Come aboard the way-back time machine, where it’s the summer of ’76, and NYC proto-hipsters are abuzz about 7″ of vinyl just released on Ork Records. A la John Coltrane’s Ascension LP, Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel,” their debut single, unfolds over 7 plus minutes, so it’s split down the middle (or so). It offers a whole new guitar vocabulary in the timbres and phrasing, with echoes of the Velvets and the Byrds, and heralds the craft of the axe-folk of Talking Heads, Wire, and Gang of Four. Robert Christgau was on-board from the get-go, regarding “LJJ” as “dynamic and spooky … its dissolute aura is difficult to shake off.”
“Jewel,” too, served as a jewel-of-a-connection between New York and London early on. It made its way across the Atlantic and into the hands of Rat Scabies, who had a failed try-out with The Clash and eventually became the drummer of The Damned. “The first thing we heard from New York was the Television single, ‘Little Johnny Jewel.’ I remember listening to it and being blown away.” (Stealing, p. 47)
Just as so many of us did through the 1980s, Scabies constructed his fandom from bits and pieces, with the whole remaining ever elusive. “No one had seen the Heartbreakers live, but we thought they looked great. We had seen pictures of Television, Richard Hell and Blondie but nobody had heard anything. Because Danny Fields was involved with the MC5 we knew [The Ramones] had to be the right kind of thing.” The right kind of thing, indeed.
Writers quibble over year-zero of punk: ’76, because that’s when things started rolling, or ’77, because that’s when key platters of vinyl by The Clash, the Pistols, Blondie, Television, and so many others hit the shops. The hardcore look back to Iggy and the Stooges, of course, or even Velvet Underground at Cafe Wha? way back when.
The night noted above, though, has got a decent claim to the most important weekend in punk history, in terms of guts, glory, and serendipity. On both sides of the Atlantic, the eponymous Ramones’ LP hit the shelves and, as Generation X’s Tony James noted, “The Ramones were the single most important group that changed punk rock.”
In London’s Nashville Room, The Sex Pistols opened for the 101’ers, and Mick Jones accompanied Bernie Rhodes to check out the 101’ers’ lead singer, Joe Strummer.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the crowd at CBGB was treated to the debut documentary of the punk scene: The Blank Generation, by Ivan Kral, then with Patti Smith’s group, served as the opening act for Johnny Thunders’ The Heartbreakers, just before Richard Hell set out on his own with his band, the Voidoids.
Kral’s film was a truly DIY affair, as you can see here. I do, of course, shine a bit more light in my book on one of the most important nights in the history of rocknroll. I’ll give the coda over to Richard Hell. Cheers!
Greetings, readers! So I’m back at the book again here, mining chapter 3, “1977: Clamor, Exposure, and Camaraderie,” for another gem related to the DIY spirit. The clamor, of course, was ringing from speakers on the stage and in bedrooms on both sides of the Atlantic, as 1977 saw the release of the 2nd Ramones’ LP, Talking Heads: 77, Television’s Marquee Moon, The Clash, two LPs each by The Damned and The Stranglers and, almost late in the game, came the debut LP by The Sex Pistols. The DIY ethos informed the fanzines, too–most notably Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue, which popularized the cut-and-paste ransom-note aesthetic and, for better or worse, fomented the yer-either-with-us-or-against-us ethos that led to a narrow definition of punk.
Perry’s search in ’76 for written coverage of his new favorite bands turned up almost nothing. “One time I was at [the record shop] Rock On, trying to find out if there were any magazines I could read about these bands in,” Perry recalled. “There weren’t, so the people behind the counter suggested flippantly that I should go and start my own. So I did” (Stealing, p. 42). And did so quickly, and with a sensibility that’s been confirmed nearly four decades hence, as the cover of issue #6 from January ’77 rightly confirms. Perry, too, knew that before too long, his subjects were also his readers. “John Lydon had it, Strummer had it, Rat Scabies had it,” Perry reported. “I thought, ‘If I say this in the Glue, it’s going to happen.’ I knew that, and that’s what fueled me, knowing that it was being taken seriously” (Ibid.).
Perry, alas, took himself too seriously, and did so for years. You might think after a couple decades he might back away from punk-inspired claims such as, “Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS,” but no. For John Robb’s Punk Rock, Perry stuck to his ideological guns:
“These guys weren’t about to smash their Gibson & Fender guitars all over the stage, were they? … they manipulated punk into ‘OK, we won’t have a riot, we will sing about it instead.’ Which is cool, at least someone’s singing about it — but don’t try to make out that are some hard revolutionary. You’re just in a pop band — which the Clash ended up being. They were a great pop band, but nothing to do with punk. The real punk bands came a couple of years later, the bands we all hated like the Exploited and all those nasty working-class people [laughs] that have convictions and have been in trouble with the police …” (p. 340).
So, the requisite credentials include: smashing expensive gear, trouble with the law, and you need to be as tedious as The Exploited? As a period piece, The Exploited were perfect, but how many times can you listen to songs that repeat the same phrase in a chorus and construct musical bridges from watered down heavy metal riffs?
Punk is a many-a-splendored thing and, as guitarist Marco Pirroni rightly noted, “This whole Mark P thing that [the Pistols] should sign to Bumhole Records for no money was stupid — that would never work.” The Clash’s refusal to become a self-parody by making the same album over and over again is a testament to their greatness, not a failure. And please: if we’re talking about class credentials, lay off Mick Jones. “Rock’n’roll Mick” did what any poor boy with enough pounds for a guitar and an unassailable work ethic would do: he dedicated his life to rock’n’roll, and made the world a better place.
I will give Mark P. due credit, though, for rocking Alternative TV well into the 21st century–and tonight, 8 March, in Brighton. Cheers!
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.
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:
Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life (Tamla)
Graham Parker & the Rumour: Heat Treatment (Mercury)
Jackson Browne: The Pretender (Asylum)
Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howlin’ Wind (Mercury)
Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate & Anna McGarrigle (Warner Bros.)
Steely Dan: The Royal Scam (ABC)
Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum)
Ramones: Ramones (Sire)
Rod Stewart: A Night on the Town (Warner Bros.)
Blue Oyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (Columbia)
Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia)
Television: Marquee Moon (Elektra)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Warner Bros.)
Steely Dan: Aja(ABC)
Ramones: Rocket to Russia (Sire)
Talking Heads: Talking Heads: 77 (Sire)
Randy Newman: Little Criminals (Warner Bros.)
Garland Jeffreys: Ghost Writer (A&M)
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.)
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.
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:
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!
Happy Wednesday readers! After close to eight years away, I got back in the DJ booth last week at WOBC, our local college and community radio station, for an hour of “The Spirit of ’77.” I’m rusty, and It’s a mixed bag, of course, with great tracks from ’77 and after, some of the tracks that inspired all that gorgeous noise in ’77, and a few foils, too, just to remind us what that joyous ruckus was about.
Do get past the first 45 seconds certainly, which is a non-punk prelude, and then you’ll encounter a host of fun items without DJ patter this time, including The Au Pairs, the Dolls, Costello, The Clash, Scritti Politti, Pixies, Public Image Ltd., Patti Smith, Lorde (yes Lorde!–outside of hip hop, she’s best we’ve got today on social class), Television, Sleater-Kinney, and Gang of Four. Send me a note if you need info on any particular track. I’d post them in order, but that prevents a bit of serendipity, yes?
And here’s a link to a show that just went up in NYC, with great images of the Beasties, Madonna, and others, as just kids. And some of The Clash in various iterations, too.
Thanks for tuning in. I’m back on the air Thursday, 5-6pm, EDT, at wobc.org, and 91.5 FM in Northeast Ohio. Thanks for checking in!