This is probably the last one for the year, although I might do one closer to the end of December to round up anything that got released during the holiday season. As usual most releases will be big classic rock packages or compilations or box sets or the like, so there won’t be too much to list here.
Radio Birdman – Radios Appear
Released July, 1977 on Trafalgar Records
1540 KHz on the AM band: that was the original broadcasting position of legendary Sydney radio station 2JJ (later 2JJJ, or “Triple J” when it crossed over into the FM market). From it’s inception it was a home for the experimental, the odd, and the alternative – stuff that wouldn’t get played on other Australian radio stations. The growth of Australian cool starts from it’s inception in 1975, when it was founded to be a government-funded radio station meant to appeal to the 18-25 demographic. Radio Birdman, a group of Aussie Stooges fans, were among the bands the station championed at the very beginning of the punk rock era.
Radio Birdman were unlike anything else that Australian radio was playing at the time; while it might be somewhat correct to call them “Australia’s Sex Pistols”, this does Radio Birdman a disservice. The band weren’t cobbled together, they could play their instruments, and they didn’t rely on cheap shock tactics to sell their records. In fact, Radio Birdman’s early success was as much a result of their hands-on work ethic as it was their killer rock ‘n’ roll tunes; their records were initially sold out of their trunks, before and after shows. The band provided the example, and from them the punk DIY ethic was born into Australia.
Those killer rock ‘n’ roll tunes, though: Radios Appear had them in spades. The band name and album title give key clues as to their influences. “Radio Birdman” came from a misheard lyric on The Stooge’s “1970”, and tracks like “T.V. Eye” and “Murder City Nights” bear the scars of a definite Stooge’s obsession. “Man With Golden Helmet”, however, shows another side of the band, one that is hinted at in the title of the album; “Radios appear” is a line from “Dominance And Submission” by Seventies hard rock icons Blue Oyster Cult. “Descent Into Maelstrom” and “Love Kills” combine the two, marrying a harrowing, relentless beat to a more free-wheeling and progressive melody and structure.
Radios Appear is both the debut and the highwater mark for the band. Their second LP, 1981’s Living Eyes, was released three years after the band broke up, and while the band reunited in 1996 and continues to tour intermittently, new music has been spotty at best. For a pure rock ‘n’ roll experience – filtered through Michigan proto-punk – however, Radios Appear is one of the finest efforts of that legendary year of 1977.
“Empire’s Comin’ Now We Gonna Get Blessed”
Another entry in my series of “songs that use synths to make something approaching heavy rock and/or punk”. Noisy, ravey, and I really like the coda.
The death of Soundcloud made The Pitch a few days ago! Also of note from that article: the phrase “broken embeds, dead links, and lost sounds” sounds like a stellar name for an album that I’m totally going to do now.
I may have skipped a day. Eh.
This one is a filler track from Temporarily Abandoned Profiles, but one that I remember fondly. Brash, aggressive, noisy, almost punk rock. Good times.
BUY SELL BUY SLEEP
Feel free to check out some books: today’s featured titles include Disappearance, only 99 cents, which if you enjoy the action bits in books and you like apocalypse fiction you’ll enjoy; What You See Is What You Get, which manages to combine the specter of ag-gag laws with criminal trials that look more like reality TV than anything else; and 9th Street Blues, about a kid delivering cobbled-together drugs in the near future ruins of Woodward, OK (and is also the jumping-off point for my new serial novel, coming soon from ATM Publishing).
Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True
Released July 22nd, 1977 on Stiff Records
In the early 1970s, Declan MacManus was another weekend-warrior pub rocker in the London club scene, working day jobs as a data entry clerk in order to fund both his family and his love of playing music. The man came by it honestly; his father, Ross MacManus, played jazz trumpet under the stage name of Day Costello, and the two of them did a commercial together for lemonade three or four years before My Aim Is True thrust the younger MacManus onto the rock ‘n’ roll stage. It was also the result of gobs of hard work, of course; the man who would be Elvis Costello spent his time after his wife and young son were asleep writing songs. Those songs were painstakingly recorded into demos, and those demos shopped around. Meanwhile, he continued to toil in obscurity for much of the 1970s, playing in a pub rock band called Flip City until one of his demos caught the attention of Stiff Records, an independent London label that convinced him to change his name. Elvis, from The King, and Costello from his father’s stagename = Elvis Costello.
Success was anything but a sure bet, even with indie label interest. At first the label wanted him to write songs for someone else. Then when they realized that Costello’s own songs came off much better, they decided to let him cut a record and release a couple of singles from it, “Less Than Zero” and “Alison”. Both singles failed to do much damage in the charts, but Stiff Records pressed on and released the entire album; they also went all-in with a promotional campaign that gave away free copies (special edition free copies, at that) to friends of people who bought the album.
Such tricks – great marketing strategies though they might be – are not, strictly speaking, completely necessary to sell an album like My Aim Is True. Sure, they help, but the strengths of the album are readily apparent immediately. “Welcome To The Working Week”, the poppiest bit of sarcastic bitterness you’ll ever hear, starts off with the line “Now that you’re picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired”. He literally starts the record off with a crack about masturbation. And that’s not even the best part! Throughout the album he bangs out a series of songs that are part pub rock, part 50’s rock ‘n’ roll inspired genius (check out the Buddy Holly pose on the album cover for more on that inspiration) and all cynical asshole. The first two are the result of his upbringing and his toils in rock ‘n’ roll obscurity. The last goes a long way toward explaining why he was slotted in to the white-hot punk rock movement in the summer of 1977. My Aim Is True may not have the snarl and viciousness of the Sex Pistols or the Clash, but it was just as frustrated, just as bitter, and in places just as political. “Less Than Zero” was the anti-fascist anthem, a big concern in Britain where the economy was teetering on the edge of collapse by the late 1970s. The song itself would become famous when Costello began playing it on Saturday Night Live, before cutting out to “Radio, Radio”, declaring that the song was meaningless in America (and earning himself a Lorne Michaels ban for nearly ten years). “Watching The Detectives” was another such track, outlining the absurdity and obsession of TV violence while borrowing some of that Clash-inspired 1977 reggae bounce (literally inspired; the song came about after 36 hours of coffee and the first Clash record on repeat). “Alison”, meanwhile, was a soulful ballad about infidelity that Costello claims contains a secret homage to the Detroit Spinners (and also gave the record it’s name) and “(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” is pure pop bliss with a sour interior.
My Aim Is True was a stellar debut, a record that made Costello feel as though, after years of grubbing away in the underground, he’d become something of an overnight success. It would be the beginning of a run of similarly great albums that would carry the man and his burning cynicism into the mid-1980s.