post-punk gems, v. 74 — Tom Tom Club

Lots and lots of anniversaries today, as you twitter-ing will know: TH’s *Little Creatures,* the debut LP by a band called Duran Duran (whatever happened to them, anyway?), and I’m sure there were a couple more, too.

Talking Heads, though, and the whole aura around their artiness, began to wear on Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth: hence the birth of Tom Tom Club, and their first single, released 34 years ago this week: “Wordy Rappinghood.”

The impulse behind the side project had everything to do with, well, David Byrne, and New York in general, according to Chris Frantz, who’s one of the real gentlemen of the music industry:

“We wanted to make a real musical anti-snob record because we’re fed up to here with all the seriousness which surrounds Talking Heads. It’s as if just by being in TH you’re expected to think very heavily about everything … We were consciously trying to get away from … being influenced by heavy philosophies and drugs and … nihilistic attitudes … it’s the only kind of emotion they can get behind in New York.”

They did, of course, draw heavily on the hip-hop aesthetic shaping New York at the time. Sessions took place in the Caribbean, and the duo were joined by Monte Brown, Steven Stanley, Adrian Belew (one of the happiest performers I’ve ever seen), and Tina’s three sisters. Their LP from much later, *Boom Boom Chi Boom Boom,* has to be one of the most underrated LPs of the late 80s. Cheers!

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punk ’77: the inclusive genre

Happy Sunday, folks. For the fifth and final Sunday of March, I’m taking a last look at chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, and thinking about how inclusive the designation of “punk” was on the front end. I figure the criteria for deeming something punk included:

  • anti-virtuosic musical gestures
  • any mention of social class
  • weird hair or clothing
  • a sound people didn’t know how else to categorize.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Bruce Springsteen is deemed “baroque-punk” by the New York Times (March 1978) because he sings about the working class (2).
  • Blue Oyster Cult is written up in the debut issue of Sniffin’ Glue (4) and, due to the connection between’ BOC’s Allen Lanier and Patti Smith, The Patti Smith Group and The Ramones (!) appear on the same bill in February 1977.

Bands designated “punk” also ended up on some pretty amazing concert bills, including:

  • AC/DC doing an impromptu set after a performance by The Marbles (a pop-punk combo, and even that’s a stretch) at CBGB.
  • Springsteen on acoustic guitar, opening for the New York Dolls at Max’s, back in August 1972.

    Big Star, 1974.
    Big Star, 1974.
  • Big Star (okay, punk forebears) as the warm-up act for comedian (?) Ed Begley, Jr., at Max’s, March 1974.

(And, apparently a combo called Sirius Trixon and the Motor City Bad Boys hit Max’s in 1977, with The Dead Boys and The Cramps as opening acts, and Trixon’s facebook page is under construction and has been for awhile. It’d be good to get some of their tunes online, if anyone can help.)

  • Sleepy LaBeef, opening up for The Cramps, at Max’s in December ’78.
  • At LA’s Starwood, in April 1977, The Quick opening for The Damned, who were well out in from of every other UK act in terms of leading the next wave of the British invasion.

Okay. I’ve now been home for a night, and I think it’s time I make some time for listening to some punk ’77 to help usher in the warmth and joy of spring. Cheers!

Also: Did you see this?

 

the voice of punk, ’77

Good morning, fine readers. I’m trying to be disciplined here, and stay true to my hope to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book) by post elaborations of key points or something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.

Today, though, I’m still in chapter 1, thinking about punk vocal styles, and their connection to Paul Morley’s vital words on Kraftwerk (see full quote here): “The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop … was art, noise, technology, ideas … a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty.”

Here’s the single version of “Autobahn” (1975), their first track to reach the US charts:

And sure, we might be concerned when Germans (or anyone for that matter) is making aesthetic choices that reflect racialized categories, but that’s not the prime mover here, of course. The different styles of black American music — R&B, soul, jazz, and blues, gospel, etc. — cast such a long shadow on popular music in the West that it was difficult to forge something new (see: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, et. al.). By the mid-1970s, a desperation for something new arose in Dusseldorf, London, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and elsewhere, and singers like Tom Verlaine, Joey Ramone, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, the gents in Devo and, of course, David Byrne, were onto something.

So, when Talking Heads make their way from the Rhode Island School of Design to the Bowery, they confirm — as they sing on their debut LP — “It’s not, yesterday, anymore!” David Byrne’s vocals are the most definitive departure, sound-wise, and here’s how Stephen Demorest’s described his approach in his Rolling Stone review of ’77:

“Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, ‘bad’ voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.)”

Not bad, I’d say, and it heralds a question I hope to pursue in a future post: of the American bands in the punk and post-punk era, how come only Talking Heads dared reinvent themselves from album to album (or every other album)? What is it about American notions of masculinity, authenticity, and musicality that allowed bands to mellow (e.g., Husker Du and The Replacements, and often begrudgingly), but not dare pursue metamorphoses? Think of Brits such as John Lydon (from Pistols to PiL), The Clash (Rope to London Calling, or Sandinista! to Combat Rock), The Damned (Strawberries to Phantasmagoria), to begin. I’m sure art school and notions of artifice play a big role.

Thanks for tuning into K-SAT!

(post-) punk gems, v. 54 — Bad Manners’ “Do Nothing”

Oh, man, we had such a good time at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archive–which has such a great staff, and I know it’s not their fault, but wouldn’t it be cool if the moniker were a bit more slangy, say “Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame Library’n’Archive”?

rdAnyway: if you tried to tune in, let me offer my apologies. There were technical difficulties, of course, and I’ll post here and on twitter if in fact there is a full recording, and it’s made available. I was hoping to show off my two-tone outfit, complete with silver shark-skin jacket, but I guess the pix that night (more forthcoming) will have to do for now.

On my ska/Specials station on Pandora, I made the acquaintance this week of this unbelievable track: Bad Manners’ version of The Specials’ “Do Nothing” in triple time.

Maybe I might have put the horns up front in the mix (and blended in the guitars a bit lower) on that first section, but otherwise, you can just feel the hot breath of the horn section and Buster Bloodvessel pouring through the speakers. I really adore the punk and post-punk revival of the cover tune, as longtime readers may recall (check out this post).

I hope to be back tomorrow with a section from Thursday’s talk–or something else entirely. Thanks for checking in!

quick check — Paul Morley: a writer’s writer

Oh, it’s been a busy day, and I’m a bit late getting to my weekly Sunday musing. As I noted in last Sunday’s post, I want to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book), and to post something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.

Perhaps no other writer blew my pea brain into smithereens than Paul Morley in Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City (2003) (review here). morleyIt’s a masterful book, and one day I hope to find an afternoon to muster the consideration it deserves. In brief: find a few hours (this is of course after you read my book — haha) to alternate reading the book and sitting in front of youtube, working your way through the lists he provides for each key year in pop, from 1624 through 2001. Then, for the truly dedicated, you can get after the lists at the back of the book on various themes, which I have yet to even crack.

Above all else, Morley gives Kraftwerk their due, and his devotion is profound, and inspired the following passage:

“The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop, then, was not blues, soul, America, beat, sex, love cliche — it was art, noise, technology, ideas. Their music was a completely new model, based on a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty. What if it began in the avant-garde, in metal, in celebration, in abstract art, in universal awe, in modern comfort laced with psychology anxiety.”
(p. 125)

Chew on that for a spell. For my taste, it doesn’t get much juicier or delightful.

Here’s a more recent piece to get you started on Morley’s handiwork.

And, for those of you looking for news on The Clash or punk, check out this composition, which confirms the alternate history of September 21 I proposed in Stealing All Transmissions.

Cheers!

(post-) punk gems, v. 50 — (The) Plastics

Happy hump-day readers! The high-profile anniversary this time around is the UK release of London Calling (35 years awesome this week), and I’m pleased that the good folks at Louder Than War decided to share a section of Stealing All Transmissions that celebrates that delightful twin-platter of vinyl. Also: check out the formidable list of fine books from 2014 noted at Counterfire.

Lost in the wide consensus about the awesomeness of those four sides of vinyl is the 35th anniversary of the emergence of The Plastics, from Tokyo, and their debut single, “Copy.” As George Gimarc notes in his amazing, amazing Punk Diary, “What if Devo had grown up in Tokyo instead of Akron? What would they sound like?”

They honed their sound, though, and came back the following year with the more melodic “Top Secret Man,” which is a gem worth celebrating over and over.

A contemporary band calling themselves “The Plastics” has no relation to this landmark combo, who cast a long shadow on Nippon Pop bands such as Polysics, Pizzicato Five, and Stereo Total, and the latter’s cover of “I Love You, Oh No” was eventually used to sell Dell computers. How fitting.

 

 

(post-) punk gems, v. 43 — Riff Raff

echo84One of my fondest concert memories is from September 1984, when I saw Echo and the Bunnymen on the Ocean Rain tour at the Berkeley Community Theater. My dear friend Brian and I were in row 3, just close enough to be ordained by the sweat shaking off of guitarist Will Sergeant, who that year had some of the best hair in the business. (That’s him at 6 o’clock.)

As I noted in post-punk v. 38, Billy Bragg  made an unannounced appearance after the opening act (the fun-loving Fleshtones), who had made a bit of a stir in the UK already as part of Riff Raff. It was 34 years ago this week that Riff Raff released four singles, including “Little Girls Know,” on their own Geezer Records label.

I dig the simplicity of this track, of the resonance of young kids with guitars, making a go of it, DIY-style, in the post-punk genre of sub-folk.

So the book is out, and getting some modest attention at this point. If you’re interested in a preview of sorts, check out this interview I did last week with the fantastic folks who put together the New Books in Popular Music podcast.