Genre Definitions, The Second Guessing of Intent
and the Killed-By-Death-style Punk Rock Rarity
A Top Ten List in homage to Umberto Eco, Part 2
By Johan Kugelberg
3:4 Jilted John "Jilted John" (Rabid Records, UK 1978)
I think that the pinnacle of record production that was ever reached by Joy Division producer Martin Hannett, was certainly not the two albums they did together, nope. You got to say nope when you can't say yep. Martin Hannett in my book was more the wally responsible for taking the awesome Stooges/Pagans/Motorhead live-blaze of Joy Division and turning it slightly fruity.
Fully knowing that legions of doomed dorm dorks have digested these two albums with a gusto that they possibly should have reserved for Philadelphia Cheese Steak sandwiches, I do think that the merits of this great rock band do not correctly correspond with their studio output.
Hannett can be directly blamed for the water-closet ker-splash of the gated snare drum and the festering coagulations of digital reverb that f---ed the collective s--- up in eighties and nineties "alternative" record production.
This was examplified on the baroquely grotesque Unknown Pleasures and Closer LP's: not in a way necessarily unpalatable, but as those LP's became a norm for how to execute quality audio in a recording studio, sort of like Making Movies or Brothers In Arms for people dressed in black with short hair, the imitations mostly ended up as sucko.
Well: as his production on the Jilted John single is certainly the pinnacle of a career that later on came to include records that either don't sound so good or sound too good (depending on what side of the tracks one is keeping ones nose on), one should acknowledge this amazing single, as one acknowledges his other production masterpieces like Spiral Scratch and the Times Up bootleg. Or maybe they are two different people? Martin Hannett likes digital delay and Martin Zero likes snacky and crunchy punk guitars.
Jilted John was not only thee punk-cash-in novelty hit of 1978, leading to a myriad of Top of the Pops appearances and half-assed novelty follow-ups, but more so a stunning punk record complete with A Guitar Sound worthy of comparison to the Honey Bane single on Crass Records or the Opus "The Atrocity" 45. The base festering attack of this mighty tune is fueled by the kind of demented teenage audacity that seems to reach the mainstream chart nevermore, sadly enough.
3:5 Lurkers "Shadow" (Beggars Banquet, UK 1977)
3:6 Lurkers "Ain't Got A Clue" (Beggars Banquet, UK 1978)
At some point in the yore of my Ugly Things-hacking, I dismissed these gents as lager-crappy Lurkers, attempting shallowly and stupidly to prove some long-forgotten point about a pricey KBD-record I thought should be less pricey.
Well, the lager-crappiness of the Lurkers is exactly the reason that these records are the sun-rise exercise of choice for any '70's punk record-raker that has figured out that the records that spill most oftenly on the turntable ain't necessarily the pricey ones. I hereby place the Lurkers humble hair pie in my face as we need lager-crappy punk in our lives like the fish needs chocolate. These two 45's, both substantially cheaper than a pint of lager, are intoxicating sturm-und-drang that seems to sound better by the decade.
Ridiculing the Lurkers in favor of, oh I dunno, the Horrible Nurds or "I Gave My Punk Jacket To Richie" is the kind of conduct that signifies the need for a spectator while we blast records on the ol' gramophone. Is this the kind of nonsense that music blogs are leading us towards? Mea maxima culpa!
3:7 The Rings "I Wanna Be Free (Chiswick, UK 1977)
Epically shmucky thug-trad-by-numbers rocker-punk blaze executed by aging hippies not willing to let the green-haired young-uns spin dough-nuts around them as they were bombarded with alpaca skid-marks. ** Both sides of this chirpy cheapie (you'll have money left for the chippy) proves that thug-punk was the mastered domain of the (ex) hippie.
** Alpacas are master spitters – Edumucational Ed.
3:8 The Kursaals "Television Generation" (CBS, UK 1977)
There's evidence that every member of the Kursaal Flyers were sporting humungous Jeff "Skunk" Baxter-style moustasches, Great Gatsby-baggies and those knitted multi-colored pull-overs during the very recording of this single, and that the short-haired skinny-tie-dudes flamboyantly punk-draped in an alleyway on the picture sleeve were the nephews of the band. Muff Winwood producing, and a Feelgoods/Kilburns 12-bar chug B-side tells the tale of aging pub rockers punking out to pay the rent. Not that there's anything wrong with that. You can certainly hear that Winwood brought some sort of punk awareness with him to his work on the first Dire Straits*** album a couple of months after this session. This record is one of the finest examples of expert musicians dumbing it down for the proverbial kids, a tactic that have failed every single time its been attempted since the advent of time.
*** I can't even begin to say how good it feels to know that Dire Straits will be found in a google search of my name! Not once but twice in one article! As I might be picking a bit of a dust-up as I type, dare I mention that the similarities in sound betwixt Dire Straits and Television should be stage-whispered during those rules and protocol meetings that'll be structured once the mid-managers of the punk-apocalypse will start getting it together to make a move-on.
3:9 Blurt Get (Test Pressings, UK 1981)
Collecting KBD-style punk is usually not alright (or compatible) with liking saxophones. An exception here tho': The B-side of the effortlessly pastoral, wide-open and screechingly noisy classic "My Mother Was A Friend Of An Enemy Of The People" is an insane barnacle of scuzzy-punk energy that could find its way to its inclusion as a potent pizza-topping at a collector scum one-upmanship afterparty.
3:10 Tears "Tonight" (Sonet, Sweden 1978)
Can't seem to get enough of that grill-punk sound: you know the kind, slightly too constipated, too swishy 'the lady doth protest too much, methinks'-tough-guy antics, a hard-rock/NWOBHM (New Wave of British Metal) flavoring agent, and a general smegmoid bar-band atmosphere that at some point must have resulted in the disc being returned to the dollar bin with a sneering yeech by the KBD-aficionado, Well, these records are sounding better and better aren't they? The flaming discovery and glutted prices of Hurriganes records, and the increased attention placed to metalloid punk of the late '70's/early '80's proofreads the pudding. Tears were a glam rock band that released three LP's of varying snackability (the second is the best one, and contains a couple of tasty glam-slop slices), and by 1978, were delighted to be included in the Sonet Records series of sleeveless red vinyl seven-inchers devoted to the new thing. The series might be notable for a couple of pretty good records ("Heartbreak Hotel," "Hangover") and some more aligned to the totalitarian A&R sketchiness of a 1978 medium-sized record company wanting a bit of that new short-haired rock & roll without offending the long-haired executive management.
4. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra
"I am the proprietor of the Penguin Cafe, I will tell you things at random." "Random" is how my children refer to amazing things out of the ordinary. When Simon Jeffes woke from a fever dream, this is what he took with him from his personal sanctified Other Place. He decided to form a band with the aim of performing music of human visceral immediacy and simplicity. He succeeded, hopefully beyond his wildest expectations. "What I heard was straight from the source, why it is we play music, that gut level sound of humans being human. There was a joy to it, an ease and integrity straight from the stomach and the heart. It wasn't mediated by the mind at all." White soul, like the Feelies, like watching an old ska record collector step out of his jadedness and commence that two-footed shuffle when the drive of the tune can't help him from starting to shimmy like his sister Kate is ultimately a holy moment: the strife of love in a dream.
In the summer of '77, Jeffes orchestrated music honoring the queen of England's silver jubilee, at the same time as he was getting paid by Malcolm Mclaren and the Sex Pistols for work he was doing for them. Somewhere within that exceptional ability in playing double nickels on the dime is the core iconoclastic splendor of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Jeffes' favorite comment about PCO, was made by a Japanese girl at a concert: "This music is strange", she said, "it sounds like music I heard a long time ago."
5. Lars Hollmer and Von Zamla
The track "Harujänta" reverberates in my expatriate soul with the power of a childhood summer food. His recent death had me reach for his records, and what he did within a Scando-folk plus RIO-idiom is nothing short of amazing.
6. Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
The effortless brilliance of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 makes me wonder how long it'll take for this lengthy slew of albums to be rediscovered by you young people. 40-somethings and 50-somethings end up distributing a lot of gum-flap spittle in regards to the times and bands and shows and drugs and sandwiches they were there for, so I'll just take my faux-finished ass over and get in line: when I consider the bands that I was involved with in capacities of varying dubiance during my youth-man years, I can only really think of Union Carbide Productions, Os Mutantes, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, The Monks, Chain Gang and Slayer to round out a list with Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 on it. In the late eighties and early nineties, they by far superseded their indie-rock cred brethren and sistren:
6:1 The propulsion and attack and sheer crunchy noise (especially live) out-stripped all those bands with autopsy album covers and lyrics about baby-eating, that festered in the Midwest and on the Lower East Side.
6:2 For absurd tunings and abject tonalities that never ceased to dazzle, surprise and amuse - all done with a sense of wonder and/or discovery devoid of big-city east coast insider smirk - they were positively Circle X-esque and Circle X-ian.
6:3 And when it came to pure psychedelic mind-melt fuckery, they were the only band that I saw that came close to Butthole Surfers flawless disarray, when the Butthole Surfers were at their prime circa 1986-1988.
TFUL282 remained marginal, underground and utterly beloved by their small legion of fans. I think it all seemed too goofy, and their dismissive attitude to image and (constipated tough-guy) stance has prevented them from reaching the post-cause legend of all those sucky bands from the same era. TFUL282 were superbly insulated and self-indulgent, each one of their albums devoted in equal proportions to carefully administrated and orchestrated sound-craft, and rehearsal space boom-box slop. Their origin in Iowa, and transplant to that capitol of self-aware outsider braggadocio; San Francisco, all but make perfect sense as one considers their brilliant heritage with extended and elastic 20/20-backwards specs. I always thought of TFUL282 when one of my (older) record collecting buddies attempted to get me pumped up over San Francisco sixties psychedelia. TFUL282 were truly the kind of musical mind melt that I expected but didn't get out of those Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane records, lo-fi as they were, the multi-directional super-dynamic barrage of the first four albums makes them absolute classics of their era. What TFUL282 would have sounded like all along with 'proper' record production is one of those armchair quarterback shoulda-coulda-wouldas that rock fandom reverberates with. As I listen to the meticulous sound craft of Bob Weston's production (always superior in skill to his odious boss Steve Albini) on the later records, I can't but think a little thunk of what he would have done to the mighty but (intentionally) lo-fi early albums.
7. Lux Interior: RIP
The storyline in Arthur Machen's short story "The Inmost Light" where the soul of a scientist's wife is trapped within a jewel by him, but where this process brings an all-consuming otherness to the remainder of her day is an apt metaphor for how the music of the Cramps enters ones psyche, certainly steals your soul, but happily leaves it residing within your body together with a lifelong illumination, an illumination that stays within.
Your internal light will guide you.
That life ends for other people isn't surprising or shocking, even as the notion of our own death is impossible and intellectually absurd, which in some cases brings us snuggly into the lap of religion, where the alternative lonely singing-in-the-rain-style tap in an unwanting void devoid of meaning feels emotionally unpalatable, in turn bringing us on controlled quests for oblivion. As our meat dream of an octafish continues, we stumble on towards darkness and the towering silhouette of time in conquest. A rapidly diminishing future cannot be vexed with an accumulated past of qualitative reality, as counter-point to the quantitative reality that remains for us.
As Lux Interior breathed for 62 years, this breath infused us all with meaning. The records land repeatedly on the gramophone, and the people who exclusively prefer their early work are not paying attention to the stoic reality of how the passing of time works. The turmoil that his death set off inside me, had me reach for all their albums, and I can say that the power of the work never receded much or at all, check out "Let's Get Fucked Up" from 1996's Flamejob. The last time I saw the Cramps was the best gig I saw them do, that after having attended a myriad gigs executed by a cornucopia of lineups.
Such joy a mere mortal as in the presence of divinity, such elevation as when earth, water, fire and air, came together in this garden fair, wrapped in leopard skin, snake skin and vinyl, motorized with the breath of the ancient and justified.
Lux Interior (gnosis) as Lux E Tenebris: light out of darkness.
8. The Feelies 1977 demo tape
As bright as the whitest Velvets, and almost as hot.
9. Tesco Vee invented Killed By Death
I was just glancing at the Magna Carta of 70's punk collecting, and it sure ain't KBD #1. It is an article Tesco Vee wrote for the July 1984 issue of Maximum Rock & Roll. The wonderment and enthusiasm of uncharted territory formally gleams like a golden shower of non-hits, splashing over the fade-to-gray MRR newsprint: alas, the map was on the territory. The front-man of a classic first generation 'zine (Touch & Go) and the buyer at a classic record shop (Dearborn, Michigan's Schoolkids) and the vocalist for a punk/hardcore-overlap/over-slop band of great merit (the Meatmen) is furthermore a friggin' oracle when it comes to the ins n' outs of the '70's punk collecting maze. I feel morally obliged to quote at length from this article. Dude:
"OK, so what if we were in the wrong place at the right time… so what if we would have given our collective left nuts to see some of those legends… the fact remains we could console ourselves with the little slabs of plastic that we somehow fondled like they were glasses of Ghandi's urine… these discs were somehow special… we know not why… we documented our love for these precious mammy's in our own rag… at they traversed the turntable they were written about/listened to/came upon/etc… the 7" piles grew larger at alarming rates… the feeling that you somehow had this hidden knowledge that nobody else had about this vibrant subculture…"
The Classy Freddie Blassie of punk. The front cover of this issue of MRR, illustrating Tesco's article, features pics of 45's like, oh, the Negative Trend EP, Rotters "Sink The Whales," Necros "Sex Drive," Fresh Color's eponymous and the Huvudtvätt 7" to name a few. Onwards fellow pencil-neck geeks! Onward!
This was 1984, and these records were not only hard to find already back then, but imagine searching for these discs without interwebs or eBay's or popsikes. It seems, if one is to commence a web search or ten, daily, accompanied by the same search on eBay (rare KBD is a good one), then one will surely notice how the audience for rare KBD has grown exponentially as new punters are added: the jams themselves become available for everyman, first as home-recorded mixed tapes, then as compilation LP's, then as CD reissues of the LP's, then as home-burned CDR's, then downloads, then streams. Our endzone how all secret handshakes keeping Punky Bambi away from the people that really truly were the ones who killed her have been eradicated as Hot Topics opens it 750th retail store. If these statements need to be followed by some hard science.
I would suggest that a glance is made at the following equation, where "X" is the number of Ramones t-shirts sold before the band broke up, and "Y" is the perceived efficiency of the logo to boost the sense of self-worth of the mall-shopping adolescent. The same equation can be put into play where "X" are the number of copies of a rare KBD-style masterpieces that the group in question sold during the duration of their tenure, and the "Y" is the number of times that a "unique" opportunity to obtain this "mega-rarity" has occurred on eBay. The terminology certainly has changed: We need new words. Rare records, or hyper-rare records, or impossibly rare mega-rarities that only show up this once and is your only chance in this your only visit on this planet to obtain this particular mega-punk KBD-rarity are phrases that we can no longer under any circumstances trust, as the record that is impossible to obtain is possible to obtain, as a copy has made itself available for sale right in front of you on the bleakly bluish pale of your computer screen. And then you go to popsike.com and forget about it!
Ten copies of the same record have sold on eBay in the past two years.
If a once-in-a-lifetime hugga-mugga-mega-giga-rarity has shown up that often, then what are rare records? Are there rare records? Does it matter that the record is rare? A streamed version of the track is available on the Black Denim Mouth-breather Blog. Quite enjoyable too, (barely) reverberating through those tinny computer speakers. Lo-fi and all that. And you don't have to spend 800 bucks to own those sounds pressed onto plastic at some point in the past pastures of yore. How come it doesn't feel that great? Look at that event horizon: all those tracks, all that punk. Ones and zeros in row after row.
10. Disco Rules. As does early hip hop. And early Detroit techno. But only if it is primitive.
The splendid youth-combo the Dirtbombs are about to release an album of cover versions of early Detroit techno jams. The record is fantastic: bringing in a krautrocky droniness to the primitive sounds of electronic necessity that streamed out of Detroit in the early eighties, in themselves a masterful continuation of the early disco-rap sounds of the South Bronx and the delightfully inept private press disco 12"s pressed up throughout the USA in the wake of the mass-market success of disco in the late seventies. These are great sounds of primitive American music, no less amazing a rewarding than the (superior) American reconfiguration of British punk (KBD!), or the (superior) American reconfiguration of British invasion ('60's Punk!). Open up your ears to some new flavors, handsome.
1. Cybotron "Cosmic Cars"
2. Rhythim is Rhythim "Strings Of Life"
3. Skip Jackson "Microwave Boogie"
4. Lonnie Love "Young Ladies"
5. A Number of Names "Sharevari"
6. Bob Chance "It's Broken"
7. Sessomatto "Sessomatto"
8. Nice & Nasty 3 "The Ultimate Rap"
9. T Ski Valley "Catch The Beat"
10. Model 500 "No UFOs"
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