MONDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2015
WEEK 52: GENIUSES, MISFITS & ONE OFF’S
It’s both the blessing and the curse of sites like this that they’re only considered as good as the songs they feature. Include some buried treasure of a B Side or an unreleased track that’s been forgotten by all but the writer and the reader, and you’ve made a friend for life. On the other hand, miss out the casual reader’s favourite number one, and you run the risk of being ignored for all time.
A Year In Playlists encompasses seventy years, a bit less than a modern lifetime all squeezed into one. Throughout 2015, we’ve featured 1,130 songs to date, one playlist a week over the last 51 weeks. The overwhelming majority of artists are represented by just one song, only the truly important or exceptional by two or three. Nonetheless, most forms of musical life are here; chart hits and folk songs, techno tracks and classic riffage, acknowledged favourites and mysterious obscurities. They are all a part of the story.
One way or another, most of the songs here have influenced my life, even those I profess to hate. Many will have influenced the lives of others because more than any other art form, music arouses extraordinary passions. It moves us in ways we both can and can’t explain, lifting us up towards the clouds or dragging us down to the depths of despair. It can also inspire incredible loyalty (at least it used to) to songs, albums and musicians with whom we’ve forged some kind of connection. We feel as though we understand the songs we love in a way that no-one, not even those who created them, will ever appreciate. And if we can hum along to them, then so much the better.
The only thing missing until now has been a place for those who dared to redraw the boundaries of what was or wasn’t acceptable and swim against the tide. After all, modern music culture isn’t made up of genres and time periods alone. It’s far more complicated than that. So for our final playlist, here’s 25 geniuses, misfits and one offs who first appeared sometime between punk and the dawn of the new Millennium. It’s their impact and influence that continues to remind us how music is so much more than just simple noise and entertainment.
You will undoubtedly recognise many of them as long established, familiar names, even superstars, but what about kinky German renegades D.A.F.’s jagged electro industrial dance, Smith & Mighty’s inevitable melding of punk and disco that invented trip hop five years ahead of its time, Underground Resistance and Joey Beltram’s revolutionary, future sound of Detroit and Belgium techno, or DJ Shadow, the first to re-construct something truly remarkable from a sampler, a bunch of obscure second hand records and the imagination of a classical composer. Its outsiders, interlopers and shape shifters like these who have made modern music culture the unpredictable, frighteningly stupid and stupendously clever spectrum of communication that it is today.
Hopefully, A Year In Playlists has told some kind of story of how we got all the way from Joe Liggins & His Honeydrippers way back in 1945 to Aphex Twin in 1999 and Jenny Hval & Susanna in 2014. Quite frankly we’re shocked we’ve even managed to pull it off. While it’s been a lot of work, it’s also been a lot of fun and we’ve certainly learnt a helluva lot along the way. Not least that there is no right or wrong way to do this kind of thing. Almost by definition, pocket book guides of this nature inspire debate and argument. We hope A Year In Playlists simply inspires you to set out on your own incredible voyage of discovery!
01 IGGY POP ‘Funtime’ (The Idiot LP March 1977)
02 THE CRAMPS ‘Human Fly’ (A Side November 1978)
03 D.A.F. ‘Der Mussolini’ (Alles Ist Gut LP March 1981)
04 TOM TOM CLUB ‘Genius Of Love’ (A Side September 1981)
05 MALCOLM MCLAREN ‘Buffalo Gals’ (A Side November 1982)
06 THE SMITHS ‘This Night Has Opened My Eyes’ (Hatful Of Hollow LP November 1984)
07 THE POGUES ‘The Old Main Drag’ (Rum, Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
08 KATE BUSH ‘Cloudbusting’ (Hounds Of Love LP September 1985)
09 CRIMINAL ELEMENT ORCHESTRA ‘Put The Needle To The Record’ (A Side 1987)
10 MARK STEWART ‘Survival’ (Mark Stewart LP October 1987)
11 SMITH & MIGHTY ‘Anyone’ (A Side May 1988)
12 PET SHOP BOYS ‘Left To My Own Devices’ (Introspective LP October 1988)
13 BELTRAM ‘Energy Flash’ (A Side March 1990)
14 THE KLF ‘What Time Is Love? (Live At Trancentral)’ (A Side September 1990)
15 MANIC STREET PREACHERS ‘Motown Junk’ (A Side January 1991)
16 R.E.M. ‘Belong’ (Out Of Time LP March 1991)
17 UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE ‘Riot’ (Riot EP June 1991)
18 DJ SHADOW ‘In/Flux’ (A Side December 1993)
19 TRICKY ‘Hell Is Round The Corner’ (Maxinquaye LP February 1995)
20 BJORK ‘Isobel (Deodato Mix)’ (Telegram Remixes LP November 1996)
21 SPIRITUALIZED ‘I Think I’m In Love’ (Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space LP June 1997)
22 MASSIVE ATTACK ‘Risingson’ (A Side July 1997)
23 MADONNA ‘Ray Of Light’ (A Side April 1998)
24 JEFF BUCKLEY ‘Everybody Here Wants You’ (A Side May 1998)
25 APHEX TWIN ‘Windowlicker’ (A Side March 1999)
MONDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2015
WEEK 51: THE HISTORY OF MODERN MUSIC CULTURE IN COVER VERSIONS
In the second decade of the 21st century, the mystifying art of the cover song has been almost completely corrupted by the incessant chirruping of all those desperate TV talent show neverwillbes. X Factor, The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent; those programme’s are everywhere, filling up every last minute of our dull weekends. Versions of old classics or recent best sellers remain their staple diet; watered down, homogenised, bland and very, very beige. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The first golden rule of doing a cover is if you don’t have any new flavor to add to the original, then don’t bother in the first place. In the hands of adventurous music makers, covers can be a great device for speaking in a more colloquial tongue. It doesn’t matter how deviant or extreme the execution, what matters is how that close encounter with a familiar melody or hook speaks to even the most casual listener.
Some re-contextualise the classic’s, some shine a light on the brilliant writing at the heart of the original, while others elicit a wry smile of recognition with just the right amount of humour and reverence. Despite the familiarity so central to their very core, covers are at their best when offering an entry point into music that is beyond our normal experience, so providing an easy way in to those new listening experiences we all crave so much. Chuck a decent cover version into your life and it can be like the insey winsey buzz or burst of excitement you get when you do something a little out of the ordinary.
Edited down from literally thousands, this, our penultimate playlist includes many of our favourite’s as a kind of alternative history of modern music culture in cover versions. Some you will know, some you will not, some are radical reconstructions, some just provide a bit of oomph but all are suitably thrilling remakes, twisting perceptions of their original sound and meaning. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll be hearing any X Factor or Voice wannabe sounding quite like these anytime soon!
01 MUSE ‘Feeling Good’ (Nina Simone June 1965 LP ‘I Put A Spell On You’)
02 CHRIS ECKMAN ‘Yellow Submarine’ (The Beatles August 1966 Single)
03 BECK ‘Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat’ (Bob Dylan August 1966 LP ‘Blonde On Blonde’)
04 THE SLITS ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (Marvin Gaye August 1968 Single)
05 LAIBACH ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ (Rolling Stones December 1968 LP ‘Beggars Banquet’)
06 SONIC YOUTH ‘Superstar’ (The Carpenters August 1971 Single)
07 THE YOUNG GODS ‘Did You Miss Me (Hello Hello I’m Back Again)’ (Gary Glitter April 1973 Single)
08 ALABAMA 3 ‘Hotel California’ (The Eagles December 1976 LP ‘Hotel California’)
09 THE SEA AND THE CAKE ‘Sound And Vision’ (David Bowie January 1977 LP ‘Low’)
10 THE FALL ‘Lost In Music’ (Sister Sledge January 1979 LP ‘We Are Family’)
11 GRACE JONES ‘She’s Lost Control’ (Joy Division August 1979 LP ‘Unknown Pleasures’)
12 AFGHAN WHIGS ‘Lost In The Supermarket’ (The Clash December 1979 LP ‘London Calling’)
13 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Slowdive’ (Siouxsie & The Banshees October 1982 Single)
14 T.A.T.U. ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (The Smiths August 1984 Single)
15 TRICKY ‘Black Steel (In The Hour Of Chaos)’ (Public Enemy April 1988 LP ‘Nation Of Millions’)
16 POLYPHONIC SPREE ‘Lithium’ (Nirvana September 1991 LP ‘Nevermind’)
17 JACK WHITE ‘Love Is Blindness’ (U2 November 1991 LP ‘Achtung Baby’)
18 BEN FOLDS ‘Bitche’s Ain’t Shit’ (Dr Dre December 1992 LP ‘The Chronic’)
19 TIMO RAISANEN ‘Creep’ (Radiohead September 1992 Single)
20 EELS ‘Get Ur Freak On’ (Missy Elliott March 2001 Single)
NEXT WEEK: GENIUSES, MISFITS & ONE OFF’S
MONDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2015
WEEK 50: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2010 - 2014
We all have an emptiness we need to fill, whether it be with work, God, football, gardening or whatever. From a youthful age I chose to fill mine with music so for the better part of four decades settled into the tried and tested method of discovering, acquiring and listening to new music on vinyl, cassette and CD. But as soon as the 21st century arrived, that safe, comforting routine was almost immediately disrupted by the introduction of new, paradigm shifting inventions. By the end of the first decade, my initial excitement at being able to listen to every song ever recorded since time immemorial had given way to a state of bewilderment. For the first time ever I began to question music’s role in my life, or if it even had one.
Thankfully, that momentary yet necessary lapse of faith soon passed but it did serve one useful purpose by reaffirming my seemingly eternal hope in finding something uplifting and glorious amongst the veritable avalanche of new releases. I also realised that while love at first listen was still possible, within the infinite world of downloading and playlists it was unlikely to come from a 70 minute or even 40 minute album. Like most other folks, I chose to ignore what had once been my sole measure of sorting the good from the bad, much preferring to cherry pick the best songs before moving onto the next.
That didn’t mean music lost all of its evangelical power but inevitably, focusing on songs as units of pleasure and surprise did lead to less and less interest in their intent, meaning or resonance. And no matter how hard I tried, I found it impossible to form any deep or meaningful relationship with any new artists. Curiously, I even lost my brand loyalty to the major figures from my distant past. When my old beau Bowie reappeared in 2013 to be showered in praise for his first new album in a decade, I couldn’t have been less interested. Without even knowing it, I had become a shallower, more restless listener, easily amused yet very easily bored.
Naturally, the new generation ‘coming up from behind’ didn’t care about such things, retaining very little of the music snobbery that had so encumbered my own punk generation. To them, music appeared to be just tunes, which I guess is why it stopped playing any kind of ideological part in their lives. In the face of an abundance of deathly leisure options, the currency of music was certainly devalued but they didn’t even think about it? Of course, they still professed to love it and still do, but what they seem to love a whole lot more is the communal experience of festivals, big event heritage shows and posting songs on the social network, not so much for the music per se but for the communication and the exchange.
Technological advances and modern music cultures role in our daily lives and habits continues to be an ongoing, ever evolving process I’ve had to get used to. Choice doesn’t come into it unless I want to be a vinyl Luddite paying through the nose for a scratched up bit of black plastic with admittedly great artwork. Even last year, small sea changes continued to come about at a rapid rate; YouTube’s popularisation of new songs giving way to Vine memes, Smartphones being equipped with 24/7 offline streaming services.
The biggest shock to my system came when Apple quietly killed off the iPod classic, the sole source of my musical pleasure over the past seven years or so. When the dinky hard drive of my little black box suffers that inevitable fatal seizure and everything on it simply vanishes, I guess I’ll finally have to surrender myself to Spotify. Not that it really matters because one thing I have learnt is that whatever happens, whether it’s in society, music culture or technology, music will always find a way to not only survive but to flourish. In fact, the next chapter is already being written. I can’t wait to hear it!
01 SLEIGH BELLS ‘Rill Rill’ (Treats LP February 2010)
02 GONJASUFI ‘Sheep’ (A Sufi And A Killer LP March 2010)
03 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘I Can Change’ (This Is Happening LP May 2010)
04 PJ HARVEY ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ (Let England Shake LP February 2011)
05 JAMES BLAKE ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ (James Blake LP February 2011)
06 CASHIER NO. 9 ‘Make You Feel Better’ (To The Death Of Fun LP June 2011)
07 ZOMBY ‘Things Fall Apart’ (Dedication LP July 2011)
08 AZEALIA BANKS ‘212’ (Download December 2011)
09 THE 2 BEARS ‘Be Strong’ (Be Strong LP January 2012)
10 SCUBA ‘The Hope’ (Personality LP February 2012)
11 THE MAGNETIC NORTH ‘Bay Of Skaill’ (Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North LP May 2012)
12 JOHN GRANT ‘GMF’ (Pale Green Ghosts LP March 2013)
13 BILL RYDER-JONES ‘There’s A World Between Us’ (A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart LP March 2013)
14 SOPHIE ‘Bipp’ (Download June 2013)
15 YOUNG FATHERS ‘I Heard’ (Tape Two LP June 2013)
16 MUM ‘When Girls Collide’ (Smilewound LP September 2013)
17 BROKEN BELLS ‘Holding On For Life’ (After The Disco LP February 2014)
18 SLEAFORD MODS ‘Liveable Shit’ (Divide And Exit LP April 2014)
19 JOAKIM ‘This Is My Life’ (Tropics Of Love LP May 2014)
20 JENNY HVAL & SUSANNA ‘I Have Walked This Body’ (Meshes Of Voice LP September 2014)
NEXT WEEK: THE HISTORY OF MODERN MUSIC CULTURE IN COVER VERSIONS
MONDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2015
WEEK 49: SECRET PLEASURES OF NOUGHTIES POP
Few industries went through as much upheaval in the noughties as the music biz. Music is art and art is always evolving but rarely had there been such tortuous change in such a short space of time. It wasn’t just what folks were listening to that was new but how they listened to it and how it affected them. Incredibly, with illegal downloading we were all able to jump aboard the time machine to become teenagers again.
Some of us went back even further, our easy access to every moment and every influence in music history turning us into toddlers with far too many presents. Not that there was any alternative. With record shops closing down at an alarming rate, the only other option was to ignore all the free goodies on offer and go the supermarket CD route. I know plenty who did just that but to me, sending the latest overhyped piece of shite through the checkout with the cornflakes and pizza always seemed like an act of treason.
Apart from those luddites, most everyone else got seriously stuck in and self-imposed genre constraints became a thing of the past, my teenage daughter for one thinking nothing of blasting out a dubstep tune, then an oddball Swedish pop song, then a gently strummed, heartfelt, acoustic hit. Unencumbered by peer pressure cool, she never saw any contradiction in liking all those differing elements and emotions.
For the first time since the early eighties the pace of pop really picked up and it edged away from Secret Pleasure territory, aged scribes and intellectuals trampling over each other to expound its considerable virtues. Suddenly pop was interesting and almost cool, proving, as if any proof were needed, that the pop song is still one of the greatest inventions of the modern world. Of course, I know they are only pop songs, but then I would argue that bullets are only metal, money is only paper and religion is only old stories.
01 SPILLER ‘Groovejet’ (A Side August 2000)
02 NO DOUBT ‘Hey Baby’ (A Side October 2001)
03 JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE ‘Like I Love You’ (A Side October 2002)
04 CHRISTINA AGUILERA ‘Beautiful’ (A Side March 2003)
05 MIS-TEEQ ‘Scandalous’ (A Side March 2003)
06 RCHARD X VS LIBERTY X ‘Being Nobody’ (A Side March 2003)
07 GIRLS ALOUD ‘No Good Advice’ (A Side May 2003)
08 RACHEL STEVENS ‘Sweet Dreams My LA Ex’ (A Side September 2003)
09 KYLIE MINOGUE ‘Slow’ (A Side November 2003)
10 BRITNEY SPEARS ‘Toxic’ (A Side January 2004)
11 BEYONCE ‘Naughty Girl’ (A Side March 2004)
12 SUGABABES ‘Push The Button’ (A Side September 2005)
13 RIHANNA ‘SOS’ (A Side February 2006)
14 LILY ALLEN ‘Smile’ (A Side March 2006)
15 ROBYN ‘With Every Heartbeat’ (A Side January 2007)
16 GROOVE ARMADA ‘Song 4 Mutya’ (A Side July 2007)
17 ALPHABEAT ‘Fascination’ (A Side May 2008)
18 GRACE JONES ‘William’s Blood’ (A Side December 2008)
19 LADY GAGA ‘Poker Face’ (a Side September 2008)
20 MINI VIVA ‘Left My Heart In Tokyo’ (A Side September 2009)
21 LEONA LEWIS ‘Happy’ (A Side September 2009)
NEXT WEEK: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2010 - 2014
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2015
WEEK 48: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2005 – 2009
James Murphy may have been ‘losing his edge’ on LCD Soundsystems classic debut but by the time I got to the second half of the noughties I’d already lost mine. Overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of new music, as someone who had always balanced his own admittedly self-perceived notion of cool with the anxiety of growing older, not only did his story of an ageing hipster pushed aside by a new generation of kids make me laugh out loud, it also made me realise just how much I’d lost touch.
Following its initial surge, by the mid noughties the internet’s ability to connect groups with their audience had finally begun to mature. The matrix of connections built through social networking reached critical mass, the flier pasted to a phone box becoming the blog read by thousands. With eager young fans keeping up with more music so easily, tastes broadened and specialisation followed meaning artists could get as weird and out there as they liked without any fear of rejection.
As technology helped these strange little groups become modestly successful, the internet opened up the blogosphere to every type of musician and non-musician looking for their own post box to the world. In this new climate of cultural diversity all borders and barriers were removed both musically and physically, and it became perfectly possible for previously unfashionable countries like France to become a new centre for grinding dance music and Sweden to become a new home for clattering neo, post punk pop.
The downside to all this was that whereas I’d once invested so completely in an artist’s records, art and theories on life, suddenly those things didn’t seem to matter anymore. On occasion I would find myself listening to something and have no idea who or why it was. As modern culture became more and more fragmented and transient, the meaning behind music and the reasons for making it changed completely. Music lost so much of its cultural power it became impossible to create a big movement in a way that had been possible even in the nineties. Everything became so post-modern and broken down that in the west, any thought that music could still be a vehicle for a cultural revolution was considered laughable.
Of course, in the cracks between the generations, hidden deep within the class system, racism, the haves and the have not’s, there was still the odd voice of dissent but they were almost completely overwhelmed by a deluge of greed and intolerance. And I have to admit that often, even the small amount of politically engaged, meaningful art that could be found tended to sound horribly irrelevant and indulgent, lost and lonely in the vast retail parks of consumerism. Obviously it was still vital for my own personal hope and sanity but I couldn’t help wondering if I was just deluding myself, particularly as no matter where I thought I stood on all the weighty cultural and political issues the value of a killer tune seemed to matter more than anything.
I guess I’d spent so many years trying to keep my arms around the madly spinning globe of music culture past, present and near future that I was no longer able to keep up. Needing something small yet meaningful to regain my perspective I hatched a crazy, Bill Drummond type plan to listen to just one current album per month and nothing else. I lasted less than a week. In the end, even after my near forty years of listening, I found it impossible to resist the anticipation of hearing something that might make me forget about the tedium and bullshit of everyday life, even if it was only for a few glorious moments.
01 LCD SOUNDSYSTEM ‘Losing My Edge’ (LCD Soundsystem LP January 2005)
02 BECK ‘Scarecrow’ (Guero LP March 2005)
03 SIGUR ROS ‘Hoppipolla’ (Takk LP September 2005)
04 ARCTIC MONKEYS ‘Mardy Bum’ (Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not LP February 2006)
05 LIARS ‘The Other Side Of Mt. Heart Attack’ (A Side February 2006)
06 THE KNIFE ‘We Share Our Mothers Health’ (Silent Shout LP March 2006)
07 HOT CHIP ‘Over And Over’ (The Warning LP May 2006)
08 JARVIS COCKER ‘Running The World’ (A Side July 2006)
09 BEIRUT ‘Postcards From Italy’ (The Gulag Orkestar LP November 2006)
10 NAS ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’ (Hip Hop Is Dead LP December 2006)
11 ARCADE FIRE ‘Intervention’ (Neon Bible LP March 2007)
12 MIA ‘Paper Planes’ (Kala LP August 2007)
13 BURIAL ‘Archangel’ (Untrue LP November 2007)
14 MGMT ‘Time To Pretend’ (Oracular Spectacular LP December 2007)
15 HERCULES & LOVE AFFAIR ‘Blind’ (A Side March 2008)
16 FLEET FOXES ‘White Winter Hymnal’ (Fleet Foxes LP June 2008)
17 MOON WIRING CLUB ‘Ten Years Or Twenty’ (Shoes Off And Chairs Away LP September 2008)
18 EMPIRE OF THE SUN ‘We Are The People’ (A Side September 2008)
19 ANIMAL COLLECTIVE ‘My Girls’ (Merriweather Post Pavilion LP January 2009)
20 LILY ALLEN ‘The Fear’ (It’s Not Me, It’s You LP February 2009)
NEXT WEEK: SECRET PLEASURES OF NOUGHTIES POP
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2015
WEEK 47: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2000 – 2004
For as long as I could remember, I had imagined the year 2000. When I was a kid the books of the day promised a brave new world of sci-fi in which we’d be flying around in silver suits with jetpacks strapped to our backs; the future would be now and that now would be 2000 AD. Obviously those dreams failed to become reality, but it was still a thrill to finally get to an age that had once seemed so far away. Yet once that moment had gone, 9/11, the Twin Towers and the looming War on Terror made 21st century Britain feel far more like Orwell’s 1984 as the fundamental rights we had historically taken for granted were suddenly seen as impediments to our protection rather than a means of ensuring it.
Ironically, right at the point when our personal rights were really being squeezed and our liberties eroded, pop culture began its own all-out assault on the corporate towers of the music industry. The arrival of mp3 culture changed the very nature of pop music, sparking a revolution in consumerism and creativity that had nothing to do with any individual artist or genre and everything to do with technology. Determined to resist progress of any kind, the industry vented its spleen, ranting long and loud about the supposed psychological impact of getting music for free and how it would lead to a belief that music itself had no specific value, but as ever that bigotry was motived by blind panic and pure greed.
Illegal and legal downloading shattered the music industries monopoly on what was available and its ability to dictate taste. No longer constrained by corporate marketing and payola radio, suddenly we were able to access any music, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The mp3 revitalised interest in a past that had long been deleted, online digital archives opening the flood gates to every lost album, single and song ever recorded. I launched into a second adolescence where I greedily gobbled up thousands of tracks that had suddenly, magically, become available, not to mention the ever increasing, intimidating amount of new stuff to check out.
Unlike in previous decades, in the new millennium every genre seemed to carry on long past its sell by date, propagating so many offshoots they became impossible to distinguish from each other, so rendering them meaningless. Musicians too carried on regardless, irrespective of old age and irrelevance, more than happy to blaze the heritage trail and rake in the bucks. They had to jostle with kids young enough to be their grandchildren who were reveling in a demystification of computer software that allowed them to create music without ever leaving their bedroom.
Of course, great music is still great music and the noughties yielded as much as any other decade. It’s just that you had to wade through a whole lot more to find it. Inevitably, a lot of new artists did sound like they had been tainted by a past reconfigured to their own design although none of them could really be described as retro in the strictest sense of the word. Equally, apart from the leftfield genius of Missy Elliott, Squarepusher and maybe early grime, they could hardly be described as pointing the way to any kind of future either.
01 EMINEM ‘The Real Slim Shady’ (The Marshall Mathers LP May 2000)
02 DEAD PREZ ‘Animal In Man’ (Let’s Get Free LP June 2000)
03 RADIOHEAD ‘Optimistic’ (Kid A LP October 2000)
04 OUTKAST ‘B.O.B.’ (Stankonia LP November 2000)
05 THE AVALANCHES ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ (A Side February 2001)
06 DAFT PUNK ‘Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger’ (Discovery LP March 2001)
07 N.E.R.D. ‘Lapdance’ (In Search Of LP March 2001)
08 MISSY ELLIOTT ‘Get Ur Freak On’ (Miss E So Addictive LP April 2001)
09 AIR ‘How Does It Make You Feel?’ (10,000Hz Legend LP May 2001)
10 SQUAREPUSHER ‘My Red Hot Car (Girl)’ (A Side May 2001)
11 THE STROKES ‘Barely Legal’ (Is This It LP August 2001)
12 ROOTS MANUVA ‘Witness (One Hope)’ (Run Come Save Me LP August 2001)
13 THE STREETS ‘Let’s Push Things Forward’ (Original Pirate Material LP May 2002)
14 KANO ‘Boys Love Girls’ (A Side May 2003)
15 DIZZEE RASCAL ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ (Boy In Da Corner LP July 2003)
16 KINGS OF LEON ‘Spiral Staircase’ (Youth & Young Manhood LP July 2003)
17 THE LIBERTINES ‘Don’t Look Back Into The Sun’ (A Side August 2003)
18 RYAN ADAMS ‘World War 24’ (Love Is Hell Pt 1 LP November 2003)
19 NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS ‘Nature Boy’ (Abattoir Blues LP September 2004)
20 RUFUS WAINWRIGHT ‘The Art Teacher’ (Want Two LP November 2004)
NEXT WEEK: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2005 - 2009
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2015
WEEK 46: BRITPOP
When Select magazine published its infamous Brit-centric ‘Yanks Go Home’ issue in March 1993, it was the first volley in what would become the UK’s one sided war with Seattle grunge and the return of American sludge rock. Featuring a suitably effete Brett Anderson in front of a then off limits Union Jack, and championing a laundry list of London based groups ‘truly, madly, deeply in love with the communicative force of brilliant pop’, it was the first national inkling of any new British guitar scene. Initially considered xenophobic even racist, in its luddite dismissal of electronic dance music, by the time Kurt Cobain blew his brains out a year later, the flag waving and chest beating had become a mission statement.
What united the Select groups was a quirky representation of Britishness that hadn’t been heard since the sixties and the more leftfield elements of punk, post punk, two tone and The Smiths. Council flats, bad drugs, awkward sex, greasy spoon cafes, Doc Martins, street markets, darkened arterial roads and the subtle beauty of the shipping forecast; in their artful way Saint Etienne, Suede, Denim, Pulp, The Auteurs, even early Blur, were outsiders tying together an ironic engagement with the surface detail of Britishness and a feeling that British pop should be as important and bold as it had once been.
If all this suggests an exclusive London party being played out in Camden Town, The Good Mixer pub and micro clubs like Blow Up and Smashing then you’d be right, certainly until Oasis became the unruly gatecrashers; the gobshites from Manchester intent on avenging the capitals dominance and arty farty ways. In one foul swoop the Gallagher brothers purged British guitar music of any lingering problem with mega stardom just as a tide of laddism, sparked by new magazine Loaded and egomaniacs like Chris Evans, found a ready soundtrack for its booze, birds and footie aesthetic in Oasis’s celebration all things knuckle dragging.
As far as the media and a transfixed generation of kids were concerned, Britpop’s imperial phase stretched from Blur's Parklife in April 1994 until Oasis's Be Here Now in August 1997. Of course by then the ideological differences between northern, working class, oaf-ism and southern, middle class, nice boy-ism had already precipitated it’s descent into a joyless, drug addled abomination catering to the lowest common denominator. As early as 1995, ruthless ambition was the order of the day as scores of unrelentingly pedestrian groups announced their determination to conquer the world while formers oddball’s like Merseyside psychedelicists The Boo Radleys realigned their sound and idealism to ruthlessly target the charts.
In August 1995 Blur and Oasis went at it in a head to head chart battle that is always remembered as Britpop’s most celebrated episode. As they fought out their ridiculous class war Jarvis Cocker, being both smarter and wiser, chose to say it all on ‘Common People’ with absolutely no room for misinterpretation. It was Britpop’s greatest four minutes by a mile yet within a year Oasis were Britpop, the need for innovation and iconoclasm superseded by a moronic kind of revivalism with Noel Gallagher at its head.
In the wake of Labour’s 1997 election victory it was clear that Britpop’s days were numbered, Be Here Now crystallising a key moment in the progress of British pop. Whereas the most notable British music had long been countercultural, late period Britpop drew all of its energy from being a part of the mainstream, celebrated in the tabloids and drinkies with the government. The result, which still stands two decades on, was that British guitar music lost its excitement, artful defiance and experimentalism, in essence the otherness, that had always characterised its greatest moments.
01 SAINT ETIENNE ‘London Belongs To Me’ (Foxbase Alpha LP October 1991)
02 SUEDE ‘Metal Mickey’ (A Side September 1992)
03 DENIM ‘Middle Of The Road’ (Back In Denim LP November 1992)
04 THE BOO RADLEYS ‘Lazarus’ (Giant Steps LP July 1993)
05 ELASTICA ‘Stutter’ (A Side October 1993)
06 THE AUTEURS ‘Lenny Valentino’ (A Side November 1993)
07 GENE ‘For The Dead’ (A Side April 1994)
08 BLUR ‘This Is A Low’ (Parklife LP April 1994)
09 CATATONIA ‘Hooked’ (A Side June 1994)
10 DODGY ‘Grassman’ (Homegrown LP October 1994)
11 SUPERGRASS ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ (A Side October 1994)
12 SLEEPER ‘Inbetweener’ (A Side January 1995)
13 PULP ‘Common People’ (A Side May 1995)
14 STEPHEN DUFFY ‘Needle Mythology’ (Duffy LP August 1995)
15 ASH ‘Punkboy’ (B Side September 1995)
16 OASIS ‘Champagne Supernova’ ((What’s The Story) Morning Glory LP October 1995)
17 THE BLUETONES ‘Slight Return’ (A Side January 1996)
18 ECHOBELLY ‘Dark Therapy’ (A Side February 1996)
19 THE DIVINE COMEDY ‘Something For The Weekend’ (Casanova LP April 1996)
20 SUPER FURRY ANIMALS ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ (A Side December 1996)
21 BABYBIRD ‘Candy Girl’ (A Side January 1997)
22 THE VERVE ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ (A Side June 1997)
NEXT WEEK: THE CORE CURRICULUM 2000 - 2004
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2015
WEEK 45: GRUNGE
In the late eighties, both rave and hip hop were evolving at a phenomenal rate. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of indie rock. After a decade of ugly noise and cutesy pop it had become synonymous with a mass retreat to any number of styles from rock history; the musical equivalent of reproduction antiques. Yet incredibly, when grunge first arrived from Seattle there were still those who truly believed it was the future which was somewhat ironic given how it so obviously drew just as much from hard rock as it did from punk. And when grunge hit big in 1991, neither of them were even remotely new.
In the early hardcore years, the likes of Black Flag and The Dead Kennedy’s had formed in direct opposition to, and as the antidote for, groups like Aerosmith. Grunge sheltered behind the same idealism but with more than its fair share of opportunists, those ideals turned out to be nothing more than window dressing. Of course, lack of ideals never did break a song, a group or even a whole genre but grunge’s hypocrisy became so obvious so quickly that long before ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ pushed the burnt out loser aesthetic into orbit, any remaining lip service had been wiped away.
Nirvana were the best and only group to transcend grunge, their success due to the fact that they embodied the appreciation of both populism and obscurity by purposefully mashing the two together. And not just sonically either. Kurt Cobain did what his contemporaries like Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder could not by harnessing cock rock towards cleverer, more sensitive and subversive ends, even if that impulse for paradox wound up contributing to his own self-sabotage and destruction.
Kurt Cobain was the last in a line of great rock’n’roller's stretching right back to Elvis. Nonetheless, grunge was still nothing more than another blind alley, the predilection for long hair and paying homage to all kinds of crap, rock excess making the early nineties feel uncannily like the early seventies. There was no getting around it, grunge was the return of hard rock, an evolutionary dead end that was built on nothing, stood for nothing and ultimately would come to nothing; the ethos of negation its sole reason for being.
Discounting Dinosaur Jr. who were never really grunge in the first place, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam (no matter how much I like ‘Jeremy’), Mother Love Bone Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots and most of the other grunge groups were all ponderous, second rate, seventies acolytes. Even Kurt Cobain’s much adored Melvin’s were out and out stoners. The sad thing is that twenty years later, apart from the obvious exception of Nirvana, none of them are worth anything more than a cursory listen. Grunge no longer matters to anyone or anything, and if it ever did, it could only have been as a brief twinge of conscience midway through yet another meaningless stage-dive.
01 GREEN RIVER ‘This Town’ (Dry As A Bone EP July 1987)
02 MUDHONEY ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ (A Side August 1988)
03 DINOSAUR JR. ‘Budge’ (Bug LP October 1988)
04 TAD ‘Wood Goblins’ (A Side July 1989)
05 SOUNDGARDEN ‘Hands All Over’ (Louder Than Love LP September 1989)
06 MOTHER LOVE BONE ‘Capricorn Sister’ (Apple LP March 1990)
07 THE AFGHAN WHIGS ‘Retarded’ (Up In It LP April 1990)
08 BABES IN TOYLAND ‘Dust Cake Boy’ (Spanking Machine LP April 1990)
09 JESUS LIZARD ‘Seasick’ (Goat LP February 1991)
10 TEMPLE OF THE DOG ‘Say Hello To Heaven’ (Temple Of The Dog LP April 1991)
11 MELVINS ‘It’s Shoved’ (Bullhead LP May 1991)
12 SMASHING PUMPKINS ‘Siva’ (Gish LP May 1991)
13 PEARL JAM ‘Jeremy’ (Ten LP August 1991)
14 NIRVANA ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nevermind LP September 1991)
15 ALICE IN CHAINS ‘Brother’ (Sap EP March 1992)
16 L7 ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ (Bricks Are Heavy LP April 1992)
17 SCREAMING TREES ‘Shadow Of The Season’ (Sweet Oblivion LP September 1992)
18 STONE TEMPLE PILOTS ‘Plush’ (Core LP November 1992)
19 THE BREEDERS ‘Saints’ (Last Splash LP September 1993)
20 HOLE ‘I Think That I Would Die’ (Live Through This LP April 1994)
NEXT WEEK: BRITPOP
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2015
WEEK 44: SECRET PLEASURES OF NINETIES POP
After the immaculate new pop and rock concepts of the eighties, the nineties came as a bit of a shock; a return to seventies values where pop was manufactured chart music for kids and housewives and ‘real’ music was everything else. I was never quite sure which was which but it didn’t matter a jot. As our senses were subsumed by a smorgasbord of fractured cultures, aspirations and impulses, the pop song became a lucky dip grab bag of insubstantial noise.
1990 was the last thrilling year before the culture shakedown really began. As everything turned Day-Glo, the charts were jammed with grebo and baggy chancers, a pop rave version of a Beatles tune and a bunch of techno freako’s from Wiltshire. Classic Secret Pleasures all, they were the last blast before pop became a dirty word again, struggling for a new direction as groups with nothing to say made valiant attempts to keep up with the plethora of new genres, sub genres and micro genres dreamt up by ego wanking music journo’s and DJ’s.
All that kept the charts from drowning in a bucketful of lightweight slop was the occasional hit by the likes of EMF and James. That’s how desperate the times truly were. And that’s how they would have stayed if Britpop hadn’t tumbled over Primrose Hill to lay karmic waste to pretty much everything. Of course, hidden amongst all the revivalist, jingoistic nonsense there was still a tiny treasure trove of great pop records, but it soon degenerated into nothingness when Noel Gallagher and his Dad rock cronies started flashing the cash and snorting the powder.
And so, as yet another new dawn faded, the nineties ended almost as insignificantly as they had begun. The only groups left standing were the flotsam and jetsam of Britpop and a glorious fucked up mess of never shoulda, woulda, coulda’s. While they bore absolutely no resemblance to the classic popsters of old, they did go some way to proving the theory that all groups have at least one good song in them. And if they could do it in the nasty nineties, anyone could.
01 THE BELOVED ‘Your Love Takes Me Higher’ (A Side March 1990)
02 CANDYFLIP ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ (A Side March 1990)
03 JESUS JONES ‘Right Here Right Now’ (A Side September 1990)
04 POP WILL EAT ITSELF ‘X, Y & Zee’ (A Side January 1991)
05 EMF ‘Children’ (A Side April 1991)
06 SOHO ‘Hippy Chick’ (A Side May 1991)
07 JAMES ‘Sound’ (A Side November 1991)
08 CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE ‘The Only Living Boy In New Cross’ (A Side April 1992)
09 BETTY BOO ‘Let Me Take You There’ (A Side August 1992)
10 STEREO MC’S ‘Creation’ (A Side May 1993)
11 EDWYN COLLINS ‘A Girl Like You’ (A Side October 1994)
12 DUBSTAR ‘Stars’ (A Side July 1995)
13 THE CARDIGANS ‘Love Fool’ (A Side September 1996)
14 SPACE ‘Neighborhood’ (A Side October 1996)
15 WHITE TOWN ‘Your Woman’ (A Side January 1997)
16 MONACO ‘What Do You Want From Me?’ (A Side March 1997)
17 REPUBLICA ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ (A Side May 1997)
18 THE DANDY WARHOLS ‘Everyday Should Be A Holiday’ (A Side February 1998)
19 PLACEBO ‘You Don’t Care About Us’ (A Side October 1998)
20 GAY DAD ‘Joy!’ (A Side June 1999)
NEXT WEEK: GRUNGE
MONDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2015
WEEK 43: URBAN R&B & NEO SOUL
When the nineties rolled round, R&B was still drowning in a sea of lightweight, formulaic bullshit. For the disillusioned the UK’s ultra-cool, acid jazz movement offered a funky alternative but as America dismissed all British based black music as inferior, R&B’s dilemma remained; how to sell records and uphold black values of being successful whilst retaining that all important authenticity. Ironically, with pop and rock on the slide, a decade after Thriller R&B found itself dominating the mainstream. And yet, propagated by hip hops stark realism, there was a growing feeling within the ghettos that R&B artists had become so absorbed with aspirations of success they had abandoned their black fans and disowned their roots.
Bronx raised, gospel choir star Mary J Blige offered one solution when she emerged as the female singer of her generation. Pioneering a new black and proud, hip hop soul hybrid, she was true ghetto fabulous; a tough chick from the streets mining the darker aspects of nineties living by speaking of the trials and tribulations of a black America ravaged by depression, abuse, HIV and Aids, gang violence and crack epidemics. Yet somehow she was still able to display the pain and vulnerability beneath her street sass and hyper sexuality to confound the stereotypical image of black, urban femininity.
Mary J. Blige took ghetto fabulous to the mainstream where it transcended all notions of authenticity and black aspiration. In a new climate demanding legitimacy, she hijacked pure hip hop to pull R&B away from its sappy, bittersweet past although she was still very much the exception. Sure there was Teddy Riley finally getting it right with ‘No Diggity’ and Aaliyah’s ‘One In A Million’ stripping away everything but the futuristic beats, yet for all the changing production paradigms, narcissism and naked greed prevailed like a cancer rotting from within.
In such a miserable climate, D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar, The Fugees The Score and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill came as nothing short of complete revelations when they appeared championing soul’s ability to communicate more complex ideas. Looking back to gospel, vintage soul and old skool hip hop, they were the most influential albums of the era and were soon followed by a host of records navigating the present and the future while reconnecting with the past.
Neo-Soul presented one obvious connection with classic soul and funk. Originally little more than a clever record company marketing tool for D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, it covered a whole host of predominantly female artists. Despite the crazy hair-do’s, vintage threads, appropriated sounds and early seventies mannerisms and styles, at the very least it was an honest update of soul, if not the revolution it often claimed to be.
Hip hop gradually started to change too when Missy Elliott and Outkast built R&B into their sonic architecture while even manufactured femme funk like TLC began to provide their own retro-nuevo revelations, ‘No Scrubs’ broadening the landscape of concern for a mainstream audience with a wealth of information about the legacies of slavery, economic alienation and emasculation. But the group who would ultimately come to epitomise new millennium black music more than any other were Destiny’s Child. Appearing out of nowhere with their bottomless resources, great looks and adolescent sass, the real star of the show was Beyonce. Worshipped as the epitome of the strong, independent woman, in the 21st century there would be no stopping her.
01 YOUNG DISCIPLES ‘Get Yourself Together’ [12” Mix] (A Side September 1990)
02 PRINCE & THE NEW POWER GENERATION ‘Money Don’t Matter 2 Night’ (Diamonds And Pearls LP November 1991)
03 EN VOGUE ‘My Lovin (You’re Never Gonna Get It)’ (A Side March 1992)
04 SWV ‘I’m So Into You’ [Allstars Drop Check Dance Mix] (B Side March 1993)
05 MARY J. BLIGE ‘You Bring Me Joy’ (My Life LP November 1994)
06 ADINA HOWARD ‘Freak Like Me’ (A Side January 1995)
07 D’ANGELO ‘Brown Sugar’ (Brown Sugar LP July 1995)
08 FUGEES ‘Killing Me Softly’ (The Score LP February 1996)
09 AALIYAH ‘One In A Million’ (One In A Million LP August 1996)
10 BLACKSTREET ‘No Diggity’ (Another Level LP August 1996)
11 ERYKAH BADU ‘On And On’ (Baduizm LP March 1997)
12 MISSY ELLIOTT FEAT. DA BRAT ‘Sock It To Me’ (Supa Dupa Fly LP July 1997)
13 BRANDY & MONICA ‘The Boy Is Mine’ (A Side May 1998)
14 LAURYN HILL ‘Every Ghetto, Every City’ (The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill LP September 1998)
15 OUTKAST ‘SpottieOttieDopaliscious’ (Aquemini LP September 1998)
16 TLC ‘No Scrubs’ (Fanmail LP February 1999)
17 DESTINYS CHILD ‘Bills Bills Bills’ (A Side June 1999)
18 ANGIE STONE ‘Love Junkie’ (Black Diamond LP September 1999)
19 KELIS ‘Caught Out There’ (Kaleidoscope LP October 1999)
NEXT WEEK: SECRET PLEASURES OF NINETIES POP
MONDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2015
WEEK 42: THE PLATINUM AGE OF HIP HOP
Surely it can’t have been a coincidence that the most popular artists in the golden age of hip hop were also the most vibrant? Despite different approaches and without even knowing it, they had all worked together in a common cause to raise awareness of the black experience and create a heady brew that made hip hop so important to so many. Needless to say, the arrival of gangsta rap dramatically changed that mentality.
Strangely, no one seemed at all bothered by gangsta’s misguided belief that violence and intimidation were the only way to achieve self-determination in the white man’s world. Rappers began to encapsulate every brain’s in their balls, drug, thug, racist, homophobic, materialistic stereotype known to man; decorating themselves in gaudy platinum baubles, glorying in a view of black women as whores to be pimped before inviting the whole planet out for a gunfight at the Compton corral. Following the mega success of NWA, hip hop's new direction was written in blood. Often literally.
While early nineties hip hop turned into a grim old business, if you ignored the mainstream there was still plenty going on. One upside of gangsta’s mass popularity was that it had become large enough to support a viable underground where artists like Arrested Development, KRS One, Black Moon and Jeru gave it a place and a meaning. And they did so with an understanding that rhyme culture was all about intelligence and rising above the shit rather than boasting about the size of your gun or your cock.
It was a template for musicality that dismissed the reliance on hooks stolen from top ten tunes and discussed sex without being demeaning or patronising to anyone. In the mid-nineties that was revolutionary in itself, but it also let a young, impressionable audience know that if you dared to be different, Cypress Hill, Dre and Snoop Deputy Dawg weren’t your only option. Gradually, the creative emphasis began to shift away from LA back to New York where it all began.
One landmark record was the legendary debut by a youthful Nasir Jones from Queens. In the wake of the Wu Tang Clan’s menacing soundscapes, Illmatic was rightly hailed as the second coming, its articulate, politically aware reportage over dense, scratch reviving beats everything hip hop always intended to be. The tide had started to turn yet ultimately it would be the rise of the south that would spark a major resurgence in hop hops credibility and sound the death knell for the east coast-west coast conflict that had already claimed the lives of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.
Timbaland, Missy and Outkast roared in with a very different kind of black charisma, one that outshone and out funked hip hop itself and made it’s obsession with darkness, tension, paranoia and a fetish for ‘keepin it real’ suddenly appear out of step with the good time zeitgeist. In one move they dragged hip hop away from its reliance on sampling back to the electronics and experimentation that inspired a late nineties resurgence combining neat hooks, jagged rhythmic innovation, glitzy entertainment and edge. And let’s not forget a trailer trash white kid from Detroit who was already causing a ruckus that within a year would be raising a whole different set of questions and contradictions.
01 ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT ‘Tennessee’ (3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days LP May 1992)
02 PETE ROCK & C.L. SMOOTH ‘They Reminisce Over You’ (Mecca And The Soul Brother LP June 1992)
03 DAS EFX ‘They Want EFX’ (A Side August 1992)
04 DR DRE FEAT. SNOOP DOGG ‘Nuthin’ But A G’Thang’ (The Chronic LP December 1992)
05 2PAC ‘Holler If Ya Hear Me’ (A Side February 1993)
06 KRS ONE ‘Sound Of Da Police’ (Return Of The Boom Bap LP April 1993)
07 BLACK MOON ‘How Many MC’s’ (Enta Da Stage LP November 1993)
08 WU TANG CLAN ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ (Enter The Wu Tang Clan – 36 Chambers LP November 1993)
09 NAS ‘NY State Of Mind’ (Illmatic LP April 1994)
10 JERU THE DAMAJA ‘Come Clean’ (The Sun Rises In The East LP May 1994)
11 METHOD MAN ‘Bring The Pain’ (Tical LP November 1994)
12 THE ALKAHOLIKS ‘Daaam!’ (Coast II Coast LP February 1995)
13 GOODIE MOB ‘Cell Therapy’ (Soul Food LP November 1995)
14 JAY Z ‘Dead Presidents II’ (Reasonable Doubt LP July 1996)
15 THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. ‘Hypnotize’ (Life After Death LP March 1997)
16 BUSTA RHYMES ‘Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See’ (A Side August 1997)
17 MISSY ELLIOTT ‘The Rain’ (A Side August 1997)
18 TIMBALAND & MAGOO ‘Up Jumps Da Boogie’ (Welcome To Our World LP October 1997)
19 OUTKAST ‘Rosa Parks’ (Aquemini LP September 1998)
20 EMINEM ‘Any Man’ (A Side May 1999)
21 Q TIP ‘All In’ (Amplified LP November 1999)
22 OL’ DIRTY BASTARD & KELIS ‘Got Your Money’ (A Side November 1999)
NEXT WEEK: URBAN R&B & NEO SOUL
MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2015
WEEK 41: RAGGA
To the consternation of many, ragga has been the most commercially successful Jamaican music since the late seventies peak of Bob Marley. It has also been the most populist and catholic genre of Jamaican music ever, a new folk form drawing freely from almost every aspect of the islands popular culture. And yet, while academics and music critics have written volume after volume of books dedicated to the history of reggae; from ska to rocksteady; from seventies roots and dub to early dancehall and the digital revolution; those narratives always grind to a halt in the late eighties at the exact moment the most creative and exciting version of dancehall emerged from the studios of Kingston.
Of course, like everything in reggae it’s always been impossible to draw a definitive line between subgenres and while ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ and Jammy’s digital innovations were certainly revolutionary, in their wake came a tsunami of producers and deejays intent on doing it their own way. Bobby Digital, Dave Kelly, Patrick Roberts, Steely & Cleevie and many more were so prolific and production costs so cheap that a staggering five thousand new singles were released each year through the nineties.
Abandoning the Casio-like sonic quality of digital dancehall, ragga was sleeker and far more eclectic resulting in a host of new rhythms built through a more sophisticated use of technology rather than electronic versions of older, vintage forms. This rationale of new production styles and the assembly line ethos necessitated a totally different vocal approach. Whereas dancehall had pushed even the most gifted singers into the background, ragga dispensed with their services almost completely as packs of unknown deejay’s appeared from nowhere to seize their moment.
For those raised on Marley and roots, digital rhythms and the absence of singing proved a step too far but that was nothing compared to the outrage generated by the rhymes that accompanied them. New depths of slackness were plumbed as deejays found increasingly sensationalist ways to praise the usual dancehall themes of guns, gals, ganja and far more controversial subjects. As deejays battled to become the next big thing, the faddish ragga scene was subsumed by a novelty mindset that resulted in the weirdest gimmicks, the strangest, staccato beats, and vocal mannerisms that evoked the jittery paranoia of coke rather than the smooth ride of marijuana.
As a weird scene logic worked its magic, fired by the intimate interaction between producers, deejays and their audience, ragga’s uncontrived, functional music pushed the boundaries to become stunningly futuristic. The most hardcore variation of reggae there’s ever likely to be, it’s ironic how commercially successful and influential it has been. Not bad for a permanently misunderstood genre that continues to be castigated and denounced at every available opportunity.
01 CHAKA DEMUS ‘Young Gal Business’ (A Side 1987)
02 MAJOR MACKEREL ‘Read Jah Bible’ (A Side 1988)
03 NINJAMAN & FLOURGON ‘Zig It Up’ (A Side 1989)
04 GREGORY PECK ‘Pocoman Jam’ (A Side 1990)
05 CUTTY RANKS ‘The Stopper’ (A Side 1991)
06 DADDY SCREW ‘Gal U Body Good’ (A Side 1991)
07 COBRA ‘Yush’ (A Side 1991)
08 SHABBA RANKS ‘Ting A Ling’ (A Side 1992)
09 BUJU BANTON ‘Big It Up’ (A Side 1992)
10 TIGER ‘Yuh Dead Now’ (A Side 1992)
11 TONY REBEL ‘Chatty Chatty’ (Vibes Of The Time LP 1993)
12 CAPLETON ‘Good So’ (Good So LP 1993)
13 LIEUTENANT STITCHIE ‘Whap Dem’ (A Side 1994)
14 LADY SAW ‘Stab Out Mi Meat’ (A Side 1994)
15 JIGGY KING & TONY CURTIS ‘Butterfly’ (Have To Get You LP 1994)
16 BEENIE MAN ‘Big Up And Trust’ (A Side 1995)
17 SIMPLETON ‘Quarter To Twelve’ (A Side 1995)
18 SPRAGGA BENZ ‘Funny Guy Thing’ (A Side 1996)
19 LEXXUS ‘Fade Away’ (A Side 1997)
20 GENERAL DEGREE ‘Bag A Tings’ (A Side 1998)
21 BOUNTY KILLER ‘Anytime’ (A Side 1998)
22 ELEPHANT MAN FEAT. MR VEGAS ‘Bun It’ (A Side 1999)
NEXT WEEK: THE PLATINUM AGE OF HIP HOP
MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2015
WEEK 40: MADCHESTER & BAGGY
In the winter of 1987, a few months after The Smiths broke up, an expected development began to take root within guitar dominated British indie culture. As acid house seeped into Britain via Ibiza, it brought with it an important chemical partner. Ecstasy was not entirely unknown in London, but when it hit the country en masse, the loved up communal E high represented as clean a break as possible with the me, me, me mantra of the Tory Reich. There was no longer a hankering for a present, shaped and molded by the past. Instead there was a sense of inclusion.
As rave swept the north-west, it found a permanent home in Manchester’s cavernous Hacienda, Factory Records and New Orders cash eating nemesis. Acid and rave culture was so different, so all-encompassing that it was always going to impact on indie rock and the Hacienda unwittingly acted as a cipher for that process. With its direct connection to one of the most renowned independent labels of all time, the club bridged the gap between indie rock and the new universe of ecstasy fuelled delirium. In the past indie rockers had sought a home excluded from the mainstream, but the Mancunian musicians busily chomping E’s in The Hacienda were the complete opposite. They embraced and were embraced by everyone.
Foremost amongst them were the brilliant Happy Mondays, best known for their prodigious drug intake and poet laureate Shaun Ryder’s skanky testimonies of junkie psycho-babble. In 1989, they were already champions of the indie dance crossover but after two unsuccessful albums of surreal magic they decided to go for broke on ‘W.F.L.’, rave DJ Paul Oakenfold’s remake of their flop single ‘Wrote For Luck’. The Stones Roses were equally enamored with The Hacienda scene but the effect on them was far more subtle, a very faint trace of E euphoria mixing with their Zeppelin, Byrds, Hendrix and growing funk influences. Both vintage and modern, The Roses self-titled debut album was praised to the heavens but it was the acid rock funk of ‘Fools Gold’ that encapsulated the true spirit of the times.
Released within months of each other, ‘W.F.L.’, ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘Loaded’, Andrew Weatherall’s dramatic deconstruction of Primal Scream’s ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’, irrevocably altered the destiny of guitar based, British indie by instilling a dance sensibility in previously rockist minds while offering the perfect lifeline to the earnest, indie kids fed up with sitting in their bedrooms listening to miserabalist rock while everyone else was getting out of it. Suddenly they had their own reason to fly!
But if those three records were the blueprint for all things Madchester and baggy, they were followed by a bunch of bandwagon jumpers and one hit wonders who managed to adopt the right rhythms but then opted for a clumsy retro populism similar to one time indie poppers the Soup Dragons and the fledgling Blur. The routing of what had once been such a massive game changer into such crassly populist cash-ins spoke volumes about baggy’s rapid decline. By the spring of 1991, less than 18 months after the Mondays and The Roses had become figureheads for the indie E generation, it had tumbled into oblivion, another disregarded footnote in the annals of modern music culture.
01 HAPPY MONDAYS ‘W.F.L.’ [Think About The Future Mix] (B Side September 1989)
02 THE STONE ROSES ‘Fools Gold’ (A Side November 1989)
03 PRIMAL SCREAM ‘Loaded’ (A Side February 1990)
04 THE CHARLATANS ‘The Only One I Know’ (A Side May 1990)
05 NORTHSIDE ‘Shall We Take A Trip’ (A Side May 1990)
06 JAMES ‘Come Home’ [Flood Mix] (A Side June 1990)
07 SHACK ‘I Know You Well’ (A Side July 1990)
08 THE SOUP DRAGONS ‘I’m Free’ (A Side July 1990)
09 THE REAL PEOPLE ‘Window Pane’ (A Side August 1990)
10 THE FARM ‘Groovy Train’ [3.30am Mix] (B Side September 1990)
11 NEW FAST AUTOMATIC DAFFODILS ‘Fishes Eyes’ (A Side September 1990)
12 WORLD OF TWIST ‘The Storm’ (A Side November 1990)
13 INSPIRAL CARPETS ‘Caravan’ (A Side March 1991)
14 THE MOCK TURTLES ‘Can You Dig It?’ (A Side March 1991)
15 BLUR ‘There’s No Other Way’ (A Side April 1991)
16 FLOWERED UP ‘Weekender’ (A Side April 1992)
NEXT WEEK: RAGGA
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2015
WEEK 39: UK RAVE
In the grand scheme of things, apart from the protagonists themselves, I doubt anyone cares whether acid house was introduced to these shores via the Hacienda’s infamous Nude nights or by an elitist bunch of DJ’s transplanting the Balearic Beat of sunny Ibiza to a cold, wet London over the winter of 1987/88. Whatever the myths surrounding it, the indisputable truth is that whereas acid’s arrival lit the fuse for the biggest youth culture explosion this countries ever seen, the homegrown music that came out of it barely gets a mention.
While sample based DJ records like ‘Pump Up The Volume’ and the first cash-in attempts at authentic Chicago acid marked a turning point of sorts, their connection to early rave was tenuous to say the least. Even when anthems like Humanoid’s ‘Stakker Humanoid’ and A Guy Called Gerald’s masterful ‘Voodoo Ray’ appeared there was still some confusion as to what UK rave music should actually be called. During the infamous Second Summer of Love, rather than being any kind of coherent scene it was still more a mish-mash of hybrid genres and regional variations like northern house and the bleep and bass of the early Warp roster.
The best of the non Warp signings were Orbital, their debut ‘Chime’ the rave anthem that defined the E-inspired optimism of the M25 scene. Knocked out on a cheap cassette recorder and first released on Orbital’s own self-financed label, it was typical of raves cosy, DIY, cottage industry principle. For all the music’s futurism, more often than not the hordes of anonymous, self-taught, sonic adventurers created their tracks at home before pressing up a thousand white label 12 inch singles and selling them direct to specialist dance shops.
Throughout 1990, tracks like ‘Chime’ and the ever increasing swell of a new underground helped to inspire a second, much larger wave of British kids to tune in, turn on and freak out before another exclusively British rave sound emerged. Heated by the flames of Ecstasy, hardcores mix of looped breakbeats, sub bass frequencies and noise stabs possessed an avant-garde madness unlike anything anyone had ever heard, and with a Jamaican influence that could only have come from the streets of urban Britain.
In 1991, despite virtually no radio play, the UK singles chart was assaulted by a battery of hardcore pop anthems, The Prodigy the most successful of the lot. Dismissed as hopelessly uncool, some old skool hipsters even claimed their August 1991 hit ‘Charly’ was responsible for the death of rave although by then the hardcore underground had already changed direction to consciously push against the mainstream, cranking up the speed and increasing the weirdness by adding the sampled ghostly, helium shrieks of ethereal female singers like Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks and deep house soul diva’s.
A long way from the E fuelled highs and cuddly hits of the chart years, like any other youth culture with the nihilism of drugs as its whole raison d’être, by the Autumn of 1993 rave’s living dream had turned to living nightmare; a woozy, hippy hell hole of junked up alternative reality. As the movers, shakers and teeny megaravers came down with a sickening crash, hardcore tracks began to reveal the black hole of excess, paranoia and depression that had always been obscured by the stupidly happy mask of the smiley. For many it had been an experience that had literally blown their minds and not necessarily in a blissful, trippy way either!
01 M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up The Volume’ (A Side August 1987)
02 BOMB THE BASS ‘Beat Dis’ (A Side February 1988)
03 HUMANOID ‘Stakker Humanoid’ (A Side October 1988)
04 A GUY CALLED GERALD ‘Voodoo Ray’ (A Side November 1988)
05 SHUT UP AND DANCE ‘£10 To Get In’ (A Side August 1989)
06 ORBITAL ‘Chime’ (A Side March 1990)
07 SWEET EXORCIST ‘Testone’ (A Side January 1990)
08 LFO ‘LFO’ [Leeds Warehouse Mix] (A Side July 1990)
09 RHYTHM SECTION ‘Nu Generation (Outta My Face)’ (Comin’ On Strong EP April 1991)
10 2 BAD MICE ‘Bombscare’ (Hold It Down EP May 1991)
11 JOHN + JULIE ‘Circles (Round And Round)’ [Vicious Mix] (A Side July 1991)
12 PRODIGY ‘Charly’ (A Side August 1991)
13 ALTERN 8 ‘Activ 8’ [Hardcore Holocaust Mix] (A Side November 1991)
14 SL2 ‘On A Ragga Tip’ [Original Mix] (A Side April 1992)
15 MESSIAH ‘There Is No Law’ (A Side May 1992)
16 ACEN ‘Trip II The Moon Pt. 2’ (A Side August 1992)
17 4HERO ‘The Elements (High Noon)’ (Journey From The Light EP February 1993)
18 HYPER ON EXPERIENCE ‘Lords Of The Null Lines’ (Deaf In The Family EP May 1993)
19 ORIGIN UNKNOWN ‘Valley Of The Shadows’ (AA Side September 1993)
NEXT WEEK: MADCHESTER & BAGGY
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2015
WEEK 38: UK HIP HOP
As with any culture, hip hop is a never ending sequence of trends, collisions of taste, the push and pull of commercialism and a shifting appetite for exotic new sounds. So why does UK hip hop continue to occupy such a lonely, unloved place in its history, particularly when you consider our flair for taking black American music forms, giving them a twist, then selling them back stylishly repackaged? And it’s not as if UK hip hop culture doesn’t have deep roots to back it up!
Almost as soon as ‘Rappers Delight’ hit our shores in September 1979 hip hop was embraced, the four elements impacting just as much on the inner city boroughs of London, Manchester and Bristol as they did in the crumbling urban ghettos of America. The only difference was that whereas the gangs of the Bronx projects excelled at honing their MC and DJ skills, those stalking the streets of Hackney, Brixton, Battersea, Hulme and St Pauls poured their abundant energy into graffiti and breakdancing.
Bizarrely, it was the pantomime villain of punk Malcolm Mclaren who inadvertently set the wheels in motion for a homegrown generation of would be rappers and turntablists. The video for ‘Buffalo Gals’ introduced monochrome, small town Britain to the technicolour wonders of New York hip hop, and brought scratching into our living rooms for the first time. Entrepreneur Morgan Khan then provided all the inspiration any potential rapper or DJ could ever wish for by releasing the latest, import only, American tracks every couple of months on his largely forgotten yet hugely influential Street Sounds Electro series.
After a number of false starts that included a disappointing Street Sounds UK edition, some embarrassing novelties and far too many shoddy records in fake American accents, the face of UK hip hop only changed for good with the arrival of ultra-serious crews like The Ruthless Rap Assassins, the London Posse, Hijack, Katch 22 and the Demon Boyz. Intent on representing their own lives rather than the American fantasy of guns, bitches and bling, they finally bought a uniquely British edge to their art.
Actively working against the grain, one way or another they all went some way to inventing a wholly British rap language where ragamuffin hyper flow and an innate sound system sensibility melded effortlessly with London or regional street talk. In fact, what becomes immediately apparent when scouring this playlist is the sheer diversity on offer. From reggae to street soul; from hints of jazz to any number of dance orientated offshoots; by running through their complex melting pot of influences, British crews offered nothing less than a taster course in black music history.
How ironic then that just as UK hip hop began to hit its stride in the late eighties and early nineties, the embryonic scene was decimated by Chicago house and all that followed. British rappers who might once have gravitated towards hip hop dived head first into UK rave culture and the subsequent minefield of electronic dance music sub genres. Naturally there were a persistent few, most notably Roots Manuva, who continued the fine art but as soon as UK garage and grime appeared it was obvious UK hip hop had become surplus to requirements and it’s hardly been heard from since.
01 TROUBLE ‘I Get Hype (Justice)’ (A Side May 1988)
02 HIJACK ‘Style Wars’ (A Side June 1988)
03 OVERLORD X ‘Rough In Hackney’ (Weapon Is My Lyric LP January 1989)
04 DEMON BOYZ ‘Vibes (Vocal)’ (Recognition LP August 1989)
05 MC DUKE ‘The Alternative Argument’ (Organised Rhyme LP November 1989)
06 MC MELL ‘O’ ‘Open Up Your Mind’ (Thoughts Released LP May 1990)
07 RUTHLESS RAP ASSASSINS ‘Justice (Just Us)’ (Killer Album LP June 1990)
08 LONDON POSSE ‘Gangster Chronicle’ (Gangster Chronicles LP July 1990)
09 KATCH 22 ‘Who’s Business’ (Diary Of A Blackman LP July 1991)
10 SON OF NOISE ‘Son Of Noise’ (A Side May 1991)
11 BLACK RADICAL MK 2 ‘Witch Hunt’ (The Undiluted Truth LP June 1991)
12 CAVEMAN ‘I’m Ready’ (Positive Reaction LP October 1991)
13 GUNSHOT ‘World War 3’ (Patriot Games LP February 1993)
14 BLADE ‘Start The Revolution’ (The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength LP August 1993)
15 FIRST DOWN ‘Mad Dogs And Englishmen’ (World Service LP June 1994)
16 BLAK TWANG ‘Dettwork Southeast’ (Dettwork Southeast LP April 1996)
17 THE BROTHERHOOD ‘Punk Funk’ (Elementalz LP June 1996)
18 BRAINTAX ‘Future Years’ (Future Years EP August 1997)
19 LEWIS PARKER ‘A Thousand Fragments’ (Masquerades & Silhouettes LP May 1998)
20 ROOTS MANUVA ‘Motion 5000’ (Brand New Second Hand LP March 1999)
NEXT WEEK: UK RAVE
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2015
WEEK 37: THE GOLDEN AGE OF HIP HOP
When Run DMC and LL Cool J consigned old skool to the dumper, and Schooly D hinted at a gangsta future, hip hop became so empowered it made the leap from its cult scene, novelty pop past to fully fledged art form and million selling records. Headed up by Public Enemy’s flag bearing radicalism, Erik B. & Rakim's scratched up retooling of the early seventies and EPMD’s stoned, somnambulist swagger, the leap in quality and depth formed the framework for a hugely creative golden age, the new superstars joined by a number of inspired one offs to create a period where black consciousness and rebellion met pure party pleasure.
The importance of Public Enemy was crucial, not just for hip hop but for modern music culture as a whole. They weren’t just hip hops political wing or ‘the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world’, their true greatness ran far deeper than that. Chuck D possessed an unprecedented vocal authority, a statesman like strength and uber-masculinity that made his gibberish sound as indefatigable as his wisdom. It was his complete belief in the message that made Public Enemy the revolutionary force no government could hold. At least that was the dream; a group so stunning they made you believe anything was possible.
Incendiary, fast, loud, rabble rousing, tongue twisting and full of metaphors that remain undeciphered, Public Enemy’s noise was something we’d not heard the like of before. Yet by 1989, they had been smeared with a serious allegation of racism, homophobia and hypocrisy from which they’d never fully recover. Written off as nothing more than an exotic black Clash, token rebel rockers full of mere rhetoric and hollow gesture, in a cruel sense of irony the only fan base they managed to retain was almost completely white.
Inevitably, Public Enemy’s fall from grace left a huge creative hole to fill. For a while the Native Tongue consciousness of the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest was enough to reinforce a belief that hip hop was going to get even more crazy, druggy and progressive. It was a time to get happily stoned while pondering the whys and wherefores of a new multi-racial bohemia. The fact that it failed to materialise and hip hops time as revolutionary music within the mainstream came to a shuddering halt was all down to one record.
NWA’s Straight Outta Compton was, indeed still is, a fucking horrible record expressing pure loathing for women, gays, pacifists and anyone else that believes in any kind of unifying morality. That it was also one of the greatest thrill funk albums of all time is an unfortunate paradox, but all on its own it prompted hip hops slow descent into mean minded machismo, dangerous feuding and sexual and political conservatism.
Following the extraordinarily creative and commercial golden age there had been a strong belief that hip hops new disciples would accept almost anything, the more out there and experimental the better. In one move Straight Outta Compton caused arty, progressive albums like Son Of Bazerk to bomb and it became very obvious, very quickly that the cutting edge was no place to be. The onslaught of NWA kicked off the gangsta bandwagon but whereas in the past most bandwagons had rapidly ground to a halt, this one picked up so much speed down its dead end street there was only going to be one, disastrous outcome.
01 SALT’N’PEPA ‘My Mic Sounds Nice’ (Hot, Cool And Vicious LP March 1986)
02 RUN DMC ‘My Adidas’ (Raising Hell LP July 1986)
03 BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS ‘South Bronx’ (A Side August 1986)
04 BEASTIE BOYS ‘Rhymin’ And Stealin’ (Licensed To Ill LP November 1986)
05 ERIC B & RAKIM ‘I Know You Got Soul’ (Paid In Full LP July 1987)
06 EPMD ‘It’s My Thing’ (A Side September 1987)
07 AUDIO TWO ‘Top Billin’ (A Side October 1987)
08 BIZ MARKIE ‘Biz Is Goin’ Off’ (Goin’ Off LP February 1988)
09 ROB BASE & DJ E-Z ROCK ‘It Takes Two’ (A Side April 1988)
10 BIG DADDY KANE ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’ (Long Live The Kane LP June 1988)
11 NWA ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (Straight Outta Compton LP August 1988)
12 2 LIVE CREW ‘Me So Horny’ (As Nasty As They Wanna Be LP March 1989)
13 ICE T ‘You Played Yourself’ (The Iceberg/Freedom Of Speech LP October 1989)
14 DE LA SOUL & THE NATIVE TONGUES POSSE ‘Buddy’ [Native Tongues Decision Version] (A Side December 1989)
15 DIGITAL UNDERGROUND ‘The Humpty Dance’ (A Side March 1990)
16 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST ‘Bonita Applebum’ (Peoples Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm LP April 1990)
17 PUBLIC ENEMY ‘Welcome To The Terrordome’ (Fear Of A Black Planet LP April 1990)
18 GANG STARR ‘Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?’ (Step In The Arena LP January 1991)
19 SON OF BAZERK ‘One Time For The Rebel’ (Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk LP May 1991)
20 CYPRESS HILL ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ (A Side June 1991)
NEXT WEEK: UK HIP HOP
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2015
WEEK 36: TECHNO
For a city with such a long and illustrious history, musically and physically Detroit in the eighties was a barren wasteland of nothingness. Ravaged by staggering levels of decay and destruction, the re-modelling of the motor industry had turned the centre into a post urban ghost town. Yet in the wealthier, executive, suburbs of greater Detroit, most families remained tied to the industry. Consequently, to the eighties generation of arty, suburban, black teenagers raised on their parents stories about the benefits of automation, technology became an omnipresent, almost mythological ideology that resonated perfectly with the robotic rigor and glacial grandeur of Kraftwerk and early electronica.
Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson were three such teenagers from the rural suburb of Belleville. Natural loners, they teamed up to explore the primitive synthesisers of the day, play records at exclusive, private parties and check out the early house records bringing down the walls of Chicago. The oldest by a year, Juan Atkins was the first to break out of Belleville, joining up with fellow college student Richard Davies to form Cybotron, a name inspired by the writings of Alvin Toffler.
Like Kraftwerk, they were intent on celebrating the romance of all things technological and urban, the intransigent link between man and machine.
In the early mid-eighties Cybotron released some of the most uncompromising, seminal electronic records to come out of America while on his next project Model 500, Juan Atkin’s chose to push the boundaries even further, pursuing a harder, faster path with a desolate motorik and indecipherable vocals. Yet while Cybotron and Model 500 were certainly innovative, they were still largely the creation of one man. The catalyst for a techno future only became a possibility when Juan Atkins reconnected with his old Belleville friends and give them the confidence they needed to do their own thing.
Juan Atkins certainly laid the foundations but it was Derrick May who designed techno’s final template. All but stripped of electro, tracks like ‘Nude Photo’ and ‘Strings Of Life’ focused on hypnotic, pulsing beats that ebbed and flowed via slow and subtle changes more akin to classical music. He also introduced the wistful string-like pads outlining minor seventh chords that became a staple of the genre, forgoing aggression for a haunting sadness that was clearly the sound of a man trying to escape the world without leaving his bedroom. That left Kevin Saunderson, the youngest and the last of the three to record. Releasing his earliest tracks under a variety of aliases, incredibly he too offered his own unique twist by hitching a dark funk sensibility to techno’s more regular chill of modernity.
In the late eighties, to the world outside the American mid-west, house was an all-encompassing term so Detroit techno was treated as nothing more than a subset. However, by the spring of 1988, techno was already challenging and outselling house’s primacy and being recognised as a distinctive genre with its own agenda. Over the next 18 months, while Detroit was vibrant and pumping, techno became even more popular on the flourishing European rave scene where a re-release of ‘Strings Of Life’ rightfully gained anthemic status.
Then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, techno’s first wave crashed and burned; Kevin Saunderson opting to ride the naff R&B gravy train with Inner City; Juan Atkins transferring his album orientated ambitions to Belgium; Derrick May giving up music making altogether, disillusioned with being ripped off at every turn. Without its mentors guiding hands techno was pushed back underground where younger, hungrier, more radicalised local producers seized the initiative. This second wave would soon be hailed as the future sound of Detroit, yet that was of little consequence to the original innovators whose moment in the spotlight had drawn to an ignominious close.
01 CYBOTRON ‘Techno City’ (A Side July 1984)
02 MODEL 500 ‘Night Drive (Thru’ Babylon) (A Side November 1985)
03 CHANNEL ONE ‘Technicolour [Radio Mix] (A Side March 1986)
04 EDDIE ‘FLASHIN’ FOWLKES ‘Goodbye Kiss’ (A Side June 1986)
05 X RAY ‘Let’s Go’ [A Mix] (A Side August 1986)
06 RHYTHIM IS RHYTHIM ‘Nude Photo’ (A Side April 1987)
07 SUBURBAN KNIGHT ‘The Groove’ [Hot Mix] (A Side June 1987)
08 BLAKE BAXTER ‘When We Used To Play’ (A Side June 1987)
09 REESE ‘Just Want Another Chance’ (A Side February 1988)
10 REESE & SANTONIO ‘Truth Of Self Evidence’ (A Side June 1988)
11 M-D-EMM ‘1666’ [Pyro Maniac Mix] (A Side October 1988)
12 K.OS FEAT. SIMIANNE ‘Definition Of Love’ [Techno Nition Mix] (A Side July 1989)
13 PSYCHE ‘Crackdown’ (A Side August 1989)
14 DIGITAL VAMP ‘You Can Take My Body’ [Vamp Dance Mix] (A Side October 1989)
NEXT WEEK: THE GOLDEN AGE OF HIP HOP
MONDAY, AUGUST 31, 2015
WEEK 35: ACID HOUSE
I was never much interested in the song based, deep house style celebrating a disco past, strung out and remixed. I was far more interested in the non-musicians, the DIY misfits, the renegade DJ’s and backroom boys who jettisoned all remaining vestiges of soul and humanity to assemble a brand new machine music. Exemplified by Larry Heard’s dehumanised ‘Washing Machine’, essential formative tracks like ‘No Way Back’ and the deranged scream of Marshall Jefferson’s astounding ‘I’ve Lost Control’, acid evolved with a radicalised, avant-garde sensibility; an experimental present reaching for a tangible future. Yet while those records nudged the door ajar, the track that kicked it wide open came more by luck than judgement via a malfunctioning piece of crap technology.
DJ Pierre was a shy 16 year old from the suburbs struggling to make any inroads into the Chicago club scene until his friend Spanky bought a cheap, slim, silver box called a Roland TB-303. Designed in 1982 to play basslines for lonely guitarists, the 303 had been a spectacular commercial failure so was already defunct. Following the tradition of experimental music making, Spanky, Pierre and fellow sonic adventurer Herb Jackson began messing around with it only to find that no matter how many knobs they twisted, there was no escaping it’s brain melting, demented gurgle. Transfixed by the sound of the biggest head fuck they’d ever heard in their young lives, the trio recorded twelve and a half minutes over a pre-set 303 beat.
Like most folks, Phuture’s ‘Acid Tracks’ was my first inkling that house had a far deeper, darker side. Sounding like it had crash landed from some dark and twisted dystopia, it immediately became a source of dance floor fascination around the globe, gifting its name to an entire genre and youthquake revolution that was about as far from disco, eighties electro and Kraftwerk as it was possible to get. Original deep house had been minimal but ‘Acid Tracks’ and the subsequent deluge of 303 records sounded like nothing on earth; discordant, unsettling and genuinely weird.
At the same time as the UK was adjusting to regular, first generation deep house tunes like ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’, Chicago was producing hundreds of DIY acid tracks utilising the random squelch of the 303. Acid was liberating because it empowered non-musicians to experiment and create tracks quickly and easily with little more than borrowed gear and imagination. It was a return to the punk ethic, except this time around it was being played out in urban, black America. And yet, like any music form that is relatively easy to produce, from the moment it created a lucrative market for itself acid was doomed, ransacked by every on the make, shyster opportunist, the drive for the quick buck spawning an avalanche of records sounding exactly the same.
The summer of 1988 was the moment when Chicago experienced it’s irreversible downturn. Disillusioned by a stagnating scene and bad deals, acids prime movers either withdrew completely or moved to the East Coast. As Chicago wilted and Detroit techno emerged from the shadows to become the new electronic dance music of choice, acid relocated too, its axis shifting across the Atlantic to the UK. While it was obvious the twenty four hour party people from Manchester to London were just getting started, it was equally obvious that for Chicago it signaled the end of a hugely creative era.
01 MR FINGERS ‘Washing Machine’ (Washing Machine EP December 1985)
02 ADONIS ‘No Way Back’ (A Side June 1986)
03 SLEEZY D ‘I’ve Lost Control’ (House Side July 1986)
04 PHUTURE ‘Acid Tracks’ (A Side March 1987)
05 PIERRE’S PFANTASY CLUB ‘Fantasy Girl’ [Acid Mix] (A Side July 1987)
06 JACK FROST & THE CIRCLE JERKS ‘Shout’ (A Side August 1987)
07 TYREE ‘Acid Over’ [Tyree’s Mix] (A Side November 1987)
08 FARLEY JACKMASTER FUNK ‘I Need A Friend’ (No Vocals Necessary LP February 1988)
09 ARMANDO ‘Confusion’s Revenge’ (Acid House Compilation LP May 1988)
10 LAURENT X ‘Machines’ [Original Apocalypse Mix] (Machines EP May 1988)
11 DR DERELICT ‘That Shit’s Wild’ (Acid Trax Volume Two LP July 1988)
12 LIDDELL TOWNSELL ‘As Acid Turns’ (Jack The House EP July 1988)
13 JACK RABBIT ‘Only Wanted To Be’ [Acid Mix] (Promo July 1988)
14 BAM BAM ‘Where’s Your Child’ (A Side September 1988)
NEXT WEEK: TECHNO
MONDAY, AUGUST 24, 2015
WEEK 34: DANCEHALL
Through all its trials and tribulations there was never really a time when reggae wasn’t dancehall, sound system dances always there to push through the periods of transition. And yet, by the early eighties, as Jamaica suffered yet another period of violence, unemployment and poverty at the hands of its unscrupulous leaders, a move on from roots was long overdue. Eschewing the serious nature of consciousness, dancehall was the backlash from those left behind by Bob Marley’s success, their reclamation of a vibrant, life affirming heritage that had been polluted by the fickle demands of corporate rock.
Dancehall dragged reggae back to its birthplace, to the sound systems, dances, parks and yards it had originally come from. In the late seventies, as recording techniques became both easier and cheaper, producers began to rely on deejay’s raw, uncultured versions of vintage rhythms rather than the sweet sounding singers of old. Social, political and historical themes were abandoned in favour of new dance moves and the crude smuttiness of slackness. In 1981, when dancehall finally emerged as a serious contender, there was a new, irresistible sense of openness, freedom and fun that was impossible to ignore.
At the numerous sound clashes, rival systems battled each other by unleashing their most popular rhythms, their hottest deejay’s and their bawdiest rhymes, the audience relating to the use of patois, the humour and the sheer immediacy of it all. Henry ‘Junjo’ Lawes and Prince Jammy were the vanguard of a new generation of producers and operators paving the way for top deejay’s like Josey Wales, Lone Ranger, Eek A Mouse, Brigadier Jerry and dancehalls one true figurehead Yellowman, their singles pushing slackness to new heights of absurdity. Ironically, the ruder and more preposterous they got, the more popular they became.
Recycling popular rhythms has always been a feature of reggae yet none was ever more ubiquitous than Wayne Smith’s monumental ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’. Built using a small Casio keyboard, it was reggaes first fully digital rhythm and when producer Jammy first played it at the infamous Waltham Park Road sound clash on February 23rd 1985, the impact was immediate and genre changing. Ultimately, it proved to be the beginning of the end for dancehall as lines began to blur with its new digital cousin.
For all the success and influence of ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’, a couple of non-Casio hits released at almost exactly the same time managed to keep the old techniques alive in the dancehalls and delay the inevitable wholesale switch to computerised beats. Significantly, Tenor Saw’s anthemic ‘Ring The Alarm’ acknowledged both the future and the past by splicing a digital intro and coda with a high stepping reggae throwback for the infectious vocal sections, while Half Pints fabulous ‘Greetings’ helped re-establish the term ‘raggamuffin’ as a nickname for ghetto youth. Shortened to ‘ragga’, within a year it would become the new generic name for the most popular reggae style of them all.
01 YELLOWMAN ‘Mr Chin’ (A Side 1981)
02 EEK A MOUSE ‘Wa Do Dem’ (A Side 1981)
03 RANKING TOYAN ‘Spar Wid Me’ (A Side 1981)
04 BRIGADIER JERRY ‘Pain’ (A Side 1982)
05 LONE RANGER ‘M16’ (A Side 1982)
06 LITTLE JOHN ‘All Over Me’ (A Side 1983)
07 JOSEY WALES ‘Let Go Mi Hand’ (A Side August 1983)
08 INI KAMOZE ‘Trouble You Trouble Me’ (A Side 1983)
09 HORACE FERGUSON ‘Sensi Addict’ (A Side 1983)
10 BARRINGTON LEVY ‘Under Mi Sensi’ (A Side 1984)
11 CARLTON LIVINGSTON ‘100 Weight Of Collie Weed’ (A Side 1984)
12 JOHNNY OSBOURNE ‘Buddy Bye’ (A Side 1985)
13 WAYNE SMITH ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ (A Side July 1985)
14 TENOR SAW ‘Ring The Alarm’ (A Side July 1985)
15 HALF PINT ‘Greetings’ (A Side July 1985)
16 ANTHONY RED ROSE ‘Tempo’ (A Side 1985)
17 EARLY B ‘Sunday Dish’ (A Side 1985)
18 SUPER CAT ‘Boops’ (A Side 1986)
19 ADMIRAL BAILEY ‘Politician’ (A Side 1986)
20 ECHO MINOTT ‘What The Hell (The Police Can Do)’ (A Side 1986)
21 PINCHERS ‘Agony’ (A Side 1986)
22 LIEUTENANT STITCHIE ‘Wear Yu Size’ (A Side 1987)
NEXT WEEK: ACID HOUSE
MONDAY, AUGUST 17, 2015
WEEK 33: R&B & HOUSE
In the seventies soul had been the soundtrack to black American life, but by the early eighties it was in a very strange place. Without the political gravitas of the civil rights movement it had become obsessed with selling itself to the mainstream. That would demand a very different type of artist although it did make hugely influential records like 'You're The One For Me' and 'Don't Make Me Wait' far easier to spot before Michael Jackson decided to change not only the rules of the game but the shape, slope and size of the playing field.
Thriller may have been the ultimate crossover, the album that blurred the black = soul, white = rock split that had been at the core of American pop for over thirty years, but it also killed soul stone dead. Post Thriller, R&B stank big time. Just think Whitney Houston or Luther Vandross. Over produced, synthetic, cynically escapist and far too eager to please, eighties R&B became so devoted to racial and generational crossover and the lure of the dollar it lost any feeling of roots, relevance and rebellion. You had to dig deep to find anything that wasn’t insignificant dross while the few records that did stand out sounded even more heroic and poignant.
During the eighties, the only artist to give R&B any real credibility was Prince who took it to the conceptual high ground before hip hop dismantled it altogether. In an era of faceless corporate soul, Prince was the only artist able to synthesize his influences into an original vision. More importantly, he was the only black performer to address the hopelessness and spiritual desolation of the Reagan years. From the mid-eighties on, R&B became so innocuous that in the clubs of Chicago, Detroit and New York it was usurped by the return of disco, otherwise known as house.
Completely in tune with the times, house was a raw machine led music incorporating sparse, synthesised, European sounds and electro dub effects. Marshall Jefferson and Frankie Knuckles were two of the new scenes prime movers, its name inspired by the latter’s residency at Chicago’s infamous Warehouse Club. House would soon shatter into a myriad electronic dance and rave sub genres but deep house remained faithful to the spirit of disco soul, so much so that it was easy to link the original anthems from ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Move Your Body’ to ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ and ‘Promised Land’. For a brief moment it looked like house might even take over the world.
Of course that never happened in a commercial sense, house’s influence far outweighing its popularity despite R&B’s slide towards mass acceptance and bland upward mobility. By the late eighties no-one cared about R&B anyway because by then hip hop had become so enabled it had eclipsed it to become the only credible black music form. Opportunistic producer Teddy Riley tried to bridge the gap between the two but everything about his new jack swing was an affront to the senses. Nonetheless it still sold in its millions, opening the floodgates for a deluge of glorified Chippendales who so enraged hip hop crews they refered to R&B as ‘rap and bullshit’. And they weren’t wrong.
01 ZAPP ‘More Bounce To The Ounce’ (Zapp LP July 1980)
02 J. WALTER NEGRO & THE LOOSE JOINTZ ‘Shoot The Pump’ (A Side September 1981)
03 D TRAIN ‘You’re The One For Me’ (You’re The One For Me LP February 1982)
04 NYC PEECH BOYS ‘Don’t Make Me Wait’ (A Side June 1982)
05 THE VALENTINE BROTHERS ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ (A Side June 1982)
06 MICHAEL JACKSON ‘Billie Jean’ (Thriller LP November 1982)
07 MIDNIGHT STAR ‘Freak A Zoid’ (No Parking On The Dancefloor LP August 1983)
08 KLYMAXX ‘The Men All Pause’ (A Side June 1984)
09 J.M. SILK ‘Music Is The Key’ (A Side June 1985)
10 MARSHALL JEFFERSON ‘Move Your Body’ (House Music Anthem EP March 1986)
11 JANET JACKSON ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ (Control LP March 1986)
12 FARLEY JACK MASTER FUNK FEAT. DARRYL PANDY ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ (A Side August 1986)
13 PRINCE ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ (Sign O The Times LP March 1987)
14 JOE SMOOTH ‘Promised Land’ (A Side April 1987)
15 RAZE ‘Break 4 Love’ (A Side December 1987)
16 FINGERS INC FEAT. CHUCK ROBERTS ‘Can You Feel It?’ [Remix] (A Side 1988)
17 CHARLES B ‘Lack Of Love’ (A Side June 1988)
18 SOUL II SOUL ‘Fairplay’ (Club Classics Volume One LP April 1989)
NEXT WEEK: DANCEHALL
MONDAY, AUGUST 10, 2015
WEEK 32: OLD SKOOL HIP HOP
In the annals of hip hop history, the first rap record is always listed as the false start of an insignificant Fatback B side, even though it was ‘Rappers Delight’ that announced raps true arrival. A massively important record in every sense, in truth it was a cynical, opportunistic cash in of an essential, vibrant, freeform street culture that had been permeating the ghettos and projects of New York since the mid-seventies. Pioneered by young black kids from the South Bronx talking in rhyme over the instrumental bits and pieces of popular dance records, raps true ancestry lay within the sound system’s and toasting of reggae. That connection had been made a decade before by hip hops founding father Kool Herc when his family relocated to New York from Jamaica.
‘Rappers Delight’ may have been an inauthentic fabrication but nonetheless it still became a massive international hit. Unfortunately it also defined rap as being little more than a novelty, early singles like ‘Love Rap’ and ‘The Breaks’ merely confirming that first impression. Not only did the records sound far too similar, the content rarely strayed from ridiculous cartoon rhymes about girls, money and bigging up the DJ. These days the likes of Spoonie G and Kurtis Blow are fondly remembered but at the time they were considered mediocre, even boring. But then came two records that would change that perception literally overnight.
‘The Message’ was the big bang that blew away raps cartoon vibe in seven glorious minutes. With Duke Bootee’s intimate portrait of late seventies New York ghetto life and a squelchy synth riff now burnt into the collective pop consciousness, it was hip hop's first overtly political expression. And as if that wasn’t enough, despite being a very different type of record, Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ underlined hip hops artistic credibility. Mixing his creative vision with a healthy dose of happenstance, within its Kraftwerk sampling, futuristic pulse lay the musical DNA that would create electro and give hip hop the confidence to be whatever it wanted to be rather than the pop fluff it was in danger of becoming.
After two such daunting records it was understandable when hip hop lost its way momentarily. Apart from Rammellzee’s abstract ‘Beat Bop’ and the presence of strong, independent women like Roxanne Shante, all too often MC’s rhymes were still riddled with dodgy misogyny, idle boasts and threats rather than dog eat dog struggle. In fact, even as late as 1985, hip hop was still being perceived as not so much a passing fad as a passed fad. What finally flipped it around and made it so hugely happening was the influence of a white, Jewish, hard rock fan on his young label charges and a nasty bastard from Philadelphia called Schooly D.
Aided and abetted by Rick Rubin, Run DMC and LLCool J changed the sound, style and attitude of rap in a matter of months, their records little more than voices rhyming roughly over a pounding beat box and the odd classic rock riff. Hip hop was revealed as the new rock’n’roll, an image that improved dramatically when the old skool’s preoccupation with Village People kitsch was ditched in favour of real street style. As for the now forgotten Schooly D, his malevolent sexist slur remained underground but it did signpost an altogether more dangerous form to be explored at a later date. The novelty days were over. Hip hop was no longer entertainment. It was street warfare!
01 FATBACK ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock)’ (B Side July 1979)
02 SUGARHILL GANG ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (A Side August 1979)
03 SPOONIE G & THE TREACHEROUS THREE ‘Love Rap’ (A Side March 1980)
04 KURTIS BLOW ‘The Breaks’ (A Side August 1980)
05 T-SKI VALLEY ‘Catch The Beat’ (A Side May 1981)
06 AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE ‘Planet Rock’ (A Side April 1982)
07 GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE ‘The Message’ (A Side May 1982)
08 RAMMELLZEE VERSUS K ROB ‘Beat Bop’ (A Side April 1983)
09 RUN DMC ‘It’s Like That’ (A Side November 1983)
10 ROXANNE SHANTE ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ (A Side March 1984)
11 LL COOL J ‘I Need A Beat’ (A Side October 1984)
12 T-LA ROCK & JAZZY JAY ‘It’s Yours’ (A Side November 1984)
13 DOUG E FRESH & THE GET FRESH CREW ‘The Show’ (A Side October 1985)
14 SCHOOLY D ‘PSK What Does It Mean?’ (Schooly D EP November 1985)
NEXT WEEK: R&B & HOUSE
MONDAY, AUGUST 3, 2015
WEEK 31: SECRET PLEASURES OF EIGHTIES POP
When the Secret Pleasures virus swept across the UK, a generation of forty something’s found the excuse they’d always needed to buy that Abba or
A-Ha greatest hits. Suddenly, pop as in popular was all the rage and we could all admit to liking the odd single by Spandau Ballet, Nick Heyward or China Crisis without feeling in the least bit ashamed.
What none of us realised at the time was that buried deep within the Secret Pleasures concept and it’s dizzy rush of middle age hedonism, there lay a disturbing truth revolving around punk and the powerful rejection of its various cultural anathema’s that led to a refusal by my generation to enjoy anything not perceived as cool. And it wasn’t just punks who fell for it. A jaded self-consciousness swept British culture so absolutely and successfully it has continued ever since.
Coming straight after punk, the eighties was the first decade to suffer. Despite the plethora of truly remarkable music that evolved over those ten years, to this day pop criticism sticks rigidly to just two schools of thought. One complains that the eighties was all crass, commercial crap, breathing a sigh of relief that we made it through that shit while the other celebrates the cheesy fun of it all, the naïve silly singles, bad haircuts and big synthesizers.
Both of these rather narrow views seem intent on reducing the whole decade to simple nostalgic fodder, ghettoizing an era that in reality was rich in innovation, brilliant one hit wonders, oddities and inexplicable flukes. It could even be argued that the eighties was the last great era for pop singles, the last time singles really mattered and the last time something totally unexpected captured the imagination.
In fact, the decade’s best songs offer some of pop history’s finest Secret Pleasures. That’s why you will never find aged rockists making arguments for its numerous benefits like they do for the saintly sixties or seriously rock seventies. I’ve never been able to take any of those Neanderthal’s seriously. After all, surely anyone can hear the beauty in records like ‘The Day Before You Came’, ‘Feels Like Heaven’, ‘Duel’ and ‘Driving Away From Home’ and how they match those by their more lauded contemporaries. It may have only been pop, but it was pop of the most brilliant kind!
01 ULTRAVOX ‘Sleepwalk’ (A Side January 1980)
02 SPANDAU BALLET ‘Chant No 1’ (A Side July 1981)
03 ABBA ‘The Day Before You Came’ (A Side October 1982)
04 NICK HEYWARD ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ (A Side March 1983)
05 THOMAS DOLBY ‘Hyperactive!’ (A Side December 1983)
06 FICTION FACTORY ‘(Feels Like) Heaven’ (A Side January 1984)
07 LLOYD COLE & THE COMMOTIONS ‘Forest Fire’ (A Side August 1984)
08 PROPAGANDA ‘Duel’ (A Side April 1985)
09 CHINA CRISIS ‘King In A Catholic Style’ (A Side June 1985)
10 PREFAB SPROUT ‘When Love Breaks Down’ (A Side November 1985)
11 TALK TALK ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (A Side January 1986)
12 IT’S IMMATERIAL ‘Driving Away From Home (Jim’s Tune)’ (A Side April 1986)
13 PETE WYLIE ‘It’s Sinful’ (A Side May 1986)
14 BLACK ‘Wonderful Life’ (A Side September 1986)
15 A-HA ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ (A Side September 1986)
16 THE CHURCH ‘Under The Milky Way’ (A Side October 1987)
17 DEACON BLUE ‘Dignity’ (A Side January 1988)
18 EIGHTH WONDER ‘I’m Not Scared’ (A Side February 1988)
19 VANESSA PARADIS ‘Joe Le Taxi’ (A Side February 1988)
20 TEARS FOR FEARS ‘Sowing The Seeds Of Love’ (A Side September 1989)
NEXT WEEK: OLD SKOOL HIP HOP
MONDAY, JULY 27, 2015
WEEK 30: INDEPENDENT & INDIE
If punk was year zero, when established musical tradition was jerked out of its complacency by the shock of the new, then DIY was the real Cultural Revolution. Tearing down the walls of rock’n’roll, its means of production and the sound of the music itself, the sudden realisation that you could make your own record and create your own music had a far reaching effect on a generation raised on punks energy and aspirations.
In the early days, the increasing number of independent records threw up a gaggle of exciting mavericks exploring the spaces between punk, post punk and the emerging goth scene, ambitiously cross pollinating music of every type to create their own unique styles. The newly established independent charts were overrun with a vast assortment of wastrels and brigands. Ironically, the most successful records were often the most traditional, so the really good stuff tended to happen on the fringes.
From the ramshackle psychedelia of the Blue Orchids to the clattering oddball reality of The Nightingales; from the highly charged diatribes of The Redskins and New Model Army to the dark humoured, northern rockabilly of The Three Johns; from the noisnik apocalypse of the The Membranes to the unlikely beauty of Felt; they were all vastly different to each other yet bound together by the belief that it was possible to exist far outside the mainstream and still change the world. But by 1985 it seemed like all that old post punk energy had gone forever.
Live Aid was undoubtedly the tipping point and caused irrevocable damage to the musical landscape, but what was really depressing wasn’t so much that dissolute spectacle as the apathetic nature of the independent scene. With every possible trajectory seemingly exhausted, groups began to sound tired, bored and boring with nothing left to say. Even John Peel, that well-known supporter of all things independent admitted, ‘I don’t even like the records I like’. With the heroic phase well and truly over there began to be a shift from ‘Independent’ to ‘Indie’, from the present to the past. For the first time there was an impulse to go back for a future.
In 1986, set within the confined space of the UK indie movement and known variously as cutie, twee, shambling or C86 (after the NME cassette of the same name), a new retro fixated indie pop scene emerged built on a self-serving network of underground guitar music and fanzines. A head in the sandpit revolt against the glossy, black influenced, dance hits of the day, it made a fetish of exclusively white sources, undanceable rhythms, lo-fi production and a definable sixties slant. While some of it was great, much of it was not.
By the late eighties, this ever decreasing circle and the subsequent decline in sales led to the slow, painful collapse of Rough Trade and the independent distribution network. There was a desperate need for change as the hankering for a present, shaped and molded by the past faded. When acid house, rave and dance culture began to inform a completely different mentality even Primal Scream, the indie popsters shining light, had ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ reworked into ‘Loaded’. And for the next couple of years everyone was.
01 SWELL MAPS ‘Let’s Build A Car’ (A Side January 1980)
02 THE CRAVATS ‘Precinct’ (A Side October 1980)
03 BLUE ORCHIDS ‘Work’ (A Side February 1981)
04 THE NIGHTINGALES ‘Paraffin Brain’ (A Side April 1982)
05 THE REDSKINS ‘Lev Bronstein’ (A Side July 1982)
06 THE THREE JOHNS ‘AWOL’ (A Side November 1983)
07 NEW MODEL ARMY ‘Christian Militia’ (Vengeance Mini LP April 1984)
08 BIG FLAME ‘Sink’ (A Side April 1984)
09 THE MEMBRANES ‘Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder’ (A Side July 1984)
10 JESUS AND MARY CHAIN ‘Upside Down’ (A Side November 1984)
11 THE WOODENTOPS ‘Well Well Well’ (A Side August 1985)
12 THAT PETROL EMOTION ‘It’s A Good Thing’ (A Side April 1986)
13 FELT ‘Ballad Of The Band’ (A Side May 1986)
14 THE WEATHER PROPHETS ‘Almost Prayed’ (A Side June 1986)
15 THE RAILWAY CHILDREN ‘Gentle Sound’ (A Side July 1986)
16 THE WOLFHOUNDS ‘Anti Midas Touch’ (A Side September 1986)
17 THE PRIMITIVES ‘Really Stupid’ (A Side October 1986)
18 THE WEDDING PRESENT ‘My Favourite Dress’ (A Side February 1987)
19 THE PASTELS ‘Baby Honey’ (Up For A Bit With The Pastels LP February 1987)
20 THE CHILLS ‘I Love My Leather Jacket’ (A Side March 1987)
21 THE VASELINES ‘Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam’ (B Side March 1988)
22 HOUSE OF LOVE ‘Christine’ (A Side April 1988)
23 MY BLOODY VALENTINE ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ (A Side November 1988)
24 THE FIELD MICE ‘Sensitive’ (A Side February 1989)
25 PRIMAL SCREAM ‘I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ (Primal Scream LP September 1989)
NEXT WEEK: SECRET PLEASURES OF EIGHTIES POP
MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015
WEEK 29: GOTH
By 1978 punk was already spinning into amphetamine stoked freefall. When the crash finally came, the lost children of the revolution were left desperately searching for some meaning amongst the ruins. New trends came and went with alarming regularity, but those seeking the essence of their original inspiration were left with no place to go but the puritanical anarcho Crass collective; a stark, sexless ideology permeated by the unmistakable whiff of hippie.
Inspired by the first incarnation of Adam And The Ants, the dark side developed as the antithesis to those bleak values. Then, as Adam turned to new pop and storybook imagery, his adoring disciples defected to Bauhaus, their debut ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ regarded as goth ground zero. And they weren’t alone, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Birthday Party, Killing Joke and Theatre Of Hate also promising a flight from the mundane, crushing boredom of everyday life into a common wildness of ritual and ceremony, magic and mystery.
Night after night, show after show, fans began to cling onto these individual groups and follow them around the country. The Futurama festivals of the early eighties became a gathering place for the emerging tribe, but the real crucible of the early scene was The Batcave where on any given night you could rub shoulders with Marc Almond, Robert Smith, Steve Severin or Nick Cave. Grinding against the predominately black influences of post punk, Batcave flyers vowed ‘Absolutely No Funk’, its soundtrack dominated by a heady mix of classic glam, rockabilly and dark cabaret.
The decisive moment for goths emergence came during the winter of 1982/83 when the New Musical Express proclaimed the arrival of ‘positive punk’. Goth in all but name, it was a cynical attempt to forge a new scene by tying together rising groups like the Virgin Prunes, Danse Society, UK Decay, Sex Gang Children and Brigandage. The frighteningly hip Southern Death Cult resonated the most with the disenchanted young although they would only become a credible musical force midway through 1983 when Ian Astbury teamed up with Theatre Of Hate’s Billy Duffy as The Cult. By then goth was legion, the Sisters Of Mercy’s ‘Temple Of Love’ indicative of the new sense of abandon and guaranteed to get the chicken dancers on the floor.
Musically early goth tended to share the post punk mindset of the Banshees where rock’n’roll was something to be discarded. The Sisters changed all that by remaining defiantly rockist whilst retaining an aura of adventure and quest, Andrew Eldrich admiring then embracing vintage rock’s absurdity and relentlessness. The result was an ultra stylised approach of sunglasses after dark and speed emaciated bodies shrouded in black, ex-Sister Wayne Hussey’s Mission and Fields Of The Nephilim, the last of the truly big goth groups, pushing Eldrich’s concept to the edge of cliché.
Naturally, outsiders always ridiculed goth and continue to do so, unable to get past the kitsch horror leanings, death obsession and funereal clothing. Maybe in the end it did all get a little silly and distorted but every music genre through history has always followed the same course. Punk, glam, psychedelia, even rock’n’roll itself, all failed to retain the purity of their formative years. Yet their influence remains, forming the building blocks for all that passes for rock today. With its ability to attract the disillusioned hordes still very much intact, goth is as vital a part of that as anything.
01 BAUHAUS ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ (A Side August 1979)
02 KILLING JOKE ‘Wardance’ (A Side March 1980)
03 SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Halloween’ (Ju Ju LP June 1981)
04 BIRTHDAY PARTY ‘Release The Bats’ (A Side August 1981)
05 THEATRE OF HATE ‘Do You Believe In The Westworld?’ (A Side December 1981)
06 VIRGIN PRUNES ‘Pagan Love Song’ (A Side April 1982)
07 DANSE SOCIETY ‘Danse/Move’ (Seduction Mini LP August 1982)
08 UK DECAY ‘Testament’ (Rising From The Dread LP August 1982)
09 SEX GANG CHILDREN ‘Sebastiane’ (Song And Legend LP March 1983)
10 BRIGANDAGE ‘Hide And Seek’ (The Whip Compilation LP May 1983)
11 MARC & THE MAMBAS ‘Black Heart’ (A Side June 1983)
12 SISTERS OF MERCY ‘Temple Of Love’ (A Side October 1983)
13 THE CULT ‘Spiritwalker’ (A Side May 1984)
14 FLESH FOR LULU ‘Subterraneans’ (A Side May 1984)
15 MARCH VIOLETS ‘Walk Into The Sun’ (A Side July 1984)
16 ALIEN SEX FIEND ‘Maximum Security Twilight Home’ (Maximum Security LP September 1985)
17 GENE LOVES JEZEBEL ‘Desire (Come And Get It)’ (A Side November 1985)
18 RED LORRY YELLOW LORRY ‘Walking On Your Hands’ (Paint Your Wagon LP February 1986)
19 THE MISSION ‘Wasteland’ (Gods Own Medicine LP November 1986)
20 FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM ‘Preacher Man’ (A Side March 1987)
NEXT WEEK: INDEPENDENT & INDIE
MONDAY, JULY 13, 2015
WEEK 28: AMERICAN HARDCORE
Malcolm McLaren was often accused of pinching Richard Hell’s ripped T-shirt chic, spiky hair and elegantly wasted look to create British punk fashion, but in the late seventies America never did have much of a punk scene, certainly not as we knew it. Sure there was CBGB’s, the arty no wave scene and California’s great if ignored Dils, Zero’s and Avengers, but in Blighty, amidst a storm of nationalistic chauvinism, we dismissed the lot of them. Not that any frustrated teen bored out of their mind in New York, LA, San Francisco, Washington, Boston or Texas gave a shit about that.
Reacting to the third wave British punk of Sham 69, the UK Subs and the Angelic Upstarts by appropriating certain elements and discarding others, the young kids who would transform hardcore into such a phenomenon became the most brutal invocation of American youth ever. United by their shaved heads, inbuilt aggression, anti-art, anti-fashion stance and a vague political consciousness, hardcore was, at least as far as a bunch of 15 year old boys were capable of articulating it, a response to the musical and cultural moment in which they found themselves; a music and movement in negation of everything.
The first to push in a hardcore as opposed to a punk direction were LA’s short lived Germs, San Francisco politico’s The Dead Kennedy’s and Hermosa Beach’s Black Flag, the one group who would come to define the movement. ‘Nervous Breakdown’, from the pre Henry Rollins, Keith Morris era, was arguably their finest moment even if it’s not quite the greatest song to emerge from the genre as a whole. That honour goes to the smack in the mouth delivered by Bad Brains ‘Pay to Cum’. Yet no matter how great the records, they were only ever half the story.
Throughout its short history, hardcore was primed and loaded by the DIY ethic of the clubs, flyers, fanzines, labels and groups that germinated in almost every town and city across the country and into Canada. Together these local scenes made for a comprehensive underground network utilised by the likes of Black Flag and Minor Threat to tour relentlessly and spread the word with their customary missionary zeal, often for the benefit of just a handful of kids.
Yet no matter how tirelessly they worked to join up the dots, hardcore groups always remained inextricably linked to the scenes from which they came: Ian MacKaye’s Minor Threat articulated the lifestyle choice that came to be associated with hardcore so DC was the obvious intellectual and moral centre, L.A. it’s equally obvious fucked up opposite. The Midwest became the working-class arm of the movement while New York and Boston offered the hard line, Canada and Texas providing the scene's rare humorous moments.
Hardcore’s peak years came as early as 1981/82 yet there are many who believe it lingered on until the winter of 1985 when The Minutemen’s D. Boon died in a car crash and Husker Du signed to Warners. Given its natural, built in obsolescence I’d say that’s nonsense but whenever it ended, hardcore has been studiously ignored ever since, often by its most renowned participants. And that’s astonishing, because when you consider how small and marginalised it really was, hardcore’s creative influence, certainly in America, still casts a disproportionately voluminous shadow.
01 MIDDLE CLASS ‘Insurgence’ (Out Of Vogue EP May 1978)
02 THE GERMS ‘Circle One’ (Lexicon Devil EP May 1978)
03 BLACK FLAG ‘Nervous Breakdown (Nervous Breakdown EP October 1978)
04 AGENT ORANGE ‘Bloodstains’ (A Side August 1979)
05 DEAD KENNEDYS ‘California Uber Alles’ (A Side October 1979)
06 THE MISFITS ‘Last Caress’ (Beware EP November 1979)
07 FLIPPER ‘Ha Ha Ha’ (B Side April 1980)
08 BAD BRAINS ‘Pay To Cum’ (A Side June 1980)
09 MDC ‘John Wayne Was A Nazi’ (A Side July 1980)
10 CIRCLE JERKS ‘World Up My Ass’ (Group Sex LP February 1981)
11 ADOLESCENTS ‘Wrecking Crew’ (Adolescents LP March 1981)
12 MINOR THREAT ‘Straight Edge’ (Minor Threat EP June 1981)
13 BAD RELIGION ‘Damned To Be Free’ (How Could Hell Be Any Worse LP September 1981)
14 GOVERNMENT ISSUE ‘Rock And Roll Bullshit’ (Legless Bull EP September 1981)
15 WASTED YOUTH ‘Fuck Authority’ (Reagans In LP September 1981)
16 MINUTEMEN ‘Tension’ (The Punch Line EP November 1981)
17 T.S.O.L. ‘Sounds Of Laughter’ (Dance With Me LP November 1981)
18 DOA ‘Fucked Up Ronnie’ (Positively DOA LP January 1982)
19 SS DECONTROL ‘Boiling Point’ (The Kids Will Have Their Say LP March 1982)
20 BATTALION OF SAINTS ‘I’m Gonna Make You Scream’ (Fighting Boys EP May 1982)
21 BIG BOYS ‘Fun Fun Fun’ (Fun Fun Fun EP May 1982)
22 GANG GREEN ‘I Don’t Care’ (This Is Boston Not LA Compilation LP 1982)
23 DESCENDENTS ‘Suburban Home’ (Milo Goes To College LP June 1982)
24 ANGRY SAMOANS ‘My Old Man’s A Fatso’ (Back From Samoa LP July 1982)
25 YOUTH BRIGADE ‘Sink With Kalifornia’ (Sound And Fury LP August 1982)
26 ARTICLES OF FAITH ‘Bad Attitude’ (What We Want Is Free EP September 1982)
27 ZERO BOYS ‘New Generation’ (Vicious Circle LP September 1982)
28 REALLY RED ‘I Was A Teenage Fuck Up’ (New Strings For Old Puppets EP October 1982)
29 HEART ATTACK ‘Shotgun’ (New York Thrash Cassette November 1982)
30 BEASTIE BOYS ‘Beastie Boys’ (Pollywog Stew EP November 1982)
31 NECROS ‘No One’ (Conquest For Death LP February 1983)
32 SOCIAL DISTORTION ‘Another State Of Mind’ (Mommy’s Little Monster LP May 1983)
33 SUICIDAL TENDENCIES ‘Institutionalized’ (Suicidal Tendencies LP July 1983)
34 D.R.I. ‘Blockhead’ (Dirty Rotten EP July 1983)
35 THE DICKS ‘Little Boys Feet’ (Kill From The Heart LP October 1983)
36 HUSKER DU ‘Real World’ (Metal Circus EP October 1983)
NEXT WEEK: GOTH
MONDAY, JULY 6, 2015
WEEK 27: ELECTRONICA
The idea of harmony between man and machine and the attitude of making music that screamed ‘The Future’ had proliferated within the avant-garde for most of the twentieth century. In 1977, Kraftwerk found themselves bang in the middle of the bridge between those bygone European experimentalists and modern music culture. Their long awaited breakthrough, and the new concept of electronic dance music, arrived with ‘Trans Europe Express’. Released as a 12 inch disco single in the States, it coincided with Giorgio Moroder’s mesmeric, sequenced synth undulations on Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Together they transformed the dancefloor.
The first to fall under Kraftwerk’s considerable influence were a generation of punks disenchanted with the gobbing, cartoon strip their movement had become. Given its dodgy prog connection, adding a synth to their armory may have been diametrically opposed to punk, but as a statement it was even more radical; the perfect blueprint for rejection, not only of rock but the foundations of all Anglo-American music.
The perpetually ignored first incarnation of Ultravox! were crucial harbingers of the eighties electro pop explosion. Unlike Suicide who put their short, catchy American rock’n’roll songs through the electronic mincer, with their cold, European aura and visions of dehumanisation and decadence, groups like Ultravox!, the Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and remarkable one offs like Daniel Miller’s The Normal rejected rocks standard language completely. And they were just the tip of an increasingly big iceberg awaiting the unwieldy hulk of the trad rock Titanic.
Even with all this activity, post punk electronica failed to infiltrate the mainstream before Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army hit the charts in June 1979. Reviled by critics as an inauthentic interloper, Numan went supernova, adored by legions of teens and a handful of futurist genre creators as far afield as Detroit, Chicago and the Bronx who all identified with his immaculate machine tooled songs. The precursor to a first phase of electro pop exploring feelings of urban instability, Ballardian desolation and an overriding sense of paranoia, Numan was joined in the overground by John Foxx and Blitz kid Steve Strange’s Visage. Paradoxically, electro pop’s second phase then reacted against the first by following the new pop aesthetic of a bright, clean future.
Whereas Kraftwerk’s influence on the punk generation could have been predicted, the impact they and other pioneers like Belgium’s Telex and Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra had on black dance music came out of nowhere. Afrika Bambaata, Frankie Knuckles, Larry Heard and Juan Atkin’s were the most prominent game changers, but there were also a handful of equally influential if obscure one offs who all played a part in building the framework for everything we now take for granted. They confounded the fear and distrust of synthphobic rockers by proving how there could be real emotion within technology and real spirituality within machines. The electronic music virus had finally been unleashed.
01 KRAFTWERK ‘Trans Europe Express’ (Trans Europe Express LP April 1977)
02 DONNA SUMMER ‘I Feel Love’ (A Side July 1977)
03 ULTRAVOX! ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ (Ha! Ha! Ha! LP October 1977)
04 SUICIDE ‘Cheree’ (Suicide LP November 1977)
05 THE NORMAL ‘Warm Leatherette’ (A Side February 1978)
06 HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Being Boiled’ (A Side June 1978)
07 YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA ‘Computer Game’ (YMO LP June 1978)
08 CABARET VOLTAIRE ‘Do The Mussolini/Headkick’ (Extended Play EP November 1978)
09 TELEX ‘Moskow Diskow’ (A Side May 1979)
10 GARY NUMAN ‘Metal’ (The Pleasure Principle LP September 1979)
11 VISAGE ‘Frequency 7’ (B Side September 1979)
12 THROBBING GRISTLE ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ (20 Jazz Funk Greats LP October 1979)
13 JOHN FOXX ‘He’s A Liquid’ (Metamatic LP January 1980)
14 RYUICHI SAKAMOTO ‘Riot In Lagos’ (A Side June 1980)
15 A NUMBER OF NAMES ‘Shari Vari’ (A Side February 1981)
16 CYBOTRON ‘Cosmic Cars’ (A Side June 1982)
17 SEXUAL HARASSMENT ‘I Need A Freak’ (A Side 1983)
18 ALEXANDER ROBOTNIK ‘Problems D‘Amore’ (A Side 1983)
NEXT WEEK: AMERICAN HARDCORE
MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2015
WEEK 26: NEW POP
It could be argued that the true harbingers of new pop were M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ and The Buggles ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, but if new pop had an architect it was Paul Morley, NME writer supreme at a time when the weekly music press mattered more than ever before or since. In December 1980, reacting against post punk’s percieved miserablism and doomy seriousness, he called for an ‘overground brightness’ to ‘bring life back to the radio' and ‘make the single count’.
In reality, even if it hadn’t been defined as such, new pop had already emerged in the disjointed strands of post punk; Japan and Adam Ant, the early electro pop of Gary Numan and OMD, the indie pop ideal of Postcard and Orange Juice, and Malcolm Mclaren and Bow Wow Wow’s playful celebration of sun, sea and cassette piracy.
Following Morley’s manifesto, the ‘pop’ word was everywhere as groups began to espouse the healthiness of pop rather than the darker conditions of post punk. Thereafter, the peak of new pop came remarkably quickly as a horde of new sonic terrorists seized control of the mainstream. In a glorious 18 month stretch between the spring of 1981 and the autumn of 1982, non stars went supernova if only for a moment.
To varying degrees, all of these new groups had grasped the importance of image and its power to seduce and motivate. They had all coated their music in a commercial sheen, some pursuing a ‘sugared pill’ strategy while others reveled in sonic luxury for the sheer glam thrill of it all. While on the surface they appeared as a ‘punk never happened’ scenario, a retreat into escapism, in truth they were furthering punk’s original mission, albeit in a much transformed context.
New Pop sounded utopian and it was, but as early as 1983, there was an ever increasing sense that the new pop dream had already turned sour. Scritti Politti, ABC, Human League, Soft Cell, The Associates and the other creative bright sparks who had pioneered it all had been displaced by the clones and opportunists who had little or no connection to punk. The utter deluge of Eurythmics, Wham’s, Culture Club’s, Flock Of Seagulls and Kajagoogoo’s diluted the impact and it all became too shiny, too false, and too fucking meaningless.
In the end, new pop’s ultimate mischief as well as its ultimate undoing came from Frankie Goes To Holywood. An apocalyptic gay disco army, they were new pop with a punk hard-on although their reign would be shortlived. Far too intense and brazen for Thatcher’s children, post Live Aid they got lost in an arid musical wasteland of old rockers, careerist charlatans and men who would be God. After six years of post punk and new pop terrorism, it had all ground to a rather ignominious halt. Modern music culture would never be quite the same again.
01 M ‘Pop Musik’ (A Side March 1979)
02 GARY NUMAN ‘Cars’ (A Side August 1979)
03 JAPAN ‘I Second That Emotion’ (A Side February 1980)
04 ORCHESTRAL MANOUVRES IN THE DARK ‘Messages’ (A Side May 1980)
05 ORANGE JUICE ‘Blue Boy’ (A Side August 1980)
06 ADAM & THE ANTS ‘Dog Eat Dog’ (A Side September 1980)
07 TEARDROP EXPLODES ‘Reward’ (A Side January 1981)
08 BOW WOW WOW ‘W.O.R.K.’ (A Side March 1981)
09 SOFT CELL ‘Memorabilia’ (A Side March 1981)
10 HEAVEN 17 ‘(We Don’t Need This) Facist Groove Thang’ (A Side March 1981)
11 DURAN DURAN ‘Careless Memories’ (A Side April 1981)
12 HUMAN LEAGUE ‘Love Action’ (A Side July 1981)
13 SCARS ‘All About You’ (A Side August 1981)
14 DEPECHE MODE ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ (A Side September 1981)
15 ALTERED IMAGES ‘I Could Be Happy’ (A Side November 1981)
16 ASSOCIATES ‘Party Fears Two’ (A Side March 1982)
17 SCRITTI POLITTI ‘Faithless’ (A Side April 1982)
18 ABC ‘All Of My Heart’ (A Side September 1982)
19 ART OF NOISE ‘Beat Box’ (Into Battle With The Art Of Noise EP August 1983)
20 FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD ‘Two Tribes’ (A Side June 1984)
NEXT WEEK: ELECTRONICA
MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2015
WEEK 25: POST PUNK
Strangely, music culture has never really made up its mind about the ‘art’ word which more often than not is used as an insult and regarded as privileged, bohemian, inauthentic and the antithesis of rock’n’roll. Punk itself was often perceived as a revolt against such pretensions despite the obviously arty backgrounds of McClaren, Westwood and punk’s original movers and shakers. How ironic then that it would be a similarly driven handful of provincial misfits who would form the post punk vanguard!
Naturally, John Lydon was the first to start swimming against the scummy, stinking tide punk had become. A couple of years earlier amidst the chaos of the Pistols, the singer had answered questions about his groups supposed destruction of rock’n’roll with a dismissive ‘Who cares about the music?’ But Public Image Ltd were all about a music that was exploratory, brutal and mesmerising. That such an iconic figure was prepared to cast off the spectres of Johnny Rotten, the Pistols, Mclaren, sad Sid and his old audience was significant enough, but to go on and pull the limbs from rock’n’roll’s bloated corpse was even more momentous.
Galvanised into action by the aberration of Thatcher, fascist violence, mass unemployment, a near police state and a widescale looting of 20th century art, literature, philosophy and movements, groups began to explore new sonic possibilities through electronics, dub, funk, disco, musique concrete and the avant-garde. Unattainable dreams suddenly became attainable reality for anyone with a good idea. The manifesto of individuality kicked in and there were none more individual than Vic Godard, Siouxsie, Mark E Smith, Mark Stewart, Ian Curtis, David Byrne, Green Gartside, Ari Up, Jerry Dammers, Ian McCulloch, Kevin Rowland, even Bono.
In its early years post punk evolved at a dizzying rate, one long rush of endless surprise and inexhaustible creativity. If punk was nihilistic and destructive, post punk was positive and constructive, a reason to get excited again with a mesh of activity and discussion that made the world more interesting and life more meaningful. Post punk was a discourse about music and out of that discourse a whole range of new forms emerged. What united them all was a set of open ended imperatives, innovation, deliberate oddness and a timely rejection of all things precedented.
It was inevitable that after spending so much time digging around in the dark there would be a swing back to the light of glamour. By 1981, post punk had shifted to a strategy of entryism, of embracing the major record companies rather than building an independent alternative. Sonic mannerisms that had once seemed charmingly quirky or inspiringly amateur suddenly sounded too earnest, too worthy.
Pop futurism and ‘The Big Music’ of The Bunnymen, U2 and Simple Minds abandoned the core quest for the authentic to revive the dream of self-reinvention. Another casualty was post punk's modernist confidence that it was possible to break with the past. By contrast the new pop strategy was properly postmodern, pillaging everything from Stax and Motown to psychedelia and glam. It was all up for grabs!
01 PUBLIC IMAGE LTD ‘Public Image’ (A Side October 1978)
02 SUBWAY SECT ‘Ambition’ (A Side October 1978)
03 GANG OF FOUR ‘Damaged Goods’ (Damaged Goods EP October 1978)
04 THE FALL ‘Crap Rap 2’ (Live At The Witch Trials LP January 1979)
05 THE POP GROUP ‘She Is Beyond Good And Evil’ (A Side March 1979)
06 GLAXO BABIES ‘Who Killed Bruce Lee?’ (This Is Your Life EP March 1979)
07 THE SLITS ‘Newtown’ (Cut LP September 1979)
08 JOY DIVISION ‘Atmosphere’ (A Side March 1980)
09 A CERTAIN RATIO ‘Shack Up’ (A Side July 1980)
10 DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS ‘Burn It Down’ (Searching For The Young Soul Rebels LP July 1980)
11 THE SPECIALS ‘International Jet Set’ (More Specials LP September 1980)
12 TALKING HEADS ‘Houses In Motion’ (Remain In Light LP October 1980)
13 U2 ‘I Will Follow’ (Boy LP November 1980)
14 ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN ‘No Dark Things’ (Heaven Up Here LP May 1981)
15 PIGBAG ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’ (A Side May 1981)
16 SCRITTI POLITTI ‘The Sweetest Girl’ (A Side August 1981)
17 SIMPLE MINDS ‘Glittering Prize’ (New Gold Dream LP September 1982)
18 SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Slowdive’ (A Side October 1982)
19 NEW ORDER ‘Your Silent Face’ (Power, Corruption And Lies LP May 1983)
20 23 SKIDOO ‘Coup’ (A Side November 1983)
NEXT WEEK: NEW POP
MONDAY, JUNE 15, 2015
WEEK 24: NEW WAVE
In July 1977 at the very peak of punk mania, Phonogram Records issued New Wave, a compilation album featuring the likes of The Dead Boys, The Ramones, The Runaways and The Boomtown Rats ‘Lookin’ After No 1’. It was the first time the term had been used to reference music and heralded the start of a genre that would come to dominate the charts, radio and Top Of The Pops for the next four years.
Now genres can be fuzzy things, particularly when what fits where is uncertain, but contrary to most lines of thought (in America new wave is used to describe everything from The Pretenders to Depeche Mode) new wave had absolutely no connection to post punk or new pop. OK, so it may have been inspired by punk, but it was always easily identifiable as something quite seperate, full of groups too steeped in sixties values to ever be regarded as experimental or modern.
In fact, at its narrowest and most disparaging, new wave came to represent something that musically wasn’t new at all. But punk’s principle problem with many of the groups here was that they were bandwagon jumpers of the most cynical kind; older, opportunist pub rockers, who cut their hair and reinvented themselves as soon as punk began hoovering up the column inches.
Having said that, some tagged as new wave like The Stranglers and The Boys, emerged during the very first days of punk, long before their less abrasive, more melodic sensibility came to the fore. And there were others like XTC, The Only Ones, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs and The Monochrome Set who were only thrown into the mix because they didn’t fit anywhere else.
Eventually new wave became so insanely catchy that even I was seduced by its charms. With my obsession for seven inch singles, I ended up buying almost as many nerdy new wave records as scroaty punk ones. They were certainly more tuneful and some of them remain as favourites to this day. In the late seventies there can be no doubt that new wave’s endless energy, pop precision and stripped down dynamics contributed to the excitement of the era as much as anything.
Ultimately of course, it was the emergence of ABC, Scritti Politti, Duran Duran, Soft Cell and the like that did for it. Trapped in a trad pop and rock cul-de-sac, new wave was usurped by the shiny surfaces and sonic luxury of new pop. All of a sudden it felt outdated, outmoded and ridiculous. Why listen to The Pretenders when you could listen to the Human League? Why bother with the sound of the past when the sound of the future was so enticing?
01 BOOMTOWN RATS ‘Lookin’ After No 1’ (New Wave Compilation LP July 1977)
02 MINK DEVILLE ‘Spanish Stroll’ (A Side June 1977)
03 IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS ‘Sex And Drugs And Rock’n’Roll’ (A Side August 1977)
04 THE STRANGLERS ‘No More Heroes’ (A Side September 1977)
05 THE MODERN LOVERS ‘Pablo Picasso’ (The Modern Lovers LP October 1977)
06 ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS ‘Watching The Detectives’ (A Side October 1977)
07 REZILLOS ‘(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures’ (A Side November 1977)
08 XTC ‘Statue Of Liberty’ (A Side January 1978)
09 RICH KIDS ‘Rich Kids’ (A Side January 1978)
10 THE BOYS ‘Brickfield Nights’ (A Side February 1978)
11 THE ONLY ONES ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ (A Side April 1978)
12 THE POLICE ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ (A Side August 1978)
13 BLONDIE ‘One Way Or Another’ (Parallel Lines LP September 1978)
14 WRECKLESS ERIC ‘Take The Cash’ (A Side October 1978)
15 THE MEMBERS ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’ (A Side January 1979)
16 THE UNDERTONES ‘Here Comes The Summer’ (The Undertones LP May 1979)
17 THE PRETENDERS ‘Tattooed Love Boys’ (B Side June 1979)
18 THE CURE ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ (A Side October 1979)
19 DOLL BY DOLL ‘Gypsy Blood’ (Gypsy Blood LP October 1979)
20 THE MONOCHROME SET ‘Strange Boutique’ (Strange Boutique LP April 1980)
21 DEVO ‘Girl U Want’ (Freedom Of Choice LP May 1980)
22 THE B52’S ‘Give Me Back My Man’ (A Side July 1980)
23 SKIDS ‘Hurry On Boys’ (The Absolute Game LP September 1980)
24 THE GO GO’S ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’ (A Side May 1981)
25 THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS ‘Pretty In Pink’ (Talk Talk Talk LP May 1981)
NEXT WEEK: POST PUNK
MONDAY, JUNE 8, 2015
WEEK 23: PUNK
Punk meant a thousand different things to a thousand different people but to me, a 16 year old boy kicking against the oppressive, colourless shades of 1976 Britain, it represented absolute freedom. Punk said ‘believe in yourself and if others don’t like it they can fuck off’. In fact, the sound I remember the most is not the everlasting thrash of buzzsaw guitars, but the everlasting fuck off-ness of it all, because punk was the ultimate ‘Fuck Off!’
I’d left school as soon as I could and signed on for £9 a week. I’d never had it so good. Desperately seeking excitement, it was inevitable I would become intrigued by the Sex Pistols and the whispers of punk, the stars finally aligning on Tuesday, 29th June 1976 when five of us scraped the cash together for a trip to their 100 Club show. In my youthful mind London was still Dickensian and mythical so that alone was excitement enough, but when the Pistols hit the low stage, I changed forever.
I‘d never seen or heard anything like it and from that first second knew I could be whatever I wanted to be, and do whatever I wanted to do. Spellbound, we returned home, cut our hair, reconstructed our flares into drainpipes, sprayed our shirts, pierced our ears with needles, snorted our first lines of sulphate and speeded into an uncertain future. It really was as simple and quick as that.
From then on I lived each day with no thought of the next, my huge leap into the everlasting present of the teenage an incredibly intense rite of passage that became almost messianic. Punk was a secret society with the most glorious soundtrack, the coolest clothes, the fiercest debates and the most idealistic politics. My life was full of incident and adventure lived at a million miles an hour, fuelled by crazy, bug eyed, chemical induced energy, cheap sulphate, crap sex and riotous live shows.
One of the many myths perpetrated in punks twisted history is that it was an entirely London based revolution hanging on the every word of McLaren and wearing every costly stitch of Westwood. It’s true that with the capital just a 30 minute train ride away, Reading itself never had much of a scene. But what should be remembered about towns like Reading in the seventies was not the physical difference from London, so much as the mental distance. Until the filth and fury of the Pistols hit the headlines in December 1976 there were never more than twenty of us, even with some of the hipper Chelsea boot boys latching on to scare the prole’s in punk disguise.
Like any youth movement, punk was never built to last, we knew it even then. There was a period, just after the moment of high punk in June 1977, when it felt as if a once bright future of infinite possibility had turned into a litany of tribal tyranny, violence and High Street fashion. The fragile punk unity of working class realism and artful innovation fractured and dispersed, each nurturing its own version of what punk meant and its own vision of where to next.
01 THE RAMONES ‘Judy Is A Punk’ (The Ramones LP June 1976)
02 THE SAINTS ‘I’m Stranded’ (A Side September 1976)
03 THE DAMNED ‘New Rose’ (A Side October 1976)
04 RICHARD HELL & THE VOIDOIDS ‘Blank Generation’ (A Side November 1976)
05 THE BUZZCOCKS ‘Boredom’ (Spiral Scratch EP January 1977)
06 TELEVISION ‘Marquee Moon’ (Marquee Moon LP February 1977)
07 THE JAM ‘In The City’ (A Side April 1977)
08 THE ADVERTS ‘One Chord Wonders’ (A Side April 1977)
09 THE HEARTBREAKERS ‘Born To Lose’ (B Side May 1977)
10 SLAUGHTER & THE DOGS ‘Cranked Up Really High’ (A Side June 1977)
11 THE VIBRATORS ‘Into The Future’ (Pure Mania LP June 1977)
12 SEX PISTOLS ‘Pretty Vacant’ (A Side July 1977)
13 THE CLASH ‘Complete Control’ (A Side September 1977)
14 THE WEIRDOS ‘Destroy All Music’ (A Side September 1977)
15 GENERATION X ‘Your Generation’ (A Side September 1977)
16 X RAY SPEX ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ (A Side September 1977)
17 THE SLITS ‘Vindictive’ (John Peel Session September 1977)
18 ALTERNATIVE TV ‘Love Lies Limp’ (Flexi Disc October 1977)
19 DEAD BOYS ‘Sonic Reducer’ (A Side November 1977)
20 PENETRATION ‘Don’t Dictate’ (A Side November 1977)
21 WIRE ‘Strange’ (Pink Flag LP November 1977)
22 SIOUXIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Love In A Void’ (John Peel Session November 1977)
23 999 ‘Emergency’ (A Side January 1978)
24 BUZZCOCKS ‘What Do I Get’ (A Side January 1978)
25 MAGAZINE ‘Shot By Both Sides’ (A Side January 1978)
NEXT WEEK: NEW WAVE
MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015
WEEK 22: DISCO
In the mid seventies, rock was the mainstream and disco the underground, a four-to-the-floor beat of euphoric strings and a soaring vocal straight out of church. With a pre-history cast from ‘Law Of The Land’, ‘The Love I Lost’ and Philly soul, disco had already made inroads into pop. But of far more importance was how disco’s themselves created a place and soundtracked a space, where women, blacks, gays or any combination thereof could come together to dance, love and just be without fear.
The first records to be built specifically for the dancefloor were those made by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder in Munich. ‘Love To Love You Baby’ in 1975, and ‘I Feel Love’ two years later, reveled in everything the solemn worshippers of rock derided; decadence, repetition and machine beats as radical as any Elvis hip shake or Pistols sneer. While many thought of them as superficial, robotic crap, they posed as much of a challenge to the status quo as any other revolutionary music.
Attempting to finally banish the veneer of authenticity attached to black music and be the embodiment of the pleasure-is-politics ethos of the emerging Gay Pride movement, disco was a celebration of the fantastic in which flash, overwhelming melodrama, sex, surface and fabulousness were all that mattered. However, on a track like Machines ‘There But For The Grace Of God’, it was also capable of making political statements even the most diehard modernist could understand. And while it would ultimately become as horribly formulaic as any other genre, it would continue to stretch the sonic envelope on avant-garde adventures like producer Arthur Russell’s ‘It’s All Over My Face’ and the even weirder ‘Go Bang!’
The safe, white world of rock may have felt threatened and disgusted by disco’s rampant hedonism but as hypocritical as ever, as soon as the industry realised they could make some serious money by following the same formula, the classic disco beat was thrown behind any number of inappropriate rock types, from Rod Stewart to Kiss and The Grateful Dead! What had started out as an underground black music phenomenon had become very, very white, vilified as the enemy of rock by those only too happy to exploit it.
In 1979, even supposedly free minded punks joined in the baiting and the ‘disco sucks’ campaign which climaxed in the symbolic detonation of tons of disco records at a Chicago baseball game. A shameful orgy of destruction, racism and homophobia, it underlined just how radical and subversive disco's call for liberation had been. Mortally wounded by the slings and arrows of hatred and continued merciless, commercial exploitation, by 1980 disco had been forced back underground where it would have the last laugh, disseminating its DNA into all other forms of dance music.
It’s a sad fact that no other modern music genre has been lambasted, ridiculed and hated in quite the same way as disco. Accused of destroying soul’s classic tradition, despite being as much an extension and continuation of that tradition as funk or R&B, it has had a massive, long term effect on music culture. House, techno, hip hop, dubstep, rave, club culture, twelve inch singles, the extended remix; one way or another, they all shadowed disco’s fabulous dance steps.
01 THE TEMPTATIONS ‘Law Of The Land’ (A Side August 1973)
02 HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES ‘The Love I Lost’ (A Side September 1973)
03 MFSB ‘T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia)’ (A Side March 1974)
04 SHIRLEY & COMPANY ‘Shame Shame Shame’ (A Side November 1974)
05 PEOPLES CHOICE ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’ (A Side September 1975)
06 DONNA SUMMER ‘Love To Love You Baby’ (A Side December 1975)
07 CANDI STATON ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ (A Side April 1976)
08 THE TRAMMPS ‘Disco Inferno’ (A Side December 1976)
09 ODYSSEY ‘Native New Yorker’ (A Side November 1977)
10 FIRST CHOICE ‘Let No Man Put Asunder’ (A Side November 1977)
11 CERRONE ‘Supernature’ (A Side February 1978)
12 SYLVESTER ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ (A Side July 1978)
13 NORMA JEAN WRIGHT ‘Saturday’ (A Side July 1978)
14 CHIC ‘Le Freak’ (A Side September 1978)
15 MUSIQUE ‘In The Bush’ (A Side October 1978)
16 MACHINE ‘There But For The Grace Of God’ (A Side March 1979)
17 LOOSE JOINTS ‘Is It All Over My Face?’ (A Side August 1980)
18 DINOSAUR L ‘Go Bang #5 (Francois K Mix)’ (A Side February 1981)
19 INDEEP ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ (A Side February 1982)
NEXT WEEK: PUNK
MONDAY, MAY 25, 2015
WEEK 21: ROOTS & DUB
Early reggaes transition to roots was like the blending of brown into black paint, the gradual change going practically unnoticed until The Wailers Catch A Fire opened the commercial door with a little help from an overdubbed rock guitar. Roots put an emphasis on Rastafari, Africa, black deliverance and redemption, calling on the youth to put their consciousness into action and be warriors, whether they were musicians or not. From the start it was rebel music.
Big Youth’s Screaming Target wasn’t the first roots record, but it was one of the first to be conceived as a whole, and one that became something of a yardstick for roots style. With a raw, instinctive energy, the 23 year old pushed the whole idea of toasting onwards and upwards by addressing heavier, harder hitting issues. He was also the first to display the dreadlocks that had been noticeably absent in The Harder They Come.
Toasting apart, the second key element of roots was dub as an end in itself. Gradually evolving from the instrumentals used to accompany DJ’s in the late sixties, the increasingly advanced studio technology of the seventies allowed the creation of genuinely dread tracks that bore little resemblance to original song structures. One of the first dub albums was The Upsetters Blackboard Jungle Dub, a startling clash of Lee Perry rhythms and King Tubby sorcery, but the most notable example of the art by far was Augusto Pablo’s King Tubby meets Rockers Uptown.
Under the influence of such luminaries as Don Letts, John Lydon and The Clash, one youth culture that became inextricably linked to roots reggae was punk. Strengthening the bond forged by ska in the early sixties, roots message of resistance chimed perfectly with the early punk ethos. As I remember it, War Inna Babylon, Natty Rebel, Heart Of The Congos, Tappa Zukie’s In Dub, Police And Thieves and most of all Cultures prophesy toting Two Sevens Clash, an album built on it’s genius anthemic title track, were the most essential purchases of the times, but they were just the tip of a massive cultural surge. By 1977, reggae was threatening to break out of Jamaica for good, mainly because of the islands one, truly global superstar.
In most modern music romance is dying, politics is fatal and God is dead yet Bob Marley never shied away from covering all of them; the sexual, the political and the spiritual. Somehow, he was able to take Jamaica’s mixed up history; a jumble of such disparate concepts as Rastafari, Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, rebellion, herb and Trenchtown and with staggering dedication and commitment, rebuild them into a concerned, intricate, focused music.
It would be too easy to say the roots movement died with him on 11th May 1981. The truth is, reggae had already moved on without him. The idea of roots going international in the wake of his phenomenal success had forced Jamaican musicians to re-evaluate the reasoning behind their motivation and belief. Technological advances were changing the way music was being made, making it both easier and cheaper, and there was a new, younger generation determined to reclaim the islands music for themselves, to try something different. And that something was dancehall.
01 BIG YOUTH ‘Screaming Target’ (Screaming Target LP March 1973)
02 THE UPSETTERS ‘Drum Rock’ (14 Dub Blackboard Jungle LP August 1973)
03 THE WAILERS ‘Get Up Stand Up’ (Burnin’ LP November 1973)
04 KING TUBBY ‘The Immortal Dub’ (The Roots Of Dub LP July 1974)
05 BURNING SPEAR ‘Marcus Garvey’ (Marcus Garvey LP December 1975)
06 MIGHTY DIAMONDS ‘Why Me Black Brother Why?’ (Right Time LP April 1975)
07 MAX ROMEO ‘War Ina Babylon’ (War Ina Babylon LP March 1976)
08 U ROY ‘Natty Rebel’ (Natty Rebel LP June 1976)
09 DILLINGER ‘Cocaine In My Brain’ (CB 200 LP July 1976)
10 THE CONGOS ‘Children Crying’ (Heart Of The Congos LP July 1976)
11 TAPPA ZUKIE ‘Dub MPLA’ (Tappa Zukie In Dub LP November 1976)
12 CULTURE ‘Two Sevens Clash’ (Two Sevens Clash LP March 1977)
13 JUNIOR MURVIN ‘Police And Thieves’ (Police And Thieves LP April 1977)
14 AUGUSTUS PABLO ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ (King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown LP July 1977)
15 PRINCE FAR I ‘Young Generation’ (Under Heavy Manners LP October 1977)
16 ISRAEL VIBRATION ‘Why Worry’ (The Same Song LP July 1978)
17 DR ALIMANTADO ‘Poison Flour’ (Best Dressed Chicken In Town LP March 1978)
18 WILLIE WILLIAMS ‘Armagideon Time’ (Armagideon Time LP March 1979)
19 I ROY ‘African Herbsman’ (African Herbsman LP October 1979)
20 SCIENTIST ‘Seconds Away’ (Heavyweight Dub Champion LP July 1980)
21 MIKEY DREAD ‘Mental Slavery’ (World War III LP August 1980)
NEXT WEEK: DISCO
MONDAY, MAY 18, 2015
WEEK 20: SEVENTIES FUNK & SOUL
The early seventies remained shrouded in the climate of social and political upheaval that had so dominated the sixties. Inspired by the achievements and outrages of the past, black consciousness emerged as radical Black Nationalism and Black Power to even greater effect, while visions of the ghetto, glamorised as a dark inversion of the American Dream, became the overriding image of black America.
Ultimately, that glorification would be a dead end, and no-one felt the effects or raged against the dying of the light as much as Sly Stone. While others paid lip service to such sixties ideals as racial integration, sexual equality and fighting the man, the erstwhile Sylvester Stewart put all the rhetoric into practice with some of the most galvanizing, perfectly crafted music ever.
At the same time, but with a completely different agenda, James Brown continued to economise and refine funk, the tiniest grunt coming to mean everything. Radicalised and inspired, more and more black artists began to adopt ‘black’ profiles and free themselves from the corporate chains. Whether it was Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder or Temptations producer Norman Whitfield reclaiming their artistic control from Berry Gordy, Curtis Mayfield creating the template for blaxploitation soundtracks or George Clinton’s P-Funk family, the early seventies overflowed with artist’s deconstructing soul to forge their own shapes and visions.
The last movement of the classic soul era to have any real impact was Philly Soul. Dominated by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label, it embodied the contradictions threatening to tear black America apart: Gamble was a cultural nationalist but his music paved the way for disco hedonism; they preached about the ghetto, yet aimed their records at the emerging black middle classes, They symbolised the struggle of all popular seventies soul, a sound trying to move forward and aspire to something greater while clinging desperately to its roots.
Philadelphia International’s greatest success came in 1974 before disco emerged and the big hits dried up. As artists adopted the four-to-the-floor beat, black music was left with a huge void to fill. Even when Earth, Wind & Fire achieved the critical and commercial success they deserved, and old masters like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye released some of their finest records, there was still no cohesion or global figurehead to focus on until Michael Jackson, the biggest icon in black music history, announced his arrival as a fully-fledged adult on Off The Wall.
Although Thriller is rightly cited as the ultimate game changer, it was Off The Wall‘s lightweight disco funk that laid the groundwork for soul music’s desultory slide into pop R&B. Michael Jackson may have kicked down the walls of inherent corporate racism, so allowing black music to enter the mainstream like never before, but with his naked lust for success at any cost, he also replaced any last remaining sense of roots, relevance and rebellion with something completely fake and inauthentic. And when you consider the morally bankrupt state of eighties R&B, in many ways that was unforgiveable.
01 SYL JOHNSON ‘Different Strokes’ (Is It Because I’m Black LP March 1970)
02 THE TEMPTATIONS ‘Ball Of Confusion’ (A Side May 1970)
03 CURTIS MAYFIELD ‘(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go’ (Curtis LP September 1970)
04 BOBBY BYRD ‘I Know You Got Soul’ (A Side May 1971)
05 JAMES BROWN 'Hot Pants’ (Hot Pants LP August 1971)
06 SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘Family Affair’ (There’s A Riot Goin’ On LP November 1971)
07 BETTY WRIGHT ‘Clean Up Woman’ (A Side November 1971)
08 THE O’JAYS ‘Back Stabbers’ (A Side July 1972)
09 WAR ‘Me And Baby Brother’ (A Side August 1973)
10 24 CARAT BLACK ‘Ghetto: Misfortunes Wealth’ (Ghetto: Misfortunes Wealth LP November 1973)
11 CREATIVE SOURCE ‘Who Is He And What Is He To You’ (Creative Source LP April 1974)
12 SHUGGIE OTIS ‘Aht Uh Mi Hed’ (Inspiration Information LP September 1974)
13 ISLEY BROTHERS ‘Fight The Power’ (The Heat Is On LP June 1975)
14 PARLIAMENT ‘Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)’ (Mothership Connection LP December 1975)
15 BANBARRA ‘Shack Up’ (A Side December 1975)
16 STEVIE WONDER ‘I Wish’ (Songs In The Key Of Life LP October 1976)
17 MARVIN GAYE ‘Got To Give It Up Pt 1’ (A Side April 1977)
18 T CONNECTION ‘Do What You Wanna Do’ (A Side May 1977)
19 EARTH, WIND & FIRE ‘Serpentine Fire’ (All ’n All LP November 1977)
20 FUNKADELIC ‘Cholly (Funk Getting Ready To Roll)’ (One Nation Under A Groove LP September 1978)
21 MICHAEL JACKSON ‘Get On The Floor’ (Off The Wall LP August 1979)
NEXT WEEK: ROOTS & DUB
MONDAY, MAY 11, 2015
WEEK 19: SECRET PLEASURES OF SEVENTIES POP
As soon as I hit the pop road to Damascus, I would fall asleep with a tiny transistor stuck to my ear blasting out the latest smashes on Radio Luxembourg. So I find it kind of ironic that most of those very same songs have been exorcised from pop history and are now considered as nothing more than mere Secret Pleasures. They have become the songs we hate to love or rather, the songs we hate to admit we love.
Despite putting together playlists like this for years, the whole concept of Secret Pleasures still strikes me as a strange one. The Oxford dictionary definition is straightforward enough: ‘Something one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard’. But that much has always been obvious hasn’t it? What’s far more interesting is the realisation that actually, all Secret Pleasures are dictated by personal taste and the self-perceived notion of what is or isn’t cool. And that’s where it can get a little tricky. No doubt everyone would agree that Neil Diamond or Gilbert O’Sullivan are Secret Pleasures, but what about Nilsson or 10cc? D’you see what I mean?
One thing I do know is that the seventies was the greatest Secret Pleasures era of them all. These days it’s viewed not just as a different country but as another planet ruled by aliens in beards, flares and stack heels. The only positive thing I ever hear about the seventies is the nostalgia fuelled celebration of its kitsch cool, from Curly Wurlys to chopper bikes, space hoppers to hot pants. And pop’s Secret Pleasures were an essential part of all that!
The seventies were an absolute goldmine of the Goddamn things largely because pop music itself was cast adrift, quietly forgotten as the LP and a far heavier, more serious musical age was ushered in. In the early years pop was heard as outdated, manufactured, lightweight fluff, and to a certain extent it was, although I can’t help feeling that was also the moment its naïveté and beautiful innocence were lost forever. Not that I took any notice because mid-decade, deep within the onslaught of punk, I pissed on all of these songs. Little did I realise that forty years later I would be returning as a far more open minded, retro treasure seeker determined to hunt them down.
01 RAY STEVENS ‘Everything Is Beautiful’ (A Side May 1970)
02 ASHTON, GARDNER & DYKE ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ (A Side January 1971)
03 NEIL DIAMOND ‘I Am I Said’ (A Side May 1971)
04 WHITE PLAINS ‘When You Are A King’ (A Side June 1971)
05 GILBERT O’SULLIVAN ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ (A Side February 1972)
06 NILSSON ‘Coconut’ (A Side June 1972)
07 HIGHLY LIKELY ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ (A Side April 1973)
08 MEDECINE HEAD ‘One And One Is One’ (A Side April 1973)
09 HOT CHOCOLATE ‘Emma’ (A Side March 1974)
10 TERRY JACKS ‘Seasons In The Sun’ (A Side March 1974)
11 BRIAN PROTHEROE ‘Pinball’ (A Side September 1974)
12 GARY SHEARSTON ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ (A Side October 1974)
13 MURRAY HEAD ‘Say It Ain’t So Joe’ (A Side October 1975)
14 DOOBIE BROTHERS ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’ (A Side March 1976)
15 10CC ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ (A Side March 1976)
16 ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA ‘Livin’ Thing’ (A Side November 1976)
17 ANDREW GOLD ‘Lonely Boy’ (A Side April 1977)
18 CARLY SIMON ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (A Side August 1977)
19 GERRY RAFFERTY ‘Right Down The Line’ (A Side May 1978)
20 SUPERTRAMP ‘Goodbye Stranger’ (A Side September 1979)
NEXT WEEK: SEVENTIES FUNK & SOUL
MONDAY, MAY 4, 2015
WEEK 18: GLAM
It’s a fact that anyone who’s ever going to develop a love affair with pop always does so by the age of ten or eleven, twelve at the latest. In 1971 I had just turned eleven so was ripe for the picking! I had never been interested in pop but when you’re a pre-teeny tween, your world and mindset can change a million times a day for no apparent reason. Just a few months later, I began to realise that not only were girls sugar and spice and all things nice, but that pop could take me anywhere I wanted to go without even leaving my bedroom.
Amidst all the novelty schlock and bubblegum I was losing myself in, I couldn’t help but notice a song that was instantly more alluring and magical. Hearing T.Rex’s ‘Get It On’ for the first time, before I even knew what Bolan looked like, was my key to revealing the secret mysteries of pop power and rock’n’roll glamour. Watching him on Top Of The Pop’s a week later, the glitter sparkling beneath his eyes, was even more mind blowing, a life defining moment ensnaring me in the web of glam.
Dancing on the grave of the sixties, glam was urban panic music, explicitly youth orientated, screaming ’If you’ve got it flaunt it and if you haven’t got it, fake it, cover yourself in stardust and sequins and reinvent yourself’. Simple, flash and disposable, it injected pure fun into the pop mainstream. What an amazing thing to line up at the start line of puberty with Bolan, Bowie, Roxy Music, Lou Reed and Mott The Hoople as the party tape playing in your head.
The reawakening of the hit single was buttressed by speedily made glam albums padded with revivalist rock’n’roll and unoriginal originals. Yet even when the production line chancers moved in with the mien fuehrer of glam Gary Glitter, The Sweet, Mud and Suzi Quatro, the music and images remained thrillingly entertaining. They were the not-so-cool side of glam, the ‘brickies in make up’, the star studded shams. Even at 13 I knew who the real stars were.
Bolan always claimed that once he’d done all the work and kicked in the doors, Bowie sauntered in to take the credibility. All I know is that Bowie’s brilliant alien anthems added immeasurably to my humdrum teenage existence, his artfulness leading me to the darker kicks of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, Roxy Music’s retro future mix of kitsch and the avant-garde, and the supremely trashy rock’n’roll of the New York Dolls.
Like most genres tied to a specific time, glam carried with it the seeds of its own destruction. By the autumn of 1974 it was over, yet it still managed to leave a magnificent legacy of geniuses and madmen, poseurs and philosophers, stars and fools. While it is often ridiculed as trite nonsense, glam was vital if only because it enabled a generation of teenage misfits to find their voice, and through that self belief and empowerment, sow the seeds of punk.
01 T. REX ‘Get It On’ (A Side July 1971)
02 DAVID BOWIE ‘Lady Stardust’ (Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars LP June 1972)
03 MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘All The Young Dudes’ (A Side July 1972)
04 GARY GLITTER ‘I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Til’ I Saw You Rock’n’Roll)’ (A Side September 1972)
05 SLADE ‘Gudbuy T’Jane’ (A Side November 1972)
06 LOU REED ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (Transformer LP November 1972)
07 SWEET ‘Blockbuster’ (A Side January 1973)
08 ROXY MUSIC ‘Pyjamarama’ (A Side March 1973)
09 IGGY & THE STOOGES ‘ Gimme Danger’ (Raw Power LP May 1973)
10 NEW YORK DOLLS ‘Trash’ (A Side July 1973)
11 DAVID ESSEX ‘Rock On’ (A Side August 1973)
12 MUD ‘Dynamite’ (A Side October 1973)
13 JOBRIATH ‘I’Maman’ (Jobriath LP October 1973)
14 ALICE COOPER ‘Teenage Lament 74’ (Muscle Of Love LP December 1973)
15 ENO ‘Baby’s On Fire’ (Here Come The Warm Jets LP January 1974)
16 SUZI QUATRO ‘Devil Gate Drive’ (A Side February 1974)
17 MICK RONSON ‘Hey Ma Get Papa’ (Slaughter On 10th Avenue LP March 1974)
18 BRETT SMILEY ‘Va Va Va Voom’ (A Side May 1974)
19 SPARKS ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough’ (A Side May 1974)
20 COCKNEY REBEL ‘Tumbling Down’ (The Psychomodo LP June 1974)
21 QUEEN ‘Killer Queen’ (A Side October 1974)
NEXT WEEK: SECRET PLEASURES OF SEVENTIES POP
MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2015
WEEK 17: HARD ROCK
I’m not going to lie. I’ve never wasted too much time on hard rock, much less on metal. It played such a miniscule role in my teenage that all I knew of it were the chart hits by the likes of Deep Purple, Free, Golden Earring, Nazareth and Bachman Turner Overdrive, songs that were the staple diet of school bands everywhere. The fact that those young musicians were no more than human jukeboxes and the only accolade they craved was ‘They sound just like the record’, tells you everything you need to know about the lack of artistic aspiration and the state of music culture in the pre-punk seventies.
Some critics even promoted the idea that liking hard rock was dependent on your class; if you were a pampered, suburbanite, prog rock would always be your thing, but if you were a disaffected, council estate kid, hard rock was your birthright. Ludicrous and simplistic, it was just another example of stereotypical, seventies, class war rhetoric and complete bollocks. At my supposedly middle class grammar school, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records were far more in evidence than anything remotely proggy. Not that I cared anyway. I was still so fabulously young and naïve that I learnt more about hard rock from Sweet B Sides than I did from those two seventies behemoths.
Needless to say, I would soon discover that it was most definitely Led Zeppelin and not The Sweet who were the very essence of where rock’n’roll had got to in the seventies. In terms of poetry, sexuality, sonic adventure and Jimmy Page’s reinvention of what now constitutes a guitar hero, they ruled absolutely. Their debut may have been a product of snoozy, late sixties, British blues rock, but Led Zeppelin II set the bar for seventies hard rock and in ‘Whole Lotta Love’ created the riff by which all others would be judged.
In contrast, Black Sabbath were the bedrock, the heavy stone slab from which all metal would eventually rise. It doesn’t really matter where the term came from because without Sabbath it would have meant nothing. Their self-titled debut was released on Friday the thirteenth of February 1970, the first complete heavy metal album by the first heavy metal artists in the world ever! Ominously dark, it proved irresistible to lads of a certain age. Yet even with Led Zep’s majesty and Sabbath’s Hammer horror, hard rock was never music you had to think about too much.
Conceived and recorded as pure escapism, hard rock allowed its audience to forget their shitty workaday lives by losing themselves in the heavy duty riffage. While those of us awaiting our own year zero dismissed the rock star lifestyle as ridiculous, the hard rock audience gloried in their own fantasies being projected back at them, raising their fists in salute as their mortal heroes became half naked, golden haired God’s in the elixir of youth. In the eighties metal would take those fantasies and repeat ad infinitum. After all, it could do nothing more. All it would ever be had already been written!
01 LED ZEPPELIN ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (Led Zeppelin II LP October 1969)
02 BLACK SABBATH ‘War Pigs’ (Paranoid LP September 1970)
03 DEEP PURPLE ‘Fireball’ (Fireball LP August 1971)
04 FREE ‘Wishing Well’ (Heartbreaker LP January 1973)
05 SWEET ‘Need A Lot Of Lovin’ (B Side January 1973)
06 ZZ TOP ‘La Grange’ (Tres Hombres LP August 1973)
07 MONTROSE ‘Rock Candy’ (Montrose LP October 1973)
08 GOLDEN EARRING ‘Radar Love’ (Moontan LP December 1973)
09 BACHMAN TURNER OVERDRIVE ‘Sledgehammer’ (Not Fragile LP August 1974)
10 NAZARETH ‘Hair Of The Dog’ (Hair Of The Dog LP April 1975)
11 THIN LIZZY ‘Jailbreak’ (Jailbreak LP March 1976)
12 AEROSMITH ‘Rats In The Cellar’ (Rocks LP May 1976)
13 RAINBOW ‘A Light In The Black’ (Rainbow Rising LP May 1976)
14 AC/DC ‘Let There Be Rock’ (Let There Be Rock LP October 1977)
15 VAN HALEN ‘Runnin’ With The Devil’ (Van Halen LP April 1978)
16 SCORPIONS ‘Sails Of Charon’ (Taken By Force LP April 1978)
17 MOTORHEAD ‘No Class’ (Overkill LP March 1979)
NEXT WEEK: GLAM
MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2015
WEEK 16: CLASSIC ROCK
If you lived through the late sixties or seventies, you would never have heard the term classic rock used to describe any music of the day. Unlike psychedelia, proggy or glam, it was not a term used at the time but one bestowed in retrospect when the era itself had ended. In the early eighties, American youth (because classic rock is a wholly American invention) was ambushed by the new phenomenons of MTV, hair metal and British pops exotic, bright young things.
No longer besotted by the music of their older brothers and sisters or God forbid, their parents, there was no room in their lives for any hoary old rockers and in an age when being pretty was an absolute necessity, no room for any ugly new ones either. Yes kids, MTV really did kill the radio star and had a damn good go at killing off the radio stations too. As ratings dropped alarmingly, in sheer desperation some bright marketing exec conceived the concept of classic rock to lure back middle-aged folk only too happy to wallow in the warm, fuzzy glow of their be-denimed youth.
And that should have been that, except what no-one predicted was how this clever rebranding of rocks illustrious yet unhip past would attract such a massive new audience. Incredibly, in the absence of any peer pressure to identify with new genres or generations of music, American kids turned to the safety net of the past rather than the uncertainty of the future. And they continue to do so over thirty years later, despite most of those bands being either dead or drawing their pensions.
Now forget those holy deities The Beatles or Dylan, the birth of classic rock can be pinpointed exactly to December 1966 and the release of Cream’s debut Fresh Cream. There would be many better records, not least by Cream themselves, but it remains a landmark long player, representing the birth of the power trio and a move away from the cheap thrill of the single to the long term allure of the album.
Over the next fifteen years or so the parameters of rock would be stretched as far as they could go, from singer songwriters to southern rock to no nonsense riffola. Yet there was only the briefest of moments in the mid seventies when rock, in the classic sense, crossed my radar. Then again, all records have a weird habit of coming round again years later, when what was once scorned becomes cool and collectable for no apparent reason.
It was in the early noughties that I first heard some vaguely familiar sounds blasting from my son’s bedrooms and began to wonder if maybe I’d misjudged some of those Whistle Test bands with their greasy long hair, big flares and hairy chests. Much to my surprise I found the records, from such a different world to the one I’d inhabited, strangely fascinating. The songs here are the result of all that, my glimpse into a sound from my early teenage I knew little about, but one that in an Almost Famous kind of way provides me with an alternative soundtrack of the times.
01 CREAM ‘I Feel Free’ (Fresh Cream LP December 1966)
02 BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD ‘For What It’s Worth’ (A Side January 1967)
03 THE MOODY BLUES ‘Ride My See Saw’ (In Search Of The Lost Chord LP July 1968)
04 DELANEY & BONNIE ‘Dirty Old Man’ (Accept No Substitutes LP July 1969)
05 JOE COCKER ‘Bird On The Wire’ (Joe Cocker LP October 1969)
06 THE WHO ‘The Seeker’ (A Side February 1970)
07 VAN MORRISON ‘Into The Mystic’ (Moondance March 1970)
08 THE BAND ‘Stage Fright’ (Stage Fright LP August 1970)
09 LEON RUSSELL ‘Alcatraz’ (Leon Russell & The Shelter People LP May 1971)
10 WISHBONE ASH ‘Leaf And Stream’ (Argus LP May 1972)
11 TIM BUCKLEY ‘Move With Me’ (Greetings From LA LP October 1972)
12 STEELY DAN ‘Dirty Work’ (Can’t Buy A Thrill LP November 1972)
13 ELTON JOHN ‘Midnight Creeper’ (Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player LP January 1973)
14 LITTLE FEAT ‘Dixie Chicken’ (Dixie Chicken LP February 1973)
15 DR JOHN ‘Right Place Wrong Time’ (In The Right Place LP March 1973)
16 LYNYRD SKYNYRD ‘I Ain’t The One’ (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd LP September 1973)
17 ERIC CLAPTON ‘Steady Rollin’ Man’ (461 Ocean Boulevard LP July 1974)
18 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN ‘10th Avenue Freeze Out’ (Born To Run LP September 1975)
19 PETER FRAMPTON ‘All I Want To Be (Is By Your Side)’ (Frampton Comes Alive LP January 1976)
20 FLEETWOOD MAC ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (Rumours LP February 1977)
21 TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS ‘Anything That’s Rock’n’Roll’ (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers LP May 1977)
22 WARREN ZEVON ‘Werewolves Of London’ (Excitable Boy LP January 1978)
23 PINK FLOYD ‘Hey You’ (The Wall LP December 1979)
NEXT WEEK: HARD ROCK
MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2015
WEEK 15: BRITISH FOLK
When Led Zeppelin released their fourth LP in November 1971, the cover was adorned with a framed, very English photo of a woodsman nailed to the wall of a derelict house set in an urban wasteland. Robert Plant had found the picture in a Reading junkshop and in its own way it showed just how close British folk had sailed to late sixties and early seventies music culture.
Before Zeppelin made their feelings known about the music of our past on Led Zeppelin III, folk had never been seriously considered as playing any part in rock. They legitimised folk for a generation and in so doing wiped away all those images of old boys in knitted sweaters wailing away in the back room of a pub. Of course, what Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were really doing was hitching their coat tails to the gypsy caravan, because British folk had already moved on from the dour voice of anti-authoritarian protest prevalent in the fifties and early sixties.
Throughout history, folk has always been closely linked with the land and the way we all see our place within it, while looking back longingly towards a past arcadia. In 1962, Davy Graham took those links and weaved in a slice of Miles Davis, but it was the electric guitar and unchained melodies of psychedelia that inspired the real transformation. The true revolution in British folk music took place inside drug enlightened minds, where rustic nostalgia blended seamlessly into the hippy dream. Dismissed out of hand as a Dylan copyist, Donovan was a deeply dippy bohemian boy who took folk out of the Soho club scene to number one in America, and in so doing nudged the door open for The Incredible String Band and the eclectic mystical reverie.
Folk rock’s golden years, a brief Indian summer and bountiful autumn of idealism, lasted from around 1969 to 1973 when familiar names like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn’s Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span defined the last flowering of British folk. But anything based around the magick and myths of an ancient Albion was always going to possess a certain, inbuilt fragility, and in the early seventies the secret woodland path walked by Marc Bolan, Meic Stevens, Nick Drake, Anne Briggs, Comus, Vashti Bunyan and Roy Harper disappeared as once again, folk succumbed to a stereotypical image of comedic, beardy ale drinkers.
Naturally, it was still more than capable of delivering a serious message if anyone bothered to listen. June Tabor’s unaccompanied version of Eric Bogle’s ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ ends this short tale, reinforcing folk’s ability to reach out over the decade’s and connect with new situations and generation’s. The more I’ve seen of my soldier sons damaged comrades as they return from Afghanistan, the more I know that to be true.
01 DAVY GRAHAM ‘Angi’ (3/4 AD EP April 1962)
02 SHIRLEY COLLINS & DAVY GRAHAM ‘Reynardine’ (Folk Roots New Routes LP 1964)
03 JACKSON C. FRANK ‘My Name Is Carnival’ (Jackson C. Frank LP June 1965)
04 DONOVAN ‘The Trip’ (Sunshine Superman LP September 1966)
05 INCREDIBLE STRING BAND ‘First Girl I Loved’ (5000 Spirits Or The Layers Of The Onion LP July 1967)
06 PENTANGLE ‘Sweet Child’ (Sweet Child LP December 1968)
07 BERT JANSCH ‘A Woman Like You’ (Birthday Blues LP January 1969)
08 FAIRPORT CONVENTION ‘Farewell Farewell’ (Liege And Leaf LP December 1969)
09 TYRANNOSAURUS REX ‘Lofty Skies’ (A Beard Of Stars LP March 1970)
10 STEELEYE SPAN ‘Lowlands Of Holland’ (Hark! The Village Wait LP June 1970)
11 VASHTI BUNYAN ‘Rose Hip November’ (Just Another Diamond Day LP June 1970)
12 MEIC STEVENS ‘Rowena’ (Outlander LP September 1970)
13 LED ZEPPELIN ‘Bron Y Aur Stomp’ (Led Zeppelin III LP October 1970)
14 NICK DRAKE ‘One Of These Things First’ (Bryter Layter LP November 1970)
15 ANNE BRIGGS ‘Tangled Man’ (The Time Has Come LP March 1971)
16 COMUS ‘Diana’ (First Utterance LP July 1971)
17 JOHN MARTYN ‘Over The Hill’ (Solid Air LP February 1973)
18 RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON ‘The End Of The Rainbow’ (I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight LP April 1974)
19 ROY HARPER ‘Forget Me Not’ (HQ LP May 1975)
20 JUNE TABOR ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ (Airs And Graces LP November 1976)
NEXT WEEK: CLASSIC ROCK
MONDAY, APRIL 6, 2015
WEEK 14: LA SINGER SONGWRITERS
In 1969, as the Manson killings signaled the end of the hippie dream, such was the ugliness, confusion and fear in Los Angeles that there was a mass retreat to the hills and canyons surrounding Hollywood. Laurel Canyon in particular was a place where the survivors of the Sunset Strip’s halcyon days had always chilled out in rambling, split level cabins with their cats and dope. The Mama’s And Papas Cass Elliott defined the canyon spirit, operating a permanent open house policy while pursuing her love of opiates. Jackie De Shannon’s Laurel Canyon album not only celebrated rocks new haven in the hills, but also marked the coming of age of the singer songwriter.
The canyon aristocracy of solo performers really began when Gene Clark and David Crosby left The Byrds. By the time Buffalo Springfield collapsed under the weight of Stephen Stills and Neil Young’s bickering, going solo had become almost de-rigueur. The first time the record industry took any notice was in June 1969 when Crosby, Stills & Graham Nash released their self-titled debut. Three singer songwriters who had formed a loose triad to record their own material, they fitted perfectly with emerging solo talents like Young, Joni Mitchell, ex production line tunesmiths Jimmy Webb and Carole King and the starry-eyed hopefuls hanging out at Doug Weston’s Troubadour Club.
At the tail end of 1971, the LA record industry was a very different beast to the one it had been four years before when countless managers, musicians and all round hustlers had gravitated west in search of gold. David Geffen and Elliot Roberts were two Jewish New Yorker’s who had wormed their way into the Laurel Canyon inner circle, set up Asylum Records, and pilfered the Troubadour for Jackson Browne, Ned Doheny, J.D. Souther and four regulars; Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner who had banded together as the Eagles.
From the start they set out to sell a million records by replacing country’s natural soulfulness with a deliberate, radio friendly, pop sheen. The Eagles marked the end of the innocence, a move away from artistic expression to album oriented, corporate rock, made immeasurably worse when Geffen, who would happily have dived into a pool of shit to retrieve a dollar, forged a singer songwriter/country rock axis that seized control of the American recording industry. When 1975 came around, Los Angeles was a shattered, stagnant place, the canyons rife with cocaine and an insular decadence.
While the elite had all the money, drugs and playthings they’d ever wanted, the one thing they didn’t have was the sense of community that had once sustained them. Jackson Browne for one felt a failed sense of promise, but it was the Eagles Don Henley who most recognised the latent creepiness at the heart of Hollywood hedonism. Despite being a major part of the problem, his grandiose, semi conceptual Hotel California symbolised the death of the dream. In typical seventies fashion, the canyons that had once represented a movement for change and social justice had become just another part of the morally corrupt entertainment vortex.
01 THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS ‘Safe In My Garden’ (Papas & Mamas LP May 1968)
02 FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS ‘Hot Burrito #1’ (The Gilded Palace Of Sin LP March 1969)
03 CROSBY, STILLS & NASH ‘You Don’t Have To Cry’ (Crosby, Stills & Nash LP June 1969)
04 JACKIE DESHANNON ‘Laurel Canyon’ (Laurel Canyon LP September 1969)
05 JAMES TAYLOR ‘Fire And Rain’ (Sweet Baby James LP March 1970)
06 JOHN PHILLIPS ‘Malibu People’ (John The Wolfking Of LA LP June 1970)
07 JIMMY WEBB ‘P.F. Sloan’ (Words And Music LP November 1970)
08 CAROLE KING ‘So Far Away’ (Tapestry LP November 1970)
09 CRAZY HORSE ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (Crazy Horse LP January 1971)
10 DAVID CROSBY ‘Orleans’ (If I Could Only Remember My Name LP February 1971)
11 JONI MITCHELL ‘California’ (Blue LP June 1971)
12 JUDEE SILL ‘Jesus Was A Crossmaker’ (Judee Sill LP October 1971)
13 JACKSON BROWNE ‘Rock Me On The Water’ (Jackson Browne LP January 1972)
14 J.D. SOUTHER ‘Jesus In Three Quarters Time’ (John David Souther LP August 1972)
15 NED DOHENY ‘Postcards From Hollywood’ (Ned Doheny LP May 1973)
16 GRAM PARSONS & THE FALLEN ANGELS ‘In My Hour Of Darkness’ (Grievous Angel LP January 1974)
17 ESSRA MOHAWK ‘Full Fledged Woman’ (Essra Mohawk LP May 1974)
18 NEIL YOUNG ‘Revolution Blues’ (On The Beach LP August 1974)
19 GENE CLARK ‘From A Silver Phial’ (No Other LP October 1974)
20 LINDA RONSTADT ‘Willin’ (Heart Like A Wheel LP November 1974)
21 THE EAGLES ‘Hotel California’ (Hotel California LP December 1976)
NEXT WEEK: BRITISH FOLK
MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2015
WEEK 13: PROGRESSIVE ROCK
The freedom of expression and lack of self consciousness engendered by every conceivable aspect of the psychedelic experience, led to a challenging of the norm in which it was clear music could be more than chart fodder or copies of American R&B. In the late sixties, the phrase ‘progressive pop’ gradually entered the language of music culture in an attempt to describe a more ambitious, cerebral, experimental approach. Pop became rock, rock became art, and as the sixties turned into the seventies, prog rock was born.
More than anything, prog wanted to be serious music that transcended any vulgar, trivial aspects of the past by aspiring to the giddy aesthetic heights of the opera and the symphony, the improvisational virtuosity of jazz, and lyrically to the complexity of poetry and legend. It was also music that could only be English, reflecting as it did the eccentricity, mythology and landscape of this once green and pleasant land.
So it’s not in the least bit surprising that prog’s recognised aristocracy of Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Genesis were all very English. What’s more, apart from Gong’s Australian uber hippie leader Daevid Allen, the proggy underground and dimmer lights like Gentle Giant, Peter Hammill’s Van Der Graaf Generator and Camel were all English too, Canadian’s Rush only appearing once prog had infiltrated North America and the continent began breeding its own bands in the same image.
Prog started as an attitude and grew into a movement dominating the album charts, the colleges and the university halls where incredibly, mooching around with Close To The Edge or Brain Salad Surgery tucked ostentatiously under your arm was considered as cool as fuck! But it didn’t take too long before the genres stereotypical nature, its airy fairy Tolkeinism’s, 20 minute song suites, pretentiously titled sub sections and ludicrous stage shows began to sharpen the critical knives.
Offering nothing apart from musical virtuosity and technical innovation, progs biggest crime was that it failed to perpetuate the myth of rock as revolution. Lording it up in tax exile, touring less frequently, and tossing off (in more sense than one) increasingly meaningless albums, bands became pompous, overblown and out of touch, preferring to exist in their own self-created, mythological worlds than the grimy reality of strike hit seventies Britain. A music culture that had once been the tempestuous diary of western youth had become the equivalent of a cold, calculated thesis.
01 KING CRIMSON ‘The Court Of The Crimson King’ (In The Court Of The Crimson King LP October 1969)
02 VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR ‘House With No Door’ (H To He Who Am The Only One LP December 1970)
03 GONG ‘Fohat Digs Holes In Space’ (Camembert Electrique LP December 1971)
04 JETHRO TULL ‘Thick As A Brick (Excerpt)’ (Thick As A Brick LP March 1972)
05 YES ‘And You And I’ (Close To The Edge LP September 1972)
06 GENESIS ‘Dancing With The Moonlight Knight’ (Selling England By The Pound LP October 1973)
07 EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER ‘Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Pt 2’ (Brain Salad Surgery LP December 1973)
08 GENTLE GIANT ‘Playing The Game’ (The Power And The Glory LP October 1974)
09 CAMEL ‘The Snow Goose’ (The Snow Goose LP May 1975)
10 PINK FLOYD ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pts 1-5’ (Wish You Were Here LP September 1975)
11 RUSH ‘2112 Overture/The Temples Of Syrinx’ (2112 LP June 1976)
NEXT WEEK: LA SINGER SONGWRITERS
MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2015
WEEK 12: UK PSYCHEDELIA
San Francisco may have been the epicentre of US psychedelia, but it was a world away from the chilly, rain swept UK. Consequently, when LSD hit London like a tidal wave in 1966, Britain’s counterculture developed quite separately. Notwithstanding the initial influence of The Stones, one time mods The Creation and The Yardbirds, the most noticeable change to the beat formula came with The Beatles aptly titled B Side ‘Rain’ and Revolver.
Any remaining R&B influences were ditched in favour of our own cultural heritage. Victorian literature, fairy tales, music hall and Lewis Carroll were all absorbed to create something wholly original yet hugely commercial, bearing absolutely no resemblance to the extended blues jams of San Francisco. Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, the original house band at the infamous but short-lived UFO Club, enjoyed massive cult success before going overground, while Procul Harum and Traffic took the new age straight into the top five and the collective mind of the nation.
Subsequently, every possible musical direction was given a hefty sprinkling of psychedelic dust, yet no single figure did more to further the futuristic agenda than London’s adopted American son, Jimi Hendrix. His first album Are You Experienced examined every aspect of the acid rock template in superlative detail before he returned to conquer his homeland at Monterey Pop. Nonetheless, despite the absence of such a major, formative figure, London carried on swinging in its own, Carnaby Street kind of way.
Following their infamous drug bust, the Stones flirted with prison, stuck two fingers up at the establishment then half-heartedly dipped their toes in the psychedelic pond. Similarly, the Small Faces left their own brand of R&B behind to cut one of the greatest acid pop singles of them all. And they weren’t the only ones as a host of long established beat acts rendered obsolete reinvented themselves overnight. The Herd, The Pretty Things, The Zombies and literally a thousand others followed the beat into psych path, their records somehow retaining the flavour of the times.
In most folks minds, psychedelia is associated with just one year so it’s fortunate that 1967 proved to be the most glorious adventure of them all, especially in the hip London clubs where groups like Tomorrow and the Fleur De Lys waved the freak flag high without so much as a sniff of a hit. But as soon as the summer flame of optimism gave way to the harsh realities of the English winter, what the British media had jokingly dubbed flower power began to wither and die. Of course, psychedelia still lingered as High Street fashion, and great, heavily lysergic records continued to be produced by provincial bands like the wondrous Skip Bifferty, Apple and Sam Gopal but they were long past their sell by date.
It’s fitting that sad, mad Syd ends this odyssey because to many people he epitomised the psychedelic age, moving from innocent beauty to the edge of reason in four short years, lost in the woods with his equally unhinged American peers Skip Spence, Roky Erikson and Sky Saxon. All made their mark on a generation intent on burning away centuries of greed, bigotry and the suffocating moralities of the past. While they were always doomed to fail, at the very least they introduced a spirit of freedom, change and revolution, opening the door musically to all sorts of possibilities, even if all their visionary artiness would soon turn to sludge.
01 ROLLING STONES ‘Paint It Black’ (A Side May 1966)
02 THE CREATION ‘Making Time’ (A Side May 1966)
03 THE BEATLES ‘Rain’ (B Side June 1966)
04 THE YARDBIRDS ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ (A Side October 1966)
05 JIMI HENDRIX ‘Are You Experienced?’ (Are You Experienced LP May 1967)
06 TRAFFIC ‘Paper Sun’ (A Side May 1967)
07 TOMORROW ‘My White Bicycle’ (A Side May 1967)
08 PROCUL HARUM ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ (A Side May 1967)
09 PINK FLOYD ‘See Emily Play’ (A Side June 1967)
10 THE ATTACK ‘Colour Of My Mind’ (B Side June 1967)
11 SMALL FACES ‘Itchycoo Park’ (A Side August 1967)
12 THE HERD ‘From The Underworld’ (A Side August 1967)
13 KALEIDOSCOPE ‘Flight From Ashiya’ (A Side September 1967)
14 DATALIANS CHARIOT ‘Madman Running Through The Fields’ (A Side September 1967)
15 23RD TURNOFF ‘Michael Angelo’ (B Side October 1967)
16 PRETTY THINGS ‘Defecting Grey’ (A Side November 1967)
17 ART ‘Supernatural Fairytales’ (Supernatural Fairytales LP December 1967)
18 NIRVANA ‘Rainbow Chaser’ (A Side March 1968)
19 THE ZOMBIES ‘Hung Up On A Dream’ (Odyssey And Oracle LP April 1968)
20 DONOVAN ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ (A Side May 1968)
21 FLEUR DE LYS ‘Gong With The Luminous Nose’ (A Side May 1968)
22 SKIP BIFFERTY ‘Follow The Path Of The Stars’ (Skip Bifferty LP July 1968)
23 APPLE ‘The Otherside’ (B Side November 1968)
24 SAM GOPAL ‘The Sky Is Burning’ (Escalator LP January 1969)
25 SYD BARRETT ‘Golden Hair’ (B Side November 1969)
NEXT WEEK: PROGRESSIVE ROCK
MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2015
WEEK 11: US PSYCHEDELIA
In 1965, the youth of America were still searching for an identity. The British beat invasion had changed the way rock’n’roll was played while politically and socially the country was heading into the abyss. However, of far more significance, certainly for modern pop culture, was the moment Dr Timothy Leary introduced LSD to a generation hellbent on escaping the straight jacket of the past.
The psychedelic age didn’t really kick off with The Byrds first improvised version of ‘Eight Miles High’ but because that moment is impossible to define, it’s as good a place to start as any, those three minutes the first audio representation of the LSD rush encapsulating the pulse of the times. When the overrated, skinny, messiah Dylan got himself ‘stoned’ a few months later, to use the old cliché; a decade that began in dreary monochrome promised to explode into glorious Technicolor.
The roots of San Francisco as psychedelic Jerusalem started as a whisper, when the beatniks, students, musicians and drifters attracted to the city, found they could rent crumbling Victorian houses for next to nothing in a neglected neighbourhood known as Haight Ashbury. Almost as an aside, during the first and arguably greatest psychedelic summer of 1966, as the Haight’s became a beacon for disaffected youth everywhere, a music scene led by the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane blazed trails into the trippy realms of altered consciousness.
Unfortunately, by the time most San Francisco groups made it to the studio the following year, psychedelia was already in its death throes, the Bay area swamped by junkies, rapes, beatings and drug burns. The alternative had suddenly become the mainstream, the anti-commercial spirit of psychedelia a contradiction in terms. Most of the early innovators had met resistance from a record industry struggling to understand the soundtracks for ritualistic communal mindblowing that were such an essential element of the age. Los Angeles, with its more accessible if slightly sinister brand of psychedelia, overtook San Francisco as the major music city, The Doors Jim Morrison capturing the lurking malevolence encroaching on the good vibrations.
Symbolically, in March 1968, the Grateful Dead were forced to move out of Haight Ashbury, hounded by the police, tourists and every nut in the Bay. Following Martin Luther King’s assassination a month later, race riots and looting swept through San Francisco as they did all over America, love and peace finally turning to hate and war. Whipped and weary from clashes with the establishment, fried and burnt on chemicals, the counterculture proved powerless as the battle lines were drawn between generations, races, genders, ideologies and religions.
The Airplane, the Dead and Country Joe still appeared at the Woodstock Fair in August 1969, but as much as that festival was viewed as the final flowering of psychedelia, so the Stones at Altamont were seen as the crucifixion. As the seventies beckoned ominously on a tide of mistrust and disillusionment, the few remaining hippies finally realised that the ‘Frisco Hells Angels never did believe in the Age Of Aquarius, although by then, nor did anyone else.
01 THE BYRDS ‘Eight Miles High’ (Originally Unreleased Recorded December 1965)
02 BOB DYLAN ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ (A Side April 1966)
03 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS ‘Reverberation (Doubt)’ (Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators LP August 1966)
04 THE SEEDS ‘Mr Farmer’ (A Web Of Sound LP October 1966)
05 VELVET UNDERGROUND ‘All Tomorrows Parties’ (Velvet Underground & Nico LP December 1966)
06 JEFFERSON AIRPLANE ‘White Rabbit’ (Surrealistic Pillow LP February 1967)
07 THE DOORS ‘The Crystal Ship’ (The Doors LP March 1967)
08 MOBY GRAPE ‘Omaha’ (Moby Grape LP June 1967)
09 KALEIDOSCOPE ‘Keep Your Mind Open’ (Side Trips LP July 1967)
10 CHOCOLATE WATCHBAND ‘Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love In)’ (A Side September 1967)
11 BEAU BRUMMELS ‘Magic Hollow’ (Triangle LP October 1967)
12 SOPWITH CAMEL ‘Frantic Desolation’ (Sopwith Camel LP October 1967)
13 CAPTAIN BEEFHEART & HIS MAGIC BAND ‘Electricity’ (Safe As Milk LP November 1967)
14 WEST COAST POP ART EXPERIMENTAL BAND ‘Smell Of Incense’ (Volume Two LP November 1967)
15 COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH ‘Fish Cheer/Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die’ (I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die LP November 1967)
16 QUICKSILVER MESSENGER SERVICE ‘Pride Of Men’ (Quicksilver Messenger Service LP May 1968)
17 IRON BUTTERFLY ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ (A Side July 1968)
18 BIG BROTHER & THE HOLDING COMPANY ‘Ball And Chain’ (Cheap Thrills LP September 1968)
19 STEPPENWOLF ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ (Steppenwolf The 2nd LP November 1968)
20 THE YOUNGBLOODS ‘Darkness Darkness’ (Elephant Mountain LP June 1969)
21 GRATEFUL DEAD ‘Mountains Of The Moon’ (Aoxomoxoa LP June 1969)
NEXT WEEK: UK PSYCHEDELIA
MONDAY, MARCH 9, 2015
WEEK 10: GARAGE PUNK
The one thing the American rock’n’roll of the fifties taught the next generation was how they could define their own idea of culture and cool through music. And in 1963 America, the next generation and teen culture were everything; clothes, jeans, hot rods, surfing, dance crazes, motorbikes, and most of all records. The first version of ‘Louie Louie’, the very bedrock of everything here, had even started to hit the airwaves of The Kingsmen’s local radio station in Portland, Oregon.
Of course, the other thing that happened in 1963 was The Beatles. But what really impressed teenage, wannabe, rock’n’rollers the most in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, Cleveland, Chicago and a multitude of other places, was the sound of their own undiscovered roots in the R&B of youthful Brit’s The Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things and Van Morrison’s Them. They all managed to surpass The Beatles, perhaps not in sales or their ability to make young girls scream like banshees, but in offering American kids their first exposure to the authentic blues of their homeland, R&B’s strutting sexuality and sheer menace giving them a vital outlet for all their raging rebelliousness.
Laying down a template that would be copied inadvertently 13 years later in punky, provincial Britain, every suburban teenage boy grabbed a guitar, grew his hair and began to bang out trashy, primal, rock’n’roll tunes that made up for in pure snotty arrogance and aggression what they lacked in finesse and originality. Made by groups of hormonal white boy’s lusting after and finding out about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, their songs may have been built on an imitation of British beat groups copying R&B, but they continued the notion that teenage music can only ever belong to the young and all you really need to make it is an attitude, the most rudimentary musical skill and the desire.
There were loads of them; in every suburb, every hick town and every state. A handful even managed to find some well-deserved recognition; their regional hits turning into conventional, if short lived, recording careers. But with little or no access to the regular music biz, most had to make do with local hero status and one, maybe two, singles.
Created in obscurity, that’s where they stayed until 1972 when Lenny Kaye’s infamous Nuggets album sparked an interest in the past that had never previously existed. Codifying the idea of a move back to basics that had been knocking around since the turn of the seventies, Kaye’s compilation inspired an exhaustive reissue program of rare, almost mythical, garage punk singles that continues to this day.
01 THE KINGSMEN ‘Louie Louie’ (A Side September 1963)
02 THE TRASHMEN ‘Bird Dance Beat’ (A Side January 1964)
03 FLOYD DAKEL COMBO ‘Dance Franny Dance’ (A Side February 1964)
04 THE NOVAS ‘The Crusher’ (A Side June 1964)
05 THE READY MEN ‘Shortnin’ Bread’ (A Side August 1964)
06 SAM THE SHAM & THE PHAROAHS ‘Wooly Bully’ (A Side November 1964)
07 COUNT FIVE ‘Psychotic Reaction’ (A Side February 1965)
08 ROCKY & THE RIDDLERS ‘Flash And Crash’ (A Side March 1965)
09 THE STRANGELOVES ‘I Want Candy’ (A Side May 1965)
10 FALLEN ANGELS ‘Bad Woman’ (A Side June 1965)
11 THE BARBARIANS ‘Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl’ (A Side July 1965)
12 THE GRODES ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’ (A Side September 1965)
13 THE WILDE KNIGHTS ‘Beaver Patrol’ (A Side September 1965)
14 BOBBY FULLER FOUR ‘I Fought The Law’ (A Side November 1965)
15 THE STANDELLS ‘Dirty Water’ (A Side November 1965)
16 THE SONICS ‘Strychnine’ (Here Are The Sonics LP November 1965)
17 THE BROGUES ‘I Ain’t No Miracle Worker’ (A Side November 1965)
18 THE LYRICS ‘So What!’ (A Side November 1965)
19 THE SEEDS ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ (A Side November 1965)
20 THE STOICS ‘Hate’ (A Side December 1965)
21 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ (A Side January 1966)
22 QUESTION MARK & THE MYSTERIANS ’96 Tears’ (A Side January 1966)
23 SHADOWS OF KNIGHT ‘Gloria’ (A Side January 1966)
24 THE GROUPIES ‘Primitive’ (A Side January 1966)
25 SYNDICATE OF SOUND ‘Little Girl’ (A Side February 1966)
26 PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ (Midnight Ride LP March 1966)
27 LOVE ‘My Little Red Book’ (A Side March 1966)
28 THE MONKS ‘Complication’ (A Side March 1966)
29 THE LEAVES ‘Hey Joe’ (A Side April 1966)
30 THE OTHER HALF ‘Mr Pharmacist’ (A Side September 1966)
NEXT WEEK: US PSYCHEDELIA
MONDAY, MARCH 2, 2015
WEEK 9: BRITISH BEAT
Teenage Brit’s have always been attracted to the grittier realities of popular American culture. So it was in the mid fifties when rock’n’roll hit these shores, even though our forefathers remained stuck in a weary musical vacuum right up to 1962, homegrown rock’n’roll records being nothing more than weedy copies of American million sellers. When 1963 arrived, British youth was ripe for cultural change, teenagers desperately seeking anything to get excited about.
Dominated by The Beatles, Merseybeat fitted the bill perfectly. As the country went beat crazy, Liverpool was overrun by record company scouts indiscriminately scouring the clubs to sign anyone who could hold a tune. The Big Three, Johnny Sandon, Rory Storm and plenty more were all caught in the rush but the euphoria was short lived. By the summer of 1964 the golden days were already starting to fade.
Much fuss was made about the unique Mersey sound, but once groups had their rough edges smoothed off in the corporate recording process by fuddy duddy technicians twice their age, there was little to distinguish them from the rest of the country and groups like The Dave Clark Five from North London or The Redcaps from Birmingham. As huge and game changing as The Beatles supposedly were, the rest of the Mersey groups seemed incapable of presenting themselves as anything other than end of the pier, showbiz entertainers. It would be left to a different scene germinating in West London to pick up the reins and push on through.
In the spring of 1962, Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies opened the country’s first R&B club in the suburb of Ealing to provide an outlet for a pack of youthful, arty, middle class males obsessed with the blues. Charlie Watts, Brian Jones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were all Ealing Club devotees and by 1963 The Rolling Stones were a fully-fledged outfit, unwittingly smashing down the critical barrier for Manfred Mann, The Yardbirds, The Pretty Things, The Animals, The Kinks and Them.
British R&B ran in tandem with the Beat boom, the two a part of the same equation; beat injecting the excitement, R&B providing a rougher edge and some mighty musical muscle. Much to the disgust of an outraged establishment The Stones were a near perfect marriage of the two but there were others, like blues purist John Mayall and the jazzier Georgie Fame, who concentrated on the differing elements of R&B. Both were popular amongst mods although ironically, for all their fire and skill, groups like The Who and the Small Faces who went all out to capitalise on the mod phenomenon were roundly ignored by the real hipsters.
The R&B and mod scenes continued to become more and more sophisticated through 1965, moving further and further away from their original American influences. In the end, 1966 proved to be the turning point of a tumultuous, life-changing era. It may have been the year of pop art, pop genius and Swinging London, but as soon as LSD hit the capital, the more enlightened groups turned on and tuned in, dropping all their former toughness for the new, blissed out realms of psychedelia.
01 THE BIG THREE ‘Some Other Guy’ (A Side March 1963)
02 CYRIL DAVIES ‘Country Line Special’ (A Side May 1963)
03 JOHNNY SANDON & THE REMO FOUR ‘Lies’ (A Side June 1963)
04 DAVE CLARK FIVE ‘Do You Love Me?’ (A Side September 1963)
05 MANFRED MANN ‘Cock A Hoop’ (A Side October 1963)
06 THE REDCAPS ‘Talkin’ Bout You’ (A Side December 1963)
07 RORY STORM & THE HURRICANES ‘I Can Tell’ (B Side December 1963)
08 GEORGIE FAME & THE BLUE FLAMES ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ (R&B At The Flamingo LP February 1964)
09 STEVE ALDO ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ (A Side May 1964)
10 THE PRETTY THINGS ‘Rosalyn’ (A Side June 1964)
11 THE HIGH NUMBERS ‘I’m The Face’ (A Side July 1964)
12 DAVE BERRY & THE CRUISERS ‘Don’t Gimme No Lip Child’ (B Side July 1964)
13 DOWNLINERS SECT ‘Sect Appeal’ (B Side September 1964)
14 THE BEATLES ‘She’s A Woman’ (B Side November 1964)
15 ROLLING STONES ‘Little Red Rooster’ (A Side November 1964)
16 THE WHO ‘I Can’t Explain’ (A Side January 1965)
17 THE POETS ‘That’s The Way It’s Got To Be’ (A Side February 1965)
18 THE YARDBIRDS ‘Heart Full Of Soul’ (A Side July 1965)
19 THE MARK FOUR ‘Hurt Me If You Will’ (A Side August 1965)
20 THE SORROWS ‘You’ve Got What I Want’ (A Side October 1965)
21 JOHN MAYALL’S BLUESBREAKERS ‘I’m Your Witchdoctor’ (A Side October 1965)
22 THE KINKS ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone’ (The Kink Kontroversy LP November 1965)
23 THEM ‘I Can Only Give You Everything’ (Them Again LP January 1966)
24 THE ANIMALS ‘Inside Looking Out’ (A Side February 1966)
25 BELFAST GYPSIES ‘Secret Police’ (A Side March 1966)
26 THE SMALL FACES ‘You Need Loving’ (Small Faces LP May 1966)
27 WIMPLE WINCH ‘Save My Soul’ (A Side June 1966)
28 THE TROGGS ‘I Want You’ (B Side July 1966)
29 THE BIRDS ‘Say Those Magic Words’ (A Side September 1966)
30 THE FLIES ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’ (A Side November 1966)
NEXT WEEK: GARAGE PUNK
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2015
WEEK 8: SKA, ROCKSTEADY & EARLY REGGAE
Before Jamaica gained independence from the shackles of British colonialism in 1962, and ska burst out of the Kingston ghetto’s with Derrick Morgan’s cry of ‘Forward March’, pop and rock had always been strictly American. With radio’s an unaffordable luxury, the islands poverty stricken youth had only been able to hear American blues and R&B records at sound system dances, in effect, massive mobile disco’s held in the open spaces scattered throughout Kingston.
To stay on top in such a cut throat business, these sound systems required a neverending supply of killer tunes and would often go to extraordinary lengths to get them. But when the number of new R&B releases began to decrease, lost in the flood of American teen idols, big time operators Duke Reid, Sir Coxson Dodd and his former muscle man Prince Buster, record shop owner Leslie Kong and sugar cane heir Chris Blackwell set up their own labels to release their own hits.
Brewed from the seeds of R&B, jazz, soul and mento, a mix of West African slave chants and traditional European tunes, ska matched the huge tidal wave of optimism sweeping the island in the years following independence. Known as Blue Beat, a UK label licensing Jamaican releases, it also gained a foothold in London where the records played by expats at Notting Hill Gate and Brixton house parties were adopted by mod’s in their eternal quest for one upmanship. It was the start of a bond between Jamaican music and British youth culture that remains as strong as ever.
Prince Buster and The Skatalites became household names in mod circles but back in Jamaica, once the first rush of independence had diminished, a demand grew for songs that were a little less manic. Ska was simply too mental and too youthful to continue and sure enough, by the time Desmond Dekker introduced the Rude Boy to Britain on ‘007’, the music had slowed right down and matured into rocksteady. Then it all changed again.
The word reggae had never been heard before The Maytals Summer ’68 celebration of a new novelty dance called ‘Do The Reggay’, but rocksteady had already been re-modelled by the now familiar offbeat ‘skanga’ guitar and effects first heard on Larry & Alvin’s ‘Nanny Goat’ and Lee Perry’s ‘People Funny Boy’. On the cusp of a new decade, Jamaican music took on a far greater diversity than ever before, fast, jerky instrumentals competing with the Rasta imagery and toasting anticipating the roots revolution.
In March 1972, Michael Manley appropriated Rastafarianism and Delroy Wilson’s ‘Better Must Come’ to get himself elected as Jamaica’s new Socialist Prime Minister. Four months later, the film The Harder They Come became an international hit and introduced reggae to the world. For the first time in its short history, Jamaican music began to be heard not just as an enjoyable if slightly dangerous novelty, but as something with an irrefutable, undeniable legitimacy.
01 DERRICK MORGAN ‘Forward March’ (A Side March 1962)
02 STRANGER COLE ‘Rough And Tough’ (A Side 1962)
03 PRINCE BUSTER ALL STARS ‘Madness’ (Single A Side 1963)
04 THE VIKINGS ‘Six And Seven Books Of Moses’ (A Side 1963)
05 JUSTIN HINDS & THE DOMINOES ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ (A Side October 1963)
06 THE SKATALITES ‘Guns Of Navarone’ (A Side 1964)
07 THE FLAMES ‘Broadway Jungle’ (A Side November 1964)
08 THE DEACONS ‘Hungry Man’ (A Side May 1965)
09 HOPETON LEWIS ‘Take It Easy’ (A Side October 1966)
10 ROY SHIRLEY ‘Hold Them’ (A Side November 1966)
11 THE TECHNIQUES ‘Queen Majesty’ (A Side 1967)
12 DESMOND DEKKER & THE ACES ‘007 (Shanty Town)’ (A Side July 1967)
13 DANDY & THE SUPERBOYS ‘(People Get Ready) Let’s Do Rocksteady’ (B Side October 1967)
14 DOBBY DOBSON ‘Loving Pauper’ (A Side December 1967)
15 LARRY & ALVIN ‘Nanny Goat’ (A Side May 1968)
16 LEE PERRY ‘People Funny Boy’ (A Side June 1968)
17 THE MAYTALS ‘Do The Reggay’ (A Side June 1968)
18 THE UNIQUES ‘My Conversation’ (a Side June 1968)
19 THE UPSETTERS ‘Return Of Django’ (A Side 1969)
20 HARRY J ALLSTARS ‘Liquidator’ (A Side August 1969)
21 THE PIONEERS ‘Long Shot Kick De Bucket’ (A Side October 1969)
22 KEN BOOTHE ‘Freedom Street’ (A Side 1970)
23 HUGH ROY ‘Rule The Nation’ (A Side October 1970)
24 THE SLICKERS ‘Johnny Too Bad’ (A Side January 1971)
25 NINEY ‘Blood And Fire’ (A Side March 1971)
26 BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS ‘Small Axe’ (A Side March 1971)
27 DELROY WILSON ‘Better Must Come’ (A Side June 1971)
28 JIMMY CLIFF ‘The Harder They Come’ (A Side July 1972)
NEXT WEEK: BRITISH BEAT
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2015
WEEK 7: MOTOWN
In 1959, when Berry Gordy set up Tamla Records at 2648 West Grand and erected his Hitsville USA sign, the neighbours must have been curious if not a little alarmed, even when Gordy’s optimism proved to be well founded. Tamla may not have become a household name in America, but his second label Motown did, the first and only label to create its own genre.
In the early days, he was willing to try anything to satisfy his thirst for success, releasing loads of gospel and blues records, off the wall experiments and trend hopping novelties on a variety of labels with names like Miracle, Gordy, Workshop Jazz and Melody. As an old time slugger willing to do whatever it took, the man had no shame. Yet even those early try outs served their purpose in the grand scheme of things because without them, it’s highly unlikely he would have been able to find the personnel and structure so essential to Motown’s infamous hit factory production line.
Capable of pushing out top quality singles incredibly quickly, the label became the first to consistently put black music in white living rooms. The records weren’t revolutionary in the conventional sense, failing to spark any kind of social change, but they did define a new, high pop intensity, the like of which had never been heard before. But exactly how much Berry Gordy had to do with the actual sound of Motown is as debatable as some of his methods.
He may have been the ruthless factory owner, but the stardust sprinkled over Motown recordings lay more within the huge cast of waifs and strays he collected from the Detroit projects; the songwriters, producers and musicians taking care of business in a converted garage studio. Black sessioneer’s James Jamerson, Benny Benjamin and the rest of the fabulous Funk Brothers were treated and paid like the lowly workers Uncle Tom Gordy clearly thought they were as he continued to fill Motown’s positions of influence and power with white executives.
During those lengthy, incredibly intense, recording sessions, despite getting all the credit, it clearly wasn’t just the superstar vocalists like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops or The Temptations who were mining such a rich vein of creative gold. Naturally, they are all here, just as they should be, but I’ve tried to steer clear of the non-stop hits found on any number of Motown compilations. In fact, some of them have been gathering dust almost since they first appeared, largely because Berry Gordy refused to accept failure of any kind, so simply wiped them from memory. Sounding like top ten hits, most were lucky to breach the top 40.
Nothing lasts forever so the only problem Motown faced was the passage of time. Once past its imperial mid-sixties peak, while James Brown and Sly Stone were pulling black music apart, Berry Gordy continued to cling doggedly to the glamour, glitz and showbiz traditions he valued so highly. In 1971 the company checked out of Detroit for good, the magic well and truly gone leaving Motown as just another music corporation, albeit still a very big and successful one.
01 MARY WELLS ‘You Beat Me To The Punch’ (A Side July 1962 Motown)
02 EDDIE HOLLAND ‘Leaving Here’ (A Side December 1963 Motown)
03 SHORTY LONG ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On’ (A Side March 1964 Soul)
04 THE SUPREMES ‘Come See About Me’ (A Side October 1964 Motown)
05 MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS ‘Motoring’ (B Side February 1965 Gordy)
06 THE VELVELETTES ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’ (A Side May 1965 VIP)
07 THE MARVELETTES ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’ (A Side May 1965 Tamla)
08 THE SPINNERS ‘I’ll Always Love You’ (A Side June 1965 Motown)
09 BRENDA HOLLOWAY ‘When I’m Gone’ (A Side July 1965 Motown)
10 FRANK WILSON ‘Do I Love You’ (A Side November 1965 Soul)
11 MARVIN GAYE ‘One More Heartache’ (A Side February 1966 Tamla)
12 KIM WESTON ‘Helpless’ (A Side March 1966 Gordy)
13 THE MONITORS ‘Number One In Your Heart’ (B Side March 1966 VIP)
14 THE MIRACLES ‘(Come Round Here) I’m The One You Need’ (A Side October 1966 Tamla)
15 THE ELGINS ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’ (A Side October 1966 VIP)
16 CHRIS CLARK ‘I Want To Go Back There Again’ (A Side February 1967 VIP)
17 R. DEAN TAYLOR ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ (A Side April 1967 VIP)
18 THE TEMPTATIONS ‘One Last Look’ (With A Lot O’ Soul LP July 1967 Gordy)
19 MARVIN GAYE & TAMMI TERRELL ‘If I Could Build My Whole World Around You’ (United LP August 1967 Tamla)
20 GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (A Side September 1967 Soul)
21 ISLEY BROTHERS ‘Take Me In Your Arms’ (Soul On The Rocks LP February 1968 Tamla)
22 FOUR TOPS ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (A Side April 1968 Motown)
23 JIMMY RUFFIN ‘Farewell Is A Lonely Sound’ (Ruff’N’Ready LP March 1969 Soul)
24 DAVID RUFFIN ‘I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved’ (My Whole World Ended LP May 1969 Motown)
25 THE ORIGINALS ‘The Bells’ (A Side January 1970 Soul)
26 EDWIN STARR ‘Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On’ (Involved LP July 1971 Gordy)
27 THE SUPREMES FEAT. JEAN TERRELL ‘Floy Joy’ (A Side January 1972 Motown)
28 FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS ‘The Night’ (Chameleon LP May 1972 Mowest)
29 JACKSON 5 ‘Doctor My Eyes’ (Lookin’ Through The Windows LP June 1972 Motown)
NEXT WEEK: SKA, ROCK STEADY & EARLY REGGAE
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2015
WEEK 6: SOUL
When Sam Cooke recorded ‘You Send Me’ in June 1957, he had no idea he was constructing a new black music form. Exiled from his beloved gospel roots, the singer with the golden voice thought he was making a pop record. And it was much the same for Ray Charles as he kept on adding more and more gospel to the R&B stew of ‘What’d I Say’. They may not have known it, but together with the likes of Clyde McPhatter and James Brown, they were searching for the roots of soul, a way to represent not only the excitement of gospel, but its implications of social and personal interdependence.
Racial discrimination, beatings and KKK killings were rife in early sixties America, particularly in the old Confederate South. The civil rights movement rose up as a vehicle for resistance and as the protests increased so too did black pride. Soul music became the rallying cry for a change in black consciousness, and while never truly political in nature, came to represent one of the first and most visible successes of the movement.
By 1964, soul as an entity in its own right was finally being recognised and getting dirtier, greasier, rawer and more secular, paradoxically by imitating gospels most hardcore aspects; it’s shouting, it’s hand clapping, it’s speaking in tongues expressivity, its Holy Roller dementia, it’s relentless rhythms. Most of the new soul generation were already established within the black community.
Bobby Bland’s records were some of the finest gospel influenced recordings of the period, while former preacher Solomon Burke somehow transferred the fervor of the pulpit into stirring rhythms. Otis Redding also emerged; all grits, grunts and gospel fire. And there were others too; Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions, their ‘People Get Ready’ another timeless civil rights spiritual, Joe Tex and Wilson Pickett. Most made their best records in 1965/66 where they went almost completely unnoticed and unheralded.
Inevitably, it was left to the maverick James Brown to push soul in a new direction by using his full on personality to smash a way into the public consciousness. Revered as ‘Soul Brother No 1’, even amongst his peers, he released a string of tougher than tough dance records before blowing everything apart with ‘Cold Sweat’, a record so radical and so different it single-handedly detonated a seismic shift towards funk, and in so doing changed the course of black music history.
Without doubt, James Brown was the most assertively black personality ever accorded mainstream acceptance in America. The great esteem in which he was held was exemplified on April 5th 1968, the day after Martin Luther King’s assassination. A TV station in Boston, a city that had already suffered one night of serious rioting, aired a live JB concert in the vain hope of preventing any further damage. And, as incredible as it may seem, it worked, Boston actually suffering less crime that night than on a regular Friday in April!
01 SAM COOKE ‘You Send Me’ (A Side October 1957)
02 CLYDE McPHATTER ‘A Lovers Question’ (A Side November 1958)
03 RAY CHARLES ‘What’d I Say Pt 1’ (A Side July 1959)
04 IKE & TINA TURNER ‘A Fool In Love’ (A Side August 1960)
05 BOBBY BLAND ‘Don’t Cry No More’ (A Side September 1961)
06 SOLOMON BURKE ‘Cry To Me’ (A Side February 1962)
07 ARTHUR ALEXANDER ‘You Better Move On’ (A Side February 1962)
08 THE DRIFTERS ‘On Broadway’ (A Side March 1963)
09 BARBARA LEWIS ‘Hello Stranger’ (A Side May 1963)
10 GARNET MIMMS & THE ENCHANTERS ‘A Quiet Place’ (A Side July 1963)
11 IRMA THOMAS ‘Time Is On My Side’ (B Side July 1964)
12 THE IMPRESSIONS ‘People Get Ready’ (A Side February 1965)
13 OTIS REDDING ‘Down In The Valley’ (Otis Blue LP October 1965)
14 JOE TEX ‘The Love You Save’ (A Side Feb 1966)
15 WILSON PICKETT ‘Ninety Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)’ (A Side May 1966)
16 HOWARD TATE ‘Ain’t Nobody Home’ (A Side July 1966)
17 JAMES CARR ‘Pouring Water On A Drowning Man’ (A Side September 1966)
18 DYKE & THE BLAZERS ‘Funky Broadway Pt 1’ (A Side October 1966)
19 ARETHA FRANKLIN ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ (B Side February 1967)
20 JAMES BROWN & THE FAMOUS FLAMES ‘Cold Sweat Pt 1’ (A Side July 1967)
21 THE DELLS ‘There Is’ (A Side December 1967)
22 SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘Dance To The Music’ (A Side January 1968)
23 THE INTRUDERS ‘Cowboys To Girls’ (A Side March 1968)
24 RUFUS THOMAS ‘The Memphis Train’ (A Side May 1968)
25 JOHNNY JOHNSON & THE BANDWAGON ‘Breakin’ Down The Walls Of Heartache’ (A Side August 1968)
26 ISLEY BROTHERS ‘It’s Your Thing’ (A Side February 1969)
27 ISAAC HAYES ‘Walk On By’ (B Side July 1969)
28 STAPLE SINGERS ‘When Will We Be Paid’ (A Side October 1969)
NEXT WEEK: MOTOWN
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2015
WEEK 5: SECRET PLEASURES OF SIXTIES POP
I was just about around for the start of the sixties, born a nice, suburban boy in the very last week of the fifties. Pop meant a lot more back then, although it didn’t mean much to me. Toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, Scalextric and Subbuteo were far more exciting. Yet thanks to my old man, pop was always around, always on the radio, always being played. And those songs must have seeped into my soul because whether we like it or not, we are all shaped by our fathers and mothers. When we’re young we don’t know it, and wouldn’t want to imagine it even if we did, but as we get older it slowly dawns on us just how much they contributed to our tastes and habits.
Fortunately, I have no problem acknowledging how my old man shaped me. I know that if it wasn’t for him, there’s no way my life with music and its ability to make my world a better place would have happened. It may have been my own awareness that ultimately determined my own path, but it was his influence, enthusiasm and racks of pop, easy listening, folk, country and soul records that lit the spark. And when it comes to the secret pleasures of the sixties, it’s really his taste I’m tapping into. Way too young to care, I was there but not there!
In the sixties, my old man went from his late twenties to his late thirties. I’m more than a decade older than that now, but I can still recognise how the songs here represent the start of a new pop age, an age when fifties resistance to the birth of the teenager had been wiped out by youth cultures own refinement and radicalisation; a time of fun, fun, fun, teen idols, dance crazes, pop schmaltz, girl groups and the dodgy British invasion.
Early doors it was all pop. There was no such thing as rock. That would come later, yet even when it did, the charts were still packed with records like ‘Kites’, ‘Everlasting Love’ or ‘Reflections Of My Life’ rather than the latest psychedelic freak out or never ending cosmic blues jam. They are so absolutely pop, they still bring a smile to my face and a glow to my heart. And in a 21st century where a global cocktail of poverty, starvation, outrageous wealth, mass terrorism and religious insanity looks like it might plunge humanity into a new Dark Age, we need as much of that as we can get.
01 JOHN BARRY SEVEN PLUS FOUR ‘Hit And Miss’ (A Side February 1960)
02 THE EVERLY BROTHERS ‘Love Hurts’ (A Side February 1961)
03 CHRIS MONTEZ ‘Some Kinda Fun’ (A Side December 1962)
04 SKEETER DAVIS ‘The End Of The World’ (A Side March 1963)
05 BILLY J KRAMER & THE DAKOTAS ‘Little Children’ (A Side February 1964)
06 DORIS DAY ‘Move Over Darling’ (A Side March 1964)
07 TWINKLE ‘Terry’ (A Side October 1964)
08 BILLY FURY ‘I’m Lost Without You’ (A Side January 1965)
09 THE SHANGRI-LA’S ‘I Can Never Go Home Anymore’ (A Side November 1965)
10 NANCY SINATRA ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (A Side January 1966)
11 WALKER BROTHERS ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ (A Side February 1966)
12 SIMON & GARFUNKEL ‘Homeward Bound’ (A Side March 1966)
13 THE CHIFFONS ‘Sweet Talkin’ Guy’ (A Side May 1966)
14 THE LEFT BANKE ‘Walk Away Renee’ (A Side July 1966)
15 THE HOLLIES ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ (A Side October 1966)
16 THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL ‘Coconut Grove’ (B Side November 1966)
17 SIMON DUPREE & THE BIG SOUND ‘Kites’ (A Side October 1967)
18 BRIGITTE BARDOT ‘Harley Davidson’ (A Side December 1967)
19 GLEN CAMPBELL ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ (A Side January 1968)
20 LOVE AFFAIR ‘Everlasting Love’ (A Side January 1968)
21 JACKIE ‘White Horses’ (A Side April 1968)
22 TOM JONES ‘Weeping Annaleah’ (Delilah LP July 1968)
23 FRANCOISE HARDY ‘Comment Te Dire Adieu?’ (A Side September 1968)
24 JULIE LONDON ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ (A Side September 1968)
25 JEANNIE C RILEY ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (A Side October 1968)
26 BOBBIE GENTRY ‘Fancy’ (A Side November 1969)
27 MARMALADE ‘Reflections Of My Life’ (A Side November 1969)
NEXT WEEK: SOUL
MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 2015
WEEK 4: BEFORE THE BEATLES
In the great, dusty, almanac of modern music culture, nineteen hundred and sixty is documented as one of the very worst years in rock and pop history. After the manic thrill of the fifties, everything had turned to shit. Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran were dead, Elvis returned from the army with his balls missing, Little Richard found God and Chuck Berry was serving a five stretch for sex with a 14 year old Apache. Naturally, new teen idols came up to replace these absent rockers, but they couldn’t hope to be in the same class. And they weren’t, not even close. More than anything, with rock’n’roll consigned to the dumper, they were a continuation of highschool.
In a pop culture where teen appeal vastly outweighed talent, Dion, Del Shannon and pasty pug Roy Orbison were the few exceptions to the rule. Unfairly dismissed as corny lightweights, they were genuine innovators who sang their own songs and played their own guitars. Pure pop maybe, but fantastic just the same. Incredibly, Britain had its fair share of teen idols too even if they were mostly crap. Billy Fury was top dog, cutting some cool self-penned rockabilly before going completely soppy, but the best British record by a mile was Johnny Kidd’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’.
The greatest thing about the post rock’n’roll, pre-Beatles years was the mish mash of new ideas hidden amongst the teen idols and fading stars that were sufficiently different to push pop forward. Southern California, with its never ending images of sun, sea and surf was a classic case, forging its own identity from the moment Dick Dale drenched his guitar in reverb. While it didn’t take too long for the novelty value of surf instrumentals to wear off, when they did, super talented vocal groups like the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean took the same theme somewhere completely different.
If the surf trend was a novelty, the dance craze phenomenon was even more so. Dance records had once been a staple of rhythm and blues, and the zombie, the mashed potato and various twists coined it in, record companies always keen to capitalise on a quick fad. These records were the gloopy epicentre of early sixties teen culture, a subject Phil Spector had been studying obsessively since the mid fifties. In two years he went from Bronx runt to paranoid, demonic tycoon, his Wall Of Sound creating vast, Wagnerian masterpieces behind The Crystals, The Ronettes and more. Girl groups may have been a phenomenon unto themselves, but Spector was more important than any of them.
In hindsight, I guess it’s easy to see why all of these styles were inevitable given how youth culture is ephemeral and must change to stay alive. Obviously they all had a huge influence on The Beatles, even if their cultural opposites The Stones were only touched by Chuck Berry and R&B. But when those two began to steamroller all before them, everyone else here became instantly obsolete and pop’s cultural axis shifted across the Atlantic to the old country.
01 HOLLYWOOD ARGYLES ‘Alley Oop’ (A Side May 1960)
02 BILLY FURY ‘Turn My Back On You’ (The Sound Of Fury LP May 1960)
03 JOHNNY KIDD & THE PIRATES ‘Shakin’ All Over’ (A Side June 1960)
04 ELVIS PRESLEY ‘A Mess Of Blues’ (A Side July 1960)
05 CHUCK BERRY ‘Jaguar And Thunderbird’ (A Side September 1960)
06 DUANE EDDY & THE REBELS ‘Girl On Death Row’ (A Side September 1960)
07 THE SHIRELLES ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ (A Side November 1960)
08 THE SHADOWS ‘Man Of Mystery’ (A Side November 1960)
09 GENE VINCENT ‘Mister Loneliness’ (B Side February 1961)
10 THE COASTERS ‘Little Egypt’ (A Side April 1961)
11 THE QUOTATIONS ‘Imagination’ (A Side May 1961)
12 THE CARNATIONS ‘Scorpion’ (A Side July 1961)
13 DICK DALE & HIS DEL-TONES ‘Let’s Go Trippin’ (A Side September 1961)
14 JOEY DEE & THE STARLIGHTERS ‘Peppermint Twist’ (A Side October 1961)
15 THE GEE-CEES ‘Buzzsaw Twist’ (A Side October 1961)
16 THE SYMBOLS ‘Do The Zombie’ (A Side November 1961)
17 THE RIVINGTONS ‘Papa Oom Mow Mow’ (A Side January 1962)
18 THE ORIGINAL STARFIRES ‘Fender Bender’ (A Side April 1962)
19 DEE DEE SHARP ‘Mashed Potato Time’ (A Side May 1962)
20 THE SPARK PLUGS ‘Chicken’ (A Side July 1962)
21 THE CRYSTALS ‘He’s A Rebel’ (A Side August 1962)
22 DEL SHANNON ‘The Swiss Maid’ (A Side September 1962)
23 THE CHIFFONS ‘He’s So Fine’ (A Side December 1962)
24 ROY ORBISON ‘In Dreams’ (A Side February 1963)
25 FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS ‘Ain’t That A Shame’ (A Side March 1963)
26 THE BEATLES ‘Baby It’s You’ (Please Please Me LP March 1963)
27 VITO & THE SALUTATIONS ‘Unchained Melody’ (A Side April 1963)
28 RONNIE HAWKINS ‘Who Do You Love?’ (B Side April 1963)
29 RANDY & THE RAINBOWS ‘Denise’ (A Side May 1963)
30 JAN & DEAN ‘Surf City’ (A Side June 1963)
31 ROLLING STONES ‘Come On’ (A Side June 1963)
32 THE RONETTES ‘Be My Baby’ (A Side August 1963)
33 THE BEACH BOYS ‘In My Room’ (Surfer Girl LP September 1963)
34 DION DIMUCCI ‘Drip Drop’ (A Side November 1963)
NEXT WEEK: SECRET PLEASURES OF SIXTIES POP
MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2015
WEEK 3: ROCKABILLY
When Sam Phillips released the first Elvis singles, what followed was the heyday of rockabilly and Sun Records. Even more stripped down than rock’n’roll, rockabilly was fast and aggressive with snappy drumming, sharp guitar licks and wild country piano; the sound of kids from all over the south coming together to make records for Phillips and the hatful of independent labels that sprang up in his wake.
Rockabilly came and went so fast that even with the addition of Elvis’s Sun single’s, all the records put together sold a lot less than Fats Domino. But it was far more important than sales alone, because rockabilly fixed that crucial image of rock’n’roll; the sexy, half crazed, rockin’ teen, standing on a stage, swinging his hips and singing his guts out.
Most of the first rock’n’roll styles had been variations on black forms shaped long before the white audience moved in and moulded them to their own insipid taste. Unlike rock’n’roll, rockabilly was always self contained in its own little world. It was a place of freedom, a place to take chances, overflowing with an exuberance, determination and urgency impossible to resist.
‘Maybe someday your name will be in lights’ Chuck Berry promised all the young, rockabilly hoodlums, but most didn’t even get past the ‘maybe’ and ended up paying a horrendous price for all their early vitality and flash. Chasing Elvis’s pot of gold, Carl Perkins, still billing himself as ‘The King of Rockabilly’ off the back of one hit and a score of failures, slipped into alcohol. Gene Vincent found himself exiled to England where he would die of a bleeding ulcer before he was forty, while Eddie Cochran and Johnny Burnette would die in land and sea accidents.
The rest simply faded away and were soon forgotten, falling back into the predictability of country music or the day to day sameness they’d fought so hard to escape. All they left behind was a brilliant record or two, and an audience that over fifty years later continues to find some much needed revolution and excitement in their ghosts.
01 ELVIS PRESLEY ‘Mystery Train’ (B Side August 1955)
02 SID KING & THE FIVE STRINGS ‘Sag, Drag And Fall’ (A Side October 1955)
03 JACK EARLS ‘Crawdad Hole’ (A Side April 1956)
04 JANIS MARTIN ‘Drugstore Rock’n’Roll’ (A Side April 1956)
05 JOHNNY BURNETTE & THE ROCK’N’ROLL TRIO ‘Tear It Up’ (A Side May 1956)
06 CURTIS GORDON ‘Draggin’ (A Side May 1956)
07 JOE CLAY ‘Sixteen Chicks’ (B Side May 1956)
08 EDDIE BOND ‘Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In’ (A Side June 1956)
09 CHARLIE FEATHERS ‘I Can’t Hardly Stand It’ (B Side October 1956)
10 EDDIE COCHRAN ‘Skinny Jim’ (A Side October 1956)
11 RIC CARTEY ‘Ooh Eee’ (A Side November 1956)
12 SPARKLE MOORE ‘Skull And Crossbones’ (A Side November 1956)
13 HAL WILLIS ‘My Pink Cadillac’ (A Side November 1956)
14 CARL PERKINS ‘Dixie Fried’ (A Side November 1956)
15 GENE VINCENT & HIS BLUE CAPS ‘Bop Street’ (Blue Jean Bop LP November 1956
16 SONNY BURGESS ‘Ain’t Got A Thing’ (A Side March 1957)
17 JOHNNY POWERS ‘Long Blond Hair, Red Rose Lips’ (A Side June 1957)
18 HOWIE STANGE WITH JIM FLAHERTY’S CARAVAN ‘Real Gone Daddy’ (A Side June 1957)
19 EDWIN BRUCE ‘Rock Boppin’ Baby’ (A Side September 1957)
20 LEE TRAMMELL ‘Shirley Lee’ (A Side January 1958)
21 DWIGHT PULLEN ‘Sunglasses After Dark’ (A Side March 1958)
22 JIMMY LLOYD ‘I Got A Rocket In My Pocket’ (A Side May 1958)
23 WANDA JACKSON ‘Mean Mean Man’ (A Side August 1958)
24 THE COLLINS KIDS ‘Whistle Bait’ (A Side August 1958)
25 STEVE CARL ‘Curfew’ (A Side August 1958)
26 RONNIE SELF ‘You’re So Right For Me’ (A Side September 1958)
27 KIP TYLER & THE FLIPS ‘She’s My Witch’ (A Side November 1958)
28 JACKIE MORNINGSTAR ‘Rockin’ In The Graveyard’ (A Side April 1959)
29 JEFF DANIELS ‘Switch Blade Sam’ (A Side May 1959)
30 JACK SCOTT ‘The Way I Walk’ (A Side June 1959)
31 RONNIE DAWSON ‘Rockin’ Bones’ (A Side September 1959)
32 THE PHANTOM ‘Love Me’ (A Side December 1959)
NEXT WEEK: BEFORE THE BEATLES
MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2015
WEEK 2: ROCK’N’ROLL
In 1954, Elvis Presley was the sexiest thing anyone had ever seen or heard. Sure, rock’n’roll first hit the charts with chubster Bill Haley’s weedy, watered down approximations of R&B but Elvis, a decade younger at just nineteen years old, was edgy, raw and cut like a scythe. In November 1955 he signed to RCA Victor, went supernova barely two months later, and raised the most prolonged teen hysteria ever. It really was as fast and complete as that.
In essence rock’n’roll was about as basic as it could get. All that mattered was the noise it made; its drive, its aggression, its newness. Only boredom was taboo. The lyrics were mostly non-existent simple slogans, one step from gibberish. But it was never stupid, more a secret teen code adults couldn’t understand. As ever, the first couple of years were the best. For thirty years you’d only been able to make it if you were white, sleek, polite and phony. From 1955 on, it didn’t matter if you were white, black, purple, delinquent or diseased just as long as you had excitement.
Most of the best rock’n’rollers came out of the south where the living had always been meanest. If Little Richard embodied the style of rock’n’roll with his baggy suits and backcombed hair, Chuck Berry embodied the sound, charting its hang ups and triumphs while mourning its limitations. By and large most white rockers were less impressive, although there were still some honourable exceptions like Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, Jerry Lee and Buddy Holly.
Where southern rock’n’roll was all noise, violence and anarchy, northern rock’n’roll was highschool and an attitude that said ’We go to highschool, we dig rock’n’roll, we wear sneakers, short shorts and sweaters. Our parents can be draggy but gee whizz, they were young once and they’re only trying to do their best for us’. Highschool singers were the manufactured, puppets of middle aged businessmen transforming rock’n’roll into an exact reflection of what they thought white, middle class, American teenagers really dreamed of.
Inevitably, highschool marked the beginning of the end, but there was one absolute rocker still to emerge. Eddie Cochran was a bit quiet, a bit inarticulate, a bit aggressive, yet his records were perfect reflections of everything rock’n’roll ever was. Compressing the atmosphere of a whole period into every one of his songs, he crystallised the way the fifties generation worked. What’s more he did it instinctively, without even knowing it.
And that’s just about where it ends. Sadly, just like Eddie, most of the great rockers ended up either dead, drunk or broke. Rock’n’roll was such committed music, with such a specific attitude tied so absolutely to its time and place, that it was impossible for them to do anything else. Of course, it wasn’t anything like as complex or as creative as what came next, but on its own terms and in its own way, rock’n’roll really was perfection.
01 BILL HALEY & HIS SADDLEMEN ‘Crazy Man Crazy’ (A Side February 1953)
02 JOE TURNER & HIS BLUES KINGS ‘Shake, Rattle And Roll’ (A Side April 1954)
03 RAY CHARLES ‘I Got A Woman’ (A Side December 1954)
04 BO DIDDLEY ‘Bo Diddley’ (A Side March 1955)
05 ELVIS PRESLEY ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ (B Side April 1955)
06 FATS DOMINO ‘All By Myself’ (A Side September 1955)
07 CHUCK BERRY ‘Thirty Days’ (A Side October 1955)
08 THE CADILLACS ‘Speedo’ (A Side December 1955)
09 THE CLEFTONES ‘Little Girl Of Mine’ (A Side March 1956)
10 LITTLE RICHARD ‘Rip It Up’ (A Side July 1956)
11 GENE VINCENT & HIS BLUE CAPS ‘Who Slapped John?’ (B Side September 1956)
12 BRENDA LEE ‘Bigelow 6-200’ (A Side September 1956)
13 YOUNG JESSIE ‘Hit, Git And Split’ (A Side September 1956)
14 JOHNNY BURNETTE & THE ROCK’N’ROLL TRIO ‘Train Kept A’ Rollin’ (A Side October 1956)
15 LAVERN BAKER & THE GLIDERS ‘Jim Dandy’ (A Side October 1956)
16 RICHARD BERRY & THE PHARAOHS ‘Louie Louie’ (B Side April 1957)
17 THE COASTERS ‘Young Blood’ (A Side May 1957)
18 JERRY LEE LEWIS ‘Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On’ (A Side June 1957)
19 HUEY ‘PIANO’ SMITH & THE CLOWNS ‘Rockin Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Blues’ (A Side July 1957)
20 THE CRICKETS ‘Not Fade Away’ (B Side October 1957)
21 EDDIE COCHRAN ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ (A Side November 1957)
22 THE ROYAL TEENS ‘Short Shorts’ (A Side January 1958)
23 THE EVERLY BROTHERS ‘Should We Tell Him’ (B Side February 1958)
24 THE CHAMPS ‘Tequila’ (A Side February 1958)
25 LINK WRAY & HIS RAY MEN ‘Rumble’ (A Side April 1958)
26 JOHNNY OTIS ‘Willie And The Hand Jive’ (A Side April 1958)
27 DUANE EDDY & THE REBELS ‘Rebel Rouser’ (a Side June 1958)
28 DION & THE BELMONTS ‘I Can’t Go On (Rosalie)’ (B Side August 1958)
29 RICKY NELSON ‘Lonesome Town’ (A Side September 1958)
30 RITCHIE VALENS ‘Come On Let’s Go’ (A Side September 1958)
31 CLIFF RICHARD & THE DRIFTERS ‘Move It’ (A Side September 1958)
32 VINCE TAYLOR & THE PLAYBOYS ‘Brand New Cadillac’ (A Side May 1959)
NEXT WEEK: ROCKABILLY
MONDAY, JANUARY 5, 2015
WEEK 1: RHYTHM & BLUES
So let’s kick things off by putting aside everything we’ve ever learnt about Elvis P being the Big Bang of modern music culture. The real Big Bang, and the music that inspired him the most, was rhythm & blues. Bizarrely, it was the Second World War that really lit the blue touch paper when for the first time ever, American society was shuffled and folks of different origins, backgrounds and colour were thrown together in the military and the cities where the factories were in full production.
In 1945 when it was all over, black music was still being bossed by the blues, but the ragged, pre-war, country blues of Leadbelly and Robert Johnson was rapidly being replace by the new electric guitars of rowdy big city blues and a move towards more noise, more excitement. In June 1949, chart compilers Billboard christened it rhythm & blues.
R&B never had been just one style and by 1949 it included a whole bagful, from the jump blues of Louis Jordan and Joe Liggins to the Chicago or bar blues of transplanted Mississippi delta boys Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and John Lee Hooker. There was also a new, gospel influenced style led by harmony groups like The Dominoes and The Drifters that would soon become known as doo-wop.
Naturally it was all good time music, danceable and unpretentious, particularly when compared to the mushiness of white music from the same period. Very often it was also straight about sex, using none of the standard crass sentiments about moonlight and roses. In fact, most of the time it was downright filthy, records like ‘Sixty Minute Man’ and ‘5-10-15 Hours’ typical of the big R&B hits banned by the prissy, white, radio stations.
Somehow R&B still managed to filter through to the more adventurous white kids. They loved its danceability and in the first spark of teen rebellion, found it shocked their parents, which they loved even more. Even so, despite the efforts of DJ’s like Alan Freed, right through the early fifties, white stations continued to block R&B from the airwaves. Worse still, black songs were often covered and castrated for the white market while the originals were ignored. Only Fats Domino, who’s happy tones didn’t sound in the least bit threatening to a white audience, went on to be widely known without making any radical changes.
From the start R&B gave Elvis and the best rock’n’roll a sense of style and integrity. But as the harsh boogie rhythms became a simple backbeat, and the lyrical references narrowed to teen dream adolescence and little else, R&B artists were forced to adapt or fall into obscurity. As rock’n’roll grew in popularity, right up to 1957 they faced the ultimate insult of white competition on their own R&B charts until both genres became virtually indistinguishable. Wholly black music would not rise again until the critical recognition of soul in the mid sixties.
01 JOE LIGGINS & HIS HONEYDRIPPERS ‘Honeydripper Pt 1’ (A Side May 1945)
02 LOUIS JORDAN & HIS TYMPANY FIVE ‘Choo Choo Ch Boogie’ (A Side August 1946)
03 ARTHUR ’BIG BOY’ CRUDUP ‘That’s All Right’ (A Side September 1946)
04 T BONE WALKER ‘Call It Stormy Monday’ (A Side October 1947)
05 WYNONIE HARRIS ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ (A Side March 1948)
06 MUDDY WATERS ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ (A Side May 1948)
07 JOHN LEE HOOKER ‘Boogie Chillun’ (A Side May January 1949)
08 FATS DOMINO ‘The Fat Man’ (A Side April 1950)
09 ROY BROWN ‘Hard Luck Blues’ (A Side July 1950)
10 THE DOMINOES ‘Sixty Minute Man’ (A Side May 1951)
11 JACKIE BRENSTON & HIS DELTA CATS ‘Rocket 88’ (A Side June 1951)
12 JAMES WAYNE ‘Junco Partner’ (A Side October 1951)
13 B.B. KING ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ (A Side December 1951)
14 RUTH BROWN ‘5-10-15 Hours’ (A Side April 1952)
15 THE CLOVERS ‘One Mint Julep’ (A Side April 1952)
16 LITTLE WALTER & HIS JUKES ‘Juke’ (A Side June 1952)
17 BIG MAMA THORNTON ‘Hound Dog’ (A Side April 1953)
18 LITTLE JUNIOR’S BLUE FLAMES ‘Mystery Train’ (A Side June 1953)
19 THE DRIFTERS ‘Money Honey’ (A Side August 1953)
20 GUITAR SLIM ‘The Things I Used To Do’ (A Side January 1954)
21 LOWELL FULSON ‘Reconsider Baby’ (A Side November 1954)
22 NAPPY BROWN ‘Don’t Be Angry’ (A Side April 1955)
23 BIG MAYBELLE ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’Goin’ On’ (A Side July 1955)
24 ETTA JAMES ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’ (A Side August 1955)
25 HOWLIN’ WOLF ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ (A Side January 1956)
26 THE FIVE SATINS ‘In The Still Of The Night’ (A Side September 1956)
27 JIMMY REED ‘Honest I Do’ (A Side February 1957)
28 JOHNNY ‘GUITAR’ WATSON ‘Gangster Of Love’ (A Side October 1957)
NEXT WEEK: ROCK’N’ROLL
There are a great many music sites and blogs out there, not least our own Green Inc, discussing, debating, pondering and praising every genre, sub-genre, micro genre, album, even specific songs. But as far as we’re aware, there’s never been a site dedicated to the complete history of modern music culture, certainly not one that’s easily digestible. As from January 5th, our intention is for A Year In Playlists to be that site, a kind of pocket book guide to the past seven decades, from post war R&B to the present day, all squeezed into 52 weekly instalments.
Over the coming year, we’re going to create an alternative version of all those accepted histories propagated by the plethora of ‘learned’ rockbloke types telling us what we should be listening to. A Year In Playlists is our attempt to steal music criticism back from such nerdy geeks, with their classic albums and obscurist B sides, who’ve been doing their best to ruin it for the rest of us for far too long.
We want to sideline a trad rock culture that not only ignores huge swathes of black and electronic music, but is strangled at birth by an overbearing reverence for the sixties and sacred cows like The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Dylan and Neil fucking Young. In the real world, music culture belongs to the shared memory of pop lovers like you and I who have plenty of other things going on in ‘busy’ lives immeasurably brightened by a song, a chorus, a voice, a lyric, a dance, a soundtracked memory. And that’s how it should be.
Like most folks, I first started buying records in my pre-teens. Since then my life has been a gargantuan, all enveloping binge of pop, glam, punk, hip hop, indie, techno, acid house, electronica and all point’s inbetween. Over the past decade my iPod has been a constant companion, forty plus years of memory wrapped neatly in my little black box. Thousands of songs that have informed every part of my life no matter how randomly.
Some have changed the way I think, some have changed the way I dress, while many have just been there for me when I've woken up in the morning or come home from work. By arranging a thousand or so for A Year In Playlists, I hope to tell a story - both personal and general - about where music has taken us and more importantly why?
A few rules we set ourselves:
1) Barring any unforeseen disasters, one new playlist will be posted every week for the next 52 weeks.
2) Each playlist will feature one genre or time period and only one track per artist.
3) No track will appear more than once during the entire 52 weeks.
4) Each playlist will be timed to fit either a CDR 80 or C90 cassette. We know such things are irrelevant these days but compiling neat 80 minute packages tends to focus the mind and edit out the crap.
5) As many tracks as possible will feature on each playlists Spotify player. Unfortunately, in some cases this will be pitifully few as contrary to popular belief, some of the bigger names and many of our less known selections are still unavailable. However, they are all out there somewhere. Soulseek and you shall find!
6) If you think there’s anything we’ve missed that should be here let us know. We may not take any notice but then again we might. Email.
A Year In Playlists is engineered and administered by Dan Green