DIY: press ink on punk, circa 1977

Good morning, fine readers. I’m sticking with the chapter-by-chapter, month-by-month theme today, and — since it’s March — digging a bit deeper into chapter 3 of Stealing All Transmissions, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie.” The exposure, of course, came from indy press folks, but also mainstream press, too, more often than most folks care to remember.

Ira Robbins of Trouser Press fame was a Clash devotee, although not from the start:

“The lyrics are occasionally powerful in their anger and frustration, but they are also silly sometimes, and between that, the godawful vocals and the seemingly careless production defuse the message of these Anglo-punk rockers.” (June 1977)

 

The Clash, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.
The Clash, 1977, free of tory crimes. Photo by Kate Simon.

By the fall equinox, though, the distributor Jem Records–who delighted in upsetting labels’ plans for U.S. release dates by getting import copies into the hands of retailers and DJs alike–got The Clash into Ira’s hands, and he straightened up in a New York minute:

 

“… Of all the new wave bands that have released longplayers to date, the Clash have so much more to offer that there’s no contest. (Leave the Stranglers out of this; they’re like apples and oranges.) I really hate gushing about a new band, especially in light of all the journalistic excesses lately, but the Clash have produced such a strange and wonderful blend of pop, metal, aggro, and politics that I keep playing the sucker over and over again.

“Fronted by ultra-psycho ex-101er Joe Strummer, the Clash is two guitars and a bass, with drums provided by whoever’s around – there’s no permanent fourth man. Strummer and songwriting cohort/guitarist Mick Jones both sing horribly; lots of Cockney slurring and much expression make the lyrics nearly 100% unintelligible which is a shame, ’cause that’s the best part. It wasn’t until I obtained a bootleg libretto through international ‘channels’ that I realized what an amazing band the Clash are …” 

“Without getting involved in the political implications of anarchy in the UK, the Clash have the rage and the enthusiasm to make these lyrics work. The music fits perfectly, and the total effect is one of the wild-eyed hate of everything stupid. Get Clashed today!” (September 1977)

The Clash in Westway photo sessions, by the magnificent Adrian Boot.

Ira, too, was none too pleased when circa 1979 many folks were jumping upon the Clash bandwagon, but the mainstream press arrived earlier than most people thought, and actually didn’t say completely idiot things.

Robert Hilburn, for the Los Angeles Times, got after The Clash in September 1978 (and thereby two months ahead of the U.S. debut LP), and gets Jones-y to loosen his tongue a bit, and offers a message most folks attribute to Strummer:

“I thought rock audiences in England were apathetic when we started, but I’ve never seen as unhealthy a place for rock ‘n’ roll as America. We might be too late. It may be impossible to wake them up at this point.

“What’s worse than the rock audience are the rock bands here. If there were any way we could destroy them all at once, it’d be perfect. I think American rock bands – and the English ones, like Foreigner and Foghat, who pretend to be American – are a cancer. It’s time for us to come here with a manifesto of change. All we can do is try. If people can’t see what we are – the rock ‘n’ roll band of the ’70s – that’s their problem.”

Likewise, in a nearly 1000-word piece for Time magazine, Jay Cocks regarded the band as “four tough-strutting musicians who together lay down the fiercest, most challenging sounds in contemporary rock” (March 5, 1979), within a month of their live debut in the states. Not bad, gents. Not bad at all.

Cheers to you, and cheers to spring! If you plan to be in the Catskills next weekend, come see me at this event, if you have a few $$ for a righteous cause.

 

 

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the covers themselves — snippet from 9 Oct show

Happy Wednesday, readers. Today’s post simply offers the musical accompaniment to Sunday’s post on punk covers, and includes a few of my favorite covers by boy bands, including The Specials, Devo, Elvis Costello, The English Beat, The Clash, and another ruckusly-inclined band to wrap things up.

More news about the book is coming soon. Until then, please stand up and pogo around the office to this musical selection. Enjoy!

U2’s “The Miracle”: Homage or Requiem?

The good folks at Louder than War picked up this post — check it out here. Thanks!

Can you keep London Callling’s secret?

Happy Saturday folks! I’ll be keeping my Sunday and Wednesday posting routine through the fall, but today’s post is rather timely. I figure many folks on twitter and elsewhere are bound to be posting pix of Paul Simonon in flagrante delicto (delicio?) tomorrow in celebration of the alleged anniversary–and, alas, they’ll miss it by a day.

The anniversary of his impersonation of Paul Bunyan is 20 September, actually, and I’ve shared here four items toward that end:

  • two pages of a four-page section in Stealing All Transmissions (due out 15 October in the US, the following month in the commonwealth)
  • a still from a video clip from the 9/21 show, in which it’s clear that Simonon’s playing a bass lacking the “pressure drop” sticker preserved in the rocknroll hall of fame
  • the video itself, and
  • the audio file from the coda of the 9/20 show.

This evidence, I understand, is not definitive, and may be only of interest to the most bona-fide nutters, but it may jump-start a conversations or two, and set a-lit the hot-foot of a hater or two. (Much gratitude is due to Dave Marin — follow him on twitter here — for bringing this item to my attention and helping compile much more evidence than I’ve presented here.)

Stealing snippet

Here’s the video that’s been synched up with the Guns of Brixton bootleg audio track, along with a still from that video.

Simonon -- Palladium

And here’s the audio clip of perfectly punk quality from the 20 September show, in which you can hear quite a ruckus at the end. (The 21 September show has nothing of the sort.)

 

Again: it’s simply a fun stir of the pot here, which I hope you’ve enjoyed.

key punk covers — not a best-of list

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I wish there were some pithy way to riff on the absurdity of the posturing in DC, with the continued separation of keywords  (“negotiate,” “good faith,” “will of the people,” “Americans for Prosperity”) from their historical meaning, but it is distinctive, awe-inspiring and, in the end, I figure, alas, brutal and debilitating.

So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and there’s rarely anything wrong with that.

It seems impossible that there isn’t a great punk cover between 1979 and 1985, but I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Enjoy!

first listen — #Soundsystem

Happy day, Clash-o-philes!

It’s a day of rest, so they say, and I’ve got The Clash’s *Sound System* on my mind–okay, not the big, expensive one, but something that amazon (and others, I figure) are calling 5 Album Studio Set–which is not to be confused with 5 Studio Album Set, which is the same thing, but presently $0.21 more expensive. Nice work, amazon!

Note: this packaging may reference Paul’s inaugural arrival in the states in ’78, when he showed up at JFK carrying nothing more than a carrying case of LPs.

The reviews, of course, are nicely compiled at theclashblog, and Tim provides useful commentary on each commentary. In brief: reviewers are happy to talk about The Clash’s importance (big), the price of the boxset (big), and are having difficulty finding the time to actually listen to the music and–most importantly–to determine whether the remastering by “Tim Young and The Clash” yields new sonic pleasures to those of us who already have the studio albums (either on vinyl, CD, or iTunes). I’m staying away from those reviews for the moment

With that in mind, I sat down with Pete, as good as a listening comrade you could find, and I loaded up the CD carousel with the original discs alongside the new discs and compared a sample of key tracks. We started, of course, from the beginning and the exercise was worth the purchase price. No other recent purchase has compelled me to sit in the sweet spot of stereophonic sound and enjoy music the way we used to.

Why I’m suspicious that some of the reviewers haven’t found the time to actually listen to the discs: the discs are vinyl black, even on the flipside. There’s no room, of course, to discuss the visuals in a 70-word review (see Rolling Stone), but for those of us who were raised on vinyl, it’s an especially nice touch, and an indication I figure of Paul’s impeccable aesthetic sensibility. (Yes, that’s my book there in the image below–more on its fate below.)

clash0001

Of all the LPs, I figure Mick & co. would be tempted to mess with *The Clash* the least. It wasn’t supposed to be an audiophile object: that was the whole point of The Clash in ’77. It did, of course, prevent the release of *The Clash* in the US (CBS deemed the LP “too noisy”) and, largely because of the New York fan base, went on to become the best-selling import LP in the US to date. If you’re interested in repeating this exercise at home, make certain that you’re comparing *The Clash* UK version, rather than the US version, as the tracks on the US release of *The Clash* in 1979 got a different treatment in the final mix.

So, here goes my own interpretive dance about architecture, as E. Costello once noted … The first thing you’ll notice with the new discs is the mix is loud. It proved a challenge bouncing between CDs, simply because the *Sound* version carries extra decibels. “Janie Jones” opens sparingly, of course, with the drums, guitar strum, and Joe’s voice and, on the *Sound* version, the phasing of the vocals is sharper, the bass is a tad warmer, and the drums are sharper in the mix. With “Cheat,” the slight but still noticeable improvements hold sway: Joe’s vocals are a bit sharper, the drums a tad snappier, and it sounds great. With “White Riot,” especially, the proof is in the Yorkshire pudding. Mick’s sweet guitar lick just before the vocals sounds crisper, but it’s the opening chorus that grabbed me anew: the vocals are cleaner and still carry more urgency. The stereo phasing is great, and Terry Chimes could hit those drums damn hard, and it’s clear-as-class-warfare in this mix. (It was also good to compare this version to the US mix, which substitutes a police siren for Joe’s counting off the tempo, and is otherwise now to be regarded as a weird period piece.)

More comparative listening notes to come next week. Even the 5 album set is a big package, and there’s plenty to work through.

I hope a few of you fine readers have had a chance to check out my book, which is now presently without a publisher. If you like the book, and you have some connections to a press that might like to take it over, please be in touch. I appreciate any and all considerations, no matter how small or remote.

Have a delightful and dub-heavy week!

White Man in Hammersmith Palais — 35 years ago (!) this week

 Thanks for checking out today’s track on radio K-SAT, and happy father’s day to the male breeders among you. If the options are to age gracefully, or to rage against the fading of the light, I figure you’re probably striking a nice balance between the two, if you’re still reading about punk, post-punk, and assorted effluvia. Either way, time waits for no homo sapien, and it was 35 years ago this week when The Clash, alone at the eye of Hurricane Punk, released “(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais”/”The Prisoner” (17 June 1978). (The single’s wikipedia entry currently notes that it was produced by Sandy Pearlman. If one of you guttersnipes is up for it, please change it to say “Mick Jones (producer) and Simon Humphries (engineer)”–or simply “The Clash,” as noted on the single itself.)

 

Following their eponymous debut LP, upon which they affirmed the pleasures of the pro-cegenation of punk and reggae with their cover of “Police and Thieves,” “White Man” finds Sir Strummer, 25, as a default punk patriarch, sharing the lessons learned from the days of yore (i.e., 1976-1977).

From the opening bars of “ooh-ooh” harmonies to the final self-effacing verse, “White Man” still resonates politically and aesthetically, and it’s no wonder that Strummer included this song on many-a-Mescaleros’ playlists. According to Pat Gilbert (Passion is a Fashion, pp. 371-372) in Strummer’s final live appearance it served as the encore’s coda–and it simply hadn’t been reserved for encores in previous gigs.

“White Man” is often cited as one of The Clash’s best, and today I try to imagine myself as a UK punk encountering “White Man” upon its release. The opening bars are trebly, like all punk circa 1977, but the tempo’s slow, and the melody-and-rhythm’s Caribbean. The “ooh-ooh”s extend the sense of humor from the debut LP, and Jones and Simonon come in strong vocally for  “white youth, black youth” (full lyrics here), in order to hammer the point home. And, by the time Strummer’s singing about my life on the dole, he’s already schooled me on the limits of armed revolution, the tonnage of the British army, and the perils of projecting onto black Britons a more developed revolutionary consciousness. When I hear Strummer snarl, “Punk rockers in the UK,” I get excited, thinking, yes–the reprise of “White Riot”!, only to learn that Strummer figures me-and-my-lot aren’t paying close attention, due in part to our inclination for “fighting”–and male youth is so inclined, because there’s so much at stake, right? But then, in the next line, Strummer suggests that the stakes comprise little more than “a good spot under the lighting.” Oh … ouch. And yes: I suppose the Teds weren’t the real enemy (thank g-d for the reprise on the day of Elvis’s death), and maybe punk masculinity had run amok by 1978, and, well, damn — now what, Joe?