Saturday, January 6, 2018

V/A - Propeller tape (1981, Propeller)

The tale of the tape - and a tricky one at that.  Let's see...well, I only learnt of this comp some three decades after it was released.  Found it browsing on Ebay, at a pretty reasonable price I might add.  The Neats were absolutely the draw for me.  And much like the Neats, every other participant on here was based in Boston (or thereabouts).  I wasn't familiar with anybody else on Propeller, but the concept of cassette-only compilations is as precious to me today as it was in the '80s.  So, I went ahead and did the buy-it-now thing.  Picked it up at the P.O. box a week or so later and had my way with it - or at least I assumed I would.   Propeller lifted off with a bang by way of a delightfully serrated punk-pop salvo, "The Law" by Art Yard. Catchy as all-get-out I thought to myself, and I hadn't even gotten to the first Neats tune ("Do the Things") yet.  I did a few minutes later and accompanying it was a discernibly squeaky noise, which only made itself more evident and aggravating as the tape progressed.  After having similar results in the other well of my cassette deck and even my car stereo, I chalked the problem up to being a worn-out tape.  I never asked for a refund because I had no desire to return it.  It was still a great little curio.

As it turns out, I learned this week that all copies of Propeller suffered from the identical defect as mine.  Per comments on Discogs:

Yes, all copies are defective, but it's not damage, per se, it has to do with a flaw in the binder between the magnetic surface and the backing. Even if you can play the first couple of songs, eventually the surface starts peeling away from the backing and you get this screeching noise.

It goes onto mention that the master tapes were lost in a fire...but someone must have made a backup, because a corrected version of the entire album recently found it's way online from an unknown source.  It was my original intention to share Propeller with you many years ago, but the faulty condition of my tape would have made that impossible.  Now that it's thankfully been remedied, not so much.

Ironically, the band I mentioned a few paragraphs back, Art Yard, were the least artsiest of the bunch here.  Nonetheless, idiosyncratic and art-damaged post-punk reigns on Propeller - some dissonant and tuneless (CCCP TV and Wild Stares), but elsewhere, V: and Dangerous Birds exude comparatively warmer hues.  As for the Neats tunes, "Do the Things" and the live "Another Broken Dream" are fairly nascent and formative, but if you enjoyed their albums on Ace of Heart Records I wouldn't hesitate to partake in these tracks.

01 Art Yard - The Law
02 People In Stores - Cat and Mouse
03 Neats - Do The Things
04 Chinese Girlfriends - Let's Be Creative
05 CCCP-TV - Follow It Through
06 V: - Ich Liebe
07 White Women - Midge
08 Wild Stares - No Escape
09 Lori Green - Town Without Pity
10 V: - In The Suburbs Of The City Of Pain
11 Wild Stares - China Song
12 CCCP-TV - Downtown Address
13 Dangerous Birds - Catholic Boy
14 Lori Green - She Won't Hear You_Pink Dress
15 People In Stores - Cheap Detective
16 Art Yard - Something In Your Eyes
17 Neats - Another Broken Dream


Days of the Broken Arrows said...

Cool to see this. But I have a question. Are you saying the flaw in this tape is in the actual magnetic tape itself or in the cassette that holds it?

I am not sure what the commenter at Discogs means when s/he says "t has to do with a flaw in the binder between the magnetic surface and the backing."

Squealing usually connotes a flaw in the cassette itself -- the plastic thing that holds the tape and/or the little sheets of material that separate the tape from the plastic. So whether or not that's the problem, here is my fix for future reference. The heyday of cassettes has long passed and age creates problems, so this fix may come in handy someday.

First, open the flawed cassette by unscrewing it -- or by using a butter knife to pry it apart if it lacks screws. Then find a separate (new and healthy) blank cassette tape you don't need. Blank tapes usually have screws. So, unscrew them and open the cassette. Then remove the actual tape and rollers from the blank cassette, leaving just the empty plastic shell.

Then carefully remove the tape and rollers from cassette #1 and place it in the empty shell. Be extra careful to thread it through the front part where it rolls against the tape player head. Then place the top part of the cassette on the bottom and put the screws back in. This should remedy any whining sounds because now you have a healthy tape newly placed in a fresh cassette.

bewls said...

any way to get some of the neats up...hard to find their stuff

Jim H. said...

i bought this at the old Newbury Comics in 1981, along with R.E.M's first 45, when it was mostly a comics store, farther up the street from where it currently is here in Boston....i ALMOST moved here then, but seeing when i visited there was a blinding snowstorm, i figured maybe LA would be nicer!!! Some great stuff on this tape, thanks!!!!

75orLess said...

this "growing screeching noise" you describe happened to plenty of my tapes while growing up in the 80's, especially anything made by Epic, CBS, Sony, and of course, the music tape club ones. All made on the cheap!

spavid said...

Thanks for your comments folks. I'm not sure exactly what the culprit is with the tape defect. I appreciate your tape surgery suggestions, Days. Might come in handy some day, but for what it's worth the Propeller tape would need to be pried open.

Unknown said...

Back in my college days, I worked with one of the members of People in Stores at my work study job and have this cassette somewhere. I recall even going to see them at the infamous Underground club and they opened for Mission Of Burma. I have a very distinct memory of him banging on a trash can lid during one of their songs. Ah Propeller!

djposer said...

The defect is in the tape itself, not the casing, so rewinding it into another shell doesn't help. The magnetic material is peeling away from the backing, which builds up over time. Some copies were better than others, of course, and some may have been transferred to other cassettes or reels a long time ago.

Back when I was looking to reissue some of this material, I had a specialist transfer the cassette in a system that constantly applied a silicon-based lubricant to the tape just before it passed over the play head. Worked well enough, but it's a one-time deal.

Never did reissue it, or any of the other Propeller material.

Bruno said...

Hey @djposer, would you share the cassette transfer you did -- and any other Boston music of the same era? Thanks!

And @spdavid, am I correct in understanding that this isn't your rip, but one you found elsewhere online? I ask because I already have one or two rips of this, and don't want to keep it if it's a duplicate. Thanks!

djposer said...

I think the one here is the same as the one linked to on the Propeller Cassette discogs page. Sounds good, and pretty similar to mine (a touch more high end with this one, though that was likely just a mastering choice). I doubt there'll ever be anything meaningfully better. I'd be curious to know how this one was done, given the lengths I had to go to.

Along the way, I've learned how to digitize, restore, and remaster this sort of thing to near-commercial-release quality. And have therefore decided it's just not fair to the bands to distribute such files. It's one thing to have some crackly 160 kbps mp3s kicking around to raise interest, but another thing entirely to share something that a band would be hard-pressed to surpass. And shortsighted if I, or my friends, hope to work with that band, or likeminded bands.

spavid said...

I just saw the most recent spate of comments, folks. I had nothing to do with the restoration of the Propeller files. Someone else shared these online (not via a blog or website). I'm just passing these along and sharing my enthusiasm. See djposer's explanation above. Yes, I have an original copy of the tape, but it's quite flawed, and this rip wasn't taken from it. Sorry I'm not able to offer any more pertinent details. Thanks to any and all involved in the restoration of these tracks.

Earthdog70 said...

Thanks for posting this! I was looking to check out some V; material since their drummer (Matt Burns) has a new band called EVERT and they are making their debut and playing on the same bill as my band. If you are in the Boston area details below:

rhythmplague said...

Here's a couple of mixes I made with other Propeller stuff if anyone is interested...

Everything on this label should be reissued!

Jeff said...

Ran across this as I was looking to listen to the Propeller tape -- like everyone else, mine broke a long time ago. Anyway, I was friends -- or at least an acquaintance, anyway -- with a lot of those people, and Michael Cudahy told me back in the early 80's that the Propeller masters were all gone. I can't remember the reason anymore, but I don't think there will ever be a re-release.

Robin & Arnie said...

I recorded this to CD years ago and doesn’t have to much of the screech. I will upload to YouTube.