Tu Fais Chanter Mon Coeur

Keeping the foreign language thing going for one more post…

One of the many bands and musicians Chrissie Hynde hung around with before she formed The Pretenders was a Power Pop group from Yorkshire called Strangeways. They only released a couple of singles before they broke up but a few years ago a compilation album of unreleased material came out which featured this terrific French version of “Wild Thing” they recorded with Chrissie on vocals in 1978.

If you think the idea of Chrissie Hynde singing in French sounds sexy as hell, you’d be right.

Download: Chose Sauvage – Chrissie Hynde & Strangeways (mp3)

Photo from Paula Yates’ book Rock Stars In Their Underpants.


Mind Your Language

Do artists record foreign language versions of their songs anymore? It used to be a common practice as a way to appeal to a non-English speaking audience. Most were rubbish but some gained in translation, like Bowie’s “Helden” which benefited from the dramatic Teutonic power of German.

Then there’s The Stranglers’ “Sverige” which must be the only one that takes the piss out the country in whose language they’re singing. 

The original version “Sweden (All Quiet On The Eastern Front)” was a track on their 1978 album Black and White and is about what a boring place Sweden is, the “Only country where the clouds are interesting” according to the lyrics. Being such a wacky bunch of guys they thought it would be a super jape to actually record it in Swedish and release it in Sweden.

Not surprisingly it wasn’t a hit. No sense of humour, those Swedes.

Download: Sverige (Jag Är Insnöad På Östfronten) — The Stranglers (mp3)

Street Style

The first issue of i-D magazine came out just a few months after the first issue of The Face in 1980, and both publications would go on to define and catalogue the coming decade in different ways. While The Face was glossy and slick from the very start, i-D looked more like a punk fanzine. The first issue was 40 hand-stapled, two-colour pages that cost 50p and was printed by Better Badges, the Portobello Road maker of punk badges who had expanded into a cheap printing service for London’s music fanzines.

Founder/Editor/Designer Terry Jones (who had been the Art Director of British Vogue and designed the PiL logo) used a visual style he called “instant design” with layouts put together using photocopies, stencils, typewriters, handwriting, and collage. Jones also recognized that what was happening style-wise on the streets at the time was far more exciting than anything coming down the catwalk and that’s what the magazine focused on.

He couldn’t have picked a better time to do so because 1980 was when England’s streets were a peacock parade of youth cults: Mods, Punks, Skinheads, Rockabillies, Rude Boys, Teds, Soul Boys, New Romantics, and kids who just had their own style. i-D shot them from head-to-toe on the street in a format they called the “straight up” with simple captions detailing where they got their clothes from and what music they listened to.

This was also the era of DIY self-expression kicked off by Punk. A lot of the kids they featured put their looks together from things they bought at basic high street shops like M&S and Millet’s, together with second-hand shop finds, stalls in Kensington and Camden Markets, or items they customized themselves. As someone who was trying to look a bit cooler back then i-D‘s attitude helped take some of the closed-off mystique out of fashion and make the trendy shops of Chelsea and Soho seem a bit less intimidating to a clueless newbie like me.

The first ten issues were in an unconventional landscape format but even when it switched to a standard portrait size and became more colourful the magazine still kept it’s punky edge: type was stretched and warped on a photocopier and it was printed in clashing colours that pushed the bounds of legibility. The Face was probably a better read at the time and it’s design is more heralded, but i-D had its ear closer to the underground and I think it’s look was very influential on 90s magazines like Wired and Ray Gun.

In case you’ve never noticed it, the i-D logo is a winking face turned sideways (it’s one of the first emoticons), and every single cover has featured someone either winking or covering an eye. Remarkably, i-D is still going today — years after all the other “style bibles” have gone kaput — though it no longer looks like a fanzine.

Back in 1980 Terry Jones had been told there was no money in street fashion which is why he published the magazine himself. Now any new youth styles are almost immediately copied for sale on the racks at Top Shop, instantly commercialized like everything else. Photographing ordinary people’s style on the street is a fashion magazine staple now, and there are blogs dedicated to it. Sadly all the cool indie boutiques and markets of Chelsea and Kensington that used to be in i-D have been replaced by chains and cell phone shops.

Here’s some dirty funk from 1984 that the i-D club kids would have been dancing to at the time. I know I did.

Download: In The Streets – Prince Charles & The City Beat Band (mp3)

New Monday

So nice to have The Clientele back after a seven year break since their last album. What’s even nicer is their new album Music For The Age of Miracles is one of their best and reminds me a lot of the woozy fogginess of their earlier records.

Given the rainy-day-in-London nature of their records I was always surprised that they seemed better known in America than back home. But since they’ve been away their tiny cult seems to have grown. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Something for the Weekend

Never knew how much I needed to hear Debbie Harry sing “Love TKO” until I saw this clip from SNL in 1981. On top of that she also does a great version of Devo’s “Come Back Jonee” and introduces The Funky Four Plus One. It’s all fantastically great. Pity about the painfully unfunny sketch in the middle though.

Dirty Old Town

I look at photos of London from my youth and it looks like another world compared to the shiny capitalist megapolis the city is now. The scars of WWII were still everywhere in the form of old bombsites that had been untouched for decades and become wastelands surrounded by brutalist corrugated iron fences. I don’t think we knew what they were at the time, just that we had all these empty spaces to play in and that the city was a bit shabby, the colour of a smoker’s lungs, with dog shit all over the pavements.

Look at these photos of the East End in the 1960s and you wouldn’t think Swinging London was happening just a few miles to the West. Or these ones from the 1970s where the city often looks like the set of some bleak post-apocalyptic movie.

Many of the buildings were black with soot. Famous landmarks like St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, and Westminster Abbey in particular were reminders of why London used to be called The Big Smoke.

They’ve since been cleaned up and restored to their original glory, but having grown up with the dirty versions they don’t look quite real to me anymore. With all the centuries of history washed off them they seem more like faux reconstructions at a Disneyland London theme park.

There was a street near us I didn’t like walking down when I was a kid because the tall, dirty-grey terraced houses on either side turned it into a dark canyon that I found a bit creepy. The dusty net curtains and peeling window frames of the houses didn’t help either, nor did the fact that no one seemed to live in these houses because I never saw anyone going in or out of them. Almost every street back then had a dingy house your friends claimed was inhabited by some crazy old person you never saw.

Our estate was built in the 1960s but every flat still had a coal chute by the front door (we never used ours but the chute was handy for getting in when I’d forgotten my key) and some older people on the estate still had coal delivered in big black sacks well into the 70s. To add the extra Dickensian touch, I can still remember the Rag & Bone man clip-clopping down our street with his horse and cart, even an old bloke who used to ride around in a bath chair.

The modern London we recognize today didn’t start to appear until the 1980s. Young, middle-class professionals started buying houses and doing them up, giving the old exteriors a new lick of paint which made formerly dingy streets brighter. Property prices skyrocketed, and new restaurants and shops appeared in response to this influx which changed the character of so many neighborhoods. I lived in Clapham for a while after leaving college and I remember overhearing these two Sloane Ranger girls on the Tube talking about their houses (a major dinner-party topic back then). One said she had lived in Clapham for two years and her friend replied “Oh so you’re one of the originals then!” as if the area hadn’t existed before their kind brought with them the new wine shop and trendy Tapas bar.

I’m not going to romanticize dirt and decay, but at least London was more affordable back then. The remodeled houses, gourmet sandwich shops, and gastropubs are all very nice, but they’ve created a different kind of wasteland.

Download: London Bye Ta-Ta – David Bowie (mp3)