Tow Trucking

I’m trying to fight the blogger’s feeling that you should comment on every death in rock ‘n’ roll and have something to say about it. Chuck Berry died over the weekend- he invented rock ‘n’ roll, he invented the riff and the lyrical concerns of the song. Mrs Swiss and myself danced to You Never Can Tell at our wedding back in 1995 (we were both in our mid 20s so it wasn’t quite the teenage wedding of the song). Other than that there isn’t much I have to say about Chuck Berry. He was by all accounts an appalling person but in music we often have to separate the artist from the art, as unpleasant as that can be.

1995 was also the year that Sabres Of Paradise put out a series of remixes by other artists of songs from Haunted Dancehall, released the previous year. Chemical Brothers, LFO, Nightmares On Wax, In The Nursery and Depth Charge all had goes at reworking the work of Weatherall, Kooner and Burns. This Depth Charge version sounds very 1995- dusty, wired and with a big beat.

Tow Truck (Depth Charge Mix)

Johnny Comes Marching Home

At the end of Protex Blue on The Cash’s debut lp Mick Jones shouts out ‘Johnny, Johnny!’ Written by Mick before the band even formed Protex Blue is a homage to pub toilet condom vending machines, done and dusted in one minute and forty five seconds. Rubber Johnny.

On their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Joe Strummer gets his Johnny song in, the trad. arr update English Civil War. A song that refers to the rise of the National Front and the right-wing generally, Johnny is coming ‘by bus and underground’. Strummer always stressed it was a folk song, a version of a American Civil War song called When Johnny Comes Maching Home, sung by the soldiers of the south. On a US tour they tried a slowed down, acoustic take and got booed by the audience. While we’re here Give ‘Em Enough Rope is, I think, the worst/least good Clash album, with too many half baked songs, some silly posturing and an FM rock sheen added by Sandy Pearlman. Having said that, it’s also got Safe European Home and Stay Free, so it’s not all bad.

Here they perform live in 1979 on a yoof TV show called Alright Now and everyone seems to be having a really good time.

In between the first and second albums came the mighty White Man (In Hammersmith Palais) single. The b-side to their reggae influenced, state of the nation address was The Prisoner, a breathless, thrilling, careering three minutes romp with a wild, distorted guitar solo from Mick. The lyrics cram in two Johnny’s, both music related at the start of the second verse…

‘Johnny Too Bad meets Johnny Be Good in the Charring Cross Road’

Johnny Be Good is (obviously) from Chuck Berry’s song. Johnny Too Bad is from an obscure Jamaican rocksteady group The Slickers, released in 1971 and on the magnificent The Harder They Come soundtrack, a Clash favourite. Johnny Too Bad is a rude boy- ‘walking down the road with a pistol in your waist Johnny you’re too bad’. I’ve posted it before, a long time ago.

The rest of Mick’s lyrics on The Prisoner are hilarious (in a good way) and packed full of Clashery- Camden Town, Coronation Street, the Germans and the French jamming themselves down the tube to re-enact the Second World War, rude boys being rude, drug addiction and jumping the train to stardom. There’s a cracking live version in the Rude Boy film and also this breakneck, amphetamine fuelled performance in Munich in 1977 (along with Janie Jones and Garageland).