Music Notes December 2014

December 27, 2014 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized)

As always in December, a little earlier than usual. Funnily enough in December, I find myself listening to one of three styles of music: Christmas songs obviously. Best of the year stuff; nostalgia. And for me, nostalgia is those last three years of the 1970s when I first began to listen to music in a serious way.

Sure, 1977 was an awakening, but I read about punk before I heard it. By 1978, I was beginning to take music a lot more seriously. I got my first album that wasn’t a greatest hits record (Black and White by the Stranglers), and I also began to read the weekly music press. I bought my first copy of New Musical Express because the Stranglers were on the cover (yes them again), and that was it. I read the paper every week for the next three years until I came to Canada, and it became too expensive to buy. (And speaking of the Stranglers, they were the first band I saw live, but that wasn’t until the following year).

This month’s music notes is a look at some singles from that year because it was still the age of the single, and while I did buy albums, it was in that seven-inch format that most of my consumption took place. NB, I didn’t buy all of the records in this list, which is a shame because many of them would be cool things to own.

1. The Angelic Upstarts – “The Murder of Liddle Towers”

I’m not sure where I first heard this one, but I do remember thinking, “Wow.” It’s a pretty straight forward punk blast: “Who killed Liddle/ police killed Liddle Towers!” Apparently they had years of problems with the police in Newcastle as a result.

2. Public Image Ltd – “Public Image”

I was just a little too young to fully experience the Sex Pistols, but by the time PIL released their first single, I was ready. It’s an amazing child which of course still bears the scars of its birth: Punky sounding vocals, slashing metallic guitar, throbbing bass and crisp drums, but hardly any indication of the heights they were to scale with Metal Box. I still have the newspaper sleeve. You don’t actually need to listen to the B-side, “The Cowboy Song” more than once though.

3. Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights”

One of the strangest debut singles I’d say. A pretty pop song by the 19 year-old Kate, but it’s the vocal that fascinates, intimidates and dominates. Alternately soaring and crouching. I hadn’t read the book at that point, but it drew me in.

4. Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”

Around the time I started buying the music press, I discovered fanzines. Zigzag, then edited by Kris Needs, wasn’t exactly a zine, but it was close enough. The first issue I bought had Johnny Thunders on the cover. Thunders was promoting his first solo record So Alone and was also playing shows with the likes of Peter Perrett of the Only Ones. This song is not only Thunders’ greatest song, it’s one of the greatest songs.  Did it chart? Ah, no.

5. Alternative TV – “Action, Time, Vision”

ATV covered a long of ground, in sound, in lyrical content and in personnel with Mark Perry (Sniffin Glue being the only constant). The sound on this one is not really like the rest of their material, but it’s a uber-catchy riff, and I liked it when I heard it on Peel.

6. Jilted John – “Jilted John”

A novelty single about a guy named John who is, well, jilted by his girl for a guy named Gordon, who, John asserts, is a moron. Notable for its whiny punk vocals and that it was produced by Martin Hammett. John, AKA Graham Fellows appeared on Coronation Street afterwards.

7. Althea and Donna – “Uptown Top Ranking”

OK, this was released in 1977, but it didn’t become a hit until 1978. Two Jamaican schoolgirls singing reggae about…well, who knows what especially if you’re a teen living in a small town near Oxford? Who cared? It sounded like nothing I’d heard. Amazing stuff.  And yet they never managed to do it again.

8. 10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

In the middle of this little reggae block then, a number one song. 10cc went back many years before this single. I think the first song of theirs I heard was 1972’s “Rubber Bullets.” Hard not to like this little homage to Jamaica, which was not without a few risky references (sex and drugs cleverly hidden). As a 14-year-old, I had no idea, but it sounded much more exciting than where I was.

9. The Police – “Can’t Stand Losing You.”

I don’t really like the Police, but the first album does have some songs on it. And this one is the one I bought. Punky reggae. C’mon how can you resist this line, “And you’ll be sorry when I’m dead/and all this guilt will be on your head.” My copy is in a picture sleeve on blue vinyl.  Should be worth a few bob.

10. Tonight – “Drummer Man”

Ludicrously catchy new wave song. Unavailable for years, it’s now an easy download.

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