Thirty-seven years ago today saw the release of what I’d consider to be the best punk single of all time. When I began my initial explorations into The Clash at 18 years of age in 2012, the incomplete live footage of ‘Complete Control’ from Rude Boy was one of the first live Clash videos I saw.and it just floored me. I’d never seen anyone perform like Joe Strummer in that footage and he mesmerized me. Really, that performance coupled with ‘Know Your Rights’ from the US Festival quite simply changed my life. Joe Strummer may have ad-libbed the line “you’re my guitiar hero!” to Mick Jones but songs like this cemented The Clash as my guitar heroes.
Strong personal feelings aside, ‘Complete Control’ really is such an incredible song that’s special in a number of ways. It’s unique in that it’s sung by Strummer yet the vast majority was penned by Jones and it also has the honor of being the first song recorded with a certain Topper Headon at the drums. ‘Complete Control’ was the start of a new chapter for this band, one that would see them rise to dizzying heights only to implode all too soon. It was released in 1977 as a non-album single (in the UK at least) and it comfortably bridges the gap between The Clash and Give ‘Em Enough Rope. It’s more technically proficient than The Clash, it’s more polished, yet there’s still that unmistakeable raw edge and visceral feel that made it a classic album of the genre. This is still very much punk music, and punk music of the highest order.
Every so often I get days were I just spent the entire time exploring music I haven’t heard before. Today is definitely one of these days, and it’s paying off dividends. I decided to listen to More Than This: The Best Of Bryan Ferry + Roxy Music and I am so surprised how much I’ve enjoyed it! I had tried to get into Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry a few months ago (after loving a few of their singles) by trying out Avalon. I found it forgettable and at that pointed decided they were not for me. I think I may have given up on them too quickly – More Than This has really impressed me. I’ll definitely be going back to listen to those Roxy Music albums now (and probably some early Ferry solo material).
It’s even made me discover a song I’ve loved for a year or so without knowing who it was. ‘Let’s Stick Together’ was featured on a TV advert here and yet even with that unmistakable voice I never realized it was by Bryan Ferry. It sounded more like a 60s song to me, so I assumed it was from that period. Well, I wasn’t too far off the mark there to be fair as it does date from 1962 in its original version. Wilbert Harrison recorded it originally, whilst Bryan Ferry recorded his version for his 1976 third solo album, also called Let’s Stick Together. Bryan Ferry’s version proved very successful, reaching #4 in the UK Chart. It’s a song that’s just impossible to dislike really, it’s just got this irresistible pound to it. A great cover version that still stands up today!
A song so disturbing that listening to it surely verges on masochism. It’s the centerpiece of Suicide (one of the finest debut albums ever made). The main reason ‘Frankie Teardrop’ is so chilling is the subject matter. Frankie works in a mundane factory job and has a wife and child and they live in deep poverty. These difficult circumstances makes Frankie become insane, until he eventually murders his wife and child and then commits suicide and winds up in Hell. It sounds like it doesn’t get any more harrowing but yet it does. It’s a deeply claustrophobic track with only a recurring, basic keyboard motif, a drum machine, and Alan Vega’s vocals. The keyboard plays the same brief melody for ten minutes – it feels like it symbolizes the repetitive nature of Frankie’s job. That’s not even the creepiest thing about the arrangement either. It’s Alan Vega’s vocals that really leave a lasting impression. The song is laden with his screams that really just cut right through you. They’re so primal that even without the sparse arrangement and chilling subject matter they’d still sound harrowing. Add all these various components together though and you’ve got one of the most gut-wrenching pieces of music you’ll ever hear. And without sounding like a masochist, I think it’s a brilliant song. There’s a definite political subtext to it. It manages to be more evocative and effective than many more overtly political songs really. Essentially, the song is criticizing dead-end, low paid jobs. It uses an extreme tale to illustrate the point for sure, but the core message is the same. It may be something you’d only want to hear once in your life, but one things for sure: it’s an unforgettable piece of music.
Across my record collection, folk rock is definitely one of the genres least represented. The only records I have that could be described as folk are Simon & Garfunkel’s five studio albums (along with their Greatest Hits set and two live albums). It’s not a genre that I listen to much at all aside from them. That being said, after learning that Joni Mitchell was known for fusing folk with elements of light jazz on some of her records I was inspired to investigate her back catalog. I’m always intrigued by artists who can blur musical genres together and fusing jazz with folk just sounded… interesting, to say the least.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks. I’m finding her music so beautiful. I was listening to Blue yesterday for the first time (on what marked 43 years to the day since the album’s original release). It was a gorgeous album and I really loved the deeply intimate and confessional nature of it. It sounds deceptively simple but it’s a more layered album than most. No mean feat. It’s such an evocative record that it’s easy to see why it has garnered the praise it has over the years. Yet perhaps surprisingly, it’s not even my favorite Joni album that I’ve heard. So far that title goes to Court & Spark. The quirky and slightly more jazzy direction of the album I find irresistible. It also contains my favorite Joni Mitchell song that I’ve heard until now, which is ‘Free Man In Paris’. I utterly love the lyrics, written about her former label boss David Geffen. She’s such a rich and layered artist and I really can’t wait to see what her other records offer. So far, I’ve heard Court & Spark, Songs To A Seagull, Blue and a greatest hits compilation. All of which I’ve really liked – if I keep enjoying her output as much as I have so far then I’m definitely going to have to pick up the 2012 box-set The Studio Albums 1968-1979
If you’re a Clash fan, as I am, today is a rather bittersweet day. A day that really needs no introduction either. Today marks eleven years since the irreplaceable Joe Strummer died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart defect. He was just fifty years of age. Frankly, this is a post I’d really rather not have to write. I’d love to write about his new album, a concert I just attended or the like. What’s done is done though so I best get on with it though hadn’t I?
This day will mean different things to different fans. Some will reflect. I can’t really do that. I don’t have any past memories of The Clash or Joe to even reflect on. I was just eight years old when he died, and I only became a fan last year. For me, December 22nd makes me think of what could have happened, or what I could have experienced. One downside to being young (yes there are downsides) is that I completely missed out on The Clash. Not only that but I was simply too young to have any idea who Joe Strummer was in his Mescaleros years. Oh how I wish that was different but it’s the way it is.
Today I’ve often caught myself thinking “Why be sad?”. For a start – I should be thankful he existed. And that in his all too short life he made an indelible impact on the lives of millions. He shared his gift with us, and the lasting legacy of that can’t die. Yes, he can, he was just an ordinary man. His achievements and impacts though? They were extraordinary. I know it’s a borderline cliche, but he really does live on. In the records he made, and through each and every single person he inspired. And let’s never loose sight that he’ll continue to do so. Last year I listened to The Clash properly for the first time. I was eighteen years of age. They changed my life. You can rest assured that’s happened to plenty of similarly aged people since.
What I’m trying to say, simply put for brevity’s sake, is let’s try and be optimistic. It’s easy to be pessimistic today. Too easy. One thing I keep asking myself though – and it’s worth thinking about – is “Would Joe like this though?”. Instead of feeling sad today, we should make a conscious effort to remember Joe by doing something practical to instigate change. For me it seems like the perfect way to honor him. He’s dead, but we can’t let his message die. I’ll be thinking of that today, and of course his family and friends. I’ll be back later with a post but for now, I just want to conclude with this quote from the man himself as it’s all too appropriate on this day:
“ I really don’t believe that we just get born and die and that’s your one shot and that’s it. I really feel that we’re individual spirits and souls. And I know that when we die we go on.”