Just so it’s clear, there really was a Chipmunk Punk, a 1980 project of Ross Bagdasarian, Jr., the namesake son of the Chipmunks’ creator. It was not particularly “punk”—it contained Alvin and the Chipmunks’ cover versions of songs by opposite-of-punk artists like Billy Joel, Tom Petty, Linda Ronstadt, Queen, and for some reason THREE SONGS by the Knack. The entirety of the LP’s New Wave representation was supplied by Blondie’s “Call Me” and the Cars’ “Let’s Go.” It was stupid as hell, but I liked it. Because I was 10 years old. Bagdasarian followed the successful cash-in with Urban Chipmunk, a collection of squeaky-voiced pop country covers, and Chipmunk Rock, which at least had a version of “Whip It” going for it, but by then, I was like 12, and much too sophisticated for such juvenilia.
And again, so it’s clear, what follows was NOT actually on Chipmunk Punk, so if you go buying that album expecting to hear it, well, something’s possibly wrong with you anyway. California’s smartassy theatrical comedy band Radioactive Chicken Heads recorded an amusing-as-far-as-this-sort-of-thing-goes Chipmunkified version of Suicidal Tendencies’ definitive song, 1983’s “Institutionalized.” I’d hope it should go without saying that the possibility of this actually being a product of anyone officially connected with the evidently deathless Chipmunks franchise is a few leagues beneath unlikely. Whether it’s better or worse than Ice-T’s recent effort at updating the song is a debate I’ll leave to others.
It’s a seemingly innocuous yet ultimately loaded question for the culturally adventurous of a certain age. For Night Flight was the sort of cultural touchstone that—if one was lucky enough to have experienced it firsthand—one is not likely to forget and can even serve as a sort of secret handshake decades later. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre has gone so far as to claim, “I learned about punk from this cable show called Night Flight” and Richard Metzger, co-founder of this very blog, described his intentions for Dangerous Minds to the New Yorker as, “a late-night television network for heads, like Adult Swim, but different. Do you remember Night Flight in the early eighties? Something like that.”
A lot has been made of MTV’s launch on August 1, 1981, but Night Flight—appearing on the fledgling USA Network—beat them to the punch by nearly two months premiering on June 5 of the same year. Though Night Flight played its fair share of videos and music films, its scope was much broader encompassing all manner of cult films and shorts extending back over several decades. However wide-ranging its programming, though, it was always informed by a subversive, outsider sensibility. The show had no host, just a disembodied female voice accompanied by (at the time) cutting edge computer animation of the Night Flight logo (unsettlingly similar to the 80s cheese rock band Night Ranger’s own logo) flying over darkened landscapes.
The show ran every Friday and Saturday from 11PM to 7AM but actually only contained four hours of programming simply repeating the previous four hours again at 3AM. This inevitably led to hordes of teenagers making the ill-advised decision to stay awake for at least four additional hours to catch anything they missed the first time around (especially if they had the VCR cued up with a blank tape). Imagine that kind of dedication in today’s on-demand generation. Just what you would see when you tuned in was anyone’s guess. It could be a contemporary rock documentary such as the Clash’s semi autobiographical Rude Boy; Urgh! A Music War featuring performances from the Cramps, DEVO, X, Pere Ubu, and Gary Numan amongst a host of other; or Another State of Mind documenting Social Distortion and Youth Brigade’s ill-fated cross-country tour (an education in punk rock indeed). Or it could be 1938’s The Terror of Tiny Town, the world’s only musical Western with an all midget cast; cheesy Japanese tokusatsu TV show Dynaman (dubbed with completely different parody dialogue); Reefer Madness; Proctor and Bergman’s J-Men Forever! or classic 1919 German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. There were plenty of brand new music videos (like The Residents’ “Three-Minute Movies”) as well including a segment dedicated to Britain’s Some Bizarre Records (Coil, Foetus, Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.) or the popular “Take Off” segments (how about “Take Off to Sex” featuring Duran Duran’s uncensored “Girls on Film” video?), or live in studio performances courtesy of Peter Ivers’ (originally cable access) New Wave Theatre from the likes of Fear, Circle Jerks, or Suburban Lawns.
So who, you might ask, was behind this creation? The show was the brainchild of Stuart Shapiro who had run a film distribution company which had specialized in cult films (“pretty much horror films and music films” he has said) many of which had ended up in the eccentric yet social atmospheres of midnight screenings. While the nascent cable networks offered a great deal of promise bordering on hype for expanding television’s horizons, they were yet to deliver on that promise. “At that time there was this sort of evangelistic attitude that cable was really gonna come out and be another world for alternative programming,” Shapiro recalled.
Cable television promised to reach niches previously underserved. “It was gonna be the birth of a freer reign of programming.” One key area that Shapiro saw was sorely lacking was the late night time slot. Many channels simply stopped airing content after 11 or midnight. From seeing the films he distributed performing well on the midnight movie theater circuit, Shapiro “knew that there was a culture of late-night [moviegoers] that were hungry for programming late at night on the weekends. In the beginning, the cable system was going dark late at night - there was really nothing on, so I felt it was a wonderful opportunity to try to put cool hip programming on television.” Shapiro’s business partner, Jeff Franklin, happened to have a friend at the USA Network and when they pitched their idea there they already had the bulk of their programming in Shapiro’s quirky catalog. In addition to the go ahead from the network, USA exerted no control over the pair’s programming choices. “It was the height of freedom,” Shapiro recalls. (What’s more, the network had no way to track which segments were driving the show’s overall ratings.)
Night Flight played a large part in exposing people to up and coming bands (and not just those on major labels with mainstream commercial potential) as well as the new format of the music video but they did even more by putting those videos in perspective by placing them in the larger context of underground video art. In time, of course, they would come to be seen as nothing more than advertisements selling a product. But Night Flight represented the kind of free form spirit embodied in places like college radio where ratings and revenue were not factors but trust in your favorite DJ was enough to for you to give them an hour or two of your time to see where their idiosyncratic taste would take you. It was an approach that would not last through the decade with Night Flight’s final episode airing on Saturday, December 31, 1988.
MTV’s corporate and unadventurous programming would eventually win the day and become the future (and eventual demise) of music video programming. “Discovery was the most important ingredient about Night Flight,” Shapiro would later recall. “You could come and sit down and know that you would be turned on to discover something, no matter what segment it may be.”
Anyone who knows punk history in the U.K. is doubtless familiar with So It Goes, Tony Wilson’s remarkable program on the Granada network that provided so many vital punk bands, including the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees, with their first TV exposure. The sheer volume of terrific live footage that appeared on the program is mind-boggling, including virtually every prominent British act of the era, as well as a good number from the United States. Wilson obviously went on to found the Hacienda nightclub in Manchester and was one of the key figures in the inception of Factory Records. In the movie 24 Hour Party People, Steve Coogan, playing Wilson, inhabits a re-creation of the So It Goes set. (In addition to being portrayed by Coogan in 24 Hour Party People, Craig Parkinson also played him in Anton Corbijn’s 2007 film Control.)
In this whimsical and brief clip from what must have been the final episode of the show or close to it—Wilson says “Happy Christmas” and the last full show aired on December 11, 1977, so this may have been tacked on to that final show? In any case, this clip seems to be a mashup of two clips, one with the punk poet John Cooper Clarke and the other featuring Tony Wilson’s curious “countdown” of the top punk acts to enhance So It Goes in 1977.
The title of this video is “Granada so it goes reverse TOTP countdown 1977” which manages to set up the “countdown” as a vague alternative to Top of the Pops, which is fairly plausible. Watching it, it’s hardly clear what the 1-32 ranking is supposed to mean, and the positioning of the Clash as the #32 and last entry suggests that further down the list meant “better,” insofar as it meant anything.
If nothing else, the list (aside from a couple of puzzling entries like “Sooty”) isn’t a bad starting point for an exploration of the galvanizing U.K. music of 1977 and beyond.
GG Allin and Prince are two artists rarely mentioned in the same breath, but both are responsible for strangely similar, arguably-talented, female protégé off-shoot trio acts. In the case of Prince, we have Vanity 6 (and Appollonia 6, if you count characters fromPurple Rain). In the case of GG Allin, we have the Cedar Street Sluts.
Deceased, shit-flinging, “Rock and Roll Terrorist,” GG Allin, is, for better or worse, a punk icon, known for his transgressively messy live shows which blurred the lines between music and off-the-rails performance art—and more often than not, crossing the line into criminal behavior. RJ Smith wrote of Allin in a 1986 issue of The Village Voice:
“GG Allin, this New Hampshire loser, appeared at the Cat Club, wearing only a jockstrap and cowboy boots. He started shouting the moment he came out, after shitting in his hands and wiping it on his chest. Then he bashed the microphone into his mouth, nose and eye sockets, a shiny red mask spreading across his face. He stretched his jock aside and pulled hard on his little dick. He broke bottles on the ground and rolled in them. Back up on stage now, there was other stuff on the floor (vomit?), and his butt and legs, besides his face, were bleeding. On his back, sometimes doggy style, Allin would shove the microphone into his anus. Then he went into the second number.”
Punk impresario, GG Allin
Allin’s life and death are chronicled in the excellent 1994 Todd Phillips documentary Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. If you need to know more, start there—on an empty stomach. One particular chapter of Allin’s career not explored in that film is the Cedar Street Sluts.
The original “Cedar Street Sluts” were a backing band of supposed prostitutes on a 1986 cassette release: The Sleaziest, Loosest Sluts. The band members named on that release were “Connie Clit”, “Tammy Tits”, “Poline Pussy”, and “Sally Sleaze.” This tape featured call and response vocals between GG and the female vocalists.
An interview reprinted at Terminal Boredom recounts how Nancy Sinatra, of all people, led Allin to the idea of an all-girl group:
I’d like Nancy Sinatra to come see me play. She’s great. I’m totally into Nancy Sinatra. I’d marry her in a second. She’s the queen of whores. You know that song on the Cedar St. Sluts EP, “Tough Fuckin’ Shit”? That’s a Nancy Sinatra song, really. I just changed the words around a little. I got the idea for the all-girl band from listening to Nancy Sinatra.
—Conflict #43, Jan/Feb 1987
Sometime after that cassette release, Allin was jailed. While incarcerated, he and Black and Blue Records label chief, Peter Yarmouth (AKA “Dick Urine”), decided to put together a new lineup of Cedar Street Sluts to record an album.
Jesse Malin exemplifies an increasingly rare breed—a songwriter with an almost umbilical connection to a New York City that barely exists anymore outside of fading photos and fading memories. It’s fair, I think, to consider him part of a lineage stretching from Lou Reed through Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, Alan Vega, et al. From his time as a really young kid in the pioneering NYHC band Heart Attack, through his ‘90s alterna-fame with glam punks D Generation (a band that also included my DM colleague Howie Pyro), to his 21st Century solo work, Malin has grown into a worthy Bard of the Boroughs. His new album, New York Before the War, may actually be the apotheosis of his career so far. (I have no doubt that some DGen fans would disagree.)
Since DGen, Malin has shed some Lower East Side punk classicism for a broader approach; there are traces of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen all over the new album. But it’s an eclectic batch of songs, and still for the greater part identifiably punk-inspired, and still absolutely classicist. Malin told DM that the title New York Before the War itself refers to things that New York, and society at large, have lost.
It’s no particular war, it’s surviving and fighting against all the fucking corporate bastards, all the changes on the planet, with New York being one of the central pieces of the world. It’s that the world is such a disposable, apathetic, digitized place and we’re burning through it so fast. I’m into holding on to things that are important, and finding them, and making them, and celebrating them.
In that spirit of touching back to the worthy past for inspiration, we thought it would be fun to look at Malin’s very early roots, as a member of Heart Attack. That band formed in 1980, when its members ranged in age from 12 to 16. Even at that age, the band managed to tour, and they released a 7” and two E.P.s, which were collected on the inevitable discography CD The Last War 1980-84. Malin was kind enough to share his old stash of fliers with us, and when we prodded him for personal reminiscences of the shows, he was supremely obliging.
That’s the first time anybody took my picture. That’s me and two other members of Heart Attack. Javier, on drums, from Mexico City. I met him through an ad in the Village Voice, he was a very original drummer. In the middle is John Frawley, he was from Flushing, Queens, and had been in the band The Mob, who were our friends and rivals at the time. He played bass. And that’s me on the right, I was 14 years old, and that was around the time the “God is Dead” 7” came out on the Damaged Goods fanzine label. And we were on East 12th Street, with a bunch of Puerto Rican guys in the back, and that was shot for Sounds, the UK weekly newspaper. Tim Sommer was doing a piece on the early, early New York hardcore scene, and I think we put out the first 7” from that scene, which became kind of a collectable, but it got bootlegged a few times. And that’s not our car, it just looked like that down there.
171A was the studio where Bad Brains recorded the ROIR cassette. They had a record store in the basement called “Rat Cage.” Jerry Williams, rest his soul, wonderful guy, recorded all our bands there, let us rehearse there, had illegal gigs, the Bad Brains LIVED there, Black Flag rehearsed there, it was one of the first places to support hardcore. The first Beastie Boys record Polly Wog Stew was recorded there as well, with the famous “Egg Raid on Mojo.” That was a benefit, three nights at a theater, and believe it or not, with that bill, it was kinda empty! But a great show.
The later years of Heart Attack, we got a bit noisy, and somehow attracted fans in those bands, so we played with Sonic Youth, we played with Swans. Swans were the loudest thing I’d ever seen at the time, louder than Motörhead, and they were very good to us. We did a few shows, mostly in New York, and that one was at the SIN Club, which means “Safety In Numbers.” That night there were gunshots going off across the street, and we were the very few white kids at 3rd St and Avenue C. The SIN Club took chances and put on great shows, and that was the cool diversity, being able to have Heart Attack and Swans, mix those two worlds. I guess the common thread would be anger, angst, intensity.
In 1978 RSO Records released this one-off single featuring ex-Manfred Mann singer, Paul Jones, crooning over adult contemporary pop arrangements of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.” The “Radio 2 style arrangements” of these songs were considered a piss-take of the original punk motif, but hold their own as legitimate musical expressions of the light pop sound of the day. As punk may have been a reaction to the “soft rock” of the ‘70s, these Paul Jones covers can be seen as a meta “taking it back,” with tongue, we assume, planted firmly in cheek.
He did them HIS way.
We’re reminded of Pat Boone’s excellent 1997 album, In a Metal Mood—an artifact intended to have some fun sucking the shock out of a rough-and-tough genre, but with an end result that is interesting and well-played within it’s own musical idiom. Not merely a cranked-out goof, it’s clear a great deal of detail-oriented work went into the production of these covers, and particularly with “Pretty Vacant,” we get an insight into what great pop songsmiths the Sex Pistols actually were. One gets the feeling there’s nearly as much homage here as ballbusting.
The Ramones cover is slightly less interesting, mostly due to the sarcastic “out of touch old man” lyric changes in the intro, but the remainder of the track, especially the choruses, have a VERY late-‘70s-terrible-era Beach Boys feel. If you enjoy that sort of thing either ironically or legitimately, you may be impressed with the competence of its arrangement. “Pretty Vacant” is the hit here, though, with its James Taylor-ization of Rotten’s nihilistic lyrics.
June 14, 1979: trumpet player Ross MacManus, father to Declan Patrick MacManus—better known to his fans as Elvis Costello—defends his poor, persecuted son against charges of racism in a letter to Rolling Stone that they actually published. In case you’re wondering, this was after Elvis got punched in the face by Bonnie Bramlett at a Holiday Inn bar in Columbus, Ohio for calling James Brown a “jive-ass n*gger” and Ray Charles a “blind, ignorant n*gger”. Macmanus the elder was apparently either unaware of the incident, or preferred to ignore it, defending only Elvis’ use of the phase “white n*gger” in “Oliver’s Army.”
For his part in that little incident, Elvis didn’t really apologize, saying he was drunk, and that “it became necessary for me to outrage these people with the most offensive and obnoxious remarks I could muster to bring the argument to a swift conclusion and rid myself of their presence.” (Sure dude, whatever.)
Now I’m not sure if Elvis Costello ever actually held racist views, or if he was just being a snotty-ass, petulant, drunk little shit who thought it subversive to use racial slurs—though I don’t really care because I don’t expect Elvis Costello to be smart or politically sophisticated, I just want to hear “Pump it Up”. I do find it hilarious that a nearly 25-year-old man has his daddy writing lame apologias for him to Rolling Stone…
FIRST OF ALL, MAY I thank you for the review of my son’s LP (“Elvis Costello in Love and Way” RS 287). It is the most perspicacious of all the reviews in any paper (and I have the cartoon of “El” framed on my wall!). “Oliver’s Army” is an important track for me, and your reviewer, Janet Maslin, so quickly picked up on the “white n*gger” significance. My grandfather was an Ulster Catholic, and as a child, I lived in an area where bigotry was rife. So we are those white n*ggers.
This brings me to the disturbing reports that I have seen branding Elvis Costello as a racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. My own background has meant that I am passionately opposed to any form of prejudice based on religion or race. And El’s mother and I were both branded as hotheads and Marxists or anarchists.
So you can see that we don’t have any chic, white liberal attitudes (and El has publicly despised the latter many times). This is the water that Elvis has been born and bred in, and he swims in it as naturally as a goldfish. His mother comes from the tough multiracial area of Liverpool, and I think she would still beat the tar out of him if his orthodoxy were in doubt.
Given the Cramps’ love of trashy Americana and vintage monster movies—witness their adoption of Cleveland’s legendary schlock-horror TV host Ghoulardi—it perhaps isn’t so surprising to stumble across this fabulous photo spread they did for The Face in the July 1980 issue. Give The Face credit: The Cramps had been bouncing around for a while but their only LP to that point, Songs the Lord Taught Us, had come out in May. The pictures repurpose lines from the Cramps’ song “Voodoo Idol,” which didn’t even make it onto an album until a year later, when their I.R.S. debut Psychedelic Jungle came out. The cover of the issue had Bryan Ferry on it, and the same issue also had items on Ian Dury, John Cooper Clarke, Howard Devoto, and Linton Kwesi Johnson. Not bad.
The title of the photo essay (?) is “Tales from the Crypt,” which of course calls to mind the comic book series that inspired the band’s creeptastic logo. The photographs were by Alain de la Mata, who went on to produce some interesting movies a couple of decades after this shoot, and the series of pictures was “scripted and performed by the Cramps,” which is certainly an unusual credit. “The Underestimator,” whose Tumblr I spotted these on, speculates that these marvelous pics may have been taken during the “Garbageman” promo video shoot at the Shepperton film Studios, in Middlesex, UK.
Surely you’ve seen A Band Called Death by now, right? If not, you seriously need to get on that. Though it seems to have expired from Netflix streaming (booooo), it’s still available to subscribers on Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime (and it’s only like $3 for non-Prime Amazon streaming). If you’ve missed this story somehow, the film relates the saga of the Hackneys, three young African-American brothers in Detroit, MI, in the early ‘70s, whose family band eerily predicted the back-to-basics hard rock ethos and sound of punk by a couple of years, and yet they remained entirely unknown to the world until the discovery of their excellent self-released 7” made them a 21st Century cause célèbre among record collectors.
The rediscovery of Death brought forth some marvelous fruits—Death’s lost LP For the Whole World to See was released to justifiable acclaim in 2009, and the band’s vaults were emptied with the releases of the collections Spiritual Mental Physical and III, and an album of new material by the reconstituted and re-energized band (minus guitarist/visionary David Hackney, who died of lung cancer in 2000), titled N.E.W., is due later this month. And the discovery had generation-spanning effects, in that the three sons of Death’s bassist/singer Bobby Hackney have, rather symmetrically, formed a family band called Rough Francis.
As the documentary reveals, younger Hackneys Julian, Urian, and Bobby Jr. had NO IDEA their dad and uncles had ever been in a hard rock band, only finding out after Chunklet blogged MP3s of the lost single. They retrieved the Death master tapes from their father’s attic and formed their own band to play those songs, copping their name from the pseudonym used by their late uncle David on his last recording. It’s tempting to indulge in cynicism and presume the band to be coattail-riders, but Rough Francis became an original band in its own right, purveying a tight, headstrong and effective post-hardcore sound that harnesses an energy all the band’s own. They released an E.P. in 2010, and the album Maximum Soul Power last year. Next week, their new single, “MSP2/Blind Pigs” will be released on Riot House, and it’s Dangerous Minds’ extreme pleasure to debut “Blind Pigs” for you today… right after the jump.