October 26 – A Pretty Good Five Days Work

Perhaps the flaming building in the background of the cover represented Blue Rodeo‘s idea of approximately trashing the old model and rising like a Phoenix from the ashes? Pure speculation on that, but there’s no question the Toronto alt-country or roots rock band shook things up a little for their fifth album, Five Days in July. The album which came out this day in 1993 at home (American fans had to wait the best part of a year before it was released in the U.S.) tried out a new lineup and a new way of making the record. Evidently it worked. It became their best-seller, in their Canada at least, and seems to be one of the most-beloved still by the group and its fans.

Blue Rodeo had been one of the most unexpected Canadian music success stories of the ’80s, carving out a niche for their music on both pop and country radio despite initially being told they were too country for rock or pop and too pop for country. Their first two albums were regarded as masterpieces of Americana music, going multi-platinum in their homeland. Their third,’90’s Casino, was a hit and generated several well-loved singles, but had them working with Dwight Yoakam band member Pete Anderson in the States to record, and they figured it came out too glossy or slick-sounding. Which led to working with another American producer for their fourth album, LosTogether, which coincided with co-leader Greg Keelor having problems with prescription pain-killers and internal fighting with keyboardist Bobby Wiseman. The result was an album which fell off in sales and wasn’t highly regarded in most circles. So for this, their fifth record, they shifted gears, dropping Wiseman and bringing in a new keyboardist, James Gray, and producing the album themselves after recording it in a very casual setting at Keelor’s farm in the hills east of Toronto. Although the album was at first only going to be demos, they and Warner Bros. liked the sound and the relaxed feel of the songs and ended up working on those original takes to make Five Days in July.

The result was a solid collection of 11 low-fi love and love-loss songs, ten originals written by Keelor and Jim Cuddy, with the first cover song they’d recorded added in, “Til I Gain Control Again”, a Rodney Crowell song originally done by Emmylou Harris. Also new to the album were a handful of backup singers, most notably Sarah McLachlan who added her voice to a trio of the songs including “Dark Angel.”

The album itself topped out at #8 in Canada, fourth in a string of 12-straight to hit the top 10, but with its long chart-life it ended up 6X platinum, best of any of their studio albums. “Bad Timing” made the top 20 but the two standouts were the semi-title track, “Five Days in May” (written loosely about Cuddy’s own romance with his wife) and “Hasn’t hit Me Yet”, both top 10 hits. The trio brought them to nine top 20 singles in their homeland in a matter of six years.

As recently as early last decade, they were still playing at least half the album at every concert, which shows how well it’s aged with their fanbase. They say no matter where they are, a loud cheer goes up when Keelor mentions “Lake Ontario” in “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet”; seems there are always Canadians following them around no matter how far afield.

Allmusic rated it 4-stars, which perhaps was a bit low given that they gush over it, calling it their “best album”, with the “band at its most epic, brave and experimental”, a “pretty mellow affair” offering “proof positive as to why they have remained Canada’s all-time best group since.” Vice magazine likewise loved it, noting the similarity in feel to Neil Young’s Harvest and reminding readers that Hank Snow was Canadian. “There’s a space between the heartbreak of classic country and the puppy love of modern pop and its name is Blue Rodeo,” they add. Guess you could say Blue Rodeo “harvest”ed a pretty good crop from that one week on the farm!

October 26 – People Were Happy With Runt & Moe Show

A few years before Kurt Cobain gave a voice to the generation experiencing teen angst, another singer and band eloquently voiced what comes after – young adult angst! Canada’s The Pursuit of Happiness never got recognition even close to that which Nirvana would enjoy but probably did at least as good a job in putting life’s frustrations into music with their debut album, Love Junk, out this day in 1988.

The Pursuit of Happiness was, and always has been, the band of and vehicle for Moe Berg’s musical imagination. Berg not only is the lead vocalist and a guitarist for them but the only songwriter. And while not exactly punk in sound or sneer, Moe definitely learned from the punk movement when it comes to having a DIY attitude. He’d started the band about three years earlier after moving from Alberta to Canada’s musical mecca, Toronto.

Debuts often don’t live upto the band’s full promise or to future works, but in The Pursuit’s case, it probably did. The witty power-pop single “I’m An Adult Now” contains a great guitar riff tailor-made to be an earworm and some of the wryest lyrics about growing up in any song – “I can sleep in ’til noon any day I want, but there’s not many days that I do/ Gotta get up and take on that world, when you’re an adult it’s no cliche, it’s the truth” and so on. The band really went the DIY route with it, filming a low-fi video on the streets of Toronto for it and rounding up the money to press 1500 copies of it as a single. The video took off on Canada’s version of MTV, Much Music, and the very indie single got played on Toronto’s FM alt-rock station, CFNY. Its popularity in those two outlets got Warner Brothers interested, and they signed the band briefly and put “I’m An Adult Now” out nation-wide. It hit the Canadian top 40 in ’86, but then inexplicably, Warner bid them adieu. Enter Chrysalis Records, which signed them and financed a whole album – this one. It contained a re-recorded version of their single and several other catchy reflections on the voyage from kid to adult, most notably “She’s So Young”, which getting to #20 technically made it their biggest hit at home.

The album hit the Canuck top 30 with its clean yet rocking sounds, polished up by producer Todd Rundgren. By the end of the decade, it was platinum in the Great White North. Elsewhere, success was harder to come by, even with a famous name in the studio for it. The album didn’t do much anywhere else, but at least “I’m An Adult Now” got them heard in Australia (top 40 there) and in the all-important U.S. market, where it got to #6 on Billboard‘s alternative rock chart early in 1990.

Allmusic graded it 4-stars, suggesting “it set a standard for Canadian pop/rock… tight arrangements, self-deprecating lyrics and a bitter yet funny cynicism.”

Berg looked back at the record this year and figures the secret to its success lay in the fact “we weren’t following any trends… also, Todd Rundgren had his own sonic perception that was different from what many producers were doing.” He was surprised that the reflective singles like “I’m An Adult Now” “feel more true to me now than when I wrote them.”

Moe and his band, in various incarnations, has been going ever since, although they’ve not put out any albums of new material since the late-’90s and now are typically restricted to just a few shows around Canada a year. But who’s to say he won’t get up and take on that musical world one more time?

October 25 – Blood, Sweat & Tears…And Horns Galore

Two of the big musical trends of the late-’60s were the expanding of the boundaries of rock music and ruminations on the meaning of life, perhaps inspired by both the rioting in American cities and the Vietnam War. One band put the two together very well a little over 50 years ago. Blood, Sweat & Tears hit the American top 40 for the third time on this day in 1969 with “And When I Die.” It would end up becoming their third-straight single from their self-titled album to hit #2 on U.S. charts and score a gold single.

Blood, Sweat & Tears were like little else in the musical world when they made their debut in New York City in 1967. A multi-piece band that relied on horns as much as guitars and drew as much inspiration from jazz as from rock contemporaries. Their 1968 album garnered some attention but scant sales, leading to a shakeup of the band’s lineup. They needed a new singer, among other components, and after considering Alex Chilton, opted for gravely Canadian David Clayton Thomas who gave them their distinctive “voice.” Their second album, self-titled, rolled out a ten-man ensemble, including six who played horns at least some of the time. The songs were complex in sound and tempos, owing more perhaps to jazz than rock or pop. Trombones and saxes were front and center, helped out by organs and electric pianos more than anything else. The first two singles were both instant hits for them: “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, a cover of an obscure 1967 Motown single for Brenda Hollaway, and Thomas’ own composition, “Spinning Wheel.”

“And When I Die” a curiously optimistic look at death (“and when I die, when I’d dead and gone, there’ll be one child born into this world to carry on…”) was written by Laura Nyro and recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary in the folksy manner you’d expect from them. BS&T played around with the tempo a bit more, pushed the horns to the front as well as jaunty harmonica from Steve Katz and a couple of surprising instrumental solos that took the song all over the place from cowboy camp to jazz hall. The sound was unique to them at the time, and worked. Not only did it make it to #2 in the States, it was a #1 hit in Canada and New Zealand, and with the other two singles helped push the album to 4X platinum status and win the Grammy for Album of the Year, beating out ones by The Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash among others.

The magic formula had a shelf life though; while their next album did generate two more top 30 hits (“Hi-De-Ho” and “Lucretia MacEvil”) sales were far below this one and after that, it was a downward slope for the band and its ever-changing lineup through the ’70s. If the public got a wee bit weary of them, they still had an appetite for the sound it seemed though. Right after Blood, Sweat & Tears peaked, their producer , James Guercio, went to work on records for another Columbia Records act with a big brass section – Chicago. Chicago’s fame seemed to pick up right where David Clayton Thomas and BS&T had left off.

October 25 – Out With The Old, In With The New…Order

Today, a non-descript first show for a big band emerging like a phoenix out of the ashes of another band whose singer died. Today we look at the beginnings of New Order, back in 1980.

Three-quarters of New Order (bassist Peter Hook, drummer Stephen Morris and guitarist Bernard Sumner) were three-quarters of Joy Division, an industrial-goth group that had just started to come close to hitting it big, at home in Britain at least, when their singer, Ian Curtis commit suicide. While devastated by the loss of their friend, the trio also felt like there was a need to keep on making music, although they agreed they couldn’t keep their name.

Within a couple of months of the death of Curtis, they’d gotten a new name – New Order- had the blessing of their record label, Factory Records and were off and running, playing shows around their hometown of Manchester as well as a few around New York City. The diehard fan will know they, as Joy Division, were just about to leave for the U.S. to tour when Curtis met his demise.

By most accounts, the shows weren’t all that memorable or long. Joy Division had been a function of its dour lyrics, heavy bass and perhaps most of all, depressed baritone voice of Ian Curtis. Hook, Sumner and Morris took turns trying to be the new singer in early shows, they finally decided Sumner might have the best voice, and the most time on his hands in a concert so he “won” out. They quickly realized though that something was still missing, they needed a fourth member. Enter Morris’ girlfriend (now his wife), Gillian Gilbert. The lady was not only attractive, she was a fairly good keyboard player and through the years would become essential to their sound with that and her backing vocals.

So it was this night in ’80 that they played their first show as a quartet with Gilbert aboard. It was at a now-gone bar called The Squat at the University of Manchester, which from the few accounts, lived up to its name. Few reports of the concert seem to exist, but from the band’s own account, they went on around midnight and played 7 songs, finishing with “Ceremony.” That song was tried out when they were still Joy Division and went on to be the first New Order single.

Over the years, New Order came to be one of Britain’s most successful indie acts ever, one of the defining sounds of the decade and a group which virtually created its own genre of music, blending disco with post punk’s energy and raw edges. They would go on to score 16 top 10 singles at home (including “True Faith” and “Blue Monday” twice apiece in different years with different remixes) and top U.S. dance charts five times.

New Order is still going, touring last year and having a somewhat new album, Music Complete, but now without the distinctive bass of Peter Hook. Hook and the others had a falling out about six years back, with Gilbert telling the press as far back as 2012 “there’s a lot going on behind the scenes on the copyright” with Hook soon after suing his bandmates over royalties he felt he was due.

October 24 – So Much For Nikon, This Japan Preferred Polaroids

If you remember instant photos and skinny leather ties, you might remember when Japan wasn’t just an Asian country. One of the more favored “cult” bands of the late-’70s put out their fourth studio album on this day in 1980. Gentlemen Take Polaroids was Japan‘s first on Virgin Records but despite good reviews, wasn’t entirely the big breakthrough they were likely hoping for.

The Brit quintet was always centred around bassist Mick Karn, whose fretless bass and style of playing gave a somewhat unique sound, and mostly David Sylvian. Sylvian was the singer, main writer and jack-of-all-trades when it came to instruments, playing keyboards and guitars and at times others as well. They began in 1974 as a glam rock outfit, but by the beginning of the ’80s had become more of an elegant, artsy group which helped inspire the whole “New Romantic” movement. Their look on this record alone was said to have basically created Duran Duran’s look, clothing and hair-wise.

Gentlemen Take Polaroids began where their previous record, the Quiet Life, left off, ditching earlier “audacious” avant garde rock for smooth, easy-listening danceable new wave, almost before “new wave” was a thing. Although not a concept album, there was a loose thematic quality of songs about travel and its romance; the second single “Nightporter” seems to almost invoke images of traveling continents on a mid-century luxury train, and “Taking Islands in Africa” perhaps an ultimate destination. Perhaps even a hint of the music of the band’s namesake seeped through, with well-known Japanese experimental musician Ryuichi Sakamoto – probably best summed up as an Asian version of Eno – helping out on keyboards and having a writing credit on one of the eight songs. The album also included a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” but the standout was doubtless the smoothly cinematic title track. “Gentlemen Take Polaroids” runs over seven minutes, another characteristic of the album…four of the tracks top six minutes in length.

The title track only hit #60 in the UK, but that was still their highest-charting song to that point. The album itself missed the top 50 there, but still got them their second gold album. Oddly it did best in Canada, where it got to #39, again like so many new wave artists, benefitting from heavy play in Toronto thanks to radio station CFNY, where it ended up among their year-end “best-of” list.

Critics probably thought the album deserved better…but also unintentionally signaled why it didn’t. The album was good…but also reminded people of another, better-known British band. Roxy Music. Sylvian whether by intent or design sounded a lot like Bryan Ferry, whose band had put out a wildly-successful album, Flesh + Blood, earlier in the year. The NME and Melody Maker both described it as imitative of Roxy Music in the reviews, and while Smash Hits rated it 8 out of 10, they too said it sounded like “if Brian Eno rather than Bryan Ferry had re-routed the original direction of Roxy Music.” The Quietus liked the “oblique, almost cinematic avant-garde creations” and, yes Sylvain’s “woozy Bryan Ferry croon.” Even years later, allmusic rated it 4-stars, liking Karn’s “fretless purring” and saying the band “unquestionably found its own unique voice”…while comparing their sound to Roxy Music in only the second sentence of the review.

Still, all in all, while not a Roxy Music album, Gentlemen Take Polaroids is a rewarding sort of listen for those in a Roxy-ish mood. Speaking of which, it’s worth noting that Roxy Music themselves put out one of their greatest records, Siren, on this day in 1975!

October 24 – Rocky Mountain High Gave Elton Feel Of The Islands

One thing nobody could have accused Elton John of during the 1970s was being lazy. As Rolling Stone pointed out midway through the decade, he was the “most successful solo rock act since Elvis” and “like the greatest show business personalities (he) displays phenomenal energy, shrewd professional judgment and a strong instinct for personal survival.” All those factors helped bring Rock of the Westies, his 11th studio album of the decade (with the Friends soundtrack of 1971 included, and no, that’s an obscure movie soundtrack, not the ’90s Jennifer Aniston sitcom) out this day in 1975. Like its predecessor, Captain Fantastic, which had come out only four months earlier (!!) , it debuted in the U.S. at #1 – which is more impressive when you consider that at that point those were the two and only records ever to do so.

Although it did debut on top in the U.S. (his seventh chart-topper), and hit #1 quickly in Canada as well, there were signs that Elton’s Midas Touch might be tarnishing a wee bit. In his homeland of Britain, it topped out at #5, and while it was platinum in North America, the sales were a considerable drop-off from the previous few. Many consider it the start of a rather lengthy creative slide for the “Captain.” Possibly it was a state of him becoming too formulaic; possibly it was just him and Bernie Taupin running short of ideas (and who could blame them with something in the range of 120 songs released in half a decade?). Either way, it would take Elton almost 20 years to score another chart-topping album.

This album, like his previous few, was produced by Gus Dudgeon, and was recorded at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado, like their Caribou album of a year earlier. The title is in fact a play on the studio’s location “west of the Rockies”, despite some peoples belief that it was a reference to the West Indies that some songs sounded reminiscent of. Elton did change things up a little- it was his first work in years without drummer Nigel Olsson and bassist Dee Murray; the charming Kiki Dee was brought in to add backing vocals to several of the songs. She and Elton would of course soon duet on the smash “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (which can be found on most CD releases of it but not on the original 1970s LPs or tapes.)

For all that, the album didn’t excite people all that much. Not that it was a bad record – it just was no Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Honky Chateau or even Captain Fantastic… If Elton hadn’t amassed such a tremendous musical resume over the previous four or five years, it likely would have been seen as a quite good, eclectic release. The highlights were all released as singles, the Carib-flavored “Island Girl”, the trip-to-Mexico rocker “Grow Some Funk of Your Own” and the slower, brooding “I Feel Like A Bullet In the Gun Or Robert Ford.” The latter two were both on one 7”, with both sides getting radio play in a way few singles after the Beatles had. “Island Girl” was a typical Elton hit, in popularity at least if not in sound, with it hitting #1 in the U.S. and becoming his ninth platinum single. Britain wasn’t so hot on it, there it got to just #14. The follow-up, two-sided hit was a top 20 in North America but ignored elsewhere.

Critics then and now more or less said what we just did – not bad, not great. Rolling Stone, for instance, took about six weeks to get around to reviewing the new smash from rock’s hottest artist at that point, and termed it “mostly high-energy rock and roll produced by Gus Dudgeon with characteristic gloss” but noted a lack of real substance, calling it “artistically inconsequential” and comparing parts of it to the Rolling Stones – but not always in a good way. It called “Island Girl” “racist and sexist”, ala “Brown Sugar.”

Years later, allmusic would grade it 3.5-stars, one of his lowest ratings to that point but the best he’d get after it until Too Low For Zero in 1983. They liked the “wide spectrum of strong material” especially the smash “Island Girl” which they found “a distinct and danceable groove” and “Grow Some Funk”, which they compared to some of ZZ Top’s best stuff.

Rock of the Westies is not one of the 1970s greatest records, nor even Elton John’s greatest. Yet, surprisingly Rolling Stone readers voted it his ninth best album as recently as 2013, with the publication noting “it stood up very well” and that if more “than 1%” of the public knew who Robert Ford was (he was a gangster who shot his friend Jesse James to collect the bounty) it might have been a real hit. To summarize, it is well worth a fresh listen and might leave you all the more impressed with EJ. Few artists could turn out a record as clearly sub-standard compared to their past work that could be as tolerable as this one.

October 23 – Too Country For Country?

A guy who grew up on The Monkees but is too country for “country music”. A country artist who first found acceptance with rock audiences. A bit of an enigma is Dwight Yoakam, who we wish a happy 64th birthday to today.

Yoakam was born in Pikesville, Kentucky, or what he terms “hardcore Appalachia”. In fact, it’s a spot where the Hatfields had their famous feud with the McCoys. But before he hit the junior grades, his parents had moved to Columbus, Ohio and he grew up adoring The Monkees on TV and AM hit radio. “AM radio was effervescent,” back then he told GQ magazine, and as he got to his teen years he loved conventional AM sounds like Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds. He played guitar in high school bands, and also had an interest in drama, trying out it seemed for any production the school put on. Music was his first love though, and even though he loved listening to mainstream soft rock, he made country music. Very country. “Those sounds,” he says of Appalachia, “that musical DNA…mountain music. Inately, I write that way.”

He packed up and drove his VW Beetle to Nashville, an obvious and nearby destination for an aspiring country artist…only to find that he sounded too country for the Country Music capital! They thought his honky tonk sound was too “old” country and out of step with the times, so by 1977 he ended up in L.A. where after a bit he found more acceptance among the glitter and neon.

He toiled away, building up a bit of a following slowly and by the mid-’80s was opening for some decently popular acts. Like Texmex heroes Los Lobos, speed rockers Husker Du and new wave’s Violent Femmes. The audience liked him. “It’s not genre, it’s idiom specific,” he explains. “Emotional expression is what we had in common.”

By the mid-’80s he put out his first record, an indie LP called Guitars, Cadillacs,Etc Etc. It won enough fanfare to catch the eye – and ear- of Warner Bros., who signed him to their Reprise label and re-released the album on a national scale. It was the first of three-straight albums of his to top country charts in both the States and Canada, and went double-platinum. His 1993 album This Time with its singles “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” and “Ain’t That Lonely Yet”did even better, going 3X platinum at home, 2X platinum in Canada and making the overall top 30 in both besides being a smash on the country charts. Over the years, he’s put out 17 studio albums and had 14 country chart top 10 songs, with some of them attracting some mainstream radio play as well… that emotional expression goes well in a number of settings! It doesn’t hurt either that he sometimes pays a nod to the music he grew up listening to; he’s recorded popular covers of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” and Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.” That musical genre-bridging also has him the distinction of being the most frequent musical guest ever on The Tonight Show!

His school years interest in acting has stayed with him too; he’s starred in several movies like Slingblade, and had bit parts in a number of other ones and TV shows. If you need something to snack on while watching, or maybe listening to his honky tonk records, you might have some Bakersfield biscuits. The company is owned by Yoakam.

Of late, he’s been keeping busy we expect with his baby son, born this year to him and his wife Emily Joyce, wearing cowboy hats and being in Las Vegas. Before the pandemic, he had a Vegas show entitled “An Evening with Dwight Yoakam and the Bakersfield Beat”. It’s said to be a “loosely chronological survey of the California country music scene” shaped by “Okies on the Tom Joad Raod” as he puts it.

The Hollywood Hills are quite different than the Kentucky Appalachians, but they seem to fit Dwight just right apparently.

October 23 – Green’s Golden Year

The minister of God’s love knew a little about good lovin’ , human style as well. And we really found that out in 1972, which was a very good year for Al Green. He put out his second great album of the year on this day 48 years back, with I’m Still In Love With You. It was birthed about nine months after his previous classic, Let’s Stay Together. If anyone was happier about that than Green and his listeners, it was Hi Records, the small Memphis label he recorded for and was the only real provider of hits for.

The nine song soul classic contained seven originals plus a couple of worthy cover songs: his take on Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman” and Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times.” (More recent CD releases have usually included a couple more tracks from that time period, “I Think It’s For the Feeling” and “Up Above My Head”). But it was Green’s originals which stole the show, sexy soul masterpieces including the title track, “Love & Happiness” and “Look What You’ve Done For Me.”

Rolling Stone at the time raved that Green was “the only truly great male vocalist to come along since Otis Redding” and that coupled with Let’s Stay Together, at year’s end “the #1 male vocalist will be Al Green. I mean, is there any doubt in your mind?” Years later they still loved the album, ranking it among the 300 greatest of all-time, noting it was “more sensual than its predecessor” and calling “Love & Happiness” a “masterpiece.”

The whole album was darn close to a “masterpiece” and at least American listeners agreed. It got to #4 on the charts, the highest of his career, and gave him his only platinum record. On the R&B charts, it was his second of six-straight #1s. The title track got to #3 and was one of four gold singles he scored in just over a year; “Look What You’ve Done For Me” hit #4 and was a top 30 hit in Canada, as in the UK as well, the album was fairly well-received but didn’t match its U.S. numbers.

Green soon after turned towards God and became a minister, and as we noted a few days back, as much as his music has influenced many a musician, his preaching inspired Marc Cohn to write his hit “Walking in Memphis.”

October 22 – Art Or Noise, Horn’s Band Sounded Different

“Frightening.” “Thrilling.” “Weird.” Those terms were doubtless applied to the subject of today’s other post, the Damned’s first single which was arguably the first punk rock record, and which pointed the way for a new generation of musicians in Britain. But they also have been applied to an album from the following decade – a decidedly different affair in sound, but maybe not in spirit. On this day in 1984, The Art of Noise put out their debut album, Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise?

The Art of Noise had come to the public’s attention the previous year with a 12” single, “Beat Box” that had minor success in the UK. They were rather a mysterious collective who went out of their way to be a “faceless non-group”. Their records came out on ZTT Records, known previously for being the label for another oddball British band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. There’s little surprise in that; FGTH’s producer Trevor Horn was a part of The Art of Noise, as was the label’s co-founder Paul Morley.

The quintet was short on “traditional” musicians – guitarists, drummers, etc – but not short on talent. All five seemed at home with synthesizers and ahead of their time with computers. Horn for example, was said by The Australian to have “invented the ’80s”, musically we assume. He had spearheaded MTV-favorites The Buggles and had (briefly) been the singer for Yes; a few years after this he’d win a Grammy for producing a Seal record. Gary Langan had been a successful studio engineer for years, working on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” among other records of theirs as well as ABC’s Lexicon of Love, and yes, Yes. JJ Jeczalik was one of the first studio types to work with sampling and computer programming, and had worked on records for Kate Bush and Yes (are we detecting a trend here?) before joining the Art of Noise. A few years after The Art of Noise disbanded, he went on to teach computer IT at college. Anne Dudley was a keyboardist who would later go on to work for the BBC Concert Orchestra and win Oscars for putting together film scores.

It would seem the five figured the time was right for a shakeup of the sound of music, but that the punk revolution wasn’t the way to go, or perhaps had grown stale itself. So they put out electronic music, much of it instrumental that The Quietus noted “listeners believed to be the sound of the future.” The result was the wildly varying album of nine tracks, which range from just one minute to the 10-minute-plus opus “Moments in Love”. As much as the lengths vary, so too did the tone and beat of the tracks. The singles indicated that, from the previously-released “Beat Box” to “Close to the Edit” to the shortened version of “Moments in Love” that allmusic correctly called Dudley’s “triumph.”

Critics generally were a bit confused by it but ended up liking it. Allmusic rate it 5-stars, calling it “entertaining, often frightening and screwed up” and describing the band as “genre-defying experimentalists.”

The British public seemed to like the experimentalism; the album made it to #27, and although they’d score higher-charting albums in the decade, it remains their best-seller there. “Close to the Edit” was a top 10 single there, and made it to #4 on American dance charts; “Moments in Love” became a top 10 hit in parts of Europe and garnered airplay on North American college and alt-rock stations; it helped make the album one of CFNY’s top 30 of the year, for example.

The Art of Noise would continue through the decade and score a couple of bigger hits over here, the odd “Paranoimia” with fellow-’80s sensation Max Headroom, and collaborating with Tom Jones on his cover of Prince’s “Kiss.”

October 22 – A ‘Damned’ New Sound

The face of British music changed dramatically on this day in 1976, a few months after The Ramones had shaken up the American one. It was on this day 44 years back that what is generally considered the first Brit punk record came out, the single “New Rose” by The Damned.

It’s rather odd they’d be first out of the gates with a record as they were relative newcomers to the exploding punk scene in London, having formed only that summer. They played their first gig in July ’76, opening for the already notorious Sex Pistols. The band included three members of the underground act Masters of the Backside – which also had Chrissie Hynde in it – and Brian James, who’d been in the London SS, which more or less morphed into The Clash.

James says he wrote the song in 15 minutes, and they didn’t take all that much longer to record it. The best-known name associated with the single was its producer, Nick Lowe. Bassist Captain Sensible says it was “recorded purely on cider and speed”, with Lowe around to direct them to play everything loud, according to journalist Chris Bryan.

The fast, raw single opens with them deadpanning “is she really going out with him?”, a reference to the ’60s hit “Leader of the Pack” (and of course, later the subject of a Joe Jackson hit) and the nod to the past didn’t end there. The b-side was a fast, loud cover of the Beatles “Help.”

Although the single, released on the ultimate punk label, Stiff, didn’t set the cash registers on fire, hitting only #81 in the UK and no better elsewhere, it did signal a change in the musical tide from the perfectionism of the Pink Floyds and Roxy Musics that Britain was mainly in love with at the time. Goldmine figured that “more than anything outside of the Pistols, ‘New Rose’ brought a focus to the still burgeoning punk scene.” The Sex Pistols themselves would enter the fray with their first single, “Anarchy in the UK” a month later.

The Damned are still around, four decades and various personnel changes on, and in fact scored a top 10 album in their homeland in 2018 with Evil Spirits, their 11th studio album.