Converse has a thing for musical collaborations and mashups. Many of their shoes are based on famous albums and artwork, and they’ve become well-known in recent years for their expanding Rubber Tracks recording project, which in many cases makes creative pairings of artists and producers. So it should come as no surprise that they’re once again geared up for this year’s SXSW, releasing a new collaboration from Frank Ocean, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Diplo. The collaboration comes as part of Converse’s new Three Artists One Song series, and while this is technically four artists, one song, we’re guessing that Simonon and Jones are being counted as one for their time in The Clash. There’s even a few special guests on this one, courtesy of the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir. You can check out the new song, dubbed “Hero,” below. (more…)
Details have yet to emerge, but it’s been reported that reggae pioneer Junior Murvin died early this morning at his home in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He was believed to be approximately 64 years old (his birthdate is unclear), and word is that he was suffering from advanced diabetes.
Best known for his 1976 song “Police & Thieves,” Murvin worked with Lee “Scratch” Perry, among other big names in reggae, and helped the genre enter the popular mainstream in the ’70s. That song was covered the next year by The Clash on their self-titled LP, cementing Murvin as an influential reggae star, though he never achieved the same level of success with subsequent releases (and apparently was not a fan of the cover version).
“Tell my fans I wish the best for them and love them,” he said in one of his final interviews, “and I will always sing until my eyes are closed.”
There’s nothing like a little old fashioned punk-rock to really get the blood flowing, am I right? It inspires raw emotion, feelings of pure chaos and undeniable passion. It harkens to the days when CBGB’s was an iconic rock club and not a high-end retailer. When the Chelsea Hotel housed artists of all kinds from Bob Dylan to Charles Bukowski, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and of course Sid Vicious.
I’ll tell you one thing. The Buzzcocks got it right when they sang “And although this may sound strange, my future and my past are presently disarranged” (a song coincidentally is on this playlist). Because right now, we’re taking you back to the ’70s, with a little dose of the ’80s, and present day for good measure. Rock on.
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We know it may seem contradictory, but somewhere in our Punk Channel is the ultimate anarchist, and we need your help to decide just who that is. Of all the bands competing, only one Grand Prize Winner will receive a year’s supply of Ernie Ball strings and accessories. So if you think you can spot the next Ramones, Sex Pistols, or Clash, then click here to start judging!
A friend of mine suggested some good ground rules for this one: You have to strip out covers of old blues tunes (sorry Stones and Beatles). Also strip out cover bands (sorry Joe Cocker and Nouvelle Vague) and cover [tribute] albums. He suggested “Police & Thieves,” with which I concur, as well as Souxie And The Banshees’ “Dear Prudence,” with which I do not. This could still be a huge, huge list, but these are some of the very best, in order.
10. Benny And The Jets “ Beastie Boys w/ Biz Markie (original by Elton John)
Benny And The Jets is my least favorite of Elton’s hits (I’m not counting anything after 1989, cause why would I?), but it is given a reason for existing here by The Biz, who was fucking around in the studio with The Beastie Boys, checking out old records, and decided to cut this version, where he slurs lyrics he clearly doesn’t know, ridiculous crowd noise included. Hilarity ensues.
There’s something about the first song on ANY album. It sets a tone, gives you an idea of what you’re in for. But the first song on an artist’s first album is often something special. It doesn’t have to be, of course, but it’s an opportunity for a musical manifesto that some artists have really taken advantage of. Sometimes it’s instantly obvious that the track is destined to be a classic, most times the song isn’t even the best song in the artist’s catalog yet has that special feeling and then sometimes it’s only in retrospect that we can see what a statement it was and how the artist’s subsequent career bore that out. I’m sure I will think of others that should be on this list, but here are some of my favorites and, by implication, yours (if you have taste, which you do, because you’re reading this).
13. Foo Fighters “ This Is A Call from Foo Fighters
The first post-Nirvana sounds from Dave Grohl were not mind-blowingly incongruous with his old band, but it was still exciting to hear something so solid and confident from that camp in those sad days when criminals like Silverchair and Bush attempted to fill the Cobain void.
Even if you have only a passing knowledge of ˜80s new wave, it’s likely that Thomas Dolby has a place in your heart for lending some class”not to mention the occasional touch of funk”to the burgeoning synth-pop movement with such hits as Hyperactive, Europa and the Pirate Twins, and of course, the ultimate ode to love in a lab coat, She Blinded Me With Science. But if your knowledge of Dolby’s career drops off after the ˜80s, it’s not because you’re uninformed. In fact, Dolby spent much of the ˜90s and ˜00s outside of the music biz, pursuing other electronic interests that we’ll get to presently. But now, he’s set to release his first album of new material, and we talked with him about that record, A Map of the Floating City, as well as his early output, and got the straight story on Dolby’s missing years too.
Back in the ˜70s, the electro-pop pioneer was actually a teenage prog fan, worshipping at the altar of arty epics and tricky time signatures. I think many punks were teenage prog rockers, says Dolby. I still remember the outrage that prog rockers felt when punk first came on the scene. When I was fifteen I was into Genesis and Yes and Little Feat and Steely Dan. [Pogues frontman] Shane McGowan, who I was at school with, came in one day and said ‘Well, I think The Beatles and the Stones is all shit,’ and I remember my sense of outrage. I said, ‘Well, Shane, what should we be listening to?’ And he said ‘Johnny Thunders, MC5, Iggy Pop.’ And we’d never heard of any of these people. Of course within a few months we’d all spiked our hair and torn our trousers, and were all down at the 100 club listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees or The Clash.”
Even after trading his bellbottoms for leather pants, though, Dolby still gravitated naturally towards the brainier end of the British new wave, idolizing XTC to an obsessive degree. I used to follow them around in the early punk days, he admits. XTC came along and they had the energy of punk, but they had a musical intelligence to go along with it, so obviously that was a revelation to me. I knew their songs inside out, and I remember being in front of the stage, in front of Barry Andrews, their keyboard player, hoping that he would get hit by a tram or something, and they’d have to go ˜Is there anyone in the house that knows our keyboard parts?’ and I could leap up on stage.
Before that opportunity arose, though, Dolby began making his own way in the music world, working with other artists at first, from Bruce Wooley & The Camera Club to Lene Lovich. He released his first single in 1981, and his 1982 debut album, The Golden Age of Wireless, made him a success straight out of the gate. The sophistication of Dolby’s songwriting put him at the forefront of artists working with the new musical toolkit the ˜80s brought along, and even today he’s often associated exclusively with an era when he recalls providing an alternative to a lot of hair bands and a lot of AOR, noting The irony of it is that if you listen to my first album¦a lot of the songs are a three-piece band with additional keyboards. I was a big fan of early Talking Heads, and a couple of songs have that kind of vibe to them.
Nevertheless, he still embraces his early recordings. I do feel very strongly connected to them. There’s very little that I would choose to redo or delete. I guess, like anyone else in the ˜80s, I fell prey to some trends and sounds of the moment. Some were of my own making, some were just the flavor du jour, but overall I think my early stuff still stands up fairly well because of the substance behind the songwriting. There are some artists that transcend the era that they’re from; I think of anyone from Steely Dan to Kraftwerk to Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell, all of whom have influenced me very strongly. You wouldn’t catch any of them going out on a ˜70s revival tour¦the contribution they made spanned a wider spectrum than that.
However, Dolby found himself sufficiently dissatisfied with the music industry in the ˜90s to pursue a different course. I thought, ˜I’ll take a little sabbatical and go to Silicon Valley and explore my interest in technology,’ he recalls. Eventually, he started his own company and created a revolutionary ringtone technology that made a huge splash in the cell phone world, and he created soundtrack music for video games. Dolby found himself a success once more, but in an entirely new context. He could never resist the pull of songwriting for long, though, and the seeds of his upcoming album, A Map Of The Floating City, began to bear fruit. I had some songs that I’d been unable to escape from, he remembers. I needed to get those done, and once I started, I wrote brand new songs. Much of the recording process took place in Dolby’s home studio, built inside a lifeboat from the 1930s, which he says looks out over the North Sea and is powered by the wind and the sun.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the songs he recorded in this idyllic setting turned out to be much more acoustic-oriented and balladic than the tunes Dolby is most famous for. The songs from the new album are very organic, he agrees, adding, I’m very influenced by my environment. The inclusion of Dire Straits axeman Mark Knopfler on the track 17 Hills helps lend a rootsy touch as well. I just felt that his style would be a very good complement for the song, explains Dolby. He’s a student of American roots music¦I love his lyrical guitar style.
So, with all this earthiness going on, does Dolby still have a soft spot in his heart for the technology of old? Quite frankly, he confesses, a $1.99 iPhone app with a picture of a Mellotron, that sounds pretty close to the real thing, is to me a huge improvement on something that goes out of tune and takes three guys to carry it. But I know purists would probably be outraged to hear me say that. Nevertheless, he can envision a future where even today’s cutting-edge digital gear is fetishized as vintage equipment. I think fetishism for the past will always exist, he speculates, but maybe the future will be [about] jacking into the matrix and imagining ourselves in front of our 64k Mac, playing with those old tools. Things go full circle, so it’s hard to know where we’ll end up.
Ivan Julian‘s name has been attached to so many high-profile projects over the last three-and-a-half decades, from Richard Hell & The Voidoids‘ milestone debut album, Blank Generation, to The Clash‘s Sandinista! and Matthew Sweet‘s Girlfriend, that it comes as something of a shock to realize that his new album, The Naked Flame, is the first solo release of his career.
I’ve never had the inclination to make a solo album, explains the New York singer/songwriter/guitarist, who was a founding member of pioneering punk band Richard Hell & The Voidoids in the ˜70s and fronted his own band, The Outsets, in the ˜80s. Even with The Outsets, he says, It was my band but I didn’t want to call it Ivan Julian & the Outsets. I just wanted it to be a band. This was different, says Julian of The Naked Flame. I just kind of put it all together myself.
While Julian did shape the album at his own Lower East Side studio, N.Y. Hed, a full-service operation that has hosted everyone from Jon Spencer to Ronnie Spector, the impetus and the basic tracks came from an unexpected source. This band came in from Spain called Capsula, explains Julian, And they wanted me to mix their album. Over the course of the project, the young Spanish punks tried to talk Julian into making an album with them as the backing band. Though he was uncertain, Julian eventually sent them a batch of demos, from which Capsula cut basic tracks that they sent back to him. These guys really had the immediacy of what I was trying to say with the songs, he says, Theyreally captured it. I was surprised about it. When the band found a Spanish label for the project and booked a tour in their homeland as well, it was an offer Julian couldn’t refuse. He set about completing the record, adding his voice, guitar, and keyboards, and bringing in some guest musicians to broaden the sonic palette. It became abit of a mad rush, though, because Julian only had two months before the tour started. I had to get it finished in a month and a half but my studio was booked in the daytime, he recalls, So I only got to work on it from 9 at night till 9 in the morning, which kind of made me a zombie for a while.
Now Julian has found a US label for a domestic release of the recording, which contains a career-spanning batch of songs. The oldest, Young Man’s Money, goes back to the Outsets era. When I was thinking ˜What songs am I gonna put on the album, what have I always wanted to do?’ I kind of picked and chose, explains Julian. And of course there’s newer stuff that I’d written. There are also a couple of covers, The Beat, by Alejandro Escovedo’s early punk band, The Nuns, and Broken Butterflies by Lucinda Williams. That song ˜The Beat’ that was done by The Nuns, that was a seven-inch single that I found in, I guess, ’79 or something. I said to myself ˜One day I’m gonna re-record this.’ I always thought that was a brilliant song. The same thing with the Lucinda Williams song, I thought ˜This is a brilliant song, I’m gonna take a stab at it and see what I can do with it.’ Rather than look at this as a historical collection of songs, to me it’s present and urgent.
History is something Julian has a lot of. He started out as a touring guitarist with British R&B group The Foundations, of Build Me Up Buttercup fame. While he was abroad with the band, he made a fateful decision. I was living in Zagreb , Yugoslavia, he remembers. I’d just finished a tour with The Foundations¦I’d moved from Washington to England and then stopped after the tour in Zagreb. I decided ˜OK, I’m gonna go to New York.’ Soon, Julian was placing a Have guitar, will travel ad in a New York music paper, and receiving a call from former Television/Heartbreakers member Richard Hell, who was preparing to strike out on his own. In 1976, Richard Hell & The Voidoids released a three-song 45 that contained the epochal Blank Generation, which would become a rallying cry for the nascent punk scene. It mated moonlighting-poet Hell’s iconoclastic, Rimbaud-in-a-ripped-shirt lyrics with the arch, angular barbed-wire dance of Julian and Robert Quine‘s guitars, for a shockingly singular sound.
The Julian/Quine guitar team was like a brash, spitfire counterpart to Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. We found a way to work together, says Julian of his six-string partnership with Quine. We agreed on so many things, like, we should never be on the same part of the neck, and the guitars should always be panned to one side and the other¦we tried to find parts that worked together as opposed to banging the song out. Even today, I do two Voidoids songs in my set and when I show people the parts, it’s much more intricate than it sounds. They think ˜Oh we’re just playing A.’ No, it’s not about that, it’s about texture. I was more of a straight ahead rock & roll player, he recalls. I was into people like Keith Richards and Hubert Sumlin¦we just added our two styles together and they became what they became. What’s interesting, though, is that the longer the band was together, like people and their dogs, or people that are married¦the more we began to sound like each other.
But for as much of a punk staple as the short discography of the band became, Julian still questions the genre tag. To me, anything that has a creative, aggressive edge is punk. Punk has become this blanket term for Ramones-style music; there were so many different genres of bands playing CB’s back then” is Blondie punk? Bob [Quine] and I sat down and said, ˜We want to make a record like the Yardbirds’ when we actually got a chance to do the album. We just wanted to make a good rock & roll record, and one that we thought people would want to listen to for a long time. There was an atmosphere and an attitude in the air. It’s one of those times in creative history when there was a kind of fire in the air. Just that you were here made you a punk when the city was falling apart and it was really dangerous, and you had to be here because there was nowhere else for you to have a creative outlet. You had to come here.
One of the striking things about The Naked Flame is that it sounds like a continuation”as opposed to a rehash”of the sonic story Julian started telling back in ’76. Especially with the energy of a young, enthusiastic band of disciples backing him up, Julian manages to put across a sound that’s simultaneously spiky and sophisticated, visceral and richly textured. It covers a broader scope of course, says Julian of the new album, But I still play like that today. I still think that when you deliver something, you have to give it everything. As I always say, ˜Show me your spleen.’ So that’s how I look at this record, it’s a complete spleen reveal.
Of course, between his Voidoids days and Naked Flame, Julian has kept busy revealing his spleen in an admirably disparate array of contexts. After The Outsets disbanded, he started The Lovelies with Cynthia Sley, the singer for New York No Wave darlings The Bush Tetras, and all along he’s been a journeyman guitarist. In 1980, his old buddies the Clash were in town cutting their epic musical mélange, Sandinista. On the first English Voidoids tour, we opened for the Clash, Julian remembers. The [Voidoids] record wasn’t even out yet. We’re doing the first concert and I realize I know the drummer; Topper [Headon] played with [˜70s blues-rock guitar hero] Pat Travers¦when I was in the Foundations [in] ’75 or something. So I start talking with Topper and the rest of the band, and it turns out Mick and I have the exact same birthday, down to the minute almost, and I became friends with him. When they came to New York, they called me. They said ˜Come to the studio, we’re making this record.’ I thought I would hang out and say hello, but they started playing ˜The Call Up,’ and I said ˜Okay, give me a guitar,’ and I started playing the riffs on that. And I started telling them the story about me going up to Studio 54 which eventually became ˜Ivan Meets G.I. Joe.’
In the second half of the ˜80s, Julian toured with deliciously creepy British post-punk groovemeisters Shriekback, and at the start of the ˜90s, he began a long, fruitful association with power-pop hero Matthew Sweet. Sweet had a couple of non-starter albums behind him when he started working on 1991’s Girlfriend, produced by former Voidoids drummer Fred Maher. A decision was made to spice up Sweet’s melodic songcraft with the artfully off-kilter fretwork of three CBGB alumni, Julian, Quine, and Television’s Richard Lloyd. He’s a really good pop writer, beautiful voice, but he’s also in love with an angular kind of musician juxtaposed against what he does, says Julian. Girlfriend became Sweet’s breakthrough album, with the title track becoming his only Top 10 single. Not one to tamper with success, Sweet kept the unlikely partnership going. There was like a tag team between the three of us [guitarists] over the next 10 years, where each one of us played sometimes at the same time on a record and sometimes different ones.
In fact, one of The Naked Flame‘s tracks was written while Julian was touring with Sweet, and was inspired by the bandleader’s open-ended approach to performance. Matthew’s thing with me live, and with all the guitar players, was like ˜It’s in B, go!’ And you could do all this wild and crazy stuff on stage, I used to have this Echoplex I would f**k with and make all these weird sounds. And one day when I came home I just thought ˜I want a feedback song.'” That notion turned into the rather Hendrix-like modern psychedelia of Godiva.
That’s part of me, says Julian of the acid-rock influence. I listened to Hendrix a lot and still do. I love garage psychedelia, and the 13th Floor Elevators; a lot of the music from that late-˜60s period I think is really inspiring. “Godiva” is very Hendrixy. In fact, the ˜60s psychedelic sound had an effect on many of Julian’s peers in the ˜70s as well, despite people’s current misconceptions about punk’s disavowal of all things ˜60s. When you think about it, it was only six years earlier or something; [at the time] the ˜60s were only six years ago. If you put it into perspective now, this is 2011”think back to 2005, it’s not such a long time. What was on the jukebox at CBGBs? I can definitely remember 13th Floor Elevators, [Love’s 1966 hit] Little Red Book, the Rolling Stones”almost the whole Between the Buttons album was on there”and people played them constantly. This is my issue with people trying to define punk as some kind of musical brand of down-strokes.
However you define The Naked Flame, it’s still a cohesive statement from a musician who has enhanced the visions of many other artists but whose own vision has too seldom seen the light of day. While the Spanish release of the album last year found Julian playing a series of dates in Spain with Capsula, an American band has been assembled for stateside shows. Bringing things full circle, the second guitarist will be Al Maddy, who not only plays on the album, but was also a member of the great ˜80s NYC band The Nitecaps, fronted by onetime Voidoids bassist Jahn Xavier. And for as much as Julian decries contemporary listeners’ misinterpretations of the punk legacy, he’s still justifiably proud of his Voidoids history. It never ceases to amaze me, he muses, I meet 20-year-olds today who have [Blank Generation] on their iPod; it’s like a rite of passage now. It contains a certain element that they need at that stage in their lives.