Monday, September 30, 2019

You Look Too Obvious

The Ruts : S.U.S.

On September 29, 1979 The Ruts released The Crack, the only studio album they ever made in their heyday. This is one of my great discoveries of 1979 and one of the finest albums to come out of the U.K. punk scene. Black Flag's Henry Rollins has often called The Crack "the best album ever made". Featuring the classic singles "Babylon's Burning" and "Something That I Said", The Crack might just blow your mind.

The Ruts were made up of musicians with chops and an eclectic taste in music. On the album you're reminded that punk and reggae bands supported each other in the early days. Recorded in three weeks at The Townhouse in London with producer Mick Glossop (Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage, Van Morrison's Into The Music), The Crack may be the best sounding album of the entire punk era. 

“I think The Crack has a kind of timelessness about it, because it was really spontaneous and heartfelt and real,” drummer Dave Ruffy tells UdiscoverMusic. “The songs came out of our experiences and they’re just really good, well-crafted songs, ultimately.”

“There’s heavy subject matter in there, but those subjects are still relevant,” adds bass guitarist John "Segs" Jennings. “Look at something like ‘Jah War’. Has discrimination ended and is everybody now living in harmony? No, they aren’t. Is Babylon still burning? Too right it is. Technology may have moved on, but the social issues remain the same, so those songs are every bit as valid today.”

Listen to The Crack and you'll hear why they were dismissed by many as clones of The Clash. Listen closely enough and you'll hear why that's such an unfair assessment. The band should have been bigger but singer Malcolm Owen overdosed in the summer of 1980, before The Ruts could make a follow-up.

The album cover is well worth pouring over. It's a painting by John H. Howard that shows the band seated in the middle of the party with John Peel, Jimi Hendrix, Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible of The Damned, Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. Even the band's roadie Mannah (seen from the back) can be seen. He assisted in writing the song "S.U.S" which deals with the vagrancy act, widely used by London's Metropolitan Police Service in the late 1970s. 

The 40 year anniversary edition was remastered at Abbey Road and celebrated below by Rollins.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Silly Nubiles Are The Best

Alex Chilton : Hey! Little Child

In the fall of 1979 Alex Chilton released Like Flies on Sherbet, his first solo album. Enamoured with the way the punk scene churned out albums that sounded nothing like corporate rock, Chilton recorded an album that deliberately sounds like sloppy first takes by teenagers who can barely play or tune their instruments.  Naturally the critics hated it, one calling it a document that "painfully confirmed the degradation of a once-major talent". It's true Chilton was in trouble, drinking heavily and indulging in coke, crystal meth and teenage girls from the neighborhood Catholic school where he lived in Memphis.

Producer Jim Dickinson would admit "Flies got away from me. It was Alex's revenge for the way we mixed (Big Star's) 3rd. The mix on Flies sounds like it's comin' through petroleum jelly."

Chilton would always be a fan of the album, saying later "My life was on the skids, and Like Flies on Sherbert was a summation of the period. I like that record a lot. It's crazy but it's a positive statement about a period in my life that wasn't positive.

This is video by William Eggleston who took the cover photograph for Like Flies on Sherbert and Radio City.

To learn more about Alex's life read A Man Called Destruction by Holly George-Warren.

Friday, September 27, 2019

You Say Time Will Tell

Wings : Medicine Jar

On September 27, 1979 Jimmy McCulloch, the former lead guitarist for both Wings and Thunderclap Newman, was found dead of a drug related heart attack in his London flat. He was 26.

The Glaswegian was 14 when, as a member of One in A Million, he and his drumming brother Jack toured Scotland with The Who.

At 15, he joined Andy Newmark and Pete Townsend's pal Speedy Keen in Thunderclap Newman. They recorded the 1969 U.K #1 smash hit "Something In The Air" as well as the classic album Hollywood Dream, produced by Townsend. 

Later versions of the album include extra tracks like the "Accidents" B-side "I See It All", written by Jimmy and Jack and sung by Jimmy. 

Over the next couple of years he toured with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and briefly served as lead guitarist for Stone The Crows, replacing Les Harvey who had been electrocuted on stage. In August of 1974 Jimmy got called up to the big time as a member of Wings. He first played lead on the single "Junior's Farm" and contributed music and vocals on both "Medicine Jar" from Venus and Mars and "Wino Junkie" from Speed of Sound.

McCulloch often clashed with Paul and he'd get chippy when he had a drink, but the final straw came when he threw eggs against a barn on the McCartney farm. They belonged to Linda's pet chickens. 

When he left Wings, Jimmy toured with The Small Faces and started a few more bands. His death was blamed on a combination of morphine and alcohol poisoning, and while he was know to drink the verdict shocked friends and fans.  

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Eighteen Years Dawning

U2: Out of Control

On September 26, 1979 U2 released its debut EP Three in Ireland. All 1,000 copies , released on orange vinyl, were sold almost immediately and have become a collector's item. The ten minute record has three songs on it, all recorded as demos with producer Chas de Whalley at Windmill Lane Studios, marking the first of what would be many recordings there by the band during their career.

  "Out of Control" was written by Bono on his 18th birthday."(It's) about waking up on your eighteenth birthday and realizing that you're 18 years old and that the 2 most important decisions in your life have nothing to do with you - being born and dying." Like (Stories for) "Boys" it was rerecorded for U2's debut album, Boy. The third track is "Boy/Girl", a song the band often played live from late 1979 until the end of the Boy tour sometime in 1981.

within a year, U2 could not be ignored. They would soon become on of the biggest bands in the world. There is a copy of this EP on eBay with a price tag equivalent to $436.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Problem of Leisure

“When I was putting together the music for Entertainment! I said that what we were doing was going to be hugely influential. Everybody in the band pissed themselves at my pretentiousness."
- Andy Gill

Gang of Four : Natural's Not In It

On September 25, 1979 Gang of Four released Entertainment!, the band's debut album and one of the five most important of the year. So important that I just spent the past half hour combing through all of the CDs in my basement looking for my copy because it has great liner notes in which Michael Stipe of REM and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers talk about how the album changed their lives. 

And I can't find it. Did I leave it in my car and have it stolen? Seriously, where the hell is this album?

We've touched on Gang of Four before. Formed in Leeds in 1977, vocalist Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham named themselves after the Chinese political faction associated with Mao Tse-tung's widow.  Almost from the start, they had a groundbreaking sound, punk played to a funky beat and lyrics that castigated Thatcherism, consumerism and sexism.

That they would sign with EMI to release their debut album raised some eyebrows.

"We could have hidden away on Rough Trade, say, but we wanted people to hear our music," Gill would explain in an interview that appears in The Mojo Collection. "EMI gave us money and let us get on with it. The sessions were pretty fraught  as were were a very argumentative band . I would try to impose certain syncopated drum patterns on Hugo, and he'd throw his sticks at me  and storm off. We didn't know much about studio techniques, but I knew I wanted a dry sound. We used transistor amps as an anti-rockist gesture--trying to get away from that warm Marshall feel".

Gill would go on to describe the band's lyrics as "a simplistic view of modern capitalism", but there are many lines in the album that have withstood the test of time. 

The problem of leisure What to do for pleasure 
Sometimes I'm thinking that I love you But I know it's only lust 
The worst thing in 1954 was the bikini 
How can I sit and eat my tea, with all that blood flowing from the television.
Love'll get you like a case of Anthrax And that's something I don't want to catch 

The album would finish #5 on NME's year-end list, and #3 on Melody Maker's. It's power has only grown. Sez Pitchfork who names the #8 best album of the 1970's: 

Entertainment! may have been a sarcastic title, but it wasn’t inaccurate. The album is caustic and bursting with disgust for unethical capitalism, opportunist politicians, and consumer society, among other things, but it’s also crafted with amazing pop sensibility—and is, of course, remarkably danceable. 

Still haven't found the Entertainment! cd but here's the Michael Stipe quote :

"Entertainment! shredded everything that came before it. I stole a lot from them."

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Dreaming Is Free

Blondie : Dreaming


On September 23, 1979 Blondie's new single "Dreaming" debuted on the U.K. charts at #7.It would peak the following week at #2, held off from the top spot by The Police's "Message in a Bottle". Inspired by Abba's "Dancing Queen" and the line "Dreaming is free" that Chris Stein came up with, the song was recorded live in the studio with drummer Clem Burke giving a manic performance because he thought they were just doing a run-through of the song.

The B-side is "Sound-A-Sleep", which remains one of the least interesting moments in the Blondie catalog. Both songs would appear on Eat ToThe Beat, released in October.

Also entering the charts, at U.K#45, The Skids with "Charade", a song that will convince you the Brits are going to stick with mis-pronouncing that word for a good long while.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Interrupting My Train of Thought

Wire : Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW

On September 23, 1979 Wire released 154, the band's third and most overlooked of its original classic albums. So named because the band had played 154 gigs at the time of the album's release, 154 finds Wire heading into a strange, fascinating art-rock direction. Only Talking Heads had a more interesting musical journey. 

154 isn't the kind of album any critic could quickly sum up. One must breathe in its atmosphere and live in its alienated world for months, maybe years to get the full gist. There are songs about a cartographer referencing Centerville, Illinois, there's a horse caught up in a barbed wire fence, a sunburn that may turn its subject into a lobster. As the years pass, this could become your favorite Wire album.

Out of the gate, Red Starr of Smash Hits gave the album 7.5 out of 10 writing: 

Powerfully intense atmosphere but muscular and melodic, sparingly but very effectively decorated--it's the same dark landscape as Bowie, but very much better than Lodger.

And Robert Christgau gave the album a B in his review:

Predictions that these art-schoolers would turn into art-rockers no longer seem so cynical. Their gift for the horrifying vignette remains. But their tempos are slowing, sometimes to a crawl, as their textures venture toward the orchestral, and neither effect enhances the power of their vignettes, which become ever more personalistic and/or abstract.

Spin editor Eric Weisbard writes:

 "Wire's pretensions were starting to slow down the becomes difficult to enjoy much here, though even lesser material like "The 15th" and "On Returning" is musically savvy enough to off-handedly anticipate The Pixies."

Pitchfork ranks 154 the 85th best album of the 1970s (Chairs Missing ranked #33 and Pink Flag #22). Joe Tangari writes :

They had lost much of their rawness, but none of their edge, pushing into clanging, even chilling electronic textures and oddly moving their catchiest melodies to the front of the mix, conceding to pop convention even as they perverted it.  

After three classic albums, creative differences forced the band to break up for five years. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

A Sure-Fire Smash

Joe Jackson : I'm The Man

On September 25, 1979 Joe Jackson released "I'm The Man", the new single from his forthcoming album with the same name. In the same vein of  Look Sharp!'s "Got The Time" , "One More Time" and "Throw It Away", it's an upbeat rocker that shows Jackson wasn't ready yet to veer too far off the formula that made his debut a Top 40 album in the U.K. and Top 20 in the United States. The single failed to chart anywhere but in Canada. The follow-up single, "It's Different For Girls", would do much better.

Best of all is the cover photo with Jackson dressed as a shiv, a character Jackson says "always wears a gross polka-dot tie and a pencil-thin mustache, and he's always trying to sell you a watch or something like that real cheap. I think people always want to put a label on what you do, so I thought I'd be one step ahead of them and invent one myself - spiv rock." 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Such a Cold Bird

Lene Lovich : Bird Song

In September of 1979, a quite remarkable month for new music, let's not forget Detroit's Lene Lovich wowed us with her third Top 40 U.K. hit, "Bird Song". The track from Flex begins and ends with Lovich using her incredible  multi-octave range to imitate a bird's song. The music video is a high concept classic that suggests Lovich is far off her rocker. 

The Undertones : You've Got My Number

The Undertones also released their fifth single, "You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It)". A U.K. Top 40 hit, the song received raves from David Hepworth of Smash Hits who called it "a taut compulsive love song, resting on a guitar figure that could have been lifted from an early Buzzcocks track with Feargal Sharkey, as good a singer as you'll find anywhere, wringing the lyric for every last ounce of desperation. The number on the cover , SIR4024, refers to the Sire single's catalogue number ,not the number to Feargal's mum.

Friday, September 20, 2019

A Feel Good Story

The Feelies : Crazy Rhythms

Dubbed the "Best Underground Band in New York"  by the Village Voice a year earlier, The Feelies finally get signed to Stiff Records in September of 1979. Using The Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" as a musical starting point, the Hoboken, New Jersey band rarely rehearsed and were rarely seen in clubs. Drummer, Anton Fier was always threatening to quit. Glenn Mercer and Bill Million seemed more interested in jogging than dealing with the people who run things like record labels and music clubs. 

When they did play together, most often at Maxwell's in Hoboken,  the results could be pulsating and hypnotic. The songs all sounded like variations on each other. What kind of album would the band make? The world would have to wait until April of 1980 for the release of Crazy Rhythms.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

John Cooper Clarke: My 10 All Time Fave Songs

John Cooper Clarke : Evidently Chickentown

In September of 1979, punk poet John Cooper Clarke offered Smash Hits a list of  his 10 all time favorite songs, a mix of tracks from the 50's, 60's and 70's. There's a nod to the Velvet Underground as one might expect, but Shirley Bassey and Ann Peebles also made the list. No explanation given. Clarke is now 70 years old and still a proper dresser. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Two From The Buzzcocks

Buzzcocks : Ever Fallen in Love 

In September of 1979 The Buzzcocks offered two albums for the back to school crowd. Singles Going Steady remains the must have album for any even vaguely familiar with the Manchester band's history of fusing punk energy into remarkably catchy pop song. Released by I.R.S. Records as a primer for American audiences, it includes eight A-sides and their formidable B sides from 1977's "Orgasm Addict" to the recent summer's "Harmony in My Head". Sez Robert Christgau: 

 The Buzzcocks' knack for the title hook and the catchy backup chorus, along with their apparently asocial lyrics, tempts tastemakers in jaded olde England to dismiss them as mere pop, but over here their high-speed, high-register attack sounds powerful indeed.

The album finished at #20 in 1979's Pazz and Jop Critic's poll. It remains absolutely essential.

Buzzcocks : Hollow Inside

September is also the month the Buzzcocks released their third and final album of  the glory years, A Different Kind of Tension. It's Buzzcocks style punk pop on side one ( aka "The Rose on the Chocolate Box") with more experimental forays on side two (aka "The Thorn Beneath The Rose"). The critics weren't overwhelmed. Red Starr of Smash Hits called it "likeable but predictable--the slightly seedy wimp pop formula is getting threadbare", and Rolling Stone's Mikal Gilmore found it repetitive "resulting in a catchall of reworked riffs and static, similar tempos". Over the years the album's stock has raised considerably. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pictures Came and Broke Your Heart

The Buggles : Video Killed the Radio Star


Claiming to be devoted to "electronic pop for the Eighties", studio veterans Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes entered the U.K. charts as The Buggles on September 16, 1979 with the eventual chart topping "Video Killed The Radio Star". The pair had worked with everyone from Gary Glitter to jazz guitarist Gary Boyle. (They even produced The Jags '79 hit "Back of My Hand"). The three minute single took three months to produce and has all kinds of obscure touches. First off, the first 20 seconds sound like some England Dan and John Ford Coley crap. There's a glockenspiel in the mix and a Vox AC30 guitar amplifier was used to achieve the telephone effect.

The music video cost $50,000 and was the first to be played when MTV made its debut on August 1, 1981. "Video Killed the Radio Star" gone on to top polls as the favorite one hit wonder of all time. Horn and Downes would soon join the progressive rock powerhouse Yes, contributing to 1980's Drama. Horn would also produce their #1 hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart".

An obscure note : the song was first recorded by the third of the song's co-writers Bruce Woolley. Woolley would go on to form the Camera Club with Thomas Dolby and write the Grace Jones hit "Slave To The Rhythm".

Monday, September 16, 2019

Hip-Hop, Hippie to the Hippie

The Sugarhill Gang : Rapper's Delight

On September 16, 1979 The Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight", the breakout Top 40 single of the year for a new kind of sound, hip hop. In fact the genre gets its name from the opening lines rattled off by Wonder Mike: "Hip-hop, hippie to the hippie, to the hip-hip-hop and you don't stop". Right from the start you'll hear some of rap's signature characteristics: boasting MC's, dancing, humor, sex and what would soon be called sampling. "Rapper's Delight" borrows its music wholesale from Chic's #1 smash hit "Good Times". Eventually Bernie Edwards and Nile Rodgers got the writing credit and Rodgers now performs at least a portion of "Rapper's Delight" every time he plays "Good Times" in front of an audience. 

 "“Rapper’s Delight’ is one of my favorite songs of all time. At first, I admit, I was pissed off. You work your whole life to write a song like ‘Good Times.’ It takes all of your experience, all of your music lessons, all the places I got fired, all the times I was robbed — all of that living. But the truth is, I was especially pissed because as innovative and important as ‘Good Times’ was, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was just as much, if not more so. " Rodgers told Blender.

It was Sylivia "Pillow Talk " Robinson's independent label Sugarhill Records that released the single, supposedly recorded in a single 14:30 take with 17 year old Chip Shearin on bass. "The drummer and I were sweating bullets because that's a long time.," he told the Raleigh News and Observer. "And this was in the days before samplers and drum machines, when real humans had to play things. ... Sylvia said, 'I've got these kids who are going to talk real fast over it; that's the best way I can describe it".  

"The kids", Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank and Master Gee, weren't the biggest hip hop stars in New York. Lovebug Starski, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa believed rapping was an art form that had to be performed live, not captured on tape. But here it is, 40 years later. As the editor of 2003's "Classic Material: The Hip-Hop Album Guide" Oliver Wang put it, "it's a pretty impressive fabrication, lightning in a bottle".

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.