Friday, 6 May 2016

Boys Keep Swinging - The Associates (Reissues)

When I first read/heard about The Associates it was a review their debut single in the NME; a cover of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging"; released June 1979, just a few weeks after Bowie's version hit the UK Top 10 in April of the same year.
This cover version of a track from Bowie's 'Lodger' -third album in what's become known as the 'Berlin Trilogy'- was indeed intriguing. I never got to find a copy of this single, unfortunately, but I picked up an import copy of their debut album, 'The Affectionate Punch' (Fiction Records, 1980) as soon as it became available. My copy has "Special Price Limited Edition £2•99" embossed in gold on the front cover as well as an (horrendous) importation directe Fnac sticker; which I've never dared peel off for fear of ruining the sleeve.

For the anecdote I didn't pay £2•99 for it but almost the double at 55 french francs -more or less £5•50 at that time (August, 1980). I immediately liked the album and from then on I bought everything I could find by the band up until Alan Rankine left The Associates in 1982. Personally, I consider the 'Sulk' album as the highpoint of their career albumwise but they released some really fabulous singles. Singles which, for some unknown reason, I could never find in the 7-inch format but only in the 12-inch ones! My all time favourite Associates track being the hauntingly beautiful, 'White Car in Germany'. A single graced by it's superb Antoine Giacomani cover photograph of the lads immersed in a blue pool. Photograph from the same photo shoot as the cover of the 1981 Situation Two singles collection, 'Fourth Drawer Down.'

The band had formed in 1976. At first, Billy McKenzie and Alan Rankine had called themselves The Ascorbic Ones. Name was later changed to Mental Torture before finally becoming The Associates in 1979. From then on, for the next three years or so, The Associates were among my favourite bands. In my mind, those years were undoubetdly the band's best as well as being the period when they released their finest recordings.

After the departure of Rankine my interest in them began to wane though I did pick up a few of their later releases. MacKenzie continued to work under the name for several years before eventually going "solo" in the early 90s.

From what I've read or heard of it, Rankine leaving the band prior to the Sulk tour proved to be disastrous for the band's career. Apparently, at the time, the band was being courted by Seymour Stein of Sire Records -which could have really helped them make some impact in the USA- but with Rankine leaving and Mackenzie's unwillingness to tour, Stein lost interest in them.
The Associates joined the ranks of those great bands that never quite made it. Nor did the band make any records as good as the ones recorded between 1979 & 1982. I have to admit though that I am rather fond of later releases such as 'Waiting For The Love Boat' and their cover of Blondie's 'Heart of Glass'
Music journalist, critic, and author, Simon Reynolds, in his book 'Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984,' called The Associates the "great should-have-beens of British pop." Contenders but never quite champions.

In 1993, Rankine and McKenzie began working on new material together but this never came to anything and they split for good. Sadly to say, we'll never get to hear McKenzie's distinctive high tenor voice again as a few years later, suffering from clinical depression, he committed suicide in 1997 at the desperately young age of 39.
Rankine meanwhile established himself as a producer, working with artists such as Paul Haig, Cocteau Twins, and The Pale Fountains. Also continuing his career in music with Les Disques du Crépuscule -releasing four albums and five singles on the Belgian label. He later worked as a lecturer in music at Stow College in Glasgow and with Belle and Sebastian on their 1996 debut album, Tigermilk. Rankine also appears in 'Big Gold Dream (The Sound Of Young Scotland 1977 – 1985)' documentary by cinematographer and director Grant Mcphee which was released last year.

The Associates albums; The Affectionate Punch, Sulk, and Fourth Drawer Down are to be reissued as two-CD deluxe editions, on May 20th.
All three include 28 page booklets featuring in-depth liner notes, unpublished photographs, original promotional material and unseen memorabilia from The Associates’ archive.

Sulk is also available on vinyl.

Also available a new double-disc anthology: ‘The Very Best of the Associates’ which includes their biggest hits “Party Fears Two” and "Club Country" as well as 3 previously unreleased tracks.

All available from any good record store or from the usual suspects online.

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