Little Ted

I love everything about this 1977 photo of a young Teddy Boy in London. With his immaculate DA, purple drape jacket, pink socks, and white brothel creepers he looks like a proper dandy. Then there’s the Evening News box, a London newspaper which doesn’t exist anymore, and the Wimpy Bar which is a rare sight in England too now. He’s probably having a burger before heading down the King’s Road to beat up some Punk rockers.

You used to still see a lot of Teds in the 1970s, but at some point in the 80s they just seemed to vanish. I think maybe a lot of the youngsters got into Rockabilly style but I don’t know where the older ones went. Probably moved to Essex where they’re now retired and voting for UKIP.

This is a Rockabilly classic from 1956 that has been covered by The Yardbirds, Aerosmith, and Motörhead but this version still rocks like crazy, man, crazy. 

Download: The Train Kept A-Rollin’ – Johnny Burnette (mp3)


Tough Boys

I must have either been stupid or didn’t listen closely enough when this single came out in 1980 because I had no idea it had a gay subtext even though I actually bought a copy of it.

Townsend dedicated the song to the Sex Pistols and it was seen as a tip of the hat from an old rebel to the new generation which I thought was all there was to it. But lines like “Rough toys, under the sheets” and “Tough boys come over here, I wanna bite and kiss you” not only play up the homoerotic undertones of many youth cults — all those peacocks preening in their sharp suits and leather jackets — but apparently also Townsend’s own sexuality which he has been a bit ambiguous about regarding this record. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Whatever it’s about (and it doesn’t have to be about any one thing) it’s a terrific record and was his biggest solo hit. The video is rather great too, Pete cavorting with Mods and Rockers in a snooker hall.

Download: Rough Boys – Pete Townsend (mp3)

Photo by George Plemper.

The Best Years Of Your Life

When you were a kid and grown-ups told you that school was the best years of your life you always thought they were talking rubbish. Didn’t they know how much you hated school and couldn’t wait to be an adult with all the privileges you thought came with it?

Now I’m a grown-up myself I understand that it was really just wistful jealousy on their part. They would have loved to go back to a time of no responsibility themselves (while also idealizing it) and were pissed off that we didn’t seem to appreciate how golden our existence was. That’s why George Bernard Shaw said “Youth is wasted on the young.”

So of course this Panorama documentary from 1977 looks like a transmission from a golden era to my adult eyes. I was 15 that year and this is almost exactly what my school was like — but without girls sadly — right down to the teacher who would bore us all shitless by playing classical music in morning assembly. 

But I’m not too blinded by nostalgia not to notice how chaotic and rowdy the lessons are, and how frazzled and tired the teachers seem. I didn’t see those things at the time.

This is hardly the most obscure song I’ve ever posted here but over the years it has become one of my very favourite Paul Weller songs. I used to consider it a little throwaway but now I’m older I appreciate more how it captures the fleeting joy of being young before “you find out life isn’t like that”. Weller was only 21 when he wrote this. Was he wise beyond his years or has he always been an old man?

Download: When You’re Young – The Jam (mp3)

The Filth and The Fury

These days the look and sound of Punk is so unthreatening it’s used in television commercials and kids with blue hair don’t even turn heads, but it was once considered a serious threat to the morals of England’s youth. Of course that’s why we liked it, anything that could get up the noses of grown ups had to be a good thing.

This 1977 episode of the BBC current affairs program Brass Tacks is a wonderful time capsule of that era. I remember seeing this at the time it was broadcast as we’d watch anything about Punk. It features some great footage of Punk kids in Manchester, a very young Pete Shelley, John Peel, and an hysterical parade of uptight councilors and clergy. Not surprisingly, Peel (who starts talking around the 34-minute mark) is about the only adult in the room who knows anything about it and doesn’t come across as a reactionary twerp.

Let’s have some of that nasty Punk Rock stuff. 

Download: Neat Neat Neat – The Damned (mp3)

We Got The Funk

I don’t know if the alternative culture program Twentieth Century Box was ever shown outside of London but it was essential viewing. Produced by Janet Street-Porter, it gave a very young Danny Baker his first TV gig and was on the air in the early 1980s during a golden age for British youth culture (and had a theme tune by John Foxx). It devoted episodes to the Rockabilly scene, The New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the Blitz Kids, often providing their first coverage on television.

At the time Danny Baker was at the NME where he’d been a champion of soul and dance music before it was trendy so he may have been the instigator behind this terrific episode about the British Jazz-Funk scene as he had just written a cover story about it for the paper.

As Danny says at the start of the program the scene wasn’t covered properly by the music press and even today it remains a mostly unknown story. The histories of Mods, Skins, and Punks have been chronicled down to the last shirt collar detail, but Soul Boys (and girls) have never received the same attention beyond the occasional joke about Essex boys and Escort XR3is with fluffy dice. Northern Soul gets far more respect despite being conservative and reactionary at heart — we don’t want now’t to do with that soft southern funk rubbish. Brit-Funk was a multi-racial, working class scene full of kids creating their own original styles but it was never as cool. Maybe it was too genuinely working class and non-elitist, you didn’t need the right trousers to join in. It really was all about the music which didn’t give music writers much of a hook.

The thing that strikes me the most watching the wonderful club footage in this show (which starts around the 13-minute mark) is how damn happy and joyous the atmosphere is. I’d forgotten all about that, and it brought a little lump to my throat. This was an era of violence between Punks and Teds, Mods and Rockers, and tense rock concerts where you had to be worried about being crushed by a pogoing mob or nutted by some skinhead, so the kids all saying “there’s no trouble” meant a lot more than it seems now.

My musical tastes were too varied to be 100% part of any scene back then (I liked Earth, Wind & Fire and Joy Division) but I often went to the Lyceum Ballroom on Friday and Saturday nights when Steve Walsh, and Greg Edwards were DJ-ing. The place was always packed to the rafters with kids wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the names of their Tribes from different parts of London — Brixton Front Line, Dalston Soul Patrol — all blowing whistles and chanting along with the records.

The highpoint of the evening was usually the massive communal line-dance to the funky Latin groove of “Jingo” by Candido. Other big tunes from this time were the glittery “Casanova” and the anthemic “Love Has Come Around”. All these are the extended 12″ mixes so get ready for some big downloads, and some dancing.

Download: Jingo – Candido (mp3)
Download: Casanova – Coffee (mp3)
Download: Love Has Come Around – Donald Byrd (mp3)

Photos Album

Why didn’t The Photos make it? They seemed to have all the ingredients for pop success: catchy New Wave tunes and a sexy lead singer in Wendy Wu. But they never had any hits and their 1980 debut album was the only one they released. They recorded a Tony Visconti-produced follow-up but for some reason the record company shelved it and the band broke up soon after.

Their label hyped them as “the British Blondie” and gave them a big marketing push which helped get that first album to #4 in the charts. I bought it on the strength of that buzz – and the fine-looking Wendy – but while it was a solid enough record it was no Parallel Lines. No crime in that of course, especially considering that was Blondie’s third album, so I don’t know why The Photos weren’t given a shot with their second.

You could say they needed more time to develop. Hahahahaha.

Download: Barbarella’s – The Photos (mp3)
Download: Do You Have Fun? – The Photos (mp3)

That second album, titled Crystal Tips and Mighty Mice, was finally released in 2008. I havent heard it but it seems like it might actually be pretty good.