Squares' poppy "#1 Cassette" earns CD reissue
Although none of its members hailed from the Brew City, the Squares were one of Milwaukee's best bands in the 1980s, mixing high energy rock and roll with melodic pop in the style of the band's heroes Elvis Costello and REM.
Although it only released one vinyl LP, "Enjoy Yourself (And Others)," one vinyl 45 and one CD, "Answer," the band was very prolific, recording a number of locally-released cassettes and more than a few unreleased tracks.
Some of that material now sees the light of day on "#1 Cassette."
Brian Wooldridge, the band's bassist and guiding light -- along with brother Scott, who now lives in Minneapolis and with whom he has led The Wooldridge Brothers since the demise of the Squares -- says that although the CD arrives now, it's been discussed for a long time.
"It's just that we had the time and the resources to do it (now)," says Wooldridge, who like all the members of the band, is an Indiana native that relocated to Milwaukee around 1984. "I've been wanting to release it for years because I always felt it was the strongest album we did. Plus, I kept running into people over the years and they would ask if it was out on CD yet."
There was more work involved that many might realize and talks with a label slowed things down briefly, too, says Wooldridge.
"It took a while getting the old master reel tapes transferred to digital, cleaning them up; same with the bonus tracks," notes Wooldridge. "Once I did that and started organizing it with (guitarist) Joe (Vent), the other guys were all for it. Plus I wanted to get it out before the next Wooldridge Brothers release (due in early 2008). We had an indie label approach us a few years ago about releasing it but we didn't feel it really fit the label's roster."
Although it wasn't widely distributed, the band's first cassette contained some of Squares best songs, like the opener "Vivienne" and the oft-requested "Gibson Girls" and "Safety in Numbers." The CD version adds three songs to the cassette's original 10. Two were previously unreleased, while "Downer Street" (sic) appeared on Atomic Records' "Badger A Go Go" compilation LP.
"I'm a little biased, but I think it holds up very well," says Wooldridge. "It was done in one weekend, so basically it was cut live. We were a really tight band with a lot of energy. It was also the first batch of songs that I was co-writing with Scott."
Wooldridge says that the cassette captures the band at something of a turning point, when he began to take a more active role in songwriting.
"At that point I had picked up the guitar and put down the bass for a few minutes and started writing music that Scott would later put words to. That's how 'Vivienne,' 'Blue Note,' 'Dissipation' and a few others got conceived. Scott was playing mostly keyboards but he, too, was picking up guitar, so he came up with 'Gibson Girls' as one his first guitar songs."
Although the disc has a no-frills, almost flat mix, Wooldridge says that the band resisted the temptation to remix the songs 20 years later and, in a sense, remove them from their era. And, besides, the basic mix means the music is almost timeless.
"The production was clean with no studio tricks, so you don't have any 1980s time stamp on the sound," he says. "I think 'Vivienne,' 'Last Night' and 'Downer Street' are really good guitar pop songs that can still hold their own on any good radio show."
Wooldridge says the band -- which also included drummer Jeff Martin and guitarist Chris Wolfgram -- has no immediate plans to issue "Enjoy Yourself" on CD or to reissue "Answer."
Likewise, there is no plan for a reunion gig. With two members now living outside Wisconsin and with five families -- instead of just five young musicians -- to consider, "the logistics are just too hard," says Wooldridge.
Note: The author played with Wooldridge in The Yell Leaders in the early '90s.
Squares were a GREAT Band. Click on the link and listen. Songwriting was superb. Great sense of melody and each cut has a nice hook in it. Hearing these cuts takes me back the early days of WMSE. Time to buy me some new old Squares music.
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