too much typing—since 2003


love songs for dismal little twerps

Yep Roc has reissued three of Robyn Hitchcock's solo albums, which have been shamefully out of print for a while: Black Snake Diamond Role, I Often Dream of Trains, and Eye. They're also available as part of a five-disc set, I Wanna Go Backwards, which contains an additional two discs of demos entitled While Thatcher Mauled Britain. The set includes twenty to thirty tracks either previously unreleased or difficult to find. Robyn Hitchcock is a brilliant songwriter, and it's great to see these titles back in print - especially I Often Dream of Trains, which is a devastatingly sad and beautiful album.

When these albums were issued on CD initially, some pressings tacked on bonus tracks, some of which were rather ill-suited to the albums proper. The Yep Roc reissues draw from a broader range of tracks (including several that were previously on the Invisible Hitchcock compilation) but, oddly, they omit a couple few songs.

Here are three of those orphaned tracks. The first one is simply an alternate version of "The Man Who Invented Himself" featuring overdubbed and tweezed Gary Barnacle saxophones. I prefer the punchier, saxless mix - but this one has its period-specific pleasures as well. Appended as a bonus track to that same edition of Black Snake Diamond Role (on the British Aftermath label) is "Dancing on God's Thumb," Robyn's fine, if slight, take on a vaguely dance-y sound. (He'd explore that a bit further on the generally disastrously arranged Groovy Decoy/Decay album a year or two later: incidentally, Yep Roc supposedly will be releasing some version of that album in download-only format.) Finally, from the Midnight Music edition of I Often Dream of Trains, the completely out-of-context goof of "Mellow Together." That edition put its bonus tracks in the middle, rather destroying the flow of the original album - and this song, dumb voice and all, was completely jarring. I'm glad it's not on Trains any more - maybe it'll find a home on some hypothetical mopping-up compilation in the future.

Yep Roc plans to reissue some of Hitchcock's albums with the Egyptians early next year - unfortunately, it appears that ensemble's A&M albums are still tied up in litigation.

Robyn Hitchcock "The Man Who Invented Himself" (sax version) Black Snake Diamond Role, 1987 Aftermath edition (1981)
Robyn Hitchcock "Dancing on God's Thumb" Black Snake Diamond Role, 1987 Aftermath edition (1981)
Robyn Hitchcock "Mellow Together" I Often Dream of Trains, 1986 Midnight Music edition (1984)

PS: Check out my Milwaukee compadre Don's reprint of a 1996 interview he conducted with Hitchcock for the late, lamented Milk magazine, at his Timedoor site.


The Girl Who Invented Herself said...

Thank you!!

James said...

I'm happy that "Beautiful Girl" from Eye will be back in print. And thanks for letting me know I shouldn't sell my Rhino editions of these records before I buy the Yep Roc versions.

Not that it helps Robyn any, but those A&M albums are dollar bin staples, which is not the case for his other post-Soft-Boys stuff. The A&M Greatest Hits CD is surprisingly good, as it includes some of Hitchcock's hilarious between-song live banter, and two ace covers not available elsewhere (the Byrds and Roxy Music). I guess that one will never be reissued.

I wonder if "A&M" litigation is the reason why the Feelies catalog hasn't been available for years...

2fs said...

I should clarify: I don't know for a fact that the A&M albums are tied up by litigation (or potential litigation) - only that typically, when things aren't released that have at least some commercial potential (like the Hitchcock album with his most popular song on it, say), the reason most likely is backstage wrangling about rights and the payment therefor.

I'm hoping the major labels die a painful death within the decade. Yes, their distribution and promotion makes people aware of music they otherwise might not - but I think people who are interested in finding music now are much better able to find it (you know: teh intarnets). I'm hoping that as part of that death, what's reborn is the concept of artists holding the rights to their own music - so that if a secondary rights-holder refuses to release material, the artist can do so, or renegotiate a deal. Just whose interests are served by a company refusing to either release or relinquish such rights? I don't think music should be held like stocks and shares, waiting for the most propitious time to market them.

(And hey: I just mentioned the Feelies an entry or two ago...)

Pete Bilderback said...

I had been meaning to do a similar post on my own blog. Instead I'll just link to yours.

"The Man Who Invented Himself" has an interesting history. The (hornless) version featured on the Yep Roc and Rhino reissues was originally intended for Zinc Pear (a working title for Hitchock's first solo album). That album was scrapped and reassembled as Black Snake Diamond Role.

Gary Barnacle's sax was overdubbed using the master that was intended for Zinc Pear, but the Black Snake Diamond Role take of the song was lost sometime between its original appearance on CD and the Rhino reissue in 1995.

Personally, I prefer the version with horns. When I hear the Zinc Pear version I find myself subconsciously adding the horn line in my own head. It's just the way I'm most used to hearing it I suppose.

A&M had some fantastic "alternative" acts signed to the label during the late 80s: Robyn, The Feelies, Soul Asylum, The Mekons, Chris Stamey, The Dream Syndicate and probably some others I am forgetting. Almost all of the albums those acts produced for A&M have been out-of-print for years.

Recently, Hip-O Select released a box set with both of Soul Asylum's albums for the label, plus some bonus tracks and a live disc. Let's hope the Robyn and some of these other acts get similar treatment at some point in the near future.


Don said...

Hi 2fs, thanks for plugging Timedoor. More importantly, thanks for sharing some of your own Robyn Hitchcock rarities!

Robert Jaz said...

I agree with you on "Mellow Together" - to me it always stuck out and was so inappropriate for the cd I had of Trains (Midnight). I had no idea it wasn't supposed to be there so just accepted it and let it play, but now it all makes sense. As a funny goof number it's fine but place it as a bonus tracks somewhere else. Do you think obyn was trying to sound like Neil of the Young Ones on purpose here? It's very very close and would fit in timewise with British TV of the time.

What is the hardest Robyn album to track down on cd? and is also the one I should have??

The fact that Groovy Decay / Decoy is so disliked makes me want it all the more - so I will be hunting that down soon as they are two of his albums I passed over at the time of their releases.
can they be any worse than "Mellow Together"?? I think not...

2fs said...

Right now, the hardest-to-find Hitchcock CDs are the ones he released on A&M with the Egyptians: they're out of print, and no current plans to reissue them (so far as I know). As I mention above, I suspect rights issues are the culprit.

GRVDCY's main problem is its production: to me, it's very unsympathetic to the songs, full of a lot of early '80s bells and whistles. Some of the songs are quite good, though, and some survive the production wringer. Supposedly Yep Roc will be making it available for download, so it shouldn't be hard to find shortly. No idea which version - there've been so many, I can't keep it straight.

I agree that "Mellow Together" is pretty much a joke: as such, it's not terrible. The new reissue of IODOT restores the original running order: easy to spot, it runs from "Nocturne" through "Nocturne (Demise)." The fact that the album's framed with two versions of the same song should've clued-in reissuers that it shouldn't be messed with. My ideal version (true for almost all reissues) would be a two-disc version w/the original songs on one disc and extra or alternate tracks on the second.