Get This!

Moving Away From The Pulsebeat

New York grooves to two soundtracks. The first one, everybody hears. It’s the sirens, low and wailing and ever-present. It’s the angry and restless horn honk from a gridlocked car, the thudda-thudda-thudda as a low-flying chopper arcs overhead, the filling-loosening sub-bass from a low-riding Subaru (‘Mercury and Subaru!‘) as it jumps the midnight lights on 42nd Street, the in-your-face hustle of the street vendors intent only in hoovering the dollars from your pockets. Even in the more tranquil areas like Central Park and Greenwich, you can’t quite escape the perma-noise.

The second soundtrack is internal. New York is a music fan’s mecca, and from the moment you arrive, you are reminded of the city’s rich musical heritage. It wasn’t quite a ‘cold and wet December’s day as we touched the ground at JFK‘, but a sign for Rockaway has me stupidly and excitedly chewin’ out the rhythm on an imaginary bubble gum. On the way into Manhattan from the airport, we must’ve passed half a dozen Rockaway signs and every one of them triggered the same response. ‘Rack-rack, Rackaway Beach!…..we can hitch a ride to Rackaway Beach!‘ I was still singing it on the road back to the airport last Thursday. The cab might have been idling along in rush hour sludge at less than 5 miles an hour, buckled bumper to buckled bumper with the traffic around it, but having just hitched my own ride (at a flat $70) my brain was speeding away like The Ramones themselves in ’77.

Over from Queens and into Manhattan and a sign next to one for the Lincoln Tunnel jumps out. ‘Lower East Side’ it informs, and Debbie Harry’s girl-group swoon has shifted Joey Ramone momentarily to the margins. ‘Went walkin’ one day on the Lower East Side, met you with a girlfriend, you were so divine…‘ There’s also one for the Manhattan Bridge at 59th Street and, uh-oh, stone me if Simon & Garfunkel’s Feelin’ Groovy doesn’t float into the ether all on its ownsome too! Music, music everywhere.

All the neon lights are bright on Broadway.

Some folks like to get away, take a holiday from the neighbourhood…I’m in a New York state a’ mind.

The Only Living Boy In New York.

 Noo York City cops ain’t that smart.

I sang them all as I pounded the sidewalks of Manhattan, their tunes worming their way into the ear whenever the relevant stimulus triggered the line.

We are staying on 3rd Avenue and every day we pass the ‘Lexington Avenue’ sign on our way to wherever, so of course, unknown to the others, a pounding piano soundtracks my walk for the next couple of blocks. We’re nowhere near Harlem’s 125th Street, but it doesn’t stop me singing. ‘Down to Lexington one-two-five, feel sick and dirty more dead than al-ive. Ahm waitin’ for ma man.’ Even the boy was doing it by the Tuesday, oblivious to where it came from or what he was singing about.

We go to Chelsea Market and although the famous hotel isn’t too far away, we’ve walked 30,000 steps already by then and I can’t be dragging a disinterested family to the site of a place steeped in rock history just so I can snap a quick ‘I was there’ photo. Instead, Dylan’s line about writing Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands in the Chelsea Hotel repeats for a bit as we browse the delights of the food stalls in the former meatpacking warehouse. Leonard Cohen’s reference to Janice Joplin and an unmade bed also makes an uninvited but welcome appearance as we stop by a Japanese noodle bar.

“10th Avenue Freeze Out!” I shout in my best gravelly Broooce voice when we cross 33rd street on the west side of Manhattan for a cross-borough walk home. I think Springsteen’s particular 10th Avenue is actually across the Hudson there in Jersey, but it doesn’t stop me singing it on at least a further two occasions when our wanderings unexpectedly find us over that way again. I even hear the jangling barroom piano and Clarence Clemons’ sax whenever I see the street sign.

Grand Central Station has signs for the A Train and so Duke Ellington’s rousing jazz standard, full of promise and anticipation of what Manhattan has to offer the upwardly-mobile urbanite, wafts into the internal iPod…before being rudely shunted aside by the New York Dolls rattlin’ and frantic Subway Train. Ever since I been ridin’, ride on the subway train… Songs, man! They just barge their way into your head without even asking. How very New York.

New York! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There’s nuthin’ you can’t do.

You mo-ove it to the right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, do the Harlem Shuffle.

Oh-oh-oh! You’re a Native New Yorker!

They got cars big as bars, they got rivers of gold. When the wind blows right through you it’s no place for the old…

New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. James Murphy, are you serious?! Really?!

The internet tells me that Bob Dylan wrote Blowin’ In The Wind in Greenwich Village’s Fat Black Pussycat, a nightclub long closed down but still visible if you know where to look, so off we trot.

There are numerous Dylan-related spots to find throughout Greenwich. My wonky internal Bob radar tells me that the iconic shot for Dylan’s Freewheelin‘ album was taken in Macdougal Street, so off we trot again. I was a bit ticked off when I realised all too late that the spot where we had tried to replicate Bob ‘n Suze’s trudge in the snow was in fact one parallel street away from the actual spot in Jones Street, although I also found out that we inadvertently stood right outside what was Bob’s house at the end of the ’60s, so not all was lost.

In TV world, the facade that was used for the outside shots of the ‘Friends‘ house is just up the road and round the corner – just about the fanciest neighbourhood in all of Manhattan as it goes, and hardly the place you’d expect to find half a dozen twenty-somethings with barely a career between them, let alone the $3000 a month required for rent, but there y’go. That’s the magic of telly for you.

Had we made it further east, we’d have – or I’d have – looked for the site of CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City and the tenement on St Marks Place that featured on the sleeve of Physical Graffiti. I’ve always loved the look of that sleeve and had fancy ideas of sticking my own photo in the space right below this paragraph. Next time…

Physical Graffiti is a sprawling, eclectic and at times treacle-heavy record. A double album that encapsulates Led Zeppelin’s entire ouvre over four sides of vinyl, it cemented the band’s reputation as a stadium-filling hot ticket in the mid ’70s, and as it did so, unwittingly provided the necessary catalyst for those punks in the Bowery and lower east side to explode in retribution; until then, hair was growing longer in direct proportion to the solos played, trousers were as wide and outlandish as the tales of excess that filtered from the backstage to the front page and music was all about ‘look at us!’ rather than ‘be like us!’ Richard Hell chopping his hair to bits changed all that. You knew that already though.

Back to the Zep for now.

Physical Graffiti kicks off with Custard Pie, essentially a facsimile of Led Zeppelin’s recorded output in miniature. It’s got a rockin’ great guitar riff, blues in style if not in sticky-fingered origin – although that is surely up for debate. It’s got Bonham’s piledriving drums; a shuffling, juddering raising the dead racket that creates unexpected jolts in all the right places. It’s got John Paul Jones multitasking on a highly funky, Wonder-ish clav line and a stoic bassline that follows the lead guitar, sometimes. And it’s got one of Robert Plant’s finest vocals, a guttural, primal moan that begins at the soles of his moccasin’d feet, travels like quicksilver through his Greek God torso and comes out of his mouth like the four horsemen of the apocalypse riding on Valkyrie themselves. With a shake of the golden curls and a wink of the twinkling blue eye, Plant has you under his spell.

Led ZeppelinCustard Pie

Jimmy’s Les Paul is all over the track, a low-slung, panther-prowling masterclass in rock guitar playing. Throughout, he stirs up a hard blues crunch that takes in lip-curling riffage, lightning-fingered Wah-enhanced soloing in the middle and rounds off with the groove tightly locked-in, Page and Bonham in simpatico as Plant blows a metaphorical hoolie on the mouth organ. Or harp, as he’d no doubt prefer you say.

I love how Robert makes his voice fade in on that first moan, standing away from the mic and gradually getting closer until the singing gets underway. The singing is great; loud and soulful and packed full of all those trademark Plant high notes and adlibs – it’s not hard to picture him holding the stand-free mic across his bare chest, his head tilted back, his demi-wave trailing down his back – as you listen. It’s just a pity that, given the era and circumstances around its writing, Custard Pie‘s lyric is pretty dubious. Even if it was the seventies! There’s no excuse, Plant. There’s no excuse at all.




Get This!

Power. Passion.

True story: At the tail end of the ’80s, a musician pal of mine shared not only management but a hotel with Debbie Harry. Different rooms, just to be clear, although I suspect that’s what you were thinking anyway. Weren’t she and Chris Stein an item at that time? I digress…

D’you want to meet her?” asked the manager.

Damn right I do,” said the musician.

Calls were made, diaries were checked, his people talked to her people and, in the lobby of one of New York’s more salubrious hotels, my pal was introduced to Debbie Harry, all chiseled cheekbones and Cupid’s bow red lips, grown-out bottle blonde bob and a dazzling mile-wide smile; classic Harry, in other words.

Very pleased to meet you!” he said aloud.

“(I used to masturbate to you!)”, he thought internally, “(…and with this very hand!)”, his palm finally coming into contact with the object of his decade-long lust.

He-eeeyyy! Great t’meet yoooouuu toooooo!” drawled Debbie with effortless ennui, shaking his hand loosely, the vowels trailing off like verbal ellipses into the night, quickly followed by her gaze as she scanned the room for someone, something more interesting. She’d carried out this sort of shit for longer than she cared to remember. Over and done with in less time than it takes to mouth “Atomic!“, with a flick of the bob and turn of the designer heel, she was gone.

I licked my hand after, but!” he offered as a way of winding his story up. “I could still taste her an hour later.” One day he’ll maybe ask me to ghost write his life story. There are plenty stories, he assures me, just like this one.

Union City Blue is Blondie on steroids, in widescreen.

Blondie Union City Blue

The airy spaces between those twanging electrified notes that play its signature riff are just as crucial to the feel of the record as the notes themselves; tension and release in an intro that’s become immediately recognisable – “I’ll name that tune in one!” – as Clem Burke’s Moonisms on the drum kit propel the whole thing forward.

The story goes that when Blondie recorded Heart Of Glass, producer Mike Chapman forced Burke to play to a click track as a way of ensuring he kept to its strict and rigid disco beat. Burke, being a Brit Beat-obsessed mod, hated the controlled regimentation of it. But on Union City Blue, he’s allowed to cut loose, and as a result, the whole tune from the intro forward is carried along on a wave of flailing arms and splashing cymbals, Chelsea-booted kick and rifle-sharp rattling snare. He loves his drums, but he hates his drums, knocking seven shades of shit from the skins like there’s no tomorrow; the reason it’s his favourite Blondie song to play live. Young Clem is almost the star of the show…until Debbie makes herself known.

Oh oh, oh oh, what are we gonna do?

The juxtaposition between the melancholic melodrama in her voice and the controlled riot of the band behind her is what makes it. And that’s before we get to the key change.

Tunnel to the other side, it becomes daylight, I say he’s mine.’

Debbie’s voice is loud and central, the incontestable star of the show. You could fall in love with her just for her opening couplets on this song alone. Such is their power and engrained Proustian effect, I am immediately transported back by her breathy romantic yearning to a game of Subbuteo in my bedroom with Graham Crichton, my newly-bought copy of The Best of Blondie rotating continually (as he flicked to kick and I didn’t know).

It doesn’t matter that the lyrics are a load of nonsensical rubbish, it’s the sound of it that matters…the joy and freedom and soar as it reaches for the stratosphere and shoots far beyond. There are reign-ins (‘Power! Passion!‘), rock outs (‘Arrive! Climb up four flights...”) and drop outs; that little rev of bass at the 2 minutes and 3 seconds mark… it never fails to hit the spot.

Beyond their punk roots, beyond the jerky new waveisms of Parallel Lines, far beyond any of their peers at the time, Union City Blue is possibly Blondie’s finest moment. The video, a windswept Debbie in mirrored helicopter shades and orange jumpsuit, the band behind playing it straight and giving the lion’s share of the lens to the singer, only serves to enhance it.


Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, Sampled


If it’s scratchy, scuffed at the knees post-punk with a groove yer after, all roads lead to the twin metropoli of Manchester and New York.

A Certain Ratio are something of an enigma. They’ve been around long enough to have witnessed every important youth movement since punk and have steadfastly ploughed their own furrow, grooving somewhere between the hands-in-pockets introspection of Joy Division and the hands-in-the air exhibitionism of the Hacienda and the rave culture it gave birth to, while sometimes dressed like wonky extras in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. They’ve seen off grunge, grime and good old Britpop as well as the entire careers of The Smiths, New Order (the real New Order that is) and just about every influential band these isles have produced.

Revered by all manner of bands whose funk DNA pops up in the least likely of places, from Talking Heads and Happy Mondays to Red Hot Chili Peppers, ACR have the dubious fortune of being incredibly influential yet incredibly unheard of. It’s just the way they like it. They have the freedom to bypass trends, to surf across the wave of whatever zeitgeist is hip that week and get on with the job of making records for themselves.

Du The Du from 1979’s The Graveyard And The Ballroom album is the perfect jumping off/jumping in point.

ACRDu The Du



It fairly rattles along on a barbed wire bed of steam-powered, clattering industrial funk, with powerhouse drummer Donald Johnson somehow making his kit the lead instrument. Lo-fi guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Josef K record do their chicken-scratch thang, an Asda-priced Nile Rodgers played by cosmopolitan Mancunians. The vocals, all pent-up anxiety could be Ian Curtis on Lemsip. There’s even an elastic band bassline midway through which threatens, but never quite gets to Level 42 on the muso-meter. I defy you not to wiggle at least a finger to it.

Du The Du also happens to be the track by which LCD Soundsytem’s James Murphy measures (measured?) his own funkiness. If the New York band’s latest track seems weak by comparison, it’s binned forever until something more in keeping with ACR’s wonky, jerky funk turns up. Du the right thing indeed.

Talking of New York…

Such a melting pot of cultures and styles is always going to be responsible for inspiring exciting new trends and movements. ESG was formed by the three Scroggins sisters from the Bronx. Given a variety of instruments by a mum keen to keep them on the right side of wrong, the group took equal inspiration from their Motown favourites and the nascent New York hip hop scene. The result, in a way, was neither. As with ACR, much of their stuff is sparse, cold and music for the feet rather than the head.

A show in Manhattan’s Hurrah club brought ESG to the attention of Factory’s Tony Wilson, himself no stranger to an ACR record (he’d go on to release 5 of their albums on Factory). Wilson brought ESG to Manchester where they recorded with Martin Hannett, fresh, believe it or not, from manning the desk as ACR recorded Du The Du. There’s serendipity right there for you. Or plain old musical incest. 

ESG wouldn’t go on to sell all that many records, but in the intervening years they’ve been a clear influence on bands such as Luscious Jackson and Warpaint. They’ve also found themselves heavily sampled by acts looking for something beyond the usual James Brown riff; Beastie Boys, Tricky, even TLC have found gold within their basslines and rippling drums, leading to a late-era ESG releasing the telling Sample Credits Don’t Pay Our Bills EP.

1982’s Dance To The Beat Of Moody from their EP of the same name is where you should start though:

ESGDance To The Beat Of Moody



As fresh as a hot pretzel on Avenue Of The Americas, it’s great, innit? You wouldn’t be in the least surprised if it were to pop up on BBC 6 Music next week, rotated heavily on the a-list as the hottest new thing. It’s only 36 years young. Original vinyl is almost impossible to track down though and, even of you’re lucky enough to uncover a 1983 press of Come Away With ESG, you’ll need a small bank loan to pay for it. Thankfully, the wonderful Soul Jazz do a good run in re-presses.

Get This!, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Rapped. Rapt.

A fuggy haze hangs low over the East River between Manhattan’s Financial District and the brownstones of Brooklyn. Clattering like one of those wooden toy snakes across the Williamsburg Bridge weaves a long, low train, lazily rolling its way along the J line. Sprayed in a dulling array of  pinks, greens and primary colours, tagged to within an inch of illegibility to those over 35, its contents sit in silence, oblivious to the multi-coloured carnage in which they are cocooned. Inside is not much different. It looks violent. It feels violent. Doors, windows, seat coverings; every available surface space is thick with the same chunkily inked shout-outs to whoever is reading. Every passenger finds a point in front of themselves and focuses, daring not to lift their head and avert their gaze lest they happen to catch the eye of someone close by. Women clutch their bags and count the stops until they can get off. Men, the good ones, the ones who’d like to think of themselves as the have-a-go hero when something bad kicks off in here, try to look both non-threatening  yet tough. The bad ones just look threatening. And tough.

One of the good guys

If this was the start of a movie, it’d be soundtracked by this, Shambala from The Beastie BoysIll Communication LP. Purveyors of the finest gravel-throated shouty hip hop since 1981, Beastie Boys also did a mean line in often-overlooked instrumentals. Shambala is spacey, droney and built upon a bed of Buddhist chants and brooding wah-wah. Kinda vegetarian funk, I suppose. There’s a nice drop out where the hi-hat does its best Theme From Shaft impersonation before the clipped wah-wah brings us back to the incidental music in a 1976 episode of Starsky And Hutch. That wee scratchy noise you can hear in the background isn’t authentic vinyl hiss – it’s the sound of the Stone Roses taking notes in preparation for their next set of ker-ching! comeback dates.

Also on Ill Communication is Bobo On The Corner, another fantastic slice of Beastie funk. More clipped wah-wah and droney bass, this time the sampled Stubblefield-aping shuffle beat comes from, presumably, one of those New York street musicians who can make 3 oil drums and an empty can of vegetable oil from Chinatown sound like a particularly funky octopus playing Give It Up, Turn It Loose. A bit like this guy…(maybe he’s the real Bobo on the corner. Or maybe not)….


If you prefer yer Ad Rocks ‘n MCAs ‘n Mike Ds rrrrrrappin ‘n rrrrrrhymin’, ch-check this out- Ch-Check It Out from 1997’s Hello Nasty, devoid of loops, samples and other assorted musical flim-flam. Just the 3 voices a-riffin’ and a-goofin’ off one another, like Benny and the Top Cat gang recast as super-bratty teenagers. And, bringing us back to where we came from, a vocal-only Stop That Train. Hot cuppa cwawfee and the do’nuts are dunkin’, Friday night and Jamica Queen’s funkin’. Essential!

Ach. Y’know you’re gettin on a bit when Beastie Boys start dying round about you. Rap on, MCA!

Hard-to-find, Live!

What the fuckdiddlyuck has happened to Colonel Gaddafi’s face?

It looks like melted plastic, like someone sat Mickey Rourke too close to the barbecue. It’s the sort of look Michael Jackson might once’ve been proud of. Anyway my highly valued and respected readers, I need your help. In just over 2 weeks time I shall be making my first ever visit to New York City. I am super stoked, as you Americans are fond of saying, and I’m looking for advice.


I know many many Americans visit Plain Or Pan regularly. Some of you are probably native New Yorkers. Many more of you will no doubt have spent time in the city. So. What should I do, where should I go? I plan to visit the Empire State Building, Central Park, Staten Island, Ground Zero etc etc , blah blah blah, all the usual stuff. I’ll do the hop on/hop off bus thing. I’ve applied for tickets to both the Letterman Show and the Daily Show, found out that the diner on the cover of Tom Waits Asylum Years album is an art deco masterpiece called the Empire Diner and is a ‘must visit’ and I plan on sneaking in a wee visit to Bleeker Bob’s Record Shop in Greenwich Village. I also want to see some of the less-well known sites. Off the beaten track New York, you might say. Although I don’t fancy actually being off the beaten track. Nor do I fancy being beaten off the track by some crack-ravaged mugger. Anywhere in safe central Manhattan is fine by me. I am there for 3 nights/4 days. I don’t have tons of money, but I don’t plan on scrimping when I get there either. I’d like three decent meals in reasonably priced eateries (Italian, Chinese, whatever) and I’d like to drink in a bar that’s not too trendy (ie expensive), but I don’t want to end up perched on a stool next to Charles Bukowski in Barfly either.

Over to you my American friends (and any others who’ve visited). Where should I go? Use the comments section under the date on the right hand side to enlighten me. Apparently the tramps, sorry, bums, are fat. Is that right? If so, there’s another couple of fat bums joining them very soon…

ryan adams

Here’s some, like, major tuneage from that talented little fucker (copyright Elton John) Mr Ryan Adams. He really is little – look at the size of him compared to that amp.

New York New York Jam Version (9 min + – fantastic!)

New York New York with The Cardinals

New York New York Enmore Theatre, January this year

All tracks very different and recorded live straight from the soundboard. Top quality ‘n that.