Coinciding with their fortieth anniversary, Friday saw the release of the entire collected works of Radio Stars in the form of their first ever box-set, Thinking Inside the Box.

Out on the Cherry Red imprint, the package comes in the shape of 4 CDs together with a twenty four page booklet fully illustrated with cartoons by Phil Smee, photos, contemporaneous ads, clippings and extensive notes penned by Dave Thompson.

Thinking Inside the Box includes the two officially released Radio Stars albums Songs For Swinging Lovers and The Holiday Album along with a shedload of singles, rarities, previously unissued John Peel sessions and some live recordings and, to celebrate its release, I invited bassist Martin Gordon (formerly also of Sparks and Jet) to select some favourite songs featured in the collection and give his thoughts on them.

Big thanks to Martin for agreeing to the idea.

If you want to hear any of the tracks chosen – and you really should – click any underlined song title for a link to Spotify.

RADIO-STARS boxset

Make Your Mind Up

What a naughty boy! Various forms of Beastliness


The Beast of Barnsley (CD1 Songs For Swinging Lovers track 3)

The Beast of Ankara (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 22)

• The Beast #2 (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 10)

The Beast of Barnsley dealt (directly) with one Reg Chapman, mass rapist of that ilk, and indirectly with the gutter press who lasciviously documented his exploits. We recorded and mixed the tune, and prepared it for release on Songs For Swinging Lovers. Then the Beast’s solicitors got wind of the fact that Reg was to be immortalised in song.

They scrutinised the lyrics and found that, in the song, his mother had apparently been accused of trying to chop her son’s head off with a meat cleaver. ‘His mum tried to chop Beasty’s head off with a cleaver….” went the lyric. There was no denying it, that’s what it said. This, m’learned friends pointed out, was incorrect, inasmuch as she had indeed considered chopping his head off with a meat cleaver but hadn’t actually done it.

Her omission was beneficial to Radio Stars, of course, otherwise I would have had to write a song about something else, but still. Taking the legal point, I changed the line to ‘Mum considered chopping…” as instructed, and honour was satisfied. Andy Ellison sang a replacement and we had to remix the thing all over again.

Various elements of the media picked up on this development, with the Daily Telegraph running it as a front page item. Some months later, a person claiming to be the Beast’s cousin came up at a gig and proudly declared his family connection. He was rather hurt at the band’s response, or lack of it.

Just for fun, we ran off an alternative version, which would in later years have been considered unplugged given that it featured an acoustic guitar, albeit flanged. This was used as a B-side and termed Beast No.2.

In more recent times, various other Beasts have emerged, and a Turkish Beast in particular. In 2016, the song was revisited in order to document The Beast of Ankara. It leads off with some tasty baglama saz, just to get you in the right oriental, but beastly, mood.

Old Grey Whistle Beast Test:


More about the Beast: http://martingordon.de/radio-stars/the-beast-of-barnsley/

Unaccountably Blue


Accountancy Blues then (CD2 Holiday Album track 7)

Accountancy Blues somewhat later (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 13)

The Holiday Album included the words to Accountancy Blues but unaccountably not the music. This came as rather a surprise to me, discovering it as I did only when examining the rear sleeve of the finished product. It turned out that certain parties were not convinced of the song’s integrity and rather effectively just removed it. No further discussion was necessary.

Some years later, I discovered an edited version, wherein some of the introductory silliness had been removed; obviously some effort had been made to make the tune more sensible, but without success. The truncated slightly-silly version is now restored to its original place on the Holiday Album, with the full-length extremely-silly version appearing in CD3.

You Think It’s All Over? It is Now


 It’s All Over album version (CD2 Holiday Album track 13)

It’s All Over truncated radio edit (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 15)

The full-length motor-biking drama of It’s All Over required some 5 minutes to tell the full story. Management thought that the tear-jerking tale might make a single, so some exploratory edits were conducted to make it radio-friendly. Whether they did or not was never actually put to the test, but both versions are included here. The user can decide. Please do not run into a wall in ecstasy as the tragic tale unfolds.

Radio Stars Extrapolated – Can’t You Just Make It Longer?


Radio Stars original version (CD2 Holiday Album track 1)

Radio Stars single (CD3 track 11)

I was by now accustomed to being asked to make songs longer. It had happened in Jet (Song for Hymn was under one minute), and I had refused. This time, I was a sadder but wiser beaver. The original Radio Stars was also about a minute long, serving as an introductory piece on stage. The record company liked it and wanted to release it as a single, but complained that it was too short. Possibly uniquely, we had to edit in more material to make the tune more radio-friendly.

Accommodatingly I wrote a new middle section. The original recording sounded great, especially Ian Macleod’s guitar, so I proposed to just record the new section and stick it in the appropriate place. This is exactly what we did. The eagle-eared, and indeed the cloth-eared, will no doubt notice the join, as the drums and guitar sound completely different in the middle section, but no matter. We performed the elongated version at Reading Festival in 1978; it seemed to go on for ever but some people like that kind of thing.

Where Have All the Russians Gone?


No Russians in Russia from Stop It (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 3)

No Russians in Russia revisited on the Holiday Album (CD2 track 12)

We recorded No Russians at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, with the marvellous Neil Richmond engineering. The sound could have been better however, and indeed it was better by the time we later recorded Songs for Swinging Lovers in the same studio. For the Stop It EP, we achieved what we could, even I thought it sounded a bit on the tinny side. For the Holiday Album, recorded in the more lavish Kinks-owned Konk Studio in Hornsey, we had another go at the tune and beefed it up with brass and additional Cyrillic vocals. There is also a third version extant, rendered as reggae, but perhaps the less said about this the better.

Why There Are No Russians in Russia: https://formalcontentsonly.wordpress.com/tag/no-russians-in-russia/

Buzz Off


• I Got the Buzz (CD3 Singles & Rarities track 18)

• I Got the Buzz (John’s Children/Black and White)

I Got the Buzz (Blue Meanies/Pop Sensibility)

A plethora of versions. The original was recorded by the Blue Meanies and sung by occasional Radio Stars sax player Chris Gent, the second by a reformed Radio Stars in their cello-and-keyboards-to-go phase, and the third by John’s Children long after some event or other. The only thing they have in common is the bass – neither the chords of the structures are consistent across all of them, although not for want of trying.

RADIO-STARS-box-front-cover-500x500

For more on Thinking Inside the Box, click here and for more on Martin Gordon, here you go.