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.

Advertisements

meeting Gary Giddins // Louis Armstrong, rebel trickster

Happy Sunday, folks. ‘Tis the season of the US’s finest holidays–Halloween & Thanksgiving–which remain secular for the most part, and of course provide a modest share of us to be thankful for what we have. Within a matter of hours, though, a less modest share of us descend upon the strip malls and big box stores and completely lose their shite.

I am especially grateful this week for having met and chatted with Gary Giddins, whose long-standing column in the Village Voice inspired me in the early 90s to imagine life as a jazz historian. (It didn’t quite work out that way, but I did write about swing-dancing and Ralph Ellison, whose own writing on jazz set the bar damn high.) Giddins was in town to present a lecture on jazz and photography, which should appear on Vimeo before too long. (I’ll update here and tweet anew if that happens.) Here’s a nice intro to a handful of jazz tunes by Giddins.

LouisArmstrong_joint
Armstrong, relaxing.

One of my favorite tales from the Giddins collection recounts, apropos, a tale of Louis Armstrong, when he was hired to accompany a pianist at a birthday party for a big figure in the mafia (probably in the early 1960s). It’s not difficult to imagine that maybe, just maybe, the don’s partygoers didn’t recognize Armstrong in all his human complexity, and got under his rather thick skin. In response, the pianist recalled, during a rendition of some pop standard, Armstrong started to scat, much to the amusement of his audience–and the gut-wrenching amusement of the pianist, who apparently was the only one in the room able to decipher the three syllables of the scat refrain: “Kiss my ass. Kiss my ass.” Armstrong smiled, and tears of sublime joy rained upon the piano keys, as the pianist kept due time as his tear ducts open (and kept his own mouth shut).

If you’re curious to see the latest news on Stealing All Transmissions, check out the latest reviews here. If you reside in Northeastern Ohio, and you’re available on 5 Dec for a book reading + dance party, send me a note at djaphasia [at] gmail for details.

review from Clash-de-camp, punk and the grey lady

zxHappy, happy June, to you!  The birds outside own the soundscape while I’m typing, but their love calls and dog alerts will give way to a chorus of lawnmowers in just a few hours. A few of you have checked-in anew this week, so it’s great to have you catching the latest news at K-SAT. Certainly the big reviews of Stealing by The Baker, long-time frontline roadie for The Clash, was a nice way to wrap up May (Louder Than War on top, and Daily Swarm on the bottom). I do hope you will share this item with your loved ones and punk comrades from back in the day. Many thanks to The Baker for finding the time to put this review together, and for the kind words about the book.

image -- LTW headline

swarm image

Lots of folks have passed on the word (nearly 500 and counting @ LTW), but do consider leaving a bit of feedback for The Baker at the bottom of either article. Your encouragement is what keeps us wordsmiths going.

In other punk media news, John Holmstrom’s The Best of Punk Magazine is holding steady in amazon sales since its December release, and drawing many favorable reviews.

punk collection

I’m not sure why folks give him flack for trying to pay the rent on a project that didn’t do so back in the day. At $20 for over 300 pages of spirited prose and photos, it’s a fine, fine collection–do let me know, though, if you think otherwise.

One of the key joys of working on the book was spending time talking with key figures from the NYC punk scene, folks close to The Clash, and others, and I can’t offer enough thanks for how generous they were with their time. To show my generosity, though, I want to share some of things I learned while doing research for the book that appeal to a wider audience, and to the writers among you in particular who might be working on your own punk-post-punk chronicles.

As noted in Stealing All Transmissions, Holmstrom and PUNK’s “resident punk” Legs McNeil, and the folks at Trouser Press, Soho Weekly News, and The Village Voice played key roles in setting the stage for The Clash to play The Palladium (3000 seats), rather than The Bottom Line (400 seats), on their first three visits to NYC. The New York Times, too, must be included in this conversation. John Rockwell, who’s about as well credentialed as they come (Harvard, U. of Munich, UC Berkeley)  joined the Times in 1972 as their classical music critic, took on popular music duties and, in this late 30s, apparently in jacket-and-tie, was hanging out at CBGB, The Palladium, and elsewhere, and spreading the gospel via “The Grey Lady,” as the Times was then known.

John Rockwell SO3346

And he was there earlier than most. At the end of 1977, in “Pop Music: Of Women, Country and the Punks” (Dec 25, p. 66), he opens his list of highlights, alas, with accolades for Fleetwood Mac, whom he regards as “popular and wonderful.” (Among the critics he wasn’t alone in this regard–check out the 1977 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll from The Village Voice.) Then, at #8 on the list, alongside the photo montage of soulmates Johnny Rotten and Crystal Gayle, he writes, “This was also the year that saw the beginnings of what may be the next British rock invasion–this time of punk rock. In 1975 and 1976 our attention was seized by the American punks, but not particularly new happened on that front here this year. Instead, we saw the first American performances of artists like the Damned, the Jam, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Elvis Costello–and, if nothing untoward happens, the Sex Pistols will make their American debut before the year is out. And after them will come the Clash, the Vibrators, and many more.”

A-ha! It was Rockwell who put the voodoo on The Pistols! Rockwell, and Robert Palmer among others, chimed in on punk with some regularity and open minds. William Safire, perhaps not too surprisingly, found punk didn’t suit his tastes. In the late 70s, especially, Rockwell was on the scene, and he regularly mentioned punk releases and happenings in his “Pop Life” column.

Like their indy colleagues, Times reporters covered the side projects of their colleagues in radio. Shortly after the demise of the “Elvis to Elvis” format at WPIX-FM, Andy Edelstein penned “How Mass Appeal Makes Rock” (May 18, 1980, p. LI13), which showcased Mass Appeal, the Long Island quartet with guitarists DJ Jane Hamburger (below) and Linda Dering.

mass appeal -- jane h -- 1979

(Here’s the full pic at the photographer’s site.) Edelstein notes, “The band’s music is raw, rough-edged but highly danceable, reflecting the influences of such adventurous English bands as the Gang of Four, the Clash, and the Slits–groups whose records Miss Hamburger played on her show before she resigned in March, when the station adopted a stricter format.” Hamburger submitted her resignation in order to join her friends at the last Clash show at the Palladium. Edelstein gives props to Hamburger’s weekly show on Hofstra University’s WVHC-FM, on which she continued to play a key role in bringing the music of The Clash to tri-state listeners.

Thanks for checking out the rather lengthy post! Have a rock-steady week, and check back on Wednesday for more underheralded post-punk gems!

Here’s a couple of fun tracks by the Slits, and GO4 at Hurrah’s, where Jane and Meg Griffin spun their big-beat mix.