Wednesday, August 31, 2016

40 Year Itch : It's Us, It's Us, The Beatles!


Klaatu : Sub Rosa Subway


In August of 1976 a Canadian band calling itself Klaatu released 3:47 Est. Anyone listening could hear the obvious Beatles references leading some journalists to wonder if Klaatu were actually the Fab Four incognito. The wise executives at Capitol Records decided to say they didn't know the true identities of the band. Radio stations began playing Klaatu, asking listeners "Is it the Beatles?". Pat Martin of WSPT radio in Stevens Points Wisconsin claimed by playing the last two minutes of "Sub Rosa Subway" backwards, you can hear "It's Us, It's Us, The Beatles!"



What followed is Klaatu-mania and sales of several hundred thousand records all over the world. Rolling Stone magazine and other media outlets began asking questions. Capitol Records continued to shrug. Though they  likely funded the airplane that flew around Chicago's Hancock building trailing a banner that read "Klaatu? Call any radio station".


Eventually we would learn the identities of Klaatu. Yep, just a trio of talented Canucks. But we also learned, long before the days of going viral on social media, that it isn't always the loudest statement that makes waves. Maybe John Lennon put it best in his Shaved Fish liner notes : "a conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words".


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

40 Year Itch : A Riot of My Own


The Clash : White Riot (demo)


On August 30, 1976 The Notting Hill Carnival erupted in riots between mostly black youths and police. More than a hundred police officers wound up in the hospital . So did 60 carnival goers. About 66 arrests were made. 




The riot is believed to have been ignited when police tried to arrest a suspected pickpocket. Members of the crowd came to the suspect's aid, throwing rocks and other objects. As the police protected themselves, the youths marched up the street throwing rocks through windows and tipping over a police van. 




Among the witnesses were Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of  The Clash. They wrote "White Riot" about the event. Among the song lyrics :

Black man gotta lotta problems 
But they don't mind throwing a brick 
White people go to school 
Where they teach you how to be thick  

The song was recorded as a demo for Polydor in late 1976 and appeared on the Clash's debut album.

Monday, August 29, 2016

40 Year Itch : Cheap Trick Signed


Cheap Trick : Southern Girls (live in 1975)


We were struggling. We were just a rock band in the Chicago area from a little town trying to make a living. We didn't really think about how long our band was going to last or if we were going to record anything that would be released. We played for ourselves. We'd play shows to three people.
-Robin Zander


In August of 1976, years  of touring and playing three to four sets a night finally paid off for a Rockford, Illinois quartet when Epic Records signed Cheap Trick. There were far easier ways for a band to make money than to play originals in suburban bars,  as bassist Tom Peterson noted in a Chicago Reader oral history about the Cheap Trick's  early days:



People wanted to see the Top 40 bands, but the audiences who'd come and see us, they'd be hooked. But we were making $50 to $75 a week, and the cover bands were making $800-$900 a week. We had enough to survive and buy guitars and strings. All those cover bands would come up to us and say, "You guys are so lucky, you get to play all your own material." And we'd go, "Lucky?" There was no way those cover bands were going to take a pay cut. We were dying out there.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

40 Year Itch: Casey's Coast to Coast


Vicki Sue Robinson : Turn the Beat Around


On Saturday nights, after I was supposed to be asleep,  I would listen to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 at the lowest possible volume. I even has one of those mono earplugs to make sure my Dad couldn't hear what I was up to. It's pretty cool to hear the man counting down the top 40 right here. With the songs and commercials removed, the show is only 40 minutes long instead of three hours. Spoiler alert : Elton John and Kiki Dee's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" is the #1 song for its fourth and final week. At least we can finally feature Vicki Sue Robinson's "Turn the Beat Around" before it tumbles from the Top 40.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

40 Year Itch : Revved Up Like a Deuce


Manfred Mann's Earth Band : Blinded by the Light


And here it is: Bruce Springsteen's only number one hit. Never mind the fact that it was recorded by by the English group Manfred Mann's Earth Band who substituted Springsteen's Dylanesque acoustic guitar strumming ( on Greetings from Asbury Park)  with spacey organ, electric guitar lyrics, "Chopsticks" on piano  and the backing vocals of the legendary Chanter Sisters.


There were also a few changes to the lyrics. Most notably, they exchanged "cut loose like a deuce" for "revved up like a deuce". Not that it sounded like that to anyone with a 5th graders sense of humor. No. We all decided they were singing "wrapped up like a douche". Springsteen even joked on VH1 Storytellers that it was not until Manfred Mann rewrote the song to be about a feminine hygiene product that it became popular. In a way, it was only fair

I loved this song in 1976 and 1977 when, in February, it topped the US charts. I have no idea what it's about and I don't care. I don't even care about the awkward transitions.


"Blinded By the Light" leads off The Roaring Silence, which was released on August 27, 1976.  There are far better Earth Band albums by the way . The debut is great all the way through and was among three 1972 albums to receive an A+ rating from Robert Christgau. The other two were Paul Simon's solo debut and the Rolling Stones classic Exile on Main Street.

Friday, August 26, 2016

40 Year Itch : Here Comes Canada


Pilot : Canada


In August of 1976, the Scottish pop band Pilot released the fan favorite Morin Heights, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, and named for the Quebec locale where the album was recorded. Band members reportedly skied in the morning and recorded at night. David Paton must have loved his time there because he penned "Canada", a single featuring the chorus "A look out California/ Ooo-ooo, I gotta warn ya/ Here comes Canada ".

Thus would be Pilot's last album as a trio. Drummer Stuart Tosh bailed to join the new 10cc line-up in time for their world tour . Tosh would appear on the album Live And Let Live and would sing lead vocals on Bloody Tourists's "Reds in My Bed" 





Thursday, August 25, 2016

40 Year Itch: Lost Myself in a Familiar Song



On August 25, 1976 Boston released its debut album, a record that would sell an astonishing 17 million copies and usher in an era of "corporate rock". Most of the album was recorded in the basement of Poloroid engineer turned guitar hero Tom Scholz, and in many ways the debut is an engineering achievement. If you asked a computer programmer to synthesize an American version of Yes, Led Zeppelin and Emerson Lake and Palmer, wouldn't something like Boston be the best possible result?


Whatever the case may be, radio couldn't get enough of the Boston sheen. After years of literally slaving unseen in his basement studio, Scholz and his band were suddenly performing at Madison Square Garden. The only hitch: the band had agreed to provide Epic with 10 albums over the next six years. They made three in ten years and spent much of that time arguing with lawyers and executives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

40 Year Itch : What Is This Feeling?


Wire : What Is This Feeling Called Love (1976 demo)



In August of 1976,  a five pice band of art punks who called themselves Wire recorded a series of demos in Ducks Deluxe member Nick Garvey's basement studio. Among the songs: a cover of the Modern Lovers "Roadrunner", the unfortunate "Mary is a Dyke" and "What is This Feeling Called Love", the only track to appear on the 1977 debut, Pink Flag

Wire were vocalist Colin Newman, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, bassist Graham Lewis, drummer Robert Gotobed and, at this time, lead guitarist George Gill. All older than their contemporaries. The band wouldn't play live together until December, but already they had forgone the classic verse chorus song structure for something shorter and more direct. Wire had one more rock n roll tradition to dispose of: guitar solos. When Gill broke his ankle and was laid up for a month, the band continued and found the sound they were after. And that would spell the end of Gill. 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

40 Year Itch : Jaco



All of us stand on Jaco's shoulders. - Sting

Jaco Pastorius : Donna Lee


In August of 1976, 25 year old Jaco Pastorius released his self titled debut album. Pastorius reinvented the bass. He plucked off the frets and created the warmest, most resonant, most expressive voice in the world of jazz. He played the bass as though it were a lead instrument, using harmonics in a way most people had never heard. He was, as his wife told Blood Sweat and Tears drummer Bobby Colomby, "the greatest bass player in the world".


Colomby agreed. He produced the debut album with one goal in mind : "to bring Jaco to as many people as humanly possible". Jaco Pastorius is not a traditional jazz album. The second track, the funky "Come On, Come Over", features the vocal talents of Sam and Dave. Herbie Hancock performs on six of the nine original tracks.


 In the tremendous documentary, Jaco, Hancock says Jaco was able to handpick whoever he wanted to work with. A surprising number of 1976 albums would illustrate that remark. He played bass on Ian Hunter's All American Boy, on debut albums by both Pat Metheny and Al DiMiola, on two tracks of his future band, Weather Report's Black Market ( including Joe Zaniwul's tribute to Cannonball Adderly), and most significantly perhaps, on Joni Mitchell's Hejira.





No discussion of Jaco's brilliance can end without painfully discussing his battle with mental illness and alcoholism. In the Jaco documentary, Flea relates the story of coming across a homeless looking musician in New York City's Washington Square. And then this sad image appears on the screen : the world's greatest bass player playing for spare change.





Monday, August 22, 2016

40 Year Itch : What the Kids Want


Eddie and the Hot Rods : Gloria/Satisfaction


On August 21, 1976 Eddie and the Hot Rods released their Live at the Marquee EP, featuring two sides of live rock 'n' roll covers played at lightening speed and as loud as possible. Quite the bargain at a pound, the EP was meant as a gesture to fans who wanted a record of their high energy live shows. When it hit the UK Top 50, the band suddenly found itself on Top of the Pops.


How did it happen?

Then 18 year old bassist Paul Gray explained to NME:

Everybody's got a bit pissed off with everything that's been 'appenin'. There's been nothing new, 'as there, since about the early 70's. Punk Rock's such a big thing. So many bands are doing it,  and so many kids are in it...old men like the Stones can't relate to kids now, they're a completely different generation. So if you're a young band like us you know what the kids want."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

40 Year Itch : Knebworth '76


On August 21, 1976, 250-thousand fans --some naked, some high --attended the Knebworth Festival, including Linda and Paul McCartney and David Gimour. The Rolling Stones headlined the UK rock festival, but the  highlight was Lynyrd Skynyrd's scorching performance. The Alabama rockers followed Utopia on stage. "America's Confederate rockers" would be releasing their live album, One More From the Road, in September and were in peak form. 




They were followed by 10cc, in what I believe is their final performance as the original quartet. They may have had the best sound but they had a hard time winning over the crowd who were anxious to see the Rolling Stones. They rocked out on a ten minute version of  "Rubber Bullets" before saying goodnight.



Conditions at Knebworth were fairly miserable. Long lines for bathrooms and drinking water. A naked hippie raced on stage and pleasured himself in front of the crowd. When he was finished he grabbed a mike and said "Sorry for keeping you waiting for so long".


The Rolling Stones came on hours late, in part because some giant lips had to be inflated above the stage. Finally around 11:30 that night , they opened with "Satisfaction". Billy Preston played keyboards. Ron Wood played some hot licks on lead guitar. Despite the recent Lester Bangs obit* for the band, The Rolling Stones were still alive and still mattered.

*There are two things to be said about the new Stones album before closing time: one is that they are still perfectly in tune with the times (ahead sometimes, trendies) and the other is the heat's off, because it's all over, they really don't matter anymore or stand for anything, which is certainly lucky for both them and us. I mean, it was a heavy weight to carry for all concerned. This is the first MEANINGLESS Stones album, and thank God... I don't even hate Black and Blue like the new Led Zep, which admittedly is unworthy of hatred from anybody except a true patriot who expected more than what you knew you were going to get - what you get here is sweet flow Muzak dentist office conversation piece bright eyes shining in the face of nothing at all which they will not even confront and more power to 'em... So thank you for not aspiring: you are an inspiration to the blank generation whole.



Meanwhile in France,  on the way to the Mont de Marsan punk festival , headlined by Eddie and the Hot Rods, Nick Lowe, The Count Bishops and Pink Fairies, The Damned's Ray Burns buys a shirt with epaulettes and exchanges his nickname "Eats" for "Captain Sensible". The Damned's first single, "New Rose", will be released in two months.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

40 Year Itch : An Overdose of Doctor's Notes


Dave Edmunds : Here Comes The Weekend



In August of 1976, Dave Edmunds released the single "Here Comes The Weekend" on Led Zeppelin's Swansong label. Edmunds wrote and recorded the tune with his future Rockpile bandmate Nick Lowe whose "So It Goes" single came out the same month. Both are examples of the new sound Lowe described as "clever words over a simple rhythm". The single did not sell in the UK ( though it did peak at #27 in the Netherlands) but "Weekend"  foreshadowed 1977's Get It, arguably Edmunds's best solo album. 



Friday, August 19, 2016

40 Year Itch : Glue Sniff Death Shocker



The Ramones : Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue



On August 19, 1976, under the banner headline "Glue Sniff Death Shocker", The Glasgow Evening Times reported on the efforts by Jack Dempsey, MP for Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, to get the first Ramones album banned in the UK following a series of deaths related to glue-sniffing. Among the songs on the debut is "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue"featuring the lyrics

All the kids want to sniff some glue
All the kids want somethin' to do

Manager Danny Fields responded in NME "Why should the song be banned? War films aren't banned on the grounds that they advocate violence."

Dee Dee Ramones said the song was written as a joke. "Shit! It's a good thing we split from those assholes 200 years ago. I hope they don't really think we sniff glue. I quit when I was eight."

On August 26, The Ramones visited Disneyland. Said Johnny Ramone in his autobiography Commando:

I always liked that place, loved riding Space Mountain. I like fast rollercoasters. I don't know that I cared about going with the band, but I did have a good time. I like those parks. I've been to Disneyland three times and to Disney World twenty times. At Disney World, I like to ride I like to ride Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

40 Year Itch : Come Along My Brother


Burning Spear : Man in the Hills


On August 18, 1976 Burning Spear released Man in the Hills, the much-anticipated follow-up to the trio's legendary Marcus Garvey. The title cut --taken literally--is a nostalgic list of errands Jamaican kids in the countryside do for their mothers, from fetching water to washing dishes to gathering brambles for cooking fires. Not the place to start your Burning Spear collection, but eventually Man in the Hills rewards repeat listening.





Wednesday, August 17, 2016

40 Year Itch : Tipping Over Backwards


Talking Heads : The Book I Read (live)



On August 17, 1976 Talking Heads played "The Book I Read" at their gig in the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club in Tribeca. More significantly, it was one of the first times Jerry Harrison performed with the band. The former Modern Lover had quit the music business to lecture at Harvard when his old bandmate, Ernie Brooks, gave Heads bassist Tina Weymouth Harrison's number. She convinced him to see a gig in Boston and later to practice with Talking Heads and even play a few gigs in New York. Harrison would later say "I saw something in them and I knew straight away. I saw what the group needed : me!"

  The live version of "The Bool I Read" features a saxophone solo by Fletcher Buckley.




In November Seymour Stein's Sire Records would sign Talking Heads with a $15,000 advance.


Byrne has already played one fairly legendary show at the Ocean Club in July of 1976. It was a John Cale and Friends show featuring Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Chris Spedding and, in the audience, Andy Warhol. Below they jam together on the Velvet Underground chestnut "I'm Waiting For The Man". More about that gig can be found via Aquarium Drunkard.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

40 Year Itch : Going Back Home



Dr Feelgood : Going Back Home


On August 14, 1976,  Dr Feelgood was seen on the French TV show "Beau Fixe Sur Pithiviers" performing in front of a mostly unimpressed crowd of villagers from Pithiviers. How could they be unimpressed? They should be frightened if anything!! A week later, The Mont de Marsan punk festival would feature The Damned, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Nick Lowe, and the Count Bishops. But not the Feelgoods. They had gone back home to the UK by then.
  

Monday, August 15, 2016

40 Year Itch : Hello Floorboards


D.P. Costello : Cheap Reward


On August 15, 1976, a Radio London honky tonk show played some demos by a singer named Declan Patrick Costello. They were "Cheap Reward (Lip Service)","Wave A White Flag", "Jump Up", "Blame It On Cain", "Mystery Dance" and "Poison Moon". 


At the time, the future Elvis Costello was working for Elizabeth Arden cosmetics where he spent his time "draped in a white lab coat, staring at the blinking lights of an IBM 360 computer". He had a wife and son in the suburbs and a cassette full of demos he'd recorded in his bedroom on a borrowed Revox tape recorder. Among those Radio London played was "Cheap Reward", which would appear on 1978's debut This Year's Model as "Lip Service". Says Costello in his memoir:" "The earlier draft was a better, if less furious song".

Sunday, August 14, 2016

40 Year Itch : 50-Thousand Watts



Nick Lowe : So It Goes


On August 14, 1976 Stiff Records was launched with the release of the Nick Lowe single "So It Goes/ Heart of the City". Recorded for forty-five pounds, with The Rumour's Steve Goulding on drums and Nick Lowe doing everything else,  "So It Goes" was named the Star Single of the Week by Sounds Magazine, which  went on to call the B-side  an "A-1 smash". 

The song didn't chart, but it marked the beginning of a new sound, which Lowe described as "clever words over a simple rhythm", and a label with such a tongue-in-cheek promotional style, they'd soon announce "if it ain't Stiff, it ain't worth a fuck".



"So It Goes" sold 10,000 copies, just enough to keep Stiff Records in business. IN November the label would release the first punk single, The Damned's "New Rose". In 1977, Stiff would sign Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury and Elvis Costello, whose first five albums would be produced by Lowe.

Says co-founder Dave Robinson:

  The idea of Stiff was to be a conduit for people who could not find the music business any other way. My theory was that there was an Elvis Presley out there, but he's working in a factory in Coventry and he doesn't know how to get in touch with me.





Saturday, August 13, 2016

40 Year Itch : With Their Guns and Ammunition



Junior Murvin : Police and Thieves


Another song reflecting the chaos in Jamaica, Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves" was named Reggae Single of the Year by Black Echoes and ranked #6 in NME's year end list of 1976's best singles. Produced by Lee Perry, the single is sung in falsetto, with Murvin reporting on the escalating battle for control of his native country. In the UK, "Police and Thieves" has its own meaning following the riots at the Notting Hill Carnival at the end of August. The Clash has been there and recorded a cover of Murvin's "Police and Thieves" as well as "White Riot" on their debut album.



Murvin died in 2013

Friday, August 12, 2016

40 Year Itch : Tom Robinson's Anthem


Tom Robinson Band : Glad to be Gay


On August 12, 1976 the openly gay Tom Robinson performed the song "Glad to Be Gay" at a London Gay Pride event.  Sounding like a Ray Davies sing-along, Robinson's song came at a time when police were raiding gay pubs and using the "sus" laws to harass people. (Davies had produced the 1975 debut album of Robinson's band, Cafe Society). 

"So with 'Glad To Be Gay' it was, right, fuck you," Robinson tells an interviewer on his website gladtobegay.net . "With the government falling apart, the NF and religious right on the rise, queerbashing on the increase and the police out of control in that hot summer of 1976 it just felt like there was no room for compromise any more."


Among the lyrics:

The British Police are the best in the world
 I don't believe one of these stories I've heard
 'Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all 
Lining the customers up by the wall 
Picking out people and knocking them down 
Resisting arrest as they're kicked on the ground 
Searching their houses and calling them queer 
I don't believe that sort of thing happens here 

Sing if you're glad to be gay 
Sing if you're happy that way 
Sing if you're glad to be gay 
Sing if you're happy that way...

 So sit back and watch as they close all our clubs 
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs 
Make sure your boyfriend's at least 21 
So only your friends and your brothers get done 
Lie to your workmates, lie to your folks 
Put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes 
Gay Lib's ridiculous, join their laughter 
'The buggers are legal now, what more are they after?'

Robinson says it was written as a one-off and he never expected to perform it again, but in February of 1978, "Glad to be Gay" was released on the Tom Robinson Band's Rising Free EP which went to UK #18. 

TR in 1976



Thursday, August 11, 2016

40 Year Itch : Hide the Snake


Television : Friction ( alternate version) 



On August 11, 1976 Elektra Records signed  New York City art rockers Television, a band that certainly should have been on the label's radar for several years.  After all, in December of 1974 Television recorded four demos with Brian Eno and the following year recorded another set of demos produced by Blue Oyster Cult's Allen Lanier.

It was leader Tom Verlaine who kept turning down record deals. While he was looking for something acceptable, bassist Richard Hell left to be replaced by Fred Smith. Elektra promised Verlaine he could produce the debut album as long as he had a well known recording engineer. That would be Andy Johns , brother of Glyn, who worked on the Rolling Stones album Goats Head Soup.

To prepare for the recording sessions at A and R Recording in September, Verlaine and the band practiced for four to six hours a day, six to seven days a week. "So we were both really roughshod musicians on the one hand," says Richard Lloyd, " and desperadoes on the other,  with the will to be good." 

The result would be one of the greatest debut album of the 70s. But we'll get to that at another time. 





Wednesday, August 10, 2016

40 Year Itch : Her Blue Velvet Perfume


Arlo Guthrie : Darkest Hour


In August of 1976 Arlo Guthrie released his most critically acclaimed album, Amigo. This incredibly diverse collection earned a rare five star "masterpiece" rating from the Rolling Stone Record Guide and finished ahead of Bob Dylan's Desire in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. It is also Guthrie's personal favorite album. Naturally it didn't sell, peaking at 133 on the Billboard album charts.



It is impossible to sum up Amigo with one song. The album opens with a Zulu children's song ("Guabi Guabi") and closes with a Rolling Stones cover ("Connection").  "Walking Song" sounds like a Fleetwood Mac outtake while Robert Christgau, in his A- album review called "Victor Jara" the most painful protest song in recent memory (including Dylan's "Hurricane"). There's a song about his home state ( "Massachusetts") and another about the protesters of the 60's losing their zeal ("Patriot's Dream"). 


My deep cut pick  is "Darkest Hour", which has a nice bounce and feels like a successful Dylan love song. Had Guthrie recorded an entire album of love songs, and not one of such variety, it might have sold better. That;'s something Guthrie has heard more than once . His response to the Christian Science Monitor:

Two people can see the same thing (differently). One can call it versatility and the other lack of continuity. We only have so much we can do. I'm not filled with thousands of songs bursting and then being able to choose the ten best. I don't write that much.



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

40 Year Itch : You're So Sexy, I'm So Hot



Bootsy's Rubber Band : Physical Love


In August of 1976, Bootsy Collins finally got his chance to show his stuff outside the Parliament/ Funkadelic collective and the Rubber Band album Stretchin' Out is the result. We've already highlighted "I'd Rather Be With You" this year, so let's dip a bit deeper for "Physical Love", which may or may not feature an uncredited Eddie Hazel guitar solo.

Nobody appreciated Bootsy like George Clinton who wrote :

Right from the start, Booty brought in younger fans, who we started to call "geepies". Fans liked his persona, the way he came on like a cross between a blaxploitation movie character and a Saturday-morning cartoon. He had a shy psychedelic cool that drove then wild, and that helped us inch closer to total demographic domination.



Monday, August 8, 2016

40 Year Itch : Revolution is No Solution


Jimmy James and the Vagabonds : Now is the Time


On August 8, 1976, the disco influenced "Now is the Time", by Jimmy James and the Vagabonds,  peaked at UK #5. Born in Jamaica, Jimmy James is a legendary UK soul singer who, like Ben E King, saw an opportunity in disco to return to the charts . The lyrics of "Now is the Time" are timeless. A classic showman, Jimmy James was last seen playing the cruise ship circuit.




Sunday, August 7, 2016

40 Year Itch : The Fourth Generation of Rockers


Sex Pistols : No Fun



On August 7, 1976 Melody Maker put the Sex Pistols on their cover under the headline "Punk Rock: Crucial or Phoney?" The article is by Caroline Coon

 JOHNNY ROTTEN looks bored. The emphasis is on the word "looks" rather than, as Johnny would have you believe, the word "bored". His clothes, held together by safety pins, fall around his slack body in calculated disarray. His face is an undernourished grey. Not a muscle moves. His lips echo the downward slope of his wiry, coat-hanger shoulders. Only his eyes register the faintest trace of life.

Johnny works very hard at looking bored. Leaning against a bar; at a sound check; after a gig; making an entrance to a party; onstage; when he's with women. No, actually, then he's inclined to look quite interested.

 Why is Johnny bored? Well; that's the story.




This malevolent third-generation child of rock 'n' roll is the Sex Pistols' lead singer. The band play exciting, hard, basic punk rock. But more than that, Johnny is the elected generalissimo of a new cultural movement scything through the grassroots disenchantment with the present state of mainstream rock. You need look no further than the letters pages of any Melody Maker to see that fans no longer silently accept the disdain with which their heroes, the rock giants, treat them.

They feel deserted. Millionaire rock stars are no longer part of the brotherly rock fraternity that helped create them in the first place. Rock was meant to be a joyous celebration; the inability to see the stars or to play the music of those you can see is making a whole generation of rock fans feel depressingly inadequate.

 Enter Johnny Rotten. Not content to feel frustrated, bored and betrayed, he and the Sex Pistols – Glen Matlock (bass), Paul Cook (drums), and Steve Jones (guitar) – have decided to ignore what they believe to be the elitist pretensions of their heroes, who no longer play the music they want to hear. The Pistols are playing the music they want to hear. They are the tip of an iceberg.



 Since January, when the Sex Pistols played their first gig, there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of musicians who feel the same way – bands like the Clash, the Jam, Buzzcocks, the Damned, the Suburban Bolts and Slaughter and the Dogs. The music they play is loud, raucous and beyond considerations of taste and finesse. As Mick Jones of the Clash says: "It's wonderfully vital."

These bands' punk music and stance is so outrageous that, like the Rolling Stones in the good old days, they have trouble getting gigs. But they play regularly at the 100 Club, which is rapidly becoming the venue at which these bands cut their teeth.

The musicians and their audience reflect each other's street-cheap, ripped-apart, pinned-together style of dress. Their attitude is classic punk: icy-cool with a permanent sneer. The kids are arrogant, aggressive, rebellious. The last thing any of these bands make their audience feel is inadequate. Once again there is the feeling, the exhilarating buzz, that it's possible to be and play like the bands onstage.

 It's no coincidence that the week the Stones were at Earls Court, the Sex Pistols were playing to their ever-increasing following at London's 100 Club. The Pistols are the personification of the emerging British punk rock scene, a positive reaction to the complex equipment, technological sophistication and jaded alienation which has formed a barrier between fans and stars.




Punk rock sounds simple and callow. lt's meant to. The equipment is minimal, usually cheap. It's played faster than the speed of light. If the musicians play a ballad, it's the fastest ballad on earth. The chords are basic, numbers rarely last longer than three minutes, in keeping with the clipped, biting cynicism of the lyrics. There are no solos. No indulgent improvisations.

 It's a fallacy to believe that punk rockers like the Sex Pistols can't play dynamic music. They power through sets. They are never less than hard, rough and edgy. They are the quintessence of a raging, primal rock-scream.

 The atmosphere among the punky bands on the circuit at the moment is positively cut-throat. Not only are they vying with each other but they all secretly aspire to take Johnny Rotten down a peg or two. They use him as a pivot against which they can assess their own credibility.

 It's the BSP/ASP Syndrome. The Before or After Sex Pistols debate which wrangles thus: "We saw Johnny Rotten and he CHANGED our attitude to music" (the Clash, Buzzcocks) or "We played like this AGES before the Sex Pistols" (Slaughter and the Dogs) or "We are MILES better than the Sex Pistols" (the Damned). They are very aware that they are part of a new movement and each one wants to feel that he played a part in starting it.




All doubts that the British punk scene was well under way was blitzed two weeks ago in Manchester, when the Sex Pistols headlined a triple third-generation punk rock concert before an ecstatic, capacity audience.

Participation is the operative word. The audiences are reveling in the idea that any one of them could get up on stage and do just as well, if not better, than the bands already up there. Which is, after all, what rock and roll is all about.

When, for months, you’ve been feeling that it would take ten years to play as well as Hendrix, Clapton, Richard (insert favourite rock star's name), there’s nothing more gratifying than the thought, 'Jesus, I could a band together and blow this lot off the stage'.

The growing punk rock audiences are seething with angry young dreamers who want to put the boot in and play music, regardless. And the more people feel that "I can do that too", the more there is a rush on to that stage, the more cheap instruments are bought, fingered and flayed in front rooms, the more likely it is there will be the rock revival we've all been crying out for.




There's every chance (although it's early days yet) that out of the gloriously raucous, uninhibited melée of British Punk Rock – which even at its worst is more vital than must of the music perfected by the Platinum Disc Brigade – will emerge the musicians to inspire a fourth generation of rockers.

 The arrogant, aggressive, rebellious stance that characterizes the musicians who have played the most vital rock and roll has always been glamorised. In the '50s it was the rebel without a cause exemplified by Elvis and Gene Vincent, the Marlon Brando and James Dean of rock. In the '60s it was the Rock'n'Roll Gypsy Outlaw image of Mick Jagger, Keith Richard and Jimi Hendrix. In the 70s the word "rebel" has been superseded by the word "punk". Although initially derogatory, it now contains all the glamorous connotations once implied by the overused word "rebel".

Punk rock was initially coined, about six years ago, to describe the American rock bands of 1965-68 who sprung up as a result of hearing the Yardbirds, Who, Them, Stones. Ability was not as important as mad enthusiasm, but the bands usually dissipated all their talent in one or two splendid singles which rarely transcended local hit status. Some of the songs, however, like 'Wooly Bully', '96 Tears', 'Psychotic Reaction', 'Pushin' Too Hard', have become rock classics.

In Britain, as "punk rock" has been increasingly used to categorise the livid, exciting energy of bands like the Sex Pistols, there has been an attempt to redefine the term. There's an age difference too. New York punks are mostly in their mid-twenties. The members of the new British punk bands squirm if they have to tell you that they are over 18. Johnny Rotten's favourite sneer is "You’re Too Old." He's 20.

 The British punk rock garb is developing independently, too. It's an ingenious hodgepodge of jumble sale cast-offs, safety-pinned around one of the choice, risqué T-shirts especially made for the Kings Road shop, Sex.



 Selling an intriguing line of arcane '50s cruise-ware, fantasy glamour ware and the odd rubber suit, this unique boutique is owned by Malcolm McLaren, ex-manager of the New York Dolls, now the Sex Pistols' manager.

His shop has a mysterious atmosphere which made it the ideal meeting place for a loose crowd of truant, disaffected teenagers. Three of them were aspiring musicians who, last October, persuaded McLaren to take them on. They wanted to play rock'n'roll. They weren't to know what they were about to start and even now no one is sure where it will lead. All Steve, Glenn and Paul needed, then, was a lead singer.

A few weeks later Johnny Rotten strayed into the same murky interior. He was first spotted leaning over the jukebox, looking bored.

Friday, August 5, 2016

40 Year Itch : Bad Fish, Fantastic Penguins


Penguin Cafe Orchestra : The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away and It Doesn't Matter


All it took was a bad plate of fish somewhere in France for founder Simon Jeffries to come up with the concept of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, which is what, exactly? Chamber music performed with humor, deep feeling and a sense of avant garde adventure I suppose. Actually most people don't try to define PCO or their debut, which was released in 1976 on Brian Eno's Obscure Label and originally available only by mail order. It is a soundtrack to its own world. And if 1976 has given us a more beautiful song than "The Sound of Someone You Love Who's Going Away and It Doesn't Matter", I've yet to hear it.