Posts Tagged ‘In the City’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

On back-to-back days in November 1983, I bought two double-LP compilations by two paradigm-shifting British bands: the Who’s The Kids Are Alright and the Jam’s Snap! I thoroughly enjoyed both right from the start. The Who’s set is, obviously, the odds-and-sods soundtrack to the 1979 documentary film about Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon. The comprehensive Jam collection, which was released the previous month, contains 29 of the then-recently disbanded group’s songs, including their 16 U.K. singles, b-sides and the “That’s Entertainment” demo.

Both sets are great, but only one – in my estimation, at least – is essential: The Jam’s Snap! It’s one of the greatest best-of collections ever released, and remains my go-to choice when in the mood to crank the Jam.

If you’re curious about Paul Weller’s first group, it’s the best place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s still the best way to experience the taut trio’s top tracks in rapid-fire succession. Even in the streaming age, where “new-and-improved” compilations and playlists are a mere mouse-click away, it’s the only such set that matters.

About it’s only competition: Compact Snap!, released in 1984, which trims eight songs from the set (so that it could fit onto one CD). I picked it up a few years after that, in late 1987 or early ’88, at a now-defunct CD-only store in Jenkintown, Pa., that was called (if my memory is right) 21st Century Sound. The excised songs were “Away from the Numbers,” “Billy Hunt,” “English Rose,” “Mr. Clean,” “The Butterfly Collector,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Man in the Corner Shop” and “Tales from the Riverbank.”

The original Snap! eventually made its way to CD in 2006, and both the original and “compact” versions are available on most streaming outlets. Give it a go.

The track list:

IMG_0005When January 1978 began, I was 12 and far from a music freak. I owned a few bargain-bin Elvis Presley LPs that collected the King’s movie music along with his Golden Records collection, The Monkees Greatest Hits, a two-LP Donny & Marie collection and the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, along with a handful of singles by Jan & Dean. The untimely death of the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, in August ’77 kickstarted something, but most of my time was spent on other pursuits – TV, the movies, pro wrestling and comic books, primarily.

America, that winter, was limping along: 1977 ended with unemployment at 7.1 percent and inflation at 6.5 percent. Jimmy Carter was president. The biggest movie of the previous year was Star Wars, and other popular films included Smokey & the Bandit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, The Spy Who Loved Me and Saturday Night Fever. The last film, thanks to its Bee Gees-laden soundtrack, pushed the disco craze over the top.

The Bee Gees eventually became one of the main targets of the disco backlash, but at the crack of dawn on January 1st, 1978 – a Sunday – they were ensconced atop the charts with “How Deep Is Your Love.”

“Baby Come Back” by Player would displace it a week later, but no matter – by the start of the next month, they’d be at No. 1 again with “Stayin’ Alive.” Other popular songs that New Year included Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” Paul Simon’s “Slip-Sliding Away”…and Shaun Cassidy’s “Hey Deanie.” (The year’s week-by-week charts can be found here.)

IMG_0015Not that you’d know any of that from this issue of Trouser Press. Billed as “America’s Only British Rock Magazine,” it opens with a note from editor-in-chief Ira A. Robbins: “For those of us permanently afflicted with a fascination for the rock ’n’ roll business (as something totally detached from the music), this is an amazingly interesting time to be alive. The first attempts by U.S. companies to import new wave bands are vying with and against home-grown groups trying to win acceptance in their own backyards. The first half of 1978 is the make-or-break time for p*nk rock in America because U.S. companies know their limits when it comes to developing new trends in music: they’ll go as far as it takes to decide how much (or little) money there is to be made, and base their future involvement on the early results.”

IMG_0007There’s also a reader’s poll of the best LPs of all time. Who’s Next tops it, followed by Ziggy Stardust, the White Album, Sgt. Pepper and…The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis?! Genesis scores an impressive three additional albums on the list, too, including the Gabriel-less A Trick of the Tail; solo Gabriel scores one, too. I’ve never been much of a Genesis fan, but that seems about right for that time and place. Some punk/new wave make the cut, too, but so does – as evidenced by the Gabriel-era Genesis – a preponderance of progressive rock. ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery rates higher than the Clash’s self-titled debut. (To see the entire list, click on the image.)

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: January 1978 (circa Trouser Press).

IMG_00091) Suzi Quatro – “Devil Gate Drive.” My introduction to Suzi Quatro wasn’t that different from most of America: on consecutive Tuesday nights in November 1977, when she guest starred on Happy Days. The Detroit-born rocker found success in England in the early/mid ‘70s, and would score a hit in the U.S. in 1979 with “Stumblin’ In,” but – for a generation of kids – she’ll always be know as Leather Tuscadero, the kid sister of Fonzie’s one-time flame Pinkie.

IMG_00112) The Jam – “In the City.” There’s an excellent article about the Brit band by Robbins. It opens with: “Try calling Paul Weller of the Jam a punk rocker, and find out how icy a cold stare can be.  The intense young man who fulfills the Townshend role in England’s only mod new wave band has very definite ideas about the Jam, and punkdom plays no part therein.”

IMG_00123) Graham Parker & the Rumour – “Stick to Me.” Parker sits for an interview about his third album, Stick to Me. The initial, month-long recordings for the album had to be scrapped due to a serious mishap, as the rocker explains: “We did the whole thing and it sounded absolutely great. When we went to mix it, the power didn’t come out. We went to another studio and they said there’s something wrong with the bottom frequencies, some fault with the studio.” So back into the studio they went, with Nick Lowe as producer, and they banged out the album in about a week.

The interviewer, Jon Young, mentions that he hears Motown influences on the first two albums. Parker agrees, to an extent: “Definitely the power of some of that stuff. I mean, you couldn’t say we sounded like a soul band, but the dynamics of that are something we learned.”

“I think it’s much more valid than Bruce Springsteen,” comments Young.

“I don’t know about that,” responds Parker. “I’m a fan of his. I can’t wait for his new album, whenever he gets it together. He’s done loads of tracks.” (That album-in-the-making, of course, was Darkness on the Edge of Town.)

IMG_00134) David Bowie – “Heroes.” John Walker delves deep into Bowie and Bowie lore in his review of the Heroes album, opening with: “If David Bowie ever conceded that his origins were extraterrestrial, I think the announcement would carry about as much impact as his earlier admission of his own bisexuality. People would ‘ooooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ for a bit, then it would be cool to admit that you were from another planet; finally the Western world would assimilate the outer space culture. Eventually Bloomingdale’s would offer a line of antennae.”

Of the song “Heroes,” he writes that it “could be Dream #1. It too offers no promise of physical permanence – ‘Though nothing will keep us together/we can beat them/for ever and ever’ – but ‘we can be Heroes/just for one day.’ The persistent set of quotation marks surrounding the title indicates some sort of neo-realistic perspective that acknowledges a context greatest that the world of celebrities.”

The review ends with: “I suggest you buy two copies. Listen to one and bury the other in the garden. See what happens.”

IMG_00175) The Clash – “White Riot.” In Brian Hoggs’ “Ramblings” column, he mentions/reviews a Clash concert. “…Joe Strummer had spent most of the day in bed, trying to shake a throat infection. (He’d collapsed twice the night before in Glasgow.) It was a miracle that the show was on; two other places had refused to let the Clash play. But they came; Joe screamed ‘London’s Burning’ and everything else was forgotten. Mick Jones’s guitar work gets better and better, spitting and spilling solos. Paul Simonon’s bass is tight and Nicky Headon is a perfect drummer for the group, forcing and cutting into the rhythm. But your eyes fall back on Strummer. Sometimes he plays guitar, smashing into the sound, sometimes he doesn’t, but leans and screams into the mike. Sometimes he stands just stares and twinkles.”

The piece concludes thusly: “The Clash finished their set with a ‘White Riot’ that had eight times the power of the album and single version put together. It showed how far the group as progressed even with their older material. It also reminded me of when the 45 first came out and how the Clash has possibly become the most vital and exciting British group in years.”

Thursday night, I stumbled upon The Jam – About the Young Idea on Showtime OnDemand. It’s an excellent documentary about the English mod rock band that rose from the London suburbs in the late 1970s to become one of the biggest acts of that era in their home country. Wikipedia reports that they scored 18 consecutive Top 40 hits in the U.K., including four No. 1s; and also charted four Top 10 albums, including one – their last, The Gift – that hit the top spot in 1982.

They never broke through in the States for a variety of reasons. One reason: They tackled topical British concerns that just didn’t translate all that well to this side of the pond. Another: They sported thick British accents that made it a bit difficult to decipher the lyrics.

ringo_rsThat’s neither here nor there, however, for today’s Top 5. In April 1981, I was 15 years of age, a high-school sophomore and, thanks to my folks, a new subscriber to Rolling Stone. To say that it was appropriate that Ringo Starr, whose 40th birthday was the raison d’être for the article, graced the cover of the first issue I received is an understatement – I was (and remain) a huge Beatles fan.

1) Ringo Starr – “You Can’t Fight Lightning.” At the time of the interview, Ringo was in the midst of recording an album he called Can’t Fight Lightning. It eventually morphed into Stop and Smell the Roses, released at the end of the year; and the planned title track wouldn’t be released until 1994.

Ringo_JohnThis was a pre-sober Starr: “Ringo sits cross-legged on the floor, elbow propped on a coffee table. He takes long sips of brandy and chain-smokes Marlboros. Dark glasses mask bloodshot eyes—souvenirs from an all-night session in the recording studio.”

He also offers this bon mot during the chat: “I asked all my friends to help on Can’t Fight Lightning. George did a couple of tracks, Paul’s done a couple of tracks. But the real drag is that there were tracks made for me by John. I won’t use them now, though. Well, I might. You never can tell. But they won’t be on the album. The fun was going to be that we’d play together, you know?”

jam_sound_affects2) The Jam – “Start!” From a Beatle to a Beatles homage… does it get any better? This three-and-a-half star review of Sound Affects from John Piccarella is the first reference to the Jam that I remember reading. I’m sure that I read about them before, possibly even in Rolling Stone, but they were among dozens of acts that I skipped past at the time – call it (youthful) ignorance at work.jam_snark

The reason I say I’m sure I saw their names in music magazines prior to this date: They’d made a few forays to the U.S. during the previous few years, appearing on American Bandstand and the SNL clone Fridays, and possibly other shows, but that utter Britishness of theirs kept them from catching on. They also weren’t played on the radio around here – that I know of, at any rate. So it’s this snarky review that introduced me to them. (See the clip the right.) The line that stood out to me, though, was: “In 1980, the Jam placed more singles in the English Top Fifty than anyone since the Beatles, whose record they tied.”

I’d love to say that, inspired by the review, I ran to the Hatboro Music Shop and bought the LP. I can’t. I was intrigued by what I read, true, but also budget-conscious. It wasn’t until the next year, after I saw the video for “A Town Called Malice” on MTV, that I picked up anything by the group. That was The Gift.

who_face3) The Who – “You Better You Bet.” It’s odd what we remember. For instance, I recall listening to WYSP-FM or WMMR-FM one day in early 1981 when the disc jockey announced with great fanfare a new song from the Who – and, with that, “You Better You Bet” kicked in. On the other side, he took an audible deep breath and sighed, somewhat beleaguered.

In the Jam documentary I mentioned in the intro, Paul Weller talks about how listening to the Who’s 1965 debut LP, My Generation, helped cement his vision of the Jam as a three-piece band. Understandable, given the album’s brute power. By 1981, however, the Who were not the same band; Keith Moon was dead, and Townshend – as he explains in his memoir, Who I Am, was over-extended. Face Dances, which “You Better You Bet” hails from, was the first post-Moon Who effort; and, while far from bad, was nowhere near as good as Townshend’s solo Empty Glass from the previous year.

joan_badrep4) Joan Jett – “Bad Reputation.” On the same page as the Jam review is this, my introduction to the former Runaway. The reviewer, one Tom Carson, says: “…though the LP works better as gesture than as music, the music’s still the best this artist has ever made.” Later, he sums things up with: “Unfortunately, Bad Reputation is flawed by its literal-mindedness – the arrangements pump along gamely yet rarely swing or soar – and by some unresourceful material. But in its mood and feel, Joan Jett’s first solo album is a determined retelling of what sometimes seems like the truest rock story there is.”

By the end of the year, both it and the epoch-shattering I Love Rock ’n Roll album – the pre-Christmas version with “Little Drummer Boy” – weren’t just in my vinyl collection, but among the most-played albums in my collection. (They aren’t that, anymore, but I still listen to them a few dozen times a year.) And “Bad Reputation,” the title tune, is one of the best rock anthems ever.

rosie_75) Rosanne Cash – “Seven Year Ache.” As I’ve written elsewhere, I didn’t get into Rosanne’s music until 1985 and “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” Yet, four years earlier, I obviously flipped past this short article, which features a nice Q&A with her about the success of her second album and its title track, “Seven Year Ache,” as well as other matters. One question: Which performers do you like to see? Her answer: “Springsteen. And there are some acts around L.A. that I go to see—the Carl Gant Band, they’re really good. I think the last act I paid to see was Rockpile.”

She also confesses (if that’s the right word): “I’d pay to see Judy Garland right now if she were alive. I love her. She’s my hero. She was an absolute clear channel of emotion through her singing.”