Three from the States

As rock music was fermenting nicely in Britain the real quality was still coming from the States. They had had a couple of years head start on us, they were older, probably cleverer and had better teeth. There’s still a pointless argument to be had as to whether punk was American or British (it was British!) but really the music that was coming over from the east coast was just great rock music.

I’ve written about Television earlier this year

No need to repeat myself, let’s just say they were a great rock band.

Another band that came out of the same scene were Richard Hell and the Voidoids. In keeping with my earlier observations about the American new wave Richard Hell was born in 1949 and was the son of a professor. At school in Delaware he met Tom Miller later Verlaine and eventually moved to New York City to become a poet. As well as poetry he remained friendly with Verlaine and learned to play bass so he could be in a band with his best mate.

Unfortunately two egos in one band wasn’t going to work, Verlaine didn’t really like Hell’s songs and so Hell was out to form his own band and take heroin with Johnny Thunders

Unfortunately two ego’s taking heroin in one band wasn’t going to work and Hell was out of his latest band, The Heartbreakers, and formed his own band with a group of people with lesser egos.

On drums was Marc Bell, later to become Marky the longest living Ramone and Ivan Julian teenage genius guitar player. The secret weapon was other guitarist Robert Quine who set new records for age, baldness and beardedness. But when Quine started playing you forgot you were looking at the college lecturer in humanities. Quine really is one of the all-time great guitarists ever. Never predictable always passionate Quine is all over the band’s first/only/best record Blank Generation. Everything about the record is great from ‘Love Comes in Spurts’ (see even the titles are fantastic) to the spluttering end of ‘All the Way’ where Hell sounds like he is about to be sick.

Hell is often reduced to a footnote in music for being the person to first wear ripped clothes onstage (an idea allegedly nicked by Malcolm McLaren who was in town to manage The New York Dolls) which ignores the fact that he made one of the all-time great rock records. Apart from energy and style its got little to do with punk, the only non-original on the LP is Tom Fogerty’s ‘Walking on the Water’ which fits seamlessly with Hell’s own songs.

If you haven’t ever heard this record listen now please.

The final of the trio of all-time great records is ‘1977’ by Talking Heads. Like Richard Hell the band had been around for a while starting off as the Artistics featuring singer/guitarist David Byrne and drummer Chris Frantz. Unable to find a bass player in the tiny village of New York Frantz’s girlfriend, Tina Weymouth, learned to play the instrument and the band became Talking Heads adding Jerry Harrison from Jonathan Richman’s band The Modern Lovers when things got serious. I had already heard their first single ‘Love goes to a Building on Fire’ and frankly thought it was a mixture if intriguing and irritating. The LP received a patchy review in the NME and I kind of put the band to one side, on the other hand what I did hear sounded great not least the single Psycho Killer.I surrendered to the inevitable, counted up my pennies and made my way to the record shop.

My ears had not deceived me, it’s a great record. Much of its appeal for me is the true love rhythm section (Frantz and Weymouth were married the same year) which is simple but groovy, not unlike the Al Green records of the time. There was guitar but it’s wasn’t the normal rock guitar, this was thin and funky. There was an edgy nervousness in Byrne’s singing which was offset by the groove of the bass and drums. Along with the likes of Psycho Killer and the acceptable funk of ‘Pulled Up’ there was some off the wall stuff like ‘Tentative Decisions’ which fitted in with the vibe of the record without sounding too silly or arty.

The Talking Heads were phenomenally influential, they pointed a way forward to a cooler funkier future away from mainstream rock, within a few years every other band would be using clean Fender Telecasters and funky bass and we would get sick of it.

But for the meantime the band sounded just fine. For the rest of their career I considered The Talking Heads as the punk Wishbone Ash in that I  was never really desperate to buy their records but if I did I knew it would be ok. Buying a Talking Heads record became a default position for times when I had money but no inspiration regarding what record to buy. Sure enough I bought their other records and they were ok but I didn’t have the same love for them as Talking Heads 77.

At this point I had assumed that everything from New York was touched by the hand of God. All that ended when I bought (second hand) the Live at CBGBs album which contains the most terrifying recording I have ever heard ‘Under Over Sideways Down’ by Manster. Hear it before you die, or possibly as you die.

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2 Responses to Three from the States

  1. kcorsini says:

    Great piece… I bought the Television LP ‘Marquee Moon’ after reading your great post on them. This area of music has always been a blind spot for me… well, not the Talking Heads, naturally. Richard Hell and the Voidoids and The Heartbreakers (Not Tom Petty’s guys) are bands I’ve heard of but never knew where to start. Thanks much for this post as a guide!


    • moulty58 says:

      Thanks, as you can guess I’m a big fan of the blank generation LP but never really had any desire to engage with Hell’s next record not sure about the heartbreakers though still making my mind up on that one!


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