Lee Hazlewood – “You Look Like a Lady”
Tom Jones – “Stop Breakin’ My Heart”
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour – “Gold Rush Part 1 / Dollars In the Night / Gold Rush Part 2″
Thee Mighty Caesars – “69 Seconds”
Television Personalities – “I Was a Mod Before You Was a Mod”
Otis Spann – “I’m Ready”
Liz Brady – “Palladium”
Cal Tjader – “Soul Motion”
The Ups and Downs – “In the Shadows”
The Jetset – “The Man Who Lives Upstairs”
Long Tall Shorty – “Falling For You”
Neils Children – “Get Away From Me, Now”
The Chantalles – “I Want That Boy”
Booker T & the MG’s – “Hang ‘Em High”
Manual Scan – “New Difference”
Makin’ Time = “Honey (Fast version)”
Jacques Dutronc – “les Cactus”
Style Council – “The Whole Point of No Return”
Tom Waits – “More Than Rain”
I know what you’re thinking and nope, sorry, Hazlewood released the album that one is on after demoustaching. I know, I know, it seems wrong to me, too, Lee hazlewood without a mustache, but it happened and we don’t talk about it.
Let me be clear: By standards of the subculture as it was, Lee & Nancy were not Mod —but because the only way to define “Mod music” is thusly:
Music played by people who self-identify with the Mod subculture
Music widely enjoyed by people who identify with the Mod subculture
…it simply cannot be denied that Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra have gained some cred over the years. Granted, this is not without reason.
It’s argueable that in 1966, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” was kind of an ironic anthem amongst Carnaby Street girls and American youthquakers, outfitting themselves in go-go boots. Hell, one of the earliest covers was by The Artwoods (also released in ’66), and three years later, Symarip released the first altered version on Skinhead Moonstomp. Written and produced in its original version by Lee Hazlewood, and written for Nancy Sinatra, whom he suggested to sing it as if she were “a sixteen-year-old girl who fucks truck drivers” (for the curious, Nancy was twenty-six, at the time it was released), it’s clear the song has a long history not only as a traditional 1960s pop standard, but also as a kitschy favourite amongst Mods and Skinheads. It is thus only logical that, at some point in the 1980s or ’90s revivals, people would get interested in other work written by Lee Hazlewood, especially works performed with Nancy Sinatra.
It’s hard to categorise Lee Hazlewood’s music, as a whole — he wrote and performed but pop and country music, and was probably one of the first musicians to write music that would later be called “alternative country” —which pretty much seems to be a sort of catch-all phrase meaning approximately “quirky rock or pop music with a strong country or folk vibe to it” and has been applied to people and bands as diverse as Cracker, k.d. lang, Wilco, Murder By Death (???), Mumford & Sons, Amy Rigby (I highly recommend Diary of a Mod Housewife), Holly Golightly, and others. I’m pretty sure I once even saw the term applied to Elvis Costello, but I’d rather not think about that. I kind of wince at the notion of people referring to his music as “Cowboy Psychedelia”, because with possible exception of “Some Velvet Morning”, his music doesn’t really fit any kind of “psychedelic” definitions.
Well, maybe “Big Red Balloon” touches on some of those “trippy” elements, too:
While Nancy, with and without Lee, did have a steady stream of hit singles in the 1960s, most of her career was a staple of the “Beautiful Music” format radio —which today would be “Soft Adult Contemporary”, basically a middle-of-the-road, wholly inoffensive format that takes few (if any) risks, musically, and its selections are chosen to appeal to adults over thirty (in the 1960s –the current MOR formats aim to appeal to the 50+ crowd).
Upon examination of Hazlewood’s music compared to other Beautiful Music standards of the 1960s, it’s really hard to imagine how he got relegated to such a format, leaving a fair amount of his music without Nancy fairly obscure (most of his own records never charted, and if he hadn’t already been a successful songwriter, he would easily be described as an unappreciated genius.
Nancy Sinatra herself was also far from a hit factory. While she did maintain a string of char “hits”, most of these settled between numbers twenty and forty-five on any given Billboard chart for that year. The now-iconic “Sand” from the record Nancy & Lee peaked at #107 on the US Billboard, and only broke the Top 20 in Australia. The longevity of her popularity amongst the underground subcultures seems to rest on the fact that she’s one of those singers who was too cool to be square, but too square to be cool. Sure, she had a couple odd television specials, which might lead one to think that she was a major performer of the time, but keep in mind: The 1960s was before rock-n-roll was considered anything more than a gimmick, commercially. Sure, a few gutsy adverts used rhythm & blues-infused rock music in a jingle or two, but these were very few and far-between. Sure, rock music did appallingly well in the charts, when compared to traditional pop musicians, but but the corporate world was still a bunch of old men refusing to budge on anything that might make the company seem less old-fashioned.
If you’ve seen Mad Men, ignore the fact that there are all these spectacular bouffants and bullet bras, and it makes you want to go out and buy a tube of Brylcreem. Think about it and remember all the various scenes where Don Draper is practically running into walls because jackasses older then himself are still treating his successful adverts as a fluke, or how often Peggy or Pete bite their tongues because while their ideas are clearly innovative and eye-catching, some white-haired jackass in a suit doesn’t quite get it and wants them to basically make the same ad the previous agency did, only “new”, somehow. This is why Nancy Sinatra and other people who barely sold records in the 1960s got some television specials: They were young-enough and just quirky enough to appeal to teenagers, uni students, and the general under-thirty crowd; they were also considered widely “safe” and “inoffensive” enough for ma and dad and grandma, and doc boy to be entertained, as well. Her recording of the Lee Hazlewood-penned “Sugar Town” is clearly a revival of 1940s-styled post-swing vocal pop reminiscent of The Andrews Sisters or similar.
…but then, speaking of “Sugar Town”, Hazlewood often mentioned later in life that the song was about LSD —that he went to some club in Los Angeles, and these younger people had lined up some sugarcubes, and applied something to them with an eyedropper. Since he avoided drugs, he wasn’t sure what they were doing, so he asked one of them, and was told “it’s LSD, man, a real sugar town”. He claimed to have intentionally dumbed-down the song with inane lyrics so that the kids would be certain as to what it was about (even though he intentionally avoided divulging its true meaning, at the time), but adults, especially those running the record company, would be none the wiser. Though “Sugar Town” only peaked at #5 on Billboard’s main US and UK charts, it was a #1 on the US Adult Contemporary chart in 1967. A lot of his other songs could also have an intentional double meaning like that, illustrating just how clever he was, especially when compared to other artists derisively lumped into the “MOR [Middle of the Road] pop” category, named such for its apparent simplicity and inoffensiveness. While he certainly entertained the tragically kitschy pop genre of Neil Diamond and others, his aspirations as a lyricist were clearly subversive enough to rival the Factory hangers-on numbly nodding along with The Velvet Underground.
By 1977, Hazlewood retired from music for a time, and Nancy Sinatra semi-retired in the late 1970s, stating she wanted to focus on motherhood for a bit, and released a country record with Mel Tillis in 1981, being pretty much the bulk of her activity until 1995, when she jump-started a new career with a spread in Playboy at the age of 54. Nancy is still with us, but Lee passed off this mortal coil in 2007, after a brief career relaunch and several years battling cancer. Maybe they didn’t get much cred amongst the Mods and Youthquakers in the mid-1960s, but they certainly have earned it since.
So, I had originally planned a treasury that’s been in my drafts for longer, titled “A Very British phenomenon”, but then Middleton had to go and take all my birthday Twitter attention away from me. So then I had half a mind to go into PhotoShop and crudely draw a crown over Kate Beaton’s “Shut Up About Babies” t-shirt, and have that be my “Spot On Etsy” for the day.
…but I’m over my urge to throw a tantrum, now, and I bring you this fine Etsy Treasury I’ve created, “Summer Wine”:
The following badges have also been added to my on shop:
I also wanted to remind everyone that there are four copies of New Dance back in stock, AND, for the rest of this month, use the coupon code HAPPYBIRTHDAYRUADHAN for 16% off all purchases of $3 or more (before shipping).
I also wanted to acknowledge that yes, i HAVE neglected the newsletter, but I’m transitioning it to monthly rather than fortnightly, and wanted to take some time to reconsider the format. It *should* be ready to start back up in August.
I don’t apologise about my fondness for pop music in the Mod idiom. Pop Music seems to get a bit of a bad rep in the Mod scene, my guess because it’s a bigger hit with the girls and queerboys, creating an inherently feminine association, and while that’s perfectly acceptable for the ladies, Mod gents are expected to be… not all “macho”, but still less feminine than the womenfolk or apparently effeminate queer men. Unfortunately, plenty of the overculture’s prejudices gravitate into the subcultures, and only those conscious of this (who are usually those most directly affected by it) have the nerve to put those prejudices within the subculture under a microscope. But enough about that for a mo’.
So without further ado, my top picks for Mod-oriented and / or Mod-friendly Pop Music:
Dexys Midnight Runners
While their first singles, the albums Searching For the Young Soul Rebels and Don’t Stand Me Down, and the early compilation Geno, are indisputably soul or one form or another as is the reformed-as-simply-Dexys record, One Day I’m Going to Soar, the middle DMR LP, Too-Rye-Aye is incredibly pop-oriented, and one of the most sold pop records ever crafted. I’ve also credited DMR with very literally saving my life at one point, so even the more pop-oriented tunes from their first full-length record are very dear to me.
Pete Townshend’s solo work
The Empty Glass album was loved by critics for it’s strong and subversive pop-rock writing and performances, but hated just as much because of presumptions that Pete kept the best songs for himself, letting The Who’s record from the same year, Face Dances, suffer from weaker tunes, which Roger once claimed to have felt betrayed by. Pete said he did it that way for reasons (one important one being that he was afraid that Roger wouldn’t want to sing the homoerotic “Rogh Boys” as it was written, and Townshend wanted to protect the integrity of the lyrics). In 1983, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was more artistically-focused, when compared to Empty Glass, and this seemed further reflected in the companion film videotape release. In 1985, Townshend released the concept record and companion direct-to-video film White City: A Novel, that he’s described as essentially stand-alone, but as something that could, should the viewer want it to, function as a sequel to Quadrophenia, taking place about twenty years later from Quadrophenia, and featuring a lead male named “Jim”, who attends night school and lives in a council flat. He’s released amazing pop and rock under his own name, and anybody who considers themself a fan of The Who needs to check it out.
Blue Ox Babes
Due to lots of reasons — from poor timing to mental illness — The Blues Ox Babes didn’t ever got the break they deserved in the early 1980s. Even Kevin Rowland has since admitted that he didn’t have the idea for the “Celtic Soul” thing until listening to some home demos from Kevin “Al” Archer’s post-DMR project, and Too-Rye-Aye quickly overshadowed The BOBs first couple singles, getting their record, Apples and Oranges, shelved for over two decades. Their entire body of work (later compiled and issued as Apples & Oranges by Cherry Red records in 2007) is really strong and entertains every feature, at various times, that makes for excellent Mod-friendly pop music.
The Style Council
As The Mod Male says, there are many things that The Style Council did so very right, even if Weller took their sound in a direction that didn’t go over very well with The Jam’s most loyal fans and eventually matured The Style Council in ways that turned off that band’s own fans. I got into The Jam first, but since I discovered the music of The Style Council, I’ve preferred their music tenfold, since —I know that’s practically blasphemy, to some, but that’s just how it is. I’m a fem, what can I say? Speaking of, maybe I’m just that way, but TSC made some of the most homoerotic music videos, ever. I’m bloody pissed that YouTube seems to have pulled the uncut vid for “Long Hot Summer”, which is certainly their most blatantly homoerotic clip —of course, even what remains is still pretty high on that scale.
The Compact Organisation I’ve talked about this label before, and how Tot Taylor and Company had created some of the most perfect retro-1960s Mod-friendly pop music, ever. It’s hard for me to pick out one or two artists who’ve been associated with the label because in my opinion, every single one has been a winner, regardless of their relative success. Visually? From Mari Wilson’s signature beehive and Virna Lindt’s perfect blonde bob, to Cynthia Scott’s cat eve glasses and the clear homage to Georgie Fame that composes the cover of Tot Taylor’ Playtime LP, you can’t deny that the most memorable names on the label had the aesthetic down, and the music tended to confirm an understanding of the scene, more often than not, as well. Looking around at old photos from Revivalists in the early 1980s, also suggests that there was some relative popularity of the label amongst the Revivalist generation.
The Monochrome Set
Featuring ex-members of Adam and the Ants, Andy Warren and Lester Square, this idiosyncratic post-punk group defied genre pigenholing, while incorporating a lot of 1960s-influenced quirks, and cross-genre pop elements. Their sound evolved over time and reunions, but everything was consistently good and it was always a clear growth and maturation that went well with the band’s previous offerings, rather than detoured off into a sort of “combo mid-life crisis”. (I’ve selected three songs for The Monochrome Set to illustrate this maturation.)
Madness & Suggs
Their earliest records are more ska than pop, but they always dabbled in pop music. Always. Don’t deny it; every ska purist admits it (and well, almost anyone who realises that No Doubt stopped being even ska-punk after Gwen Stefani took over for her brother), and even they often admit to liking Madness. And they clearly got poppier as they went on. When Suggs attempted a solo career, he clearly went in a synth-pop direction that embraced a Mod-friendly aural aesthetic with notes of ska, reggae, and even clear influence in the then-vibrant acid jazz scene throughout.
As a complete aside, I don’t know why, but I always got the impression that these men listen to a LOT of DEVO. I don’t know why I get that impression, but I’m saying so now, cos I can’t think of a more appropriate way to bring it up.
Probably the kitschiest of all 1980s retropop groups, they also have a lot of the most solid pop songs. All of their singles are pretty cracking, and every song is made for dancing. Every. Single. Song. Not just the singles. but every song. And Kate Pierson can pony like no-one’s business. They’ve always had a strong understanding of the 1960s sounds, and a genuine, unironic love of kitsch culture, mix that with an inherently queerpunk sensibility and post-punk musical relevance that manages to remain ineffably fresh-sounding, in spite of the fact that their first two records are now about thirty-five years old. While some who were part of the Mod Revival maintain that the Sixties retro scene was different and barely had any overlap, that doesn’t really hold anymore, and regardless, not everyone “who was there” agrees. Seriously, kids, ask five people “who were there”, you’ll get ten different answers.
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood
Contrary to common assumption amongst a lot of kids on the Internet or self-professed “originals” who didn’t get into Modernism until after they caught their first episodes of Ready Steady Go!, not everything out of the 1960s is related to the Mod subculture. In fact, I’d wager that even most of the instances from the Sixties wherein something is referred to as “mod” is just using an advertising buzzword of the day, much like how from 1979 and 1983, just about any band with a synthesiser or just a pop-punk sound was called “New Wave”, when the New Wave scene (or positive punk, or other regional terms) maintained itself as something distinct that, at most, was barely related to maybe 80% (or more) of that which got referred to as “new wave” amongst the music press (hell, at one point, Television was “new wave”, Elvis Costello was “new wave”, Roxy Music was “new wave”, and in the States The Jam was, I shit you not, referred to as “new wave”). So needless to say, Nancy and Lee were not Mods. On the back of Nancy’s Sugar record, Lee Hazlewood affectionately describes her saying “She’s so square she can get high on a glass of water.” They had nothing to do with Mod. Lee Halewood wrote a lot of songs, mostly influenced by country music or Leonard Cohen’s school of neo-folk and most of it retroactively genred as English Baroque, because a lot of it shared clear similarities. Aside from her much-covered single, “These Boots (Are Made For Walking)” (which has retroactively become sort of a Mod girl anthem), the pair produced a tonne of singles that have since gained cred, in spite of being painfully square at the time. A lot of their best work is also pretty downtempo, so you’ll probably only ever hear a few things in rotation at clubs, but it’s very lounge oriented.
Possibly the seminal Los Angeles 1980s girl group, and sort of indirectly born of seminal LA hardcore punk group The Germs (Belinda Carslile was drummer for the latter for maybe a weekend, and after used to introduce them onstage at their earliest concerts). Their name certainly harkened to the 1960s cage dancers at some of the edgier nightclubs, and musically, they sounded like the artistic heiresses of The Breakaways. A few staples from the 1960s were a regular part of their sets, and they certainly knew how to work Sixties retro-kitsch with a modern flair, even if only on the album covers. Sure, they looked very painfully 1980s, from the spiky hair that now brings to mind a feminine take on Max Headroom, to the slash rouge that never flattered anyone’s features, to the baggy jumpers with hip-belts, but close your eyes — go ahead, do it. Now tell me they’re not the musical heiresses to those cute all-girl combos from the mid-1960s.
Best known as a comedienne and actress, she had a short-lived stint as a pop singer, specialising in cute, quirky, Sixties-styled retropop. Her gender-swapped version of Madness’ “My Girl” is in line with the tradition of turning “The Girl from Ipenema” into “The Boy from Ipenema” when performed by a woman (a tradition later flipped off by Amy Winehouse). “They Don’t Know” and “Breakaway” were also really underrated singles that demonstrate a clear love for pop music of the early 1960s, especially the girl group sound. The video for “They Don’t Know” ends on a sad note, but overall a lovely video, and she looks just adorable.
The Fun Boy Three
After Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding split from The Specials (but before Hall formed The Colourfield with Shale and Lyons from The Swinging Cats), The Fun Boy Three released two moody synthpop-based albums that stretched the limits of both synthpop and downtempo reggae, and made it really work. Occasionally cross-genre elements from the shoegaze and proto-gothic schools of post-punk were employed, and they still made it work. I’m convinced that there was nothing that The Fun Boy Three couldn’t make work, musically, if they attempted it, and I have their two very strong records to support this notion. Sure, they’re kind of responsible for putting Bananarama onto the world, but you know, I still think that Bananarama’s first two records, and most of the third, were pretty strong dance-oriented pop that does seem to maintain the spirit of the old girl groups, even if the musical aesthetic is vastly different from that normally accepted of girl groups at a Mod night.
The Police and Sting
You know how Madness’ sound, at least on record, got more pop-oriented as they band marched on? The Police turned that concept up to eleven going from a pop group obviously steeped in a strong reggae influence, to… I’m not sure what I’d call it, exactly, but it was pretty damned bland and their previous reggae-heavy sound was practically boiled out, with the odd remaining lipids of that sound occasionally surfacing. A lot of their later stuff, even I won’t listen to, but I really do appreciate the fact that Sting’s solo sound got more jazzy and soul-inspired for a period, and I generally like his post-Police work, even if there’s a lot I would leave at home on a DJ night.
I don’t know why, but I envision that, if this blog were more popular amongst Mods and Trad Skins, I’d catch a lot of hell for standing up for General Public, and I’ve slipped King’s “Love & Pride” into setlists at nights when I thought I could get away with it. General Public was practically a supergroup from the Mod Revival and 2Tone scenes, composed of Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger (both formerly of The Beat), Mickey Billingham (DMR), Andy “Stoker” Growcott (DMR/The Bureau), Horace Panter (The Specials) and Mick Jones (The Clash —who were technically a punk band but with loads of affection amongst the Mod Revival and Ska scenes).
The reasons I think I’d catch hell for this:
while their influences tend to remain fairly obvious, General Public made Tracie Young (who seems to get some undeserved flack) seem inspired. Hell, it kind of makes Matt Bianco’s later records seem inspired, and I don’t even try to make excuses for Matt Bianco’s records after their Indigo LP (though there are reasons I’m not including Matt Bianco on this particular list).
The video for “Tenderness” needs to die in a fire.
I don’t understand Roger’s racing stripes, either, and I keep the hair on the left side of my head violet for personal reasons.
Their music doesn’t work the same way that FB3’s music works, and that’s kind of disappointing. Still, their music works in a quirky sort of way.
Their cover of “I’ll Take You There”, originally performed by Mavis Staples / The Staples Singers for Stax, isn’t great, and I’m being polite, cos I actually really liked it when it first came out, but I was in junior high at the time, and I still liked the Buckingham-Nicks years of Fleetwood Mac at that age, without guilt. While I appreciate covers that put a unique spin on the song to make it distinct from the original recording, a well-loved staple of soul nights, like “I’ll Take You There”, really should get a cover that can hold its own. Listening as an adult, with matured tastes, there’s something about their cover that seems obvious that the last two members of General Public who had any interest in still being General Public were offered a spot on the Threesome soundtrack over a weekend, cos why? For most of the early 1990s, reggae had become trendy, and by ’94, that trend was kind of waning, so why not send it out with something from a well-loved band of the UK’s reggapop scene of the previous decade? Or something like that. But yeah, I’ll bet you ten dollars that this was recorded by Roger and Wakeling over a weekend, over-produced in the studio for the next week and a half, and in spite of the film flopping, the single nearly became of Top 20 hit in the States, which should speak to te general unimpressiveness of this version all on its own.
That said, while I have mixed feelings on 1995’s General Public record, Rub It Better (the group’s third and final), it’s certainly better than… That single… from the previous year. The video for “Rainy Days” is adorable, even if the song sounds overproduced. General Public is certainly more toward the “guilty pleasure” side of my favourite “Mod-friendly pop music”, but I don’t put them in that category simply because I do think a lot of their work is pretty solid, even if there are clear weaknesses —and like I said, that… single… was almost a gateway to ska for me —if I hadn’t had a brother-in-law who introduced me to Siouxsie Sioux and Rozz Williams that summer, between that and my lifelong love of The Who and art deco, I probably would’ve dove head first into Mod far earlier.
Anita Lane – “The Next Man That I See” (2001, Sex O’Clock)
Holly Golightly – “Hold On” (1998, The Good Things)
Giddle Partridge – “Gringo Like Me” (2012, ReverbNation)
Nancy & Lee – “Paris Summer” (1989, Fairy Tales & Fantasies, the Best of Nancy & Lee)
The Kinks – “Wicked Anabella” (1968, Village Green Preservation Society)
The Passengers with Angie Pepper – “Face With No Name” (1979, The Passengers)
The Photos – “Maxine” (1981?, The Photos)
Dee Walker – “Dial ‘L’ for Love” (1985, Dial “L” for Love)
Cilla Black – “Shy of Love” (1997, The Abbey Road Decade 1963-1973)
Cat Stevens – “Here Comes My Wife” (1989, First Cuts)
Hoping you’ve guessed this week’s hastily cobbled-together theme. In case you need some help, let’s watch: