Sunday, 12 December 2010

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels by Dexy's Midnight Runners

"Geno! Geno! Geno!"

For many of us in 1980 this was our introduction to the crazy world of Kevin Rowland and Dexy's Midnight Runners - a stabbing horn riff, a chanted name, and a leap into a new world of turbo-charged, Punk-inflected Northern Soul.
Amazingly, this tribute to ancient Soul man Geno Washington was a UK Number One hit and became an anthem for a new generation of soul boys ( and girls ).

Dexy's were basically doing a "2-Tone" - that is, injecting Punk energy and attitude into Soul music in the same way the Specials, The Beat and The Selecter had given ska a kick up the arse. Coupled with Rowland's distinctive voice, soulful and angry in equal measure, and his uncompromising, arrogant personality, Dexy's were a blast of Soul excitement at the dawn of the depressing Thatcher decade.

Searching For The Young Soul Rebels starts with the sound of a radio being tuned: first static, then snatches of Smoke On The Water, Holidays In The Sun, orchestral music, and Rat Race, before Kevin calls out to his bandmates "For God's sake, burn it down!" No sacred cows are safe here! Birmingham-born but of Irish ancestry, Kevin here defends his heritage from "thick Paddy" stereotypes by listing Emerald Isle luminaries ( Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw etc. ) before concluding with "Shut your mouth 'til you know the truth!", the exuberant music blasting out behind him. The Dexy's brand of Soul comes complete with a fierce, questioning spirit, as well as an earthy, working-class passion.

"How can a small town big shot boy get enough to eat?"

The pace occasionally slows down for slow-burning, intense songs like I'm Just Looking and I Couldn't Help If I Tried, where Kevin's voice and the horn section compete to create the most melancholy, wounded sound. And what a voice it is! From a deep baritone to a hiccupping, chirping take on Chairmen Of The Board's General Norman Johnson, Kevin Rowland's astonishing vocal performance on this album is a tour de force which he never quite matched again.

( And let's not forget that the original Dexy's were a band, very tight and powerful, not just a frontman and some hired hands. That came later when Kevin fell out with just about everybody else, but crucially with co-founder Kevin "Al" Archer who moved on after personality clashes..... )

The Dexy's ensemble show off the range of their music as the album concludes with the mutant-Stax sounds of Keep It, the jazzy spoken-word lament Love Part One, and the full-on Soul power of There, There, My Dear - Kevin lambasting phonies and trendies:
"You're so anti-fashion so wear flares
Instead of dressing down all the time"

..... before reaching the conclusion that
"Maybe we should welcome a new soul vision"

Maybe? Definitely!

Song to dance to in a "sweaty club": Geno

Monday, 6 December 2010

The sounds of the Underground

Hi to new Follower, Colin Lorimer, blogger extraordinaire ( see here ) and talented creator of post-apocalyptic comic book UXB - check it out!

And coming up on this highly irregular blog: Punk meets Soul with Dexy's Midnight Runners
( When I can get my lazy arse into gear..... )

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Was it something I said?

I think this is the first time I've actually lost a Follower. Perhaps I should have posted about the mighty Klams? ;-)

Anyways, this 'ere blog has been a bit quiet of late I know, but I do plan further rock 'n' roll witterings here as soon as inhumanly possible. ( Next up: New Day Rising by Husker Du - stay tuned!! )

Soundtrack: wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

New Day Rising by Husker Du

OK, up until now this 'ere blog has concentrated on albums that are generally thought of as "classics" and are often found on "Best Of" lists from the great and good..... and music journalists.
But this time I'm going for a more personal, less well-known choice, Husker Du's mid-'80s hardcore milestone, New Day Rising.

Husker Du were Bob Mould ( vocals, guitar ), Grant Hart ( vocals, drums ) and Greg Norton ( bass, moustache ) - with both Mould and Hart writing the songs..... something which would lead to friction over the years and contribute to the band's demise. They formed in Minnesota in 1979 and, as contemporaries of bands like The Minutemen and Black Flag, were initially a very fast, thrashing Punk/hardcore band. Their first ( live ) album was called Land Speed Record, which pretty much summed up their musical philosophy at the time.

Before long, however, they began to break out of the hardcore straitjacket and introduced more melody and variety to their sound. The mini-album Metal Circus pointed the way towards the "grunge" sound of the '90s ( especially on Hart's murder ballad Diane ) and the ambitious, sprawling double Zen Arcade was actually a ( whisper it! ) concept album which dabbled in psychedelia. As the band became more popular the major record labels came calling but, before their temporary step up to the big leagues, they produced one last classic for their old label, SST: New Day Rising.

It starts with a restating of their hardcore credentials: Mould and Hart shouting, screaming and howling the album title over a barrage of thunderous drums and squalls of guitar. As attention-grabbers go, it certainly works. Then we're straight into the new, poppier Husker Du sound, with Hart's The Girl Who Lived On Heaven Hill, boasting a huge, singalong chorus. Well, I say "poppier" but, by the end of the song, Hart's screaming his head off again, from up there on the top of Heaven Hill. Mould's I Apologise follows, anticipating the emo genre with its brutal dissection of a relationship going wrong.

And that's one of Husker Du's great legacies - they had moved beyond the punk cliches of earlier songs like Deadly Skies and Obnoxious and were now talking about the joy and pain of real life. Over top of some bloody loud guitars, of course. The three songs which close side one of the album ( vinyl forever! ), If I Told You, Celebrated Summer, and Perfect Example are fantastic, er, examples of the Husker Du methodology - heart-aching lyrics welded to great tunes and Bob Mould's shimmering, multi-tracked guitars.

"Do you remember when the first snowfall fell
In such a celebrated Summer?"

But just when you think it's all got too grown up and sensible, the band hit us with the bizarre discordance of How To Skin A Cat, the redneck anthem Whatcha Drinkin' and Grant Hart's piano-assisted alternative pop classic Books About UFOs. And to finish we get the almost compulsory Bob Mould guitar freak-out. On Zen Arcade the band had produced a 13-minute, experimental epic, Reoccurring Dreams; here they were less self-indulgent and Plans I Make is a mere 4 minutes of chainsaw guitars, feedback and Mould's anguished vocals.

Sadly, Husker Du imploded a couple of years later, following drug problems, creative tensions and the suicide of their manager. They'd only achieved moderate success, even after signing to Warner Brothers and seeing their last album, Warehouse: Songs And Stories, being relentlessly hyped by the music press. Mould and Hart pursued solo careers with varying success and Norton went into the restaurant business, with only the occasional return to music. They were, however, a huge influence on the next generation of alternative rock ( Pixies, Nirvana etc. ) and on such big-business "punk" bands as Green Day. ( Not to mention the legendary Death Planet Commandos. Well..... they're legendary in my house, anyway. )
Not bad for a group named after a kids' board game.....
Song to annoy the neighbours: New Day Rising

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

When I was a teenage wannabe-Punk I didn't like The Beach Boys. I mean I really didn't like them. I thought the harmonies were girly, the fun-in-the-sun lyrics were too cheesy, the clothes were bloody awful, and what the Hell was Sloop John B about anyway?

Now, of course, I love The Beach Boys and I especially love Pet Sounds, the album containing - you've guessed it - Sloop John B.

Pet Sounds is famously the album where Brian Wilson took creative control of the group and steered them away from their previous surf / rock 'n' roll style towards a more symphonic, studio-based sound. And what a sound! Wilson throws in strings, Theremins, bicycle bells, clip-clop percussion, harpsichords, rasping horns and possibly a kitchen sink on a surfboard, who knows? It almost strays into the realm of the avant garde before settling for queasy-listening on a couple of strange filler instrumentals. The trademark Beach Boy vocals are present and correct and perfect, alternately joyous and heartbreaking.

As well as Sloop John B, the album also contains two of their most well-known singles, Wouldn't It Be Nice and God Only Knows, mini masterpieces of yearning and heartache. And, if not for Brian Wilson's perfectionism, the awesome Good Vibrations would have appeared here as well, instead of propping up the next album, the deeply flawed Smiley Smile.

Lyrically, Pet Sounds is a lot deeper than previous Fun Fun Fun -type material. The first track, Wouldn't It Be Nice, is a childlike wish to be grown up and married but, after that, things take a more introspective and troubled turn. The songs' protagonists often feel lonely or betrayed and offer warnings about former lovers and friends.

"I went through all kinds of changes
Took a look at myself
And said 'That's not me' "

"Where can I turn when my
Fair-weather friends cop out?
What's it all about?"

Even the traditional Caribbean folk song, Sloop John B, seemed to fit in well:
"I feel so broke up, I want to go home
This is the worst trip I've ever been on."

With hindsight all this is sadly indicative of Brian Wilson's fragile mental state, culminating in the honest admission of I Just Wasn't Made For These Times. The uncertainty and confusion in these lyrics ( along with the fantastic music ) adds a resonance to the album that elevates it to its classic status.

Song for your favourite surfer girl: Don't Talk ( Put Your Head On My Shoulder )

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Surfer Rosa by Pixies

There are many bands that I learned to love over a long period of time, while others hit me straight between the eyes the first time I heard them. In the case of Pixies ( no "The" required ) it was an instant knock-out.

I first heard about them when they were touring the UK with the Throwing Muses in 1988 and the music magazines of the day went ballistic over them. The late, lamented Sounds gave away a free 7" single featuring the songs Down To The Well and Rock A My Soul which were quirky and spooky, especially compared to the fey indie-pop of the time, typified by the C86 scene.

I missed out on their mini-album, Come On Pilgrim, but bought Surfer Rosa and was amazed by I'm Amazed, lost my mind to Where Is My Mind? etc. etc.

Pixies' early music is a strange, dark world of weird sexuality, mutilation and swearing in Spanish. Black Francis' lyrics are visceral and Biblical, obsessed with pain and pleasure in songs such as Bone Machine, Break My Body and Broken Face, but turning strangely goofy on songs like Tony's Theme and Oh, My Golly! His vocals, now sensual, now raw and screaming, interact with Kim Deal's huskily sexy voice and forceful bass-playing, and with David Lovering's pounding drums, to create an uncertain, edgy glimpse into Pixie-world. Cutting through and underpinning all this is the wailing, moaning, grinding, dirty guitar-sound of the sadly underrated Joey Santiago ( and isn't that the coolest name ever for a guitarist? ), a six-string symphony of deviancy. The production, courtesy of the controversial Steve Albini, is suitably brutal, everything turned up to ear-lacerating volumes. The stop/start, loud/quiet dynamics ( more fully realised on the next album ) were to be a major inspiration to more commercially-successful bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins.

Pixies were to go on to more ( limited ) success with their next album, Doolittle, which had some fantastic songs ( Debaser, Monkey Gone To Heaven, Wave Of Mutilation ) and a smoother but still unconventional sound. But I'll always go back to the bruises, incest and cactus-littered landscapes of Surfer Rosa. I think I need a shower now.....

Song to play as the walls come tumbling down: Where Is My Mind?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Psychocandy by The Jesus & Mary Chain

Feedback. Echoing drums. Big hair. More feedback. Deep voices. Guitars going "skreeeeeeeeeech!!"
And more feedback.

Yes, it's those happy Reid brothers, Jim and William, here to rescue the mid-'80s UK music scene from mediocrity and Madonna.

Unusually for me I got into The Jesus & Mary Chain from day one. Well, from single number one, anyway. I bought their debut Upside Down / Vegetable Man 7" from The Trading Post record shop in Stroud ( one of my main haunts as a teenager and, amazingly, still going today ) and was knocked out by its grinding, migraine-inducing, feedback-ridden guitar sound, doom-laden drums and droning vocals. Ever since hearing Adam & The Ants' guitarist Marco Pirroni using feedback as part of his unique sound, I'd thought it would be cool to crank up that screeching sound to the max and build songs around it. And here were these snotty young punks from Glasgow doing just that. ( Of course, I hadn't heard of the Velvet Underground at this point. ) And, as if the music wasn't great enough on its own, the band looked amazingly cool and permanently pissed-off, played controversially short gigs that often ended in "riots", and seemed to be on a mission to antagonise tabloids, other bands, the music press and their own record label. Perfection.

More brilliant ( and slightly slicker ) singles followed: the intense, angry Never Understand, the more intense and more angry You Trip Me Up, and the less angry but still intense Just Like Honey. For some reason I really thought You Trip Me Up would be a massive chart hit in the summer of 1985 - surely the UK's pop kids would hear more than just the squalls of feedback and realise what a classic pop song it was? Er, no. It actually reached the dizzy heights of no. 55 in the chart. I still remember some journalist on Radio One's Newsbeat referring to the Mary Chain's music as "feedback and not much else" at the height of their "New Sex Pistols" notoriety. Of course, that sense of dismissal would only make their fans close ranks and love them even more fiercely.

And then came the album.....

Psychocandy surely stands as one of the greatest debut albums in rock. The fact that the Mary Chain never really scaled such heights again only adds to its grandeur. The album really shouldn't work: it's a still-startling mash-up of seemingly disparate elements - the squealing white noise, the Phil Spector / girl-group drumming, the "poor me" indie vocals, and lyrics like these:
And the sun don't shine
And all the stars don't shine
And all the walls fall down
And all the fish get drowned

.....yeah, OK. In fact, the brothers Reid were/are deeply in thrall to age-old rock 'n' roll themes of disillusion, rebellion, doomed love and heartache. In these songs women are beautiful but treacherous ( You Trip Me Up, The Hardest Walk ), life is hard ( Something's Wrong, It's So Hard ) and even the rock 'n' roll dream of escaping on a big, black motorbike ( The Living End ) ends in disaster - "My head is dripping into my leather boots". Jim Reid's American-via-Glasgow vocals are full of hurt and hunger, throwing none-more-rock " Hey hey hey"'s all over the place like a Scottish Joey Ramone; while William Reid's six-string screams of feedback are more carefully-sculpted than is at first apparent, some beautiful melodies lurking beneath the waves of surging sound. Amongst all this chaos and confusion they find a dark, bleak ( not to mention pretentious ) poetry:

Love's like the mighty ocean
When it's frozen
That is your heart


I never thought that this day would ever come
When your words and your touch just struck me numb
And it's plain to see that it's dead
This thing's losing blood
On this cool sunny day

or that indie-disco favourite:

Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey-dripping beehive

No, I don't know what it all means, but it sounds fantastic, fatalistic and painfully adolescent. The whole album is a gloomy teen's dream of love and angst and anger, but it still sounds exciting and energising to this ( gulp! ) forty-something. The Mary Chain would grow up and calm down on their second album, Darklands, which produced such classic singles as April Skies and Happy When It Rains, but couldn't hold a black, patchouli-scented candle to Psychocandy.

Song to play after being stabbed through the heart by an icepick of emotion: You Trip Me Up.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Hey Mickey, you're so fine!

I'm glad to see Mickey Glitter of Strange Cousin Susan fame is now Following this 'ere blog. Thanks for stopping by!

And no, I won't be reviewing any Toni Basil stuff here :-)

Soundtrack: Ignore The Machine by Alien Sex Fiend ( doesn't really go, does it? )

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Band by The Band

The Band's music used to be a mystery to me. And then it became a myth, or maybe a legend.....

When I was a kid I used to occasionally hear their songs, but I never knew who they were or what they were singing about. This might not be an unusual problem for a band ( or Band ) who seemed almost deliberately anonymous, whose music was in a genre all of its own, who didn't really fit in anywhere.

My first exposure to the Band's music came ( improbably enough ) from a James Last album called "Rock Me Gently - A Tribute To The Great Canadian Songwriters." This collection of easy-listening / big band versions of pop hits featured songs by R Dean Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot and one Jaime "Robbie" Robertson, composer of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down which, in this incarnation, was a full-on faux-Nashville singalong that sounded like a Tammy Wynette cast-off. So, my parents' album of middle-of-the-road German dance-band music introduced me to what would, much later, become one of my favourite songs of all time.

Years later, Radio One's Mr. Cheese, Simon Bates, would often play Band songs on his oldies show, the Golden Hour. I became aware of classics such as Rag Mama Rag, The Weight and Rockin' Chair, although I didn't know who was behind them. I can remember listening to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and being puzzled by the song: what was it all about? why are the people singing and the bells ringing when the singer sounds so sad? and what is a Dixie anyway? The mystery continued.....

Even more years later I bought my wife Sarah a Summer Of Love-type '60s compilation tape for her birthday ( yep, an actual cassette - it was a while ago..... ) and amongst all the usual suspects - Byrds, Mamas and Papas, Donovan, Jefferson Airplane etc. - there was a strange little song called The Weight by a band called..... er, The Band. I sort of remembered it from years ago but I'd never really listened to it before. The haunting guitar intro, the ragged but beautiful harmonies, the mysterious lyric: all these seeped into my brain and I became hooked on the song, had to keep rewinding and playing it again. There had to be more. I learnt from magazines like Mojo and Uncut that The Band, those four Canadians and one Arkansas boy, had been a former backing band to small-time rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins, before going on to back Bob Dylan during his "going electric" period, retreating to a basement to write their own songs, and finally emerging as artists in their own right with Music From Big Pink, one of the most celebrated debut albums of all time. I caught a late night showing of The Last Waltz, the Martin Scorsese-directed film of the group's last gig ( trust me to do things arse-backwards ) and was knocked out by the songs, the atmosphere, the dynamics, the fantastic vocals of Richard Manuel, Levon Helm and Rick Danko. Surely it was now time to actually buy some of this stuff!

The Band by The Band, the so-called "Brown Album", the cover a sepia-tinted photo of five grizzled, pissed-off guys ( farmers? prospectors? bandits? ) standing in the rain in some forgotten, backwoods corner of America. The songs themselves are hazy, faded snapshots of half-remembered lives and loves; a whole cast of characters, maybe all living in the same dirt-poor town at the end of a lonesome trail, all with tales to tell. The jittery lover asking his girl where she's hidden her gun, the farmer praying for a good harvest, the unrepentant thief, the two old sailors dreaming of a life ashore, the good-time girl who lives to dance, the young Confederate soldier recounting the fall of the South.....

All of these characters and stories are brought to life by The Band's warm, organic, rootsy style: a rich stew of country, r 'n' b, soul, gospel and funk, with a dash of rock 'n' roll. Fiddles, horns and keyboards add colour and texture; lines are traded between the three ( wonderful ) singers; instruments are swapped around to suit the song, not the performers' egos; traditional rock 'n' roll excesses are curbed - the song is everything.

The Band brought a new perspective to rock 'n' roll ( although some would say a conservative one ) - when everyone else was turning on, tuning in and dropping out, they were reaching into the past for a feeling of community, history and shared experience. A song like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down was something unprecedented at the time: a lament for a lost way of life and for a people that had fought for the "wrong" side and paid the price. Even up-tempo, rocking songs like Up On Cripple Creek and Jemima Surrender still somehow had that "old-fashioned" sound that led to the record being referred to as "the best rock 'n' roll album of the nineteenth century."

The beauty and strangeness of The Band's "old, weird America" stays with you and becomes a part of your own interior landscape, a window on another world. And that's no mystery.

Song to whistle down a country lane: King Harvest Has Surely Come

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


I'm being followed! ( But it's not too scary..... )

Hi to new ( indeed, only ) Followers, Duckers and Gailsman ( both from Robin Hood country, strangely - What's the record shop situation in Nottingham? )

Good to see you here, guys! Feel free to comment, leave suggestions, opinions etc. etc.
I'm always happy to hear from fellow travellers in this 'ere blogsphere.

Update: Mark's here too! Yay!!

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen

"The album became a monster. It wanted everything. It just ate up everyone's life."

That's Bruce Springsteen talking about Born To Run, the album that made his name, that saved his career, that became a classic. It also drove him to the brink of despair and broke up his band. Phew! Rock 'n' roll, eh?

After the relative failure of his first two albums and the impossible pressure of living up to Jon Landau's "future of rock 'n' roll" tag, Springsteen knew his third album was make or break time. He knew that he had to simplify his overly-wordy songwriting and his jazzy/funky/folky music; he had to reduce it all down and find the essence of rock 'n' roll, the total of all his early influences - Elvis/Roy Orbison/Gary "U.S." Bonds, British Invasion bands, Phil Spector - while mostly ditching the folk/Dylan influence of the early 70's.

Over a tortuous year of recording Springsteen marshalled his band and hammered away at his songs, rewriting, refining, recording take after take, all in his quest for perfection. Original E Street Band members David Sancious and "Boom" Carter bailed, the record company got jittery, the studio's piano would frequently go out of tune, one master tape was recorded so badly that Bruce threw it out of his hotel room into a river. And so it went on.

Eventually, something emerged.....

Mean Streets with guitars, West Side Story with a pulsating rock 'n' roll soundtrack, Born To Run is a wild, midnight ride into the dark side of the American Dream, where street punks and beautiful girls drink warm beer in the soft summer rain, lie in the darkness and plan their escape. They don't know what they're escaping to, but anything's gotta be better than this "rat trap", right?

Springsteen has remarked that his first two albums had a real sense of place, whereas Born To Run "is about being nowhere at all." Images of escaping and finding yourself abound:

Well the night's busting open / These two lanes will take us anywhere

It's a town full of losers / I'm pulling out of here to win

and, of course:

We've gotta get out while we're young
'Cos tramps like us, baby we were born to run

It's all romantic as hell, as well as terminally naive. This was the last chance for such hoary old rock 'n' roll notions; Springsteen had grown up on rock 'n' roll and was able to reinvigorate its familiar themes, but after him the road led to the overblown pastiche of Meatloaf, which was fun but empty. But here, on the mean streets of Anytown, USA, we're plunged into Springsteen's rock opera mix of R 'n' B , Duane Eddy guitar, deep canyons of reverb, plaintive sax and rippling piano, all giving the music an authority and an atmosphere that's built to last, chrome wheeled and fuel injected.

It's hard to single out individual songs for praise: the album is so well-structured that you don't want to pick it apart for fear the whole edifice might crumble. From the beautiful piano 'n' harmonica intro of Thunder Road, through the good-time sway of Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, the tension/release of Backstreets, the low-key trumpet-and-tenement-tale of Meeting Across The River, and on to Bruce's final, wordless cries on the awesome Jungleland, the album is a masterclass in classic rock moves or, in Greil Marcus' words "a '57 Chevy running on melted-down Crystals records."

On a personal note, when I first bought Born To Run, on second-hand vinyl for a couple of quid, I was going through quite a tough time. I'd been off work for months with the double-whammy of a back injury and redundancy, and was feeling pretty low. As those who really love music will understand, there's little more therapeutic than some good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll, and Born To Run was good medicine. Cheers, Bruce!

Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be

Greatest Rock Sax Solo Of All Time: Clarence "Big Man" Clemons, Jungleland

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

London Calling by The Clash

London Calling? London bloody Calling? Isn't that the most obvious, put-no-thought-into-it, predictable Clash album of all? The one that everybody lists as their favourite, usually when it's the only one they've heard? Well, yes and no.....
( Don't you just hate it when people say that? )

When I was compiling my 15 albums in 15 minutes list, I have to admit that London Calling was the first Clash album to pop into my head, so, by my hard and fast rules ( not very Punk! ), it had to go in.

I could have chosen debut album The Clash, for its kick-down-the-doors, sulphate-fuelled rush of energy, attitude and anthems. Or I could have chosen Combat Rock for the more sophisticated but still essential and angry Clash it presented - as well as for being home to the haunting Straight To Hell. But London Calling it had to be - mainly because it's the Clash album I play the most. But that wasn't always the case.....

When I first bought the album and got past the iconic sleeve art and the apocalyptic title track my first impression was bemusement. If these guys are punks why are they singing some old rock 'n' roll song about Cadillacs? And where's that 1-2-3-4 no-nonsense all-purpose *Punk* sound? These songs are funky and even ( whisper it... ) jazzy! About the only songs to replicate the "old" Clash sound were London Calling itself and Clampdown. It made me scratch my head for a long time, but then the penny dropped: the Clash have graduated. They've left the old Punk Rock ghetto behind and stepped out onto a bigger stage, a world stage. And they're daring you to go with them.

"In every dingy basement on every dingy street
Every dragging handclap over every dragging beat
They're just the beat of time, the beat that must go on
If you've been trying for years - we've already heard your song"

The Clash set their sights higher than just providing the soundtrack for another night's glue-sniffing down the 100 Club. London Calling is a huge ( 4 sides of vinyl back in the day ), sprawling, technicolor explosion of styles, influences and new directions. After tentative stabs at reggae on previous tracks the band now step up their game and hit us with ska, soul, lover's rock, dub, Phil Spector-esque epics, splashes of jazz and funk and even disco, that enemy of all narrow-minded rockers. But all these styles are filtered through the band's unique sensibilty - you know it's still The Clash, but a fearless, forward-thinking Clash. The songs are populated by punks, lovers, dealers, hustlers, movie stars, suits and gangsters. And what songs! They burst at the seams with tunes, hooks, melodies and lyrics of both the thought-provoking and grin-inducing kind. Every band member is at the top of their game, with a special mention for Topper Headon, freed from Punk restrictions to show us what a supremely talented and funky drummer he is. It all ends with the classic hit single The Clash never had, Mick Jones' wonderful Train In Vain. ( Just don't mention the godawful Annie Lennox cover version! )

So, yeah..... London Calling, the predictable choice. The right choice.

Soundtrack to the dawn of the 80's: Revolution Rock

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols

"I had no reason to be here at all / but now I got a reason / it's no real reason"

The reason I'm here is to write about 15 albums. After reading a meme on Facebook I thought I'd give it a go: list 15 of your fave albums in 15 minutes ( I did it in about 4 ) - but I'm going to go further and blog about them. They may not all be the most famous or popular records ever, but they're obviously special to me seeing as they barged their way into my head before any others. This blog won't be just a list of great songs but a personal look at music and what effect it's had on me. And who the Hell are you, I hear you ask?

On this 'ere internet I'm known as cerebus660 and I have another blog called The Glass Walking-Stick, where I witter on about this and that and the other. You might like to check it out sometime, if you haven't already.....

But right here, right now, we're looking at one of the most controversial, incendiary, nasty and downright fantastic records of all time. And one that has the lovely word "bollocks" in the title. Which was obviously a major selling-point for snotty young urchins who wanted to smash the system. Like me.

Well, actually, that's not true. When this record came out I was 10 years old and my musical tastes ran about as far as Abba and the Barron Knights. ( Hideously Embarrassing Musical Confession No.1 - collect 'em all! ) Music hadn't really impacted on me so far; I was more into comics, Doctor Who, dinosaurs, that kind of thing. I'd liked the Glam Rock bands ( Sweet, Slade etc. ) and some songs by Bowie, Queen, Thin Lizzy etc. when they had appeared on Top Of The Pops. But that was about it. I don't think we even owned a record-player at this point. Punk Rock, as far as I was concerned, wasn't music at all, just some strange racket played by very scary- looking weirdos who I'd cross the road to avoid.

I first really noticed the Sex Pistols in 1980 when I was properly getting into music for the first time, at the age of 13. Radio 1 were broadcasting a documentary series called 25 Years Of Rock which interspersed pop/rock music and news headlines from each year from 1955 to 1980. This was a great education in rock music: I first heard bands like the Kinks, Hendrix and the Stooges here, in bite-sized chunks. In one installment I heard this song which I thought was called Anarchy For The UK drowning out a speech by future Prime-Monster Maggie Thatcher - it was bloody brilliant! Atop a raw, grinding guitar sound there was that voice: the snarling, sneering, sarcastic tones of Johnny Rotten, once heard never forgotten. Perhaps there was something to this Punk Rock after all.....

After dipping my toes in the Pistols' back catalogue with the Stepping Stone single, I dived right into the Punk Bible, Never Mind The Bollocks. ( Talk about mixed metaphors - how do you dive into a bible? ) It was all there: the attitude, the nihilistic lyrics, the bone-crunching sound, Jamie Reid's artwork, Lydon's spleen-venting voice. ( It took me quite some time to figure out that Johnny Rotten of the Pistols and John Lydon of Public Image Ltd. were the same person. ) To my young ears the album was a whirlwind of excitement, rebellion, creative swearing and huge tunes. I was hooked.

Quicker than you can say "Filthy Lucre!" Never Mind The Bollocks became my favourite album and the Pistols my favourite band. I became obsessed with the whole Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, buying whatever Pistols records, books and old magazine clippings I could get my hands on. Typically for me I fixated on a band that were already dead ( literally, in Sid's case ) and gone, but I didn't care. The Sex Pistols were mine now and always would be.

Song to play whilst smashing the system: God Save The Queen