Monday, April 27, 2009

Mick Jones' hair; The Monochrome Set; Music Television

The Secret Museum
Jim Webb & Michael Mooney

Mike -

Buried in a feature on Mott The Hoople in the latest Mojo, there’s an accompanying picture of Hoople fan Mick Jones at about 18 years old with his hair down to his arse. No one in the history of rock music has ever lost more hair between the ages of twenty and fifty-five than Jonesy. I think it says quite a lot about how bad he wanted to "make it" in a rock group that he would chop off his beloved Samsonesque locks in order to be accepted as a true punk rocker. Does the incriminating photo now and forever disqualify him from the Punk Rock Hall of Fame and labeled a poseur from this day forward? Or is he just Jonesy being Jonesy, and the tired old game of “I was a punk before you were a punk" means nothing, to be sadly buried alongside John Mellor.

About three weeks ago I was overcome with a sudden craving for The Monochrome Set and realized I currently had none. After re-procuring their first two LPs, I’ve come to the conclusion they are the second most underrated band (after Doll by Doll) circa late 70s/ early 80s UK. They are smart, popish, fun, unpredictable and top it all with tight, razor sharp guitar playing. They are everything Talking Heads wanted to be but couldn’t pull off. Dave Byrne took his exalted Heads down a predictable radio friendly dead-end that ultimately led to everyone in the group arguing over money and other "high-brow" interests. Meanwhile, The Monochrome Set kicked out some classic three minute tunes that never got the time of day from our side of the pond. It’s odd that Byrne became revered as one of the Kings of "Pop Art", while others far more worthy are long forgotten.
-Jim Webb


There are a number of great bands from the 70s/80s cusp worthy of another look, including the Monochrome Set’s Cherry Red label mates Five Or Six and The Nightingales (and, obviously, old-timer Kevin Coyne.) I’ll ready a full-blown appraisal of the Monochrome Set for the coming weeks. Meanwhile, newcomers are directed to Volume, Contrast, Brilliance, an excellent starting point.

Talking Heads: I found them enjoyable as a trio opening for the Ramones at Max’s in ’76, but, apart from the first album and the song about keeping the baby awake, they did nothing for me. I much prefer Tom Tom Club.

To Mick Jones’ credit, he had quite the Paul Stanley poodle-do going on by the time of Give ‘Em Enough Rope. But you’re right- Jonesy lost his pelt in a hurry. Maybe we didn’t notice because of all the stupid hats he wore during the B.A.D. years.
-Michael Mooney

I Don’t Want My MTV

Once upon a time music videos were on the cutting edge of new technology, and the Big Corporate Record Labels spent more money on a song’s video production costs than the actual recording studio budget. We all remember what the result of that new infatuation brought us: the vacuum of the 1980’s music scene. MTV wound up in bed with the big labels, and popular music became dominated by Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo, Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and numerous other haircut bands. These groups had absolutely nothing to say, though they all looked great on the tube, where their videos were played every hour in heavy rotation.

The only purpose of the major record label is to make money. The “biz” consistently attempts to either create new profitable fads, or jumps on existing trends (once they think they’ve got them figured out) in order to squeeze out maximum profits. In the late fifties/ early sixties we already saw the concept at work, when the likes of Fabian, Connie Francis, Pat Boone, Frankie, Annette, Bobby Vee and other bland, well-groomed boys and girls dominated the top 40 airwaves. The Beatles were to soon change all that, and their contrasting sound shows how truly terrible the pop music scene had become.

The British Invasion cleared the deck of all those “nice” pop stars and turned them into has-beens overnight. It took the Brits to remind us that Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry were still the real deal, not Dick Clark’s Bandstand kiddie sound. The Monkees were another example of an executive boardroom creation, though the musicians involved should at least be credited for producing some pretty decent stuff for a change. Later in the 60s that same marketing strategy later turned into huge money by way of The Archies and various bubblegum fakeries. The seventies had its share of prefabricated nonsense, including David Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. The only good thing to come out of such corporate manipulation is the inevitable backlash. From 1974 to 1976 great bands like The Ramones, Television, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Graham Parker, even early Springsteen, were the antidote to the tired sounding superstar groups and instant pop stars that had poisoned the living connection between musicians and supporters.

Once the initial excitement of a 24-hour music channel wore off, MTV offered very little of substance, apart from the odd weekend and/or late-night specialty program (120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps, and Headbanger’s Ball), plus a few clever art-inclined videos during the early nineties (coinciding with the rise and plummet of Nirvana.) Otherwise, it’s all reality programming, TRL, the occasional Hippity Hop vid , and the culmination of all that Corporate America has learned in creating profits from packaging: Spice Girls, ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys, O-Town, Jonas Brothers and myriad disposable dolts (Disney’s Hannah Montana is just the latest music/TV fabrication to funnel the kids money into the Corporate bank account.)

In 2009, we are now close to the same kind of bottoming out that paved the way for The Beatles 45 years ago. MTV’s Top Twenty this week includes the same old rhyme patterns (that always sound to me like grade school kids jumping rope), with the usual dozen dancers in the background doing the same clichéd moves Michael Jackson used for Thriller. It’s frustrating to see a great idea- 24-hour music television- reduced to a promotional tool for such dull and predictable product. And whether or not it’s MTV’s or the Corporation’s fault, it seems that very few people these days are interested in learning to become a good musician or songwriter- they just want to be rich and famous. It’s too much of an effort to learn how to play an instrument. Practicing eight hours daily to perfect a skill seems ridiculous in an era when you can simply follow the Paris/ Lindsay example (just make sure you hire a great press agent.) Do I expect another earth-shattering miracle like 1964? No, but considering the hollow celebrity sweepstakes the masses have been fixated on recently, a year-zero musical upheaval is officially overdue.
-Jim Webb

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