Thursday, August 13, 2009

Nick Lowe: So It Goes (First Stiff)

(A-side matrix "Earthlings Awake")

This month (August the fourteenth, to be precise) marks the thirty-third anniversary of the debut of Stiff Records, the most bizarre, wildly-inconsistent yet brilliantly prescient labels of all time. The fiercely idiosyncratic British label promised a future in the music world for renegades and miscreants. The label was founded by industry vets (Dave Robinson and Andrew Jakeman) and initially stocked by eccentric cast-offs (Nick Lowe, Pink Fairies et al.) before they signed (then) up-and-comers like The Damned and Elvis Costello. The history of Stiff is well learned elsewhere but, for something less seen, here is a list of thirty-four blunt yet witty Stiff slogans:

(From The Book of Rock Lists and scanned by CallPastorBob)

The label debuted (prefixed Buy 1) with a single , the jaw-dropping Nick Lowe solo debut on which Nick plays everything but the drums. While Stiff's quality level pitched wildly (the less said about Buy 3, the turgid Roogalator single, the better) this maiden release is forty-five revolutions per minute of wild genius.

"So It Goes" brought power-pop out of the doldrums by not only paying homage (and/or nicking ideas from) that crisp British Invasion guitar-pop but also by updating said sound with a slicing wit. Underneath that snappy tune, this is a brutal song, one which moves from a grisly loss of limb, to threat of violence in a large crowd, to the warring of nations. Nick chronicles all this ugliness in an off-handed manner, even ending the song off on a note of unrequited lust. And so it goes...

So It Goes
I remember the night the kid cut off his right arm
In a fit to save a bit of power
He got fifty thousand watts
In a big acoustic tower
Security's so tight tonight
Woh they're ready for a tussle
You better keep your backstage passes
'Cause the promoter had the muscle

And so it goes and so it goes
And so it goes and so it goes
But where it’s going, no one knows

In the tall building
sit the head of all nations
Worthy men from Spain and Siam
Al1 day discussions with the Russians
But they still went ahead
and vetoed the plan
Now up jumped the U.S. representative
He's the one with the tired eyes
747 put him in that condition
Flyin' back from a peace keepin' mission


In the air there is after shave lotion
in the wake of a snake hip Persian
On his arm there's a skin tight vision
Wonder why she ain’t mine and she’s his and……..

"Heart of the City" is the more ragin' full-on rock n' roll track. The guitars are amped-up, the tempo races and the hook, while still fully-formed, is more staccato. Lyrically the cynical wit (Lowe now refers to it as "callow") continues, here delineating urban malaise in the form of sex, violence and an over-abundance of guitars.

(B-side Matrix, "Three Chord Trick, yeh")

{MRML Readers: More Lowe? Write a comment to lemme know!}

Download So It Goes/Heart of the City 7"

You need more Lowe. If you enjoy this single you need to buy his first album Jesus of Cool and/or his new compilation Quiet Please. Don't delay, your life is poorer for it's lack of Nick.

Next: Twee psychedelic pop?


  1. More Lowe? You just wrote-up his best!

  2. This single does encapsulate the duality of the best phase of his career (Power-pop vs. rock n' roll) very nicely. Maybe it is the best thing he ever did.

    But there's lots more rare Lowe out there.

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  4. More Lowe? Absolutely! One can never get too Lowe.

  5. "So It Goes" was my first glorious taste of power pop as an impressionable youngster back in the early 80's. Without it (and "Senses Working Overtime" by XTC) my tastes would have been formed based only on Larry Norman's "Watch What Your Doin'" and Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades".

  6. I still have my original If it aint Stiff it aint worth a fuck T shirt, if you can beleive it. Thanks Jeffen, great post

  7. Yankee Boy
    So you saw Nick in his solo troubadour mode? That's how I saw him about five years ago. It was unqualifiedly great but I still wish I coulda seen Rockpile...

    Maybe the impact of those songs is a Winnipeg (And Southern Manitoba) thing as those two peculiarly English songs are a fundamental part of my understanding of new wave/power-pop as well.

    Picture please!!

  8. Always liked this song, but those opening lines:

    I remember the night the kid cut off his right arm
    In a fit to save a bit of power
    He got fifty thousand watts
    In a big acoustic tower

    Never could figure out what the hell is going on there. Some kind of onstage mishap? Never seen anyone lose an arm on stage. Or am I completely missing the boat? Any ideas?

  9. From the thrust of the narrative (such as it is) I always imagined he's describing an accident in which a kid gets electrocuted and loses an arm. (As I type that it sounds kinda...far-fetched.)

  10. Great post! Thank you.

  11. Thanks for the good words and you wanna know what was the hardest part? That damn scan of the slogans took forever to make legible. Sigh.

  12. Here's a picture of the shirt, with some other old t's I found that survied the war.I have others, I'll have to look for them. Here's a link, I wasn't sure how else to get them to you.

  13. Cool - I should take my version of that photo with the shirts that survived (I'm afraid they'd be rattier than yours!)

    Heart Attack AND Kraut - did you hang out in New York a lot in the day?

  14. A huge fan of "Pure Pop For Now People" (the US repackaging of "Jesus of Cool") when it came out in '78, it was nevertheless baffling to hear "So It Goes" echoing (stealing from?) Steely Dan's "Reelin' In The Years" in the verse music. By the time I got to "Nutted By Reality" (very Jackson 5) I thought I was in on the joke. Only later I realized it wasn't a joke: Older than most punks, Lowe appropriated from anything he thought sounded good, as opposed to "cool."

  15. I always though that as Nick's shtick - stealing bits from other songs(like Dylan did with the folk cannon, Nick did with the pop charts - remember 'Bay City Rollers We Love You."

  16. Speaking as someone who's kinda-sorta deified the Stiff Mythology, this was kind of awesome. Thanks for a great post.

  17. Glad you enjoyed. thanks for the comment.
    Stiff posts* are a joy to write - that's probably why they got so much copy back in the day.

    * Wow,those two words go together awkwardly don't they?

  18. I bought BUY 1 back in the day, whenever it was and we were young and the World was New. I loved it then - and I love it still. xx


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