January 23 – Clash Rocked The Cashbox (And Billboard) 40 Years Ago

In the early-’90s, the world of pop music was thrown for a loop when “alternative” rock became so popular it was suddenly really the mainstream music. A decade earlier though, it was happening on a slightly smaller scale. On this day in 1983, those angry, political punks from Britain, The Clash, were having their finest hour in America and in so doing, standing toe to toe with such decidedly-mainstream artists as Phil Collins and the J. Geils Band. “Rock the Casbah” peaked at #8 in the U.S. 40 years ago.

Three years after they first hit the U.S. airwaves with the similarly upbeat-sounding “Train in Vain” , “Rock the Casbah” quickly became their biggest hit there. That was fitting perhaps since it was recorded in New York, not their home base of London. In the UK meanwhile, at the time it only got up to #30, making it only their sixth-biggest single to that point, although oddly it would make it up into the top 20 in 1991 there around the same time another single from the same album, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” got to #1 there after being used in a Levis TV ad.

The single helped The Clash and their Combat Rock album break through into the American market in a big way, going double-platinum; at home the sales were below London Calling and about on a par with their other three previous albums. What it wasn’t though was representative of British punk rock, nor of The Clash’s sound necessarily, although on their previous couple of records – London Calling and Sandinista – they’d experimented with enough different music genres as to not have a “sound” beyond the gruff vocals of Joe Strummer tying it all together.

The fun, dancy tune is atypical of The Clash in another way. It was the only track written and performed largely by drummer Topper Headon. He had the piano melody in his head and ended up in the studio hours before the other three in the band, so he recorded away, doing the piano work, then his drums and even bass before Strummer heard it. the singer later acknowledged “the real genius of ‘Rock the Casbah’ is Topper.”

What wasn’t necessarily genius was Topper’s lyrics, about his girlfriend, and depending on which person close to the band you ask, either very “sappy” or rather “pornographic.” Strummer looked at them, tossed the lyric sheet in the garbage and started on the witty geopolitical statement we know. The song which gloriously showcases the Middle Eastern dichotomy of both a fascination with and a hostility towards American pop culture was something Strummer had in his mind for awhile. The lyrics had begun falling into place when he’d seen a documentary on Iran, and in an interview aired on I-heart Radio, he said he was astounded to find that having a bottle of Jack Daniels there could get one “forty lashes.” “I was trying to say ‘fundamentalism is nowhere, man’”. Around the same time, manager Bernie Rhodes was complaining to him that his songs were getting increasingly like “ragas” – long, complex Indian musical pieces, which is where that word in the lyrics originated.

CBS Records sensed it had a hit on its hands and remixed it as a single with more bass and the extended vocal bit on the word “jive”, then sent the band to Texas to record the armadillo-featuring video which became an early favorite on MTV.

There were a couple of ironies in the success of “Rock the Casbah.” First, while it was more the work of Headon than any other Clash song, he’d been fired from the group by the time it began its run up the charts. Headon had deepening drug problems which curtailed his ability to perform and didn’t sit well with Strummer. So Topper doesn’t even appear in the video.

More galling to much of the fanbase, is that the U.S. military adopted the song as an unofficial theme or anthem for the 1991 Operation Desert Storm (the mini-war to free Kuwait from Iraq’s grip.) The left-wing band surely never expected their music to be the soundtrack to an American military operation and as one journalist quipped, “the notion of The Clash as spokesfolk for (military) adventurism in the Middle East might have been enough to bring Joe Strummer back from the dead.”

The Clash rocked the casbah, but didn’t rock very much of anything after. Strummer was also getting tired of guitarist Mick Jones as well and perhaps was getting weary of the Clash altogether. They recorded only one more album, 1985’s under-achieving and critically-panned Cut the Crap. That one lacked Jones, Headon and had only a passing involvement from bassist Paul Simonon but did have their business manager in charge of drum machines and production. After that, Strummer knew it was time to move on and leave the band’s legacy alone.

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December 24 – Henry Offered Up A Different Kind Of St. Nick-watch

‘Tis the day before Christmas and what better time to take a look at the quintessential little story about December 24? “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was a now-classic poem first published in 1823 in a small newspaper, New York’s Troy Sentinel. Written by Clement Clarke Moore, it told of a “visit from St.Nick”, when all was quiet and not a creature was stirring – not even a mouse! It popularized many of our current ideas about Santa, aka “St Nick”, a jolly old elf who gained entries into houses through the chimney and relied on reindeer power. Certainly a seasonal classic and one put to music a few times. Few however, as memorably as the version by Henry Rollins.

Rollins is an interesting character, best described as “unusual” and most certainly, “intense”.

Rollins was born in Washington DC, but came of age in southern California, where he formed and led the hardcore punk band Black Flag. He got turned that way after a buddy played him the Sex Pistols album,when Henry was about 16. “Well! That’s something!”, he says he thought, and set off to make an American equivalent of sorts. Black Flag had a huge underground following but limited commercial success, but Henry carried on after their demise in 1986 with his own Rollins Band, and his unique blend of …intense…spoken word poetry and loud music described by one journalist as “a bellicose auctioneer.” And, having the energy of a primed punker, plus the brains of an tweed jacketed type, he’s branched into writing books, columns for Rolling Stone and acting, in an array of roles ranging from the intense hockey coach in the Christmas tear-jerker Jack Frost to a character on Sons of Anarchy. Probably an intense one. And he’s found time to work with William Shatner once or twice along the way. Suffice to say they don’t like leaf blowers! So leave it to Rollins to put a different spin on “Twas the Night Before Christmas”. The words are there. So too the helicopters and guns less often associated with Noel-time. So, give it a listen… but I don’t recommend playing it for the kiddies if you want them to be snoozing when that jolly ol’ elf lands on your roof!

November 6 – Pistols Started With A Bang

About a dozen people at St. Martin’s Art College in England got to see something this night in 1975 that probably made them say “Well, that’s something!” In a land where Art Garfunkel, Leo Sayer and Rod Stewart had all had #1 singles in the previous couple of months – the Sex Pistols performed live for the first time ever.

Mind you, only for about 10 minutes. The band had just recruited John Lydon to sing, based on his looks (he showed up at Malcolm McLaren’s ‘Sex’ clothing store with green hair, a sneer and a Pink Floyd t-shirt modified to say “I Hate Pink Floyd”) and given him the name “Johnny Rotten.” They got the gig, opening for a local band called Bazooka Joe, because bassist Glen Matlock was a student there. They played only four songs from all accounts – covers of the Who’s “Substitute”, the Monkees’ “Steppin’ Stone”, Small Faces “Whatcha Gonna Do About It?” and something called “No Lip” by Dave Berry. Apparently they were rather forgettable but very loud. The Pistols likely had planned to do their own “Pretty Vacant” as well, as they had it written by then, but the plug was pulled on them before they could. Some say Bazooka Joe cut the power, worried their amps (which the Pistols were using) were going to be wrecked, others (such as Canadian music historian Alan Cross) say a horrified school official cut off power to the stage! Either way those four unremarkable songs ended up changing the face of modern rock more than any number of better-trained, more accomplished bands of the mid-’70s did.

November 3 – Why We Knew Geldof Long Before Live Aid

Making some good out of a bad situation, a punkish band from across the sea had a big day here 43 years ago. Ireland’s Boomtown Rats put out their third album, The Fine art of Surfacing this day in 1979. (That is on this side of the Atlantic, it had already been a hit at home for a few months.) Although they’d already got a following (and a #1 single in “Rat Trap”) in the UK and their native island, this was the album that introduced them to North America. Interestingly, it was co-produced by Mutt Lange, then still a rather up-and-coming type who’d soon go onto superstardom working with the likes of Foreigner, Def Leppard and his wife-to-be, Shania Twain.

The LP went platinum in Canada, their only such milestone outside of the British Isles, largely due to the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.” That one was a major hit for them everywhere except the U.S. (where some rock stations did play it but it failed to make the top 40). A #1 hit for 4 weeks in the UK and one of the top 10 of the year there, it got to #4 in the Great White North. The song was inspired by a mass shooting at a San Diego school earlier in the year. (Sadly it’s worth pointing out that back then, these types of events were rarities and made major headlines.)  The girl who commit the atrocity answered “I don’t like Mondays” when asked why she did it. Singer Bob Geldof was in Atlanta doing an interview when he heard the news and wrote the song. “It was such a senseless act…so I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it.” It was fairly typical of the band which like The Stranglers never quite fit perfectly in the box labeled ‘punk rock.’ They were fairly accomplished musicians and apparently listened to a range of music that ranged from British glam rock to American Motown. The variety of song types helped the album hit the British and Canadian top 10 and besides the biggie, they scored another top 5 hit in the UK and Ireland with ”Someone’s Looking At You.” While some publications like Britain’s Smash Hits panned it completely, others thought it had merit. Rolling Stone didn’t grade it, and did find the lyrics tended to the glib. They also said “paranoia rears its ugly head an awful lot here” in songs like “Someone’s Looking At You” and the “schizophrenic” “Having My Picture Taken” but applauded the playing, especially the “snap of drummer Simon Crowe’s percussive undertow” and found them to have a “smarmy charm (which) comes from an elusiveness that defies categorization.”

“I Don’t Like Mondays” was the highlight of the Rats set at Live Aid, which of course was organized by the eventually-knighted Geldof. It also more or less ended the band; after dropping sales and Geldof’s obsessive work on the charity, the rest of the band tended to work on other projects and the Rats were “mothballed.”

October 22 – Anarchy In The Florist’s?

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 46 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.

June 20 – Not So Nice In Nice

Not so “Nice In Nice”? The Stranglers were arrested and jailed in the French city of Nice this day in 1980 for “inciting a riot” after a concert of theirs was scrubbed at a local university and students rioted.

The band had a reputation for confrontation and raucous, rowdy shows but this one was a bit beyond their control. When they arrived for the scheduled sold out appearance, the school wouldn’t let them use any additional power outlets – or even have cords touching school property! The tiny sound system in the venue was of poor quality and cut out entirely several times. They found a generator off-site and tried to run overhead wires to it, but it didn’t work causing bassist J.J. Burnel to tell the angry crowd “We’re really sorry, but remember, this isn’t our fault!,” and recommend they see the promoter for a refund. The kids took their anger out on who they figured was to blame – the university, causing about $15 000 damage.

The band blame it on being caught in a power struggle between the student union and local authorities who were at odds with each other long before the concert. They spent a week in jail, eventually paying a big fine, although as drummer Jet Black notes “we laughed all the way to the bank. Before that we were unknown in France, (after) we played to packed houses.” Time heals old wounds – for some. Although Black says he didn’t want to ever go near the city again, Burnel, whose parents were French but grew up in England, has moved to the south of France, saying “there’s more rose (wine), more sunshine, more space” there compared to the UK.  What’s more, Burnel just released a memoir which doubtless covers the week… but those of us who didn’t pay attention in junior high language classes will have to just guess as it’s written in French.

Six years after the jailtime, they penned a song called “Nice in Nice.” Ostensibly a barb aimed at a spoiled woman in a one-sided relationship, it also metaphorically alluded to the French authorities. It was a top 30 hit in Britain but failed to chart in France.

February 21 – Bassman Burnel Britpunk’s Last Man Standing

Happy birthday to the much under-rated bassist J.J. Burnel of The Stranglers. Burnel is 70 today…but you might not want to point that out to the now white-haired karate enthusiast who’s posting a pretty strong case to be considered the last man standing from Britain’s original punk heyday.

Other punk acts have racked up more critical acclaim than “The Men In Black” but few have sold as many records (to date, they’ve notched 11 top 20 albums and 22 top 40 singles in their homeland, spanning a range of genres from the snarling “Something Better Change” to the sillky-smooth “European Female” ) and none have outlived Burnel’s band. Along with guitarist Hugh Cornwell and keyboardist Dave Greenfield, J.J. started The Stranglers (with drummer Jet Black, the owner of a bar they played at in the earliest days, added in soon) way back in 1974 and they’re still going to this day, although only Burnel now remains after Greenfield’s death from Covid two years back. Burnel’s inventive and thundering basslines have always been distinctive (check out their early hit “Peaches” for example) and set the band apart from most of their contemporaries; since Cornwell’s departure in 1990 J.J.’ also become the “face” of the group and frequent lead vocalist.

Burnel was born in London and studied history at university there, but his parents were from France (hence the name Jean-Jacques) so he’s proficient in French and one of his two solo albums was in that language, as was the languid Stranglers single “La Folie” that he penned. Burnel was influenced by John Entwistle (“’My Generation’ – that bassline! I thought that was bloody cool!” he recalls) and Jack Bruce of Cream as a young bassist. In turn, his style and sound – in part created by rips in the cones of his Marshall speakers that creates a bit of distortion- have influenced a number of post-punk acts and artists like Peter Hook of New Order. While he’s not had the accolades of Entwistle, or the more widely-known Sting or Paul McCartney, his talent is undeniable and Music Radar said he can “only be rivalled by The Jam’s Bruce Foxton as the new wave bass hero.” Burnel notes “we’re starting to get (credit) when we’re in the autumn of our careers.” He calls the band a “bunch of old farts” who are “not selling anything, just a good time I hope.” Fans obviously agree. Their 2014 Giants tour was the most successful of any British tour that year and their most recent album, last fall’s Dark Matters entered the UK charts in the top 10.

Burnel had the reputation of being a rather hot-headed, mean character when he was young but now comes across as rather easy-going and humorous. Which is a good thing, because you can also refer to him as “Kyoshi”- an honorary term for advanced Black Belt students of karate. He’s the head of Shidokan UK and considered one of Europe’s top practicioners of the discipline, but of late has resided in the south of France, keeping himself busy enjoying local wine and taking his dog for walks in the hills. The Stranglers are once again on tour in Britain this winter, with Burnel scheduled to celebrate his 70th with fans in Bristol tonight.

February 1 – No Crap, Green Day Raked In The Gold

This day in 1994 definitely wasn’t “crap” if you were a fan of surf-punk music, as Green Day released Dookie, their major label debut. (“Dookie”, for the record is slang for diarrhea, which apparently the band suffered from a lot back in the day, probably due to poor dietary habits and excesses of some other substances.)

Green Day were new to the masses but far from a new entity by this point. They’d formed a full eight years earlier, had released a couple of albums and several EPs on an indie label and had a solid following around their home base of Berkeley, California (a suburb of San Francisco sitting adjacent to Oakland.) They’d formed under the name Sweet Children in 1986 when childhood friends Billie Joe Armstrong, a singer and guitarist, and bassist Mike Dirnt joined with drummer John Kiffmeyer. The name was replaced with Green Day before they recorded any records; Sweet Children was being confused with another local band with a similar name and the boys liked a name that reflected their fondness for smoking a certain green herb. Kiffmeyer was replaced with German-born drummer Frank Edwin Wright III , aka Tre Cool, just after they released their first album 39/Smooth in 1990.

Their second full-length album, 1992’s Kerplunk, quickly garnered sales of 50 000 which was impressive for such a small label with no major distribution. (It’s worth noting that eventually the album was re-released on Reprise Records and went on to sell over a million copies.) That coupled with the band’s tireless touring and fun stage show got them noticed by several major labels and although they had multiple offers they signed on with Reprise , a division of Warner Bros., largely due to the interest of that company’s Rob Cavallo. Cavallo was a multi-talented musician in his own right and according to the band, “the only person we could really talk to and connect with.” Cavallo would also go on to sign the Goo Goo Dolls and produce not only Dookie but albums for Kid Rock and Phil Collins. Not surprisingly, by 2011, he was Chairman of Warner Bros. Records.

When he listened to the Green Day demo in his car, he “Sensed that [he] had stumbled onto something big,” and quickly booked them into Fantasy Studios. That happened to be “The House that Creedence Built”, the Bay Area’s most prestigious studio, used by CCR in their hay-day and later by artists like Journey, Sarah Mclachlan, Chris Isaak and the White Stripes, plus being where the sound for movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus was mixed. Since they’d already got the material written and practiced it wasn’t hard to get it all recorded inside of three weeks late in 1993. One song, ”Welcome to Paradise” was actually from their previous record, but re-recorded to sound more contiguous with the others. They didn’t quite get the sound they wanted at first, with them aiming for a Sex Pistols-like energy and rawness, so Cavallo re-mixed it to everyone’s approval and it was on shelves less than three months later. The rest is history.

It’s import wasn’t obvious at the time. Some media noticed it – Britain’s NME, for instance, reviewed it, giving it 7 out of 10 – others didn’t. Rolling Stone would eventually go on to name it the 30th best album of the ’90s and their readers chose it “Reader’s Choice Album of the Year” for 1994, yet the magazine itself apparently didn’t think it noteworthy enough to devote column space to when it first arrived.

Just as Nirvana’s Nevermind shook things up, so too did this one. Dookie took the energy and noise of Nirvana and other up-and-coming grunge acts but lightened it up some. With 14 or 15 songs crammed tightly into 41 minutes (the original CD lists 14 tracks but the last one, “F.O.D.” stops after 2:50 then, after a minute and sixteen seconds of silence leads into a hidden track, the Tre Cool-penned “All by Myself”, which is a separate track on the I-tunes version) it’s certainly has the pacing and urgency of punk, but for all the noise there’s a pretty strong sense of melody running through it. The New York Times called it an album that “only remotely resembled punk music…punk turns into pop.”

Punk or pop, fans ate it up. As the NME pointed out twenty years later, it proved “Teen rock …didn’t have to be all gloomy nihilism and angsty sonics. Dookie made rock fun again.” Others called it passionately apathetic. The loud, catchy tunes didn’t make many earth-shattering points; for the most part they were drawn from the band’s personal experiences.Much of that involved being bored and smoking pot. The single “Longview”, the first of 3 from the album to go to #1 on Billboard’s Alternative chart, is about “living in the suburbs in a sort of shit town where you can’t even pull in a good radio station,” according to Armstrong. “When I Come Around” was about a fight Billie Joe had with his then-girlfriend,(now wife) Adrienne that the band more or less put together while walking around San Francisco at night- something almost mirrored in the video. “Longview” and that song, and the videos which pulled into heavy rotation on MTV helped make the band household names quickly and let the album go all the way to #2 on Billboard. North of the border in Canada, as well as in Australia and New Zealand it was a #1 hit. Although initially lumped in with other California neo-punk acts like Rancid and the Offspring, Dookie soon put Green Day out ahead in the forefront of the ’90s Punk Revival scene.

The album won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album in 1995 and sold a staggering 20 million-plus copies worldwide, including about 10 million in the U.S., where as in Canada, it is certified Diamond status. It remains their biggest album to date, although they did come close a decade later with the more political American Idiot and its associated hits like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Holiday.”

A spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 75 million albums sold and counting, five Grammys, even two Tony Awards (for their Broadway adaptation of American Idiot)- not bad going for a couple of slacker teens who decided to play music because their town was too boring!

December 14 – People Wanted To Take This Call

The Seventies ended with the release of the best album of the Eighties,  at least according to Rolling Stone. The Clash release their Epic Records epic, London Calling on this day in 1979. It was their third album and while the predecessor , Give ‘Em enough Rope did well in their Britain (reaching #2 on the charts), London Calling not only opened up a new continent , North America, to them but also was a major leap forward musically.

They put it together quickly, as Mick Jones noted later, “Joe, once he learned to type, would bang out lyrics at a high rate of good stuff, then I’d be able to bang out some music while he typed.” The double-album spans over its 19 songs and hour-plus running time , as allmusic puts it a “dizzying array” of sounds, from the hard rock of the title track to reggae inspired songs like “Jimmy Jazz” and “Guns of Brixton” to jazz-influences to the straight ahead perky-sounding pop of “Lost in a Supermarket.” and the upbeat dance-ready “Train In Vain” (their first top 30 hit in the U.S.) Even the imagery was varied – while the iconic photo of bassist Paul Simonon smashing his guitar reeks of the anger they felt (says Simonon: “by London Calling, we’d become grown men and having traveled had become more worldly,”) the lettering in cheery, bold pink and green capitals was a deliberate homage to Elvis Presley’s happy-go-lucky debut.

The lyrics however, were rather dark throughout, touching on a myriad of social problems of the beginning of the Reagan/Thatcher era – the urban violence, the indifference of youth, the over-the-top consumerism of the wealthy…”Spanish Bombs” was inspired by a real-life Basque separatist terror attack. If the tunes hadn’t been perky at times and varied, the album could have been a bleak tome consigned to the dustbins of bad history. But that is obviously not the case. The album went on to sell about 5 million copies worldwide and be their first chart success in Canada and Australia but the impact was far beyond the numbers. By expanding their sound successfully in so many directions while remaining cohesive, The Clash created a lasting masterpiece.

At the time – well, four months after release – Rolling Stone called them “the greatest rock and roll band in the world,” although noting “the band resists such labels.” It praised their “rock and roll rebellion in grand, epic terms” and gave it a perfect 5-star rating and then years later called it the greatest album of the 1980s. Three decades after its release, the magazine put it at #8 on their list of all-time great albums, noting that the “19 songs of apocalypse (were) fueled by the unbending faith in rock and roll to beat back the darkness.” They added it was like a “free form radio broadcast from the end of the world.” It was, it is worth noting, the newest of the eight best on their list. The Village Voice liked its “urgency and vitality, ambition which overwhelmed the pessimism of its leftist world view” and called it the best album of the year. At the turn of the century, Q put it as the ninth best British album of all-time. Surprisingly, only alternative rock specialty mag Spin was indifferent to it, retroactively giving it a 7 out of 10 rating. Oh, and that radio hit “Train In Vain”… it was originally recorded as a song to be given away with NME magazine. When that fell through, the band rushed it onto the LP, but the cover was printed…thus no listing on the song list! The NME perhaps would rue that decision – they’d later go on to call it the best album of the ’80s

December 7 – Canada Loved Britain’s Bad Habits

If there’s one thing Prog Rock acts are known for, it’s probably not having much of a sense of humor about their work. They take things very seriously. Which makes today’s subject all the more surprising – a talented bunch of guys from that end of the rock spectrum who suddenly decided to “play it for a lark” in the words of allmusic, becoming a pseudo-punk band who very definitely didn’t seem to take anything all that seriously. Enter The Monks, a short-lived British punk band (or punk parody depending on your take) who oddly enough were a major success in Canada. Their first album, Bad Habits, was sitting at #11 there on this day in 1979.

The Monks in question (there was an American band with the same name) were mainly ex-members of the Strawbs, who’d had some decent success at home in the mid-’70s with their blend of prog and glam rock, especially at home in the UK. They were guitarists Richard Hudson and Brian Willoughby (who’d also done music as backing for Monty Python comedy records) and singer/keyboardist John Ford, with a couple other guys added in – drummer Clive Pierce and another singer/keyboardist, Terry Cassidy. Hudson and Ford had also previously worked in the appropriately-named Hudson Ford; Ford seemed a real talent having been a touring member of bands like Blue Oyster Cult and ZZ Top on the side.

They decided to form a punk outfit for reasons which are unclear. They put out a one-off single at home, “Nice Legs, Shame About Her Face”. It was a surprise hit in Britain, making the top 20, resulting in EMI Records having them quickly make an album. That album didn’t do much there, other than irritate some people like Johnny Rotten. He ranted that they were “rubbish” and merely a “poor imitation of the Sex Pistols.” He perhaps was especially displeased with the Monks song “Johnny B Rotten.” However, overseas they found a home.

Canada was very receptive to new wave and post-punk music early on. That was especially true of the country’s biggest city, Toronto. Bands like the Stranglers were selling out large venues there while playing tiny bars elsewhere on the continent and the likes of Depeche Mode and Simple Minds were huge years before they reached widespread recognition over here. So it might not be surprising that The Monks would do well there. “Nice Legs, Shame About the Face” got airplay on the alt rock station but the next single broke them nationwide.

Drugs in my Pocket” was the naughtyish and funny single more than a tad reminiscent of Ringo Starr’s “No No Song” if sung by the Pistols and approaches its topic with ambivalence: “I’ve got drugs in my pocket, more than just a few of them! I’ve got drugs in my pocket, am I really through with them?” The song rose to #18 in Canada, and in the Toronto market even reached #4 on CHUM, the “top 40” hit radio station. It was enough to push the album to double-platinum status there…meaning that its certified sales were more than albums by the Clash or the Cars released at nearly the same time.

Such was their popularity there that the record company decided to only release their second and last album, Suspended Animation, in Canada and nowhere else. It hit gold status without even generating a hit single. That all considered, maybe it would be no surprise there was a tribute concert for them in Toronto in 2012, and a number of local musicians including members of Sloan and the New Pornographers put out a tribute album.

Satisfied that they’d dipped their toes in the punk pool long enough, most of The Monks briefly went on to try their hand at Swing era music, calling themselves High Society.