Category: Music

RIP Tommy Ramone

Aw, damn. That’s the end of an era then – no more Ramones. Tommy Ramone, the last remaining original member and founder of the first generation punk legends has left the building, aged only 62 (some reports say 65). Admittedly, that’s a fairly good innings for a Ramone – of the classic, original line-up, vocalist Joey died in 2001 aged only 49, with bassist Dee Dee dying the following year at the age of 50 and guitarist Johnny following in 2004 at 55.

Born Erdélyi Tamás in Budapest, Tommy Ramone moved with his family to New York in the mid-1950s, where he met the three young men who were to become Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee Ramone. Originally the band’s manager, he ended up as their drummer because, as Dee Dee later put it, “nobody else wanted to”. Never the world’s most technical or complex drummer (which, quite frankly, didn’t matter one bit), Tommy provided a solid backbeat to the band’s first three classic albums, Ramones (1976), Leave Home (1977) and Rocket To Russia (1977), as well as handling co-production duties.

He left the band in 1978, ostensibly worn out after constant touring but really because the tensions within the band had become too much for him, although he continued in a management and production role with the band for some time after. He continued to play music and produce various bands until he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. He died yesterday, at home in Queens, New York – and the classic line-up of the Ramones was finally reunited in rock ‘n’roll heaven….

The Ramones were one of those bands who had an enduring and powerful influence above and beyond their (lack of) commercial success. Never big sellers in their native America (their self-titled debut only went gold earlier this year!), but that debut album had a huge and lasting pivotal impact on the early British punk scene before being picked up by cult American bands such as Social Distortion, Bad Brains, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Ministry and Bad Religion. They’ve been cited as an influence by everyone from Evan Dando, Dave Grohl and Eddie Vedder to Green Day, Lemmy and Kirk Hammett – and the list goes on and on and on.

It’s easy to hear why they were (and still are) just so damn influential – particularly on those legendary first three albums. Their deceptively simple yet distintive and immediate sound is impossible to resist – or to replicate, although many have tried. It’s that unlikely and irresitable melding of 70s rock, 50s rock ‘n’ roll, girl groups, surf music, bubblegum pop, and classic protopunk bands like The Stooges and The New York Dolls that made them so utterly wonderful. For me, they were unique, one of the definitive punk bands with a sound and an attitude that still makes me smile every time I hear them. It is genuinely sad that they are all gone now – this really is the end of a great musical era.

RIP Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee and Johnny.

Gabba gabba hey!

Quote of the Day: Melody Maker explains why rock ‘n’ roll will never work…

Once upon a time, there were four weekly music papers in the UK. These were Sounds, Record Mirror (both of which folded in the early 1990s), the New Musical Express (still published and better known as the NME) and the grandaddy of them all,  Melody Maker, which originally dated back to the mid 1920s and finally gave up the ghost in 2000. Affectionately known as ‘inkies’ because they were once published on the kind of newsprint that covered your fingers in black ink as you turned the pages, these publications were a hugely important part of the lives of generations of British music fans and introduced many a music-mad teenager to the latest, greatest hot new thing. But they didn’t always get it right…

Melody Maker, in particular, began life as a paper aimed squarely at jazz and dance band musicians, and as such they stubbornly and snobbishly ignored the growth of a new kind of popular music that began to emerge in the 1950s – the ‘cheap and nasty’ threat of rock ‘n’ roll. If they did mention it, it was to dismiss it as a pointless and distasteful fad that they desperately hoped would never catch on, as reviewer and broadcaster Steve Race wrote in May 1956:

Viewed as a social phenomenon, the current craze for Rock-and-Roll material is one of the most terrifying things ever to have happened to popular music. [...] Musically speaking, of course, the whole thing is laughable. [...] The Rock-and-Roll technique, instrumentally and vocally, is the antithesis of all that jazz has been striving for over the years – in other words, good taste and musical integrity. [...] It is a monstrous threat, both to the moral acceptance and artistic emancipation of jazz. Let us oppose it to the end.

The irony in this, of course, is that these are exactly the kind of negative things that were said about jazz in its early days too (and worse – a great deal of the criticism aimed at the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s had a distinctly and often openly racist tone to it). Even more ironically, a direct line can be drawn from the British ‘Trad’ jazz scene of the 1950s to the rhythm and blues-based rock scene of the early- to mid-1960s that gave us the likes of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds via the ‘Skiffle’ craze of the late 50s (which was where the Beatles started out….).

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Quote of the Day: Julian Cope on being on Top Of The Pops

Sorting through a large file of newspaper clippings this afternoon, I came across this 2008 article from The Times on the subject of the legendary and late-lamented British music TV show, Top Of The Pops. The article quotes Julian Cope on the subject of his 1981 appearance on the show with Teardrop Explodes. If you know anything about Cope and his eccentric working methods, you’ll soon realise that this was no ordinary TOTP performance – in fact, he had dropped some acid beforehand, which probably wasn’t particularly sensible under the circumstances, since:

The piano started melting and I was wading up to my thighs in it by the chorus.

I dread to think how much mess that made….

Just say no to melting pianos, kids.

Top 50 1970s Albums: The Full List

Last year, after much deliberation, I posted a list of my favourite fifty albums from the 1990s. Since then, I’ve compiled a 1970s list, which you can find in full below. For more information on the Top 50 Albums Lists project, visit the blog here – and you can find lots more 70s Top 50s on the List of Lists here.

50) The Police – Reggatta de Blanc (1979)

49) Madness – One Step Beyond (1979)

48) The Damned – Damned Damned Damned (1977)

47) Marianne Faithfull – Broken English (1979)

46) Lou Reed – Transformer (1972)

45) Various Artists – Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968 (1972)

44) Gram Parsons – GP (1973)

43) Sly & The Family Stone – There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971)

42) Iggy & The Stooges – Raw Power (1973)

41) John Martyn – Solid Air (1973)

40) Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express (1977)

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Albums of the Year 2013

Since 2013 has finally drawn to a close (and since so many people asked me to), I’ve compiled the now-traditional end-of-year list of my favourite albums. As far as I’m concerned, 2013 has been a very interesting year for music. I’ve certainly been listening to more new albums over the last twelve months than I have done for a very long time – particular thanks must go to the #twitterindiecrew for all their excellent suggestions and recommendations (you know who you are!) – although this has also been a year for (re)discovering many old favourites too, which is perhaps reflected in the choice of artists and albums below…

10) MARK LANEGAN – IMITATIONS:

I confess that I find it pretty difficult to resist almost anything Lanegan does; I could listen that wonderful, world-weary voice of his sing the phone book and still love it. One of the joys of his voice is the sheer range of styles he can sing – everything from the blistering rock roar of his work with Screaming Trees to his delicate take on some of the well-known standards and more obscure tracks that appear here. Highlights include a lovely version of Nick Cave’s ‘Brompton Oratory’ (and I am not a Nick Cave fan), an astonishing reworking of the Bond theme ‘You Only Live Twice’, a gorgeous, heartbreaking take on Neil Sedaka’s ‘Solitaire’ and, to my delight, a deliciously melancholy version of Brecht and Weill’s classic ‘Mack The Knife’. This album is a fascinating treat for the music lover.

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‘Teenage dreams/So hard to beat': #KeepingItPeel 2013

#KeepingItPeel - October 25th (image via http://keepingitpeel.wordpress.com/)Nine years ago, on 25th October 2004, one of music’s great spirits left us. The word ‘legend’ is bandied around a great deal, but John Peel really was a legend – indeed, if you are a serious music fan, I can guarantee that a large percentage of your collection wouldn’t actually exist without him. He is still held in such affection by so many music lovers simply because he was one of us. He just got lucky and ended up on the radio, sharing his passion for music with generations of fans who religiously tuned in to his late-night Radio 1 show to hear what wonderful strangeness he was playing this time (often at the wrong speed – gotta love that vinyl!)

And his influence continues to this day, which is why Peel fans everywhere celebrate #KeepingItPeel every 25th October by posting something Peel-related online to honour his memory and legacy. This year, I decided to keep it simple and post the video to his favourite song ever (in fact, the opening lines to this glorious slice of pop-punk are carved on his tombstone) – and a truly classic song it is too….

Review: Pearl Jam – ‘Lightning Bolt’ (2013)

Lots of people on Twitter last night were asking for my views on this album, so I thought I’d scribble a quick review for all interested parties…

I fell in love with Pearl Jam twenty-two years ago with the release of the now classic Ten album. I was a messed-up fifteen year old back then, and it was probably inevitable, I guess! Since then, they’ve released a series of good and occasionally brilliant albums and I have continued to be a fan – but none of their last few albums have really captured and held my interest. Until this one.

The excellent punky lead-off single ‘Mind Your Manners’ (video below) had already piqued my curiosity in a big way, making me more excited about a new Pearl Jam album than I had been since sometime in the 1990s. And they didn’t let me down – even on the strength of a few early listens, it’s already obvious that Lightning Bolt is easily one of the best albums they have released in years.

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5) Nirvana – In Utero (1993)

trickygirl:

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s highly influential final studio album In Utero, an album that has played a huge part in my life over those years – so I’m reblogging the review I wrote a few months back for the Top 50 Nineties Albums blog here…

Originally posted on Top Fifty Albums Lists:

Much as I love Nevermind (and it’s still a great record), it is this, Nirvana’s final studio album, which – in my view – proudly stands head and shoulders above everything else they ever released – and that’s despite my stated and probably irrational fondness for 1989’s Bleach. However, and even with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, it’s still very difficult to properly approach In Utero without everything that went alongside rearing its ugly head.

Indeed, you can still look at it as Kurt Cobain’s final, most tragic artistic statement, with all that implies (which it wasn’t, really – the version he originally wanted was eventually watered down a little for the record company) – or you can strip away all the bullshit and see it as one of the best albums to come out of the Seattle scene full stop; as one of the last great…

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Quote of the Day: Johnny Marr on the demand for The Smiths to reform

If people get genuinely upset and frustrated that four men that last played together 25 years ago are doing other things, then those people need to go and find a hobby. If the band only split up two years ago it might be a different matter, but 25 years? Come on. It’s a long time. If you like the Smiths, the records, photographs and memories are all plenty to be getting along with.

It’s long been known that Mr Marr is the type of chap who does not mince his words and says exactly what he thinks (in fact, he’s featured in Quote of the Day before, doing just that) – and it was only a matter of time before he commented on the endless cycle of Smiths reunion rumours that seem to do the rounds – online and off – on a regular basis. With Marr’s career seemingly back on the up – and Morrissey’s seemingly headed in the opposite direction – it appears (not for the first time) that many people see now as the perfect moment for this legendary band to get back on the road, at the very least.

But any member of any influential ex-band with a strong cult following like that of The Smiths will be bombarded with such rumours every so often – just as long as they stay an ex-band. Far-fetched stories of a Clash reunion were circulating right up until Joe Strummer’s death in 2002 (according to Pat Gilbert’s fascinating 2005 book Passion Is A Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash, the closest that came to happening was in 1996, oddly enough round about the same time as the Sex Pistols reformed), and the repeated mutterings that the Stone Roses would get back together provoked a bit of a rant from me a couple of years ago (the fact that they eventually did is still a bit of a sore point…)

Because that’s the thing. It’s never going to be the same, is it? When a band of that sort of status reforms, people are looking for nostalgia, looking for an experience that is just like it was back in the day. Basically, they’re looking for the greatest hits. And it’s never going to be like that, not after so long. Half-close your eyes and squint, and yeah, the band up on the stage could be exactly the same as the one you fell in love with twenty five years ago – but, to be honest, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that they’re all actually middle aged and have moved on with their lives, their careers, their interests.

I’m with Johnny on this one. I’ll hold tight to my memories and continue to enjoy the music that bands like The Smiths left behind.

And yes, I’ll carry on hoping they don’t reform…