Sun, 18 Apr 2004

Ode To Hitsville U.K.

Hitsville U.K. by the Clash, and the reasons you need to drop whatever you're doing right now and go listen to it.

The Clash got a lot of static when they released Sandinista! all those many years ago. After all, it was self-indulgent, sprawling, unfocused, silly, and all those other words music writers like to reserve for studio triple albums, right?

Whatever.

That's not the point of this post. The point is to celebrate the lead single from that album, Hitsville U.K., which is just, oh, oh so wonderful.

Hitsville U.K.
(The Clash)

They cried the tears, they shed the fears,
Up and down the land,
They stole guitars or used guitars
- So the tape would understand,
Without even the slightest hope of a 1000 sales
Just as if, as if there was, a hitsville in U.K.,
I know the boy was all alone, til the hitsville hit U.K.

They say true talent will allways emerge in time,
When lightening hits small wonder -
Its fast rough factory trade,
No expense accounts, or lunch discounts
Or hypeing up the charts,
The band went in, 'n knocked 'em dead, in 2 min. 59

- No slimy deals, with smarmy eels - in hitsville U.K.
Lets shake'n say, we'll operate - in hitsville U.K.
The mutants, creeps and musclemen,
Are shaking like a leaf,
It blows a hole in the radio,
When it hasnt sounded good all week,
A mike'n boom, in your living room - in hitsville U.K.
No consumer trials, or A.O.R., in hitsville U.K.,
Now the boys and girls are not alone,
Now the hitsville's hit U.K.

The lyrics are nice enough on their own, a little (idealized) mini-history of the U.K. indie singles scene, complete with a roll call of some of the leading lights (Rough Trade, Factory, etc.), and the extended Motown metaphor that forms the spine of the song is well done, but what sells it is the joyous performance. As would be expected from the title, musically the song is a bit of a Motown pastiche, but as always, the transatlantic back-and-forth that was the defining ingredient of the second half of the 20th century's pop music is at best a gleeful approximation, not a slavish copy. Mick Jones' bubbly bass playing is a joy, though there's nothing particularly Motown about it. His (American) then-girlfriend Ellen Foley takes the lead vocal, Jones' own vocal contributions are little more than well-placed asides. ("Remember!")

The whole point of this is to steer you towards 4 minutes and 21 seconds worth of 23-year-old postpunkpop perfection, which is probably as worthwhile a thing for me to be doing on a beautiful sunny Sunday as anything else.

:: 11:21
:: /entertainment/music | [+]
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The Worst Prison Guards
The largest number of convicts ever to escape simultaneously from a
maximum security prison is 124. This record is held by Alcoente Prison,
near Lisbon in Portugal.
During the weeks leading up to the escape in July 1978 the prison
warders had noticed that attendances had fallen at film shows which
included “The Great Escape”, and also that 220 knives and a huge quantity
of electric cable had disappeared. A guard explained, “Yes, we were
planning to look for them, but never got around to it.” The warders had
not, however, noticed the gaping holes in the wall because they were
“covered with posters”. Nor did they detect any of the spades, chisels,
water hoses and electric drills amassed by the inmates in large quantities.
The night before the breakout one guard had noticed that of the 36
prisoners in his block only 13 were present. He said this was “normal”
because inmates sometimes missed roll-call or hid, but usually came back
the next morning.
“We only found out about the escape at 6:30 the next morning when
one of the prisoners told us,” a warder said later. […] When they
eventually checked, the prison guards found that exactly half of the gaol’s
population was missing. By way of explanation the Justice Minister, Dr.
Santos Pais, claimed that the escape was “normal” and part of the
“legitimate desire of the prisoner to regain his liberty.”
— Stephen Pile, “The Book of Heroic Failures”