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A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (20)

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MONDAY 28 APRIL 2008

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(The songs today were part of a recent ICA, so feel free to skip on past and come back tomorrow for the next single by The Clash…..)

The Police were the first band I ever saw play live, back at the Glasgow Apollo in May 1979. £2 a ticket, and they were supported by two other acts – Bobby Henry and The Cramps. Yup, the psychobilly nutters led by Lux Interior who did get his knob out on stage that evening. It certainly made Andy Summers‘ act of bringing on a blow-up doll to serenade during a rendition of Be My Girl/Sally look rather tame.

The fact that the band became the biggest act on the planet for a brief time in the early 80s, as well as Sting becoming the most self-righteous and pompous prick imaginable makes it all too easy to mock The Police. But as a 15 year-old lad, I thought they were as good as anything else that was emerging from the post-punk era that had been christened New Wave.

Not too many other bands were singing about prostitutes in 1979. These were the days when even the use of the word ‘damn’ was liable to get your song banned from the airwaves. The Police were actually regarded as a group that was a bit daring, cutting edge and subversive. You’ll have to trust me on that for I know its almost impossible to imagine.

But Roxanne wasn’t the first song that I ever heard by The Police. My first sighting of the band was in fact on The Old Grey Whistle Test in late 1978. They played two tracks that night, including what was their current single. A couple of days later I picked it up in the local record shop. The thing that I most remember was the sleeve – a picture of someone (turns out it was drummer Stewart Copeland) slowly hanging themselves by putting the noose around their neck and standing on a block of ice that was melted away by a three-bar electric fire. The back of the sleeve was a close-up photo of the ice block having melted…..and beside it was the photo that had been held by the hanging man.

I honestly had some nightmares about that sleeve. Is this what you were driven to when someone chucked you and broke your heart?? Surely not…(and it’s just occurred to me that perhaps a certain Ian Curtis might have glimpsed this sleeve at some point or other….)

But aside from the sleeve, it was a record that I played constantly hour-after-hour and day-after-day. I hadn’t been exposed to all the much reggae, so the song had a beat and rhythm that I thought was really unusual. I also loved the sound of Sting’s voice – it was so much sharper, clearer and tuneful than most other singers fronting new-wave bands. I was gutted when I realised the single wasn’t going to chart (it only made #42 on its first release):-

mp3 : The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You
mp3 : The Police – Dead End Job

The Police were one of a handful of bands that I was championing at school, but it was initially very difficult to get too many people interested. Then, all of a sudden, Sting began to get a lot of attention thanks to him having a main part in the movie Quadrophenia, and interest in his band exploded. Including from lots of folk in school. I think about 7 or 8 of us ended up going along to the Apollo gig – the tickets were unreserved seating so it didn’t matter when you bought them.

They say you never forget your first time, and that a small part of it lives with you forever. I’m no different…..and although I’ve been left embarrassed by an awful lot of the stuff that came out after the initial singles, I’ll never forget the part The Police played in developing my life-long love and affection for music and live gigs.

Sneer all you like. But this record deserves its place in the Top 20.

 

READ IT IN BOOKS – STEWART COPELAND

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I found this old review in the files from the old blog. I thought it would make a good follow-up to yesterday’s post (without knowing what sort of feedback that was going to get…)

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Strange Things Happen : A Life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies is a hugely enjoyable and unusual rock autobiography.

The dust jacket states the facts. Over 50 million records sold. 5 Grammy Awards. 2 Brits. Members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Police were the biggest band in the world.

But what came before? What came afterwards? And what happened when, 23 years on, the band members reformed for one final tour? Stewart Copeland answers all these questions and more.

The book is a really easy read, not least for the fact that its 313 pages of narrative are spread over 43 chapters and one afterword, not one of which is more than 13 pages long – and even then, that particular chapter deals with the teenage years. The story of The Police from 1976-1984 are given the briefest of mentions in as far as it is told over a measly 11 pages. It is quite clear that their drummer considers what has happened in his life since to be of far more significance and far more interest to the casual reader.

Whether he’s composing operas, being part of an Italian twenty-piece orchestra, shooting movies in Africa, playing with some new rock stars who look upon him as a legend, taking part as a judge in a TV show or playing polo with the next King of England, the author does so with a sense of adventure and fun. He’s got enough fame and fortune to seemingly not worry about a single thing, and is therefore able to lead a full and hugely diverse life that takes him to places and puts him into situations which are often almost a state of self-parody.

But Copeland never ever leaves the reader feeling that he is boastful about anything. Far from it. His style of writing is often self-deprecating – one example being his realising that now he is no longer a high-profile pop star, there is very little in his everyday wardrobe that he can safely wear without looking or feeling ridiculous. And the tales he tells about his stint as a judge on Series One of the BBC show Just The Two Of Us which aired in February/March 2006 are enlightening in terms of the manipulation that goes on behind the scenes to make entertainment out of a mediocre show.

The final third of the book however, is when it really does come into its own as a rock memoir which is a cut above most, as it deals with the period from February 2007 when The Police get together and go on an ever-extending world tour that was seen by over 3 million fans. He doesn’t hide from the fact that for a while it was fun and enjoyable, but all too quickly the novelty wore off and it was just a job that had to be done. His description of some of the Stingo (his word) temper tantrums and pursuit for on-stage perfection are a real joy.

There are tales of missed cues, bum notes, vocal mishaps, near fights breaking out on stage……..despite which every gig was lapped up by an always-adoring audience of tens of thousands, no matter the city.

And then there’s the day that Stewart hung out with the boys from Rage Against The Machine. I won’t spoil it by revealing the outcome, but it shows up a fantastic and different side to the angry young men who spoiled Simon Cowell’s Christmas a few years back.

An articulate and funny man has written an articulate and funny book that is well worth investing in.

mp3 : The Police – Truth Hits Everybody
mp3 : Klark Kent – Don’t Care
mp3 : The Police – On Any Other Day

Enjoy

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #59 : THE POLICE

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This is one that I’ve been giving some thought to for a few months as I know that putting the spotlight on The Police and attempting to justify them having an ICA will appal rather be of any appeal to most readers. But given that this was the first headline band for whom I ever bought a concert ticket (May 1979 – Glasgow Apollo) and that I’ve included one of their 45s in my list of my favourite ever singles it would be ludicrous not to make this effort.

There’s no doubt that the rapid growth in popularity of the band which saw them transform from post-punk new-wave wannabees into stadium rockers in the blink of an eye had a lot to do with how they have come to be acknowledged or otherwise by music fans of my generation. It is also nigh-on impossible nowadays to separate any feelings for the bland outpourings, musically and otherwise, of Sting over the past 30-plus years from much of the music that he and his two mates made when they were initially together between August 1977 and March 1984 (the dates of their first and last gigs as a trio). Having said that, they were a band who, for this fan, really came to represent the law of diminishing marginal returns in terms of quality – the bigger they got in terms of mainstream fans, the more bland the music they made; conversely, the more bland the music they made, the more units they shifted and the more money they made.

They were, for a while the biggest band on the planet. Five of their six studio LPs went to #1 in the UK and Australia. Their two final albums have picked up 11 platinum discs in the USA and it is estimated they have sold 75 million records the world over. And their final number one saw them deliver one of the most instantly recognisable pop singles of all time – albeit I cannot bring myself to include it in this ICA which unsurprisingly focuses very much on the earliest material.

SIDE A

1. Can’t Stand Losing You

The song that made me fall for the band, courtesy of seeing it performed live on the Old Grey Whistle Test in late 1978. Housed in one of the greatest single sleeves of all time, it limped to #42 on its initial release but reached #2 ten months later on its re-issue, kept off the top spot by I Don’t Like Mondays, the ode to mass shootings as recorded by The Boomtown Rats. Three minutes of pop magic with that hint of a reggae that was prevalent in many of the early singles and which seemed to offer something a little bit different; a jaunty tune over the black tale of a teenage suicide after being unable to cope with being chucked.

2. Dead End Job

I’m not going to make any grandiose claim that this is among the best the songs by the band but I feel it fits in really well at this early stage of the ICA. The b-side to ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ is just a bit of new-wave noise that was partly reliant on a riff developed by the drummer but it demonstrates that the initial output of the band wasn’t that different from many of their contemporaries other than they clearly had a very talented guitarist (who was of course more than a decade older and experienced than most other new wave axemen).

3. Message In A Bottle

The band’s first UK #1 single and the proof that they were about to really make it big. There shouldn’t be too much argument that this is a tremendous bit of pop music however you look at it. It is driven along by a cracking riff and it also gives space to demonstrate that the rhythm section are quite talented. Bought on green vinyl by me on the day of its release in September 1979, the 7” take isn’t widely available as the album and all subsequent CD releases of greatest hits etc. have offered up the longer version in which ‘sending out an SOS’ goes on for just a wee bit too long.

4. Next To You (live)

The opening song on the band’s debut album was always one of their most popular; Sting would include it within his solo sets while it has also been given the cover version treatment by a number of other acts including Foo Fighters. It is that unusual beast from the new wave era – an unashamed love song. Such was my desire to get everything by the band baack in the days that I bought an import LP called Propaganda in late 1979 as it contained two live tracks recorded earlier in the year at the Bottom Line club in New York. Next To You was the second of those tracks and quickly established itself as my favoured version.

5. Roxanne

The breakthrough hit. It is worth recalling that this had been a huge flop in the UK in April 1978 when released as the band’s debut as much for the fact that our notoriously conservative radio stations would naturally shy away from airing any songs that were about sex never mind one that was so openly about using the services of a prostitute. It was only after the 45 became a hit in the US and Canada in Spring 1979 (hitting the Top 40 around the time the band were captured for the above mentioned Propaganda LP) that the UK stations decided to get behind the band and this led to A&M Records quickly re-releasing Roxanne to enjoy an eight-week residency in the Top 40. The red light that had stopped the band going anywhere had now totally changed colour….

SIDE B

1. Fall Out

The flop debut single from May 1977 recorded and released before Andy Summers was part of the band. It is also the only 45 not written by Sting. The band have been very self-deprecating about it and in many ways disowned it quite early on with the admission that it was recorded before they had done any live performances and that original guitarist Henry Padovani was so nervous about it all that he only played the guitar solo with Stewart Copeland (who had written the track) playing the other guitar parts as well as the drums.

It came out on the small label Illegal Records who took advantage of the band’s higher profile and re-released it in late 1979 where is sold enough copies to hit the Top 50 here in the UK at which time Stewart Copeland said the original release (which can fetch up to around £40-£50 if it is in mint condition) had sold “Purely on the strength of the cover, because of the fashion at the time. Punk was in and it was one of the first punk records – and there weren’t very many to choose from. “

It’s actually not all that bad if viewed as a punk record. It certainly gave no indication however, that the band would be all that special.

2. Invisible Sun

The one time where the trio courted controversy. By late 1981, they were one of the most popular bands in the world despite each of their three albums suffering from ever decreasing quality. They were popular not just because they had shown an ability to make catchy and radio-friendly pop songs but for the fact that their clean living, trouble-free approach to the job in hand, including playing the game of co-operating to the fullest extent with the media, made them a band that was appreciated by folk of all ages. For every snobby review that emanated from the pen of a music critic you could point to twenty or more sycophantic profiles in the pages of newspapers and magazines while broadcasters were falling over themselves to get the handsome and rugged frontman onto their stations.

So the release of a mournful sounding anti-war number, whose video never stood a chance of being aired in the UK thanks to it consisting solely of footage taken from news stories that dealt with the civil war underway in Northern Ireland, was a shock to the system. They didn’t have to do this and indeed a backlash could have set them back in the UK – but the fact that the single reached #2 (kept off the top spot by Adam Ant being Prince Charming) was proof that pop music could be effective in getting across a social and political message. Band Aid was just four years down the line…

3. The Bed’s Too Big Without You

I struggled to understand those who criticised the band for their efforts to deliver a blend of pop and reggae, particularly those whose gripes seem to be centred around ‘white men haven’t got the natural rhythm to make reggae’. The thing is, the music industry played along with the notion and were very happy to pigeon-hole singers and bands in ways that defined the sort of music listeners should expect from white musicians and what should be written, recorded and performed by black musicians – particularly in the 80s.

Sting and his mates absorbed a lot of influences – it’s worth remembering that prior to post-punk/new wave both of Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland had been in bands who encompassed R&B, psychedelia and prog – and therefore they could play a bit. If you want evidence, have a listen to this album track from 1979 , particularly the middle section where the vocals stop.

4. Voices Inside My Head

Here’s the problem I knew I was going to hit with this ICA. Eight songs in and I’m not convinced that there’s another two songs out there to complete the task in hand. Bu hey, every one of the band’s five albums had filler going back to the debut which in Be My Girl/Sally included a spoken word number about blow-up dolls (and on that tour ‘Sally’ would be brought on stage while Andy Summers did his free-form poetry. John Cooper Clarke it most certainly wasn’t!!)

This track from 1980s’s Zenyatta Mondatta has just two often repeated lines over an increasingly aggressive and catchy beat that turns into the ‘cha’ chant that would layer be taken up with great gusto by Stuart Adamson in the early songs of Big Country (see Fields Of Fire….or even better catch live footage of that band on you tune from hose days and you’ll catch what I’m on about).

Voices Inside My Head was a song that came to life in the live setting, often stretching out well beyond its standard four minutes, and seems to be a good fit at this point in the ICA.

5. Peanuts

This stood out as strange even back in the days The Police were searching for the formula that would take them to the top. It’s frantically fast with a ridiculously punky guitar solo (see also Landlord, the b-side to Message in A Bottle which was a candidate for this part of the ICA) but has the bonus of a twisted and strange sax part and a crazy chant of the song title seemingly coming out of nowhere after a lyric that was attacking pop stars who were not only living life to the full but making a career of singing songs about said lifestyle. It was seemingly aimed at Rod Stewart who had been one of Sting’s idols just a few years earlier….

I do love how the song comes to a spluttering and tired sounding end. Seems an appropriate way to close off this particular an ICA which I’m not myself completely convinced is worthy of inclusion in this what I think is proving a great series (thanks in the main to the guest contributors) but without whom etc……

mp3 : The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You
mp3 : The Police – Dead End Job
mp3 : The Police – Message In A Bottle
mp3 : The Police – Next To You (live)
mp3 : The Police – Roxanne
mp3 : The Police – Fall Out
mp3 : The Police – Invisible Sun
mp3 : The Police – The Bed’s Too Big Without You
mp3 : The Police – Voices Inside My Head
mp3 : The Police – Peanuts

Enjoy.

Only 48 hours till the next ICA…..it’s a guest posting from an old friend.

REMEMBERING MY FIRST EVER GIG

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The Robster has been putting up some great stuff over at Is This The Life? including a great tale of his first ever gig which happened to be The Wedding Present.

I’ve mentioned a few times that my own first live concert was in May 1979 at the Glasgow Apollo.  The headline act was The Police and support came from both Bobby Henry and The Cramps.  It was a chaotic night in loads of ways.  The tickets, costing £2.50 in advance or £2 on the door, had gone on sale a few months earlier but such was the lack of interest in any of the bands that the promoters and venue management decided to close off all areas except the stalls. Nobody however, would anticipate that The Police would storm the charts shortly beforehand with a re-released Roxanne and be tipped by many as the ‘next big thing’, which led to a huge demand for tickets. I think it was 48 hours in advance of the gig that the circle and upper circle tickets went on sale and soon it was a total sell-out.

The problem for the venue was that all tickets were for unreserved seating and they just weren’t geared up for that…also the fact that groups of friends were coming along and demanding that they be allowed to sit together even when their tickets were for separate parts of the building (I can vouch for this from personal experience).  The upshot was that the stalls filled up very early while  those who had tickets for that area (ie had bought them ages in advance) were angry at finding themselves shunted to the nosebleed seats high up in the gods (which was a ridiculously long way up at the Glasgow Apollo).

I can’t remember much of Bobby Henry who, gawd bless, will always be the first live musician I had the privilege of seeing.  The Cramps were chaotic and confrontational and didn’t go down too well with the majority of the audience. Lux Interior didn’t help things by constantly challenging folk to invade the stage and fight with him – which was a near impossibility as the stage was a good 30 feet above the font of the stalls but was reachable if you were crazy enough to jump down 20 feet from the circle area – so instead the front man got his cock out while singing Human Fly.

The whole place was at fever pitch by the time the main act came on stage.   They opened with a song that I would later place at #20 in my 2008 45 45s at 45 series:-

mp3 : The Police – Can’t Stand Losing You

The fact that the band became the biggest act on the planet for a brief time in the early 80s, as well as Sting becoming the most self-righteous and pompous prick imaginable makes it all too easy to mock The Police. But as a 15 year-old lad, I thought they were as good as anything else that was emerging from the post-punk era that had been christened New Wave which is why I’m proud that they were my first headline act.

Not too many other bands were singing about prostitutes in 1979. These were the days when even the use of the word ‘damn’ was liable to get your song banned from the airwaves. The Police were actually regarded as a group that was a bit daring, cutting edge and subversive. You’ll have to trust me on that for I know it’s almost impossible to imagine.

I’d bought Can’t Stand Losing You a few months earlier after seeing the band play it live on The Old Grey Whistle Test.  I hid the record away from my folks cos I thought they would go crazy about the sleeve.  Pictured at the head of this post you can see it is an image of someone (turns out it was drummer Stewart Copeland) slowly hanging themselves by putting the noose around their neck and standing on a block of ice that was melted away by a three-bar electric fire. The back of the sleeve was a close-up photo of the ice block having melted…..and beside it was the photo that had been held by the hanging man.

I honestly had some nightmares about that sleeve. Is this what you were driven to when someone chucked you and broke your heart?? Surely not…(and it has since occurred to me that perhaps a certain Ian Curtis might have glimpsed this sleeve at some point or other….)

But aside from the sleeve, it was a record that I played constantly hour-after-hour and day-after-day. I hadn’t been exposed to all the much reggae, so the song had a beat and rhythm that I thought was really unusual. I also loved the sound of Sting’s voice – it was so much sharper, clearer and tuneful than most other singers fronting new-wave bands. I was gutted when I realised the single wasn’t going to chart (it only made #42 on its first release) but it made up for it when it was re-released in the summer of 1979 and reached #2.

They say you never forget your first time, and that a small part of it lives with you forever. I’m no different…..and although I’ve been left embarrassed by an awful lot of the stuff that came out after the initial singles, I’ll never forget the part The Police played in developing my life-long love and affection for music and live gigs.

Here’s the b-side

mp3 : The Police – Dead End Job

Enjoy.