Most of what you've read about the best albums of the decade has focused on records that were issued on CD at some point or another. But if you know anything about the music industry, you know that every decade has a record or two that just doesn't make it to the racks. In the past, great albums like the Beach Boys' Smile (recorded in 1966, but never officially released) and Prince's Black Album (recorded in 1987 and released as a limited edition in 1994 -- now out of print) became so entangled in record-label politics that they were heavily bootlegged before ever being properly packaged for retail. The '90s were not without their share of mythical recordings, whether they be the sessions that uber-producer Bill Laswell recorded with Mexico City's Maldita Vecindad, the Lutefisk album that was slated to come out on A&M Records but got lost in the Polygram merger, or "Right Turn Clyde," the Bloodhound Gang's send-up of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" -- a song that won't be on its album Hooray for Boobies when it comes out next year. These kinds of albums are the decade's real treasures -- to some extent, they're intriguing simply because they never materialized. It's likely that by the end of the next decade, they'll be available in some form or another -- that is, after all, one of the benefits of the Internet and what boxed sets are all about. But in the meantime, happy hunting.
One of the best DJs in the business, Kid Koala (Eric San), was peddling this mix tape at his shows in 1996 and has since gotten signed to the trendy British dance imprint, Ninja Tune Records -- his debut comes out in March. San has said that Scratchappyland will never be offically released because there are so many samples that it would be virtually impossible to get permission for their use. One of the best moments on the tape finds San taking a bit from the Peanuts Halloween episode and cutting up Charlie Brown's confession that he got a rock put in his trick-or-treat bag. There are tons of unlicensed mix tapes out there, but Sans's stands up as one of the best.
After the Astronaut
This album was finished -- even the artwork was completed -- when Capitol Records decided it didn't want it, probably ruining the Surfers' chances of continuing the popular success they happened upon when "Pepper" became a commercial hit in 1996. In fact, a minor controversy erupted earlier this year, when it turned out that Marcy Playground had unknowingly selected the original artwork from After the Astronaut (which was designed by Surfers' guitarist Paul Leary) for Shapeshifter. The Surfers are reportedly working on re-recording some of the tunes from After the Astronaut for a new studio record, and with any luck they'll finally unleash tracks such as "Junkie Jenny In Gaytown" and the twisted spoken-word tale of women with daggers that is "I Don't Have a Problem."
Originally scheduled to be released by Virgin Records in the U.S. in 1994, Cherry's follow-up to Homebrew (1992) never made it out of the gates. You can still find this album as an import -- it was released on Virgin UK, but held up in the U.S. after Virgin decided to remix some tracks and then apparently canned the album. Now, Cherry is reportedly working on a completely new studio album. Thankfully, "Seven Seconds," one of Man's best tracks -- it's a duet between Cherry and African singer Youssou N'Dour -- is readily available on N'Dour's domestically issued album Guide (1994).
Released at the beginning of 1998 on European and Canadian labels, Mark Hollis is the first solo album from the former singer of Talk Talk, an influential New Wave band that disbanded in 1991. Consisting of piano, horns, and soft vocals, Mark Hollis sounds a bit like XTC -- it's a quiet album that's well worth getting, despite the fact that its import status will set you back 20 bucks.
· · ·
On January 4, the Barking Spider Tavern (11310 Juniper Road, Cleveland Heights) will kick off "Songwriters' Night," a new series, which will be held on the first Tuesday of every month. The evening will consist of an hour-long set by a featured act (local folk singer Tim Wallace will perform on January 4), followed by an open mic session. There are a few rules involved: You must be able to set up your equipment in five minutes or less; you have to sign up for the open mic at 7:30 p.m. that night; and you must be over 21. Host Gary Hall, who has hosted a similar event in Columbus for the past 11 years, says he hopes to create an environment in which local musicians can freely exchange ideas.
"We want to get people together so they can compare notes and maybe get a little inspiration from each other," he says. "When I did this back at Brother's Lounge, I'd tape songs by people like Tim Wallace, and I'd end up singing some of their songs in my own sets. So it was a great thing for me in terms of finding material. I used to go to songwriters' nights when I lived in Nashville [in the early '80s], and you can meet a lot of friends that way."
So how does Cleveland compare to Nashville?
"There's ten times as many good songwriters in Nashville and ten times as many bad songwriters in Nashville," he says, adding that he can't predict what kind of talent will show up at the Barking Spider on any given night. "The consistency of the music can vary widely. You can have very bad people and really good people. Eventually the people who really are novices understand that and look around and see who else is playing, and if they're really outclassed, they sort of get that idea -- except for a few who are living in their own little worlds."
Admission to the shows will be free. You can consult the Barking Spider Tavern website (barkingspidertavern.com) or call the club at 216-421-9294 for more information. -- Jeff Niesel
Send local music info and unreleased demos to [email protected].