Complete Studio Recordings - Liner Notes (Raven Records RVCD-107)

Wild About You 1976-1978

When the Saints first stepped in to a recording studio (Brisbane’s Window Studios) in June 1976, they had already been in operation for three years. The fact that the howling, milestone song they cut, ‘(I’m) Stranded’, had been written in 1974 is doubly prophetic. Issued in September 1976, in a limited run of 500 copies, on the band’s own Fatal Records imprint, ‘(I’m) Stranded’ remains one the greatest singles this country has ever seen.

Alongside Radio Birdman’s ‘Burn My Eye’ EP (issued in October) ‘(I’m) Stranded’ kicked off the Australian new wave movement in a shower of teenage sweat and pure adrenaline. Fuelled by Ed Kuepper’s frenetic, surging power chords, Chris Bailey’s cheap’n’nasty vocal sneer and the reckless rhythmic drive provided by Kym Bradshaw and Ivor Hay, the song was an instant classic. When Bailey snarled “Aw-right!!” at the end of the chorus, you knew it was a celebration: he was happy to be stranded! Writer Stuart Coupe later called the single “powerhouse rock’n’roll” and “desperately exciting”.

From an historical perspective, it’s important to note that this was when the Ramones debut album was still fairly new, and prior to the Damned, the Sex Pistols or the Clash even making it on to vinyl. The Saints seemed ideally placed for a prime spot amid the burgeoning punk phenomena, although the band members themselves didn’t see it that way. ‘(I’m) Stranded’ revealed more of a reverence to rock’n’roll’s timeless tenants than most of the then spiky-topped upstarts would ever have deemed important or even, heaven forbid, creditable.

The single received scant attention in Australia; nevertheless the band sent copies overseas and were swiftly rewarded with glowing reviews in England’s Melody Maker, Sounds and punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, plus French paper Rock News. ‘(I’m) Stranded’ became a pioneering international proto-typical punk hit, yet the band still hadn’t played outside of hometown Brisbane; it was symptomatic of the times that Australia just didn’t know what it had in the Saints. Naturally EMI’s UK headquarters ordered the Australian office to sign the band, and pronto! After concluding a deal with EMI in late November, the Saints entered Window Studios again, ostensibly to record a set of demos. The band put down nine songs in two days flat.

(I’m) Stranded was a truly astonishing debut album, a set full of rough, exhilarating rock’n’roll noise, with turbo-charged rockers such as ‘(I’m) Stranded’, ‘Erotic Neurotic’, ‘Nights in Venice’ and a cover of the Missing Links’ garage-punk chestnut ‘Wild About You’, sitting well alongside atmospheric ballads like the Stonesy ‘Messin’ with the Kid’. There was one further song recorded at the sessions that didn’t make the final cut of the album.

Five initial test pressings contained this extra track, ‘Untitled’. Copies of the test pressing have long since disappeared into private collections, and naturally are the Holy Grail of collectibles for the Saints’ aficionado. Likewise, the tape for this track was long thought to be lost. After an exhaustive check of EMI’s tape archive, I managed to turn up the master tape for the original version of the album. As listed on the tape box (dated 17/1/77), the initial running order for Side 2 was: ‘Story of Love’, ‘Kissin’ Cousins’, ‘Untitled’, ‘Demolition Girl’ and ‘Nights in Venice’. For whatever reason, ‘Untitled’ was deemed unsuitable and subsequently dropped in favour of the single B-side ‘No Time’. ‘Untitled’ now takes its place as an official Saints track on this anthology.

The Saints issued a second single, ‘Erotic Neurotic’ (in which they playfully quoted the Beatles’ ‘I Wanna be Your Man’), during May 1977. The band appeared on Countdown to promote its release, but within days had fled the country and arrived in London. They got swept along in the tidal wave that was the British punk explosion, gigging regularly but never really fitting in with such tight classification. As the band’s next records revealed, the Saints were more attuned to developing far beyond their origins in a relatively short space of time.

The Saints’ first UK-recorded single, ‘This Perfect Day’, appeared in July 1977. It was a powerful and dynamic rocker, a glorious rush of kinetic energy that put the band within an ace of major chart success. Following an appearance on the BBC’s influential Top of the Pops show (during which Bailey sashayed up to the microphone stand with a characteristic air of bored nonchalance), the single sold a respectable 75 000 copies which pushed it to a peak of #34 on the UK chart. At that point, EMI/Harvest, astonishingly and unforgivably, ran out of stock! Within two weeks, the single had plummeted out of the chart and once-infatuated fans looked elsewhere for solace.

This state of affairs seems odd in hindsight, because EMI/Harvest had actually taken the effort to issue ‘This Perfect Day’ as a Limited Edition 12-inch, in addition to the standard 7-inch single. As well as the 7-inch B-side, ‘L.I.E.S.’, the 12-inch featured an additional track, ‘Do the Robot’, which, as a disclaimer sticker on the cover noted, had been added ‘due to an administrative error’. Naturally, this created an air of collectability about the 12-inch, but Ed Kuepper revealed recently to me that it was all part of EMI’s marketing strategy anyway.

EMI continued the campaign for the band’s next Harvest release, the ‘One-Two-Three-Four’ EP in October 1977. In the UK, the EP initially came out as a double single set with gatefold sleeve in a limited pressing of 12 000 copies, which then reverted to the standard, 4-track 7-inch EP packaging. Australia simply got the release as the 4-track 7-inch EP. Whatever the configuration, it was another strong release which matched re-recordings of two cuts from the debut album (‘Demolition Girl’ and ‘One Way Street’) with ragged but inspired covers of Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep Mountain High’ and Connie Francis’s ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’.

The two covers had been in the Saints’ repertoire for many years, and what seemed to them to be a natural choice was, to many observers, an audacious, surprising and perhaps fool-hardy move. By that stage, the Saints had replaced bass player Bradshaw with Englishman Alasdair ‘Algy’ Ward (who joined in July), and completed work on their second album.

Eternally Yours went through the usual evolutionary process. The initial sessions at Wessex Studios during September 1977 had yielded 11 new tracks which, when combined with the previously recorded ‘River Deep Mountain High’, made up the provisional track sequence under the working title of International Robots. As noted on the master tape box dated 25/10/77, the track sequence was as follows:

Side 1: ‘Orstralia’, ‘Lost and Found’, ‘Perfect Day’, Run Down’, ‘A Minor Aversion’, ‘Private Affair’; Side 2: ‘No, Your Product’, ‘New Centre of the Universe’, ‘River Deep Mountain High’, ‘Untitled’, ‘Misunderstood’, ‘Do the Robot’ (aka ‘International Robots’).

This would have been closer in spirit to the band’s debut album but, with the album sessions completed, Kuepper wrote two new songs which were to herald an enormous change in the Saints’ direction and raison d’être. For ‘Know Your Product’, Kuepper experimented with a brass arrangement, in the manner of Otis Redding’s version of ‘Satisfaction’ (where the horn riff replaced Keith Richard’s fuzz guitar riff), or Sam & Dave’s ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’. What the band created remains one of the greatest R&B-fuelled rock songs of all time, with the marriage of Kuepper’s guitar and the brass paying off in full, and it’s all topped off by Bailey’s wonderfully dry delivery and clever, throwaway lyrics about washing powders and cigarettes.

Kuepper also suggested they add brass to the already recorded ‘Orstralia’. The second, new song, the menacing ballad ‘Memories are Made of This’, added additional spice to the brew. With the original album program and title having been rejected, and ‘River Deep Mountain High’ dropped in favour of the new tracks, Eternally Yours emerged all the more complete and powerful.

It’s possibly the band’s finest hour, the guys having refined the approach of the first album without diminishing the impact. It also boasted a solid, punchy sound, with tighter song arrangements and better playing all round. Thrilling, high-speed R&B-spiced rockers like ‘Know Your Product’, ‘Lost and Found’, ‘(I’m) Misunderstood’, ‘Private Affair’ and ‘No, Your Product’ certainly kept the listener on their toes. Kuepper also made brilliant use of acoustic guitar (as on ‘Memories are Made of This’, the re-recorded ‘Untitled’ and ‘A Minor Aversion’) among his relentless, demolition electric riffage.

By the standards of the day, Eternally Yours was a remarkably adventurous album but upon release it was virtually ignored. Likewise, the single of ‘Know Your Product’ (backed with ‘Run Down’) sank without trace, although the film clip remains particularly vivid and entertaining. There was even a second single planned for Eternally Yours. A master tape of ‘Private Affair’ backed with ‘International Robots’ was struck but the release never eventuated. EMI’s faith in the Saints was rapidly waning. All up, however, there was great passion at work on Eternally Yours, but it mostly took the form of anger rather than the glorious romanticism for which Bailey has latterly become known.

Interestingly, a previously undocumented and unissued studio outtake from the album has come to light for this project. Ed Kuepper had mentioned the existence of an outtake called ‘Champagne Misery’ and, sure enough, after a little investigation there it was tacked on to the end of the Eternally Yours master tape.

Even before Eternally Yours appeared in May 1978, strife within the Saints had intensified to the point that Bailey actually left after the band’s early 1978 tour. The main problem seemed to have been with the direction of the songwriting, with Bailey wanting to write three-chord rockers and pop songs while Kuepper was moving increasingly toward less commercial, more cerebral material.

In any event, Kuepper persuaded Bailey to stay long enough to record the Saints’ third EMI album in May 1978. As an extension of Eternally Yours, the new album, Prehistoric Sounds, was again a departure. It was Kuepper’s attempt to move as far away from the band’s past as possible. Not surprisingly then, and unlike its predecessors, Prehistoric Sounds didn’t open with a flat out rocker. This time it was the shuffling ‘Swing for the Crime’ followed by the bluesy ‘All Times Through Paradise’, both incorporating brass which was used extensively throughout the album. All up, the rip-snorting power rock of old had been replaced by a darker, more ponderous mood. There was a general feeling of discontent on tracks like ‘Swing for the Crime’, ‘Church of Indifference’, ‘Brisbane (Security City)’, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘The Chameleon’.

For the single, the band put a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Security’ through the meat grinder, backed by ‘All Times Through Paradise’. Both the single and album were commercial failures when issued in the UK during November 1978. The fact that the band’s US label, Sire, deemed the album to be unfit for American release was doubly tragic. The few reviews, however, that did emerge were generally complimentary with critics taking the time to assess the album’s true worth. In Australia, Clinton Walker declared Prehistoric Sounds to be the Saints’ unheralded masterpiece. For all that, even before the album appeared in Australia during February 1979, the Saints had split asunder with the recent period of confusion and dissent within the ranks finally taking its toll on the band members. As if to substantiate the band’s dissolution, the album cover featured a still from the 1951 B-grade science fiction classic When Worlds Collide.

To round out this noteworthy anthology, we’ve added two more previously undocumented and unissued studio rarities. Despite the troubling circumstances of its genesis, the Prehistoric Sounds album reveals a band with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of quality material. Not only is it, at over 46 minutes, the longest album the band issued, but also it is the fount of two outtakes. The first, ‘The Ballad’, dates from a December 1977 session. Chris Bailey later recorded a different song of the same title for inclusion on the 1980 album The Monkey Puzzle. The second, ‘Looking For The Sun’, may not have increased the album’s chances of success had it been included, but it nevertheless makes for fascinating listening 22 years after the fact. Studio logs at Wessex also list two further titles in ‘You Wanna Scream’ and ‘The Swinging Set’, although these seem to have been merely song fragments that were dropped early in the piece and never completed.

To fully appreciate the recorded legacy of the Ed Kuepper/Chris Bailey-era Saints (truly the only Saints, as Kuepper has so emphatically put it to me), one simply has to take in the 145 minutes included on this 2-CD set. Taken as a whole (with a gap to allow for the split over the two CDs), the track sequence possesses an internal logic, an adherence to the evolutionary process and a dynamic sense of narrative flow only previously hinted at when assessing the individual albums.

What you have here is a fine slice of recorded history that demands re-evaluation not least for its pioneering influence, yet all the more for its boundless energy, high spirits and musical smarts. And with the added attraction of four genuine studio rarities, this then really is the Saints’ Complete Studio Recordings 1976-1978.