Punk

‘If I Could Only Be Sure’/’Keep On Keepin’ On’ Nolan Porter (Nolan, ABC Records, 1972) plus P. Weller & Joy Division

This is such a distinctive sound, few other songs resemble it, even earlier Soul/R&B releases that are defined by their innocent musicianship a lot of the time and a kind of straight from the heart directness lack its essential grace.

Most notable is the guitar-line; this is what first attracted Paul Weller who covered the song on his 2004 album Studio 154 (and helped in the revival of Porter’s career in the UK/Europe from the ‘90s on).  Here are Nolan Porter’s comments on how Weller first fell for the song from a 2014 interview with Michael Grieg Thomas published at The ‘45s Club, focussing in on this:  

MT: Do you remember what kind of guitar it was recorded on?

Nolan Porter: I don’t remember the type of guitar, but I remember the guitar flair. You might know. That was Johnny “Guitar” Watson. That’s probably what got Paul Weller about the song more, was that guitar lick. And that’s Johnny singing with me on the background in some parts. He was really, Johnny Guitar Watson was something else, he spent the last few years of his life in England. He’s got one of his last few CDs he writes about is very cool. I remember he was one of the best R&B guitar players. I used to see him at the blues club a couple times in LA before I even met him and he was just so multi-talented. Him and Frank Zappa became really tight friends at the end, in the last few years of Frank’s life. And he recorded Johnny on a few tunes and it’s just wild. He was with Lizard Records for awhile and he liked Gabriel Mekler a lot.

If you compare Porter’s original first released as a single and then as part of his Nolan record, and Weller’s cover decades on you can see why the former is so unexpected, so lyrical. Weller takes a classic rock approach, a full-band sound with all the instruments at once, his voice too is more urgent, demanding, potentially angry, definitely frustrated. In contrast, Porter’s arrangement is subtle, allowing his voice to dominate over the guitar, drums/bass. The simplicity and cool of it makes it so powerful; it operates as a gentle entreaty. Porter’s delivery also works because of its understatement; there’s no shrieking, or plaintive wails just a few very cool ad-libs every now and again. The music, the voice and the arrangement operate as one, as a model of restraint.

Lyrically, too, it’s interesting for its plain language and repetition, and then the curious inversion intended to represent the depth of his dedication: ‘I'd turn my world upside down/I'd turn my smile all into frowns/I'd do anything at all/ If you'd only let me love you baby/Let me, let me love you baby …’

Porter is also known for the song ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ …

The song went on to inspire Joy Division’s ‘Interzone’ from Unknown Pleasures, with the 1979 song borrowing the original Porter riff (apparently the latter song came about after the band was trying to learn the Nolan song).    

To give the final words to Porter, from the same 2014 interview quoted above:

MT: So we have some questions from the fanpage: What keeps on keepin’ you on?

Nolan Porter: It’s primarily the love of music, I would say that. Also, I don’t think in terms of age so much, when you have some something that you love and that you desire that you should try to develop a passion for, you’ll keep working, you’ll keep going if you have a passion. If you don’t have a passion for it, you’re not going to keep moving on. I love these old songs. They’re kinda like my children. They were never dead to me in my heart, in my creative heart. But I didn’t know that halfway across the world that they were alive, that people were digging on them. I know it sounds a little strange but I have a personal feeling for each one of those songs. So that; and the love of old music, the love of interaction with people, like yourself, the opportunity to do music with different people, that all keeps me going. 

‘City slang’ Sonic's Rendezvous Band – stereo/mono (single, 1978)

Sonic's Rendezvous Band (or SRB) was an American rock and roll band from Ann Arbor, Michigan in the 1970s, featuring veterans of the 1960s Detroit rock scene. Sonic's Rendezvous Band came from the ashes of four Michigan rock bands:

Fred "Sonic" Smith, formerly of the MC5
Scott Morgan, formerly of the Rationals, a soul-influenced Detroit band of the 1960s
Gary Rasmussen, formerly of The Up
Scott Asheton, formerly of The Stooges.

They remained virtually unknown, but their one and only single retained high interest among fans of Detroit rock. The band had had only enough money to mix one song, "City Slang", so it was pressed on both sides of the single. One side was labeled mono and one side stereo although both sides were identical.

(notes from below the video)

Stereo:

Mono:

(love the ‘mono’ personally)

From an article by Oliver Hall with the great title, 'Holy relic of Detroit high energy rock: Fred 'Sonic' Smith & the mysterious lyrics of 'City Slang'

Some history (from the same Hall article): 

Around 1975, after the breakup of the MC5, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith put together a supergroup with former members of bands from the MC5’s Detroit scene. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band comprised Smith, Stooges drummer Scott Asheton (a/k/a “Rock Action”), Rationals guitarist and singer Scott Morgan, and Up bassist Gary Rasmussen. The “City Slang” single (“City Slang” in mono on one side, stereo on the other) was the only thing the band released before breaking up, though there are now several compilations and live records, including a (mostly live) six-CD box set.'

Here are the lyrics, that Hall says are (perhaps dubiously) attributed to Scott Morgan himself:

Some dirt in my hand
A part of the land
Slip and slide communication
Downtown on the street
They measure the beat
To understand the situation
A taste on the tongue
And no place to run
With all the chances to be taken
The stranger he buys
The angel she flies
My heart is cold just like the nation
Like a dog they kick at night
Gypsy laughin’ but that’s alright
Momma’s cryin’ sister thinkin’
Well you know it’s just city slang

We rode in the car
Slept in the car
All the way to the citadel
Slept on the floor
Surfed on the floor
All the way to the Coronet
Rock was pissed in Paris
Mad in Madrid
Took the sonic European way
Gary and Rock
Sonic and Scott
Meet again up in Ishpeming
When you hear that hammer fallin’
Ain’t no reason to feel left out
Ain’t no reason to call any names
Well you know it’s just city slang

With Funky and Dog
To Minni and Mad
All the way to the Aragon
Cleveland and Chi
Ann Arbor, Detroit
All the way back to the Second Chance
Je suis un son
Un autre son
Qui n’entend qu’une cloche n’entend qu’un son
Je suis le son
Je suis son son
Hey what kind of fool do you think I am
Keep a-talkin’ those city dreams
Well you know alright you know what I mean
Detroit, Chicago now New York to L.A.
They all been talkin’ bout city slang

Love the final paragraph from Oliver Hall’s little piece:

'The first verse matches the single very closely, but the second and third don’t match at all aside from a few lines and phrases. These lyrics don’t match any live recording I’ve heard, either, and yet they seem credible enough. They mention a number of contemporary Midwestern landmarks—the Aragon Ballroom in Cleveland, the Second Chance club in Ann Arbor, the tiny township of Ishpeming, Michigan—and the passage in French, which consists of a proverb bookended by puns on the French word for “sound,” seems like the sort of thing Patti Smith’s husband might sing. Or am I the naive victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by a teenager? You be the judge.'

Nice. 

*(re-released Mack Aborn Rhythmic Arts, 2000)

'Karen' The Go-Betweens (Able Label, 1978)

I just want some affection
I just want some affection
I don't want no hoochie-coochie mama
No back door woman
No Queen Street sex thing
I want a tiger on bended knees
With all the kindness of the Japanese
I just want some affection
I wish I heard voices
Wish I was a telephone

Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah yeah
I said yeah, oh Karen!

I know this girl
This very special girl
And she works in a library, yeah
Standing there behind the counter
Willing to help
With all the problems that I encounter

Helps me find Hemingway
Helps me find Genet
Helps me find Brecht
Helps me find Chandler
Helps me find James Joyce
She always makes the right choice

She's no queen
She's no angel
Just a peasant from the village
She's my god, she's my god
She's my g-o-d, she's my god, yeah, yeah
She's my g-o-o-d, yeah

Oh, she's my god now Yeah!
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah yeah
I said yeah, oh Karen!

And she stands there in the library
Like a nun in a church does
Like a nun in a church does
She stands there all alone
'Cos she gets me something that I
Just can't get now anywhere else
Cause the girls that I see
Walking around, yeah the ones I see
Walking on the street
Are so damn-da-da-da-damned cold
'Cos they must have eskimo blood in their veins
And the one that I want
I just can't see
I can't see her there
I can't see her anywhere

Alright!
Oh Karen yeah-yeah...
Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen!

How this song speaks to me ...  

'Into the groovey' Ciccone Youth (The Whitey Album, Enigma/Blast First, 1989)

Those opening moments of the deep-Goth bassline, and then the percussive sounds that remind me of a swinging door (I can’t even make out the instruments) strike me as one of the lushest openings in ‘pop’ or alternative music; slap, slap, slap. 

The Allmusic review by Bradley Torreano agreed, saying the cover 'manages to mold a fantastic dirge out of the original. Thurston Moore's lazy vocals pair up with Madonna's sampled voice seamlessly, and the low-quality production only adds to the homegrown feel.'

This piece of music, a tribute to Madonna’s hit, was first released on a 12 inch with two other tracks and then later formed part of the lp, The Whitey Album – by Sonic Youth feat. the Minutemen’s Mike Watt . It also included a very basic rap (‘Tuff Titty Rap’) and Kim Gordon intoning Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’. Not everyone liked it, with one Trouser Press critic stating: ‘This joke doesn’t translate and the disc comes across as a self-indulgent mess.’

Recently, Cameron MacDonald at Stylus spoke of how he felt confused when he first heard the record as a teenager, in that he thought 'Sonic Youth was a skate-punk band' (despite the fact the group had released a number of difficult, challenging records before this, say Evol or Sister). He added: 'I didn’t even know that the “Youth” were in their thirties and forties by then.'

Making reference to how mixed the response was, he adds:

Sonic Youth gave few hints in interviews about why they concocted the 1989 record other than saying that it just happened. Whitey can either be accepted as a sublime moment of pop and hip-hop deconstruction or it can be dismissed as art-rockers with heads full of bad taste and pretension dicking around in the studio.

And as for 'Into the Groovey' when MacDonald first heard it, he dismissed it as the flattest dance song he had ever heard.

The Flashdance beats plodded, the guitars muttered the basic melody, and Moore could barely keep himself awake on the karaoke mic. Samples of Madonna’s off-key serenade remind us that this is a “cover” from time to time. Intentional lameness was not high-art to me.

Well, maybe all of this was intentional, the 'flatness' and Moore's slowed down, sleepwalking delivery (though mot so much the perceived 'lameness' , of course). I love this cover for the way it embodies contradictions (unlike other critics I don’t think it’s a parody, but sincere appreciation; Thurston Moore seems to be singing the lyrics as if he means them and the sound is fab, deep and mysterious) and makes manifest musical layering.

MacDonald says how fans of hip-hop, or even hip-hop artists, might dislike this record and see it as a kind of disrespect, I can’t see why as musically it’s a punk take on the genre, where noise/distortion is used in the same way scratching might be for emphasis, to break something up, to jolt us into awareness or as a way of making connections between the elements. And the way the sample of Madonna comes back, as if she is underwater and rising to the surface like a singing mermaid is pretty lovely and difficult to dislike, I think.

The contrast between her sweet voice and the other, heavier musical elements, as they interact with each other; or gesture towards the other is what keeps this fresh. I liked this song when I first heard it (and bought the vinyl) and still do all these years on. It’s a perfect example of punk deconstruction – and humour, possibly though I don’t hear that so much – that was very much of the era, with other electro-alternative groups such as Consolidated in San Francisco or Bongwater/Kramer in New York.

It's a great example of a kind of deadened disco, nurtured by 70s noise/electronic acts, and no less powerful for that; darkness and light.

To finish, Sonic Youth at their best - during this time - were masters at creating atmosphere, as shown by this song ‘Providence’ from Daydream Nation that I think has influenced other more recent acts like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. It's so simple, featuring a cryptic answering machine message from Mike Watt and, what one Youtube poster says, is piano from Chick Corea’s acoustic band. Even if Wiko says otherwise: 

Providence consisted of a piano solo by Moore recorded at his mother’s house using a walkman, the sound of an amp overheating and a pair of telephone messages left by Mike Watt, calling for Moore from a Providence, Rhode Island payphone, dubbed over one another.

Antipodean 'soul music'* - The Saints

Compare this track with any other English 'punk' tune from 1978, say the Buzzocks 'Ever fallen in love'  and you get a sense of the essential temperamental difference of the two countries (Australia and England). Last Christmas, when staying in Brighton, I watched the 'silly antics' made manifest in the TV specials; with all that jolly banter and reindeer pullovers - the countdown of 70s joke songs, including one from Slade - and felt like I'd landed on Mars.

Formed in 1973, by a group of working-class boys in the (then) tropical backwater/police state of Queensland, the Saints were headed up by two mercurial greats - the self-important singer, Chris Bailey (who uses adjectives like 'Byronic' seriously) and one of the all-time musical legends and innovators, Ed Kuepper, who later went on to much greatness with the Laughing Clowns and with his solo work.

But as one observer put it, theirs was a 'marriage made in hell'. 

The band pressed 500 copies of their first record, the 1977 (I'm) Stranded sent 400 or so away, including a few to the music press in London, where a Sounds reviewer nominated their track 'single of this and every week' ...

Australian media picked up the story and the boys packed their bags.

The critical (and popular) savaging the band met in the UK is just another story that infeststhe white colonial mindset in Australia forever keen to take on the role of abandoned child (recall how the English betrayed 'us' at the fall of Singapore, how they ditched us when the country entered the Common Market, never forget how they tested nuclear weapons from 1956-1963 at Maralinga; the same desert region the Australian government imprisoned asylum-seekers three decades later). But I digress.

Listen to this track again; listen to that swampy grunt of the horn section and the guitars, lifting this music into another realm, pushing punk music into an entirely new direction, as the All Music site notes with the 'tempo changes; horn charts; keyboards and R & B accents'.

Their first Saints record included a cover of a tune made famous by Elvis ('Kissin Cousins' and a 1965 song from the Sydney garage rockers, The Missing Links, 'Wild about You' other cover choices by the band included songs from Ike and Tina, Otis Redding and ... Connie Francis). Such a range of influences can be heard in their music: the depth and instrumentation and the layering - ergo my labelling it 'soul' music.

And while the Saints, like any important band, is unique you can see a link between them and Radio Birdman (of course) who were re-inventing 1960s US surf rock in Sydney, but also earlier less known Australian groups from the 1970s, such as Chain.

And then with bands drawing on the legacy of the 1970s punk legends - the Saints and Radio Birdman - filtered via the king-hit of Bon Scott era AC/DC you end up in my formative musical milieu, with bands such as Powder Monkeys reinventing the creed.