Pop history is filled with acts that had more influence than sales, including acts whose reputation never spread beyond a small circle. The Scottish post-punkers in Orange Juice had just a small cult of devotees at home and abroad, and their most significant personal contribution to the zeitgeist is arguably the mid-'90s fluke hit "A Girl Like You," recorded by lead singer Edwyn Collins some 10 years after he went solo. But in the UKand especially in ScotlandOrange Juice's sunny sound, cynical attitude, and accessible musical invention inspired a wave of indie bands like James, The Wedding Present, and, later on, Belle & Sebastian. The early Orange Juice singles and unreleased LP comprising the compilation The Glasgow School offer a gritty version of the tropical shimmer soon to be popularized by Aztec Camera and Haircut 100, in a movement the British press dubbed "perfect pop." Of course, Orange Juice's appeal was that the band wasn't perfect. The lo-fi sound and frizzy edges of songs like "Falling And Laughing" and "Lovesick" belie their surprisingly complex and soulful dynamics. At the band's best, on exotic drone-rockers like "Tender Object," Collins and company sound like they've been around the world, collecting wonderful souvenirs.
Richard Hell is arguably more famous and successful than the members of Orange Juice, if only among alt-rock obsessives. Hell's 1977 solo debut Blank Generation was a scene-defining pre-punk classic, though beyond that record, his work has been scattered and erratic. That's partly why Hell has been calling his new anthology Spurts: The Richard Hell Story the only Hell album that anyone will ever need. The fact that Spurts only contains four tracks from Blank Generation disproves that statement, though the anthology does feature some priceless material from Hell's out-of-print second album Destiny Street, like the Boho epic "Downtown At Dawn." And though the set is too heavy on material by Dim Starsthe makeshift supergroup that Hell formed in the early '90s with members of Sonic Youthit contains some amazing rarities, like a radically different early version of "Love Comes In Spurts," recorded with Tom Verlaine in their first band, The Neon Boys, and a version of "Blank Generation" recorded during Hell's days with Verlaine's Television. Spurts also contains what may be the definitive version of "Chinese Rocks," the New York punk standard written by Hell with Dee Dee Ramone, and popularized by Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers when Hell was Thunders' sideman. The take on Spurts bleeds distortion, and about halfway through, the band moves past the song's druggie pride and makes the roar of a shabby rock band into its own dangerous intoxicant.