Friday, November 4, 2022

Old Wave Video Special 1 of ??


Climax Blues Band, “Couldn’t Get It Right” 

1976, a UK Top 10 hit on the eve of punk.  

Blues-tinged boogie, all “feel” and smooth grooviness, milky keyboards, .

Lyric is about life on the road and the debilitating temptations of the rock’n’roll lifestyle - a moment of spiritual weakness. 

New York City took me with the tide

And I nearly died from hospitality.

Left me stranded, took away my pride

Just another no account fatality.

Although most would probably point to 1975 as the absolute null-lull of mid-Seventies pre-punk entropy, it was actually 1976 that was rock's true nadir. Punk is "happening" but there's hardly any releases until the following year. Meanwhile, first-half '70s defining movements like prog, heavy metal, and glam are all sputtering out. Taking up the slack is “soft rock” , which especially in America, utterly stuffs the charts: Doobie Bros, Ace, Rod Stewart, Pete Frampton...

It was in this context that "Couldn't Get It Right" - unbelievably yet logically - could ascend to #3 in the Billboard Hot 100 in the later months of '76.

Strange to think that the look of the Climax Blues Band saxophonist / harmonica-player / singer Colin Cooper would probably have made him the sex symbol in the band - the one girls thought was dreamy.

But this was the ebbing tide of the Old Wave, the New Wave waiting in the wings and dead set to change the rules of the game completely - sartorially, coiffeurially, presentationally and graphic-designerly.

Originally, they were The Climax Chicago Blues Band, but the "Chicago" got ground away, along with the band's purism - although it resurfaces here with the second song in this set.

The bassist's dungarees!

The band is still treading the boards, albeit in a reformulated line-up that includes none of the original principles, with Colin Cooper having passed in 2008.


  1. No idea quite what you're building towards, but a few points of interest:
    1. You're right to peg 76 as the pre-punk bottom, but I think something you're missing is that, more and more, 'old wave' artists were reorienting their songwriting to revolve around entropy. This was especially true of lifers who, for whatever reason, achieved success later than their peers (i.e., in their late twenties or early thirties!) - Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Springsteen to a certain extent. They're not specifically mourning the Sixties dream (well maybe Browne), but they're expressing their own decay and alienation from the post-Watergate world (Seger's songs, for all their beer-commercial associations, are from 'Turn the Page' on existentially fixated on his own accruing irrelevance, even when they're superficially offering salves for it - 'So now sweet sixteen's turned thirty-one...')
    2. I do think the best piece about this is Mark Sinker's examination of Mick Farren's ambivalently proto-punk Titanic piece, since it examined how first-wave punk's invoking of the revolutionary youth card against its originators inevitably came back to haunt them: '...this was not a mind-set that could actually heal the world: since — apparently — it had entirely to cleave itself in twain with every new generation. You can blame this conundrum on Boomerthink if you like – Boomers is largely who it came from – but that only turns its overthrow into its reinstatement. The price the successor generation paid, for being enabled and enthused by this abdication, was to be utterly locked into this same insurmountable doubt. With time itself your chief enemy, and ruin cemented into all your schemes…'

  2. Continue to be fascinated by these lull years in music, when everything seems to be grinding to a standstill - when it feels inconceivable that anything could ever change or disrupt the stasis quo.... 1975-1976... 1985-86 (the doldrum core of the Bad Music Era).

    That's a good point about the musicians getting older and coming to terms with the dwindling of their own life force, musically and otherwise. The Boring Old Farts thing that New Wavers deployed so viciously and effectively is really cruel when you consider that some of the B.O.F's would have been early thirties, in a few cases even late '20s... spring chickens by today's standards. The callousness is all the more striking given that these would generally have been former heroes who were getting chucked out like so much garbage.

    I recently came into possession (only temporary, sadly) of a copy of Mick Farren's Watch Out Kids, from '72. It's described as a comic book but it isn't really - well it has elements of that, it's very pictorial, courtesy Edward Baker. but there's lots of text-text from Farren. The over-estimation of the power of rock'n'roll to change the world is quite extraordinary to read - and the continued faith, despite the disillusionments of the first few years of the '70s, that it could still deliver the Revolution. So the Titanic piece would be four years on from that, sinking further into gloom but not giving up hope completely.

    Owing to when I got into reading the music press, I read the unofficial sequels to Titanic first - Ray Lowry's call-to-arms and then Penman's complete demolition job, which helped to make the idea of music as handmaiden to Revolution seem absurd while also affirming all the small ways in which it improves life and changes things for the better.

    Finally reading the original Farren manifesto many years later, in the Bodleian Library, was a bit like reading the first volume of Lord of the Rings half-a-decade after reading the second and third volumes.

  3. I think a lot of the punks were true believers in the previous Revolution though - certainly Joe Strummer, Malcolm Owen, Jet Black, probably a lot of others. A lot of the nihilism of punk was simple disappointment with that - a sense that the counter culture had vaporised before they could even join it. It was also a way of pre-empting that disappointment from repeating itself i.e. if we smash things up as we go along, then we can't grow old with it, because there will be nothing left of it anyway.

    I've been thinking about David Edgerton's book "The Rise and Fall of the British Nation", in which he makes the (probably correct) case that Britain in the 70's was the very opposite of a nation in decline, that it was in fact more economically successful and productive than it had ever been before. It was certainly a lot more potent than the Thatcherite Britain that emerged afterwards. The mythology of Punk as being a reaction to a supposedly stultifying post-war consensus seems to me to have been a deflection from its real animus which was with the death of the counter-culture.

    So immediately after Punk you get the mirror image - the charts filled with lots of zesty ex-Punks plying colourful optimistic New Pop, but an outer world of recession, factory closures, mass unemployment etc. Which in many ways points to something counterintuitive - that youth trends have always been a negative indicator, that cultural highpoints are inversely related to social and economic highpoints.

    1. Absolutely - loads of 60s believers, bruised but ready to believe again, involved in punk.

      You mention Malcolm Owen and one little fact I love about the prehistory of the Ruts is that Owen and Paul Fox had lived in a commune in the early '70s on the Isle of Anglesey and had formed a band called Aslan which featured flute as well as guitar.

      That is interesting about the Edgerton book - it's so contrary to how things were perceived at the time (Britain as sick man of Europe, being bought up by the Arabs, etc) that I find it hard to get my head around. Even as a child, the picture you got from Giles cartoons and Punch (which I read every week when I was 11 and 12) as well as the evening news, was of a nation in terminal decline, verging on collapse. Wasn't this period when people were emigrating to Australia and Canada because of the good jobs? In the near-future dystopia 1990 - broadcast in 1977 - the problem the left-wing government faces is illegal emigration, not immigration - doctors, lawyers, and other professionals trying to get themselves smuggled out of the country in small aircraft so they get paid 5 times as much in America.

      It raises the interesting question of the extent to which the cultural-emotional superstructure - perceptions, opinions, ideas, anxieties, affect, the "emotional weather" - can be both determinant as a historical factor and also quite divorced from the economic substructure.

      Some while ago I concluded that attempts to link the vitality of music or pop culture to what's going on economically don't really work - almost to the point where you can make the evidence support any argument you wish to mount.

    2. I think it's possible that entire nations can get themselves into weird psychological complexes just as individual people can. Like perfectly good looking people who think they are ugly, or overweight etc. I think this was basically the case with Britain in the 70's, and it possibly happened because such a powerful visual and audio media had evolved at such a rapid pace, and was in so few hands that it had a massively distorting effect - millions of people glued to their screens at the same time etc. Oddly the profusion of alternative media and social media over the last ten years has in some ways had a balancing effect - there are so many voices now that it is more difficult for certain ideas to become dominant.

      There's a pretty mind-blowing interview with David Edgerton here, btw:

  4. Further to the above - just thinking now how -people living in the Seventies in newly built suburban estates would turn on their new colour TV's and watch programmes that were mired in a sense of poverty and deprivation - 'Til Death Do Us Part, Steptoe & Son, Rising Damp, Porridge etc. Or mundane worlds that really belonged to the 1950's, like Coronation Street or Fawlty Towers.

    And this is what people nowadays think the Seventies were actually like - but these were in fact quite extreme non-existent worlds. It is quite bizarre in hindsight - the popular culture had absolutely nothing to do with reality.

    1. I dunno, things were pretty grotty still. I am a bit older than you I think so can remember it. My own family was what I think of as "uncomfortably off" middle class - we lived in a new built house in one of those surburban estates you mention (a Wimpy one). But the house, built in 1966, had no central heating - it was freezing in the winter, we'd all be huddled around the coal fire in the living room, or the one-bar electric fire upstairs. We had a tiny black-and-white TV. Yes there were people who had lots of consumer goods and were going on their first holidays to the Continent. You wouldn't have people still using a mangle to squeeze water out of their wet laundry, like my mum remembers her mum doing in the 1950s. Outside toilets would be fairly rare by that point. But the general texture of life was hardly luxurious. I can remember toilet paper in some institutional conveniences even in the 1980s that was made of that waxed paper! Food was terrible - you only have look at those bundles of 70s ads on YouTube to get a whiff of it. Rather than something like Rising Damp or Steptoe, you can see what life and urban space actually looked like in certain documentaries (like the famous one on Northern Soul) or current affairs programs of the time. Also certain films (like The Clash's Rude Boy). The backdrop looks pretty grim and color-depleted. I recently watched this 1969 kitchen-sink film Bronco Bullfrog that feels like it captures the textures of life fairly accurately, without unduly fetishising the grot and misery. Admittedly being in black and white does perhaps accentuate the glum

  5. You mentioned bad food: Can recall mid-80s TV ads for Frytex, Cookeen and Crisp n Dry that all had budgets, didn't look cheap. All promoting lard


Canterbury and the cuppa tea

  Standing on a golf course dressed in PVC I chanced upon a golf girl selling cups of tea She asked me did I want one, asked me with a grin ...