In the "perfect debut album"-series the next perfect debut album is the self-titled album by Dire Straits. (UK Vertigo 9102 021, 1978) Released right in the middle of the first Wave of British punk rock in the first days of June that year "Dire Straits" was not an instant succes at all. It took a warm-up stint for Talking Heads and the re-release of their 7" single "Sultans Of Swing" to enter the British singles charts late 1978. In Denmark it only took a viewing of the "Sultans"-video in the late night TV show "Kanal 22" on Danish monopoly network!! I was interested in all the new music emerging at that time: Ian Dury's "New Boots...", Devo's "Are We Not Men?...", Elvis Costello, Sex Pistols- that sort of thing! And then suddenly this rather conservatively sounding laid back rock music very well executed and with good songs too came out... but was this music really a part of the new wave called punk? No...but still! A past in the British Pub Rock scene (see my blog post on "40 Years Anniversary Of Punk" for more info on the subject pub rock!) had honed their act as well as hardened Dire Straits as musicians. This together with strong songwriting made them an excellent live act. You immediately got the feeling that they could easily perform the songs from the debut live on stage. Listening to the "Dire Straits" debut album then, both JJ Cale and 461 Ocean Boulevard era-Eric Clapton came to mind as Dire Straits drew on other inspirations than for instance Sex Pistols who looked back on Iggy's Stooges, MC 5 or even The Who.
But with the advantage of a younger band's fresher approach and equally important: a set of good songs- they pulled it off: inspired yet original. And then there was the guitar sound- a clean, yet biting sound of a Fender Stratocaster that had rarely sounded better on record before. Was it plucked with the guitarist's fingers instead of a pick? Yes it must have been...a guitar sound that instantly became Dire Straits' hallmark. The more quiet songs also incorporated the Dobro resonator guitar with its slightly metallic acoustic guitar sound- good for slide too! Mark Knopfler had changed his technique to a country-like fingerstyle playing giving his songs a certain American twist hence the JJ Cale allusion. And then there was his voice. Not at all the World's greatest singer... more with a voice of a storyteller- and now with an album full of good stories to tell. Again as in the case of Television's "Marquee Moon" what you have here is a complete and ready sound of a band recording their first set of very well written songs. Luckily it was produced by a responsive Muff Winwood at the helm of the recording. In a decent British recording studio even if it was done on a budget! A hallmark sound can be a heavy burden and difficult to cope with if a band wants to move on. The next couple of albums were in fact repetitions of the debut album until "Love Over Gold" with its long epic "Telegraph Road" and escpecially (next album) "Brothers In Arms" with Mark Knopfler alternating the Strat and indeed Dobro with the more aggressive guitar sound of a Gibson Les Paul and succeeded: "Money For Nothing" took Dire Straits out of the pubs and straight into all the stadiums of the World. The answer to the question wheather you think this was good or bad lies entirely with you- and Mark and the boys? They smiled all the way to the bank!
The term "The Perfect Debut Album" is not something the serious record buyer would use lightly or often for that matter. The recording artist must earn this accolade by simply doing the impossible: carefully choosing the first batch of songs for the debut album from the set list. This should not be too difficult as you must have at least 15-20 or more good songs to chose from before a record company believes in you let alone sign you. But..."good" songs are not nearly enough- they must be excellent! And the record company then? The bottom line is that any company- record or otherwise- just want a profit from their investment! The artistic side of the music business is up to the artist and- if you are lucky- the record company's A/R man (artist and repertoire) for pieces of good advice regarding your future career.
Then the whole recording process begins: from finding a suitable studio, working with an understanding producer, hopefully a skilled engineer is able to get the songs down on tape and then band and producer decide the final mix for the mastertape. Cutting (an art form in itself!), pressing of the vinyl and printning of record covers goes without saying but is left for others to do. Before you get the product for the music press to review and the public to buy. You can imagine that any of these stages can go wrong thereby ruining the end product: the vinyl album. Good reviews doesn't necessarily guarantee good sales but of course the artist hopes for both. I have been thinking of doing some research for my upcomming blog posts on "perfect debut albums". Of course it will be my very own personal choises and as usual I invite readers to argue with me!! For my first scrutiny I have chosen "Marquee Moon" by Television released in the US in 1978 (Sire 7E-1098). What I find that qualifies this debut album as "perfect" is its overall sound of an already mature effort of all the band members in total control when recording these songs. They knew exactly what they wanted and went for this bright treble-ish sound that became their hallmark. Also "Marquee Moon"s combination of melody and lyrics but not least the sympathetic guitar-soloing of Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine. You can almost call this a battle between Richard Lloyd's more conventionallly played guitar versus the intentionally anti-hero antics of guitar genious Tom Verlaine. "Genious" used here as a term to describe the inventor rather than the technically superiour guitarist! Add to this the stabile rhythm section of Billy Ficca and Fred Smith. But what really hits me when listening to this album even today is its sheer power. Not punk (too clever) definitely not 70's classic rock (too odd) but a fresh new sound found in the streets of New York. This must be just how they sounded live at CBGB's circa 1975-6: the nerve(ousness) in Tom Verlaine's ideosyncratic voice (arguably an aquired taste- but try, you won't regret!). The sound of two bright Fender guitars gloriously entwined plus rock steady bass and drums. Just brilliant! But as it happened a hard act to follow- after the release of 1978's "Adventure" they split up same year! Tom Verlaine has had a solo career since when not revitalising Television over the years. I know Television's music has been categorized as (NY)punk but heard today "Marquee Moon" sounds like an alternative rock album from the seventees! With "Marquee Moon" Television set the standard for many of the bands emerging in the late 70's like (early) Blondie, The Feelies and label mates The Talking Heads and The Modern Lovers. I recommend that if you have never heard "Marquee Moon" go ahead and do so- I'm sure you won't be disappointed! PGP Ps next "perfect debut album" for scrutiny will be "Dire Straits" by (you guessed it!) Dire Straits also from 1978, so stay tuned!!
It is commonly known that the name The Beatles (originally "The Beat Brothers", then "The Silver Beatles" until "Silver" was scrapped) was a slightly altered version of the name of a biker gang called The Beetles in the Marlon Brando-starred "The Wild One" from 1953(!). But did you know from where Black Rebel Motorcycle Club got their name? From exactly the same movie albeit the name of the rival gang, the Black Rebel(s) Motorcycle Club!! If you think this kind of useless information is for you?...then read on! Let's try to investigate other bands' names, album titles and musicians' monikers! I'll follow some leads through this post the first being the novel "Naked Lunch" by beat author William Burroughs. This novel has inspired many bands and songwriters for both name and song(title) inspirations. Steely Dan is both an excellent jazz-pop band but also a dildo in the novel. And in case you'd ever wondered why the (brilliantly executed by the way) Duke Ellington jazz instrumental East St. Louis Toodle-Oo is found on the "Pretzel Logic" album it's as simple as this: the tune is mentioned in..."Naked Lunch"! In the novel you'll also find the expression "the hissing of summer lawns". As you may know Joni Mitchell used this line for both album and song title.
The 1976 Frank Zappa album title "Zoot Allures" might also have been lifted from "Naked Lunch". In the novel it reads "zut alors"- an English Frenchism meaning damn! FZ then twists the expression to something slightly different but still...I'm guessing here I know. Even David Bowie arguably stole a line from the old beat master poet, who wrote of some male prostitute's inability to sell his "God given ass"!! Bowie used this term for Ziggy Stardust: "....with God-given ass." Here with a characteristic of a different nature! Hull punkers Dead Fingers Talk looked to a later Burroughs novel of the same name.
If you are still with me let's look at other inspirations: 4AD artists This Mortal Coil looked to another William...namely Shakespeare. His play "Hamlet" where Hamlet's famous self-addressed "To Be Or Not To Be"- monologue in which Hamlet speaks of "this mortal coil" (meaning: dealing with life's daily troubles). Also in this monologue Wishbone Ash found the title "There's The Rub" for their fifth album!! Rush found a title for their double live set 1976's "All The World's A Stage" in Shakespeare's play "As You Like It". In my earlier blog post "What's its gonna be, eh?" on the novel/movie "A Clockwork Orange" I've argued where the record company Korova (Echo & The Bunnymen) got the name: The milk bar called Korova, where Alex and his droogs load up on Mesto before terrorising people at night. The milk they drank was called Moloko!! Brazil band Sepultura's "Moloko Mest"o anti-drugs song was on their record "A-lex"(the name of the main character is Alex) in fact the whole record is inspired by "A Clockwork Orange"!! (XTC's) Andy Partridge lifted the title for his compilation "Fuzzy Warbles" from Alex's condescending remark to a girl in the record store in the movie about the girl's records calling them, in fact, Fuzzy Warbles!! Also in the record store you see a sign for a band name eight-nine years ahead of its time: Heaven Seventeen!! If you are very careful you'll notice a big cardboard sign of a new label at the time of making the movie (1971)- Phonogram's progressive imprint Vertigo's label design, still impressive to this day- also known as the Swirl!!
Duran(d) Duran(d) by the way was a villain in Roger Vadim's sex/sci fi movie "Barbarella" from 1968 (oh, a Danish band called themselves Barbarella in the mid-70's!!) with a slightly (un)dressed Jane Fonda chasing this Durand Durand character. Synth group Caberet Voltaire got their name from a nightclub in Zürich, Switzerland emerging around the Dada-art movement as early as 1916! 60's British group The Searchers was named after a 1956 western movie starring John Wayne. I mentioned David Bowie in the above. The name itself: Bowie is allegedly taken from the Bowie knife. David Robert Jones changed his name in the late 60's in order not to be confused with The Monkees' singer Davy Jones. Robert Zimmerman changed to Bob Dylan via Welch poet Dylan Thomas. A more obvious name change was Andy Warhol who being a Polish immigrant to the US was named Andrew Warhola. Sting used to dress in black and yellow thus having the resemblance of the colours of a bee!! His given name is Gordon Sumner- not related to New Order's Bernard Sumner, who by the way called himself Bernard Albrecht when in Joy Division! As for Bono and The Edge of U2 you'll have to google yourself!! Television's Thomas Miller knew his name would get him nowhere in the music business and changed to the more intellectual Tom Verlaine after French poet Paul Verlaine! Well- enough of this name dropping. I hope you've had as much fun as I had researching for this blog post. I welcome you to find other connections or coincidences I have missed or left out! Should you want more of this I recommend the website www.bandnamesexplained.com.
In the mid-70s a change had to come in the music business. It had become more "a business" than "music" with bands caring more for a steady career.
Record companies, music rights lawyers, band managers and concert promoters now "took care" of the music business. A recording contract with the big international record companies could prove fatal either to the band´s creativity or their financial situation.
Making a record became an expensive production that needed a big turnover to pay for itself. Rights to the songs especially if they became succesful were a commodity you would sell and buy. Band managers charged a (for them personally) healthy percentage of the band´s income.
The concerts themselves got bigger and bigger- stadiums were more the rule than the exception when popular bands toured. Often the tour was just an extension of sales strategies of how to sell the latest album. The performance was often flawed by bad sound and/or the unability to actually see who was on stage!!
All this must be taken in consideration when looking back 40 years on what the state of the music business was back then.
This was before the CD and streaming services of course. You would listen to music in the radio then go to the record store to buy either a vinyl album or a musicasette (a recorded cassette tape). Very few had bought an expensive video recorder where you eventually could buy live concerts with only the biggest bands in the industry. On a rare occasion you could record one of the few rock concerts televised in (Danish) television. I believe the Brits were lucky to have the BBC. In Germany it was Bremen´s Beat Club early on and later the Rockpalats series of concerts.
The freakbeat and garage bands of the 1960´ies and (later named) proto punk bands like New York´s Velvet Underground, Detroit´s MC 5 and The Stooges (and a lot of other lesser known bands) pointed in a different direction than the so-called supergroups. They were not very capable on their instruments but had instead energy and determination to claim a place for themselves on the music scene with their more simple approach.
In the New York area new bands emerged all the time and around l971-74 interesting bands like The Ramones, Television and New York Dolls appeared- the latter to record first. It took a British entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren to manage the New York Dolls and secure them a name outside of New York- in fact as far as Manchester. (...just ask a young boy named Patrick Stephen Morrissey!!) and indeed for posterity via their two albums "New York Dolls"(1973) and "Too Much Too Soon"(1974).
Meanwhile in England a circuit of pubs in order to help the sales of beer on slow evenings opened the doors to a lower division of musicians so to speak. In the pubs´ function rooms in the back when not occupied by weddings, silver anniversaries etc. you often found a decent stage an ok room for the audience and of course enough beer to keep everyone happy.
The music that came out of the pubs were simply called "pub rock" and the bands enjoyed together with their audience a much more intimate experience of playing live music in these surroundings. If one of these pub rock bands got lucky a record deal with a minor record company was within reach. I´ll try to avoid namedropping but have to mention the bands Brinsley Schwarz(with Nick Lowe) and an American band who were hot on the British pub rock circuit namely Eggs Over Easy. These bands toured the pub circuit and didn´t become a big success. Dire Straits did precisely the same but became a world known act almost instantly from the early 1980´s and on...
Out of this scene also grew a more agressive, political and social aware movement when around late 1975 early 1976 a few bands and their supporters began dressing differently in leather jackets with studs, tartan skirts, safety pins through both clothes and earlobes. Some sporting a Mohican hairdo. In fact anything to make a shock effect on the parent generation. A Swastica arm band could also be used to shock older people. Badges were pinned on the jackets to show others who your heroes were...and who were they?
I´ll try to stay away from namedropping again when possible. You can google yourself for more names and info.
A band called The Damned was the first of this new breed of punk rock bands to record. The 7" "New Rose" was the first record to hit the shops in 1976. It was issued on the Stiff record label- a small company set up (famously on a 400 GBP loan from the late and great Lee Brilleaux of Dr. Feelgood fame) to sign some of this new exciting music. The Damned got signed by Stiff Records and issued a couple of albums here ("Damned, Damned, Damned" known for its cover of the band smeared in whipped cream) before moving on to other record deals.
But entrepreneurs are always ready to have a go when the fashion changes...and Malcolm McLaren were no upstart in the music business as we read above. Back from USA and a moderate success with The New York Dolls he had set up a fashion clothes shop firstly called "Let It Rock" then the more daring "Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die" and finally the shocking name "Sex" as early as 1974 with Vivienne Westwood selling her clothes and shoes design.
Malcolm McLaren had sensed this change on the music scene in New York before moving back to London and now this was also happening here. So among the customers in "Sex" he picked a bunch of young, eh well....punks to get them to form a punk band with him as their manager. They only needed a singer to complete the line up and one John Lydon with his Pink Floyd t-shirt over written by hand with "I hate" was auditioned along with the shop´s jukebox´s repertoire and chosen for the slot as lead singer now re-named Johnny Rotten in the band to become "Sex Pistols". A suitably shocking name for a band McLaren thought.
On this background Sex Pistols have later arguably been called just another boy band created by the music industry.
What you can´t argue with is the impact and sheer importance for the punk rock movement (and indeed the whole music business from now on) Sex Pistols would have.
And this despite a time span of only two and a half years with four singles, one proper studio album and later (in 1980) the movie "The Great Rock ´n´ Roll Swindle" (with McLaren mocking the whole punk rock movement stating that he was just in it for the money). (Then small independant company) Virgin Records famously secured a recording contract with the band after Sex Pistols had been sacked two times by major companies.
Scandalous often cancelled concerts around Britain and abroad Sex Pistols showed a way to hundreds of unacademic musicians who just wanted to play rock music in a band. It is documented and shown later in the movie "24 Hour Party People"(2002), that the Mancunian audience of around 50 in june, 1976 all went to form bands afterwards (google: june 04, 1976: Four Dozen People Witness "The Gig That Changed The World" for more info!).
Also scandalous was the boat cruise on the Thames while playing "God Save The Queen" (continuing with the line "She´s No Human Being"!) while the Royal Silver Jubilee was celebrated in 1978 resulted in a river police raid! The 7" single charted at the number two slot but outsold number one in the official charts. A case of backwards payola you could say!
Then things went sour: bassist Glen Matlock(who wrote the Pistols´ original musik) was sacked/or left and (friend of the band) Sid Vicious (who couldn´t play) took the bass playing duties. Then John Lydon left due to a falling out with McLaren over money.
They carried on for a few months. McLaren then had the crazy idea for the band to go to Brazil to record "No One Is Innocent" with exiled bank robber Ronnie Biggs. A new shocker for the Brits who had almost forgotten the train robbery in 1963 from which Biggs had escaped and was now an exile in a country that didn´t had an extradition agreement with England...
Then Sid Vicious was accused of murdering his girlfriend and shortly after overdosed on heroin and died at 21.
As you can see and indeed hear in their music Sex Pistols was a band who practised what they preached so to speak. They lived fast and died/stopped young leaving us with only a few songs compared to other bands of the day.
With this blog post I hope to have turned some new listeners on to this exciting genre that led on to many other good things: New Wave, post punk, the indie movement- meaning all the independant record companies that gave their life blood for this, The Smiths(!), some of the metal subgenres and later grunge.
If I have reached my goal please do go on and investigate on your own! It´s all out there: google, youtube....begin with "punk"!!
PS I stated that John Lydon left Sex Pistols but he in fact formed one of the first bands to be called "post punk" namely Public Image Ltd. (PIL)
This band exists to this day albeit with a few years in hiatus and is still as fresh sounding as ever with Lydon´s idiosyncratic voice as strong as it ever was!!
"Once upon a time..." many fairytales begin but in this case- when talking about rock music- it´s merely a wish from the serious listener sometimes to return to earlier times also known as "The Good Old Days" -more precisely the early 1970´s- when rock music would be played in odd time signatures with lots of breaks inside one song, long soloing and preferably a concept-(double)-album with cover art by Roger Dean or Hipgnosis. Of course released on new strange labels one of which could in fact cause vertigo when looked upon while playing!
In my case it was Valentyne Suite by Jon Hiseman´s Colosseum.
This music was generally known as progressive rock.
I believe that King Crimson is said to have recorded the first progressive rock album- the eponymous "In The Court Of The Crimson King" in 1969, but shortly after a lot of bands followed suit: Pink Floyd, Gabriel/Hackett-era Genesis, Caravan, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Soft Machine, Yes, Colosseum etc. Even Jethro Tull went from blues to progressive rock in the early 1970´s with several concept albums about being stupid, water lungs, dancers, minstrels and other strange subjects. Lest we forget Mike Oldfield´s magnum opus Tubular Bells (V 2001)!!
In the beginning it was mostly a British scene but the continent soon got their progressive rock bands: In Italy bands like PFM, Cirkus Maximus and "horror movie"-band Goblin. France had Magma and Ange. In Germany Tangerine Dream did scores for films which became the albums´ concepts themselves. Some of the Krautrock bands could easily fit into the progressive rock bracket as well.
In Denmark very few musicians had the skill or nerve to play this demanding kind of rock music, however, bands like Ache, Burnin´ Red Ivanhoe, Day Of Phoenix, Culpeper´s Orchard/Culpeper and Dr. Dopojam were among Danish bands who were heavily influenced and this music still lives to this day.
With instruments as diverse as the latest electronic invention, Bob Moog´s Synthesizer, late-1960´s novelty: the Mellotron. With lots of (Hammond)organ a Hohner Clavinet and a Theremin thrown in for good measure. Add Baroque instruments too like the recorder and stringed acoustic instruments. Used were also jazz instruments like saxophones and flutes to the usual array of electric guitars- some of which even had more necks than one should you suddenly need 12 strings or an extra bass for soloing! All this plus bass and drums, obviously.
To make a record sound even more otherworldly lots of studio sound effects "now in stereo" including phasing between left and right speakers were put to good use- though sometimes overused as they were.
The reason for writing this blogpost is my recent recovery of another great 1970´s band nobody remembers anymore... at least I thought.
Searching Youtube for any footage at all I found several concerts. One of the song titles "Two Weeks In Spain" came to mind and seeing it performed live I found to my surprise that Gentle Giant could still touch you with their take on progressive rock.
Or "Baroque ´n´ Roll" as their style was called in an Italian TV show (in glorious black and white!) from early 1970´s- you see: Gentle Giant were big in Italy!!
I knew the albums "Glass Houses" and "The Power And The Glory" back in the 1970´s and also remembered the song "Two Weeks In Spain" mentioned above but to find that Gentle Giant recorded 11 albums in ten years before they split was equally remarkable along some truly impressive concert clips spanning almost their entire career. They could play their songs really well live. Their complex music were executed spot on as these live clips show!
This complexity of the band is based on the tight rhythm section of Ray Shulman (bass) and John Weathers (drums). The brilliant keyboard player Kerry Minnear and the excellent guitarist Dave Green (with a very sweet tone from his old ´burst- sorry for getting carried away!).
But what stands out when listening to Gentle Giant is the singing- firstly Derek Shulman´s powerful solo vocal capable of singing these unusual (read: impossible) melodic lines but not least all the band members voices add to the songs.
In songs "On Reflection" and "Knots" showcase a kind of mideaval chorus/chanting by all members of the band that makes you shiver with delight.
And did I mention the more than competent use of violin, cello, trumpet, vibraphone and recorder?
Especially the recorder- in fact there are several played by the band at one time- makes Gentle Giant sound very British- this meant in a good way!!
Incorporated in Gentle Giant´s music all these various instruments make sense in order to create such diverse moods as the band does from straight rock ´n´ roll over prog rock to a more subtle acoustic folkish tone.
I can only recommend you to search Youtube for live footage and if you also get hooked find the band´s music either as secondhand (Discogs) or look for the reissues (both CD and vinyl) available on the internet. The earliest albums are the most "prog" and later albums become more accessible with shorter songs but feel free to find your own path through this marvellous band´s oeuvre!!
Back in the 90´s it became more and more difficult to purchase new vinyl albums. Both bands you either collected and newcommers you found interesting for that matter. So in 1992 I took the bold decision to buy a CD-player.
I had up till then been reluctant mostly because of the sound of the CD itself in those days but also the trouble of having to store a complete different media together with my vinyl albums.
My CD-player of choice was a Yamaha which for my budget had a decent sound and was easy to operate- my only criterias for this venture.
I´ ve allways thought that the software was more important than the hardware and this also applied here.
Having installed the contraption I could now go on to the process of actually buying the compact disc I had been wanting to for some time.
The music was the debut of Dean Wareham´s then new band Luna with their 1992-CD "Lunapark". Some of you who have been reading my blogpost on Orchestra Luna may have wondered why I made a notice that this was "not Dean Wareham´s Luna" especially if you didn´t know either groups.
I was not aware of Dean Wareham´s previous band Galaxie 500 so I listened to "Lunapark" with an open mind and after a few spins I was convinced that this should be my first purchase on the "new" media, the CD.
Many years later when listening to this still excellent debut from a band, that started out as "Luna2" and later changed its name to just Luna (and is now disbanded) I can still remember my first impressions of their CD- the simplicity of the songs, dreamy and well played: tight yet still loose and "fresh" - it´s all still there on that little shiny disc ready to fill my room with glorious music. This is not a review of "Lunapark" as such but I can only recommend that you give it a listen if you like guitar-oriented (indie)rock music.
Being no novice to CDs anymore I have now fully accepted the media. Especially now when downloading and streaming are taking over.
I am, however, not sad about the fact that CD sales are hitting an all time low and though I find the digitalised sound on CD´s nowadays ok- I do, in fact, still prefer vinyl with its smooth analogue sound.
PS If you happen to know a lucky owner of "Lunapark" on glorious vinyl then this is one of only 500 excisting copies pressed and issued in Australia of all places!!