Tag Archives: Johnny Rotten

Under The Radar: Sex Pistols Tribute

Rip it. Rip it good.

 

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? 

That classic Johnny Rotten line could potentially come to mind every time you give a tribute album a shot, although I am probably more tolerant than most. The problems usually range from labels using the concept as an exercise to produce a roster sampler (certainly makes accounting easier!), so you’re at the mercy of their acumen in selecting not only the artist to fete but the bands they sign. Others are major label attempts saddled by the ridiculous need to have name artists as participants. Not to slag the more successful bands, but sometimes they are more clueless than the label’s Executive Producer – you know, the nutjob who thought it as a good idea to match artist and song in the first place. 

More often than not, the greater successes spring from a smaller label; one that either has or collaborates with a visionary who sees the project as a labor of love and respect. Having the connections to rope in some worthy artists never hurts, of course, especially since these things do not sell well. Which also explains why ninety-five percent of them will sail under your radar

While I was refiling some albums this weekend I came across a doozie from a decade ago – hard to miss with an electric cover like that. Certainly not a perfect one, but if you’re going to blast the rust off an old year and start fresh, what better torch to blaze than The Sex Pistols? This review originally ran in PopMatters

 

Seventeen (no pun) songs in 50 minutes—that’s about three minutes per and that’s just about perfect. Which is what this concept is, too; from the drop-dead look and feel of the cover art to the selection of some of the more raucous punk bands to participate. Besides paying props to the classic Never Mind the Bollocks album, additional cuts include cuts from singles and The Great Rock and Roll Swindle. Some of the tracks nail the energy and spirit on the head while others…oh hell, it’s a tribute record, you know the drill. 

Kicking off the disc is The Booked’s version of “Holidays in the Sun”, absolutely relentless and everything you would hope to get from each interpretation. Ditto “No Feelings” from The Generators; The Boils’ amped up version (really!) of “Submission” and especially Road Rage with “EMI.” Road Rage’s drummer Victicious (you’ve gotta love that!) sounds like he’s shooting off cannon blasts, while guitarist Gav shreds on guitar. “Friggin’ in the Riggin,” the Sex Pistols’ John Valby-ish performance from Swindle, is actually a worthy inclusion thanks to Showcase Showdown’s spirited take. The two biggest Sex Pistols tracks (“God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant”) get decent bar band treatment, but aren’t as strong as they could be. I mean, it’s only three chords…oh, never mind, I’m just a lazy sod. 

When the bands do swing and miss—like L.E.S. Stitches’ disappointingly over-the-top try on “Bodies”—it’s for much the same reason so many hard rock bands suck. They take themselves too seriously! When it’s all bombast and no sense of humor, it’s just (as Johnny Rotten would say) booorrrinngggg! Actually, this record makes you realize just what an emotive vocalist Rotten was, especially when inferior vocalists (Blanks 77) trip over themselves. But everyone does rip it up, even when the drummer in Submachine sounds like he’s broken everything but his snare. 

Overall though, this is a long overdue CD—kudos to Radical for a solid effort! And labels, take note—tasks like spending some time on clever artwork, listing all the tracks with credits and providing information (names, contact numbers, addresses) for all the bands involved should be mandatory. 

LISTEN 

One and done

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Nankering (Again) with the Rolling Stones

 

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

I’ll admit it. I read a lot of rock books, most of which suck. There are exceptions, of course;  Jacob Slichter of Semisonic wrote a beauty, one of the most well-written books about a band being chewed up by the machinery, and Ian McLagan’s is a fascinating peek into the world of two of my favorite bands and a scene I wish I could have been a part of. Even Johnny Rotten has penned a fascinating tome. But there are far too many that just suck out loud. Putrid. Filthy. Worthless. Disgusting.

Which brings me to the topic of James Phelge and his brilliant book about the early years of The Rolling Stones.

I wrote about this book eight years ago when I first read it. Tonight, by a strange coincidence, I happened to get an email from Old Nanker himself. Kismet? Serendipity? Deadline? Pick your reason, but I think you need to hear about this book, after which I hope you run right out and buy it.

jones-nankering

James Phelge roomed – in absolute squalor – with Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards for over a year starting in 1963. He’s also the “Phelge” from “Nanker- Phelge“, the pseudonym you’ll find credited with writing several of the early Stones songs. When you consider that “nankering” meant making a disgusting face by upturning your nostrils and pulling your eyelids down while making inhuman noises, it makes sense that it is aligned with Phelge, whom Keith calls “absolutely the most disgusting human being you ever met.” Not much of a sales pitch, is it?

But Nankering is one of the most honest, well-written glimpses behind the rock curtain I’ve ever read, and it’s not just because the author was truly an insider to the subject. Phelge is a great storyteller, but wisely never tries to make himself the center of attention, even when the anecdote focuses upon around him. Unlike most hack rock books, Phelge never tries to psychoanalyze others’ unspoken thoughts, recount transcripts of events he was not privy to, or repaint the past using future events. Instead, his unselfish style places you into the scene as a fly on the wall – as disgusting as the floor in this flat – and allows you to savor the moment as an unbiased observer.

You learn that Bill Wyman was never an early favorite, sense when Mick started to make his moves against Brian, and pity Ian Stewart’s ouster from the band, all calculated moves made by young men who wanted success at any cost. Phelge never really takes sides, preferring to let the events speak for themselves; they speak volumes. So do his vivid descriptions of their surroundings, from the dilapidated chip shops and tiny diners to the scum-filled sinks and hallways of their abysmal flat. It’s difficult to put the book down once you start reading it.

Although the book covers only a short period of time, it’s a critical juncture in the band’s history, tracing their leanest years. The Beatles transform from contemporaries to idols and then back to contemporaries as the Stones find their earliest success. The stories about practical jokes played on the other housemates are hilarious, but Phelge also manages to communicate the quiet desperation of the band who skirted with implosion so many times. After sifting through so many horrible tomes written by chauffeurs, drug dealers and security guards trying to stretch their fifteen minutes of association into a tell-all novel, what a refreshing change it is to see a writer not try to make himself the star of the book.

Phelge’s foreword says it all: “If your name is John Grisham or Robert Ludlum, this is what writing is all about, not that tacky crap about lawyers and spies that you two turn out. So eat shit.”

I’d love to hang out with James Phelge. I just wouldn’t want him as my roommate.

 

(The article above was originally published in Cosmik Debris)

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