Don’t think I need to say that I prefer Bryan’s version of this song to Bob Dylan’s. Not only didn’t he have both Phil Manzanera and Chris Spedding playing on his, I bet Dylan never wore leather trousers while singing it either.
This ad is a classic example of turning rebellion into money, in this case using women’s lib to sell booze. These ads are never aimed at people who already are adventurous, rebellious rule-breakers, but instead they’re for people who want to be like that. The message is always the same: Drink this, eat that, wear this, listen to that band, and you will be a cool person. One of the good things about getting older is not caring too much about that anymore, which is why advertisers don’t care about my demographic either.
The “until I discovered Smirnoff” campaign was so famous it inspired jokes like “I thought Cunnilingus was an Irish airline until I discovered Smirnoff” but was stopped in 1975 when the British government passed a law against alcohol advertising that claimed drinking the product would lead to sexual or social success. This is a witty ad but it does unfortunately equate women’s liberation with being sexually available, especially once you’ve got a few vodkas inside you.
Smirnoff certainly wasn’t the first company to co-op youth or social movements for the purposes of capitalism but I wonder who was. Probably someone in the 1920s using the Bright Young Things to sell headache powders.
Let’s get funky.
Download: Liberation Conversation – Marlena Shaw (mp3)
This gorgeous track originally came out in 1999 so it’s far from new, but The Clientele are reissuing their early singles collection Suburban Light on vinyl next month so I thought I’d give it and them a plug as they’re nowhere near as well known and loved as they should be, especially in their native England.
Like a lot of Clientele records, “Reflections After Jane” is like this blog in musical form: wistful, hazily nostalgic for half-remembered days, long shadows, fading sunlight, London after the rain, cafes with fogged-up windows. All that good stuff.
The version of A Forest they play at the start of this clip is from before they recorded the song and it was called At Night. I preferred The Cure when they made spiky pop like this and think it’s a shame that when they went into the studio to make the record Robert Smith said to the band “Nah, too fast. Make it more dreary.”
It wasn’t just kids who got lectures from the government about the correct behaviour. In the post-war years they liked to nag at grown ups too via posters that gave advice and instruction on the correct personal habits that were required if we were going to work together to build the New Jerusalem of happy, healthy people.
Many of these have been collected in the new book Keep Britain Tidy And Other Posters from the Nanny State which is full of State-sponsored finger-wagging about personal hygiene, diet, fitness, smoking, litter, drinking and driving, and even when to take your holidays.
A lot of the posters are about health and hygiene as this was an era when most people only had one bath a week (I think we had two as kids), smoked like chimneys, cooked with lard, caught diseases like Tuberculosis, and a lot of homes still had outside toilets. There is even a poster in the book telling people to change their underwear more often. Life was grim back then kids, everything was covered in soot, even the people.
Though the tone of the posters is mostly benevolent they do occasionally take on a more sinister Big Brother vibe like the giant finger below, and that Watch Out! There’s a Thief About poster from the late 60s seems like the beginning of the paranoia about crime that I mentioned in the previous post, and the government taking a more sensationalist, scare-mongering approach which was seen in those scary public information films aimed at kids.
Nowadays this might all seem very Orwellian, but the British have a love/hate attitude towards this sort of authoritarian maternalism. We gave the much-loved BBC the cozy nickname “Auntie” because of its we-know-best elitism, and Maggie Thatcher built her career on lecturing voters about how we’d been naughty and immoral. But in the past I don’t think we ever took the government and civil servants seriously enough to feel threatened by them, they were just old duffers telling us to brush our teeth more often.
Download: Danger Signs – Penetration (mp3)
They really did try their best to scare the shit out of us kids in the 1970s. If we weren’t being warned about getting locked in old fridges, drowned in dirty canals, crushed by farm machinery, blinded by fireworks, or catching Rabies, we were being told not to talk to strangers.
That last one seemed to be the most deathly important of all — for reasons we didn’t quite understand as kids – and clearly no expense was spared in the making of “Never Go With Strangers” a 1971 film that was shown in schools. It’s an epic of the scary safety film genre complete with animation, special effects, and a huge cast of creepy-looking men.
Though it is a well-meaning attempt to talk to young children about a difficult subject, some of the script is almost surreally funny (even in context) with lines like “People like this might be a bit odd in the head”, “That’s a lovely cape you’re wearing” and “There’s not even a baby donkey in the field” — personally I’d have run a mile if some strange man had complimented my cape and offered to show me a baby donkey.
With all these apparent dangers you’d think we lived in a state of perpetual terror locked in our bedrooms, but like most parents my mother let us go out on our own unsupervised and out of contact with her from quite a young age (no cell phones then either of course). I don’t know when or why that changed but you couldn’t make “Never Go With Strangers” in the same way now because those kids wouldn’t be out on their own. One very sad statistic in this article is that in 1971 80% of 9-year-olds in the UK walked to school alone, by 1990 that number had dropped to only 9% and now it’s even lower, despite there being no rise in the number of child abductions — though you wouldn’t know that from the pitchfork-waving hysteria about paedos, predators, and kiddie-fiddlers in the British tabloid press these days. Even the smiling old man who winked at you in the street when you were a kid would be suspect now.
Despite my mother’s apparently laissez faire attitude to our safety she still had her moments of terror. I can vividly remember an instance of her “losing” me for a few minutes in a crowd of shoppers on Kensington High Street one Saturday afternoon, and the panicky, tearfully relieved tone in her voice when she found me made it clear how awful those few minutes must have been for her (a feeling I know myself now with my own kids.) Then she spanked me and said “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!!!” — that’s 70s parenting for you.
Download: Fear Of The World – ABC (mp3)
The release of the Tabu Records Box Set inspired to dig out my Alexander O’Neal albums the other night which still sound terrific. His first two are nearly perfect thanks to the genius of Jam & Lewis but if forced to choose between them I’d pick Hearsay over his debut because of tracks like this.
The video is rather great too. Like, totally 80s.
Of all the genres, subgenres, and microgenres of dance music over the years the classic Chicago House sound has been my favourite from the moment I first heard the massive pounding beat of “Love Can’t Turn Around” in 1986. Give me a big piano riff and drum machines over a 4/4 beat with soulful vocals and I’m in Dance Music Heaven. Frankie Knuckles practically invented that sound which not only revolutionized the club scene — giving us superstar DJs and Raves — but was also a huge influence on mainstream pop music.
Club music was changing and evolving so quickly back in the late 80s-early 90s that it could he hard keeping up with who was doing what or even know the names of records you’d been dancing to, but if I saw Frankie Knuckles name on a label, either as producer or remixer, I’d buy it.
“Tears” from 1989 is my pick for his best record. A slow-burning, hypnotic number, with a gliding sensual beat and an intensely soulful vocal by Robert Owens. Just sublime, and a contender for greatest House record ever made IMHO.