Old Music Sacred Days

The Sacred Days You Gave Me – Slade

(#1 in a series – 10 albums that shaped my musical taste)

1973 – I was a bookish kid. Music brought me a little bit more out in to the world, I guess.. everyone wants to be a part of something, and we had our little cliques at school, kids who were allowed to have trendy haircuts and wider flappier bottoms to their school uniform trousers. I might have been a bit shy but I knew what I liked and when I had some money of my own to spend, a small collection of singles accumulated, piled on the BSR autochanger in the family radiogram. Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Wizzard, Bowie.. the charts, Top Of The Pops and Radio One was the daily diet. Tony Blackburn at breakfast and the wonderful Alan Freeman, interpersing hits du jour with blasts of classical music. “Greetings, pop pickers.. awright, stay bright!”.

But it was a tough task, in the early 70s, staying bright. Big smiles, mirrorballs, flares and lunatic disco partying every night, right? Nope. Football hooliganism, racism, militant trade unions, strikes, power cuts, the Irish ‘problem’, the Three Day Week, a clueless Conservative government. I may not have understood it too well at the time, but I felt what my family and friends were going through, and it was tough. But it wasn’t all bad: there was a ray of light piercing the gloom.

The light reflected from a mirrored top hat..

A touch of glam was what we, and Slade, needed. They’d pounded the UK circuit for years, as soul boys the N’Betweens and skinheads Ambrose Slade, before Chas Chandler rounded them up and pointed them in the right direction. A touch of flash, Noddy Holder’s astonishing razor-blade gargle, idiosyncratic bassist Jim Lea’s proficiency in adding colourful flourishes of violin and piano to Dave Hill’s sledgehammer guitar madness, and Don Powell’s gum-chewing metronome rat-a-tat propelled them to superstardom.

‘Sladest’ was my first proper album, save for those sketchy Pickwick Top Of The Pops records. My mate Jez Thomas and I rushed into Halifax on release day and I splurged.. at least I would have, had I not underestimated the price of the fancy gatefold-sleeved multi-pictured wonder that was ‘Sladest’ (it was £3.29, a horrendous price. All was not lost, a quick dash back to Jez’s dad in the car, begging an additional 30p from Big Jimmy. There are rumours he wants his 30p back, 36 years on).

It’s a truly terrific ‘Best Of’: fourteen tracks, eight of which entered the UK top twenty, five of which hit #1, mis-spelled titles and all. It contains the very essence of what Slade means to me: sharp hooks, belting choruses, rabble-rousing good-time rock music, with no frills (save those worn by the exotically coiffed, perma-tinfoil-clad Dave Hill). It doesn’t include any Christmas songs. It is still, pretty much, the most fun my ears can have.

It’s where I began. Play loud.

P.S. Part 2 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: 1976

Old Music

A Squid Eating Dough – Captain Beefheart

The Beefheart odyssey continues.. I’ve given all the post-Tragic Band albums a good going over and there’s some monumental stuff. The Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) period, and the live album that documents it has much to recommend, not least the squalling ‘Owed T’Alex’ and the ‘Bat Chain Puller’ mantra itself (rumoured to be the cause of more than one relationship breakup.. just play it a couple of hundred times in a row).

And it’s got me thinking, and worried. I’m not one of those retrologists, I don’t think modern music is automatically inferior to classic recordings from the golden age of rock and roll.. I DO listen to lots of it. But..

Which modern bands or artists with an established catalogue display the breadth and scope of work of Beefheart or, say.. The Beatles? No groaning out there, there’s a serious point here, at least as serious as I ever get on TRC..  they made their transition from bar band to rock giants to spent disillusioned musicians in just seven (count em) years, releasing thirteen albums. From ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ to ‘Get Back’.. yer modern rocker would be lucky to put out two records in that time, and chances are those two would sound identical. So I’m having a crisis, and that, in part, is why I’m listening to the Captain so much. It’s challenging me. I’ll be challenged by Trout Mask Replica next week: stay tuned.

Here’s some more Beefheart, the John Lee Hooker-styled choogling title track of his final album. On its release, this video was ‘too weird’ for MTV. Go figure.

Old Music

Five Hamburgers – Captain Beefheart

It’s Don Van Vliet week here at Riverboat Towers – another Captain: Captain Beefheart, of course. A serious listening session, no doubt, so I’m easing myself in gently with the Booglarizer’s most accessible album, and a classic to boot. Perversely (for an artist where perversity is a regular occurrence) it didn’t chart in the UK, whereas more experimental ‘difficult’ albums did. I’ll get round to those later in the week, topping it all off with ‘Trout Mask Replica’, but if there’s a Beefheart album I’d recommend, ‘Clear Spot‘ is the one. Buy it right now, you’ll get ‘The Spotlight Kid’ on the same CD.

And to get right down to it, there’s something about ‘Trout Mask Replica’ that eludes me. I understand that he taught the band how to play that way, and that, as free-form as it sounds, it’s all been mapped out, a strange and arcane map for sure, but a map just the same. But I haven’t, up to now, ever ‘got it’. There’s also the nagging feeling that advocates of the record are just so far up their own arse and using it as a tool to berate the intelligence of those baffled by TMR and assert their own evident superiority. We’ll see how I get along listening to it this time around.

But for now, here’s the Captain with the late period Magic Band (Richard Snyder and Moris Tepper on guitars) on a French TV show in 1980. Listen to it rumble. Love those glass and steel fingers. ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’.