SXSW 2013 music mix 2 — another 10 gems (and a fun Clash composite)

Happy Easter Sunday to you, and — for you Northern hemisphere dwellers — I hope there’s re-birth in the air in your neck of the woods. Here’s some image+sound to enrich your Sunday.

I found this lovely image via Loving the Clash on FB this morning, and I figure you know that it graced their eponymous LP on both sides of the Atlantic — back in April ’77 in the UK, and then in July ’79 stateside. For those of you familiar with the latter, definitely check out the UK version sometime: there are, of course, different songs, but it’s the different mix of the same songs that pricked up my ears.

Word has it that Stealing All Transmissions in paperback will also be an April release in the UK and down under. More info to come, of course.

On the sound front, I decided to cull another 10 songs from the 8 dozen+ selection from SXSW 2013 bands available at NPR (see here for the first 10, along with the link to NPR). (Click to play, or right-click to download.)

SXSW mix 2 2013

1. Lianne La Havas, “Is Your Love Big Enough?”

If your love is half the size of Ms. La Havas’ voice, everything’s going to be just fine. ‘Tis a shame that Amy Winehouse didn’t get the chance to do a 007 theme song, but LLH would be a fine proxy, if this song’s any indication.

2. BOY, “Little Numbers” (3:17)

It’s all about the digits, and desire, and the mind tricks that commence in a state of longing.

3. Red Barat, “Shruggy Ji” (7:00)

Rebirth Brass Band meets Cornershop? Crawfish in curry? Sign me up! If only all the jam bands were this much fun.

4. Alt-J, “Tessellate” (13:10)

What is love? How about “You’re a shark / and I’m swimming”? What is to tessellate?: “to form of small squares or blocks, as floors or pavements; form or arrange in a checkered or mosaic pattern.” Kudos to the first band since Frank Zappa apparently determined to expand our vocabulary.

5. !!!, “Slyd” (16:03)

Fun stuff from musical fringe, once again. How many bands can claim their name produces zero hits on google? (Oh, their  manager must be sore from shaking her head.)

6. The Very Best, “Yoshua Alikuti” (19:50)

Malawi vocals+ meets London beats = hip shakin’ grooves.

7. Cayucas, “High School Lover” (23:55)

C.’s been listening to Beck–which makes sense, since they’re from Santa Monica and, according to KCRW, are poised to be your new favorite summer band. Look for the LP at the end of this month.

8. Sean Rowe, “Joe’s Cult” (27:22)

So we stay with the So. Cal. influence here, too, as Mr. Rowe’s a smoking balladeer in the Tom Waits’ tradition, and — pardon the NorCal-ism — that’s a helluva fine thing.

9. The Coup, “The Magic Clap” (30:15)

My favorite Communist track (!) in the mix. The Coup’s been around for quite awhile, and are the high profile group out of the Mau Mau Rhythm Collective based in Oakland, California. If Boots Riley needs some fine tunin’ with his Marxism, the musical result needs no polish at all.

10. Bajofondo Tango Club, “Pide piso” (33:25)

Because even in 2013, we all need a bit of disco in our lives. Call this the Stealing edit, since I lopped off the final minute or two as a result of parenting exigencies.

I hope the first third of 2013 held plenty of joy for you, and that it continues apace through April, May, and after!

(post-) punk gems v. 11 — Captain Sensible, effortless interpreter

Happy mittwoch, reading listeners!

Each Wednesday, as many of you know (welcome first-time viewers!), I dig up a typically under-heralded gem from the (post-) punk era for your listening pleasure.

This week, though, I want to share one of the worst–or best, depending upon your take on punk aesthetics–tunes associated with folks who constituted the cacophonous beauty of 1977.  On June 17, 1982, the day I departed the US for my first-and-only visit (so far) to the UK, A&M Records released “Happy Talk,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from South Pacific, by Captain Sensible of The Damned. (Warning: ribald language to follow.)

As you can tell, the tune is maximally insipid, and the Captain assures a reporter from New Music Express that, first, The Damned aren’t breaking up and, second, that tedium is the whole point of The Damned–but in a different register. “The whole point about The Damned was always to be as pathetic as possible and just be as childish as we could. It was always just one big tantrum, there wasn’t anything we actually wanted to say. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t carry on.” And lo: they’re scheduled to appear at Rebellion Fest 2013, along with Sham 69, The Buzzcocks, Peter Hook’s new band, The Exploited, among others.

After “Happy Talk” spends two weeks at number one (July 1982), the Captain reports to NME: “I’m there because the rest of the music in the Top 30 is just a pile of shit. It’s just a pile of crap, just drivel. It’s all so meaningless isn’t it? … Like Visage who were on (Top of The Pops) today, did you see them? They walk around all po-faced and pretentious … They’re just trying to hide from the truth that all they’re doing are three chords songs like everyone else and it doesn’t mean a fucking thing.”

Whether “Happy Talk” deserves to be cast upon said pile, too, is difficult to say. It’s artifice without pretensions, but maybe on vinyl–or on the radio–it’s more difficult to parse than on the telly, where it’s clear the Captain is determined to mock rather than rock.

You can find the movie version of “Happy Talk” here and–oh, why not–here’s Visage that same summer, on TOTP:

This history, of course, is lovingly documented in George Gimarc’s Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, which I can’t recommend highly enough to the fanatic fans among you. It’s got to be among the top two books on that era (wink wink) available at fine bookstores everywhere.

I hope to see you Sunday!

parsing punk covers–and why Lester Bangs was right about James Taylor

Welcome back to W-SAT, where I’ll be spinning some punk and post-punk platters in just a few more syllables.

The boys over at Crave-online have come up with their 100 kickass songs under two minutes (it’s always boys, isn’t it, making allegedly definitive lists?), and there are plenty of tunes to celebrate here. I’m not sure how Beck’s “Cyanide Breath Mint” or anything by Soundgarden gets in above The Clash’s “White Riot,” but each her own–unless you omit The Replacements, then I’m taking issue. When half the songs on their debut LP start-n-stop within 120 seconds, they’ve earned the right.

Back in the day, amid many glorious and inglorious-ly drunken performances, The Replacements were regarded as the best cover band in the 1980s. The reputation was solidified one night when their road manager confiscated a newly recorded tape from a fan in the balcony and, after the band found the recording to be decent, sound-wise, and representative of their live shows, they released it on cassette as When the Shit Hits the Fans. Oddly enough, no one’s put the whole thing up on YouTube yet, but here’s a sample to whet your aural appetite.

The gesture of the cover, though, is more than merely indulging a few vocal fans. Once The Beatles–and, as a result, seemingly every other white band of that era–stopped offering tributes to their forebears, and started composing everything themselves, rock celebrated artistry. In turn, (white) people grew more earnest, stopped dancing, and abandoned joy altogether–i.e., they bought albums and went to concerts by Jackson Browne and James Taylor. The “singer-songwriter” appellation is not only racist, as a rule–e.g., Smokey Robinson sang and wrote songs, as did Stevie Wonder and George Clinton–but their music largely codified boredom, celebrated narcissism, and encouraged people to sit down rather than stand-up.

Punk as a great refusal p-shawed such navel-gazing, and reclaimed the joy of dancing and the glory of interpretation with fantastic and–in the case of the ‘Mats–fantastically blasphemous cover songs. As they did on so many fronts, The Sex Pistols arrived early, and helped ensure successive generations would offer The Modern Lovers their due.

The Clash followed suit, in part, with more earnest adulation for their Black Atlantic musical forebears. (Check out the brilliance of Topper herein.)

The Ramones, too, were a helluva cover band, and Joey is so adorable live in their version of The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird”:

I don’t know how The Slits have so effectively escaped their due attention in punk annals, so let me make another nod in their direction, via their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Before Chrissie Hynde offered the greatest act of fandom-devotion to Ray Davies by having his baby, she offered a brilliant cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing.”

Right around that time, The (English) Beat took stock of their influences and dialed up a lovely cover of a late 60s by Smokey Robinson, in a time when even the best bands had to lip-synch through TV appearances.

Their comrades from Coventry also dialed up some brilliant covers–including this double-time tribute to Toots and the Maytals:

I’ll wrap up with one of the more poignant tracks, in which one of the shabbiest bands pays tithe to true masters of rock artifice:

If spring’s arrived in your neck of the woods, please send a bit of it to your brethren here in the midwest. Have yourself a week rich with melody and delight.

post-punk gems v. 10 — slacking off with The Slits

good morning punk-o-philes!

The Slits were there from the beginning — hanging out and touring with The Clash on the White Riot tour in May 1977, along with The Buzzcocks and Subway Sect. In Clash biographer Marcus Gray’s estimation, The Slits represented “the first all-female non-puppet rock band” (Last Gang, p. 232). Sub-luminaries such as Palmolive, Ari Up (RIP), Budgie (eventual Siouxsie drummer) and Neneh Cherry passed through the 1976-1982 line-ups, of which there were many.

While The Slits’ Viv Albertine and Mick Jones were sweeties in May 1977, it’s clear from listening to this track — their debut single (b/w “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”) — that The Slits belonged. “Typical Girls” starts off with a tighten-up exercise around Albertine’s slashing guitar and Budgie’s steady cadence, and Ari’s counter-clockwise pivots represents punk dancing at its most democratic.

I hope folks checked out the SXSW playlist from Sunday’s post, which includes “Heartbeat” by the Kopecky Family Band. Do not miss this perfect pop gem (track 6). I’m listening to it 5x/day to combat the seemingly-relentless-cloudy-sky blues that have descended here in OH.

music mix — 10 gems from SXSW 2013

Good morning music lovers! I hope you had a lovely week.

As you know, I mostly write about music of yore on this site, and for good reason of course. That history’s very much still with us, and there’s a still a bit to be said about so many of the great bands that came of age between 1976 and 1990 (or so).

Today, though, I thought I’d share a music mix compiled from NPR’s the mix: the Austin 100, which was not easy to pare down. The selected tracks allow you to breathe (holy-poblano-mole were some of the 100 mixed to suffocate), most included harmony vocals and a host of great hooks. I figure the most popular among the 10 included here are The Polyphonic Spree and The Joy Formidable (who contribute the noisiest track to the mix), but I hope the others are new to you, too.

SXSW mix 2013   (click to play in new window / right-click to “save as”)

1. Sinkane — “Warm Spell”
2. Air Traffic Controller — “You Know Me” (2:30)
3. Wild Child — “Tale of You&Me” (6:30)
4. The Polyphonic Spree — “You Don’t Know Me” (12:10) (I’m not sure why he’s shouting at us, but I still have a soft spot for this track)
5. The Mowgli’s [why the apostrophe?] — “San Francisco” (16:10)
6. Kopecki Family Band — “Heart Beat” (19:55)
7. Jenny Owens Young — “Love for Long” (23:08)
8. Bronze Radio Return — “Shake Shake Shake” (26:00)
9. The Joy Formidable — “This Ladder is Ours” (28:45)
10. Lucius — “Turn It Around” (34:00)

Do let me know if you have favorite tracks by these artists that I should check out.

Also: check out the fun story from The Baker, former Clash roadie, on The Clash’s 1983 appearance on Saturday Night Live, which I included in a post a couple Sundays back.

post-punk gems v. 9 — the virtues of The Vapors

Toppa the morning to ya! I hope all’s well for you in the northern hemisphere, as we inch ever closer to spring. I’ve been working on a new addition to the site, so I’m a bit behind in my review of the catalog of gems. Wreckless Eric and Four Be Two are candidates for future posts, but today I’m revisiting a couple tracks from one of my favorite LPs from the era — Magnets, by The Vapors.

The Vapors, of course, established their pop presence with “Turning Japanese,” and thereby joined a host of great bands doing songs about auto-arousal (The Beat’s “Mirror in the Bathroom” and The Replacements’ “If Only You Were Lonely,” to begin). Magnets, the follow-up LP to New Clear Days, received critical praise but sales fell short of critical mass, and it effectively resulted in the band’s demise. If they more material like these tracks in ’em, it’s a real shame to have them disappear so quickly.

Alas, I cannot find “Live at the Marquee,” my favorite track from this album, on YouTube. EMI is not my ally today, it seems.

Happy Wednesday (Pooh!), and thanks again for checking out stealingalltransmissions.

Punk vs. reggae, subculture, and The Clash (and Echo and the Bunnymen, too!)

Happy Sunday, folks! I hope that you Americans with an hour less sleep are still smiling.

My wife and I have a modest collection of books between us and, when I did a bit more traveling, the book along for the ride might accumulate a ticket stub from a shuttle bus, or a boarding pass, or even a receipt from an airport café. The ticket stubs with one matte side remain my favorites, and make the best bookmarks. If I were to empty the bookshelves of their occupants and shake them by the spines, I’d find a nearly comprehensive account of dates traveled and money spent.

I recently found my copy of Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, for which a stub from the Olympia Trails bus line between Newark and Port Authority marked one of my favorite passages. Subculture represented a key work in semiotics, for it offered a decoding of the signifiers–musical, sartorial, and gestural–that differentiated punk, mod, the Teds, and reggae in the UK. It was published in 1979 and went through 10 printings in the next eight years. Rolling Stone considered it “the first book dealing with punk to offer intellectual content.” (I like Caroline Coon’s 1988: New Wave Punk Rock Explosion (1977).) Hebdige is especially eloquent on the connection between punk and reggae, and does an amazing job of unpacking punk’s debt to Rasta Britons in terms of its politics of refusal and regard for “Britishness.” In terms of music, though, Hebdige finds more counter-affinities than homologies.

“Despite the strong affinity, the integrity of the two forms – punk and reggae–was scrupulously maintained, and far from simulating reggae’s form and timbre, punk music, like every other aspect of punk style, tended to develop in direct antithesis to its apparent sources. Reggae and punk were audibly opposed. Where punk depended on the treble, reggae relied on the bass. Where punk launched frontal assaults on the established meaning systems, reggae communicated through ellipsis and allusion.” (Subculture, pp. 67-68)

Musically, especially circa 1977, punk rejected the sources of prog rock and rock-as-art by affirming rocknroll that embraced a more working-class aesthetic via homages to Eddie Cochran (The Pistols’ “C’mon Everybody”), The Trashmen (The Ramones’ “Surfer Bird”), and Bobby Fuller (The Clash’s “I Fought the Law”). The Pistols, though, in their less-than-earnest cover of Chuck Berry, indicated that their adoration for the blackness of popular music history fell far short of fawning, if predictably disrespectful.

Hebdige continues: “Indeed, the way in which the two forms were rigorously, almost wilfully segregated would seem to direct us towards a concealed identity, which in turn can be used to illuminate larger patterns of interaction between immigrant and host communities. To use a term from semiotics, we could say that punk includes reggae as a ‘present absence’ — a black hole around which punk composes itself.” (p. 68)

Outside of Bad Brains, perhaps, and maybe Fishbone (if you’re willing to make that stretch), this black hole proved massive in US punk: from New York to LA, by way of Minneapolis, any trace of black aesthetics was left on the cutting room floor–even though, from the get-go, The Clash demonstrated that the history could be otherwise.

With the inclusion of “Police and Thieves” on their debut LP, and its regular appearance in their live shows, The Clash did a much better job than the Pistols in terms of their adherence to a key maxim of The Situationist International: “be reasonable, demand the impossible.” In terms of politics and aesthetics, few did it better, as demonstrated below, in a live clip from Birmingham, 1 May 1978.

(Youtube looks askance on embedding clips of The Clash it seems — so here it is.)

A Strummer-centric camera man finds Joe and Clash fanatics at their jittery best. On the LP, alongside a host of other great tracks, “Police and Thieves” allows the listener to imagine the greatness that will follow. Listening today to the first recorded tracks of so many bands from that era — Scritti Politti and Echo and the Bunnymen, e.g., — there’s no sense from the early tracks that either band will eventually produce something as sublime as “Wood Beez” or “Never Stop.”

Thanks for reading all the way. You American motorcar commuters be careful on the roads tomorrow.