Words by Ricky
I visited the delightful, sheep-splattered country of Ireland for work earlier this summer. With pockets of free time to spare (away from the sheep), I sought out record shops. The overpriced Dublin record stores didn’t impress me, but while in Belfast, I visited this joint nestled below a tattoo shop. It was called Dragon Records and was wonderful. Killer selection–reasonable prices–and best of all, I rummaged through tons of goodies near-impossible to find in the US…a lot of them were Creation Records releases. I didn’t have enough extra (non-drinking) money to buy to my desires, but I’ve been on a Creation kick ever since. A few books and documentaries narrate the Creation story waaaaay better than I can, but hell, the point of this blog entry is to talk about record labels…sooo onward!
“If there’s one thing Creation Records wasn’t, it was boring.”
A barrage of weirdos, druggies, and musical geniuses released mind-blowing gems on Creation. With the exception of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (a song universally loved by every single person…ever…it’s been proven) and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, most Americans couldn’t give a rat’s turd about Creation.
In 1983 McGee took out a £1,000 loan to fund a 7” single by a band called The Legend! (yep that exclamation point is supposed to be there). Soon McGee needed a means to release his own band (the excellent Biff Bang Pow!…again with the explanation point), so he assembled an array of incredible bands and started his own record label: Creation (named after the 60’s band…they wrote “Making Time,” which you’ve heard in probably every Wes Anderson movie). In addition to that, McGee managed other groups (like The Jesus and Mary Chain) and probably found some other naughty stuff to do thanks to hanging out with all these rock bands.
From ’83 until the late 90’s, the ever-enthusiastic McGee invited artists from around the globe to contribute to his experiment. The label danced from having a cult following in the mid-80’s, to near-bankruptcy (thanks to Loveless’ insane recording process), to a major-label partnership with Sony, to #1 albums, to a Sony breakup, to its bitter end in ‘99. The label’s influence resulted in a fresh musical landscape throughout Great Britain…hell Creation was even signified by some live songs at London’s Olympic Opening Ceremony (remember that crazy bit with the nightmarishly giant babies? Yeah, weird.).
Creation bands (generally) fell into a few select categories:
Jangle pop: The distinct early sounds of House of Love, The Jasmine Minks, Felt, The Pastels, and others were distinguished by clean electric guitars, male vocal harmonies, and catchy melodies stacked upon of other catchy melodies. These bands didn’t sell a ton of records, but they got your foot tappin’ and your mouth buzzing with melodies galore.
Power Pop: Similar to “jangle pop,” except fuller guitar chords and driving drums. Teenage Fanclub, Velvet Crush, BMX Bandits best represented this batch of bands.
Shoegaze: The bizarre “shoegaze” label refers to bands with dense layers of electric guitar, dreamy vocals, and zero live stage-presence. Loveless is the prime example of a near-perfect shoegaze album. Personally I’d argue that LPs by Ride, Swervedriver, Slowdive, and Adorable have a bit more kick (and better songs) than MBV, but I’m a loner on that opinion.
Techno/Electronic: After Primal Scream’s Screamadelica glistened indie rockers with a newfound clubbing spirit, the label ventured into its late years with a heavy electronic output like Fluke and Saint Etienne.
Oasis: Oasis made a jizz-ilion dollars (enough $$ for McGee to acquire a super trendy drug habit at the time), so they deserve their own category. Like them or not, they’re one of the most important bands in British history. My favorite Oasis album might be Be Here Now despite the 8-minute cocaine-infused jams. Random tidbit: Oasis was my first rock concert ever.
American Bands: McGee did trod overseas to find some Yanks to join his crew. Yeah the likes of Sugar, The Cramps, Guided by Voices, and Medicine all contributed to the label’s legacy despite their not-as-cool accents (though god knows Robert Pollard tried).
Of courses there are a few other bands that aren’t as easily categorized (like any of Ed Ball’s projects), but those above are the basics.
After Creation halted in 1999, McGee started Poptones, yet another label. Poptones was responsible for that shitty band The Hives though, so I’m not going to talk about that venture. The madman-label-owner retreated to his home in the middle-of-nowhere for over a decade, but a few months ago he announced the creation (pun intended) of another new label, so we’ll see what comes.
For now, let’s check out a sampling of 10 favorite Creation Records albums.
Felt, Forever Breathes the Lonely Word (1986)
Felt released about 10 albums/EPs in less than 10 years, which is insane by any standards. Even crazier is how most of them are really, really good…even the ones littered with instrumental tracks with weird organ solos.
Velvet Crush, In the Presence of Greatness (1991)
Rhode Island’s Velvet Crush released one of the most underrated power pop albums of the last 25 years…clobbered with enough catchy melodies, lonely twenty-something lyrics, and lush guitar chords to make any Big Star fan shit their tight pants. 1991 was a ridiculously successful year for Creation, but this one fell by the waist side. Random tidbit: Producing duties were shared between the band and skinny Matthew Sweet.
Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque (1991)
Talk about an amazing band! A Catholic Education, their debut album, ranks as my favorite TF release…but that wasn’t a Creation LP, so I can’t talk about it. No biggie: every Teenage Fanclub album of the 90’s became a pop classic. I haven’t ventured through their more recent output…does anyone know if they’re still any good (I know they still occasionally tour)?
Swervedriver, Raise (1991)
You can’t mess with the first three Swervedriver albums. They hold some of the thickest, most-rad guitar sounds ever. Someone needs to invade Guitar Center and hook a line of guitar pedals together to mimic Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge’s grueling guitars on “Son of Mustang Ford” or “Rave Down,” and make all those Van Halan-noodling wankers weep.
The Boo Radleys, Everything’s Alright Forever (1992)
I’m a sucker for Harper Lee-inspired band names…so the Boo Radleys aaaaanddd…The Boo Radleys (that crapcore band Finch obviously doesn’t count). Their earlier, fuzzier material owed more to Kevin Shields, but later albums tried to replicate a louder Beatles or a messier Beach Boys. That’s not to say that they sold out…their sound just…changed.
Sugar, Copper Blue (1992)
Everyone forgets about Sugar’s insane succes in the UK—probably one of Bob Mould’s career highlights (along with his scriptwriting WCW days). Catch him play these songs live if you can…they’re more ferocious in 2013 than ever…though I’m still not sure what happened to the other Sugar guys.
Slowdive, Souvlaki (1993)
I considered making a joke about staying away from sharp objects while listening to this one (regarding it’s dark, sad, tortured sound), but assumed it be in bad taste, BUT still felt compelled to mention the intention. Despite all that, Souvlaki really is a beautiful album and ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Also, according to the album cover, most the guys in the band had wonderful heads of hair (and Rachel Goswell looks cute as ever in a cool Shirley Manson sort of way).
Super Furry Animals, Radiator (1997)
Their name suggests a lovable pack of Anthrocon dweebs, but in reality they led the mid-90’s Welsh post-alternative movement. Their original lead singer (Rhys Ifans) left early on to pursue an acting career. He’s since played a Spiderman villain, so he’s doing well…plus his quick departure welcomed Gruff Rhys: one of the most talented singers on the Creation label. Actually all of their 90’s material is top-notch. I just happened to pick Radiator for simplicity purposes.
Primal Scream, XTRMNTR (1999)
Sure everyone always raves about Screamadelica (which is warranted), but this one was a nice surprise so late in Primal Scream’s career. With the exception of the fake rapping, the album’s some of their best, harshest songs.
So there we go. Boatloads of other Creation Records are just as good as these 10…feel free to comment on your favorites. Next time you hit up Ireland, leave the sheep alone for a minute and visit Dragon Records.
Filed under: Label Me