Stephen Hawking isn’t really that much of a physicist. He’s no Feynmann, or Dirac, and I’m not even going to mention the two gravity blokes.

He’s also definitely not much of a writer or philosopher. But, somehow, having added some small amount of knowledge to an obscure corner of astrophysics means people think he is an all-round genius soothsayer equipped and entitled to comment on the world, its ills, and where it’s going. I don’t get it.

Back to the record, and it was going so well until some berk came in with in effing ukulele and ruined everything. Not even “excerpts from I Walk the Line” can make up for the effing “uke”. There’s a shop on Denmark Street that proudly proclaims “we sell ukuleles”. Every guitar shop should have just one ukulele, and when someone comes in and asks for a ukulele, it should be used to beat the customer about the head until he (and it will be a he) leaves, or dies.

Worth the money? NO, but it was until the ukulele made it sound like 85% of the worst adverts on TV.

4

I don’t understand how people are paying up to and over £100 for this. It’s a second-hand shop classic: I don’t know how many of these I’ve flicked past over the years, and I don’t think it’s hard to pick it up for a few quid. (Mine was 40p, it still had the sticker on.)

As I said the other week, I’m not much of a Buzzcocks fan, and I don’t recall being particularly fond of this but let’s give it a spin with an open mind and the knowledge some folk will pay silly money for it.

The thing people tend to forget about punk is that it was shit. It was also derivative. Pete Shelley sounds like he’s actively impersonating John Lydon. Okay, I’m perhaps being very slightly flippant, but punk depends on a visceral connection which you simply can’t get in your living room forty years after the event. Listening to Spiral Scratch, or The Beatles, or Love Will Tear us Apart I can only shrug and think “well, maybe it was different when you were there at the time, and it was new”. But to me, now, it’s all just boring. “Boredom, boredom”. His words, not mine.

Worth the money? NO.

2

Who likes Slint? I like Slint. Do you like Slint? I bet you don’t like Slint as much as Mogwai. They invented Slint, by doing it first in an after-they-did it kind of way.

I have, I think, everything Mogwai released from this, the first single, up to Mr Beast. I don’t particularly like them, and I have no idea why I acquired all those records. This one’s nothing special. tuner sounds totally like Slint. lower is a sort of earnest thrashy type thing, a bit like a bored Jesus Lizard, intercut with some Polvo type riffage.

Worth the money? NO. If you’re intent on spunking a wad of cash on an old Mogwai single, get the one with Summer on. That’s brilliant, and way cheaper.

2

It took me three runs through the ‘T’s to find this (last seen selling for the equivalent of £91.86) because I didn’t know I had it, and I didn’t know what it looked like. It doesn’t have any writing on the front, you see.

But here it finally is, freshly cleaned and ready to go. Unprepossessing, in its card sleeve with no inner or inserts. I’ve not much experience with Tame Impala. I tried that album everyone was raving about a year or two ago, and I thought it just sounded like a boring Beatles rehash.

There’s a Dots and Loops era Stereolab feel to the ‘a’. There’s possibly a kazoo, which is the only instrument I can think of right now that’s as annoying as the “uke”. Swings and roundabouts. The kazoo is not as bad to listen to, but less satisfying to imagine inserting into the rectum of the performer.

I’m not keen on this. It’s kind of what I expected, but something about it pushes my buttons a bit. I’m not sure music can sound smug, or pleased with itself, but if it can, this does. Goes on a bit too.

The b-side is a cover of Remember Me, which is ace, with singing and playing instead of sampling. Throughout the ‘a’ I was thinking about selling it. I never sell records, but a ton for this? I could get a couple of things I really want for that. The ‘b’ is great though, and I’ll keep it.

Worth the money? NO, but that b-side is winner.

3

They were just called “The Apples” at this point, with Robert Schnieder still to realise that most other bands were already called that. About a hundred dollars in today’s money gets you six cracking tracks, a more-psychedelic-than-the-music lyric/artwork booklet/sleeve, a trippy photocopied poster, and a Taco Bell customer feedback sheet creatively doctored to allow the listener to rate the band’s “neatly prepared haircuts” and “hustle”, and inviting us to comment on whether the band are “good for parents” and “cool, with it”. (They are.) You also get a lock-groove on each side, and the ‘b’ one is a belter.

Everything here later resurfaced on the Science Faire album, in all its fuzzed up, overexcited glory, but it works better in this context, as a perfect little 33rpm mini-album which is an object lesson in how to launch an independent label, and a minor scene.

Worth the money? YES.

5

Someone, somewhere, paid over sixty quid for this nasty little yellow cash-in which lifts, I think, both tracks from that island of mediocrity in a sea of awfulness: Brit-pop “classic”, Different Class.

Sheffield is a city of under-achievement, and that’s fine. It isn’t really known for much beyond the heavy industry that died out thirty years ago, and some of us are fine with that. It’s just a nice place to live. But others feel the need to drum up some kind of identity, and so every pub wall ends up draped with references to Pulp, the cookie-cutter art of Pete McKee, and the second-rate Worcestershire sauce knock-off “‘Endo’s”.

Growing up near Sheffield I saw more than my fair share of Pulp, and I always thought they were trying far too hard. Calculated oddballs, with the sort of overly-studied “what, this?” look that hipsters own now. Also, their music bored me, and I found Jarvis Cocker, if anything, faintly embarrassing. He has the odd good lyric I’ll grant you, but nothing that makes up for all that rhyming of the same word with itself. When Chris Morris did his Purves Grundy bit, he nailed it so accurately I’ve never been able to hear Pulp since without laughing.

I’m probably being unfair to this. I did like it, but I’ve heard it so, so many; far, far too many times. It’s generally a good lyric, but Bill Shatner delivers it much better, so there’s that version if you need a fix.

Worth the money? Hell NO. Listen to Blouse and never look back.

1

I’m a sucker for a series. Back in the late 90s, Bill Drummond pulled some sort of Lapp Punk scam, releasing half-a-dozen records by bands he’d supposedly discovered in the Arctic Circle whilst trying to find either himself, or Santa, or Elvis. I forget which. (If you care, it’s all written down (and made-up) in a book called Bad Wisdom, which I recommend.)

My favourite of these records has always been Sexy Roy Orbison, by The F–kers. But, once again I’m out of step with the world, as it’s this one that’s most in demand, likely because it’s catalogue number KALA 001.

Candy is either a new title, or a replacement, for Supermodel, which has been crossed out on the label with a permanent marker, and Candy written on instead. It’s a dirty garage track with a ridiculously overloud guitar solo, a bit like Afro. The melody, the rhythm, the chord progression, you’ve heard it all a hundred times. There are bands, probably called “Thee” <something>, who’ve made twenty albums where every single song is a minor variation on this. The b-side is the same song, (Candy (version) replacing Supermodel (version)) but it has dentist drills instead of vocals.

Worth the money? YES, especially if you get all six. But Sexy Roy Orbison is definitely better, and yours for twenty quid.

5

You can pretty much get two of these for what one copy of Henry Rollins Don’t Dance costs. The (I think) debut single, on a great label, by a wonderful, hugely influential, collectible band. It’s a funny old world isn’t it?

I used to buy stuff blind off Wurlitzer Jukebox, which is likely how I first came by this. It’s also possible I bought it because I had and liked The Book Lovers, because I also bought everything on Duophonic. One would have led me to the other.

We’ve Got Time is simply perfect. It sounds like four people doing four separate things, but for three minutes managing to hold that glorious coincidental overlap you get in Steve Reich records. (It sounds nothing like a Steve Reich piece.) Trish’s voice was never purer or clearer. We get malfunctioning oscillators, massive synth drones, abstract spookiness, the drumming from a sad majorette’s funeral, and everything fits together like the finest piece of jewellery. Beyond magnificence.

Accidentals takes a crackly, less-than-perfect loop and turns it into every melancholy, stuffy-headed, too-much-sleep, stretched-out afternoon I’ve ever endured. But it makes it wonderful. The genius is in the details as pieces of sound sculpture slide in and out. The melody goes against the grain, and magic happens.

The sleeve art is lovely, minimal and perfectly apt. There aren’t many records better than this.

Worth the money? YES, oh yes.

5

The proverbial “lovely package”. A die-cut gatefold sleeve which folds and locks together with tabs. It’s embossed, and printed with metallic ink. It’s hard to think of a nicer record sleeve. Attached to the inner front half is a sheet of Stereolab stamps, and there’s a book of the same stamps in there too. There is a beautifully printed card insert with a short essay about The ‘Lab on the front, and promos for the label’s other releases on the back. There’s also a smaller paper insert explaining that everything on the record is on the Aluminium Tunes compilation LP, albeit under different titles, and that THIS IS NOT AN ABUSE OF THE WORKERS.

It came in four colours: red, bronze, silver and gold. Naturally, I have all four. We’re using the gold one here, because, why not? The songs aren’t, to my ear, the best things The Groop ever did, but they’re not bad either. Frankly, given the packaging, the music is all but irrelevant.

Worth the money? YES, but only if you get all four. I reckon you’ll get them for under two-hundred. Do it. What else are you going to spend your money on?

3

This is their first single, and, coincidentally, I played their first album this morning. I have two of these. One has a pink label and no sleeve, the other has a white label and a colourful sleeve with a couple of big photocopied inserts.

It takes the same mini-LP approach as the Apples single above, and also sets the template for all OTC records by cramming too many songs, too many ideas and too many sound effects into its grooves. The OTC were the most experimental of the Elephant 6 bands, but they lacked the melodic knack of the Apples and the emotional connection of Neutral Milk Hotel, and they can come across a bit self-indulgent at times. As a result, the record, like many of their others, to this listener, starts off great, and ends up a bit wearing. Still, good though.

Worth the money? Cautiously, YES, as an item of historical significance

3

Another “wow, people pay that for this?” record. I liked The Male Nurse a lot back in the day, particularly this one, which I remember having on a mix tape in the car for absolutely ages. Driving to Huddersfield every bloody day. “Swayze you’re crazy!” ah, memories.

It sounds like early Fall, but you can tell the words. And the words are crackers, but not in the same way as The Fall. In a nutshell, the narrator has a perfect two-foot high replica of Hollywood actor Patrick Swayze held captive under his bed. He dresses it as Elvis, wraps it in gaffer tape, and forces it to serve cocktails in stockings and suspenders. “And if he’s grown he’s in trouble”.

The b-side, Deep/Fried just repeats “are we deep, or are we fried?” over an annoying, tinny beat. The sleeve art strikes a similar balance between brilliance and childish stupidity.

Worth the money? YES. Obviously.

4

I have no idea who or what this is, or why people are prepared to drop a bullseye on it. It’s a nice enough thing: the old “weapons grade” vinyl, in an okay tab-sealed cardboard sleeve (not a patch on the Stereolab one from earlier) all inside a brown paper bag. Recorded in 2006, and refers you to the label’s MySpace page. Was that really only ten years ago? It’ll happen to you too Facebook. It’ll happen to you too.

It’s all quite ramshackle, and it sounds like there might be a lot of them, all hammering away and shrieking like if Los Campesinos! couldn’t care less. No idea why I bought it, far less idea why you’d drop aforementioned bullseye.

Worth the money? NO

2

If you asked me, I’d immediately tell you that I love the Pastels. But, the truth is, I pretty much never listen to any of the very early stuff. Their frayed ramshackleness and Stephen’s frankly awful singing made a lot more sense when they moved into the slower, softer sound, particularly on Mobile Safari.

I remember being very excited at finding this in my friend’s record shop, because I didn’t even know it existed. You get one song twice, once in the studio and once live in front of either one or two people. It’s not much to look at.

Worth the money? YES, but you’d be better saving up for a nice copy of Mobile Safari. Get the one with the seven-inch.

3

Just off-white (buff titanium, painters) vinyl, no middle, Fortuna Pop, Galaxie 500 cover on the b-side. Sounds good eh? It’s the song off the first album that sounds most like You Made Me Realise, or more accurately, that Ringo Deathstarr one that sounds most like You Made Me Realise.

The cover is Tugboat, and they kill it. In a good way. Huge and turbulent, showing they can do a lot more than buzz-saw pop.

Worth the money? NO, not fifty quid, but it’s really good.

4

Annie Clark has been very much in vogue recently, and quite rightly, because she’s great. The first album is a bit overlooked I think It’s certainly a better record than the white one with the mouth on it. Maybe not so good as the self-titled one, and definitely not as good as Actor. Man, that’s some record.

Anyway, I’d rather forgotten about this song; The first things that spring to mind from the LP are probably Hey Now and Paris is Burning, but this is a good one too. Rich, and dense, and odd. The b-side is lovely. She can’t half play the guitar.

Worth the money? NO. Get the album instead.

3

I tried a couple of their records when they were all the rage, but I don’t get the hoo-har at all. This is a white label, white sleeve, no writing thing, and between its two sides it sounds like everything else of theirs I’ve heard.

On one side they do that thing they do where there’s a fast rhythm and a hyperactive singing/chanting, with a few things that don’t fit dropped in here and there to give the illusion of creativity. (The Beatles were masters at this.) It doesn’t half go on as well. Lord, it goes on.

On the other side they do that thing they do where one of them fidgets with an acoustic guitar like that one at the end of the first side of Isn’t Anything. Also, it’s a cover of Polly by Nirvana, so you get two insanely overrated bands for the price of one. Do they ever try too hard.

Worth the money? NO. It’s rubbish. All the way through I just wanted it to finish.

1

Another band loosely affiliated with The Apples and the OTC in their early days, and a lot of their stuff seems to be going for a lot of money. This is currently about forty quid’s worth according to Discogs.

Lilys were a kind of Brian Jonestown Massacre act in that each phase of their career expertly mimicked, encapsulated, and possibly extended all of someone else’s. Apparently they were going through their first-My-Bloody-Valentine-album phase at this point, with fuzzed-to-shit riffage, howling swirling noise and over-enthusiastic fills. Personally I preferred their Apples in Stereo phase and their Flowchart phase.

Worth the money? NO, but it’s okay. He’s six-foot-seven you know.

3

And that is that. I think, in summary, if you’re paying upwards of fifty quid for middling indie singles, you’re a pillock.