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.
Enjoy, and rock on!
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.
Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where every Wednesday I cue up a great tune from back in the day, and a bit of the tune’s back-story (as time allows). Once again I’ve been paging through John Robb’s Punk Rock: An Oral History, learning about tales and tracks I wasn’t privy to the first time around.
Wire’s Pink Flag (1977), of course, remains a staple on best-o-lists for the time and punk writ large, and casts a long shadow on subsequent LPs (and their key tracks). Wire’s label was EMI, and of course all the labels were still learning what to do with punk and its arty offshoots. In summer ’78, Wire released “Outdoor Miner,” which charted ahead of a scheduled appearance for the band on Top of the Pops.
As Colin Newman recalled, after the TOTP slot was cancelled, “that was our big moment gone, where we could have been weird and pop at the same time!” The situation was complicated by the pulling of the single from the charts due to rumors about “the possibility that inducements had been offered for the sale of the single to be exaggerated in chart return shops.” For the Yanks among you, read: rumors of payola, which might as well have been confirmed, and the single and the LP never recovered. The single, though, deserved a real shot, and heralds the fine work of many bands, most conspicuously Pavement. Wire’s still at it though, and good for them. I hope the music’s paying the bills.
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