Jul 14, 2015
My teenage self would be horrified, but it’s occurred to me that a lot of the music I listen to these days is made by old rockers. Just this week I’ve been entertained by Costello, New Order, the Jam, Modern Lovers and David Bowie. It’s as if the 20th century never ended.
Such listening certainly puts paid to the notion that rock ’n’ roll, or pop music, or whatever you want to call it, is somehow ephemeral, a notion occasionally put forward in counterposition to the “timelessness” of classical forms. That just seems vainglorious now. It’s nearly 70 years since Fats Domino kicked off the rock ’n’ roll era and popular music; old rockers are now just another part of its rich history.
Of course when you first begin to listen to music, it seems only right that you should be rapt by the bands and styles of your era, just as I was in the late 70s and early 80s. Old music should be eschewed and scorned — though obviously you have to obey the unwritten law that says that everyone must like the Beatles and acknowledge them as the best band of all time.
And that’s the music that stays with you, that remains most important to you. It’s why, despite all evidence to the contrary, I have a soft spot for early Spandau Ballet (yes, I know, I know…). The rest you can discover at leisure and if it does become as important to you as the music you grew up with, it’s slowly embedded, more cerebral than hormonal.
I’m reluctant to describe the Popguns as old rockers, old posters may be more accurate, but that’s what they are. I missed them first time around. It was the late-80s and I had other priorities, but that didn’t stop me retrospectively making
Waiting for the Winter my 1989 pick for a-song-from-each-year-of-my-life.
The Brighton band called it a day in 1996 only to return 16 years later, first to gigging and subsequently to the recording studio, where they were still waiting for the winter.
And how glad we should be that they’re back. Last year’s Pop Fiction LP was probably their best ever work — well worth the wait.
The Popguns // Lovejunky
We Were Promised Jetpacks is a great name for a band. That I can be sure of. What I can’t be sure of is quite where they fit in. There are moments listening to their second LP, Unravelling, when you think you’re about to be taken into tedious indie-rock territory, but somehow the band rescues itself. This is the point at which newcomers to the band should seek out their debut, 2012’s In the Pit of the Storm, while deliberating on its successor. Here, chronologically, are tracks from both.
We Were Promised Jetpacks // Hard to Remember & Disconnecting // Bandcamp
As I mentioned, I can’t quite make my mind up about WWPJ, as they’re never known. The same can be said of Carter USM. I really want to like the band formerly known as an Unstoppable Sex Machine, but one-trick ponies need a damn good trick. However, when take Carter’s trick and apply it to other bands’ songs and the result is surprisingly listenable. It was a conversation on Twitter that led me to their 2007 covers LP, wherein they tackle songs by the aforementioned Jam, Shampoo and the Smiths, among others. The highlight is this rendering of a Pet Shop Boys tune.
Carter USM // Rent // iTunes
BBC4 is currently two-thirds of the way through an excellent three-part documentary that tells the story of the rise of rock ’n’ roll. It’s fascinating to see how a music that began in the black communities of America, was adopted, sanitised and re-packaged as white music by the mass market record labels. Elvis Presley was the unwitting catalyst that remade Chuck Berry as Buddy Holly, Fats Domino as Jerry Lee Lewis, rebellious enough to excite white teenagers but not too dangerous, or god forbid, black for white radio and TV. The documentary is on iPlayer, so catch it if and when you can.
It includes numerous clips from an interview with Jerry Lee Lewis, the artist best known for marrying a 13–year–old cousin, accidentally shooting and killing his bass player and being arrested for allegedly planning to deliberately shoot and kill Elvis Presley. Oh, and his frantic rock ’n’ roll piano playing.
By 1964 Lewis’s career looked to be over, not least because of the fallout from the controversy surrounding his marriage, which although legal was widely condemned. But as the documentary shows, Lewis had a fantastic singing voice and having grown up, with country music, like most of his white contemporaries, it was there that he turned for his 1968 comeback LP, Another Place, Another Time. He followed it with a string of records that made him a fixture in the US country charts.
Sadly many of those recordings are no longer commercially available, save on secondhand vinyl. This track appears on 1970’s A Taste of Country and is a perfect example of the kind of thing I would have hated when I was 16.
Jerry Lee Lewis // I Love You So Much it Hurts // iTunes
I was going to finish there, but then I thought, what about Mark E Smith, perhaps the oldest-looking old rocker of them all?
Smith’s band the Fall released their thirty-first studio LP this year and while Sub-lingual Tablet is not among their best, there are moments when you realise once more that even when they’re just doing their thing, the Fall still sound streets ahead of their contemporaries, old or new.
The Fall // Pledge! // iTunes
PS You can now sign up for email notifications of new posts, by entering your email address in the subscribe box on the right-hand side of this and every page.