Not Fade Away 1975: King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown, Augustus Pablo
Listen, give me a moment, I'll think of something...
I guess I'm being drearily orthodox in my post-punk thinking here. Music, I have long thought, was basically rubbish in the middle of the 1970s. Ergo, that's why we got punk. I know now it's not as simple as that. I know, too, that there are records from '75 that I really like (we'll get to them in a moment). And yet I still can't quite shake the feeling that this is a year when music - pop music, rock music, call it what you will - was taking a bit of a breather.
Yes, the last gasp of what went before - the theatricality of glam in particular - is still there in a now Eno-less Roxy Music's most potent single (their most "pop" single?) Love is the Drug, in Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (which I loved at the time but now ...) and in the brittle, self-regarding, even boastful Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) - still a song that makes me turn the radio up every time it comes on.
And what's around the corner is already coming into view. Kraftwerk are the most visible manifestation of the rise of European electronic music (in the US that remains the purview of composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich). But in '75 I like the idea of Kraftwerk more than I like the music. (That will change.) It's the same with disco.
Meanwhile, the first stirrings of punk are being heard in CBGB in New York, as Television, Talking Heads and the Ramones find their feet. The pathfinder is Patti Smith, whose debut album, Horses, has one of the greatest opening lines ever - "Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine" - and an ur-punk attitude. But, like the other great white hope of '75, Bruce Springsteen, she's looking back as much as forward, still clinging on to the idea of rock 'n' roll as a form of testifying, as an alternative religion, as something to believe in.
In a way you could maybe argue that 1975 marks a final flourish of the 1960s. It's Dylan's Blood On The Tracks and Neil Young's Tonight's The Night that were the critics favourite albums that year. And Springsteen's Born To Run is a love letter to Phil Spector pop and to rock's capacity to inspire. In my teens I loved it; loved its sonic ambition and its quest for the epic. But as the years rolled by I've found myself more drawn to Springsteen the bruised downbeat romantic on Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River. The Springsteen of Brilliant Disguise (my favourite Springsteen track). Maybe I came to believe, as Paddy McAloon once sang, "some things hurt more, much more, than cars and girls".
What does that leave? Bowie of course. In '75 he gave us the plastic soul of Young Americans and the angular dance music of Fame. Both are thrilling. Joni Mitchell's The Jungle Line, with its Burundi drumbeats (was Adam Ant listening?) and curling, sinuous sound design.
In truth, though, the temptation is to go softer. With Rod Stewart's I Don't Want to Talk About It or the soft rock of Fleetwood Mac; in particular Stevie Nicks singing Landslide. Nicks is everything I should hate in pop - a hippychick dressed in chiffon - but there's something in the grain of her voice that snags me every time.
If we could have more than one winner Landslide would get the nod. But that's not allowed. And so this year we're going to Jamaica. Not to Bob Marley who, in '75, became an international superstar with No Woman, No Cry, but to a slice of dub that may be one of the more obscure tracks I've chosen for Not Fade Away (unless you're a reggae fan, I suppose).
It's another studio record too. (I guess that's what I'm learning about my own tastes from this blog; that I like music that's been built up rather than played live).
What I love about Augustus Pablo's King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown is the sense of space in it. Dub emerged from the Jamaican sound systems of the 1960s. The pioneer was King Tubby - Osbourne Ruddock - who began to remix reggae tracks, using reverb, echo and delay to extend and liquify the sound. You can hear what that means on this Augustus Pablo song (an album of the same name would follow in 1976). The rhythms and voices bounce around in the mix. This is noise at play, half thrilled, half spooked at what's possible.
I guess I'm choosing this as a harbinger of what is to come. Dub is the ghost of contemporary dance music. You can hear its reverb-heavy DNA in everything from post-punk to house music, from hip-hop to trip-hop. What King Tubby and Augustus Pablo were pioneering in Jamaica would soon inform what Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash were doing in Brooklyn - not making music but remaking it. From this point the future of music is stretching out ahead of us.
Landslide, Fleetwood Mac
Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me), Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Young Americans, David Bowie
Fame, David Bowie
I Don't Want To Talk About It, Rod Stewart
The Jungle Line, Joni Mitchell
Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac
Love is the Drug, Roxy Music
Movin', Brass Construction
Abba, S.O.S. (Abba were my favourite band when I was 11; just so you know)
NME Single of the Year 1975
No Woman, No Cry, Bob Marley & The Wailers
Best-selling single of 1975
Bye Bye Baby, The Bay City Rollers
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