Something for the Weekend

I wonder if bands like The Knack are sick to death of their big hit and wish people would play one of their other songs for a change. Or are they just grateful for the money it probably still brings them?

This was their only hit in the UK and they were derided by the rock press as retro rockers cynically jumping on the “New Wave” bandwagon by putting on skinny ties. That may or not have been true but this was a cracking single and this is a great performance of it.

Lucky Dip

“I didn’t want to be in an ‘agit-prop’ band. I hated all those people in the student union, with their crummy political views, who had votes about squatting. We wrote ‘King Rocker’ about John Lennon and Paul McCartney having a fight with Elvis about who was the king of rock and roll.” — Billy Idol

Download: King Rocker – Generation X (mp3)

Sleeve Talk

The Cure’s 1979 debut Three Imaginary Boys has what is probably my favourite Post-Punk album cover. I like it even more than Unknown Pleasures which might be design heresy but its candy-coloured surrealism is more my cup of tea than the cold minimalism of the latter. It’s enigmatic and avant-garde but in a very droll, suburban English way which pretty much sums up The Cure themselves at the time. I think I bought it back then just because of the sleeve.

Before Robert Smith became a lipsticked Goth icon the band were thought to be deliberately anti-image to the point of dull anonymity. The design takes that idea to the extreme of not having any photos of the band on the cover and having them be represented by boring household appliances. Apparently Robert Smith is the lamp, drummer Lol Tolhurst is the fridge, and bassist Michael Dempsey the Hoover.

Taking this wilful obscurity to another level, not only are there no band photos but there aren’t any song titles anywhere on the sleeve either. Instead, on the back are a series of pictures representing each track. You have to work out which is which, not easy when you don’t know the song titles in the first place and have to listen to the album to figure even that out. No Wiki or Discogs in those days.

Some of them were obvious (“Meathook”, “Fire in Cairo”) while others took a bit more working out (the split bags of sugar is “So What”). The puzzle is repeated on the record label with the pictures reduced to simple little icons.

I can’t remember if I found this clever or annoying when I was 17. Probably the former because an album cover that’s an exercise in semiotics is just the sort of thing to appeal to a teenager with pretensions. If nothing else it did make you listen to the album more closely.

The sleeve was designed by Bill Smith whose portfolio also includes nearly all The Jam’s albums and singles and Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. I think it’s heavily influenced by the idiosyncratic work Barney Bubbles was doing for Elvis Costello at the time (like this and this) and has some very Bubbles-esque lines and squiggles on the inner sleeve.

Smith called Three Imaginary Boys the most memorable cover out of all the ones he’s designed over the years, but The Cure apparently weren’t too keen on it or the album itself. Robert Smith has complained that he had no control over the tracklisting or the design, and I suppose I’d be pissed off too if someone implied I had the personality of a lamp.

Download: Fire In Cairo – The Cure (mp3)
Download: Subway Song – The Cure (mp3)

The Singles Box

I used to work with a bloke who was such a big Theatre of Hate fan he got their name tattooed on his arm. Unfortunately for him they broke up about a year later which should be a lesson to all you kids out there: Think twice before you get that tat.

I didn’t mind Theatre of Hate, but Kirk Brandon‘s wobbly, operatic voice was an acquired taste, and I think I was more inspired by his Punkabilly style than his records. But I did like the first single he released with his new band Spear of Destiny in 1983 which is more poppy than anything he’d done before. The chorus is massive, soaring stuff and the track has a Celtic feel like they were trying to do a Big Country. His voice is still a bit Marmite though.

Download: Flying Scotsman – Spear of Destiny (mp3)

The Singles Box

This 1981 single is the last one Post-Punk squawkers Essential Logic released. A year later Laura Logic quit the music biz to join the Hare Krishnas with old buddy and former X-Ray Spex bandmate Poly Styrene.

They could be quite atonal at times but this is a sweet, bouncy record that’s about as pop as they ever got. Probably why I bought it and still have it.

Download: Fanfare In The Garden – Essential Logic (mp3)

Apparently they reformed — as everyone does these days — in 2001 but I haven’t heard any fruits of that.

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.

Just Like Honey

The career of Punk ingenue Honey Bane reads like the script of a torrid teen exploitation movie. Growing up as a “problem child” with an unstable home life, she formed her first band Fatal Microbes in 1978 when she was only 14. They broke up after making just the one single (the minor Post-Punk classic “Violence Grows”) and after that Honey was put in a juvenile treatment centre for alcohol and behavioral problems. She ran away from there and spent a year as a fugitive from Social Services during which she fell in with anarcho-punk collective Crass and recorded an EP with them. Now the ripe old age of 16, Honey released her terrific first solo single “Guilty” on her own label, and then came under the managerial wing of Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey who got her signed to EMI and attempted to turn her into a pop star.

Sporting a Toyah Wilcox-ish look and a more bouncy, New-Wave sound, her first Pursey-produced single “Turn Me On, Turn Me Off” was a hit in 1981 — I bought it and had a crush on her — but none of the follow-ups did well. Annoyed by EMI’s attempts to push her in an even more pop direction, she quit her contract with them and went into acting. But despite a part in the 1982 film Scrubbers (sort of a female version of Scum) and a Trebor Mints commercial (!), that career fizzled and a few years later she was posing nude in girlie mags to make a living.

If this story was a movie, the final scene would be a desperate suicide by drug overdose, her music dreams crushed and reduced to the sleazy business of taking her clothes off for money. But Holly is still around, back to making music, and last year she released a compilation of singles and b-sides going back to her Fatal Microbes days called It’s A Baneful Life which is mostly excellent stuff, especially when you consider she wrote and recorded a lot of it at an age when the rest of us were only worrying about homework and school discos.

Download: Guilty – Honey Bane (mp3)
Download: Turn Me On, Turn Me Off – Honey Bane (mp3)

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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