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THIS 30 YEARS AGO THING IS REALLY SCARY

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Later this year will see the 30th Anniversary of the first time that Public Enemy cracked the charts.

30 years. A whole generation has passed since Rebel Without A Pause sneaked in to the singles chart at #37 during an eight-week stay at the end of 1987 and into the early weeks of 1988. It was interesting that their commercial break-through came over here and not at home, but then again, the new-style black rap acts were scaring the shit out of the establishment in their home nation and radio stations (as Chuck D astutely observes) just wouldn’t play them.

I owe my real appreciation of rap to Jacques the Kipper. I did own some of the more poppy side of rap such as the tunes released by Grandmaster Flash and The Sugarhill Gang but I had no real appreciation of Public Enemy, Ice-T, NWA or the likes until JtK started incorporating them into his many compilation tapes. These, the four tracks that make up the 12″ version of that first hit single, are dedicated to him:-

mp3 : Public Enemy – Rebel Without A Pause (vocal mix)
mp3 : Public Enemy – Terminator X Speaks With His Hands
mp3 : Public Enemy – Rebel Without A Pause (instrumental mix)
mp3 : Public Enemy – Sophisticated Bitch

Enjoy, while feeling very old.

SEVEN GO MAD ON AN ISLAND

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Jacques the Kipper had a significant birthday a few days ago….he’s celebrating in style with us….

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Some of us get to an age where we think how best might I mark this musically. Unlike JC, I decided not to work up a long list of singles or albums, thus avoiding not only having to settle on, say, 50 favourites, but having to decide whether more than one from the same artist was allowed and whether offshoot bands counted as the same, was it their best single/album or my favourite, or one that had special memories, etc etc. I reckon there’s also only so much time you’d want to spend reading me drone on about The Clash’s eponymous debut or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Instead, I’ve embarked on something relatively short and snappy that you can take or leave, love or hate. If this was a radio show it’d last about 40 minutes. It’s an entirely original idea and any resemblance to an idea alive or dead is purely coincidental.

Imagine if you will, that my ship, sailing in some random ocean, overloaded with all my music, is about to go down. I spot an island, clearly inhabited by no-one, and as I launch the lifeboat I resolve to save seven long-playing records. Which do I pick?

I very rarely listen to music outwith the current year as there’s so much good new stuff around, but even as the waters lap around my toes, I realise that picking seven current albums probably doesn’t make for such good material as looking deeper into my past. I resolve to grab seven of the albums that mean I can write a few words to explain my choice … and that I’m prepared to listen to again and again obviously. It won’t be my top seven of all time, it won’t be the best seven, but it will help me survive til the good ship Vinyl Villain tracks me down. I suppose also that I could pick one relatively random track from each album, just to give you a flavour and break up the monotony every so often.

And what to call this musical musing? I’m thinking Deserted Island Long Players might be a cool, succinct and snazzy moniker for this venture. But feel free to call it dross.

The first I’ve chosen to save is Marine GirlsBeach Party. There was plenty punk, metal, post-punk or pop that I could have selected to remind me of my youth in a small fishing community, but this probably sums it up as well as anything for me. When some around me were desperately seeking louder, thrashier stuff (although, let’s be honest, most were coveting the latest Billy Joel album), I found this gem. I don’t recall now why or how. Possibly Peel. Possibly just liked the look of the cover (how many albums have I bought over the years for that reason. And then loved).

Anyhow, when the needle hit the record (I’m not pretending I had the cassette), my jaw hit the floor. Bright, breezy and brilliant. This was DIY pop at its very best. Ramshackle recording in a garden shed. And let’s be thankful for that.

Be honest, had a studio been involved, then it would never have sounded this raw, this rough, this frankly shambolic. It is a wonderful thing and surely an inspiration for several bands that followed and feature in JC’s ramblings. Too twee (though I wouldn’t have known the meaning of the word then) and lo-fi for most of my mates of that time, for me it still conjures up memories of school, real life beach parties, cider and vodka ‘cocktails’, girls (who I wanted to impress but all hated this sort of music), and trying to avoid getting my head kicked in.

Happy days.

mp3 : Marine Girls – Times We Used To Spend

Next choice, I’ve selected a double album, Prince’s – Sign O’ The Times. Many who know me will be surprised that Prince slipped under the door into this seven. However, for me it’s a no brainer.

This album must be amongst my most played over the years. I know there’s a dip here and there – ain’t that always the way on a double album; but when it’s good it is astonishingly good. Yup, I have sung and shrieked along to this in the privacy of my home, and I would do much the same on a deserted island. Back in the day, I would play it to get the funk before heading out to see some indie miserables play locally. Indeed, those who shared those evenings in the Northern City’s sweaty pubs and clubs will testify to my wearing of a rather camp Prince t-shirt to the Go Betweens, Nervous Choir, Stump, or whoever, and consequent tutting from the indie cognoscenti.

It’s not all good memories though, this kinda reminds me also of my psycho girlfriend of the time, cos obviously she hated it (is there a pattern developing here?). Which may have explained setting fire to our flat, cutting our phone line, throwing glass tables… Or maybe not.

mp3 : Prince – The Ballad of Dorothy Parker

(I know that Prince won’t actually allow this**, so we’ll just have some Supermoon instead. And, to get into the mood, imagine Neil in purple with a wig.)

mp3 : Supermoon – The Mill (Toad Session)

Third from the wreckage is Public Enemy and Yo! Bum Rush The Show. Still making great music, it is unbelievable now in a world of Jihad and fundamentalism to look back on the headlines that surrounded this lot in their early days. Now Chuck D remains controversial but more in the role of old statesman.

Channel 4 recycled an old song for their London 2012 Paralympic Games coverage and catapulted them back into the charts. However, back in 1987, for those that aren’t old enough to remember, they really were seen as a threat to western society with their links to Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan. But then that was also a time, and not that long ago, when the election of a black President of the US was seen as inconceivable. And perhaps the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s association with Public Enemy and their alleged extremism was a factor in his failure to achieve just that. I’ll dodge the politics for now and revert to the album itself.

Honestly, when I played this for the first time, it was another jaw stretching moment. So much (black) power. Energy. Beats. And they meant it maan. Of course they’ve done better stuff since, of course listening now it doesn’t seem as powerful as it did then. But, in the modern world of social media, of (free) music at every turn, of sampler tracks, of rough recording releases, that moment of hearing an album this good and this (to me) different, for the first time, in full, will never be repeated. Hearing this, indirectly, took my musical direction down a whole new path. I’d always loved what little I knew then of rap and had the odd record from the likes of Schooly D, but this got me hook, line and sinker. To hear and dance to this sort of music locally at the time, the only real option was to go to dance club nights, where they played the odd rap tune. And I did. But, dance music was evolving too and that introduced me to acid house and other beats. And some late nights.

mp3 : Public Enemy – You’re Gonna Get Yours

No worries, I’ve thrown the pills back. And, instead, grabbed Never Got Hip by Foil. I was beyond youth when this came out but it will forever remind me of that period and beyond. The band themselves will despair as I reckon they’d demand I pick their first release. But they won’t be there. Hugh will be though, on lead vocals for much of the album, and there’s a friendly voice that’s followed me through my life. That in itself will remind me of so much, and much of that best not repeated. As well, both children were born by the time this came out and there’s several memories linked to them. It’s an album I still listen to regularly and still thoroughly enjoy.

This is not nepotism – it’s here on merit as well as for the memories. Looking through the tracks, I’m struggling to pick one that I don’t really, really like. I still think, with the right promotion or a bit more luck, this could have been a real success. Just before I leap in the lifeboat I’m chucking a note in a bottle to Vic Galloway reminding him to give them a play again sometime soon.

mp3 : Foil – Claremont Junction Optimist

Enough of the noise, I’ll need some peace and chilling. And who better than Beth Orton and Trailer Park. This is a gorgeous album. When I find myself in times of trouble…..I sit down and listen to this. Just one of the best voices ever. Again, I can listen to every track over and over, again and again.

I am though absolutely horrified to note that this is nearly 20 years old. When did that happen? Asked in the pub for my favourite artists, it’s unlikely that Beth Orton would spring to mind. Yet I own pretty much everything she has released. She’s Ms Reliability for me. There when I need some solace, there when I need to just relax and let the music wash over me. Rather appropriate in this contrived situation in which I’ve found myself. You’ll all think she’s mainstream maudlin. But it’s my sinking ship…

mp3 : Beth Orton – Someone’s Daughter

The sixth long player was a tough one. As JC knows, I do enjoy a bit of politics in my music, but then I picked one of the less obviously political albums by the Beard of Barking – Billy Bragg’s William Bloke. Billy’s music has accompanied so much of my life that I couldn’t not have him and I could have chosen any of his albums. I’ve seen him more times than I can recall with various friends, not all of whom are still here.

I could have dipped in anywhere in his career (except perhaps Mr Love and Justice) and been happy. But this has special memories linked to family, and JC, with whom I enjoyed a spectacularly good night, on a berthed ferry ironically enough, watching Bill tour this. Because it’s a bit soft overall on the old politics, it’s possibly not one that gets a huge amount of love and attention. Despite that it’s one that I return to time and time again. And the warmth of the album as a whole envelopes me whenever I do. Here’s an artist that the woman in my life does like.

mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Space Race Is Over

And then there was the shock of the new. No way was I climbing in that lifeboat without something a bit newer. I can’t conceive of a time when I won’t want to hear new music, even if it does sound “just like the old stuff”.

So I look down and there’s five albums I haven’t had the time to listen to yet – new releases by Sleaford Mods, Public Enemy, Rachel Sermanni and C Duncan, and an album from a couple of months back by Nocturnal Sunshine (Maya Jane Coles in disguise). I’ve seen the first three, own their previous work already, I know broadly how they’ll sound. That leaves the others.

As the waters reach my knees, am I dancing or am I chancing? I plump for C Duncan’s Architect. I know a wee bit about him, and his indie folktronica as I hope no-one’s calling it, but have managed to avoid knowingly hearing him over the last year. It’s a gamble, as I might hate it. But at least I’ll have a frisbee to play with if I do. It’s difficult to choose a track in the circumstances, albeit there’s a couple of potentially suitable punny titles. Instead I’ll leap into the unknown with the positive sounding…

mp3 : C Duncan – He Believes In Miracles

Apparently there’s a bit of other miscellany allowed too. The Bible would probably have to be The Great Indie Discography (albeit magically updated), which JC gifted me a few years back. Hours of fun plotting various groups lack of success.

It appears that everyone who lands on this island finds the near mythical Collected Works of Morrissey in book form. I’m still pondering what to do with it. It might be useful for lighting a fire. Or I could hollow it out into a seat. But I suppose that its greatest value will be that JC is going to do his damnedest to find me if he thinks there could be a limited edition Moz freebie as a reward.

I’m told there’s also some space for a music book of my own choice. For that ideally I’d like to go with Mr Song By Toad’s autobiography as I reckon that’d be a fascinating read with just the wrong amount of swearing. But that isn’t available. And likely never will be. I wouldn’t say no to a compiled version of Deadbeat fanzine either, but that’s cheating. Simon ReynoldsRip it Up and Start Again is tempting if nothing else because there’s a lot of it. But the book that still makes me laugh and cry just thinking about it is The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy Mackenzie by Tom Doyle. So that’s the one.

And my luxury, as an alternative to music, is a football. I tell you what, by the time I’m saved, I’ll be practised and set for my Scotland debut.

If I could only have one album from the seven above, then that really is a tough choice as I could easily make a justification for any of them. But I’ll say Beth, on the basis of a female voice and the likely time I’ll end up chilling in the sun.

Anyone think I’ve overanalysed this……??

Jacques (Aged 50 years and 3 days)

JC adds……

All of the above words are true.  From the psycho girlfriend to the night on the Ferry with both us almost in tears watching and listening to Billy B talking about politics and how literally we should now be ‘doing it for the kids’ to the fact that JtK grew up with Hugh Duggie the main man in Foil and who really had the talent and charisma to have been a rock god but never quite got the breaks.

I got to know JtK some 25 years ago and within weeks of our first meeting he was having to defend me rigorously and vigorously when I was in danger becoming public enemy #1 in our workplace over the fact I had fallen in love with someone new…I’ve never really thanked him for that in public cos we’re blokes and blokes don’t do that sort of thing…

I’m lucky to have such a great mate and what a bonus that he has such great taste in music.

Oh and thanks for making me smile yet again with the Billy Joel reference (sorry dear readers, it’s a great wee private joke!)

Belated happy birthday amigo.

** re Prince – let’s see how long it lasts before a dmca notice forces it away………..