The Deviants have a Secret to Share

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The third and final Deviants’ album lacked any track or personnel information on the sleeve and came supplied with a chapbook of sorts.

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Accompanying the credits was a short rant from Mick Farren that included a manifesto of a kind:

For the past 13 years Rock & Roll has been the secret language of a generation, despite lapses into gibberish and side-tracks into academic obscurity. Rock & Roll is a secret language that the rulers cannot understand.

Which raises the question of how well kept was that secret?

Scans of the complete text and some background on the album can be found on Richard Morton Jack’s blog, Galactic Ramble . I hope he doesn’t mind me ripping off the three I’ve used.

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Mick Farren – DNA Cowboy Trilogy

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The Quest for the DNA Cowboys, Farren’s third novel, is the first part of a ‘science fantasy’ trilogy published by Mayflower; it was followed by Synaptic Manhunt in the same year, 1976, and The Neural Atrocity the year after. The novels’ plots, characters and settings are all interconnected as if he had written a long novel that was then split into three.

The opening salvo in the trilogy is a picaresque tale of two future-tense cowboys, Billy Oblivion (love that name) and Reave, who carry replica Navy Colts and porta-pac stabilisers to help them navigate a world literally falling apart. Bored, they quit the town of Pleasant Gap and step over the edge into the ‘nothings’. Spatial mapping and co-ordinates are nowhere to be found and the pair, by ill or good luck, drift from one dimension to another, encountering on their way characters such as Minstrel Boy (Bobby Dylan, for sure), Rainman (he makes weather), Jetstream Willie (a trucker), and Burt the Medicine (an albino with breasts). These figures help or hinder them on their journey to somewhere or other. Places in the nothings (or outside it) resemble a truckstop, where Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ plays on a loop, a Western ghost town, a prison, a war front, a desert landscape, an oasis, a port, and finally a lake and swamp that takes them to a city being eaten alive by its rulers .

All places and characters are thinly sketched and the plot, like Billy and Reave, appears lost in the nothings. As Minstrel Boy explains (or rather doesn’t): ‘I’m just telling the story. I don’t have to account for inconsistencies’. That also seems to be Farren’s line; the science fantasy genre allowing him to shift to something new whenever he tires of, or exhausts, any given situation. The characters drift. Beyond averting boredom, they are unmotivated, without goals or set destination. The novel’s title suggests they are on a quest for something or other, but it’s not described: ‘Where are you fellas planning to go from here?’ asks Burt the Medicine, ‘No idea, we’ll just travel on until we come to something.’ says Billy.

They eventually stumble upon a ruined city overshadowed by a vast tower in which live the ruling elite, who are utterly depraved. A. A. Catto, a woman with the body of a 13-year-old, indulges in incestuous sado-masochist trysts with her brother and makes Reave her captive play thing. We learn that desire unbound is a wretched state of being, but we don’t learn just what a DNA cowboy is.

The novel ends in a state of uncertainty, with the two pals separated from one another and the reader still asking who are the three phantom ladies depicted on the jacket? The trio appear fairly randomly throughout, always in italics and given the pronoun ‘She/They’ (how prescient). Early on, one ‘She/They’ appears to have been shot by a western gunfighter and is then subsequently carried by the other two spirits. How will all of this play out in episode two . . .?

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The second volume in the trilogy, Synaptic Manhunt, has another terrific title that is also pretty meaningless. There is a hunt of sorts, but what it has to do with the fusion of chromosomes is as clear to me as the singling out of Billy and Reeves’ double helix in the first volume’s title. Right at the start a new and significant character is introduced, Jeb Stuart Ho, a name that conjoins a Confederate Major General with the revolutionary leader of Vietnam’s Communists, Ho Chi Minh. In actuality he is closer to David Carradine’s character in Kung Fu (1972-75). An assassin and member of the Brotherhood he is given the task of finding and killing A. A. Catto. To help him in his endeavour the Minstrel Boy, who has unique wayfinding powers to guide him through the nothings, is unwilling recruited. Before long he is reunited with Billy and Reeve, who are still caught up in the child-woman’s sadistic orbit.

The book has more action and conflict than its predecessor, but is still wholly reliant on the principle of deus ex machina to solve problems and to keep things mobile. Farren is at his best when the world he is depicting is close to the world he knows, the barroom and hotel lobby scenes work particularly well, getting lost in the ripped dimensions of the nothings less so. The characters remain poorly motivated, little more than ciphers who I don’t much care for and have only a bare interest in. I kept wishing that the world he populates was a bit more like Ladbrook Grove and a lot less like the horizon line in the illustration on the front of Hawkwind’s Warror on the Edge of Time.

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Farren’s three graces, if that’s what She/They are, were absent from the middle volume, but make a return in the final part, again given a nice but meaningless title: The Neural Atrocity. The key characters are pulled into a tighter orbit around the now fully insane and megalomaniacal A. A. Catto. She is hell bent on the conquest of the earth (or what’s left of it) and to that end is using the ‘stuff machine’ to create a zombie army to do her bidding. When she’s not building a mighty military force she entertains herself by ordering life copies of Elvis Presley and Oscar Wilde, but what should have been a dinner party for the ages turns out to be a dull affair. Oscar lusts after the Memphis Flash and throws out a few half-hearted bon mots and Elvis responds with mumbles and homilies. Elvis is a good looking man, it must be said, and Catto has him dine between her thighs. Elsewhere things drift toward an apocalyptic ending with Dylan/Minstrel Boy still unable to offer any answers.

I expected Farren’s early fiction to be more carnivalesque than it turned out to be, or at least more attuned to the freak underground’s preoccupation with putting all and sundry up against the wall, but alas it was all a little too polite, reserved and, frankly, dull. His fantasy world is based on Westerns – the nothings are like those vast empty spaces that exist between frontier towns and outposts; a dead terrain where savages wait to attack wagon trains and cowboys drift aimlessly. Distraction is found in a game of chance, a bottle and a whore’s embrace. Life is cheap and death is how debts are paid. Farren catches all of that well enough, but in the end nothing really matters. I don’t believe in his characters like I do in James Coburn’s Pat Garrett, Robert Mitchum’s Jim Garry, Walter Brennan’s Judge Roy Bean, or Jeff Bridges’ Wild Bill Hickock. Those actors make the fictive worlds they occupy real for me, Farren’s characters not at all.

Mick Farren is a product of St. Martin’s School of Art, Phun City, IT, Nasty Tales and an Old Bailey obscenity trial. He now writes full-time and has two previous novels published.

Author’s bio in all three volumes

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Red Lightnin' – blues reissues – J. Edward Barker

letterhead, circa 1972, for Sippen and Shertser family of labels

letterhead, circa 1972, for Sippen and Shertser family of labels

Like the Union Pacific releases (see below), Ian Sippen and Peter Shertser’s collections of postwar blues wore their underground credentials on their sleeves.

I’m guessing the early releases were all unlicensed, certainly the first issue on Red Lightnin’, Buddy Guy’s In the Beginning (RL001), looks like a bootleg with its cheaply printed monotone matt image pasted onto a blank sleeve.

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Later pressing of the label’s early titles were treated to slick upgrades. OZ’s Felix Dennis was responsible for the design of the first four volumes: Little Walter (RL002), John Lee Hooker (RL003) and Albert Collins (RL004). Denise Brownlow was credited for the design work on the five issues released by Syndicate Chapter and for the various artist compilation Blues in D Natural (RL005). The two subsequent Red Lightnin’ releases employed the graphic talent of J. Edward Barker, Mick Farren’s pal and illustrator at large for International Times and Nasty Tales.

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Barker’s design for the label’s 7th release, Junior Well’s In My Younger Days, uses a photograph that looks as if it has been cropped from a minstrel scene in a Hollywood movie, though not one known to me. Whatever its provenance, it pulls in the same direction as the ‘Three Ball Charlie’ image on the front of the Stones’ Exile album. Both albums were released in 1972. The double LP anthology When Girls Do It (R.L.006) also sports a Barker design.

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The three panels are fair summations of his interests and art: the mirrored picture of monks with pasted on devil’s eyes in the gatefold; montaged found images clipped from erotica and porn (lesbian, school girl and a Weimar-era nude) that surround a photograph of the Daughters of the American Revolution (with Abe Lincoln glued over the face of the sitting dowager and the open palm placed like a cockerel’s crown on her head) are in keeping with the aesthetic of the period’s underground publications: male adolescent salaciousness at the apparent service of political satire. On the sleeve’s rear you get a feast of backsides; this 1930s fetishism plays to the album’s title – the posterior posturing as gratuitous as anything on the front. It also echoes figures used on Barker’s sleeve for the Pink Fairies’ What A Bunch of Sweeties, another album from 1972. Fair enough?

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The conjunction of rock’n’ roll revivalism, blues resurrectionism and the freak underground is fascinating in itself, but it also had me searching for some kind of appreciation, book or webpage on J. Edward Barker. I haven’t found much yet. Until then, there is always his and Farren’s Watch Out Kids, also from 1972 (a productive year)

Barker to the left, Farren to the right

Barker to the left, Farren to the right

Raves from the Grave – Blasts from the Past

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A recent bit of deep digging uncovered Transfusion: Rave from the Grave – Blast From the Past Vol.1 (Union Pacific, UP004).  The compilation features the Del Vikings, the two Ronnies – Self and Hawkins – Conway Twitty, Nervous Norvus, Everly Bros, Al Downing, John Greer, and Vince Taylor and the Playboys with ‘Brand New Cadillac’ – a great collection. What sets it apart from, and at odds with, other early 1970s compilations is its sleeve featuring a typically salacious panel from a Robert Crumb comic. No Teddy Boys in the company of a Bardot-like leggy model and a late-sixties styled custom chopper, nor fifties convertible outside a diner, not even a Rock-Ola jukebox. Pasted together in 1972 by Ian Sippen and Peter Shertser, the album connects the period’s rock ’n’ revivalists with the British underground culture of the day as represented by the likes of International Times, Mick Farren and the Pink Fairies.

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Volume 2, Loose Ends (UP005) is an all-instrumental collection bookended by Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and The Fireballs. In between, Duane Eddy battles it out with the Fenderman, Jerry Lee Lewis and a half-dozen other contenders. The sleeve continues the graphic connection with the underground, featuring a tattooed greaser mauling a hot chick in a state of dishabille who threatens to stab him in the ‘puddin’. The panel is given a context of sorts by the incongruous tag-line: ‘Sexism is out! If you like pussy: treat it equal.’ It’s culled from the back page of George DiCaprio and R. Jaccoma’s Greaser Comics (New York: Half Ass Press, 1971), which suggests a transatlantic counter-culture mirroring of interest in rock ’n’ roll.

‘A new exciting label featuring oldies but goodies, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll’

‘A new exciting label featuring oldies but goodies, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll’

Sippen and Shertser were Jewish East End Mods who made a name for themselves on the scene as The Firm. They ran in the same circles as the likes of Miles at Better Books and IT fame, and Dave ‘Boss’ Goodman, later Pink Fairies roadie and manager of Dingwalls dance hall. The Firm were involved in the UFO club, helping Mick Farren to keep out ne’er-do-wells when they weren’t pulling pranks on John Peel. With such connections, and a deep love of American rhythm and blues, the duo helped to produce and distribute The Deviants’ debut album. They sold the LPs’ American rights to Seymour Stein’s newly formed Sire records and then acted as talent scout for him, the results of which included an album they recorded in 1968 in London with Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton and another in 1969 by psych blues rockers Sam Apple Pie.

Shertser is a singular contributor to Jonathan Green’s pop-vox history of the sixties underground, Days in the Life (1988), which is where most of the references to him and Sippen are drawn from, including Clinton Heylin’s Bootleg: The Secret History of the Other Recording Industry (1994). The Firm were responsible for the first tranche of illicit Dylan, Stones and Beatles albums in the UK. The two volumes of rock ’n’ roll obscurities and hits are essentially bootlegs; there is nothing to suggest these tracks were licensed. Other releases on their Union Pacific label included collections of Eddie Cochran, Link Wray and Little Richard rarities.

Ian Sippen went missing, presumed drowned, in Morocco in April 1973. Shertser continued to run Red Lightnin’ and associated labels (Syndicate Chapter), which he and Sippen had set up in 1969.

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You can read Greaser here. The hard-on in the pop corn seen in Barry Levinson’s Diner (1982) gets an earlier recounting. Perhaps, like the filthy lyrics in ‘Louie Louie’, this courtship ritual is part of American teenage folklore.

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Depending on which version you’re looking at, the Pink Fairies debut 1971 album, Never Never Land, has the legend ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’ on either its inside sleeve or on its rear cover. The illustration that adorns the front is about as rock ’n’ roll as Robert Crumb’s fedora.

Trevor Hoyle, 'Rule of Night' (1975)

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‘Come on, let’s drift.’

Despite being republished in 2003, Hoyle’s novel about a Rochdale bovver boy is still little known and even less written about. Originally published as a pulpy paperback by Futura, and though lacking the requisite exploitation imagery used by NEL on their Skinhead series, you would have thought it would have at least rated a mention in Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette’s estimable Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (PM Press, 2017). Fact is, Rule of Night is anything but an exploitation title. It is by far the most convincing portrait of disaffected youth I have read; its depiction of working-class school leavers who lurch from one unskilled job to another is nuanced and subtle. Hoyle plots their endless drift around the town, and on excursions to Manchester and Luton, watching them getting drunk and blocked between the chance encounters that give vent, in spasms of gratuitous violence, to their balled-up anger.


Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980

The central character, Kenny, owes nothing whatsoever to the romantic renderings of teen life essayed in S. E. Hinton or J. D. Salinger novels, and Hoyle shows little interest in the pop sociology approach taken by the authors of Amboy Dukes or Blackboard Jungle. Rule of the Night is devoid of sentimentality, Hoyle never patronises, nor sensationalises, he doesn’t explain motives; he just shows how it is. His teenagers are barely formed, grasping for a maturity that constantly outflanks them, and so search for it in beer, fags, obscenity strewn language and violence:

He says sneeringly into the face of the man, ‘Did you get a good look or do you want a photograph?’ And then says, ‘Cunt’, and goes on repeating, Cunt. Cunt.’

Fucking Jesus, he wants to hit the man. Fucking Cunting Christ, the man’s pale frightened face sickens him so much that nothing would feel better than kneeing him in the bollocks and seeing that awful fear he loves and despises turn into pain.

 And that search for maturity is also there in the kids’ desperate longing:

Skush is the quiet one; he drinks his pint slow and calm and waits for the others to make up their minds. He’s never been out with a girl, never had it . . . and now wonders if it’s possible to get his end away without the acute pain and torture of having to approach a girl, talk to her, make easy conversation while all the time his lips are numb and his throat squeezed tight and dry.

Beyond the rich and varied characterisation, Hoyle makes a number of sharp observations on youth cultures; a small gang of Bury yobbos dressed as figures from Clockwork Orange infiltrate a Rochdale v Blackburn game; away from the terraces greasers and bike boys take their turn to fight with Kenny and his gang. On a trip into Manchester to sell stolen proscription drugs they encounter a motley crew of Teds at the Bier Keller on Charlotte Street, behind the Piccadilly Plaza Hotel:

Down the green steps and into the dark smoky warmth where the Teds are gathered in sullen groups listening to Gene Vincent and Fats Domino and Elvis. . . The three lads don’t respond to this kind of music: to them it seems crude and obvious . . . But there’s a market and a good sale to be had here for blues and black bombers; the Teds won’t touch acid or grass but rely on lager and pills to give them a charge.

A page earlier they are trying to off load their pills at a northern soul night. The momentarily empty dance space is described as ‘a sacred patch of territory which can only be invaded when the time and circumstances are judged right . . :

Almost precisely on the stroke of nine, a boy with short back and sides and dressed in an open-necked shirt, blue and yellow striped pullover, a pair of baggy trousers with turn-ups, and brown leather shoes with hard soles begins to dance alone . . . looking down at his feet, intent on the movements and rhythms, as though what comes next is as much a surprise to him as to the people watching.

That image of the lad in a state of surprise is unsurpassed in writings on northern soul dancing.

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980

 

The Loveless - special edition (Arrow Video)

Dvdbeaver and Amazon.com have the details for the July blu-ray release of Monty Montgomery and Kathryn Bigelow’s film. The special edition features a new essay from me and a mass of video extras. I’ve not yet seen the 2K transfer but it is certain to enhance what is anyway a great film with a boss soundtrack to boot . . . Get some!

This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 7)

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Robert Altman’s turn of the century north-western, McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), reached back all the way to 1967 and pulled in three tracks from Leonard Cohen’s debut: ‘The Stranger Song’, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ and ‘Winter Lady’. The trio of tunes are the sum total of the non-diegetic music in the film. In the film’s story a good deal of fiddle music is featured, including a lovely scene of a guy dancing on a frozen river, a large music box with interchangeable discs, which looks like a proto jukebox, is heard, and unaccompanied singing all add to the soundtrack. Against the anachronism of Cohen’s music, Stephen Foster’s ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ gets at least two outings; by my ready reckoner it is a song heard in westerns more than any other tune.

For a set of pre-existing songs, the fit with the film’s themes is remarkable, but then Cohen always dug deep into exploring emotional attachments that last just a small moment in time and that’s what the film covers too. ‘The Stranger Song’ is given to McCabe, the character played by Warren Beatty, ‘Sisters of Mercy’ accompanies images of the hamlet’s prostitutes, and ‘Winter Lady’ follows around Mrs Constance Miller (Julie Christie). It is said that Altman originally played around with at least 10 of Cohen’s songs before deciding on these three. He clearly worked to put song and image together in an arrangement that was mutually beneficial. In this he succeeds; it is impossible to imagine the film without Cohen’s sonorous odes to fleeting love. But the songs also fix the film to 1967-1971. It cannot escape that history any more than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can leave behind Sacha Distel and ‘Raindrops Keep Falling’, or High Noon can forsake Tex Ritter, such is the genre’s relationship with the past and the present.

Three songs and some incidental music was obviously not enough to fashion an OST from, or to repackage Cohen’s album, but CBS in the UK did see potential in offering the market an EP.

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This concise artefact is part of the same series that featured Kris Kristofferson’s tunes used in Cisco Pike (see earlier entry). Where there anymore in the set? Do tell if you know . . .

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Mick Farren, Armageddon Crazy (1989)

Mick Farren

Armageddon Crazy

DelRey-Ballantine USA, 1989/Orbit-Sphere UK, 1990

‘2000AD. The year of America’s ultimate special effect . . .’ The lunatics have taken over the asylum. Religious zealots, fanatics and Elvis believers control the USA, and rock ’n’ roll is banned. But the show that never ends is just refashioned by the God Botherers to mount ever more impressive demonstrations for the brethren. The latest planned extravaganza, sponsored by the White House, is to put giant holographs of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse above Manhattan. Are you ready to testify?

 

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A member of the revolutionary Lefthand Path is working deep undercover at the Deacon’s HQ, an old-school cynical police officer walks the street between loyalty and insurrection. As he climbs higher, an ambitious Deacon looks to pull them both down. The outcome of the impending confrontation is uncertain and then complicated when a key figure in the establishment turns out to have a Machiavellian disposition for intrigue and is about to stage coup. Which side are you on?

Very much a post-William Gibson cyberpunk novel, with cowboy hackers, a matrix which jockeys can jack into through implants behind the ears, but it is also an old style story of the underground rising up to fight the good fight. I give nothing away when I tell you that the smart and beautiful fifth columnist ends up in bed with the hard-bitten cynical cop. A formidable team beneath the sheets and on the streets.

 This is my first encounter with Farren’s fiction. It all moves along at a speedy pace, I never got bored even when the exposition felt laboured and the, sometimes, clunky dialogue made me wince. His heroes are all counterculture surrogates, all born to lose but smart enough to survive to fight another day. Motorhead bootlegs are the new currency and The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, Farren and Wayne Kramer’s musical, wins a Tony. There’s a future worth holding out for. . .

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Jeff Nuttall on Teddy Boys & Elvis

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The teddy boys were waiting for Elvis Presley. Everybody under twenty all over the world was waiting. He was the super-saleman of mass-distribution hip. Unfortunately he had to be white. Otherwise one of the Chicago blues singers, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, would’ve done. He had to have the cowboy/Spanish element. He had to have the Adonis profile. He had to have the overtones of the queer boy’s pin-up, the packed jeans, the sullen long-lashed eyes, the rosebud mouth, the lavish greasy hair and gilded drag.

Jeff Nuttall, Bomb Culture (1968)

Forget the Chicagoans he lists, over Elvis, Nuttall prefers Jelly Roll Morton as his choice of Romantic primitive American export to fire up his jaded post-war loins. His hipster subtext comes straight from the mouth of Norman Mailer’s White Negro, but I love that line about Elvis as ‘the super-saleman of mass-distribution hip.’

He later writes that Dylan was the ‘first sign popular music was transcending its commercial situation.’ His opinion being based on the broad acceptance of the ‘profound sourness’ found in the singer’s delivery. Capturing in two words what others have struggled, and failed, to achieve in the course of a book.

This Is Not A Soundtrack LP (part 6)

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Against all convention, Dog Day Afternoon (1975) plays out the course of its drama without a supporting music track. No piano, guitar, french horn, piccolo, jaw harp, nothing at least after the story proper starts at the closing of the working day. For the first 5 minutes of the film over a montage of city scenes, a New York summer, Elton John’s ‘Amoreena’ plays in its entirety. The skip beat of the performance gives a rhythm to the edits of scenes of dogs nosing garbage bags, Bowery bums, Coney Island’s beaches, ferries, car jams, construction workers, tennis courts, commuters, and Manhattan skylines seen behind a roof top swimming pool and a cemetery. There’s a familiarity in the images echoed in numerous other New York set movies of the period, but Elton John’s recording is by any reckoning a strange choice. Neither contemporary, it was released 5 years earlier on Tumbleweed Connection, nor in anyway a pop city symphony. Just about anything by Bruce Springsteen from his first two albums would have made a more thematically appropriate choice.

Tumbleweed Connection was John’s 3rd album and one deeply in thrall to the Americana of The Band. Bernie Taupin’s lyrics evoke images of the antebellum South, Western gunfighters, and mission houses. The sepia sleeve and accompanying booklet provide a panoply of supporting illustrations and photographs, even if the actual English location of the heritage steam train station depicted on the front of the gatefold, with all its enamelled adverts for the most British of goods - Cadburys, Rowntrees, Ogden’s tobacco - seem counter to the album’s particular tale of the New World; from Bushy, Herts, Reg Dwight’s own Atlantic crossing.

‘Amoreena’ is about a lover fussing over his absent muse, who he imagines in the cornfields brightening daybreak in days gone by. Taupin’s lyric offers up the strange conjunction ‘puppy child’ and the absurd idea of a sycamore tree ‘playing in the valley’ among the most hackneyed of romantic imagery - dreams of crystal streams. Elton John’s performance is strong enough to hide all the bad poetry, but it doesn’t make it anymore of an apposite choice of a song to use as a place setter for the drama that follows. I’ve heard it said the producers were using Elton’s persona to make an off-hand comment on the sexuality of Pacino’s character, but then why this track? It’s many things, but Gay themed or camp it is not. What it also isn’t is funky. Beside the Van Morrison mannerisms that Elton channels, the song is far removed from soul music or from any black contemporary musical idiom. Issac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack with Shaft, Superfly and Across 110th Street defined the 1970s city soundtrack, unlike them Elton John is not American and he is not black. Maybe that’s the point of why he was used, a means to signify that Dog Day Afternoon is not a blaxploitation picture. I think that might be the case but, even if I’m right about that, the choice of ‘Amoreena’ itself remains utterly obscure to me. Perhaps Sidney Lumet just liked the tune. For myself, I’d have chosen Springsteen:

‘The cripple on the corner cried

out, “Nickels for your pity”

Them gasoline boys downtown

sure talk gritty

It’s so hard to be a saint in the city.’

Beatles 'Rock 'n' Roll Music' (1976)

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Illustration by Ignacio Gomez

There’s no doubting the fine rockin’ sounds on this 1976 compilation, though mono is to be preferred to these stereo cuts, but that sleeve is something which would disgrace the cheapest of mid-1970s rock ‘n’ roll compendiums. Apparently the Fab Four hated it, and Lennon even offered to redesign it himself, but Capital in the US and Parlophone in the UK stood firm on a sleeve that said nothing about The Beatles and a great deal about how cliched the 50s into the 70s had become when lit by the tail lights of American Graffiti.

The poster for the album, I quite like, in so much as it looks British, and there is at least some attempt at art direction . . . The expresso machine dominates like an engine block from a hot rod placed on a gallery pedestal. The Rockola jukebox provides warm illumination, and the girl looks like Jordan, if she worked at Let It Rock before Sex. The boy in his leather jacket and pants, knit tie and cigarette, looking directly into the camera, is both surly and camp. Not as cool as The Beatles in leather in Hamburg, but then who is . . .

Addendum: that is Jordan and the story of the shoot can be found here on Paul Gorman’s essential blog

Philip Castle's Airbrushed Retro-fitted 1950s

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1974 Dutch only collection of R ‘n’ R hits on the Arcade label, as seen on TV or ‘Van de Radio en TV-Reklame.’ Clearly an attempt to ride on the back of the American Graffiti phenomenon, which is more than a guess because lead track, side 2, Flash Cadillac’s ‘At The Hop’ is tagged as ‘Featured in the Universal Picture American Graffiti.’ The album’s pulling power is boosted by two commissioned Philip Castle illustrations placed on the inside and the outside of the gatefold.

The originals, unadorned with graphic and track information, are reproduced in his 1980 collection Airflow (Paper Tiger).

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Castle remains best known for the work he did on Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange publicity materials, where his clear affinity with the fetish pieces of Pop artist Allen Jones was put into play [here]. When he wasn’t taking adolescent delight in rendering phallic objects, jets and cars, threatening full penetration with a fifties styled pin-up airbrushed into a hard chrome sheen, he specialised in retro-fitting the decade’s icons, James Dean, Johnny Cash and Elvis, as man-machine conflations for the 1970s. The women, Monroe, Hayworth, Fawcett-Majors, Dolly Parton are offered to the male gaze as android fuck machines.

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Mott the Hoople’s essential 1972 collection of Island era recordings, Rock and Roll Queen, is wrapped in one Castle’s illustrations. The repeating mirror images of Monroe reducing Pop Art iconography to a set of fast-dry, hard, scratch-proof textures that reflects back only its own vacuous surface qualities.

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When the first UK paperback edition of Cohn’s Pop from the Beginning was being readied in 1970, Castle must have looked like the perfect choice to render the flash of the pop moment, five years later with the cover for George Tremlett’s cut n’ paste job, The Who, his work had become all formula.

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Nik Cohn - Alan Aldridge - David King - Track Records

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In his pop column for Queen, Cohn was a tireless booster of Track Records. Not only for The Who, but for near anybody who appeared on the label, though he had less than kind things to say about John’s Children. Label and author also shared graphic designers and illustrators. Above Alan Aldridge and below David King. Neither book design has subsequently been reused and, hence, each new edition has lost a little of the original’s frisson.

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Greil Marcus on Nik Cohn

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Greil Marcus’ webpages recently uploaded his introduction to Cohn’s AWopBopALooBopLopBamBoom (aka Pop From the Beginning) that hitherto had only been available in a 1999 French edition. It should have been included in all subsequent editions, and in any yet to come . . .

Reading, you can at any time feel as if you’ve slipped out of this book and into Treasure Island, out of the late twentieth century and into the eighteenth—here managers are pirates and singers are cutthroats, beggars, and whores impersonating aristocrats when they’re not nice middle-class people impersonating cutthroats, beggars and whores. Business is plunder when it isn’t pedophilia; art is appetite when it isn’t a decent way to kill time. The result is not a diminution of the pop romance but, really, its literary invention. As Cohn moves his story through the years, a sense of loss and corruption takes over: the corruption in which predictability replaces ignorance, expectation replaces chance, a forty-year career replaces saying your piece and disappearing whence you came, craft replaces inspiration, and rationality replaces stupidity. Even before Cohn gets to 1966, the golden days always seem somewhere back over that last hill. And, as this book ends, it was all over more than a quarter century ago.

click here to read the introduction in its entirety.

This Is Not A Soundtrack (part 6)

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This 1970 German compilation comes close to what I imagine a biker movie soundtrack might be like if its producers had access to Atlantic and Elektra artistes . . . It’s rock ’n’ roll as filtered through Rock, so Clapton, Delaney & Bonnie on a live medley of Little Richard numbers, followed by Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse chugging through de blues, Ray Charles caught in performance with ‘What’d I Say’, and Al Kooper closing the side with another piano led tune. Side 2 gets going in style with the MC5 kicking out the jams, followed by the Stooges telling it like it was in ‘1969.’ The Danish Matadors stay in keeping with the musical theme of R ’n’ R with their cover of Chuck’s ‘Memphis Tennessee’, but they are otherwise out of time with this 1965 recording. The MC5 return with their homage to Richard Penniman on ‘Tutti Frutti.’ Bobby Darin supplies the only genuine slice of fifties sound with ‘Splish Splash’, before Jody Grind get hard ‘n heavy on their cover of ‘Paint It Black.’ I believe this is the only contemporaneous album to feature both the Stooges and The MC5, ain’t that something?

The cover features members of the Nederlands Harley-Davidson Club - rockers to the max. Now you know what I meant about those caps [see Feb 12 entry].

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Good Old Rock 'n Roll

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Various, Good Old Rock ’n Roll (Coral: COPS-6219)

A 1972 German double-album. Each side features Bill Haley, Johnny Burnette, Brenda Lee, Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings and Carl Perkins, and that order is fixed across all four sides. Now that’s what I call the art of curation. Audio is a particularly bad example of reprocessed stereo. But then I didn’t buy this for the music but for its cover art . . .

In the same way UK rock ’n’ roll revival compilations always betray their county of origin, like the ton up boys on the front of Johnnie Burnette’s Tear It Up, Continental comps also say something about their version of America’s 1950s into Europe’s 1970s. The figure in the portrait looks Gallic to me, and the way his hair is piled up on top is rather unique. I like too the hint of a moustache, the ruby and emerald rings, the extra long cig and the gentle way he holds the oversized transistor radio. He looks to me like an aesthete dreaming of Rimbaud channeled through Gene Vincent, or Jim Jarmusch before the colour drained from his hair

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Sylvia Pitcher and Neat Change - Who?pix

After posting the shot of the ‘Johnnie Burnette’ Tear It Up cover, I went looking for more of Sylvia Pitcher’s images. Lots of her great pix of the Animals and, most impressively photos of The Action I’d not previously seen, can be found in the Getty Images archive here

I like the mirrored images of the fags, left hand right hand.

I like the mirrored images of the fags, left hand right hand.

But as arresting as those images of the boys from Kentish Town are, they’re nothing compared to this pic of hers of a band hitherto unknown to me, Neat Change

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The listing dates this circa 1967, my first thought was the skinhead look and pose is more likely 1969, but the shoes are all wrong. What they actually look like is late period The Birds, so I’d say 1966.

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45cat lists only one Neat Change 45 , which has a Peter Frampton connection. It’s okay, soft psyche with strings which fits well with their new primped hair. One of the band later helped form Yes (Peter Brockbanks aka Banks). The singer, Jimmy Edwards went on to work with Bruce Foxton after the death of The Jam. Stewart Home gives the lowdown on his career here. I dunno if there are any recordings by the band in their late Mod, proto-skinhead phase ,but I hope they sound like they looked.

Neat Change after a vist to the hairdressers, 1968 (uploaded by freakbeatjames on 45Cat)

Neat Change after a vist to the hairdressers, 1968 (uploaded by freakbeatjames on 45Cat)

Johnny Burnette & the R ’n’ R Trio - Tear It Up

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Johnnie Burnette, Tear It Up (Coral: CP10, 1969)

Forget the mis-spelling of Johnny, this UK album pulls together for the first time 12 of the 13 masters not used on the band’s album from 1956, which was reissued around this time, only ‘Butterfingers’ remained in storage. No great loss there. An utterly essential compilation that is made all the more irresistible by having a line of ton up boys on the front. Photograph is by Sylvia Pitcher.

The audio on Tear It Up is terrific, MONO!!! And makes for a great pairing with Bear Family’s recent pressing of the first album. You need go nowhere else for a copy. 180gms of the purest rockabilly. Their 1989 cd, one of the first I bought, has 28 tracks, all the masters and three alternates. Cool sleeve notes by Colin Escott and shots of Gene Vincent, on tour with the Trio, with his shirt off and leg in cast. . . not a good look.

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Ian Penman on Mean Streets (Sight and Sound)

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A superb essay from Ian Penman, he captures the film better than any other critic and he’s so good on the music.   Sight and Sound  (April 1993)

A superb essay from Ian Penman, he captures the film better than any other critic and he’s so good on the music.

Sight and Sound (April 1993)

Howard Hampton, is pretty good on the film too, just not as fine as Penman.

NEARLY A QUARTER of a century has passed since Martin Scorsese opened Mean Streets (73) with the fated beat of "Be My Baby." The film stands as the most enduring, not to mention thrilling, union of film and rock sensibilities. It's an infinitely seductive vision of a world where human and musical passions are one, the soundtrack elaborating and intensifying the movie's meanings. . . This was the first film to truly integrate rock into its narrative, transforming Kenneth Anger's iconographic abstractions (which bordered on camp) into a new form of heightened, pop-operatic naturalism. Scorsese's images were extensions of - and commentaries on the music. . . . Mean Streets has a funky city-of-night sheen that echoes rock's synthesis of the mythic and the quotidian; it reinvents film in terms of rock as much as the contemporaneous early works of Bruce Springsteen reimagined rock in terms of Kazan, Dean, and Brando, of West Side Story as Scorpio Rising

Howard Hampton, ‘Rock’n’ Roll Movies’ Film Comment 33:2 (1997)