Saturday, April 28, 2018


There is a programme on UK television called QI, a comedic panel show where guests have to respond to clues with explanations, which, if falling too far within cliche or to fulfil urban mythology, it causes a klaxon to blare. (Yeah, I'm selling it, aren't I but here's the gist.) Anyhoo, for me to answer this theme with this song would surely fire that klaxon. But who cares, it's a great slab of cheesey kitsch and I love it. I even bought the single. Of course, it has nothing to do with punk in the later better received sense of the word, no spiky cuts and spitting, being very much an amalgam of poodle rock and near Jim Steinman grand guignol. The punk reference is more hollywood american, c'mon, punk, make my day, cataloguing the nonsenses when rich kids go slumming in L.A. dives in the search of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I recall the video, all grotesques on enormo-heels, or were they stilts, and with huuuuuuge hair. Staying up late by myself, watching Whistle Test, it certainly rattled my enthusiasms for living a life more wasted. I didn't, needless to say, but I could dream.

The Tubes didn't really, for me, ever have much else up their sleeve. OK, they made a slew of discs and were able to notch up different Greatest Hits collections on different labels. I suspect hit was maybe a loose  description, or thought so until I checked. They seem to have shifted a ton of product in those hinter years pre (real) punk, either in the Ramones/Blondie CBGBs sense or the Clash/Pistols british "invasion" sense of the word, as adult oriented rock was running out of ideas. (I know, this is rose-tinted whimsy; did punk ever mean for much on your side of the pond, other than for media frenzied s(c)h(l)ock-rock portrayals? ) I know I bought one of those hits compilations, played it once and never needed to bother my ears with it again, but the single, both sides, I kept on playing. Remarkably, neither song featured on that hits collection. (Actually, thinking back, I have a sneaking there were two songs on the flip, but I only remember one, another right up there stone cold classic. And of course I'm going to give it you.)

Wow, I just read their wiki page. They really were huge, weren't they? And I could have seen them only last year, supporting fellow ghoul Alice Cooper, a match made in purgatory, on their/his tour of Europe last year. And front focus Fee Waybill, one of the great, possiblynothisreal, names in the industry, still at the helm. No, I couldn't and wouldn't. And didn't. I caught Cooper in about 1984 and he was already older than the collective combined of the audience; seeing kids singing along to 'I'm Eighteen', a song they weren't even born as Alice first sang it. I digress. So, back to the Tubes, and as they grew into any number of images, wretchedly they failed then and now to catch my enthusiasm. Hell, they didn't need to. Why spoil my reality with the truth? I'm off to play my vinyl. Loud.

And, for a change, I really do want you to get that single, for only 75p of my money. And there were/are three songs.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Punk: Radio, Radio

purchase [Radio, Radio]

I'm not particular about the genre of music I pick - kind of the opposite of the Ry Cooder line, "I used to be particular ...".  And I can generally classify what I hear as being in one or another of several major categories, but there are some labels that seem arbitrary: Pop-Rock? Folk-Rock? Where do you place Springsteen? And does it matter?

I confess I never really <subscribed> to punk. Maybe it's the connotations I ascribe to the word: "punk" sounds pejorative for some reason. If you had asked me a week ago, "Do you like punk?" I would likely have said, "Not especially. Never really paid it much attention."

Checking out one online list of all time best punk hits, I see that there are many that I (inadvertently) enjoyed without having them labeled as punk.

There are equally many bands in that top list that I never (wrongfully) paid much attention to: the Sex Pistols, Blondie, the Ramones ... all certainly known to me (as in "they exist and make profitable music") but I still couldn't tell you much about them.

But among that top <punk> hits list I was working off, one stuck out partly because I had never pegged the band as punk (but as a result of this awareness, can now sort of profess a better sense of what is punk/what punk is)... and that is Elvis. Costello, that is.

His outre look -a sort of  <I don't give much of a f*** about what you think I look like... my lyrics are my lyrics and make of them what you will>...and music that may come across as discordant (but isn't). I think that partially describes the punk genre.

And I love/loved Elvis. The lyrics always seemed to vie with the best (as in Bob Dylan). The music? - not at all as monotonous as your standard I-IV-V. And catchy - many of the Costello songs got stuck inside my head to the point that they "ran" all night through my sleep. Kept me away going round and round.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Punk: Fly The Flag

Stiff Little Fingers: Fly The Flag

It is a complete coincidence that our Punk theme follows our Jokes, Pranks & Fools theme, since one of the meanings of being punked is being the victim of a prank. Although people may go there, I suspect that most of the posts over the next couple of weeks will be about punk music (or songs with the word in the title).

As I think I’ve mentioned somewhere before, when I showed up in college in 1978, I had begun to dip my toes into “New Wave” music, but found “punk” music, such as The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, to be basically unlistenable. It didn’t take too much time working at WPRB before I did a full 180 on that, and began to appreciate much of what is called punk. That being said, my tastes have always leaned toward punk bands that could write good tunes, and still have problems with some of the more hardcore bands that sound like a bunch of screaming. But that’s me.

Stiff Little Fingers was a band that I fell hard for, and fast. My introduction to them was their second album, Nobody’s Heroes, which came out in 1980. It was only later that I discovered their excellent debut album, Inflammable Material, and the song that vaulted them to prominence, “Alternative Ulster.” It was clear that SLF were a political band—the first album was mostly about the “Troubles” in their native Belfast, and I learned, much later, that the advance that they got from Chrysalis Records before recording Nobody’s Heroes allowed most of the members to flee to the relative safety of London.

“Fly The Flag” was the song that stuck out to me then, and I still like it today, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to be one that gets mentioned much in discussions of the band or its music (and it doesn’t even make some of their “best of” collections, which is crazy). It is anthemic and stirring, but its energy, and singer Jake Burns’ gruff vocals, place it clearly in the punk style. The song is also, from start to finish, sarcastic. It appears to be sung from the viewpoint of an ultra-conservative super patriot, similar to the rhetoric advanced by the fascist National Front in Britain at the time. But because the message of the song seemed so contrary to the band’s other music, it was clear that they were mocking that position, not supporting it. (You had to be careful, because other punks at the time did support racist and nationalist policies). If anything was a giveaway, though, it was the repeated “gimme gimmes” that made it clear that they were pointing out the selfishness of the ostensible narrator and his ilk.

Burns has written that the song was a response to the Thatcher generation, and “the whole ‘me, me, me’ attitude and the naked greed that was around at the time.” But he was horrified when National Front supporters took the song at face value.

When I started writing this, I just wanted to discuss a band that I haven’t written about, and a song that I like. But when I listened to it again, it struck me that it works today (with a minor change of venue) as a satire of Trumpism, with its cruel anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment, its greedy social Darwinism, and mocking of the “helpless.” I mean, here are just some of the lyrics:

Gimme a nation where people are free 
Free to do and free to be 
Free to screw you before you screw me 


Gimme a Britain that's got back the Great 
A race of winners not cramped by the State 
And only the helpless get left at the gate. 

SLF put out an excellent live album and another studio album, both of which I played the crap out of on the radio. They released one more studio album in late 1982, which I have no recollection of, before disbanding. They reformed in the late 1980s, with former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton replacing original member Ali McMordie, and have put out albums and toured, with some lineup changes, on and off since then. I admit to not being aware of any of this music.