Tuesday 19 November 2019

Blondie versus Ramones

More specifically, 'Parallel Lines' vs 'Road To Ruin'

Both CBGBs alumni, both recorded in New York in early spring/Summer, and both released (within a few days of each other) in September 1978.
For one group it was to be the commercial breakthrough (certainly in the UK), for the other it was to be a consolidation of their (relatively) cult success.

Musically, both of these fall into the "Punk-Pop" bracket - Blondie being heavier on the "Pop", Ramones ploughing the "Punk" furrow

Both have new members in their line-ups for 1978.
Frank Infante, who had been on a hired-hand on Bass duties for "Plastic Letters" is now a full-time member (switching to Rhythm Guitar) and Nigel Harrison joining on Bass.
For the Ramones, Tommy retreated from the drum stool to be full-time producer, and was replaced by Marky (late of Richard Hell & The Voidoids - another band graduating from CBGBs).

'Parallel Lines' is the point where the world changed for Blondie - they managed to hit the top 10 is most regions (including number 1 in the UK) and spawned 3 Top 10 Singles (including 2 number ones"Sunday Girl" and "Heart Of Glass").  The Ramones manged to creep into the Top 40 albums, and only one of the three singles extracted ("Don't Come Close") managed to crawl into the lower reaches of the chart.

If I'm honest, 'Parallel Lines' is the best thing Blondie ever did, and 'Road To Ruin' is not the strongest of Ramones albums - a one-sided contest with an obvious winner?  We shall see ...

There are 12 tracks on each album, so no re-jigging or adding singles, demos, outtakes etc required (all I've done is switch a couple of tracks to line-up the cover versions)

"Hanging on the Telephone" vs "I Just Want to Have Something to Do"
Both great opening tracks - no "easing in", it's "Bang!" and we're off.
The point has to go to Blondie because of the added urgency in their track
Blondie 1 Ramones 0

"One Way or Another" vs "I Wanted Everything"
"One Way Or Another" is massively repetitive, but will stick in your ears for a good while.  Hardly surpirsing that latterly it was used on TV adverts, and boy band cover version.
Ramones may have wanted everything, and it comes roaring out of traps, but this is another point for Blondie
Blondie 2 Ramones 0

"Picture This" vs "Don't Come Close"
The first single to be released from 'Parallel Lines' and nestled into the Top 10 - a sign of things to come.
But this is one the finest songs in the Ramones catalogue, and no matter how sultry Debbie Harry looks in the video, it's one back for the Ramones
Blondie 2 Ramones 1

"Fade Away and Radiate" vs "I Don't Want You"
"Fade Away ..." slows things down.  "I Don't Want You" doesn't - it's not quite as breakneck as other tracks, and does have a massive chorus.  Unfortunately, it never really lifts to another level.
Despite that, on the strength of the (very simple) chorus, it's the equaliser
Blondie 2 Ramones 2

"Pretty Baby" vs  "Bad Brain"
("Bad Brain" is really the penultimate track, but I have re-jigged it here to line up the two cover versions)
"Pretty Baby" is no slouch, but "Bad Brain" is classic Ramones - full on 100MPH and no let-up.
Ramones sneak the lead
Blondie 2 Ramones 3

"I Know But I Don't Know" vs "I'm Against It"
"I Know But I Don't Know" is Frank Infante's first (and only) solo composition for Blondie.  In some ways, it doesn't truly fit on the album.
"I'm Against It" is a list of stuff Joey doesn't like bolted to an archetypal Ramones thrash.  It also includes a common lyrical trope, mixing childlike references, politics and American culture
"I don't like playing ping pong,
I don't like the Viet Cong,
I don't like Burger King,
I don't like anything"
But despite all that, I think (and this is going to sound perverse as I said it doesn't feel like it fits), "I Know ..." takes the point.  It's case is also helped by having a whiff of The Pixies about it - I wonder if Black Francis had a copy of this album?
Blondie 3 Ramones 3

"11:59" vs "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Whilst "11:59" is a really strong (if relatively un-hrealded) Blondie track, "Sedated" is in the top 5 essential Ramones tracks (alongisde "Blitzkrieg Bop", "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker", "Rockaway Beach" and "Something To Believe In").  No question where the point goes this time round
Blondie 3 Ramones 4

"Will Anything Happen?" vs "Go Mental"
"Will Anything Happen" is another Jack Lee song (the writer of "Hanging On The Telephone"), and is almost as pummeling and relentless as a fair few Ramones tracks - prime Power-Pop.
"Go Mental" is an apt title for the musical pallette on offer, but - and it pains me to say this - if your looking for light and shade on the Ramones album you won't find it, and "Go Mental" just doesn't do enough to lift itslef above "standard"
Blondie 4 Ramones 4

"Sunday Girl" vs "Questioningly"
"Sunday Girl" is pure pop, and one track that never seems to fade by over-familiarity.
"Questioningly" is the hoped for light and shade spoken of previously.
But against "Sunday Girl" it's not going to cut it
Blondie 5 Ramones 4

"Heart of Glass" vs "She's the One"
You have to admire the sheer balls to bung a disco track into the middle of a Power-Pop album, and extra points for the "build from the bottom up" technical exercise involved.
"She's The One" is an exceedingly competent track, and one that is even better live, but "Heart Of Glass " takes it, and creates a bit of daylight in the scores.
Blondie 6 Ramones 4

"I'm Gonna Love You Too" vs "Needles and Pins"
And so the battle of the cover versions (in this case Buddy Holly versus The Searchers).
The Blondie cover is faithful to the original, if revved up (and all the better for it).
A cover of a Searchers track may seem an odd choice for the Ramones, but I'm guessing they were probably more conversant with the Jackie De Shannon version.  The arrangement and delivery wins it for the Ramones - they've never sounded so jangly.
Blondie 6 Ramones 5

"Just Go Away" vs "It's a Long Way Back"
The best the Ramones can hope for now is a draw.  Unfortunately "It's A Long Way Back" does not sound like an album closer - it's just a bit laboured.  Proper fodder for the middle of the album, but not the final track.  In truth, it's not a million miles away from a Flamin' Groovies track (the distinctive Joey Ramone vocal has never sounded so close to the Groovies).
"Just Go Away" on the other hand rounds off 'Parallel Lines' in fine style.  And the backing vocals always raise a smile.  It also has a proper ending courtesy of Clem Burke's drum roll.  "It's A Long Way Back" just sort of crawls to and ending and then stops.

Blondie 7 Ramones 5

Closer than I thought ...

In my ears, the toughest match-up (unfortunately for Blondie) on the albums


I Wanna Be Sedated

Monday 11 November 2019

Never Mind The Bollocks versus The Clash

Take two contemporary albums - both cornerstones of a genre, and both superb slabs of debut albumage, and compare/contrast on a track-by-track basis.
Who wins?

The Clash debut is from April 1977, and was the first 33.3 RPM outing for CBS - the single "White Riot" came a month before, and the "Capital Radio" EP (featuring 4 songs not on the album, or (in truth) 1 song, a brief excerpt of a track and a 2 part interview) appeared at the same time.
The album was modified for release in the US with 4 tracks knocked out and replaced by "Complete Control", "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais", "Clash City Rockers", "Jail Guitar Doors" and "I Fought The Law" were added - can't improve on perfection?  The US version very nearly does.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' was the long awaited Sex Pistols debut arriving in October 1977.  It contained all 4 singles to date and 8 other prime cuts.
The band themselves were nearing breaking point - Glen Matlock (the bass player) had been sacked to be replaced by Sid Vicious (not the bass player), and there was very little mileage left.  Indeed by January 1978, John Lydon had left and there were only to be 8 more original songs would be added to the catalogue (plus a few more cover versions).

A note on production: The Clash debut was produced by their sound man Mickey Foote, whilst the Pistols secured the services of Chris Thomas (previous work including production for Roxy Music, mixing of Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and (un-credited) Production Assistant duties on The Beatles' 'White Album').
Whilst 'The Clash' can sometimes sound sparse, almost amateur-ish, 'Never Mind The Bollocks' is at the other end of the spectrum almost sounding claustrophobic with mutliple guitars layered over each other.

'Never Mind The Bollocks' only has 12 tracks, 'The Clash' has 14 – so with a little bit of re-jigging (ie adding a couple of B-Sides), let battle commence:

"Holidays in the Sun" vs "Janie Jones"
Every album needs a strong opener, and the sound of marching jack boots broken by a near copy of The Jam’s In The City riff fits the bill.  But Janie Jones is one of those damn near perfect “Album 1 Side 1 Track 1” moments.

Sex Pistols 0 The Clash 1

"Bodies" vs "Remote Control"
"Bodies" continues the NMTB onslaught with one of their finest riffs, a mad story and some choice sweary bits.
"Remote Control" is not one of The Clash’s strongest, and an odd choice for a single.  You can see why they were annoyed with CBS (on the plus side, it did give the world “Complete Control”)

Sex Pistols 1 The Clash 1

"No Feelings" vs "I'm So Bored with the USA"
"I'm So Bored with the USA" is a great track but just cannot compete with the riffing and sneering of "No Feelings".  The Pistols take the lead

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 1

"Liar" vs "White Riot"
A bit of a one sided match-up here – 2 minutes of righteous fury and a seeming call to arms versus one of the weaker Pistols tracks.  "White Riot" probably deserves 2 points here, but it’s the equaliser anyway.

Sex Pistols 2 The Clash 2

"God Save the Queen" vs "Hate and War"
Another uneven match – despite all the familiarity, controversy, hoo-hah etc, "God Save The Queen" is one phenomenal track

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 2

"Problems" vs "What's My Name"
Both competent, although "What’s My Name" just edges it in my ears.  I’m tempted to award half a point each, but the incessant stating of “Problems” on the play-out just gets on my wick (why can’t they just finish it on a nice piano flourish, or an explosion, or something else?)

Sex Pistols 3 The Clash 3

"Seventeen" vs "Deny"
Nothing on The Clash debut could be classed as “filler”, but "Deny" is (for me) on of the lesser tracks.  "Seventeen" scores the point (and not just because it could be my theme song – I am a lazy sod)

Sex Pistols 4 The Clash 3

"Anarchy in the UK" vs "London's Burning"
The most even match of the contest, and similar sentiments in both - now is the time for a change.
"Anarchy" wins, no "London’s Burning" wins, no "Anarchy", no "London's Burning".  Can’t split them. They’re both as urgent and exasperated as each other.  Half points each.

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 3.5

"Submission" vs "Career Opportunities"
"Submission" always sound a bit laboured, whilst "Career Opportunities" is constantly on the money – urgent, direct, not outstaying it’s welcome.  (And not even the Sandinsta version with Micky Gallagher’s kids singing does not sully it)

Sex Pistols 4.5 The Clash 4.5

"Pretty Vacant" vs "Cheat"
Nip and tuck all the way so far, and a score back for the Pistols again.  Why?  Because this is Pretty Vacant.  OK, this might be a trick of production, but I doubt a slickly produced version of "Cheat"(with Topper’s drums on it) would beat "Pretty Vacant".

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 4.5

"New York" vs "Protex Blue"
"New York" is a veiled attack on Malcolm McLaren, "Protex Blue" is a song about buying rubber johnnies.  For that reason, it wins.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 5.5

"No Fun" (B-Side of "Pretty Vacant") vs "Police & Thieves"
The cover version moment:
"No Fun" is straight out of the rehearsal room, "Police & Thieves" shows more ambition in it’s choice and execution.

Sex Pistols 5.5 The Clash 6.5

"Satellite" (B-Side of "Holidays in the Sun") vs "48 Hours"
"Satellite" should’ve been on '... Bollocks' (at the expense of "Problems", "Liar" or "New York" in my opinion).  The song is one of the best in the Pistols canon – "48 Hours" just can’t compete

Sex Pistols 6.5 The Clash 6.5

"EMI" vs "Garageland"
Ooo – a decider (and not a contrived one – honest)
"EMI" tells the story of the Sex Pistols time at the titular record label, "Garageland" is an answer to Charles Shaar Murray who said "The Clash are the kind of garage band who should be returned to the garage immediately".
Both songs of overcoming adversity – but only one ends with a raspberry blown in the general direction of their detractors.  And for this childish but amusing finale, "EMI" wins through.

Sex Pistols 7.5 The Clash 6.5

'Never Mind The Bollocks' wins - just!

Friday 1 November 2019

Richard Dawson - 2020

Wikipedia tells me this is Richard Dawson's 7th album - which means I may need to go to Spotify and do a bit of catching up.
On the other side of this, it means I have no pre-conceived conceptions about this offering - and if the back catalogue is as good as this, then I'll be a happy bunny.

Phew!  This is some special thing - a right old mash up of folk-esque story telling, indie grungeiness, a bit of prog-ish-ness - the introduction to "Black Triangle" could be straight out of the ELP songbook - , all bolted to a sometime Trumpton-ish tune coupled with some seriously hummable melodies.  The voice veers between Northumbrian brogue, measured baritone and pained falsetto (with a couple of Ronnie James Dio-like screechy moments).

The songs themselves are basically sung in a spoken word like narrative - there is no attempt at a poetic turn of phrase or a levering in of a rhyming couplet.  The instrumentation is relatively stripped back and simple, but can (and often does) explode into louder moments.
Dawson is addressing the minutae, and sometimes absurdity, of everyday life - "we're hurrying home from Sheffield, having received a phone call" begins one song ("The Queens Head") - and using the words that best convey the story he is trying to tell, and paints a vivid picture into the bargain
Imagine a meeting between Neil Hannon, Captain Beefheart and Ken Loach - that's a pretty close comparison of the experience.
And like those artists, the more time you invest you suddenly get an "Ah, that's what it's all about" moment
(OK, The Divine Comedy is bit more direct, and Captain Beefheart it might take a little longer)

There are a couple of moments when the songs sound like a descent into madness - notably on "Civil Servant" and "Fulfillment Centre", and considering the drudgery of the song subject it just fits the story.

The song construct, singing narrative, and subject matter just seem to "fit" - and then the detail and/or explanation of the mundane in the lyrics just provides another focus.
There is a certain comfort in some of the lyrical references that makes the stories told seem more real.  And because of that certain familiarity, you almost walk away thinking that Richard Dawson's world is not such a skewed view on the world

Civil Servant


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