The Outfield – “Play Deep” (1985)

It’s a bit odd that a band from the UK would name itself after a section of a baseball field, especially if they weren’t fans of the game to begin with.  The trio originally recorded a demo under the name The Baseball Boys, a reference to the baseball-themed gang in the movie The Warriors (1979), (♠) which makes a bit more sense, and despite recognizing the need for a better name they still ended up with something baseball related.  Why The Outfield in particular?  Well, according to an interview the band did with the Los Angeles Times in 1986 they simply came up with a list of 10 possible names to replace The Baseball Boys, and The Outfield was the one they liked the best.  As fans we’d like to think there was something more to it, but there it is.

The baseball theme continues with the name of The Outfield’s debut album, 1985s Play Deep.  While somewhat of an oversimplification, “playing deep” in the context of the outfield indicates that either (1) the batter at the plate has a reputation for hitting the ball far, and/or (2) that runners are in scoring position and the manager has decided he’s more concerned with preventing a ball from going over the fielders’ heads than he is with one of the baserunners scoring on a single to the outfield.  Does “play deep” have any meaning as it relates to the 10 songs on Play Deep?  I sincerely doubt it as none of the songs appear to have any ties to the game.  The Outfield flirt on and off with the baseball theme in later album titles as well, specifically Diamond Days (1989) and Extra Innings (Unreleased) (1999), plus the comps Playing the Field (1992) and Big Innings (1996), but I don’t think they ever recorded a song that had anything to do with the so-called National Pastime.  Come to think of it, there aren’t a lot of baseball songs out there with the notable exception of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and to a lesser extent Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and Meatloaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” (the latter is only metaphorically about baseball, though it does include Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto as the play-by-play guy, so bonus points). (♣)

By the time Play Deep came out and “Your Love” made an unsuccessful run for the top of the charts my baseball career, such as it was, had ended.  I played two seasons of Little League for the Fortune Personnel team (named after our corporate sponsor… capitalism digs its claws into you early in the US) in, I believe, 1982 and 1983.  And yes, I played in the outfield.  At the major league level the three outfield positions tend to have consistent profiles and abilities – the center fielder is fast and has a good arm; the right field needs a great arm to make the long throws to third base; and the left fielder… well… the left fielder can hit and is generally not known for his defense.  In fact sometimes he’s a defensive liability.  In the little leagues it’s even more noticeable.  See, when I played, the rule was that every player had to appear in at least two innings if they showed up for the game.  And left field is where you hid the suckiest kids, the ones who couldn’t catch or were slow or ambivalent about being there.  If memory serves, I believe that over the course of my baseball career there was only one game in which all my playing time was spent in left field.  Oh, and I couldn’t hit for shit either.

outfieldplaydeep

Two things strike me about Play Deep.  First, the harmonies are brilliant.  Second, these songs have a certain quality about them that just sounds like The Outfield.  I can’t place it, but there are other bands and performers like this as well.  Bruce Hornsby, for example, has this “thing” he does with the piano that seems to be on every one of his songs that, the second I hear it, I’m like, yup, that’s Bruce Hornsby.  In fact, I got to see Bruce perform once – he played the National Anthem on piano at, ironically, a Seattle Mariners baseball games years and years ago.  And guess what?  He made the National Anthem sound like a Bruce Hornsby song too.

There’s one thing that has always confounded me about “Your Love”.  I get it that the narrator is having a tryst with an old flame.  After all, right at the start we establish that his new lady is out of town.  Josie’s on a vacation far away…  But what I always wondered about is the line, You know I like my girls a little bit older.  Is this him telling the girl he’s inviting over that part of why he’s with Josie is because Josie is a little bit older, or is he still into his nameless ex because she’s a little bit older?  Somehow I feel like this is an important distinction.  One of these ladies is “older”, but which one?  I posed this question to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, and she looked at me like, “is this a serious question?”  It is.  But I suspect I’ll never know the answer.  Either way, he’s a dirtbag Josie, and you should leave him.

(♠)  “War-riors… come out to play-ay….”

(♣)  To be fair, there are others, especially if you want to go back to the 1940s and 50s.  There are also plenty of novelty songs dedicated to specific teams or players, and even songs by baseball players themselves, such as my personal favorite “Phillies Fever” (1976).    Terry Cashman’s “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & The Duke)” (1981) is a classic as well, with the added benefit that Willie (Mays), Mickey (Mantle), and The Duke (Duke Snider) were all outfielders.  See?  It all comes full circle.

Madonna – “Everybody” 12″ (1982)

I had to do a double take when I laid eyes on this earlier today, because this is the least Madonna-like cover I’ve ever seen on a Madonna record.  And sure it enough, it’s the Material Girl herself with her first-ever single, “Everybody”, which came out in October 1982, about six months before her self-titled debut album.  “Everybody” is the final song on that record, though the version is different – on the album it clocks in at just under five minutes, while on the A side of the single it’s almost six.  The B side of the single consists of a nine-and-a-half minute dub of the track.

madonnaeverybody

Honestly I’m primarily posting about this because of the cover.  It’s so strange to see a Madonna 12″ that doesn’t feature the singer herself on the front.  Her second single, “Burning Up”, is a transition – the colors are much more like “Everybody”, but the cover is divided into 20 smaller sections each comprised of an artsy Madonna head shot.  By “Holiday / Everybody” we’re in full-on Madonna photo mode, which more or less became the norm.  The songs are, of course, pretty great – I’m a fan, particularly of the first three albums, and I think the music has held up pretty well (in fact this style is sort of making a bit of a comeback).  I particularly like the dub version – her songs just lend themselves to the remix treatment.

Secession – “A Dark Enchantment”

Secession, a mid-1980s Scottish synthpop band, may in an odd way be best known for the work two of its non-original members did after the band broke up.  You see, bassist J.L. Seenan and drummer Charlie Kelly joined Secession in time to be part of the lineup for the band’s only LP, 1987s A Dark Enchantment, and following Secession’s demise the pair joined a duo that Charlie’s brother played in.  That duo later benefitted from having a very famous fan, one who covered their songs and mentioned them in interviews.  That fan was a guy named Kurt Cobain, and the band was The Vaselines.

secessiondark

So what about A Dark Enchantment?  Well, one would expect the overall mood was being set by the slightly gloomy synth-goth of the instrumental intro “Eventide”, but that’s followed by a classic 1980s hopeful struggle-song, the synth and bass line driven “Promise” (I’ve worked so hard to get this far / Don’t try to take it from me), a number that would be right at home in any one of a few dozen classic 1980s flicks.  But then… then “Sneakyville”.  What is happening here?  The deep male vocals offset by the distant female harmony take everything in a completely different direction, more of a dark dancefloor banger.  That was unexpected.  And then… horns?  “Winifred”, what are you doing to me??  It’s almost like A Dark Enchantment is a label comp, but there’s just enough of a thread to hold it all together as part of one cohesive work.  “Ocean Blue”?  Female vocal dream pop.  The brief instrumental “Reprise (Love Lies Bleeding)”?  A fleeting moment of emotion, 61 seconds of soft interlude.  You just never know what’s waiting for you on the next song.

Terror Bird – “Human Culture” (2011)

terrorbirdTerror Bird is the project of Vancouver’s Nikki Nevver.  Sonically Terror Bird are a bit retro, the synths harkening back to the 1980s, with a sort of dark romantic vibe.  The music is a soft dreamy foundation that helps suspend Nevver’s vocals, an effect that comes together most fully in the ethereal “Cemeteries”.

I didn’t find Human Culture available anywhere for listening online, but you can check out some of Terror Bird’s other releases at Nikki’s Bandcamp page HERE.  If Human Culture is any indication, there’s some great stuff to be heard there.

A-Ha – “Hunting High And Low – The Early Alternate Mixes” (2019)

ahahuntingrsdA-Ha was Mrs. Life In The Vinyl Lane’s first favorite band and is still probably in her Top 3 (and maybe still #1), and we all know what an impact your first favorite band has on your musical life – you never ever forget them.  So when I saw there would be a Record Store Day release of early alternate mixes of their seminal album Hunting High And Low I knew I needed to be on the lookout for a copy.  Frankly I didn’t expect it to be that hard to find, even though the edition size was fairly small (2,450 copies… not 2,500 mind you, 2,450…) for such an iconic band, but we struck out locally.  Fortunately, however, Al Gore invented the internets I and was able to secure a copy for pretty much the retail price online via Discogs.  Thanks Al!

I’m not an expert on the A-Ha catalog.  Certainly I know the mega-hits from Hunting High And Low (“Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”) because, well, if you watched MTV at all in 1985-86 you couldn’t miss these videos – “Take On Me” in particular seemed to be played about once an hour for six months straight.  I also don’t have nearly enough experience with this record to hear the differences between the studio version and these alternate takes, though Holly certainly could.  What I can tell you is that this thing sounds perfect – no cracking, no hissing, pure sonic clarity.  In fact I’d say it’s probably one of the 10 best sounding records I own.  So if you’re interested, have no fear – these “early” takes are fully produced and sound tremendous.