the punk stance — pigeon-toed singers, unite!

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

The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).
The transcendent pose (Chris Walter, 1972).

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.

The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).
The voice (and the hammer) of the gods (photographer unknown).

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).

Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).
Wings, taking it easy (photographer unknown).

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.

Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).
Rotten leans in (1977, AP Photo/Virgin Records).

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.

 

No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).
No Beatles, Stones, or transcendent poses, in 1977 (photographer unknown).

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.)

 

Get the balance right (1977).
Get the balance right (1977).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).
Siouxsie and the Banshees, 1977 (photog unknown).

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.

Send along your favorites if you’ve got ’em.

The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).
The Jam in Boston, 1978(Jeff Albertson/CORBIS).

 

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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?

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.

music theory for the lay-folk, myself included: The Clash, The Who, NY Dolls, and more

Happy Sunday folks! I hope you’ve got a warm coffee in ya, if that’s your thing. I gotta tip a couple cups a’day to keep me right, and a third one on the weekends can be just the thing.

I have the benefit of getting a bit of musical wisdom now and again from my partner, who teaches a bit in the local music school. Music theory can be an odd discipline, and one of her pet concepts is “extraneous intensifier,” which describes the apparently gratuitous “ooh” or “aah” that fails to add meaning to the song. I thought of Ray Charles and tracks such as “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” (I know it was a big to-do upon its release, but I find my joy in Mr. Charles on LPs other than Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music (1962)).

As a devotee of popular music writ large, I was hard-pressed to imagine the bastion of intensifiers on some of my favorite tunes as extraneous: think of Roger Daltrey, at 7:50 below, when he’s called upon to affirm a bit of resilience (I’ve attempted to cue the videos below to play 20 seconds ahead of the mid-song intensifier of note):

David Johansen with The New York Dolls, on “Personality Crisis” (here on The Old Grey Whistle Test), frames the song with intensifiers from the get-go–and I can hardly imagine the song without them.

I think there’s even a couple hundred words otherwise captures in the low growl of Glenn Tilbrook at 3:30, in this tale of betrayal and wonder:

Elvis Costello indicates with a few opening bars of not-quite-sweet-nothings that this narrative may be motivated by something other than revenge or guilt–as you may know, his self-proclaimed first principles in songwriting.

I had the ending of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” in mind, too, but want to wrap it up with a ladies’ choice (and The Clash), and I’m thinking of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann at 2:04 in this narrative of automobiliaphilia, which is oddly contradicted by the sci-fi video:

The Clash, oddly enough, are difficult to pin down in terms of a solid integral intensifier. There are of course the “ooh-aah” backing vocals of “Protex Blue,” “Police and Thieves,” and others, but rarely, if ever (among the songs I know, and I do know most of them), did Joe or Mick (or even Paul or Topper) elaborate a stanza with a integral or extraneous intensifier. The one that comes to mind is a gem (@ 4:01 especially), and you’ll find it below.

(This video clip resisted embedding, for some reason. There’s a prelude of interview clips that are fairly amusing, and if anyone knows what Opie’s doing introducing The Clash, I’d be delighted to know the context.)

STH

Have a delightful week! Please check in on Wed. for a midweek gem, and be sure to catch The Baker’s latest musings on The Clash — this time on Hell W10 here.