Clash debut — too noisy for American radio?

Freud was right: the narcissism of small differences permeates nearly all of human history, and our ability to find those small differences (musical taste, of course), and to magnify the something into everything (see Nick Hornby’s *High Fidelity*), is something we’re all familiar with. This tendency typically prevents a real dialogue, and so the person who draws these boundaries (“I am here in the righteous zone, and you are over there in the suck zone”) rarely gets properly schooled on the complexity of motives–including the profit motive–that inform, say, not releasing The Clash (1977) in the U.S. in its original form.

Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.
Bruce Harris, second row, on the right.

Luckily, Paul Doughtery, @ https://punkbeforepunk.wordpress.com/about/, put pen to paper to let Bruce Harris, director of A&R on the east coast for Epic, to impugn his character and rail against “the man” for his bean-counter mentality.

Astonishingly, Bruce (RIP — taken from us much too early) wrote back. The full letter is here and here.

Harris affirms the most basic duty of a record guy (make, rather than lose, money), his affinity for The Vibrators, The Adverts, and Blondie, and rightly dismisses the organizing principle of Paul’s original letter, that the LP would change the complexion of the American marketplace.

In November 1977, Bruce knew what we would know a bit later, as I describe on p. 62 of Stealing All Transmissions:

Punk's initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.
Punk’s initial failure, according to the punk-o-philes in the US, circa Sept. 1978.

The success of The Clash (UK) as an import–allegedly the best-selling import of the time, according to Robert Christgau (and not cross-verified anywhere)–does not contradict Harris’ claim. It supports it, since the import LP is more sacred than the domestic LP, and it gets more New York punks fired up with indignation about guys like Bruce Harris. It also inspires promoter Wayne Forte to figure that if 1000 import LPs had sold at Bleecker Bob’s, that he was not going to bother with The Bottom Line, which seated 400 (p. 82).

Forte rolls the dice.
Forte rolls the dice.

And, in part because of Forte’s hubris, which was in part inspired by Harris’ crazy-like-a-fox pragmatism, The Clash played the Palladium on their 1st three visits to New York City, and the rest, well, is one most exciting chapters in the history of rock’n’roll.

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No Beatles in ’77, but two years later …

My, oh my, it’s June, so I’m moving on to ch. 6 in Stealing, and the second trip of The Clash to the US in late summer/fall.

On the night after Paul Simonon’s iconic impersonation of Paul Bunyan, at the Palladium in NYC, on 20 Sept 1979, The Clash played the Palladium again, and the show was broadcast live on WNEW-FM. This transmission was the source of the *Guns of Brixton* bootleg, during which you can hear Joe Strummer riffing between songs on the headline in the NY Post.

Stealing All Transmissions, p. 95.
From Stealing All Transmissions, p. 95.

And, while the show never did materialize, it wasn’t so far-fetched, given recent events among the former Beatles. McCartney, to begin, in his new contract with CBS, included a clause allowing him to make any recording with “John Lennon, Richard Starkey and George Harrison recording together as The Beatles.” The industry could get weird about stuff like this (recall reedist Eric Dolphy playing with John Coltrane under the name “Harold Land” on the *Ole* LP), so this clause was a big deal.

In 1976, promoter Sid Bernstein offered the not-quite-lads a cool $230 million to reunite for an American tour. Lorne Michaels of SNL fame offered the band $3,000 to reunite for three songs on the show. And, in 1979, Bernstein took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to invite The Beatles to reunite for a concert to benefit Vietnamese refugees. Again, they took a pass. See here for more info.

Also, for folks in the SF Bay Area, Randal Doane Clash Oakland posterI’ll be reading at 1-2-3-4 Go! Records in Oakland, 7pm, on 20 June. I don’t know that a cover band has been confirmed, but please put it on your calendar. It should be a gas either way. For those of you linked to something called facebook, you can find the event listing here.

surviving the 70s — punk makes its mark

Plenty o’ rain has us indoors for now, on this side of Lake Erie, and — since it’s the last day of May — I’ve got a few more thoughts about ch. 5 in Stealing All Transmissions. Come August 1979, The US version of The Clash is finally out, and the band is mixing and wrapping up their work on London Calling. That September, they arrive in the states for the Take the Fifth tour and, come 19 September, arrive in New York City.

It’s a weird year in pop, as you can see below in John Rockwell’s end-of-the-year summary

From J. Rockwell,
From J. Rockwell, “Record Industry’s Sales Slowing After 25 Years of Steady Growth,” New York Times, August 8, 1979.

for the New York Times. (I’ve also written about importance of Rockwell here.) It’s also a tough year in pop, business-wise. The Clash’s UK label, CBS, had a tough first quarter, and pink-slipped 52 employees shortly thereafter. Net income dropped, and CBS blamed its record division.

It’s difficult to imagine it was a quality issue, with so many great LPs by Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, The Clash, and others. (Maybe it’s important, too, that the Stones-lawd have mercy–and Springsteen released nothing that year.)

Is home-taping the culprit? Does this theme sound familiar? The industry of course rebounded, and did well for ages, but it’s difficult to imagine 2015 (or any year after) holding good news, profit-wise, for the music industry.

No big surprise to see Talking Heads and The B-52’s in the mix, but especially nice to see The Clash, Ian Dury, and even Steve Reich mentioned–and perhaps because of the dip in humor of Give ‘Em Enough Rope, imagining The Clash as less fun than Joe Jackson or The Police. I figure Rockwell changed his tune, though, once he heard London Calling.

Click on the image to pull up the full article.
Click on the image to pull up the full article.

Cheers!

post-punk gems, v. 72 — Mission of Burma

Ah, the Wednesdays just keep comin’ … Boston post-punk was on my mind with The Pixies recently making a Cleveland appearance (which I missed, alas), and–while they didn’t reach the heights of The Pixies–Mission of Burma certainly cranked out some gems back in the day, including the college-rock favorite below.

Some regard Mission of Burma to be the American Wire (also playing CLE in a couple weeks!). Burma’s Roger Miller attended CalArts, and brought an avant-garde ethic to punk. As bassist Clint Conley noted, “I think we’re just a closet prog-rock act that happened during punk … We were attracted to the velocity and volume of punk, but at the same time Roger and I were both really attracted to composition.” Lester Bangs once described the singles between The Clash’s debut LP and Rope — incl. “White Man in Hamersmith Palais”  — as “white hot little symphonies,” a designation that fits selections of Burma’s oeuvre quite well.

Cheers!

UK music press — they eat their own

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, clashoodeon78flyerthe 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:

ch 5 blurb

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.

Cheers!

(post) punk gems, v. 49 — 999

So today I’ve got September 1979 on me brain again, and 999 in particular. Their drummer Pablo LaBrittain apparently was one of the many drummers that came through the ranks of London SS (proto-Clash combo), and the band was called 48 Hours ever so briefly–or until The Clash released their debut LP, which of course included the track “48 Hours.” So 999 takes the UK’s version of 911 as their moniker, released their own first single, and signed with United Artists shortly after. “Nasty Nasty” (1977) poses the seminal punk question: “What the hell is wrong with you?,” for which I’m still trying to come up with a sufficient answer.

Two years, two labels, and six singles later, they offer up the considerably mellower “Found Out Too Late.”

And wow: here’s lead singer Nick Cash and comrades banging out the same tune on their acoustic axes. Whatta treat!

Thanks for checking out today’s post. If you’re looking for info on Stealing (holiday sale happening now) the folks at The Big Takeover described it in these terms: “Doane’s history stands apart … arresting and vital.” Check it out!

post-punk gems, v. 46 — The Bush Tetras

It’s Wednesday evening, and while I’m late with my post, I’m certainly feeling groovy about a bunch of groovy new followers on twitter (@stealingclash), and about tomorrow’s release of Stealing in the UK. I can hardly wait for the Brits BTs(and the Welsh, Irish, and Scots) to weigh in, and to see if their reviews–please let there be reviews!–can match some of the more spirited American ones (here and there, to begin).

I can hardly believe how much good music there is still to be discovered akin to the spirit of ’77 through the mid-1980s (and after, really). One of the bands I missed the boat on was The Bush Tetras of New York City. Pat Place (ex-The Contortions, a key no-wave band) did the guitars, Laura Kennedy held things down on the bass, and Cynthia Sley took charge at the mic. Two singles made the dance charts: “Too Many Creeps” (a malady still plaguing downtown Manhattan), and “Can’t Be Funky/Cowboys in Africa.”

“Creeps” definitely lines up well with the Leeds-funk combos like Medium Medium, The Au Pairs, and Gang of Four. I just love this guitar style so much, I feel the inner grouch arising within: “What’s wrong with these kids today?”   They’re fine, of course, and making some pretty amazing music, really.

The Tetras are back at it, too, so look for them next time yer in NYC. Cheers!