Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stiff Records: My Old Man

Is it possible that I haven’t made a post in nearly three months? I guess so. My life had some changes beginning in April and the blog was the furthest from my mind at the time – so I took an extended vacation for several months. Several friends have commented directly to me regarding the absence of posts, so I decided today to get back to it.

The decision of today’s post and those for the remainder of the week was determined primarily due to the fact that this is Father’s Day. In addition, it is the first day in the fourth week of the month when I generally feature record labels. The challenge being is to find a song related to fathers that I haven’t already used. Second, the song needed to have been released on a label that I hadn’t featured as of yet. Third, the label had enough US releases in order for me to find seven releases in order to feature.

The task was to find an appropriate Father’s Day related song – and I selected Ian Dury and The Blockheads’ “My Old Man.” Although the song about Dury’s absent father isn’t the most positive of songs about dad, think of others that also came up in that list: Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” The Temptations “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” These were some of the selections that were also considered – and all had negative connotations. Dury’s record at least discussed their reconciliation and depicted his dad as a working stiff.

Speaking of stiff, Dury’s label was Stiff Records. I hadn’t featured this independent label out of the UK - so it rose to consideration. Founded in 1976 by Dave Robinson and Andrew Jakeman (professionally known as Jake Riviera), Stiff billed itself as “the world’s most flexible record label,” and it was.

While it was able to capitalize on signing new acts in the punk and new wave genres, it also signed several pop and dance artists as well – but these were not the label’s primary thrust. Stiff’s mantra was that it offered “today’s music – today.” Originally active from 1976-1986, Stiff rebooted in 2007 and have had several releases since that time.

The third criterion was difficult at best, as the fourth week label feature must be issued on the American version of the label. Had I opened it up to the Stiff’s British stable of artists, I would have had more than enough to spare. Stiff was not as successful in the US and their few charting singles testify of this.

Additionally, several of the better Stiff (UK) artists, such as Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, had been signed to major labels in the US – and were disqualified for being featured this week; however, I have managed to find seven releases for this week. Most, however, were relatively innocuous in the scheme of American popular music.

I cannot verify this, but I believe that Ian Gomm’s “Hold On” was the only Stiff (actually Stiff-Epic) release to chart in Billboard’s Top 40. Unfortunately, I’ve already featured “Hold On,” so I have picked one of Gomm’s lesser known US singles for this week. In addition to releasing singles and albums on its own label that was both independently released as well as distributed by Arista in the US, several artists were co-signed to CBS and appeared on the Stiff-Epic and Stiff-Columbia labels. Since these were Stiff releases, they will be featured this week.

As for Ian Dury and The Blockheads’ “My Old Man,” it was an album cut in most of the world from Dury’s debut LP from 1977: “New Boots and Panties!!” Dury’s first single, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” and which garnered some album play in the US, was not on the first version of the UK album; however, it was added (but not credited) to releases in 1978 in the UK. “My Old Man” made it as a B-side of “Wake Up and Make Love with Me” single in Australia – this may be the track’s only single release worldwide. The standout aspect of this track is the excellent saxophone work by Davey Payne.

I’m glad to be back and I hope you’ve had a happy Father’s Day – if that fits.

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