Monday, 2 July 2012

The Great British Band

NME's just published a list of The 100 Greatest Songs of its (60 year) Lifetime. The Top 20's as hilarious as you'd hope
Yes, really.

I say hilarious, it's almost admirable. It is at least not false. For the NME, the Stone Roses, New Order and the Smiths really are more important than the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, whoever you like.

It reads rather like the list of a 16 year old just getting into music but, you know, that's who the NME is for. In fact, it's not that dissimilar in feel (if not actual content) to a list that might have been compiled by my 16 year old self. Can I really say that my taste has "improved" since then, or has it just changed? Well, what can I say is that I've listened to an awful lot more music since I was 16 so I have a wider frame of reference. And I know that Fix Up, Look Sharp isn't the 9th greatest song of all time. I know that as surely as I've ever known anything.

But, look, I'll get to my point - the top 10 contains 5 songs by Manchester bands falling between post-punk and Britpop - 5 of the 10 Greatest rock/pop songs of all time are, apparently, from the same city from roughly the same period (well, within 15 years of each other). Did Tony Wilson write this list from the grave? Surely no one else in the world thinks this is the greatest era in musical history (if it had been Tony Wilson, he'd have probably put 'Kinky Afro' at Number 3).

Well, I certainly don't. I love the film (not the song) '24 Hour Party People' but, to me, Manchester post-1977 is the phoniest, most overhyped scene going. It's one big blag. They're all pretty good, these bands, they've all got a few good songs, they all had potential and they all got nowhere near it. New Order kept going, at least, but they do very little for me.

What there is, though, is a story, a lineage, a torch if you will, from Joy Division/New Order to Happy Mondays, The Smiths, The Stone Roses to Oasis. The strength is in that sense of continuity, and in the fact they've kept on telling us how great they all are.

But none of them (perhaps with the exception of The Smiths, who if i'm honest i do actually love love love, though i still think they're overrated by British indiedom) are my idea of The Great British Band - for me, there's a different lineage, not united by location, or era, or even sound, but certain factors that certain bands share which make me believe in them and love them.

I suppose most of my favourite music is American, but I think there is a great concept of a great British band out there, and these are those who I believe fall under that banner, and why.

[Right from the start, I'll say this is kind of a  alternative to the Manchester scene in terms of timeline and so I'm keeping it post-1977. It's obvious that the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks are great British bands, they influence most of these, sometimes pretty directly, I don't think there's much point in including them. But I think the Beatles and the Kinks, in particular, do embody what I'm talking about]

The Clash
Manic Street Preachers
Dexys Midnight Runners
Belle and Sebastian
Super Furry Animals

I have something very specific in my head I probably won't be able to nail down - there are plenty of other Britsh bands from this period i love or really like - The Jam, Teenage Fanclub, Ash, Spiritualized, countless solo artists, and i'm not dismissing more poppy bands who other people find great, Pet Shop Boys, even Take That, it's just I have come to group these bands together in a way and see them as the definition as what I love in British music:

So what are the factors?

-A consistent and strong back catalogue
-A sense of anger
-The feeling that they come from a particular time and place
-Creating their own little world
-Being unambiguously British, not quasi-American
-A sense of being a gang
-Not being in thrall to the past, but being hugely learned in rock and pop history
-The ability to reinvent
-Being a cult
-Not being what they initially appear to be
-Having the ability to cross into the mainstream but not staying there
-Having a visual style all their own which feeds back into the music
-The fact that their fans will actually argue about what their best album/albums are
-Actually writing about something real
-Being unafraid of ridiculousness

I'm quite happy with that list.  Not every single one of the bands has every single one of those factors, but they all have most of them.
I thought I'd expand on all of those things and how they apply to each band, but in fact, I'm so happy with the list of criteria in itself, I think perhaps I won't. (What is more likely is that I will write in later posts about each of these bands and why I love them)
Of course, someone can say, this is just my taste, it's entirely subjective, but i think this gives a really good sense of why my taste is like it is, why i'm proud of the bands I love, why I think they're better than other bands.

And here is a Great British Playlist from the Great British Bands

Let's Make This Precious
(Sing me a record that cries pure and true, no, not those guitars, they're too noisy and cruel)
Death or Glory
(Every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock'n'roll grabs the mike to tell us he'll die before he's sold)
For Tomorrow
(London ice cracks on a seamless line, he's holding on for dear life)
White Man in Hammersmith Palais
(If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they'd send a limousine anyway)
Our House
(I remember way back when everything was true and when we would have such a very good time)
This is a Low
(And into the sea goes pretty England and me)
Keep the Cosmic Trigger Happy
(And that's why I persist where others can't resist temptation)
Motorcycle Emptiness
(All we want from you are the kicks you've given us)
The Ghost of Rockschool
(I've seen God in the sun, I've seen God in the street, God before bed and the promise of sleep)
(All my violence is gone)
(Though you have become a burden, one thing remains, that's for certain, I will love you all my life)
Rudie Can't Fail
(Sing, Michael, sing, on the route of the 19 bus)
(I know I believe in nothing but is it my nothing)
There There My Dear
(The only way to change things is to shoot men who arrange things, Dear Robin, let me explain, though you'd never see in a million years)
Ice Hockey Hair
(Now that you're here tell me you're an unbeliever)
Baggy Trousers
(All I learnt at school was how to bend not break the rules)
Juxtapozed With U
(You've got to tolerate all the people that you hate, I'm not in love with you but I won't hold that against you)
A Design For Life
(I wish I had a bottle, right here in my dirty face, to wear the scars, to show from where I came)
I Love You (Listen to This)
(I was thinking about compromise when I saw the beauty in your eyes)
My Wandering Days Are Over
(I'm tired of listening to myself now)
This is Just a Modern Rock Song
(This is just a modern rock song, this is just a sorry lament, we're four boys in our corduroys, we're not terrific but we're competent)

Do you have different criteria? What are they? Or would you consider other British bands to fall under those criteria?