Been hearing some great new sounds lately. But, for me, the best album to hit the shops in recent months is the debut release by The White Labels. Meet The White Labels has it all: cool-looking vinyl; killer song titles like New Slacks, Same Haircut; plus, no Side Two to tarnish the awesomeness of Side One.
The White Labels’ album, you see, can be found only on the outside of boxes containing an Ion USB turntable, available for sale at select locations of the store we all still call Radio Shack. (Or, of course, through the website, which is not radioshack.ca.) It can be considered either a demonstration record or the recommended LP for those about to digitize rock. And it is by far my favourite album of the moment. Think of it: a record that will never sound dated, or fall in or out of fashion. Moreover, we needn’t worry about a difficult second album — or even a second side — failing to live up to the brilliance of Side One of Meet The White Labels. Perfection is a rare thing in popular music. The White Labels have attained it. Long may they not exist.
(And please, let’s not see some Masked Marauders-style fraudulent attempt to bring this band to life, in response to the buzz generated by the competent people at Ion. The White Labels deserve better.)
Let’s face it, reality has a tendency to disappoint. Not so, The White Labels. Not that the band’s illusory rock and roll supremacy stands unchallenged. Venture over to the nearest Michaels (for all your scrapbooking needs) and you’ll find LP frames populated by a selection of would-be White Labels, not performing music in a variety of genres. There’s jazz, courtesy of Smokey Jones. Hard rock, with Dynasty. (Not, alas, the late local band.) Meanwhile, George Jackson & The UnderTones (again, not The Undertones) serve up what appears to be a blues-rock assortment, on their definitive album, Refocused. Looking for (but not listening for) some indie rock? Try The Screaming Fits’ Live in Berlin album. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic for what never was but probably should have been, check out Grrlz. There’s even something for the older folks, with a choice of the generic Bossa Beat collection or The Atlanta Brass’s presumably bouncy Heat of Summer.
Not a White Labels in the bunch, granted. But I’d be willing to check out Smokey Jones’s Rain Dance. It looks pretty cool. Better, it sounds as cool as you want it to sound. Small wonder Michael’s suggests you beautify your home with its cover. If you can locate a copy.
You’ll find frames for LPs at other stores, but packaging at the likes of Urban Outfitters and Walmart displays a decided lack of imagination, utilizing actual album covers rather than original creations. Even Ikea forsakes a seemingly golden opportunity to craft artwork for artists like Rockmusik or Vinylskiva or The Aslög Bengtsdotter Five in favour of tired real-world artifacts — and there’s nary an ABBA nor Roxette in the bunch (though the presence of Boy George solo LP cover does offer an only-in-Europe touch to the assortment). Real album covers for display? I can select those myself, thank you.
Besides, as The White Labels and their contemporaries have demonstrated, the real thing is no match for an artist so hip, cutting-edge and obscure as to exist only in our imagination.
It’s something I first realized while in junior high (the best eight years of my life). At the time, I fronted a band with some two dozen chart-topping albums to its credit, in addition to releasing collaborative efforts with the likes of Bob Dylan, Dave Davies, Mick Taylor, Kate Bush and Syd Barrett. Phil Spector produced at least one of our albums. The band was called Ten! and included my pals Joe Chin, Jack Krause, Fred Bilps and Ken Schwartz. They, like the band and its music, never existed as such. Oh, but it happened. The proof, I discovered recently, is to be found where all the best possessions reside: in the basement. And we’re talking a ludicrously prolific career that sometimes found the band creating and releasing as many as three albums in a single day (likely against the record label’s advice). Albums with titles like Incognito, 2 + 2 = 10!, Re-Percussions, The Album of the Same Name and of course Take Ten! Yes, it all happened. Except that, of course, it didn’t. See, in what can now be seen as an admirable act of defiance, we never got around to recording the music to accompany the completed album packages, nor to writing it. Such matters seemed incidental when the public was demanding more product.The band’s name, as I recall, was provided by my brother’s pal Bob, who to me seemed the coolest guy in the neighbourhood. (Not that competition in Parkwood Hills was fierce.) He would later unwittingly provide the title for the band’s own record label: Basic Recordings. (I still like that one. “Dude, that’s basic!” And so forth.) After all, the biggest bands invariably start their own labels, then abandon them. Add mine to that list.
And while I reflect on the Ten! era during hall-of-fame season, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my friend Keith, without whom Ten! would surely never have not existed. One day, while we were hanging out at his house, Keith showed me a few of his own original albums. There were no recordings, mind you — merely the covers, complete with artwork, personnel and track listing. The name for his imaginary project was, appropriately enough it seemed, The One Man Electrical Band. Cool, thought I! I’m gonna make albums of my own! And so it began: we would hang out in his basement, pen and paper at the ready, trying to outdo each other with best-selling albums of original material (plus, naturally, well-chosen covers). My band was original a duo, with Joe on “extra sensory percussion” (I think I stole the phrase from a John Lennon record) and me on everything else.
Song titles? Try Bugs in the Woodwork, Hum That Pea, Beat Up Your Elders or Cold Beer. (I’ll assume Bob suggested that last one.) So many songs. So many albums. Such a long time ago. But hey, we had a good run. Small wonder, then, Ten! is remembered by some as the White Labels of its day. And by some, I mean me.
In the music industry of the mind, that’s what matters.