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.
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 (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!
Greetings, readers! So I’m back at the book again here, mining chapter 3, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” for another gem related to the DIY spirit. The clamor, of course, was ringing from speakers on the stage and in bedrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, as 1977 saw the release of the 2nd Ramones’ LP, Talking Heads: 77, Television’s Marquee Moon, The Clash, two LPs each by The Damned and The Stranglers and, almost late in the game, came the debut LP by The Sex Pistols. The DIY ethos informed the fanzines, too–most notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, which popularized the cut-and-paste ransom-note aesthetic and, for better or worse, fomented the yer-either-with-us-or-against-us ethos that led to a narrow definition of punk.
Perry’s search in ’76 for written coverage of his new favorite bands turned up almost nothing. “One time I was at [the record shop] Rock On, trying to find out if there were any magazines I could read about these bands in,” Perry recalled. “There weren’t, so the people behind the counter suggested flippantly that I should go and start my own. So I did” (Stealing, p. 42). And did so quickly, and with a sensibility that’s been confirmed nearly four decades hence, as the cover of issue #6 from January ’77 rightly confirms. Perry, too, knew that before too long, his subjects were also his readers. “John Lydon had it, Strummer had it, Rat Scabies had it,” Perry reported. “I thought, ‘If I say this in the Glue, it’s going to happen.’ I knew that, and that’s what fueled me, knowing that it was being taken seriously” (Ibid.).
Perry, alas, took himself too seriously, and did so for years. You might think after a couple decades he might back away from punk-inspired claims such as, “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS,” but no. For John Robb’s Punk Rock, Perry stuck to his ideological guns:
“These guys weren’t about to smash their Gibson & Fender guitars all over the stage, were they? … they manipulated punk into ‘OK, we won’t have a riot, we will sing about it instead.’ Which is cool, at least someone’s singing about it — but don’t try to make out that are some hard revolutionary. You’re just in a pop band — which the Clash ended up being. They were a great pop band, but nothing to do with punk. The real punk bands came a couple of years later, the bands we all hated like the Exploited and all those nasty working-class people [laughs] that have convictions and have been in trouble with the police …” (p. 340).
So, the requisite credentials include: smashing expensive gear, trouble with the law, and you need to be as tedious as The Exploited? As a period piece, The Exploited were perfect, but how many times can you listen to songs that repeat the same phrase in a chorus and construct musical bridges from watered down heavy metal riffs?
Punk is a many-a-splendored thing and, as guitarist Marco Pirroni rightly noted, “This whole Mark P thing that [the Pistols] should sign to Bumhole Records for no money was stupid — that would never work.” The Clash’s refusal to become a self-parody by making the same album over and over again is a testament to their greatness, not a failure. And please: if we’re talking about class credentials, lay off Mick Jones. “Rock’n’roll Mick” did what any poor boy with enough pounds for a guitar and an unassailable work ethic would do: he dedicated his life to rock’n’roll, and made the world a better place.
I will give Mark P. due credit, though, for rocking Alternative TV well into the 21st century–and tonight, 8 March, in Brighton. Cheers!
Good morning, K-SAT readers. It’s month 3 on the calendar, so I’m mining chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions for a couple more gems that I hope you’ll fancy. In “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” I move through ’76 and the formation of The Clash into 1977, and map what’s happening in the new periodicals popping up in New York, including Punk and New York Rocker.
Robert Christgau reported that he and Richard Goldstein picked up The Clash’s debut on import vinyl at Bleecker Bob’s, put it on the turntable, and the response? “‘This is fucking great!'” There is, of course, so much that is great about their eponymous debut (I love using the word “eponymous”), and I think about Simonon having just learned his parts, and the joy and the frustration and the catharsis in “Janie Jones,” the (ironic) contempt of “Hate and War,” and the beautiful treble-y-ness of it all. I also think about the question of duration. You’ve got 14 tracks here: four are up-and-done in under two minutes; five more take but 30 seconds more.
At the time, Christgau and his comrades at the Village Voice loved popular music, but they also liked to celebrate newcomers, too, as reflected in the Pazz and Jop polls of 1976 and 1977:
Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla)
Graham Parker & the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)
Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum)
Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howlin’ Wind (Mercury)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.)
Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC)
Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum)
Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.)
Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)
Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)
Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
Steely Dan: Aja(ABC)
Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)
Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)
Cheap Trick: In Color (Epic)
Now there’s a more scientific way to do this, of course, but let’s just look at the #1s here: Stevie Wonder’s Songs: 17 tracks, 85 minutes, and The Pistols’ Bollocks: 11 tracks, 34 minutes. Certainly Graham Parker and The Ramones heralded a shift in median song duration, but wow: what a difference a year makes.
The Clash doesn’t make the list, I believe, because the folks at the Voice, including Christgau, discovered the album in early 1978. (He would later claim it as his favorite Clash LP, and even his favorite punk LP, if I recall correctly.)
You can find the full polls here and here. And, if you’re paying close attention, you’ll see that the LPs included here by the band “Ramones” did not include a definite article. Like “Talking Heads.” Now, you might find the occasional book that identifies (correctly) “CBGB” rather than “CBGBs,” but I’ve never seen a book refer to this band as “Ramones,” without the “the.” The iconic t-shirt, of course, notes “Ramones,” but all the writers got it wrong. Pretty wild.
Happy icy Sunday, folks! Not even in the days of icy fog in my youth in Stockton, CA, might I have imagined that I’d be celebrating a day’s high temperature of 28F as perfectly balmy. In fleeting moments, we’re all Bostonians now.
For today’s bit, I’m digging deeper into the themes of chapter 2, “From Sgt. Pepper’s to Born to Run: The Rise of Free-Form Radio,” from Stealing All Transmissions. Free-form radio, of course, had a key role in celebrating The Beatles, The Who, and others as artists, rather than worker bees making popular music, and I suggest that Bruce Springsteen played a key role in bridging the divide between the artistic pretensions of classic rockers and the pretensions of authenticity of the punks, including The Clash.
It was in Boston’s Real Paper, of course, back in May 1974, that Jon Landau pronounced “I saw rock and roll’s future, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” About the same time, Ken Emerson in Rolling Stone gave high marks to The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle, celebrating the “punk savvy” of the lyrics of “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” I have little idea what “punk” might mean here, other than representations of the working class, which perhaps in 1974 were in short supply, thanks to the artistic turn of rock, led by The Beatles.
Now I’m a devotee of the The Beatles (and Springsteen), but The Beatles’ growth as musicians forged a divide between pop and rock. If they were, in 1964, a threat to youth morality (and eventually Christianity in particular, with Lennon and his “we’re bigger than Jesus now” quote), by 1967, they were regarded anew as purveyors of middlebrow art.
Following the release of Sgt. Pepper’s, Time magazine did a big feature on The Beatles, and framed the new rock in the rhetoric of the middlebrow aesthetic: “With characteristic self-mockery, the Beatles are proclaiming that they have snuffed out their old selves to make room for the new Beatles incarnate. And there is some truth to it. Without having lost any of the genial anarchism with which they helped revolutionize the life style of young people in Britain, Europe, and the U.S., they have moved on to a higher artistic plateau.”
Yes, on Plastic Ono Band, Lennon suggested that “a working class hero was something to be.” It couldn’t be him, though. And Springsteen, with his 1975 appearance at the Bottom Line, which was broadcast live on WNEW-FM at Richard Neer’s behest, solidified this feature of WNEW-FM, and–four years later–would be the source of The Guns of Brixton bootleg, from the September 21, 1979 concert of The Clash at the Palladium.
Keep warm out there, Clash-o-philes of the north. The winds have been more biting than Joe Strummer circa 1984!
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”?
Anyway: 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!
Yes, yes. I’m a wee bit behind, in part because I’m preparing for my gig on Thursday, which you can watch live streaming, apparently — http://rockhall.com/event/Doane/ . The event’s all ready fully booked, so I hope I respond well to the pressure. I’m sure it will be a gas. The talk is called, “Hitsville, USA: How The Clash Broke America and Gave Our Adolescence a Whole Lotta Love,” and will include a review of:
how I was inspired by the Boy Scouts of America to become an aficionado of punk
the audio territory staked out by WNEW-FM, WPLJ-FM, and WPIX-FM circa 1979
punk aesthetics, blackness, and whiteness, and why The Clash were so damned awesome.
I’ll also talk about some of the holdings at the rock hall archive, and reprise some of the book’s themes on analog and digital music fandom. Here’s a pic of me as a Boy Scout (as if Monday mornings weren’t plenty difficult already):
Also: I just found this great article on WBCN, who were big Clash advocates back in the day (Oedipus, especially). I can hardly wait to track that book down, too.