Junior Choice

The album that probably should have been called No, Thank You! as it bankrupted Factory Records, didn’t sell much and got terrible reviews. My copy is still in mint condition so I guess I haven’t played it a lot, I did always like this track though.

Download: Total Ringo – Happy Mondays (mp3)


The best things In life aren’t free

The first time I remember being aware that there was such a thing as politics and economics was one day in the early 1970s when I went into my local sweet shop to buy a bag of crisps and discovered that they had gone down in price from 3p to 2 and a 1/2p. I asked the bloke in the shop why and he said “it’s because of the budget” which I thought must be a wonderful thing if it lowered the price of crisps. I don’t know if Anthony Barber or Dennis Healey was Chancellor of The Exchequer at the time but I like to think it was the latter and that’s why I became a Labour voter — forget Socialism, give me cheap crisps and I’m yours for life. I know 1/2p doesn’t sound like much but you could buy two Black Jacks for that back then.

Then one Friday night sometime later my mum sent me and my sister down to the chip shop with 10p each to buy a bag of chips, only for us to discover that they had gone up to 12p for a bag so we had to go back home to get the extra 2p. Thus my dreams of a Socialist Utopia of inexpensive greasy food and snacks were dashed and I learnt that in politics and economics there’s no such thing as a free lunch — or a bag of crisps — and what they give with one hand they take with the other.

Download: Money (extended version) – The Flying Lizards (mp3)

The Filth and The Funny

When Sex Pistol Steve Jones called Bill Grundy a “dirty fucker” on live television (amongst other four-letter pleasantries) in 1976 it caused a national outcry of screaming tabloid headlines and livid viewers claiming to have kicked in their television sets in disgust. Even though it only happened on a local television show in London it was on at 6 o’clock in the evening just when families were sitting down for their tea. Back then swearing was a very rare occurrence on British telly even in the evenings after the so-called 9pm “watershed” when you’d hardly hear even a “shit” or “bollocks” (unlike today when there’s plenty of effing and blinding), so someone using the F-word* — at teatime! think of the children! — was like a bomb exploding in your living room.

Being only 14 at the time I thought it was all very funny, swear words were thrilling things because they upset grown ups and we weren’t supposed to say them (though my mum only ever seriously frowned on the C-word) and punk didn’t just bring rude words to our television sets but it produced a whole stream of expletive-laden records that pissed all over the concept of good taste and gave it a good kicking too: The Pistols’ “Bodies”, The Stranglers’ “Bring On The Nubiles” and the brilliantly pithy “Fuck Off” by Wayne County & The Electric Chairs which achieved legendary, whispered-about status at my school even though most of us had never actually heard it. These records were talked about like illicit contraband amongst us kids, hearing them — or just hearing about them — gave you the same dangerous thrill you got from reading the dog-eared copy of James Herbert’s gory novel “The Rats” that got passed around school with all the nasty bits bookmarked.

Another record that was talked about like some dark dirty secret we all shared was the comedy album “Derek and Clive (Live)” by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore which came out the same year the Pistols dropped their bombs on Bill Grundy and fit in perfectly with the sweary zeitgeist of the times. Derek and Clive were the drunken, foul-mouthed twins of their cuddly Pete ‘n’ Dud characters and the album was so full of profanity and bad-taste that even Lenny Bruce would have been moved to write an outraged letter to Mary Whitehouse about it. In many ways the album was like the comedy version of “Never Mind The Bollocks” — it was banned by the BBC, WH Smith wouldn’t stock it, and it almost got them prosecuted for obscenity. I had it on tape and my mates and I would sit in the stairwell of my council estate at night listening to it in awe at the level of vulgarity on it, and of course we thought it was hysterically, trouser-wettingly funny — as a song on the album said, I haven’t “laughed so much since Grandma died or Auntie Mabel caught her left tit in the mangle”.

The most notorious sketch was “This Bloke Came Up To Me” in which Dudley Moore spews such a tidal wave of filthy language that, now I’m older and more sophisticated, seems to me to be less funny than just plain surreal. “The Worst Job He Ever Had” literally is surreal though, of course, also full of very rude words. Needless to say, these are highly NSFW as well as NSFSC (Not Safe For Small Children) and probably NSFDL (Not Safe For Delicate Ladies).

Download: This Bloke Came Up To Me – Derek and Clive (mp3)
Download: The Worst Job He Ever Had – Derek and Clive (mp3)
Buy: “Derek and Clive (Live)” (album)

*The first person to say “fuck” on British television was Kenneth Tynan in 1965, an event so singularly notorious I first knew Tynan’s name because of that incident years before I found out he was also a brilliant critic and essayist.

Something for the weekend

Believe it or not but I don’t think I ever played Subbuteo, it looked a bit too finicky to me. I did have a Super Striker game though (with diving goalkeepers!) and my friends and I would have tournaments at my house during the summer holidays. Though as we were all Chelsea supporters there was always a bit of contention over who played with the blue team.

Risky Biscuits

Be careful next time you have a cup of tea and a biccie, according to a recent survey 50% of British people have been injured in a biscuit-related accident at one time or other. These range from burning their fingers trying to retrieve soggy bits of Digestive fallen into a mug of hot tea, dropping biscuit tins on their feet, to somehow poking themselves in the eye with a biscuit. The severity of that last one probably depends on what sort of biscuit it was, a Garibaldi has some sharp edges which could be nasty while a Jammie Dodger would probably only cause mild bruising at worst.

Surprisingly, the most lethal biscuit of them all is the innocent-looking Custard Cream which tops the danger chart with a “Biscuit Injury Threat Evaluation” score of 5.63. Personally I always thought there was something sinister about Happy Faces and I’ve never entirely trusted Fig Rolls which are really little cakes deviously pretending to be biscuits for some shifty reason.

Download: Accidents Will Happen (live) – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (mp3)

Picture Post

I’ve been watching some episodes of the old Wonder Woman TV show recently (before you say anything it was my wife’s idea to watch it, she was a big fan when she was young) and despite the creaky plots, cheesy dialogue and wooden acting it’s actually rather entertaining. Though when I used to watch the show back in the 1970s I don’t think I noticed that it even had things like a plot and dialogue and would have happily watched an hour of Lynda Carter opening a tin of baked beans, as long as she did it wearing that costume.

Download: I Am Woman – Helen Reddy (mp3)

Run DMC said a DJ could be a band

(A little footnote to the previous post.)

For all the ink spent writing about the importance of punk and post-punk, the sounds coming out of Harlem and the Bronx in the early 80s were even more revolutionary and, given how pop music has evolved since, more influential too. Punk liked to proclaim that you didn’t need to know how to play an instrument to make a record, but hip-hop said that you didn’t need instruments at all. As the song said all you needed were two turntables and a microphone.

For several years it was thrilling music but I lost interest in hip-hop by the beginning of the 1990s as I suspect a lot of (white?) people my age did too. I’m not entirely sure why, unlike punk hip-hop never died or went underground but took over the entire planet so maybe the “novelty” wore off and the initial burst of creativity stagnated into cliched sounds and poses. I’m sure there are still great hip-hop records being made but at some point my ears drew a line and said “that’s enough for me, I’ll just stick with the records I’ve already got thanks very much.”

Like these old favourites which still sound fantastic.

Download: The Godfather – Spoonie Gee (mp3)
Download: Rebel Without A Pause – Public Enemy (mp3)
Download: I Know You Got Soul – Eric B and Rakim (mp3)

All that scratching is making me itch

Before 1981 scratching was something you did when you had a rash and sampling was what you did at a wine tasting. Then came “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on The Wheels Of Steel” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five which was the first record to feature a DJ scratching snippets of different tracks together on the fly – in this case Chic, Blondie and Queen – using his turntables as “instruments” to create something entirely new. I remember hearing it for the first time at a house party that year and my reaction was similar to the first time I heard the Sex Pistols, not so much “this is revolutionary genius!” but more like “what the bloody hell is this?” as I tried to dance to it’s stuttering, cut-and-pasted beat. I literally hadn’t heard anything like it before because no one had made a record like that before and it still sounds absolutely mental today.

The second record to have scratching on it (and the first chart hit) came from a highly unlikely source: former Pistols and Bow Wow Wow manager and notorious bullshitter Malcolm McLaren. Back then the idea of that wideboy making a record of his own seemed like it must be a joke, or a con, or both. Turns out he wasn’t all mouth and no trousers though, as not only was “Buffalo Gals” quite brilliant but also — shock horror — one of the most influential singles of the 1980s. There had been a couple of rap hits before — “Rappers Delight” and Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rapping” — but it was “Buffalo Gals” (and its video) that really brought all the other elements of New York hip-hop culture — scratching, breakdancing, sampling, graffiti, DJs — to a wide audience for the first time, and pop music was never the same again.

Download: Buffalo Gals (12″ Scratch Mix) – Malcolm McLaren and The World’s Famous Supreme Team (mp3)

The b-side was pretty silly though.

Download: Buffalo Gals (Trad. Square) – Malcolm McLaren (mp3)

You could be churlish and say McLaren was just a magpie dilettante nicking other people’s ideas for fun and profit. You could also say that a lot of the records brilliance was down to producer Trevor Horn and the funky backing by the musicians who later became Art of Noise (with guest keyboardist Thomas Dolby). The subsequent album “Duck Rock” was full of even more dodgy knock-offs of other musical styles from New York to Soweto, Havana, and Appalachia, producing a collage of global sounds years before your local record shop had a section called “World Music.” It might have all fallen off the back of a lorry but it was a ridiculously entertaining record.

Download: Jive My Baby Jive – Malcolm McLaren and The World’s Famous Supreme Team (mp3)

But, apart from having the crazy balls to come up with the idea of mixing hip-hop with square dancing in the first place, McLaren’s talent was being an instigator and ringmaster and there is a certain genius in having the antenna to identify the sounds and people that are right now, and turning that into gold. He did it with the Pistols and he did it again with “Buffalo Gals”. To help start one musical revolution is impressive enough, to blag a seat at the beginning of the next one too does take some talent, and more front than Blackpool.