The Record Collection: 1988 (1-20)

The album collection in chronological order from when it was bought. Revisited one at the time.

Fetchin Bones | Bad Pumpkin | Capitol 1986 |

Underrated and sadly forgotten North Carolina quintet combining a kind of Southern jangly vibe with restless proto-grunge. They supported R.E.M and the B-52’s, whom they both are sonically related to. This is their second album, marking their move from small db Records to a major label without losing their spark. Rather this LP still holds up thanks to careful production by Don Dixon and tight songs throughout the record. And Hope Nicholls was a great singer back then, and she still is.

Ben Vaughn Combo | The Many Moods of Ben Vaughn | Restless/Making Waves 1986 |

‘I got a 1969 Rambler American/Baby aren’t you impressed/Sure I could have a Datsun 280 Z/But I’m not like all the rest’ Ben Vaughn blends humor and wit with classic American music; rock’n’roll, rockabilly and country twang. He’s been doing his thing since the early 1980’s, and has released albums better than this during his long career. But Vaughn and his Combo had such an irresistible charm on songs like “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)”, “I Dig You Wig” and “Wrong Haircut” that makes his debut album still a treat to listen to.

The Dream Syndicate | This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album… Live! | A&M 1984 |

Recorded live at the Aragon in Chicago one hot July night in 1984, when The Dream Syndicate toured on ‘The Medicine Show’ (released a month prior) with R.E.M. Only five songs long, but these are all classics – from a band in blistering shape. The classic line up of Steve Wynn, Dennis Duck, guitarist Karl Precoda on his last album with the Syndicate, and newcomer Mark Walton. Tommy Zvoncheck guests on keys, but this performance is first and foremost about four guys and great songs; long jams, feedback orgies and the joy of a sweaty club night. That’s rock and roll.

Guadalcanal Diary | 2×4 | Elektra/Asylum 1987 |

Producer Don Dixon is synonymous with some of the finest guitar rock of the 1980s, with a jangly signature sound that mainly captured the spirit of Southern indie and mostly known for his work with early R.E.M. Guadalcanal Diary, also from Georgia, never earned the same levels of commercial success. A new listen to the hands down masterpiece ‘2×4’ serves as a reminder on how that is just unfair. They shared some obvious similarities, but this quartet had a more direct and extrovert approach to their songwriting. This is their finest moment, an energetic and eclectic set of pure excellent songs.

The Screaming Blue Messiahs | Bikini Red | Elektra 1987 |

London based Screaming Blue Messiahs rose from the ashes of Motor Boys Motor (named after a 101’ers tune) exposing a crew owing debt to the likes of Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Captain Beefheart. With some adjustments to the line-up, the smokin’ trio was finally settled as the highly skilled outfit of Bill Carter on guitar and vocals, Chris Thompson on bass and Kenny Harris on thundering drums. Soon after they were renamed the Screaming Blue Messiahs. The Vic Maile produced ‘Bikini Red’ saw the band dwelling even deeper into iconic American pop and trash culture. Complete with references to Elvis, cars, booze, TV evangelists and fast living, the music itself proves an amalgam of rockabilly, rhythm & blues, hillbilly and surf fronted by Bill Carter who (with an American accent) declared that “Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge,” “I Can Speak American” and even “I Wanna Be a Flintstone.

Various artists | I Was A Teenage Zombie | Enigma 1987 |

Still haven’t seen the movie, but suspect the soundtrack is superior to the comedy-horror flick. This is a decent selection with some of the finest indie artists of the time picked from the Enigma roster. The db’s, Smithereens, and Los Lobos are all in here, and the Fleshtones got a minor hit with the theme song. The highlights are Violent Femmes’ “Good Feeling” and The Dream Syndicate with the haunting masterpiece “Halloween.”

R.E.M | Chronic Town | I.R.S 1982
R.E.M | Murmur | I.R.S 1983 |
R.E.M | Reckoning | I.R.S 1984 |

I discovered R.E.M with ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’ as a 13-14 year old kid, and immediately fell in love, not only with R.E.M but in alternative American guitar rock in general. So when I finally switched over from cassettes to LP’s in 1988, purchasing their back catalog was obviously a high priority. One lucky day I went home with ‘Chronic Town’, ‘Murmur’ and ‘Reckoning’ bought from a friend, meaning days and weeks of deep listening. Humming along to barely recognizable lyrics. R.E.M might went on to release better albums later in their career, but these three albums, they’re all equal to me, really captures all I love about them. And they still sound as adventurous and amazing as they did on that February day in 1988.

Green On Red | Gas Food Lodging | Enigma 1985 |

Green On Red released nothing but excellent albums between 1982-88, and some great moments in the years after. This is the band in its prime; Dan Stuart, Big Dog MacNicol (RIP), Jack Waterson, Chuck Prophet and Chris Cacavas made one helluva great line up, supported with fine production from Paul B. Cutler of the Dream Syndicate. From the blazing opener ‘That’s What Dreams’ to the campfire version of ‘We Shall Ocercome’, this is rootsy ragged rock at it’s finest, but side 2 with ‘Sixteen Ways’, ‘The Drifter’ and ‘Sea Of Cortez’ are particular standouts. Heck, all of them are.

Thin White Rope | Bottom Feeders | Zippo/Frontier 1988|

Not too many bands can boast a recorded history without any major flaws. But Northern California’s Thin White Rope are one of those. They made great studio albums throughout, well known for their even more ferocious live shows of massive wall of guitars and bulldozer sound. The group never really fit into the categories used for branding guitar dominated rock in the 1980s. Thin White Rope were too harsh to be labeled as jangle, too loud for the emerging alternative country movement and too dark to fit into the flowery Paisley Underground. ‘Bottom Feeders’ is an EP of four originals and two covers (Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and highlighted with a blistering live version of Suicide’s “Rocket USA”) and tucked between the bleak masterpieces ‘Moonhead’ and astonishing ‘In The Spanish Cave’. But there’s no reason to ignore this little beast of chainsaw guitars, raspy vocal and spooky vibes. Great cover art by Steve Blickenstaff.

The Dead Kennedys | Frankenchrist | Alternative Tentacles 1985 |

In an ideal world, songs about corrupt government, robots replacing the working class, suburban decay and structural racism would be of out of date some 30 years down the line. Alas, as we all know, the topics raised on ‘Frankenchrist’ are more relevant than ever. “No wonder others hate us/And the Hitlers we handpick/To bleed their people dry/For our evil empire”, Biafra sings on the album standout ‘Stars and Stripes of Corruption’ like an omen for the presidency and leadership in 2018. ‘Frankenchrist’ might lack the immediate punk anthems of its predecessors, but musically this is also Kennedy’s best and most diverse album, where they expanded their punk roots and embraced a far more eclectic sound to include surf, Latin, psychedelic and synth elements. The album is mostly remembered for the massive controversy that followed, when the band was brought to court – and to their knees – due to the inlay poster ‘Penis Landscape’ by H.R Giger. Such fools, when the real concern should’ve been on solving the real problems outlined here. ‘Frankenchrist’ is an underrated gem in the band’s catalog.

The Replacements | Let it Be | Twin/Tone / Zippo 1984 |

This is just the ultimate album when you’re 16 and life to go. The Replacements’ combination of restless energy and slacker attitude, teen angst and drunken confidence hit like a bomb when I bought ‘Let It Be’ in 1988, and it became the soundtrack into adolescence. “How young are you?/How old am I?/Let’s count the rings around my eyes” is just an ace opening statement into an album packed with classic coming of age tunes miles ahead from their previous more punk based efforts, sometimes like a mix of the Stones’ swagger and ‘Born to Run’ era Springsteen. The album cover is perfect too, remember how I just wanted to climb that roof and squeeze in between these four hoodlums from Minneapolis.

Green On Red | Gravity Talks | Slash 1983 |

I first heard Green On Red on the ‘Slash Cuts’ compilation, where “Five Easy Pieces” was a standout. Driven by Chris Cacavas’ psychedelic keyboard swirls and Dan Stuart’s snarling vocals, the band found their own place in their infancy combining 60’s garage/psychedelia and Dylanesque folk-rock. Gravity Talks is a very fine document of this epoch, provided by a bunch of clever outlaw kids from Arizona still not sure about where to go. I love the nervous desperation that hangs over the whole album, a youthful energy impossible to replicate later in a career. ‘We don’t pretend to know everything or speak out loud like our parents did’, Stuart sings on the anthemic “Brave Generation”, name checking Fitzgerald and Faulkner on a coming of age story of growing up between the Vietnam war and Cold War anxiety: ‘We’re not beat, we’re not hip, we’re the Brave Generation, what a trip.’

The Del Fuegos | Boston Mass | Slash 1985 |

Yet another album bought off the ‘Slash Cuts’ compilation I guess. There was nothing hip or super fancy about the Del Fuegos in 1988, still aren’t. But their basic and credible urban heartland rock ‘n’ roll has some strong timeless qualities – and time has fared rather well with this one, their second album. Fronted by the Zanes’ brothers and produced by Mitchell Froom, Del Fuegos’ hammered out a couple of easy to like bar room and streetwise backroad tunes – equally perfect for both purposes (not at the same time though). This is the ‘sound of our town’, that’s the sound of Boston, Mass all right.

The Dream Syndicate | Medicine Show | A&M 1984 |

Following their raucous debut full length, The Dream Syndicate signed with a major label, teamed up with renowned producer Sandy Pearlman (Blue Öyster Cult, The Dictators, The Clash) and spent five months in the studio to finish their Medicine Show. It was met with various receptions at the time, but has gained favorable to classical status over the years. Pearlman and Syndicate shaped a far different sound for this album, more related to Television, The Cars and Neil Young than Velvet Underground. This is American gothic stories filled with some of Steve Wynn’s most memorable characters on songs like “Burn”, “Armed With An Empty Gun” and “Bullet With My Name On It.” But the panoramic widescreen vision reveals in its full on side 2: The title track, the blistering jam “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” and “Merritville” are all epic and has deservedly so become standards in the band’s catalogue. Medicine Show was obtained at a time when learning the lyrics was part of buying an album. I memorized all of these songs by heart, and they’re still holding on to me.

Hüsker Dü | Warehouse: Songs And Stories | Warner 1987 |

Could have been the one to boast Zen Arcade or New Day Rising as my entry points to Hüsker Dü, but as it happened their swan song Warehouse: Songs and Stories became my gateway album. I discovered them without any anticipation or deep knowledge about their astonishing back catalogue. I was just thrown into this sprawling sonic assault of thin fuzz, frenetic pace and way to clever poetry for a kid my age. It was almost too much. I guess the sheer intensity and emotional depth did resonate very well at the time. And the songs are catchy as hell. I didn’t care to much about the front cover though, but adored the back cover; those three weird and average looking guys laying on the grass surrounded by psychedelic blasts. 30 years down the road it still sounds like an amalgam of 60’s pop anthems filtered through a punk psychedelic odyssey, I particularly recall “Ice Cold Ice”, “Could You Be the One” and especially “She Floated Away” being played nonstop. Warehouse: Songs And Stories is a breathtaking kaleidoscopic soundtrack of youth, the sound of a band that had finally grown up – but also a band that were falling apart. In the end, I guess everything does.

The Del-Lords | Johnny Comes Marching Home | EMI America 1986 |

Of all the albums bought in my pioneer days, this is the one I probably know the least. I don’t recall the actual purchase, nor the songs in detail. So with a bit of excitement I drop the needle and press play. Just like the first time. The archetypal 80s sound aside, time has fared rather well with Johnny. The cover doesn’t lie. These four tough, denim and leather dressed New York guys could’ve been lifted straight outta ‘American Graffiti’, cruising down the main drag and looking for trouble at the soda shop while hanging round the jukebox. And it’s pretty much that kind of music they make; no nonsense rock rooted directly back to the 1950s with a modernized and radio friendly sound – and some nice parts of chiming Byrds-like guitars. Not bad at all, formerly Dictators’ and front man Scott Kempner is a great songwriter and assembled a more than decent cast of characters, including Eric ‘Roscoe’ Ambel, for The Del-Lords. Sometimes all we need is to rock out, have a good time and don’t worry too much. The sound of carefree times has no expiration date.

Danny & Dusty | The Lost Weekend | A&M 1985 |

When you’re 15-16, life’s at the crossroads. Your path is not yet set, there are choices to be made; sports, school, or well, smoking and drinking. Now, I’ll never blame Danny & Dusty for leading me down the wrong road, but those two fellas on the cover sure seems to have a good time! Who doesn’t wanna join in on their drunken choir? And Danny & Dusty sounds just like a couple friends having the time of their lives. It certainly helps when they happened to be Dan Stuart and Steve Wynn, joined by a fine group of likeminded ramblers from The Long Ryders and Green On Red/The Dream Syndicate. They dropped most of their gloomy credibility and pretensions outside and entered the bar with nothing but good intentions: to sing, drink, shoot stories, long on talk and short on cash, and drink some more. ‘One’s too many, and a hundred’s not enough’ as they say in the legendary movie The Lost Weekend (I watched it immediately after buying the album.) The result is loose and spontaneous, but not too sloppy, rather it’s rowdy, confident and has actually aged very well. The songs are great, from when the word is out until we knock on heavens door begging for hangover relief on Sunday. Chris Cacavas is perfect as the barroom pianist, Dan and Steve know how to tell stories about winners and losers in the shadow of the Hollywood neon glimmer. Lebowski might be the dude, but these guys, they were the real dudes.

The Cramps | Psychedelic Jungle | I.R.S. 1981 |

‘Primitive, that’s how I live.’ Lux Interior holler and howls all the way through ‘Psychedelic Jungle.’ The Cramps’ second album is onehelluva slow burning garbage crate digging bonanza of 1950s sleaze and dark shades, a wild, weird and wicked entry to a world of voodoo rockabilly, haunted garage rock and deranged punk. I discovered the band, as far as I remember, with a live version of “Sunglasses After Dark” played on radio, and was immediately hooked. I don’t play this too often though, must’ve been years since I was reminded to not eat stuff from the sidewalk

Good & Definitely Gone: The Screaming Blue Messiahs

sbm_87_2Before punk, there was the pub. Unlike their American counterparts, the British punk scene mainly evolved from pub rock. Developing in the early 1970s, pub rock followed a straight path rooting back to 1950s and ’60s no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues. Disdaining the glitz and glam of the era in favor of a much more back-to-basics approach to rock, it was not limited to one certain style, and just as happily embraced ragged folk, country, funky soul and other musical expressions fit for tight and sweaty club nights.

mbmBecause pub rock was mainly a phenomenon based around live experiences it centered around legendary London clubs like The Hope & Anchor, Dingwalls, the Nashville and the Tally Ho. Spearheaded by acts like Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods and The 101’ers (Joe Strummer’s first band before The Clash), the lines between pub rock and punk rock are blurred at best, with The Vibrators, The Stranglers, Ian Dury and Elvis Costello serving as prime examples of the transcending artists of the scene.

By the late 1970s, the pub rock phenomenon was more or less absorbed by the punks, and soon began to fragment into various subgenres. But just a couple years later, a new band saw the light of day in London, one based on many of the some motifs as their recent forefathers: Screaming Blue Messiahs. Formed in 1983 as a power trio consisting of Bill Carter, Chris Thompson and Kenny Harris, the Messiahs were never easy to categorize, but they were clearly inspired by the pub and punk rock hallmarks, with more than a small dose of rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues and rockabilly thrown into the mix.

sbm_ggScreaming Blue Messiahs rose from the ashes of Motor Boys Motor (named after a 101’ers tune). The now obscure, but superb band only released one sole album in 1982, exposing a crew owing debt to the likes of Bo Diddley, Little Richard and Captain Beefheart. With some adjustments to the line-up, the smokin’ trio was finally settled as the highly skilled outfit of Bill Carter on guitar and vocals, Chris Thompson on bass and Kenny Harris on thundering drums. Soon after they were renamed the Screaming Blue Messiahs and found a natural place to call home in the excellent and wildly eclectic Big Beat label, one known for pushing rock in all shapes and forms (rockabilly, mod, hillbilly, blues, rock ’n’ roll, ’60s soul and much more).

For their debut EP Good & Gone, they hooked up with legendary producer Vic Maile (1943-1989), known for his work with artists like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Motörhead, Girlschool, Dr. Feelgood, and loads more. Maile turned out to be a close partner and provided his muscular production skills through much of their career.

Good & Gone, along with some ravaging live shows, set the band on fire and saw them reach the top 20 on independent playlists. The major labels smelled success, and in 1985 the trio signed with WEA and began work on their debut album.

sbm_gunshyGun-Shy hit the record stores in early 1986 and segmented the band’s status as both critical darlings and live favorites. Following the release of Gun-Shy the band did some extensive touring in Europe, North America (with The Cramps), Australia and New Zealand.

The New York Times described it as “one of the year’s most powerful – and raucous – major-label albums, blunt and muscular and implacable. With twanging, squealing guitars and walloping drums, Gun-Shy comes on like a pickup truck full of Furies.”

Bikini Red followed a year later and saw the band dwelling even deeper into iconic American pop and trash culture. Complete with references to Elvis, cars, booze, TV evangelists and fast living, the music itself proves an amalgam of rockabilly, rhythm & blues, hillbilly and surf fronted by Bill Carter who (with an American accent) declared that “Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge,” “I Can Speak American” and even “I Wanna Be a Flintstone.”

sbm_bikiniThey were met again with positive reviews, even though the release itself was a bit haltered due to the lack of the same sort of extensive touring that followed their debut. But support then came from unexpected places, including when David Bowie, on several occasions, stated that “an angry mob from London” known as the Screaming Blue Messiahs was “his pet project.” His admiration led to a couple of support gigs along his ongoing Glass Spiders tour in the UK. Then, in 1988 they reached a commercial peak as “I Wanna Be a Flintstone” hit the charts, introducing them to a more mainstream audience.

Though Bikini Red is considered to be the peak of their album career, the band itself would soon history as they had, by this point, started to drift apart.

Thus, Totally Religious (1989) became their swan song, an album that, while equally ferocious as its predecessors, demonstrated that they’d obviously lost some of their previous steam. Vic Maile passed away at just 45 years old, and legal wranglers with the record label and internal strain had also taken its toll. It was all over by 1990.

We had the great honor of chatting with Kenny Harris and Chris Thompson about their past, where they, among other things, reveal a not particularly strong relationship with their former comrade Bill Carter. Like their music, they are tough, no-bullshit guys. Here’s their story.

* * *


How do you consider the longevity of the Screaming Blue Messiahs catalog, if you ever happen to revisit it today?

I don’t listen to any of it very often but I don’t think it’s dated too badly.

There are lots of different influences to be heard in your sound. What were your most obvious ones?

Blues obviously with a pinch of rockabilly, a dash of country and a huge dollop of Wilko Johnson [the guitar player in Dr. Feelgood].

How would you describe Screaming Blue Messiahs to new listeners today?

Could never describe the music then and I can’t even think of any way to describe it now.

Did you have a clear idea from the get go on what the band should be and sound like, or how did you work on finding the right direction?

We knew the chemistry was right and we just let things take their natural course. There was no plan.

How in your opinion did you evolve during your relatively short time span as a band?

I think that as we toured and recorded we evolved musically but as people, we devolved.

At least, one of us did.

How was the environment for your kind of music back when you guys first started out? Can you please try and describe the scene you belonged to at the time?

London was a far better place gig wise then than it is now. We still had the original Hope & Anchor, The Marquee, Dingwalls and lots more. It was very healthy.

In addition to being rooted in a clear English rock tradition, the close integration of American culture seemed to follow you all along. Care to shed some light on this Anglo/American approach and how you intertwined it into your unique style?

Bill Carter watched too much American telly.

Can you please tell me a little about your close cooperation with Vic Maile and how important he was in the shaping of your sound?

Vic Maile was brilliant and quite possibly the nicest person ever to work in the music business. He didn’t so much shape our sound as condense what was already there.

He could also handle Carter, in the beginning anyway.

David Bowie was a huge fan of you guys, and you also did some touring with him. How did you get to know Mr. Bowie, and what was it like going on the road with him?

He had done an interview with Rolling Stone magazine where he said he liked us. Our manager got on to his people and we ended up doing two gigs on the Glass Spider tour. So we didn’t exactly go on the road with him.

You hit the charts with “I Wanna Be a Flintstone” off of Bikini Red. How was that experience, and did it change anything at all for you?

It was one of the biggest mistakes we ever made and we ended up doing Top of the Pops which was fucking horrible.

I know there was some label issues around your final album. What happened?

We got dropped.

Why did you guys decided to call it quits?

Bill Carter walked out. Simple as that. No announcement, no meeting, he just fucked off.

Are you still in touch with him, and what are the odds for seeing you all together back on the stage someday?

No, we are not in touch with him and as for a reformation, you have a better chance of seeing Elvis on stage supported by The Beatles.

What’s your favorite album – and why?

Bikini Red. We were very match fit and we had Vic at the helm.

What is in your opinion the greatest achievement in the history of Screaming Blue Messiahs?

That we got through it without Chris or me killing Bill Carter.

Any regrets? Anything you would do differently if you had a second chance?

I regret not leaving the band the moment we were shown the cover for Bikini Red.

Love the album, hate the cover.

What’s going on for you guys now, any recent or future projects you like to share with us?

Chris and I still play together but I think my playing days are drawing to a close due to severe arthritis.

But not yet, not fucking yet. Chris and I have still some unfinished business.

Finally, any new music out there you’d like to recommend?

Kenny: Check out Lurch, a producer/DJ based in Bristol.

Chris: Also check out Georgia Pip Willacey, a young singer-songwriter with lots of promise.

* * *

After our chat with Kenny, Chris jumped in and had to underline just one more point: ”I agree with everything Kenny says except that I am not as a big fan of Bill Carter as he is! Virtually all the material was written in collaboration with Kenny and I. No songs came into the studio from Carter fully formed.”

Cheers to the guys for taking their time with us. As you now might have come to understand, we won’t see the Screaming Blue Messiahs together again, but be sure to dig into their albums. They really do still sound as great as ever.


Bjørn Hammershaug