The Sound of the Suburbs / Handling the Big Jets (Virgin Records 7″ single, 1979)
They play too fast, they play out of tune, they practice in the singer’s bedroom. The drum’s quite good, the bass is too loud, and I can’t hear the words.
Record Shop Shots’ original idea was intended to be an internet radio show, albeit under a different name that never ventured further than a vague idea in my head. The emphasis here is on vague. I had no idea how to actually create an internet radio show, despite making cursory inquiries to a couple of people who had done it themselves once or twice along the way.
But I did have a name for it and a concept too, and that kept the idea in the to-do file for a short time.
Quite a few years back I’d read one of the first forays into books written about collecting vinyl records. Its name was Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano, written in 2003, which now seems a longer time ago than it actually was. The catch line on the cover was a quote from musician Steve Wynn; “Makes me wish I’d kept my turntable”, it said. I can clearly recall a time when that was a statement many people spoke as they lurched in droves towards the compact disc.
There’s a quote on page 14 of the book by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, another keen collector, who captured most eloquently my own modus operandi;
“When you’re a collector, you’re creating order out of this chaotic information”, he says. “That’s necessary in a way, and it caters to creative impulses. There’s something I really like about the archival nature of it – you’re gathering information that falls below the radar, so it becomes less ignored. That’s why I separate myself from, say, Beatles collectors. Collecting mainstream material is a different thing, more like collecting toys, more object-oriented. I’m more interested in defending the cultural value of music that’s not allowed into the mainstream. That’s more of a renegade practice.”
I like it. That’s exactly how I feel about buying records. He nailed it exactly. I’m having that.
I got it too. I got a name for my radio show. Renegade Practice Radio. R.P.R., even.
I love it.
Now I just need a theme song to open the show. It has to be an instrumental of something that would be easy to read that exact quote over and yet would also crescendo effectively. I knew just the one.
Handling the Big Jets by The Members. It’s on the b-side of their biggest hit Sound of the Suburbs, and starts out quiet and builds to a rocking riot. I even recorded the 49 seconds of intro via my mini-disc player and it worked perfectly with the text. Then I waited for further inspiration to visit.
Months passed and of course it never happened, and now all I have left of the plan is the music, and the record itself.
Take a look at that cover image up there, an absolute triumph of design. Malcolm Garrett of – in this instance – Affluent Images, excelled himself. Each single sleeve he would design (chiefly for Buzzcocks records) would for a time feature a different word beginning with the letter ‘A’ next to the word ‘Images’, and that was his shtick. It’s also how the band Altered Images got their name, from the single sleeve of Promises by Buzzcocks. True story.
The Sound of the Suburbs single by The Members comes in what I later learned to be called a die-cut sleeve, in that it has a window in its cover, allowing the viewer to see through the clear vinyl 7″ 45 to the back of the scene, in this case an excellent collage of exaggerated English suburbia. Also noteworthy is that the title and producer information of the record is scratched into the clear plastic in place of a typical paper label. It’s the only time I think I’ve ever seen that for a record label. (Fast forward to some decades later and the now fairly prevalent use of a full side of etching on the unplayable side of a double vinyl set. Quite a common occurrence in record manufacture these days is that. I have quite a few of those to marvel at.)
The back sleeve of the single is also impressive design. Let’s throw it into the mix here as a bonus;
In the background top left we have a faded-out shirt, featured more prominently on the cover of the band’s debut album three months later, plus typical home appliances like a food-mixer and a hairdryer, and finally the jet airliner from the cover flying over the suburban house featured in the song.
Classic design and concept cohesion strategy right there.