According to Boston funk-metal outfit Extreme, there are III Sides To Every Story. But who cares what they think? However, it does give me an idea for another gimmick series: posting three songs on the same relatively specific subject. Today: Three songs about robberies gone wrong, though the last two words may be redundant since I can’t actually think of any songs about robberies that didn’t go wrong.
Actually, at one stage I was thinking of doing a series called “Criminal Records” about crime and criminals, but I figured it would have to just be about petty theft, otherwise I’d be having to write something lighthearted about murder and stuff, and that seemed a bit dodgy for some reason.
So here are three songs written from the point of view of robbers who’ve been nicked. First is Madness, still in their full-on nutty phase from 1981…
Then from 1982, one of the “lost” Kate Bush singles. It’s from The Dreaming, an album which baffled people at the time and seemed to signal the terminal decline of a promising career, though it’s since risen in stature to be generally viewed as one of her most creative and just plain best albums – right up there with Hounds Of Love. Some people dislike Kate’s accent on this one, though it’s nowhere near as jarring as the broad Australian accent she affects on the album’s title track:
And finally, the biggest commercial success for acclaimed dubmeisters Renegade Soundwave. Much like the Kate Bush song, this is rather an outlier in their catalogue, but a lot of fun…
At least I don’t have to put any effort into this gimmick! First up for this installment, The Sabres Of Paradise. I don’t think there’s any doubt here that the band was named after the song – heck, Andrew Weatherall probably chose it expressly to wind up Jeremy Healy (who in case you didn’t know, was half of Haysi Fantayzee before becoming a top DJ). “Wilmot Meets Lord Scruffage” is easily the best of today’s tracks.
There’s definitely no connection in this instance. Also no similarity at all between the slightly-too-upbeat 80s synthpop of Modern Romance and the gloomy Yeah Yeah Yeahs number with which they share a name.
And no connection here either. Catch (not to be confused with The Catch, who became The Tourists) were an indiepop band of no particular renown. For the last twenty years I’ve been carrying around the idea that one of them was Angus Deayton’s son, but now I come to check it out, this turns out to be nonsense. As for the song, you were going to get The Cure here, but then I found this Sunscreem CD. They never did release the album this was supposed to presage.
I am returning to my folly and taking up teaching exercise classes again. And the first one I am doing is eighties-themed, so I have been tracking down songs from the eighties that are the right tempo (ideally you want songs upward of 135bpm for the high-impact stuff… which is suprisingly difficult) and if at all possible, nicely divided into 32-count sections. You can imagine my delight at discovering that “Fiesta” by The Pogues fits both of those criteria. And my disappointment that “Ace Of Spades” by Motorhead doesn’t (annoyingly, each verse has a single measure where it drops into 3/4 – you wouldn’t even notice it unless you were trying to fit an exercise routine to it and kept mysteriously finding yourself a beat behind. Sometimes you can edit odd beats and half-measures out, but you can’t really edit them in).
Anyway, one thing I’m pondering is how much one can go off the beaten track. I figure most people are going to have a hit song they don’t recognise, especially if they’re under about 35. (I’m guessing “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep might get a few blank looks.) So if I throw in something nobody will know, maybe everyone will think it’s just them. Such as this:
Slapp Happy never get all that much attention in their own right, though they’re prone to appear amid long lists of influences on other bands. Comprising Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause, they were essentially three avant-gardists coming together to make pop music, and their initial run was short but fruitful. Within three years (from mid-1972 to mid-75) they completed five albums, of which four were released at the time: “Sort Of”, backed by Faust, “Slapp Happy”, a kind of proto-chamber-pop album with session musicians, and two collaborations with prog-folk-jazzers Henry Cow, the cabaret-influenced “Desperate Straights” and the Henry Cow-led prog album “In Praise Of Learning”. The self-titled album is the one to seek out. The other album, “Acnalbasac Noom”, is the Faust-backed first attempt at recording the “Slapp Happy” tracklist, which Polydor rejected. It’s quite good too.
So anyway, by mid-75, the Henry Cow collaboration had run its course, but Krause opted to stay with them instead of returning to Slapp Happy, and that was pretty much the end of the group… for a while. But fast foward seven years to 1982, and Slapp Happy were back! Back! Back! Temporarily. The one-off single “Everybody’s Slimmin’!” preceded their first ever live show, after which… they split again. And then there were various other reunions, but maybe we’ll discuss those another time.
“Everybody’s Slimmin'” is a pretty wacky single, and one could imagine it being a hit in the musical climate of 1982, which is an interesting thought. Slapp Happy as one hit wonders, their catalogue overshadowed by a novelty hit? Stranger things have happened. Stranger things have happened to Slapp Happy. But this one didn’t.
To finish, here’s some classic Slapp Happy, with one of their better known songs, “The Drum”:
I think it’s fair to say Siouxsie and the Banshees is one of those bands who enjoyed a long and pretty successful career without ever quite going mainstream. Everybody’s heard of them, but not to the point where your average punter actually knows any songs. They did have some pretty big hits but I can’t remember the last time I heard them played on the radio.
Which is beside the point, because this single – the first from their acclaimed fourth LP A Kiss In The Dreamhouse – wasn’t even a hit really, only hobbling to a disappointing #41. And it’s aimed more at the dancefloor than the radio anyway. It’s pretty funky in a weirdly British psychedelic way, though.
I wouldn’t say the B-sides are hidden gems, but for those who want them, here they are. Both quite doomy and gloomy; “Obsession II” is the instrumental of album track “Obsession”.
Slowdive would of course later be the name of a shoegaze band, due to it being one of singer/guitarist Rachel Goswell‘s favourite songs. And so in 1990, they released “Slowdive” as their debut single… but wait! This isn’t the same song at all! No, having been inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees, they stole the title and wrote their own song instead. Well there’s gratitude for you. But it’s a good song full of shimmering loveliness, so I guess I’ll let them off…
Here’s Slowdive’s “Slowdive” along with its B-sides:
Laurie Anderson has a bit of a reputation – one that she has not exactly discouraged – for making “difficult music”. And considering that her big hit, “O Superman”, was a menacing, eight-minute, mostly a cappella, allegory about US foreign policy, loosely based on an 1885 aria by Jules Massenet, and taken from an eight-hour stage show incorporating music, film and spoken-word musings on everything from the historical reasons for the location of Washington DC to the velocity of sperm… you can see how that reputation arose.
(As an aside, it’s weird to see how many people attribute “O Superman”‘s success to John Peel. OK, he was the first to play it, but when did John Peel ever make anything a hit? Other DJs picked it up and ran with it, that’s what made it a hit…)
However, on the whole, I reckon Anderson’s musical output is not really as difficult as some people, including Anderson herself, would have you believe. For instance, her debut album Big Science – the one including “O Superman” and commissioned off the back of its freak chart success – is distinctive… but it’s pretty accessible. If you like the direction Talking Heads were taking from Fear of Music onwards, then Big Science should hold no fear for you.
My pick-of-the-day is the album’s blackly humorous, Philip Glass-influenced opening song, “From The Air”. (Anderson and Glass go way back – they were friends and collaborators on the New York art scene before either of them became famous.) This particular track was never released as a single (there was a second single from Big Science, but it was an edited version of the title track), so I’ve assembled my own little single-type package for you instead, with a couple of tracks that could have been B-sides at the time. Brooding violin piece “Born, Never Asked” is one of Anderson’s better-known songs (some readers will know it from Spiritualized‘s cover version), and there’s a version on Big Science, but the recording here is from the music-and-poetry collaboration with William S Burroughs and John Giorno, You’re The Guy I Want to Share My Money With, which came out just before Big Science. The other track is from a 1977 collection New Music For Electronic and Recorded Media, an all-female compilation of experimental electronic compositions.