Picture Post

Billy Idol was never taken seriously by music critics in the late 70s who saw him as a dumb pretty boy whose band made cartoon punk records. This is a pretty silly record but it’s a whole lot of rocking fun, and owes as much musically to Glam Rock as it does punk.

Billy was to have the last laugh a few years later of course.

Download: King Rocker — Generation X (mp3)

Photo: René, Westminster Bridge 1968, by Frank Habicht
(Yes, I know the record should be Queen Rocker)

Something for the Weekend

Poor old Malcolm Owen. Died of a heroin overdose after The Ruts had recorded just the one album and a few singles, forever making them a “What if?” footnote in post-punk history. Also had the misfortune to die only two weeks after Ian Curtis and get forgotten by history while the gloomy Manc is a legend (even though The Ruts were a bigger band than Joy Division at the time).

Something for The Weekend

Want more Clash? Course you do.

A performance that makes you think they should have changed their name to THE CLASH!!! in all caps with three exclamation marks.

Punk Is Dead

The Clash became instant punk gods with their debut album but then had the problem of “What do we do next?” — a problem The Pistols solved by breaking up, and The Ramones ignored by just doing the same thing again (and again). The Westway Wonders rightly felt that they couldn’t keep doing the same primitive three-chord thrash, and with punk pretty much being declared over by the end of 1977 they had to move on.

Their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope was an attempt to move forward that wasn’t entirely successful. It’s a decent album but some of the songs are a bit duff and I’ve never liked the production. In retrospect the track “Julie’s Been Working For The Drug Squad” is a signpost for the future, but at the time it was regarded as a novelty lark.

The first taste of where they were going next came in May 1979 with The Cost of Living EP. The first track “I Fought The Law” was as blazingly ferocious as anything on their first album but with a production that was cleaner and brighter than anything they’d done before. The next two tracks “Groovy Times” and “Gates of The West” (one of my all-time favourite Clash songs) were even more different, one featuring acoustic guitars and harmonica while the other was an ode to America, a country the band once declared they were bored with. Clearly they were shedding their old practices and prejudices, freeing themselves from the shackles of punk orthodoxy.

Though The Clash are pretty much canonized now as one of the great rock bands, their reputation wasn’t quite so secure back then. I remember reaction to the EP being mixed at the time, with some feeling that they were running out of gas, and covering old rock and roll songs wasn’t exactly a sign of a band with new ideas, was it? Now it sounds like a stepping stone because seven months later they released London Calling. You know the rest.

Download: Groovy Times – The Clash (mp3)
Download: Gates of The West – The Clash (mp3)

BONUS: This is the short “reprise” of the first track that ends the EP. It’s basically Joe Strummer doing a jokey ad for the record, and far as I know this is only available on vinyl copies of it.

Download: I Fought The Law (Reprise) – The Clash (mp3)

The Tribes of Britain

Download: Girls Are Out To Get You – Fascinations (mp3)

Download: Aunties And Uncles (Impulsive Youths) – The Jam (mp3)

Download: Dressed In Black – The Shangri-Las (mp3)

Download: Jump Boys – The Undertones (mp3)

Off The Shelves

The Saturday job I had in the record department of the Putney WH Smith in the late 70s might not have been as hip as working at Rough Trade or Groove Records, but the guy who ran the department was a serious music geek as were the kids I worked with and we stocked plenty of Post-Punk and Indie records, and had a good section of 12″ singles. There were three independent record shops on Putney High Street at the time (three!) and we considered them our competition, not Woolies or Boot’s.

The naff brown blazers and ties we had to wear didn’t make us look very cool but if you came into the store on a Saturday you’d be just as likely to hear The Jam or Joy Division playing than Neil Diamond or ABBA, much to the annoyance of the store manager. One time he came over when we were playing Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle album and said “Take this off and play something more popular!” to which one of the kids snarkily replied “Actually, it’s Number One at the moment.” First time I ever heard Unknown Pleasures was while working there.

But Smiths were still a “respectable” High Street chain better known for selling books and stationery than edgy records. One Saturday in 1979 a letter arrived from corporate HQ in Swindon telling us to remove from the racks all copies of the debut albums by Public Image and Stiff Little Fingers as the company would no longer be selling them — in other words, they were being banned.

The letter never gave any reason (it may have actually been two separate letters at different times, my memory is hazy on that point) but it wasn’t hard to figure out why they considered SLF’s Inflammable Material so controversial with it’s abrasive songs about the Northern Ireland conflict. We were a little puzzled about the Public Image album, but decided that it was down to the “sacrilegious” song “Religion” which would probably still ruffle a few feathers today.

The strange thing was that both albums had been out for a while, the Public Image album was nearly a year old, so this was a case of shutting the barn door after the horse had bolted. I can only imagine that the old duffers who ran Smiths were a bit slow on the uptake, or maybe they’d had a few Mr. Angry letters from outraged customers — I once had a woman return a Billy Connolly album to the store complaining that one of the sketches on it was “blasphemous”. The Stiff Little Fingers ban was obviously blatant political censorship though, the Chairman of Smiths at the time was a chap called Sir Charles Hugh Willis Troughton and with a name like that you can imagine what his political sympathies were. He probably went to public school with half the Thatcher cabinet.

I don’t remember any of this being in the news back then, not even the music press who you think would be outraged at the establishment once again banning rock records, but the whole event seemed to be unnoticed except for those of us who worked at Smiths.

Smiths doesn’t sell music anymore (neither does any other High Street store) and now John Lydon does butter commercials while Stiff Little Fingers are on the punk nostalgia circuit. But there was a time when they were considered an affront to the decent law-abiding citizens who popped into Smiths to get their TV Times and the latest Barry Manilow album. You can’t say this about a lot of music from back then, but these records do still sound confrontational. Still worth banning, really.

Download: Religion II – Public Image Limited (mp3)
Download: Suspect Device – Stiff Little Fingers (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

The B-52s captured live in a small hometown club before their first album had come out. The video quality makes it look really ancient but it’s “only” 1978. Then again, that was 36 years ago. Gulp.

Something for the Weekend

“Please keep this kind of thing for the council estates and not in the homes of decent people”

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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