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Dark Alley / Black Star / Four Turkeys in a Big Black Car

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Brian Eno: King’s Lead Hat

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Anagrams aren’t really my thing. Offhand, I can only think of one that someone else has coined. That is King’s Lead Hat, which you likely know is an anagram of Talking Heads. I bet Eno, the great intellectual of pop music*, could rattle off a list of thousands of them and given a few seconds could generate one off any random letters he was given to work with.

Eno had been impressed when he saw Talking Heads support The Ramones in the early summer of 1977 in London. He hooked up with them a couple of times after the show and struck up a friendship with David Byrne in particular. Before the year was out, Eno travelled to New York where he met up again with The Talking Heads. He was hired to produce their second album on this visit.

1977 was to prove a vintage year for Eno. He earned glowing accolades for acting as what Tony Visconti called ‘zen master’ on the classic pair of albums Low and Heroes that proved David Bowie truly was music’s great chameleon; he additionally teamed up with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius on the album Cluster and Eno and produced three albums that would be released on his own Obscure imprint, including Harold Budd’s The Pavilion of Dreams. Eno also appeared on a Camel track Elke – which I had never heard of until a few hours ago. It’s certainly better than I had imagined it would be although I doubt it’ll be making its way into my collection any time soon.

Most importantly for the artist, he finally finished off his fourth solo album Before And After Science, an eclectic collection of songs that ranged from the melancholic Julie With through to the aforementioned King’s Lead Hat.

The latter track owes something to the jerky, agitated sound of early XTC with an added dash of Devo (who would also soon hire him to produce an album) but at base it’s a salute to Talking Heads. Eno had even originally hoped that the band would accompany him on the track but due to a scheduling clash this couldn’t happen.

Still, he managed to assemble an interesting ensemble of musicians to take their place, including former Roxy pal Phil Manzanera, and Robert Fripp.
With nonsense lyrics such as ‘Dark alley / Black star / Four turkeys in a big black car’, Andy Fraser’s quakes of whiplash bass and unhinged plinky plonky piano supplied by Brian himself, this was Eno at his most infectious. Best of all is Fripp’s usual left side of the brain guitar lines.

Despite the age and experience of these musicians, it’s a track that didn’t sound remotely out of place in the year of punk’s big breakthrough. At the end of November, Eno was showcased on the front of NME with the first of a two part conversation with Ian McDonald inside. There was Old Wave, there was New Wave and there was David Bowie. And Brian Eno.

NME placed Before And After Science 14th best album of the year in their end of year poll, three places above Talking Heads’ ’77. Here is track five, side one:

If you were hoping for more of this kind of glorious racket from Eno, you’d be disappointed as he turned his attention increasingly to ambient music. Before then, he did release a remixed version of the song which came out on 45 in January 1978. This was accompanied by a way ahead of its time B-side, R.A.F. Although to be applauded for its innovative use of sampling, it’s not one that I listen to on any kind of regular basis (mainly due to being allergic to anything played on a fretless bass).

A precursor of 1981’s My Life In The Bush of Ghosts collaboration with David Byrne, which itself was way ahead of the curve, R.A.F. was credited to Brian Eno and Snatch with the songwriting divided between Eno, Judy Nylon and Patti Palladin.

It combined spoken vocals by Nylon and Palladin in the role of passengers on a hijacked plane with a studio recording made by Eno and others a few years previously. The sonic collage was then completed with recordings supplied by Nylon of snippets of West German police telephone communications containing RAF (Red Army Faction) ransom messages and other ominous material. Hear this hybrid of the new, the recycled, and the readymade here.

Roxy Music - Trash

‘Are you customized or ready-made?’ Bryan Ferry asked in the first line of Trash, Roxy Music’s first single since Both Ends Burning in 1975. This wasn’t the high-profile return that Ferry had hoped for. The song sneaked into the charts, peaking at #40.

It’s a decent enough wee ditty but clearly far from the flamboyant retro futurism of Virginia Plain and Ladytron. The new rather staidly dressed Roxy just didn’t look right either, with those shirts and ties and with a former pub rocker (Paul Carrack) and ex-Vibrator (Gary Tibbs) in the line-up. You might argue that image isn’t important but have a gander at either of the photos on the inside gatefold sleeves of the first two Roxy albums, and you’ll immediately realise which of the two line-ups would make the more vital music.

Roxy Music For Your Pleasure Gatefold Sleeve

Finally, if you like Japan (the band) then you’ll love the B-side of Trash, titled Trash 2.

* As I began writing, I chose an Eno Oblique Strategy online. It was Use Cliches and I don’t think this helped. I also decided to devise my first ever anagram and struggled to come up with what retrospectively strikes me as the highly obvious Brain One. Which it now strikes me I’m sure I’ve heard before.

White Face, Black Shirt, White Socks, Black Shoes, Black Hair, White Strat, Bled White, Died Black

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Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury & The Blockheads (Stiff)

Ian Dury Sweet Gene Vincent Collage

The words ‘tribute song’ seldom fill me with great expectations while the mere mention of ‘tribute album’ brings on a feeling of downright dread. A concept beloved of small labels hoping to attract your attention to an artist you love, the typical tribute collection is packed with a bunch of completely inferior cover versions by acts you have probably never heard of and will routinely only ever listen to once.

Of course I am generalising here but as the winter of 1977 set in, the idea of a tribute song really was anathema to my punkish sensibilities with Danny Mirror’s saccahrine I Remember Elvis Presley still hovering around the British charts in the wake of the death of Elvis. (I Remember Elvis Presley? I should hope so, he was hardly in his grave when you rushed into the studio to record your cash-in single).

That November the one and only single lifted from New Boots and Panties!! was released by Stiff. Written in honour of one of Presley’s contemporaries and of one of Dury’s teenage favourites, Sweet Gene Vincent obliquely told the tale of one of the original bad boy rockers, a star who dressed in black leather and possessed a penchant for, well, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. & Guns.

In 1977 I don’t think I would have heard any Vincent song bar Be Bop A Lula and at a time when teddy boys and punks were increasingly involved in regular punch-ups on the King’s Road and elsewhere I wasn’t inclined to look favourably on any song that celebrated a teddy boy hero. And why would anyone want to look back to rock and roll anyway? That was twenty years ago, almost an eternity to the teenage me.

But then again, this was Ian Dury, a witty lyricist, unique vocalist and all round one-off.

On Sweet Gene Vincent, he divides his song in two, the first half being a poignant and poetic ballad with something of a lullaby feel looking back at the singer’s short life. ‘Shall I mourn your decline with some thunderbird wine and a black handkerchief?’ he asks before going on to confess: ‘I miss your sad Virginia whisper / I miss the voice that called my heart.’

The second half gives way to some pure rock’n’roll dynamite with Dury referencing some of Vincent’s best known tracks like Blue Jean Bop, Who Slapped John and Pistol Packin’ Mama throughout.

And, of course, while Danny Mirror had attempted to mimic Presley’s tenor and baritone vocals, here Dury as always sounded 100% Essex geezer. And he was never going to trot out rhymes as predictable as sing and King. Before the song had ended I might even have been blue jean bopping and I was definitely much less likely to knock the rock.

Is Sweet Gene Vincent the best tribute song that I have ever heard?

Very possibly.

The song was ranked at # 13 on NME‘s Tracks of the Year for 1977 and Robbie Williams provided a cover version for Brand New Boots and Panties, the tribute album issued following Ian’s death in 2000 (which you might be able to guess I have never heard). It also featured on the very fine soundtrack of Christopher Petit’s 1979 film Radio On.

Here’s a live version, featuring a guest appearance from a kinetic Wilko Johnson:


Just as tribute songs or albums hold little interest for me, the description ‘son of’ or ‘daughter of’ seldom intrigues me. I doubt I’m alone in this regard which is why albums by the likes of Jakob Dylan, James McCartney and Julian Lennon, unlike their fathers, aren’t going to be appearing in any Greatest Album Ever lists any time soon. And sorry, but when Lisa Marie Presley dies I wouldn’t count on any tribute singles appearing.

That said, I have enjoyed the recently released albums by Charlotte (daughter of Serge) Gainsbourg and Baxter (son of Ian) Dury.

Famously, as a five-year-old Baxter appeared with his old man on the front cover of New Boots and Panties!! Nowadays he gets to appear on his own album covers. His latest Prince of Tears is maybe the best of these yet, a short and sometimes savage collection of tracks that occasionlly recall Ian and just as often bring to mind the aforementioned Serge Gainsbourg – mainly due to the superb orchestration and alternating male/female vocals he favours here.

Baxter has certainly inherited Ian’s potty mouth as he demonstrates on the lead single Miami:


For more on Ian, click here and for more on Baxter, click here.

 

The Silver Jubilee & The Sex Pistols (& Iain Shedden)

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The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen (Virgin)

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen cover 1977

‘In early June 1977, we took a brief break from our labours to overturn a few tables and piss in the punchbowl at the Queen’s silver jubilee party,’ Steve Jones wrote in his autobiography Lonely Boy last year. ‘I never really paid much attention to all that jubilee bollocks, to be honest. That was more Rotten and McLaren’s end of things.’

As a fifteen year old schoolboy I actively tried to ignore all the jubilee bollocks myself. Apart from the Pistols’ take on events.

Nowadays we’re presented with the idea that the whole country bar a few malcontents went Jubilee crazy. In their Sex Pistols history Young Flesh Required, Alan G. Parker and Mick O’Shea even observed that, ‘No other nation can do pomp and circumstance like the British,’ before going on claim, ‘The whole country became one enormous street party and buried its troubles beneath a sea of red, white and blue bunting.’

This doesn’t convey the whole truth of the matter. Yes in Glasgow the Queen came during May and was greeted by shedloads of loyal subjects (60,000 estimated although these figures tend to be exaggerated by journos). A match to mark the occasion at Hampden between a Glasgow select and an English Football League select, originally envisioned as an all ticket affair with an 85,000 limit, ended up with organisers hoping for 30,000 fans and tickets available to buy at the gate.

The Times carried the headline ‘One million people greet the Queen on her Silver Jubilee Day’ but the slightly less prestigious Glasgow Evening Times led with a story on the whereabouts of Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin together with a report that vandals had wrecked the chances of a planned celebration in Giffnock that night by setting the proposed bonfire alight a day early.

Glasgow Herald columnist Anne Simpson bemoaned the fact that celebrations were relatively muted north of the border: ‘I know Scotland has had its official dose of Silver Jubilation but even then most of us didn’t get to the parties and it strikes me that what we all need just now is a bit of a carnival, a chance to stick paper hats on our heads and be happy.’

No thanks.

Was there a street party outside where I lived? No. Did anybody I know give a flying fuck about the Jubilee? No. Was God Save The Queen really that controversial then?

Well, yes. It wasn’t allowed airplay on Radio One – apart from a couple of spins by Peel. Commercial radio stations banned it too, the IBA judging it ‘against good taste or decency, likely to encourage or incite to crime, or lead to disorder.’

Boots, WH Smith and good old Woolies refused to stock the 45 with the latter two failing to even acknowledge its existence, leaving a blank space on the chart displayed in their stores.

Jubilee_Chart_1977

Top of the Pops refused to show the bands’ promo for the song let alone invite them to perform in their studio. Thames TV & LWT refused to air an ad for it and perhaps most controversially of all, the single was artificially kept off the number one spot.

The song infuriated some patriots enough to attack Johnny Rotten and others with a Pistols connection, as well as ordinary punk fans across the country. Years later, it emerged via former spy David Shayler that the band had featured prominently in a MI5 file named Subversion in the Music Industry.

Remarkably God Save the Queen was only the second Sex Pistols single.

Jamie Reid - God Save the Queen flag

Nowadays even the safest of safe comedians employed by the BBC can happily have a go at the Queen. Many did when her name appeared recently in connection with the Paradise Papers along with other serial tax avoiders like Gary Linekar, Lewis Hamilton and Bono.

Saying that, while hosting Have I Got News for You last year some of Frankie Boyle’s jokes were censored although he was allowed to accuse the Royal family of being ‘the products of centuries of incest.’

Certainly no anti-Royal record could conceivably cause the same kind of Gasp! Shock! Horror! headlines as God Save the Queen today – arguably no record of any kind could. And the odds of any song trying to do so and sounding as thrilling as God Save the Queen are, at best, minimal.

According to Marco Pirroni it is the ‘greatest pop rock ‘n’ roll single ever’ and I would have undoubtedly agreed with this assessment on Jubilee day. Hearing again Steve Jones’s sledgehammer guitar, Paul Cook’s no messin’ drums and Johnny’s scorching voice spitting out those establishment baiting lyrics, I still wouldn’t argue against it.

Released on 27 May 1977, here is the promo filmed at the Marquee a few days earlier:


The night of the Jubilee in London witnessed one of the most inspired publicity stunts ever. Malcolm McLaren hiring a boat (the Queen Elizabeth) which sailed down the Thames with the Pistols playing live, the boys launching into Anarchy in the UK as they passed by Parliament. This provocative jaunt ending in arrests for McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and others there for the show once the boat had been docked.

Nothing in Scotland could compete with that but that same night Edinburgh did see the establishment of a regular new punk night at Clouds, a venue originally opened back in the 1940s when it was known as the New Cavendish.

The Jolt on Jubilee day

Lanarkshire group The Jolt played Clouds a number of times including a Rock Against Racism benefit.

Sadly, while I was writing this post I belatedly became aware of the death last month of their drummer Iain Shedden.

A great live act, I saw The Jolt a number of times, from a wee pub, the Amphora I seem to remember, in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street to the Apollo, where they performed in front of thousands while supporting The Jam.

After The Jolt split, Iain went on to record with other bands, most notably The Saints. Once a junior reporter on the Wishaw Press, he re-ignited his career in journalism when he emigrated to Australia in 1992, becoming a music critic with The Australian, a job that saw him interviewing an amazing array of talents such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Keith Richards.

Here’s a single by The Jolt. Written by Paul Weller for the band, See Saw was released in June 1979 by Polydor. Four months or so later The Jam brought out their own version as a B-side for Eton Rifles.


Iain Shedden: January 6, 1957 – October 16, 2017

For more on The Jolt click here for my post New York, London, Paris, Wishaw.

Ooh Woo Hoo Hoo! Ça Plane Pour Moi? Non, c’est Jet Boy, Jet Girl

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Elton Motello – Jet Boy, Jet Girl (Pinball Records)

Until last night I was unaware that Elton Motello had ever been captured by a television camera. It turns out, though, that they’d appeared on European TV a number of times and on mainstream shows at that. Even though the song they were performing contained unapologetic lyrics about a fifteen year old boy having sex with an older guy and the repeated lyric ‘He gave me head’.

I guess the language barrier worked in their favour here and this also likely counted in their favour with the singer’s Fuck You T-shirt.

Don’t you just have to love any act that gets their big chance on TV and the singer chooses that T-shirt and covers his hair and face in talcum powder. Which he proceeds to shake off by slapping his napper at various strategic moments. Very strange times.

  
Discussing the single’s prospects in Britain with Alan Walton in Sounds, singer Alan Ward was circumspect: ‘We knew it wouldn’t get any airtime, but we thought, what the hell, it’s a good song so we’ll put it out anyway.’

Elton Motello grew out of the band Bastard, a Crawley act that took inspiration from The Stooges, MC5 and Alice Cooper. And here I should mention that like the early Alice Cooper, Elton Motello is the name of the singer and band. Ward later described Bastard as a ‘pre new wave thrash band’. One of their songs, Dr Gong, has been called an ancestor of New Rose, Brian James being at the time the band’s guitarist.

The Bastard boys decided to decamp to Belgium when singer Alan Ward was offered a job as a recording engineer in swanky new Brussels studio Morgan. They had set out to find a more imaginative audience but although they performed in Belgium, Holland and France they were largely ignored, just as they’d been on home soil.

Brian James returned home and made connections with Mick Jones and Tony James, tentatively joining their band London SS before forming The Damned while Bastard morphed into Elton Motello.

Concocted in the studio with Ward and Brian James replacement Mike Butcher, together with a couple of session musicians, Jet Boy, Jet Girl is sometimes thought to be a cover version of international hit Ça plane pour Moi.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. It was recorded and released before Plastic Bertrand’s version. The two tracks, incidentally, also utilize the same galloping backing track.

 
Designed as a pastiche, a cash-in on punk, Ça plane pour Moi went on to be a big hit around the globe in 1978. Hollywood loves it and in recent years it’s made an appearance on Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street (when Jordan Belfort is arrested) and in The Perks of Being a Wallflower during a party scene. There’s been a steady stream of covers too, including unexpected takes on the song from Sonic Youth, Thee Headcoatees, Richard Thompson and Nouvelle Vague.

Pepsi even used it for an ad recently, so, if the two songs had been adversaries and involved in a commercial mano a mano then Ça plane pour Moi really wins hands down. I do prefer Jet Boy, Jet Girl myself even though Plastic Bertrand does a good pre-chorus ‘Ooh woo hoo hoo’.

Okay, when I say that I should explain that for years there was a debate on who actually sang on the hit: Roger Jouret, the ‘singer’ who appeared as Plastic Bertrand or the song’s co-writer and producer Lou Deprijck.

After years of acrimony and threats between the pair, the argument ended in court, when a Belgian judge acted on the opinion of an expert linguist who, after hearing the 1977 hit attributed to Plastic Bertrand and the 2006 version by the producer concluded that Deprijck had sung on both.

Jouret later finally admitted that he is indeed not the vocalist on Ça plane or any of the songs on the first four albums released under the Plastic Bertrand moniker.

Wham Bam!

Strange how many feelgood songs have acrimonious stories behind them.

The Group That Should’ve Written Star Wars

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Hawkwind – Quark, Strangeness and Charm (Charisma)

Me and science fiction have never been the closest of buddies. Yes, I have enjoyed a number of sci-fi films over the years from Metropolis through to Blade Runner 2049 (a Hollywood sequel definitely worth seeing, whatever next?) If I ever had to appear on Mastermind, though, sci-fi would not be my specialist subject, believe me. In fact, I only finally got round to watching Star Wars for the first time a few months ago, aged 55.

Hawkwind – Quark, Strangeness and Charm album cover

As 1977 dawned and punk increasingly made an impact on British music, Hawkwind seemed pretty much irrelevant to me. Past their sell by date psychedelic crusaders whose following consisted mainly of acid casualties and the kind of space cadets who might have seriously struggled to distinguish between New Year and New York.

Lemmy had been sacked and their dancer Stacia left to settle down to family life.

‘What did you do before you got married, Mummy?’

‘Well darling, I used to paint my body with luminescent blue paint and dance naked with Hawkwind.’

According to Ian Abrahams in his book Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins, Robert Calvert wasn’t making any effort to get the new generation on his side despite privately appreciating some of the music. He dismissed The Clash as ‘The most orthodox band I’ve ever heard. They just play three-minute pop songs and throw in a few slogans’ and he slagged them off for not playing enough benefits.

Which is ironic as Joe Strummer’s initial thoughts on the idea of covering Police and Thieves was to do it like Hawkwind. Famously, the pre-Pistols John Lydon had been a big Hawkwind fan and Robert Calvert was by this point on friendly terms with the younger man and surely, while I’m at it, the single Quark, Strangeness and Charm betrays a definite punk/new wave influence?

Calvert really seems to have missed a trick by declining to publically embrace punk. Doing so certainly hadn’t harmed Marc Bolan’s career.

And – speaking of Bolan – one afternoon, just over forty years ago, I came home from school and switched on the TV to watch Marc where the great man introduced the band as ‘The group that should’ve written Star Wars and didn’t.’


Doesn’t Marc look very relaxed in that clip? I suspect a few glasses of champers may have been quaffed on the day. Funnily enough, I only discovered a few years ago that when he called Hawkwind ‘my best friends’ he was totally fibbing but, hey, this is showbiz and they shared the same management.

The truth is that guitarist Dave Brock didn’t even bother turning up at the Granada studios for the recording as he’d maintained a grudge against Bolan since the early 1970s after they’d taken a dislike to one another at a party. He wasn’t very keen on miming the song either.

*

‘Even this doggerel that flows from my pen has just been written by another twenty telepathic men…’

No, that’s not me (and any telepathic twins). This is a lyric from Spirit of the Age, a chilling Robert Calvert poem set to music and the longest – and possibly best – track on the Quark album.

Here it is.


And if you’re wondering about my thoughts on Star Wars and why I’d never seen it until this year. Well, when it came out I was sixteen and very adult in my own head at least and didn’t remotely fancy paying good money to see a blockbuster featuring badly designed robots and furry animal thingies in lead roles. Nope, that money was instead likely spent on buying records by the likes of XTC, The Stranglers and Wire.

A few months ago, though, I watched a documentary Elstree 1976 which focussed on a number of the minor actors and extras who’d appeared in the movie. The main reason for seeking this out being that I’d did a number of stints as an extra myself decades ago. Not on anything as grand as Star Wars mind you.

Anyway, seeing Elstree 1976 did persuade me to finally give Star Wars a go. Even if I didn’t rate the movie myself I could at least maybe gain an insight into the mindset of the kind of uber-fan who turns up at a convention and voluntarily queues for half an hour to get their mitts on a signed photo of someone who’d only ever been briefly glimpsed in a couple of scenes. Maybe even behind a mask or helmet.

Perhaps inevitably, the film bored me at times and I truly cannot begin to understand why it ever became such a global phenomenon. The plot was predictable, the acting and dialogue often mediocre at best and I suspect if Ed Wood had still been making movies at the time, even he might have been slightly embarrassed by the scene in the intergalactic boozer.

Star Wars? It might actually have been better if Hawkwind had written it.

Goodbye, Holger Czukay

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Can: Animal Waves (Virgin)

I can’t claim to planned this series of my favourite 49 tracks (plus 1 bonus) from 1977 too much in advance but have always known that something from Saw Delight by Can would be included somewhere along the line.

With the recent death of Holger Czukay, it seems appropriate to post this now rather than leaving it till later.

As I’ve written before on here, I pretty missed out on Krautrock during my youth, mistakenly believing that the music was some form of German prog. I did, though, love I Want More when the song entered the charts in the second half of 1976.

Then punk exploded and by the time Can arrived in Glasgow to play Strathclyde Uni in March 1977, they had been forgotten. Filed under irrelevant. Which in hindsight was a mistake. A pretty big fucking mistake when you listen to music like this. My favourite version of Animal Waves is the edited one on Anthology but here’s a much longer version of the song that has never been officially released:


‘I have just turned 46,’ Holger Czukay told the NME back in 1984, while discussing a bathchair in the corner of his kitchen. ‘Still too young to marry! Ha ha. When I’m 80 I will get married and this bathchair will be the present to my wife!’

Unfortunately, Holger never did reach the 80 mark, dying earlier this week aged 79. He did though marry although I’m not sure if his wife Ursula ever received the chair as a wedding gift.

Sadly she died just a few months ago and with Holger’s Can bandmate Jaki Liebezeit passing away too back in January this really has been a horrible year for Can and their fans.

Also from Saw Delight, here’s Don’t Say No which obviously shares a very big resemblance to Moonshake:


RIP Holger Czukay (24 March 1938 – 5 September 2017)

Supernature & A Track from Seventh Tree

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Cerrone: Supernature (Atlantic)

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Musician, composer and producer, Jean-Marc Cerrone is the man behind Supernature. He recorded his first LP, Love In C Minor, in 1976, creating one of the most influential French disco albums in the process, Blues & Soul magazine describing it as ‘Euro-disco at its very best’. It might have been at the time but a year later he surpassed it with his Cerrone III: Supernature album, an edit of the title track going on to became a top ten hit in Britain in 1978.

Around this time some critics began referring to Jean-Marc as the ‘French Giorgio Moroder’ and while I wouldn’t say he was quite of that calibre I can see why the comparisons might be made – and while I’m at it I’ve always thought that Daft Punk’s Giorgio by Moroder sounded a lot like Supernature than any track that the Italian producer has ever been involved in.

Compare and contrast, folks:

 
 
The track was also apparently used as the theme tune on The Kenny Everett Video Show, something I have no recollection of ever watching having a deep dislike of the host.

The other main trivia point about the song is the fact that the lyrics were penned by a young Lene Lovich, who prior to being signed up by Stiff had been busking, providing screams to be dubbed onto horror movies, playing in a funk band and – well according to one site anyway – working as a go-go dancer on Radio One, although what the job description of a radio station go-go dancer might entail is frankly beyond me.

When the Supernature album came out in 1977 though she failed to receive a writing credit – her contribution only being finally recognised when a remix of the song was released in the mid ’80s.

Supernature_'86

Goldfrapp also recorded an album called Supernature and included a track titled Cologne Cerrone Houdini on Seventh Tree.

What yer man Cerrone has to do with this track is also beyond me but I would guess it was just the first word that Alison Goldfrapp thought of that rhymes with Cologne. Well, it certainly beats crone, groan or loan.

I do kinda like clone myself though albeit Cologne Clone Houdini would definitely be a bit of a tongue twister, especially live.

Anyway, here is Cologne Cerrone Houdini:


For more on Cerrone click here.

For more on Goldfrapp, here you go.

All Hopped Up and Ready to Go

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Ramones: Sheena is a Punk Rocker (1977) Sire Records.

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Sheena came out in Britain in the early summer of 1977 and as Charles Shaar Murray noted in his NME review: ‘Look, all The Ramones songs sound like hit singles and then don’t sell, but this is so flat-out delightful that not even the nasty boring dull-as-bleedin’ ditchwater Britpublic will be able to resist it.’

He was right. Helped by their British tour that summer which included a date in Glasgow, Sheena became the first Ramones single to make its way into the British top thirty, joining the likes of God Save The Queen, Peaches and, em, We Can Do It by the Liverpool FC football squad – which luckily I have absolutely no memory of.

Something I would like to be able to say about another hit of the time: The Eagles’ Hotel California.

Ramones - Sheena is a Punk Rocker sleeve & ad

The Bruddas might have sold enough records to make the charts with a song that surely couldn’t even offend someone desperate for offence but still the idea of the band playing a show in Glasgow was being resisted by the authorities in the city.

Local Lord Provost Peter McCann had went out on a high not long beforehand, hitting out at a version of Dracula at the highly respected Citizens Theatre that contained male and female nudity: ‘To put on a disgusting play like this where school children might go in is scandalous.’

Of course, he hadn’t seen it.

Some did entertain the idea that the anti-punk witch-hunt in Glasgow might end with his departure but this was soon proved to be wishful thinking. May ’77 saw the announcement of a new Lord Provost, a pensioner called David Hodge who immediately nailed his colours to the mast.

For the second time in a year The Ramones made front page news in the city’s Evening Times, this time with the headline: NEW PROVOST IN PUNK ROCK ROW; Hodge declaring he’d do everything in his power to stop the debut of the New Yorkers in Glasgow at Strathclyde Uni.

Up until the night of the students only (so no me) show on Saturday 22. May, many concert-goers suspected that they would be denied the chance to see The Ramones, fearing a last minute ban would be enforced but in the end, the nearest threat to a cancellation occurred when the PA blew out after support act Talking Heads’ afternoon soundcheck. Opening their set with Blitzkrieg Bop, the band even played Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, the song that had given them their first Evening Times front page.

Punk Rock 1 Glasgow City Council 0.

Here it is live, Sheena is a Punk Rocker:


Times change. Twenty one years later a punk comedy/musical called Sheena is a Punk Rocker was performed at the Glasgow’s bastion of populist entertainment, the Pavilion, Scotsman critic Mark Brown describing it as ‘more Val Doonican than Iggy Pop’. I didn’t bother paying good music to see it myself.

For more on The Ramones click here and for more on The Ramones and Glasgow related punk rock rows, here you go.

Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa, Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa

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Talking Heads: Psycho Killer (Sire)

“And you may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here’?”

Oops, wrong song and anybody that read my previous post will obviously know how I got here.

Talking Heads first came to some degree of prominence at CBGB where they began regularly supporting The Ramones. This would be an inspired though incongruous pairing: while The Ramones enjoyed portraying themselves as glue-sniffing dumbasses, Talking Heads gave off an intellectual air; while The Ramones always aimed for unflinching machine gun ferocity, Talking Heads employed a slower pace that could vary from song to song and whereas The Ramones wrapped themselves in black leather and ripped jeans in a bid to look like Bowery degenerates, Chris Frantz even once spoke of Talking Heads taking to the stage looking like ‘a bunch of Jesuits’.

Both bands, though, shared some kind of minimalist intent, paring down their sound to the point where absolutely nothing extraneous was left – sensing this producer Tony Bongiovi decided to bolster debut Heads’ single Love Goes to Building on Fire by adding horns and even some birds chirping. David Byrne did regret allowing this but I’ve always been rather fond of as it added a little touch of Stax and I’d guess the singer’s Fa fa fa fa fah-ing on Psycho Killer is also a reference to Otis Redding’s Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Again, unlike The Ramones, Talking Heads were soul fans – best demonstrated later with their inspired cover of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

Sometimes associated with the serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the ‘Son of Sam’, the song was actually written before Berkowitz had notched up his first kill. Byrne initially worked on the track while he, Tina Weymouth and Chric Frantz were all sharing a painting studio while students at the Rhode Island School of Design. He asked Weymouth for some assistance on the bridge as he wanted it written in French – which she was fluent in – and Frantz joined in the fun too with a couple of choruses. A classic was hatched.

With that great staccato guitar, urgent and sometimes unhinged vocal and, best of all, that pulsing, ominous bassline from Tina Weymouth, this is Psycho Killer performed live on The Old Grey Whistle Test:

 
Berkowitz’s final attack, incidentally, took place in Brooklyn on July 31st, 1977 and he was apprehended on August 10th and later sentenced to 365 years in prison, where he still resides.

Psycho Killer was first released as a track on the album Talking Heads:77 in September 1977. A few months later it came out as a single.

For more on Talking Heads, click here.

The Last Days of Earth?

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Rikki And The Last Days Of Earth: City Of The Damned (DJM)

Music critics enjoyed putting the boot into Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth, mainly due to the fact a number of them hailed from posho backgrounds, one journalist gleefully pointing out that the drummer was Eton educated and that, between them, the band had passed 32 ‘O’ Levels and 6 ‘A’ Levels.

Which, of course, automatically meant that they weren’t as good as a gang of guttersnipes who’d all lived in high-rises all their lives.

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Or so some would have had you believe back in ’77, the same kind of folk that have just stopped listening to Kate Bush because she praised Theresa May – nowadays I seem pretty unusual in not feeling the need for artists to agree with my worldview.

Okay, maybe some of the Sounds and NME staff just judged singer Rikki Sylvan to be a dreadful poser and his group to be bandwagon jumpers.

I would disagree at least to some extent with the latter accusation. Yeah, the hair was spiky and at times they employed the same sonic attack as acts judged more credible than themselves but they certainly didn’t lazily embrace any Pistols/Ramones/Clash clone sound and instead explored a similar musical vein to acts like the John Foxx version of Ultravox! and The Doctors of Madness, and which was as near to post-glam as punk rock.

Occasionally resembling that irritating Safety Dance song from the 1980s,
this is City of the Damned, a single that received a miserly 1 out of 5 in the first issue of punk mag Trick. Make up your own minds:


Although I’ve always obviously enjoyed City of the Damned, until a few days ago I had never heard their LP Four Minute Warning released by DJM in the summer of 1978.

This proved to be one of the most frustratingly inconsistent albums I’ve ever listened to, pinballing from the good to the bad to the downright laughable on a track by track basis.

This is a pity as the album starts off with a bang with For the Last Days…, a thrilling (near) instrumental with grandiose guitar lines and the guys sounding like Queen’s younger, punkier brothers, the track ending with the singer proclaiming: ‘I’m Rickki Sylvan, these are the last days of Earth.’

Yes, Sylvan was into apocalypse, decadence, dystopian nightmares (via William Burrough’s Wild Boys) and black magick but he wasn’t all laughs.

Boom boom.

Also on the plus side there’s No Wave (It’s So Simple) with its meaty bassline (listen to it and then listen to Dr Mabuse by Propaganda and you’ll hear the similarity). I’m very fond of the blissful washes of synthesizer that punctuate the song too.

Aleistair Crowley is obviously Sylvan’s tribute to man denounced by the British press as the ‘wickedest man in the world’. Sylvan was a fan of Crowley and the occult but I’m not sure that Crowley would have been a fan of the song. Here the band somehow decided to incorporate a cod reggae feel and the lyrics were delivered with a vocal so arch it borders on the ridiculous. As it does on several other tracks. A shocker.

Mick Farren dismissed the album in NME: ‘Sad to say, what we have as end product is overblown, confusing pomp rock that hasn’t worked out that melodrama isn’t the same thing as energy.’

Music writer Dave Thompson was a fan though. In his book London’s Burning, he painted one of the few favourable pictures I have yet read of the band: ‘They looked great, dripping leather from every limb and never pictured with anything less than their Sunday-best scowls in place, while their live show had to be heard to be believed – a seething, hissing, icy blast, a wall of synthesized menace that sounded like a million dollars and probably cost that much as well.’

I didn’t get to see them myself and I think their only ever Scottish dates were the ones listed in the ad below in Dundee, Aberdeen and Edinburgh but maybe someone can tell me otherwise.

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Does the Rikki and the Last Days Of Earth revival start here?

Probably not I would have to admit.

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