Clash City Rockers - The Clash
My punk rockin' instincts tell me that its not a good idea for a band to write a song about themselves but it seems that if you have the nerve to do so you probably also have the talent to pull it off. The fourth single from The Clash does it with style, combining Old London nursery rhymes with Glam Rock cameos. As an NME reader in 1977 I had heard the name of the song mentioned in live reviews of the band, along with 'White Man In Hammersmith Palais'. The titles were enough for me to be going on with, as they'd yet to put out the actual records. On top of choppy guitar chords that don't really owe that much to 'I Can't Explain', the first couple of verses rattle along with Joe Strummer singing about how great his band are, coming from London and having electrical shocker ability etc. So far, so Clash. But it's when it gets to the middle bit that my heart melts.
You Owe Me A Move, Say The Bells Of St Groove
Come On And Show Me Say The Bells Of Old Bowie
When I Am Fitter, Say The Bells Of Gary Glitter
No One But You And I Say The Bells Of Prince Far-I.'
Yes, I capitalise every word because each one deserves it. A record for jumping up and down to, if you like - but one for the heart, as well as the feet.
(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea - Elvis Costello And The Attractions
I was tuning in the shine on my late night dial listening to John Peel when I heard someone channelling the riff from 'Pushin' Too Hard' by the Seeds. It turns out it was Elvis Costello. He'd only borrowed it for a few seconds but with the help of the newly recruited Attractions, his latest single was the best thing John played that night. Bruce Thomas doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his bass playing but if he ever came close to a medal it was for this, along with the follow up single 'Pump It Up'. ( I assume it’s his riff - if not then sorry about that Elvis.)
Elvis himself didn’t just add the guitar – he came up with some of the best lines of his career, and he has a million best lines.
"Men come screaming dressed in white coats/Shake you very gently by the throat One’s named Gus , one’s named Alfie/They call her Natasha when she looks like Elsie"
For a man who changed his name from Declan he was a bit sniffy about working class names, wasn’t he? Great record, though.
Blue Boy – Orange Juice
Sometimes, amid talk of floppy fringes and sandals, the early singles of the Boys from Bearsden get overlooked. In the summer of 1980 I sent away for this record, on the basis of a good review in the NME. It arrived and I was confused. How come the cover said ‘Josef K’ ? I turned over the wraparound sleeve and on the other side the Letraset read ‘Orange Juice’. The economics of Postcard (The Sound Of Young Scotland) meant some creative thinking was needed at their label. Creative thinking from the band as well, where a guitar intro that can only be described as ‘galloping’ leads to a classic Edwyn Collins croon – ‘When he spoke she smiled in all the right places’ - on top of some jumping, skipping and hopping chords from himself and James Kirk. The word ‘charm’ has been used about records that don’t keep strictly to the rhythm and tuning rules of the old guard but it pours out of Orange Juice’s second single.
New Rose- The Damned
“Is she really going out with him”? And with that clever nod to a bygone innocent pop era courtesy of the Shangri Las, our senses are literally assaulted for the next 2 mins, 46 secs courtesy of Rat Scabies on tribal drums, fuelled with Brian James’ magnificent distorted guitararama riffs, Dave Vanian on vocals and the good Captain on bass.
Announcing the start of punks year zero way back in Oct ’76, New Rose is the most wonderful and loudest runaway juggernaut of a racket ever committed to 7’ vinyl. How can you not fail to be excited by this?
Wonderfully produced by Nick ‘Basher’ Lowe, The Damned take no prisoners and throw down the gauntlet for others to follow.
I once bumped into Brian James at Dublin Airport but was too hung over and bleary eyed to thank him properly for penning this classic.
Spiral Scratch- Buzzcocks
Your times up and me too
I’m out on account of you
Meanwhile up in Manchester in late Dec ’76, Buzzcocks were going it alone and doing it their own D.I.Y way and the result was this beautiful, awe inspiring 4 song E.P.
Secured with a £500 loan and recorded in a mere 5 hours with the help of the late, great Martin Hannett (Martin Zero), Howard Devoto and Pete Shelly gave us great songs like 'Boredom' /'Breakdown'/'Friends' of mine and my own personal favourite, 'Times Up'.
With Shelly’s cheap ‘Starway’ guitar, Devoto’s audacious and funny lyrics, John Maher on drums and Steve Diggle on bass, Spiral Scratch demystified the whole process of making a record and proved you didn’t have to be a skilled musician or need major label backing and would inspire countless others to follow suit (ourselves included).
It also gave us one of the funniest and greatest guitar solos in the history of recorded music on’ Boredom’.
Check out the Times Up bootleg record which features live early Buzzcocks at their shambolic best.
(I’m) Stranded- The Saints
Recorded in June ’76, Brisbane’s finest prove that our Antipodean friends can make great garage punk rock like nobody else.
The sentiments of this abrasive Ed Kuepper/ Chris Bailey nugget resonated all 10.000 miles away to the banks of the river Foyle where we gladly covered this song at the Casbah in ‘77.
We, in our own particular way back in Derry, also felt stranded , geographically and musically.
Refusing to play up to punk stereotype, The Saints were derided by certain sections of the British music press which made me love them even more.
Also check out 'Know Your Product' and 'This Perfect Day' on the Eternally Yours L.P.
Born to Lose- Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers
'Living in the jungle, it ain't so hard/But livin' in the city, it can eat out, eat out your heart...'Johnny Thunders was my guitar hero and on the 15th Oct ’77 at the tender age of 16, I managed to save up enough dole money to get the boat over to England and get to see the great man perform with the Heartbreakers at Manchester UMIST and believe me, it was one of the most thrilling incredible moments of my life.
Little did I know then that the band were self-imploding due to their unhappiness with the long delay and muddy mix of their LAMF L.P.
Muddy mix or not, LAMF contains brilliant rock n roll songs and 'Born to Lose' is a gem that could’ve easily come from the New York Dolls back catalogue. Thunders gtr solo on this is simply Godlike aided by some deft guitar work from the sorely underrated Walter Lure.
Final Solution – Pere Ubu
This is one of my favourite records of all time. Pere Ubu have been called "avant garage" for their mix of 60s surf and garage rock ‘n’roll, weird as hell synth bloop/bleeps and singer David Thomas' disturbing whale-like fat warble of a singing voice. Sounds like he's about to puke or cry half the time, Ignatius J Reilly brought to life! This was their second single, released in 1976, following the equally amazing, '30 seconds Over Tokyo'. I’m ashamed to admit I never heard anything by Pere Ubu until 1983 which is an appalling admission.
'Final Solution' is essentially a very straightforward garage band arrangement made distinct by a sound collage from Allen Ravenstine's synthesizer, ranging from futuristic chirps to abrasive industrial scrapings. It is rendered unique by David Thomas's bleating vocals, which sound untrained and masterful at the same time. The lyrics include some of the smartest one-liners punk ever saw/heard. Early Pere Ubu must haves: Terminal Tower, a collection or their early singles, and 1stL LP The Modern Dance.
I am the Fly – Wire
Released in 1978 from the classic Chairs Missing LP. You can debate which was the better the better single, 'I am the Fly' or 'Outdoor Miner' from Chairs Missing; either way, Wire seamlessly pieced together the disparate pieces of a musical puzzle to create a brand new creation that hits the ears as if it's always been there. This is my favourite. The FX on the guitar sounds like everything has been turned up full which is typical of them. Even the vocals bring to mind the buzzing of an irritant fly. The song is catchy, another clever subversion. I first heard of Wire from the Live at the Roxy record and straight away you knew they were miles ahead of everyone else. Pink Flag was/is a classic. Chairs Missing was equally as good.
It’s Kinda Funny – Josef K
Slightly later date, 1980. The Postcard label had already established themselves with the fantastic Orange Juice, but this is still my favourite of The Young Sound of Scotland releases. Apparently inspired by the death of Ian Curtis, the song definitely has a typically Postcard, Velvet Underground feel to it. I seem to remember playing this non stop during the recording of Positive Touch and was probably a big influence on ‘Julie Ocean’ from that record. A good introduction to Joseph K is a record called Young and Stupid which contains other lost classics such as 'Heart of Song' and 'Sorry for Laughing'. I just love the confidence of this record. You sense they know this was a great song by the way they used the disco drum machine effect in each chorus. A beautiful tune.
A compilation called An Introduction To The Undertones is out now, you can get it here