Classic-Era Fall Compilations

April 15, 2010 at 9:00 am 9 comments

There’s not necessarily that much critical consensus about what precisely are The Fall’s best albums. Hardcore Fall fanatics will endlessly debate which are the most worthy LPs from every era of the band’s over-30 year existence, with some even willing to claim that unmitigated disasters like Are You Are Missing Winner and Reformation Post-TLC rank among the best!

Nevertheless, there does seem to be some broad agreement among people who are music nerds, generally and not just Fall fans, specifically. What consensus there is identifies 1980 to ’83 as the band’s true glory years, with Hex Enduction Hour as the period’s zenith. This belief may have a good deal to do with music geeks’ ongoing reverence for all things post-punk but it would be hard to argue that the music Mark E. Smith and co produced during this period was anything less than stellar.

It may come as a surprise to many of you, then, that recent scientific studies have conclusively proved that The Fall’s most artistically successful period came directly after the post-punk years: between 1984 and ’86, to be precise. The studies have also strongly suggested the fact that many “generalist” music nerds dismiss anything The Fall did after ’83 is largely due to: (a) ingrained misogyny, leading to distrust of Brix Smith, Mark E.’s blonde Californian (now ex-) wife, who was a driving creative force in the band during the ’84-’86 period; and (b) immovable elitism, leading to distrust of anything that is “properly” recorded and which, therefore, has some potential for adoption by a relatively mainstream audience (for the same reason, many nerds foolishly dismiss Live at the Witch Trials, viewing Dragnet as the band’s true debut).

Again, it’s worth pointing out that the damn-near-perfection of those classic (mostly) John Leckie-produced records created during the early part of Smith’s relationship with Beggar’s Banquet should not detract from the vivid brilliance of The Fall’s ’80-’83 incarnation. On the whole, the wisest move would be to define The Fall’s true classic era as lasting from ’80 to ’86 – even though this era encompasses two distinct periods of the band’s work.

How to begin exploring this seven-year run of unparalleled avant rock genius? Surely not through a jumble of oddly-compiled retrospective LPs, released on a seemingly random selection of labels! Well, it might not be the best way but it’s certainly not the worst. See, it’s well known that, during the ’90s, a terrifying slew of raggedy Fall compilations started to appear, compiling odds and sods from the band’s albums of that time. It’s somewhat less well-known that a similar thing happened during the early-to-mid ’80s, only with rather more satisfying results (partly because the band was working with more scrupulous labels but mainly because the music was better). Here are some of the best….

Rare Fall compilations on vinyl, eh?

Rare Fall compilations on vinyl, eh?

Palace of Swords Reversed (Cog Sinister) 1987
When the post-punk revival craze really started to kick off in the noughties, a number of compilations appeared covering The Fall’s years with Rough Trade. This earlier LP covering the same period, issued on Smith’s own Cog Sinister label, is still hard to top, though. It collects a string of astonishing A sides, such as “Totally Wired” and “The Man Whose Head Expanded”, some tracks from the Slates 10″, the band’s Best B-side Evar (“Putta Block”) and a magnificent live version of “Neighbourhood of Infinity” from Perverted by Language.

Why did you feel the need to buy these?

Why did you feel the need to buy these?

Hip Priest & Kamerads (Situation Two) 1985
This album seems to be an attempt by Beggars Banquet (Situation Two was a Beggars offshoot) to compile some work The Fall did for the obscure Kamera label, during a chill in relations with Rough Trade. This means tracks from the legendary Hex Enduction Hour plus classic singles like “Look, Know” and “Fantastic Life”.

"Didnt you already have all the songs?"

Didn't you already have all the songs?

Nord-West Gas (Funf und Vierzig) 1986
Completely produced and engineered by John Leckie, this German collection of work from The Fall’s very-early Beggars period is absolutely essential. Sure, it may be a bit weird to put the Best Album-Closer Evar (“Disney’s Dream Debased”) at track three on side one and to end side two with the Best Album Opener Evar (“Lay of the Land”) but whatever order you put these songs in, they’re fucking awe inspiring. Listen, rock music simply doesn’t get any better than “No Bulbs”.

Stupid fucking loser!

Stupid fucking loser!

Domesday Payoff (Big Time) 1978
Bend Sinister – the last Fall LP which Leckie was involved with – is quite possibly the band’s most underrated album. For some, it seems to represent a slide into commercialism – and the breezy garage rock cover “Mr. Pharmacist” might appear to be clear evidence of this. For others, though, it represents a technical failure – brought on by Smith’s insistence that Leckie have the album mastered from a cassette tape. The irony here is that Smith’s lo-fi mastering technique leant a spooky, haunted ambiance to the whole album – even its poppiest tracks.

The point being that Bend Sinister is fucking great. Domesday Payoff, on the other hand, is a slightly curious item – seemingly a resequenced version Bend Sinister put out by a Universal Music subsidiary, for the American market. The resequencing involves some fairly obvious ideas, such as inserting catchy singles like “Hey! Luciani” and the top 40-breaking R. Dean Taylor cover “There’s a Ghost in My House”. It also includes some odd decisions, like including the extremely abstract B side “Haf Found Bormann”. But the really great thing about the Domesday Payoff track-listing is that it institutes “Gross Chapel — British Grenadiers” in its rightful place as an elegiac album closer.

Let the spirited discussion of this here blog’s idiocy commence!

Entry filed under: avant rock, MP3s. Tags: , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cregan  |  April 16, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Perverted By Language is the best. and why not.

    • 2. Biggie Samuels  |  April 17, 2010 at 11:16 pm

      I know a lot of serious Fall fans count songs from Perverted… among the band’s best but I generally prefer the Peel Session versions to those that appeared on the actual album. To me, the album sees a band whose musical sophistication has far outstripped the recording facilities available to them.

      If you wanted to sound really clever, you’d have said Room to Live was the best. I used to work with someone who really seemed to believe that. Not that it’s bad or anything…

      • 3. cregan  |  April 18, 2010 at 11:17 am

        im not aware of the consensus but i know that “Room To Live” isnt highly regarded. cant imagine why. its better than than anything after Bend Sinister surely.

        “Perverted” for 3 reasons.

        1. that while i extolled the virtues of “Hex Enduction hour” i came to realise that “Perverted” was the one i actually listened to.

        2. its concise. only magnificent albums can be concise.

        3. its their “transition” album between their 2 best states. and transition states are much more full of potential. full of possibilities. more interesting. to me anyway.

        the Peel Session versions sound more like HEx or “Classic Fall” if ylike. so if you llike that better youll like those versions better.

        ok its certainly not representative of anything which is what youre talking about. maybe thats what i like about it.

  • 4. The Duke of Stratosphear  |  April 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    It’s pretty easy to scale pre-’90s Fall compilations down to three IMHO: Early Fall 77-79, Palace Of Swords Reversed, and 458489.

    It’s from then on that the waters become muddier…but hey, you weren’t talking about that era.

    Perhaps that’s best left to the experts at the forum.

    • 5. Biggie Samuels  |  April 17, 2010 at 11:19 pm

      Yeah, I was trying to point out compilations that would give people a good survey of the ’80-’86 period specifically. That Early Fall compilation is amazing, though. I think the most recent CD version has a really shitty new cover, though, which is a shame. And for what it’s worth, I prefer the B-sides version of 458489.

  • 6. Biggie Samuels  |  April 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Normally, I would agree with Cregan’s comment about transitional phases. I certainly think that any band, scene, genre etc. will usually be most exciting when it’s at a “becoming” stage of its development. But – to me – what The Fall achieved in the ’84-’86 period was so utterly perfect that it’s definitely the exception to the rule.

  • 7. Mix CD: Summer 2010 « Bubblegum Cage III  |  May 19, 2010 at 9:06 am

    […] Classic era Fall compilations […]

  • 8. Czar  |  May 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I have been a Fall fan since the early 80’s. I personally love Live at the Witch Trials. This may be because some one gave me an unmarked tape with the album on it but didn’t actually tell me what it was. I loved that tape and only years later found out what I had been listening to all those years.

    Suffice to say, 3 decades and the Fall continues to entertain like no other band can. Warts and all.

    I am currently in Fall revival mode after picking up Your Future Our Clutter

    • 9. Biggie Samuels  |  April 17, 2011 at 11:56 pm

      Yeah, Witch Trials is up there with the best of them, as far as I’m concerned. A lot of people want to gloss over it because the fact that the band’s debut album was so well performed and recorded kind of destroys the myth of The Fall having started out as lo-fi primitivists.


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