(post-) punk gems v. 12 — The Belle Stars

With baseball season underway, it only makes sense that it’s snowing, and that my close comrades and I have been felled by cursed virus. Ah, climate change: you’re an iron-tough mistress.

After seeing some of the most remarkable cathedrals in the UK, and some of most amazing urban centers of Europe, one keepsake above all left a lasting impression on my 13-year-old self: the mix tape my Coventry host made for me, back in 1982. As I described in the opening chapter of *Stealing,* that tape included The Clash, of course, The Selecter, The Specials, Captain Sensible and a host of other bands I had never heard of prior to my visit. Among those songs was “The Clapping Song,” by The Belle Stars, who emerged from the ashes of The Bodysnatchers, whose track “Let’s Do Rock Steady” is part of The Two Tone Story collection. The Bodysnatchers’ origins are a fun tale: first opened for Shane McGowan’s The Nips, then played Debbie Harry’s birthday party, toured with Madness, The Selecter, et. al., and never released an LP.

The Belle Stars, who formed in 1980, saw little success west of the Atlantic, but–like so many great bands of that era–had their moments in the limelight in the UK.

“The Clapping Song” has its own fun history, too. It was first released in 1965, playing off the riff of a 1930s tune, and was  covered or sampled (if you will) by Gary Glitter, Tom Waits, UB4o (see the toasting in “Red Red Wine”), and on and on and on. The Belle Stars’ version came out in 1982, and was in heavy rotation that summer in London and Coventry, especially.

Thanks again for checking in on hump day, and I hope you tune in again on Sunday. The anniversary of The Clash’s debut LP is upon us next week, so I hope to cook up something fun for that occasion.

(post-) punk gems v. 11 — Captain Sensible, effortless interpreter

Happy mittwoch, reading listeners!

Each Wednesday, as many of you know (welcome first-time viewers!), I dig up a typically under-heralded gem from the (post-) punk era for your listening pleasure.

This week, though, I want to share one of the worst–or best, depending upon your take on punk aesthetics–tunes associated with folks who constituted the cacophonous beauty of 1977.  On June 17, 1982, the day I departed the US for my first-and-only visit (so far) to the UK, A&M Records released “Happy Talk,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from South Pacific, by Captain Sensible of The Damned. (Warning: ribald language to follow.)

As you can tell, the tune is maximally insipid, and the Captain assures a reporter from New Music Express that, first, The Damned aren’t breaking up and, second, that tedium is the whole point of The Damned–but in a different register. “The whole point about The Damned was always to be as pathetic as possible and just be as childish as we could. It was always just one big tantrum, there wasn’t anything we actually wanted to say. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t carry on.” And lo: they’re scheduled to appear at Rebellion Fest 2013, along with Sham 69, The Buzzcocks, Peter Hook’s new band, The Exploited, among others.

After “Happy Talk” spends two weeks at number one (July 1982), the Captain reports to NME: “I’m there because the rest of the music in the Top 30 is just a pile of shit. It’s just a pile of crap, just drivel. It’s all so meaningless isn’t it? … Like Visage who were on (Top of The Pops) today, did you see them? They walk around all po-faced and pretentious … They’re just trying to hide from the truth that all they’re doing are three chords songs like everyone else and it doesn’t mean a fucking thing.”

Whether “Happy Talk” deserves to be cast upon said pile, too, is difficult to say. It’s artifice without pretensions, but maybe on vinyl–or on the radio–it’s more difficult to parse than on the telly, where it’s clear the Captain is determined to mock rather than rock.

You can find the movie version of “Happy Talk” here and–oh, why not–here’s Visage that same summer, on TOTP:

This history, of course, is lovingly documented in George Gimarc’s Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, which I can’t recommend highly enough to the fanatic fans among you. It’s got to be among the top two books on that era (wink wink) available at fine bookstores everywhere.

I hope to see you Sunday!