As you can see in today’s picture not everyone believes in social distancing. Was it the same colour paint that was the attraction? What you don’t see from this picture is that both cars did actually have space to move forward in the front.
I don’t drive, I don’t have a driving license. There was a time twenty years ago when I took a couple of lessons and was allowed to drive a car if the passenger sitting next to me had a full license and I had learner plates. But I never took a test and it’s been a long time since I sat behind a wheel. So if you were dying and you needed me to get you to hospital, I could do it, but if you wanted a safe lift to the shops, I wouldn’t ask me. It may have something to do with the fact that as a teenager I had motorbikes and driving a car wasn’t anything I thought about doing. Then there’s the fact that I was a hitchhiker and hitchhiked around Europe three times in the seventies, I didn’t feel like I needed a car to get around.
Then I got in a band and although everybody but me drove, before long we had a tour manager who drove everybody everywhere anyway. Last but not least my father was in charge of Road Safety in Liverpool and the North West of England. (His office was around the block from where we recorded The Wild Swans’ upcoming record.) He used to oversee poster campaigns, encouraging people to wear seat belts and would come home with pictures of pretty girls that had gone through windscreens with stitches in their faces and warnings of what could happen if you didn’t ‘belt up’. So perhaps it was these images that turned me off the idea of driving. It was the era of if you didn’t want to wear a seat belt you didn’t have to, mandatory seat belt wearing didn’t come into force in England till 1983 although all cars had to be fitted with them from 1965. I read somewhere that Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s drummer, lost his arm because of his seat belt, on the other hand, he might not have survived if he’d been thrown out of the car with such force.
But staying on the subject of cars, what happened to the names of cars? They used to be so evocative. Here in England we had the Riley Elf, the Wolseley Hornet, the Sunbeam Alpine, the Jensen Interceptor, the Hillman Imp and the Singer Chamois. In America cars sounded so exotic. Ford Mustang, Plymouth Barracuda, Mercury Cougar, Dodge Charger, Cadillac Eldorado and perhaps the best of all, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. (Rick Allen’s accident was in a Corvette.)
Nowadays car names seem less exciting. They are all victims of marketing meetings and it seems like they are named after products in an office supplies store. Nissan Qashqai (sounds like the latest Xerox machine), Toyota Camry (a new type of pen), Ford Figo (a new ink), VW Golf (sounds like…golf). Aggh, how is that interesting or cool or evocative?
The British car manufacturing industry collapsed a long time ago, one wonders how? Morgan, Caterham and McClaren are the only British cars left and they are all luxury cars.
Rolls Royce is owned by BMW as is Mini, Jaguar and Land Rover are part of the Indian Tata group, the British car manufacturing industry couldn’t be saved, but the brands could by enterprising and efficient companies abroad. The answer to saving the British car industry was right in front of us all the time, the names were far too aesthetic, too literary, too atmospheric, we needed blandness, soundbites, something beige or something corporate, something well-dressed, something with shorter hair.
Then there’s design. Who doesn’t love car design from the past? All those wonderful Italian cars, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, the up market Italian cars, Ferrari, Maserati. The French cars, Citroen, Peugeot, Renault. Who could resist the Sunbeam Rapier, the Ford Consul Capri, the Ford Anglia, the Triumph Vitesse, the Rover 3 Litre, the Vauxhall Velox, the Aston Martin DB5, the E-Type Jag. It didn’t matter if they were cheap or expensive, the design was the thing. But suddenly someone started to think about pesky aerodynamics and crumple bodywork and from 1980 onwards it was all downhill, despite smoothness and nice stereo systems.
It’s interesting how advancement means lower quality, it’s happened in cars and it’s happened in music. Let’s make cars more plastic-y, let’s listen to music on lower quality systems, what happened? Uglier houses, unreliable fridges. How does anybody find anything to buy in the pound shop? Lower quality clothing that’s a quarter of the price but breaks in two weeks. Batteries that are half the price but last less than quarter of the time. There should be a disclaimer in there, “These goods are much cheaper than the better quality goods available in other stores, but they won’t last anywhere as long and you will end up spending four times as much as well as dealing with the inconvenience”.
Although we can argue all day about whether The National or Arcade Fire or Tame Impala are better quality than Robin Trower, Free or Lynyrd Skynyrd, it’s hard to argue about quality items versus cheap items and their value for money. Most of us settle for something in between Pound Shop/Primark and Harrods/Rodeo Drive and there’s probably an argument that an item is not worth the money on both ends of the scale.
How about we just raised the standards? How about making better quality goods cheaper, consequently removing rubbish from the market and giving people an appreciation of things. Somehow though, phones seem to have captured most everyone’s imagination and it seems that having a better phone is important. Perhaps because it is a multi-functional device – talk, text, stream, news, camera, music, soon you’ll be able to suck on it to get sustenance.
Music today has been mechanical in name, I started with the debut album by The Motors (1977), the hit was Dancing The Night Away and I was seriously about to play the second album that has my favourite song by them, Airport, on it, but I was impatient for that first Cars album (1978). It’s some kind of Sci Fi Pop in sound and image, great songs, much better than The Motors, some kind of slick American expertise throughout. It’s not that The Motors were bad, I liked it, but it did come from that Pub Rock tradition and the sophistication of this first Cars album is literally another world.
I’m sure you are aware that a REO Speedwagon was a type of early American vehicle and you are probably horrified at the thought of being exposed to the music of what became known as American mainstream schmaltz crap. Bauhaus were born as an antidote to this. Well in 1971 when they made this record, nobody had ever heard of them. They had a different singer, Terry Luttrell, who left after this album and although you can give it something of a hard time for, well, sounding like bands sounded then (not fair really), there are moments even if you have to dig for them. Luttrell by the way went on to join Starcastle (the American Yes).
I know you are dying to know the details of the band’s name, well they were named after a truck from 1915, designed by Ransom Eli Olds who also gave his name to the Oldsmobile, the first mass-produced car.
This debut album is a stock standard Rock ‘n’ Roll album through and through with guitarist Gary Richrath (RIP) mostly fighting the keyboard player Neil Doughty for space and with rather ordinary lyrics. So you can skip Side 1 and the first track on Side 2, but then there’s Five Men Were Killed Today (lyrically outside the box for this band) and musically completely somewhere elsewhere, away from this record and straight out of the sixties. The next track is back to basics, but the last track is a ten minute Progressive epic with the untypical title Dead At Last. It seems like as soon as there’s anything to do with death the songs improve and as soon as it’s anything to do with hedonism, cars and girls etc, it isn’t happening. We can learn something from that as if as soon as they get more thoughtful, philosophical, they improve, they’re just trying harder. Dead At Last lives somewhere between Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult and Steppenwolf. Richrath’s guitar is unnecessarily dirty and I really wouldn’t want to put you through having to listen to REO Speedwagon for two tracks that probably aren’t as good as the bands you like from the era. So, my advice, let me listen to this record for you, so you don’t have to bother.
Not wanting to leave those poor lads from REO Speedwagon all alone in a blog that most everybody reading might abandon, I wondered about Canadian Pop rockers from the seventies, Triumph. Named after a car (erm, don’t think so) and one of those bands that all of us who liked UFO, Blue Oyster Cult and The Leppard would try and convince lovers of the Velvet Underground, Television and Sex Pistols were a completely different kettle of fish – to no avail. It was rather like trying to convince your Mum that there was a difference between MUD and Led Zeppelin, it was never going to work.
I have collected all kinds of American and Canadian Rock records from the seventies on my travels to inspect later and see if out of the bright light of criticism any of them are any good. I always like Grand Funk Railroad (I’ll have to wait till a train-themed blog comes up to play them). This is who Triumph sound like to me, mixed with a more metal Bad Company but with Mark Farner from Grand Funk singing. It’s not the Cocteau Twins. It’s North American late seventies Arena Rock radio fodder. I wonder when I hear this about all those young outsiders that were trying to avoid it. The parents didn’t understand the Rock kids that much, but let them go see the spectacle with all its flash bombs and tight pants (we all had tight pants). But they were probably more worried when their kids gravitated towards Captain Beefheart, New York Dolls or David Bowie, the more intellectual or gender challenging groups.
We do like exploring down here, it seemed appropriate to follow Triumph with Galaxie 500 (Velvet Underground meets Jonathan Richman). I’m sure any hipsters out there know all about Damon and Naomi from this band and Dean Wareham’s band after Galaxie 500 split, Luna. I have two of the three albums they made, Today (1988) and On Fire (1989). Ha ha, what a difference hearing this after Triumph. Isn’t it fascinating, the different world that people live in. I’d love to get them in a room together, trying to find common ground. They might agree that murder is bad, but I’m not sure how they could find a connection musically.
Song Of The Day today is A Game For Losers from Nightjar (2008). I always thought that competition in music was ridiculous and apart from Nick Cave, if you sing out of tune and have a very basic command of your instrument, despite you having better ideas than someone who has a better command of his instrument and sings in tune with worse ideas than you – they will probably draw a bigger crowd. It’s up to you to fix that. I also always thought that people that liked my music might struggle with something connected to Country and although I would always be humbled by my Liverpudlian life shaper’s skills (I’m not worthy), why could The Beatles do anything?
A Game For Losers
Tired and worthless
Maudlin and mirthless
Losing heart in all things
Loveless and broken
I’m a bird without any wings
Something inside me
That’s been denied me
I can’t feel the blood in my veins
The night’s getting longer
And the pain’s getting stronger
And I can’t escape from these chains
When I first saw you it was afternoon
The sun picked you out like a jewel
And suddenly I lost my confidence
And it gave me the face of a fool
I paced and I pondered till finally
I decided that I couldn’t play
It’s a game for losers of which I am one
And that game I win everyday
Alone in a café
Sad and unhappy
Crippled by what went before
Just loss and destruction
All reason has flown out the door
Smoking and drinking
Bearing a wound that won’t heal
I’m the Devil’s apprentice
Doing this sentence
With a pain that I can’t even feel
I blew out the candle as the morning came
And I wiped the tears from my eyes
But I kept on lying there into the day
My heart way too heavy to rise
Suddenly the night returned
And the blackness came into my room
It’s a game for losers where the crowd has left me
Lonely, disheartened, marooned