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?
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.
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.
Have you seen how Sonny’s burning,
Like some bright erotic star,
He lights up the proceedings,
And raises the temperature.
— The Birthday Party, “Sonny’s Burning”