100 Songs by Number

A few years ago I amused myself by creating some ‘themed’ playlists on Spotify (other streaming services are available). I created, for example, ‘A Week In Songs’ and ‘A Year In Songs’. My favourite was/is ‘A Rainbow of Songs’, using song titles with the colours from Infra-Red through to Ultra-Violet. It was a passing fancy, and one I’d forgotten about until a recent trip to Ireland with some buddies, during which we were trying to find music to play and I found, and played, the aforementioned ‘Rainbow’.

When I got home I decided to revisit these playlists and realised that in making them, I’d stumbled across some undiscovered gems.  This was because I didn’t have, in my head, a list of songs that matched the criteria: though simple (the songs needed to have the day/month/colour in the title, with no other day/month/colour mentioned in that title) I simply didn’t know a song which had ultra-violet in the title.

And so, while playing them again, I realised what a voyage of discovery they had been; lists framed by the familiar – like A Week In Songs – but peppered with the unearthed. Hearing again Friday In Paris by The Strange Boys was thoroughly enjoyable. I’d forgotten it altogether, so in effect I rediscovered it all over again, the thrill of discovery rediscovered. It sounds like the love child of Ronnie Lane and Bob Dylan, 2 minutes and 17 seconds of thinking ‘Why did I not know this?’ and ‘How could I have forgotten I knew this?’

So… Inspired, and in the words of those who envy my early retired status, having ‘too much time on my hands’, I decided to embark on another list.  This was going to be a real challenge though, not 7 days (7 songs), or 9 colours (9 songs) or 12 months (you’re ahead of me here aren’t you?). No, this was going to be songs by number, from 1-100. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

The criteria were simple again, but as I was to find, demandingly restrictive at times. The title, of course, needed to mention the number.  It had to be a cardinal, not ordinal number, and no other number could be in the title. If that sounds easy, you should try it, and see how many songs you have to put a dust cover over, to use perhaps in some other list. No 20th Century Boy’ by T-Rex, because that’s an ordinal number, and no Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 by Bob Dylan, because that’s got two numbers in the title. Sigh.

Once again, there was something of a framework, some songs I wanted in there without having to give too much thought to it. I won’t list them all, but here’s a small selection:

36” High by Nick Lowe, was pretty much the first song I chose. I love Nick Lowe, a simply marvellous song writer.  This song, from the 1977 dually titled Jesus of Cool (or Pure Pop For Now People if you’re sensitive) just had to be in there.  There’s a whole other article to be written about that album, coming as it did, smack bang in the middle of the punk era, full of lush musicianship and erudite lyrics and yet highly acclaimed. Another time perhaps.

I put in 48 Hours by The Clash, simply because I had 100 songs to play with, and The Greatest Rock Band In The World Ever had to be in there somewhere. (Not 48 Crash by Suzi Quatro as Kev guessed, good guess though it was.)

There’s One by Mary J Blige. I’m not a fan of hers, having pitched my tent on the site marked ‘Indifferent’, nor (anymore) a fan of U2.  I do, however, think this is a terrific song about the destructive nature of a relationship in its death throes. It just needs a better singer than God’s Boss to sing it.*

Yes, I know, U2 make an appearance at 40. Let me explain. Once upon a moon, a friend of mine tried to endear me to U2 (and in those early days, he was successful). He also introduced me to a lad who became one of my dearest friends.  The new friend played in a band, and I used to go see them every Saturday night. Although a talented pianist, he actually drummed for the band. They wrote their own songs and were quite good, in an ’80s sort of way. However, for arcane reasons they always ended their shows with U2’s 40. The venue was a cellar under a pub, and it would be filled with the sound of the audience singing the refrain, long after the band had left the stage.

Sadly, the first of these two friends died last year, and the second, in his early 50s, has dementia. I visited him in New Zealand in July, and although he’s still the same old (very funny) guy, it’s sad to think that his immense talents are going from him. I can still picture him, looking at me over his tom-toms, with a sheepish grin and rolling eyes because he knew they were way better than a U2 covers/tribute band. 40 reminds me of them both. So there.

But… Making these lists is really about finding music you’ve not heard. It’s trawling through songs that meet the criteria, and finding, well, mostly dross to be honest. I would like to say it was a labour of love, but at times it was just labour. Labouriously laboursome.  (Spellchecker doesn’t like those two words. It can fuck off. In a fuckly way. It doesn’t like ‘fuckly’ either.)

The thing is though, making a list of this length means you get so far that you can’t stop, but boy, is it difficult to find a meritorious (oh, you like that, spellchecker?) song? There are, inevitably then, some ‘fillers’ because I couldn’t find a good song (number 84 for example). Yet there are those discoveries that ultimately made the challenge worthwhile. Four Women by Nina Simone, I’m embarrassed to say I’d never heard of. That alone made the venture a satisfying one.  Then there’s a very interesting version of 7 Nation Army by someone called Zella Day (no, me neither).

So. There’s the DMA’s (at 37), The Pine Box Boys (56), Hans Olson (65), The National (90) and many others, all artists I’d never heard of. Not to mention the many other artists and songs I listened to and rejected. Once finished, I spent a couple of days playing it through, and I’m still enjoying it,  particularly hearing the unfamiliar; this is what loving music is about, the thrill of the new, planting songs in your memory, making them, well, familiar.

Have a listen.   Take your time though.  No one is suggesting you have to listen to it all in go, but let me share my voyage of discovery with you and maybe you’ll make some discoveries too.

Or make a list.  Go on…

*Yes, I’m well aware that Johnny Cash did an excellent version of One, but he already makes two appearances in the list.

Danny Jones

The Waterboys: Out Of All This Blue

Once upon a long ago, I travelled from Swansea to Birmingham to see a much talked-about, but as yet not-really-broken-through band by the name of U2. (Before I go on, I feel I must metaphorically snap my fingers and get you back in the room, because I’m sure you may be are stuck on several things in that opening sentence. None are relevant. Stop it. Stopped? Good. Can I continue?)

Over time and many gigs, I’ve learned to pay attention to the support act, ever since I saw an unknown Squeeze play bottom of the bill behind Radio Stars and Eddie and the Hot Rods back in ’77.  This particular night was another when the magic was spun again, the unknown hopefuls this time an outfit called The Waterboys, and they utterly owned the stage.  They were big, soulful, mellifluous, shouty and captivating. In fairness, U2, who had yet to invent the Blues and for whom Bono was yet to declare himself, if only tacitly, as bigger than Jesus, were actually hugely entertaining. But it was the raggedly ragamuffin bunch of openers that left me restless and wanting more. Shortly thereafter, they found themselves elevated, or demoted depending on how you view these things, to being mentioned in the same breath as U2, as well as Big Country and Simple Minds. It was the era of the 80s’ ‘Big Music’, a label which itself came from an album track (and single release) from The Waterboys’ 1984 album A Pagan Place.

The Waterboys were/are, in essence, Mike Scott and whichever musicians he has around him at any given time.  However, while he is naturally the greatest influence on the band’s sound and direction, he has never been fool enough to ignore the strengths of those he chooses to have as companions. The majestic keyboard sound of Karl Wallinger (who was to write and record She’s The One with his band World Party, later a hit for Robbie Williams) and the subtler saxophone of Anthony Thistlethwaite (long since a journeyman with The Saw Doctors) created a far more interesting framework for Scott’s literary and Celtic songwriting than was evident in the other ‘Big Music’ groups. And perhaps the greatest influence was the addition of Steve Wickham in 1985: a folk-orientated fiddle player, his contribution led to the ‘second era’ of The Waterboys sound, bringing a sweeping folk feel to the rock’n’roll that lasted for several years.

A brief return to a more rock-driven sound was followed by the dissolution of the band and a solo career from Scott. Rekindling the Waterboys’ brand, and with Wickham rejoining, a more experimental sound – more informed by ‘alternative music’ – laid the foundation for the most recent incarnation of the band, as heard on the 2015 album ‘Modern Blues’ and now on this, the magnum opus of ‘Out of All This Blue’.

The DNA here is recognisable, but evolution has helped build a fitter, stronger animal altogether. This work doesn’t ever sit neatly in a category, it’s not ‘Big Music’, it’s not ‘Celtic-folk’ and it’s not ‘alternative music’. Nor is it all of these somehow melded together: it’s something quite different, something that could come only from the building blocks of the past. There is the same literary lyricism, the same heart-baring soulful words from Scott, that as usual reward close listening, but they are wrapped in an eclectic, fuzzy, hip-hop (yes, hip-hop), funky blanket that will have you hypnotised, melting into it’s warm loveliness, and before you know it, wanting to get up and snake and sway your hips. (Dancing? To a Waterboys album? Whatever next?)

Out Of All This Blue is an album that works as a whole, as a throbbing, bopping, hopeful, exposing piece of art that embraces and provokes. I have my favourite tracks: you’ll have yours. Give it a try, maybe sinking first into If The Answer Is Yeah. But if that doesn’t warm you, just immerse yourself in New York I Love You, or Girl In A Kayak: and then float away…

Growing Up With Brian Wilson…

50 Years since Heroes & Villains

The Beach Boys: It’s there in the name isn’t it? Beach. Boys. Even if you didn’t know their music you would immediately conjure up an image of young lads spending carefree days in the surf and playing cheerfully on the sand… and singing about it. And, despite the fact that, as we all know, only one of them actually embraced surfing as a pastime, their songs have that veneer of bright breeziness, of untroubled blithe days of youth, sun and beach life.

You don’t need to look too far, though, to recognise that there was much more to the world they both created and the world in which they found they had to live. That there is complexity in the layered musical arrangements and harmonies is, of course, much recognised.  However, there is, I would argue, also complexity and maturity in the lyrics, a maturity that belies the youthfulness of the simple beach life that appears on the surface (or surf-face, if you will…)

I remember being fascinated by the multi-layered Good Vibrations, a song that combined the joys of adulation of the opposite sex, the rich warmth of summer and astonishing harmonies with non-linear yet mellifluous music.  But it was Heroes and Villains that really, truly astounded me. It’s sheer trickery — marvellous, wonderful musical trickery that leads the listener first here, and then there, twisting, stopping and re-starting.

Here there is not a hint of surf, of the beach, of hazy idleness: here is a tale of gun fights, culture clashes, small town rivalries and, ultimately, redemption. It is one of two songs that I am pleased to know – just because they are not easy to learn – all the words to, (the other being (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais). It is probably my favourite Beach Boys song (with the obvious exception of God Only Knows, which sits on a pedestal all of its own).

Elsewhere, there is a thread that persists in their lyrics, an already-yearning nostalgia for the time they were living in, a looking back even before it had passed. A fundamental anxiety about what life would be like once these responsibility-free, untroubled days were over and middle-age (as good — or bad — as old age to the youngsters they were then) had settled upon them.

Caroline, No, for example, has always struck me as incredibly poignant, a young man seeing the girl he once loved, now older and as lost to him as his youth, and wondering ‘Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know?’ The young writers (Brian Wilson and Tony Asher, 23 and 25 respectively) were recognising the passage of time and loss of innocence in a simple, yet telling couplet.  I remember hearing this as a 15-year-old and already dreading the girls I knew crossing the Rubicon into maturity, as evidenced by the cutting of their long hair, which itself seemed a metaphor for giving in to adulthood.

In Do It Again, there are similar nostalgic themes, written with prescience by Brian Wilson and, this time, Mike Love. ‘It’s automatic when I talk with old friends, the conversation turns girls we knew when their hair was soft and long…’ Again, the Beach Boys were turning the clock forward on themselves, and knowing, with wonderful sentimentality, that one day they’d be looking back on these times.

On a different but connected theme, In My Room, a melancholic, introverted ode to the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, of the inevitable angst that accompanies all the joyous liberation, gives us a scene most of us will recognise: the sanctuary of our room, where we put all our setbacks, our woes, our disappointments into perspective and lost ourselves within, well, ourselves. ‘In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears’. Which of us didn’t?

For every seemingly cheerfully hedonistic song, of the ‘right here, right now,’ fun filled and sun-warmed happiness type, there’s another which looks tentatively ahead and asks ‘where is this all leading?’ Take a look and listen (again) to When I Grow Up To Be A Man. That the future, with its responsibilities, its expectations and pressures, was even written about by a group famed for its surf sound, let alone done so with such tenderness and anxiety is a thing of wonder.  There’s an acceptance of the inevitability of growing up (old) that is both sad and yet optimistic, knowing it will be filled with other, new experiences.

I grew up by the sea, and spent a lot of my childhood and teens on the beach. I loved the Beach Boys sound; it really did form a soundtrack to those long days messing about with boards, girls, friends, of not really thinking beyond the next few hours. And yet..

And yet, it was the other songs, the thoughtful, ponderous, complicated, wistful songs that really struck me.  Even as I lived and loved those days, I was aware of how quickly they would be gone, how I would one day be remembering them with a warm fondness.  I lived them and remembered them at one and the same time. If that sounds depressingly sad, trust me, it wasn’t.  Without the Beach Boys telling me how, I would surely have enjoyed them less, rather than doubly so.

Go on, treat yourself, have a listen with fresh ears and be as nostalgic as you like.

Sir Gareth Edwards

Rugby Legend Sir Gareth Edwards. Born 70 Years Ago Today.

There’s an old joke about Gareth Edwards which tells of an England versus Wales match, during which, one by one, the Welsh team are sent off.  A Welsh fan who’s been removed for abusing the referee midway, is updated by an Englishman in the ground as he sits miserably outside. An hour in, only Gareth Edwards is left on the pitch for Wales. Suddenly, there’s a huge roar from the crowd, and the Welsh fan shouts “Gareth scored has he?”

Such was the position Edwards held in the hearts of Welshmen, a faith that, even by himself, he could beat anyone. In fact, he was held in similar esteem by rugby aficionados the world over. He has been deemed, consistently, the greatest player of all time.  By people who know about these things. So what made him so special?

He was one of those people who naturally excel at any sport that takes their fancy. He played for West Wales Youth Soccer (sic) team, signing with Swansea at the age of 16.  He excelled at gymnastics and athletics, and may have been famous as a hurdler had it not been for rugby — in 1966 he smashed the UK English Schools record for 200 yard hurdles, beating Alan Pascoe, who went on to be an Olympic silver medallist. Hell, he even set a British angling record in 1990, when he landed a pike weighing 45lb 6oz.  For those of you watching in metric, that’s huge!

Coming from a very ordinary family, his abilities saw him gain a sports scholarship to the renowned Millfield School in Somerset, which also produced another legendary Welsh player of the era, JPR Williams.

Undoubtedly, Edwards’ physicality made him a success on the rugby field, along with superb skills and incredible vision: it was as though he was somehow able to see the game from above, where to make the breaks. He was supremely dedicated too: in the amateur days ‘you just turn up and do your thing’ was the mantra into the face of which he flew.  Two of the many stories told about him underline both his own dedication and his cheeky confidence.

The first involves the legendary Barry John, already a star for Wales when Edwards got his first call up. John was visited by the nineteen-year-old Edwards, who wanted to practice the new partnership they were to forge.  Famously, John on that day told Edwards “you throw it, I’ll catch it”, as if to underline his own supreme confidence.

John puts a different spin on it, relating that it wasn’t like that at all. It was a cold, wet and muddy day, and, tiring of Edwards’ obsessive repetitions, he exasperatedly said “Look, you just throw it, I’ll catch it” when asked how he wanted the ball this time. Nevertheless, John soon moved to Cardiff so he could play week in, week out with Edwards.

After Edwards became the established Wales scrum-half, the Welsh forwards decided that they needed to have some idea where this will-o’-the-wisp had gone when they emerged from a scrum and tried to find him. A signal was needed, they decided, so they could follow, rather than look like helpless chickens. The flankers were Trefor Evans and Tommy David.  Evans played for Swansea, David for Pontypridd, so a simple code was used: If Edwards broke on Evans’ side he would shout a word beginning with ‘S’ and on David’s side, a word beginning with ‘P’.  The system worked beautifully in training, as Edwards kept it simple, (“sugar”, “pint”), the forwards managing to follow their talisman each time. However, at the first proper international match, Edwards picked up the ball and shouted “Psychiatrist!” Some say Evans and David are still looking around helplessly to this day.

You simply don’t get these stories, true or apocryphal, attached to lesser players, only true legends. Edwards’ feats are many; he became the youngest player to captain Wales (20), the most capped (53) and highest try scorer for Wales, records that were only broken during the professional era when there are far more matches played.

Edwards retired in 1978, aged 30. Nearly 40 years on, he is still regarded by many as the greatest player ever, despite more recent players perhaps having a claim: how many of those will be high on lists 40 years after their retirements?

He will be remembered for many feats on the rugby field (and off them), none more so than THAT try, scored against the All Blacks for the Barbarians in 1973.  So famous is it that you need only type ‘that try’ into Google to find it at the top of the searches.

For me though, I’ll always think of THAT OTHER TRY, scored just over a year earlier at the same ground, against Scotland. After scoring, drenched and muddied from head to foot, he looks exhausted rather than elated, and as he walks away he keeps looking back, as if he can’t believe what just happened himself.

Believe it Gareth. Because it was a truly wonderful try, as were they all.

Happy birthday Sir Gareth, thanks for the unbelievable memories.

About The Young Idea

The Jam’s In The City was released 40 years ago today

Once upon a long ago, I regularly played squash with The Jam’s first manager. Some even longer ago before that, I went to see The Jam in Port Talbot, South Wales, and caught only the encores, having tarried a while too long in the pub. Sometime after that missed gig, and certainly during the time I was playing squash with the ex-manager, I helped a friend move in to his new house in Woking. The second bedroom had a wall covered in graffiti and various mod references, including a beautifully realised ‘The Who’ logo, complete with RAF roundel and the arrow on the ‘o’. It turned out that this was Rick Buckler’s (drummer with The Jam) parent’s house, and this had been Rick’s bedroom. Oh yes – and I bought the novelty single Henry The Wasp by The Highliners because I thought it was drolly amusing. Rick Buckler plays drums with them.

The above is not, you may be forgiven for thinking, my attempt at combining ‘Would I Lie To You?’ with ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, because the truth is… it’s all true. Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking, but so what?

But soft, the 29th of April 1977 marks the day on which The Jam’s first single, In The City was released. It shot to number 40 in the, um, top 40, bouncing back off it like a gymnast on a trampoline… Not the greatest of (up)starts, but it did herald a string of eighteen top 40 hits, including this first one, over the next 5 years, with four reaching Number 1 at a time when such positions (and charts for that matter) mattered.

For me, In The City bears the hallmarks of everything I loved about The Jam: crisp, loud, driving, urgent. Bruce Foxton’s bass is right out front in the mix, the drums trampling over everything like a herd of organised wildebeest, and Paul Weller’s spitting his angry young man vocals. It was a formula that more or less sustained their recorded output – at least as far as the singles went – over their chart career, only the final two (The Bitterest Pill and Beat Surrender) beginning to hint at the direction Weller was to go in, influences of jazz and soul penetrating the hitherto solid punk-filtered mod-era sound that was the signature of The Jam.

I like In The City. A lot. Unlike many debut singles, it has the full and fulsome sound that would define the band. It hit the ground running, stating from the off that this was the sound and attitude to expect. So many debut singles sound weak, thin and under-produced. Not In The City, which comes at you like a train out of a tunnel and leaves you breathless in its slipstream.

From here, single after single did the same, whilst their albums grew more complex and technically accomplished without ever losing their power. Calling it a day at Weller’s behest and to the chagrin of Foxton and Buckler, they left at the top, their last album The Gift being an enormous commercial and critical hit and their last single another Number 1.

Few bands have so obviously left a hole that will never be filled; Weller has stated he would only reform The Jam if his children were destitute, so there’s more chance of finding rocking horse manure on the moon. Other bands, even The Beatles before the death of John Lennon, leave the faint whiff of hope, like the scent of perfume lingering in a recently vacated dressing-room. Even The Police and The Sex Pistols reformed for goodness sake! Not The Jam though, not The Jam.

Ah, but what if they did? Take a look at all those top 40 hits and you know that they could destroy us by just playing them from first to last. What a gig it would be: and I’d be bloody certain to get out of the pub and in to the venue in time to hear those first crashing guitar chords of In The City.


From our guest writer, Danny JonesDanny entered the world at the start of the 1960s. They say if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. Despite being there, he has only the vaguest memories. He certainly didn’t experience the much talked about sexual freedom (his junior school was rather forbidding in that regard) and wasn’t even one of the twenty or so ‘5th Beatles’. Now retired from the rat race, since the rats began to overtake him, he spends his time attempting to look busy for his still rat-racing wife. She’s not fooled. Danny’s blog is currently moving and can be found somewhere between here and here.

Less Than Zero Means Everything

Elvis Costello’s début single, Less Than Zero, was released 40 years ago today

The chief weapon of punk rock was abrasive rebellion: that and political sensibility… Its two weapons were… Amongst punk’s weaponry were such diverse elements as….

Sorry…. Monty Python’s lawyers have been on to me and unless I cease and desist this they will despatch the Piranha Brothers to nail my head to a coffee table….

If you canvassed a dozen people of a certain age, those in their mid to late teens in 1977 say, and asked them what punk meant, you’d get a range of answers and have no clearer idea than you had before you asked. Abrasive rebellion, political sensibility and a bonded affinity with reggae might be some of the themes commonly mentioned. They’d be mine anyway.

It’s far too easy and glib to think that punk was the crashing wave that swept aside bloated and pompous rock music. It didn’t. It isn’t true with the benefit of historical perspective, nor was it true then. Take a look at the top 40 for the beginning of 1977 and you’ll find no evidence of this brash new uprising. Instead you’ll find the likes of David Soul, 10cc, Showaddywaddy, Leo Sayer, Abba, Bread and Chicago. Skip to the final chart of the year and you’ll find Wings at number one with (the bloated and pompous) Mull of Kintyre, The Floral Dance at number 2 and the Bee Gees at 3. Further down you’ll find, oh, wait, look… David Soul, Showaddywaddy and Abba.

There is very little presence of what you might call ‘punk’, aside from John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett with Really Free at number 29, The Boomtown Rats at 16 and, right above them, a callow young chap called Elvis Costello. 1977 was, of course, the year Elvis Presley died; Elvis is dead, long live Elvis.

Purists will argue to the point of exhaustion about who were the ‘proper’ punks, and it is, in my view, reasonable to argue that many of the artists who were thus labelled were actually just budding bands or singers trying to break through, who were young and fresh and whose sartorial and coiffure aberrations, eschewing flared trousers and having short hair, placed them in this new category in the eye of the media, and thus the public, regardless of having a punk soul. The Boomtown Rats? Wannabe pop stars whose lead singer was already 26. John Otway? He was aged 25 and having difficulty troubling the charts since 1972. Not exactly the rampaging youth associated with generational warfare.

Elvis Costello though, was only 22 when he released his first single and 23 when he enjoyed his first success with Watching the Detectives. A suit- and tie-wearing bespectacled singer is perhaps more reminiscent of ’50s rock and roll (Buddy Holly) than ’70s punk, but Costello was in fact trading on some the hallmarks of the ‘weapons’ mentioned above: he was a spiky and uncompromising character, he adopted and adapted reggae music to underpin his own and, perhaps most significantly, he had something – a lot – to say. Watching the Detectives was described by Rolling Stone as “a clever but furious burst of cynicism”. Those elements of ‘abrasive rebellion, political sensibility and a bonded affinity with reggae’ are there to be seen. True, nobody did these better than The Clash, but the early Elvis Costello sends its blood roaring through similar veins.

His first single, Less Than Zero, is 40 years old on March 25th. Sinking from view with barely a trace it was as good a single as any to come out of the early days of punk rock. In 1977 there was much to be rebellious about if you were a teenager. Firstly, there was fashion, which had become even more exaggerated than music, with collars and ties wider than the English Channel, and flared trousers and jeans ridiculously, well, flared. Then there was the hair… The once wild long hair of the hippies had morphed into beautifully blow dried tresses (see Justin Hayward or any of the blokes out of Guys and Dolls). A young man with a skinny suit and tie and short hair was actually much more of rebellion than the photographs of Elvis Costello appear to us now.

And of course, there was political unrest: “Labour Isn’t Working”. There was the growing belief that foreigners were taking ‘our’ jobs, scrounging benefits, occupying homes that the ‘British’ couldn’t get. The National Front, fronted in the main by scary-looking skinheads (terribly British) was gaining a following and there was an ugly backlash at the black and Asian communities.

A week before Elvis Costello’s debut single, The Clash released theirs – White Riot. In suggesting that ‘black’ people already had cause enough to be angry, they advocated ‘white’ people also finding a worthy cause to get up and shout about. There was plenty for both it seemed at the time, and the song seemed to reflect the disaffection felt by a generation who wanted change, who didn’t like the direction society was headed in, and wanted to say something about it.

Less Than Zero isn’t remembered in the way that White Riot is, but it too was an angry riposte to the growing trend to the political right, a response, in fact, to seeing Oswald Moseley, leader in the 1930s of the British Fascist movement being interviewed on television. It may not be the finest song to come from the punk canon, probably not even from Costello’s. It is though, hugely significant. Look at those chart entries mentioned above. Then look at what this young man was saying, or trying to say.

Where today, as once again the political right gains ground, ‘foreigners’ are scapegoated and provincialism is on the rise, are the angry young voices rebelling through music? I would argue these are even more scary times than 1977: at least then we didn’t have world leaders being the ones so blatantly openly driving the unrest. Nobody is stepping forward to use music as the tool of opposition, of rebellion, of rage.

Punk didn’t change the world, it probably didn’t even really change music, but, for one brief, shining moment it did hold up a flaming mirror and say ‘No! We’re not having this!’ Elvis Costello and Less Than Zero deserve to be recognised and remembered for not merely following a trend, but kick starting it.


From our guest writer, Danny JonesDanny entered the world at the start of the 60s. They say if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. Despite being there, he has only the vaguest memories so it must be true. He certainly didn’t experience the much talked about sexual freedom (his junior school was rather forbidding in that regard) and wasn’t even one of the 20 or so ‘5th Beatles’. Now retired from the rat race, since the rats began to overtake him, he spends his time attempting to look busy for his still rat racing wife. She’s not fooled. Danny’s blog is currently moving and can be found somewhere between here and here.