Graham Reid | | 3 min read
And suddenly, they they were, all The Definite Article bands.
This wasn't new, of course, but in that Brit-pride world which had musically looked back to the Sixties for reference points (the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, the Small Faces etc) it seemed natural to style yourself as a cohesive unit.
So in came the Farm, the Verve, the Music, the Boo Radleys, the Mighty Lemon Drops, the Coral . . .
And, out of Liverpool, the Stairs.
The Stairs weren't here for a long time but they were in for a good time and aside from some singles and EPs they only left one album, Mexican R'n'B in '92, before splitting in '94.
Mexican R'n'B sold so well that it is considered a “cult classic” (that is, it didn't sell despite favourable reviews), but then again it was rather different from all that was going on in Britpop.
Singer/writer Edgar “Summertyme” Jones took his lead not from the Beatles (as per Oasis) or Ray Davies (Damon Albarn of Blur) but rather ragged American garageband rock like the Standells, the Seeds, the Sonics, Blues Magoos and the Stooges as well as a helping of Sixties British bands who had taken American r'n'b as their reference point (the early Stones, Spencer Davis Group, the Pretty Things, Downliners Sect etc).
It was retro-rock escaping from compilations like Nuggets and given a strutting confidence. All that was missing on Mexican R'n'B was the sound of a needle dropping on crackling vinyl.
They celebrated marijuana (the stomping Seeds-meets-Satisfaction opener Mary Joanna and later Weed Bus which nods to the Who's Magic Bus but is underpinned by the repetition of the Stones' Last Time), the virtues of lo-fi sound and took aim at straights (Mr Window Pane is sort of the Kinks' Well Respected Man theme crunched into Jagger singing across the Beatles' Taxman/Jam's Start riffery, Mundane Mundae) and so much more beamed in from the past.
Hat tip to Daytripper-gone-InnaGadda on the seven and half minute psyche-out Fall Down the Rain
And it was in mono, naturally.
The Stairs were a tight trio of founder Edgar Jones (who had briefly been with Ian Echo/Bunnymen McCulloch in his solo career for the album Mysterio), guitarist Ged Lynn and drummer Paul McGuire and were signed to the influential indie label Go! Discs alongside the La's, Trash Can Sinatras, Madness , Billy Bragg and – the feather in its cap – Paul Weller who signed on around the time of Mexican R'n'B.
Among the many wonderful things about the Mexican R'n'B album is the train-spotting of styles and sounds which they manage to cram into the 45 minute CD (expanded to an hour in the '92 UK reissue now on Apple iTunes).
Here are everyone from the Monkees to the Uglies, the 13thFloor Elevators to the Byrds, the Saints to the Church in their Paisley Underground incarnation, the Kinks and the Yardbirds, the Standells and the . . .
Well, any ragged, definite article band in fact.
Sometimes it's pretty silly (Russian R'n'B is mistake, the 44 second title track is just backward tape), Jones' voice perhaps too often cleaves to the snarl of the Seeds' Sky Saxon and young Jagger, and some might hear the loving pastiche as closer to parody in places than it should be.
But there's still something rather fun about a band which can distill – shoehorn, perhaps -- that much garageband and psychedelic rock history into their songs. With backward guitars and drums.
The various Stairs went on to other things (and re-formed briefly much later) but that is beyond our purview at this point, we are just “unpacking” (as they say, too often, these days) their sole album.
The Stairs' Mexican R'nB has just been reissued with two extra discs of tracks (studio songs, demos, material intended for the second album) but the focus had shifted to unravelling psychedelia and even skiffle.
That might be too much Stairs for most people but if nothing else it makes for a great aural pub quiz at home with a couple of similarly disposed fans of garageband rock.
It's also a fine drinking game, every time someone mentions “the . . .” everyone has to scull.
Drunk by the end of the third song, probably.
Elsewhere occasionally revisits albums -- classics sometimes, but more often oddities or overlooked albums by major artists -- and you can find a number of them starting here