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‘Undercover of the Night’: That time the Rolling Stones got banned for ‘glamorizing violence’

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How to stay relevant. It’s a question we all face at some point in life. Mick Jagger was thinking about staying relevant. It was 1983. Punk had come and gone. New Wave was still a thing. Electronica and the New Romantics were still fashionable. Where did a rock ‘n’ roll band like the Stones fit into the mix? Jagger was going through what Keith Richards calls “Lead Vocalist Syndrome.” The point where a band’s singer thinks he/she is bigger, better, and more important than the rest of the group.

Richards had quit heroin. He was clean. After years of fucking around, Richards was back and wanted to take up his fair share of the burden Jagger had been carrying. But Jagger had control of the Rolling Stones and wasn’t going to give Keith an inch.

“Shut up, Keith, that’s an idiotic idea,” was how Jagger dismissed Richards.

To keep relevant, Jagger was checking out the competition. He wanted to know what Bowie was doing, what Rod Stewart was doing, what was the latest tune played on the dancefloor at Studio 54, and which bands were snapping at their heels. He was chasing his own tail.

The best way to stay relevant is to be and do.

Jagger and Richards wrote their first song on a kitchen table. They didn’t care what other people thought or who they sounded like, it was their song—that was all that mattered. Now, the relationship between Jagger and Richards was fractious. It was falling apart. Jagger had control and he was taking the Stones where he wanted.

Yet, checking out the opposition, chasing the trends meant sometimes Jagger got it right. He was and still is a shrewd businessman—let’s not forget, he had been a student at the London School of Economics. He had also been very successful in taking the Stones in unlikely directions, like that time he pulled them into disco music with “Miss You.” But sometimes his ideas were as popular as that time Family Guy replaced Brian with the ghastly mutt, Vinny. Still, Jagger was always open to suggestions, always looking for something new, always wanting to be at the front of the crowd.

Jagger had read William Burroughs’ book Cities of the Red Night. It was the book everyone was supposed to be reading. It had received, at that point, the best reviews of Burroughs’ career. Which shows weird only lasts as long as it’s something new. Now Burroughs was an eminent grise living in a bunker in NYC hanging his used condoms out to dry on the washing-line.

Burroughs was the starting point for Jagger writing the song “Undercover of the Night” in Paris around late 1982. As he later explained in the liner notes for The Stones’ compilation Jump Back, “Undercover of the Night” was “heavily influenced by William Burroughs’ Cities Of The Red Night, a free-wheeling novel about political and sexual repression. It combines a number of different references to what was going down in Argentina and Chile.” Though he did deny he had “nicked it.”

The Burroughs’ influence is evident in Jagger’s lyrics:

Hear the screams from Center 42
Loud enough to bust your brains out
The opposition’s tongue is cut in two
Keep off the streets ‘cause you’re in danger
One hundred thousand disparu
Lost in the jails in South America

Curl up baby
Curl up tight
Curl up baby
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover
Keep it all out of sight
Undercover of the night

The sex police are out there on the streets
Make sure the pass laws are not broken
The race militia has got itchy fingers
All the way from New York back to Africa

“Undercover of the Night” is a classic Stones’ track. A brilliant vocal, a great guitar riff, and a memorable hook. It was Jagger’s song, as Richards later recalled:

“Mick had this one all mapped out, I just played on it. There were a lot more overlays on the track because there was a lot more separation in the way we were recording at the time.”

When it came to making the promo for the song, the Stones approached Julien Temple who was the hip, young director with a fine resume of work with the Sex Pistols, the UK Subs (Punk Can Take It) and the promo for “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He had also famously directed the Pistols big screen adventure The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.

Temple soon discovered how difficult the relationship between Jagger and Richards had become:

“I wrote an extreme treatment about being in the middle of an urban revolution and dramatized the notion of Keith and Mick really not liking each other by having Keith kill Mick in the video. I never thought they would do it. Of course, they loved it. I went to Paris to meet with the band. Keith was looking particularly unhappy. He was glowering with menace and eventually said, ‘Come downstairs with me.’ My producer and I went down to the men’s room. Keith had a walking stick and suddenly he pulled it apart. The next thing I know he’s holding a swordstick to my throat. He said, ‘I want to be in the video more than I am.’ So we wrote up his part a bit more. That was Keith’s idea of collaboration!”

 
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Mick Jagger getting lippy.
 
The promo opens on a hotel complex. American tourists are having a good time grooving to the Stones’ music while militiamen patrol the rooftops and streets. Jagger as the journalist (white knight in a Panama hat and very bad stick-on mustache) watches as Keith and his gang of masked vigilantes or maybe revolutionaries or maybe death squad or maybe just a rock ‘n’ roll group on the spur of some internal wranglings (take your pick) sneak into the hotel and kidnap one of the hotel guests or rather kidnap Mick Jagger watching Mick Jagger on TV. Journo Mick watches kidnapped Mick being spirited away by Keith and co. who all drive off in what looks like a military vehicle straight past a bunch of soldiers kicking the shit out of people down on their luck.

Journo Mick makes his way to kidnapped Mick’s hotel room where he finds a woman hiding under the bed covers (ya see what they did there?). Anyway, one thing leads to another, and journo Mick and his girl under the covers watch an execution and then go off (via the police department) to rescue kidnapped Mick. A shoot-out ensues in a candle-lit church—nothing worse than what any five-year-old could see on The A-Team—and kidnapped Mick is saved. Poor old journo Mick dies from a bullet wound.

What it’s saying, what it’s actually about, is none too clear. It’s a dilettante’s take on Burroughs and the criminal activities of government’s and hoodlums in South America. At worst, it might make a viewer go, “Wow, South America looks a fun place to have a party.” At best, it would get the kids talking about politics and shit.

Jagger has sometimes been accused of being a dilettante. Maybe. To be fair, he’s more, as Richards said in his autobiography, “a sponge” who soaks up whatever’s going on and filters it through his music. Just what every good artist does.

The subject matter of the song and its accompanying promo was a rare outing into politics for the Stones. It was over fifteen years since “Street Fighting Man” but “Undercover of the Night” chimed neatly with the edgy political songs released by bands like The Jam or specifically the Clash and their album Sandinista! from 1980, which similarly dealt with the political turmoil in Chile and Nicaragua. The promo was banned by the BBC or rather the Corporation said they weren’t going to screen it, while the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) were nervous over its perceived violence. MTV was also angsty. It’s difficult to see why the sequences of so-called “violence” caused such concern, as both the BBC and the Independent Television Channels in the UK screened far worse with war films and westerns and TV detective series at peak times. It was more likely the political content—the suggestion that America was in some way sponsoring murderous dictatorships in South America—rather than any bang-bang, shoot-shoot, made “Undercover of the Night” unpalatable. But getting “banned” kept the Stones relevant in a wholly different way.

In 1983 Mick Jagger and director Julien Temple appeared via TV link-up on The Tube to promote the single and defend the video’s politics and violence. They were interviewed by a young presenter called Muriel Gray.

The Tube was the best music show on British television during the eighties. It was launching pad for a variety of young, sometimes unknown artists like the Fine Young Cannibals, Paul Young, and even Twisted Sister who earned a record deal after their appearance. Gray was one of the show’s three presenters, alongside main hosts Jools Holland and Paula Yates. Gray had been selected out of literally dozens, nay hundreds of young hopefuls who attended auditions to be one of the presenters on the show. Gray won out because she had the right kind of attitude, which probably stemmed from the fact her favorite hobby was “arguing—not even discussing” as Gray believed arguing was the best way to find out what a person is really thinking.

It was an awkward interview between Gray, Jagger and Temple. It was almost like a gobby maiden Aunt versus the naughty drunken Uncles. Gray later explained in The Official Book of The Tube, she “wanted Mick Jagger… to justify why he thought the violence in the ‘Undercover of the Night’ video was necessary, what his personal reasons were.” Unfortunately, it didn’t quite end up like that. Television interviewers have a difficult role. They are told by the producer what they have to extract from the interviewee. Their job is a one part sycophant, one part grand inquisitor.

Read more of Jagger and the ‘Under Cover of the Night’ interview, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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11.09.2017
08:33 am
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‘Punk Can Take It’: Julien Temple shoots the U.K. Subs, 1979
12.04.2015
09:48 am
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Fresh from making his cinematic debut with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, director Julien Temple wrote and directed this short promotional film Punk Can Take It for punk band the U.K. Subs. 

The promo mixed live performances—shot during the U.K. Subs’ tour to promote the single “Stranglehold”—with a comedic pastiche of Temple’s source material—a Second World War propaganda film London Can Take It, which had shown the plucky Londoners’ resilience to Germany’s bombing campaign. In Temple’s film the U.K. Subs provided the “symphony of war” while Eddie Tudor Pole and Helen Wellington-Lloyd are embattled punks fighting for victory against crass blood-sucking commercialization of the music they love:

Punk is dead. Long live Mod. Or, should that be Rude Boys or Teds?

How often have you heard the enemy make this fatuous claim? Seeking to transmute the volatile energies of punk into safe commercial profits, an unholy alliance of ageing rock stars and child-molesting media businessmen have exhumed the faded fashions of the fifties and sixties.

But punk won’t go away. And punks themselves are becoming younger and nastier everyday. Punks are the shock troops of the eighties. The children of the oil crisis, they have no time for the vicarious thrills of nostalgia or for its trivial rules

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The U.K. Subs (short for “Subversives”) were among the original bands who led the British punk charge in 1976. Still performing and recording today, this film captures the Subs at an early high point in their career under the pairing of Charlie Harper (vocals) and Nicky Garratt (guitar) who created a blistering output between 1979-1982.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.04.2015
09:48 am
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‘Imaginary Man’: Julien Temple’s superb documentary on Ray Davies

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Director and Kinks fan, Julien Temple beautifully captures Ray Davies’ wistfulness in his excellent documentary on the former-Kink, Ray Davies: Imaginary Man. Davies is allowed to gently meander around his past life, talking about his childhood, his family of 7 sisters and 1 brother, his early days with The Kinks, the development of his writing skill (the quality and consistency of which now makes him seem at times better than, if not on par with Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richard), and onto his life of fame, of parenthood, of growing-up, all of which seemed to happen so fast.

It would seem Davies has always lived his life with one eye on the past—from the nostalgia of The Village Green Preservation Society through to his film Return to Waterloo, Davies takes solace from the past. It gives his music that beautiful, bittersweet quality, as Milan Kundera reminds us that:

The Greek word for “return” is nostos. Algos means “suffering.” So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.

But it’s not just about wanting to return to some mythical past, it’s also about loss—whether this is the loss of the past, of opportunities, of career, or, even of memory—for without memory we are nothing. Memory keeps us relevant, and all artists want to be relevant. Throughout Temple’s film, Davies makes reference to this sense of loss, from the remnants of Hornsea Town Hall, to the changing landscape of London, or the songs he has written. And put together with the brilliance of the songs, the wealth of archive, and Ray Davies’ gentle narration, Temple has created a clever, beautiful, and moving film, which leaves you wanting to know and hear more.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Stations En Route to Ray Davies’ Film Masterpiece: ‘Return to Waterloo’


‘Kinkdom Come’: A beautiful film on Dave Davies


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.05.2013
08:31 pm
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Kinkdom Come: A beautiful film on Dave Davies, the other half of The Kinks

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In June 2004, Dave Davies suffered a stroke as he was exiting a lift, in BBC’s Broadcasting House.

Suddenly the right hand side of my body seized up and I couldn’t move my arm or leg. Although I didn’t lose consciousness, I couldn’t speak. Luckily my son Christian and my publicist were there, so they carried me outside and called an ambulance.

Though he had warnings signs - waking up one morning to find he couldn’t move his right hand or speak when he opened his mouth - and was examined by a doctor, nothing indicated the imminence of his stroke. As Dave later wrote in the Daily Mail in 2006:

I was told I’d had a stroke - or, in medical terms, a cerebral infraction. An ‘infarct’ is an area of dead tissue and there was a patch of it on the left side of my brain - the bit that controls movement on the right side.

The doctors told me I had high blood pressure and that this was what had caused the stroke. They thought I’d probably had high blood pressure for at least ten years….

...Two weeks after my stroke, I finally plucked the courage to pick up my guitar. I held it across my lap, pressing on the strings. I could feel everything but the hand itself was virtually immobile.

I knew I was going to have to work very hard if I was to get better, and I started using meditation and visualisation. I thought if I could visualise myself running, walking and playing the guitar, it might prompt my brain to remember how I used to be.

It took Dave 18 months of physio, determination and hard work, to get “about 85 per cent back to normal”.

I believe my stroke was meant to happen to slow me down. I’d like to write and male films and start a foundation where I can help people be more spiritual…

...For now I appreciate my slower pace of life. I feel I have discovered an inner strength which I know will see me through any adversity.

Made in 2011, Julien Temple’s pastoral documentary Kinkdom Come is a touching portrait of the other half of The Kinks, Dave Davies.

Opening with Davies in the wilds of Exmoor, where he revels in the desolation and the quiet, Temple’s film moves through Dave’s life story, examining key moments in his childhood, his career as guitarist with The Kinks, his openness about sexuality, his (some would say torturous) relationship with his brother Ray, and the damagingly high cost of that all of his fame, success and position as “iconic Sixties figure” has cost him.

Throughout, Dave comes across as an honest, gentle soul, slightly lost, beautifully innocent, almost ethereal, as if he is a visitor from some other galaxy.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.19.2012
07:47 pm
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Julien Temple’s ‘Mantrap’ starring Martin Fry and ABC
06.20.2011
07:16 pm
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Julien Temple directed Mantrap, an under-rated and often considered “lost” featurette starring 1980’s New Romantic group ABC. Like a lot of Temple’s work it’s full of quirky originality and style, which compensates for the lack of script. Mantrap can be best summed-up by its Wikipedia entry:

Martin Fry is asked to join [a] band as they embark on tour heading east through Europe. But at the height of their popularity the band tries to secretly replace Fry with a Russian spy in order to sneak him back behind the iron curtain. It is then up to Martin to battle his doppelganger and make the world safe for New Romantic Synth Pop.

Temple is a true maverick, who has more than a touch of genius about him. His films always deliver great visual imagination as disguise for a weak script (Absolute Beginners), but when Temple has a good script, like Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Pandaemonium, or is working with straight non-fiction narrative Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, the superb documentary on Dr Feelfgood, Oil City Confidential, or The Filth and the Fury, his talents soar.

Though slight, Mantrap is well worth watching for 101 reasons, from its classic soundtrack by ABC, its style, its visuals, its concert footage, Martin Fry’s good looks, its silliness, its joie de vivre….etc.

Seminal New Romantics ABC and punk filmmaker Julien Temple pay homage to 50s espionage flicks in this hour long folly from 1983. Martin Fry has the look of a Hitchcock protagonist, but by his own admission, his acting was a little “mahogany”. Temple captures the isolation and paranoia of the former Communist Bloc, but forgets to tell a story in the process.

Nonetheless, this curiosity from the naive dawn of pop-video has enough to keep fans and casual viewers entertained. The 6th form script about some Cold War double dealing will occasionally make you wince, but is padded out with some wonderful footage of ABC’s (sadly never repeated) World Tour.

B-Movie regulars and wannabes try their best amidst the ensuing nonsense - but it’s pretty much in vain, so don’t expect John le Carré! But do delight in a soundtrack taken from arguably the greatest debut album of all time - “The Lexicon of Love”.

 

 
See the rest of ‘Mantrap’, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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06.20.2011
07:16 pm
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Freed: Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs

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Severely ill and stroke-prone, Last of The Great Train Robbers Ronnnie Biggs was released by British officials into the free light of day last Friday.  After the ‘63 robbery, which involved the mail car hijacking of what would be roughly $70 million in today’s dollars, Biggs and his cohorts were quickly rounded up.  The money wasn’t—the bulk of it has never been recovered.  And after scaling a 30-foot prison wall and skipping off to Rio, it looked like Biggs wouldn’t be, either.  That is until 2001, when craving “a pint of bitter,” Biggs returned to England to resume his sentence. 

Beyond his decades as a fugitive, though, what best cemented Biggs’ outlaw celebrity status back home was his cavorting with The Sex Pistols.  Shortly after their final performance at Winterland, the Pistols flew down to Rio and recorded a couple of tracks with Biggs.  Their “collaborative” results—No One Is Innocent and Belsen Was a Gas—surfaced in both the film and soundtrack for Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, from which a vid of Innocent can be seen below.

 
In The LA Times: Great Train Robbery Outlaw Gains His Release

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.11.2009
01:00 pm
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