As we close out our feature on 40 of the first 100 singles/EPs released on Rough Trade (see parts one and two), it's very important to note that the same span of time involved nearly 40 albums, including Cabaret Voltaire's Red Mecca, the Fall's Grotesque, Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance, the Raincoats' The Raincoats, Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable Material, Swell Maps' Jane from Occupied Europe, This Heat's Deceit, and Young Marble Giants' Colossal Youth. And once the 100th single was released, there was hardly any looking back. Along came the Smiths, the Go-Betweens, Aztec Camera, the Dream Syndicate, Violent Femmes, and on and on. The label is the subject of a new book, Document & Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade.
Essential Logic - "Music Is a Better Noise"
Known initially for splattering ecstatically caustic, loosely organized sounds every which way, Essential Logic began with two of 1978's most frantic minutes -- the self-released, Rough Trade-distributed "Aerosol Burns" -- and managed to become increasingly weird and normal up to their 1981 flameout. The trebly, gently buzzing "Music Is a Better Noise," the A-side of a single released in 1980, swings from sprightly pop to loose indie disco and offers a couplet that hasn't been quoted nearly as often as anything written the same year by the Vapors or Devo: "The universe is crumbling/Music is a better noise." Not quite as bashful as Young Marble Giants' "Final Day" and not nearly as ambitious as ABC's "Tears Are Not Enough," the rough-hewn song nonetheless falls safely between those extremes. The band was done after one more single, but vocalist/saxophonist Lora Logic, who had previously been in X-Ray Spex and assisted the Raincoats and the Red Krayola, continued her association with Rough Trade. - Andy Kellman
Girls at Our Best - "Politics"
Injecting post-punk with a little bubblegum, Girls at Our Best began their career with a self-released single, "Getting Nowhere Fast" -- later covered by the Wedding Present -- and then joined Rough Trade for "Politics," a wry number that earned them their cult following. With a cheesy keyboard, chirpy vocals, and lyrics like "I love to hear the Democrats when they're partying all night long," "Politics" could be any campaign assistant's TGIF anthem. It appeared on their debut album, Pleasure, which also featured a guest appearance from Thomas Dolby. Even though BBC DJ John Peel declared them "one of the few bands that made the early part of the '80s bearable," they never rose above cult status and disbanded soon after Pleasure. "Politics" is hard to find since the track rarely appears on compilations and their lone full-length was only reissued on CD in Japan back in 1994. - David Jeffries
The Fall - "Totally Wired"
Although flippantly dismissing Fall leader Mark E. Smith as a crazy drunkard is the way to go today, people once blamed amphetamines for his in-yer-face eccentric ways. The band's second single for Rough Trade is their "My Generation," with Smith stuttering his way through the song's simple, hooky chorus. One of the less wordy Fall songs, "Totally Wired" perfectly captures the amphetamine experience, but the lyrics could also be applied to an anxiety attack. "Life leaves you surprised/Slaps you in the eyes" and also leaves your "butterfly stomach round ground" in this punk hit, which the passing of time made a punk classic. After appearing on numerous disappointing compilations, the song became the title track for the best document of this era's Fall, Totally Wired: The Rough Trade Anthology, which was released in 2002. - David Jeffries
Cabaret Voltaire - "Seconds Too Late"
If any band ever could sum up the Rough Trade spirit, it was Cabaret Voltaire. Not because they remained long on the label, but because of cuts like this one. A lone synth pulses, a tapping foot is miked on the floor, a high-hat cymbal is drenched in reverb, and loose, ominous, eerie sounds -- handmade from tapes for samplers were not yet widely in use -- usher in one of the more frightening tracks from an equally frightening and obsessive group. "Seconds Too Late" is about nuclear disaster ushered in by careless, slip-of-the-mind neglect. The paranoia, fear, and prophetic resignation the Cabs layer into Richard H. Kirk's disembodied voice -- perfect for disembodied music -- splits the voids of the unspeakable into the results of such a mistake. It's trance-inducing in its slow, labyrinthine way of ushering in a tension that never abates. - Thom Jurek
Pere Ubu - "Not Happy"
Early in their career, "Not Happy" would have been the perfect title for one of Pere Ubu's chaotic urban soundscapes, but by 1980 David Thomas and his colleagues were in a different frame of mind, and this non-LP single (recorded during the same sessions as The Art of Walking) is three minutes and 40 seconds of cheerfully fractured whimsy. With Thomas' eccentric sing-song delivery, playful lyrics about mice, birdies, and dancing, and the charming backing vocals chiming a soothing "Happy!" every so often, "Not Happy" sounds like an avant-garde children's record, though it's hard to say if Allen Ravenstine's layers of whizzing, whistling analog synthesizers would make kids laugh or give them strange dreams. Either way, this was a 180-degree turn from "Heart of Darkness" or "Final Solution," though in its own cheery way it's every bit as outré. - Mark Deming
The Fall - "Middle Mass"
It's not often you can say that the Fall "swing," but "Middle Mass" does just that with a jazzy Manchester beat. Over the easy-strolling backing track, vocalist Mark E. Smith cuts a young upstart to shreds, with his smart comments accusing the boy of being "like a tape loop" and of having "soft mitts" and unable to fight. One of the greatest myths that surround the group -- and there are plenty to chose from -- stems from the song. It was long thought that "Middle Mass" was pointed at former member and indie legend Marc Riley, who had moved to London to try his hand at more conventional songwriting and the "hard drugs" Smith mentions. The story was debunked later by both Riley and Smith but not before landing in Mick Middles' entertaining biography The Fall. - David Jeffries
Tav Falco's Panther Burns - "Train Kept a-Rollin'"
In 1981, singer, bandleader, and rabid roots music heretic Tav Falco released his only Rough Trade album, Behind the Magnolia Curtain, alongside a tremendous single version of the rock & roll standard "Train Kept a-Rollin'." Recorded live at an undisclosed juke joint in Memphis, Falco's longtime home base, the single best captures the primordial concoction of rockabilly, blues, and art damage of Falco and his revolving door of like-minded musicians known as Panther Burns. The combined primitivism of the band and the crowd's response to it puts this adaptation of "Train Kept a-Rollin'" in the same league as other renowned versions of the song by the Yardbirds, Aerosmith, Johnny Burnette, and perhaps even the original 1951 version by Tiny Bradshaw. Since the Rough Trade single is worth its weight in gold, keep an eye open for the out of print CD Midnight in Memphis on Triple X. - Al Campbell
Wire - "Our Swimmer"
This one-off, released a couple years after 154 and several years before the Snakedrill EP, instantly slipped through a large crack in the Wire timeline. "Our Swimmer" is succinct, sharp, and simple, like a lot of the best Wire. Inspired by a common sight, Colin Newman seems at once amazed and amused by a hyper-repetitive display of athletic agility that happens within a tightly confined place. On one hand, the swimmer is doing something of tremendous beauty; on the other, the swimmer's nothing more than a hamster on a treadmill. Perhaps it's a metaphor for Wire's pop songs. Since it has only shown up on CD as a tack-on to the completists-only live album Document and Eyewitness (as well as a couple obscure compilations), the song has remained relatively unknown when compared to the likes of "12XU" and the untouchable "Map Ref. 41 °N 93° W." A louder and faster version can be heard on Turns and Strokes. - Andy Kellman
Jackie Mittoo - "These Eyes"
He's a legend but that doesn't mean "keyboard king" Jackie Mittoo didn't release a dull record once in a while. A release spawned from Rough Trade's friendly relationship with the Black Roots label, Mittoo's "These Eyes" is an adaptation of the famous Guess Who song, which the keyboardist first cut with Alton Ellis for the singer's 1970 album Sunday Coming. Once a name known only to reggae fanatics, Mittoo's profile has risen since Soul Jazz issued the critically acclaimed The Keyboard King at Studio One compilation in 2000. Other compilations followed, but none of them has included "These Eyes," meaning the original Rough Trade 12" commands a fairly high price. Buyers are usually disappointed by the lightweight A-side, although the backing dubs are considerably more filling. - David Jeffries
Bunny Wailer - "Riding"
Originally released on his own Solomonic label, "Riding" is one of Bunny Wailer's first dancehall tracks. An adaptation/update of "Riding High" -- a track Bunny first recorded with the Wailers and producer Lee "Scratch" Perry -- "Riding" was surrounded by the Jamaican singles "Crucial" and "Cool Runnings," a trio of hits that would put the singer back on top of the Jamaican charts, which were now more dancehall than roots. The Solomonic 12" appeared in 1979, the Rough Trade version in 1981, and the track landed on the Solomonic album Hook, Line & Sinker the year after that. A horribly slick redo was found on Bunny's 1993 album Just Be Nice. - David Jeffries
DNA - "Blonde Red Head"
While the first wave of punk bands threw down a gauntlet of making rock challenging again, DNA and their comrades on New York's no wave scene eagerly picked it up and ran as far as they could. The brittle and dynamic report of 1981's A Taste of DNA, their first EP after Robin Lee Crutchfield left the band, is even starker than their earlier efforts, with Arto Lindsay's strangulated guitar and vocals bouncing over the rocky plains of Ikue Mori's drums and Tim Wright's bass. But on "Blonde Red Head," Mori's drums smooth out to a steady gallop as Wright's bass carries something like a melody and Lindsay's scratchy guitar gives way to a cry of "Hit me, big head/Dance with me, big face." In this context, "Blonde Red Head"'s subtle textures sound almost sensuous, and offer a glimpse into Lindsay's warped but pleasurable future in samba. - Mark Deming
Lora Logic - "Wonderful Offer"
After Essential Logic broke up, Lora Logic joined up with the Hare Krishnas (not a band) and pointed her life in a different direction. Thankfully enough, that direction didn't involve dropping out of music. Backed by a band involving fellow Red Krayola associate Ben Annesley (bass) and Essential Logic partner Rich-Tea (drums), Logic's first solo single is a beaming splash of sexy, full-blown pop that draws from funk without mimicking the form. Tightly wrapped and yet lusciously buoyant, "Wonderful Offer" picks up where her former band's "Music Is a Better Noise" left off. Disregard the negative connotations carried by words like "sophisticated" and "mature"; this song has all the spontaneity and spunk of "Aerosol Burns." Already established as a terrific creative force with several years of experience behind her, Logic was, at this point in time, barely out of her teens. - Andy Kellman
Virgin Prunes - "Come to Daddy"
These Irish cast-out sons looked and sounded nothing like the Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, or U2, but in performance they could blow the doors off those other bands. (Singer Gavin Friday actually finished U2's sets in the early days when Bono ran out of steam.) This slab of barely controlled mayhem painted by Strongman's bass throb and Dik's guitar thrum (his real name is Richard Evans, the Edge's brother) and pushed into the red by Mary D'Nellon's tom tom-heavy drumming is pure tribal thrash, and exhilarating as hell. With two chords played constantly as Friday screams nearly unintelligibly about child abuse and sex, over the top of a wall of feedback and primeval noise, what more could you want? A listen or two will mash your head up, but you won't be able to resist moving your body to it. It later showed up on the CD version of Hérésie. - Thom Jurek
Scritti Politti - "The 'Sweetest Girl'"
Given the benefit of hindsight, Green Gartside's turn toward lover's rock-imbued pop was only a matter of time. No one could have predicted before "The 'Sweetest Girl,'" however, that he'd produce something so irresistible, sincere-sounding, and impossibly charming -- the song fits this description despite scare quotes and perplexed scrutiny beneath its glistening, swoon-inducing exterior. After he recuperated from a heart attack, Gartside returned with a hissing machine rhythm, fluttering keyboards (provided by longtime Scritti favorite Robert Wyatt), and his liveliest vocal. Going by the sound of his voice alone, he could be in the throes of newfound love, but he's observing and analyzing a relationship rather than taking part in one. Either way, the thing is heavenly. A few years later, Gartside released the most lavish album of the mid '80s. Twenty years after that, he appeared with a fifth album. The label? Rough Trade. - Andy Kellman
[A version of this was originally published as a www.allmusic.com front-page feature in June 2006.]