Monday, August 20, 2018

Get a Pocket Computer

On August 20, 1978 Blondie entered the U.K. charts with "Picture This", the first single from their breakthrough album Parallel Lines. Australian producer Mike Chapman had a reputation for mass success. One of his productions, Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City", was climbing the U.S. charts in August on its way to #1. 

Chapman wanted everything to sound perfect. Of Parallel Lines  he said "There's loads of hits, it's a great album, but who gives a fuck. It's easy, you see. When we go into the studio, we go in and make hit records, and it just happens. We don't think about it. If you're going to be in the music business, you gotta make hit records. If you can't make hit records, you should fuck off and go chop meat somewhere". 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

In Silent Bars, In Silent Rooms

By August of 1978 it was evident that Gary Numan's Tubeway Army would not be entering the UK charts with its punky, guitar-driven "Bombers", released a month earlier. At least MTV could cop the guitar line for its theme music. Numan would leave punk rock behind , keep the robotic vocals and attempt to seduce the listening public with synthesizers. The 1979 Tubeway Army album, Replicas, would be a ground breaker, featuring a UK #1 hit in "Are 'Friends' Electric?"

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Harmful Elements in the Air

On October 18, 1978 Siouxsie and the Banshees released their debut single, "Hong Kong Garden". The UK#7 hit was written from the point of view of a racist punk visiting a Chinese restaurant by that name. Siouxsie Sioux often visited a London take away by that name.

"I'll never forget, there was a Chinese restaurant in Chislehurst called the 'Hong Kong Garden'," she said. " Me and my friend were really upset that we used to go there and like, occasionally when the skinheads would turn up it would really turn really ugly. These gits would just go in en masse and just terrorise these Chinese people who were working there. We'd try and say 'Leave them alone', you know. It was a kind of tribute"

It's a subtle thing, writing lyrics from the point of view of racists. Just ask Randy Newman. And lines like "Slanted eyes meet a new sunrise/ A race of bodies small in size" might startle those who aren't paying full attention.

The critics loved the single.It was selected as "Single of the Week" by NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror. The song was described by Paul Rambali of NME as "a bright, vivid narrative, something like snapshots from the window of a speeding Japanese train, power charged by the most original, intoxicating guitar playing heard in a long, long time" 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Woke up in a Soho Doorway

On August 18, 1978 The Who released Who Are You, their eighth and final album with drummer Keith Moon. The recording of the album was difficult to say the least. Moon was erratic in temperament and tempo. He was unable to play the 6/8 time on the track "Music Must Change", so the drums were completely removed. Roger Daltrey underwent throat surgery, causing more delays. Then, Pete Townshend sliced his hand  in a window. All incidents pale in comparison to the loss of Moon who died three weeks after the album's release. As noted many times, on the cover of Who Are You, he sits in a chair marked "Not To Be Taken Away".

I've always found the album overwrought and a little dull. A lethargic response to punk rock. Townshend's Empty Glass, featuring the title cut, written in 1978, is far superior to this album. 

This is by no means a great record, but despite the doubt, guilt, worry and self-laceration in almost every song, it's a strangely confident one. Again and again, the persona is that of the cripple, the victim of disaster, but Who Are You is not the work of cripples, no matter how many breakdowns and bottles the Who have left on their fourteen-year-old trail.

 Certainly, the album kicks in slowly. The tunes lack a natural, kinetic groover (John Entwistle's "905" and Pete Townshend's "Who Are You" are exceptions). The drive we expect from the Who is replaced by chunky, sometimes clunky orchestration: strings, horns, synthesizer music. This gives one the feeling that the Who aren't moving, that they aren't gearing up for a great rock and roll shoot-out with the competition, heading off for better times, claiming the future -- rather, they're face to face with limbo, and trying to think their way out of it. They make the limbo real, but their resistance to it is just as convincing.

 At least four songs -- all Pete Townshend's -- begin with the premise that the band's (and its audience's) future can't be taken for granted: with doors slamming all around, Townshend feels his weakness, his obsolescence. "New Song," the first cut, rams home the guilt of having taken a free ride: "I write the same old song, with a few new lines/And everybody wants to cheer me." "Music Must Change" might be announcing the need for a New Wave, but it's quite consciously two years out of date, and, what's more, the music itself sounds old and stiff -- there's not a single musical concession to punk, reggae or even hard-nosed rock. In "Guitar and Pen," Townshend clings to his vocation as the man who has something to say, something worth the time others will take to listen, but very intentionally, he protests too much, and subverts his own affirmation.

And then there is "Who Are You," a far stronger single than "Squeeze Box," the hit from 1975's The Who By Numbers, and a song that, stretched out over more than six minutes on the LP version, is far more moving than "Won't Get Fooled Again," the band's certified Seventies masterpiece. The dynamics are much more subtle this time -- and all the smugness is gone.

 "Who Are You" was spun out of the night that Townshend, already drunk after hours of financial haggling, half-recognized two members of the Sex Pistols in a bar: that is, he thought either Steve Jones or Paul Cook was Johnny Rotten. Corrected, he felt even more confused: Why can't I see straight? Cook and Jones, supposedly arrogant young punks working out their rock and roll Oedipal complex, were thrilled to meet Townshend and horrified at what he had to tell them: the Who were finished, used up, wasted. The incident left Townshend passed out in a Soho street, which is where the song begins. Townsend (in the voice of Roger Daltrey) wakes up with one enormous question: Who are you? It's addressed to Cook and Jones (Who are these upstarts, who would never have played a not had not Townshend picked up a guitar more than a decade back?); to the cop who, recognizing Townshend, sends him home without a bust (Who are the fans?); to himself (What does it mean to be a rocker? What kind of wreck has the life made him?); and, finally, to anyone who's listening. "Whooooooo/Are you?" hums the chorus. "I really want to know!" Daltrey shouts back, echoing Donovan's "What Goes On," but while Donovan communicated hippie certainty that all things would come, Daltrey is desperate, sure of nothing.

 ATTENTION, reads a sticker on the album cover: "'Who Are You' (Side 2, Track 4) contains lyrics that may offend." We can thank the Supreme Court -- which in its ultimate wisdom recently granted the FCC the power to censor radio -- for that one, but what might these offensive lyrics be? There's a lot of emotion in this song -- is that now illegal? I had to listen over and over before I caught what the sticker was referring to: Daltrey's most expressive singing on the LP -- a blasted, tired, buried wail of "Who the fuck are you!" just before the record ends. Nobody answers: the doo-wop chorus simply goes on taunting. The neat double meaning of the album title -- the Who are you -- does not outlast the title song.

The other numbers on the LP, those that don't posit rock as a metaphor for life, connect directly with those that do: they too are about fear, emptiness, failure. John Entwistle's "905" is surely the finest cut here, a return to the form of "Boris the Spider," "Whiskey Man" and "My Wife." The timeliness of the song is uncanny: it's about a test-tube baby. The music, led on by an eerie, climbing riff, sets a science-fiction mood -- a mood that's all the more unsettling since the story is no longer quite science fiction. Entwistle's vocal is perfect: lost, damned, accepting. "In suspended animation," he says quietly, "My childhood passed me by/If I speak without emotion/Then you know the reason why." His hardest lines, "Every sentence in my head/Someone else has said," bounce off Townshend's admission in "New Song" that he has nothing to say that he hasn't said before: cloning may be the promise of the future, but the Who are afraid they can enter the future are afraid they can enter the future (i.e., this year) only by cloning themselves.

The boozy stumblebum of "Who Are You" turns up again in Entwistle's "Trick of the Light": this time it's sex that has pulled the rug out from under the singer, as he begs the prostitute he's hired for the night to reassure him about his performance in bed. In "Had Enough," the singer tries to get mad -- "I've had enough of being nice," he chants at the beginning; "Here comes the end of the world," he yells as the tune ends -- but he can't do it. The song limps, the singer fades. If this is anger, if this is the end of the world, no one has anything to be afraid of.

 Who Are You is an LP the Who have been working toward all through the Seventies. The fears of aging, irrelevancy and the dissolution of one's self, one's band or one's audience that peeked out of Who's Next and The Who by Numbers have finally surfaced whole. The album cover emphasizes the story. Keith Moon, unstable, unreliable, sits in a chair marked "Not to Be Taken Away." Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend look very old. Townshend, in fact, looks much older han he is: in this picture, he could pass for fifty. And yet there is nothing pathetic about the record he and his band have made. Time seems to be a challenge that's left them invigorated, eager to get on with their lives -- which is to say, eager to get on with rock and  roll. Townshend's wit, his intelligence, is still running wild, in the many interviews that have appeared recently as well as on this LP. Entwistle's work is his best in years. Daltrey's voice has hardened -- there are whole realms of feeling no longer accessible to him -- but he's learning how to use that hardness to convey troubles the earlier songs couldn't reach. Only Moon truly seems to have lost most of what he had: his last great moment came on "Behind Blue Eyes," and since then he has done little more than keep the beat.*

 It will be a real disappointment if another three years pass before the next Who album: this one seems to have left them ready for the new music they claim they can't make -- a claim that's obviated by what is new and, more importantly, compelling on Who Are You. I said this was, despite its claims to oblivion, a confident record: what makes it so is the Who's refusal to settle for mere "survival," for automatic applause and meaningless pro forma hits. Pete Townshend recognizes the fact that, after a decade which seemed happy with its own dead end, bands like the Clash hae broken through limits he had half-accepted. In this case, the child really is father to the man, and that means the chance to start all over again is at Townshend's finger tips.

* This piece was set in type before Keith Moon died on September 7th. The reviewer stands by its optimism, and by its ironies.

From the self appointed dean of rock critics, Robert Christgau a B+ rating:

Every time I concentrate on some new detail in Daltrey's singing or Townshend's lyrics or Entwistle's bass parts -- though not in Moon's drumming, and I still don't relate to the synthesizer. But I never learn anything new, and this is not my idea of fun rock and roll. It ought to be one or the other, if not both.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Amazing Aretha

Spent the morning train ride listening to Aretha Franklin. I bought Aretha's Gold when I was 17 and have been a fan ever since. This demo version of "I Never Loved a Man ( The Way I Love You)", with Aretha on piano and accompanied only by a drummer, is one of the reasons she will always be the Queen of Soul.


Aretha Franklin was the daughter of a preacher. On Amazing Grace, she took us to her roots and showed us where that amazing voice came from - the church.“Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I'm using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use," she said. "I'm happy with that.”

 Aretha could make a song you've heard a million times sounds brand new. There will only be one Queen of Soul. As long as there is a planet Earth, we will be listening to her.

The Moon It Don't Shine

In the Summer of 1978, The Saints released "Security" b/w "All Times Through Paradise", their last single before the band broke up due to creative differences. The A side is a punky take on the Otis Redding classic, complete with a Stax-style horn section. The B side is a better indictation of the forthcoming album, the great, but mostly forgotten Prehistoric Sounds.

"All Times Through Paradise " is a smart, moody and ponderous. Somehow Bailey's monotonous voice perfectly fits this late night walk through a dark city. But Bailey wanted three chord crowd pleasers and Kuepper wanted out. By the time Prehistoric Sounds was released , Kuepper was out of the picture,

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Life in a Bedsitter Bedlam

Tom Robinson Band : Too Good To Be True


The new Tom Robinson Band single, "Too Good To Be True",  is released in August of 1978.  It almost sounds like something off an Alan Parsons Project album. Not that that is a bad thing. It comes from Power in the Darkness, TRB"s debut album.

Also on August 15, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played another epic concert. The venue was the Capitol Center in Landover, MD. Among the highlights that night, captured on video, is the performance of "Prove It All Night" with a nearly 6 minute long guitar solo by Springsteen. As one fan wrote, THIS is what we called him "The Boss".