The leading songwriters of Punk were considered the voices of their generation but there were times you couldn’t figure out what they were singing because the records didn’t come with lyrics and the production values weren’t exactly models of pristine clarity. You would think that if you wanted to start a revolution it would help if the kids could understand the manifesto, right?

This was especially vexing with The Clash because of Joe Strummer’s phlegmy, mouthful-of-marbles delivery. I don’t know if The Westway Wonders considered lyric sheets to be bourgeois indulgences or CBS wouldn’t shell out for inner sleeves, but they didn’t include one with an album until London Calling which made the publication of The Clash Songbook in 1978 such a big deal — we could finally understand what Joe was barking about on “White Riot” and “Complete Control”.

It included the words and chords of every song on their debut album plus all the singles and b-sides to date, and we studied it like it was the Bible or Rosetta Stone. To us, Strummer/Jones were way better than some poncey “poet” like Bob Dylan and I remember loving how snappy, sharp, and even jokey a lot of the lyrics were.

In retrospect it might not seem very fan-friendly to make them shell out £3.50 (in 1978 money) for a book of lyrics they could have got free with the records — especially for a value-for-money band like The Clash — but it was a nicely-done project and worth buying. According to the book’s designer Pearce Marchbank (best known for his design of Time Out) the band supplied all the images and even created the type which makes me imagine Mick and Joe staying up all night with a stencil kit and a Dymo Labelmaker.

Nowadays you could just look the words up online but that’s kind of boring when you can get this terrific print artifact for a reasonable price at the usual places since it was reissued a few years ago. Volume Two designed by artist Derek Boshier is excellent too.

Here’s a couple of those b-sides in the book.

Download: Jail Guitar Doors – The Clash (mp3)
Download: City of The Dead – The Clash (mp3)

Something for The Weekend

This is the first record Ultravox made with Midge Ure. I quite liked the Vienna album at the time but wasn’t all that keen on them after that. Not sure what their critical rep is these days but I’ve a feeling even Gary Numan is cooler than they are now.

Commercial Break

I have this album but I don’t think we were ever treated to this tremendous commercial on British TV.

This is side one, track two. Sublime Philly Soul from 1973.

Download: Armed and Extremely Dangerous – First Choice (mp3)

Punky Reggae Laundry

If you were a reader of the NME, Sounds, or Melody Maker in the late 70s you probably know the name of journalist Vivien Goldman who wrote for all them. As a friend of both John Lydon and Bob Marley she was at the centre of the Punk/Reggae nexus that was so important and influential. It was Goldman who first played The Clash’s version of “Police and Thieves” to Marley (who was in London recording Exodus at the time) which led him to write “Punky Reggae Party”, the b-side of “Jamming” that name checks The Jam, The Dammed, and The Clash.

Like her old flatmate Chrissie Hynde (another former NME scribe) she also made records, though they were too idiosyncratic to make her as famous. She was a member of The Flying Lizards, half of a duo called Chantage, and in 1981 released her only solo single “Launderette”. This was a terrific record that also showed what an amazing Rolodex of contacts Goldman had: Co-written with Aswad bassist George Oban and produced by John Lydon and Keith Levene of PiL (who plays guitar), it also features Vicky Aspinall of The Raincoats and Robert Wyatt.

Like so much Post-Punk it’s heavily influenced by Reggae with a Dubby bass and skanking beat, and Goldman’s off-kilter vocals and lyrics give it the primitive, wonky charm of The Slits — who were also friends of hers, natch.

Download: Launderette – Vivien Goldman (mp3)

These days Goldman is an adjunct Professor of Punk and Reggae at New York University (seriously) and a compilation album of her short catalogue called Resolutionary is out next month.

Something for the Weekend

This is a great find, Debbie Harry (who looks stunning) singing with avant garde punk-funkers James White & The Blacks at Hurrahs in New York in 1980.

The Sound of Higher Love

You won’t be surprised to learn that I wasn’t a big fan of  Jon Anderson or Vangelis and thought the music they made together was even worse than their main gigs. But I am glad they wrote this song otherwise we wouldn’t have this great record. Their original version wasn’t a hit (because it’s rubbish) but it was a big success for Donna Summer in 1982 — in Europe anyway, it flopped in the US. 

Produced by Quincy Jones who gives it an electronic beat with more groove than Vangelis, it’s a soaring number with a big choir of backing voices that includes Lionel Richie, Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson, Christopher Cross, Kenny Loggins, and Stevie Wonder — only Quincy Jones could pull all those together.

Anderson’s lyrics are as silly as ever — what the fuck does “Shot to the soul, the flame of Oroladian” mean? — but Donna sings them with soulful gusto and the record sounds so glorious it doesn’t matter how ridiculous they are. 

Download: State of Independence (Extended Version) – Donna Summer (mp3)

PS: Until I researched this post I had no idea Chrissie Hynde sung on a version of this song by the band Moodswings in 1992.

Teacher’s Hot

We’ve all had teachers we fancied — I know girls who swooned over male teachers too — and, such was the impression they made on our young psyches, we can still remember their names. Mine were our German teacher Miss McWhirter who would write so vigorously on the blackboard that her bum would wiggle in the tight, high-waisted trousers she often wore. I hated German but that made the class almost bearable. Another was English teacher Miss Cowan who we got to see in a bikini on a school camping holiday — naturally I still remember that it was black. That trip we also found out that she was going out with our maths teacher Mr. “Ziggy” Zbigniew which made him go way up in our estimation.

But I hope having to deal with us pubescent dogs in heat didn’t ever get too difficult for them. My boyish lust never went further than a longing look from afar, but I remember once seeing a kid follow behind Miss McWhirter when she was walking up stairs and bending down to look up her skirt. Even back then I was shocked and there were some right nasty bastards at my school so who knows what other shit she had to put up with. In my experience it was difficult enough just being a boy at an all-boy’s school, but being an attractive young female teacher could have been even worse. Dropped into a boiling swamp of hormonal young males starved for a glimpse of the opposite sex that wasn’t an old matron type. It was like the boys in Lord of The Flies discovering a pretty young girl on their island.

Download: To Sir With Love – Lulu (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Never thought I’d use the words “Toto” and “rocks” in the same sentence but this really does.

I bought this single when it came out in 1978, I know I probably should have been buying something by The Clash instead but we can’t all be so hip in our early teens.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com



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