THE SOUNDS OF EXPERIENCE #1
Welcome to the first issue of “The Sounds of Experience“, a bi-monthly tentative to make you discover or re-discover albums from the past and present.
Before we start
The idea behind this newsletter is to share my passion for a specific musical format, the Album. Before tapes, recordable CDs, and Mp3, humans used to buy music engraved on black 12 inch pieces of vinyl plastic in a nice paper envelope and a slightly larger cardboard sleeve.
There were simple and double albums (or even triple!) There were either studio or live recordings. From time to time, a band would gather extracts from various albums in a compilation album. Albums with 8 tracks and more were called LPs, when shorter albums with 4 to 6 tracks were called EPs
Usually, one or two songs were extracted from the album as “singles” pressed on a 7″ disk and sent to radios for airplay. The 7″ would be available before the album, as some sort of a teaser to the upcoming work. If we were all expecting the new singles, in the end the album was the important thing: 8 to 15 songs, that would make sense as a whole, artistically, or even sometimes as a developed concept (think Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime). Everything was important in an album: the title, the order of songs, the opening song, the closing song, the personnel, the production and the producer, the recording location, etc.
All these details were printed on the inner sleeve with the lyrics or on the back of the outer sleeve. For instance, on Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasure Dome, there is even a small-prints mention of the recording “clicks” with accurate times positions! If content was important, the delivery was an essential part of the experience and some album sleeves still work now as artistic memes (The Beatles’ Abbey Road, for instance).
A real fan would read everything and understand the stories behind every detail. I can remember discussing for hours with friends at school why The Cure’s original member Laurence Tolhurst was mentioned as “Other Instruments” on the credits of “Disintegration”. Such mysterious information needed explanation: but we had no Internet, and we had to wait for the next issue of “Rock’n Folk”, “Best” or “NME” to get insights and, hopefully, an answer.
So let’s not fool ourselves: the return of the vinyl format in stores is not just about the quality of sound: it’s also about the sleeve and the touch, this feeling we have something valuable in our hands, like when we hold a piece of art. Something we had to find a place for. A belonging.
Yes, the Album was the thing. And there’s so much to say about it, from the buying experience to the absolute fear of “lending it to that girl from the other school I met at the party last night“.
Today, let’s start with the first Album I received, as a present, when I was 12.
MEN AT WORK
“Business As Usual”
(The Yellow version of Men At Works’ Business As Usual classic 1981 LP)
Men At Work’s 1981 album entitled “Business As Usual” is actually the first record I really liked. A friend at school gave me the Australian band’s LP, which he got from a pile of his older brother’s abandoned records. I still have it, 35 years later, and I still listen to it quite often. At the time, music at home was still my Dad’s business: Original Beatles LPs, classic music from Deutsche Grammophon and his Joao Gilberto / Stan Getz orange sleeved favorite. Bringing my own sounds home, at age 12, was the first move in a long battle against my Dad’s aversion for what he used to call “degenerated music”.
I remember using his Technics record player to discover what is still to date one of my favorite LP. At the time, Men At Work were called “The Australian Police”, mostly for their guitar sounds and rhythms, inspired from reggae and Andy Summers’s arpeggios. The high pitch voice of Colin Hay could also sometimes recall Sting’s vocals. And this is where, I think, the comparison with the British band stops. Men At Work has its own sound, less punk and urban than The Police, and nicely colored instrumental parts, with Greg Ham‘s flute and Ron Strykert virtuose solos.
For a first album, Business As Usual was quite a success for the band and despite a simple production and a raw sound, the album made it to the top of the charts in Canada, US and, of course, Australia.
The main song from the album is the unforgettable hit Down Under, which tells the story of an Australian guy “travelling in a Fried-out Kombi, on a hippie trail head full of zombie”… Also the opening title and my favorite of the album, Who can it be now? can still be heard on good radios today.
The LP has also lots of great songs, most of them fast paced, fun and light, like “Underground” or “Touching the Untouchables”. The album ends with the 7-minutes ambient track “Down by the Sea”, with a beautiful bass line and powerful drumming.
Oh, I forgot to say that the sleeve cover comes in either yellow or white (Both are absolutely ugly).
Business As Usual is way far from being the best album ever but it was my first love story with 10 songs. The first milestone of a long musical journey.
(With my personal rating out of 5 *****)
- Who Can It Be Now? – ***** < My favorite track
- I Can See It In Your Eyes – ***
- Down Under – *****
- Underground – ****
- Helpless Automation – ***
- People Just Love To Play With Words – **
- Be Good Johnny – **
- Touching The Untouchables – ****
- Catch A Star – ***
- Down By The Sea – ***
Extra Tracks (Remastered version)
- Crazy – **
- Underground (Live) – ****
- Who Can It Be Now? (Live) – *****
- F-19 – ***
From the same artist
Listen to 1983’s CARGO, featuring the hit single “Overkill”.