surviving the 70s — punk makes its mark

Plenty o’ rain has us indoors for now, on this side of Lake Erie, and — since it’s the last day of May — I’ve got a few more thoughts about ch. 5 in Stealing All Transmissions. Come August 1979, The US version of The Clash is finally out, and the band is mixing and wrapping up their work on London Calling. That September, they arrive in the states for the Take the Fifth tour and, come 19 September, arrive in New York City.

It’s a weird year in pop, as you can see below in John Rockwell’s end-of-the-year summary

From J. Rockwell,
From J. Rockwell, “Record Industry’s Sales Slowing After 25 Years of Steady Growth,” New York Times, August 8, 1979.

for the New York Times. (I’ve also written about importance of Rockwell here.) It’s also a tough year in pop, business-wise. The Clash’s UK label, CBS, had a tough first quarter, and pink-slipped 52 employees shortly thereafter. Net income dropped, and CBS blamed its record division.

It’s difficult to imagine it was a quality issue, with so many great LPs by Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Clash, and others. (Maybe it’s important, too, that the Stones-lawd have mercy–and Springsteen released nothing that year.)

Is home-taping the culprit? Does this theme sound familiar? The industry of course rebounded, and did well for ages, but it’s difficult to imagine 2015 (or any year after) holding good news, profit-wise, for the music industry.

No big surprise to see Talking Heads and The B-52’s in the mix, but especially nice to see The Clash, Ian Dury, and even Steve Reich mentioned–and perhaps because of the dip in humor of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, imagining The Clash as less fun than Joe Jackson or The Police. I figure Rockwell changed his tune, though, once he heard London Calling.

Click on the image to pull up the full article.
Click on the image to pull up the full article.

Cheers!

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the punk stance — pigeon-toed singers, unite!

Good day, readers! I’m diggin’ in deep again today into bits from chapter 4 of my book on The Clash breaking America, going back 38 years and few weeks, to a March 11 gig of The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Slits — and get this — “Late Night Kung Fu Films.” Awesome! So rock writer extraordinaire Nick Kent was on-hand, and noted for NME:

“Strummer’s stance sums up this band at is best, really: it’s all to do with real ‘punk’ credentials–a Billy the Kid sense of tough tempered with an innate sense of humanity …”

Kent proceeds to discredit Johnny Rotten and his “clownish co-conspirators,” but my

The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).
The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).

interest here is in Strummer’s stance–i.e., the way he and other punks actually stood onstage. Now, we don’t actually have pix of Billy the Kid’s shooting stance for reference, alas, and since it’s a blog post, I’m not aiming for an exhaustive sample here, but the punk stance was fundamentally different than the classic rock stance, as embodied by The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and Paul McCartney.

Daltrey and Plant, of course, didn’t pick up the guitar (as a rule, in Daltrey’s case), and were free to move about however they saw fit. One of their favorite poses, though was the transcendent pose: feet apart, leaning back (which just happened to emphasize the elasticity of their jeans in particular places), with chin tilted towards the sky.

The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).
The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).

And it’s not just the singer’s inclinations, of course: these singers had to do something to rival the impressive solos turned in by their virtuosic band mates. It also had to do with art, which allegedly transcends the street and the marketplace. The rock gods and the hippies favored leaning back, and swaying from side to side (see Janis Joplin, and even Patti Smith to a certain extent).

Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).
Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).

In his tenure with Wings, McCartney rarely struck the transcendent pose, but rarely performed with true urgency, either, and even found it appropriate to take up a chair during certain interludes.

Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).
Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).

Punks, of course, especially in the early days, didn’t take it easy at all. Johnny Rotten appeared a true original in this way, but his pose here recalls teen idols leaning out over the audience–but this time, of course, it’s to egg on their disdain, rather than to solicit affection.

 

No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).
No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).

The Clash struck intricate poses, more pigeon-toed than bow-legged in the beginning, as if the urgency of the message and their affection for their fans drew them right to the lip of the stage. (Strummer recedes here, to honor Mick’s take at the mic.)

 

Get the balance right (1977).
Get the balance right (1977).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pigeon-toed pose, of course, owes a-plenty to Elvis Costello, and the cover image for his first LP (before we got to see him reproduce this pose–and the accompanying dance steps–live and on MtV).

Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).
Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).

I’ll leave you with two more images: Siouxsie in stark black-and-white, from 1977, Paul Weller with The Jam in 1978 — not quite pigeon-toed, I suppose, but the mic placement, the urgency of the music, and the crowd had him up on his toes, channeling anger as an energy.

Send along your favorites if you’ve got ’em.

The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).
The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).

 

What a difference a year makes: ’76 to ’77

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.

Short, sharp, and not too sweet. Brevity and vinyl rule! (April 1977) Photo by Kate Simon.

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:

1976

  1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla)
  2. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)
  3. Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum)
  4. Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howlin’ Wind (Mercury)
  5. Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.)
  6. Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC)
  7. Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum)
  8. Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
  9. Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.)
  10. Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)

1977

  1. Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
  2. Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)
  3. Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
  4. Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
  5. Steely Dan: Aja(ABC)
  6. Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
  7. Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)
  8. Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
  9. Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)
  10. 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.)

Ramones_-_Leave_Home_cover
The name of this band is … Ramones. Image by Moshe Brakha.

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.

sporting lads — when style trumps success

I know, I know … I said I’d write Sunday pieces about the book, and I’m hoping this interview will satisfy any *Stealing* related hunger. (Thank you, too, for picking it up — sales remain steady.)

Two things, though, came together to get me thinking about the impact of culture on income and sports. I’m reading Tell Tchaikovsky the News: Rock ’n’ Roll, the Labor Question, and the Musicians’ Union, 1942–1968, by Michael James Roberts, which is a fun and smart analysis about how the American Federation of Musicians excluded rock’n’rollers by insisting upon the status of notated music over the oral tradition, and ensured its own demise. Roberts deftly analyzes how the celebration of leisure by rock’n’roll, R&B, and jump blues posed a threat to the American work ethic (run amok), and — if you’re a punk fan — the lead-up to NBC’s paranoia over Elvis Costello’s performance of “Radio Radio” on SNL back in December 1977. It’s a quaint moment, if only to recall that rock’n’roll was deemed dangerous back in the day. (And now it’s unavailable on youtube, for some reason.)

Arsenal's Goalkeeper (C) punches out the
Ospina punches — could he have made the catch?

Second, Arsenal’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham might have been prevented had the keeper Ospina actually caught the ball, rather than punched it meekly to the Tottenham player who knocked in the first goal. I’m looking for help here, but I think it’s a lad-culture thing for keepers to punch the ball (looks more aggressive), rather than catch it. Yes, the current ball when struck without spin wobbles more in the air than the old model, I get that. But when it’s spinning, keepers should be able to track the ball well enough, catch it, and take possession of the ball.

Style counts in pro sports, as in US football, when defenders lay big hits on receivers (and fail to wrap them up), and the receivers bounce off of them and continue on down the field. In baseball, the snatch catch (Barry Bonds’ signature defensive move) or the one-handed catch in the outfield has become routine. I was delighted to see Pablo Sandoval pretty much make this a two-handed grab.


B-ballers avoid use of the backboard, even if it might improve their shooting percentage. Those who do, a la Tim Duncan, you get the nickname “The Big Fundamental,” which isn’t much fun on social media. Big defenders, too, when it comes to blocking shots, are like goalkeepers — the ball ends up in row 3 or higher, and insures that the opposition retains possession. That’s changing a bit, but ever slowly.

The soccer penalty kick, though, offers the most compelling case where culture trumps success. According to the good folks in the Freakonomics enterprise, going either left or right, randomly or not, will not produce maximum yield the way going down the middle would — since the keeper almost always dives one direction or the other. I like the comments below in this article, and certainly the method of Landon Donovan and others, who watch the keeper dive and go the other way, seems quite smart.

If there’s a number cruncher out there, though, who can share some data on my punching vs. catching question, please be in touch. Cheers!

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!

History lessons with Elvis Costello — Armed Forces-Tea Party mash-up, side A

Happy Sunday, folks! I know the price of climate disaster will be steep before too long, but I will savor for now the extra dose of warmth and vitamin D we’re getting here in the midwest. And thank you, of course, for checking out my musings here at radio K-SAT. In the event that you’re in NYC on 10/29, I’ll be giving a talk kitty-corner from the Empire State Building at 630pm on technology, music, and fandom. It should be a hootenany. (Tix are free, but a reservation is required.)

For the most part, I resist partisan pontifications on the blog, but with the frustration on the left and the right with the Tea Party extortionists, I think the time is right for a bit of humor at their expense. As fans of Elvis Costello know, the original working title for album #3 was *Emotional Fascism.*

“Fascism,” of course, refers to an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government, a social organization of the sort and, more generally, intolerant views or practice. While Costello and the Attractions were assembling Armed Forces, Mr. C.’s marriage was falling apart at the time and, under Thatcher, the thugs of the National Front were increasingly visible and violent. If charity begins at home, Mr. C. was party to little of it at home or in his homeland.

The Clash, Rock Against Racism concert, Victoria Park, 1978.

tumblr_lxt3hmzVPH1qjhvdmo1_500.jpg

Following the bouncy, radio-friendly tunes of the first two LPs (“Radio, Radio” excepted, of course) , the sound turned darker and denser on *Armed Forces* and, for long stretches, served as the sonic analog to the paranoia and power grabs represented in the lyrics. It’s a sharp production effort by Nick Lowe, and a pop LP for the ages.

Here I follow Marx’s reminder from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Just *Armed Forces* helped shine light on the emotions and fascism and armed adventures of Thatcher’s England, is it possible it holds lessons about the American republic, in its current and dilapidated state? Is Representative Boehner the farcical re-presentation of the tragedy-inducing Margaret Thatcher? Ms. T. was considerably less prone to tears–and not because she was more “man” than Boehner. She simply believed with more conviction the things that came out of her mouth.

Side A

“Accidents Will Happen”

The second single from the album is, according to Costello, a “heartless apology and barely coded confession.” The farcical “Accidents” of the Tea Partiers include Representative Ellman’s position on taking her salary during the shutdown after voting to deny millions of Americans their paychecks:

“And it’s the damage that we do / and never know / it’s the words that we don’t say / that scare me so”

Is it possible? Could a few of the TPers actually be scared? I’m bloody terrified.

“Senior Service”
Some pundits suggest the presence of big money for entry-level Congress-folk undermines “senior service,” begets “junior dissatisfaction,” and allows Canuck-borns like Ted Cruz to hi-jack the government. You can just imagine Cruz reporting back to his fellow Tea Partiers about a meeting with the Koch brothers:
“They took me in the office / and they told me very carefully / The way that I could benefit from death and disability”
There will be death and disability, I figure. Whether it will benefit Cruz’s political fortunes remains to be seen.

“Oliver’s Army”

The Oliver in question is likely Cromwell or Lyttleton (who served under Churchill). EC himself explained how, following his first trip to Belfast in 1978, he spied “mere boys walking around in battle dress with automatic weapons. They were no longer just on the evening news. These snapshot experiences exploded into visions of mercenaries and imperial armies around the world. The song was based on the premise ‘they always get a working class boy to do the killing.'” (Costello reprised this theme to great effect in “Shipbuilding” on *Punch the Clock*.) I don’t know how hardscrabble the roots are of the Tea Party folks, “but it’s no laughing party / when you’ve been on the murder mile.”
“Big Boys”
“I was caught in the suction / by a face like a truncheon / I was down upon one knee / stroking her vanity” — So confesses the anti-hero of “Big Boys.” And who might the subject of his desire? Ms. Thatcher? That might require an understanding o of history. Does the phoenix of Sarah Palin have a visage “like a truncheon”? Hmm. 

“Green Shirt”

I’ll always remember seeing Elvis Costello in 1986 (Nick Lowe opened), when he toured with the roulette wheel and the go-go dancer cages, and took pot-shots at David Lee Roth. When he played “Green Shirt” that night, hundreds of concert-goers clapped in time in bars 6 and 12 (?) in place of the percussion. Lots of fun. 
I think Aaron Schock (R, Ill.) best fits the profile of “Green Shirt.” Here he is in green shorts — the best I could do.
“You tease, and you flirt / and you shine all the buttons on your green shirt.”
It’s certainly the case that Rep. Shock is pleased with himself and, as a result of his obstinacy, there’s no doubt that “somebody’s going to get it.”

“Party Girl”

Years after, Costello explained that “Party Girl” was written for an art student acquaintance, following an evening of “kindness and tenderness.” While no one would mistake Christine O’Donnell’s tactics and Weltanschauung as kind or tender, she partied with Wiccans and, as she told Bill Maher, “”One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar.” Party girl indeed!
And here’s the odd video for “Army”: 
Thanks for reading all the way to the end of today’s ramble. Please chime in with comments or objections, and have a lovely, lovely day.

#postpunk gems, v. 27 — Heaven 17

Well, finally, the Heat Miser has taken his wares elsewhere. He chased us out of Ohio, up to Ontario, and even to Quebec City. Merci, but no merci, Mr. Miser.

As you may know, Heaven 17 included Human League ex-pats Martin Ware and Ian Marsh, and the band took its name from the fictional pop group mentioned in passing in A Clockwork Orange. As reported in NME, the inspiration for their debut 7″ came from an afternoon of persuing Record Mirror, “picking out all the words from those absurd disco song titles. We were laughing at those phrases, thining they’re pretty good and then we just chucked in ‘How Much Longer Must We Tolerate This Fascist Groove Thang.’ We were pissing ourselves for days.”

Following the single’s spring 1981 ascent to #30 on the UK charts, the BBC found it considerably less funny, and dropped it. Why? Their legal department deemed it libelous to say “Reagan, Fascist guard.” So, they recorded another version substituting the phrase “Stateside cowboy guard.”

Like Elvis Costello’s SNL appearance in 1977 (in place of the Sex Pistols, who couldn’t get visas), when he launched into “Radio, Radio.” Lorne “they broke their promise” Michaels banned EC from SNL for 12 years. I love these moments when “the man” feared popular music, offered testerical reactions, and confirmed for all of paying attention that this music deserved closer attention. Fun times! And definitely way more fun (and political) than wardrobe malfunctions.

Here are the gents, avec La Roux, at it more recently at Abbey Road:

Have a dance-worthy week!