What do the sand tiger shark, parasitic wasps, and, in select moments, the UK music press have in common? They eat their own. As I note in Stealing — and, since it’s still May (month 5), I’m focusing on an element in ch. 5 — if the first rule of rock fandom is to be into this band before anybody, the second rule is to be into and over a particular band before anybody.
When The Clash made the live venue rounds in late 1978, the UK music press lined up with their (pitch)forks in hands, salivating at the ready. Like any decent shark, they could smell blood — and why? Because The Clash had dared to release a second album, and thereby subject themselves to the orgiastic feast of critical discourse, where critics first took turns at the grinding wheel, sharpening their knives, before taking a seat at the table.
Here’s my summary of the frenzy, from p. 70:
The tyranny of the new explains it in part, and the frequency of publication of the weeklies in the UK (versus the bi-weekly and rarely timely issue of Rolling Stone) played a role, but I think there’s also something English here, something that doesn’t translate on the west side of the Atlantic–where we love second acts, and phoenix-esque rises from the ashes (for better or worse, in some cases).
I’d love, too, to hear your thoughts on this matter.
Here’s a live clip from that era, too.
Hello readers all over, and welcome back to radio-SAT! It’s Wednesday, and it’s underheralded post-punk gems time again. The Au Pairs got their start in Birmingham in 1978, and released their first single on 021 Records. It featured “You,” “Domestic Departure,” and “Kerb Crawler.” As other bands did back in the day, they have a bit of fun with the format, and scratch “sink into his arms” and “arms in the sink” into the vinyl.
NME’s Paul Morley caught their 2 Sept 1980 gig at the London ICA, and offered prose that echoed earlier impressions of The Clash: “The group are out to shatter prejudices, challenge your sanity, patience, complacency. They perform with an almost mad commitment that makes all their songs riveting.” Their debut LP, Playing with a Different Sex (May 1981), includes a re-recorded version of “It’s Obvious,” and draws rave reviews. Sounds’ Dave McCullough regarded the LP as “a truly sensuous didactic record … [it] strikes a magic modern chord of common sense.” Playing climbed to #33 on the UK charts, and “It’s Obvious” reached #37 on the club play singles in the US. The album itself remains a real post-punk gem, and is worth checking out on the anthology of all their recorded output on the Au Pairs anthology on iTunes. iTunes may be an imperfect distribution system, but I give them credit for dealing with all the necessary lawyers to get a package like this to the marketplace.
Here’s a taste of what they were capable of live, where they really solidified their reputation. While the sound isn’t bad, it’d be great if some punk-o-phile sound engineer could get ahold of the Hurrah masters and clean things up just a tad.
Have a reverb-filled week, and we’ll see you Sunday!