RADIO STARS/Thinking Inside The Box (4CDs) reviewed!

Always the bridesmaids…

England’s Radio Stars was a semi-supergroup for music geeks. For starters, vocalist Andy Ellison had fronted the ‘60s band John’s Children, best known as the springboard for a young Marc Bolan before he became a hippy-dippy Folk singer in Tyrannosaurus Rex and then the King Of Glam in T. Rex. And for extra street cred, bassist and main songwriter Martin Gordon had once played beside the Mael Brothers in Sparks. Add in drummer Chris Townson and guitarist Ian MacLeod and you’ve got the first line-up of the band (the drummer’s seat would be revolving during the band’s short tenure). Incidentally, Ellison, Gordon and Townson had all been members of Glam ‘almost-weres’ Jet. On paper and in the studio, the combination of these talents worked well. And for a few fleeting moments, it seemed as if Radio Stars were going to be huge. But then reality kicked in…

The musical landscape is littered with great bands that fell by the wayside and Radio Stars is one of them. While some have called them Punk, the band was actually a great Rock band with a Punk/New Wave edge. The band’s fresh approach to their music really did incorporate the keen Pop sensibilities of the ‘60s, the Glamtastic stomp of the early ‘70s, the quirkiness of Sparks and later period Sweet and the electric energy of the late ‘70s. If any comparisons can be made, Radio Stars were more like a goofier version of The Boys and The Incredible Kidda Band… or perhaps a twisted mash-up of The Vibrators and Sweet with some Chris Spedding thrown in for measure. The fact that they only released two albums and a batch of singles is a shame and a great loss to all of us who have spent our lives searching for bands as unique as Radio Stars. Far from your average gang of rockers, Radio Stars had personality, humor and loads of great tunes – you know, things that used to be important.

Thankfully, Cherry Red has stepped up to the plate and released THINKING INSIDE THE BOX, a four CD set that contains both of their albums in mini LP sleeves plus a CD of non-album A and B-sides and rarities from their short but cuddly career. The fourth CD features Peel Sessions and live BBC performances. While music fans have long held the band close to their hearts, they have been under-appreciated by the masses for far too long. With this release and a few dozen peaceful marches across the globe, perhaps we can turn that all around? Before then, let me give you a briefing on what you’ll hear once you get this box (and you WILL be buying it, right?)…


Their 1977 debut album, SONGS FOR SWINGING LOVERS, is a snotty and energetic blast of skewered Pop. On the surface, it may appear simple but there’s nothing simple about Radio Stars. The catchy vocal melodies are held up by proper guitar licks/riffs and a crazy rhythm section. Perhaps the most overtly ‘fun’ band of the era, Radio Stars took their craft seriously yet they crafted seriously fun songs. “Don’t Waste My Time,” “Good Personality,” “Arthur Is Dead Boring (Let’s Rot),” and “Is It Really Necessary” are high points. “Nice Girls” could be a lost Cheap Trick song. And there’s so much more to love about this delicious platter. Poptastic to the core.

1978’s HOLIDAY ALBUM continued with the quirky trend but saw the band expand their musical template by adding keyboards, a slightly harder edge and more musical nods to The Kinks and The Who. Not far removed from their Glam roots, this platter is just as charming as the debut but definitely a lot more focused. The Pop-errific “The Real Me” is an absolute gem. Other highlights include “Boy Meets Girl,” “Baffin Island,” “Sitting In The Rain,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll For The Time Being,” “I’m Down” and “No Russians In Russia” (a re-recording of an earlier non-album track). Their take on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” is quite clever. While they may be best known for their earlier releases, HOLIDAY ALBUM is actually the better of the two studio albums.

The SINGLES & RARITIES disc is top notch. Filled with non-album tracks that will leave you frothing at the mouth, it reveals even more sides to the band. Some of the early singles like “Dirty Pictures” show why there was such a buzz about the band in their early years. In fact, even more layers and influences are revealed. “Sail Away” and “Box 29” have a hint of Bowie. “Sorry I’m Tied Up” is quite a tune and definitely a high-point in their catalog. Another Beatles classic, “Dear Prudence,” is quirky and worthy of many spins. “Horrible Breath” revisits the pre-T. Rex Marc Bolan rarity. “From A Rabbit” should have been a key album track. Etc. If you already own the two albums, then you need this box just for this disc alone. Fookin’ brilliant.

The final disc shows the edgier side of the band with Peel Sessions and live recordings. It is interesting to hear these tracks with a different energy that you only experience in a live setting. However, they are not quite as appealing to these ears as the studio versions. That is nothing against Radio Stars – I feel that way about EVERY live recording and Peel Session – great to hear a different take on things but give me the studio versions any day! With that being said, I’m glad these tracks are here because I am a hopeless completist…

A box for the ages. Or at least a box for Radio Stars fans. Simply glorious no matter how you look at it. So, have you ordered your copy yet? Better hurry – they won’t be available forever!

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee