Jul 31, 2015
Yet there’s still this appeal
That we’ve kept through our lives.
If you could have grown up in any musical era, which would you choose? A fatuous question, perhaps, but now which begs another: what was the greatest era of popular music?
I’ve mentioned the recent, excellent BBC4 three-part documentary on rock ’n’ roll, tracing its story from its origins in 1950s black America to its huge commercial success across white America in the sixties. It’s hard to argue with anyone who says that those early years are non pareil, the years of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. Likewise, who can contradict those who point to the years covered in the third part of the documentary, when the Beatles defined pop music, the Rolling Stones were still good and the Beach Boys breathed fresh life into rock ’n’ roll?
Others may argue for the flowering of rock music during the summer of ’68; had they been born ten years later they may have joined those extolling six heady months in 1976 when punk was punk.
Later generations will wallow in the nostalgia of acid house, of Manchester, god forbid of Britpop.
It is a generational thing. We can’t help loving most deeply and holding most closely they music we grew up with, the music that most defined us.
I was too young for punk. The first “punk” thing I remember was Pans People (it may have been Legs & Co) dancing to the Sex Pistols on Top of the Pops. Punk was dead. The music, however, meant everything to a 14-year-old Hereford schoolboy. I may have come to them late, but few people can have played and pored over the Sex Pistols’ and first Clash LPs more often in 1981.
But while they set me on the road to musical enlightenment, the damascene moment came when I pulled a seven-inch record out of its sleeve, placed it on the deck of my Mum’s ancient mono record player and clicked the needle arm into action. I’d never heard anything like it. I played it again and again and again. And again.
Joy Division // Love Will Tear Us Apart// iTunes
Just an astonishing, brilliant record that never gets old. And to think that it wouldn’t make my Joy Division top 10, such are the riches that lay behind the door that it opened. It remains the most important record I’ve ever heard.
I was reminded of this by a recent Twitter post by person unknown, who had just found his first tape recording of the John Peel show. The C90 cassette had been in his loft, guarding it’s decades old contents, tracks from shows broadcast in February 1981. What struck me was not the fortune of the find, but the date.
That was roughly when I started listening to Peel in my teenage bedroom, a tiny transistor radio. tuned to AM channels 275–285, national Radio One. To paraphrase Peel himself, what a time to be alive. Graham Lambert’s tapes include both sides of the debut single by New Order, the band born of the tragic demise of Joy Division. I bought this single at a department store in Hereford, it’s copper-metallic sleeve glistening in the racks. When you take both a- and b-sides together, it’s arguably the greatest single ever recorded.
New Order // Ceremony & It’s a Lovely Place// iTunes
And on that same show, another record, which, every time I hear it, takes me straight back to those heady days, when music was so new, so exciting, so vital. If I kept a box of my most precious records by the door in case of fire, as Peel did, this would be in it, a supreme moment from the greatest band from Mansfield ever — period!
B-Movie // Remembrance Day // iTunes
Wikipedia describes that as the band’s biggest UK commercial success, reaching the heady, dizzy heights of number 61 in the UK singles chart. The next record didn’t enjoy such bank balance busting success, but in my mind it’s inextricably linked with the B-Movie tune.
In 1982 Wild Swans were five Liverpudlians who got Echo and the Funnymen drummer, the late Pete de Freitas, to fund their debut single. Money well spent, though perhaps not well invested.
Like the B-Movie record, this is a perfect early-eighties record.
Wild Swans // Revolutionary Spirit
Revolutionary Spirit was released on the Zoo Records, a short-lived Liverpool label that captured the contemporary musical zeitgeist of the city. Founded by Teardrop Explodes keyboard player David Balfe and Bill Drummond, who would go on to have huge success with the KLF and literally burn £1 million.
Browsing a Newcastle record shop’s racks recently I came across a single by Lori and the Chameleons. Not their first release on Zoo records, but the follow-up on Korova, the London-based label best known for Echo and the Funnymen. I hadn’t heard of Lori and the Chameleons before and naively/optimistically assumed that it had something to do with the Chameleons, another band inextricably linked with the early eighties. It didn’t.
In fact it was a brief encounter between Balfe, Drummond and singer Lori Lartey and this second single was their last. Released in 1979, it spent a week in the charts at number 70.
Lori and the Chameleons // The Lonely Spy
Zoo released early recordings by the Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Funnymen before petering out in 1981. It never released anything by the Chameleons, perhaps in no small part because they came along a couple of years later — and they were from Manchester.
They released their first LP, Script of the Bridge in 1983 and, to put it plainly, it’s a belter, despite, as I’ve noted before, the awful cover.
The Chameleons // Monkeyland// iTunes
Photo: My Bush Record Player; some rights reserved.