Cover Versions, Get This!, Gone but not forgotten

Sledgehammers

There are many great sounds in music; that jazz-inflected major 6th “Yeah!” at the tail end of The Beatles’ She Loves You for one. The vibrating air as Miles Davis leans into So What on Kind Of Blue. Johnny Greenwood’s stuttering pre-chorus crunch as he tries to mess with Creep. John Lydon’s phlegmy Fagin-by-way-of-Steptoe “‘Allo? ‘Allo! ‘Allo!! Heurgh-heurgh-heurgh!” announcement on PIL’s eponymous debut single. The eerie slide guitar that punctuates the juddering How Soon Is Now?…the Cuban-heeled stomp of London Calling… Adam & the Ants Burundi beat…Clarence’ Clemons’ honey-coated sax….. You’ll have your own no doubt, hearing them in your head right now as you read this. Those sounds are what separates you, me and the rest of us from other people who consider music no more than background colour, something that happens to be on as the dishes are washed or the ironing tackled. Obsessives like us listen to music and revel in the small stuff. The minutae. The little bits that you miss when the iron is hissing steam at you while you press next week’s workwear. The important stuff.

Just about my favourite sound in music is the sound of Nile Rodgers‘ guitar interlocking with Bernard Edwards‘ bass. When they hit their stride and find the groove, they’re unbeatable. Like a pair of old ladies clacking away at the bingo, the combined sound is instantly recognisable, totally danceable and, while often copied, it’s a sound that’s never been bettered. When Nile and Bernard formed Chic, the idea was to write songs for different groups. Chic themselves were modelled on Roxy Music’s basic vision of style; smart dress and street-smart females, elements that were to them as important as the songs they were selling.

Chic employed female vocalists and had success on their own terms – you know all the hits – but as the Chic Organization, Bernard and Nile penned hits for others. Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, Carly Simon, Madonna, Bowie….all benefitted, and all came gift-wrapped in the same smoothly-clattering funk that coloured Chic’s biggest hits. Bowie’s Let’s Dance was a 12 string skifflish blues until Nile added those familiar massive rattling chords. Like A Virgin, with its keyboard and up the neck guitar stabs could’ve been a Chic hit rather than the smash that elevated Madonna into the conscience of half the world.

I’ve always had a thing for Carly Simon‘s Why. Hearing it out of context on Ibiza as an impressionable 18 year old perhaps helped. Here, it was no longer AOR radio fodder, it was late night/early morning comedown music, long, loping and lightly toasted reggae. In the right context, it made a whole lotta sense.

It’s what Nile and Bernard did for Sister Sledge on Thinking Of You that tops the lot. The chord progression is fantastic, an itchy and scratchy four chord progression from minor 7th to major 7th and back again, played between the 10th and 5th frets while the bassline bounces with fluid funk below. The staccato riffing as Kathy Sledge sings, “Everybody, let me tell you ’bout my love…” (the perfect opening line for the song, by the way – it really sets it up the anticipation for what’s to follow) “...brought to you by an angel from above,” is god-like. Nile takes the basic chords, ignores his bass strings then builds hook upon hook upon hook with just the top 3 strings. Your man-in-the-street’s idea of what might constitute a Guitar ‘Great’ could never comprehend why Nile is such a brilliant player. He’s the perfect example of less is more, a fat-free, lean and mustard-keen guitarist.

Behind all of this the strings sweep and swell. Brass parps in all the right places. Unfussy drums maintain the beat. And that’s about it. You can identify every instrument on Thinking Of You. The perfect example, again, of less is more.

Sister SledgeThinking Of You (Dimitri From Paris mix)

Dimitri From Paris took the original and, unsurprisingly, saw the beauty in what was already there and stayed faithful to it. No need for this remixer to strip a good song of its basic components and twist it out of all recognition. Dimitri’s mix is twice as long, allowing space for the breathy vocals to take centre stage before giving way to Rodgers’ incessant Strat, until he drops out and Edwards’ bassline is allowed to buckle and bend in the middle of the track. It’s a showcase not for Dimitri but for Chic, six and a half minutes long and not a moment wasted.

In 2004 Paul Weller took his stripped back, tastefully scrubbed acoustic version of Thinking Of You into the charts, proof, if it were needed, that Rodgers and Edwards songs transfer to all styles. It’s not a patch on the original, but the newly in love Weller’s vocal is pretty soulful and genuine and, given he was spare of decent self-penned material at the time, it was the perfect song to tide him over until his next visit from the song gods.

Paul WellerThinking Of You

Cover Versions

Prophet vs Profit

Paul Weller gives nary a thought to what others think of him and his music. Splitting The Jam at the height of their success for the political, pastel posturing of the Style Council ruffled more than a few feathercuts. Time and hindsight has been far kinder on his second band than you’d have believed back in 1985 though, and you can’t argue with the stellar run of singles they released during their 5 albums in 5 years lifespan. Indeed, if all he’d been known for was the music he recorded with the Style Council, Weller would these days be something of a cult hero. For every bizarre collaboration with Lenny Henry there’s a Gil Evans Blue Note arrangement to sate yourself with, and despite the Parisian pretentions, Marriott moustaches and C&A catalogue poses, there’s a strong body of work to be (re)discovered.

There are a lot of parallels to be drawn between the careers of Neil Young and Paul Weller. Both left successful bands twice before going it alone. Both have defied the critics to release solo albums that are the equal of and better than the material in their supposed golden years. Both stubbornly plough their own musical furrow and fans follow on or fall by the wayside as a result. And both have fallen foul of their record company when they’ve taken an unexpected turn in the road and delivered an album like none before it. Neil Young has done this more than once. On the Kratftwerk-inspired Trans he adopted analogue synths over guitars, a concept album of sorts that highlighted the day to day issues experienced by his disabled son. When Young presented David Geffen with the limp rockabilly of Everybody’s Rockin’ just 12 months later (how’s that for a change in direction?!), his label boss famously sued him for offering up an album that was “deliberately uncommercial and unrepresentative of Neil Young.”

Weller’s seeming faux pas was to offer up in 1989 a 6th Style Council album that was unlike anything he’d recorded previously. Synths replaced Hammonds. Machines replaced drummers. Blissed-out love replaced anger and fury. You could forget the guitars too – there was nary a jazz chord or fuzzed-up Isley Brothers cop off within earshot. This was Deep House music; clean and linear yet soulful and emotive. With the Stone Roses on the verge of indie guitar ubiquity, Weller had seemingly pulled a dud. “We don’t have to take this crap,” thought Polydor. The album – the presciently-titled Modernism: A New Decade – was shelved.

Had the record company been more switched on they’d have been aware of the house scene that had been bubbling nicely underground for a couple of years. Weller was drawn to house music for the same reasons he liked the mod scene. Here were groups of people getting off on soulful American records and, much in the way he’d paid homage to the first wave of US soul by recording versions of Heatwave and Big Bird, he set about recording his own faithful version of one of the era’s anthems, Joe Smooth‘s Promised Land.

Style CouncilPromised Land (Full Length Version)

Promised Land grooves on a bed of rattling drum machines and rolling, tumbling piano, bluesy and upbeat. Setting yer actual house ablaze, electro bleeps and keyboard stabs herald in a whole new chapter in Weller’s career. Flutes flutter in and out of the mix, a keyboard motif joins it all together and Weller duets with DC Lee in a series of gospel-tinged “oh yeahs” before the pair of them hit the verse. It’s great.

Brothers, Sisters
One day we’ll all be free
From fighting, violence, people crying in the streets
When the angels from above
Fall down and spread their wings like doves
We’ll walk hand and hand,
Sisters, Brothers
We’ll make it to the promised land

A spiritual anthem for unity and hope (and the consumption of MDMA), it resonated with those for whom the house scene was everything. Me? I wasn’t at all into house music but I did really like the new Style Council single. I had no idea it was cover. I came to it via the radio and, with no long-standing relationship with Weller (I had Funeral Pyre on 7″ but I was barely out of short trousers when The Jam were number one) I could listen to it without the appreciation of what came before. That’s the reason I still rate Bowie’s Tonight album far higher than I’ve any right to (I bought it aged 14 on the strength of Blue Jean and played the album to death), but unless you’ve grown up with the artist, you’ll find a fondness for your point of entry that perhaps doesn’t match the accepted version of what’s hot and what is not. As I think about it, the Style Council’s version of Promised Land (alongside the Stone Roses pre-gig playlists) was the reason I looked at house music from a different perspective. Maybe it wasn’t all generic rubbish after all.

Joe SmoothPromised Land

Despite the relatively decent placing of Promised Land (number 27), Polydor got cold feet and decided against releasing Modernism. Ever obtuse, Weller had kept it off the album at any rate. Modernism eventually found its way onto the Style Council’s all-encompassing ‘Adventures Of....’ box set and in more recent times has benefited from a vinyl reissue – haven’t they all – and it remains an interesting product of its times.

A couple of years later, Weller would re-use the album’s That Spiritual Feeling for the b-side of his Into Tomorrow single, the track that truly kickstarted the next phase of his career. “Guitar music is on the way out,” a Decca executive famously told The Beatles at the start of the 60s. I wonder if Polydor regret being so dismissive of Paul Weller as he told them the same in 1989? If only they’d stuck by him. Re-strapping his guitar certainly paid dividends for the ever-restless Weller. What record company wouldn’t want a slice of those profits?

 

Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten, Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Glenn Tilbrook

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 31 in a series:

Glenn Tilbrook is one half of the song-writing duo that’s provided Squeeze with the tuneage and melody required to bother both the charts and comfortably-sized theatres with pleasing regularity for the past 4 decades. Alongside Chris Difford, the Lennon to his McCartney, Glenn is responsible for writing some of the greatest literate, socially-aware, and slightly saucy kitchen sink dramas this side of Ray Davis. At their peak they were untouchable; Slap And Tickle, Annie Get Your Gun, Cool For Cats, Take Me, I’m Yours, Pulling Mussels From the Shell, Tempted….. Tilbrook is responsible for a back catalogue of songs that many of his peers would kill for.

Amongst those many masterpieces, Up The Junction must surely rank as the greatest of them all. Married to a melody that McCartney himself might be prepared to do serious time for, it outlines the ups and downs of a doomed relationship, handily drawing parallels with the late 60s film of the same name.

Up The Junction is carried by a signature riff that whenever heard nowadays, clatters me between the lugs with such Proustian force that I’m instantly transported back in time to a Thursday night in May, 1979, sat watching on the carpet with a bowl of Rice Krispies as the band play it on Top Of The Pops. What struck me most at the time was not the number of words in the song (unusual in an era of short, sharp new wave belters) nor the instantly hummable tune, but the fact that the drummer was out front and centre stage. Watching recently on one of those BBC4 repeats that brighten up Friday night telly, it was apparent that the band had swapped instruments for their big appearance. Jools Holland manhandles the bass while Difford does his best Gary Numan impression behind the keyboard. And out front is indeed our Glenn, pretending he’s the drummer. At 9 years old, I had no idea. Nor why should I?

Recently, Tillbrook has hooked up with the Trussell Trust, the organisation responsible for helping to stock food banks the length and breadth of the UK. On his current solo tour, Glenn is selling unique merchandise (an EP, t-shirt, mug) and donating all profits to the Trust. He also has food drop-off points at his shows where socially-conscious fans can leave a donation that’ll find its way back into the local community.

It is shameful that in the 21st century there are people that can’t afford to put food on the table. Anyone, from any walk of life, can fall upon dire times, and I hope that by doing this tour it will remind people that there is a very real need. Most of us can do something to help – be it giving some food or a little money – and I hope people coming to the shows are inspired to donate.”

A few days ago, Glenn’s tour stopped off in my hometown of Irvine and I blagged myself a quick pre-show interview. In my head I’d an idea that I’d ask him some typical ‘Six of the Best‘ fayre – the first records that resonated with the young Glenn, the song he wishes he’d written, a track that everyone should have in their collection….(if you’re a regular reader you’ll know how these (very popular) articles pan out)… and I’d go home and whip up a pretty groovy article referencing the aforementioned Lennon & McCartney, Ray Davis and perhaps Django Reinhardt or other such left-field must-hears. In reality though, our conversation never quite made it that far.

Lounging in his early 00s Airbus, parallel-parked at Irvine harbour with the windows trained on the Isle of Arran just across the water and with joss sticks gently smouldering in the corner, it certainly set a scene. A pile of charity shop vinyl lay propped against a wood panelled wall unit, on top of which sat a turntable, buried underneath LP sleeves and random tour ephemera. Greeting me with a hearty hello and a friendly handshake, I was initially disarmed by how much Glenn unfortunately looked and sounded a bit like Piers Morgan’s younger brother. We’d met 5 years ago, but the ubiquitous Morgan wasn’t quite as omnipresent back then. Not sure how you address that, Glenn, but surely that’s another reason for ridding the world of Morgan? There’s room for just the one matey bloke with short-cropped curls and a Thames Estuary accent, and Glenn’s politics are far more acceptable also.

Anyway.

 

There was always music in our house,” begins Glenn. “My parents were jazz fans; Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Lena Horne. Their records sound-tracked my earliest memories. My  brother was 7 years older than me and he introduced me to stuff like The Beatles, The Who and The Yardbirds, all the beat groups. I listened intently to the pirate radio stations, Radios Caroline and London, mainly. When I was 6 I learnt to play the piano and a year later I’d picked up the guitar. Most kids go through the tennis racquet stage but me, I went straight to the real thing. Music was my thing. I knew from a very early age that this was something I wanted to do all the time.

The first band I was obsessed with was The Monkees. Micky Dolenz has one of the great rock and roll voices, truly, but he never, ever got the recognition. My brother would say, “Oh, they’re just a made-up band, they’re not ‘real'” but to me, they were the most important band in my life. Listen to Last Train To Clarksville and tell me that’s not a brilliant pop record.

The MonkeesLast Train To Clarksville

It’s interesting , y’know, how I discovered certain music through my brother and how, now, my own children are discovering that same music through me. Not only that, though, I’m discovering brilliant music through them. This generation of kids, with their access to streaming and downloading have the whole world at their fingertips. They aren’t bound by barrier or genre. A good tune’s a good tune, y’know?

Have you heard Question Time by Dave? It’s a beautifully judged, extremely well-written modern protest song. My son Leon turned me onto it.”

 

Unsurprisingly for a writer obsessed with wordplay and stories, Tillbrook is a big fan of Kate Tempest. “‘Everybody Down’, her debut album, floored me on first listen. Floored me! It’s terrific. She’s smart with words, the way she plays with poetry. She’s definitely a big influence on how I write my own songs.”

I listen to a lot of Radio 3 when I’m traveling between shows. And Spotify playlists, although the analytics that put together the recommended tracks, they’re usually way off the mark. Let me see…. (grabs iPad, opens it up…)… yes, an eclectic bunch; I love Bjork. her debut album is still astonishing. Destiny’s Child. Villagers. The Emotions. Lots of soul, actually.” A sneak peak confirms Betty Wright, James Brown and Stevie Wonder.

Returning to my parents’ music, I still love jazz. Listen to this…”

I saw Les Paul once. He played a residency in a little club in Greenwich Village. I was in New York that often that I got to know about it and one night, I made it down, and there he was.”

Glenn’s voice tails off with misty-eyed reflection as the skipping rhythm and scratchy twang fills the space. By now his tour manager has signalled that my time is up. I leave as the last, long and languid notes from Paul and Atkins fade away, not quite armed with the subject matter I’d come hoping for, but all the richer for it. Later, in the tiny but perfect 100-seater Harbour Arts Centre, Glenn runs through Squeeze’s greatest hits and more, sometimes on acoustic but always electric.

Glenn Tilbrook will tour as part of Squeeze in the Autumn. I dare say I’ll see you in Glasgow.

Cover Versions

It Is Indeed Over

If someone had told you back in 1985 that it would’ve been Elton John, or at a push Freddie Mercury who’d be the hip name to drop 30+ years in the future, while yer man of the moment Morrissey had slowly and painfully morphed into a paunchy, shitty-quiffed racist in bad jeans, you’d have struggled to believe them. As Elton’s position at the top table of pop is affirmatively reassessed via the Rocket Man movie and the resultant positive press, so too is old Stephen Patrick’s. The nadir, for this week at least, is Morrissey’s (at best) misguided and (at worst) dangerous decision to sport a For Britain badge on his lapel. To put this into context, even Nigel Farage considers the politics of For Britain a bit too extreme and right wing for his liking. It’s there in the paparazzi photos as he steps out of the car at the studio for an appearance on the Fallon TV show. It’s still there when he performs. And it’s still there a few days later when he’s snapped on some random Beverly Hills sidewalk or other. For all you know, it’s probably still there right now, a defiant and misguided symbol of knuckleheaded nationalism.

It’s a statement that’s led to Billy Bragg questioning the motives of the one-time king of the marginalised, disenfranchised and waifs and strays, referring to him as the Oswald Moseley of pop. As a result, we’ve also seen adverts for Morrissey’s brand new California Son album being ceremoniously ripped from the walls of Merseyrail train stations. The resultant fall out might’ve caused a lesser deity to back down somewhat and offer a hastily cobbled-together press release aimed at clearing up a ‘misunderstanding’, but, no. Seemingly, from his high horse in his house high in the Hollywood Hills, Morrissey has decided that For Britain is the political party for him and he wants everyone to know it.

Had he not had a new album to promote, it’s arguable whether we’d even be talking about the growing insignificance of Morrissey, although his continual shift to the far right will forever gurantee him a public profile somewhere in the corner of the internet marked ‘racist uncle’, so you could argue that the singer has played the press at their own game and won; new album released + controversial statement = increased profile + greater sales.

I’ve not properly listened to a Morrissey album since You Are The Quarry, these days considered a high point of his solo career (although back then I’d have placed it closer to the bottom of that particular list – it’s no Vauxhall And I, that’s for sure. And it’s certainly no Your Arsenal either) and I had no real inclination to hear his present-day take on a variety of off-the-beaten-track cover versions, even with the added ‘bonus’ of having one of Green Day duet with him on some old track or other.

An interview with Morrissey published last week – I still like to read what he has to say – had him reveal that his vocal delivery on his version of Roy Orbison’s It’s Over was “absolutely, hands down the best vocal delivery I have ever done.” Wow. Let that sink in. The man who’s very essence was etched into the grooves of some of the most heart-breaking records to escape the soul – Well I Wonder and I Know It’s Over, to name but two, considers his performance on It’s Over to be the very pinnacle of his singing career. Now, given that on those two Smiths’ tracks and many others (Vauxhall And I‘s Now My Heart Is Full, for example), Morrissey laid his life on the line, his very raison d’etre, like his beautiful, towering quiff, forever on the verge of collapse, I had to hear it.

It’s certainly dramatic. Harking back to the days of Ann Coats on Bigmouth Strikes Again, it begins with a comical sped-up Morrissey vocal. There’s nothing funny about the subject matter though. “Your baby doesn’t love you any-more,” he goes, as the band march out a funereal ra-ta-tat-tat. Strings sweep, bells toll, guitars crash. It rises, falls and rises again, a great wave of melodramatic emotion – “When she says to you, there’s somebody new, we’re through, we’re through!….it’s over!” As it reaches its climax, dogs for miles around begin to howl as the high-pitched warbling vocal in the background (Moz again, with the help from studio trickery?) threatens to take over. We’re at peak crescendo now, and then, suddenly, silence.

It’s Over.

It’s OK, I s’pose, a decent enough sign-off on a singing career that, for me, is now well and truly finished.

Now, off you run, Morrissey. And take your stupid political notions with you. We’ll always have Meat Is Murder, I guess.

It’s not a patch on the original, of course. For reverb ‘n twang and melodrama bathed in pathos and regret, Roy Orbison‘s tremulous voice cannot, will not, ever be matched. The end.

Roy Orbsion – It’s Over

 

Cover Versions, Dylanish

Fleetwood Smack

Courtney Love, the very epitome of trashed, home-sheared and mascara-smeared rock-star notoriously hung around the Liverpool scene of the early/mid 80s, a musician-loving, fame-hungry wannabe, desperate for success in any way. After Kurt Cobain took his life, Julian Cope famously took out a full-page ad in the NME to decry his wife’s influence on those around her.

Free us from Nancy Spungen fixated heroin a-holes,” he said, “who cling to our greatest groups and suck out their brains.”

Eventually, after acting roles in the Alex Cox-produced Sid And Nancy (ironic, that, given Cope’s lambasting) and Straight to Hell movies and a short stint in the nascent Faith No More, Courtney found fame in her own right. With her band Hole, Courtney dragged the songs behind her in the way a tantrum-throwing toddler might hold onto a ragdoll. Foot atop monitor, she’d bawl and holler until hoarse, a defiant two-fingered statement that belied the baby-pink Mustang and lacy dress that might’ve hinted at the notion of submissive femininity. With lyrics addressing abuse, sexuality and chaotic living, her autobiographical songs were perfect for the misfits and misplaced in society.

Immediately left and right of her, her junkie-chic band of renegades and reprobates played a right royal lamalama of noise. Bruised, battered and bleeding, Hole songs were raw and unforgiving, brutal, relentless and very loud. Obvious really, given the reference points; the band had links to both Sympathy For The Record Industry and Sub Pop, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon produced their first album, and so on…

Occasionally, if she’d taken her kohl-darkened eye off the bawl, Love allowed a melody to escape into the ether. Below the rumble of bass and tumble of toms, the odd diamond might glint for those paying close attention and, by the time of third album Celebrity Skin, things had progressed musically to the point that the song became the equal of the performance. As a result, the album (steered by Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan in pseudo A&R role) is a big riffing, radio-shiny collection of alt. pop songs.

The album’s title track was the big lead-off single. Celebrity Skin flies in like a jumbo jet, a full force sonic rumination on the fickleness of fame. Love sneers ‘n snarls through the verses, elongates the ‘he-ey-eys and yeah-yeah-yeahs’ in the chorus and goes full-on Stevie Nicks in the acoustic-led middle eight. It’s a cracker.

HoleCelebrity Skin

 

The Malibu single is more of the same. With a guitar and vocal that a different producer might’ve smoothed into country territory, Love provides the requisite snarl in all the right places. Choruses are big, harmonised and insistent in their earworm-like tendencies. I’ve never driven down the Pacific coast freeway in a convertible Chevvy, but when I do it’ll be this track and it’s counterpart above that soundtracks the occasion.

HoleMalibu

*Extra Track

Worth a listen too is the band’s ragged take on Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

HoleIt’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Coming in on the wrong verse, Love treats the master’s piece with little in the way of respect, but it vibrates and squeals in all the right places. More of a reworking than a faithful cover, it’s a whole lotta Love indeed.

John, Yoko and little Julian, yesterday.
Cover Versions, Gone but not forgotten

Clash At The Dub-le

Affiliating yourself to tribal youth culture was once the be all and end all for musically-inclined teenagers, but you don’t need me to tell you that. Pre Stone Roses, the teenage Ian Brown was at various times a scooter boy, a northern soul disciple, a mod and a punk (a ‘monk’?!). When the future king of the swingers heard a local rumour that The Clash were in a Manchester recording studio he and his pal dropped any immediate plans they might’ve had and set about tracking down the only band that mattered to them. Unbelievably, they happened past a local music shop just as Topper Headon was trying out one of their kits. Even more unbelievably, after standing around watching The Clash’s heartbeat thrash seven shades from the kit, Brown and his pal were invited back to the studio by Headon to watch The Clash in action.

What unfolded was not any old recording session. The Clash were in the studio to record Bankrobber with reggae artist (and Clash support act) Mikey Dread in the producer’s chair. On the band’s timeline, the track would be released between the ubiquitous double London Calling and hotch-potch triple Sandanista! albums, a stand alone single that CBS originally refused to release. “It sounds like David Bowie playing backwards,” they argued stupidly. Only after import copies began selling in chart-bothering quantities did the label relent and release.

The ClashBankrobber/Robber Dub

It’s a terrific single, a million miles from the tinny, phlegm-spittled ramalama of their early stuff and a surprising left turn from some of London Calling‘s more arena-ready and FM-friendly tracks.

Bankrobber is epic, widescreen Clash; dub-inflected, full of twanging spaghetti western guitars and never-ending. Those doom-laden backing vocals went on for so long they ended up on The Specials’ Ghost Town the following year.

Bankrobber was the next logical step in dub for The Clash, coming a few months after their faithful attempt at Willie Williams’ Armagideon Time which appeared on the b-side of London Calling‘s lead single. In an unlikely instance of punk karaoke, the original plan for recording Armagideon Time involved the band visiting the famous Studio 1 in Kingston to record their vocals on top of William’s backing track. This was nixed straight away but as Mick Jones lamented, “they were happy enough to sell us the publishing for it though.”

Recorded (and renamed) with Kosmo Vinyl in London, The Clash’s version is free-form and ad-libbed after the 3 minute mark. Vinyl’s instruction for them to stop after ‘the perfect length for a pop single’ was roundly ignored, with Strummer shouting, “don’t push us when we’re hot!” Listen for Kosmo Vinyl’s voice and revel in The Clash’s musicianship and spontaneity from then on in.

The ClashJustice Tonight/Kick It Over

Willie Williams‘ ‘original’ version was itself built around the backing track for Real Rock, an early Coxsone Dodd/Sound Dimension release (and a future posting for sure), drawing a direct line from the pioneers of roots reggae to the trailblazers of punk.

I wonder if Ian Brown and his pal were aware of that back then in that recording studion in Manchester.

Willie WilliamsJustice Tonight

Cover Versions, Live!

Stomp! In The Name Of Love

Skinhead Moonstomp by Symarip is like a rocksteady Slade; a 14 hole high bovver-booted ‘n braces metaphorical boot to the haw maws, all squeaky organ and call and response football terracing vocals. If it fails in its mission to have you skanking awkwardly from the waist down you should take yourself immediately to your nearest A&E and ask for a shot of something even more uplifting, should such a thing exist. And if you do find anything more uplifting than this terrific record, say now.

SymaripSkinhead Moonstomp

Released on Trojan in 1970, Skinhead Moonstomp was nothing more than a cult classic, a grinding, two chord call to arms to take to the dancefloor with all like-minded brethren of the subculture. It would be the 2 Tone craze at the end of the decade that brought the record to wider attention when on its re-release the record crept inside the Top 60. It was even packaged in a suedehead-friendly picture sleeve.

Skinhead Moonstomp‘s popularity continues to this day, belying the lowly chart position and being ever-present on ska and reggae playlists. If you ever find yourself at a ska night, you can be certain you’ll hear it before the night is out. You might also hear Derrick Morgan‘s Moon Hop played immediately before it.

Derrick MorganMoon Hop

As is the way with many reggae hits, Skinhead Moonstomp is based around an older record. If you were being kind you might suggest Symarip recorded their version in strict homage to the original. If you were being cynical you might suggest they unearthed a hidden gem of the genre and released ‘their’ record to an uneducated public. The Specials Too Much Too Young is simply a sped-up take on Lloyd Terrell’s Birth Control, after all. You knew that already though.

The SpecialsSkinhead Moonstomp

As is also the way with great reggae records, Symarip’s version provided the gateway for the next generation. Those self-same Specials on that self-same Too Much Too Young EP stuck a live medley on the b-side that was based around their take on Skinhead Moonstomp. I’d wager the more sussed and streetsmart Specials’ fans quickly tracked down those two tracks that The Specials had been listening to. Me? I was too busy getting my burgundy Sta-Prest and Y cardigan from Irvine market to consider anyone but The Specials had written such a stomping, marginally violent track. Imagine the baffled confusion of discovering many years later that Madness didn’t in fact write One Step Beyond and then the thrill of discovering Prince Buster on the back of it.