underheralded gems from the (post-) punk era, v. 3

Thanks again for tuning in. I’ve updated the site pages, and clarified what I’m hoping to do with this site. The new goal: deliver something substantial every Sunday, and unearth a mid-week gem from the depths of YouTube or elsewhere.

Once again, I’m relying on George Gimarc’s amazing Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, and this week I tacked back 33 and 1/3 years, to learn that The Photos signed their first contract on 1 Oct 1979. The Evesham quartet put together a host of fun tunes over the next few years, including “Irene,” from their 1980 EP (or double-single), which made it to 56 in the UK. Their self-titled debut LP went top 5 in the UK (so not completely unheralded), but they had no traction in the US — here’s the link to their top 20 YouTube clips.

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underheralded gems from the punk era, v. 2

I hope you’re having a lovely weekend, and thanks again for checking out my musings on music and virtue back in the day.

Once again, I’ve been paging randomly through the seriously amazing Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, by George Gimarc. It’s a blow-your-mind compendium of punk facts, images of 7″, 12″, concert flyers and posters, and a massive listing of who played where and when. It’s a labor of love without peer, and I look forward to checking out the accompanying CD of interviews straight-away.

From the 30 October 1978 entry: a group of 17-year-olds playing under the name of Protex impresses the owner of Harp Pub in Belfast, and the band signs onto the Good Vibrations label. “Don’t Ring Me Up” is their first single, and this clip from NYC a couple years later indicates that practitioners in the punk-pop vein had all sorts of hair before the authenticity police started cracking down. Protex, which perhaps takes its name from The Clash’s “Protex Blue,” off their eponymous debut LP (UK), still lacks a wikipedia entry. Their only mention was via the Moondogs’ page, as Protex, The Moondogs, The Outcats, Rudi, Ruefrex, SLF, and The Undertones appeared in the 1979 film Shellshock Rock.

Any more info on Protex or Shellshock Rock is much appreciated.

Coda: on this day in punk history–in 1978, Warsaw changed their name to Joy Division, and played their first gig in Manchester under their new moniker.  Do keep your eye out for Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, which is due out in America this week.

underheralded gems from the punk era, v. 1

I’m glad that you’re back, checking out the blog, and so delighted to see a host of you tuning in from the north (CN) and overseas (hi Bulgaria!). I’m simply abuzz, too, to report that the tablet version of my book has been semi-steady in the top 20 at amazon in both radio  history-criticism (not a huge category, true) and punk (much bigger, it seems).

So many great people shared their time and energy to make Stealing All Transmissions possible, and I plan to pay that debit forward, by sharing some of the things I learned that may end up in your next project. In the meantime, though, I’ll share some of the tracks I heard for the first time while conducting this research.

Out of Leeds, S.O.S. morphed into Girls at Our Best!, and released their first single, “Warm Girls,” in April 1980, and their first LP, Pleasure, in October 1981 (in its entirety below). Thomas Dolby played synths, and Paul du Noyer at NME called it “the perfect early-morning holiday-camp exercise record.”

Courtesy of youtube (yeah youtube!),  in addition to the LP’s title track, here’s a list of best tracks, and the LP in full (although it seems the person clipped the end of the first track (?!?). The album is available at iTunes, too. Enjoy!

MLK day — The Clash connection

I hope you Americans are having a restful holiday. I think it is awfully cool that the RocknRoll Hall of Fame is playing the video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in its entirety, all day today. (It’d be even better to mix in a selection of class-themed speeches, too, but hey …)

So here’s a clip courtesy of the fine folks at Loving The Clash (via facebook), in which Joe Strummer seeks between-gig inspiration from a tape of “MLK’s greatest hits.” I also dig the cadence of “Revolution Rock” in an early live segment and, of course, Jones-as-punk-dandy, decked out in black ensemble with red tie.

As a rule, I won’t simply re-post stuff that’s widely available, but this clip’s a gem, and thematically proper.

my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. III

Thanks again for tuning in, and while it’s short of an obsession, I’m still thinking about Color Me Obsessed. It has plenty of moments for Mat-fanatics and, with a more judicious edit, might have had the capacity to convert a few more nonbelievers. (The bespectacled guy on the couch (80-85 min.) who spoke with his hands: whoa.) Still, there’s nothing else like it, and the origin myth (truth?) was quite good. The Stinsons and Mars bang out a joyful noise in the former’s basement, and Paul-the-janitor eavesdrops, endears himself to the band, and chaos and beauty and pain and joy soon follow. It’s stories like this one and that of The Minutemen (We Jam Econo is awesome–check NetFlix streaming, too) that should inspire someone to recast the theory of intelligent design around the history of rocknroll. Could it really all be happenstance?

Obsessed provides a capable back-drop of music history, indicating which LPs, in terms of sales figures, served as the benchmarks during that era — Thriller and Slippery When Wet, among them. As you may know, Replacements ouevre includes  seven albums, The Shit Hits the Fans (a limited edition concert cassette), and the Stink EP, whose first pressings included LP jackets were decorated with hand-carved potato stamps. DIY, indeed. As I noted in the previous post about which efforts still rate:  Sorry Ma … has a smattering of fine moments, and Let It Be and after represents a remarkable run by a remarkable band. In those seven years (The Mick-Jones Clash lasted that long), they released four brilliant albums and another with brilliant moments, including their one “hit” single, “I’ll Be You.” This video opens with Westerberg talking about “the goop” poured into the mix of Don’t Tell a Soul, which proved much too slick for Mats-fanatics, then and now, as many interview subjects attested to. (Just for Mats’ fanatics: a Soul press kit for $20 shipped! Only one in stock, of course.)

One of the finest moments in Obsessed is the camera time of Matt Wallace, who produced Don’t Tell a Soul (1989), their penultimate LP, and his explanation of what happened to that album. Sire/Warner provided the tapes produced by Wallace and the Mats to Chris Lord-Alge, whose Midas touch had graced LPs by Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Carly Simon and Springsteen’s slickest tracks from Born in the USA (“Dancing,” “Cover Me,” and the title track). The key treatment employed here is called “chorusing,” in which a given track–e.g., Westerberg’s slighty-out-of-tune guitar–is duplicated, pitched slightly up, down, or both, and multi-tracked to produce that “shimmering sound” that is scarce to non-existent on the early LPs. The self-identified authentic Mats’ fans decry this development on film, and some indicate proudly how they opted out after Tim (hardly a sell-out album). I wager the directors sniffed out such (largely-white-male) nonsense in advance, and luckily found fans able to praise Soul, including a woman who testifies that if the shimmering sound got The Mats on the radio (verdict: yes), it was an ultimately good thing.

Westerberg knew all-too-well the politics of the authenticity police, and spoke eloquently circa 1988 about the risks of refusing to grow dynamically: you ran the risk of becoming a self-parody. Now Westerberg didn’t name names–and it pains me to write this, for I still love them dearly (okay maybe Johnny less so)–but I can’t help but wonder if he had The Ramones in mind. (Between 1982 and 1987, I have reason to believe The Ramones played the same set list hundreds of times.)

The finest bit in the film comes at the 85th minute, when Elaine Pan, “fan,” who looks to be in her early 30s, nearly goes to tears recalling the impact of the songs on her adolescence. The memories, still raw, arrest the words, but they pour forth haltingly in her testimony on the lessons in the gospel according to Paul: “It’s okay to not be perfect, it’s okay to be the loser, and it’s okay just to be yourself.” It’s a rich, chilling moment, and anyone still harboring resentment against Paul, Tommy, and Chris for carrying on without Bob in “Bob’s band” will be hard-pressed not to let it go, forever, once they see this clip.

So check out Color Me Obsessed, or get a copy for your Mats-devoted comrades.

my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. II

Thanks for checking out more of my musings on a handful of bands–and writers–that truly matter. I’m thinking today about Rob Sheffield’s Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, which is quite smart, and organizes each wide-ranging chapter around a specific song. In one of the smartest bits I’ve read about Paul McCartney, he suggests that he and his mates’ fandom for Sir Paul entailed considerably more danger than their devotion to Keith Richards, for example. Yes, Mr. R. needed the occasional blood transfusion to keep his parts in order, but Rob remained confident that he and his mates were never at risk of adopting Mr. Richards’ more dissolute habits. McCartney, though, through his devotion to Linda, was capable of making some terrible songs, and was apparently undaunted by how terrible they were–proving how blind love can be. That condition, Sheffield figures, was fully in reach, and that inspired in his friends and himself a real sense of terror.

Like so many good things in the eighties, The Replacements came late to Stockton. Based upon two record reviews and my catching “Bastards of Young” once, maybe twice, on the radio, I purchased Tim (1985) just after its release. (On the same trip to Tower Records, I also picked up Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey (1985)–both on vinyl, of course.) Up to that point, few bands represented desire writ large quite like Duran Duran. The clothes, the hair, the voice, the bass lines—and the videos! This band and their handlers knew what to do with MtV, Night Flight, and other video programs, and they had some great pop tunes, too. Still, in terms of my adolescence, Duran Duran was my Keith Richards. I had little chance of cavorting with models on schooners, or of chasing them through the rain forest, or of photographing them in the boxing ring (!?!). Enter The Replacements.

After viewing Color Me Obsessed, I was in touch with an English ex-pat now residing in San Diego who missed the flannel wave of the early to mid-1980s. I wondered how those records would stand up to initial listenings, and steered him to Let It Be, Tim, and All Shook Down. (Have you heard the remastered versions of these albums? Are they a real improvement? I’d love to know.) I then cued up Sorry Ma, I Forgot to Take Out the Trash (1981), and the opening a capella line of “Customer”–“I’minlovewithagirlbutI’mnothingbutacustomer!”–and realized that Paul Westerberg was my Paul McCartney: Westerberg’s rendition of the “Hello-I-love-you-won’t-you-tell-me-your-name” variety of adolescent desire, along with the raucous accompaniment by Mars, Stinson, and Stinson, allowed me to make sense of those tumultuous years.  (The bookend to “Customer” was Tim’sKiss Me on the Bus”–“On the bus, that’s where we’re ridin’ / On the bus, O.K., don’t say hi, then”–and, in the ensuing years, these tunes inspired the fortitude I deployed to make the acquaintances of a cashier and two fellow Muni riders.) If The Clash set the bar for making aesthetically effective and politically effective music, few bands could touch The Replacements on the topics of adolescent (male) desire, power, and everyday life.

In the next post, I will get back to the documentary itself, which–like The Replacements–is endearing with a hint of sloppiness.

my favorite US rocknroll rebels, pt. 1

Thanks for checking out my blog. I hope your new year’s off to a gloriously rockin’ beginning.

One of my comrades from the old Black Market Clash site referred me to the new documentary on The Replacements, Color Me Obsessed. If you can handle 140 interviews mashed into 2 hours, and you like your film auteur-stylin’, then definitely give it a look–or, if you too believe that The Replacements were one of the most joyful noise-pop bands of the previous century, then you’ve got to check it out.

I streamed the first hour via YouTube through my blu-ray player last night, and it looked and sounded just fine. There were a few “oh yeah” gems, as different tales jogged my memory, and I especially dug the recollections of the widow (ex-wife?) of Bob Stinson (RIP), which offered a bit more complexity to the usual tales of debauchery. It was also nice to hear more about Paul’s influences (Roger Miller among them, due to “the wordplay”), and that the band had Robyn Hitchcock’s I Often Dream of Trains in heavy rotation while they were on the road in 1984.

Interview subjects trotted out the usual essentialist malarkey — “they didn’t make a decent album after Let It Be,” etc. — but their memories were still charged with genuine enthusiasm and, like The Clash, their fans were fanatic. I’m still on the lookout for someone who had a moderate interest in either band. They seem few and far between.

I’ll say a few more words about the Mats once I finish watching the second half of the film. For now, I’ll offer the following argument:

In terms of US bands:

The Replacements embodied the spirit of The Sex Pistols,
and Public Enemy embodied the spirit of The Clash.