Ace of Hearts Records (Boston)

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This article is about the Boston independent record label. For the Decca Records sublabel, see Ace of Hearts Records.
Ace of Hearts Records (Boston)
Founder Rick Harte
Country of origin United States
Official website [1]

Ace of Hearts Records is a Boston-based independent label founded in 1978 by Rick Harte, who also produced all its releases. It recorded and released Boston area post-punk and garage rock bands in the early 1980s, including Mission of Burma, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Roger Miller, Neats, Lyres, John Felice, Nervous Eaters, Del Fuegos, The Neighborhoods, Martin Paul, Wild Stares, Infliktors, Classic Ruins, Crab Daddy, Chaotic Past, Tomato Monkey, and Heat From a DeadStar.

Overview[edit]

▪ Ace of Hearts released terrific albums by the aforementioned bands and others, but it’s really the 25 tunes here that had the most impact. In particular, Mission of Burma’s “Academy Fight Song” backed with “Max Ernst” and the Lyres’ “I Want to Help You Ann” with “I Really Want You Right Now” had nationwide repercussions, fueling the post-punk era and the second coming of garage rock.
From the article Legendary Harte published in The Boston Phoenix

▪ Rick Harte, owner and producer of Boston's Ace of Hearts Records was at the birth of some of the most memorable recordings emanating from Boston's punk heyday... What is rare about Ace of Hearts that I have never heard ill words about Rick Harte or his label from his artists or the local rock constabulary. In a scum-laden business like music where bands are used, abused and left on the roadside of success, it is high praise to Harte and his integrity. Harte's reputation as a producer was to let the band do what they wanted and to help them get the sound they wanted. If you listen to these restored tracks you will hear the dedication in the recording and the re-mastering of the old tapes to the digital format. The music world could use more people like Harte. Producers and labels that put the artists first and hope the money will come and allow them put out more great music.
From the article Ace of Hearts 12 Classic 45s published in Gullbuy

▪ Rick Harte had started Ace of Hearts Records in 1978. He tooled around town in a spiffy little Volvo sports car, living beyond the means of his modest job at a hi-fi store. "Rick had money", explains Jim Coffman, who later managed Mission of Burma. "He didn't have to worry about a lot of things." Harte didn't have cutting-edge taste, but he could read people's reactions to bands very well. He was a familiar figure in the clubs and had the money, the talent, and the inclination to records bands. And on top of it, people just liked him. "He's just a really good guy," says Prescott. "I couldn't say a bad word about him if someone had a knife to my throat."

Harte's specialty was well-produced, tightly played recordings, with great stereo separation and a walloping bottom end; Harte's covers, printed on expensive heavy stock, were strikingly attractive - everything was done with meticulous care. "No other bands at the time approached it like that," Harte says. "It was rehearsed and discussed and planned and then we'd go to the studio to the recording session and then another night to the overdubs and then only one mix a night, never any more. It was the way to achieve the ultimate result."

"Rick Harte had a real aesthetic as far as the music, the packaging, the way the records were recorded - he was meticulous," says Gerard Cosloy, then a Boston area teen with a fanzine and a talent for talking his way into nightclubs.

"Those records sound amazing, they look amazing. He set a standard that we're still trying to live up to today." (Gerard Cosloy, Matador Records)

Harte was by no means prolific - his painstaking approach precluded that - but Ace of Hearts had released a glittering string of singles by Boston Bands, including the Neighborhoods, the Infliktors, and Classic Ruins, all of whom played fairly conventional rock music, even though it was considered "new wave".

After hearing the buzz about Burma, Harte went to check them out. At first he didn't understand what the fuss was about. "The first time that I saw them," he says, "I was going, 'Gee, most of that didn't make much sense to me." But he did like two songs and figuring two songs make a single, he approached Burma about recording.

Harte had just released the Neighborhoods' "Prettiest Girl" single, which went to become a huge local hit, selling a still astounding ten thousand copies. The single was Harte's very persuasive calling card. "If you want to do that with us," Harte offered Burma, "we'll do it." It was an offer Burma couldn't refuse. In Boston, unless you could imagine being signed to a major label, Harte was virtually the only game in town. "People say, 'How do you get a recording contract?’ and I don't know", says Miller. "This guy came, said he'll record us. That's how you do it. That's one of the reasons we went along with him - here's the only guy in town who has a label and he wants to do a record. That sounds great. As simple as that." They worked slavishly, recording late at night, when studio rates went down, until daylight. Harte's method was utterly painstaking, layering electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and feedback. Unaccustomed to the rigors of recording, various band members would occasionally have "psycho-moods" and storm out the studio. At one point they trekked up to a studio on a Vermont mountainside and mixed the song "Max Ernst" for two stressful days, completing the mix only in the last of the twenty-eight hours of studio time they'd rented. To top it off, they wound up scrapping that mix and using one they'd done earlier.

Like so many first-time-recording bands, Burma succumbed to studio rapture, where insecurity, the allure of technical tricks, and obsessive fussing can make a recording far from what the band originally intended. "It was sort of ironic for the first single of this noisy, furious machine," Prescott says. "What came out was probably a lot more polite than we approved of. But Rick's input may have made it palatable enough that people did get into it.”

"It didn't sound anything like the band," Miller says, adding with a chuckle, "And if it sounded like the band, you know, we might not have been so popular." But even though Harte's recording shaved down many of Burma's sharp edges, it was still a raw blast of noise at a time when synth-pop bands like Martha and the Muffins, the Cure, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark were considered edgy. One reviewer called the arty new wave pulse of "Max Ernst" "raw power played to the edge of control. You expect then song to explode or collapse." Asked why he chose to write a song about the painter Max Ernst, Miller replied, "He got accepted eventually, but he started he was involved with Dada, which is about as against the grain as you can get. After years of bashing his head against the wall, something happened." The interviewer wondered aloud if this was a theme song for Burma. "Maybe", Miller said. "Everything's a theme song." In fact, it would turn out to be quite an apt theme song. Another theme song for many who heard the record was Conley's "Academy Fight Song" - the kind of song one plays three times a day for weeks on end (as a Minneapolis kid named Paul Westerberg did). "And I'm not-not-not-not your academy", Conley sings to a needy friend over the song's huge, anthemic chorus. Conley never liked to talk about lyrics and was typically evasive when asked if the song was angry. "Yeah, pretty angry," Conley said. "It's just a big conceit. A metaphor." He still won't elaborate on the song's basis. "I find the whole notion of talking about lyrics very embarrassing," Conley explains.

The Boston radio scene was then fairly open - local bands got played on even the large commercial stations, mostly because many of the DJs had come from the area's numerous free-form college stations. In fact, the program director of Boston rock stalwart WBCN, Oedipus, had hosted what many consider the first all-punk radio show in the U.S. during his days at MIT's station. "Academy" won WBCN's juke Box Jury competition three weeks in a row, beating out bands like the Who and the Rolling Stones. As a result, the classic "Academy Fight Song"/"Max Ernst" single, released in June'80, sold out its 7,500-copy initial pressing in weeks, something very few independent punk singles had done before. Still, Conley was working for the Census Bureau, Prescott was moving cars around a Pontiac dealership, Miller was tuning pianos and busking on the Boston subway, and Swope, as he told Boston Rock in typically enigmatic fashion, found "money on the ground".

But Burma had a lot of things going for them. They won Boston Rock magazine's awards for best local band and best local single. They'd already opened for Gang of Four, the Cure, and the Buzzcocks and struck up friendships and artistic affinities with all of them. Prescott even bragged that the Fall told them Burma was "the only band they could stand." And the underground field wasn't as crowded as it would later become. Back in 1981 the same faces would show up at indie rock shows, even by widely different bands - that April the Dead Kennedy's Jello Biafra sang encores with Burma on two successive nights - so attending a show wasn't just being in a room with a bunch of other people; it was more like the latest meeting of a tiny club. A very tight community developed, and enthusiasm about a band could spread like wildfire, albeit within a small forest. That's how "Academy", a record on a tiny regional independent label, got named one of the ten best singles of 1980 by the influential New York Rocker, along with songs by the likes of the Clash, Elvis Costello, and the Pretenders. Harte wasn't just the record label - he worked closely with his bands, putting in endless hours choosing material, working out arrangements, doing extensive preproduction, even tweaking amplifiers. He was manager, mentor, number one fan, and more. And he was definitely ambitious. "A band should only think national", he told Boston Rock. "Selling records to a local market is a hobby, like making records for your friends. It doesn't justify the cost and effort." But because he spent so much time on the music itself, Harte didn't have much time for the business end, and his distribution and promotion left a lot to be desired, even by the standards of the time.

There just wasn't a lot Harte could do about sales anyway. Being one of the relatively few indie labels in the country, Ace of Hearts didn't have the clout to make sure manufacturing, distribution, and retail kept up with demand. Simply getting the records into stores was difficult. In Boston Harte simply brought them to the shops himself. There were some national distributors, but the chain stores didn't carry this type of music; business was confined to a small number of individually owned (or "mom-and-pop") stores, and even they didn't buy much Americans indie music because there was little support from college radio, never mind commercial radio, at the time.

Harte says his distributors were very good about paying him as along as he had another hot release upcoming. "You can get paid," he explains, "if you have something they want." But often distributors didn't pay Harte for the records they had sold. Harte would threaten not to send them anything else, but it was an empty threat – the fact was Ace of Hearts needed to get its records out there more than the distributor did. From the book "Our Band Could Be Your Life : Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991" Michael Azerrad

USA TODAY - March 18, 2009
Famed Producer Rick Harte Returns With Heat From a DeadStar CD

Ace of Hearts Records announced today the release of "Seven Rays of the Sun," a new CD from Heat From a DeadStar. Rick Harte, whose signature work with Mission of Burma, Lyres, and The Neighborhoods defined the iconic Boston Sound of the late '70s and early '80s, produced the effort. The Heat From a DeadStar (HFADS) sound has been likened to a broad range of precursors: from the psychedelic noise-rock of Butthole Surfers, to the wall of sound of My Bloody Valentine. Perhaps the most inescapable analogy is their Ace of Hearts label-mates Mission of Burma. Like Burma, HFADS weaves a dense, demanding and chaotic tapestry together with tuneful, compelling and at times almost poppy melodies. This stirring collaboration between the acclaimed post-punk producer and the London-based trio is exactly the sonic assault Harte fans anticipate, as flashes of inspired song craft punctuate "Seven Rays of the Sun." The haunting and lilting piano of Burma's Roger Miller slowly emerges from behind the closing curtain of sound in "Seahorse Seafish." The electronic drum sounds on "Elusive Ways" are deliberately low-tech, while the jangly, sour-sweet guitar rhythms of "Messy Kid" will remain on your mind. "Seven Rays of the Sun" showcases HFADS' deft ability to navigate and, ultimately, obliterate the confines of genre, forging a sound that is truly their own. It's also an achievement that cements Rick Harte's well-earned reputation as an unparalleled indie tastemaker.
From USA TODAY / AntiMusic

Discography[edit]

  • Infliktors Where’d You Get That Cigarette 1979 (45)
  • Classic Ruins 1+1<2 1980 (EP - 3 songs)
  • The Neighborhoods Prettiest Girl 1980 (45 Vinyl)
  • Mission of Burma Academy Fight Song 1980 (45)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Signals, Calls, and Marches 1981 (EP - 6 songs)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Trem Two 1981 (45)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Vs. 1981 (LP)
  • Lyres AHS 1005 1981 (EP - 4 songs)
  • LYRES Help You Ann 1981 (45)
  • Neats The Monkey’s Head In The Corner Of The Room 1982 (EP - 7 songs)
  • NEATS Caraboo 1983 (45)
  • NEATS Neats 1983 (LP)
  • Birdsongs of the Mesozoic Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic 1983 (EP - 5 songs)
  • LYRES On Fyre (NEW ROSE) 1984 (LP+CD)
  • BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC Magnetic Flip 1984 (LP)
  • MISSION OF BURMA The Horrible Truth About Burma 1985 (LP)
  • LYRES Someone Who’ll Treat You Right/She Pays The Rent/You’ve Been Wrong 1985 (12", 45)
  • LYRES Someone Who’ll Treat You Right 1985 (45)
  • BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC Beat Of The Mesozoic 1985 (EP - 5 songs)
  • Nervous Eaters Hot Steel and Acid 1986 (CD - 9 songs)
  • LYRES Lyres Lyres (NEW ROSE) 1986 (LP+CD)
  • Roger Miller (rock musician) No Man Is Hurting Me 1986 (LP)
  • ROGER MILLER Groping Hands 1986 (12", 45)
  • ROGER MILLER The Big Industry 1987 (LP, CD)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Live At The Bradford 1988 (Video)
  • MISSION OF BURMA MISSION OF BURMA (RYKO) 1988 (CD comp.)
  • LYRES A Promise is A Promise (NEW ROSE) 1988 (LP+CD)
  • LYRES Box Set AHS 1005, On Fyre, A Promise Is A Promise (NEW ROSE) 1988 (EP+LPs)
  • LYRES Here’s A Heart w/Stiv 1988 (12", 45)
  • BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC Sonic Geology (RYKO) 1988 (CD Comp.)
  • John Felice and the Lowdowns Nothing Pretty 1988 (LP)
  • JOHN FELICE AND THE LOWDOWNS Nothing Pretty (NEW ROSE) 1988 (CD)
  • The Wild StaresTHE WILD STARES Land Of Beauty 1992 (CD)
  • Tomato Monkey Mostly Torso 1992 (45)
  • Chaotic Past Distraught And Out Of Control 1992 (45)
  • CHAOTIC PAST Load 1993 (EP, CD)
  • TOMATO MONKEY Blowrod 1993 (CD Radio Sampler - 4 songs)
  • TOMATO MONKEY Blowrod 1993 (CD)
  • TOMATO MONKEY Chow Call 1994 (CD)
  • CHAOTIC PAST Moodchanger 1994 (EP, CD)
  • Crab Daddy Ancient Baby 1994 (CD)
  • VARIOUS ARTISTS The Wasted Years 1995 (CD)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Signals, Calls, and Marches (RYKO) 1997 (CD - 6 songs)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Vs. (RYKO) 1997 (CD)
  • MISSION OF BURMA The Horrible Truth About Burma (RYKO) 1997 (CD)
  • LYRES AHS 1005 (MATADOR) 1998 (CD - 13 songs)
  • LYRES On Fyre (MATADOR) 1998 (CD - 14 songs)
  • LYRES Lyres Lyres (MATADOR) 1998 (CD - 13 songs)
  • LYRES A Promise is A Promise (MATADOR) 1998 (CD - 17 songs)
  • CHAOTIC PAST Yer-in 1999 (CD)
  • CHAOTIC PAST New Young Girl 2000 (45, CD single)
  • Martin Paul Crooked Country 2000 (EP, CD)
  • WILLIAM HOOKER/ ROGER MILLER/ LEE RANALDO MONSOON (recorded by Rick Harte for Atavistic Records) 2003 (CD)
  • MISSION OF BURMA A Gun To The Head (RYKO) 2004 (CD comp.)
  • VARIOUS ARTISTS 12 Classic 45s 2006 (CD)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Signals, Calls, and Marches (MATADOR) 2008 (CD+DVD - 10 songs)
  • MISSION OF BURMA Vs. (MATADOR) 2008 (CD+DVD - 16 songs)
  • MISSION OF BURMA The Horrible Truth About Burma (MATADOR) 2008 (CD+DVD - 14 songs)
  • Heat from a Deadstar CD 2 Songs including Messy Kid, Ad Astra 2009
  • HEAT FROM A DEADSTAR Seven Rays of The Sun 2009 (CD - 13 songs)
  • BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC Dawn Of The Cycads (Cuneiform) 2009 (Double CD - 32 songs)
  • NEATS 1981-1984 The Ace of Hearts Years 2009 (CD - 22 songs)

External links[edit]