Thursday, August 17, 2023

Dead Or Alive - Let Them Drag My Soul Away – Singles, Demos And Live Recordings 1979-1982

In November of 1977, Pete Burns was working at Liverpool’s Probe Records, but his focus was on fashion not music (he and his girlfriend Lynne sold their clothing designs from the back of the shop).  Most of his nights were spent at Eric’s, a club down the street from Probe, and even though Roger Eagle, the founder of Eric’s, kept telling him he needed to be in a band he said he didn’t know anyone and had no desire to perform.  In spite of this, Eagle formed a band around Burns called The Mystery Girls.  They only played one gig at Eric’s on November 4, 1977, opening for Sham 69.  Amazingly, that band consisted of Burns, Julian Cope, Pete Wylie and Phil Hurst.  Shortly after that gig, Burns formed his first band Nightmares In Wax, with him on vocals, Martin Healy on keys, Phil Hurst on drums, Sue James on bass and Adrian “Mitch” Mitchley on guitar.  They signed a deal with Inevitable Records and released their debut EP Birth Of A Nation.  While there is a glimmer of what was to come with Dead or Alive, opening cut “Black Leather” has a dark, driving disco beat with a dirty, almost punk side, rock guitars, aggressive vocals and even a little bit of KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way” in the middle.  “Girl Song” is disjointed with a jerky beat and synths that sounds like a somewhat twisted, disco carnival, while "Shangri-La" embraces a similar vibe, but is more upbeat and dancy (remixed versions of the latter two songs are also included here and while they aren’t that different, they do include some movie and tv samples that weren’t on the originals).  Shortly after the EP’s release Burns decided he didn’t like their name and with a new drummer in Joe Musker they released a couple more singles as Dead Or Alive.  First up was “I’m Falling”, a strong track that had less of a dance beat and was more goth with some really cool guitars and swirling keys. The flipside was “Flowers”, a dark and moody cut, with more swirling guitars, that actually sounded a lot like The Doors (Burns’ vocals have a very strong Morrison quality here).  The goth vibe continued on the follow-up with the throbbing bass and synths of “Number Eleven” and a live version of “Namegame”, with its chiming guitars and a sound reminiscent of what The Mission would be doing several years later. Another lineup change followed the release of those singles, with James and Mitchley out and Mike Percy joining on bass along with former Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls’ Wayne Hussey (later of the Sisters of Mercy and The Mission) on guitar.  Along with a new lineup, their next release, the It’s Been Hours Now EP, was released on Black Eyes Records and kicks off with the title track, which is an interesting contrast of goth with tribal percussion reminiscent of what Bow Wow Wow was doing at that same time.  “Whirlpool” is a more upbeat track with a bit of a dance beat and swirling guitars that at times brings to mind Echo and the Bunnymen.  Driven by an infectious dance beat “Nowhere To Nowhere” is an interesting track highlighted with whipcracks and with Burns’ vocals once again bringing to mind Jim Morrison.  Closing out the EP is “It’s Been Hours Now 2”, a more stripped down version of the title track that sounds a little rawer and more demo like with less flourishes.  Closing out disc one is their second single for Black Eyes and the final chapter for this early era of the band as they moved on to a major label. “The Stranger” is kind of moody at first and is a little more laid-back and mellow with some nice guitar flourishes reminiscent of Hussey’s work with The Mission.  The flipside is “Some Of That”, another slower track built against a propulsive tribal beat.  It has a solid, laid-back goth vibe, but with a slight sense of tension.   

Disc two contains thirteen previously unreleased tracks starting with 4-Track demo versions of Nightmares In Wax’s “Black Leather”, “Girl Song” and “Shangri-La” along with the previously unheard “I’ll Turn Away”, a mellower track with an easygoing dance beat, an everpresent synth line and a driving percussion section.  There are also demo versions of several Dead Or Alive tracks that would appear on their major label debut Sophisticated Boom Boom including “Far Too Hard”, “Misty Circles” and “What I Want”, along with a demo and alternate early mix of “Selfish Side”, a track that was included on the 2007 reissue of the album, and demo of the unreleased “Give It To Me”, a very infectious dance track that definitely shows signs of what was to come.  The disc closes out with three instrumental tracks that are credited to Hussey and Percy and are actually closer to the electronic end of things.  While they don’t really sound like Dead or Alive tracks, they make for a nice addition.  

The band’s two Peel Sessions and a handful of live tracks can be found on disc three.  The first session was recorded at Langham Studios on February 4,1981 and opens with “Nowhere To Nowhere”.  It’s a good version of the track, but is a little lacking due the whipcracks being missing and the guitars don't have the ringing they have on the studio version.  Since a studio version was never released, it’s nice to have the opportunity to hear “Running Wild”, a big, epic sounding track that is strongly reminiscent of The Doors with his Morrison like vocals and organ. Their influence shows again on “Number Eleven”, which sounds a bit different than the studio version.  It’s a little less goth and has some nice spaghetti western guitar flourishes.  “Flowers” wraps this session and starts a bit faster and more aggressive with hard driving percussion before shifting closer to the studio version.  It makes for a powerhouse seven minute closer.  The second session was recorded on March 1,1982 at Maida Vale Studios and opens with “Number Twelve”, an absolute killer track that again sounds like Hussey’s future work in The Mission.  Following a take on “The Stranger” that sticks pretty close to the studio version, is “Misty Circles” and “Misty Circles Pt 2”, both of which are raw and stripped down and quite different from the disco-ed up version that would appear on Sophisticated Boom Boom.  Closing out the box are three previously unreleased live recordings.  "Gilded Splinters" and "Don't Tell Me" from Rotters Bar in Manchester on February 21, 1982 and "Flowers" from and unknown date and location.  These are audience recordings and are definitely not the best, but they do a great job and showing how good they were live.  I will admit that my knowledge of Dead or Alive prior to their major label days was very minimal, but after listening to Let Them Drag My Soul Away that has definitely changed.  This is an outstanding box that is well worth checking out.  

(Cherry Red Records)

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