Friday, June 26, 2015

It Just Wouldn’t Go Away: Mud: “The Cat Crept In”

It can be a bit disturbing, listening to the BBC sometimes; as the writer of this blog especially I can wonder just what is going on.

By this I mean that while I have written about nothing but popular songs, some have fallen into The Void.  That’s to be expected; some of them are what I can say are “of their time.”  But can a whole genre date? 
The Glam Slam era can seem like a mirage by current radio standards.  Apart from a few “curated”* artists such as Roxy Music, David Bowie and T. Rex, the actual Glam Slam era gets an exceedingly short shrift on the radio.  There are reasons for this, of course.

I think there is a nostalgia problem; maybe that’s the wrong word.  “False memory syndrome” seems more apt.  A certain version of the70s is being pushed on these stations (I mean 6 Music and Radio 2 in particular) – a version that comforts and flatters.  It is not fully reflective of the decade – anything that is deemed too much in one way or another has been edited out.  It ends up being a lot like the older (and presumably) cooler older brother/sister throwing out all the singles and albums that made the 70s fun and grimly insisting that unless you listen to Philadelphia International and The Eagles/ABBA/Blondie (R2 version) or Kraftwerk/The Clash/Led Zeppelin (6 Music) you are hopelessly naff and probably suspect, in some way.  Radio 2 in particular will seemingly play any old song, however awful (“Howzat” by Sherbet and “Little Does She Know” by the Kursaal Flyers stand out here) rather than play anything by Wizzard, Suzi Quatro, Slade, Sweet, the hapless Glitter Band or Mud. **

Now, before I get to this hit I have to mention – as I am pretty sure I have before – that there are two kinds of nostalgia.  One is personal and specific and can be hard to translate into words at times, relying as it does on touch, smell, sight and taste; that one moment where I was so bowled over by a painting that I actually got a stomach ache and had to lie down, for instance.  (This was just a modest version of something that would happen to me two decades later.)  I can show you the painting, I can tell you about the expensive fruit salad my father reluctantly ordered for me later, but my intense reaction is my own.  (If you live in Cleveland, it was at your art museum; I don’t know if there’s a huge Monet still hanging there – a water lilies one I think –  but look at it, lie down, and then go have some fruit salad.  You are entitled to swear.  I hadn’t learned how to swear yet at the time.)  

The other is a generalized nostalgia which Douglas Coupland calls “legislated” and it can be unnerving to witness.  You are asked to remember things you don’t recall, celebrate things that don’t belong to you, to join in at all times with what the mass is supposed to feel, supposed to think, and if you don’t then you are odd, different, not one of “us.”  This stretches (in the UK) from the perpetual  remembrances of WWII***  (as I write a Glenn Miller compilation is in the Top 40 album chart and when was the last time he was so popular? – oh yes, 1976) to the aforementioned edit of the 70s on the radio to any time you see a “we” or “us” in a headline or in the speech of someone who isn’t an editor or the Queen.   The BBC in short is eager to get its listeners to become a hivemind (Glastonbury!  John Peel worship!  Vinyl vinyl vinyl!) and the existence of this and other blogs where music is looked at with care and consideration is seen as being funny or weird.  They jar against the received wisdom that only one version – theirs – of the past really exists.    

But to the song!****  This is old school rock 'n' roll - all about a bad girl, don't you know -"She ain't superstitious but she's hanging on to life number nine/Well, you may not show it but she hides in the light/And she may not show it but this cat can bite" - yes, another sexy dame mapped out by Chinn and Chapman, and who doesn't like a little played-behind-my-head guitar?  Mud did so well because they were fun, energetic, didn't take themselves too seriously - all the things that now mean that the radio barely play them - or any of the Glam Slam folks - unless it's Christmas (itself the most Glam of holidays).  Certainly this is an oppositional number two behind "Seasons In The Sun" and a lot cheerier, to say the least, than another song in the Top Ten at the time - the near embodiment of The Fog, Hot Chocolate's "Emma."

As shunned as Mud are these days, the vibe of the song wasn't lost completely - the seeds of a future, ground-breaking MSBWT song are here - Adam And The Ants' "Antmusic."  And once that song's life on the radio was more or less over, along came Rob Davis of Mud to write and play on Rachel Stevens' hit "I Said Never Again" - there are references to this hit and "Antmusic" in there, and just like the Glam Slam folks, does La Stevens (or Spice Girls, Sugababes, Girls Aloud, All Saints) get much airplay these days?  It is as if there is an embargo on all this fun and girly music (dare I say also working class music as well).  Hmm.  The cat keeps coming back, no matter what The Man tries to do.

Next up:  the Glam Slam continues!    

* I have to roll my eyes when I hear this; as someone who grew up being led around by my parents in any number of galleries, museums, etc. I have known what “to curate” means for a long time.  And it has nothing to do with music.  I roll my eyes a lot these days.  

**The Bay City Rollers are also a victim here – they weren’t part of the Glam Slam itself but became popular at the same time, and their Tartan Edinburgh sweetness was their big plus and minus.  They aren’t played on these stations and one broadcaster I can think of in particular, who only plays 70s music, refuses to play them.  He’d rather play The Sex Pistols, who were only based in part on The Rollers.  Rockism, in other words, lives.

***The never-ending reruns of Dad’s Army on television and radio point to something very disturbing in the British psyche.

****Not to be confused with the classic NFB animated short "The Cat Came Back."


Robin Carmody said...

Is that Johnnie Walker who won't play the BCRs? He said something on air, at the time, when he was increasingly uneasy having to do the chart rundown and play a lot of this stuff rather than the FM rock he went off to play in actual California, that it was a bit boring that they'd been number one for six weeks. Lynda Lee-Potter, one of the columnists on whom the modern Daily Mail was built (and very much part of the middle-class revolt articulated in Patrick Hutber's oft-cited - check Amazon - 1976 book, just as The Sun was part of a different, prolier strain which had much more of a crossover with glam itself and was indeed fighting the Mirror actively for control of it) tried to stir up a fuss about it: snobby overgrown student stealing our pop kids' fun, which suggests that this kind of pop isn't always *quite* as working-class as it might appear and that the Mail was and is quite capable of disliking other things more than pop kids' fun.

I agree utterly that the stuff the new elite, and specifically the BBC, favours is often depressingly and dispiritingly bourgeois-grey, without any of the good aspects of the old bourgeois culture - that it's the same class bias as was always there, just with pop now an active part of it. But I'm afraid I can't champion this sort of thing, or indeed the girlpop acts you mention, as the sort of necessary balance and reaction to it which is undoubtedly necessary. I wish I could; while I could say that the three "my falling out with ILM and their calling me a snob" acts you cite are still in a memory hole, neither old nor new, the Spices and the Saints have now escaped from that phase so I dare say you're probably right. So it's a case of my utterly agreeing with you over the new-elite problem as a mirror of the old-elite one only worse, more disturbing and more actively discriminatory, built on deeper double standards and splitting the right and wrong kinds of working class - indeed, what you have to say here is an absolute exemplar of what is wrong with it all and why it is so unsettling, and is far better than I could ever do - while at the same time not really having the right personal feeling for what you cite as a fresher people's voice in response to it.

I suspect that is simply down to how I am, because the way you feel about maybe the Glam Slam or 90s/00s girlpop, I feel about people like Scrufizzer - so it's a matter of loathing the whole new-establishment canonisation (I find that usage of "curate" disturbing as well) while at the same time not seeing stuff like this as a meaningful alternative, or in newspaper terms not really feeling at home in either the Guardian or Mirror. The time when this song came out was, of course, a time of intense working-class strength and bourgeois paranoia, and maybe my not wanting to be part of a working class which can have this as an anthem is a sign of how my actual artistic temperament often doesn't fit with my theoretical politics. Certainly, I remember one blogpost in the "peak ILM" era invoking "the working class, right or wrong" to justify something truly unjustifiable apropos one of the acts you cited. So my temperamental wariness of reactionary socialism - my knowledge that along with the determination and solidarity which were admirable and praiseworthy, there were dodgy social attitudes that needed to go - clouds my feeling for a song like this. Those mental processes aren't in me.

Robin Carmody said...

"Little Does She Know" is creepy, creepy, creepy; I'm surprised they still play it (what an ill-timed song that was; they'd been anticipating punk for some time and, just as it was about to happen, they went into Mike Batt's arms): I knew someone who'd seen them play several times in his Essex student days but had never heard of that song, and I seriously envied him. A necessary qualification here: I found its lyrics disturbing, and representative of something I didn't want back, *long before October 2012 and its aftereffects*, so it's not simply my jumping on a bandwagon of thought. In the case of Sherbet I know precious little, but I think their Australian-only hits may have been glammier and heavier (well out of favour here by 1976).

I find myself agreeing with you about Dad's Army, and find it a more and more depressing and enervating show when I think of it now; I used to love it, right to the core of my existence, having grown up on the first real wave of constant repeats in the 1990s (for a decade up to 1989, it too had fallen down a memory hole; an autumn 1989 repeat run - yes, that 50th anniversary, yes, TPL is lucky not to have to write about Max Bygraves then, and Chas and Dave at the 50th anniversary of the other end - was a major event at the time). But now I see it as representative of something we desperately need to get away from, especially in the context of the immediate political legacy of the war and how that has been distorted so it can be destroyed in recent times, and also that of the strength and power of the working class, and the fear it invoked, at the time of its original transmission, and how that relates to the class divisions between the BBC and ITV then (which were skewed in precisely the opposite direction to the alignments of actual political parties). Nobody ever talks about any of that now. But it doesn't make sense without them.

MikeMCSG said...

Good to see this blog continuing Lena.
I would suggest that this particular song doesn't get played because it's very similar to "Tiger Feet" but takes too long to get to the hook.
What exactly do you find disturbing about Dad's Army ? It's still shown because like Fawlty Towers the humour hasn't dated and unlike a lot of its contemporaries doesn't contain anything too offensive to the modern liberal conscience.

Robin Carmody said...

I think Lena might be thinking not so much that the show itself is disturbing, but that the obsession with The War (and how that manifests itself in the belief that EU withdrawal is a universal panacea) is. Obviously she will have to speak for herself on this matter, if she wants to.

Robin Carmody said...

I might also mention that the Glenn Miller compilation referred to here is selling markedly less well in Scotland (falling 5-17 this week in terms of UK *sales*, but 16-33 in terms of Scottish sales) which suggests that the populist obsession with The War has less of a hold there - which shouldn't be surprising as that obsession is the root cause of the hangups about mainland Europe which Scottish sales variations repeatedly confirm are in pop, as in the wider society, less of a factor there.

Not sure this makes the next TPL entry good, mind ...

Front of Store said...

Having lived through the 70s, I agree that the curated version bears little resemblance to the real thing. Much of the music that is now lauded as the essence of that decade was listened to only by those in the know. It's quite legitimate simply not to want to listen to Dawn, or Mud, or the Rollers, but asinine to pretend that everyone in 1973 was listening to Lou Reed album tracks.
This thought first struck me watching the first series (probably the first episode, I gave up pretty quickly) of Life On Mars, when the two cops visit various establishments (pubs, shops etc) all playing a CSM/Farren/Kent soundtrack, rather than the melange of glam, pop and soul that was actually the sound of the early 70s.