ALBUM RESCUE SERIES: PETE SHELLEY ‘HOMOSAPIEN’

I was born in 1962 in the city of Hull, or to give it its full name, Kingston upon Hull, which is located in East Yorkshire in the north east of the UK. The city of Hull sits on a vast flat barren clay wilderness called the Plain of Holderness. This Plain was one huge marsh up until 1240 when the Dominican monks established a Friary in the market town of Beverley. From across the North Sea, these Dominican monks brought in the Dutch to drain this large swathe of land to make it habitable and suitable for farming. To this day you can still see the ditches and dykes built by the Dutch to drain this great plain. Easily sourced fresh and clean water filtered through the chalk of the Yorkshire Wolds also made this area desirable for habitation. I can’t prove my theory but it’s my contention that something was added to this water during the late 1970s and 1980s. The result was a noticeable, unprecedented outbreak of artistic and musical creativity in Hull during this period the likes of which have not be seen since. Whatever was in the water during this period was obviously good stuff and did the trick.

From the mid 1970s through to the late 1980s, Hull, and in particular the Polar Bear pub, seemed to attract artists and musicians from all corners of the UK. The Polar Bear pub was on a road called Spring Bank so called because this road followed the course of the original conduit which brought fresh water from the Yorkshire Wolds’ springs into the city. One person I casually befriended during 1981/2 was art student Philip Diggle from Manchester, who was studying fine art at Hull College of Art and Design. At the time, Philip was a poor starving eccentric artist (he still is) who told me one night, after way too many beers in the Polar Bear pub, “I’m drawn to action painting and I’m going to make it my vocation”.

Back then this Victorian pub had a long public bar, a lounge and a very strange liminal space referred to as “the café bar”. This was a small wood paneled room that held approximately 20 odd people and was wedged between the bar and lounge. This was the city’s only arty bohemian safe spot and every night of the week it was filled with poor starving artists and musicians such as Roland Gift, Eric Golden aka Wreckless Eric, Lili-Marlene Premilovich who would later morph into Lene Lovich, her lover and musical partner Les Chappell and just about every other local indie band, would be record producer, fine artist, architect and other assorted creative wannabes. It was here that I made the connection that Philip Diggle was in fact the younger brother of Buzzcocks rock God guitarist Steve Diggle.

A few years earlier, I’d seen the Buzzcocks play a couple of times at the Wellington ‘Welly’ Club in Hull. Most punk bands at the time hailed from down south, specifically London. Buzzcocks were different as they came from Manchester, located a couple of hours away along the M62. Most southern punks bands that I saw live, more often than not at The ‘Welly’ club, were like peacocks e.g. lots of expensive bondage trousers, leather jackets with studs and other flamboyant touches. Bands from the north, and especially Manchester, dressed down; it was more second hand thrift shop punk as opposed to the highly stylized Vivian Westwood/Malcolm McLaren look. The northern look was much more accessible. An Oxfam or second hand thrift stores allowed the poor working class of Hull to emulate this dressed down punk look.

With their dressed down punk look, the Buzzcocks had the musical chops to match. Pete Shelley, the band’s lead singer, looked like the weedy kids at my school, the ones that got bullied and never got picked for the football team. His vocal style was quiet, limp, whiney, camp and often out of tune. It wasn’t the classic punk rock loud, proud, macho and shooty vocals you associate with this genre. Shelley was unique and he was certainly not a lead man in the classic punk rock mold like Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer or Dave Vanian. Northerners like myself loved the Buzzcocks and Pete Shelley; we identified with them and claimed them as our own.

Their 1977 Spiral Scratch EP was the first ever self-release punk record. It sounded fantastic and was 100% Punk Rock. Track one, side two; Boredom was a call to arms. For me it was this record, not The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK, that signalled Punk Rock had arrived. This EP announced punk’s rebellion against the status quo whilst also providing the strident musical minimalism template (the Steve Diggle guitar ‘solo’ consisting of only two notes but repeated 66 times!) that all future punk records would measure themselves against. Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett quickly recorded and mixed the music in a single day and it was perfectly insistently repetitive and energetic. Jon Savage states in England Dreaming (2001: 298) that this record was instrumental in helping establish the small record labels and scenes in both Manchester and Liverpool. Following on from this EP, the Buzzcocks released three fantastic albums; Another Music In A Different Kitchen in 1978, the superb Love Bites also in 1978 and A Different Kind of Tension in 1979. Martin Rushent expertly produced all three albums, none of which need rescuing here.

For the traditional Buzzcock fans, Homosapien was a super-sad and disappointing event upon its release in 1981. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre maintained that the concepts of authenticity and individuality have to be earned but not learned. We need to experience “death consciousness” so as to wake up ourselves as to what is really important; the authentic in our lives which is life experience, not knowledge. As he wrote in Being And Nothingness (1943: 246), “We can act without being determined by our past which is always separated from us“. Many artists reach this point in their careers; this is the moment when Pablo Picasso swaps expressionism for abstract cubism. Sartre would probably concur that Pete Shelley experienced his ‘death consciousness’ moment when he recorded this album. Homosapien is the moment Shelley and Rushent swap electric guitars for synthesisers; they are both acting without being determined by their collective and individual Buzzcock pasts.

Much of the material contained on this album were songs originally intended for the Buzzcock’s fourth album. Some of the material on Homosapien even pre-dates the Buzzcocks and had been cryogenically stored for a number of years. This wasn’t Shelley’s first solo album as he had recorded, but not released, an album called Sky Yen way back in 1974. Some of this material was re-worked on Homosapien. The Buzzcocks had fully committed to recording a fourth album. It’s pure conjecture, but this album was probably set up to continue their intriguing, strange and powerful direction they had taken on their third 1979 album A Different Kind of Tension. Rehearsals for the fourth album were underway in Manchester when the record company (EMI/Fame) refused to advance the money needed to make the record. Tensions were running high, so producer Martin Rushent called a halt to rehearsals and returned to his newly built barn studio, Genetic, on his property near Reading in Berkshire.

Shelley followed Rushent down to Berkshire and the two settled into Genetic studios with the intent of working on Buzzcock demos. This was no ‘home’ studio; technologically it was cutting edge and years ahead of its time. Rushent had predicted the future of record production, investing a considerable sum of money on audio equipment such as a Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, Roland MC-8 Microcomposer and a Roland Jupiter 8 keyboard with the intent of teaching himself the new art of music programming. Once Rushent had confirmed that ‘sequencing’ was the future of record production, he equipped his Genetic Studio with the very best and most expensive audio equipment. This included a MCI console, one of the first Mitsubishi Digital multi-track records, at an eye popping £75,000 ($153,000), a Synclavier and a Fairlight digital synthesiser, where most people would buy one or the other.

Very quickly Shelley and Rushent fell in love with the sound of the ‘Linn Drum’ demos at the exact moment where mainstream electro-synth pop was just taking hold. Rushent used his studio as a research and development laboratory, perfecting his new way of producing records. Homosapien is the sound of one musician (Shelley), one record producer (Rushent) and lots of early, expensive computer technology. Visionary Island Records’ A&R Executive, Andrew Lauder, heard the early demos and instantly offered Shelley a solo deal. Tired of the Buzzcock’s near bankrupt financial state, Shelley abruptly disbanded the band via an insensitive lawyers’ letter mailed to his band-mates.

Virgin Records’ A&R Executive, Simon Draper, listened to the finished Homosapien album; he’d heard the future. Martin Rushent was instantly hired to produce the Human League’s 1981 hugely popular masterpiece album Dare. By the time Rushent set to work on Dare, he had perfected a new way of sequencing and programming synthesiser-based music. In this process, he had pioneered the technique of ‘sampling’, skills he first practiced on Homosapien. This, said Shelley, marked a departure from the baroque flourishes of the outdated progressive rock era: “Martin wasn’t content that synthesisers produced weird noises; he did his best to use them to convey musical ideas. These days when you listen to music you don’t even hear the synthesisers. That is due to Martin, who was at the vanguard of making electronics work for the music“.[1]

The Buzzcock fans’ shock had barley dissipated from the unexpected news of the break up when Homosapien was released. A great number of Buzzcock fans were disappointed and disenchanted by what they perceived as Shelley jumping on to the Gary Numan synth-pop bandwagon. Shelley’s lyrics remained just as cold, disjointed and disgruntled as they ever were on a Buzzcocks’ album, only now they’re placed much more in the forefront of the soundstage instead of being just an afterthought. The album confirms that Shelley’s wry, witty, lovelorn pop songwriting ability was still perfectly intact. As you would deduce from the album’s title, this work is as narcissistic as anything that David Bowie could ever write, “Homosuperior in my interior“; it doesn’t get any more narcissistic than that.

Despite the new method of computer-sequenced production Rushent manages to retain the tight compressed, hard vocals of Shelley’s band work. The ten tracks on this album are magnificent, modernist abstract electronic works of art. The opening track and first single, Homosapien, was rejected by British radio due to the song’s apparent homosexual overtones, even though taken at face value, its controversial nature seems less evident. Regardless, it was a worldwide club hit, especially in gay clubs, and was the blueprint for many synth-pop dance tracks that followed. Tracks like the fabulous experimental I Generate A Feeling and the relentless I Don’t Know What It Is are confirmation of this testament. If this album was a painting it could easily be one of Philip Diggle’s modernist pieces of abstract expressionism. The similarity between this album and Diggle’s paintings are very similar i.e. Diggle’s paintings are complex 3-D abstractions, they go beyond texture, and some of them are inches thick as is Shelley’s music on this album.

With the lack of mainstream radio play, and poor reviews, this album was largely unloved upon its release. The NME said that “Homosapien is the first chance to examine the solo Shelley over the full range of interests and emotions but it is a disjointed album… the problem is the bulk of the raw material is too ineffectual, often embarrassing and half realised, to give the songs a focal point which binds, injects or drives them with the necessary conviction or resolution… It lacks energy, urgency and desperation, something to grab on to: the power to wake you or make you or shake you up. A shame because Shelley still has a lot to give”.[2]

When Homosapien was originally released, it pushed the technological envelop on all fronts. As a cassette, there were ten tracks on one side, while the other side was a computer code that could be loaded onto your Sinclair ZX Spectrum home computer. I often wonder how many people played the wrong side of the cassette on their HiFi system and heard the garbled cacophony of computer code, thinking this was the album? I bought the cassette version upon its release in January 1981, but could never get the computer graphics to work properly. My cassette version was quickly replaced by the sonically much superior CD version, which came out a few months later in June 1981.

I would also suggest that this album suffered from some unwarranted homophobia. Pete Shelley was punk’s version of heavy metal band Judas Priest’s lead singer Rob Halford. When both artists came out, the press had a field day resulting in many fans deserting both artists; not that it made one iota of difference to the music. Judas Priest was still a kick-ass heavy metal band no matter the lead singer’s sexual preference. The one positive of Shelley’s ‘coming out’ was the attention Homosapien received by a totally new demographic that never heard of the Buzzcocks. As a stupendous club dance track, the single Homosapien, was a huge success in gay clubs around the world even if it didn’t generate high retail sales.

In recent times, the genius of Philip Diggle’s modernist action paintings have been recognised by the American corporate business world who are buying his work as part of their investment portfolios. Diggle’s works can now be found hanging in the Rockefeller Centre and corporate headquarters of the Chase Manhattan Bank; both located in New York City. In many ways the Shelley/Rushent album Homosapien is similar to one of Diggle’s artworks. It can take thirty years or more for cutting edge works of art to be fully assimilated and accepted into the cultural landscape. This album was the work of two visionary artists who created a substantial work of art as opposed to an ephemeral standardised pop record. This album is evidence of Darwin’s evolutionary theory at work. The name of the studio, ‘Genetic’ and the name of the album ‘Homosapien’ are all not so coded semiotic clues as to how this album evolved from the punk rock of the Buzzcocks. Homosapien will forever be associated with the sexually charged gay scene, the smell of Amyl Nitrite and thumping bass of gay club dance floors. Too many homophobes made this album taboo and off limits. My suggestion is to get hold of the Homosapien CD, play it loud and just enjoy the fabulous music.

[1] The Telegraph 2/7/14 (Rocks Back Pages accessed 24/6/15)

[2] NME 22/8/81 (Rocks Back Pages accessed 24/6/15).

Homosapien2

The Album Rescue Series (ARS) book will be launched on November 16th 2015 during Melbourne Music Week. The ARS book will feature 35 albums that the press and general public considered to be far from exemplary of a particular artist. This book rights those wrongs. The ARS book is a contributive piece of work by music academics and scholars, each of whom take a unique approach to rescuing an album.

Album Rescue Series: Mary Margaret O’Hara ‘Miss America’

The long format essay seems to have died; something I partly blame on Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on Twitter (@touringtim) and I love the expediency of only having 140 characters to say the important stuff. This reductionism can be even more extreme. A friend and colleague of mine writes four word movie reviews, e.g. Whiplash “drummer learns two songs” or Apocalypse Now “Chopper, hopper acid dropper”. This got me thinking about how best to describe Miss America released by Mary Margaret O’Hara in 1988? Four words is far too easy an option, so I thought lets make this really difficult and describe this album and artist combined into ONE word, and that word is . . . UNIQUE. This is a classic, perfectly formed, beautiful gem of an album that passed almost everyone by, hence its well worthy of an album rescue.

O’Hara is one of the most unique performers on the planet and what she does to music via the conduit of her voice is akin to the tricks a contortionist performs in the circus ring. Her timing is unconventional, her timbre idiosyncratic, her voice is expressive as it soars, falls and goes everywhere in between on this album. There are very few singers to whom she can be compared, so I won’t try. This album is one of those records that has to be heard to be believed though I doubt it will ever be fully understood, its often bewildering, at other times bewitching but totally intriguing. Miss America remains stunning nearly 27 years on from its initial release in 1988. There’s nothing else quite like it, so perhaps it’s appropriate, frustrating and mysterious that O’Hara never recorded another album. I’m discounting the soundtrack for the 2002 Canadian movie Apartment Hunting, which was released without her approval. Miss America is a rare and precious because it makes you long to hear more, I’ve being playing this record since its release and still haven’t tired of it. Trying to describe this record is almost impossible, words just aren’t complex enough to fully capture or describe O’Hara ephemeral voice. This is an album that you can only start to understand through repeatedly listening to it.

O’Hara was born in Toronto in the early 1960’s, the precise date is unknown, and graduated from Ontario Art College after studying painting, sculpture and graphic design. The art college route into popular music was a very common one and is superbly articulated in Simon Frith’s 1988 book Art Into Pop. With a surname derived from Irish ancestry she was one of seven children and raised a Roman Catholic. Van Morrison, Dinah Washington and the jazz records that her father would play in the family home, shaped O’Hara’s musical taste during her formative years. She also painted, and acted, like her sister Catherine, who would go on to star in Home Alone. After playing in bands at clubs across Ontario, the acting and painting were dropped and music became her primary creative outlet. Visionary executive head of Virgin Records’ A&R department Simon Draper was blown away by her demos, and O’Hara was quickly signed in 1983.

It took almost five years to make Miss America partly because of O’Hara’s perfectionism and partly due to her unconventional recording habits. Primary multi-track recording was undertaken in 1984 at the rural Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, South Wales. As a residential studio this facility has played host to almost every super-star band from the 70s, 80s and 90’s. Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody there. Rolling fields full of sheep obviously have a positive effect on the creative art of record production. Sonically this studio sounds superb even by today’s standards. At the time Rockfield was stocked with the very best recording equipment available. Andy Partridge of XTC, who was also signed to Virgin Records, had raved about the demos and he took up position in the producer’s chair on the recommendation of legendary producer Joe Boyd. Straightaway, there were problems. There are stories of Partridge stopping his production duties after a day when O’Hara’s manager fired him. The myth is she found out that he was an atheist and that Partridge’s co-producer on the project John Leckie (who later produced albums by XTC and The Stone Roses) was a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, a controversial Indian guru who reportedly supported free love. I guess this was too much for a Canadian with a strict Roman Catholic upbringing or its just another smoke screen? Tapes from this 1984 session were recorded by in-house engineer Paul Cobbold, but were left unfinished.

The Rockfield tapes lingered or languished in Virgin Record’s “to difficult pile” until Canadian guitarist, composer and producer Michael Brook broke the stalemate in the summer of 1988. After Brook saw O’Hara perform at Toronto’s Music Gallery, he made direct contact with Virgin and offered to help her finish the album. Virgin jumped at this opportunity. With Brook’s assistance, O’Hara and her band re-recorded four songs in the summer of 1988 and remixed seven of the original cuts from the Rockfield sessions to finish the album. Brook was once a member of the new-wave band Martha and the Muffins, remember that fabulous single Echo Beach? He obviously knows a good tune when he hears one. Three of the 1988 recordings were produced by O’Hara and Brook; the rest were “constructed and conducted” and produced by O’Hara. According to an article in Canadian Composer she mourns the lost of the original tapes, but she is still proud of the songs that eventually emerged on Miss America. O’Hara talks about the song To Cry About, later covered by Hull band Everything But the Girl, which tells us much about the emotional weight wrapped up in that album. “Virgin said I wrote that about my boyfriend who died. I didn’t. I wrote that song in August 1980, in the bath, when we were still together.” When the song was played to her boyfriend, full of lyrics about loss and timed disasters, he said it was about him, but O’Hara didn’t agree. A year later in 1981, the boyfriend drowned. “And then the lyrics were obviously about him, as if I’d seen it happening”.

Legendary 1960s wall of sound record producer, and now prison inmate, Phil Spector once said that a record only needed three vital elements to be perfect: –

  1. It must be ridiculously repetitive
  2. Have a primeval beat
  3. Be about sex

According to Spector’s metric this record is a fail on all three accounts. This probably says more about Spector’s chutzpah than it does about the music that we are considering here. Luckily there’s another set of much more appropriate metrics as proposed by ex-record producer and now academic Richard James Burgess, in his 1997 book, The Art of Record Production. According to Burgess there are eight elements that are needed in equal proportions to create the perfect pop record. The recipe is thus: –

  1. The song
  2. The vocal
  3. The arrangement
  4. The performance
  5. The engineering
  6. The Mix
  7. Timelessness
  8. The Heart

It’s quite possible that Dr Burgess is onto something here. It has to start with the song, a narrative, the story, an exposition that has a beginning, middle and end. You know when a song is strong because it can be sung with minimal or no instrumentation and still amaze the listener. Try this simple experiment with virtually any song written by Lennon/McCartney or Bob Dylan; it works. French philosopher Roland Barthes, as always, has much to say about the vocal or more accurately “the grain of the voice” in his 1977 book Image, Music Text. Every singer perfects his or her own chant, his or her own speed, rhythm, cadence, volume and grain of voice. “The Grain“, says Roland Barthes, “is that materiality of the body” the voice is the most misunderstood instrument on the planet. Very few singers posses the grain and the majority posses no grain at all. Mary Margaret O’Hara is the personification of the grain of the voice.

Arrangements on this record, which are credited to O’Hara, are intentionally sparse, comprising guitar, drums, bass with the occasional keyboards and violin. This is on purpose to give as much space as possible for O’Hara’s swooping, diving, twisting vocals. Everything is rigidly ‘on grid’. The current mode of production via a digital audio workstation (DAW), allows for the manipulation of the music and to place it precisely on grid. This variant of hyperreality was 20 years a head of its time, it simply just did not exist in 1988. This level of absolute millimeter precision came from spot on playing, hence its sparseness. If the playing were any more complex then it would be impossible, without DAW technology, to get it so perfectly on grid. If you listen to the album loud (I do) and on good speakers (I have) you can hear the click track bleeding through. The click track provides the rigid architectural skeleton on which this music is built upon. I’d go as far as to stay that Miss America was probably the last great structuralist record before the onset of post modernism.

The performances by O’Hara and band are sublime and it’s virtually impossible to fault. One reason why this record is worthy of reconsideration is because it captures these virtually faultless performances forever. The metric I use to judge audio engineering excellence is if it’s transparent then its good. According to this metric the engineering on this album is beyond good because it’s totally invisible. The mix adheres to the holy trinity, as instilled into all mix engineers, of PLACE, SPACE and BASS. Without an expansive explanation the mix on this album is as good as it gets hitting all three markers. Is this record timeless? Well I’m writing about it almost 30 years after it was released. Does this record have heart? Indeed it has a giant beating heart full of passion and emotion.

This record starts straightforwardly enough with To Cry About. O’Hara’s distinctive voice appears over super sparse ringing electric guitar and five-string bass. She sings passionately of love lost “There will be a timed disaster. There’s no you in my hereafter“. This song sets the scene for the whole album; it’s practically an advertisement for her voice. When the drums kick in on track two’s Year in Song it takes us to totally different unexpected territory. The drum sound on this track is pure 1980’s with super loud punchy kick drum, massive gated reverb snare, tom-toms that sound like cannons exploding and zingy cymbals. O’Hara begins the song with recognizable, but somewhat cryptic, lyrics and around halfway through she starts to free-associate, or to play with the lyrics in a way that a poststructuralist poet would envy. I am not sure what she is getting at or is trying to work out in this song; it’s an enigma. Indeed she sings “What iss [sic] the aim eh?… joy?” Possibly the aim is finding and going with the groove, letting the sense of the song take care of itself or of just getting lost in the music. By the time she’s barking about “ta-ta music” in lines too way difficult to decode without the printed lyrics, O’Hara seems to have created her own set of self-expressive language.

O’Hara’s songs twist logic, language, time and space to fit her own unique version of the world. It’s virtually impossible to know how much calculation went into these songs and performances; we just don’t know how much of the supposed spontaneity is planned or is organic. In Body’s in Trouble, track three, the body is both an object and a person and its also producing the sounds we are listening too. I’m sure Roland Barthes would love this track. O’Hara is not explicit about the dilemma; she just pushes and pulls and plays around with the idea of forces at work. Meanwhile, the music rises, dips, bends, and breaks. Far more grounded is track four, Dear Darling, a country styled ballad that addresses the classic themes of devotion and longing. In conveying “A thing of such beauty” that “Must be called love,” O’Hara proves that she’s the vocal and emotional equal of country legend Patsy Cline. By track five, she’s morphed into a French chanteuse fronting an English Ska band on the bouncy, piano driven A New Day, which advises “When your heart is sick with
 wonder
 at a long and lonely way
 walk in brightness
 ’cause it’s a new day”. Sounding like the previous song’s somber cousin, track five, When You Know Why You’re Happy is a slow vamp over which O’Hara meditates on knowingness and happiness. Next up is My Friends Have, which is propulsive, while Help Me Lift You Up is its gentle flip side. Keeping You in Mind transports us into slinky lounge-jazz, with a highly articulate and emotional violin solo. Then unexpectedly and from an entirely different universe comes the off-kilter but funky workout of Not Be Alright. This is the only track on the whole album that makes use of a synthesizer, a Yamaha DX7, which was known for the precision and flexibility of its bright, digital sounds. The lyrics of this track are insightful e.g. 4th verse “My tail, this tail, this tail is tall. This tale is tall. Innocent to a fault.” O’Hara makes it perfectly, inarguably clear that some unnamed situation will not “Just will not be alright”. Sometimes things do go wrong and everything does turn to shit and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it. In the last track, a solitary bass accompanies her, while she offers us (or possibly herself?) the assurance that “You will be loved again” a truly beautiful sentiment on which to close the album. Miss America is not an easy listen by any means but like most difficult journeys in life the destination is worth it.

I once worked in the same London building as O’Hara’s European booking agent, Boswell, who introduced me to her music and I’m forever indebted. My first encounter with O’Hara was one evening as I was finishing work when Boswell burst into my office and skinned up a huge joint and threw a CD of Miss America onto my desk. While we smoked the joint together he gave me his agent’s spiel as though I was another gullible promoter and he persuaded me to accompany him to O’Hara’s first London show. I’m not completely sure what happened during the 20 minutes it took us to get from our offices in Islington to the Town and Country Club venue in Kentish Town but something meta-physical definitely happened. We walked into the auditorium just as the second track off the album The Year In Song kicked in. At the precise second that I first set eyes and ears on O’Hara the tetrahydrocannabinol flooded my body and overpowered my senses. The sheer power and pure emotion that this alabaster skinned, curly red haired siren with bright red lipstick was emitting was un-opposable. This dangerous beautiful creature had used her enchanting voice and music to lure Boswell and I onto the rocks. Like two shipwrecked sailors we were helpless and couldn’t fight her immense siren like powers. It was a full frontal 100% attack on all of our senses; it was an out-of-body catharsis experience. On this occasion Boswell had not sold this artist short, it was totally incredible and it’s a memory that I shall forever cherish.

Virgin Records dropped O’Hara after the release of Miss America, partly due to poor sales and partly because they considered her material not commercial enough. Miss America is an incredible piece of work from an artist that shone incredibly brightly but only for a few minutes. Maybe she was just too creative? She wrote, performed, arranged, produced, mixed and even painted the album’s artwork. She sounds like a female harbinger of Jeff Buckley; you can fully understand why she enthralled Morrissey and Michael Stipe. This is a record that everyone who truly loves music should own; it has great melodies, twisted vocals, outstanding performance, and virtuoso musicianship and in CD format its sonically a near perfect audio artifact. Mary Margaret O’Hara once described herself as “an ancient baby whose cranium never quite fused together”.

Chapeau!

Mary Margaret O'Hara's own artwork adorns the front and back covers of her album Miss America.
Mary Margaret O’Hara’s own artwork adorns the front and back covers of her album Miss America.