post-punk gems, v. 76 — New Order

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.

Enjoy!

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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.

post-punk gems, v. 37 — Dalek I Love You

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where on Wednesdays I track down lost gems from the punk and post-punk era. Many of these underheralded tunes come from bands whose members you know from their associations with other bands — you might recognize the lead singer of Graduate, who later formed a band called Tears for Fears, which you may be familiar with (smile).

Dalek, I Love You was the brainchild of young gents out of Thingwall, and included (eventually) Alan Gill (of Big in Japan & Teardrop Explodes fame) and Andy McCluskey (who’s still kicking around with a unit called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark). The moniker represented an amalgam of Dalek, the Doctor Who cyborgs, and Darling, I Love You. It’s a unit that takes the notion of Bernard Sumner (of Joy Division and New Order fame), upon seeing the Sex Pistols for the first time, to its next extension: “I saw the Sex Pistols. They were terrible. I thought they were great. I wanted to get up and be terrible too.” It’s a raucous, synthetic aesthetic, and on “You Really Got Me” (a Kinks’ tune, yes), from May 1980, they drain it dry of the Van-Halen-infused virility from just a couple years before.

I would argue it even heralds the lounge-act qualities that David Lee Roth would embrace following his departure from Van Halen–which, as readers of *Stealing All Transmissions* know, was a key band in my youth, since they seemed to be the mirror image of The Clash, and represented all that was wrong with popular music. So, when Aztec Camera’s cover of “Jump” hit the radio in the US, it was the object of much DJ ridicule on the classic rock stations, but I savored every bar of it, even though Roddy Frame’s hair was only slightly less ridiculous than DL Roth’s mane at that point.

I dig the tuning of the lead guitar on this track, along with the sensitive piano comping during the chorus. Fun stuff!

I appreciate your checking in today, and hope to see you again on Sunday. Enjoy the week!

#postpunk gems, v. 29 — Huang Chung — yes that Wang Chung

So it’s a stiff coffee, and good morning to you, as I gather a bit o’ momentum to get the day started.

In the late spring of 1980, I was living in the San Joaquin Valley, playing 2nd-string right field for my little league team, and listening to Cheap Trick and, well, not much more. With summer commencing, I had no idea who Joy Division or Ian Curtis was and, like most Americans, I wouldn’t learn about Huang Chung before 1984 and the incredibly, well, suggestive “Dance Hall Days.” (Not even Prince was sly enough to get such a narrative on the pop charts.)

And that was part of the beauty of pop back in the day. It wasn’t easy to gather the backstory on a whole host of bands, and they would emerge on MtV for 15 minutes (or more), and then seemingly fade away. Little did I know the Huang Chung — which translates as “yellow bell” in Mandarin — had other singles in their catalog.

The other rumor going ’round was that “Wang” was the sound of the downward strum of the guitar, and “chung” was the upward strum — with no fingers on the frets, of course. With “Isn’t It About Time We Were on TV?,” Huang Chung blends elements of The Police and Frank Zappa, and the band behind Jack Hues keeps it tight. Back in the day, Sounds imagines the track to be a “jazzy version of XTC.”

That third week of June was a big one for post-punk: “Love Will Tear Us Apart” starts climbing the charts at that point, and The Clash’s “Train in Vain,” backed with “Bank Robber” (nice double-A side!), makes its way into continental record shops. Stateside, Bad Brains releases their first single, “Pay to Cum” b/w “Stay Close to Me.” Good times, good times.

underheralded gems from the punk era, v. 2

I hope you’re having a lovely weekend, and thanks again for checking out my musings on music and virtue back in the day.

Once again, I’ve been paging randomly through the seriously amazing Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982, by George Gimarc. It’s a blow-your-mind compendium of punk facts, images of 7″, 12″, concert flyers and posters, and a massive listing of who played where and when. It’s a labor of love without peer, and I look forward to checking out the accompanying CD of interviews straight-away.

From the 30 October 1978 entry: a group of 17-year-olds playing under the name of Protex impresses the owner of Harp Pub in Belfast, and the band signs onto the Good Vibrations label. “Don’t Ring Me Up” is their first single, and this clip from NYC a couple years later indicates that practitioners in the punk-pop vein had all sorts of hair before the authenticity police started cracking down. Protex, which perhaps takes its name from The Clash’s “Protex Blue,” off their eponymous debut LP (UK), still lacks a wikipedia entry. Their only mention was via the Moondogs’ page, as Protex, The Moondogs, The Outcats, Rudi, Ruefrex, SLF, and The Undertones appeared in the 1979 film Shellshock Rock.

Any more info on Protex or Shellshock Rock is much appreciated.

Coda: on this day in punk history–in 1978, Warsaw changed their name to Joy Division, and played their first gig in Manchester under their new moniker.  Do keep your eye out for Peter Hook’s Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division, which is due out in America this week.