Pere Ubu were the quintessential midwestern art punks of the 1970s. Simon Reynolds notably referred to the music of Cleveland’s Ubu and Akron’s DEVO as “industrial grotesquerie.”
Charting the various trajectories of all the musicians connected with Pere Ubu during the 1980s would tax my paltry mental resources, but suffice it to say that Ubu put out an album called Song of the Bailing Man in 1982, after which the band split apart into two entities, Home and Garden (which did not include David Thomas) and David Thomas and the Wooden Birds (which did). But some centripetal force kept pulling the two parts together again, until in 1988 Scott Krauss rejoined Thomas and bassist Tony Maimone and sax/synth man Allen Ravenstine for what had looked to be another Wooden Birds recording but with that much Ubu DNA, it seemed sensible to regard it as an official Ubu release.
That album was The Tenement Year, and it was a triumph. Robert Christgau gave the album an A and wrote that “this record proves not only that good-hearted eccentrics can live in the world, but that they can change it for the better.”
Roland Rat with Samantha Fox
In 1988 Ubu traveled to the U.K. where they made what purportedly was the band’s first-ever appearance on British television, to play “We Have the Technology,” the final cut from The Tenement Year, for the final episode of a show hosted by a puppet rat named Roland.
Roland Rat appears to have sprung into existence on a British “breakfast network” called TV-am in 1983. Roland Rat (the show) enjoyed a three-year run on BBC from 1985 to 1988 before materializing on Channel 5 in the late 1990s for a series set in Los Angeles called (predictably enough) L.A. Rat. Roland’s full name seems to have been Roland Rat Superstar, and he released two albums under that name, the first of which featured a track called “Rat Rapping,” which I’m confident isn’t cringeworthy in the least.
The great American blues singer and pianist Victoria Spivey’s long and influential career began as part of her family’s string band which was led by her father, who would die when she was just seven. After this, Victoria would perform by herself at parties and various events around Houston, and later accompanying silent movies on the organ at the Lincoln Theater in Dallas.
Although she was mostly a solo act in her early years, on occasion she would perform with accompaniment from Blind Lemon Jefferson on guitar. Spivey took her cue from “dirty” blues belter Ida Cox penning and performing bawdy songs about drugs and sex in various dives, speakeasies, houses of ill repute, gambling parlours and gay bars.
King Vidor cast Spivey as the good girl Missy in his 1929 classic Hallelujah, one of the first Hollywood films with sound. Queen Vee was a star of Broadway’s famous Hellzapoppin’ Revue in the 1930s and logged many miles of road time with Louis Armstrong as a featured singer in various incarnations of his touring groups. Spivey retired from showbiz in 1951, but when the folk craze of the early 1960s hit, she found herself in demand again.
She and her boyfriend, jazz scholar Len Kunstadt, formed the Spivey Records label in 1962. Her first release on her own label featured a young Bob Dylan as a backing vocalist and harmonica player and the label would release albums by Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Big Joe Williams, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Lonnie Johnson, Memphis Slim, and Louis Armstrong. Victoria Spivey died in 1976 and the label was kept going until Kunstadt’s passing in 1996.
She recorded her first song, “Black Snake Blues” for the famed OKeh label in 1926. Here she is performing it in 1963 during the American Folk Blues Festival European Tour with Lonnie Johnson on guitar and Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica.
“Girls with guitars? That won’t work,” quipped John Lennon as he watched four girls take the stage of the Cavern Club, Liverpool in 1963. The band was The Liverbirds and Lennon’s attitude was the kind of dumb prejudice these four faced every time they picked up their guitars and blasted an audience with their hard rockin’ R’n'B.
The Liverbirds were formed in Liverpool 1963. The original line-up was Valerie Gell (guitar), Mary McGlory (bass), Sylvia Saunders (drums), together with Mary’s sister, Sheila McGlory (guitar) and Irene Green (vocals). The band’s name was lifted from the liver bird—the mythical bird (most probably a cormorant) that symbolises the city of Liverpool and they were all girls (“birds” in the youthful parlance of the time). The group practiced every day until they were better than most of the local boy bands who were merely copycatting local heroes The Beatles.
The Liverbirds were apparently so good (if a bit rough around the edges) they were snapped up to tour with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Rockin’ Berries. However, it was soon apparent that the girls—unlike the boys—were were being cheated out of a big part of their fees by booking agents—a crushing disappointment that led to the loss of their lead singer and guitarist to other bands.
It was beginning to look as if Lennon was right, but the girls refused to give up and continued touring with The Kinks. Unlike their northern counterparts, London’s all male bands The Kinks and The Stones were supportive of The Liverbirds—as Mary McGlory recalled in a letter to the Liverpool Beat in 2014:
The Kinks took us down to London to meet their manager, even booked us into a hotel, and told us to come to the studio tomorrow and bring our guitars with us (maybe there might be time to play a song for their manager). When we arrived there, the roadie came in and told The Kinks that their guitars had been stolen out of the van – so this was how The Kinks played our guitars on their hit recording of “You really got me“.
Absolute nonsense- they were a cool band but this DID not happen.
On YRGM I use my Harmony meteor thru the elpico green amp and ray used his tele and pete used his blue fender bass…what a load of bollocks.
However, The Kinks did help save The Liverbirds from splitting-up by suggesting they bring Pamela Birch in as vocalist. Birch was a big blonde bee-hived singer/guitarist. She had a deep bluesy voice which harmonized beautifully with Valeri Gell’s vocals. Birch was a perfect fit for the band.
They were a hit at the Cavern Club. They were a hit across the country. They were a hit on tour. But the band hailed as the all-girl Beatles at the height of Beatlemania couldn’t even get a record deal in England. However, things soon started to shift.
First Kinks’ manager Larry Page and then Beatles manager Brian Epstein wanted to sign The Liverbirds. But the girls were off to Hamburg to play the Star Club. The band was an instant hit in Germany as Mary McGlory recalls:
We arrived in Hamburg on the 28th May, 1964 and played the same night. The crowd was great and loved us right away. The Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder became our one and only MANAGER.
A few days later he sent us to Berlin to play at a big concert with Chuck Berry, shortly before we went on stage we were told that it was forbidden to play any Chuck Berry songs. Well that was impossible for us, so when Val went to the mike and announced “Roll over Beethoven”, Berry’s manager ran on stage and tried to stop us playing, Val pushed him away and told him to “F. Off”.(She had probably had a shandy). Back in Hamburg, Manfred called us to his office, we thought he was going to tell us off, but no such thing, Chuck Berry’s manager wanted to take us to America. Manfred said he would leave the decision up to us, but then he added – he will probably take you to Las Vegas, and there you will have to play topless! Well of course that was his way of putting us off. After all, the club was still crowded every night.
The band had hits with the songs “Peanut Butter,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Loop-de-Loop,” and “Diddley Daddy.” Although in performance they played the very same Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry covers favored by the Stones and other boys, Birch also started writing original numbers, producing such favorites as “Why Do You Hang Around Me?” and “It’s Got To be You.” Though pioneering and incredibly popular, the girls (now in their late teens-early twenties) still faced the everyday sexism from record industry supremos who thought young girls should be on the scene, but not heard. Not unless they were in the audience screaming. These men wanted girls who dressed to please—not girls who played instruments better than the boys. Girls with guitars? That won’t work. Except for that, of course, it did. Splendidly!
In 1968, on the cusp of a Japanese tour the band split:
Until 1967, we played nearly all over Europe, recorded two albums and four singles for the Star-Club label and appeared on many television shows. Our drummer Sylvia married her boyfriend John Wiggins from The Bobby Patrick Big Six and left the band. Shortly after Val married her German boyfriend Stephan, who had a car accident on his way to visit her and was since paralyzed. So when we got an offer from Yamaha to do a tour of Japan at the beginning of 1968, Pam and I had to find two German girls to replace them. Japan was great, and the Japanese people really liked us, but Pam and I did not enjoy it anymore, we missed the other two, the fun had gone out of it. We thought this is the right time to finish, even though we were still only 22 and 23.
Today McGlory, Gell and Saunders continue with their post-Liverbirds lives. Sadly, Pamela Birch died in 2009. However, this all-girl guitar band should be given credit for pioneering rock and roll, R ‘n’ B and being right up there for a time with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.
I’m cribbing this from a smart friend: How do you explain to a child born in a year like 2008 what the sentiment “we’re gonna party like it’s 1999” was supposed to mean when that song was released way back in 1982? (Later he pointed out the sobering fact that 2016 is as far removed from 1999 as 1982 is.)
For those who were there in the early 1980s, the midnight throwdown on December 31, 1999, was absolutely going to be the apocalyptic bash for the ages—even if it didn’t necessarily work out that way in practice. If that song solidified “1999” as a supreme signifier for a Sixteen Candles level blowout celebration, it also cemented Prince’s status as the number-one muthafucka when it comes to how to party.
But doesn’t that make you wonder what songs Prince would play if he were to throw a party? Strangely enough, we actually have the data on that particular topic.
In 2013 the FOX show New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel aired a post-Super Bowl episode in which the characters Jess and Cece are invited to a party thrown by Prince. A gentleman named Steve Welch, employed by the show as an editor, took to Twitter late last week to explain that Prince actually sent the staff of the FOX show a list of his typical party jams so that the program’s representation of Prince in party mode would at least be halfway accurate.
For your convenience, here’s a Spotify playlist containing these tracks:
Here’s the playlist written out:
“City in the Sky,” The Staple Singers
“Country John,” Allen Toussaint
“Fire,” Ohio Players
“Happy House,” Shuggie Otis
“Higher Ground,” Stevie Wonder
“I Was Made to Love Him,” Chaka Khan
“Listen to the Music,” The Isley Brothers
“The Lord is Back,” Eugene McDaniels
“Lost in Music,” Sister Sledge
“The Pinocchio Theory,” Bootsy Collins
“Rubber Duckie,” Bootsy Collins
“Skin Tight,” Ohio Players
“We’re Gettin’ Too Close,” The Soul Children
“Wild and Free,” Curtis Mayfield
“After The Love Has Gone,” Earth, Wind & Fire
“Back in Baby’s Arms,” Allen Toussaint
“Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” The Isley Brothers
“Don’t Take My Sunshine,” The Soul Children
“How Could I Let You Get Away,” The Spinners
“I’ll Be Around,” The Spinners
“Push Me Away,” The Jacksons
“Stay With Me,” Shirley Brown
“The Thrill Is Gone,” Aretha Franklin
Nine Inch Nails’ Broken (also known as The Broken Movie) is a 1993 short film featuring four music videos from the Broken EP with wrap-around segments shot in the style of an amateur snuff film. The extremely graphic film was directed by Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and Hipgnosis design group fame.
The NSFW video has never seen an official release (perhaps because no label would want to put their name on it?) and has to this day been a difficult piece to track down.
The terrifying, violent, and unforgettable film was originally “leaked” by Trent Reznor himself via hand-dubbed VHS tapes in the ‘90s. The original tapes were given by Reznor to various friends with video dropouts at certain points so he could know who redistributed any copies that might surface. Reznor, later implied in a comment on the Nine Inch Nails website that Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers was responsible for the most prominent leak of the original tape.
In 2006 and 2013 the film was briefly “leaked” to the Internet, many believe by Reznor himself. In both cases, the film disappeared quickly. In the case of the 2013 “leak,” the entire video was made available for streaming on Vimeo via the Nine Inch Nails Tumblr account, but was removed by Vimeo almost immediately.
For the time being (in other words, WATCH IT WHILE YOU CAN), Broken has been uploaded to Archive.org under fair use laws.
It’s not for the squeamish, so we’re tucking of after the jump…
Can you find Tommy Chong in this group shot of Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers?
During the musical section of their set at LA’s Novo on Wednesday, Cheech and Chong played a song called “Does Your Mama Know About Me.” Chong wrote the lyrics for the number, which was a hit Motown single in 1968, and which Cheech says he adored before he ever met Chong. YouTube has fuzzy smartphone video of the duo performing it at a 2011 show.
As Cheech tells the story, he moved to Canada in ‘68—not to evade the draft, of course, but to protect Canada from a Vietnamese invasion—and when he was introduced to his future partner in Vancouver the following year, he immediately recognized him as the “T. Chong” credited on the label of that Motown record about an interracial couple he’d spun so many times.
Chong was one of the guitarists in Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, itself an interracial group which got some press by changing its name to “Four N*ggers and a Chink” during an engagement at Dante’s Inferno; lead singer Taylor is often credited with discovering the Jackson 5. Berry Gordy signed Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers to the Motown subsidiary Gordy Records in 1967. Their recording of “Does Your Mama Know About Me” peaked at number 29 on the Billboard chart in May, 1968, and the Supremes’ version appeared on their Love Child LP, released later that year. This post from Night Flight goes into Chong’s musical career in some detail, but the best source is Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography:
...just before we were discovered by the Supremes and Berry Gordy, I wrote a poem that started our songwriting career. Tom Baird, who was a talented keyboardist and composer, read my poem and put music to it. It was a poem about a black guy asking his girlfriend if her mama knew about him. The song was also about my own experiences with white women. Being half Chinese, there had been times—actually, many of them—when I had to drop a girl off at the end of the block so her parents wouldn’t see who she was dating. That experience saddened me. It hurt to know that my race was a deciding factor for white people.
Soon the Harlettes discovered the song. They were the all-girl group that sang backup for Bette Midler, Diana Ross, and Jermaine Jackson, and they actually recorded it. The lyrics also changed the way Motown songwriters wrote. Until “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” came along, R & B music had always consisted of love songs. Now songwriters started exploring the color barrier with their songs. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Love Child” come to mind as examples of this shift.
Berry Gordy loved our song, and after it hit the charts, he put us on the road with Diana Ross and the Supremes. We opened the show and performed part of our club routine, which eventually pissed off Diana Ross so much that she had the tour manager tell us to stop doing it. The part Diana took offense to was a Parliament song whose lyrics we changed to say “Oh, white girls, you sure been delicious to me.” Our song pissed off the promoters, who were unprepared for an outrageous performance from the “opening act.” They had hired Diana Ross and the Supremes, who had become a “white act.” The promoters did not appreciate this unknown band from Canada singing about white girls’ being “delicious,” especially with so many white girls in the audience.
Listen to “Does Your Mama Know About Me” after the jump…
In 1993 PJ Harvey visited The Tonight Show With Jay Leno while she was touring to support her raw second album Rid of Me, which of course had been produced by Steve Albini. The date for this appearance seems to have been September 24, 1993. It was the first time she had ever been on The Tonight Show but she would return many times. The other guests that night were Michael Richards and comedian Kathleen Madigan.
Harvey’s performance of “Rid of Me” has hardly dated a jot since those years. She has no trouble securing our attention. Her vocal delivery is impeccable, mixing in the tricky falsetto “Lick my legs, I’m on fire” sections.
Harvey wasn’t using her trademark blue eyeliner yet—that look was unveiled at Glastonbury in 1995—but her selection of a simple one-piece gold skirt is a perfect expression of her self-defined individuality and projected carnality.
After her song, Leno’s limp comment to this unsettling ditty is “Very nice.”
Burton Silverman’s iconic cover portrait of ‘Aqualung,’ the wheezing, shabby homeless man ‘eyeing little girls with bad intent’ who happens to look a lot like Ian Anderson
In 2016, Jethro Tull is one of those utterly amazing bands that is—sadly—very difficult to explain to those for whom they seem to hold no obvious appeal. Although once one of the very biggest concert draws in the world of music—and don’t get me wrong, they’re still a popular group—their fanbase is getting older each year and I don’t think it’s exactly getting any bigger with the passing of time. But for the sake of “the young people” who are reading this I’m going to try to get across why I think Jethro Tull are so great and why they deserve your attention. The occasion is Rhino’s re-release of their classic 1971 longplayer Aqualung, an album that I’m absolutely nuts about, on a 2 CD/2 DVD box set. I hope my enthusiasm will be contagious enough that you’ll give it a listen yourself.
I canvassed some of the other Dangerous Minds contributors about their opinions of Aqualung: Editor-at-large Marc Campbell relayed that he remembered “the scuzziest hippies smoking skunk weed and listening to that piece of crap.” Fair enough. He was there. Our Chris Bickel (who wasn’t) wondered “who the fuck is the audience for this jester-hat-wearing Renaissance Faire bullshit?” while acknowledging that its multi-platinum record status indicated there must have been quite a large one. My wife sees Jethro Tull as the sort of group that “old bikers listen to at keg parties in Cincinnati,” in the same category with say, Steppenwolf and Howie Pyro cited the time when I tried to force their Benefit album on him and how this resulted in “some kinda kneejerk anti-Tull punk reaction inside of me.”
All of these reactions are perfectly understandable. If you don’t really know what Jethro Tull are all about, being confronted with this scraggly-looking comically leering hirsute and freaky Dickensian hobo-sage character wearing thigh-high boots and a glittering codpiece playing the flute is simply confusing in 2016 isn’t it? Don’t worry I’m here to help you. Please try to keep an open mind, won’t you?
Until not all that long ago, I can’t really claim to have had much more than a passing familiarity with Jethro Tull’s music myself. Although one of the very first 45s that I ever bought was their “Bungle in the Jungle” in 1974, for the most part I just knew some of the greatest hits. A couple years back, a publicist at Rhino threw Steven Wilson’s 5.1 surround revisioning of their 1970 Benefit album in the package with something else that I’d asked for. I’ll listen to anything Steven Wilson has remixed for 5.1 and I was utterly floored by Benefit. I had never really thought all that much about Jethro Tull frankly, it was more about Wilson’s participation than anything else that had piqued my curiosity. Because I had no expectations one way or the other, Benefit hit me like a bolt from the blue. I was completely smitten with that album pretty much upon the first listen. My initial reaction was “Wow! How did a group this big never truly get on my radar before?” (Howie’s right: If you came of age during punk, Jethro Tull were simply a dinosaur band you avoided and that’s the straightforward answer).
Jethro Tull, stand up guys
I gorged myself on that album and fanned out through their back catalog. I liked their second effort Stand Up quite a bit and I also got way into their Living in the Past compilation. Their first album This Was I was less enthusiastic about—it’s just a basic blues thing, music they’d already outgrown before its release, hence the title—but the one that came after Benefit—that’s Aqualung—blew my doors off. If you consider yourself a fan of say, King Crimson, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa or even Nick Cave (who named one of his sons Jethro he was such a fan) you might have the same reaction I did: “HOW did I miss out on this?”
Obviously any discussion of Jethro Tull begins—and ends—with the group’s leader, the singular Ian Anderson, a rather brainy and idiosyncratic figure surely seen in retrospect (if not necessarily at the time) as the unlikeliest of arena rock gods. Anderson always read very “old” to me. At the time Aqualung was recorded he was just 23, but what a wizened old 23 he seemed to be. Some people are born old men, I guess, but by this age his lyrics were already becoming quite dark and deep. Aqualung‘s brooding, philosophically sophisticated subject matter included seeing homelessness people and doing nothing about it; how whatever kernel of truth there had been in Christianity had been co-opted by the Church of England and a cynical ruling class; and in “Locomotive Breath”—one of their signature numbers—humanity’s mad dash towards Hobbesian overpopulation.
Aqualung‘s liner notes included the following statement, an audacious sentiment to express in the early 1970s:
In the beginning Man created God;
And in the image of Man created he him.
2 And Man gave unto God a multitude of names,
that he might be Lord over all the earth when it was suited to Man.
3 And on the seven millionth day Man rested
and did lean heavily on his God and saw that it was good.
4 And Man formed Aqualung of the dust of the ground,
and a host of others likened unto his kind.
5 And these lesser men Man did cast into the void. And some were burned;
and some were put apart from their kind.
6 And Man became the God that he had created
and with his miracles did rule over all the earth.
7 But as these things did come to pass,
the Spirit that did cause Man to create his God
lived on within all men: even within Aqualung.
8 And Man saw it not.
9 But for Christ’s sake he’d better start looking.
Here’s a stunning rendition of ‘My God’ (from ‘Aqualung’) performed in front of a crowd of 600,000 people at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival
On January 26, 1980 Prince appeared on American Bandstand lip-synching “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” After Prince’s performance, Dick Clark made a game attempt at interviewing his Purple Majesty but Prince, even then, was tight-lipped.
“They wouldn’t let me produce myself,” Prince explains why he waited so long to release his first record.
“Do you think they didn’t know what you were doing?” Clark asks.
Clark asks Prince how many instruments he played. Prince responds “thousands.”
When asked how many years he’d been playing, Prince raised four fingers.
From the very beginning, Prince knew how to create an aura of mystery around himself. Even in a semi-autobiographical film like Purple Rain, he managed to blur the line between reality and mythos. It is part of what made him one of the most compelling artists in the history of music.
Here’s Prince on American Bandstand. The clip unfortunately does not include the interview.
I advise you to watch it now. Even from beyond the grave, Prince is likely controlling what the ‘net gives and what the ‘net taketh away.
Update: Okay the ‘net tooketh away. Can we please have a week long grace period in which Prince’s videos can be enjoyed in an International visual love fest? Huh? How about that?
Anyway, here’s a consolation prize: Prince’s first TV appearance on Midnight Special in January 1980. Let’s see how long this one lasts. Enjoy.
I first saw Prince at New York City’s Ritz in 1980. He wasn’t a superstar yet and hadn’t been embraced by New York’s post-punk or new wave scene (he would appear on the cover of New York Rocker year later) so it was a relatively small audience. I had shown up to attend an Interview magazine party earlier and stayed for Prince. I wasn’t that familiar with his music but it was free. Staying was a smart move.The show was astoundingly good and ultrasexy. His carnal relationship with his guitar, as documented in this clip, is nothing short of jaw-dropping.