Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Stepmothers: (I Dream I'm) Innocent!

Many years ago, before Google Blog Search made a mockery of the word rarity, The Stepmothers made that apocalyptic sort of music that the Trouser Press raved about but which you could not lay your hands on. Back in the early eighties, all I knew of them was the hand-clappy, marching-chanty, power-poppy anthem, "Where is the Dream?", from Rodney on the Roq Volume 2.

So, since I've only recently actually heard their mutinous bounty, I'll have to rely on MRML readers for some 'back-in-the-day' anecdotes and I'll just give you the quick n' dirty version.

The Stepmothers, Steve Jones* on guitar and vocals, Jay Lansford on Guitar, and Larry Lee Lerma on Bass and a succession of drummers, hailed from Claremont, California. They began by playing that incessantly catchy pop-punk Posh Boy's Robbie Fields (and KROQ D.J. Rodney Bingenheimer, America's John Peel) nurtured so brilliantly in the early eighties. Led by a fine, slightly Idolish, lead singer in Jones and an ace guitar slinger in Lansford, they sounded ready to kick the shit out of the pop charts, like as if the gang from The Wild One had formed a band. It never really came together, instead the Stepmothers' metalized punk bridged the gap between SoCal pop-punk of their time and the Hollywood sleaze metal to come. After the band broke up, Lansford joined Channel 3, really bringing up their game (see here), and Jones formed a genuine brass ring conten-dah named the Unforgiven.
*Not that Steve Jones.

"(I Dream I'm) Innocent!" is a later-period re-union song and fucking hell does it tear flesh. Cover art aside, this is no dated topical song - listen to that opening Stanley Kowalaski line, "Baby, I got viciousness just seeping from my skin". It's a terrifying tale of domestic horror, the horror that always ends unspeakably.

Download I Dream I'm Innocent! b/w Bloodstains 7"

The band's entire discography is available on the kinda dodgy digital incarnation of Posh Boy - good luck!

Thanks to Ian E. for pointing me towards this particular track.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Channel 3: Airborne

Knee-deep in what they now refer to as the "You guys Suck!" phase, Channel 3 (see here) refused to retreat. The 1985 e.p. Airborne recorded for screwed-up, major label affiliated Restless Records, takes the jagged jangle-pop of "Indian Summer"and jacks up the ante. But vaulting ambition aside, these four fully-formed songs give no hints of the drastic shit to come. While in these grooves you can hear a lurch forward in the level of professionalism, Magrann's sandpaper growl and sharp lyrics remain front and center and the band still plays its guts out just in a more measured, precise way. It's polished but this stuff is way too strong for A.O.R., listen to those (tuneful) gang vocals on the full-throttle, "Waiting for the Sun to Go Down" and you can rest assured we're not in Kansas yet, Toto.

Channel 3 - Waiting for the Sun To Go Down

Then there's the title track, "Airborne", into which Magrann throws all the youthful intensity and skepticism of their early blitzkrieg boppers into a grand-scale pop song with his band-mates shouting along like a gang of disillusioned choir boys. This song should've brought the world to their door. Damn history for her betrayal of Channel 3.

Channel 3 - Airborne


If money talks, it also lives
The fat and pale faces show
In East L.A., a baby dies
Well, that's just the way it goes
In their white cars, they drive through slums
And talk of art and distant wars
They shake their heads, and click their tongues
As they reach to lock the doors
In every world, in every age
There's a "they"
And what do they say?
They say we're Airborne
The trapped generation of lies
They say we're Airborne
Dead innocents, aloft with bent desires
May I use "We"?, we're forced to see
The pain of life most every day
I'll have a drink, I'll close my eyes
Then I'll turn to fly away
And so we cry, misunderstood!
Our souls alive, red burning youth
But colors fade, and we might pale
And crash down in three piece suits
I asked a kid the other day
What they teach in this nuclear age
We had some fun in school today
We learned to get under our desks
And start to pray!

Download Airborne 12" e.p.

Following this the criminally ignored e.p., the band did a grisly volte-face and became a party-metal outfit, stopping to cover Aerosmith in the process. The album in question was panned by most at the time but now has its champions of which I am definitely not one. On this album Magrann's voice is coarser and less expressive, the music and lyrics less distinctive and the whole glam-frat shtick is half-baked at best. Available here for those still curious.
As fort the 21st century, Ch 3 are still on (here's their cover of "Scratches and Needles") and, earlier this decade, they recorded a new album for Dr. Strange Records plus there's a documentary on them called, One More For My True Friends.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Channel 3 : Indian Summer

While many of the bands on B.Y.O Records' 1984 compilation Something to Believe In stuck to the loud, fast fundamentals of hardcore, other bands, like Channel 3, revealed cracks in the punk underground's foundation. Songs like the Nils' heartbreakingly beautiful "Scratches and Needles" and Channel 3's soaring, sorrowful, "Indian Summer" showed a great restlessness with the strictures of hardcore. So it came to pass that 1984, the year of Reagen's dispiriting landslide re-election, marked the splintering of the hardcore underground and it's network of bands, fanzines, labels. People grew out their hair and tastes shifted towards speed-metal or jangly-pop. Such changes happen to every wave of punk but the ideas of punk rock are a contagion and not dependent on any one person carrying them; those ideas simply mutate and spread elsewhere.

Channel 3's "Indian Summer" did succeed in harnessing the angry energy of punk rock to different ends. While Black Flag dug into British sludge-metal to re-invent themselves, Channel 3 dug into California folk-rock, like their contemporaries the Red Rockers (as well as R.E.M. and the whole of L.A.'s Paisley Underground) did. The resulting sound is the mid-way point between the Clash's "Gates of the West" and Big Country's "Field of Fire". Lyrically, Magrann combines the eighties angst touchstones of nuclear fear and adolescent alienation ("I just wanna know how to live...in the Indian summer") quite deftly. Magrann puts those words to a stirring melody, with ringing (occasionally bag-pipish) guitars and some heartfelt Springteen-isms. It''s not only a neglected classic but also one good answer to the question, "What happens to punks when they grow up?"

Chanel 3 - Indian Summer (Something to Believe In version)

Download Indian Summer 7"

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Channel 3: I'll Take My Chances

In the early eighties the British and the North American punk scenes kept to themselves. True, British bands like G.B.H. toured North America and American bands like Black Flag slogged through England. However if you look at the classic labels (and their compilations) of that era, No Future, Clay, Riot City etc. in Britain or SST, Alternative Tentacles, Posh Boy etc. in North America, you'll find little Anglo-American accord.

Except, of course, for Channel 3 (and the Dead Kennedy but I'm working on a geo-musical theory here, okay). CH3 were a melodic, tight, gut-pounding southern California hardcore band. In the States they were signed to pioneering SoCal pop-punk label Posh Boy but in England, thanks to John Peel's love of their hair-raising "Manzanar" they had chart action on the Oi!/UK '82 No Future label. Even now they are one of the very few American bands re-issued on John Bull's own record label, Captain Oi!.

While the early CH3 did not differ radically from their bald n' fast brethren, they did outclass most of them. As life-long friends Mike Magrann, vocals and guitar and Kimm Gardner, guitar and vocals formed the perfect united front. Their clearly articulated guitar fury and their vocal interplay does give the band a more British, even Clash-like, sound. Lyrically, English-major Magrann rails against all hypocrisy, even that of his peers ("What's the use of being angry if you don't know why?" he asks on the A-side) and his countrymen (the aforementioned "Manzanar", castigates Americans for their ignorance of their own WWII-era Japanese internment camps). And no matter how fast the polka punk-beat gets, Magrann's sharp, raspy voice never loses the melody.

The band's development was subtle but unflinching between 1981 and 1983. By After the Lights Go Out they'd blueprinted a clean, clear, catchy punk rock that would take over the world over a decade later. This single's whoa-oh'ing A-side, "I'll Take My Chances" encapsulates the sound and the attitude of that album. The B-side, "How Come?" was a non-L.P. speed-romp, which hits hard and then heads home. However, as it was with their British brethren, change was coming and things would soon get weird; but that doesn't scare us, does it?

Download I'll Take My Chances 7"

P.S. MRML highly recommends subscribing to Ch 3's blog, unlike most rockers Magrann is an honest and witty commentator on his own band's (ongoing!) history.)

(Go here to order this vinyl re-issue of the early Ch 3 demos.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oxymoron: Crisis Identity

Oxymoron continued on though the nineties and early aughts but they never topped "Crisis Identity", the A-side of this 1996 single. The basic chugging elements of Oi! are still all accounted for but they're sneaking in disparate elements. Listen to those the big melodic guitar lines alongside the rousing gang vocals that are almost Beach Boys like and ...
The Beach Boys?

Okay, well, scratch that maybe, "the song sounds like the sweet spot between Stranger Than Fiction era Bad Religion and ...And Out Come the Wolves era Rancid" would be more accurate if less likely to chuff off both Oxymoron AND Beach Boys's fans. Just listen:

Download Crisis Identity 7"

Don't forget to visit Frequency 7, where their series on great American Oi! band The Subversives continues.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oxymoron: Beware Poisonous

Hailing from Nuremberg, Germany, Oxymoron kept Oi! kicking in the nineties, alongside a trans-global army of bald n 'spiky bands. Oxymoron - Sucker (vocals), Bjoern (drums), Martin (guitar) and Filzlaus (bass) - employed the fist-in-the-face musical attack of Oi! but wrote lager-swaying, sing-alongs brimming with twists and turns, like a raw version of fellow countrymen Die Toten Hosen. "Bondage" makes non-gratuitous use of ska guitar figures to keep the pace furious and the almost four minute long (that's prog-rock by Oi! standards), "Beware Poisonous" uses gang vocal arrangements that are almost ...gulp...sophisticated.

Download Beware Poisonous 7"

For more great nineties Oi! (a.k.a. Street-punk, UK '82 and Fuck-core*) go to Frequency 7 where Ollie Stench has posted his fist-pumpin' band, the Subversives.

* Okay, I made that one up.

MRML commenters: Can anyone suggest any good Oi! bands from this century? (the title of a strong single would also be welcomed - this genre works best in short, sharp doses.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One Way System: Jerusalem

Y'know for all it's anti-New Romantic talk, a lot of UK '82 era punk was just as peacock-ish in it's fashion-mongering as any member of Duran Duran. Lancashire's One Way System (Gavin Whyte on vocals, David Ross guitar, Gaz Buckley bass & Tom Couch on drums) represent this early eighties punks on postcards era pretty flamboyantly. Whyte's mohawk is perfectly coiffed, Ross looks like a possible member of the Alarm, Couch looks a football hooligan and Buckle (check out that hat!) is pretty New Romantic himself. Fashion aside, One Way System did write some pretty ripping anthems, "Jerusalem" first and foremost amongst them.

Can't say what this song from 1982 is all about but at some point upon their return visit to that Biblical city, "All the water's gonna turn to beer". However, with that simple, punishing chorus powered by a stuttering riff and a relentless rhythm section (plus there's a quintessential punk rock break-it-down section just before they sprint to the finish line) this song is is pure nitro glycerin.

Download Jerusalem 7"

If you like the single, go to the ever-dependable Captain Oi! for more One Way System.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cocksparrer: England Belongs To Me

It's hard to talk about Oi! (see here), without pointing out how how much Cock Sparrer towered above the pack. Cock Sparrer began gigging in 1976 and, after flirting with Sex Pistol Svengali Malcolm McLaren, recorded unsuccessfully for Decca before leaving the scene in 1978. Then a few years later Gary Bushell began putting Cock Sparrer songs on his Oi! compilations, like Strength though Oi! Soon the band re-formed and followed the dictum of the older guy; "Leave the scene or rule the scene". And rule they did; seven years after forming the band schooled the class of UK '82 on what the hell punk was all about. In fact, the resurrected band sounds like what would've happened if Glen Matlock and Steve Jones had gotten the artsy Johnny Rotten under their thumbs back in '76. Listen to the album, with its anthemic song-writing, chugging guitar, gang vocals and those quavery, sneering vocals of Colin McFaull , it's a distillation of the early Pistols and the Professionals (plus the Stones, the Dolls and the Slade et al). Or as their song "Where Are They Now" puts it, "Only faces ever change, the song remains the same".

Cock Sparrer ruled because they were unafraid to write great rock n' roll songs, however they were stereotyped and classified. The1982 single, "England Belongs To Me" may have appealed to nationalists but they were "never gonna toe no particular party line" or have truck with the boneheads. The accompanying album, 1983's Shock Troops is a stone-classic with every song distilling the raw energy of punk the theatrics of glam rock and and near lethal levels of bovver.

Download England Belongs To Me 7"

Support the band and the good Captain Oi! by buying the album, it's a mighty work.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Punk Territory: Great Britain 1979-1982

This is for Dead Wretched. Recently, one member of that band in a polite and decidedly unpunk manner requested another blogger take down his post of their single, in light of their up-coming re-issue. Rather than jeopardize the sales of any one's re-issue (sadly, one of my favourite words in the English language), I won't post the single either. Instead, I'll offer up this long-out-of-print bootleg, which, along with a boat load of what's called UK '82 punk, just so happens to include the mysteriously wonderful, "No Hope for the the Wretched" by Dead Wretched.

In the early eighties "No Hope for the the Wretched" appeared, uncredited, cheek-by-jowl with Demob's "No Room For You"(see here) on a very formative mix tape. So this volume of Punk Territory seemed so apt to me, containing, as it does, both of those obscurities. At first listen, "No Hope For You" sounds mighty dour (and if there was one thing UK '82 excelled at, it was Dourness). And yet, it's got a perfectly baited hook that reels you in. Then, after snaring you, it releases you with a start, saying, "Despair not oh wretched one, you need only sing along".

Much of the rest of this comp fits squarely with UK '82, of which American super-punk Felix Von Havoc says, "Early 80's UK punk was catchy as hell; it has sing-a-long choruses and hooky riffs". He's right but while lots of these bands aimed for a punkified Motorhead roar, their recording budgets left them with tinny guitars that bled right into the cymbals in the mix. Still, there be highlights here, including Pseudo Exsistors' "Coming Up for Air" the Fun 4's disturbing pop-punk song, "Singing in the Shower" and Defiant Pose's Stiff Little Fingers-ish "Someone Else's War". Meanwhile, the not-without-their-charms Fits, "Listen to Me" kinda encapsulates everything that became cliched about UK '82.

Since I have a limited and fitful connection to this highly specific sub-genre, I'd like to entreat MRML readers to add their voice to this post by relating clever anecdotes, sordid gossip or other musical minutiae in the COMMENTS section.

Download Punk Territory Great Britain 1979-1982 CD

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll Died

Jim Carroll is dead: cue a flash flood of awkward headlines referencing that death-haunted hit single, "People Who Died." That song, truthfully it's an elegy set to music, haunted my ten-year old mind. It's not a song I re-visit often but I still know every world by heart and, like hearing that line, "We've traced the calls; they're coming from inside the house!", any reminder of it sets my entire limbic system buzzing. Early fears live the longest.

This love song, this gruesome love song, has been rattling around my Blog Ideas' folder for weeks but only now gained impetus. Truthfully, Jim Carrol's primary fame is as a poet and diarist, after all when you've been played by Leonardo Dicaprio perhaps having an "underground hit" (number 73 on the Billboard charts) ain't such a big whoop. Still in 1995 , the year the film of his The Basketball Diaries hit theaters, Jim Carroll returned to music. He made a music video for "People Who Died", Pearl Jam backed him in a re-recording of "Catholic Boy" and then, as Allan Ginsberg did for the Clash in '82, he dropped verses into the middle of a song called "Junky Man" by Rancid who ended up titling their album, ...And Out Come the Wolves after a line in his fevered poem.

Despite being a harrowingly personal song "People Who Died" has been covered with great ferocity by The Drive-By-Truckers.

Go to Amazon and consider a purchase, true, death increases sales but Jim Carroll always knew that.

People Who Died By Jim Carroll

Teddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine

Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Two more friends that died / I miss 'em--they died

Repeat Refrain

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others,
And I salute you brother/ This song is for you my brother

Repeat Refrain

Herbie pushed Tony from the Boys' Club roof
Tony thought that his rage was just some goof
But Herbie sure gave Tony some bitchen proof
Hey, Herbie said, Tony, can you fly?
But Tony couldn't fly . . . Tony died

Repeat Refrain:

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers
He said, hey, I know it's dangerous,
but it sure beats Riker's
But the next day he got offed
by the very same bikers

Repeat Refrain; repeat song to Eddie

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Demob: No Room For You

Good Oi! (see here) breaks into your skull and refuses to leave.

I first heard Demob's "No Room For You" on a cheap blue cassette that my departed friend the Curator, made for himself which but enthralled me. The bulk of it was filled by Youth Brigade's Sound and Fury and Sham 69's Angels with Dirty Faces but in the leftover space he threw on this heart-breaking Oi! ballad. Though I had no idea who the band was, the man wrote like a cardiograph machine, I often found myself singing it over the years.

The song's a lament for a lost venue, but as so often happens the specific becomes the universal and we all can relate to an almost wistful bitterness over that which has been lost and can never be regained. This song, along with Demob's entire discography, much of which is more by-the-book UK '82 style hardcore, is available in CD format here.

Formed in Gloucester England, Demob (Terry Elcock (guitar), Johnny Melfah (drums), Mark "Miff" Smith (guitar, vocals) and Paul "Fatty" Price (bass) released only two seven inches in their original lifetime, 1978-1983. Black Punk Time adds,"This street punk group..had a guitarist Terry Elcock and a drummer John Melfah who were both black...John went onto become a famous boxer in the UK while Terry had formed goth group Kiss The Blade." Demob, were known to cause multi-hued riots of their own (shutting down the Gloucester Parade because of fighting between their rabid followers, the Demob Riot Squad, and the local bikers, playing after U2 got booed off the stage etc.) as well as for playing numerous anti-Nazi benefits. The band re-formed in the aughts and, with a new line-up, toured and recorded.

{MRM Readers: leave us a comment with your reaction to "No Room For You".}

Download No Room For You 7"

(If you were alive in the eighties you knew someone who used this record as their blueprint for living.)

Don't miss Punk Friction's post of a live Demob show!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Frankie Flame: Dick Barton

Who the hell is Frankie Flame?

It’s hard to explain, even if you are an Oi! fan. The genre of Oi! was once summarized by my departed friend, the Curator, as “the glorification of mindless violence” which is not wholly untrue. However, more accurately, Oi! is an attempt to keep punk brutally simple in it’s themes, melodies and music. As has been argued before, Oi! is like folk music, or more specifically it’s as conservative and unyielding as folk would have been if Pete Seeger had murdered Bob Dylan at Newport in 1965. Many Oi! bands (from Cocksparrer to Oxymoron and beyond) have utilized these blunt tools to rousing effect. Of course, there’s been loads of rubbish too. But then since when has the safe harbour of genre not allowed lesser bands to squeak by?

Frankie Flame's been playing in bands since the fag end of the glam era (including this band with Bowie's long-serving drummer). He's been an actor, writer, producer, session man and one of those guys who so embodies the rules he doesn't have to follow them; he's a Guy Ritchie character come to life. After all, Frankie’s a keyboard player (who often plays solo) in a genre that’s rarely had much use for anything but guitar-bass-drums n’ shoutin’. Frankie, in fact, often dredges up songs that his listeners’ grandparents may recall including; Rodgers and Hammerstein, Wynonie Harris and Chas n’ Dave. He’s kinda of a hold-out from the short-lived big tent era of Oi!, where old Rolling Stones fans (Cocksparrer), ranting poets (Gary Johnson) pop-punks (the Toy Dolls) and funny-punk bands (Splodge) could all join so-and-so’s Barmy Army.

Here’s an early eighties single of Frankie’s with his then back-up group, the Flames. The A-side is rollickin' fun and deeply British, keeping in step with what used to be called punk pathetique (a sub-genre of Oi! that revered Benny Hill as much as Sham 69). The B-side is a deadly take on Wynonie Harris’ 1952 classic, “Don’t Roll Those Bloodshot Eyes At Me.” It’s a masterfully written song (by Hank Penny), in which each verse carefully builds to the bloody conclusion. While Frankie’s may not go down as the definitive version, it’s a raw and vital one because Frankie brings the song up a generation, with some punk venom, ska beats and and one solitary, but savvy update where he exchanges the dated term "peepers" with plain old "eyes" for that devastating final verse.

MRML Readers: Now that you know who the hell Frankie Flame is leave us a comment on what you think of him.}

Download Frankie and the Flames 7"

Frankie on Facebook

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jeff Dahl and Poison Idea: Dead Boy

Following Stiv Bator's passing in 1990,two mainstays of American hardcore paid fealty. Portland's Posion Idea, the self-proclaimed "Kings of Punk" by then had spent ten years building a nasty, heavy (in at least two senses of that word) punk sound. On the other side, Hawaiian, by way of Stuttgart, Jeff Dahl (who'd played with Vox Pop and the Angry Samoans and coined the term 'speed metal' in 1982 to describe his Stooges-lovin' band Powertrip) had cranked out dozens of raw rock n 'roll L.P's and singles under a wildly shifting series of monikers.

It's a fitting tribute (I bought it on vinyl when it came out) about which Dahl says, "If I had to pick just one (favourite record) I might say the 7" single I did with Poison Idea, A Tribute To Stiv Bator. We did that recording after Stiv died and because we wanted to show our respect. Stiv was also my friend so it was my way to say goodbye to him also." I love that, alongside the Dead Boys' "Flamethrower Love", these punk stalwarts chose Stiv's most successful chart hit, "Open Your Eyes" by the Lords of the New Church to cover.

Download Dead Boy 7"
Link Fixed!!

If you enjoy this, you will be happy to know there is a CD version with six extra tracks which is still in-print.

Images of the t-shirt I bought when I saw Poison Idea in '91 in Vancouver.