Listen to this track by class of ’77 London punk band and shouty social commentators, X-Ray Spex. It’s “Plastic Bag” as taken from 1978’s Germ Free Adolescents, their debut full-length which would have no US release until the early ’90s, but helped to document their place in the UK punk pantheon.
The band forming at all was down to inspiration that came out of their regular attendance at shows by the Sex Pistols. But, unlike that band, X-Ray Spex incorporated a few changes to the British punk template by the time they’d put out their first single (“Oh Bondage, Up Yours”), and eventually this song and album.
One was the use of a saxophone, played here on this tune by one Rudi Thompson, giving their sound something of an R&B sort of feel. Another was a more ambitious approach to arrangements that includes changes in tempo and in tone, even if the rawness of punk is very much in place.
And perhaps the most important ingredient sprung from its lead singer, who was also the primary songwriter, Poly Styrene (neé Marianne Joan Elliott-Said).
Listen to this track by former Charterhouse school graduates and British progressive rock architects Genesis. It’s “Supper’s Ready”, the seven movement suite and final song from their classic 1972 album Foxtrot.
By the time of this record, the classic line-up that included new drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, and recent recruit Steve Hackett on guitars had already put their first effort together; 1971’s Nursery Cryme. Empowered by their new level of musicianship, that record came complete with longer, seamless pieces, capturing a uniquely English sensibility with a bizarre sense of humour and high potential for the theatrical at the heart of it. And those ideas for longer, more ambitious statements continued in earnest by the next year on Foxtrot.
And “Supper’s Ready” would surpass all of the longer form pieces they’d done to date, in many ways being the culmination of all of the longer pieces they’d done from 1970’s pastoral and atmospheric “Stagnation”, to the vividly disturbing themes found in 1971’s “The Musical Box”. It would hook into some big, sweeping mythological motifs using even more vivid and florid imagery. But unlike their earlier work along the same lines, it would touch on a very personal, and very human set of themes that lies underneath its Biblical scale.
Listen to this track by future Fleetwood Mac stalwarts and Californian folk duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, AKA Buckingham Nicks. It’s “Frozen Love”, the closing track to their 1973 pre-Mac record called, appropriately Buckingham Nicks. It would be their sole (to date!) album together as a duo.
The record was created when the two young musicians were championed by producer and engineer Keith Olson, in turn helped by sessioner Waddy Wachtel who would be a frequent collaborator with Stevie Nicks in her solo career years later. Before they were signed as a duo, Buckingham and Nicks had both been a part of a rock band, Fritz, that had served as an opening act for some of the biggest acts of the late-60s, including Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jefferson Airplane. Before that, the two had known each other in high school, and had informally collaborated since they were teens.
When Fritz broke up, the two splintered into a duo, and eventually were signed to Polydor, whereupon they’d recorded this debut album that established both musicians as unique and supremely gifted singer-songwriters. But, the record didn’t sell, thanks to the inattention of Polydor at the time.
Showbiz strikes again!
But, this track in particular would help to lead the two out of the pop music briar patch. (more…)
Listen to this track by British Invasion enthusiasts and power pop founding fathers from Cleveland Ohio, The Raspberries. It’s “Go All The Way”, their top five hit single also featured on their 1972 debut record Raspberries.
The Raspberries were a pretty singular group, even if you can tell they’re wearing their influences on their sleeve. By 1972, those very bands who had furthered the cause of guitar-based pop music you hear in this song had gone on to other projects. Art rock, rock operas, confessional singer-songwriter albums were common artistic avenues by the early ’70s while the four bobbing heads and catchy choruses model of the ’60s was left behind. Rock music as a form had expanded beyond that. Some would say it had grown up.
So, how did the Raspberries get their top five hit, given that the musical traditions they’re drawing from had been largely left in the past? (more…)
Listen to this track by Swindon new wave representatives and documented America-admirers, XTC. It’s “Statue Of Liberty”, a single as taken from their 1978 debut album White Music.
The line-up to be heard here is the earliest incarnation of the band, with stalwarts Andy Partridge (vocals and guitar) and Colin Moulding (vocals and bass) being joined by drummer Terry Chambers and keyboardist Barry Andrews. Chambers would depart by the time the sessions for 1983’s Mummer were in process. Barry Andrews would leave soon after this record, and go on to form Shriekback.
Starting out, XTC was very much in the vein of their post-punk peers. And this was among their earliest singles, a tune about the iconic lady statue that adorns the New York City skyline, symbolizing the ideals of freedom and liberty for immigrants to a land of opportunity.
But, this song takes a bit more from that equation, with a more erotic attachment to the lady herself, so much so that the line about “sailing beneath your skirt” raised eyebrows at the BBC. But, I think this song says a lot more than just being provocative for its own sake. (more…)
Listen to this track by bespectacled angry young man and original hipster singer-songwriter Elvis Costello. It’s “Miracle Man”, a deep cut as taken from his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True.
This song is in very good company with those that Costello worked up while he was an early signee to the nascent Stiff Records label. This was after seven years of graft, taking the then twenty-two year old songwriter from his teenage years as a member of pub rockers Flip City to when he was christened with his Kingly moniker upon hooking up with Jake Riviera at Stiff.
And maybe it’s because Costello had spent so many years making demos, and having them sent back to him by record companies, that his debut is a compendium of tales of frustration and insecurity marked by a fierce intelligence and the swagger of youthful ambition. With this song, that theme carries through pretty well. And on the surface, it comes off as a guy who’s attached to someone who doesn’t really appreciate his efforts in the love department. But, that really is just on the surface of things.
Listen to this track by blues-rock supergroup and proto-metal progenitors Humble Pie. It’s “Black Coffee” a track as taken from their 1973 double album bluntly entitled Eat It, and presented in this clip from the British music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. This song was a part of a section on the record that featured the band’s interest in R&B covers. This one is from Ike & Tina Turner no less, written and recorded a year previous to this one on their Feel Good album, although Humble Pie’s take features modified lyrics to suit lead singer Steve Marriott’s point of view.
Besides Marriott, the earliest version of the group also included singer and guitarist Peter Frampton, who served as a co-lead singer, also sharing vocal leads with bassist Greg Ridley, late of Spooky Tooth. All three were backed up by drummer Jerry Shirley. But, by the early ’70s, Frampton had left, and Marriott was secured in the role of frontman, with new guitarist Clem Clempson as a lead to Marriott’s rhythm playing.
Marriott would also introduce a new dynamic to the band by encouraging a group within the group who would provide a much-needed counterweight to his searing vocal skills; backing singers! But who were they, and how did they fit in and then change the sound of the band? (more…)