This is a sad story of drugs
. This is a sad story of obsession and perfection. This is a sad story that refuses to end in any way that will seem either convincing or satisfying.
This is The La's.
You may have heard this story. You may have even heard the record, the band's single eponymous release. You have more than likely heard the song, There She Goes, or one of many substandard covers. Maybe you can't appreciate the record, the song. Maybe you need the story as well.
They were ambitious lads, The La's. While working at a recording studio in 1986, John Powers met up with Lee Mavers and both were approached by Mike Badger, a bloke looking to gather musicians for his struggling band, which had been around since about 1983 with a constantly shifting line-up. After a few sessions together, it was clear that they had promise and chemistry and that this new incarnation was the way of the future. Chris Sharrock, formerly of The Icicle Works and later of The Lightning Seeds, joined the group a little later on, completing the line-up.
After an impressive demo set in 1987, the band was snatched up by Go! Discs and quickly pressured into releasing their debut single, the charming 60's-riffy Way Out. The marginal success of this prompted a dashed out release of There She Goes which promptly failed to do anything at all in the charts. Despite these setbacks, the band pressed onward into the studio...
...four or five studios, in fact. Lee Mavers, now the controlling force of the group, was never quite satisfied with how the recordings were sounding. They'd record in kitchens, listen to Mavers' insistance that guitars sound better with dust on them, and put up with his demanding perfectionism: one producer, John Leckie, recalls that Mavers demanded a piece of equipment be removed from the recording process entirely because it had a yellow wire, something Mavers apparently considered to be an ill sign.
In 1988 the third attempt to record the album, this time with Mike Hedges at the controls, seemed to prove successful. Mavers was happy with the results at long last, so Sharrock and Powers decided to take their girlfriends to Hawaii in celebration. Upon their arrival back home, the La's tour manager informed them that Mavers had abandoned the tracks again.
Eventually line-up changes (Mavers' brother Neil Mavers replaced Sharrock on drums) and the band's reluctance to produce a final cut of the album forced Go! to call in famed producer Steve Lillywhite. Lillywhite compiled the band's unfinished recordings and gave Go! Discs their album, simply entitled "The La's", in early 1990. A re-released single of There She Goes skyrocketted up the charts and suddenly the band was back in action, even though they were reluctant to support what they felt was hardly their best effort.
Despite this success, however, tensions within the band and tales of Lee Mavers' alleged heroin abuse only increased. At a show at London's Town and Country Club, Mavers and Powers went toe-to-toe on stage because Lee refused to sing a song that Powers had written. An equally uncomfortable US tour proved to be too much for Powers, causing him to drop out of the group and form Cast. Eventually the other members dropped out as well, leaving Lee Mavers to his own devices. He has since recirculated the group, making only a few appearences within the last decade of the 1900s, the most notable of which being an opening spot for Oasis.
But what about the album that did survive, the one that was cut under auspicious conditions? Words like 'classic' and 'genius' are deservedly thrown around. This is one of those classic self-destruction tales, brass ring and all. Listening to the record now, you can hear what Mavers was trying to get at, even through the low-fi fuzz. This is one of the underground classics that will continue to quietly influence the industry.
Track list for the eponymous release:
- Son of a Gun
- I Can't Sleep
- Timeless Melody
- Liberty Ship
- There She Goes
- Way Out
- Freedom Song
- Looking Glass
And the ever so short LP discography:
- Breakloose: Lost La's 1984-1986 (a series of recordings before Lee Mavers had wrestled complete control of the band)
- The La's (the timeless classic we all know and love... or at least we should)
(i've been corrected, the apostrophe isn't out of place, but, rather, plays on the Liverpool abbrevation of "lad" to "la", as well as the musical tone. Thanks, Stealth Munchkin!)