Hi and welcome to the latest newsletter where we play an unheard track from the post Squire project ‘Spring Collection’!
Thank you to everyone who emailed ideas for future newsletters - and one of the recurring themes was to hear new and unreleased songs, read about the background of some recordings with some extra info about guitars!
So today we take another deep dive into the archive and land in a void between post - Get Smart and pre - Passengers On Trains - -and a sequence of songs that were destined for a project called the Spring Collection!
The song in particular is called ‘Nothing U Can Do’, and one of the fascinating things about pulling out a track from the archive is that the passing time allows you to step away and consider the song as an object, whereas at the time of recording it was part of a blur of ideas, songwriting, and the usual recording working methodology using the instruments and recording equipment to hand. You can hear it here and read all about how it was constructed!
Hindsight brings to light how all the influences and ideas that were not apparent in the moment came together and reveal themselves as vital inputs to the song. The actual recording process, seemingly modern at the time, also provides a snapshot of how analogue technology was used to create the soundscape, and reminds you how all those taken for granted techniques and workarounds have become forgotten knowledge.
There is a lot of information in the most mundane aspects of the recording, that provides vital clues - and makes for a great detective story!
For instance, the cassette case of the demo itself is covered in historic clues! It shows the title Nothing U Can Do 2V No.2. There are two mixes on the tape, version two deemed best, but between version one and two is the sound of a tape machine winding backwards! A forgotten sound that evokes a memory of what you would hear in the headphones when winding the tape back to start between each overdub as the song was built up. But the winding sound also provides another vital clue, as it was recorded to the TEAC 4-track reel to reel tape machine, rather than an expected later cassette portastudio.
Indeed, finding the actual 1/4 inch 4-track tape, the reel exclaims, ‘post Get Smart demos’! There are more unheard songs here!
And the cassette is actually a reused cassette, originally containing a demo from another band! The name Southern Music Publishing, 8 Denmark Street, in London’s ‘Tin Pan Alley’ captured the historic way demos were sent around the industry looking for deals. Hi-lo records received hundreds of unsolicited tapes, and they all got reused!
The writing on the cassette provides even more information. The misspelling of 'You' as 'U' is deliberate. A reference to the intention of writing a bubblegum power pop song, and in particular referencing the way Slade released singles with misspelt titles such as ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ or ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’
What surprises is the anger and energy in this quickly recorded demo to tape method.
Each recording, drums, bass, guitar, vocals, was performed in entirety capturing the spontaneity of a single performance so the immediacy and energy is evident.
The guitar was recorded by plugging it straight into the front of the tape machine, overloading the circuit and getting a dry distorted sound, rather than using an overdriven guitar amplifier and microphone. This gives you a peculiarly ‘in your face’ sound - the Beatles single ‘Revolution’, as the B side of ‘Hey Jude’, is the classic example of a DI guitar into the desk sound.
Its also a clue that the guitars were recorded late at night at home, when you didn’t dare plug into an amp! But the dry tone with no air also evokes a claustrophobic sensation, which influences the soundscape, inspiring adding lashings of delay and reverb to bring life back to the track.
The actual song structure is also interesting. Instead of following a classic verse/chorus, bridge, repeat chorus format, this song has no parts that repeat. A big influence at the time was exploring how you might write a pop song using an anti pop approach. One of the inspirations was the song ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison from 1963.
'In Dreams' is unique as it is structured in seven musical movements with distinct melodies and chord progressions and no repeats, in 2 minutes 45 seconds! This song attempts the same, in the same 2 minutes 45 seconds! In its own modest way it never repeats a section, but moves from intro to verse, pre chorus, chorus, bridge, half chorus, instrumental, double pre chorus, extended chorus and coda! All this over a relentlessly repeating four chord sequence.
The sound of the track is a product of the technology to hand. The back beat was programmed on a Yamaha RX5 drum machine, a sophisticated step up from the Get Smart era hand claps or September Gurls era Roland TR606 drum machine. At the time it was a tool to help make better demos. History has since revealed how the RX5 was also used by Cocteau Twins, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys et al on actual records. The guitar sounds were later effected with slap echo and reverb and the sound is reminiscent of the Creation label bands of the same era. The main guitar style influence was John McGeogh of Magazine, Siouxsie and The Banshees, and Visage.
Again, it was this anti-pop abstract disregard of conventional scales, like a later day raga era Roger McGuinn of the Byrds that I wanted to weld onto melodic pop songs that was an experiment in disguising 60s influenced pop within a more ‘avant-garde’ leaning soundscape.
Ultimately the result is a dark hearted lyric married to a bubblegum savvy pop melody constructed as as free form anti pop structured arrangement where no section is repeated!
The overall sound matches the filmic narrative of the lyric, referencing times and places from different perspectives, with the recurring theme of a final frame or showdown.
The relentless four chord sequence and drum machine drives the song. The under production ethos places performance in the foreground and minimises any discernible presence of the technology. The sonic violence of the guitars creates a faux Phil Spector wall of sound and the simplicity of two guitars, drums, bass and voice, creates a stripped to the core perfect feeling of constant anxiety. Its rock and roll.
Have another listen...
At the time of recording, it was placed in the demo pile with the intention of re recording it within a classic live band structure. Now listening back, the soundscape intention was already evident, and although far removed from the early ‘Squire’, sound, it was an extension of the September Gurls era but using techniques other bands were employing - but we didn’t know! There are other songs from the era that are even more bent out of shape pop. Let us know if you want to hear more!
All the best!