Greetings, fine readers! Right ’round 35 years ago today, the offspring of punk were charting a host of compelling directions. Sure, the loud-fast-snotty aesthetic was still the rage among the most full of rage, but the bloom was also on the New Romantics, by way of Orange Juice (among others). Against the gloom of the eyeliner and trenchcoat contingent, Edwyn Collins and crew charted a pop-friendly course, with cheery, cheeky lyrics, reverby rhythm guitar, and cymbal crashes of ebullience.
“Blue Boy,” their second single, came out in August 1980 on Postcard Records (think Josef K, too), and sustained one of the real trademarks of new wave commodities: the secret message in the run-off groove: side A asked, “When is an artist at his most dangerous?” Side B answered, “When he’s drawing a gun.”
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!
So, it’s Wednesday again (all day), and here’s one of SF’s finest: The Avengers, who got things started in ’77 (as so many great bands did), featured Penelope Houston on lead vocals, and Danny Furious on drums (with perhaps the best drummer’s name of all time.) Furious’s affinity for steady crashes on the cymbals is part of their brittle and beautiful sound, and reflects the influence of another band you probably know about — the Sex Pistols, for whom The Avengers opened for at Winterland in January 1978, before we all got just what we deserved.
I haven’t heard the whole thing just yet, but Gary Crowley has put together a nice mix of covers from the punk/new wave era here — and here’s a little cover by The Avengers, which I fancy a bit, and who are still at it, mostly around my beloved San Francisco.
McLaren, by gawd, where would we be without him? He was a prick, and prickly, and a composer in the best sense — i.e., “putting together.” He took Richard Hell’s aesthetic and commodified it into low couture, and imbued the Rotten&Jones&Matlock&Cook brand with a bit more danger and a whole lot of profit.
While most folks might be inclined toward McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” I was more mesmerized by “Madame Butterfly” — there was, of course, nothing else like it on the radio, popular or semi-popular. (Bless SF’s KQAK for finding room for such an anomaly.) I never bothered to decipher the libretto, but always understood the track as the logical extension of the lush sound of ABC, Spandau Ballet, and Scritti Pollitti (Cupid & Psyche era). I still have yet to unearth the LP itself, to see what else McLaren was up to on Fans (1984), but look forward to that archeo-pop dig on youtube before too long.
Here’s the album cover. What a beautiful weirdo, RIP.
Thanks to the demented and brilliant 24 Hour Party People (and many a fine book), we have a fleeting sense of the musical vigor of Manchester back in the day, and the connection between punk, post-punk, and rave culture.
It’s Joy Division, of course, and Happy Mondays, and others, including A Certain Ratio, who are described in the film as “having all the energy of Joy Division but better clothes.” I can’t attest to the clothes part, but you can hear the influence of Ian Curtis’ voice, and the energy and aesthetic of Gang of Four and the Leeds crowd (Delta 5, et. al.). In good analog fashion, A Certain Ratio released their first album on cassette only in 1979.
“Do the Du” remains danceable from beginning to end, includes plenty of space to breathe, and sounds absolutely fresh today. And to think Madonna opened for them! (I do miss the 10pm buffet supper.)
Wow. How did I miss The Judy’s the first time around? With their minimalist sound, nasal-and-earnest vocals with irony-laced topical texts, these guys are right in the wheelhouse of my musical sublime — and they hailed from Pearland, Texas, of all places (which is not the Austin region of Texas).
The Judy’s got together in ’79 and, after a name change or two, released the EP Teenage Hang-ups in 1980, which in its original design included the track ““Will Somebody Please Kill Marlo Thomas?” (of Free to Be … You and Me fame), but the guy at the pressing plant balked.
Their wicked sense of humor is in full effect in this clip, when they baptize the audience in Kool-Aid. Goodness, gracious.
Check out their web site, where you can pick up vinyl, CDs, and other merch–I have no affiliation, of course. This site is a public service.
Here’s a short documentary you might like, too — punks in cut-off jeans and Hawaiian shirts? Does it get any better, ever?
My introduction to Cabaret Voltaire came by way of a mind-blowing compilation tape from Rough Trade: If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul (1985). I was familiar with Yello and The The, and Marc Almond of course, but I hardly knew what to make of Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel (a ridiculously offensive name, but the beats!), Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Test Dept.
Cabaret Voltaire’s “Product Patrol” offered no conceit of plug-into-amps instrumental mastery, which of course followed up on their earlier experiments, including “Western Mantra,” which is 35 years old today.
Yes, it’s 20 minutes plus, but still capable of wow-ing even the heaviest of ADHD-ers with its beats and pure audacity. CV got started in Sheffield in 1973, signing with Rough Trade in ’78, and found an audience in punk devotees shortly after. They made a beautiful racket in different incarnations for years, and Richard Kirk is still at it as recently as last year. Nicely done!
‘allo readers! Thanks for tuning into K-SAT. I’m quite excited about two gigs this week. One in the Catskills on Saturday (3/21) (a bit expensive, yeah) and the other at Amherst College (3/25) (a freebie!). Both should be a gas.
It’s been 35 years (and a day) since Young Marble Giants’ released their lone LP, Colossal Youth. The brothers Moxham and Alison Statton hail from Cardiff, Wales, and offered up a real gem of five-star LP, as noted in Sounds at the time. It certainly heralds the mellower moments in early Liz Phair, the softer passages of early Hole (“Credit … ” is a YMG tune), and so much more — and yet, it still sounds astonishingly fresh today.
“Brand New Life” offers up that first 60 seconds or so with a tension that you know, and adore, and you wait with jaw clenched for the thing to erupt — and well, if you don’t know what happens next, you know what the next three minutes of your day should include. C’mon: it’ll make you even happier!
I’m right about to the end of Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen’s brilliant We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk, and–perhaps as you could have guessed, or know all too well–there’s no heroic, triumphant crescendo to be found. The LA punk scene, which originated around Hollywood with all sorts of polymorphous perversity and inclusive musical takes on what punk meant, transmogrified as it migrated south to Orange County into a hyper-masculine, often violent parody of punk that has had a surprisingly long (and tragic) shelf life.
Amid the chaos and camaraderie of the era emerged some great groups like The Germs, who could really bang out a decent tune when lead singer Darby Crash wanted to (which was rarely, it seems), including this one:
(When ads for Myrtle Beach appear before classic punk tracks on youtube, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Aging can be a cruel mistress.) I pity the self-destructive, and Crash made good on his chosen moniker, of course, with a little help from the old musical nemesis of heroin.
I’m happy to see Stealing back in the top-20 at amazon, and hope if you’ve read it, that you’ll add your rating and a few words to either amazon or good reads (where people really wanted another Clash bio, it seems). It really helps get the word out about my little rock’n’roll tale. And do drop me a line if you’re near the Catskills (a 3/21 appearance) or western Massachusetts (a 3/25 talk).
And now it’s time for a second cuppa, and to get this day started. Rock on!
Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where every Wednesday I cue up a great tune from back in the day, and a bit of the tune’s back-story (as time allows). Once again I’ve been paging through John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History, learning about tales and tracks I wasn’t privy to the first time around.
Wire’s Pink Flag (1977), of course, remains a staple on best-o-lists for the time and punk writ large, and casts a long shadow on subsequent LPs (and their key tracks). Wire’s label was EMI, and of course all the labels were still learning what to do with punk and its arty offshoots. In summer ’78, Wire released “Outdoor Miner,” which charted ahead of a scheduled appearance for the band on Top of the Pops.
As Colin Newman recalled, after the TOTP slot was cancelled, “that was our big moment gone, where we could have been weird and pop at the same time!” The situation was complicated by the pulling of the single from the charts due to rumors about “the possibility that inducements had been offered for the sale of the single to be exaggerated in chart return shops.” For the Yanks among you, read: rumors of payola, which might as well have been confirmed, and the single and the LP never recovered. The single, though, deserved a real shot, and heralds the fine work of many bands, most conspicuously Pavement. Wire’s still at it though, and good for them. I hope the music’s paying the bills.
For readers of Stealing All Transmissions: even if you didn’t buy the book from amazon (US link, UK link), it’s where people look for reviews, etc. If you have a few minutes, please consider leaving your feedback. It makes all the difference for little books of little publishers. Thanks!