This month Primal Scream releases their ninth studio album, entitled Beautiful Future. Like many of my favorite bands, most people in the U.S. don’t know about/care about/like them. So I thought that, in honor of Beautiful Future‘s release, I would take this time to write about Primal Scream and give brief summaries/reviews/whatevers of the albums they’ve made over the past 20-odd years. I’ll also highlight tracks from each that I consider to be superlative and/or representative of their parent album, in case you want to check out some samples. Plus pictures and videos and stuff. Ahem. Anyway, here’s Primal Scream: The Early Years….


Primal Scream was formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1982 by friends Bobby Gillespie (in the background and to the right), and Jim Beattie. By the pair’s own admission, the band could barely be classified as such for its first few years of existence; most of the time was spent banging trashcans for percussion and making experimental tape loops in their bedrooms. Around 1984, Primal Scream had managed to become something more recognizable as a band with the addition of members including Andrew Innes and Robert “Throb” Young; concurrently, Bobby began to split his time between the Scream and another Scottish band: The Jesus & Mary Chain.


Bobby played drums with the JAMC at their notorious peak, as their incendiary, feedback drenched live appearances in 1984-5 often ended in riots. Bobby’s rudimentary, Mo Tucker-inspired drumming also appeared on the band’s debut single “Upside Down” and their seminal 1985 debut album Psychocandy. That same year also saw the release of the first Primal Scream single, “All Fall Down”, which was released on Creation Records, a label set up by Bobby’s childhood friend Alan McGee.


Apparently William & Jim Reid (the brothers who led the Mary Chain) saw these extracurricular activities as a threat to their band and gave Bobby an ultimatum: stay with them or stick with the Scream. He opted for the latter.

“All Fall Down” audio


In 1986, Primal Scream released their second single, “Crystal Crescent”. The A-side was a great, horn-fueled piece of pop but it was the b-side, “Velocity Girl”, that would garner the most attention.

“Velocity Girl” audio

Just a mere 90-odd seconds of jangle-pop, the song was featured on a cassette compilation put together by NME called “C86“. This tape was the magazine’s attempt to create a scene using disparate bands from various independent labels that were presented as sharing stylistic and ideological traits.


These supposed common elements included a jangly guitar sound a la The Byrds, Love or The Smiths and a gentle, “fey” style of singing. “Velocity Girl”, admittedly, possessed these qualities and that fact, along with the song serving as the compilation’s opener, led to Primal Scream being considered one of the guiding lights of the “movement”, something the band hated. Nevertheless, the small but enthusiastic buzz created by their perceived involvement in the C86 scene helped them cement a small but loyal following which laid the groundwork for the release of their first long-player, saddled with a ridiculously psychedelic name:


1.) Gentle Tuesday
2.) Treasure Trip
3.) May The Sun Shine Bright For You
4.) Sonic Sister Love
5.) Silent Spring
6.) Imperial
7.) Love You
8.) Leaves
9.) Aftermath
10.) We Go Down Slowly Rising
Guests: Martin Duffy (keyboardist, Felt)
Primal Scream’s debut album was originally meant to be recorded with Smiths/Blur producer Stephen Smith; the band even laid down four weeks worth of material with him before deciding that the collaboration wasn’t working. In his place they hired Mayo Thompson, founder of Texas psych-rockers The Red Krayola. The resulting album deviates little from the sound established on the proceeding singles: a Byrdsian jangle is ever-present, with Jim Beattie providing arpeggio after arpeggio for Bobby to coo over in songs like “Gentle Tuesday” and “We Go Down Slowly Rising”.


The use of pretty melodies to hide barbed lyrics is continued as well; one example being “Silent Spring”, a distillation of Rachel Carson‘s book about environmental catastrophe. In spite of the fact that SFG has never been a favorite of critics (Allmusic proclaimed it “pristine but dull”), I’ve always been a fan. I like chiming guitars (see: my Smiths obsession), and I would have loved to hear what Stephen Street might have done with the material; as for the finished product, I think Mayo Thompson did a pretty good job. The songs and style of this album (along with those of their American counterparts in the Paisley Underground) would also go on to influence contemporaries The Stone Roses, who would take the blueprint of SFG and refine it (and, according to Bobby himself, do it much better), as seen on their classic 1989 debut. Another reason this record is of note is that it’s the only Primal Scream album to feature Jim Beattie;as a result of both conflicts that arose during the recording of Sonic Flower Groove and the album’s lukewarm reception (both critically and commercially), Beattie left the band he’d co-founded to ply his jangly wares in Spirea X and later Adventures In Stereo.


“Gentle Tuesday” video

“Silent Spring” live on some show, 1988


1.) Ivy Ivy Ivy
2.) You’re Just Dead Skin To Me
3.) She Power
4.) You’re Just Too Dark To Care
5.) I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have
6.) Gimme Gimme Teenage Head
7.) Lone Star Girl
8.) Kill The King
9.) Sweet Pretty Thing
10.) Jesus Can’t Save Me
Guests: None
With his main musical collaborater gone, Bobby Gillespie took the opportunity to radically change the band’s sound and direction, something which he would continue to do with each subsequent Scream album. Now rotating around the troika of Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Robert Young, Primal Scream ditched the paisley shirts and C86isms of Sonic Flower Groove, replacing them with long hair and hard rock melodicism reminiscent of The MC5, Ramones and New York Dolls. The result was 1989’s Primal Scream, a record that managed to alienate their pre-existing fanbase while providing them no further headway towards breaking through to a wider audience. Self-produced by the band (under the pseudonym “Sister Anne”), it’s a bit of a strange album: lead single “Ivy Ivy Ivy” is a great Raw Power-esque hard pop number, and its template is followed for half the album.


The other half is made up of dark, strung-out ballads like “You’re Just Dead Skin To Me” and “Kill The King”, which finds Bobby contemplating regicide over queasy backwards guitar. These two stylistic approaches are reconciled on the album’s centerpiece, a paean to a jilted lover called “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”. Primal Scream, like its predecessor, was all but ignored upon its release save for by their small but devoted fanbase, yet in “I’m Losing More…”, the band had unknowingly laid the seeds that would allow them to survive and thrive as the 80s gave way to the 90s, and the dour U.K. music scene learned how to get its groove back…


“Ivy Ivy Ivy” video

“I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” live @ T In The Park, July ’08

Part 2 soon…



2 responses to “PRIMER: SCREAM (Pt. 1)

  1. frank sweeney

    Hi I was a guest on Sonic Flower Groove as well- i played viola on Imperial and another track – i was credited on the album – but was left off the cd credit. – love Frank Sweeney xx

  2. frank sweeney

    oh and ‘Imperial’ was produced by Clive Langer at Abbey Road

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s