Monday, February 06, 2017

40 From 40: 1976

If you're just joining us, and given the hits the first one got that's a distinct possibility, this is 40 From 40, two score tracks to gradually represent every year between 1970 and 2009. The year randomiser has for the second entry thrown up 1976, long since rebranded as the Year Zero where an entire generation threw out one idea and picked up another as one, but in reality a kind of crossroads year, as Bob Stanley has pitched - punk came in right at the end in terms of being sellable product, disco benefitted from the slow introduction into mainstream shops of the 12" but hadn't quite made the leap from a sound defined by mutated soul and one-off hits, the UK charts are still dominated by variety acts and MOR schlock - as they would remain despite everything, of course, but this period isn't seeing a lot of infiltration from underground ideas or breakthroughs as it had done. Far more than 1987, this playlist contains notable suites of stylistic surface similarity, but those go to show that something was coalescing in various ways and things were about to go somewhere a lot more interesting...

Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner
The greatest, most to-the-point way of introducing a song. This is of course Roadrunner (Twice), as per the convoluted recording and release pattern of the various versions sharing a title. For the record: this was recorded in 1972 with John Cale and released on the Modern Lovers' eponymous album this year, the slower Roadrunner (Once) was recorded in 1974 but released in 1975 and then as a UK single in 1977. There's three more publicly available versions, but let's not go that far. Anyway, the Sister Ray rip with the full band is the only necessary version.

The Runaways - Cherry Bomb
Some of those other versions of Roadrunner were recorded by/for Kim Fowley, whose marshalling of the five 17-18 year olds he helped bring together has been questioned since but the power-pop he oversaw, a midpoint between Cheap Trick and Suzi Quatro, became indelible and a way forward for both female bands and the part of hard riffing rock that would feed into punk.

Blondie - Rip Her To Shreds
From LA ingenues to a New York vixen more than a decade older (and to complete the link, multiple sources claim Blondie's Nigel Harrison played uncredited bass on the first Runaways album) A synthesis of the girl groups and post-Who/Doors knowingly trashy rock shapes with a pop sensibility, they basically stumbled across new wave years ahead of the fact.

Pere Ubu - Street Waves
Meanwhile the singer and guitarist from proto-punks Rocket From The Tombs were busy inventing avant-garage, and where 1975's memorable debut 30 Seconds Over Tokyo was dissonant their third single cleaved more towards the Velvets playbook but undercut by that experimental, sliced and diced edge.

Richard Hell & the Voidoids - Blank Generation
And then there were those who wanted to self-abase and destroy. Hell had played the song for Television (whose first releases came in 1975 and 1977) before falling out with Tom Verlaine, ran through the never officially recorded Heartbreakers, then wrote a dropout anthem based on a Rod McKuen song that Malcolm McLaren and his charges would attempt to adapt wholesale along with Hell's image, style, attitude and design inspiration... but we'll get back to that.

The Ramones - Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue
Whereas the Ramones came out of somewhere different, a group of hirsute Beach Boys, Who, MC5, bubblegum and girl group fans in leather jackets playing fast songs that reinstated the short and simple aesthetic of mid-60s pop/rock, proving in their speed freak mania that the old ideas are the best.

The Damned - New Rose
Meanwhile in London, Malcolm McLaren was having a first go at synthesising what he saw of the Ramones and Richard Hell in CBGBs by helping out a band calling themselves Masters Of The Backside. They never played a gig and split to get away from Malc's influence, but Chrissie Hynde formed the Pretenders and the other three used that insider knowledge to fling their psychedelic leanings and cartoon-vampiric stylings into a wall at high speed. They bashed out a couple of songs with Nick Lowe recording, and on 22nd October UK punk as something tangible in object form was underway.

Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK
And on 26th November it really took off. The Pistols had been covered by the NME in April and played on So It Goes in September, and they were on Nationwide around the release of the single so clearly the phenomenon of The Punk Rockers had some cachet, but the Today appearance undermined the single at the same time as promoting it with EMI dropping the single and the band not being able to play anywhere. It almost sounds trad these days, that wall of guitars not far from Slade's sound, but rock and roll as civil war was where its power lied.

Nick Lowe - So It Goes
Basher ended up as one of 1976's great punk accessories, not just producing the Damned's debut but finding himself at the heart of the independent label boom, a side product of the DIY attitude, as the man behind the first single on Stiff Records. Angular pub rock had reached its final form.

Blue Öyster Cult - (Don't Fear) The Reaper
Alright, Will Ferrell, sit down now. Where the UK had pub rock, the US was evolving out of psychedelic rock similarly into harder forms, which actually makes this meditation on love after the inevitability of death quite soft in comparison.

Steely Dan - Haitian Divorce
Failed Brill Building songwriters hunker down in the studio and create beatnik jazz-rock. The Royal Scam is just beyond the tipping point from taking a wry footing in the scene around them to full-on cynicism and complexity. Talkbox solo!

Fox - S-S-S-Single Bed
Talkbox solo! Noosha Fox's charismatic charm and expressively heliumised vocal style could turn most things into a come-on, so their biggest hit after a period of chart inactivity played that right up. After Fox went solo the rest of them formed Yellow Dog and made the appeallingly odd Just One More Night, which likely won't appear in the 1978 selection but is worth a mention in dispatches while we can.

Junior Murvin - Police & Thieves
For the next few songs a saluatory reminder that despite Paul Nicholas' protestations 1976 was a very healthy year for reggae in its deepest, most meaningful and spiritual form. The Harder They Come followed by Bob Marley's international success led to roots reggae becoming a big subculture basis, the British fruits of which would come to be seen in both the formation of British consciousness reggae bands and punk's open Don Letts-derived debt. Police & Thieves was famously covered by the Clash in 1977, but Murvin's nervy Lee Perry-produced version is comfortably still superior.

Bob Marley & The Wailers - War
Marley was becoming big business but he wouldn't become a major selling act until 1977's Exodus, his first album to be recorded while living in London. That arguably makes Rastaman Vibration his last purely Jamaican-aimed album, though its creeping acceptance of synths and guitar solos more than suggests a growing western influence regardless and this was the highest charting album of his lifetime in America. War is notably credited to drummer Carlton Barrett, who pioneered the influential one drop rhythm (and former international footballer Allen Cole, but that was likely Marley getting round a contractual dispute by giving his mates a look-in), the lyrics are based on a Haile Selassie speech and reused intended on carrying the Rastafari belief system to a wider audience.

Max Romeo - One Step Forward
Still best known for the self-explanatory Wet Dream but War Ina Babylon, recorded with Perry and the Upsetters, is his best work, part of the Black Ark "holy trinity". It's also the album that features Chase The Devil, as sampled on the Prodigy's Outta Space.

Burning Spear - Man In The Hills
Compared to 1975's Marcus Garvey, the album this is the title track to was less militant and more contemplative and evoking Winston Rodney's rural upbringing, Rastafari itself having developed from communities living in the hills pre-emancipation. Listen to those bird samples.

Dillinger - Cokane In My Brain
For christ's sake, Jim, answer him! Based on recent US hit Do It Any Way You Wanna by The People's Choice it made number one in the Netherlands and the follow-up was called Marijuana In My Brain, which suggests the former Lester Bullock found his audience. Actually it's intended as a satire on New York chattering class society, but few read it that way.

U-Roy - Natty Rebel
Such a shame we never had a Who's On First-style misunderstanding comedy sketch involving I-Roy and U-Roy. Ewart Beckford was one of the instigators of toasting and certainly the first to popularise it, the drum and bass-driven chatting style eventually feeding back into hip-hop's roots.

Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
Not the first dub album, or even the first popular release, or the first involving either Pablo or Tubby, but with Robbie Shakespeare on bass and the Wailers/Upsetters' Barrett brothers backing King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown is a real coming together of talents to make something dynamic. Jacob Miller's Baby I Love You So is the startoff point for the title track, for the record.

Lee Perry & The Upsetters - Dread Lion
And finally for the reggae suite, back to Black Ark and Perry's glorious studio band by now featuring the Barretts, Sly Dunbar and on bass Boris Gardiner (of later I Wanna Wake Up With You brief fame) Perry had been signed to Virgin's Front Line imprint off the back of the Romeo album, so he took some of his recent rhythms and deconstructed them in dub. Here the vocal samples, horns, flute, melodica and unidentifiable percussion pile up for something from a pretty dark place.

Cluster - Sowiesoso
Is there a comfortable link between dub and Krautrock? Oppressive atmospheres, focus on rhythm sections... actually, the golden age of motorik was pretty much done in 1976, even if we didn't entirely know it, with the bigger names fading away or shifting focus. Cluster, for instance, made a softer, more pastoral wash inclined album indebted to ambient, maybe learning from Brian Eno's previous work with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius when they were members of Harmonia.

CAN - I Want More
Meanwhile Can made a weird disco record and got onto Top Of The Pops. Well, after a fashion, as Michael Karoli was on holiday and couldn't be contacted so a roadie with Lou Reed hair got to onstentatiously press pedals and produce a violin bow in his stead.

Wild Cherry - Play That Funky Music
And so into some actual disco, or in the case of Wild Cherry a funk band broadening their scope. Almost needless to say, they never had another top 40 single anywhere, except New Zealand for some reason.

Heatwave - Boogie Nights
Similarly, a jobbing funk band of international standing - London based but fronted by two Americans and featuring Swiss, Czech and Jamaican members - produced by non-soul brother Barry Blue found their moment, penned by keyboard player, future Thriller writer and son of Cleethorpes Rod Temperton. That's Clarke Peters, then a musical theatre aspirant, later of The Wire, on the basso profundo backing vocals.

Mud - Shake It Down
Right. OK then. For the avoidance of doubt - yes, this is the same Mud who did Tiger Feet, Lonely This Christmas and so forth, very much second division glam who'd clearly come out of wanting to be Elvis-styled rock'n'roll revivalists. But right near the end of their time in the sun - they'd only reach the top 20 once more, and that with a cover of Lean On Me - they made an accomplished disco record. Guitarist Rob Davis is credited as co-writer, and he'd go on to co-write Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Groovejet and Toca's Miracle, so the clues were there. Also, it's our list, we can do what we want with it.

Climax Blues Band - Couldn't Get It Right
Like the Average White Band a couple of years down the road, the Climax Blues Band were a British outfit - Stafford, to be exact - who wanted to be American at all costs. It's blues rock rather than disco but it fits rather well right here, doesn't it?

Electric Light Orchestra - Livin' Thing
More adventures in symphonic soft rock, this time with added echo and glam stomp.

Joni Mitchell - Coyote
Joni's voice had deepened by Hejira and she's more self-assertive and musically propulsive. The last two Laura Marling albums are basically invented here.

Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in a storm in November 1975 on Lake Superior, all 29 crew perishing - it remains the largest ship to sink in a Great Lake. This is basically recounting the accident to expansive folk-rock, but Lightfoot's rich voice and wording brings it to life.

Patti Smith Group - Pissing In A River
Radio Ethiopia really, really isn't the album its predecessor Horses was, but at least this got to show some restraint and poetic touch outside that solo.

Warren Zevon - Desperados Under The Eaves
The darkly sardonic singer-songwriter's debut was produced Jackson Browne and featured almost all of Fleetwood Mac, members of the Eagles, Carl Wilson, Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt. All that is apparent in the production quality, but the personal storytelling of LA being the cruel mistress he can't leave, not in his current state, undermines the slickness.

Tom Waits - Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen)
Rod Stewart would later cover this to some success while misunderstanding the fundamental issue that the chorus of Waltzing Matilda is a by-product of the narrator's situation, drunk and homeless in a foreign land, not the centrepiece.

David Bowie - Word On A Wing
The Thin White Duke album, Station To Station is the transition between the plastic soul phase and the direction he'd take once esconsed in Berlin. This feels like it could have fit into most of his identities without that much changing.

Flamin' Groovies - Please Please Girl
The San Franciscan power poppers had been an acclaimed but underselling major label act, then took five years off during which their singer left. They came back leaner and meaner, a British Invasion-style band effortlessly putting out sub-three minute pop gems, admittedly to not much more of an audience.

Graham Parker & The Rumour - Heat Treatment
Pub rock was still around - this was the year Dr Feelgood's live album Stupidity reached number one - and the Rumour had been augmented into a full soul revue on a budget. Parker's vocal resemblance to Craig Finn present and correct.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Dance To Your Daddy
Never knowingly underperforming, Harvey and the SAHB had by now sharpened their collision of prog, glam, blues rock and chanson to a point. What would you ever do with all this?

The Temptations - Up The Creek (Without A Paddle)
Sly Stone writing for the Temptations, a band who'd borrowed his ideas of psychedelic soul, backed by the Family Stone! And very few seem to know it ever happened too.

Marvin Gaye - I Want You
I Want You, being the album between Let's Get It On and the divorce diorama Here, My Dear, finds him in his priapic state, adding disco strings, funk guitars and congas a-go-go and still managing to sound absolutely laid back.

Stevie Wonder - Another Star
Couldn't get past 1976 without highlighting Songs In The Key Of Life, the last of Stevie's imperial phase and reputedly his own favourite, ridiculously influential all round. George Benson on guitar.

Fela Kuti & Africa 70 - Zombie
Mind, you want to talk about socially charged music, which with punk is kind of where we came in? Zombie, the album, has two tracks of twelve and thirteen minutes, extraordinary unstoppable combinations of African rhythms and hi-life with Western jazz and funk featuring the great Tony Allen on drums. The title track was an attack on the Nigerian military, the call and response vocal starting five minutes, in that took hold so much that the military attacked Fela's Kalakuta Republic commune and burnt it down, beat Kuti severely, and caused his mother's eventual death by throwing her from a window. Following that the first time he played it live, in Ghana, riots broke out during the song that were so severe he was banned from the country.

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