Some Dreams Are Made For Children

Fifteen years ago today Joe Strummer returned from walking his dogs, sat down in front of his fire and died from an undiagnosed heart defect. I was out Christmas shopping and heard about it by text from my wife, then a friend, then another friend.

In 1990 Joe was deep into his wilderness years. He wrote a song that appeared in a film called I Hired A Contract Killer. Burning Lights is a little under three minutes long, just Joe and a chugging Telecaster riff for company, but it contains possibly his best lyrics, post-Clash.

Burning Lights

Some dreams are made for children
But most grow old with us
And when the air can hope to hold on
And to the ground from dust to rust

And I’ve been a long haul driver
Moving things but the cops don’t know
Now I can see the writing
You are the last of the buffalo

Now I’ve been to California
And I’ve been to New South Wales
Sometimes I, I pull over
When I realise I’ve left no trace

Burning lights in the desert
Such a sign only you would know
Your running tyres, they’re out of pressure
Such a sign only you would know.’

Burning Lights seems completely autobiographical to me, a man looking in the mirror. His era-defining band well behind him- a band which split up because, as he has realised, he made bad decisions and took bad advice- and here he is confronting a future which doesn’t seem to have a place for the ex-leader of The Clash, the last of the buffalo, a man who  believes he has left no trace. Pretty good eh? Rest in peace Joe.

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Name Check

Every so often I get an email from Mark, the founder of the Quiet Storm family, asking for a suggestion. He’ll provide a theme or a photo and ask for a song. A while back he asked for songs that name-check other artists and the Quiet Storm family responded in spades. Mark has compiled and mixed the songs together into a 70 minute mix that is a hit from start to finish, as the tracklist below shows.
The songs I suggest for these mixes often end up being the last song, the play out tune. I don’t know what that tells you about me. That I like to have the last word? That the songs I choose are all end of night records? That I go for encores? This time it’s Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros’ Yalla Yalla, a favourite of mine since it came out in the late 90s. Joe spins out lines about Kool Moe Dee, The Treacherous Three and Brownie McGee.

1. Consolation Prize – Orange Juice
2. Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken – Lloyd Cole And The Commotions
3. You Get What You Give – New Radicals
4. Just Like Eddie – Heinz
5. You’re Right Ray Charles – Joe Tex
6. Aretha Sing One For Me – George Jackson
7. When Smokey Sings – ABC
8. Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan le Sac VS Scroobius Pip
9. Daft Punk Is Playing At My House – LCD Soundsystem
10. Lighten Up Morrissey – Sparks
11. All Men Are Liars – Nick Lowe
12. Sweet Gene Vincent – Ian Dury
13. Faron Young – Prefab Sprout
14. Tinseltown To The Boogie Down – Scritti Politti
15. Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds – The Mountain Goats
16. Elvis Presley Blues – Gillian Welch
17. On My Way To Harlem – Gregory Porter
18. Yalla Yalla – Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros

Here’s Joe back in 1999

Stop Writing Things On Screens

Good advice Joe.

Earthquake Weather, Joe Strummer’s 1989 album, is a bit of a mess in places. There are some of Joe’s most affecting solo songs (Sleepwalk, Island Hopping), some mostly forgettable ones and some that sound like Joe couldn’t quite get it sorted. The songs that are decent aren’t helped by the production and the mixing. Gangsterville has a rambling lyric full of Joe lyrical tropes and a bashed out musical track complete with a squealing guitar solo. For the intro Joe mutters something and then the band crash in. There are some good moments, where the song breaks down and the piano runs down and Joe sings the song’s title – and then the band come back in again, crashing about. There’s a good song lurking inside Gangsterville but the performance and the production do their best to hide it.  Joe was lacking confidence at this point, well into his self proclaimed wilderness years, and worked on Earthquake Weather in Los Angeles without a musical partner. Another voice alongside him, co-writing and in the control booth, and Earthquake Weather might have been a very different record.

Gangsterville

Clash Piano

Clash week day four. Two songs from round the old Joanna. When the Clash On Broadway box came out in 1991 one of the unreleased songs was a cover of Every Little Bit Hurts, Mick at the piano and giving it loads with a reverb drenched, soulful vocal. According to the booklet it was recorded during the Sandinista! sessions after Chrissie Hynde had dropped in. Mick and Chrissie used to sing it together and Mick gave it a go in the studio a few days later, with Norman Watt Roy on bass (which dates it to when Simonon was away filming Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains) and Topper splashing away on cymbals and percussion.

Every Little Bit Hurts

Originally sung by Brenda Holloway in 1964 it was covered by The Spencer Davis Group which is where Mick knew it from. A couple of years earlier The Clash had been the subjects of a film, Rude Boy, a semi-fictionalised account of the life a roadie called Ray Gange. The film is a brave but flawed stab at documenting life in 1978-9 in Britain. But it does also feature some of the most incendiary Clash live footage committed to tape/celluloid which still makes the hairs on the back of neck stand up and the blood pump a little faster. In this section Joe finds a piano and starts hammering away while Gange stands around drinking beer. After a minute and a half and some muttering/swearing from Gange about Sam Philips and Elvis Joe breaks into Let The Good Times Roll, a Shirley and Lee song from 1956.

Give ’em a piano and a couple of minutes and both Joe and Mick would reel out the pre-punk songs. What Year Zero?

A Long Time Ago There Were Pirates

I found this image on the web the other night so it gives me a good excuse for a gratuitous Clash post and one of the most hair raising, adrenaline infused songs they recorded. The original Capital Radio was a freebie with the NME and the second hand price of it sky-rocketed. This appalled the band whose insistence on value for money and fans not being ripped off was a founding principal. So the song was re-recorded and included on the 1979 Cost Of Living ep, pound for pound one of the best value for money 7″ records ever released (a four track ep led by I Fought The Law and supported by two of their best lesser known songs Groovy Times and Gates Of The West plus this one here).

Capital Radio starts with Mick playing a sweet acoustic finger picked riff. At twenty nine seconds Mick, off mic, shouts ‘1-2-3-4’ and hits the main riff, a massive jolt of electric guitars. Joe joins in with a line about ‘the Dr Goebbels show!’ Topper’s drumming is on the money. Joe and Mick alternate call and response style, railing against London’s number one commercial radio station and it’s refusal to play punk records and celebrating the pirate stations of the 60s- now silent ‘cos they ain’t got government license’. They make radio programming sound like the biggest injustice of modern times. At two minutes the band breaks it down and Joe comes in with ‘hey guys, come on’. ‘Yeah wot?’ Mick responds, surly as you like. Joe then explores the possibility of The Clash being radio friendly and having a hit before they end with a brief breakout into You’re The One That I Want, then at the top of the charts with Travolta and Newton John. Mick’s strings squeal. Topper doubles the beat. More exciting and more fun than you can possibly imagine (as Obi Wan never said).

Capital Radio Two

While I’m here these pictures have been sitting in a folder waiting for a post so I may as well put them here or I’ll end up doing a week of Clash posts.

Here’s Joe and Mick in the USA, 1983, hanging by the pool- everything you need in late period Clash… Joe in Docs with mohawk and a busker’s ukulele, Mick having raided the army surplus store.

Paul live in Paris, raising standards.

And lastly Topper and Paul, on tour c1979 somewhere far from the Westway.

Without People You’re Nothing

Joe Strummer died on 22nd December 2002 and I’ve got into the habit of marking it here. God only knows what he’d have made of the events of 2016 but his famous quote that gives this post its title is as relevant as ever.

I finish work today for the Christmas holiday and I cannot remember ever feeling so tired. I’ll be raising a glass to Joe’s memory tonight. This song from Global A Go Go typifies Joe’s multicultural look at the world and his joy in other cultures.

Bhindi Bhagee

His bandmate and friend Paul Simonon turned 61 on the 15th of December so happy belated birthday to him too.

Back In The Day

‘Back in the day
Even circles were squares’.

Another lost piece from the Joe Strummer jigsaw, Generations was recorded in a day in 1996 while Joe was in Los Angeles. Having spent some time driving around the surrounding areas in his Cadillac with Shaun Ryder, Bez and Richard Norris, getting hopelessly lost on occasion, Joe was beginning to get back towards a band style scenario. The Mescaleros started to come together not too long afterwards, Joe writing with Richard Norris. England’s Irie, England’s unofficial Euro 96 song led to Joe’s only Top Of The Pops appearance with Black Grape. Joe was on the move. Contacted about a project to put out an album called Generations- A Punk Rock At Human Rights Joe went away inspired to contribute a song and wrote the lyric quickly. It was then recorded in a day in LA with Rat Scabies and Seggs from The Ruts on bass and drums. The producer Jason Rothberg came up with the name Electric Dog House. Joe’s response was along the lines of ‘well we’re not going to come up with anything better today’ so Electric Dog House it was. It’s a funny song with plenty of charm- loose drumming and some organ open it up and then Joe comes in. The mix and echo on the vox make it sound quite chaotic and the instruments pile up towards the end but there’s a good tune inside it, a nice chord change in the chorus and an affecting lyric- ‘let’s go running down the road’ Joe repeats. It’s a shame the three of them didn’t go on to record anything else together.