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.”
So, rude boys, rude girls, it’s been 35 years now, since The English Beat released single #4, “Best Friend,” backed with “Stand Down Margaret”–perhaps the most danceable anti-Thatcher tune of the era. (Nuclear anxiety produced some damn fine music, as did anxiety and angst toward Thatcher-Reagan writ large.) All proceeds from the tune went to the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, which was one of a host of righteous causes the Beat supported back in the day.
I caught Dave Wakeling and his 20-something ska all-stars under the name of English Beat back in 2000 at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, and again in 2013. The first time ’round remains one of my favorite moments of fandom amidst my Cleveland rock’n’roll brethren. At the age of 32, I was among the youngest people in the crowd and, when they played the opening bars of “I Confess,” the 800+ of us started into pogoing. Mikey Mike, our surrogate Ranking Roger for the evening, went backstage, grabbed his video camera, and started recording us. I imagine it was the first time he’d seen that many people that old have so much fun before. Indeed, Cleveland rocks.
Hey folks! It’s a slow summer, prose-wise, for me, but I am keeping track of our musical history, and it’s been 35 years since New Order — appearing under the name “No Name,” since they had no name — made their live debut, opening for A Certain Ratio in Manchester, just two months plus after Ian Curtis’ demise. In front of 100 folks or so, prior to deciding upon a vocalist, they played instrumental tunes, novel, but somehow familiar, according to the write-up in New Music News:
“… we were all agreed that the intensity and novelty of the performance conspired to produce an overall effect rarely equaled. If the band can maintain this level then their future is secured, whatever their name …”
Their brilliant first single, “Ceremony,” would come out the following year and, in the years that followed, I spent many hours parsing the images of their record sleeves while the vinyl spun ’round the turntable. More so than any other band I knew at age 14, their music sprung from the alternate track of pop–not from Elvis Costello back to The Beatles, but from The Velvet Underground through Kraftwerk.
Thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT after an unexpected break. I’m surfacing after wrapping up the first stage of another project (under wraps for now, but more info soon), and I’m delighted to be better acquainted now with the more recent history of punk in northeast Ohio (which is affectionately referred to as “NEO” ’round these parts. Although “neo-punk” is something else entirely.)
The GC5 (Grady Coffee 5), a Mansfield, OH quintet, got rolling in the mid-90s, released a couple LPs and an EP, and broke up circa 2003. Singer-guitarist Doug McKean is regarded by many as one of the best songwriters from the area of his generation. Their sound begins with the hard-and-fast Orange County aesthetic, but quickly takes on a bit more subtlety, especially around song structures and vocal phrasing. There’s a clear debt to Stink-era Replacements: they do an affectionate cover of “Bastards of Young” and offer a homage to Chris Mars by taking his debut album title for their 1st EP: Horseshoes and Handgrenades. Bob Stinson (RIP) would have been properly, and colorfully, impressed.
This past Saturday, GC5 alum appeared in their current form as The Boys from the County Hell (a Pogues song title) at Cleveland Calling, a fundraiser for the Joe Strummer Foundation at the Euclid Tavern. (Full disclosure: I was a late add to the bill, and read a few passages from *Stealing.*) With a line-up of acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass and drums, with intermittent use of a horn section, mandolin, and accordion, BCH offered a rousing, faithful homage to The Clash–and, in the case of “Rudie Can’t Fail” and “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”–offered the crowd a more faithful homage than The Clash ever did to the songs on vinyl. As far as I know, The Clash never made room onstage for a brass section.
BCH ply their wares seasonally as a Pogues tribute band. For you NEO residents: catch them while you can! And a big shout-out to All Dinosaurs for kicking off the event and riling up the crowd. Cheers!
Freud was right: the narcissism of small differences permeates nearly all of human history, and our ability to find those small differences (musical taste, of course), and to magnify the something into everything (see Nick Hornby’s *High Fidelity*), is something we’re all familiar with. This tendency typically prevents a real dialogue, and so the person who draws these boundaries (“I am here in the righteous zone, and you are over there in the suck zone”) rarely gets properly schooled on the complexity of motives–including the profit motive–that inform, say, not releasing The Clash (1977) in the U.S. in its original form.
Luckily, Paul Doughtery, @ https://punkbeforepunk.wordpress.com/about/, put pen to paper to let Bruce Harris, director of A&R on the east coast for Epic, to impugn his character and rail against “the man” for his bean-counter mentality.
Astonishingly, Bruce (RIP — taken from us much too early) wrote back. The full letter is here and here.
Harris affirms the most basic duty of a record guy (make, rather than lose, money), his affinity for The Vibrators, The Adverts, and Blondie, and rightly dismisses the organizing principle of Paul’s original letter, that the LP would change the complexion of the American marketplace.
The success of The Clash (UK) as an import–allegedly the best-selling import of the time, according to Robert Christgau (and not cross-verified anywhere)–does not contradict Harris’ claim. It supports it, since the import LP is more sacred than the domestic LP, and it gets more New York punks fired up with indignation about guys like Bruce Harris. It also inspires promoter Wayne Forte to figure that if 1000 import LPs had sold at Bleecker Bob’s, that he was not going to bother with The Bottom Line, which seated 400 (p. 82).
And, in part because of Forte’s hubris, which was in part inspired by Harris’ crazy-like-a-fox pragmatism, The Clash played the Palladium on their 1st three visits to New York City, and the rest, well, is one most exciting chapters in the history of rock’n’roll.
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!
My, oh my, it’s June, so I’m moving on to ch. 6 in Stealing, and the second trip of The Clash to the US in late summer/fall.
On the night after Paul Simonon’s iconic impersonation of Paul Bunyan, at the Palladium in NYC, on 20 Sept 1979, The Clash played the Palladium again, and the show was broadcast live on WNEW-FM. This transmission was the source of the *Guns of Brixton* bootleg, during which you can hear Joe Strummer riffing between songs on the headline in the NY Post.
And, while the show never did materialize, it wasn’t so far-fetched, given recent events among the former Beatles. McCartney, to begin, in his new contract with CBS, included a clause allowing him to make any recording with “John Lennon, Richard Starkey and George Harrison recording together as The Beatles.” The industry could get weird about stuff like this (recall reedist Eric Dolphy playing with John Coltrane under the name “Harold Land” on the *Ole* LP), so this clause was a big deal.
In 1976, promoter Sid Bernstein offered the not-quite-lads a cool $230 million to reunite for an American tour. Lorne Michaels of SNL fame offered the band $3,000 to reunite for three songs on the show. And, in 1979, Bernstein took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to invite The Beatles to reunite for a concert to benefit Vietnamese refugees. Again, they took a pass. See here for more info.
Also, for folks in the SF Bay Area, I’ll be reading at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, 7pm, on 20 June. I don’t know that a cover band has been confirmed, but please put it on your calendar. It should be a gas either way. For those of you linked to something called facebook, you can find the event listing here.