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.

November 26 – Anarchy…In The EMI Offices?

Oh the humanity! Some would say punk was born on this day in 1976 as the Sex Pistols released their first single, “Anarchy in the UK” on EMI Records. Despite getting a 40 000 pound contract with that company (the largest it had ever given a new artist and equivalent to about $500 000 now), EMI fired the band and gave them more money to walk away after an infamous BBC-TV interview in which Steve Jones called the interviewer a “dirty f***er” and hearing various reports of mayhem at their shows.

Astoundingly, despite the band’s notoriety at the time, it might have gone relatively unnoticed if not for a high-profile, last minute TV appearance in the UK when they replaced… Queen! The Freddie Mercury outfit pulled out at the last moment and someone figured the Sex Pistols would be the next best thing for the viewers! One’s named Queen, the other sings “God Save The Queen”, some unaware booking agent probably figured. The single ended up selling 55 000 copies and hitting #38 in the UK before EMI pulled it; their next single “God Save the Queen” went to #2 on Virgin Records and in between the band had signed on with , then been fired by , A&M Records. 

Never afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, the Pistols quickly went and wrote a scathing song knocking the old label, fittingly and simply called “EMI.” John Lydon (Rotten) says that’s one of his favorite songs of theirs and it was written because “EMI wanted to sign us to show what a grand, varied label they were, but really they were not.” The EMI single was received with a variety of opinions: NME said “it will take a far better band to create raw music for a generation” while journalist John Robb opined it was “the perfect statement of a stunningly powerful piece of punk politics.” It, “God Save The Queen” and “EMI” all made it onto their only real studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks. Remarkably, showing they’re equal parts savvy businessmen as well as anarchist rockers, except for a handful of cover versions they recorded that were put onto another album, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, they never recorded again…but that hasn’t stopped them putting out seven compilation and five live albums since!

Should you happen to own one of the original 7″ singles, it won’t make you rich, but will help you buy a Christmas gift or two. Depending on condition, original copies go anywhere from about $100 to closer to $1000 if you sell it.

November 18 – The Other Irish Lads With A #1 Hit

Cor’ blimey, what’s this world coming to?” One might imagine a lot of Brits with delicate sensibilities were asking that this day in 1978, as a punk rock song hit #1 in jolly ol’ England for the first time. Although some might suggest it wasn’t very “punk” at all. But there was no denying it was Irish in origin, which also was a first-ever in Britain. If the song itself seemed miles removed from the thrashing noise of say, the Sex Pistols, the band name seemed as threatening – the Boomtown Rats. The song was “Rat Trap.”

The Boomtown Rats had been around a couple of years by this point and had a huge following at home in Eire, and a growing one across the channel in the UK. “Rat Trap” was off their second, and most successful album, Tonic for the Troops. Interestingly the band produced the record with none other than Mutt Lange. Lange was far from a household name at that point, although he’d take some steps in that direction the following year working with AC/DC and producing Highway to Hell. The band was a six man operation, but clearly was the vehicle for Bob Geldof to express himself musically. He was not only the singer, but the sole writer of the majority of their tunes, including this one. Mind you, while there were six members, the album was really the work of a seven-man band. Saxaphonist Alan Holmes figured prominently into this and several other tracks, and came with a fine pedigree. In the early-’60s he’d toured with Gene Vincent and Little Richard, he hung out with the Beatles (playing sax on “Good Morning, Good Morning” for instance) and playing on a number of Kinks albums in the ’70s. Holmes’ not being an official member left him off-stage for the band’s appearance on Top of the Pops, so Geldof mimed the sax parts… with a candelabra. Apparently the musicians’ union wouldn’t let him pick up a sax on camera as “obviously I hadn’t done so on the record.”

While the song perhaps has some of the grim imagery of punk, it seems to hold out a bit of hope for the subject, Billy, to “put on the bright suit” and “head for the right side of town” and away from the seedy “Rat Trap” part of the city he lived in. Geldof says he wrote it “in the abattoir (where he had worked) in 1973, two years before the ‘Rats were around.” With the grimy but upbeat urban lyrics, tinkling piano of Johnnie Fingers and all that sax, the song reminded many, including Rolling Stone, of a Bruce Springsteen song. That publication found the album “inventive and melodically forceful” but far too “wiseass” lyrically, making them a campy and “classy version of the Tubes” , but selected this as one of the two worthwhile songs on it.

Rat Trap” knocked “Summer Nights” from Grease from the top spot in the UK – note the ripping up of Olivia and John pictures on Top of the Pops – and spent two weeks at #1 before Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” came along. It got to #2 in their homeland, Ireland, but was largely ignored elsewhere… unlike their next single. “I Don’t Like Mondays” again hit #1 in Britain, as well as Ireland and finally broke them into the North American market in a big way. Which would have made Geldof happy. Soon after he told the NME, “I wanted to be famous, because I wanted to use the fame to talk about things that bothered me.” And that he did only a few years later!

November 10 – Fittingly, Billy Didn’t Drink Wild Turkey

Seeing the Sex Pistols back then was like…being St. Paul on the road to Damascus…you’re kind of getting a vision of what the new world is going to be like.” So said Billy Idol about his invitation to the world of music. “(I thought) if they can do it, there’s nothing stopping me!”

Indeed, for awhile it seemed like there was nothing stopping him. Saddled with a drug-addled band putting out punk rock the British public was growing weary of quickly, he jetted over to the U.S. to start anew – dancing with himself, if you will – with a couple of new collaborators : Keith Forsey and Steve Stevens. Forsey was a talented producer and rising talent (he’d soon co-write “Don’t You Forget About Me” and produce the Flashdance soundtrack) ; Stevens a rocker who was proficient on just about any instrument he stumbled upon. Together they put out Idol’s first, self-titled album, then on this day in 1983, his second, Rebel Yell.

It seemed like he was an overnight success, especially to North American audiences who were largely unaware of his work with Generation X through the end of the ’70s. He was an artist for the times. As Rolling Stone put it, “equal parts hard rocker, glam rocker and punk rocker.” It was a winning formula, and probably never worked better than on Rebel Yell. It was recorded mostly at Electric Lady studios in the Big Apple, appropriate enough given that place’s creation by another rocker who blended genres seamlessly, Jimi Hendrix.

Idol and Stevens co-wrote eight of the nine tracks (Idol did one by himself), and while Billy played a little guitar and a few session musicians were used, mainly Stevens played the music, dub by overdub. He played guitars, bass, synthesizers, even some drum machines. Among the extras used were Billy’s girlfriend Perri Lister (who’s seen in several of his videos and sings backup, including the French “les yeux sans visage” on “Eyes Without A Face”) and sax man Mars Williams. Williams had been in the Waitresses and would soon join the Psychedelic Furs.

The album moved along briskly, blending genres deftly and thoroughly so as to make it equally palatable on the dance floor as on the classic rock stations. Rolling Stone (which graded it 4-stars) called it a “synthesis of music of three decades”, the “pop economy” of the ’60s, “larger than life sound of big guitars” from the ’70s and “straight streamlined edges” of ’80s new wave. And with Chrysalis Records putting out four singles off it, no wonder it was a hit.

The title track was a top 10 hit in Canada, Australia and New Zealand; later on it would also be that in the UK when re-released in 1985. In the U.S., it only got to #46 but it was a biggie on MTV (and later VH1 which ranked it the 79th best “hard rock song” ever down the road) and on hard rock stations. “Flesh for Fantasy” was a top 10 – or very close to – again in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Germany and the more melodic “Eyes Without A Face” became his first mainstream hit in the States, reaching #4. All told the album would stay on the charts for a year, reaching #6 in the U.S. (tied for his best to date), #2 in New Zealand, and #8 in Canada. With double-platinum sales in his new, adopted country (the U.S) and 5X platinum in Canada, it remains his most successful record to date. If you want to drink to that, you might choose the Kentucky whiskey of the same name. At the time it was a fave of Idol’s and it gave him the inspiration for the song. He’s probably glad his drink of choice wasn’t Wild Turkey back then.

October 15 – New York Sire-d A New Sound

The shape and sound of music for decades to come was altered on this day back in 1975. Like many big things however, very few paid attention to it at the time. It was the day The Ramones signed their first record contract, with the somewhat avant garde Sire Records label.

Things had happened quickly for The Ramones, but it was hardly effortless (even if it may have sounded it!). They’d only formed the year before when school friends Doug Colvin, Jeffrey Hyman, Thomas Erdeleyi and John Cummings started a garage rock band. This was a good thing, because, well, none of them were very good. Cummings would soon after run into Paul Simonon at a concert and asked the now-famous bassist if he was in a band. Simonon said yes, but “we call ourselves the Clash but we’re not good enough.” Cummings responded “wait til you see us, we stink! We’re lousy”, encouraging the other to just go out and play. By the way, by that time Cummings had become Johnny Ramone – all of the lads decided to pick new names using the “Ramone” family name.

Good or not, The Ramones worked hard. They quickly became regulars at both Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, both in New York City, and had played 74 shows at the latter in 1974 alone. The shows were no Rolling Stones or Zep shows of course. The Ramones typical set was no more than 20 minutes of hard, fast driving rock. Journalist Legs McNeil remembers “these guys were all wearing leather jackets…it was just this wall of sound….this was something completely new.”

The people at Sire thought so too. Co-founder Richard Goettehrer says of them, “I really saw something fresh happening. We’d been bombarded by disco and progressive bands, but to me, this almost felt like a rebirth and return to the beginnings of rock & roll.”

So they signed up the proto-punks and sent them to the studio early the next year to record their debut LP in one week, at a cost of around $6000. Although it was far from a hit (it failed to hit the US top 100 and took a couple of decades to sell to gold status), it was ground-breaking and influential. As The Ramones continued to record through the ’70s and ’80s, their following grew, although they never hit superstar status based on sales…“Pet Sematary”, from a Stephen King movie was arguably their biggest hit, getting to #4 on the Alternative chart. However, through influence it’s a different story.

Sire was probably the only significant label at the point who would’ve had interest in them. Goettehrer (who’d been a successful songwriter in the ’60s, penning tunes including “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Hang on Sloopy”) had founded the company with an idea of bringing underground British acts to North American attention -something they’d do very well in the ’80s with artists like Depeche Mode, the Smiths and Madness being theirs over here, no matter who they had signed with in Britain – but quickly also developed a reputation for looking for unusual, cutting edge bands on this side of the ocean. That was especially true in New York City, where they found not only the Ramones but Talking Heads, and briefly Blondie.

Bands from Pearl Jam and Nirvana to Motorhead and Green Day now point to the Ramones as a significant influence, which made them a shoo-in to make the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. They note they “revitalized rock and roll” with their “back to basics (approach): simple, speedy, stripped-down rock and roll songs…no makeup, no light shows, no nonsense.”

July 22 – Elvis Has Entered The Building

One of the more important debuts of the ’70s arrived 44 years ago – Elvis Costello‘s My Aim is True. It came out this day in 1977, right in the midst of the punk revolution in his Britain; a few weeks later here in North America where Columbia Records had it rather than the upstart Stiff Records who signed him to the UK. Since that time, he’s rolled out 30 more studio albums and had allmusic declare Declan (his real name is Declan McManus) “the most evocative, innovative and gifted songwriter since Bob Dylan.”

My Aim is True wasn’t necessarily expected to change the world – even of the singer himself. He’d been playing in pubs for about six years but worked by day in an office as a data entry clerk. He wrote at night and on his subway commute. He would keep entering data in fact until the album was on the shelves when Stiff offered to match his salary there and give him some equipment if he’d quit and work for them. They originally wanted him to be a staff songwriter, mainly for Dave Edmunds, but Edmunds wasn’t big on that and when they heard his demo, they realized they might be onto something in his own right. He quickly got the album put together over just six, four-hour sessions in a London studio for about 1500 pounds (perhaps $15 000 today, a pretty modest sum) including the use of producer Nick Lowe. The two worked well together, and Lowe would produce the next four of his records as well, the ones often considered his strongest period.

Costello wrote the dozen snappy songs, played guitar and piano on many tracks but got help from Lowe himself as well as the band Clover (from which Huey Lewis arose, although Huey wasn’t in on this record) although they initially weren’t credited due to some legal concerns about labels and their contract. It was the only album he’d due until the end of the ’80s without his usual backing band The Attractions, but the different players didn’t seem to harm the results any.

The cover had Costello in thick glasses looking knowingly like a latter-day Buddy Holly, and his sound was at times rather straight-ahead, fast-paced (none of the songs come in over four minutes; the first track, “Welcome to the Working Week” clocks in at just 1:22”) pop-rock with a healthy amount of guitar and nods to such varied writers as Hoagy Carmichael, Burt Bacharach and Gram Parsons to the ears of Rolling Stone, which would by the way grade it a perfect 5-star. Although at the time termed “punk”. Costello, along with the likes of Lowe, Edmunds and Joe Jackson were in fact ushering in something of a new sub-genre of their own in the late-’70s, one incorporating some of the simple instrumentation and cynicism of punk with the energy of classic rock and the melodic flavor of AM pop…”post punk” if you will.

The album contained some songs now considered new wave or alt rock classics like “Less than Zero”, “Watching the Detectives” (which wasn’t on the earliest UK albums, as it was a standalone single there, however American copies and newer European ones included it) and “Red Shoes”, but at the time radio seemed oblivious to them, or indifferent. Only “Watching the Detectives” charted , to a respectable #15 at home and #35 in Australia. In Canada, it just grazed #60 and Stateside, it missed the Hot 100 altogether. The album though sold slowly but surely, largely on word of mouth and great reviews, getting to #14 in the UK, #24 in Canada and #32 in the U.S., where in time it would go platinum.

The Village Voice would call it the second-best album of the year and British publications tended to rave about it. Later on, through 2012, Rolling Stone would have it among the 200 greatest albums of all-time. They noted “only three months after Elvis Presley died” along comes a “”gangly, bespectacled 23 year-old Brit clutching a red Fender Jazzmaster guitar” daring to evoke the “Elvis” name. “Like the Sex Pistols and the Damned, Elvis Costello was very good at the bravado gesture early in his career”. But they point out, he also was a “staggeringly gifted songwriter” so no one should hold a grudge. Entertainment Weekly would later rate it an “A-“, the lowest rating they gave any of his first four albums, but still making it  a very worthwhile “debut with lots to say!”

In the end, allmusic perhaps sum it up well by noting My Aim is True is a “phenomenal debut.”