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!

the voice of punk, ’77

Good morning, fine readers. I’m trying to be disciplined here, and stay true to my hope to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book) by post elaborations of key points or something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.

Today, though, I’m still in chapter 1, thinking about punk vocal styles, and their connection to Paul Morley’s vital words on Kraftwerk (see full quote here): “The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop … was art, noise, technology, ideas … a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty.”

Here’s the single version of “Autobahn” (1975), their first track to reach the US charts:

And sure, we might be concerned when Germans (or anyone for that matter) is making aesthetic choices that reflect racialized categories, but that’s not the prime mover here, of course. The different styles of black American music — R&B, soul, jazz, and blues, gospel, etc. — cast such a long shadow on popular music in the West that it was difficult to forge something new (see: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, et. al.). By the mid-1970s, a desperation for something new arose in Dusseldorf, London, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and elsewhere, and singers like Tom Verlaine, Joey Ramone, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, the gents in Devo and, of course, David Byrne, were onto something.

So, when Talking Heads make their way from the Rhode Island School of Design to the Bowery, they confirm — as they sing on their debut LP — “It’s not, yesterday, anymore!” David Byrne’s vocals are the most definitive departure, sound-wise, and here’s how Stephen Demorest’s described his approach in his Rolling Stone review of ’77:

“Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, ‘bad’ voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.)”

Not bad, I’d say, and it heralds a question I hope to pursue in a future post: of the American bands in the punk and post-punk era, how come only Talking Heads dared reinvent themselves from album to album (or every other album)? What is it about American notions of masculinity, authenticity, and musicality that allowed bands to mellow (e.g., Husker Du and The Replacements, and often begrudgingly), but not dare pursue metamorphoses? Think of Brits such as John Lydon (from Pistols to PiL), The Clash (Rope to London Calling, or Sandinista! to Combat Rock), The Damned (Strawberries to Phantasmagoria), to begin. I’m sure art school and notions of artifice play a big role.

Thanks for tuning into K-SAT!

post-punk gems, v. 38 — The Replacements’ “Black Diamond”

Thanks for taking a moment on post-punk gem day to check out my latest musings. Since folks found my claims about punk covers intriguing (thank you!), I’ll stick with this theme today, and to the twin cities, home of two of the key (post-) punk bands in the US–Husker Du and The Replacements.

I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual ink on the ‘Mats before (see here, here, and here) and, in checking out their first few LPs, I thought I’d find a cover before “Black Diamond,” originally a Kiss tune, of course, on their 4th effort, *Let It Be.* But that’s not the case. These guys were dedicated to original compositions, even if their stage performance was anything but composed.

That gorgeous opening rhythm guitar, all echo-y and stark, then Paul’s vocals, and drummer Chris Mars sets the tempo and bam: that big guitar crunch from Bob Stinson. Oh, fun stuff, and it stands up well over time.

If The Replacements represented the shambly and shambolic side of DIY, Husker Du were the consummate professionals, with real aspirations to make good (and good money). Their cover of The Byrds’ classic “Eight Miles High” gets a good write-up in Michael Azerrad’s *This Band Could Be Your Life,* which is a key chronicle of the DIY punk spirit between American shores. If you haven’t had your coffee yet, you might want to wait to cue up this gorgeous bit of dissonance.

I’m really delighted that you stopped at my minor outpost here on the world wide web, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!