Tag Archives: The Clash

Rocks In The Attic #556: Blondie – ‘Plastic Letters’ (1978)

rita556Plastic Letters is album number two for Blondie, and starts to see them move towards more of a pop sound after their grittier debut. Their choice of covering Randy & The Rainbow’s 1963 hit Denis points to the direction which the band was going in from this point forward. I can’t help but think that early fans of the band in and around New York City would have felt a little disappointed in this gradual shift in direction.

It would be the equivalent in the UK of the Pistols or the Clash recording a cover by Gerry & The Pacemakers for their second album. Now, while I could imagine Johnny Rotten and company doing something like this, it would be too much like selling out for Strummer’s band. Some punk bands remained true to their original manifesto, while others like Blondie made a shortcut straight past post-Punk and New Wave, seemingly straight into the pop mainstream.

Isn’t this just what successful bands do though? The Beatles very quickly turned their backs on their rock and roll roots, opting to magpie the best parts of Motown, folk and R&B to produce their own “original” pop sound (one gets the impression that the rock and roll covers on the first couple of Beatles albums would have sounded old-hat at the time, whereas looking back they appear to come from the same era). Perhaps Debbie Harry and Chris Stein always had their eyes on the pop charts when they put Blondie together. Maybe when they were writing their early two-minute punk songs, they were really writing two-minute pop songs.

Alongside Denis, the album’s other big hit (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear features the couplet Stay awake at night and count your R.E.M.s / When you’re talking with your super friends. While Michael Stipe claims to have chosen the name of his band at random from a dictionary, could he have subconsciously heard these lyrics on the radio?

Hit: Denis

Hidden Gem: Bermuda Triangle Blues (Flight 45)

Rocks In The Attic #462: The Clash – ‘The Clash’ (1977)

RITA#462.jpgMy love/hate relationship with the Clash continues. Re-released on Record Store Day’s Black Friday in 2015, I really only bought this because of the lovely split vinyl in white riot / Protex blue. It’s too good just to look at though.

One of the things I love about this debut album is the tracklisting versus the running time. Fourteen songs breeze past in thirty five minutes. What’s not to like about an album where the average running time is two minutes and fifty three seconds? If you don’t like a certain song, by the time you reached that decision, there’ll be another one coming around the corner in a matter of seconds.

I should like the Clash. They’re clearly the most talented of all the bands that came out of the punk movement in the UK. They can really play and they’re great songwriters, which you can’t say for a lot of the punk bands that got by on a mixture of attitude, nose rings and spit. It isn’t the band that’s to blame though for my apathy towards them, it’s the bloody fans.

Clash fans are one of the worst subcultures in music fandom. To Clash fans, the Clash are the beginning and end of everything. And don’t get me started on the deification of Joe Strummer. As part of a well-balanced musical diet, the Clash are a healthy pursuit, but moderation is everything and the Clash are really nothing more than the best of a bad bunch. Or are they something more? What am I missing?

Hit: White Riot

Hidden Gem: Police & Thieves

Rocks In The Attic #461: Stevie Wonder – ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ (1976)

RITA#461Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those double albums that’s like an entire Desert Island Discs episode in one package. There aren’t many double albums that I’d be happy listening to over and over again as I grew my beard out and learned how to spear fish, but this is one of them. I just hope there’s a lady on the island that I can dance with when I’m blasting out As or Sir Duke.

It’s interesting looking at the singles that were released off this album to promote the album – only I Wish, Sir Duke, Another Star and As. So that means no 7” releases for either Pasttime Paradise – famous more for its use by Coolio in Gangsta’s Paradise – or Isn’t She Lovely – undoubtedly the most famous song off the record – but denied a single release by Stevie himself who wouldn’t allow Motown to release a shortened edit of the six and a half minute song.

It’s a testament to Stevie’s talent and sheer dedication to his craft that he was able to pull a double-album’s worth of such strong material together, and that’s not including the bonus 7” record which adds a further four songs onto the running time. Soul music and R&B isn’t known for its double albums. The genre is borne out of dancing and partying, and who wants to flip a record over that many times? In fact, for almost the same reason, the other genre that tends to eschew the double album format is punk. Well, until London Calling came along – a genre-spanning collection similar in scope and confidence to Songs In The Key Of Life.

Speaking of flipping the record over, Songs In The Key Of Life is one of those weird records with the A/D B/C format, built for record changers. I still haven’t seen one of those near-mythical machines so I’m yet to experience one in action, but I always think it would be better to order the sides A/C B/D and then if you had two turntables and a mixer you could seamlessly play the album without stopping.

Isn’t She Lovely reminds me of the times I used to visit friends in Wexford, Ireland. We used to go and see a covers band called the Dylan Bible Band, who used to do a great cover of the song. It’s built to be played endlessly, when you have the right players (which Dylan Bible did), and it sounded great just going around and around as a seemingly infinite chord progression, just like Stevie’s version.

Hit: Isn’t She Lovely

Hidden Gem: Contusion

Rocks In The Attic #380: Gary Clark, Jr. – ‘Blak And Blu’ (2012)

RITA#380I went to see Gary Clark, Jr. and his band last week. I usually try and find something positive to say about a live act when I go and see them, but with I was just bored. It wasn’t anything special. Nothing to write home about. In fact, I enjoyed the support act – Aaron Tokona, from Cairo Knife Fight – much more.

I’m in two minds about Gary Clark, Jr. in general – and from the sounds of it, so is he. This album – Blak And Blu – his Grammy nominated major label debut, sits in about three or four camps. He flits between being a bluesman, a ‘60s soul singer, a rapper and a 21st century R&B singer. Dialled back to just 30 minutes, he could hit one any of those genres on the nose. Instead he spreads himself far too thinly across an hour and seven minutes.

Then there’s the H word – the dreaded ‘new Hendrix’ label; the curse of the gifted guitarist. In the ‘80s, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the ‘90s, it was Lenny Kravitz. In the 2000s, it was probably Ben Harper. In the 2010’s, it’s almost a sure thing that it’s Gary Clark, Jr. Poor guy. Like most people (other than Stevie Ray, who’s probably as freakish as Hendrix, just in a completely different way) Clark comes nowhere near. He’s a good guitarist, don’t get me wrong. He knows his chops, it’s just that he isn’t the saviour of the electric guitar – or the blues – that people are making him out to be.

He isn’t even the best guitarist in his band. Wisely sticking to mainly rhythm guitar and lead vocals (with the odd solo thrown in for good measure), he lets his lead guitarist do most of the heavy lifting. The lead guitarist’s playing on a mid-set cover of Albert King’s Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong was fantastic.

Worryingly, he seems to be taking a long time to deliver major label album number two. The record company put out a live album last year (a stopgap release if ever I’ve seen one), but it’s odd that he’s taken at least three years to deliver his sophomore effort. Momentum is a wonderful thing for an artist, but it doesn’t last forever.

In my record collection, Clark is filed between Clapton and the Clash. Hopefully he won’t waste as much time as they both did in finding out which genre they belonged to (blues revisionist, and pop-tinged new-wave musical magpies, respectively). He needs to forget all that Hollywood, urban youth hip-hop crap and concentrate on his brand of blues – an updated Chicago blues for the 21st century.

Hit: Bright Lights

Hidden Gem: Third Stone From The Sun / If You Love Me Like You Say

RITA#380a

Rocks In The Attic #328: The Rolling Stones – ‘Dirty Work’ (1986)

RITA#328If record covers are anything to go by, this should be the worst Rolling Stones record in the world, if not the worst record by any band ever. In a horribly misguided attempt to look relevant in the mid 1980s, the band is photographed on the cover of the album wearing an array of garish pinks and yellows, draped over a disgusting green couch. Charlie Watts – battling heroin and alcohol addiction at the time – is sat on the floor, wearing a similar colour shirt to the floor. The apathy dripping off his face is matched only by his obvious desire to blend into the background. Not surprisingly, this is the last time the Stones would appear on the cover of a studio album until 2005’s A Bigger Bang.

The album finds themselves still attempting to reinvent themselves for a new generation. U2 producer Steve Lillywhite is brought into co-produce alongside Mick and Keith, which at least makes them sound less ‘classic rock’, and they even try their hand at a bit of reggae, a cover of Half Pint’s Too Rude, which sounds very much like something The Clash would do. In the end though, the album seems to replace melody with energy and tempo, and like most of their ‘80s albums they just sound like they’re trying far too hard.

The album is dedicated to long-time pianist and road manager Ian Stewart who had recently died of a heart attack. That’s one of the things in the Stones story that always makes me a little sad – Stewart was one of the founding Stones, but was removed from the official line-up by Andrew Loog Oldham because his square jaw didn’t fit with the band’s image. Great – kicked out of the band because of his looks – and they say bands like One Direction are image-obsessed. People always talk about the 5th Beatle (or the 37th Beatle as Mitch Benn has recently claimed to be), but Ian Stewart probably has more right to claim to be the 6th Stone.

Hit: Harlem Shuffle

Hidden Gem: Key To The Highway

Rocks In The Attic #306: Bob Dylan – ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (1965)

RITA#306I’m liking Dylan more and more these days. I was listening to Roger McGuinn’s version of It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) on the Easy Rider soundtrack the other day and it just made me want to listen to Dylan’s version – a seven and a half minute highlight from this album, his first of 1965.

I think this was the second Dylan album I ever heard, after Highway 61 Revisited, and it always used to annoy me that production-wise, Maggie’s Farm is so similar sounding to Subterranean Homesick Blues. The instrumentation on both songs is almost identical, to the extent that you can imagine Dylan and his band running from one song into the other while the tape’s still rolling. If the songs bled into one another, I wouldn’t have a problem but the fact that they put a song between them on the album reeks of hopeful misdirection. A similar accompaniment can be heard after the false start on Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, so maybe the backing band only knew one style of playing and were hoping Bob wouldn’t notice.

That’s not to say that Subterranean Homesick Blues isn’t every kind of awesome. One of my favourite Dylan tracks, it’s one of those timeless records – gibberish lyrics wrapped up in a punk spirit, twelve years before the Sex Pistols and the Clash turned up.

Listening to Dylan’s own version of Mr. Tambourine Man always reminds me of a Dylan poster that used to hang in our Sixth Form assembly area. From memory, I think it just had Dylan’s face with ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man’ printed below. I don’t know who put it there, or how long it had been there, but I get the impression that it had been there for a while. It’s probably still there now.

Hit: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Hidden Gem: It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Rocks In The Attic #289: The Clash – ‘Live At Shea Stadium’ (2008)

RITA#289I might get shot for this, for I’m just not a huge fan of The Clash. I find their supposed masterpiece London Calling to be bloated and dull, aside from the overlooked Train In Vain which almost seems to be tacked on to the end as an afterthought. They can write a decent tune though – and this great live album is a testament to that.

The album was recorded in 1982 at the famous New York baseball ground, with The Clash middle on the bill between an opening set by ex-New York Doll David Johansen and headliners The Who. It’s essentially a race through their greatest hits, and next to each other these songs – Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Rock The Casbah, London Calling – really highlight the strength of the band’s pop credentials.

Clash fans may be annoyed at the choice of set list – they don’t play much material from their punk beginnings, and they especially don’t have the balls to play I’m So Bored With The USA – but at the end of the day, the whole thing comes across simply as a promotional jaunt to sell records – a captive audience of teenage Who fans represents a great opportunity to grow your fanbase on that side of the Atlantic. History has painted Strummer and company as punk’s last flag bearers of art before commerce, but it looks here like they were just trying to sell as many records as everybody else.

Hit: Rock The Casbah

Hidden Gem: Clampdown