Miscellaneous - Profile

  by Anthony Dhanendran

published: 8 / 12 / 2014

Miscellaneous - Profile

Anthiony Dhanendran looks at excellent new box set, 'Millions Like Us', which compiles together tracks of many of the lost bands of the late 1970s and 1980s Mod Revival


To anyone who grew up in the rock and roll era – that is, between 1950 and, say, a couple of years ago - the thought that guitar music might have been a passing fad is somehow impossible to comprehend. But not only are rock and rollers becoming grandparents and great-grandparents, those ancients are even now, even as you read this, sitting their very young descendants on one knee and telling them stories of how things used to be. “Guitars used to matter, kid,” is how this particular bedtime story begins. And not only did guitar music matter, but the differences between one particular kind of guitar music and another REALLY mattered. The idea that millions of kids might become exercised about their musical idols is as familiar to us now as it was then – but the notion that a thousand One Direction fans might descend upon Brighton Beach in order to fight a pitched battle against Justin Bieber’s followers seems somehow unlikely. That’s where ‘Millions Like Us - The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989’ comes in. This lavishly upholstered four-CD set tells the story not of the original Mod movement of the 1960s but of the later Mod Revival that took place in the late 1970s, the best-known proponents of which were the Jam. Messrs Weller, Foxton and Buckler are nowhere to be found on these four discs, however. Instead, we have the music, lyrics and dreams of a hundred-odd no-marks, up-and-comings, and never-to-have-beens. And those three descriptors are not to disparage the music – in fact, what’s great about this compilation is that, in telling the story of the bands that never made it, it sounds young, fresh and utterly vital. It’s not uncharitable to say that, musically speaking, the difference between the mods and the punks in 1977 was that the mods could play their instruments. Where the punks relied on raw energy, the music of the mod revival traded some of the rough edges for Memphis-inspired melody, pop harmonies and four-to-the-floor beats made for dancing, not thrashing. ‘Millions Like Us’ follows a strict chronological order, beginning with the high-water mark of the New Hearts’ ‘Just Another Teenage Anthem’, from November 1977. It’s a bit of a manifesto for what’s to follow: “What’s wrong with being/Teenage and naïve,” the lyrics open. “Oh no/It’s another teenage anthem/If you want to hear something new/Then you’ll have to hate your own clichés/’Cos they’re the only things left to use.” The first half of the first CD continues in a similarly strong vein, with the Exits’ ‘The Fashion Plague’ channelling both Tom Robinson Band and Mott the Hoople but still not losing sight of the mod aesthetic, and Purple Hearts’ track that lends its name to the whole compilation. There are also some familiar names here – Merton Parkas would go on to supply Mick Talbot to the Style Council, and the Nips (previously the Nipple Erectors), whose meandering, rather dream-like ‘Gabrielle’ appears here, were a training ground for a pre-Pogues Shane MacGowan, almost unrecognisable here, his voice not yet ravaged by time and strong whiskey. ‘Gabrielle’ is also one of the songs that pinpoints the mod revival as being a city-based, Londoncentric movement, with MacGowan describing going down to “the old west end” on the 73 bus from Islington. The booklet describes ‘Your Side of Heaven’ by Back to Zero as ‘one of the most vital moments of the mod revival’, and it certainly fits the stereotype of a classic mod song. Tracks such as ‘Saturday Night’ by the Odds, released two years after ‘Just Another Teenage Anthem’, demonstrate the kind of head-banging stupidity and devotion to hedonism that one expects of all solid youth movements (“Saturday, Saturday, Saturday night/I’m looking forward to Saturday”), the kind that Elvis sang about in ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and the kind that Green Day would sing about 20 years later. ‘SYSLJFM (The Letter Song)’ by Q-Tips (1980) could have come straight from the Stax studios, and in fact feature the just-about recognisable vocals of blue-eyed soul pin up to be, Paul Young. Other later highlights, this time on disc 3, include 1981’s ‘The Faker’ by the Gents and 1983’s ‘Wednesday Girl’ by the Jetset, who apparently brought an admirably tongue-in-cheek attitude to their efforts, even gadding about in the Jetsetmobile, a tricked-out Ford Capri, trying to give the impression of being much bigger than they were. Women’s voices were not especially common in the scene, but Dee Walker, whose ‘Jump Back’ (June 1984) follows on from the Jetset, is a welcome addition, somehow managing to feel at once both like a 1980s pop song and like a mod classic. As John Reed describes in the liner notes, the bands that came up in the mid-1980s were themselves too young to have experienced the ‘original’ mod revival of the 1970s, so they forged their own version of it that then led on to Baggy and ‘Madchester’ and thence to Britpop. And it’s true that disc four seems quite different to what’s come before. But there are plenty of cracking tunes here too, such as ‘I Want to Sleep With You’ by Eleanor Rigby and the closing track, the Small Faces-esque ‘Arthur C Clarke’ by te Aardvarks Just as there’s very little fat on the track-listing, there’s also nothing extraneous in the packaging, which contains exactly what it should and no more. The set comes bound in hard covers that open like a book, with two CDs fixed to each inside cover. In the middle is a 50-page booklet that includes an entertaining and informative introduction (by Paul Weller biographer John Reed) and detailed liner notes on every single one of the songs, plus pictures and reproductions of gig bills and flyers. The artwork is simple and striking, and just adds to the impression that the whole thing is very much a labour of love for the mod revival scene. The most striking thing about having all these recordings collected in one place is that they demonstrate quite how little the art of British ‘indie’ songwriting moved on between 1977 and the Britpop movement of 1993-1997. Plenty of these tracks might plausibly have been released twenty years later and nobody would have batted an eyelid. But many of them sound utterly alien compared with what was passing for teenagers’ music just five years earlier. ‘Millions Like Us’, then, not only collects several dozen superb tracks that will delight any fan of the era. It is a document that makes a persuasive case in favour of recognising quite how big a contribution these songwriters – these kids – made to the story of British music.

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