Saturday, May 09, 2009

Further Sounds From My Dark Digital Innerspace (Music For iPods Part Three)

1. The Jam - 'When You're Young' (Polydor, POSP69-A) It was 1979; Matty, Spug, Geordie John, Anth, Blob, Chris the Skin, Phil and I were 'The Gang.' We learned to drink pints of fizzy together. We fought The Hairies (well, I say 'fought' what would usually happen would be that actually somebody would give a shout of 'Jesus is dead', we'd dump the parkas and run away, during which time somebody would invariably get their nose twanked). And we followed The Jam pretty much everywhere. This was the seventies, of course, when violence was very big. The Jam, like Sham 69 (whose skinhead following, The Sham Army, everybody feared), had a large hardcore among the football thugs, a trend that New Order seemed to acquire a few years later. We respected the Leeds Scooter Boys, the Coventry Crew and the other assorted groups of Northern fans. Proper Mods, they were, who lived the life and walked the walk. But we hated the cockneys - trendy wankers who'd jumped on the band because they were fashionable. 1979 was the year I messed up my 'O' levels because I'd discovered that school was shite basically. Still, I stayed on for two years in Sixth Form just so I didn't have to do anything as horrible as actually try to find a job. I lost my virginity on top of a pool table in a pub in Wallsend with The Jam playing - loudly - on the jukebox downstairs (it was 'When You're Young'). I saw the band live six times in '79 and became more cynical as a result of realising just how many dickheads were following them. If 'Strange Town' was Spug's song and 'Billy Hunt's was Blob's and 'Saturday's Kids' belonged to pretty much all of us, then 'When You're Young' was all mine. The song that, simultaneously politicised and romanticised my world-view. Every line described my life with an accuracy I found almost supernatural. I couldn't wait to be grown up, for 'acceptance into the capital world.' Yet, like the song's character, I wasn't going to work for The Man ('No corporations for the New Age son/Tears of rage run down your face but still you say it's fun'). All over the country the lights were, indeed, going out. In millions of homes and one of them was mine. I was sixteen and God damn pissed off with more or less everything. I'd torn a cartilage in my knee playing football and spent a lot of the summer of '79 in bed. I was getting fat, with a combination of no exercise and loads of beer. My parents didn't understand. Nobody did. Except Paul Weller. Funnily enough, even thirty years on, there are days when I still feel the same way! This.

2. The Purple Gang - 'Granny Takes A Trip' (Big T Records, BIG 101-A) The best record ever made featuring a kazoo solo! I don't know much about The Purple Gang except that they were from Stockport and that their debut single, named after a popular Kings Road fashion store where all the trendies hung out, was banned by the BBC for 'containing drug references.' Actually, it's a rather simple (and funny) little song about the singer's dear old granny trying to become an actresses (and failing). Despite its lack of airplay, it was a popular club record and became notorious hippy hangout the UFO Club's 'theme song' for a few months. The humorous 'period' lyrics and infectious jugband melody still stand out as one of 1967's finest moments. Their singer, Peter Walker, liked to be known as 'Lucifer', apparently and they used to dress up as Chicago gangsters during their stage act and threaten the audience with tommy guns. Style. Great record, though - a classic example of that curious strain of British pyschedelic whimsy.

3. The Isley Brothers - 'This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)' (TAMLA, 54128-A) Originally the Holland Brothers, Lamont Dozier and Sylvia Moy had written 'The Old Heart of Mine' with Kim Weston in mind and under the working title 'Don't Throw My Love Away.' The backing track was recorded over a number of sessions covering two months in late 1965 (listen to the way James Jamerson's fluid bass locks in behind Benny Benjamin's hugely influential triple rim-shots and to the fantastic baritone sax underpinning the song's melody) with the strings being added last, in October. Meanwhile, Berry Gordy had recently signed The Isley's to Tamla and was keen that they be given a hit to cement what, at the time, was Motown's first external hiring of a group with a previous track record of hits away from Detroit. Ronnie Isley's wonderful voice suited the song perfectly and one of the great love songs of all time was completed just before Christmas 1965 and released early the following year. Then, two years after that, it was a hit in England. Because, you know us lot, we're notoriously slow on the uptake. Covered (usually horribly) by half of the singers in the world since (I particularly recommend you avoid Rod Stewart's version), the original is Old School Motown at its very best - music to make you smile, to make you clap your hands and to make you dance. Pop-soul perfection in two minutes and forty six seconds.

4. The Luddites - 'Doppelganger' (ECCENTRIC RECORDS ER01-A) Another band from Hull and, apart from this gem, I can't really find much else that they ever recorded (although their drummer, Dave Stead, subsequently had a lot of success with The Beautiful South). 'Doppelganger' is a truly meancing record, with an ominous, extended rumbling bass intro (sounding not unlike Joy Division) and moody, sinister vocals. The following was, I think, the band's only ever TV appearance, when The Tube did a feature on bands from Hull (I seem to remember The Red Guitars and the thoroughly weird Indians In Moscow were also featured): Gosh, wasn't Jools young, once?

5. New Order - 'Ceremony' (Factory Records, FAC 33-A) One of the most iconic and mysterious songs in the Joy Division/New Order collection, 'Ceremony' is the hinge on which the band's career swings. One of the final songs - along with 'In A Lonely Place' - to be written by Joy Division, 'Ceremony' began as a band jam during rehearsals in early 1980. A rough version was recorded on a cheap cassette, mainly for reference purposes. The song immediately went into Joy Division's set for their final live show at Birmingham University in May 1980. A recording of this version subsequently appeared on the compilation LP Still although a faulty microphone meant that Ian Curtis's voice could barely be heard until it suddenly explodes from the speakers during the final verse. Musically, the song's trademark ringing guitar motif, played beautifully by Barney Sumner on his Gibson SG, is the main focus of attention. Although, as so often with Joy Division tunes, the subtleties of Peter Hook's knee-to-groin bassline and Steve Morris's snare-drenched percussion give the song a pounding consistency. (The moment when the lengthy and complex multi-tracked guitar opening pauses, as if for breath, and Hook's booming bass is left to carry the tune, with an arrogant flourish, is one of the most thrilling in the band's entire discography.) After Curtis's death, Sumner, Hook and Morris returned to the primitive rehearsal tape of 'Ceremony' and 'In A Lonely Place', using a graphic equaliser to discern Curtis's lyrics. (Many years later, Hook found the cassette in a cupboard and these lo-fi, but historically priceless, recordings were included on the 1997 Joy Division box-set Heart & Soul.) 'Ceremony' was a feature of New Order's early live set (with Morris usually taking vocal duties) and was an obvious choice for their first single. And, this is where it all gets complicated. An initial studio version, 4:34 long, and with Sumner on vocals, was recorded with Martin Hannett (probably at Strawberry Studios, although sources vary). The song was released in February 1981 on both 7 inch (FAC33 with a bronze sleeve) and a 12 inch single (green sleeve with gold lettering). A couple of months later, the band (now augmented by Gillian Gilbert) re-recorded the song and a replacement twelve inch single (white sleeve with a blue stripe, but with the same FAC33 number) was issued. The easiest way to tell the two singles apart at a glance - without playing them - is that the original has 'Watching love grow - forever' scratched into the vinyl's run-out groove whilst the re-recording has 'This is why events unnerve me'; a classic example of the calculated way in which New Order used a simple device to increase the mystique and enigma that surrounded them at this stage of their career. This was also evidenced when Smash Hits asked to print the lyrics to 'Ceremony' when the song was became a top forty hit. The band responded that they didn't separate lyrics from music and suggested that the magazine make up their own, based upon their hearing of the song. Hence, for several years afterwards, many fans were convinced that 'Ceremony's opening line was 'This is why it gets so lovely,' instead of the considerably more sinister 'This is why events unnerve me.' Lyrically, 'Ceremony' is a baffling series of opaque conundrums which appear to describe the first cracks that will eventually shatter a relationship. With some splendidly cinematic imagery (avenues all lined with trees) and the song's central metaphor of movement and the passage of time, 'Ceremony' can be read as either a passionate love song or, conversely an anti-love song ('all she asks the strength to hold me'). Inevitably, given Curtis's untimely suicide, many fans chose to see some of the lyrics in 'Ceremony' as a desperate cry for help (its B-Side and companion piece, 'In A Lonely Place' suffered an even greater surfeit of morbid analysis). Yet, essentially, 'Ceremony' is as up-sounding a song as Joy Division ever wrote and it became a celebratory moment at each New Order concert, becoming a permanent fixture for most of the band's subsequent lengthy career. Get yer shirts off and dance:

6. The Bee Gees - 'I Started A Joke' (Polydor 421 423-A) Bit of a cheat, this, as I don't think 'I Started a Joke' was ever released as a single in the UK (although it certainly was in America, Australia and large chunks of Europe). But, it's a song worth stretching a point for, I think. It's funny these days when it's actually gotten quite cool again to like The Bee Gees (particularly their hugely under-rated earlier work). The irony, of course, is the idea that, what is it, the eighth biggest selling act of all-time actually needs to have their catalogue re-evaluated. Whatever. A fine Robin Gibb song about regret that is open to multiple interpretations (I particularly like the idea which Wikipedia mentions that some people believe it's sung from the point of view of the Devil). Robin has (and still has, for that matter) such a gorgeous voice. The video I found on YouTube is extraordinary too - from Australian TV circa 1969, I'm led to believe. There also this, from five years later, which isn't quite as good a version but which features far funnier trousers:

7. Orange Juice - 'Simply Thrilled Honey' (Postcard Records, 8006-A) The most influential British band of the 1980s? Well, The Smiths, obviously but, after that ... I'd put up a very spirited argument for Orange Juice, personally. Just about every British Indie guitar band formed after 1982 and up until the start of Madchester owed Edwyn and the boys a huge debt. Their later, Polydor, stuff is better known, of course but those early, wonderful, singles on Postcard - 'Falling and Laughing', 'Blue Boy' and, best of all, 'Simply Thrilled Honey' - are the stuff of dreams. The, literal, Sound of Young Scotland. I especially love the Velvet Underground-influenced disco-fusion guitar duelling of Edwyn Collins and James Kirk, you just imagine tens of thouands of spotty Indie kid would-be guitarist sitting in their bedrooms thinking 'They're marrying Lou Reed and Chic! How's THAT done, then?' The video is from 1984's DaDa With Juice and shows another, very under-rated, part of why Edywn Collins is a God damn living icon - a sense of humour:

8. The Clash - 'Complete Control' (CBS 5664-A) The debacle over CBS's release of the 'Remote Control' single in May 1977, without EVEN bothering to inform The Clash, fuelled the fires for the band's most incendiary piece of realpolitik. In three minute and thirteen seconds, Mick Jones's warning to every band about to sign on the dotted line about the waiting hidden dangers is loud and clear. The song's ultimate message is distilled into one of The Clash's most quoted couplets: 'They said, we'd be artistically free/But it's just a bit of paper.' In 'Complete Control', The Clash wearily survey a desolate landscape of crushed punk idealism, acting as caustic, cynical observers to the compromise world that they are, themselves, now a part of. Yet there's a deeper story in this state-of-the-union address to all the young punks: 'Bernie and Malcom [McLaren] got together and decided to try and control their groups,' noted Joe Strummer in 1991. 'Bernie had a meeting in The Ship in Soho, after The Anarchy Tour. He said he wanted complete control... I came out of the pub with Paul collapsing on the pavement in hysterics.' The seed was sown for a revolution from within. The song was written in Jones's bedroom at Wilmcote House after The White Riot Tour in June. Strummer was so impressed by Mick's bitter lyrics that, save for suggesting the inclusion of a reference to the band's recent disastrous Amsterdam gig, declared them perfect as they stood. 'Complete Control' also included allusions to The Clash's numerous run-ins with the law (like the Newcastle Holiday Inn malarkey) and their, seemingly, official policy of opening the back door at gigs to fans without tickets. Told by Rhodes to 'write what affects you,' Jones complied. There was also an inevitable, and surprisingly mature, comment on media perceptions of punk rock and of the band themselves, peppered by some of Strummer's most funny ad-libs ('You're my guitar hero!' and, memorably, 'This is Joe Public speaking!') Recording took place at Sarm East Studios in Whitechapel in August. It was Topper Headon's first with the band, and he puts in a powerhouse performance, driving the song forward, particularly immediately after the pseudo-dub middle-section. Although Micky Foote engineered the session, the production was, officially at least, in the hands of Lee 'Scratch' Perry, the maverick Jamaican dubmaster who had co-written 'Police & Thieves' and who was currently producing the exiled Bob Marley & The Wailers in London. How much Perry actually contributed to 'Complete Control' has been the source of much, subsequent, debate although all of those involved seem to have got on well with him. 'Lee was shit hot,' Foote noted. 'He took this equaliser and twiddled the bass dial around. The whole studio was shaking!' Foote added that Perry was 'well into it, dancing and kung-fu kicking.' Strummer, however, later joked that Perry was in and out of the studio in about fifteen minutes. Jones's interest in getting different sounds from his guitar also came to the fore, particularly in the arpeggios used in the countermelody ('I don't trust you...') The Clash's first Top Thirty hit (number twenty eight, for a week!), 'Complete Control' became one of their most popular live anthems, first introduced to the set in August 1977 at Mont de Marsen. A piece of violent polemic about what a big bad world four young guys had found themselves a (perhaps willing) part of, it became the band's opening number for most of 1978, and a regular encore thereafter. A splendidly spunky version, with a dramatic tension-building guitar introduction, recorded in June 1981 in New York, opens From Here To Eternity. 'A definition of how much fury and determination are worth and of how good they can feel,' wrote Greil Marcus in 1978. 'This is rock to rank with 'Hound Dog' and 'Gimme Shelter'. Music that, for the few minutes it lasts, seems to trivialise both.' 'Complete Control' has been criticised, subsequently, for its naïveté surrounding the corporate music industry. (John Peel, for instance, suggested that The Clash must have known that CBS were not a foundation for the arts but had signed them to make as much money as possible.) Yet even if the song's anger is faux naïf, it still packs a considerable punch. Indeed, as Jon Savage wrote 'Instead of a piece of cynicism, 'Complete Control' becomes a hymn to Punk autonomy at its moment of eclipse.' Check this out.

Next time on 'Stuff Keith Telly Topping Plays When He's Miserable', epic 45s from The Action, The Smiths, Kim Weston, Strawberry Switchblade and others. Be there or ... you know, don't.

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