Sunday, September 15, 2019

An Island Lost At Sea-o

The Police : Message in a Bottle

On September 16, 1979 , just weeks after the band topped the bill at the Reading Festival... and days after Sting made his film debut as "Ace Face" in Quadrophenia, The Police's new single, "Message in a Bottle" b/w "Landlord", debuted at #8 on the U.K. charts. The single from the forthcoming Regatta de Blanc would be the first of their five #1 hits, topping the charts just a week later.

Guitarist Andy Summers has said it's the best song Sting ever wrote and the best track the Police ever recorded. Sting would agree that it's a good song, adding

 " I like the idea that while it's about loneliness and alienation it's also about finding solace and other people going through the same thing. The guy's on a desert island and throws a bottle out to sea saying he's alone and all these millions of bottles come back saying, So what So am I! I like the fact that the whole deal is clinched by the third verse. It makes a journey. "

The B side, "Landlord"  is a rocking tune from the early clubbing days with lyrics by Sting and music by drummer Stewart Copeland, which may be why it sounds so much like a Klark Kent tune.

Friday, September 13, 2019

24 Track Loop

This Heat : 24 Track Loop

In September of 1979, the British experimental art rock band This Heat released their self-titled debut, 47 minutes of uncategorizable white noise, tape loops and overdubs. "Though insolent and withdrawn, the music is adventurous and, in its own peculiar way, engrossing," says Trouser Press. This Heat , formed during the punk era, is made up of veterans of the progressive rock scene, including Charles Hayward of Gong (and Phil Manzanera's Quiet Sun) along with Charles Bullen and Gareth Williams.

 Ranked as the #9 album of the year by the online collaborative metadata database Rate Your Music, it has its supporters like Silly_Puppy who writes "THIS HEAT provided a blueprint for noise rock bands such as Sonic Youth as well as a prototype framework for what would become post-rock via the likes of Glenn Branca and ultimately to the explosion of the style that Talk Talk would nurture into the 90s. " Members of Animal Collective and Caribou have both cited the band as an influence.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

He Must Be Happy

XTC : Making Plans for Nigel

In September of 1979 XTC released their breakthrough single "Making Plans for Nigel", a top 20 hit. The single was released in a glossy sleeve that folds out into a board game, though nobody but Andy Partridge seemed to know how to play the game. "You play the game using the snakes and ladders principle," he told Smash Hits. "You need to throw or spin the exact number to finish. ..and remember if your parents try to squeeze you into a mould that you don't fit, fight it. ( I did...look what happened to me)."

It was Colin Moulding who wrote the song:

I didn't know where it came from. That phrase popped into my head, and one line followed another. Before I knew it, I'd written three parts of the song, and the rest of it just kind of fell in line probably a day or two later. ... When I was about 16, my father wanted me to stay on in school. But by that time, I really didn't want to do anything other than music, I think. ... So, in a way, is it autobiographical? Well, a little bit. I knew somebody called Nigel at school. But I think that, when you write songs, it's a lot of things all wrapped up, like in your dreams. Your dreams are kind of bits and pieces of all the walks of life you've been in. ... 

 We used to rehearse about two or three times a week with the band, and I'd take songs to rehearsal, you know? This one seemed to get a favorable response. But at that time, I didn't really have enough confidence in myself to know where I was going with the arrangement. The other guys helped me on that, I suppose

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

After Turning Off the Television

Tom Verlaine : Breakin' In My Heart

In September of 1979 former Television frontman Tom Verlaine released his self-titled debut album. With three Television era songs, the album scored an A- from Village Voice critic Robert Christgau who wrote 

In which he deploys backup choruses and alien instruments, the kind of stuff that bogs down all solo debuts, with modest grace and wit. And continues to play guitar like Captain Marvel. Neater than Television, as you might expect, but almost as visionary anyway, and a lot more confident and droll. Inspirational Verse: "My head was spinning/My oh my." 

The best track may be the final one. "Breakin' In My Heart" is a Television-era live favorite with the B-52's Ricky Wilson adding guitar. The album ranked #15 on the NME album poll. On the Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll, the album finished #14.

Richard Lloyd : Misty Eyes

In the meantime Verlaine's Television bandmate, Richard Lloyd, released his debut album Alchemy on Elektra. Joined by Television bassist Fred Smith, Feelies drummer Vinny DeNunzio and future Bongos guitarist James Maestro, the album's title track was a local FM hit in New York City. Christgau gave the album a B+, writing:

Lloyd really has his pop down, and this record never fails to cheer me when it comes on-the songwriting and guitar textures are consistently tuneful and affecting. I don't mind that he always sings off-key, either--part of the charm of his pop is how loose it is. But the voice is so whacked-out that even if you'd never seen Lloyd lurching around a stage or matching magic with Tom Verlaine you'd sense that where for the Shoes or the Beat teen romance is a formal stricture, for him it's an evasion--he's just not telling us what he knows.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

So Cold and Distant

Gary Numan : Conversation

On September 7, 1979 Gary Numan released his debut solo album, The Pleasure Principle. Having already scored a U.K. #1 hit with Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric" and  with "Cars" racing up the charts to #1, Numan is in the midst of his biggest moment. Sure, he borrows elements from David Bowie and Kraftwerk, but he has also found his own catchy slice of the spectrum: android vocals over electronic machines played over Cedric Sharpley's drums.

In the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Yoshi Kato writes "The Pleasure Principle manages to sound at once futuristic and oddly timeless in a postmodern world."

From Smash Hits, Red Starr writes "I'm not greatly sold on this. It's not bad, mind you--a smoother, almost disco-ish version of Replicas--but much too it and not as adventurous, though Numan worshippers will doubtless adore it anyway."

And from Robert Christgau a dismissive grade of B:

Once again, metal machine music goes easy-listening. But last time the commander-in-chief of the tubeway army was singing about furtive sex, policemen, and isolation, while this time he's singing about robots, engineers, and isolation. In such a slight artist, these things make all the difference.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Don't Create, Don't Rebel

The Slits : Typical Girls

On September 7, 1979 The Slits released Cut. Originally a fearsome feminist foursome, The Slits supported The Clash on the 1977 White Riot tour along with The Buzzcocks. By no means were they typical girls. Along with thrift shop fashions and wild hair, the band's most memorable fashion trend was wearing bloody tampons as earrings. Learning to actually play their instruments was something they would get around to doing over the next couple of years.

Teenage German vocalist Ari Up was the front woman and on Cut she still sounds like a schoolgirl. Viv Albertine is the guitarist.  Teenager Tessa Pollitt plays bass and future Banshees drummer Budgie steps in to replace the departing Palmolive. By now The Slits have developed a new dub-influenced sound that producer Dennis Bovell accentuates. Punk guitars and attitude meet reggae beats while Up sings about shoplifting (Ten quid for the lot /We pay fuck all ...Do a runner!)

The album was met with critical acclaim. From Smash Hits :

Once the worst band I've ever seen...It's rough and reggae stuff from the wild girls ( may they ever stay that way) -- catchy tunes, fighting lyrics and a powerful personality that leaps right out at you.

From the Village Voice's Robert Christgau, who gave the album a grade of B+:

For once a white reggae style that rivals its models for weirdness and formal imagination. The choppy lyrics and playful, quavering, chantlike vocals are a tribute to reggae's inspired amateurism rather than a facsimile, and the spacey rhythms and recording techniques are exploited to solve the great problem of female rock bands, which is how to make yourself heard over all that noise. Arri Up's answer is to sing around it, which is lucky, because she'd be screeching for sure on top of the usual wall of chords. Some of this is thinner and more halting than it's meant to be, but I sure hope they keep it up.

Regarding the controversial album cover, Albertine shares the story of shooting it in an English rose garden :

We wanted a warrior stance, to be a tribe. We were egging each other on, and the next thing you know we were sitting in the mud, smearing it over each other. We knew, since we had no clothes on, that we had to look confrontational and hard. We didn't want to be inviting the male gaze.

Despite finishing #3 on Sounds, #22 on NME and #32 on the Village Voice's year end polls, and inspiring future female fronted bands of all kinds, the footnotes on this album are rather sad. The Slits apparently never got a cut of Cut, and are still seeking royalties. And that force of nature, Ari Up died of cancer at the age of 48.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Don't Drag Your Head Down

David Johansen : Melody


The most memorable thing about David Johansen's second solo album, In Style, is the cover photography by Richard Avedon. The second most memorable thing is Johansen's full body dive into the disco scene with "Swaheto Woman". 

New York City homer Robert Christgau still gave the album a B+, writing 

Johansen is equal to his more soulish musical concept--no "disco," just slower tempos, subtle be-yoo-ty, and some reggae--but he doesn't have the chops to get on top of it, and while this is solid stuff, the best of it tends to thin out a little. 

Although the problem isn't how often you think "that's bad" but how often you don't think "that's great," the record is summed up for me by "Big City," the most banal lyric he's ever written. Until now, you see, he'd never written any banal lyrics at all. Now he's got three or four.

The Village Voice critics poll, still made up of mostly New York based critics, placed In Style #24.