Jazzateers: Don't Let Your Son Grow Up to Be a Cowboy: Unreleased Recordings 1981-82
Cherry Red Records affords these Scottish jangle-poppers and perennial underdogs a second chance some 30 years later with an odds and sods collection of demos, aborted singles and an unreleased album.
Innumerable groups have been more or less lost to history, either due to lack of sales, lack of significant attention during their initial run or simply due to a lack of commercial appeal stylistically or otherwise. Thankfully for these overlooked artists, the first decades of the 21st century have proven themselves to be the years of the underdogs, the underachievers, the forgotten. At least in terms of music releases.
During this time, countless archivist labels have sprung up to shed light on an endless number of artists and albums previously lost in the dustbins of history. Whether or not they are always deserving of such reverential treatment and rediscovery is generally negligible in that there exists a voracious collector market and one-upmanship mentality among collectors looking for that one great lost classic they can lord over their comparably less-than-knowledgeable fellow collectors of pop cultural ephemera. So long as such mentalities persist and permeate the music world, labels focused on forgotten artists will continue to thrive.
The preference is generally towards undiscovered full lengths. If they prove unavailable, compilations will suffice as the next best thing, followed by collecting assorted singles and, as is often the case, an artists’ entire recorded output; an entire artistic life laid bare on a single piece of plastic. Perhaps a bit overly romantic, but that’s the basic idea behind these archival releases that present groups that never got their due, again rightly or wrongly. Scotland’s Jazzateers are one such band. Having signed with the legendary Postcard Records and released an album on Rough Trade, one would expect their name to appear more frequently than perhaps it does. But, as with so many artists of their ilk, the story of the Jazzateers is one of disappointment and missed opportunities. Having signed to Postcard Records in the early 1980s, just as Orange Juice and Josef K were beginning to take off within the indie world, their position at the label seemed a sure thing.
Unfortunately the label folded within a year or so of the band signing, leaving their one recorded album for Postcard unreleased. Following several lineup shifts -- no doubt the result of the dissolution of their label deal and their album following through in short order -- the band signed to Rough Trade, where they were able to release both a single and a self-titled album. Just as said album was beginning to garner attention, however, the band went through yet another line-up change and, somewhat inexplicably, changed its name to Bourgie Bourgie, signed to MCA and eventually fell apart.
The songs collected on Cherry Red’s Don’t Let Your Son Grow Up to Be a Cowboy: Unreleased Recordings 1981-82 exist in a time of nascent optimism for the group, well before the trials and tribulations that would surface and become the source of their seemingly inevitable demise. Instead of a collection of mopey ballads and mascara-smeared downers, Don’t Let Your Son… shows a group full of potential, exploring a number of jangle pop sounds, even a bit of bossa nova (“Don’t Worry About a Thing”), all of which could have gone on to become something more than a historical footnote.
As previously noted, we live in an age of re-visitation and reevaluation, implausibly providing second chances for groups long since thought to be dead and gone. Call it the age of the underdog, making a band like Jazzateers a veritable poster child for the movement, and hitting all the right marks for a tale of failed potential, set to be heralded as champions in the new millennium.
But does the music itself warrant this type of fanatical devotion to such bands? Or is it, as is so often the case, yet another dead end, a false promise? The answer’s a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”, it turns out. In fairness, as stated in the title, these are predominantly demos and not necessarily the face the band wished to present to the record buying public. That said, they are by and large strong demos that show a great deal of promise and potential -- both hallmarks of the vaunted underdog -- that, had they been allowed to be completed as the band intended (“Love Is Around”, especially, has the potential to have been a fairly massive single), could have certainly made for a fairly strong album of jangly indie pop. Including songs from the aborted Postcard album helps to provide better context for what could have been and it is here that the primary focus should be placed.
These songs are all certainly pleasant and easily stand beside contemporaries Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, but they don’t necessarily transcend the works of these more well-known acts, thus making it hard to fully argue a case for Jazzateers’ status as a band who could have been much bigger than they ended up being. Unlike Big Star, perhaps the holy grail of “they should have been huge” bands and one who seemed both of and ahead of their time, Jazzateers don’t really offer anything beyond genial, mid-level jangle pop that was very much of its time and, in hindsight, probably wouldn’t have made much of a splash had it come out as the band originally intended.
Regardless, we’re presented with a chance to conduct a fairly thorough reevaluation of a band that could have been more than it ultimately ended up, be it by fate or its own penchant for self-sabotage, with a hefty dose of hindsight. Whether or not such reevaluations are valid and worth further study is a matter for another day, but here it’s satisfying enough to have these to examine for the first time, making Don’t Let Your Son… a pleasant enough chance to catch a band’s imagined ascent to heights they’d never manage to reach. Kudos to Cherry Red and the like for affording the underdogs another chance long after their stars have faded.