Monday, 26 March 2012

Return of the Cockney - playlist

After publishing the 'Return of the Cockney' post I realised that I hadn't included any music which seemed an oversight, so after some prompting from Alex here is the 'playlist'.

80s cockney music has its roots in pub rock and punk, with their deliberate deployment of London accents (real or acquired), songs and imagery about London ('Down in the Tube Station at Midnight', Kilburn and the Highroads) and importance of local venues like the Hope and Anchor in Islington, which attracted loyal followings.

It was Ian Dury and the Blockheads, though, who set up the key elements for 80s. Obviously, through their frontman they kept the vocals and imagery side, with Dury's art-school twist. But they also added funk and soul to the music, and this took them into proper pop hits territory. These two elements are, I think, in tension with each other for many London working class bands through the 80s.

For Madness, it would be ska and reggae rather than funk and soul but the balance is similar. They also cemented the saxophone into London music of this period.

Like Chas and Dave, Madness combine lyrics about child/adult relationships ('Baggy Trousers'// 'Sideboard Song') with catchy choruses, and it this nostalgia for all age groups that explains something of their long lasting appeal.

Alternatively you could drop the vocals side entirely (and indeed any humour or playfulness) and concentrate on being a slick, modern soul band, as with Islington's finest Spandau Ballet:

As Squeeze moved into the 80s they also went in this direction - there would be no more 'Cool for Cats'. The video for 'Black Coffee in Bed' is a rewrite of the narrative of 'Up the Junction' but instead of ending on the sigh of the everyman, Glenn Tilbrook is now more cynical. 'Oh well on to the next one' his eyes say to us. What these bands seemed to particularly value in soul music (and we could include Sade in this) was not just a modern sound but also a grown-up sexuality: "listening to Marvin all night long".

Curiously given Paul Weller's love of black music, 'modernism', and class politics, the Style Council should been the best of all these bands. Although they had 7 top ten singles, which are as good as anything he did with The Jam, the mix between the elements never quite convinces. Despite his supposed love of style, Weller is responsible for commissioning some of the oddest videos of all time. Without these they probably could have had some success in the US, but MTV viewers would simply have been baffled by the mix of homoerotcism, Eastern European chic or, er, northern Town Hall chic:

Unlike Spandau and Squeeze, Weller was too prickly just to let go and fully embrace slick pop. Perhaps unexpectedly it was those who never attempt to have a modern sound, but kept the vocals/imagery side, who have lasted best. But they did this either being being half-outsiders like the Pogues or as with Billy Bragg deliberately trying to undercut the assumptions of his own time and place. His best songs are not his big political numbers, but his love and everyday life material. 'A Lover Sings' is far more 'grown up' about sex, than hanging by the nightclub bar with your sleeves rolled up. His unpicking of male life on 'Like Soldiers Do' or 'Its Says Here' is particularly strong, perhaps why Morrissey was a fan at the time. 'Levi Stubbs' Tears' could be seen as the flip side to 'True' or 'Smooth Operator': a very different mix of soul music, sexuality and London life.


David W. Kasper said...

You forgot the late, great Smiley Culture:

Alex Niven said...

Do you reckon Gary Barlow "adapted" the first line of that Squeeze tune for his much praised couplet in Back For Good (Got a picture of you beside me / got your lipstick mark still on your coffee cup)?

William said...

"Talent borrows, genius steals"