Elektrafied: The Elektra Years, 1979-1982
Cherry Red (4-CD Box Set)
By John M. Borack
For a period in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, Zion, IL power pop quartet Shoes was poised to break through and become one of the semi-dreaded “next big things.” The band was seemingly perfectly primed for a shot at the brass ring: they had a bundle of hook-filled, deftly performed and expertly produced tunes penned by three equally talented singer/songwriters (Jeff Murphy, John Murphy and Gary Klebe), as well as a major label deal with Elektra Records that resulted in three superb albums: 1979’s Present Tense, 1981’s Tongue Twister, and 1982’s Boomerang.
But as is so often the case in the music industry, talent doesn’t always equate to success and after lackluster sales of those three major label efforts, Shoes was unceremoniously dropped from Elektra’s roster. While the band never hit the heights commercially, they did leave behind quite the recorded legacy while recording for the label, all of which is collected on the four-disc Elektrafied box. All three albums are represented here, along with 8-track home demos of each song and a fourth disc filled with rarities, many of which are previously unreleased. (The Present Tense and Tongue Twister demos were originally released on 2007’s Double Exposure collection; the twelve Boomerang demos see release for the first time on Elektrafied.)
Each of the three LPs has its own distinct vibe: Present Tense is at once wistful and urgent and features several of the band’s best (and best known) tunes—the power pop classics “Tomorrow Night” and “Too Late” sit alongside the melancholy “Every Girl” and “Your Very Eyes,” among others. Tongue Twister is a bit harder edged overall, with Shoes adding dollops of synthesized guitar to their instrumental arsenal and melodically charged tracks such as “When It Hits,” “Your Imagination” and “She Satisfies” rubbing elbows with the wonderful “Only in My Sleep” and the failed single, “Karen.” Boomerang introduces keyboards into Shoes’ sonic palette which are used to fine effect on tracks such as the shimmering “Too Soon” and the pretty, Casio-based “Tested Charms.” According to David Wells’ comprehensive liner notes in the 32-page booklet, Jeff Murphy’s ”Under the Gun” and Gary Klebe’s musically bouncy “Double Talk” were written as reactions to the significant issues Shoes was experiencing with Elektra (which are also detailed in the notes).
Most all the demos sound relatively fleshed out for home recordings, which makes sense since Shoes are well-known studio hounds who began life as a DIY outfit. Sharp-eared fans will notice some subtle lyrical and structural difference here and there: on the Tongue Twister demos, for example, the early version of “She Satisfies” includes a bridge excised from the officially released track; “Girls of Today” features alternate lyrics in the chorus; and “The Things You Do” has substantially different lyrics throughout. (And it’s interesting to hear that the disc-opening “Your Imagination” began life as “Time to Make It.”)
The Rarities disc is highlighted by a dozen demos, a few of which ended up on Shoes albums (“I Wanna Give it to You,” a sweet acoustic take of “Karen”) and several which did not: of these, “Jet Set” is notable for including two guitar solos that would show up in other Shoetunes (“She Satisfies” and “Now and Then”). Also appended on Rarities is the entire Shoes on Ice EP, a six-song live set originally available as a bonus 12” disc with the first 10,000 copies of Boomerang. It’s a nice addition to an all-inclusive collection that proves that Shoes could have—and should have—been contenders.