post-punk gems, v. 81 — Modern Lovers

Oy, it’s been awhile, and I’ve been keeping busy at the typewriter, and hope to have RD-Esomething substantial to share with you soon. In the meantime, I’m giving a talk in Boston on Th., 10/22, 5pm at Emerson (details in the poster here), and it’d be great to see you there. I’ll pack some books, too, in case you’re looking to get a head-start on your holiday shopping.

Now, since I’m heading to Boston, I have the Modern Lovers on my mind, and the first album in particular, which did more for punk than perhaps every other LP ever pressed. (Yes, more than any Velvet Underground or Iggy disc, I figure. The Ramones’ debut might be a worthy rival.) So, while the MA government takes up arms again in the culture war, in defense of the genius of Jonathan Richman, here’s one of the key gems from that album.

That’s some epic clapping on the bridge. Nicely done, gents. Cheers!

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.

Coda for “Hitsville, USA” — my talk this past week at the Rock Hall

Happy Sunday, folks! I want again to thank the four dozen or so of you who came out on Thursday for such a delightful event. Andy Leach and his crew know how to put on a good show, so an especial thanks to them.

For the last Sunday of January, I wanted to offer one more selection of one of the primary / secondary texts that made Stealing possible. As Stealing readers know, I also cite 4/23/76 as a key date in punk history, for the reasons noted below–and for the work of Ivan Kral and the key shows by The Heartbreakers at CBGB that weekend.

Jon Savage treats this incident quite smartly in England’s Dreaming, and here’s how Salewicz represents it in Redemption Song:

salewicz

And, of course, the clincher is that CBGB is hosting the a weekend premiere of Ivan Kral’s The Blank Generation, and what I have concluded are the last appearances of Richard Hell with Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers on that three night bill.

All right: back to the snow-shoveling then something in a glass warmly. Cheers!

 

 

sells like teen spirit // a selection from *Stealing*

Happy Sunday, readers! As implied in the title, today’s entry hews close to vulgarly commercial, but maybe to your advantage, so here goes.

On the my-loss-your-gain side of the coin: my publisher’s running a big sacoverle in the US — half off all stuff through December (pmpress.org, coupon “holiday”). There’s many gems to be had and it’s all for a good cause: your waxing rhapsodically about our youth and music with greater accuracy.

I’m sharing a two-page spread from the book today, which you can rotate counter-clockwise in your browser. (I tried to fix this myself, to no avail.) It covers the rise of excitement at CBGB about The Ramones and others, and the engagement of key journalists to aid the renaissance of rock, rebellion, and fun. And, of course, there’s the great confluence of forces on April 23, 1976, and the formation of The Clash shortly thereafter.

It is also the 35th anniversary of the release of London Calling in the UK, which highlights one of the funnier moments of the era. In the UK, LC was released in the 70s. In the US, LC came out the following month, and eventually was named the best album of the 80s.

stealing — pp 36-37

Do keep your wits about you during the upcoming office party, eh?

how to make a great punk cover (reprise, updated)

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I’m in a reuse/recycle mode, and figure if it’s new to you, that’s what counts. I dedicated this past week’s radio hour on wobc.org (5-6pm, EDT) to great punk covers, and I’ll post a clip or two from that show on Wednesday, but wanted to update a post from last year at this time. (From October 6, 2013.) Enjoy!

… So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and what could be wrong with that?

There are certainly some brilliant covers between 1979 and 1985, from The Clash’s “Police on My Back” (The Equals), to Costello’s “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down” (Sam & Dave), and Wall of Voodoo’s “Ring of Fire” (thank you, @MickeyUndertone, for weighing in earlier). But I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Et tu? What are your favorite punk covers?

U2’s “The Miracle”: Homage or Requiem?

The good folks at Louder than War picked up this post — check it out here. Thanks!

key punk covers — not a best-of list

Happy Sunday, people! I hope you’re having a lovely, lovely weekend. I wish there were some pithy way to riff on the absurdity of the posturing in DC, with the continued separation of keywords  (“negotiate,” “good faith,” “will of the people,” “Americans for Prosperity”) from their historical meaning, but it is distinctive, awe-inspiring and, in the end, I figure, alas, brutal and debilitating.

So, let me offer something short and sharp for your consideration: five key punk covers, in order of historical appearance. One of the virtues of punk was its recuperation of the cover song. In the rock-as-art movement commencing with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (1965), the turn to the original composition was a key factor separating rock from pop and, in turn, away from the black influence of blues, R&B, and even jazz, for which the cover or the standard was a key part of the repertoire. The Rolling Stones, of course, took steps to “keep it real” as the bluesy bad-boys foil to The Beatles by offering a cover song on nearly every disc post-1967 (not Goat Heads Soup–1973), for those of keeping score at home).

Rather than the cover song as something a combo played before they got better, punks held onto covers, and The Clash blazed the way in this regard, offering up lovely renditions of Mose Allison’s “Look Here” and Eddy Grant’s “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! The Sex Pistols didn’t last long enough to bother, but their posthumous releases, including The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, documents their (disdainful) affection for The Modern Lovers’ “Road Runner”–a punk standard, if there ever was one–and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” The Who’s “Substitute,” and, regretfully, Sid’s interpretation of “My Way.”

For a punk cover to rise to greatness, I suggest it needs to do one or more of the following things:

1) it takes a somber song and makes it joyful.
2) It offers a fun challenge to our sensibilities, by disrupting our notions of racialization, class, gender, or sexuality.
3) It offers a renaissance of the joy of rock’n’roll before rock-as-art and draws a connection between early 60s rock (or before) and the present.
4) It takes something that appears to be powerful and makes it wimpy, but with total “badassery”–my favorite recent entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The results, of course, can be unsettling and, in turn, provide immeasurable inspiration to make it through the day.

I’d be happy to hear your version of this history, but I believe it commences with Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” and the unrivaled opening verbal gambit. From SNL 1976:

A year later, of course, The Ramones release their debut LP, which includes a cover of “Let’s Dance,” but it’s the second LP when The Ramones truly shine as interpreters of rockabilly and surf guitar classics. Here’s a brief–although I suppose with The Ramones, it’s always brief–rendition of The Ramones doing “California Sun”:

The Clash, legend has it, had nearly wrapped up the recording of their debut LP and, with 13 songs in the mix, they had 28 minutes of material. They decided to record Junior Murvin and Lee Perry’s “Police and Thieves” (live super-snarl mix included here) for the album and, in doing so, made history by insisting on the inimitable blackness of their musical forebears.

I’m not sure this track rises to the historical significance of the others included here, but I have a real soft spot for decidedly groovy interpretation of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by The Slits. It insists on the imperative of joy, and there’s rarely anything wrong with that.

It seems impossible that there isn’t a great punk cover between 1979 and 1985, but I’ve got to give a nod here to Aztec Camera’s cover of Van Halen’s “Jump,” which I recall hearing on rock radio in Sacramento and Stockton back in the day. The DJ would play some, if not all, of the track, and ask listeners to call in to weigh in on this travesty. They all hated it. I loved it. Roddy Frame and co. stripped bare David Lee Roth and co. of the bluster, the guitar and keyboard virtuosity, the spandex and the hairspray to show the world in plainspeak what exactly the song was about. (Of course a song is more than its lyrics, but not in this rendition.) In turn, they produced one of the purest, if mellowest, punk gestures ever.

Enjoy!

reprise — sucking in the 70s

Happy day, reader! I hope you’ve had a delightful weekend.

After kicking out a lengthy jam to the tune of 1100 words last weekend, I want to keep things shorter and sweeter this time ’round. Thank you for the nice feedback on that post, and one reader was kind enough to refer me to this NPR interview with Michael Walker on his new book, What You Want Is In The Limo: On The Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, And The Who In 1973, The Year The Sixties Died And The Modern Rock Star Was Born.

What You Want Is in the Limo

Now a punk might argue that the title is as insufferably long as a John Bonham drum solo, but that could have been an editor’s decision, and shouldn’t detract from Walker’s argument, which ties the aesthetics to the economies of scale in rock: the excess in length of songs and solos was replicated in the length of limos, jets, tours, and lines of groupies backstage (and the lines of coke that awaited them). It was, he suggests, a thorough negation of the peace and love extolled in the sixties. (I will take issue with his claim that Alice Cooper’s “Elected” is “as far away from peace, love and understanding as you can possibly get in a single song.” To that end, I’ll take Nirvana’s effort to get away, any day:

 You can read an excerpt of the book here

The comments below the NPR piece are quite telling: it’s mostly boys of course, and fanatics defend Led Zep against claims of being aesthetically adrift after Houses of the Holy, extol the virtues of Presence (don’t know that I’ve ever listened to it), and celebrate various moments on Physical Graffiti (which seems reasonable). I am, of course, privy to one reader’s theological claim: “The Clash, Ramones and Sex Pistols are proof that God loved us once.” Amen.

Thanks for tuning in to radio K-SAT! Have a delightful week.

(post-) punk gems, v. 21 — The Vibrators

The days are getting nice and long in our neck of the woods, and I hope you too are getting your share of Vitamin D.

I’m kickin’ out this jam from work, so I’ve got to be quick as a Ramones’ b-side.

The Vibrators were there at the get-go, playing the 100 Club, backing Chris Spedding, put down wax with John Peel over and over, and their debut LP, Pure Mania (Epic, June 1977), led the critics to gush about the resuscitation of rock energy, and eventually ended up on the Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music top 50 punk LPs of all time.

The following summer, The Vibrators released “Judy Says (Knock You In The Head)” / “Pure Mania” (Epic, 9 June) which rocketed up the UK charts to, well, #70.

The Vibrators kept it real, energetic, and not terribly reflexive, and that was fine for 1978–for most bands, but not The Clash. More on that question come Sunday. Cheers!

Punk vs. reggae, subculture, and The Clash (and Echo and the Bunnymen, too!)

Happy Sunday, folks! I hope that you Americans with an hour less sleep are still smiling.

My wife and I have a modest collection of books between us and, when I did a bit more traveling, the book along for the ride might accumulate a ticket stub from a shuttle bus, or a boarding pass, or even a receipt from an airport café. The ticket stubs with one matte side remain my favorites, and make the best bookmarks. If I were to empty the bookshelves of their occupants and shake them by the spines, I’d find a nearly comprehensive account of dates traveled and money spent.

I recently found my copy of Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, for which a stub from the Olympia Trails bus line between Newark and Port Authority marked one of my favorite passages. Subculture represented a key work in semiotics, for it offered a decoding of the signifiers–musical, sartorial, and gestural–that differentiated punk, mod, the Teds, and reggae in the UK. It was published in 1979 and went through 10 printings in the next eight years. Rolling Stone considered it “the first book dealing with punk to offer intellectual content.” (I like Caroline Coon’s 1988: New Wave Punk Rock Explosion (1977).) Hebdige is especially eloquent on the connection between punk and reggae, and does an amazing job of unpacking punk’s debt to Rasta Britons in terms of its politics of refusal and regard for “Britishness.” In terms of music, though, Hebdige finds more counter-affinities than homologies.

“Despite the strong affinity, the integrity of the two forms – punk and reggae–was scrupulously maintained, and far from simulating reggae’s form and timbre, punk music, like every other aspect of punk style, tended to develop in direct antithesis to its apparent sources. Reggae and punk were audibly opposed. Where punk depended on the treble, reggae relied on the bass. Where punk launched frontal assaults on the established meaning systems, reggae communicated through ellipsis and allusion.” (Subculture, pp. 67-68)

Musically, especially circa 1977, punk rejected the sources of prog rock and rock-as-art by affirming rocknroll that embraced a more working-class aesthetic via homages to Eddie Cochran (The Pistols’ “C’mon Everybody”), The Trashmen (The Ramones’ “Surfer Bird”), and Bobby Fuller (The Clash’s “I Fought the Law”). The Pistols, though, in their less-than-earnest cover of Chuck Berry, indicated that their adoration for the blackness of popular music history fell far short of fawning, if predictably disrespectful.

Hebdige continues: “Indeed, the way in which the two forms were rigorously, almost wilfully segregated would seem to direct us towards a concealed identity, which in turn can be used to illuminate larger patterns of interaction between immigrant and host communities. To use a term from semiotics, we could say that punk includes reggae as a ‘present absence’ — a black hole around which punk composes itself.” (p. 68)

Outside of Bad Brains, perhaps, and maybe Fishbone (if you’re willing to make that stretch), this black hole proved massive in US punk: from New York to LA, by way of Minneapolis, any trace of black aesthetics was left on the cutting room floor–even though, from the get-go, The Clash demonstrated that the history could be otherwise.

With the inclusion of “Police and Thieves” on their debut LP, and its regular appearance in their live shows, The Clash did a much better job than the Pistols in terms of their adherence to a key maxim of The Situationist International: “be reasonable, demand the impossible.” In terms of politics and aesthetics, few did it better, as demonstrated below, in a live clip from Birmingham, 1 May 1978.

(Youtube looks askance on embedding clips of The Clash it seems — so here it is.)

A Strummer-centric camera man finds Joe and Clash fanatics at their jittery best. On the LP, alongside a host of other great tracks, “Police and Thieves” allows the listener to imagine the greatness that will follow. Listening today to the first recorded tracks of so many bands from that era — Scritti Politti and Echo and the Bunnymen, e.g., — there’s no sense from the early tracks that either band will eventually produce something as sublime as “Wood Beez” or “Never Stop.”

Thanks for reading all the way. You American motorcar commuters be careful on the roads tomorrow.