Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Fall; A Few Loose Ends


Ten CDs By The Fall You Should “Visit” Before You Die
: A Luggage Seller’s Guide

Without any kind of guide or map, this would be quite a daunting journey, since there are currently 99 releases by The Fall to encounter when you include various compilations, studio and live CDs. The Fall are a rock band that were formed in Manchester, England, in 1976, and since their inception have consisted of songwriter/vocalist Mark E. Smith (who is from nearby Salford, an important distinction) and whoever else he lets play and drink with him. While the band’s sound does change significantly at times through the years with these shifting line-ups of musicians, here is a brief quote from Mr. Smith to clarify his position as the central cog in this revolving-door aspect of group membership. “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s a Fall gig.” A small cottage industry on books about Mark Smith and The Fall has developed in the last few years, but none of them specifically tells you what stops are crucial for a successful musical pilgrimage—and what areas you can bypass. I will break down possible itineraries into two categories: essential sites and interesting side trips, with a disclaimer for places to avoid.

Essential Sites: The first five years of the band from 1977 to 1982 will comprise a good hunk, but certainly is not all of the important terrain that must be covered. “Live at The Witch Trials” is their first LP that was released in 1979 and has all of their classic ingredients. Ranting vocals from Smith combine with musician’s Bramah, Riley and Burns to ensure a guitar driven sound that was remarkably tight for the evolving punk rock landscape. Bassist Steve Hanley and guitarist Craig Scanlon enter in 1980 and in quick succession, “Grotesque (After the Gramme”), “Slates” and “Hex Enduction Hour” become a must-hear part of The Fall canon. The Hanley/Scanlon axis adds slashing guitar and bass to at-times venomous lyrics from Mark E. Smith (M.E.S.). “Totally Wired,” “N.W.R.A.” and “An Older Lover,” as well as “The Classical,” rank among the finest tracks they ever recorded. This period holds the essence of their organized cacophony that other bands have frequently imitated, but never succeeded in duplicating. That correct blend of riffs, minimalist freedom and bile could only be directed by one M.E.S.

Another era of the band that must be checked out is the 1983 to 1989 period that saw the arrival of Laura Salenger. After marrying Mark, Laura was known as Brix Smith, and her influence and overall style coincided with the band focusing on tighter song structures and not sounding quite as shambolic. U.K. singles such as “Victoria,” “Ghost In My House” and “Mr. Pharmacist” gained some airplay, and it looked like The Fall might finally break out of their cult status. My personal favorite from this period is “This Nation’s Saving Grace,” which is from 1985. Other travelers that have explored this region hold “Perverted by Language” (1983) and “The Wonderfull and Frightening World of The Fall” (1984) in equally high regard. Moving forward, the early ’90s found the band unsettled with all of its constant personnel changes, including Brix leaving both the band and Mark Smith. The overall songwriting seems to have lost its consistent edge, and not until the “Real New Fall LP” of 2003 is released does the band find itself on totally solid ground again. The constant changeover in band personnel at this time now seems to have given Mark a new transfusion of energy, and the song “Theme from Sparta F.C.” shows that they collectively still know how to kick ass. The easiest way to follow this crooked path that we have traveled so far would be to purchase the 6-CD box set, “The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004.”

Interesting side trips off the main road should include the 2-CD set, “27 Points” (1995)—a solid, mid-period live document—“Levitate” (1997) and “Unutterable” (2000). These last two studio releases have some strong moments and find M.E.S. changing the drum rhythms, leaving behind well-worn patterns and even allowing a few synthesizer parts into the tunes. It is reassuring to note that the 50-year-old Mark E. Smith hadn’t lost any bite with the band’s 2007 effort, “Reformation Post TLC,” or on “Imperial Wax Solvent” (2008). After 30-plus years of bringing his songs to life in recording studios, Smith is still a master at keeping things interesting. His success has always been based on not just taking the roads less traveled, but about following his personal muse, no matter what the consequences or where it might lead him.

We have to talk about the places to avoid with The Fall. Due to some financial difficulties, Mark wound up selling a variety of live tapes and studio out-takes to different labels for a quick infusion of cash to keep the whole operation running. Titles that fall into this category include “Fiend With Violin” (1996), “Oswald Defence Lawyer” (1996), and “Cheetham Hill” (1997). “Are You Are Missing Winner” (2001) just doesn’t have much to offer in the way of songs or performance, and the subsequent live tour captured on “2G+2” (2002) is equally uninspiring by Fall standards. Having said all that, keep in mind that if you get lost and wind up at any of the above places, you are still in a more interesting location than anywhere John Mayer, Keith Urban or Chris Botti are playing.

If you decide to follow The Fall on tour, I would recommend you purchase a quality piece of luggage that can withstand such an arduous journey. The Briggs & Riley Transcend 21.5-inch carry-on model (TD-U521X) is durable, has a lifetime warranty and gives you enough room for your clothes, iPod, laptop and external speakers. Whenever you decide it’s appropriate to finally have The Fall Experience, be sure to give yourself enough time to do it right. One week is not nearly enough—like an excursion to any faraway country, you’ll need extra days to just get acclimatized to the new sonic landscape. Anything written about The Fall should at least have a brief mention of their biggest supporter, the deceased legendary British radio DJ and Fall fanatic, John Peel. John was playing songs from one of The Fall’s new releases at the time on his show, and afterwards simply said, “They are always different, they are always the same.” This is still a perfect description for a band that continues to defy classification. Don’t hesitate to bring your Granny, along with her bongos—not only will she enjoy The Fall’s music, but she might even wind up playing onstage. Have a safe trip.
-Jim Webb

Apropos Nothing: A Few Loose Ends

Ten most played French Pop tracks, according to my iPod (as of November 29):

01. Serge Gainsbourg - 69 Année Érotique
02. Brigitte Bardot - Je Voudrais Perdre La Mémoire
03. Keren Ann - Deux
04.Coralie Clément - À L’occasion Tu Souris
05. Françoise Hardy - Ton Meilleur Ami
06. Jacques Dutronc - Le Responsible
07. Julie D - Aiko-Aiko
08. Sylvie Vartan - Si Tu N’existais Pas
09. Aline - L’education
10. Jacques Brel - Il Peut Pleuvoir

“Chestnut Mare” is the last great Byrds song. Written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy, it’s a retelling of Peer Gynt’s opening act—except in this version, a horse takes the place of the reindeer. The narrator, Gene Tryp (I presume) is, like Gynt, something of a bullshit artist. The difference here, though, is that Peer Gynt didn’t fall in love with the reindeer. And that’s what makes “Chestnut Mare” a horse of a different stripe.

Twenty most played Class of ’77 UK “I call it Punk” tracks:

01. Doll By Doll - Teenage Lightning
02. The Clash - Janie Jones (demo)
03. Monochrome Set - Love Zombies (Peel Session)
04. Wreckless Eric - Waxworks
05. Scars - Aquarama
06. Damned - I Fall (live)
07. The Fall - Bingo-Master’s Breakout
08. Outsiders - Calling On Youth
09. Sham 69 - The Cockney Kids Are Innocent (live)
10. Tonight - Stroll On By
11. Undertones - Hypnotised
12. X-Ray Spex - I Am A Cliché (demo)
13. Buzzcocks - Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore
14. The Jam - All Around The World (live)
15. Madness - E.R.N.I.E.
16. Stiff Little Fingers - Breakout
17. Magazine - Recoil
18. Ruts - You’re Just A …
19. Sex Pistols - Holidays In The Sun
20. Slits - Love & Romance

Not very inspiring, I know, but that’s what the iPod says.

Dearly Departed
A number of talented people checked out this year, and I can’t say I blame them. The following list contains those whom I consider important to my own musical education. Yes, that includes Beatrice Arthur. May they rest in peace …

January: Ron Asheton, Steve Edgson, Dave Dee, John Martyn
February: Tom Brumley, Lux Interior, Jorge Reyes (for Jim), Estelle Bennett
March: Kent Henry, Uriel Jones
April: Bud Shank, Randy Cain, Bea Arthur
May: Clive Scott, Uli Trepte
June: Sam Butera, Hugh Hopper, Bob Bogle, Seething Wells, Sky Saxon
July: Drake Levin, Twyla Herbert, Gordon Waller
August: Willy Deville, Rashied Ali, Ellie Greenwich
September: Bobby Graham, Mary Travers
October: Robert Kirby, Dickie Peterson, Al Martino, Vic Mizzy, Soupy Sales
November: Jacno, Al Alberts

My favorite Fall LP is still Dragnet.

If you had your choice of seeing one of the following in Taos, whom would you choose?

01. Roky Erickson
02. Calexico
03. The Black Angels
04. Tony Joe White
05. Circle Jerks
06. Holly Golightly
07. Jackie Leven
08. Acid Mothers Temple
09. Ozric Tentacles
10. The Sonics

Please email your selection to or add a comment here.
Happy Holidays!
Michael Mooney

Editor’s Note: Jim Webb and Michael Mooney go back to the same ole ’hood in Philadelphia. Snows came and melted, planets danced in choreographed spatial arcs in such a way that Jim found himself living in Santa Fe and Michael living in Taos. Both, truly diehard music fans, write of music appreciation and music history that speaks to nourishment more than entertainment. Stay tuned and enjoy.


Larry said...

Today's trivia: The Bunny Rabbits almost covered Chestnut Mare at their MM-less tribute-to-themselves show in 1998, but ultimately opted for Laugh At Me instead.

Michael Mooney said...

The punchline would be that Clams sang that one, though I fear it was Sonny Marsland.

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