post-punk gems, v. 79 — Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”

Come aboard the way-back time machine, where it’s the summer of ’76, and NYC proto-hipsters are abuzz about 7″ of vinyl just released on Ork Records. A la John Coltrane’s Ascension LP, Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel,” their debut single, unfolds over 7 plus minutes, so it’s split down the middle (or so). It offers a whole new guitar vocabulary in the timbres and phrasing, with echoes of the Velvets and the Byrds, and heralds the craft of the axe-folk of Talking Heads, Wire, and Gang of Four. Robert Christgau was on-board from the get-go, regarding “LJJ” as “dynamic and spooky … its dissolute aura is difficult to shake off.”

“Jewel,” too, served as a jewel-of-a-connection between New York and London early on. It made its way across the Atlantic and into the hands of Rat Scabies, who had a failed try-out with The Clash and eventually became the drummer of The Damned. “The first thing we heard from New York was the Television single, ‘Little Johnny Jewel.’ I remember listening to it and being blown away.” (Stealing, p. 47)

Just as so many of us did through the 1980s, Scabies constructed his fandom from bits and pieces, with the whole remaining ever elusive. “No one had seen the Heartbreakers live, but we thought they looked great. We had seen pictures of Television, Richard Hell and Blondie but nobody had heard anything. Because Danny Fields was involved with the MC5 we knew [The Ramones] had to be the right kind of thing.” The right kind of thing, indeed.

Enjoy, and rock on!

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post-punk gems, v. 68 — Gang of Four

"Entertainment!" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.
“Entertainment!” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

For nearly all of my purchases of vinyl before the age of 25 (and even a fair share of my CDs and tapes), I can recall the moment of acquisition, the ripping open of the cellophane, and the debut rotation on my turntable. On occasion, though, I have only faint traces of that history, and such is the case with my coming to own the absolutely brilliant Entertainment!, by Gang of Four (1979).

In my collection it sits astride GO4’s Another Day/Another Dollar (1982), which was in rotation on San Francisco’s KQAK circa 1983. I so often recorded my vinyl onto Maxell XL II 90s, and on the flipside of this tape (which I still have, although most of the high-end’s gone–or is that my hearing?) is Husker Du’s Candy Apple Grey (1986), so I figure I came to Entertainment! a bit late in the game. It certainly stuck with me, though, and probably was a key factor years later in my attending one of the more left-leaning graduate programs in sociology here in the states.

The Leeds combo first gigged in May 1977, and guitar-wise, Andy Gill modified Wilko Johnson’s angular rhythm-as-lead style. The overall sound–as lovingly noted by Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up and Start Again–started “stark and severe,” and remained defined as much by avoidances (cymbal crashes, guitar fuzz and distortion) and T. Monk-like spacing, as it did by its constitutive elements. Here’s two versions of one of my fave tracks: the John Peel version (with a bit more resonance on the vocals) and the LP version. Enjoy!

post-punk gems, v. 66 — A Certain Ratio

“This is the birth of rave culture … ”

Thanks to the demented and brilliant 24 Hour Party People (and many a fine book), we have a fleeting sense of the musical vigor of Manchester back in the day, and the connection between punk, post-punk, and rave culture.

It’s Joy Division, of course, and Happy Mondays, and others, including A Certain Ratio, who are described in the film as “having all the energy of Joy Division but better clothes.” I can’t attest to the clothes part, but you can hear the influence of Ian Curtis’ voice, and the energy and aesthetic of Gang of Four and the Leeds crowd (Delta 5, et. al.). In good analog fashion, A Certain Ratio released their first album on cassette only in 1979.

“Do the Du” remains danceable from beginning to end, includes A-Certain-Ratio-Madonna-@-Danceteria-1982plenty of space to breathe, and sounds absolutely fresh today. And to think Madonna opened for them! (I do miss the 10pm buffet supper.)

(See Simon Reynolds’ very smart Rip It Up and Start Again for the best account of the post punk funk bands in the UK.)

Glad the lads are still at it now and again.

DJ Aphasia, 18 Sept set

Happy Wednesday readers! After close to eight years away, I got back in the DJ booth last week at WOBC, our local college and community radio station, for an hour of “The Spirit of ’77.” I’m rusty, and It’s a mixed bag, of course, with great tracks from ’77 and after, some of the tracks that inspired all that gorgeous noise in ’77, and a few foils, too, just to remind us what that joyous ruckus was about.

 

Do get past the first 45 seconds certainly, which is a non-punk prelude, and then you’ll encounter a host of fun items without DJ patter this time, including The Au Pairs, the Dolls, Costello, The Clash, Scritti Politti, Pixies, Public Image Ltd., Patti Smith, Lorde (yes Lorde!–outside of hip hop, she’s best we’ve got today on social class), Television, Sleater-Kinney, and Gang of Four. Send me a note if you need info on any particular track. I’d post them in order, but that prevents a bit of serendipity, yes?

And here’s a link to a show that just went up in NYC, with great images of the Beasties, Madonna, and others, as just kids. And some of The Clash in various iterations, too.

BAD --
image by Josh Cheuse, used without permission.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m back on the air Thursday, 5-6pm, EDT, at wobc.org, and 91.5 FM in Northeast Ohio. Thanks for checking in!

review from Clash-de-camp, punk and the grey lady

zxHappy, happy June, to you!  The birds outside own the soundscape while I’m typing, but their love calls and dog alerts will give way to a chorus of lawnmowers in just a few hours. A few of you have checked-in anew this week, so it’s great to have you catching the latest news at K-SAT. Certainly the big reviews of Stealing by The Baker, long-time frontline roadie for The Clash, was a nice way to wrap up May (Louder Than War on top, and Daily Swarm on the bottom). I do hope you will share this item with your loved ones and punk comrades from back in the day. Many thanks to The Baker for finding the time to put this review together, and for the kind words about the book.

image -- LTW headline

swarm image

Lots of folks have passed on the word (nearly 500 and counting @ LTW), but do consider leaving a bit of feedback for The Baker at the bottom of either article. Your encouragement is what keeps us wordsmiths going.

In other punk media news, John Holmstrom’s The Best of Punk Magazine is holding steady in amazon sales since its December release, and drawing many favorable reviews.

punk collection

I’m not sure why folks give him flack for trying to pay the rent on a project that didn’t do so back in the day. At $20 for over 300 pages of spirited prose and photos, it’s a fine, fine collection–do let me know, though, if you think otherwise.

One of the key joys of working on the book was spending time talking with key figures from the NYC punk scene, folks close to The Clash, and others, and I can’t offer enough thanks for how generous they were with their time. To show my generosity, though, I want to share some of things I learned while doing research for the book that appeal to a wider audience, and to the writers among you in particular who might be working on your own punk-post-punk chronicles.

As noted in Stealing All Transmissions, Holmstrom and PUNK’s “resident punk” Legs McNeil, and the folks at Trouser Press, Soho Weekly News, and The Village Voice played key roles in setting the stage for The Clash to play The Palladium (3000 seats), rather than The Bottom Line (400 seats), on their first three visits to NYC. The New York Times, too, must be included in this conversation. John Rockwell, who’s about as well credentialed as they come (Harvard, U. of Munich, UC Berkeley)  joined the Times in 1972 as their classical music critic, took on popular music duties and, in this late 30s, apparently in jacket-and-tie, was hanging out at CBGB, The Palladium, and elsewhere, and spreading the gospel via “The Grey Lady,” as the Times was then known.

John Rockwell SO3346

And he was there earlier than most. At the end of 1977, in “Pop Music: Of Women, Country and the Punks” (Dec 25, p. 66), he opens his list of highlights, alas, with accolades for Fleetwood Mac, whom he regards as “popular and wonderful.” (Among the critics he wasn’t alone in this regard–check out the 1977 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll from The Village Voice.) Then, at #8 on the list, alongside the photo montage of soulmates Johnny Rotten and Crystal Gayle, he writes, “This was also the year that saw the beginnings of what may be the next British rock invasion–this time of punk rock. In 1975 and 1976 our attention was seized by the American punks, but not particularly new happened on that front here this year. Instead, we saw the first American performances of artists like the Damned, the Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Elvis Costello–and, if nothing untoward happens, the Sex Pistols will make their American debut before the year is out. And after them will come the Clash, the Vibrators, and many more.”

A-ha! It was Rockwell who put the voodoo on The Pistols! Rockwell, and Robert Palmer among others, chimed in on punk with some regularity and open minds. William Safire, perhaps not too surprisingly, found punk didn’t suit his tastes. In the late 70s, especially, Rockwell was on the scene, and he regularly mentioned punk releases and happenings in his “Pop Life” column.

Like their indy colleagues, Times reporters covered the side projects of their colleagues in radio. Shortly after the demise of the “Elvis to Elvis” format at WPIX-FM, Andy Edelstein penned “How Mass Appeal Makes Rock” (May 18, 1980, p. LI13), which showcased Mass Appeal, the Long Island quartet with guitarists DJ Jane Hamburger (below) and Linda Dering.

mass appeal -- jane h -- 1979

(Here’s the full pic at the photographer’s site.) Edelstein notes, “The band’s music is raw, rough-edged but highly danceable, reflecting the influences of such adventurous English bands as the Gang of Four, the Clash, and the Slits–groups whose records Miss Hamburger played on her show before she resigned in March, when the station adopted a stricter format.” Hamburger submitted her resignation in order to join her friends at the last Clash show at the Palladium. Edelstein gives props to Hamburger’s weekly show on Hofstra University’s WVHC-FM, on which she continued to play a key role in bringing the music of The Clash to tri-state listeners.

Thanks for checking out the rather lengthy post! Have a rock-steady week, and check back on Wednesday for more underheralded post-punk gems!

Here’s a couple of fun tracks by the Slits, and GO4 at Hurrah’s, where Jane and Meg Griffin spun their big-beat mix.