Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Clash Star in Rare, Long-Lost 1980′s Gangster Parody 'Hell W10'


Behold fans of The Clash! I present for your viewing pleasure a very rare gangster parody film titled 'Hell W10' (named after the post code of Notting Hill in London) that Clash frontman Joe Strummer wrote and directed during the summer of 1983. It features his band mates and was filmed while the band was on a break from touring. Its bittersweet to watch, as this is the very last creative project the band worked on together before Jones was ousted from The Clash in late 1983.

'Hell W10' is a 50 minute-long, Super-8 silent film that plays like Mean Streets on a shoestring budget. It tells a tale of gang warfare between a brigade of punks led by bassist Paul Simonon and a bunch of sharp-suited gangsters fronted by guitarist Mick Jones. The film is an amateurish, funny, gory, and fascinating document of the early 80's.  It was lost to time until a pair of fans found a copy at a garage sale a few years back (the film was later released as part of the Essential Clash DVD collection).

While it's not exactly the kind of thing you watch again and again, it's worth viewing at least once for the images of London in the early '80s and the gusto with which the band members throw themselves into their roles -- Jones camps it up like a pantomime villain as Mr. Socrates, while Simonon plays his Jimmy Cliff-channeling rude boy nemesis Earl.  Strummer puts in a cameo as a mustachioed crooked cop (prefiguring his later movie work in Alex Cox's 'Straight to Hell' and Jim Jarmusch's 'Mystery Train'). Both Tony James and Martin Degville who later went on to form Sigue Sigue Sputnik also feature in the film.



The plot focuses on Earl (Simonon) and a drug-lord/porn director/crime lord named Socrates (Jones). Earl's girlfriend gets involved with Socrates and soon enough Earl becomes the man's number one enemy. Socrates tries to get his goons on Earl's case, especially after he sells a batch of Socrates' X-rated films, but Earl manages to wrangle up a group of his friends to rebel against them.

Watcher be warned: 'Hell W10' is no masterpiece. The camera work is sloppy at times and individual scenes last longer than they need to. Still, it’s hard not to enjoy any movie with an all-Clash soundtrack, and I got a huge kick out of watching Mick Jones scowl in his white tuxedo like a silent-film Scarface.

The soundtrack is a highpoint and features excerpts from a mix of instrumentals of well known Clash songs, as well as a few rarities including in order "Version City", "Rudie Can't Fail", "First Night Back in London (Instrumental)", "Know Your Rights (Instrumental)", "Long Time Jerk (Instrumental)", "Cool Confusion (Instrumental)", "Ghetto Defendant (Instrumental)", "Junco Version (Instrumental)", "Atom Tam (Instrumental)", "Silicone on Sapphire", "Wrong 'Em Boyo", "Overpowered by Funk (Instrumental)", "The Call Up", "Red Angel Dragnet (Instrumental)", "Jimmy Jazz", "Mensforth Hill", "Junkie Slip", "Time Is Tight", "Armagideon Time", "Listen", "The Equaliser", "Police on My Back", "One More Dub" and "Rock the Casbah (Instrumental).

Without further ado I present in its entirety Hell W10:



Friday, April 7, 2017

Rude Boy George: 80's New Wave Goes Ska!

In the shameless self-promotion department, the band I'm in  -- Rude Boy George -- has just released its first single of 2017! Its part of a suite of ska and reggae versions of 80's songs we've been recording and releasing every few months during the last year and a half (stream the latest songs on Bandcamp or listen to our first album "Confessions" released in 2014 on Spotify.) The latest song is our new wave meets reggae version of Blondie's "Atomic. "  It joins our 2-Tone ska and reggae take on other 80's tracks including songs by Soft Cell, The Cure, Wang Chung, Kim Wilde and Howard Jones.



Truth be told, the twin pillars of 2-Tone ska and 80's new wave music sustained me through much of a challenging youth during the 1980's. 2-Tone revealed harsh economic, social and racial injustices with a power and a fury that was undeniable but also danceable. It forever influenced my world view and moved me to learn an instrument and start a ska band -- Bigger Thomas. Though I tend to be a religious secularist, I've worshipped at the Church of 2-Tone for most of my life.

While new wave retained the vigor and irreverence of 70's punk music that had fueled 2-Tone, it incorporated style and art in a way that opened my world to ideas of love, friendship, sex and fashion and helped give form to my own burgeoning identity. I sought refuge in new wave's incredible diversity of nervy pop (XTC), synth pop (Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Human League), new wave songwriters (Elvis Costello), pop bands (Squeeze, INXS), pop-reggae (The Police) and more mainstream rockers (Billy Idol, The Cars). Here in the U.S. 2-Tone was lumped in with new wave, so in many ways, despite their completely different musical world views they are inextricably linked in my musical consciousness. A yin and yang that forever form the soundtrack of my life. And that is how I see Rude Boy George -- a combination of the two music forms that have sustained me most of my life.

So if you like the idea of some of your favorite 80's new wave songs wrapped in a loving ska and reggae embrace, we hope you will consider giving our songs a spin. Many thanks!

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Story Behind General Public's Other, Much Darker Video For "Tenderness"



For anyone who came of age in the 80's, General Public's video for "Tenderness" was nearly ubiquitous. It featured smiling, happy children, interspersed with moody shots of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger singing and dancing in front of swirling lights.  When paired with the songs upbeat sound, the video highlighted the brighter side of the lyrics more melancholy undertones. Otherwise, the video didn't stand out significantly from the many other pop and new wave videos of the era.



That said, if you really paid attention, the lyrics were deeper than they appeared.  According to Wakeling:

"I used to like traveling with the trucks that carried the gear. I'd always been a big fan of that TV show Cannonball when I was a kid, and thought that the idea of American trucks was very romantic. So when we came on tour, I used to love to drive overnight with the truck drivers and talk rubbish on the CB in there. And so it was as if the trucks were driving in what's called "the endless gray river." And the notion was that you were driving around in there in America searching for the tenderness, whereas, of course, it's in your heart all the time. So it's like you're looking in the outside world for something that can only be discovered in yourself, because love is a verb, not a noun. That was the notion of it. But also there was a darker side to the song, because it came out in that period of AIDS, fear of AIDS. Nobody really knew much about it, and everybody was all of a sudden terrified to touch a door handle. Being a terrific hypochondriac, and everybody was always having colds on the road on tour, it's like any time anybody sneezed, I was like, could that be AIDS? So it was to do with that, but in sort of non-obvious way."

And to that end, there was another, much darker and more adult version of the video for "Tenderness" which was filmed in the U.K. (by the director of Bronski Beat's cutting edge video for "Small Town Boy") that never aired here in the U.S. The story behind the two very different videos is a classic case of American puritanical views on sex and a U.S. record company that was aiming to place the song at the top of the pop charts (it reached #27 in the Billboard Charts) and record a video that would garner regular rotation on MTV. According to Wakeling:

We did two versions. We did one in England with Nicholas Roeg’s son, who’d just become a video director, and he’d just done a Bronski Beat video. I really enjoyed that video, and so our first one had this female lifeguard, and we’re all playing around in the swimming pool. I’d been a competition swimmer, so when they proposed a swimming pool, I said yes yes, thinking I could show off a bit. So the girl and I are supposed to be eyeing each other and then we end up in the shower, and she takes off her jacket and she’s actually a female bodybuilder with a crew cut. She tosses off her wig and embraces me, and that’s the end of the video. Everyone in England thought it was amazing. We brought it over to Miles Copeland and his crew and they said [in a barking tone] “No no no no no.” We said we didn’t have any money to re-shoot, but IRS Records came up with the money. They introduced us to [director] C.D. Taylor whom I like very much, and I think the theme of that video was that Roger and I were very attractive people at sunset. (laugh) We shot much of the performance on the A&M lot. C.D. Taylor found these eye drops that made blue eyes look even bluer with the right lens on. It ended up being my mom’s favorite video. I showed the two cuts to my mom, and she said, “ah, your eyes do look lovely in that one.” 

Check out the radically different UK version of the video for the song below. The risque visuals and storyline of a family man dealing with temptation and infidelity while on the road is far more compelling than most pop videos of the day and completely changes your view of the song forever. Too bad Miles Copeland was so shortsighted!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Remembering Fun Boy Three's "Our Lips Are Sealed"


It's hard to believe that it was 35 years ago this  month (March of 1982), that the Fun Boy Three, comprised of three ex-members of The Specials (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple), released their first self-titled album. It's fair to say that the album had a huge impact on me as a music fan and a musician.  The Fun Boy Three succeeded in taking me out of my comfort zone and also opened my mind to the ways that music could be fun, subversive and serious all at the same time.

While "The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum" had a strong Specials influence --  it was the uniquely strange and hypnotic "Way On Down" along with "Alibi" and the insanely catchy "The Telephone Always Ring" (which explores Hall's agoraphobia) that helped me to appreciate the darkly weird world view and talents of Terry Hall.  As a teen in the early 80's, I was drawn to the colorful haircuts and pop stylings of these songs (their partnership with Bananarama certainly didn't hurt!), but it was hard to grasp the level of sarcasm and black humor that he brought to these songs.  As an adult, I love and relate to them even more.

The first album quickly established Fun Boy Three as pop stars and household names across the U.K.  They quickly followed-up their first with 'Waiting' released in January 1983, which in my humble opinion may be one of the best albums released in the 80's.  Produced by David Byrne of the Talking Heads, it was a beautifully produced and sleek-sounding collection, filled with tales of life's trials and tribulations, covering subjects from child-abuse and drug smuggling to racism, divorce and infidelity. That said, I'm taking a closer look at the story behind of the most popular songs from the album -- 'Our Lips Are Sealed' -- which was named one of the 100 Greatest Pop Songs of all time by Rolling Stone in 2000.

While many casual fans of the song are probably familiar with the 1981 version recorded by The Go-Go's for their 'Beauty and The Beat' LP, the song was actually co-written by the band's guitarist Jane Wiedlin with Terry Hall (which helps explain why two separate versions of the song were released within 2 years).  The Go-Go's version made the Top 20 in the U.S. while the Fun Boy Three version hit #7 in the U.K. According to an interview that Wiedlin did with the Songfacts website, "Our Lips Are Sealed' is actually the story of a secret romance based on a short 'tour affair' that Hall and Wiedlin had when their respective band's toured together:
'In 1980 we were playing at The Whiskey on Sunset Strip, and The Specials were in town from England, and they came to see us, and they really liked us and asked us if we would be their opening act on their tour. I met Terry Hall, the singer of The Specials, and ended up having kind of a romance. He sent me the lyrics to 'Our Lips Are Sealed' later in the mail, and it was kind of about our relationship, because he had a girlfriend at home and all this other stuff. So it was all very dramatic. I really liked the lyrics, so I finished the lyrics and wrote the music to it, and the rest is history. And then his band, The Fun Boy Three, ended up recording it, too - they did a really great version of it, also. It was like a lot gloomier than the Go-Go's' version.'
Wiedlin and Hall's versions offer insight into their personal take on the  affair (one upbeat, poppy and sunny and the other very dark and claustrophobic). Speaking about her relationship with Terry Hall, Wiedlin added:
"Like I said, he had a girlfriend in England, and they were talking about getting married and all this stuff. So I don't know how I got in the picture. And, you know, that's something that I did as a teenager, maybe I was 20. That's something I would never do now, knowingly enter into a relationship with someone who was with someone else. I mean, it was completely screwed on my part. Although I think when people do that, you really have to look at the person who's in the relationship, and they have to take the burden of the responsibility as well. Anyways, it was one of those things with the tragic letters, "I just can't do this." You know, "I'm betrothed to another." All that kind of stuff. And I think he ended up marrying that woman, and having kids, and of course now they're divorced, so… ."
The Go-Go's version:


A rare promo version by Fun Boy Three:


The Fun Boy Three also recorded an Urdu version of the song (yes Urdu, one of the main languages of Pakistan). There are two possible stories behind the recording of this rare b-side version. The first is that Ingrid Schroeder, a member of the Fun Boy Three backing band, read and recorded phonetic Urdu lyrics (which seems plausible given the rather flat sound of the vocal delivery). The other story (which I prefer!) is that the band brought an older Pakistani woman into the studio and had her translate and then record the lyrics. The band may have been prompted to record the Urdu version by the album's producer David Byrne, who  had recently recorded  'My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts' with Brian Eno which featured a lot of 'found' voices mixed with danceable beats. Have a listen below.



'Our Lips Are Sealed' continues to have legs nearly 30 years later. The song was re-worked by Nouvelle Vague and Terry Hall in 2009. The video features an old Louise Brooks movie.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Happy Birthday Terry Hall!: Watch Rare Solo Gig Performance From 2014


Today is Terry Hall's 58th birthday!  While he is best known as the lead singer of The Specials, Hall has a large (and somewhat overlooked catalog) of non-ska music that is amazing in its depth and variety. Hall's musical journey includes fronting Fun Boy Three (a personal favorite of mine), The Colourfield, Terry, Blair and Anouchka, Vegas (with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics) and a solo career that included collaborations with Ian Broudie (lead singer of Lighting Seeds who produced Hall's album "Home") and Damon Albarn (of Blur). 

To celebrate Hall's birthday, I've posted a video from a one off, solo show he played back in January 2014, that was hosted by clothing giant Fred Perry on the closing night of London Men’s Fashion Week. For the show, Hall enlisted the musical talents of fellow Specials’ band mates, Horace Panter on bass and John ‘Brad’ Bradbury on drums as well as Lightning Seed’s front man Ian Broudie, with whom he had co-written a string of hits, keyboardist Angie Pollock, who worked with him on "Home," and Specials’ trombone player, Tim Smart.

The group performed a short set comprising some of Hall’s favorite songs and classics from his own back catalogue, including "Sense," a hit for both him and the Lightning Seeds, and the Fun Boy Three chart-smash, "Our Lips Are Sealed."



And finally, here is a rare and brilliant version of the Talking Heads classics "Psycho Killer"that Hall performed with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Story Behind 'Love Of The Common People': From Country Ballad To 70's Reggae To 80's New Wave Hit


The first time I heard 'Love Of The Common People' as sung by 80's blue-eyed soul singer Paul Young, I was struck by the lyrics to the song. In contrast to much of the other cheery new wave that dominated the airwaves at the time,  the lyrics tell a bleak story of poverty and joblessness. There is a mention of 'free food tickets,' a reference to government food stamp and welfare programs, and the mention of clothes and shoes with holes that is offset by family love and the power of dreams. Only later did I learn about the songs reggae and 2-Tone connections -- Young's version was based on a cover of a reggae version of the song popular in the U.K. in the 70's and the searing trombone solo in the middle eight of Young's version is played by the one and only Rico Rodrigues of The Specials!

"Love Of The Common People" has an amazing history and is the rare song that has been performed and covered in a verity of musical genres including punk, reggae and 80's pop. The song was written as a Woody Guthrie-like folk ballad by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins in the late 60's.  Though Hurley and Wilkins did not expressly convey it the lyrics, the song is a protest of what they saw as the failure of the American government to do more for the poor and unemployed than it already had. As we endure the first few months of the Trump Administration, I could not think of a more appropriate song to write about, as a Republican dominated Congress seeks to cut and limit more and more of the safety net of the Affordable Healthcare Act, unemployment insurance, and other benefits that the millions of Americans have used to support themselves.

The song was first released in January 1967 in the U.S. by The Four Preps but gained prominence when it was recorded by Country singer Waylon Jennings.   However, the most powerful versions of the song are the soul and reggae takes.  The first was recorded by Washington, D.C soul/funk band The Winstons in 1969. However the definitive version --in my humble opinion -- was recorded by reggae vocalist Nicky Thomas in 1970, reaching number 9 in the UK Singles Chart. It was Thomas's only major hit single, and became his signature song, coming to define the term 'pop reggae'.





The story of how Paul Young came to record the song is very interesting.  Young met Jake Burns of Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers at one of their concerts.  The band had added the song to their live set and Young asked Burns whether Stiff Little Fingers were planning to release the song as a single. When Burns told them they weren't, Young asked if they minded him releasing it as a single. They said he could, not thinking the single would do well. Burns later self-mockingly stated in an interview, 'Pfft! Go ahead. You'll never get anywhere with that, mate. Yeah, number 2, that'll teach me!'. The Stiff Little Finger's version has a great punky reggae feel.



Young initially released his interpretation of 'Love of the Common People as a single in 1982, but it failed to chart. It was only when Young had his first hit in 1983 with 'Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)' that his record company decided to release the song again. The single peaked at #2 in the UK, and reached the number one spot in Ireland and the Netherlands. The song features a wonderful trombone solo in the middle which was provided courtesy of the one and only Rico Rodriguez. The trombonist had just endured the break-up of The Specials and decided to branch out and was tapped by Young to join his band.  Rodriguez mentioned the song in an interview.
Q: And it was time to escape the English raining to some sunshine for a change.
A: Yes, and before me go to Jamaica me do one recording with Paul Young, a song from Nicky Thomas, 'Love Of The Common People', and I think Paul Young made a hit out of it.
Q: OK, pop stuff.
A: Yes, and I did the solo in that. And when I was in Jamaica I used to hear it on the radio in Jamaica, but since I'm in Jamaica here nobody don't even know is me who do the solo on that record. But it got regular play, it was regularly played on the radio.
Look for Rodrigues in the video of the song below.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Madness Play Madmen - The Story Behind Their Early 80's Honda TV Ads


Madness fans are generally quite familiar with the songs 'In The City' and 'Driving In My Car'. They are both classics of the band's trademark 'Nutty Sound.' However, chances are that if you lived outside of Japan in the early 80's you might not have known that Madness appeared in a series of incredibly entertaining television ads for the Honda City, a small sub-compact car that came with a small folding motorcycle called the Motocompo that fit snugly in hatchback.

The story behind how Madness came to be pitchmen for Honda is one full of corporate intrigue and perseverance and ultimately success for the car maker and the band.  The Honda City was supposed to be a game changer for the Japanese car maker which at the time was stuck in a sales drought. Much thought and energy was put into its design and once it was ready to be shipped to dealers it needed an ad campaign. Looking to connect with a younger consumer, Honda's marketing team unexpectedly turned to Madness, then riding high in the charts, hoping they might just be perfect for a series of super-frantic TV spots. According to the Honda web site: '...the sales promotion staff attempted something completely different. They tried to create original music for young people, paying extra attention to rhythm in order to build a sense of pace and anticipation for the product. To that end, the production staff flew to New York in the hope of gathering musicians to create a City band. It was then that someone passed along the information that there was an English band that played a unique form of ska music, and that their dance style also was quite unique. The band was virtually unknown to Japanese music fans, but the staff decided to employ them anyway, attracted by their oddity and novelty. Upper management, however, simply would not hear of it.'


There was much back and forth between the promotion staff and Honda senior management, but finally, after multiple proposals, the executive in charge of bringing the car to market gave the marketers the green light and Madness were invited to Japan.  According to Honda: 'The recording, photo sessions, and commercial filming were completed in rapid succession. In fact, production took only two-and-a-half days during the band’s four-day stay in Japan. With the completion of the scene featuring the Centipede Dance [Nutty Train] to the music of the now-famous “Honda, Honda, Honda” tune'.  The ads had the intended effect and Japanese consumers fell in love with the band. As soon as the commercials began airing, the “Honda, Honda, Honda” melody and the 'nutty train' dance became a huge hit throughout Japan, popping up at school festivals and parties. As for the Honda, they had a hit on their hands as well.

As it turned out, the band liked the jingle so much that they expanded it into a three minute song and released it as a b-side (B/W "Cardiac Arrest") that reached #14 in the UK charts. It was also included on Complete Madness, the band's best-selling greatest hits compilation from 1982. The longer version of "In The City" replaced the repeated brand name "Honda Honda Honda..." with the more generic "doomba doomba doomba". Later ads for the Honda City featured snippets of  the song 'Driving In My Car' which was also a hit for the band.

Below are videos of the band's ad's for Honda as well as the video's for 'In The City' and 'Driving In My Car'.







The band have continued to serve as pitchmen, most notable in the early 90's for Sekonda wrist watches. More recently the band's lead singer Suggs has served as spokesperson for Birds Eye fish fingers and in 2011 the band partnered with premium lager brand Kronenbourg 1664, to record an amazing, slowed down re-arrangement of 'Baggy Trousers' (re-titled 'Le Grand Pantalon) for a music-centered ad for the brand's ‘Slow the Pace’ campaign.