Music I just listened to and just had to freaking share

I went on a Smiths kick after listening to Morrissey’s “The Last of the International Playboys” last night after a line from it popped into my head. Now I can’t stop.

“Some nine year old tough who peddles drugs, I swear to god I swear I never even knew what drugs were”.

Prince of Persia: the music video

Also I just love this band.

Wow, that was just beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

There’s a story, possibly apocryphal, that a pissy young Steven Morrissey decided to get rid of all his records because he felt they were rubbish. Excepting 10, which he felt were worth holding on to.

Johnny Marr, interested in forming a band with Morrissey, came over shortly thereafter and went through Steve-o’s now-truncated record collection to see which 10 records had survived the cut. He saw one disc by a band that he thought only knew, and it cemented their partnership…and also formed the backbone of their sound as a huge influence.

The band was the Monochrome Set. And listening to this song you can sorta hear why:

Basically, Morrissey’s entire vocal style sounds like he’s trying to imitate Bid the singer from the Monochrome Set on this song.

I’m glad you liked it.

I’ve heard that one. I think it’s apocryphal too (Morrissey likes to play fast and loose with the truth). I have always dug the Monochrome Set, having been a Smithophile since the first album, though I haven’t dived down the rabbit hole for about 15 years, at least.

The title track on The Queen is Dead might be the best basswork Roarke ever did, and that’s saying something. Really the musicianship on that is about as good as it gets, along with Morissey’s lyrics and delivery. Height of their powers, possibly.

My favorite version of another favorite song. Joyce goes off.

Love it. I prefer my Roxy with some Eno in it, however.

The time is a thousand years in the future. Humans have been gone for a long time. Ironically they cooked themselves with their own atmosphere. This was what was necessary for cockroaches to evolve. Eating nicely cooked human full of various chemicals.

Cockroach Herodotus (speaking to his class): It is unusual. Most forums eventually evolved into a more simplified form. No matter how many different threads that there were, and there were many, they all ended up the same. The Three.

Baby Cockroach: The Three, sir?

CH: Yes lovely crawly child. The Three. Music that the humans liked. Food that the humans liked. And finally, visual depictions called Giffs. Some called them Jiffs. But they were destroyed in the Giff Wars.

Morrissey - I think I’m the only one who can perform this.

Marr - Hold my beer

This is actually my brother’s band, he’s the drummer (I actually went to high school with most of these guys), and I think it sounds amazing. They recorded it here in Iowa, in the same studio Slipknot records in (my brother even got to use the drum kit from that band a few times). They’ve been working on this for like 8 years or some nonsense, it just took forever, but I think it turned out great.

In the late 1980s, I was a college radio DJ, and there was no band I loved more for a few years than a Bay Area group called The Sneetches. I was just figuring out the connective tissue between bands from the 1960s, and the Sneetches unabashed love for bands like the Easybeats, the Zombies, and Left Banke were revelatory. Those guys listened to the same records I did! (Side note: Sneetch bassist Alec Palao ended up as a major figure at Amoeba Records and as a writer/rock historian; he’s been nominated multiple times for album liner notes and the like.)

Anyway, in 1990 or so, The Sneetches put out an EP called “He’s Frank (Slight Return)”, and I didn’t recognized the credited songwriters. It wasn’t the guys in the band, so it was a cover. And then seeing them live a few weeks later, I asked them about it after the show. They tipped me off that the song was a Monochrome Set cover. They further told me that, unequivocally, The Monochrome Set was the greatest band from England in the early 1980s. Period.

I will admit that living then in an age of grunge, sample-heavy hiphop, and loud and experimental indie noise rock…when I went to discover The Monochrome Set shortly after this conversation, the band bounced off me. Hard. I didn’t get it at all.

Over the next decade or so, I kept seeing bands I loved occasionally name-dropping The Monochrome Set as being influential to them. It didn’t really register though. I love a lot of artists who name drop Dylan…but I don’t really like Mr. Zimmerman all that much, even while recognizing empirically his qualities and massive artistic footprint. (It’s not him, it’s me.)

And so flash forward to the early 2000’s. I’m working on a mix CD ('member those?) for a Halloween party, and I hit up some friends on an email listserv (remember those?) for suggestions of anything I may have missed. Someone mentions a song called “Eine Symphonie Des Grauens” by The Monochrome Set. I think “What? A symphony by a band I kind of only like one song by?” But Google is now a thing. I google the song title. And it turns out “Eine Symphonie Des Grauens” is not just a Monochrome Set single from 1980, it’s also the original tagline for F. W. Murnau’s legendary vampire film, “Nosferatu”.

And now The Monochrome Set have my attention. That kind of snappy, referential wordplay is exactly in my wheelhouse. And I hear the song…and I think I play it in all its two-minute glory about 20 times in a row on repeat. It is the most amazing 2-minute song I have ever heard. It is an amazing thing of rock and pop craftsmanship, full of droll lyrics, bridges, codas, and a chorus so memorable I’ll never forget it. And then shortly after that, I hear “Jet Set Junta”, and holy shit. It might be as good as “Symphonie”.

I am starting to “get” The Monochrome Set.

And so over the intervening years, more and more of their output has started to appear on Spotify, from their initial years as postpunks descended from the same family tree as Adam & The Ants in the late 1970s to being XTC’s slightly more educated (meaning “a little too smart by half”) cousins in the early and mid-1980s. And then their 1990s resurrection, and even their excellent albums in the 2000s and 2010s.

I have heard the apocryphal stories about them. That young Stephen Morrissey in a typically dramatic act claimed to have “burned” his entire record collection, save 10 records, one of which was by the Monochrome Set…and when he me young Johnny Marr, the two bonded because of those 10 records, the Monochrome Set disc was the only one the two had in common, but both loved it desperately.

And I love the way Monochrome Set main man Bid (born Ganesh Seshadri) writes lyrics that clearly demonstrate that an early life as a 2nd generation immigrant in Britain and going to the finest schools where he was likely immersed in Christian theology and symbols went to good use. I mean, I guess there are those who’ll be offended by a song like “Cloud 10” about an angel who is clearly in lust in the most human of ways with God, but it’s so damned clever (and the majestically beautiful, yearning chorus: “Jesus, Jesus give me your answer do…” and that callback to “Bicycle Built For Two” helps) that it totally works. See also the incredibly droll, yet beautiful “Adeste Fideles”, and realize that yep, our man from India hilariously cribbed a song title from one of the most turgidly serious Christmas songs in the canon…and yeah, the lyrics to that are clever, if exceptionally lewd double entendres that make XTC’s “Dear God” sound perfectly acceptable in comparison. You can almost imaging 15-year old Bid sitting in a private school class being forced to learn Latin scripture and thinking his revenge would be using phrases like “Fons amoris, spiritus” and “Amor quam ecstaticus” in song lyrics.

And all of this long-windedness is to say: I really, really love The Monochrome Set. I think you might, too.

And so I made a playlist of their songs covering lots of the various eras of their existence. It’s the mix CD I’d have made for myself back in the day to win me over to The Monochrome Set immediately. They’re an amazing band, utilizing a songwriting craftsmanship and attention to detail that is incredibly intoxicating to me. And I saw an interview with Bid and original Monochrome Set (and frequent returnee to the band) guitarist Lester Square (get it?) perfectly articulate something that I don’t think gets enough credit: this is a band with a lead guitarist who uses their lead guitarist to actually play leads. Like constantly. To paraphrase Bid, why have two guitarists in a band if they’re just going to both play the same chords throughout a song? On almost ever Set song, Lester Square goes off on some fascinating guitar thing that is rarely ever showy, but almost always adds to the song as a whole.

Man. I typed a lot. Didn’t mean to. I love these guys. Maybe you will too. I made a playlist. Here it is. Enjoy!

Does anyone not from the Boston area remember The Neighborhoods? It was only relatively recently that I realized they weren’t really well known elsewhere. Prettiest Girl was in rotation at the local rock radio stations like WBCN back in the 80s to the point I just never even considered it a local song.

David Minehan did go on to play guitar for the Replacements for their reunion tour so I’m guessing maybe at least Trigger does.

I do remember that he’d joined the Mats for their recent-ish reunions, standing in for Slim Dunbar/Bob Stinson on guitar.

The one Neighborhoods song I know well is “No Place Like Home”, which was on this amazing compilation of CDs that Rhino Records put out in the early 1990s called “DIY”. It was basically a collection across like a dozen cds grouped into New York punk, the LA Scene, American Power Pop, UK Power Pop, UK Punk, etc. I think the Boston volume in that set was called Mass Ave after the Willie Alexander song that kicked the disc off.

EDIT: apparently the DIY series was 9 volumes:

Anarchy in the UK (UK Punk vol 1, 1976-77)
The Modern World (UK Punk 2, 1977-78)
Teenage Kicks (UK Pop 1, 1976-79)
Starry Eyes (UK Pop 2, 1978-79)
Blank Generation (NY scene, 1975-78)
We’re Desperate (LA Scene, 1976-79)
Come Out and Play (American Power Pop, 1975-78)
Shake it Up! (American Power Pop, 1978-80)
Mass Ave (Boston Scene 1975-83)

II’m looking at the song list on that comp and wondering if Human Sexual Response and the Del Fuegos also only had local radio hits as well.

The death of regional radio before the rise of streaming seems like a real shame. There seems like there was a 10 year or so gap. Once upon a time a local band would get big on the local radio, then it all got nationalized with standard playlists…

HSR I know had at least a couple of radio hits in Boston. (I don’t know that, know that, but rather am trusting that Slade/Kolderie would know and wouldn’t lie about it, and that’s how they sold Uncle Tupelo on using Rich Gilbert to play slide on a couple of songs on No Depression.) And the Del Fuegos obviously did, too. Heck, I can remember some of their later songs (particularly “Don’t Run Wild”) getting airplay on AOR radio in St. Louis on hoary old KSHE.

“That was Billy Thorpe’s ‘Children Of The Sun’, and before that we heard from Bob Seger, some Yes, and REO Speedwagon. Now here’s a new track from the Del Fuegos…”

And honestly, I’d say there’s more of a 10-year gap, because at least in a lot of the country’s markets (maybe not Chicago, LA, SF, Cleveland or Boston), corporate ownership of multiple channels in multiple markets meant homogenized playlists across multiple media markets. I think that all started once the FCC ruling on monopolization regulation of the airwaves was struck down and conglomerates like Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) started gobbling those stations up and putting them all on the same playlists and then satellite feeds.

Yeah the last regional radio station that wasn’t fully corporate I recall shattered 2005 or so. Now, granted, I have some idiosyncratic tastes, and so it’s possible there were some others, but if you liked harder rock and metal, Will Rock was the best station in the area imo.

It’s death at around the same time as the rise of Pandora is what killed OTA radio for me. I’ve never gone back.