“Please keep this kind of thing for the council estates and not in the homes of decent people”
Couldn’t decide between videos of Leo Sayer or Todd Rungren for today. So I went with The Clash instead.
But don’t worry, those other two will be appearing soon.
The Motors: Walking the thin line between New Wave and Status Quo.
Download: Boys and Girls – Reparata & the Delrons (mp3)
Download: To Be Someone (Demo) – The Jam (mp3)
Download: Teenage Lament ’74 – Alice Cooper (mp3)
Download: Hersham Boys – Sham 69 (mp3)
Originally posted April 2007
“They are the first band not to shrug off their political stance as soon as they walk out of the recording studio. The first band with sufficient pure, undiluted unrepentant bottle to keep their crooning necks firmly on the uncompromising line of commitment when life would be infinitely easier — and no less of a commercial success — if they made their excuses and left before the riot.”
Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons
“The Boy Looked At Johnny” (1978)
It’s hard to overstate what a ballsy move it was for Tom Robinson to follow his catchy, radio-friendly Top 5 pop hit “2-4-6-8 Motorway” in 1977 with the strident anthem “Glad To Be Gay” but that was a time when lines were being drawn all across Britain and a lot of people felt they had to declare which side of the barricades they were on. It’s a lot easier being openly gay these days, cool even, than it was back then when homosexuals were often thought of as either perverted kiddie fiddlers or John Inman. A mate of mine at school told me he threw away his copy of “Motorway” in disgust when he found out Robinson was “a bloody shirtlifter” — but he joined the Young Conservatives when he left school so I guess he had issues.
Their third single “Up Against The Wall” is one of the most blistering records to come out of punk, a riot of guitars and pulverizing drumming (the terrific Danny Kustow and Dolphin Taylor) that hits you like a boot in the groin — or a truncheon over the head. This led off their classic 1978 debut album Power In The Darkness which, along with the first Clash album, is the best snapshot of the tense, angry atmosphere in England at the time. Some of it seems like naive sloganeering now but back then it felt like life and death, you were either on Tom’s side or you were with the National Front and the SPG.
This was the only record by The Tubes I ever owned but I’d loved to have seen them live because their shows were (in)famous — for reasons which are clear from this clip, especially the last few minutes. I think seeing this would have blown my teenage mind.
Chris Stein could do with a haircut (“Get yer hair cut!”) but judging by this clip Debbie Harry looked pretty damn perfect right from the start.
What the hell, have another one on me.
I assume most people know that the sleeve of London Calling is a
rip off, pastiche of homage to Elvis Presley’s first album. You might even know that the cover’s iconic photo of Paul Simenon was taken by NME photographer Pennie Smith (whose photos of the band were collected in a terrific book that will set you back a few bob these days). But unless you’re a Brit of a certain age you might not have heard of Ray Lowry, the man who actually designed the sleeve.
Lowry was a cartoonist who regularly contributed to the NME during the 70s and 80s, including the surreal weekly strip Not Only Rock and Roll. He had a sharp eye for the foibles and posturing of music fans and rock stars and whenever they got too self-important or pretentious — which they often did in the NME in those days — you could always rely on the Lowry cartoon at the back of the paper to bring things back to earth.
He became mates with The Clash after meeting them at a gig, and the band invited him on the road with them to be what Joe Strummer called “official war artist” of their 1979 tour of the US which led to the commission to design the cover of their next album. Ray had drawn cartoons for underground papers like Oz in the 1960s so he was from another generation than these young punks, but being a lover of what he called “holy rock and roll thunder” he was thrilled by the music’s primitive energy and probably bonded with The Clash over a shared passion for 1950s rock n’ roll (and its hairstyles), Lefty politics, and a belief in “authenticity”.
Judging by these early roughs Lowry had the Elvis-inspired typography before London Calling had a cover image or even a name, it also looks like it was going to be called Made In England at one point. The final sleeve is fairly plain and basic but sometimes effective design is just a matter of picking the right picture, even if it’s out of focus because Pennie Smith was backing away from a pissed-off, guitar-swinging Simeonon when she snapped it — and I’m sure The Clash loved the iconoclasm of using an old Elvis sleeve as inspiration.
As far as I know it’s the only album cover Lowry ever designed which is crazy when you think how famous the one he did is. Sadly he died in 2008, though the commercial work had mostly dried up he had carried on painting and had an exhibition of his work just before he passed away. But if he wasn’t completely forgotten, he’s certainly not as well known as he should be.
Download: Death or Glory – The Clash (mp3)
Ink is a collection of Lowry’s work that’s out of print now but can be found for sale on the internets without too much bother, happily his illustrated book about that 1979 tour with The Clash is still available.