Tag Archives: 80s

Back to Saturn X (1990, alt. version)

19 Mar

I’ve already covered one version of Back to Saturn X, an album that was ready to be put into production before being shit-canned at the last minute. This recently unearthed sequence likely predates that version. The release of Suitcase 4 has filled in some vital gaps, so it’s time to give this album a listen!

The most unusual aspect of this sequence is the presence of a couple songs credited to Sprout-Toohey-Peterson, who comprised the band fig. 4. Despite not featuring a writing credit from Pollard, these songs were recorded entirely by GBV without the fig. 4 guys, with Pollard on lead vocals. Both tracks were unheard until being released on Suitcase 4.

There is also an unknown song, “Directions to the New Appliance,” which may have also been a Sprout composition (Tobin Sprout, who provided the details for this sequence to GBVDB, seemed unsure of this himself).

Here’s the list, including some alternate titles.

Back To Saturn X
1. My Big Day
2. Gurgling Spring Tiger
3. Damn Good Mr. Jam
4. 14 Cheerleader Coldfront
5. Melted Pat
6. Perch Warble
7. The Garden (Sprout, Toohey, Peterson)
8. Tractor Rape Chain (Clean It Up)
9. Fantasy Creeps
10. Lower Lords (AKA Our Value of Luxury)
11. Heartbeat (Sprout, Toohey, Peterson)
12. Directions To The New Appliance (Unavailable, possibly a Sprout song)
13. Dusty Bushworms
14. Soper Joe
15. Back to Saturn X

Note: There are multiple versions of many of these songs, so for my reconstruction I decided to go with full-band recordings as much as possible. For opening track “My Big Day,” I used the third version on Suitcase 1, which is listed as being recorded for Back to Saturn X.

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The album kicks off with a trio of Suitcase 1 tracks. First up is the weird “My Big Day,” a song that has a kind of sinister swing to it. Makes for an interesting opener! It transitions nicely into the much more traditionally catchy, upbeat “Spring Tigers.” From there, it’s another nice segue into the great full-band take on “Damn Good Mr. Jam.” 

Next up is the GBV classic “14 Cheerleader Coldfront,” the only Propeller tune featured on the tracklist. It’s also the only song here to actually end up on a GBV album at all, with the rest of this batch mostly ending up on archival releases.  “14 Cheerleader” did not make the cut for the later Back to Saturn X sequence that was close to being released. 

Oh shit, now it’s “Melted Pat!” It’s always a joy to hear this delightfully weird, catchy tune. It sounds great going into “Perch Warble,” another insidious earworm delivered in the form of a melodic pop-rocker. Energy levels sufficiently raised, the band slams into “The Garden,” a Sprout-penned rocker which they attack with gusto despite it being on loan from another band.  “The Garden” may not be a classic but it’s a must-hear song for fans of GBV’s early, R.E.M. acolyte days.

The “Clean It Up” version of “Tractor Rape Chain” follows, and its drowsy psychedelia makes for a nice coda to the supercharged “The Garden.” Actually, I find this context is the best this song has ever sounded to me. It’s something else when that magical chorus hits (the only feature it shares with its Bee Thousand counterpart). 

“Fantasy Creeps” continues the psychedelic trend with its Beatles-esque chorus. It pairs off nicely with the jangly, lighters aloft ballad “Our Value of Luxury” (here known as “Lower Lords”). 

“Heartbeat” comes next, another storming rocker from Sprout. Why did Pollard and co. decide to record this and “The Garden,” only to cast them into obscurity until Suitcase 4?  We’ll probably never know, but shit yeah it’s cool to hear. 

The mystery track “Directions To The New Appliance” is next, sadly omitted here since it’s lost to the sands of time. Speculated to be another Sprout song, but it’s interesting to note the similarity of the title to the Pollardian phrase instructions to the rusty time machine, as bellowed on “Lethargy” (and at one point a working title to Bee Thousand).

But there’s no use on dwelling on what is most likely a minor omission, considering one of Pollard’s greatest songs kicks off the closing trio. “Dusty Bushworms” is such a beauty, you guys. I love the full-band take here from Suitcase 2, with Jim Pollard conjuring the strange chirping sounds (the bushworms?). Easter egg: The coda melody unique to this version was recycled in the Power of Suck outtake “Are You Faster?”

Back to Saturn X Radio Report classic “Sopor Joe” is slotted in the penultimate spot. I love this song (and even bizarrely shouted requests for it during my first GBV concert) but it’s a relatively minor cut on this particular LP, sandwiched between two superior tunes. Speaking of which, the title track closes things out on an excellently rousing note. It’s a fun singalong rocker that never got its due until it was dusted off as a live favorite in the 2000s and eventually released on the Hardcore UFOs boxset. It works great as an album closer and actually brings to mind the more recent GBV closing track “W/ Glass in Foot.”

This Back to Saturn X sequence is a fascinating snapshot of a transitional period in GBV’s early days, as Pollard inched closer to finding his artistic voice. Although they have only one song in common, Back to Saturn X is an important chapter in the history of Bob creating Propeller; they are ineffably connected. Historical significance aside, this is a cool, weird album that’s worth assembling! Do it!

You’ll need these releases to recreate this shit-canned album:

Suitcase 1
Suitcase 2
King Shit & the Golden Boys
Suitcase 4
Get Out of My Stations

Propeller
Darla 100 compilation
Delicious Pie & Thank You for Calling

 

 

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The Happy Sounds of the Crowd (1983)

16 Nov
The Happy Sounds of the Crowd

The Happy Sounds of the Crowd

The release of the fourth incredible installment of Suitcase has illuminated a previously un-mined chapter in Pollard’s musical development — A proto-GBV group called The Crowd, dating all the way back to 1983! The cassette that was unearthed contains an album’s worth of material, much of it unreleased in this embryonic form, but a handful of the songs here went on to serve as source material for tracks on later Pollard albums. Seven songs from this tape are on Suitcase 4, and one additional track was released as a Guided By Voices B-side in 2013.

So here’s what’s been released so far:
1. Murphy Had A Birthday (AKA Today You’re 82) (Parts recycled in “Birds” and “Take Me to Yolita“)
2. Eloise (recycled in “Wrinkled Ghost“)
3. Time Will Destroy You
4. Then Again (acoustic)
5. Linda’’s Lottery (bit of melody here was borrowed for Keene Brothers’ “Island of Lost Lucys“)
6. Thick And Thin
7. Disappearing Act
8. Little Jimmy the Giant (b-side to Xeno Pariah)
Here’s what’s left:
1. Double Standards
2. Tell Me (also appears on Pissing in the Canal, later recycled as verse of “Tractor Rape Chain“)
3. Cardio-Combustion (melody that became “Hank’s Little Fingers“)
4. Hold Me
5. It’s a Matter of Time
6. Tamara
7. Magic Horses (early version of the still unreleased Power of Suck outtake “Sweeping Bones“)
8. Bom Bom
9. Wolves Among the Grave
10. I Won’t Be the Foolish One (mentioned in Beautiful Plastic as becoming “Gelatin Ice Cream Plum“)
11. Then Again (full band)

 

The eight tracks currently available showcase a band that has already mastered the art of writing songs, from a melodic standpoint. The arrangements are basic garage rock, but the structures are fussy and formal, with verses, choruses, and bridges, etc. in exactly the right places. In GBV’s typically off-kilter fashion, it wasn’t until Pollard unlearned some of the songwriting conventions on display here that he really found his artistic voice. But The Crowd material does not suffer for its youthful naivete — far from it. The band attack their songs with a punkish urgency that serves them well and sells the occasionally on-the-nose lyrics. The song structures may be fussy, but the live-sounding, no overdubs recordings certainly are not. Also of note is that the jangly, R.E.M. derived sound featured heavily on GBV’s early albums is mostly absent here in favor of power-pop/British invasion-inspired nuggets. 

“Murphy Had a Birthday” is the highlight for me, a relentlessly catchy song with a magnificent chorus. You might recognize part of the bridge (and a variation of its chorus) on English Little League‘s “Birds,” or the full bridge section on recent Pollard solo single “Take Me to Yolita” (from Faulty Superheroes), but the original track more than stands up on its own.

It’s also quite interesting to hear how the relentlessly energetic earworm of “Eloise” was re-written by an older, wiser Pollard to make one of my all-time favorite songs of his, the beautiful “Wrinkled Ghost” from Waved Out.

Would love to see the entirety of this Crowd session released as its own standalone LP! Based on what we have of it already, it’s a strong collection of tunes as well as an intriguing glimpse at a young songwriter learning his craft.

The Crowd featured Jimmy Davidson on guitar, Mitch Mitchell on bass, Kevin Fennell on drums, and Robert Pollard on vocals. Thanks to The Heed for providing the image and info on unreleased songs.

Hope to have some more Suitcase 4 inspired posts up soon!