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Vinyl memories

By May 2, 2011No Comments

I’ve been carting around boxes of vinyl records from flat to flat and house to house since I was a kid. Lots of my records were bought from the plentiful record stores around the East End of London where I grew up and therefore carried half way around the world when we emigrated to New Zealand in 1986.

Recently I found myself thinking that it might be time to finally flick these things on — they take up space on shelves and the turntable never gets used. I’ve become used to lying on the couch lazily choosing music from my entire collection using an iPhone as a remote control. Yup, I thought — time to de-clutter a bit. But me being me, I couldn’t just take them off to a record store or thrift shop — I had to give them one last listen first.

Big mistake. They actually sounded quite good and I found all those memories flooding back — flipping through record bins in High Street record shops, or queuing up outside before they opened to get a highly prized new release. Stuff I haven’t done for a long time.

I worked out that I could attach my laptop to the amp and record a digital version of these gems and it occurred to me I might be able to share some of the rarer, more obscure, interesting or personally important tracks here (or on those prized mix CDs that I sometimes do for people). I’ll describe the process I go through (it’s a mission, frankly) and the gear I use in another post but I thought I kick-off with a track that’s rare, obscure, interesting and personally important.

U.S.A. for Africa — We Are the World (1985)

At the end of 1984, Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Band Aid produced their famine relief hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and started a thing, a thing that ended up with the massive Live Aid concerts in Wembley and Philadelphia. Before that, though, musicians around the world had found a bandwagon to jump on, notably U.S.A. for Africa’s “We Are the World”. And that was kind of cool but they weren’t the only ones. In February 1985, a bunch of Canadian superstars got together as Northern Lights to record “Tears Are Not Enough”. It was released as a single in Canada and eventually made it on to the otherwise fairly ropey We Are the World LP later that year.

It features a fairly phenomenal list of artists: Bryan Adams (obv.), Paul Anka, John Candy, Bruce Cockburn, Corey Hart, Ronnie Hawkins, Martha Johnson (from Martha and The Muffins), Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Anne Murray, actress and comedienne Catherine O’Hara, jazz legend Oscar Peterson (on piano), Paul Shaffer (of David Letterman fame), Jane Siberry, Neil Young and many more. I think it’s a more impressive line-up in some ways than the U.S.A. for Africa mob and it’s certainly a better song. The line “Let’s show them Canada still cares!” brings a tear to my eye still, 26 years later.

Northern Lights — Tears Are Not Enough (1985)

[audio:|titles=05 Northern Lights — Tears Are Not Enough]

This version comes off my LP copy of We Are the World which was bought second-hand back in England donkey’s years ago so it’s a little scratchy.

Of the other tracks on the album only three were very interesting. Bruce Springsteen contributed a blistering live recording of his song “Trapped” (presumably an outtake from the 1975/85 box set). You can find that on Disc 3 of The Essential Bruce Springsteen and I recommend you do as it’s awesome. There’s an alternate version of Prince’s “4 the Tears in Your Eyes” on disc 3 of his Hits/B‑Sides collection but I’m pretty sure the We Are the World version remains unreleased. Everything else is turgid rubbish: Pointer Sisters, Chicago and Tina Turner outtakes. If you really care you can still find a rare CD issue of the entire We Are the World album at Amazon for nearly US$40.

One last interesting note: how big must Kenny Rogers have been in 1985? He’s the fourth voice on We Are the World and gets a totally forgettable track to himself on the album.