With the advent of the new wave & greater accessibility of bands who are getting back to basics, perhaps it was on the cards that we might get a few record companies being formed on the same basis. Geez, we have! Ladeez n’ Gennulmen may I present Jake Riviera & his bunch of Stiffs.
Stiff record company was formed just over a year ago by Riviera & Dave Robinson (manager of Damned, Graham Parker) using £100 they had between them, plus £200 they borrowed from photographer Keith Morris, plus another £200 from Lee Brilleaux (Feelgoods vocalist) Riviera himself has said it was easy to start up; “All you need is to make a tape and get it mastered”
After a project EP, to be released in Holland, fell through because of contractual difficulties, Nick Lowe recorded a demo tape consisting of “So It Goes” & “Heart Of The City” which cost £45 for both sides. This then became Stiff’s first release on 14th August 1976, and, in fact, “City” although it was the B side, was picked as a record of the week by two music papers it wasn’t actually a hit (good record though, mate) but after the first 1,000 copies were sold, Stiff simply re-ordered & so it goes! In fact, none of the first 14 singles failed to sell more than 5,000 copies.
The material for the other early singles was obtained by hard work & money. These first discs included the Damned’s frantic version of ‘Help’, Richard Hell’s ‘Blank Generation’ EP, Roogalators 33⅓ rpm single (with Beatles take-off cover shot) & the Tyla Gang’s ‘Styrofoam’/ ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ double B side (thereby beating the Rezillos by several months). The Adverts were noticed by Jake down at the Roxy & recorded “One Chord Wonders” before leaving for Anchor & current chart stardom. Elvis Costello sent in a tape, which Jake liked (he doesn’t usually listen to them, as he says most are rubbish) & the result was the sadly neglected “Less Than Zero”.
After a degree of success (certainly saleswise) with the singles, an album was planned – with The Damned. Over to Jake: “The Damned was the most risky release, because it was the first album we’d ever put out & we didn’t have very much money, but Island records gave us lots of money, cos it was selling well.” In an attempt to have “Damned, Damned, Damned” released in the States, Jake & the band went over, but “We lost £4,300 taking The Damned to America. We had record deals before we went out there. Business acumen it’s called.” Incidentally, early copies of that record showed The Rods on the reverse of the sleeve by mistake (Oh Yeah?).
It got lotsa publicity, dinnit Jake?
The label’s real coup though, is of course, Elvis Costello whose album debut ‘My Aim Is True’ is in the Top 20. The hype surrounding his launch (“We at Stiff say Elvis is King”) worked well & a short but triumphant tour left everyone wanting more two other singles ‘Alison’ & ‘Red Shoes’ have been culled from the album & the latter has been hovering just outside the Top 30 for a couple of weeks now, apparently a new single (not from the album) due soon. Watch for it.
To round up, Stiff’s early history is traced in two excellent albums ‘A Bunch Of Stiffs’ & ‘Hits Greatest Stiffs’ which proudly proclaims “Contains no hit singles whatsoever”, they’re both great & contain stuff now unobtainable in the original form. Buy them now.
If It Ain’t Stiff…..