Feb 122012

Houston, we have a problem.

Last night while sitting on the can I pulled out my smartphone and checked the Web, only to learn that singer Whitney Houston was dead, finally, at 48 years of age. Remember when Elvis Presley died on the can? Reading about Houston’s death on my smartphone from such a perch will go down as nowhere near as legendary a moment in rock obituaries.

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Jan 142012

Not all pouffy hair bands are alike.

We here at RTH are interested in an in-depth understanding of music and all the minutiae that goes with it, including the musicians (David Bowie!, Paul Weller!), the culture (Hippies!), the way in which we listen to music (Headphones!), the ranking of the output of a band or artist (Top 10 Lists!)…and The Look (Sideburns!). So when Mr. Mod recently made this comment in regards to Paul Weller and the 1980s UK fashions, it made my blood go cold:

I don’t need anything beyond a couple of ABC, Orange Juice, Haircut 100, New Order, and Human League-type singles from that v-neck sweater/pouffy hair scene.

We at Rock Town Hall can not stand for this egregious misunderstanding of the fashion of an era! Just as we focus and comment on the subtle differences in a musician’s use of a Les Paul vs Fender, it is crucial to discern an artist’s or era’s fashion trends and the possible meaning behind those trends. And it is of utmost importance that when we include descriptors such as “v-neck sweater, pouffy hair scene” we know exactly whom we are talking about.

While the UK music scene of the early ’80s could be a swirling tea of fashion over function, each band worked very hard to craft a particular “Look” that acted as a signifier to other musicians and the music press.

Orange Juice: In love with VU, the Byrds, and Andy Warhol Pop Art, they adopted Ray-Ban glasses, nautical striped tees, fringed suede jackets, raccoon hats, plaid shirts, and jellies.

ABC: To reflect his love for disco and Roxie Music, Martin Frye et al adopted a slick, tailored look, which included gold lame suits.

New Order: Although the band members went on to disclaim the Third Reich references of their name, their early look was very similar to fellow Factory Records band, A Certain Ratio, and included military references such as tailored white shirts and shorts. Bernard Sumner appeared to have watched “The Tin Drum” too many times.

Haircut 100: I’ll give this one to Mod: when I think of Haircut 100, even I imagine those pretty blond boys with their sweaters and nicely-coiffed hair. And Nick Heyward’s smile was just so sparkly.

Human League: Who can forget (even if we try) Phil Oakey’s asymmetrical hair cut and heavy eyeliner? But before the girls came along, Human League’s dark, futuristic music and look were pretty gloom-and-doom and even featured some facial hair.

Perhaps Mod (and others?) are reacting to the way that these bands were promoted and adopted in the United States, and how they spawned such evil fashion offspring as Wham and Kajagoogoo. But to lump them all together would be a crime that we at RTH should not stand for!

Dec 162011

I’m not an ardent follower of The Cure, which accounts for the fact that I am years behind on learning of the alterations Robert Smith has been making to the band’s first single, “Killing An Arab,” since 2005. The song is now performed as, “Killing Another,” due to superficial interpretations of the song that overlook its basis on Camus’ novel, The Stranger, oversimplifying it as an anti-Arab message. Given the politics of the last decade or so, it is easy to see how Robert Smith took the stance of asking radio stations to not play the song and then choosing to alter the lyrics.

Before changing the lyric to “Killing Another,” apparently Smith went with “Kissing An Arab” in his attempts to continue playing the song while playing down these racist interpretations.

Being the band’s first single and one of their best-known songs, it seems that it might be difficult to set this song aside. On the other hand, it seems to me that they have many other well-known songs and need-not feel compelled to play the song anymore.

My questions to the Hall are these: What would you do if you were Robert Smith? Abandon the song? Play it as it is? Or change the lyrics as he has done?

Can you think of any other artists who have abandoned one of their big hit singles? Can you think of any other songs that have suffered from gross misinterpretation? As a fan, are you open to changing the lyrics to a song (or the title) after 30 years of hearing it as it was originally written?

What say ye, Townsfolk?

Nov 122011

Sounds of the Hall in roughly 33 1/3 minutes!

In this week’s edition of Saturday Night Shut-In ladymisskirroyale hosts the airing of a hand-selected post-punk mix offered to the Hall by noted rock historian and Friend of the Hall Simon Reynolds! This is some cool stuff that you may or may not be familiar with—and definitely something different than the Richard Baskin-oriented fare for which your regular host is known to spin.

If ladymisskirroyale, Simon Reynolds, and input by the legendary Mr. Royale are not enough to make you set aside some quality time with your computer, then you’ll want to tune in for your chance to win The Gift, perhaps the most treasured contest prize Rock Town Hall has known to date. Tune in and find out from ladymiss how you can win! (And if you missed the details, the goal is to identify the tracks played: artist and title. Post the playlist in the Comments section or email Mr. Moderator at mrmoderator (at) rocktownhall (dot) com.)

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/RTH-Saturday-Night-Shut-In-53.mp3|titles=RTH Saturday Night Shut-In, episode 53]

[Note: The Rock Town Hall feed will enable you to easily download Saturday Night Shut-In episodes to your digital music player. In fact, you can even set your iTunes to search for an automatic download of each week’s podcast.]

Sep 212011

Everyone has their decade and judging by recent RTH threads, the 1960s topped many people’s lists for the Best Era of Rock. And although I appreciate the music of the 1960s, a large part of my heart is saved for the ’80s. Much of this connection reflects my personal experiences growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, followed by the watershed experience of receiving my first copy of the Trouser Press Record Guide. But as I’ve become older, I continue to listen to and think about a lot of this music.

So I offer this bridge to our fellow Townspersons who may sneer and consider the 1980s an era of ridiculous fashion and over-the-top musical groups. But it didn’t necessarily start out that way. I paraphrase the mighty Simon Reynolds in his stellar history, Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984, that 19781982 rivaled the years 19631967 in the amount of amazing music, the spirit of adventure and idealism, and the way the music was connected to the social and political events of the era.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Post Punk Years:

But first, a few words about Punk music.

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Sep 212011

I like some bands that get lumped under the “post-punk” banner, including at least three in particular that I object to frequently falling under that banner: Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd, and Joy Division. There’s a good chance that what I’m about to say is a case of me talking out my ass, at least in terms of the chronology of the term post-punk. I honestly don’t remember it being thrown around when I was a teenager getting into punk rock in the late-’70s/early-’80s. Do you? Do you actually remember that term carrying any weight in 1981, or is this a term that was, as I suspect and feel the blood rushing to my temples whenever I think about it, introduced years after the fact?

Maybe it was already in use in the then-legendary and completely annoying British music press at that time, but in the small world of US underground music fans, I don’t recall the term being applied to second-wave and lesser punk bands at the time. There were “No Wave” bands and other subgenres, but I remember them all being considered part of the broader punk (and New Wave) spectrum.

Life was simple then. There were fewer critical ghettos to annoy me.

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