THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: Elevation

This chapter is in some potential drafts of my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1), but is more likely to be pushed back to an even-more-theoretical This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 2.

An infinite number of tracks can each be THE greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!

TELEVISION: “Elevation”

Written by Tom Verlaine

Produced by Andy Johns and Tom Verlaine

From the album Marquee Moon, Elektra Records, 1977
Vertigo.

For the disaffected and dissatisfied in 1977, no track expressed the feeling of rock music in dizzying free fall with greater menace and implied ennui as “Elevation” by Television

A large part of growing up manifests in staking one’s own claim on fresh vistas. We don’t necessarily crave a complete break from the past, from the frontiers settled by older siblings or preceding generations. But we want some real estate to call our own. 

From Television’s debut album Marquee Moon, the track “Elevation” just fascinated me when I was 17. Fall of 1977, freshman in college, trying to finally hear all these punk or new wave or whaddayacallit bands I’d read so much about in the pages of Phonograph Record Magazine. I asked the campus radio station for help, and was rewarded with the sounds of the Ramones,Blondiethe Dictatorsthe Advertsthe JamWillie Alexander and the Boom Boom Bandthe Runaways, and oh yeah!, Television. I could never get enough of this jagged, loping, serpentine noise, so mesmerizing, so different, so gratifyingly dizzying in its willful application of elevation going to my head. And staying there. Marquee Moon was among my earliest LP purchases in this broad category of NEW MUSIC circa ’77 and ’78. It would not be the last. 

Oh, no. Not even close to the last.

Years later, I read something that compared Television to the Grateful Dead, keying on the group’s essential musicality in contrast with the three-chord image of much of their CBGB‘s contemporaries. That comparison would have horrified me in the ’70s, and I doubt many Deadheads would have agreed with it either. Minus the determined DIY stance of original Television bassist Richard Hell, though, the members of Television–guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, drummer Billy Ficca, and Hell’s four-string replacement Fred Smith–could be jazzier, more inclined to improvise, while still maintaining a Bowery edge. Television might not have jammed like Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, but their sound was in some ways closer to the Dead than it was to the Ramones or Blondie, or even to Talking Heads.

Television split after their second album, 1978’s Adventure, and did an eponymous reunion album in 1992. Marquee Moon was their signature work, an acknowledged classic in rock ‘n’ roll’s storied history of fresh vistas claimed, frontiers settled. A song on that album begged (or warned), “Elevation, don’t go to my head.” The plea is for naught. The head surrenders. The body falls. 

If you like what you see here on Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do), please consider supporting this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon, or by visiting CC’s Tip Jar. Additional products and projects are listed here.

This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.

I’m on Twitter @CafarelliCarl

THE EVERLASTING FIRST: Quick Takes For D (Music Edition)

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.

DAWN

“Knock Three Times” was a huge AM radio hit when I was in sixth grade. When it played in the lunchroom at school, all the kids there naturally pounded on the table when the song prompted us to, y’know, knock three times. We were warned of dire consequences if we didn’t stop that infernal pounding, you worthless kids! As the song continued, I figured that I could toe the line and continue enjoying myself by playing air drums, and silently swatting the air instead of smacking the table.  Perfect plan, right? But Mr. Shannon saw the downward movement of my arms, and pronounced me guilty, my protests to the contrary be damned. I’ve never forgiven him, the rat!

THE dB’s

As a voracious reader of Trouser Press magazine in the early ’80s, I must have read all about The dB’s and their first two albums, Stands For Decibels and Repercussions. Probably. My first exposure to the group was two live tracks, “We Should Be In Bed” and “Death Garage,” on a live sampler LP called Start Swimming. A couple of years later, I fell in love with a dB’s album called Like This, which we played in-store when I worked at a record store in Buffalo circa 1985.  A few years later still, a reissue of Like This would become (with Past Masters, Volume Two by The Beatles) one of the first pair of CDs I ever owned. Saw The dB’s at Syracuse’s Lost Horizon in the late ’80s, as the final incarnation of the group was touring in support of its last album,  The Sound Of Music.

THE DEAD BOYS

THE DEAD BOYS:  Yesterday’s discussion of The Damned mentioned an album called New Wave, a sampler LP put out by the good folks at the Vertigo label. We’ll be coming back to that album in at least two more future editions of The Everlasting First, but it’s also where I first heard The Dead Boys (specifically “Sonic Reducer” and “All This And More,” two tracks from The Dead Boys’ debut album, Young, Loud & Snotty). My favorite Dead Boys track would ultimately be “Third Generation Nation,” the lead-off track from their second and final album, We Have Come For Your Children. Dead Boys lead singer Stiv Bators would later release an incredible cover of The Choir‘s pop classic “It’s Cold Outside,” and his version is The Greatest Record Ever Made

DAVE DEE, DOZY, BEAKY, MICK & TICH

I guess it’s easy to be snarky about the clunky pop music of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, but I was intrigued by them. I believe the first mention of ’em I ever saw was in the booklet that accompanied a Sire Records double-album sampler called The History Of British Rock, Volume Two. That set didn’t contain any DDDBM&T, but just the mention of the group and a manic record called “Bend It” was enough to whet my appetite. I later found a used copy of the “Bend It” 45, but it didn’t make much of an impression on me, I fear. “Zabadak” also left me cold. But when I heard their song “Hold Tight” a few years later, I knew I’d found a new favorite. I’ve purchased CD reissues of three DDDBM&T albums, but the debut album (which includes “Hold Tight” and “You Make It Move”) is my go-to.

THE DICKIES

I’m sure I saw print ads for The Dickies’ album The Incredible Shrinking Dickies, and I probably saw it on the racks at various fine record retailers in the late ’70s. I knew the group’s repertoire of supercharged covers included a take on The Monkees‘ ace garage nugget “She,” but I don’t remember hearing any of it at the time. Which means my first Dickies sighting was on the Don Rickles sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey in 1978. My memory of that episode is that it was condescending and smarmy in its dismissal of punk rock, so screw ’em anyway. My favorite Don Rickles appearance was alongside his comic-book doppelganger Goody Rickels in the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, written and drawn by the King, Jack Kirby. The Dickies went on to much better thing beyond the aegis of C.P.O. Sharkey, and the group’s cover of The Banana Splits theme song has long been a favorite. TRAAA-LA-LAAAA, TRAAA-LA-LA-LAAAA! The Dickies also did an original power pop tune called “Rosemary” on their 1983 album Stukas Over Disneyland, and it’s one of the all-time great underrated pop tunes. 

THE DICTATORS

THE DICTATORS: Another group I first heard of via Phonograph Record Magazine, but my first taste of The Dictators’ music came via the unlikely venue of a film called Jabberwalk in 1977. My only memory of this weird, disjointed documentary (if that’s even what it was) is that it was…um, weird and disjointed. That, and it included footage of The Dictators performing a live rendition of “America The Beautiful” at the Miss Nude America beauty pageant. See, that’s how you break a band! At college in Brockport that September, I pestered campus station WBSU to play me some Dictators, and the jocks responded with the pretty ballad “Sleepin’ With The TV On,” from the group’s then-current Manifest Destiny album. Subsequent WBSU requests yielded tracks from The Dictators’ first album, Go Girl Crazy!

THE DRIFTERS

My first Drifters record was The Drifters’ Golden Greats, which I purchased in the mid-’80s (and which prompted me to remark with some frequency that, if we presume there must be music in Heaven, then we must presume the music in Heaven sounds like The Drifters). But my first exposure to The Drifters? “On Broadway.” That TV commercial for Radio Free Europe in the ’60s and ’70s. On Broadvay…!  ‘Nuff said.

TIP THE BLOGGER: CC’s Tip Jar!

You can support this blog by becoming a patron on Patreon: Fund me, baby! 

Categories
Boppin'

The Everlasting First: The Jam

Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock ‘n’ roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it’s the subsequent visits–the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time–that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.


Anyone who knows me also knows who my favorite bands are: The BeatlesThe Ramones,The FlashcubesThe Monkees, and The Kinks. There are dozens and dozens of worthy acts that I love almost as much–I am proud to be a pop music fanatic and obsessive–but I think I’ve made it clear that this fantastic five sits permanently up there as my Top, my Coliseum, my Louvre Museum, et al.
The Jam used to be right up there with those Beatles and Ramones, too. While I certainly never stopped loving The Jam, they’re not as ever-present in my mind as they were a few decades ago. But in the late ’70s and early ’80s, The Jam rivaled The Ramones for the coveted title of Carl’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll group.

My introduction to The Jam was inauspicious, to say the least. One afternoon in the Fall of 1977, I was lounging in my freshman dorm room, listening to Brockport’s campus radio station WBSU. I listened to WBSU, like, all of the time, constantly pestering the student jocks to play more of the new punk/new wave stuff I wanted to discover–BlondieThe DictatorsThe Runaways, and the above-mentioned Ramones brudders–and also more of the ’60s stuff I loved, from The Raiders (“Let Me!”) and The Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”) through The Monkees (the station owned the only copy of the group’s Changes LP I had ever seen, though some of the BSU jocks flatly refused to ever play anything by The Monkees).

But this particular afternoon was a singularly revelatory WBSU session, as I heard The Flamin’ Groovies (“Misery”), The Vogues (“Five O’Clock World”), and The Knickerbockers (“Lies”) for the first time. And the station also played a brand-new song by a punk group out of England, performing a cover of “The Batman Theme.” As I heard the song play, I wrote in my journal: “1977 and Batman’s a punk. Progress.”

And that was the first time I heard The Jam.

From small things mama, as Bossman Brucie would later say. If I seemed dismissive at the time, I think I was nonetheless intrigued. The Jam next crossed my consciousness in October, when TV’s The Tomorrow Show took a look at this punk rock thing that was driving some of these mixed-up kids crazy, with the pogo dancing and the safety pins and the anarchy and the use of impolite language. Tomorrow Show host Tom Snyder promised “a punk-rock jam,” but he was himself mixed-up; what he meant was that his guests would include The Jam’s Paul Weller, along with Joan Jett from The Runaways, and Kim Fowley, The Runaways’ former manager. I don’t remember much about this show, other than a sense of no love lost between Jett and Fowley, and the fact that I’d already developed a serious crush on our Joanie (“crush” in the sense that I wanted to hug her and squeeze her and call her Gorgeous; my girlfriend Sharon was neither impressed nor amused). I have a vague recollection that Weller was serious and focused, and that he knew what he was talking about, but the precise details are lost in the cluttered hallway of my memory. I really oughta at least try applying a feather duster to that place some time.

I’m not exactly sure of the sequence of events after that, of how I went from The Jam? to THE JAM!! I do know there were four specific songs involved: “In The City,” “I Need You (For Someone),” “The Modern World,” and “All Around The World.” I can’t tell you where or when I first heard any of these, but I can tell you that the first two were staples of The Flashcubes’ live set. I saw the ‘Cubes for the first time in January of ’78, and it was immediately clear that any songthey did was okay by me. I bought the U.S. Polydor 45 of “I Need You (For Someone)”/”In The City,” and played it often.  I picked up import singles of “The Modern World” (a track I think the ‘Cubes also used to cover) and “All Around The World” when I worked at Penn-Cann Mall in North Syracuse that summer. I was hooked. Guitarist Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler had created exactly the sort of modern world I wanted to inhabit.

I returned to Brockport for my sophomore year in the fall of 1978. By then, the previously-cited girlfriend Sharon was already three or four heartbreaks ago. In early October of that semester, I aced some test or paper or somesuch, and felt I deserved a reward; so it was down to The Record Grove, where I purchased a copy of The Jam’s second LP, This Is The Modern World. I went back to my dorm, and put it on my roommate’s stereo, the volume set somewhere north of lethal. God, I loved this record on first spin. Just about everyone considers it The Jam’s least-noteworthy effort, but it’s always gonna be special to me. “The Modern World.” “All Around The World.” “I Need You (For Someone).” Then on to the tracks I didn’t already know: “Standards.” “Life From A Window.” Wilson Pickett‘s “In The Midnight Hour.” I couldn’t play Side One loud enough.

My next-door neighbor, on the other hand, thought it was already a wee bit too noisy. I hadn’t even met this chick yet, but she pounded on our mutual bedroom wall, imploring me to turn that goddamned racket down already. I grumbled, cursed, but complied. Ever the gentleman, that’s me! I did eventually meet this girl next door later that month. Her name was Brenda. Wonder whatever became of her…?

(And yes, she still thinks I play that goddamned racket too loud.)

The Jam didn’t exactly fall beneath my radar after that, but I didn’t get their next album, All Mod Cons, until well after the fact. Someone–either my then-current roommate Tom or my future roommate Paul–played “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” for me on his WBSU show in the spring of ’79; I liked it, I guess, though it didn’t have the exuberance, the immediacy of the Jam tunes I already loved. It was…mature. It would take some getting used to.

By the time I adjusted to the idea of a more grownup-sounding Jam, the group hit me with a new album, Setting Sons. What an amazing record this was! I rarely listen to whole albums nowadays, but I owe myself the pleasure of giving this another complete spin soon. Supposedly originally created as a concept album–a dirty phrase in the post-punk world of 1979-1980–Setting Sons succeeds as a stunning song cycle, simmering with the charred embers of shattered idealism, discarded friendships, wistful memory, and defiant hope. I regard Setting Sons as The Jam’s masterpiece.

The Jam’s follow-up album, Sound Affects, was nearly as good, highlighted by “That’s Entertainment,” an unforgettable number that Weller is said to have written following a pub crawl; the track would have been worthy of The Kinks. The “Going Underground” single was another winner, and The Jam were firmly ensconced near the Toppermost of my Poppermost.

And then they were gone. Another album (The Gift), and a pair of 1982 farewell singles, “The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow)” and “Beat Surrender,” and Weller pulled the plug. The Jam never caught on in the States at all, but they were huge stars in Great Britain, and they quit at the height of their success. I never had much interest in Weller’s next project, The Style Council, but I have to concede neither he nor the rest of The Jam owed me anything. They’d already shown me the modern world, and all around the world: in the city, down in the tube station at midnight, lost in a strange town, Eton rifles beneath a burning sky, gone underground to a town called Malice. That’s entertainment.