The Pitchfork 500 The End Of Year Zero – Costello to Talking Heads

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Radio Radio
The Cure – Boys Don’t Cry
XTC – Making Plans for Nigel
Blondie – Atomic
Talking Heads – Memories Can’t Wait

Here we are at the final five songs of the first chapter of the Pitchfork 500, 1977-1979. Three bands from England and two from the US; both US bands are from the edgy, glamorous, centre-of-the-universe city that was New York in the late ’70’s, and the English bands are from Crawley, Twickenham and Swindon. Swindon, I ask you.

But they had lots in common; they could look back at the past, taking disparate influences and turn them into something new but still familiar. All had great pop nous and the ability to make chart-topping tunes that sound great now, thirty years later.

Elvis Costello was a scrawny, geeky, angry type from west London with a history in music long before punk came along. His father wrote, sang and starred in this classic advert from the early ’70’s, with Elvis singing the backing vocals:

You can see the similarity, can’t you?

After forming a number of bands, he finally settled on The Attractions and with them, he cracked the mix of New Wave with Soul that would characterise his music for years to come (just think of the covers of “Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”). “Radio Radio” wasn’t as well known to me as some of his bigger hits, but it’s a spiky little slice of pure EC, down to the sardonic lyrics: “And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools\Tryin’ to anaesthetise the way that you feel”. Yep, that’ll get your song played on the radio. And that was in the late ’70’s; imagine how he’d feel now, in this Clear Channeled world, where every radio station in the whole of the US plays the same songs day in, day out?

The Cure have two types of songs. The miserable, hair-covering-your-eyes-boo-hoo-hoo-I’m-so-unhappy-even-though-I’m-a-really-rich-rock-star songs1, and the chirpy, happy songs with a dark undertow. This is one of the latter, and indeed, probably the first sighting. The song reeks of the student disco and fey skinny types jumping around with their arms in the air, bless ’em.

What makes the song, if not quite great, then at least interesting, is the air of ambiguity. You’re not sure what exactly he’s done to deserve it, other than “But I know that this time\I have said too much\Been too unkind” and that he’s “misjudged your limit”. Oh dear, Robert, you nasty fellow. Still, could be worse, eh? You could be living in Swindon.

Swindon, for those who don’t know it, is a little like post-Apocalyptic Washington in Fallout 3, except the locals have a West Country accent and there’s slightly less shooting (the Super Mutants are firmly in place, though admittedly drinking cider and wearing short skirts). And from there hail XTC, some sensible cars, Mark Lamarr, and a not very good football team. Of them, XTC are probably the most remarkable. This song, “Making Plans For Nigel”, was one of their biggest hits. It tells the tale of a young man being forced into taking a menial job at British Steel, and his lack of resistance to a life of drudgery. Foreshadowing the destruction of working class ambition to come during the Thatcher years, it’s a tale of inertia and tedium. Andy Partridge would later be crippled by epic stage fright, and after his girlfriend threw away the Valium he took to overcome anxiety, wouldn’t perform live again. Studio-bound, XTC never got the critical mass of a fanbase behind them to really push onto the success their talents could have got them.

Unlike Blondie. Ah, Debbie Harry. Men of a certain age will remember her appearance on ToTP in the last ’70’s wistfully well into their dotage. She was classy, droll and so, so, cool. Men wanted to be with her and women wanted to be her. Injecting glamour and sex appeal into New Wave was her game, and boy, did she succeed. So utterly confident she’d dance round in a swimsuit and a jacket for the video to Denis:

That’s not to say that Debbie was the only thing that made Blondie special. Chris Stein and Jimmy Destri were excellent songwriters, and the band had a superb magpie element, taking songs from other bands, such as power-pop band The Nerves’ “Hanging On The Telephone” and The Paragons’ “The Tide Is High” and making them their own2. They could mix the dance and hip-hop they heard on the streets and clubs of Manhattan, with power-pop and pure, balls out rock-and-roll learned from years of playing alongside Television and The Ramones at CBGB’s, with such finesse and style that at their best, they are gobsmacking. Give Parallel Lines, or better still The Best Of Blondie, to your nearest teenager and bet them to find anything released in the last year or so that comes even close to it. Or find me someone in their 30’s or 40’s who doesn’t like them, and I’ll show you a liar.

Saying that, I really don’t think “Atomic” is their best number. Whilst it’s got the futuristic sheen to it, and the sheer nerve of the lyrics (only 11 words used, fact fans!), to me it’s just not got the out-and-out pop brilliance of “Picture This”, “Denis”3 or “Sunday Girl”, or the proto-hip-hop of “Rapture”, or the sheen of “Heart Of Glass”. Still, Blondie beat up many of the bands on this list.

After that, “Memories Can’t Wait” comes as something of a shock. One of Talking Heads’ more paranoid moments, it sounds like the party that’s going on in David Byrne’s head is a particularly unpleasant one. Listening to this is a reasonable approximation of being in a noisy bar after someone’s spiked your drink with Ketamine. Uneasy listening, I suppose you could call it. It’s rather addictive.

66 down, 434 to go. We’ve had everything from the dark noise of This Heat and Throbbing Gristle to the pop nous of Blondie and The Buzzcocks, via Disco, Funk, Reggae, Power-Pop, the first beginnings of Electronica, Punk, Post-Punk, Punk-Funk, Funky-Punk, Clanky-Drummy-Shouty-Punk and Pop-Punk. I’ve rather enjoyed it so far. Hope you have too. There’s loads more to come, you know.

1 Ok, so he wasn’t a rich rock star when he started writing those songs, but doing it when you’re 50 and rich enough to buy a small African countries is stretching the bounds of credibility.

2 So much so I didn’t even realise “Hanging On The Telephone” was a cover until I researched this article.

3 Yep, I know “Denis” is a cover too, but they messed around with it enough to call it their own, French-singing and all.

Atomic by Blondie

Memories Can’t Wait by Talking Heads

The whole list is available here.

Newcastle United 1 – Arsenal 3 – Barcodes Wiped

5.30 kick-offs are a pain in the backside. If you haven’t got the will to go to the pub to watch it, and you don’t want to shell out money to the horrible Murdoch empire or the comically inept Setanta gang, you end up watching the first half of the match on a hooky stream from Azerbaijan before having to try and listen to snippets of the game on Radio 5 whilst trying to put a 3-year old to bed.

Worse still, the bit you watch is the bit without the goals. C’est la vie, as Pascal Cygan would say, before falling over in slow motion. Still, the first half was pretty entertaining. You could say it had everything except goals. Dodgy refereeing decisions, missed sitters by both sides, and a hilarious penalty decision topped by an even more hilarious penalty kick. “Ah, Mr Almunia, I shall pass the ball to you gently, for I am secretly an Arsenal fan and do not wish to score against my favourite team!”

Thank You Very Much, Mr Martins

Thank You Very Much, Mr Martins

The dodgiest decision of the first half came when Stephen Taylor (more of whom later) blatantly elbowed Arshavin in the face. How he wasn’t even booked, let alone sent off, is beyond me. Arshavin looked someone bemused by the lack of protection given to him by the ref (or rather the ref’s inability to enforce the rules of the game). Van Pershie missed an excellent chance, although he looked offside in the buildup. Newcastle had a number of chances too, which thankfully they also missed, in customary fashion.

All the goals came in a ten minute period in the second half, by which point my son was merrily playing in the bath. First, Bendtner got his head to a free kick from Arshavin, after Clichy had been grabbed around the neck by Ryan Taylor (who should also have been booked, but mysteriously wasn’t). 0-1. Within a minute, Gallas had failed to clear, kicking the ball straight at Martins, who made up for his earlier mistake by whacking it into our net, rather beautifully I must say. 1-1. Then Stephen Taylor went off injured, and whilst he was being treated, his teammates decided they didn’t need to bother filling in that nice big hole in the defence, at which point Diaby decided just to run through it, then thump it past Harper to make it 1-2.

Thankfully for us, the Newcastle players still couldn’t be bothered to do anything about the nice big hole in their defence, Taylor being substituted for Little Mickey Owen, so Nasri ran through it too, and thumped the ball past Harper to make it 1-3. Lovely. As Taylor had already made two critical blocks, and had done enough to get himself sent off by any vaguely competant referee, you’ve got to say they got what they deserved.

We had some more chances to make it even safer, but Diaby hit the post and Harper saved from an excellent Van Pershie. The second half performance was better than the first, and Taylor going off really helped us. Diaby in particular looked lost in the first half, and Newcastle sometimes ran through our midfield at will for periods of the game. But they were unable to take the chances they were given, and we were, and by the time we got the third, they were a beaten team.

Arshavin has continued his mission to be a hugely popular Arsenal player. He’s strong and tough for a guy his size (munchkin), and playing in the Russian league has toughened him up enough to not worry about the nasty challenges and elbows of the Premiership’s Neanderthal element. Sorry, that’s being harsh on Neanderthals. A great signing, though frankly I would also have liked a central midfielder to remove the reliance on DiaSongNilson. Anyway, beggars can’t be choosers.

You can see highlights of the game on the marvellous Arsenalist. None of the usual suspects have done reviews yet. Honestly, I’m not even a proper football blog and I’m staying up late.

This loss puts Newcastle deep in relegation mire. I’m feeling somewhat conflicted about this, because I lived there for four years and loved the place. Great people, loads of bars, and I still remember how the mood in the city lifted when Keegan returned, whilst they were at the bottom of the old First Division. I’m rather fond of the place, and whilst the club are run by a pack of jokers, and some of the fans are somewhat, well, uncouth, I’d rather they didn’t go down.

But then, they’ve got people like this:

And this:

Kevin Nolan Tackle

(sorry, the Embed function doesn’t work for those)

And I think I’d rather not have to see some of those players again. Then again, if it was between them and Hull, I’d rather see Dirty Brown’s Tiggers go down, frankly.

Villa play Liverpool tomorrow at Anfield, so against my better judgement I’d quite like to see the Scousers win that one, and in every Arsenal fans wish list is for Wigan to beat Hull 26-0 tomorrow, whilst Phil “Are you questioning my integrity” Brown strips off naked, rolls around in the mud frothing at the mouth, before the men in white coats come to take him away to a nice, comfy, padded cell. Bit of a shame, really – going from being applauded off the pitch by Arsenal fans in September to public enemy number 1, just because you’re a sad little man who can’t take being beaten, so you have to make up loads of rubbish about one of the league’s most popular, and talented, young foreign players. Sad.

Edit: I realised I’d got my Taylors mixed up. Fixed.