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The Greatest Gift: Best EPs Ever Made

“An EP can be an instant snapshot of a band whereas an album is often more of a considered far-reaching statement.”

We know that attention spans are getting shorter and we are raising a generation who will play selected tracks rather than listen to a whole album, right? If this is indeed the case, maybe the time is right for an appreciation of the EP.

An Extended Play record typically contains three or four tracks, although it can contain any number really. Running time is also not really a constraint, with The Beatles4 by The Beatles EP consisting of four songs that all clock in under 3 minutes, while The Orb’s Blue Room EP’s main track itself is 39 minutes and 59 seconds long, as the compilers of the UK charts had decided that a track that was over 40 minutes long counted as an album. Incidentally, the running time of being one second shy of this limit means that Blue Room holds the record of being the longest record ever to chart when it peaked at number eight in 1992.

But whether it’s the number of songs or the total running time, an EP generally offers more bang for your buck.

There is also an immediacy about EPs, where a band can write a few songs and release them quickly, without having to go through all the fanfare of an album release. An EP does not need a Grand Concept in the same way that an album often does and need no be accompanied by an extravagant marketing campaign.

An EP can be a snapshot of a band whereas an album is often more of a far-reaching statement. Joy Division’s An Ideal For Living EP catches the band’s punky roots, before the grand declaration of their powers that was Unknown Pleasures, while Cocteau Twins released EPs that caught them between albums and stand in their own right as part of their progression.

We do not claim that this is an exhaustive list by any stretch, just what sprang to our writers’ minds. You may get to the end of this feature and scream “Where is [insert outraged choice here] an EP” or “How can they call this the best EPs of all time and miss out [equally valid other outraged choice]”. If this is the case, feel free to berate us and offer your own suggestions.

We are told that good things often come in small packages, so let us dive into a selection of the best EPs ever released, as chosen by Sun 13’s writers and friends.

Sun 13’s Albums Quarterly #1

Cocteau Twins: Echoes in a Shallow Bay/Tiny Dynamine (1985)
4AD

Cocteau Twins were one of the three major acts of ’80s Indie.  Alongside The Smiths and New OrderCocteau Twins’ sound helped define the decade’s alternative profile. They were also an incredibly prolific group, releasing five albums and eight EPs containing non-album material in just four years. What makes this even more impressive is the rate of evolution and the high quality these records showed.

Their sound was so different, delicate and expansive that reviewers were forced into superlatives to describe what they were hearing. The phrase ‘sonic cathedrals’ was coined to define the Cocteau Twins live, while Fraser’s voice was described as ‘the voice of god’.

The reason for grouping these two EPs together is that they were recorded at the same time and released on the same day and, as was always bound to happen I suppose, they have since been gathered together on CD to form a single entity. The eight tracks that make up these two EPs do fit together quite comfortably as one release, but the band chose the EP format to instead best represent this body of work.

They are also perhaps Cocteau Twins finest moment.

Tiny Dynamine starts with the fade in flanged guitar of the epic Pink Orange Red and, as the song develops, Fraser’s incredible voice wraps around itself as she sings both main and counter harmony. Ribbed and Veined is a more restrained instrumental. While having the best voice of a generation in your band and re-coding instrumentals may seem a bit cavalier, this song showcases how well Cocteau Twins dealt with subtlety and nuance.

Plain Tiger sees Fraser again almost sing against herself as she uses layering to produce at least three vocals on the song’s chorus. Sultitan Itan coasts along on Simon Raymonde’s bass chords and some almost effect-free guitar from Robin Guthrie as Fraser uses double-tracked vocals to great effect.

Fraser’s lyrics, although gloriously sang, were often minimal. For example, the lyrics for Plain Tiger basically consist of the words “I feel a lot out of breath, I feel it coming quite the story play, I feel unlucky in luck, I feel a little lust to let you know”

As time progressed, she turned to glossolalia, where she vocalised sounds rather than sang words. As she struggled to write lyrics, glossolalia became the best way for her to express herself as a vocalist, the sounds she made still conveying her emotions exquisitely, such as on Pink Orange Red, where a quick scan of Google tells us she sings, “Meliteae phoebus hyala phoebus hyala cloeyessa, meliteae phoebus hyala phoebus hyala nossinussa

Echoes in a Shallow Bay starts with ghostly drum machine rhythms and the wonderfully titled Great Spangled Fritillary, which shows how complex Cocteau Twins songs can be and how many layers it takes to build them up. Mellonella and Pale Clouded White repeat this with some soaring guitar lines from Guthrie before Eggs and Their Shells bring things to a beautiful, fragile close.  

Cocteau Twins sound as if they evolved on some kind of musical Galapagos islands where, cut off from the rest of the world, they developed their own strange way of doing things, evolved beautiful feathers and strange instincts that set them apart from the mainland.

And, in an age of identikit bands and singers, this makes them more valuable than ever before.

Banjo

The Fall: Slates (1981)
Rough Trade

Is this an EP or is it a mini album? What if I were to tell you that the CD re-release was expanded by adding a Peel session and other tracks, making it…what? An extended maxi mini album? When Slates was first released on 10” vinyl it was disqualified from both the singles and albums charts, as being too long for a single but too short for an album, meaning The Fall missed out on a potential chart placing but gained some extra points for their awkwardness factor.

Officially it is an EP, but confusion obviously abounds. Slates was placed thirteenth in NME‘s albums of the year.

What it is however, is a classic slice of vintage Fall, containing some of their more memorable songs.

Middlemass is a stone cold classic and the title track is one that instantly transports me back to a youth spent listening to John Peel in my bedroom and finding new sounds on an almost daily basis. A 100% Fall classic to this day.

Some of the guitar work here brings to mind Rowland S Howard, so it looks like The Fall and The Birthday Party had formed some kind of mutual admiration society at this point. At other times, the intertwining guitars bring Television to mind, but obviously a shouty Northern version.

An Older Lover is a discordant slice of post-punk bringing The Fire Engines to mind, although I’m not sure which came first and it’s too late to care. Prole Art Threat comes as close as The Fall ever managed to a motto and is an out of tune assault on the senses.

Side 2 (remember them?) starts with Fit & Working Again which, on first listen, sounds a bit throwaway, but repeated listens reveal it to be an off-kilter rockabilly vehicle for Mark E. Smith to again vent his spleen. Slates, Slags, Etc. is a relentless two chord feedback driven thing that turned out to be years ahead of its time.

Closing track, Leave the Capitol, sounds almost polished in comparison to what has gone before, Smith’s rant’s notwithstanding.

The thing about The Fall is that the above sounds like a description of a bad record. But The Fall somehow rise above facts such as a certain amount of tunelessness, discordant noise and shouted vocals to make a record that is utterly thrilling in its disdain for the rules. This is the road that punk should have taken, and indeed did take for the brighter bands.

If you want to know why The Fall are so revered, you could do worse than start with the magnificent, awkward, singular record.

Banjo

My Bloody Valentine: You Made Me Realise (1988)
Creation Records

You Made Me Realise was My Bloody Valentine’s third EP and their first release for Creation Records.

A release that is cherished amongst the band’s rabid devotees, some of whom even claiming it’s their finest work. Granted, these claims mainly derive from MBV’s first wave of loyalists in a bid to flex their muscles in the game of one upmanship.

In any case, it’s worth noting that the songs on You Made Me Realise stack up in a big way.

It’s an EP My Bloody Valentine holds close to their heart, for many of the songs on You Made Me Realise featured throughout the band’s live return in 2008 onwards. Highlighted by the monolithic ‘noise holocaust’ of the EPs title track – a song the obsessive Kevin Shields probably spent years tinkering with, eventually splitting its personality between a solid studio ditty and a live behemoth.

From the driving force of Thorn, the crunching shoegaze groan of Cigarettes in Your Bed and the dreamy splendor of Drive it All Over Me, these songs worked perfectly in between material from Loveless and Isn’t Anything, and going back to the EP after seeing these songs performed live does nothing but solidify their position and indeed this release as a vital chapter of the band’s story.

Bella McIntyre

Sun 13’s Top 50 Albums of 2020

AFX: Hangable Auto Bulb (1995)
Warp

Electronic music has flourished in brevity over the past decade, with a slew of producers all around the world adopting a preference of singles and EPs as opposed to the album experience.

So, where did this all start? Who the hell knows, and, above all, who cares? This is the thing with these lists. There will be notable omissions, perhaps even glaring ones, but where electronic music is concerned, from a personal standpoint at least, it kind of all started with Richard David James and Aphex Twin.

The man needs no introduction, but perhaps those who have casually dipped in and out of his work over the years may have swerved his AFX output. More fool you (just messing).

Released in two parts with the last two cuts, the chemically-induced fever dream of Every Day and the anabolic fury of Arched Maid VIA RDJ comprising the second EP (both of which landed in ’95), it’s only fair that the Hangable Auto Bulb parts one and two are included as the full package. After all, the CD version contains both, so… it’s our rules, okay?

Revelling in the absurdity that has formed the subconscious of electronic music over the years, James makes good use of it on opening track, Children Talking. He’s perhaps one of the few producers that could create something astonishing with the words, “mashed potatoes”, with the jackhammer breakbeats and nod to drum and bass prominent from the outset.

The title cut is a bit of a sonic preamble into Laughable Butane Bob – one of the most accomplished compositions James has given us and is pretty much the reason why this EP features in this list. An ambient, acidic frenzy that pulsates the senses into orbit.

Custodian Discount is a comedown by comparison and truth be told, pretty much the remainder of Hangable Auto Bulb is, such as the slab of pure gold dust of Laughable Butane Bob.

While many may reach for Selected Ambient Works and I Care Because You Do – some may say that Hangable Auto Bulb is a precursor for the latter – make no mistake, James’ alter-ego doesn’t bear shunning with Hangable Auto Bulb at the top of the pile.

Simon Kirk

Ride: Ride, Play, Fall, Today Forever (1991)
Creation

Yes I know, it’s a) cheating and b) lazy to lump all these together, but they make such a stunning body of work that Ride’s EPs are arguably the best way to experience their music. Starting in 1989, Ride released a series EPs that announced them to the world and, really, what a way to do it.

Their first EP, simply called Ride, contained lead track Chelsea Girl, a magnificent slice of squally indie pop that set out their stall, but is more memorable for Drive Blind, an epic burst of noise that really hinted at what was to come. Live, Drive Blind became a complete white out of noise that closed their live sets in astonishing fashion.

Play’s 4 tracks introduced the harmonies and twin guitar attack that were to become their stock-in-trade, all wrapped up in ’60s sensibilities and ’90s fuzz overload. By EP 2, Ride had become a force to be reckoned with.

EP 3, Fall, is one of the most incredible collections of songs yet recorded. Dreams Burn Down took the mantle from the Stone Roses and ran with it, taking indie pop and swaddling it in noise. A million bands took note, went out and bought effects pedals and shoegaze was born. Taste dragged Ride’s obvious ’60s influences through a hedge while Here and Now showed a deft hand at combining their twin loves of pop and noise. Anyone who has tried to cover a Ride song knows that getting this balance right is not as easy as they make it sound. Nowhere finishes the EP and was to become the title of their debut album. The song is almost a slow monotone drone that, in lesser hands, would have sounded flat and uninspired, but Ride somehow turn it into an epic five minute behemoth.

By the Today Forever EP, Ride had released an album and had become media darlings, lead track, Unfamiliar, even saw the band on Top of the Pops, although in truth it could have been any of the tracks here, such is the quality of Ride’s output at this time.

Personally, this was Ride’s peak. Second album, Going Blank Again, saw the ’60s influences come to the fore at the expense of their more left of centre noisenik tendencies, although Leave Them All Behind was a tremendous first single.

But no matter. Few bands had left behind such a trail of perfect records and kick-started a new musical movement. For a brief, glorious year or so, Ride were the best band in the world.

Banjo

R.E.M.: Chronic Town (1992)
I.R.S Records

A good EP provides the perfect means of introduction to a new band. More substantial than a single, less of a commitment than an album.

Here we get a tantalising glimpse of R.E.M. beginning to creep out of the pastoral backwaters of Georgia. Chronic Town does not yet quite have the absolute otherworldliness of Murmur but it is a perfect glimpse of pretty much fully formed enigmatic proposition, unknowingly setting the blueprint for alternative rock in the still fresh 1980s.

All the elements are in place. From the opening track Wolves, Lower, the arpeggiated Peter Buck guitar begins to weave a path through the track, followed by the heaven sent backing vocals and dreamy lead bass of Mike Mills and Bill Berry breaking down a dance music beat to its core, raw elements.

Then of course there is Michael Stipe. Utterly undecipherable, rising and dropping through the mix hiding behind a cascade of scruffy curls. For someone so painfully shy and out of time, this an audacious introduction, including a charmingly stubborn insistence on adding a comma to the title.

From the Byrdsian chimes of Gardening at Night to the clattering drive of Stumble, this an effortless and faultless introduction wrapped up in a bleakly gothic gargoyle sleeve. Yes, its only 20 minutes or so long, but so was the Rosebud episode of The Simpsons. That’s essentially the joy of the EP. Leave them wanting more.

Si Jones

13 Albums We Missed in 2020 – Part 1

Joy Division: An Ideal for Living (1978)
Enigma

Fans of Joy Division’s later works may be forgiven for questioning whether this snapshot of Joy Division as punk band is really one of the greatest EPs ever made, but what I think we see hear is much more than the seeds of what the band would eventually become.

By the time this EP was released, Joy Division had started to crystalise their sound and were moving on from their punk beginnings. The songs are, without question, primitive and basic, but they are already a world away from the likes of UK Subs, Lurkers and others who continued to make punk music with very little development from their initial blueprint.

What we are seeing here is the first evidence of the extraordinary rate at which Joy Division evolved.

As a young lad, I was lucky enough to be persuaded to go to a matinee show at Eric’s in Liverpool and, as fate would have it, the first band I saw there were Joy Division, who were then supporting Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids. The songs they were playing then included the four songs included on this EP, along with early songs such as Exercise One and They Walked In Line, but also such future classics as Transmission and She’s Lost Control.

From then on we took every chance we could to see the band play live, notching up a disappointing six gigs. It isn’t bad, I suppose, but a friend of mine from Manchester managed to see them a much more impressive 75 times, and that’s much more like the kind of figure I would like to be able to lay claim to.

But they quickly became our band, the first band we particularly latched onto from the Eric’s scene. At the next gig, Ian Curtis mentioned that they had an EP out, but we were totally unable to find a copy of it in Probe Records, our usual pre-gig stop off on a Saturday afternoon. In fact it was only on a family trip to London that I managed to find a copy in a dodgy record shop somewhere.

I took my prized possession to Eric’s with me for the next gig and got the band to sign it for me. It must have been one of the first autographs they had done, as Ian didn’t know to sign next to his picture on the back sleeve, just adding his distinctive scrawl at the sleeve’s centre. The rest of the band signed their photos, but then again maybe they were expecting it as I pounced on Ian in the toilets just as he had finished having a piss.

Some years later, when I was moving into my first flat, I left all my records in my parent’s house until such a time as the new place was ready to receive my prized collection. While they were there, someone stole some of my rarer records, including my signed copy of An Ideal For Living.

It’s heartbreaking to think of it, but there we are. I have lost count of the number of times I have looked back and wished I had taken it with me or hidden it or SOMETHING!

So, without even reviewing or mentioning a single song on this EP, An Ideal For Living is one of the greatest records I have ever owned, because it captures my teenage years and my adult regret, it is a souvenir from one of the most exciting times of my life that now exists only as a memory and it has a story to it, a story of excitement, loss and disappointment, as a Joy Division story should.

Further than that, it was a marker that we set down, it was proof of our involvement in something that has since become legendary. So whether I have the record now or not, it is a snapshot of much more than a punk band in bloom, it is part of our journey growing up. Because what we do when we are young is something we carry with us until the end, and for me Joy Division were a big part of that.

Banjo

Stereolab: Translucent (1996)
Warp

Someone once said that Stereolab were the ultimate crate digger’s band and it’s hard to argue against the point.

The term desert island disk is one that, personally, sticks in my craw, however if you were to play this game then you could do a lot worse than choosing Stereolab and their entire discography. Even the most ardent of their followers probably still have something to learn about this beautiful odyssey.

Which leads us to choose their finest extended play. It’s the equivalent of a child in a candy shop being told by their parent that they can only choose one sweet.

So with that, we close our eyes and pick from the selection. Eyes now opened, and it looks like the lucky winner is Translucent.

The songs from Translucent can now be found on the ’Labs compilation from earlier in this century, Oscillations from the Anti-Sun – one of the many odds and ends releases from the band, which – strangely enough – isn’t the worst place to start for those Stereolab novices.

The zany lounge-pop trip-out that is the EP’s title track sets things off. With soft brass and Lætitia Sadier’s thick melodic almost sing-speak vocals, it’s a close-your-eyes-and-bask-in-the-glory type of goodness on offer here.

Sadier relies on her mother tongue with Pinball – a gorgeous playful pop traipse that sounds like nothing other than the very band dispensing this unsullied splendor.

On You Used to Call Me Sadness, brass and keys sprinkle on the listener as though cosmic fairy dust is falling from the sky. It’s the kind of tenderness we have been used to hearing from Yo La Tengo for the last 30 years, but Stereolab prove they can play the game as effectively.

And on the subject of effective, the EP finishes with Soop Grove #1 – a 13 minute hypnotic freak-out filled thick dub-like bass lines and Charles Mingus homage. Suffice to say, it’s one of the many wig-outs Stereolab would go on to master from here.

So, that’s Translucent. Somewhat of a bridge between what is arguably Stereolab’s most prolific period, occupying the space between 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup and 1997’s Dots and Loops. It’s a lovely compliment to these two records, as well. A band at full steam, reaching the summit of their creative arc.

Simon Kirk

Buzzcocks: Spiral Scratch (1977)
Document Records

The only released material by Buzzcocks with Howard Devoto at the helm. And a glimpse into what might have been had he stayed.

But, pretty soon after Spiral Scratch came out, Devoto left the band. He had decided he didn’t like the direction punk was taking. Describing it, at the time as “clean old hat” he went back to college for a while and then formed Magazine with John McGeogh on guitar. He wanted a more progressive and less traditional rock band. Magazine’s style relied more on synthesisers and the clever, refined bass rhythms of Barry Adamson, whereas Buzzcocks were continuing to bash out three minute pogo friendly blasts of intensity.

We’re all too familiar with Buzzcocks’ hits – What Do I Get?, Ever Fallen In Love … Maybe, less so are we as au fait with Magazine, depending how and where you consumed your late ’70s/early ’80s music.

Spiral Scratch is a bit like telling us this is the prize we could have won. The pop genius that was Pete Shelly combined with the more avant-garde Devoto could have been something else. And while both Shelley and Devoto both leave behind fine bodies of work in their own rights, we can have a satisfying glimpse of what might have been.

Spiral Scratch was released on a minimal budget and with no major label support at the time. This record, rather than capturing the posturing of the Sex Pistols and any number of commentators at the time, and since, proves DIY is an option. For that reason, and if no other (despite the fact it has great songs) it is an important document of punk rock history.

Peter Goodbody

13 Questions with Dave Haslam

The Clash: Cost of Living EP (1979)
CBS

Most people will probably recognise this as the record that introduced us the Sonny Curtis cover of I Fought the Law. This song that was to become a Clash anthem and one of their best known numbers to people who may not necessarily count themselves as fans of anything other than “good music”.

That song, along with Groovy Times and Gates of the West were also early signals that The Clash sound was changing direction. This EP came out between the release of their second album, Give ’Em Enough Rope, and the much more diverse London Calling. For anyone who was paying attention, The Clash sound was evolving away from the absolute banging two and a half minutes of White Riot and, even from tunes such as Tommy Gun. The Clash was exploring the roots of the music they had started out playing.

The connections between punk/reggae/blues has been considered by many, many people more erudite and articulate than we. But this was The Clash acknowledging and embracing the links.

But the EP also exists because of the presence of the track Capital Radio – a song written as an attack on commercial popular music radio, where playlists were determined by men (usually) in suits. Joe Strummer hated that and called those execs “Ministers of Public Enlightenment”.

The problem was that Capital Radio had previously been released on an earlier EP with a restricted distribution (you needed a code from the NME and a sticker from the band’s first album to get hold of a copy). It became apparent this self generated rarity was creating a black market in which the original EP would change hands for stupid amounts of money.

Hence the Cost of Living EP and, indeed the Black Market Clash album, both of which included Capital Radio as an attempt to nix the exclusivity of the song.

The EP is easy enough to find now and is well worth checking out.

Peter Goodbody

Death Cult: Death Cult EP (1983)
Situation 2

Southern Death Cult were a hugely important band for what was to be known as goth, they were the standard bearers for this developing movement and their gigs became rallying points for a new generation. It was a huge shame that they split up after just one single, this always seemed too slight an offering for such an important band.

But things were already developing. Lead singer, Ian Astbury, had teamed with Theatre of Hate guitarist, Billy Duffy, and soon launched a new band with the slimmed down name of Death Cult. They announced their arrival into the world with a four track eponymous EP.

Expectations were high for this record, with both Astbury and Duffy’s pedigree going before them. The record did not disappoint.

Its four songs have a widescreen, cinematic feel to them and the EP is still completely thrilling from start to end. There is almost a free form feel about Astbury’s singing, especially on Horse Nation, where the lyrics were taken almost verbatim from the book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

The EP opens with the track, Brothers Grimm, and some fancy fretwork from Duffy. Death Cult’s musical stall is laid out when Ray Mondo’s pounding tribal drums start up and carry the song on a restless, relentless wave of energy. Ghost Dance starts with some spaghetti western guitar from Duffy’s white Gretsch Falcon before the drums again kick in and carry us off.

Horse Nation build slowly but soon explodes and becomes nothing short of epic while Christians starts on a high and manages to maintain this peak for its entire duration.

I am struggling to think of another word apart from ‘energy’ to describe what lifts these songs above other records around at the time, as this EP is perhaps the best example yet of a recording successfully capturing the power of a good live band.

And Death Cult were certainly that, although the soon clipped their name still further to just The Cult. They took over the mantle of being a clarion call from Southern Death Cult and their gigs became a meeting place for the new generation of beautiful people and are still some of the greatest gigs I have ever witnessed.

It sounds like a terrible music snob thing to say, but up until the release of their debut album, they were the greatest band in the world, and I was lucky enough to see them 18 times in between this EP and their debut album, Dreamtime.

But Dreamtime was over-produced and lost the attack and verve of their first EP. A fall into cock rock was around the corner, but their flame burned brilliantly brightly and, for a while, they were simply untouchable.

The dynamism and power of these songs is still very much evident today and those of us who were around at the time will still get a frisson from hearing them again.

Banjo

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage – “the understanding of life and death”

The Desperate Bicycles: New Cross, New Cross (1978)
Refill Records

The Desperate Bicycles New Cross, New Cross landed in 1978 as an extended manifesto for DIY political punk. The record has its origins in an Eric’s gig.

The Bicycles had formed in 1977 purely to produce the single Smokescreen/Handlebars, proof-of-concept that anyone could get in the studio, control the means of production and make a 100 per cent independent release – “it was easy, it was cheap – go and do it!”.

But one thing led to another and a batch of new songs were written for a Liverpool show on New Year’s Eve 1977, a handful of which were recorded as “six-track single” New Cross, New Cross, retailing at a Giro-friendly 70p “maximum retail price”.

Listening to it now is to be transported in rather wobbly fashion to the moment of donkey jackets bedecked with Rock Against Racism badges and smoke-filled coaches to Anti Nazi League marches. Stand out track, Advice on Arrest, even tells us what to bear in mind at a protest, with an ironic refrain of “It can’t happen here”.

The political territory of the lyrics to I Make the Product, Holidays, Paradise Lost, Cars and (hmm) The Housewife Song  – banal work, consumer illusions – belongs to the time yet translate easily to today. The EP has a reedy, thin sound that characterised many low-budget indie recordings of the time (for example Brighton’s Vaultage compilations.)

There isn’t a lo-fi affectation, it was what it was because that’s what you get with one amp and little cash or time.

The spindly playing crawls across the tunes, seemingly only just landing on the right notes, nevertheless conjuring a jangly goodness from the minimal set-up. There’s a frantic, melodic beauty to the songs that makes New Cross, New Cross more than a historical document – this stripped-down, fragile punk is heartbreakingly brave and as inspiring as it ever was. 

Roy Bayfield

The Beatles: Long Tall Sally (1964)
Parlophone

By the time this EP was released in June 1964, The Beatles had already released two albums, six singles and four previous EP’s in their first twenty months on record, with their third album (and first movie), A Hard Day’s Night only a month away.

This was the first time that any completist collector would have had to pick up one of their EPs as apart from this one (and 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour double), all their EPs were compilations of singles cuts, or highlights off their albums. Not that there were any such people back in 1964, really.

This was a time when LPs were out of the financial reach for many of the band’s fans, and this EP was particularly good value for money, featuring three great covers and one Lennon/McCartney tune originally recorded by Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas as the B-side to a number one hit.

Worth noting is the fabulous Robert Freeman photo on the cover, who also shot four of their album sleeves. This is especially important given the fact that UK singles buyers would not have had any picture sleeves at this time. George shows off his coat with a strange pose, while Paul looks mock-bored.

The two songs on the A-side were both recorded on March 1, 1964, their first Sunday session, with Long Tall Sally only requiring a single take.

The title track kicks things off, one of the very rare occasions that a cover can top a Little Richard original, with Macca doing his finest version of the Georgia Peach as the track starts with his exciting vocals.

Ringo gives the song loads of drive with his thrashing cymbals, while there’s some fine guitar work throughout. Producer, George Martin, provides piano backing, doing likewise on both songs on the B-side.

This track was in the band’s live set-list from their early days as The Quarrymen all the way through to their final paid gig at Candlestick Park in 1966.

I Call Your Name is not one of their greatest ever compositions, but is still a high quality mid-tempo number with George playing his Rickenbacker 12-string for the first time on record, and Ringo adding cowbell to the mix. The instrumental bridge can be seen as their first attempt at ska.

The flip starts with John taking on Larry WilliamsSlow Down, originally released as the B-side to Dizzy, Miss Lizzy (also later recorded by the fabs) in 1958, with some rather garbled vocals from John, although there’s a great “brrr” and scream before George’s great guitar solo.

Proceedings close with the somewhat less inspired Matchbox, a Carl Perkins number that he had released as a b-side back in 1957. This song had moved from being a Pete Best spotlight, through John singing it, to now being a Ringo number.

His vocal is great considering he was recorded while simultaneously playing the drums, was hospitalised with acute tonsillitis two days later, and also embarrassed at being observed in the studio by the song’s composer, one of his musical heroes.

Matchbox was strangely released as a single in the US in August 1964, hitting the top twenty despite already having featured on the Something New album.

If you want to get hold of these songs in an affordable physical form these days, they are all on the 1988 Past Masters Volume One compilation.

Will Neville

Mudhoney: Mudhoney (1988)
Sub Pop

Following the demise of Green River, Mark Arm and Steve Turner entered a new phase that would form the fabric of one of music history’s most decorated patchworks: grunge.

Mudhoney need no introduction. It’s true, the success of Nirvana‘s Nevermind pretty much saved them from being dropped by Sub Pop, such as the label’s financial constraints at the time, which shifted dramatically when Geffen agreed to a three percent cut from the sales of Nevermind. The rest is history and with it Mudhoney marched on as the permanent fixture on the revered label.

I’ll be honest, though. I’ve always found Mudhoney‘s albums a little patchy. One of the few bands I engage with on a ‘best of’ level (yes, that may sound a bit, as we say here in Liverpool, ‘wool’), but that’s how it is (see March the Fuzz).

Thankfully this is an EPs feature and here is where Mudhoney shine, in particular with their self-titled EP, which is the perfect taster package.

You know the ones, the downer fuzz of Need and Chain the Door to one Mudhoney‘s finest tracks in If I Think and In ‘N’ Out of Grace, it’s all been said and documented. There really is no need to elaborate any further. Just drop and needle and enjoy the super fuzz.

Simon Kirk

The Absurdity of Fandom: Slint’s Spiderland 30th anniversary

Polvo: Celebrate the New Dark Age (1994)
Merge Records

So, last year we did claim that Polvo‘s Celebrate the New Dark Age was an LP and not, indeed, an EP.

While we may be shifting the goalposts to suit our own agenda here, the technically of it is that it’s very much an EP (okay, so maybe it’s a mini-album – who the fuck cares, really?).

In any case, in my opinion, any nostalgic list that doesn’t include a Polvo release isn’t one worthy of publication. So, with that, Celebrate the New Dark Age is very much welcomed within these column inches.

As a good friend of mine claimed recently. “It’s the best EP ever released” and after having spent the last couple of weeks in its company, it’s hard to argue against.

There’s no need to bore you with further reverence. We already did that here.

Simon Kirk

The Wedding Present: 3 Songs EP (1990)
RCA

At the time of this release, The Wedding Present were deep in the process of transition, from 1989’s attempt at mainstream commerciality Bizarro (which brought us their two best known singles, Brassneck, and Kennedy) to what would become 1991’s heartbreak-fest Seamonsters, an album so harsh and abrasive it was described by one reviewer as “like sandpapering your brain.”

And the bridge that linked the two was the 1990 Steve Albini ‘produced’ 3 Songs EP.

Starting with the lead single, an original-destroying version of Steve Harley’s Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile), which in the hands of David Gedge and the gang becomes something that distorted that it would easily pass as one of WP’s own songs.

It’s said to be Harley’s favourite cover version, from the large amount that have been done, mainly due to it capturing the fury which he wanted to portray originally.

This single came complete with a petulant Top Of The Pops appearance as the EP ‘rocketed’ into the Top 30 in the proper charts.

Second track, Crawl, is widely regarded amongst Wedding Present aficionados as one of their (if not the) finest of their many non-album tracks and it’s easy to see why.

It is brimming with remorse, with Gedge imploring his enemy that “it’s time for him to crawl back under his stone” alongside a buzzing, fizzing relentless guitar.

But the best is saved for last.

Corduroy, which appears here in its tamer, single version (a mutated version of it appears on Seamonsters), with its stop-start verse and chorus combination, as well as the last minute or so being the unadulterated fury that would go on to clearly show the path ahead that the band would take.

Steven Doherty

Minor Threat: Minor Threat/In My Eyes (1981)
Dischord Records

Originally released as two separate EPs, since the turn of the century Minor Threat‘s first two gems are now packaged as one entitled, you guessed it, First Two Seven Inches.

One would merely be splitting hairs to pick the better of the two and as a package, they work perfectly.

East Coast hard-core was the birth of one of the most vital, refreshing forms of music since, well, ever! The brevity of the songwriting from singer, Ian MacKaye, possessed a new found aggression that the likes of U.K. punk, in my opinion, didn’t quite capture. This was short, sharp, incessant blows to the solar-plexus. There was no time for space. There was barely time to think.

Then there’s Straight Edge. The song that sparked the well documented movement for generations to come.

“I’m a person just like you/ But I’ve got better things to do/ Than sit around and fuck my head/ Hang out with the living dead/ Snort white shit up my nose/ Pass out at the shows/ I don’t even think about speed/ That’s just something I don’t need/ I’ve got the Straight Edge!”

Debauchery has, and will always be, a sub-culture of the arts but with Straight Edge and the ethos Minor Threat and later Fugazi would embrace on the basis of this song, it was an ideology that completely flipped the script and people’s way thinking towards artistic sub-cultures.

“Don’t smoke/Don’t Drink/Don’t fuck,” barked Mackay in Out of Step (With the World). Minor Threat pinned their colours to mast and stood by their convictions.

With these two EPs it was one of the most important statements in music history.

Simon Kirk

Iggy Pop at Liverpool Eric’s: Shock was part of the currency of the early punks and, in Iggy, they had inspiration of sorts

Disco Inferno: The 5 EPs (1992-1994)
Cheree Records/Che’/Rough Trade/One Little Indian

From 1992 to 1994, London’s Disco Inferno released a spate of EPs showcasing their talents of moving through the mist towards the landscapes of a new post-rock world.

Like most era-defining EPs (some of which are referenced in list) they have been repackaged and reshaped and The 5 EPs doesn’t escape this world of vinyl reissues and the grinding cogs of capitalism (harsh, but who’s to argue?). Like it says on the tin, this is the bulk Disco Inferno’s extended play output and undoutedly their most prevalent.

There’s never enough Disco Inferno to talk about and despite the chatter, it’s just too difficult to dissect and pick the best of the bunch here.

During their reign, no one was manipulating soundscapes like Disco Inferno. Their way of using abrasive loops underneath New Order-inspired bass lines was unheard of at the time and to this day, remains unmatched.

From the compilations first cut in Summer’s Last Sound, a poignant snapshot from bandleader, Ian Crause, highlighting the scourge of racism, to the band’s fervent sonic explorations (A Rock To Cling To, The Last Dance, Scattered Showers), the ground Disco Inferno covered across their career was, indeed, genre-defining.

While the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis were arguably the vanguards of what became post-rock, make no mistake about it – Disco Inferno were there, too, and this collection of songs is a perfect example of their mind-bending talents.

Bella McIntyre

Scratch Acid: Scratch Acid (1984)
Rabid Dog/Touch & Go Records

Some may have seen this as a toss-up between Scratch Acid’s first release and their last, however with the band’s self-titled debut, there’s little doubt in my mind that it is the only choice.

This is noise-rock at its finest and the first glimpse many caught of David Yow, who would march on and form the formidable Jesus Lizard along with fellow Scratch Acid-er, David WM. Sims.

Scratch Acid is a spiked-wrecking ball of destruction, bursting with blood, sweat and tears.

The Austin collective struck a perfect balance of belligerence and hedonism, carrying the burning torch of lunacy once held by The Stooges. Look no further than Mess – a song that encapsulates the Scratch Acid experience.

That’s not to say you should stop at this song, though.

Whether the band would get away with something like And She Said these days is open to debate, but none the less, it’s a song bursting with the kind of urgency that lacks from the slew of Scratch Acid/The Jesus Lizard imitators kicking around these days.

Scratch Acid isn’t only the best EP the band released. Overall, it’s the best thing they ever committed to tape.

Simon Kirk

Beasts Of Bourbon’s Sour Mash: “A potent brew of belligerence and hedonism”

Broadcast: Extended Play (2000)
Warp

No one really did it like Broadcast. On Extended Play, the Birmingham pop masterminds possessed a brand of pastoral psychedelia that very few bands in the UK were exploring at the time.

Oddly enough, considering the swathe of psychedelic landfill over the last two decades (which hasn’t been spoken of nearly enough), no one has come close replicating the sounds of Extended Play.

This can be attributed to the genius of the late Trish Keenan. Spending a career largely in the shadows, alongside James Cargill, the pair constantly created new worlds, however peculiar they may have been.

While Extended Play is perhaps seen as a band in their formative guise, Broadcast’s ideological boundaries and forward-thinking nature is still showcased clearly and that’s why we decided that it makes the cut.

Papercuts, the opener which featured on the band’s debut long-player a month later, The Noise Made by People, welds together ’60s pop with the swirling krautrock psychedelia that Stereolab mastered earlier in the decade. Make no mistake, though – this is anything but pastiche. All the way through their career, Broadcast had a knack of sounding like nobody but themselves.

Belly Dance reaches for Turkish psychedelia and after Broadcast adds its own sprinklings of fairy dust, the song sounds like Jefferson Airplane hitting the shisha in some back alley den in Istanbul.

And speaking of dust, the psych-pop lullaby of Where Youth and Laughter Go is of the golden variety. It’s a track that would light up even the gloomiest of rooms and is the kind of psychedelia that should have garnered the widespread praise the likes of, say, The Coral experienced at the turn of the century.

Broadcast were always a proposition to listen to under the microscope and while Extended Play isn’t an immediate go-to that springs to mind in their world, there’s still an air about this EP that revealed a band ahead of its time.

Simon Kirk

Jesu: Silver (2006)
Avalanche Recordings

Since the turn of the century, some of the best EPs released have derived from the alternative/experimental metal scene.

With Jesu, the alter ego of Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick, he has released some of his finest work under the moniker and with Silver, it’s not only Jesu’s finest EP, it’s one of the best in the last 15 years.

At the time of its release, the alternative metal scene was experiencing it’s healthiest period, with bands like Sunn O))), Boris, ISIS and Pelican all releasing landmark albums, taking metal into new and very interesting terrains.

With the brevity of Silver, a welcomed follow-up to Jesu’s somewhat bloated self-titled album, Broadrick arrived at a golden juncture for the project, merging pummelling doom with heartfelt melodies that were inspired by My Bloody Valentine.

Many artists have tried to do this over the years, but no one has mastered it like Broadrick with Jesu. Silver is the beginning of this truly special journey.

Simon Kirk

7 replies on “The Greatest Gift: Best EPs Ever Made”

Some absolute corkers here, Simon! Definitely Cost of Living – this and the Black Market EP (?) being my go-to Clash for some time now. They have a sound here that sits sweetly between my ears.

MBV…untouchable. And again, a sweet spot between the albums.

Spiral Scratch…natch!

I would also have to include Scritti Politti’s debut AND the follow up, 4 A Sides. The former being, for me, the definitive punk rock record. 40+ years later and I still cannot get to the bottom of it; divine.

Thanks also for taking my mind back to a great period…Death Cult and Sex Gang Children – neither of which ever really captured their live sound. Hm, whilst we’re here…how about Kirk Brandon’s Pack of Lies EP? I shall have to dig it out again, but I seem to recall it being a really rather defining EP.

Thanks!
Keep on keeping on!

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