friday random ten, 1978 edition

1. The Clash, "Safe European Home." In the great tradition of so many terrific Clash songs, I barely understood the words the first thousand times I heard it, and I didn't care a bit. The Clash has as many classics as any band ever, and I suppose this isn't one of them to most people, but the opening power chords are a blast that I've never gotten tired of.

2. Albert Collins, "Ice Pick." If you find yourself in one of those "I'm bored, what can I find online" moods, search around for stories about Collins' live performances. I saw him ... it was the 80s, I guess, maybe later, I don't know. He played at Slim's, the small club run by Boz Scaggs. And yes, he did his trademark, wandering off the stage into the crowd, solos rolling out of his guitar, until he had walked right out the front door and onto the streets, still wailing away ... and when he'd had enough, back into the club he came, never stopping with the solos.

3. Ashford & Simpson, "Is It Still Good to Ya." Back in the day, they made mature married love interesting and cool. How odd to realize that they were only in their 30s at the time. The video adds Johnny Gill to the vocal mix.

4. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, "You're the One That I Want." Let's get something out of the way: Grease sux. Let's get something else out of the way: this song roolz.

5. David Johansen, "Frenchette." Without Johnny Thunders, David was never going to capture the spirit of the Dolls. But if his solo albums were never as good as Doll albums, they were better than Johnny's solo albums. Come in my kitchen and not my kitchenette, indeed.

6. Bruce Springsteen, "Racing in the Street." Bruce made better albums ... OK, I know some will disagree, but I think Darkness is a hair under Born to Run, Nebraska, and Tunnel of Love ... it's an album made for live versions, as "Prove It All Night" demonstrates. But the highlights of this album are canonical. And I never connected on a personal level with any other Bruce album the way I did with this one, which came in the middle of my decade as a steelworker. And let's not forget the tour, his greatest and thus, by definition, one of the greatest tours in rock and roll history.

7. Hot Chocolate, "Every 1's a Winner." You want a hook? The synth that kicks this off is a hook of the highest order, and every time it returns, it gets you all over again.

8. Blondie, "Hanging on the Telephone." If I'm being all intellectual and donning my Dr. Critic cap, I have to note that Parallel Lines is more polished than Blondie's debut, and that polish isn't always good. But whenever I play the album, the first thing I lose is the Critic cap ... it just sounds too good to complain.

9. Little Roger and the Goosebumps, "Stairway to Gilligan's Island." Ah, irony. Led Zeppelin is one of the titans of rock, but sometimes they "borrowed" songs from sources without remembering to cite the originals. You know, plagiarizing. But when this goof got some airplay, Led Zep's lawyers threatened to sue them.

10. Cheap Trick, "Surrender." I have no idea why this song is better than any other Cheap Trick song, why it's just about better than any other song, period. But fuckin' A, this is great. Power chords and perfect and quotable lyrics. Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird, as they make out on the couch and get high while listening to Kiss records. Surrender, but don't give yourself away.



For me, Parallel Lines pretty much destroys all the earlier Blondie records, and "polish" is largely the reason (it's not like there weren't some enjoyable songs on those first couple albums). I'm curious about your suggestion -- if I'm reading you correctly -- that in order to applaud "polish" itself you necessarily need to abandon your critical principles. I guess I'm arguing here that "polish" itself has (or can have) aesthetic merit, and I don't detach myself from critical thinking in order to believe that. (I guess I've also just never been a big adherent of lo-fi for lo-fi's sake...) Am I off-track here with what you're suggesting?


Good point. I suppose I am saying those things, although I wasn't thinking that way when I wrote it. Punk made me suspicious of "polish," which I associated with, oh, Yes. But that's a limited way of looking at it ... and not just because it screws up my sense of the value of Blondie vs. Parallel Lines. I never liked Debbie Harry as much as I liked someone like Poly Styrene. But there is no reason why we can't like it all. And the truth is, I played Parallel Lines more than any other Blondie album ... still do ... I play it more than I play Germ-Free Adolescents. So I should get the stick out of my butt.

There's also the Lester Bangs argument, but it's been so long since I read his Blondie book, I don't trust myself to remember it right. As I recall, he didn't like how Blondie marketed themselves, and of course his aesthetic was probably more connected to "Attack of the Giant Ants" than it was to "Heart of Glass." But like I say, it's been a long time.

I know that when I saw Blondie in '79, I was disappointed ... thought the opening act, Rockpile, stole the show ... there was something artificial about Debbie's stage presence, which of course might have been the point, might have been an artistic statement. But I wasn't hearing it in those days, I was too locked in to a narrow perspective. It's kind of embarrassing to see me replicating that old thinking here and now.


Well, I wasn't trying to call you out on that point, just thought it was an interesting critical distinction you were making there, i.e., the idea that the polish in a particular music is almost something you have to look -- or hear -- beyond in order to enjoy it, whereas I tend to (sometimes) hear sheen as a musical virtue in and of itself (Parallel Lines would be one such example; first Cars album would be another).

Bringing punk and Bangs into this of course makes perfect sense. Truth is, I think Bangs became a bit of a broken record on matters of technique and amateurishness. Hearing someone proclaim in 1973 or 1976 that technique was beside the point was certainly liberating, but a few years later it seemed like a bit of a hollow stance. (I wouldn't say he overdid it necessarily, but it continued to creep in to a few later things like his review of the Shaggs, which I found -- tho' I haven't read it in years -- pretty unconvincing.)

Ironically enough, I'm the opposite with Blondie and X-Ray Spex: continue to listen to the latter far more often than I do to the former, which probably goes to show that polish or lack-of-polish, though they may indeed be virtues in and of themselves, are probably never (or rarely) make-or-break items on their own, the way, for instance, someone's voice can be.


You were right to target that point. I imagine this is connected to my general distrust of happiness ... I get so worried about the dangers hiding around the corner that I don't remember to enjoy what's right in front of me. I love "sheen," but somehow don't feel right about that, so I demand more. This is partly behind my comments about the TV show Lost earlier ... I think it's very good at what it does, it gives me pleasure to watch it, but I'm always wondering "and?"

Blondie's an odd case. I think I probably agree with the rest of the world that Parallel Lines is their peak, but I don't want to forget that first album, which has charms I still appreciate. But really, I'm just being inconsistent, or rather, I'm being subjective ... the junk-pop reference points for "Attack of the Giant Ants" are no "better" than the sheen of "Heart of Glass." (While I don't think they ever made another album as good as Parallel Lines, the song I like best of that "sheen era" is "Dreaming.")


Clem Burke was a monster rock n roll drummer. He had the technical chops to play with Yes, and the taste to play with Blondie. Technique + creativity = that certain je ne sais quoi, and lack of technique + creativity can add up to the same thing. (The Nerves' version of "Hanging on the Telephone" is also pretty swell.) I'm glad we've got both versions of early Blondie AND X-Ray Spex. It's a great life.

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