Some new t-shirts on sale. Couldn’t decide between “Glam” Bowie or “Low” Bowie so I went with all of them. I started working on a Bowie design last year so there was going to be one this Spring anyway, I just wish they hadn’t ended up being posthumous.
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.
They didn’t always work though, even for established bands like The Skids. In 1980 their third album The Absolute Game made the Top Ten of the album charts but all the singles from it tanked despite being given a gimmicky promo push by Virgin Records. The first single “Circus Games” was wrapped in a poster of the band but only got to #32, while “A Woman In Winter” which stalled 10 places lower came with an 11-page comic called Pirate Gold which starred the band in a ripping yarn about lost treasure.
It’s not exactly Stan Lee and Jack Kirby but still a clever idea and a sign of just how creatively healthy and competitive the pop scene was at the time. Those were the days when a noisy post-punk band like The Skids could appear on the cover of Smash Hits and I guess the comics and glossy posters were an attempt to sell the band to that crowd instead serious young men in overcoats.
It’s not as if these were bad records either, “Circus Games” was stonkingly catchy and “A Woman In Winter” was glorious, uplifting stuff with guitar work by Stuart Adamson that sounds like a rehearsal for Big Country. Should have been an Xmas hit. I bought it with the comic but would still have done if it came in a gravy-stained brown paper bag. Maybe Virgin should have asked Richard Jobson to make his lyrics more coherent instead.
As summer is over I wasn’t going to put up any new t-shirt designs until next year, but I’ve sold a few in the past month so I guess it must still be warm somewhere. As usual this is only $14 for a limited time so get it now. Early Christmas presents maybe?
This was New Order’s second single but is less well known than it’s b-side “Everything’s Gone Green” probably because the latter points more toward the direction the band was to take. It’s a slight song but I always liked it, especially those lovely synth washes.
One look at an old photo of London will tell you the past was a dirtier place: Soot-covered buildings, smog, everyone smoking. But I never knew it was so bad that sweets came in specially reinforced, anti-dirt wrappers.