Genre Definitions, The Second Guessing of Intent
and the Killed-By-Death-style Punk Rock Rarity
Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
A Top Ten List in homage to Umberto Eco
By Johan Kugelberg
As blogging, posting on boards, maintaining a web site or contributing regularly to professional music magazines really isn't suitable for my humors, please consider this column as what I provide instead of that. After having had my fragile little mind scrambled by Umberto Eco's recent book The Vertigo of Lists and its accompanying ultra-kickass exhibit at the Louvre, I decided to imitate in the fashion of a cap gun imitating a Sherman Tank. So here: I have a little list.
1. More Glam, Pub and Pre-Punk Goodness
The particular amusement to my taste that the hoarding of tone-deaf glam-stompers continues to resound under the scalp, has not lessened its glamorous grip. There's still no on-line discographies of note, even if hepcats like Robin Wills are letting plenty o' kittens out of the bag, so the only way to actually hear some of the dumbest songs in the history of rock is by the ol' trial and error method. You usually need to wade through 1000 singles for each promising-looking 45 rpm that you purchase, and if your Utrecht (record fair) score numbers, say, fifty 7-inchers (which means that the tips of your fingers brushed against 50 000-odd 45's) wrapped in picture sleeves profoundly moronic in that continental glam kind of way, one out of ten of those will have sounds that provide the collars with the cuffs that match, which means that you'll walk home with five separate insights of pure thunka-drum flatulent-fuzztone gnosis. Those 32 I.Q. glam-stompers scratch an itch that otherwise can't be scratched, so therefore I will be seeing you at Utrecht year after year. The unk in the glam-junk, which ultimately is pre-punk, is certainly partially due to these records not being bally-hoed all over the place. I think that the appeal can be summarized as follows:
1:1 The age of the collectors: those born between 1955 and 1965 have emotional memories attached to glam rock, as an equally strong musical connect to that of punk, possibly stronger as these memories pre-date their first punk experiences.
1:2 That the records are cheap. Don't forget that Killed by Death Records-style '70's punk was cheap up until the early 1990's, as were '60's punk records up until the early '80's.
1:3 That the reissues and repackaging and blogging has only just begun.
1:4 The thrill of being the first out of the blocks for the chase.
1:5 That the secret handshake is present in both marinade and meat: 45 distribution in Europe in the early seventies had proven itself worthy as a money maker for record companies big and small: people bought singles, you had a shot at getting on the charts every single week as there were a plethora of count-down radio shows, and some bands that grunted out two chord crud in 1972 had huge hits in the same way as other crude and cruddy bands had 6-7 years previously.
However: Some of the non-believers in the back are muttering that the reason that these obscure records are obscure is that they ain't good, and that when a lifelong consummate record collector starts binging on marginal niche genres it is usually evidence of a jaded palate. What are you gonna do?
The years immediately prior to punk are very toothsome indeed for record collecting on the marginal tip. Not only are there not many reissues going around, there also are really very few writers reinterpreting records from 1970–1976 with punk back-way glasses on. This is good, as the records remain cheap, but this is bad, as one doesn't know what one is looking for until one finds it, which come to think is a thought both romantic and stoic.
Marginal pub rock is where it is at. I remember back in the early 1990's, when I fraternized with the brilliant Victorian punk band Stiffs Inc, and how members of said band could discuss the merits of the Stukas, the Lurkers, Wilko Johnson's Solid Senders and punk-era Downliners Sect in great detail, and with great passion. The ouvre of these artistes is inexpensive in its vinyl incarnation, and as my curiously raised eyebrows dance along to the 45 version of "Roxette," a la the Cadbury commercial, I can't but note how a lot of post-KBD (Killed By Death) collectors are instead choosing to spend their time weighing the merits of marginal power pop bands. I am certainly baffled by power-pop (as was I even way back in the when of the Greg Shaw Bomp-feature days), as I for the life of me couldn't hear anything but watered down commodifications of the raging blaze of the years prior. As I mentioned to an esteemed colleague the other day, as he was slogging through drafts on his introduction to a book collecting more of Shaw's Bomp-era waffles n' falafels, the L.A. & NYC & London-scenesters and biz-types who embraced power pop in '78/'79/'80 truly thought that they were on to the nextest biggest thing, and that the musical glory years of '65/'66 were about to rise like a Phoenix and flush the great white toilet of pop culture hope from any noxious disco/hard rock build-up that the seventies had festered in their Platonic world of skinny-tie ideas.
I think it was the other way around: marginal disco 12-inchers sound fantastic, and there are plenty of amazing major label hard rock albums to be had for cheap. Kraut rock/tranced-out psychedelic space rock fans might want to swallow the bitterest pills of their limited edition vinyl reissues and check out some Hawkwind/Hawklords/Status Quo if they haven't. And in the same breath, listening to power pop records marginal or mainstream just sounds like L.A.-cocaine-session-hack soft rock with narrower pants and lapels and worserer haircuts. Geoffrey Weiss, who often knows right from wrong, is rolling his eyes by now as our 25-plus year friendship has taught him that I can not be counted on to show any interest at all in melody, or for that matter, musicianship, or more so the artistic craft of songwriting as a craftastic art, which probably means that I am disqualified from vexing and venting about, oh, power pop or soft rock or soft psych or orchestral pop or other sucky sucks. Well: I do want attitude, attitude, swagger, and attitude (good name for a law firm) from my rock & roll records, and as I know it, there is more of that to be found on Keggs records than Hollies records, or Electric Eels records rather than Plimsouls records.
2. Ten Uncomped Unknown Uncharted Crazy 45's
The brutish tribalism that prevents the punk fan from embracing the rose petal-like art experiences contained within the voice of, say, Annie Lennox is the ADD hyper-focus that brings about a website devoted to the story of the Tapeworm 45, so dig we must where we stand. Rare Killed by Death-style punk would seem to be an odd thing to go looking for at the Utrecht record fair, especially for someone as old to the game as yours truly. I will readily admit though that there is a fully internalized one-upmanship in finding unchartered, uncomped and unknown punk records from the seventies at this point in time. There are also records that are so rare that they aren't even really worth anything as far as monetary replenishment goes. They are too rare. The blogs haven't blogged about them, the dealers haven't noted them, the fanzines haven't ejaculated over them, they are too rare!
Here are ten obscure KBD/DIY-type records, some of 'em are truly too rare, some slept on, some only napped upon, maybe one or two is only medium rare and one might be well-done, I wouldn't know as I choose not to indulge in the round-the-ankle circle-jerk of on-line nekkid rekkid chat sites.
2:1. Dangerous Rhythm Stray Cat Blues (Orfeon Records, Mexico 1979)
For sheer otherness, this one's up there. Think I'll recycle Ryan Richardson's poignant statement about KBD-mannerisms yet again: for a record to truly bring that KBD-feeling to the party, it needs to be infused with an uncanny outsiderdom as executed by absurd men. Tapeworm is a perfect example of one, as is Chain Gang's "Son of Sam." This Mexican 1979 obscurity lands with a plop right between those two in the most exalted, most hallowed Valhalla of Amateurism. Deserves to be on every want list. The pubertal mud-howl of the vox, the speedfreak strum-chug of the unpunky hyper-Wilko guitar, and a rhythm section that must have made sense to the members of the band, and maybe to the members of the (French) Dogs before they learned how to play, but to the rest of us not such much. As otherworldly as I can imagine Hasil Adkins "She Said" must have seemed to the first rockabilly collector that unearthed one in those days of yore before the stale halitosis of historical proprietorship had consumed all the enthusiasm of that collecting sub-genre, negative-space style.
2:2. Subway Suck I Sold My Ass For Rock & Roll (Snowball Records, Norway 1977)
For the people familiar with the B-minus hard rock-y Subway Suck album, the mythical beast that is this 1977-hyper rarity must be resounding with plenty hype and less beefy umami. Well: Umami is in plentiful supply, and for those that consider "Dog Eat Dog" by AC/DC a pre-punk anthem, this single is truly the unheard masterpiece of Scandinavian '70's punk. The story of how this was withdrawn prior to release, and how a singular 25-count left the (no doubt) splendid office of Snowball Records 32 years ago is well documented on many of the interwebs, but nevertheless makes for a fascinating read. How threatening and appalling the aesthetic language of punk was to your regular everyday Sven and Inga 30-sum years ago is oddly congenial considering how a certain punky/gothy/emo-ey Bambi-stance has reached an omnipotent rite-of-passage actuality for Scandahoovian teenagers these days.
2:3. The Terrorists "Crazy Life" 7" (Rorschach Records, USA 1982)
I think it sounds early eighties, and the record certainly looks like a West Coast record, so, hurray! Another mega-rarity! This superb, noisy drum-machine-driven noisy fuzz-punk track came to me via my London-based friend Jim, who has a voluminous track record of unearthing insane records, and being the first to do such. Luckily for me, late-'70's/early-'80's fuzz/noise slop isn't his primi piatti, so he kindly let me bring this record back with me.
Repeated googling has resulted in oh sweet nuthin', asking the inner circles of the rare punk Taliban what on earth is up has resulted in Sweet FA, and repeated enjoyment of the disc in question has had the jaw repeatedly drop to a point where one is starting to resemble a Big Daddy Roth drawing.
The A-side has the same energy as those Endtables records, a Pere Ubu-ian falling-forward stumbling propulsion that beggars repeat listen. The flip is first-rate art-skronk DIY: like an inept MX-80 Sound.
2:4. Flying Calvittos Lucky To Be Australian (Groove Records, Australia 1980)
A strange noise-rock monstrosity from the nation behind, come to think of it, some of the finest records in the genre (SPK's "No More," Slugfuckers "Deaf Disco", any early Tactics). This record however is hopelessly obscure, and doesn't have much of a reputation outside of the want lists of Oz-punk completists. That is wrong, wrong! The EP ranges from sick, amazing Electric Eels/X Blank X noise/art/punk howl to Residents-y blubber to the oddly anthemic klutzy and scrappy atmosphere of the title track. It is odd that this band sank without much of a trace, especially as it seems like they hailed from Sydney.
2:5. Rebel D'Punk Mi Nueva Nacion (Discos Cobra, Mexico 1984(?))
They are gods. What can I say? Now that the punk generation are counting their blessings and plucking their chickens and releasing documentaries and books left and right, quite oftenly sounding like the four fellows in that Monty Python skit, attempting to trump each other in tales of suffering and hardship (ED NOTE: 'Four Yorkshiremen' sketch), at the same time as it is declared with a loud, calm, steady and geriatric voice that all the real punk had already died itself dead by, oh, March of 1975 or '76 or '77, it is as refresco as a piece of fresh mango with some chili, lime and salt to hear the rugged tough-guys of Rebel D'Punk blast one of the mightiest punk records I've ever heard, executed in the determinately un-punk/un-KBD year of 1984. They are gods, they are masters of the craft: the Cochran-cover on the flip (loosely and I do mean as a goosely loosely) based on the Sex Pistols version, is in stark competition Mexican-wrestler-style for the championship belt today and anyday.
These men are kings of punk, gods of punk.
2:6 The Dogs "Cette Ville Est Un Enfer" (Philips Records, France 1980)
2:7 The Fuzz Satan's Fans (Cime Records, France 1981)
2:8 Gerard Depardieu "La P'tite Agathe" (Philips Records, France 1980)
I love the French. I love their wine, their food, the landscapes, even the Parisians, and I do really love their punk. I always thought that French punk was an unfair recipient of collector scum slappage, and as I just navigated through a stack of big-name big-legend big-price American punk monsters, and didn't find enough musical merit to let them remain in their respective grease-puddle on the record shelf (Decadents, Jackie Shark, Absentees), I'd like to contrast and compare with a troika of French records that I think are much unfairly slept on, and hence quite inexpensive, notwithstanding their substantial rarity. "Satan's Fans" by Fuzz was one of those records that I kept asking everyone about for years. Have you heard it? Have you seen it?
Do you know anyone with a copy? The usual (wonderful) ordeal. As Stuart Schreder pointed out on his exemplary website shitfi.com, the presence of a record on the want lists of (so called) big name fans will always result in it being added to the want list of the lesser-big name fans, and the Gordian knot will roll down the hill and snowball before Sisyphus puts his copy up for sale on eBay.*
One remains baffled by The Dogs instinctive understanding of many rock idioms. On this one, Sterling Morrison would have been mighty pleased to hear "Eight Miles High" played in a Velvets-setting, and on the flip a perfect example of The Dogs stanza circa Walking Shadows (ultimately I think their best album), a voice as singular as anybody working in that odd and strict '70's/'80's record collector rock flavor; Flamin' Groovies, Nuggets, Dave Edmunds, MC5's Back In The USA, you know the drill. I think this was issued as a bonus 7" with that exceptional album. Ultimately, I think the Dogs will be worshipped as masters of the craft in the same manner as the heroes of the Dogs late lead singer/lead record collector Dominique.
Right about now seems to be a time as good as any to listen to Gerard Depardieu's best punk howl as exemplified on a promo-only 45 where Bijou (remember them?) are backing Gerard on "La p'tite Agathe" a mere lunch-munch 60 second speed punk blast, issued as the flip of Jane Birkin moaning through a bible segment set to crap reggae. A soundtrack to a Serge Gainsbourg flick called "Je Vous Aime". I know you don't think so, but this record exists and is pretty damn good!
* The logical end-game being that the drummer decides to google his former band one day, then to his amazement finds out how much his old record is worth and starts selling off the 490 copies he has left of the 500 copy pressing.
2.9 Cyklon Og Anti-Cyklon (no label, Denmark 1981)
This Danish 1981-noise/mess must be celebrated as possibly the finest slice of flatulent scrape-noise-punk-freeform I've heard. An astonishing racket: noisy psych-punk ala Fuckin' Flyin A-Heads mingled with fantastic Fall-esque noise-throb. My oh my. Those speakers be blistering.
This Sort Sol-related mess was considered one of those impossible records for years (50 copies pressed, hand-cut sleeves made from old maps, rubber-stamped labels, you've heard the story before) but this has recently shown up as a more-or-less facsimile reissue, difficult to discern from the (no doubt) much more toothsome original!
2.10 Vega Menighet – EP (Flass Records, Norway 1981)
In 1981, the anything-goes trickle of independent record production had reached the 15-year old Dag Marius who recorded and released this EP with his pal Oddbjorn Edvardsen. The record is monstrously amazing: God-Walks-Among-Us doofus/inept/in-joke DIY nonsense, lacking even in the most base notions of communicating with anyone except the voices inside their heads and the autistic-identical-twin dialogue that I gather prevailed throughout the recording process. The UK artists Sue Webster and Tim Noble built a sculpture a few years ago that I've always dug: it is called "Two Dirty Fucking Rats" and consists of a pile of kitchen garbage, fast food containers and general rubbish that as it has a light source projected upon it casts a shadow that looks exactly like a couple of rats having sex. Well, the the Vega Menighet EP, as it spins on the gramophone casts a large shadow, but one of abject beauty where this ballistic teenage in-joke provides some sort of gnosis on the brilliance of unfettered creativity and its resulting monument to the absurd man.
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2.11 Geitost "Imorra Babylon" (Bröd Records. Norway 1981)
The A-side consists of an anti-cop noise frenzy (I think this must've been some kind of street theatre protest project) that funnels straight into howled-vox boogie-rock/DIY with one of the most plinka-plunka guitar solos I've ever heard plunka-plinka'd. The whole mess is wildly out of tune, and more on the psychotic side than the band name which translates as "goat cheese" would imply. The B-side is super-fried hippie/noise DIY, sort of like Here & Now, but crazy, completely crazy! Not that we are going to start trusting Wikipedia at this point, but according to them/it/Satan, the main guy in the band, poet/green activist Jan Bojer Vindheim is sorta embarrassed of his guitar solo and doesn't like to fess up to his involvment . Write him a fan letter! I am sure he has a few hundred copies left to sell you.
3. Ten KBD-style monster tracks that are way cheap
And here are ten that are super-easy to find that most definitely deliver the same bang for far less buck than all those Butchy Butch and the Butch Butchers.
3:1 Rost "Levande Rost" 7" (R&P Records, Sweden 1981)
A perfect example of a band that would most likely have gotten pissed off if they'd been accused of being punky, but nevertheless: this hyper-charged and blitzkrieged take on Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You" sounds positively Stoogian. The ripping leads are in the James Williamson-pocket, and the disintegrating rhythm section could be a pair of intoxicated Asheton brothers. The intent was certainly not punk, what we have here is a certain kind of rarified Stockholm-record-collector-rock. The sounds streaming out of my speakers, tho', are as punked out as all get.
3:2 Swell Maps "Dresden Style" (Rough Trade, UK 1978)
Thousand-dollar-stare water-closet fuzztone slop from a band that never stepped sideways and never delivered inferior product even if they at times intentelly attempted such. The barn-peeling and paint-storming guitar solo on "Dresden Style" is Oscar the Grouch inviting Tommy Gunn from the Pagans to record inside his trash can. This record has been erroneously priced at 5-15 dollars on Interbay, where the correct tag should have been in the lower four figures, as we all know that musical merit is what steers the hand clutching the Paypal wallet.
3:3 Devo "Penetration in the Centerfold" (Virgin, UK 1979)
Jon Spencer, whose taste has always been better than his music, covered this insane art/punk audio-self-destruct with his first band Pussy Galore (it is probably the best thing they ever did). I love Devo, and have over the years been enough of a Wally to acquire CDR's of early demos, live concerts, outtakes and all that. The early years in Akron, Ohio circa 1973-1976 are twined with the American pre-punk hep, and the rabid attack of this record hints at this frenzied sludge having its origin early on in the bands career, but that's just a guess. As this is the flipside of "The Day My Baby Caught Me Surprise" which was a big record, one of the few American art-punk 45's that can rival SPK's "No More" or Mittageisen's "Hardcore" can be had for mere cereal money.
See Part II of this article
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