From the moment rock & roll was invented - in America - the British have been kicking our red-and-white-striped asses on almost every musical front ever since. Whatever groups you might consider part of "The Best To Ever Walk The Earth", chances are most will be British.
What do we in America have to proud of, you ask? Not a lot, but every so often, we Americans manage to do something right and when we do, we like to make sure the rest of the world knows about it.
In today's episode of Shit America Got Right, we shine the spotlight on I.R.S. Records, a label that was started by the brother of a Police man and quickly rose from underground to take the mainstream by storm.
One wonders what Miles Copeland would have wound up doing with his life had he not found music to be his calling. Copeland's father was an officer in the CIA, his mother was from British intelligence, and one can only surmise that a lie told in the Copeland house did not go unnoticed. "Nice one, Miles, the addition of plausible ancillary details was a nice touch."
It was Copeland's flair for stretching the truth that had made him a successful promoter for the likes of Wishbone Ash in the '70s, but Copeland saw himself as a svengali of sorts and sought to establish his own record label.
It was at this time that Copeland launched a number of oddly named labels that came and went in rapid succession: New Bristol Records, Deptford Fun City Records (Squeeze), Step Forward (The Fall, Chelsea) and Illegal Records (The Police's first single, "Fall Out"), to name just a few.
Sadly, none of these labels clicked and Miles begrudgingly took over the role of manager for brother Stewart's fledgling punk band The Police. It was this union of bravado and immense talent that would create the perfect combination of chemistry and timing, leading to The Police's aggressive rise up the ranks of the UK music scene before going worldwide.
It was in the midst of this whirlwind that Miles began I.R.S. Records and negotiated terms for the label's marketing and distribution through A&M Records (home of his clients The Police).
Between 1979 and 1996, when the label ceased operation, I.R.S. Records put out a consistently dazzling and often challenging array of artists and releases. What follows is our list of the ten best albums I.R.S. Records ever released, in no particular order because that's just how we roll! Also, we're limiting the list to one release per artists or else R.E.M. would own half of our Top 10.
Wall of Voodoo - Seven Days In Sammystown
After the admittedly fluke success of "Mexican Radio" and a big-money appearance at 1982's US Festival, singer Stan Ridgway left and, in doing so, too half the band with him. With Bruce Moreland returning and new singer Andy Prieboy able to do justice to the Ridgway tunes while introducing a few head-turners of his own, the band set out to create their own musical identity on 1985's Seven Days In Sammystown and largely succeeded. Too bad very few people in the U.S. heard it. First single "Far Side Of Crazy" did go Top 40 in Australia.
Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting
After the initial lo-fi genius of their self-titled debut album and the proper fleshing out of the concept on their bigger-budget follow-up, Free, they definitely had this writer's full attention once they'd announced they were working with producer Chris Tsangerides (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and the Lords of the New Church's The Method To Our Madness, also on IRS).
In addition to being the band's most muscular album to date, the growth of Johnette Napolitano as a songwriter between this album and the last is breathtaking. Every song is a cinematic tour de force capable of standing on its own that also happens to contribute to the album's loose conceptual feel. Johnette's touching ballad "Joey" would go on to become their sole Top 20 hit. Plus, it's got two songs written by former Wall of Voodoo members, including Prieboy's "Tomorrow Wendy".
\As a fan of Johnette's harrowing stories of life in L.A. and James Mankey's evocative guitar work, this album shows them at the top of their game.
Go-Go's - Beauty & The Beat
While the chatter at the time was that they were a punk band that could barely play their instruments, one look at the band revealed at least two ringers in their ranks, drummer Gina Schock and bassist Kathy Valentine. Together, they formed an unshakable rhythm section upon which the rest of the band was able to take their unique brand of retro-rock to the masses. Teamed with producer Richard Gottehrer (of "My Boyfriend's back" and "I Want Candy" fame), the resulting album is a near-perfect blast of pop that embraced punk and pop tradition in equal measures and wound up rocketing all the way to #1.
The Alarm - Declaration
After the UK Top 20 success of their third single "68 Guns" in 1983, the pressure was on the band to come up with a full-length album that would deliver on the promise of those early 45's. Many a band has been faced with the prospect of proving themselves with a full album after a massively popular single, but few have delivered the goods as convincingly as The Alarm did on 1984's Declaration.
Even though U2 themselves weren't the musical giants they are now, they were popular enough at the time for many to write off the Alarm as mere copycats, but, if there is one thing that this album proved, The Alarm were marching to their own drum. "Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?", "We Are The Light", "Shout To The Devil", "Howling Wind" and the title cut are all standouts that make this album a must-own.
Three O'Clock - Arrive Without Traveling
Having issued the masterful debut full-length Sixteen Tambourines in 1983, this fan of the band could not have been more giddy upon hearing the news that they'd signed to IRS. I merely presumed the band would continue their fruitful relationship with producer Earle Mankey (he of the original Sparks line-up), but when I dropped the needle on this platter, I could not have been more delightfully surprised by what I heard.
Though the idea of Michael Hedges (The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Bauhaus) as producer remains endlessly perplexing, the results cannot be denied as the band's lo-fi psychedelia is dressed up and out, taking on unexpected dimensions and textures that make this an album quite literally without equal.
Songs like "Girl With The Guitar", "Her Head's Revolving", "Half The Way There" and "Spun Gold" are familiar to the ear on first listen, sounding very much like songs you should already know and love, but delivered in a way that is just slightly askew enough to ward off such sheep that comprise the mainstream. As always, in their rush to embrace Huey Lewis & The News, they miss out on the real gems, like this album.
Check back on Wednesday for PART TWO!