John Robb: 50 Songs I Love

"Mick Jones once told me that without the Sex Pistols there would be nothing" The Goldblade vocalist and writer John Robb gives us fifty of the songs that shaped his life...
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"Mick Jones once told me that without the Sex Pistols there would be nothing" The Goldblade vocalist and writer John Robb gives us fifty of the songs that shaped his life...

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1. The Stranglers ‘Down In The Sewer’

This is a rousing yet dark slice of steamy, claustrophobic mid seventies UK - the Stranglers were the misfits of punk with their lysergic twisted take driven by a genuine aggression and inventiveness and that’s why we loved them and they were the sound track to our chemical youth in Blackpool plus they  had the best bass sound ever. Goldblade have supported the Stranglers many times and even done karate backstage with JJ who retains an aura of danger and cool after all those decades.

2. The Clash ‘White Man In Hammersmith Palais'

Always loved this song but being the compere on the Justice For The 96 tour really reminded me of its potent emotional power. Standing next to Mick Jones as he played this and other Clash songs for the 96 on one of the greatest tours ever was one of the great times and underlined the poignant beauty of the people’s song. The Clash were the best dressed urban guerrillas of all time - 4 Wolfie Smiths in the best Pin Stripes known to man who could sing songs that made you want to start a riot and shed a tear.

3. Killing Joke ‘Follow The Leaders’ 

For pure primal power and addictive madness married to a musical brilliance and a deep and dangerous intelligence no-one can match Killing Joke. This is a psychic dance of delicious madness and as a wake up call from the sleep walking into a mundane cosseted cosy paralysis- few do it better than the Joke. I’ve met Jaz Coleman a few times and he has been as polite and alarming as you would want.

4. Bauhaus ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ 

The history of post-punk has been rewritten and it’s time that some of the great innovators were remembered- Bauhaus were a dark death disco dub drenched in gothic horror and truly innovative playing- this, their debut single, was 8 minutes of genius from the ultimate post punk band.

5. X Ray Spex ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’

One of the great lyricists in British music Poly was a pure original who just didn’t release enough stuff. This is one of the great punk singles- the last single from the first wave of punk and one of the greatest songs from the era. I became really good friends with Poly in the last few years of her life and we even recorded a Goldblade xmas single together, 'City Of Christmas Ghosts'.

6. Crass ‘Shaved Women’

Crass were most political band of all time whose songs were manifestos and flew the flag for every ‘ism’ with their music that combined pure anger with avant garde genius.  I still believe in that stuff. We have stayed over at Crass house a couple of times on Goldblade tours and it remains a defiant ‘V’ sign to the relentless commercial clampdown of the 21st century and redefines the word hippy as powerful and warrior like in the face of the sneering boredom of the now.

7. Kate Bush ‘Wuthering heights’ 

Brilliant piece of music that is steeped in atmosphere and melody that defies the decades. She emerged in punk in the totally opposite direction but her determination not to be used by the music biz and her artful creativity made total sense at the time. Apparently she said that my review of her latest album on my Louder Than War website was the only review that got the record. High praise indeed.

8. Joy Division ‘She’s Lost Control’

Just for the bass alone this is brilliant - the best musical instrument that defined the era played by one of the best players. Joy Division could fill stadiums now if they could but when we saw them in Blackpool playing with the great Section 25 there were barely 100 people in the room.

9. T-Rex ‘Metal Guru’

Bowie may have been genius but Bolan shades it for me every time with his way of twisting 2 or 3 chords into silver tinges of pure magic. I grew up in glam rock- every week Top Of The Pops had great bands on it and mascara Marc was the coolest of them all. If he was still alive he was would be a silver hair ain't no square glamfather to about 15 different UK music scenes.

10. Neu ‘Hallagallo’

The band that defined krautrock, Neu stripped rock down to the hypnotic pulsing motornik beat - everything else added was mere window dressing. They have been so mercilessly copied that most underground rock now sounds like them. When I interviewed Michael Rother, their mainman, he was baffled by the other groups who copied his sound whilst respecting what they did.

11. Mott The Hoople ‘All the Way From Memphis’

Ian Hunter is one of the great rock 'n' roll poets - this song is his classic book, Diary Of A Rock n Roll Star, turned into 4 minutes of rollicking  pianner rock 'n' roll genius. Their comeback gigs are emotional and brilliant and I’ve got to know their bass superhero Overend Watts in the past few years-he was the one who invented the glam stack healed boots look and sprayed his hair silver in the 70s and is still as brilliantly eccentric as ever and was also a fan of my first band, the Membranes.

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12. Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields’

The Beatles are so omnipresent that you forget their genius, Strawberry Fields is arguably the greatest pop single of all time and its dark, acid-tinged twists and turns still retain a beautiful magic. It’s also one of those songs where the video matches the song perfectly- a nightmare vision in the middle of Beatlemania. I love the fact that it was the only Beatles single along with it's A side Penny Lane to never get to number one- that says all you need to know about the tragedy at the heart of pop music.

13. Birthday Party ‘Big Jesus Trash Can’

Growing up in Blackpool in the late seventies/early 80s we were making a frustrated, dislocated angular noise with my band the Membranes, that made people put their fingers in their ears or throw things at us and we felt very alone until we heard the Birthday Party. It was then that we realised that we had contemporaries. It was  a strange and beautiful feeling. They seemed exotic coming from Melbourne and we were lumbered with coming from Blackpool which we eventually sang about in one of our best known songs, Tatty Seaside Town. It’s a great town in many ways but not a place were bands like the Membranes were expected to be coming from- Berlin or New York would have made life easier…

14. Stone Roses ‘Made Of Stone’

I still remember the Membranes first rehearsal in Manchester in 1983 and going next door to borrow guitar strings from the sullen looking mob who looked hard but turned out to be the politest band we had ever met- that was as the Stone Roses. I saw their rise and fall and rise again and ended up writing a book about them. Their comeback was one of the great returns and this song is one of the most anthemic and uplifting in all British rock 'n' roll.

15. The Damned ‘New Roses’ 

When I wrote my Oral History Of Punk book so many people remembered Brian James of the Damned as one of the key architects of punk who stated in 1975 that the future was short hair and short songs when everyone else was drowning in blue denim. Few songs still sound as thrilling as this machete guitar assault. Pure adrenaline from a band that was always one inch from chaos.

16. Can ‘Paperhouse’

Perhaps the most fluid band of all times- the German group certainly had the funk and their twisting turning songs are endlessly addictive. In our teenage years we would listen to them all night and get lost in their hypnotic grooves. On  a Goldblade tour in Germany we met Can mainman Holgar Czakay who came to see us play live in Cologne we were just about to tell him how much we loved Can but he was more into telling us how much he loved what we were doing because it reminded him of the rock 'n' roll and Elvis of his rocker youth.

17. Sunn O)))

Drone rock lunacy at its best - Sunn O))) dress as druids surrounded by white ice playing one chord for 45 minutes at mental volume which is far more entertaining than it sounds. To make you feel anything rock music has to always keep going one step further out there, increasing the fix like a sonic smack addict.

18 Evil Blizzard

4 bass players and a drummer — like Hawkwind jamming with Public Image on even more acid - Evil Blizzard wear rubber masks and terrorise the audience, they are so good I have just released their debut album.

19. Public Image Limited ‘Theme’

Their first 2 albums were blueprints for a new era- the escape route from punk that took the space of dub and the sneer of punk and the adventure of the underground and created a whole new soundscape. Bassist Jah Wobble now lives in Manchester and every time I meet him I hear his great stories from the ultimate raconteur who was nicknamed by Sid Vicious and still plays that sonic boom bass.

20. Lee Scratch Perry - Everything

Total genius - everything he touches turns into something very special, he can even make a dog barking into music. Listening to John Peel in the 70s was a total joy and finding out about all this diverse music was one of the key parts of our youth by the seaside.

21. Rolling Stones ‘Paint It Black’

One of the greatest all-time singles bands from a time when the seven inch single was the purest pop artefact- the Stones had the sex, swagger and sass and they could back it up with great filthy, lascivious, anthems that made the moral majority shit their pants. Nowadays they are probably closer to being the moral majority themselves but they still rocked it up at Glastonbury where Mick Jagger had his own personal running track built backstage and the crusty old pirates had a huge marquee.

22. Aphex Twin ‘Digeridoo’ 

Acid house was as big pop revolution as punk but everyone seems to have forgotten about i t- there are no high level TV documentaries and box sets but in its wake came whole mob of innovators like the Aphex Twin whose records have been constantly mind blowing. I remember going round to his flat to interview him in the his early days and he lived in a room full of homemade analogue synths and keyboards and no room for a bed.

23. The Prodigy ‘Firestarter’ 

Same as the Aphex Twin but more like a techno Slade to the Twin's techno Captain Beefheart, the Prodigy managed to combine the volume of metal with the sledgehammer beats of techno and hip hop and the sneer of punk into a brilliant and off kilter live show. Goldblade once supported the Prodigy in Macedonia at a loose and ragged festival and they had driven through the war in Serbia to play the gig without giving a fuck. The venue had live wires all over the stage and no backstage toilet which meant an old classroom was were everyone pissed into a huge puddle- we were the only 2 bands that didn't whinge. The gig was like a riot.

24. Rembetika

The Greek blues are the old songs of heartbreak played on the bazouki- slow downbeat songs of fighting with the police, getting stoned and chasing women- I think that covers all the necessary bases…

25. Adam And The Ants ‘Physical’

Adam and the Ants were the last great punk band from the first wave of punk with their dark and quirky songs of sex and strangeness. Physical is typical of this period. Adam is on tour now and his comeback album last year was one of my favourite records of the year - he is a fantastic interview as well: direct, honest and with some of the greatest stories to tell and is one of the 200 interviews in the collected works of journalism I’m working on.

26. Nirvana ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

When Nirvana burst out in 1989 they changed music forever. Putting rock music back on the agenda they opened the flood gates. I was the first person to ever interview them in 1988 but I had no idea they would be massive- we used to say they would be as big as Sonic Youth. The second time I interviewed them in the summer of 1989 in New York City I saw them play as a 4 piece to 10 people and trash all their gear. We shared a flat with them for 4 days in the sweltering heat of the summertime Big Apple and my photographer Ian Tilton (brother of the Membranes guitar player Mark) had his leg broken when he was hit by a bus as we crossed a New York street. Nirvana would ferry cheese sandwiches in for him as he lay on the floor of the flat waiting for his flight home.

27. Einsturzende Neubaten ‘Sand’

One of the most innovative bands of all time EB dumped instruments in 1980 in favour of metal percussion and a fierce Berlin Wall art aesthetic-they also used to set fire to stages and drill walls. Nowadays they make a music of beauty and danger.

28. Big Black ‘Kerosene’

Relentlessly brilliant Steve Albini’s first band were dark and heavy and thrilling. He would go on to be the best sound recordist in the world and deliver s series of pithy, hilarious but true interviews like the one I did with him that told a truth in a business full of lies. The Membranes were one of the first bands to record with Albini- we went to Chicago and recorded an album in the cellar of his house. We would have been the first but our drummer was not allowed into the USA so the trip was delayed by 2 weeks.

29. Dead Skeletons ‘Dead Mantra’

Icelandic band who emerged last year with their death disco songs of shamanism and dark arts - they should be the biggest band in the world.

30. The Doors ‘People Are Strange’

So out of fashion that they are the coolest band in the world - the neo-jazz waltz of the Doors was defined by Jimbo’s poetic pretensions and beautiful Sinatra croon. Everyone got a bit lost in that Apocalypse Now stuff in the eighties, didn’t they?

31. Black Flag ‘Damaged’

Few songs have actually sounded this damaged coming from the days when Henry Rollins joined the band and defined them with his white knuckle intensity. Nowadays, of course, Henry is the king of three hour spoken word gigs and even if he has mellowed his intensity is still there. I have interviewed him several times over the years and seen him change from white knuckle ride performer to elder statesman of the punk generation that never did give up.

32. Fugazi ‘Waiting Room’

Rollins grew up in Washington DC with Ian Mackaye- they were the core of the punk scene in the town. Mackaye formed Minor Threat who defined hardcore and inadvertently invented Straight Edge. Fugazi were his next band - once described as 'druggy music' by people who don't take drugs - their off kilter rhythms and driving twisted post punk made for some great records. I have stopped off at Discord house several times on tour and shared a pot of tea with the most straight talking person in music.

33. MIA ‘Gulang’

Sassy and fearsome with a fistful of attitude in songs that take the hip hop template but draw heavily on her own roots in Indian subcontinent music which has its own tradition to create a true 21st century music.

34. Charlie Mingus ‘Fables Of Faustus’

Jazz is not the stuff of pissy-panted ‘experts’ but the sound of freedom, especially in the hands of Mingus whose shotgun attitude and no holds barred instinctive madness and genius created music that actually truly defined the word punk more than the guitar bands decades later...

35. The Ramones ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’

The Ramones' most famous t-shirt in the world, worn by wine bar music haters, is not the epitaph one would have wished on one of the greatest groups of all time. Barre chord bozos or symphonies through a fuzz box genius, the Ramones were taking rock 'n' roll back to its basic no-one ever did it as well as the Ramones. Joey was the voice of heartbreak, god bless his lanky soul. I once met Joey Ramone, he was so tall it was like speaking to someone’s chest as they towered above you like the beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk.

36. The Stooges ‘No Fun’

You have to have an off the scale IQ to play this dumb - Iggy Pop is the greatest frontman of them all- this is music as a shamanic dance bopping on the bones of corporate rock. No Fun also says everything you need to say in a rock n roll song- it’s the ultimate brat anthem from the ultimate and consummate crazed frontman who has the scars to prove it.

37. The Kinks ‘Waterloo Sunset’

Few could write songs as evocative as the Kinks, picture postcards from another era in suburban England as the psychedelic wars raged all around them. Tea and toast instead of LSD and all the more effective for it. When you meet Ray Davies he gives the air of someone who is still striving and never quite made it like the Beatles and the Stones- he was equally talented but the Kinks were always on self destruct.

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38. Tom Waits ‘Bone Machine’

When Tom Waits finally went off kilter he did it in a clanking demented style with clunking percussion recorded in a shed like all great music should be and that voice that sounds like it was tarmaced with loose gravel intoning psychic beat poetry like some kinda Alan Ginsberg on a hot tin roof.

39. Captain Beefheart ‘Electricity’

Waits may be great but Beefheart was the genius who melded the fierce gravel blues of Howling Wolf to the 9th dimension jazz of Coltrane and the groin thrust of the Stones and came up with a body of work that still defines the phrase ‘out there’.

40. Patti Smith

Patti Smith is that exact mid-point between the hope of the hippies and the acid stare of the punks. She ripped it down in the mid seventies and invented a new way to be a woman in rock n roll with her fierce poetry and shimmering new kind of beauty that was a million miles away from the dull pin ups of the time. I interviewed her at an in conversation a couple of years ago, she was emotional, flirty, hearfelt and heart breakingly honest - the dream interview and it will be in my book as well.

41. Sex Pistols ‘God Save The Queen’

Mick Jones once told me that without the Sex Pistols there would be nothing and as rightfully loved as the Clash are the Sex Pistols tore down the fabric for punk to come charging through. Few records have ever sounded as fierce and thrilling and few bands have ever arrived with so many contradictions and complications as the Sex Pistols. Interviewing Rotten is always great if you swerve the tabloid stuff and get onto music- like Liam Gallagher he is trapped in 2D tabloid land but the real person behind the facade is the interesting one - that’s one of the key things about being a  music writer- trying to get away from the bullshit and finding the truth. Both the Liam Gallagher and Johnny Rotten interviews will be in the book.

42. RZA ‘Strange Eyes’

Along with Public Enemy, Wu Tang took hip hop onto another level. Their main man RZA was obsessed by C- movie kung fu flicks and dark twists on soul samples and the whole crew took things to a 3D level on a series of groundbreaking albums. This is solo RZA and an addictive affair it is to.

43. Led Zeppelin ‘Kashmir’

So rock classic that its easy to forget their genius. Jimmy Page made sure their records sounded huge and his riffs were effortlessly genius. Met him a few months ago and shook his hand  He said he loved my TV work. That was quite a cool moment.

44. The Fall Totally Wired’

Seen them play a million times and even supported them in the Membranes. For being sneeringly awkward and acidly funny few come as close as Mark Smith. You wouldn't want to work for him and few manage it but when it all coalesces, like on this bass drive piece of neurotic madness, it sounds brilliant. Interviewing Smith is always an experience and I got some great pieces that will go in the book.

45. Gnawa

The music of the North African desert-endless hypnotic grooves of traditional music that defines the searing emptiness the desert. I got heavily into this music when Goldblade played Algeria a few years ago-we were the first foreign band to play there for 20 years and the cops stood with machine guns on every corner and were the remnants of a fierce civil war that hadn’t quite ended.

46. Southern Death Cult ‘Fatman’

The UK invents music scenes and then discards them whilst the rest of the world worships them for ever. The so called Goth scene was just one of these-another no such scene it was a time of exploding hair and musical freeform. SDC came out of Bradford and fell apart as quickly as they had arrived but they left some great songs like this, their debut single. Ian Astbury is the last of the classic rock interviews as he talks for hours not sure whether he is still the kid that followed Crass around or an LA rock star - the 2 opposite end of rock n roll that somehow coexist in his head, He is also one of the last true believers who believes that rock music can change things and one of his call to arms interviews will be in my book.

47. Vince Taylor ‘Brand New Cadillac’

The greatest British rock n roller of them all, Vince wrote his own stuff, was huge in France which fell for his leather and onstage madness (as did Morrissey- check those stage moves that he borrowed from him). He then took acid, thought washe was from outer space and inspired David Bowie to write Ziggy Stardust before dying in the early 90s-you can’t even make a CV like that up!

48. Swans ‘Lunacy’

Dark, intense and heavy as fuck, Swans gigs last for 3 hours and people pass out from the heat and volume. They also deal out a music that has its own innate beauty and challenges all the boring rules of music. Mainman Michael Gira used to be scary but is now blessed with a patience making him a great interview.

49. Buzzcocks ‘Boredom’

Punk rock at its most primitive and perfect. The first independent single of our generation and a rallying call to every small town music head to get their music out there. Last year I met Joe Incandela- the head of the Higgs Boson project in CERN- and pumped him for information on the universe- a conversation that inspired the upcoming Membranes double album and Universe Explained gigs, meanwhile all Joe wanted to talk about was Buzzcocks.

50. David Bowie ‘Drive In Saturday’

Loved this song from the day it came out- a demented stagger through doo-wop played by a make up smeared demi god - this was Bowie at the beginning of his 7 inch single pomp, a series of 70s releases that defined the decade and neatly took it from the crash and burn of the end of Beatlemania to the righteous street rat rush of punk.

John Robb’s ‘Do You Believe in the Power of Rock & Roll?’ is available for pre-order now on Unbound.

Follow John on Twitter @johnrobb77.