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The Flying Party is Here (version 2)*

3 Oct

*Don’t look for version 1 because I didn’t write about it (yet).

The Flying Party is Here is what came in-between The Power of Suck and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars. There are a couple versions floating about, and apparently both were close enough for release that some promo tapes exist. Here’s a handy guide to help you keep this craziness straight… and the great thing about this version of the album is that an owner of an original tape copy has digitized it and made it available here.

The Flying Party is Here (version 2)
alt. titles in red, released titles in blue

  1. Fireball (Big Boring Wedding)
  2. Ex-Aviator (Why Did You Land)
  3. Unbeknown Meters (A Life in Finer Clothing)
  4. He’s the Uncle
  5. Deaf Ears
  6. The Official Ironman Rally Song
  7. Cocksoldiers (Sheetkickers)
  8. Systems Crash
  9. Post-Everlasting (Beneath a Festering Moon)
  10. June Salutes You
  11. Drag Days
  12. Bender’s Bluffing Muscles (unreleased)
  13. Delayed Reaction Brats
  14. It’s Like Soul Man
  15. The Key Losers
  16. Redmen and Their Wives
  17. Newton’s Hopeless Marriage (Take to the Sky)
  18. Don’t Stop Now
  19. Stingy Queens (The Ash Gray Proclamation)

Flying Party, much like Not in My Airforce, is a hodgepodge of studio-recorded tracks and some lo-fi home-recordings. The album hues slightly closer to the spirit of Alien Lanes than Under the Bushes does, thanks to short, punchy tunes like “Systems Crash,” “June Salutes You” and “Delayed Reaction Brats.” Power of Suck holdovers like “Redmen and Their Wives” and “Official Ironman Rally Song” supply a dose of melancholy beauty.

A big chunk of the album is made up of the songs that comprise the final six tracks of Under the Bushes. These are the songs that were released as a separate disc on the vinyl version, and unceremoniously tacked on to the end of the CD version. The story is, apparently, that Matador was so disappointed that these Flying Party tunes didn’t make the final cut on UTBUTS that they insisted on adding them to the album.

Most of the other songs ended up as b-sides or EP tracks, with only one remaining officially unreleased: the brief Tobin Sprout tune “Bender’s Bluffing Muscles.” “Beneath a Festering Moon” (which is a slowed-down version of “Pink Drink”) was released on a compilation, and “The Ash Gray Proclamation” ended up on Not in My Airforce.

Though it’s a very strong album (one of the best shit-canned albums, in my opinion), Under the Bushes still wins in terms of consistency, quality, and freshness. I imagine the leftover Power of Suck tracks seemed mighty stale at this point, especially to someone who had just written “Cut-out Witch” and “Underwater Explosions.” Though I would have shared Matador’s concern when he cut songs like “Drag Days” from the album, it’s understandable that Pollard decided to farm this batch of songs out to smaller releases and let his new stuff take center stage.

It’s interesting to consider how ill-suited Pollard was, even back then, to be beholden to a record label’s schedule of one album a year. Suddenly, GBV was a hot band, and Pollard is officially a full-time musician. As an artist, he’s constantly moving forward, pushing out new product to make room for something new. He had time to write and record a ton of songs, but couldn’t release it all in a timely fashion. Who knows what would have happened if he’d been able to self-release records at that point… maybe The Power of Suck, The Flying Party is Here, AND Under the Bushes would have all come out in some form, in the same year! But it just so happened that he had a long delay in which to endlessly tinker with the the follow-up to Alien Lanes, leaving behind a long trail of shit-canned goodness. 

Flying Party version #2 Track breakdown

Under the Bushes, Under the Stars
The Official Ironmen Rally Song
Don’t Stop Now

Under the Bushes bonus tracks
Big Boring Wedding
Sheetkickers
Drag Days
It’s Like Soul Man
Redmen and Their Wives
Take to the Sky

Plantations of Pale Pink
Systems Crash
A Life in Finer Clothing

Split with Superchunk
Delayed Reaction Brats
He’s the Uncle
Key Losers

The Official Ironmen Rally Song single
Deaf Ears
Why Did You Land?
June Salutes You

Compilation
Beneath a Festering Moon

Not in My Airforce
The Ash Gray Proclamation

Unreleased
Bender’s Bluffing Muscles

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Not In My Airforce (Working Version) (1996)

16 Jan

This earlier draft of Bob’s first solo album is mostly comprised of studio-recorded tracks, while the released version drops some of these and sprinkles the album with a handful of boombox and four-track recordings. Some of the songs cut from this early sequence ended up on Mag Earwhig. There’s an image of the lyric sheet for this version, complete with alternate titles, in the Suitcase booklet.

Not In My Airforce (Working Version)
1. I’ve Owned You For Centuries
2. The Finest Joke Is Upon Us
3. Get Under It
4. Gods Of Richard
5. Accountant’s Wife (Maggie Turns to Flies)
6. Girl Named Captain
7. Chance To Buy An Island
8. Flat Beauty
9. Finks
10. Learning To Hunt
11. On The Ashes (Release the Sunbird)
12. The Colossus Crawls West
13. God Bless The Monument Club (Psychic Pilot Clocks Out)
14. King Of Arthur Avenue
15. Applehead (The Ash Gray Proclamation)

I enjoy this sequence quite a bit, more than I thought I would. As a big fan of the official version, I thought I’d miss lo-fi songs like “Quicksilver” and “Parakeet Troopers” breaking up the big studio tracks.  However, these songs flow together remarkably well on their own, and the album as a whole lacks the darker, moodier tone of the proper album. Although I don’t think there’s a huge distinction between the two, this working version feels more like a Guided by Voices album to me than a solo album.

After the quick opening blast of “I’ve Owned You for Centuries,” the stately “The Final Joke is Upon Us” makes a brilliant second track. It sounds great with such a prominent spot on an album, in contrast to its “deep cut” status on Mag Earwhig. Much like “Finest Joke,” the other two future Mag Earwhig tracks — “Learning to Hunt” and “The Colossus Crawls West” — fit perfectly with the Airforce tunes.

Album-highlight “Get Under It” rounds out this opening trio nicely. Next, “Gods of Richard” is the most obscure song on this sequence, having been unheard/unreleased until Suitcase 2 came out in 2005. It’s not a long-lost classic, however: it’s a fairly unremarkable guitar instrumental that bears a slight resemblance to the opening chords of “Psychic Pilot Clocks Out.” In the context of the album it works well.

The only other song that never found a home on either Not in My Airforce or Mag Earwhig is the outstanding “Finks.” Until it was reissued on the Hardcore UFOs box, it was only ever released as a bonus track on a Japanese issue of Under the Bushes Under the Stars. It would have surely become a fan favorite on any album, as it’s a catchy-as-hell blast that actually briefly entered the band’s live set in 2003. I enjoy how the unlikely vocal melody skips across the simple riff, demonstrating Pollard’s knack for not being boring or obvious. Too bad it never made it to Mag Earwhig with the other Airforce orphans, but it is definitely a nice treat for anyone who tracks it down.

As on the final version, “Psychic Pilot” (here titled “God Bless the Monument Club”) is the late-album “hit,” and “Applehead” (AKA “The Ash Gray Proclamation”) makes a great closing track. “Applehead” is the only lo-fi recording on the NiMA Working Version, and is a holdover from some early Under the Bushes drafts, where it was also used as the closer.

With its impeccable flow and song selection, it’s well worth giving the working version a listen! Here’s what you need:

Not in My Airforce
Mag Earwhig!
Suitcase 2 (“Gods of Richard”)
Hardcore UFOs (“Finks”)

Incidentally, here are the tracks from the final album that don’t appear on the early draft:

Quicksilver
John Strange School (this is the only studio-recorded track that is NOT on the working version)
Parakeet Troopers (a Bee Thousand outtake formerly known as “Crayola”)
One Clear Minute
Roofer’s Union Fight Song
Prom is Coming
Party
Did it Play?
Double Standards Inc.
Punk Rock Gods
Meet My Team
Good Luck Sailor

It’s also interesting to note that the final six tracks on Not in My Airforce (starting with “Party”) don’t appear on early Matador promo copies. In fact, they were intended to be their own little EP, and were tacked onto the album at the last minute. That means “Prom is Coming” was the original closer, and “Psychic Pilot” was the penultimate track. The presence of those final six acoustic snippets somewhat diminishes the impact of that 1-2 punch.

Bee Thousand mk. IV

10 Jan

Cover of Bee Thousand: The Director's CutThough it lacks a snazzy alternate title like some other earlier drafts, this is my favorite working-version of Bee Thousand. It’s a great mix, with a handful of Bee Thousand favorites mingling with some of the best forgotten gems from King Shit and The Golden Boys.

Side 1
1. Demons Are Real
2. Echoes Myron
3. Ester’s Day
4. 2nd Moves to Twin
5. Deathtrot and Warlock Riding a Rooster
6. Don’t Stop Now
7. Postal Blowfish
8. The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory
9. Buzzards and Dreadful Crows
10. It’s Like Soul Man
11. Peep-Hole

Side 2
1. Bite
2. Hot Freaks
3. Scissors
4. Indian Was an Angel
5. Awful Bliss
6. Smothered in Hugs
7. Kicker of Elves
8. Queen of Cans and Jars
9. Crayola (AKA Parakeet Troopers)
10. Please Freeze Me
11. Tractor Rape Chain

Like other proto-Bee Thousands, the short “Demons Are Real” is utilized as a pretty effective opener, and I like how it leads into “Echoes Myron” at track two. But the best part of Bee Thousand mk. IV is hearing how strong outtakes like “Postal Blowfish,” “Indian Was an Angel” and “Please Freeze Me” sound next to proper Bee Thousand tunes. Those last two in particular are some of Bob’s best acoustic songs and I love hearing them in the context of an album. Then there are the great early versions of  “Don’t Stop Now” and Sprout’s “It’s Like Soul Man.” Both appeared later re-recorded as Power of Suck/Under the Bushes tunes, but these versions have their own distinct four-tracked charm and sound right at home. “Postal Blowfish” was also re-recorded but sadly never made it to an album.

The flow and sequence of Bee thousand mk. IV is much better than King Shit and the Golden Boys, and I think “Deathtrot and Warlock Riding a Rooster,” “2nd Moves to Twin,” and even “Bite” (never a favorite) really benefit from this context. For instance, on Bee Thousand: The Director’s Cut, “Deathtrot” makes an extremely awkward track 2, and here it is much more welcome. The only part of the sequence that doesn’t really work too well is having “Tractor Rape Chain” as the closer. It’s still a great song of course, but it doesn’t feel like a last track to me.

It’s interesting to note that many King Shit tracks — “Indian Was an Angel,” “2nd Moves to Twin,” “Crayola,” “Bite” and “Postal Blowfish” — had appeared on every Bee Thousand sequence up to that point, but were all dropped from subsequent sequences. Until being cut, they were in the company of “Queen of Cans and Jars,” “Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory,” “Smothered in Hugs”  and “Scissors,” which also survived across every sequence but then made it to the final two drafts (with “Scissors” ultimately being replaced by “Mincer Ray”). “Don’t Stop Now” and “Please Freeze Me” make their first and only appearance here as Bee Thousand tracks.

Despite lacking a few of the most beloved songs from this era, i.e. “I Am a Scientist,” “Gold Star for Robot Boy,” and “Hardcore UFOs,”  this draft of Bee Thousand is pure ear-candy from start to finish. The final product is even better, but I think this version would have been a hit too.

Make Your Own!
Bee Thousand
King Shit and the Golden Boys
Not in My Airforce (for “Parakeet Troopers” AKA “Crayola”)
+ “It’s Like Soul Man (four-track version)” which is on the out-of-print Bee Thousand: The Director’s Cut. Track it down! It’s also recommended that you use the version of “Ester’s Day” from this release because it lacks Bee Thousand‘s “At Odds With Dr. Genesis” intro.

Do the Collapse/Panic on Landlord Street (1997)

4 Jan

This early version of Mag Earwhig, confusingly titled Do the Collapse, originally had 18 tracks and opened with “The Singing Razorblade.” Later, the newly-written “Sad If I Lost It” was appended to the beginning and the album was re-titled Panic on Landlord Street.

The image on the right (with the tracklist in Bob’s handwriting, including some alternate titles) comes from this interesting (if nearly illegible) blog post I dug up. The author owns a tape of this sequence, given to him by Bob.

Mag Earwhig has a nearly half and half mix of the new band (the “GBVerde” line-up) and some hold-overs from the classic line-up days. This early draft is a little heavier on the GBVerde.

Do The Collapse/Panic on Landlord Street
(1). Sad If I Lost It
2. The Singing Razorblade
3. Not Behind The Fighter Jet
4. Do They Teach You The Chase?
5. I Am A Tree
6. Choking Tara
7. Cherub Blown Apart (AKA I’ll Name You The Flame That Cries, fades out after a minute)
8. Fairy Wings Are Green (AKA Mute Superstar )
9. The Old Grunt
10. Bulldog Skin
11. Now To War
12. Knock ‘Em Flyin’
13. Mag Earwhig!
14. Little Lines
15. Mannequin’s Complaint (Wax Dummy Meltdown)
16. Hollow Cheek
17. Portable Men’s Society
18. The Ascended Master’s Grogshop
19. Jane Of The Waking Universe

This alternate sequence compares rather well to the final product, Mag Earwhig. Pollard was on a hot songwriting streak during this time, so almost any combination of songs would yield something good. One really enjoyable aspect of this sequence are the opening and closing tracks. “The Singing Razorblade” has a really inviting intro, with chopped up vocal loops before launching into the ragged, dirty yet amiable guitar riff of the proper song. And it’s a “classic” line-up track (well, Tobin Sprout on drums, anyway… I think that counts as classic). The song ended up as a b-side, yet it does really well as a track number one. And “Sad If I Lost It,” opening draft 2, is a great slow builder and a good choice for this slot as well (I’d say it basically opens Mag Earwhig as it is, with “Can’t Hear the Revolution” acting more as an intro track).

On the other end, “Jane of the Waking Universe” (a legitimate classic line-up track, with Sprout’s angelic harmonies and bass line) closes the album on a high note. The fading into infinity chorus of “Jane” makes it a superb final song. Mag‘s official closer, “Bomb the Bee-Hive,” is a solid but unremarkable rocker that I’d characterize as one of Pollard’s trademark “anti-closers;” that is, a brief, rocking song that casually shrugs off the weight of the preceding album (see also “An Unmarketed Product,” “Of Mites and Men,” and maybe “Father Sgt. Christmas Card”). On Mag Earwhig, “Jane” is used to kick off an extended denouement. It’ll always be a standout song, but giving it the important final slot would have been a real boon to its legacy. Additionally, “The Ascended Master’s Grogshop,” a Sprout co-write that recalls “You’re Not an Airplane,” is a nice set-up for the big “Jane” payoff.

Some other things to really like about this sequence: the up-front placement of “Not Behind the Fighter Jet” and the longer gap separating “I Am a Tree” and “Bulldog Skin.” Those two big hits are always the first two that wear out their welcome, and they sit uncomfortably close on Mag.

A handful of eventual b-sides also make the cut here, like the twisted waltz of “Mannequin’s Complaint” which holds down the second half, and the somewhat Syd Barrett-like “Do They Teach You the Chase?” The latter song, snippet-like in quality, introduces the Big Rock of “I Am a Tree” very well.

As fine a follow-up to Under the Bushes as Do the Collapse or Panic on Landlord Street would have been, it lacks a handful of excellent, distinct songs that ended up on the finalized version. Here are the Mag Earwhig songs that don’t make the cut on the early draft:

Learning to Hunt
The Finest Joke is Upon Us
The Colossus Crawls West
I Am Produced
Can’t Hear the Revolution
Are You Faster?
Bomb In The Bee-Hive

The first three of this lot are all, interestingly enough, outtakes from Pollard’s solo LP Not in My Airforce (look forward to the inevitable post about that later on!). He must have held on to them for a special occasion, and I gotta say they do just fine on a GBV album. “Learning to Hunt,” especially, is an all-time great, but “Finest Joke” is no slouch either.

The next three of that batch are four-track songs on which Tobin Sprout and Jimmy Pollard make appearances. Just like the Not in My Airforce outtakes, these tunes provide a sweet and essential contrast to the big rock songs recorded by the new band. Although they are short and perhaps could considered slight, they showcase the off-hand charm off Pollard at his weird/experimental best. “I Am Produced,” co-written by Sprout, is definitely a signature tune from this album. “Can’t Hear the Revolution” is an inspired intro tune (though I don’t know if it’d work anywhere else) and believe it or not, “Are You Faster?” is one of the songs that sold me on GBV in the first place. It’s a brilliant and brief psychedelic journey that ends abruptly right when you think it’s going to take off. Wonderful.

Build Your Own!
Mag Earwhig! (is this out of print? Couldn’t find it on Matador’s site. These are all GBV Digital links, by the way)
Bulldog Skin single
I Am a Tree single

or get all the b-sides here on this incredible box set:
Hardcore UFOs