TamTam Books News

Wednesday, May 28, 2003:

These are the best liner notes ever on an album... well at least in English! This is from Morrissey's compilation of his musical influences called "Under the Influence." The album features Charlie Feathers, Patti Smith, New York Dolls, Sparks, and others. I got this from www.morrissey-solo.com

Morrissey Sleeve Notes


In early 1970s Manchester the grinding horrors of daily life are softened by song. My life is high walls topped by spiked glass, and the whirl of schoolboy tribulations are lifted only by cheaply recorded noise. In our troubles, we cut a dash to youth clubs of squalid barrack buildings, or to where hall chairs are cleared in city churches. Packed to blackness, the boys do a leisurely stride and somehow call it dancing; arms strategically and stiffly held apart from the body. The girls dance with a self-conscious air of not being watched, hunched together like chattering rats; kiss one, and die of typhoid fever. Like a child in a dream I watch, terrified and delighted. The dancefloor is swarming for “Stop Enoch Powell”, “Vietnam”, “Double Barrel”, “Young Gifted and Black”, and for “Swan Lake” by The Cats. Nothing touches me other than song, and night is kinder than day. I am drawn in and held back by the same desire. No words express the agony of the soul like a soaring song, and, here, we are exactly what our school teachers tell us we are; nothing.

How I feel is beyond my power to tell, so I wait to be led by the singing voices that reach to me. Without them, I am at the mercy of savages who shape radio and television with a dreadful nothingness. Until, suddenly, a mystery song is played on Radio One in 1972, which I catch four times, details of which are never given by the DJ who is, of course, too busy jabbering away about himself, and for whom the record clearly gets in the way.

The song words fall out like lazy argot, the vocal melody starts me - yet I can't understand a single word. Years later, when I find myself behind a microphone in a recording studio, I use the melody of this mystery song as my guide. Guide - to what? To where?

I explain this to Boz Boorer in 1989 and tell him that although I've never again heard that strange record, the melody remains stuck in my head. As I begin to hum it to him, he immediately names the song, the artist, the label, the history, and gives me a seven-inch copy of the 1972 re-issue on Apple. It is "Saturday Nite Special" by The Sundown Playboys, who speak and sing in Acadian French. When Cajun music first flourished in the dancehalls of southwest Louisiana, the rooms had neither amps nor microphones, so the singers (usually male) had to sing high and loud in order to be heard above the instruments (usually accordion and fiddle). Vocals would be belted out without restraint - usually in C or D - and overstretched to an almost feminine tonality. Some recordings are magnificent without anyone ever needing to say why. It’s as if the Great do not need your approval.


How empty life would have been without The New York Dolls.

Here it all began.

A reference point of human squalor, The New York Dolls irked all the little spare priggish men who controlled the music business at every level, and to whom the Dolls meant only one thing: trouble. In 1973, I could not think of any band of people anywhere in world history who resembled The New York Dolls. Daydreaming in Religious Studies, I read how David Johansen says he models himself on Carole Lombard, to which I laugh out loud. “We’re like Herman’sHermits,” says Johansen, “everyone’s gotta sneer. But we’re not butch.” At 13 I fully realize – this is most certainly IT. I back my schoolbooks with pictures of the Dolls, and to hell with Man Ure. My older school-free friends travel to Leeds to spend the night with the Dolls at the Dragonara Hotel after the Dolls’ University gig, and return to me with tales that witness madness. The New York Dolls are indeed the roughest of trade; David Johansen is Leo Gorcey, Johnny Thunders is Billy Halop – and they sing about Diana Dors. A 13-year old Manchester schoolboy could want for no more. “Trash” reminds me of “All Grown Up” by The Crystals, and of John Garfield’s far-away gaze in the film ‘Saturday’s Children’ (1940). It is a fantastic achievement for five boys who otherwise would have ended up in hotel catering, or amongst the heroined dead. The New York Dolls were the world’s most perfect pop group, but they were far too free, far too happy, far too un-hung up, and thus their end was foredoomed.


On the flipside of happy, the Nico net caught me early. Her voice equaled the sound of a body being thrown out of a window – entirely without hope, of this world, or the next, or the previous. Onstage, she moved like a big bleak creaking house, never once altering the direction of her eyes. I am in love. Her harmonium heaves and swells like crashing waves answering each other. If Nico could’ve laughed, she would’ve. But she couldn’t, so she didn’t.

            ‘meet me at the desertshore

            where land and water meet….’


Of all of life’s vanities, the singing voice reveals the most. Every day life is troubled by the inevitable advancing darkness, where our only certainties are pitiless decay and the final port of Death. Our days are stacked with pretended joys. But, so what. By 1974, the primary disrupter is an irascible soul who hates the fluffy, and on her debut recording of “Hey Joe”, Patti Smith sings:

            ‘there’s barbed wire between my legs, y’know….’

……a line which would surely have thrown Tammy Wynette somewhat. But the Smith waif sings as firmly as her health allows, and, in 1975, becomes the vital centre. “Hey Joe” is the inevitable consequence of a teenager who has been buried alive, and we call back to those who reach out. Personal gratification isn’t everything, after all. Patti Smith was, of course, punished for knowing too much, but she provided a world and a journey to those who cared to listen. Similarly, Marc Bolan’s woven words were deep rivers of verse which, if you understood them, you were in serious trouble. They gave nothing, except the basic fun of being pieced together. When Bolan is quizzed on television about his own lyrics, he doesn’t know what to say. However, Bo(b) (dy)lan remains – in my mind’s ear – the sound of late 1960s Notting Hill bedsits; unsuitable daytime heat in busy London parks; the future not yet behind us, and we are on our way. I see T.Rex live in 1972, and I meet the singer three years later, when I request the binding autograph, and although there is no one but he and I around for miles, the Stamford Hill boy declines the request. Just too much trouble. I am still amazed at the brevity of Marc Bolan’s success, and at the speed of his decay, and by how people who knew him never seem to say anything nice about him. But, weren’t we made to be this way?

            ‘prance proudly in the garden villas with the sun.’


Only a similar mental anguish could steer the songwriting pen of Ron Mael, who appears to play for Marx-ist laughs, but whose lyrical take on sex cries out like prison cell carvings. It is only the laughing that stops the crying. In a glorious surge of deserved success in 1974, the very comprehensive lyric sheets accompanying Sparks albums prove that Ron Mael is clearly driven to tell, yet he answers the media by skillful Quietism and by impersonating various walls. Ron Mael is an undoubted genius, and where else would a true genius live but in the catacombs of hell? Ron asks his younger brother Russell to sing the words - in chilling falsetto. Russell sings in what appear to be French italics, and has less facial hair than Josephine Baker. It is a scream, because the songs are screams.

            ‘capacity 400

            I see seating for three cos of me

            Are we all seated properly now?

            We shall begin…’

Who on earth would write a pop song in such a way? A song about an arts and crafts competition where ‘lovely Claudine Jones/has come to push her quilt’, but where Tracey Wise gets a prize. There is no category for this madness – except the category of madness, and Sparks are only let down by their name. At 14, I want to live with these people, to be – at last! – in the company of creatures of my own species.


Gliding in without oars, Ludus belong to the sea. Linder comes into position against the light, at double-sail, holding her words prepared. The weight of despair lifts like a deceptive fog only because the voice sings. “Breaking the Rules” might appear to be a statement, but like all Ludus songs, it is really a question laid out like a statement. This is the delightfully recurring now-that-you’ve-got-me-where-I-want-you Linder trick. I want to be caught. Linder’s tags of verse offer advice, strength, warmth, sustenance and inspiration, as she sings – not roughly, but firmly. I want to be caught twice. My mouth cannot close whilst “Breaking the Rules” plays, just as the imagination chatters convulsively through Nat Couty’s “Woodpecker Rock”, Charlie Feathers’ “One Hand Loose”,  Jimmy Radcliffe’s “The Forgotten Man”, and Jay Bee Wasden’s “De Castro”. Of these last four, I would not pretend to know any background details, but the happiness these songs give me seems, now, to be everlasting – even if this is music played with a lop-sided grin, then please hook me. Diana Dors, too, is warm to the skin. The voice teeters with a knowing smile, but the heart is on the gravel as she tells us so much more than what she literally says; a double-tier of sexual urgency.


In the real world of pop songs, genius drags the always reluctant world along. Awful to listen to on first play, the first Ramones album stays beside me almost thirty years on. A cruel £5.29 on import in 1976, this is an album of criminal ballads, and “Judy is a Punk” still sends a shock through the blood, complete with red-herring lyrical lift from “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” (“second verse/it’s the same as the first”). At Manchester’s Electric Circus to promote their debut album, the Ramones move across the stage like human remains floating ashore. Smallpox brought them together. Joey is whooping cough on two impossibly long legs. Someone who has been murdered in a hospital bed looks better than Joey.

The Ramones do nothing to conceal their disabilities, and I am once again in love.

            ‘and oh I don’t know why/oh I don’t know why

            perhaps they’ll die? Oh yeah

            perhaps they’ll die? Oh yeah.’

And then, “third verse/it’s different from the first” – I’m just glad they alerted us.


Will we ever get out of these pop swamps alive?

Will we ever get these songs out of our bloodstream?

Will we ever be allowed to forget?


Klaus Nomi’s dismal dignity placed him beyond the reach of crassly commercial success. His was a life quite apart from knife-plunging press reviews (as if any pop writer could ever possibly know.)

Nomi sang like a man trapped in the body of a dead girl. “Death” is his dying speech, after which he was – quite literally – led away to die, an early bull’s eye for the AIDS machine-gun. The words have a dreadful ring because they came true, and so soon:

            ‘remember me

            remember me

            but ah, forget my fate.’


Klaus Nomi’s name, and the names of others on this CD, conjure an atmosphere and a special standard because they were (or are) true pop artists. The mere sound of their names is as powerful as their work, so that we only need to hear that name in order to glide into a half-dream state. It is the terrifying power of the true pop artist, who seems to finally come into full bloom only at the hour of Death (as if Life is just not quite the point). Klaus Nomi, Nico, Johnny Thunders, Marc Bolan, Diana Dors, Joey Ramone, Charlie Feathers and maybe several other voices and players on this CD, all now rest with the martyred dead.

Will I, too, die?



Tosh // 12:28 AM

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