Friday, November 30, 2018

Ain't Gonna Budge

The Records : Starry Eyes

In November of 1978 The English power pop band The Records released the single "Starry Eyes", a Byrds-inspired song that would peak at US #56 nearly a full year later. Formed from the ashes of the pub rock band The Kursaal Flyers, The Records featured drummer Will Birch (who wrote Dave Edmunds' "A.1. on the Jukebox") and his songwriting partner, vocalist John Wicks who unfortunately passed away in October of this year.

In 2017, Wicks explained his inspiration for the song to The Washington Times :

Sometimes things just come together. I was listening to the radio and heard “Do Anything You Wanna Do” by Eddie and the Hot Rods. I said to Will Birch, who wrote the lyrics, “We’ve got to write a song like this!” It was really cool. I did the music. At the time that song was written, we had this whole thing with our manager. He was a nice guy; he would always put things off. We felt like if we don’t move on faster, things would fall apart. It was my instigation to look for somebody else, which we did. Will wrote this song and put it in front of me in this rehearsal room. It didn’t have a title; it just had a place where “starry eyes” went. Because the then-ex-manager’s name was Frank Silver, I called it “Silver Song.” I just used the same kind of jangly chords I’d used as a kid, and five minutes later it was done. I said to Will, “This is a classic! This is gonna be big!”

Thursday, November 29, 2018

You Had Yellow Hair

The Mekons : Where Were You?

On November 29, 1978 the Leeds based Mekons released their second single "Where Were You?".  David Bowie brought the single from his own collection to play on the BBC in May of 1979 when he DJ'd for two hours.  Is it a song of heartbreak about a woman the singer knows well or the lyrics of a stalker about a woman he has never even met? 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rushing To and Fro

Jerry Butler : (I'm Just Thinking About) Cooling Out

In 1978 the Ice Man, Jerry Butler, scored a US R+B #14 hit with "(I'm Just Thinking About) Cooling Out". Songwriter/producer Leon Huff  is playing the piano at the close of the song. I only discovered this song a few weeks ago and I'm playing it all the time. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Undetermined Oyster Beds

The Residents : Sinister Exaggerator

What Here Come the Warm Jets might have sounded like had Eno been a silly boy.
-Jeff Salamon writing in the Spin Alternative Record Guide

In November of 1978, The Residents released Duck Stab/ Buster + Glen, the band's most pop-oriented and accessible album. That said, there is nothing truly pop oriented or accessible about this album. This time the self-imposed anonymous members of the San Francisco art band appear to deconstruct Booker T and the MG's ("Booker Tease"), The Ventures ("Weight Lifting Lulu"), and Kraftwerk ("Kraft Cheese"). Among those who were amused, music critic Robert Christgau who gave the album a grade of A-, writing:

 Much to my annoyance, I not only find myself nyaahing along to these weird, misanthropic, exuberantly absurdist post-art-rock fragments, I find myself giggling. Just the thing to divert precocious but obnoxious ten-year-olds. 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Music Inflames Temperament

Jim Morrison : An American Prayer

In November of 1978, seven years after Jim Morrison's death, Elektra/Asylum records released An American Prayer, a collection of spoken word poetry with musical backup by The Doors. It has always been a controversial record. Paul Rothchild who produced most of The Doors’ albums, called it  a posthumous “rape of Jim Morrison”. Critics blasted the elevator cheese the remaining Doors played.  

What nobody could have possibly known is the role it would play in the revival of The Doors and the ascendency of Jim Morrison into rock god.

Note: the album came out before Apocalypse Now, but Rosemary Breslin does gather the basic facts of the revival here for a 1981 Rolling Stone article:

The Morrison revival began about three years ago and has grown from a modest renaissance into a landslide. Though the roots of this posthumous popularity are not perfectly clear, music-industry executives tend to trace its origins to the 1979 release of Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, which prominently featured “The End.” This unexpected bit of re-exposure was soon followed by the appearance of An American Prayer, an album of Morrison reading his own poetry (recorded in 1971) with instrumental backing added years later by the remaining Doors. Though sales were poor, it stirred further interest in this disembodied voice, this done from the past. 

But the big push came with the publication of a Morrison biography. No One Here Gets Out Alive, by Daniel Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins. To date, 740,000 trade and mass-market-paper-back copies have been printed, and the book made the best-seller lists. Its last chapter, which raises numerous questions about the circumstances of Morrison’s death and the disposition of his remains, is just the sort of dark, eerie, mysterious tale that tends to set impressionable minds dreaming.

In additions, David Bowie opened his BBC DJ gig in May of 1979 with the Doors's "Love Street". 
Fans may recognize snippets of  Doors songs: check out Newborn Awakening, Stoned Immaculate (The Wasp) , The Hitchhiker (Riders on the Storm), and Hour For Magic (The End) . 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

It's All In Me

Chaka Khan : I'm Every Woman

In November of 1978, Chaka Khan's "I'm Every Woman" broke into the Billboard Hot 100's Top 40 chart. It would peak at U.S. #21 and U.K. #11. A highlight of her first solo album, the Arif Mardin produced Chaka which featured members of the Average White Band, the Ashford and Simpson penned "I'm Every Woman" topped the R+B charts for three weeks in November. The success paved the way for Khan to leave Rufus the following year. 

At first Khan didn't feel worthy of the anthem which celebrates the power of women :

“That’s one of the world’s great songs, but I had to grow into it. I felt embarrassed at the age I was singing it. I wasn’t old enough. I was about 30. I just felt how dare I say ‘I’m every woman, it’s all in me.’ But it’s a song I feel comfortable singing now. But in the beginning it felt pompous.”

Saturday, November 24, 2018

I Gotta Come Clean

The Clash : 1-2 Crush On You

On November 24, 1978 The Clash released the "Tommy Gun" b/w "1-2 Crush On You" single, which would peak at U.K.#19. Topper Headon's ra-ta-tat drums sound just like a tommy gun while Joe Strummer snarls "Waiting in the airport 'till kingdom come/ An' we can watch you make it /On the nine o'clock news /Standing there in Palestine lighting the fuse"  Carl Barat of The Libertines called "Tommy Gun",  with its references to terrorist organizations like Baader-Menhof and The Red Brigade "a punk rock adaptation of the Beatles' 'Revolution'".  

Just as interesting is the B side, arguably the first Clash love song.

Friday, November 23, 2018

From Milan to Yucatan

Ian Dury and The Blockheads : Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick

On November 23, 1978 Ian Dury and the Blockheads released "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick", a catchy single that would make the unlikely journey all the way up to the top of the U.K. charts in January of 1979. It would also top the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Critics Poll for best singles of '79. 

Dury originally wrote the lyrics in 1976, leaving the interpretation of a rhythm stick open to interpretation. The music came out of a jam session based loosely on the ending of "Wake Up and Make Love To Me". How did this tune become such a huge hit ? One of the contributors to Rate Your Music has this to say:

The answer, of course in a word, is timing. Deep in the depths of winter, unemployment and Thatcher rising and within a year of the "Winter of Discontent", perhaps we needed some off-beat entertainment to cheer us up.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Flow My Tears

Tubeway Army : Listen to the Sirens

In November of 1978 Gary Numan's band, Tubeway Army, released its debut album in a limited-edition run of 5,000 copies . It's known as the blue album because of the color of the album cover and the color of its vinyl. Rereleased by Beggars Banquet in 1979, with a new cover, the album would hit U.K. #14.

Tubeway Army began as a punk band and were signed by Beggars Banquet in 1978. Their first two singles "That's Too Bad" and "Bombers" were both angry, guitar raving punk tunes. By the time the band entered the studio to record an album, Numan replaced his guitar with synthesizers. His band mates, with the exception of bassist Paul Gardiner,  hated the new direction and quit so Numan made the album with Gardiner and his Uncle Jess (Lidyard) on drums.

Numan wears his Bowie influences on his sleeves, his cuffs, his jumpers. Pretty much throughout the album. Bowie failed to hide his contempt for Numan, banishing his rival from the set of the Kenny Everett Christmas special in 1979. 

"Before then I thought he was a god," Numan tells the Independent. "I used to get into fights at school protecting his name. Then, all of a sudden, this bloke I'd adored for years was throwing me out of a building because he hated me so much. It really upset me at the time, especially when I thought of how many thumps I'd taken for him. I can only imagine he was going through an insecure patch. At the time I was outselling him about four to one."

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Strictly Meant For Fools

Buzzcocks : Promises

On November 19, 1978 the new Buzzcocks single "Promises" b/w "Lipstick" became the fifth song to hit the U.K. charts that year. It would peak at U.K. #20, their second highest charting single next to "Ever Fallen in Love".  

Steve Diggle told the Yorkshire Herald the Buzzcocks sings remain relevant not just because of their straightforward sound, but because they sang about the human condition. 

“There’s kind of realism about it. You get certain songs are beautiful but don’t mean anything really. They sound wonderful, this dreamland somewhere, but there was a lot of reality in our songs and it was like the Shakespearean human condition. I know we said ‘have you ever fallen in love?’ but when I wrote Promises I’d left the verses at home and Pete had some [instead]. It was supposed to be promises about the government and he turned it into a bloody love song. "

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Digging the Skin He's In

Parliament : Rumpofsteelskin

On November 20, 1978 Parliament released Motor Booty Affairr, said to be George Clinton's favorite Parliament album. In retrospect, it seems to be a step backwards into some kind of underwater cartoon concept that doesn't have the consistency of  1977's Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, 1976's The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein or 1975's Mothership Connection.  

The highlights include "Aqua Boogie", which spent four weeks at #1 on the R+B singles chart, and "Rumpofsteelskin". Both are playful, hip and deeply funky. Bootsy Collins never stops pluckin the funk out of the bass.

Said Robert Christgau in his A- review :

A kiddie record that features the return of the Chipmunks as "three slithering idiots" doing their thing underwater. Irresistible at its most inspired--aqua-DJ Wiggles the Worm is my favorite Clinton fantasy ever--and danceable at its more pro forma.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Hang Out With All The Boys

Village People : Y.M.C.A.

On November 19, 1978 the new Village People single, "Y.M.C.A.", entered the U.K. charts at #42. It would hit #1 in the U.K. and peak at #2 in the U.S. Judging from its enthusiastic reception at elementary school dances, it may very well be the most enduring song from the entire decade. By confronting the public with in-your-face homosexuality, especially in the music video, could "Y.M.C.A." be more punk than anything the Sex Pistols recorded?

At first the Young Mens Christian Association threatened to sue the band over trademark infringement. They knew the YMCA's reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot for gay men. But songwriter Victor Willis says he was thinking about the YMCA's reputation among inner city kids as a place to play basketball and swim. Felipe Rose, who was the Indian in the band, says "It was just a filler song, based on the ex-producer seeing the YMCA sign during lunch and asking us what it meant. Sure, there was ambiguity and they were using a double entendre, but it was really just supposed to be one more song to fill out the album."

Yes, there are many ways to have a good time.

Much of the enthusiasm for the song comes from its cheerleader choreography, first seen nationally in 1979 on American Bandstand in the clip below.

Y —arms outstretched and raised upwards 
M —made by bending the elbows from the 'Y' pose so the fingertips meet in front of the chest
 C —arms extended to the left 
A —hands held together above head 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

I Rest My Case

999 : Homicide

On November 18, 1978,  999's "Homicide" single peaked at #40 on the U.K charts, the only time the London punk band would visit such a realm. It offers fans a chance to chant along with the line "I’ll be in touch so don’t leave town in a Big Black Car!" 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

So Oblique and Easy

Magazine : Give Me Everything

On November 17, 1978 Magazine released the non album single "Give Me Everything" b/w  a cover of Captain Beefheart's "I Love You, You Big Dummy". Few bands were releasing such exciting, forward thinking singles. Dave Formula's organ and Barry Adamson's bass are especially on point. One of those tunes that might take the 4th or 5th listen before you recognize its greatness. It did not chart. By the way, this week there were three songs from the GREASE soundtrack in the U.K. Top 5.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Darkened Sky

Pere Ubu : Ubu Dance Party

"Mr Thomas's voice is that of a man muttering in a crowd. You think he's talking to himself until you realize he's talking to you."
-Greil Marcus

In November of 1978, Pere Ubu released their second album, Dub Housing on English Chrysalis which meant it was only available as an import even in the band's hometown of Cleveland. Singer David Thomas and most fans of the band consider this to be Pere Ubu's masterpiece. Where the debut, The Modern Dance, rocked, Dub Housing weaves in experimental synthy swoops, guitar lines and Thomas's high pitched absurdistt lyrics. The words most used to describe the album is "challenging". Critic Dave Marsh called it "Anti rock for anti-rockers. Boo".

Robert Christgau was one of the first critics to hail the album, grading Dub Housing with an A and writing:

Because I trust the way Ubu's visionary humor and crackpot commitment rocks out and/or hooks in for the sheer pleasure of it, I'm willing to go with their excursions into musique concrete, and on this record they get me somewhere. The death of Peter Laughner may well have deprived America of its greatest punk band, but the subsequent ascendancy of synth wizard Allen Ravenstine has defined a survival-prone community capable of bridging the '60s and the '80s without acting as if the '70s never happened. Imitating randomness by tucking randomlike sounds into deep but tactfully casual structures, joyfully confusing organic and inorganic sounds, they teach us how to live in the industrial shift--imaginatively!

From Ken Tucker writing for Rolling Stone:

Self-parodic, intense, austere and ribald, Pere Ubu presents itself as the cutting edge of nothing at all, making rock + roll out of art for art's sake.

From Trouser Press

The spectacular Dub Housing accentuates the more amorphous qualities of the band's sound, drawing heavily on synthesizer player Allen Ravenstine's utterly original soundscaping ability. Songs like "Codex," "Caligari's Mirror" and the ominous title track conjure up images straight out of art-house psychological horror films like Carnival of Souls. Simply one of the most important post-punk recordings

Pere Ubu in Sweden, 2011.

Thomas would tell Melody Maker 

"Ubu was a grotesque synthesis  of all that was ugly in human flesh. Why the band is called Pere Ubu has to do with a number of things I can't easily explain, but on the simplest level it has to do with the thing that I am in a lot of ways: a grotesque character, and the band has a grotesque character. What we are is not pretty."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Disco Dead

Grateful Dead : Fire On the Mountain

On November 15, 1978 The Grateful Dead released Shakedown Street, an album described by critics as the band at its nadir. Produced by Lowell George, the album's title cut is a slippery attempt at Bee Gees style disco. Drummer Mickey Hart liked the sound. Shakedown Street is rescued from the trash bin by "Fire On the Mountain", a live Dead mainstay based on 1976's "Happiness is Drumming" from Mickey Hart's side hustle, the Diga Rhythm Band.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Who D'Ya Think I Am, Henny Youngman ?

Lou Reed : Sweet Jane

In November of 1978 Lou Reed released the double live album Take No Prisoners. Recorded in May of 1978 at New York's Bottom Line in front of a hometown crowd, Reed spends the album breaking up his songs with quips like "Are you political, Lou? Political about what? Give me an issue and I'll give you a tissue. You can wipe my ass with it."  He also insults the audience, Patti Smith, Robert Christgau, and Barbara Streisand.

 Many are the diversions so you get an 11-minute version of "Sweet Jane",  a 14-minute version of "I'm Waiting For My Man", and a 17 minute version of "Walk On the Wild Side". Some people say it's a serious candidate for the worst live album of all time. But it's a hell of a lot more entertaining than Metal Machine Music.

By the way, Christgau got revenge by giving the album a C+ review, writing:

Partly because your humble servant is attacked by name (along with John Rockwell) on what is essentially a comedy record, a few colleagues have rushed in with Don Rickles analogies, but that's not fair. Lenny Bruce is the obvious influence. Me, I don't play my greatest comedy albums, not even the real Lenny Bruce ones, as much as I do Rock n Roll Animal. I've heard Lou do two very different concerts during his Arista period that I'd love to check out again--Palladium November '76 and Bottom Line May '77. I'm sorry this isn't either. And I thank Lou for pronouncing my name right.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

An Impaled Affair

Siouxsie and the Banshees : Carcass

On November 13, 1978 Siouxsie and the Banshees released their debut album, The Scream.  Along with Magazine's Real Life and Wire's Chairs Missing, as well as the upcoming Public Image Ltd debut, The Scream suggests the new sound of post punk: more complicated, more atmospheric, and a hell of a lot darker. On "Carcass", Siouxsie Sioux sends the listener into cold storage, hanging by a hook, soon to be cooked and served with a little Heinz sauce. ( At least that's my interpretation). With tyhe help of rookie producer Steve Lillywhite, drummer Kenny Morris, guitarist John McKay and bassist Steve Severein provide the angular backing, described by the Rolling Stone Record Guide as "A rich, claustrophobic maelstrom of crude sound",  that would set the table for all gothic pop to follow.

Anyone buying The Scream and hoping for another "Hong Kong Garden" must have been in for a shock. The critics needed to decide whether this was a primitive band signed too soon and still trying to figure out their sound ...or was all of this carefully calculated, perfected over time. Most U.K. critics declared the album a success, with both Sounds and Record Mirror giving The Scream a score of 5 out of 5.

Paul Morley of NME also praised the album, writing

It is not, as some would say, chaotic – it is controlled. Each instrument operates within its own space, its own time, as if mocking the lines of other instruments. Known rock is inverted, leaving just traces of mimickry of rock's cliches – satire that often bursts with glorious justification into shaking celebration (as on "Helter Skelter"). It is easy to gain attention by doing something which is crudely obviously out of the ordinary, but the Banshees have avoided such futile superficialities: it is innovation, not revolution, not a destruction but new building. It has grown out of rock – Velvets, Station to Station, Bolan. And Siouxsie's staggering voice is dropped, clipped, snapped prominently above this audacious musical drama, emphasizing the dark colours and empty, naked moods.

Decades later the album remains influential and a bit frightening. Not reccommended for driving late at night on an empty interstate or listening to on headphones as you wander a dark unfamiliar house.

Severein says "I still think the segue from Pure (the lead track) to Jigsaw Feeling is one of rock's scariest moments. 'Here's our calling card. Get out of that!'"

Monday, November 12, 2018


Kate Bush : Wow

On November 13, 1978 Kate Bush released Lionheart, her sophomore album and one that usually falls on the bottom of the list of must-have Kate Bush releases. 

"It's not the way I would've done it," she told Mojo. "Because with the first record, I'd had all the time from being 12, 13, right up until I made the record to accumulate a big pool of songs that I then chose the best ones from. The second record was made very quickly after the first. I just didn't like it. That was a really big turning point."

 It's true the record company rushed Bush to release the album just nine months after The Kick Inside. Perhaps they thought an artist  eccentric enough to photographed in an attic wearing a lion costume might flake out before they cashed in on her obvious talent. The album was certainly buoyed by the U.K. Top 20 hit "Wow", apparently written about the music business:

"Not just rock music but show business in general. It was sparked off when I sat down to try to write a Pink Floyd song – something spacey."

From Stereogum :

Whimsy is an inextricable part of Kate Bush's DNA, particularly on her romantic early LP trilogy. But where The Kick Inside married those whimsical impulses to inventive song structures and poetry, Lionheart is simply whimsy overload. The progressive edge of Bush's debut was softened and smoothed, replaced by loads of grand piano and textural atmosphere. Stunning lead single "Wow" demonstrates that Bush hadn't lost her grip entirely, but Lionheart feels slight compared to the rest of her catalogue: Tracks like "In Search of Peter Pan" and "Kashka from Baghdad" are tiring and monochromatic, lacking the sonic and lyrical focus Bush would master soon enough.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunlight On The Lino

Squeeze : Goodbye Girl

On November 12, 1978 the new Squeeze single, "Goodbye Girl", from the forthcoming album Cool For Cats, entered the U.K. charts at #75. It would peak at U.K. #63. The song, with lyrics by Christopher Henry Difford and music by Glenn Martin Tilbrook, recounts a one night stand that may have involved a drink too many and a girl whose name our hero never catches. Our hero wakes up on a linoleum floor to discover he's missing a silver bracelet, some keys, and some money. Soon his wife leaves him and moves to Boston. These humorous takes on love gone bad would be a mainstay for Squeeze.

Glenn Tilbrook once mentioned that you can sing the Muppet Theme song to this tune:

It's time to play the music 
It's time to light the lights 
It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight 

The B side is a nice bit of power pop.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Waiting for Suggestions

Rod Stewart : Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?( album version)

On November 10, 1978 Rod Stewart released his new single "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?". The song still haunts Rod Stewart, who is expected to relive his disco days every night he performs.

I feel bad for any man who sang along to the chorus while making his moves on the dance floor. "If you want my body and you think I'm sexy Come on, sugar, tell me so" is not something any man should say out loud. "If you really need me, just reach out and touch me Come on, honey, tell me so" is repetitive and also an embarrassment. And yet. And yet, this tune is an infectious marvel full of hooks. Isn't that what pop music does best?

That there is no way the guy who wrote "Maggie May" would never seriously write something this insipid has led some critics to suggest the whole thing is a spoof.  Co-writer Carmen Appice agrees, I think.

"This was a story of a guy meeting a chick in a club. At that time, that was a cool saying. If you listen to the lyrics, 'She sits alone, waiting for suggestions, he's so nervous...' it's the feelings of what was going on in a dance club. The guy sees a chick he digs, she's nervous and he's nervous and she's alone and doesn't know what's going on, then they end up at his place having sex, and then she's gone."  

It has been noted that Stewart created parts of the song through musical plagiarism. A copyright infringement lawsuit by Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor claimed the chorus of the song had been derived from his song "Taj Mahal" ( listen at 2:25 below) . The case was "settled amicably" according to Jorge Ben Jor, in Ben Jor's favor. Stewart admitted in his 2012 autobiography to "unconscious plagiarism" of the Ben Jor song, which he had heard while attending the Rio Carnival in 1978.

 He also admitted that he had consciously lifted the song's signature synthesizer riff from the string arrangement on Bobby Womack's "(If You Want My Love) Put Something Down On It" ( you can hear it at :28  below). Stewart contends that it is legal to lift a line from any song's arrangement as long as the core melody line isn't copied.

A #1 smash in the UK and the US, royalties from the song were donated to the United Nations Children's Fund. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Scrub Away Scrub Away Scrub Away

X Rat Spex : Germ Free Adolescents

On November 10, 1978 X Ray Spex released their only studio album, Germ Free Adolescents. Spin Magazine's Alternative Record Guide calls the album essential, with Rob Sheffield writing "Germfree Adolescents is so exhilarating, so inspiring, so fun, it naturally took fourteen years to get released in America." Mellower and more melodic than the singles we've featured here so far ( "Oh Bondage , Up Yours", "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo" and "Art-I-Ficial"), the songs whizz by with images of Woolworth's , deodorant and fast food.

Saxophone player Lara Logic had already left by the time Germfree Adolescents was released. By the end of the year singer Poly Styrene had broken up the band, claiming to have suffered a nervous breakdown after a visit by UFOs. She would join the Krishna Consciousness movement. Bassist Paul Dean would join Loverboy, for fucks sake. ** (I stand corrected on this but of info which I got from Rob Sheffield's review for the Spin Alternative Record Guide). There is a Paul Dean who plays with Loverboy but he's a British Columbia native, not a British Punk native.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Smokin' Menthol

The Clash : Stay Free

On November 10, 1978 The Clash released Give 'Em Enough Rope. At the request of Columbia Records, Sandy Pearlman, best known for his work with Blue Oyster Cult, produced the album. Although it was the band's sophomore album, it was the first officially released in the United States.  The American critics hailed the record ( which finished  #4 on the Pazz and Jop Critics poll and topped Lester Bangs's list), but Give 'Em Enough Rope failed to crack the American Top 200. It reached #2 on the British charts. 

The album doesn't match the energy and attitude of the debut, which as an import sold 100,000 copies in America. There are actually forgettable songs on this album. But this is still vintage Clash and if you listen closely enough, you can hear in the distance the early sounds of the 1979 masterpiece, London Calling.

From Rolling Stone :

The Clash rain fire and brimstone — with a laugh. Give’ Em Enough Rope, their second album (The Clash, released in the U.K. in 1977, remains unissued here, as do several remarkable singles that appear on neither LP), is a rocker’s assault on the Real World in the grand tradition of Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed and Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

 Produced by Sandy Pearlman, an American brought in by CBS and who’s best known for his sometimes muddy work with Blue Öyster Cult, Give’ Em Enough Rope‘s sound seems suppressed: the highs aren’t there, and the presence of the band is thinner than it ought to be. The record doesn’t jump. But the producer’s concept comes through — accessible hard rock — and nothing has been gussied up. The Clash’s attack is still fast and noisy (straight English punk), but with lyrical accents cracking the rough surface (straight English punk with a grip on the future). The band’s vision of public life — the sense that there’s more to life than pleasure and safety — is uncompromised, and so is the humor that keeps that vision from degenerating into a set of slogans, that keeps it full of questions and honest doubt. Imagine the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” as a statement about a world in flames, not a lover’s daze, and you’ve got the idea.

Formed just after the emergence of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, from their first gigs, were second only to Rotten + Company as punk headmen. Where the Pistols pursued nihilism, the Clash affirmed rebellion; if Johnny Rotten really did sound like the Antichrist, Clash lead singer Joe Strummer railed in the voice of a streetfighter. It wasn’t Armageddon he called up, simply the next battle. The point of the Clash’s early “London’s Burning” wasn’t just to cheer the fire. Despite the thoughtfulness that had to go into “White Riot” and a cover of Junior Murvin’s reggae hit, “Police and Thieves” — both cut in 1977 as attempts at solidarity with the angry West Indians of England’s slums — there was a certain intentional dumbness to the Clash’s style: a way of saying they knew no more than anyone else, but it hadn’t stopped them from stepping out to take the heat and give it back. They defined punk populism — they made it sound at once like a test of valor and a real good time.

Today, in England, the Clash are something of a myth: perhaps the last band to promise that something other than the fate of their own career is hanging on a new release. Give ‘Em Enough Rope entered the U.K. charts at Number Two. Though a sniveling backlash has hit them in the British pop press, there’s no question that a lot of hopes, symbolic and otherwise, are riding on the group: If the album sells, does that mean the spirit is there to make society change a little faster? If the album is good, does that mean life will be a little richer? In the U.S.A., the Clash remain no more than a potent rumor — wary of the Sex Pistols’ fate, yet intrigued with the possibility of turning what they see as a moribund scene around.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope is a confident piece of music. The storm begins with the first note and lets up only in snatches. The reality the Clash convey is that of a world upside down, a world in which no one can be sure of where they stand. Lines are drawn between oppressors and victims, killers and targets, but it isn’t meant to be clear who’s who, and there’s not a hint of self-righteousness, of political purity. What you hear in the clatter of guitars (the Yardbirds passed through Captain Beefheart, reggae and Mott the Hoople, all anchored by a big beat) is a reach for drama and passion: the Clash are out to catch the most dangerous moods and fantasies of their time, not to stake out a position. Their field of action — on a rock + roll record, a fantasy in itself — is the world. The terrorists of “Guns on the Roof” could be, are, anywhere; the out-of-step march of “English Civil War” is based on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” a song from the American Civil War, and it’s a prophecy that has nothing to do with borders.

The LP begins with its most spectacular cut, “Safe European Home,” a furious and funny account of a trip Joe Strummer and Clash lead guitarist Mick Jones (who, with Strummer, writes the songs) made to Jamaica. What might have been a nice Patti Smith-style ode to Rasta Consciousness (“Jah speak to me, too, man — uh, mon?”) turns out instead to be a hard-rock version of 10cc’s “Dreadlock Holiday.” Would-be soul brothers Strummer and Jones report back from “a place where every white face was an invitation to robbery,” where Natty Dread is drinking at the bar in the Sheraton Hotel. They looked for Bob Marley’s punky reggae party (he even sent them an invitation!), but no one knew where it was, and Bob was out of town. The feeling of displacement is hilarious, but what makes the song more than a good joke on the Clash, what tosses you right into the middle of it, is the pure power of the performance: Strummer’s outraged and self-mocking vocals, Jones’ wonderfully sardonic chorus (“Where’d you go?” he keeps asking Strummer) and the careening caterwaul of the band. The music pushes harder and harder, and finally the two Englishmen flee — right back to their safe European home, to the safety of a land where Jamaicans are treated with the same scorn Strummer and Jones were offered in Jamaica. And then “English Civil War” kicks off, and home is a crueler joke than paradise.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope moves strikingly — from heroic fanfares (“Drug Stabbing Time”) to an almost wistful look back on adolescence and the different paths friends took (“Stay Free,” with a lovely Keith Richards-like vocal from Mick Jones) to pure fear (“Guns on the Roof”) to a good slap back at an audience that won’t allow a band a false step (“Cheapskate”). Amid all the force and momentum, melodies slip through, are buried, surface again. Lyrics peak out and disappear just as you’re sure you’ve made them out, as they did on “Brown Sugar” or any Stones 45. The tracks grow with each listening; after a week with the record, you only think you know what’s on it. As one tune after another kicks in — as you find yourself rooting for the political killers (Left? Right?) in “Guns on the Roof” and then running from them; cheering the Jamaicans in “Safe European Home” and then feeling nervous; fitting yourself into Jones’ gang in “Stay Free” and then realizing why he had to leave it behind — the basic theme of the album becomes clear. Stated in a dozen different ways by Mick Jones’ guitar (the pulse of “Tommy Gun,” the “I Can’t Explain” riff in “Guns on the Roof,” the soaring opening lines of “Cheapskate”) and driven home by Joe Strummer’s singing (blasted in “English Civil War,” possessed in “Guns on the Roof,” amused in “Julie’s in the Drug Squad”), the theme is that of making choices in a world organized to close choices off. When Jones bids his pals a final goodbye with the simple admonition. “Stay free,” the line hurts: you know the odds are they’ll never make it — and that he might not make it, and that you might not. The chances of finding the right choices may be slim at best; the odds of being wrong if you don’t choose at all are 100 percent.

Whatever the Clash are after, it isn’t peace of mind. Give ‘Em Enough Rope means to sound like trouble, not a meditation on it. The band’s vision of a world strangling on its own contradictions hasn’t changed, but their idea of their place in that world has. The sleeve of Junior Murvin’s Police and Thieves (which must have inspired the Clash) showed cops and robbers in a snake dance, picking each other’s pockets; the back cover of The Clash was a shot of London’s riot squad rioting. The contradiction perceived here was one a primitive rebel would catch: the authorities weren’t just bent, they were backwards. Give ’em enough rope, and they’d hang themselves. 

 Today, with the Sex Pistols gone, the punk movement scattered and rebellion receding, the contradictions buried in 1977’s ideology of righteousness have emerged. Despite Bob Marley’s seal of approval, a good reggae collection and a long and noble stand against Britain’s send-the-blacks-back-where-they-came-from National Front, the Clash were brought up short by those contradictions in Jamaica. Whatever sympathy they might feel for terrorism isn’t going to do them any good when a bullet picks them out of a crowd. If the possibility of a final crunch seems more real than it ever did, the prospect of Blood running in the streets is no longer romantic: “You’ll be dead.” Strummer mutters, if one can mutter a shout: “The war is won.” Sure, “give ’em enough rope” is still partly a brag — time is on our side, and all that. But there’s an unbroken sense of uncertainty on this record, an uncertainty that at times shades into panic, and those emotions are a lot truer than a brag is to the stories we have to read in the papers, and read in the eves of our friends. 

 The punks didn’t cease power. But they did seize create — a measure of freedom, the chance to make choices that weren’t even there before. That means the punks too — the Clash among them — now have enough rope: they no longer live in a world they never made.