We are in dead time. The week between Christmas and New Year when the mass hysteria of joy is over and the anxiety of New Years Eve begins. It’s also the week the music dies: Just look at what’s out this week, Ne-Yo, Tinie Tempah, The Wanted and Alfie Boe (yeah? me neither). The Xmas temps on the High Street haven’t even been told whether to still play Xmas Songs or start on Princes 1999.
Catering for the doldrums has been 6 Music; a station, according to some, dedicated to dancing on Peel’s grave by exploiting his name and playing all the pop indie-by-numbers hits you’ve ever heard. The ones Peel throws out to the throng once they’ve been found. However, this is no bad thing. No one will ever be John Peel, the same as no one really likes everything he played. The people who mock 6 Music for its popularist leanings, are the same indie elite who think of Peel only as obscure indie and DIY god, forgetting the Gabba, World, Reggae, Techno etc. Yes, it’s cool to like small, obscure unheard DIY bands, but it’s not cool to only like them. Some times it can get a bit, you know, Sci-Fi! Quite often, the reason obscure indie bands stay obscure and indie, is because they’re shit. Where the clever part comes in, is knowing which of these groups are actually good, and which are, well, accountants nowadays. Liking a band because they only released a 100 issue 7 inch in 1988, is exactly the same as liking Tom Cruise because he’s in films. TOLD.
Anyway, to make us feel less guilty for still drinking winter Pimms too early, 6 Music has been dedicating each day to a decade from the 70s, to the noughties. The tracks have been nothing surprising. Go to any indie disco, especially one of mine, and you’ll hear most of them, but they’re good to hear every now and then. They’re classics that have shaped our indiepop. Blisters in The Sun, Animal Nitrate, Only Living Boy in New Cross, Suedehead, Touch Sensitive, the list goes on, are all mainstream indie songs played up and down the country, yet we still love them. And so we bloody should. Our heroes all write brilliant pop songs, better that the toss in the charts, and that cannot be a bad thing. We may have heard them time and time again, but hearing the Ewok groans of Cannonball still tantalises our ears, the bass rumble of Public Image rattles our soul.
Aware of this, 6 Music has been reminiscing over these songs we love, with some added rarely heard gems, causing arguments because they haven’t played any Prolapse or are playing the wrong Jesus and Mary Chain Song. Never one to miss a flogged bandwagon, The Guild, drowned in tea and gin, has put together it’s own take on the decades; 10 songs which embody a certain feeling of a decade. They may not be the best songs, but they are songs which teleport you back to a time before the Kings of Leon. Good times, which sowed our own age of independence.
The Guild wasn’t alive in the 70’s so it’s a bit like looking at Romans and picking the best bits: I quite like the Aquduct and Gladiators, but I’ll forget the Slaves and the whole Jesus thing. Therefore, it’s got to be songs that make us feel 70’s. It’s electricity free, riots in the streets and a bit of casual racism, so what do we want to hear.
10-David Bowie- ZIGGY STARDUST
This guitar riff makes you wish you were your dad. When he first heard it, it must have been amazing. You can imagine running to the local C&A to ditch your denim jacket and get a spangly cat suit. Walking into the Working Mans Club to get half a mild and tell your dad that you ain’t going down the labour exchange, you’re off to the city to get eye liner and a healthy drug habit. That is the power of this song, it changes lives, it teleports you. You really are a spaceman.
9- Roxy Music- VIRGINIA PLAIN
The accessible side of Prog, and avoiding the camp plod of Glam, in three minutes. It’s amphetamines to the post Hippy skag, Punk before the fourth chord was banned. It attacks like a sequined Moog from Venus with all the asexual tension of the first underaged glimpe of the Joy of Sex. Bringing synth’s to the fore it creates a new style of music which flies against all the free love and rural idyll of quasi spiritualism. It brings a realistic hope to an industrialised society which is fuelled by power. The very same electrical power which pumps through Eno’s synth’s.
If Kraftwerk gave electronic music a fur coat to prance down the street, then it’s Suicide which mugged it and brought it down to the sewer. Not taking it to the extremes of Throbbing Gristle, but twisting the reverb and slowing the rhythm to a monotonous drone. Rocket USA is a perfect album veering from the Punk angst of Ghost Rider to the disturbed repetition of Frankie Teardrop. However, it’s gentle Cheree which truly casts electronica in a new light, manipulated to create actual songs. Using Synthesisers to create a soundscape over which almost crooning vocals present lust and fantasy. It’s a deeply seedy song, we’d expect no less, but it’s the fist time we see electronic music shying away from roboticism, sci-fi or industry, allowing No Wave to compete with the Carpenters rather than the Velvet Underground.
7-Joy Division- DEAD SOULS*
A parting shot from a decade which died. The county’s a rioting mess, the lights are only just coming back on, Badder Meinhof still on the loose and Nixon isn’t in jail. Glam rock had been colourful propaganda to stop you looking away from Top of the Pops, and even the rebellious virility of Punk is turning into cod-rock cliché through the Rich Kids and Who Killed Bambi. It’s takes a derelict slum north of Liverpool to provide a voice for the times. Ian Curtis encompasses the despair felt on the streets, away from the Morecambe and Wise radiation, the realisation of life being nothing more than a terraced house, having a kid in your early twenties and the dole. The rhythm thunders of lost industry with pained vocals crying for help which comes in the form of Thatcher.
*Although released in 1981on Still we can safely say it’s a 70’s song, so bite me.
6-Sex Pistols- HOLIDAYS IN THE SUN
Facts and time lines don’t matter: of course the Sex Pistols invented Punk. The whole Ramones, New York Dolls malarkey over the pond was just a small fad of Monkeys wannabee’s and preppy mammy’s boys, Right?
The stomping intro of Holidays in the Sun opening Nevermind the Bollocks is call to arms for an army of pissed of kids gathering to smash the system. Anarchy in the UK and Pretty Vacant were the airdrops of leaflets warning civilians to leave, indicating intent, but shock without the awe. It’s only with the Blitzkrieg (Bop) of Holiday in the Sun’s barraging can we see the world changing and finally break free the nuclear family’s dreams.
5-Clash- WHITE RIOT
With Brixton on fire and the Flying Squad recruiting from James Bond henchmen it’s the turn of middle class white kids to rebel. In a time of political and economic oblivion the slightest ember could set society ablaze and White Riot provides a blow torch to the fuse, generating an excuse to leave the home-counties for an Earls Court squat. It’s a two minute epiphany that everyone can be politicised, not just the disadvantaged or Telegraph readers. Being essentially a young middle class rant, the effect soon wares thin when something new to blazon their rebellious colours comes knocking; in the Clash’s case reggae, giving a more accomplished musical sound. Eventually, Mick Jones would refuse to play it due to its musical ineptness, but for a brief period White Riot was the sound of British youth against society and its influence inspiring for decades to come.
4-Jimmy Cliff- THE HARDER THEY COME
Away from the darkness of crumbling New York basements and three day Britain, the film, The Harder They Come gives us, sunshine, short sleeves and edgy excitement, and the soundtrack is a joyous relief from NATO rock. As the Hippy dream dies we see a hidden truth behind drugs, and its certainly not all piece and love. Forget the paddy field war of Nam, there’s war on the streets of the colonies and we’re given a no holds barred vision of utopia. The Harder They Come shows music as a way out, and that sometimes heroes can be the bad boys.
3-Patti Smith- PISSING IN A RIVER
This song makes me cry, it’s just wonderful, and sees Patti Smith in fully-blown poetess mode. A shift away from the poppy accessible Horses, this is a somewhat indulgent track, mid temp and a bit rock opera, but allows Patti Smith to develop her vocals and concentrate in delivering her message. Essentially a song about love and its confusions and exciting risks, it puts raw emotions into a superficial music scene. While all contemporaries around are braking things down and looking at a raw truth, Pissing in a River creates a true American epic soundtrack while kicking dirt in the face of AOR.
2-T Rex- METAL GURU
Handing over the musical baton from 60’s peace and love to 70’s glam indulgence, Metal Guru is the bridge between the Beetles and Bowie. First impressions show it as a Glam rock epic, an anthem for platforms and spangles. However, on deeper inspection we see a deeply spiritual song seeped in religious mysticism. Talk of a “Silver studded sabre tooth dream” puts the new glam image on a pedestal to be feared, yet intriguing, and combines the festival romanticism of freedom within a new urbanised showcase. “All alone without a telephone,” is Marc Bolan crying out for someone to be the leader for the new pop culture, a godliness necessary to take pop away from previous mistakes and provide a new guide for emerging possibilities.
1- Ramones- SHEENA IS A PUNK ROCKER
Pop music is at its best when it’s pure and simple, unadulterated by passing fads and technical wizardry, a whole unit without fault. It’s even better when it oozes iconography and has an identifiable heritage, reenergised and for the now. This is why the likes of Yes and ELO were joke bands for old hippies, they fail on all of these counts. So why do four lanky yanks qualify for the greatest song of the seventies?
The simplicity of Sheena is a Punk Rocker is stitched straight onto the biker jacket, 1,2,3,4 and a 4/4 rhythm, a couple of chords and a voice. Nothing else is needed. It’s a proper band song, a gang a movement. Tapping into American culture, its takes the Surfing, Beach Boys of the 60s, chucks in comic books and 50’s sci fi TV shows, and creates a brand new punk rock template. Musically there is nothing groundbreaking, Rick Wakeman eats it as a snack, but Ring-A-Ring-A-Roses is simple and everyone knows that. It’s down to this simplicity that the infection occurs. Aggravated by a catchy as hell chorus it consumes you, tweaking your DNA until you’re Sheena herself.
To complete the transformation you need the iconic look, over thirty years later sunglasses and leather jackets are still the coolest. Jaunty fringes and plaid shirts are ok for current thirteen year olds emos, but it won’t last. Get yourself a Ramones look and you’re hipster king. Nothing compares and it’s certainly not a fad. The Ramones iconography is Andy Warhol, it’s Bogart with a cigarette, it’s Mona Lisa’s smile.
You want to be Sheena. You want to fuck Sheena. You crave to hang out with Sheena She is aspiration, desire, lust and inspiration. She is Holly Golightly in a leather jacket, living only in our hearts. Sheena is a Punk Rocker is not a song, it’s an idea, and ideas always live on.
Time moves on so pack away your flares and get out your Shell Suits. The 80’s on their way.