The Feminine Principle


A big part of post-punk philosophy was a rejection of the macho posturing of traditional rock music, with many bands disdaining masturbatory guitar solos and playing music that was more influenced by black rhythms because white rock was seen as conservative, sexist, and reactionary.

Another revolutionary thing about these groups was that many of them were either all-female or led by women. Some were more politically strident or musically radical than others, but bands like The Raincoats, The Slits, Delta 5, The Mo-Dettes, Marine Girls, and Essential Logic all challenged how rock music should both sound and look, and brought a feminist perspective to traditional rock song subjects like love and relationships.

Birmingham combo the Au Pairs were one of the most committed to that perspective, and though a co-ed band they were dominated by the striking voice and attitudes of Lesley Woods (the NME cover girl above) who, while not as well known as your Siouxsies, Traceys, and Paulines, really should be considered one of the great female icons of post-punk and one of its best singers.

In an era overflowing with classic debut albums the Au Pairs’ 1981 Playing With A Different Sex is one of the greatest, casting a savage eye on female sexuality, gender relations, and politics over some of the best post-punk-funk music ever made. There was a dryly sardonic edge to Woods’ voice that made her bitter pills easier to swallow and you could dance to it too, it’s like the funkiest lecture on feminism you’ll ever hear. Songs like “Come Again” are brutal but funny on the subject of sex, and with lyrics like “Do you like it like this?/Please, please me/Is your finger aching?” it’s not surprising it was banned by the BBC.

Download: Come Again — Au Pairs (mp3)
Download: It’s Obvious — Au Pairs (mp3)

The 1980 single “Diet” wasn’t on the album but I think it’s the best thing they did, a devastating little Play For Today of a song about Stepford housewives.

Download: Diet — Au Pairs (mp3)

Bonus clip: Here they are in action. Unfortunately the band broke up in 1983 after their second album and Woods eventually left the music scene to become a lawyer, though judging by this rare interview she seems to be trying a comeback.

Dear Smash Hits


I may have mentioned before that I once had a letter printed in Smash Hits. I don’t have the issue anymore and for some reason I only recently thought about searching through the archives at the terrific Like Punk Never Happened blog to find this major event of my youth. Here it is, from the March 6th, 1980 issue:


I was 17 when I wrote that, and while there’s no denying my teenage passion, my prose style could use some finesse (no change there). I remember being shocked — and then thrilled of course — that they’d actually published something I wrote. It was the first letter on the page too which made me doubly chuffed.

The Pretenders had only just become stars with the chart-topping success of Brass In Pocket but I’d been a fan since their first single so was smugly protective of them in the way only a I-liked-them-before-you-did fan of a newly-popular band can be. I was totally smitten with Chrissie Hynde too, so when this C. Wills fellow expressed his (still) idiotic opinion in this letter I was moved to defend her from the “blinkered” opinions of the unthinking masses in typically self-righteous teenager fashion.

I’m not entirely sure why I included The Police in my angry denunciation of “narrow minded hero worship” but they had also recently made the leap from minor act to big pop stars and I guess I must have been a bigger fan of theirs than I remember.

I am rather proud of the fact that I stood up for “real” women in rock music, though my feminist credentials are somewhat tarnished by the fact that I had one of those awful “sexy” posters of Debbie Harry on my own bedroom wall at the time, so I don’t know what I was being so high and mighty about. That last sentence is pretty good though, and I still think anyone who doesn’t love Chrissie Hynde’s voice needs putting away.

What’s most interesting to me is that this is the authentic voice of my 17-year-old self. My mother was an inveterate chucker-away of things and I never kept anything either, so I have nothing that I wrote (or drew) in my youth — no school essays, no diaries, no notebooks, none of the comics I created — so this might be the only thing written by the younger me that still exists. Reading it now is like some Back To The Future moment where I’m confronted by a teenage version of myself. It was so long ago I don’t know that kid anymore, but I do recognize the smug, superior tone common to teenagers with opinions they think are the absolute truth. It could be worse I suppose, while I was certainly too harsh on Debbie Harry (she was no bimbo) I should be thankful that I’m not expressing any of the really stupid opinions which I know I had back then. Thank you teenage me, for not embarrassing your future self.

Not using my real name was obviously a ploy to make me seem far cooler than I was.

Download: Tattooed Love Boys – The Pretenders (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



Two of the best singles of the 1980s performed live in one video. Bargain!

I Have Twelve Inches


I can’t remember why I bought the 12″ of “Where Does That Boy Hang Out?” by David Lasley in 1984 because I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard it (doubt if it was ever played on the radio) and I had no idea who Lasley was either. I think it was as simple as liking the song title and the fact that it was produced by Don Was. Some of you kids might find this hard to believe but in those pre-internet days you couldn’t hear every record ever made and sometimes bought them unheard on a whim or a hunch. Back then I had the disposable income to do so, too.

I’m really glad I did buy it because it’s a terrific blue-eyed soul record, and the b-side “Saved By Love” is equally great too. Lasley has a gorgeous, soulful falsetto voice and was better known for singing on other people’s records (Chic, Sister Sledge, and Odyssey among others) than his own, and he also wrote “You Bring Me Joy” for Anita Baker. He only made a few solo albums and the original versions of these were on Raindance which is out of print now.

Download: Where Does That Boy Hang Out? (12″ version) – David Lasley (mp3)
Download: Saved By Love – David Lasley (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



I dressed a lot like Edwyn Collins back then. I had the vintage shirts, the bootlace tie, the Chelsea boots, the haircut. But somehow I never looked as cool as him.

Something for the Weekend



A little Tracie bonus for you, singing a song written for her by Elvis Costello. One mark of a great songwriter is the quality of the songs they give to other people and this is top class.

Any British men of a certain age watching this will be letting out a wisftul sigh.

The Girl That Paul Built


When Paul Weller broke up The Jam in 1982 they were the biggest band in Britain which gave him a lot of clout to do what he wanted. Besides forming The Style Council, he had a go at being a pop mogul by starting his own record label called Respond and put an ad in Smash Hits looking for a girl singer to join this Motown-wannabe of his. One of the young hopefuls who answered that ad was 17-year-old Essex girl Tracie Young — or Tracie! as she was initially known on her record sleeves – who made her singing debut on The Jam’s final single Beat Surrender.

Like Joanna and Susan in The Human League, Tracie was an “ordinary” teenage girl (who could sing) with the appeal of the pretty local lass who had a Saturday job in Boot’s and danced around her handbag at the High Street disco in the evenings. While you probably wouldn’t attempt to chat up Kim Wilde at a disco — too cooly Bardot glam — Tracie was a girl you might fancy your chances with. On Top of The Pops she looked like the siren of the Sixth Form in her denim jacket, pencil skirt, and white high heels and was voted “Most Fanciable Female” in the 1983 Smash Hits readers’ poll.


She was no shrinking violet pop puppet though, and had a row with Weller over his production of her records, especially The House That Jack Built which he sped up and put a lot of tinny synths and drum machines on. He wanted her to sound like a modern pop star, not “a little soul girl” in his words.

While I agree with Weller, the production was a bit naff but that didn’t stop her first two singles from being hits. Unfortunately the other acts on Respond like The Questions and A Craze didn’t do so well and by the time Tracie’s debut album Far From the Hurting Kind came out in 1984 she wasn’t having hits either and it only got to #64 in the charts which is a real shame as it’s a rather good album.

Download: Soul’s On Fire – Tracie (mp3)

With the lack of hits Weller lost interest in Respond and the label went belly up in 1986 leaving Tracie at Polydor where she recorded a second album No Smoke Without Fire which was never released. Pop career over, she had a family and then a second life as a radio presenter.

But last month — huzzah! — that second album finally saw the light of day a mere 30 years after it was recorded. I’ve not heard the whole thing yet (hasn’t been released in the States) but I do have extended mixes of some of the singles that are on it. How these weren’t hits is beyond me, Invitation especially shows what a great singer Tracie was becoming. One of the bonus tracks is the b-side curio 19 which takes Paul Hardcastle’s hit and turns it into an anti-vivisection protest song.

Download: Invitation (RSVP Mix) – Tracie Young (mp3)
Download: I Can’t Leave You Alone (Pick n’ Mix) – Tracie Young (mp3)
Download: 19 (Wickham Mix) – Tracie Young (mp3)

Nice to know that Tracie is doing well these days and didn’t become some pop casualty — she was a bit too sensible for that. Some of us are still carrying a little torch for her.

Daddy’s best girl in the world


This is one of my favourite Elvis singles and one of his most underrated I think. “Man Out of Time” gets all the props as the great single from Imperial Bedroom but I actually prefer this one.

The paisley-pretty production might make it sound soft but underneath the harpsichords Elvis takes the classic pop subject of teenage love and makes something incisive and compelling out of it. It’s like a Shangri-Las’ song written from the perspective of a cynical outsider.

The video is a rather nice period piece too.

Download: You Little Fool – Elvis Costello & The Attractions (mp3)

Photo by George Plemper

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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