Got my time machine set on 1980 again, and lo! — it’s now 35 years since The Dead Kennedys’ debut LP hit record bins in the UK. The LP cover image of a row of burning motorcars–from the aftermath of riots following the light sentence for homophobe Dan “it was the Twinkies” White, for the murder of SF Mayor George Moscone and city supervisor Harvey Milk–evokes the flipside of The Clash’s LP cover from the Notting Hill riots, and the sound in the grooves is equally disruptive.
From the opening passage of “Kill the Poor,” to the final bars of “Viva Las Vegas,” Jello Biafra and his gang cook up a rousing pot of humor, dissonance, and melodic hooks at a blistering pace.
I have a real soft spot for “Viva,” one of the finest covers in the punk canon, since Vegas itself signifies so boldly the opposite of the DIY spirit embraced by DK and Alternative Tentacles and punk writ large. The opening drum bit, along with the rollicking bass and guitar riffs, are punk classics. Biafra’s vocals, too, in their spoof of Elvis’s vocal timbre in the verses and enthusiastic bite in the chorus, are simply fantastic. Enjoy!
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.
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, I’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.
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
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.
Good day, readers! I’m diggin’ in deep again today into bits from chapter 4 of my book on The Clash breaking America, going back 38 years and few weeks, to a March 11 gig of The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, The Slits — and get this — “Late Night Kung Fu Films.” Awesome! So rock writer extraordinaire Nick Kent was on-hand, and noted for NME:
“Strummer’s stance sums up this band at is best, really: it’s all to do with real ‘punk’ credentials–a Billy the Kid sense of tough tempered with an innate sense of humanity …”
Kent proceeds to discredit Johnny Rotten and his “clownish co-conspirators,” but my
interest here is in Strummer’s stance–i.e., the way he and other punks actually stood onstage. Now, we don’t actually have pix of Billy the Kid’s shooting stance for reference, alas, and since it’s a blog post, I’m not aiming for an exhaustive sample here, but the punk stance was fundamentally different than the classic rock stance, as embodied by The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and Paul McCartney.
Daltrey and Plant, of course, didn’t pick up the guitar (as a rule, in Daltrey’s case), and were free to move about however they saw fit. One of their favorite poses, though was the transcendent pose: feet apart, leaning back (which just happened to emphasize the elasticity of their jeans in particular places), with chin tilted towards the sky.
And it’s not just the singer’s inclinations, of course: these singers had to do something to rival the impressive solos turned in by their virtuosic band mates. It also had to do with art, which allegedly transcends the street and the marketplace. The rock gods and the hippies favored leaning back, and swaying from side to side (see Janis Joplin, and even Patti Smith to a certain extent).
In his tenure with Wings, McCartney rarely struck the transcendent pose, but rarely performed with true urgency, either, and even found it appropriate to take up a chair during certain interludes.
Punks, of course, especially in the early days, didn’t take it easy at all. Johnny Rotten appeared a true original in this way, but his pose here recalls teen idols leaning out over the audience–but this time, of course, it’s to egg on their disdain, rather than to solicit affection.
The Clash struck intricate poses, more pigeon-toed than bow-legged in the beginning, as if the urgency of the message and their affection for their fans drew them right to the lip of the stage. (Strummer recedes here, to honor Mick’s take at the mic.)
The pigeon-toed pose, of course, owes a-plenty to Elvis Costello, and the cover image for his first LP (before we got to see him reproduce this pose–and the accompanying dance steps–live and on MtV).
I’ll leave you with two more images: Siouxsie in stark black-and-white, from 1977, Paul Weller with The Jam in 1978 — not quite pigeon-toed, I suppose, but the mic placement, the urgency of the music, and the crowd had him up on his toes, channeling anger as an energy.
Good morning, fine readers. I’m trying to be disciplined here, and stay true to my hope to connect my Sunday posts to Stealing All Transmissions (the book) by post elaborations of key points or something “multi-media” connected to chapter 1 in January, chapter 2 in February, etc.
Today, though, I’m still in chapter 1, thinking about punk vocal styles, and their connection to Paul Morley’s vital words on Kraftwerk (see full quote here): “The source of [Kraftwerk’s] pop … was art, noise, technology, ideas … a fantasy of what pop music might have sounded like had it not begun in the blues, in wood, in anger, in lust, in sexual frenzy, in poverty.”
Here’s the single version of “Autobahn” (1975), their first track to reach the US charts:
And sure, we might be concerned when Germans (or anyone for that matter) is making aesthetic choices that reflect racialized categories, but that’s not the prime mover here, of course. The different styles of black American music — R&B, soul, jazz, and blues, gospel, etc. — cast such a long shadow on popular music in the West that it was difficult to forge something new (see: The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, et. al.). By the mid-1970s, a desperation for something new arose in Dusseldorf, London, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and elsewhere, and singers like Tom Verlaine, Joey Ramone, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, the gents in Devo and, of course, David Byrne, were onto something.
So, when Talking Heads make their way from the Rhode Island School of Design to the Bowery, they confirm — as they sing on their debut LP — “It’s not, yesterday, anymore!” David Byrne’s vocals are the most definitive departure, sound-wise, and here’s how Stephen Demorest’s described his approach in his Rolling Stone review of ’77:
“Vocally, Byrne’s live-wired personality vibrates his precise musical framework like a caged tiger rattling its bars. (That he sings in a stiff, reedy, ‘bad’ voice, grasping for higher notes like a drowning man lunging for air, only heightens the drama.)”
Not bad, I’d say, and it heralds a question I hope to pursue in a future post: of the American bands in the punk and post-punk era, how come only Talking Heads dared reinvent themselves from album to album (or every other album)? What is it about American notions of masculinity, authenticity, and musicality that allowed bands to mellow (e.g., Husker Du and The Replacements, and often begrudgingly), but not dare pursue metamorphoses? Think of Brits such as John Lydon (from Pistols to PiL), The Clash (Rope to London Calling, or Sandinista! to Combat Rock), The Damned (Strawberries to Phantasmagoria), to begin. I’m sure art school and notions of artifice play a big role.
Happy Wednesday, readers. Today’s post simply offers the musical accompaniment to Sunday’s post on punk covers, and includes a few of my favorite covers by boy bands, including The Specials, Devo, Elvis Costello, The English Beat, The Clash, and another ruckusly-inclined band to wrap things up.
More news about the book is coming soon. Until then, please stand up and pogo around the office to this musical selection. Enjoy!
Ah, yes, I’m a tad late getting this segment together. A bit of The Specials, UB40, OMD, The Clash, and a couple other tracks–maybe 25 min. in length or so. A bit mellow for ’77, but I’ll turn up the volume in today’s show, which is going to be focused on punk covers. It’s wobc.org, or 91.5 on your FM dial in Lorain County, 5-6pm, EDT.