Friday, September 14, 2018

McQ's Best Of 1977 Vol 4 - The Yanks & Early New Wave (Punk's Greatest Year Pt 2)

To wrap up our look back at the Punk explosion of 1977, we head across the Atlantic (mostly) to focus on the American East Coast punk scene that was almost as vibrant as that in the UK, as well as a handful of acts that were already moving past punk into artier New Wave territory.

Another lively mix (at least until Frankie Teardrop), it is interesting to note how much more infantile most of the American Punks come off as when directly compared to their more politically oriented UK counterparts.

About The Songs:

1. Rockaway Beach - The Ramones: While more attention on 1977 gets thrown at the British Punk scene, it is important to remember that punk and New Wave's core aesthetics began gestating in the States, especially on the East Coast and in the industrial Midwest, through efforts by the likes of proto-punkers The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Modern Lovers, MC5, and The New York Dolls, long before any British or Aussie acts really jumped into the fray.  And before any of the British punk acts got their first album out, The Ramones were already working on  releases two and three. This track, one of the best and most joyously mindless from Rocket To Russia, felt like perfect track to kick off this mix. 

2. Mystery Dance - Elvis Costello: Considered one of the greatest debut albums of all-time, most of the songs on My Aim Is True were originally intended for another artist.  When Stiff Records first took an interest in Costello, it was as a potential songwriter for one of their top line artists, Dave Edmunds. But when presented with Costello's demos, Edmunds was resistant, so the label ask Costello to rerecord several of the songs with Edmund's producer Nick Lowe in the hope cleaner versions of the songs would turn Edmunds around.  But when the label heard the new demos, they decided Costello was strong enough of a presence to promote him on his own. And the rest (after a few more twists and turns) is history.  Yet another album with so many great tracks you can really pick anything, I'm going with personal favs again, starting with this humorous take on adolescent sexual fumbling.

3. Sonic Reducer - The Dead Boys: Of all the American punk bands of the era, Cleveland natives The Dead Boys were probably both the hardest hitting and the most offensive.  We'll get to an example of their more offensive stuff in a little bit, but for now,  just enjoy the band at their thunderous best, with the biggest song of the band's career from their perfectly titled 1977 debut album Young, Loud, & Snotty.

4. First Week / Last Week.... Carefree - The Talking Heads: And then there was this band. Formed by a trio of RSID art school students, who then later added ex-Modern Lovers keyboardist Jerry Harrison when they began to make a name on the club circuit, they were unlike anyone else out there. I don't know if Talking Heads :77, their debut, is my favorite Head's album, but it's in the running. And one of the things I love most about :77 is that for a band that produced so many bizarre but playful tunes, :77 may be their most playful album of all, a trait well characterized by this song here. 

5. Ghost Rider - Suicide: Unlike the British Punks, the early New York punks were not nearly as locked in to a definitive sound, or as beholden to the past the way most of the Brit acts still held Beatlesque harmonies in high regard.  We've already discussed how Television and The Talking Heads differed greatly from the punk norm. Suicide here was another act that while definitely punk, approached the genre as an attitude far more than something to be defined by pace and sound.  If anything, Suicide's self-titled debut, represented here by its punchiest track Ghost Rider, presaged the arrival of ice-cold new wavers like Joy Division far more than displaying any sonic allegiance with their punk peers.

6. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll - Ian Dury: Another act, like Costello and Graham Parker, caught between punk, bar band and early new wave, I struggled with which mix to include this goofy, timeless classic from Dury's boozy debut New Boots And Panties, but in the end, it played best here. 

7. Born To Lose - Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers: L.A.M.F., the only studio release from this New York Dolls offshoot, was trashed upon its initial release for its piss poor mix (a mix so bad it became a source of constant contention between the band members and tore the group apart). But over the years, the album's reputation has consistently improved, to the point now where it is considered a minor classic of the era.  Album opener Born To Lose is L.A.M.F.'s most popular song.

8. Blank Generation - Richard Hell: A tough dude to get along with with controlling tendancies, Richard Hell had already worn out his welcome with Television and Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers by the time he got around to recording his debut album Blank Generation with backing band the Voidoids. And given how strong those other acts' work became after Hell left, it's maybe not that surprising that of all the albums represented on this mix, Blank Generation doesn't hold up as well as most of the others. That said, the album does boasts two undeniable classics, the title track here, and a naughty little number we'll get to a bit down the road. 

9. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Devo: The band's full-length Brian Eno / David Bowie produced debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! was still a year away from release, but this early Stones cover from the Akron, Ohio futurists is one of New Waves' first hits and most recognizable singles. 

10. Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth - The Dead Boys: Remember when I said The Dead Boys were among the most  offensive of all the early American Punk acts. Exhibit A. 

11. Friction - Television: I'm still trying to sort out my revised rankings for the best albums of 1977 (something I will update after we've finished posting these mixes).  To my ears, there are up to ten records that can make a legitimate claim for the year's top spot.  But if we were reduce things down to just one album side, there's no question in my mind side one of Marquee Moon takes the crown.  See No Evil, Venus, Friction here, and then the title track we'll be hitting a few songs later on this mix, album sides rarely get better than that.

12. No Compassion - The Talking Heads: It's been said of Talking Heads: 77 that while it may not be fans' favorite Heads' album, pretty much everything the David Byrne-captained outfit would become was hinted at on their debut, and there's no denying that this semi-sociopathic tune feels like a direct predecessor to the anti-social paranoia fest that would become the band's third release Fear Of Music.

13. California Sun - The Ramones: Tough call here. Even though I like The Ramones' first 1977 release Leave Home a lot, if we're being honest, there isn't a single song on Leave Home that's as good as any one of the top eight or nine tracks on Rocket To Russia. But once again, at the expense of Cretin Hop, We're A Happy Family, I Wanna Be Well, Do You Wanna Dance, etc., a sense of inclusion won out, and I went with California Sun from Leave Home here. 

14. Blame It On Cain - Elvis Costello: Song two on this mix from My Aim Is True is one that is open to an array of lyrical interpretations - is it a semi-autobiographical venting anchored in Costello's own early financial struggles? An off-center mocking of traditional government justifications for war? A long, excuse making justification from a co(cain)e addict? Or is it more literal, a song sung from the POV of a suicidal Abel, who knows he's sinned in killing himself, and is now trying to scapegoat his death on his brother in the hopes of still earning entry into Heaven? Any interpretation works to some degree, but however you hear the words, there's no doubt this is one of Aim's most rocking tracks.

15. What Love Is - The Dead Boys: Though this is the original version of What Love Is, we've actually profiled this song in our collections before. The Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears cover version from their awesome funk fest Scandalous also made our best of 2011 mix set. 

16. Love Comes In Spurts - Richard Hell: Like I said in the intro, American Punk was just way more puerile in its lyrical concerns when compare to what was being put out by the Brits. Didn't make it any less fun to listen to, though. 

17. Marquee Moon - Television: Here it is, punk's ultimate - and maybe only - epic jam.

18. Blockheads - Ian Dury: By far my favorite hard-charger from Dury's New Boots And Panties.

19. Watching The Detectives - Elvis Costello: Released as Costello's third single in October 1977 following Alison and Less Than Zero, Watching The Detectives was not included on the original pressing of My Aim Is True, but was later added on all subsequent pressings to close out side one. The song was also the first single to be released after Costello had finally quit his day job as a data entry clerk. A touch older than most of his punk rock / new wave peers, Costello was already married and a father by the time Stiff records took an interest in him in 1976, and it wasn't until buzz had started to seriously build around Aim and the label promised to pay him a weekly salary equal to what he was already making in data entry that Stiff was able to convince Costello to become a musician full time and give the album the promotion it deserved.

20. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker - Ramones: Of all the Ramones' early albums, Rocket To Russia is the one that comes closest to pure pop perfection, and no song on the album highlights the band's talent for delivering irrestible hooks at blazing speed better than this track here, arguably one of the two most popular songs in the band's entire catalog.

21. Pulled Up - The Talking Heads: One more playful, quirky number from :77 to conclude the upbeat portion of this mix before the wrist slitter that follows ruins everyone's day. 

22. Frankie Teardrop - Suicide: Amongst the most disturbing songs ever set to vinyl, Alan Vega's dispassionate description of a murder-suicide by a financially desperate blue-collar worker shares many shock value similarities with The Door's The End, albeit grittier, less poetic and way more psychotic in feel. A unnerving downer supreme that many will hate, but also one of the more legendary songs to come out of New York in the late 70s, it would have been flat-out wrong not to include it on this mix here, no matter how much it bums you out.

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