Thursday, September 22, 2016

Classic Album Review: Various - F**K Art Let's Danse / 28 Classic & Rare Tracks (2007)

I've been thinking quite a bit this week about the 40th anniversary of the infamous Punk Festival held at London’s 100 club. About how that momentous event is often considered a defining or pivotal moment in wider pop culture or rock music history – heralding as it did, the arrival of an exciting new phenomenon. Or that’s how the story has been told, and it’s certainly the narrative we’ve been fed in one or two published articles this week. And then I recalled this album, one of the most treasured compilations in my possession, a comprehensive collection of tracks which serve to highlight the roots of the genre, and an album that throws a rather different light on the evolution of punk. I reviewed it for another site not long after its 2007 release:

If asked to come up with a list of bands or artists most influential in the rise of the UK’s late Seventies “punk” scene, the majority of self-respecting music historians would doubtlessly look first and foremost to the USA and its late Sixties/early Seventies “underground” scene. Indeed, any quick perusal of Jon Savage’s seminal book ‘England’s Dreaming’ (a history of the Sex Pistols and Punk) or Simon Reynolds’ ‘Rip It Up And Start Again’ (which covers the post-punk era) would reveal the massive debt owed by UK punk bands to their anti-establishment cousins from across the Atlantic.

It is a debt however, seldom fully acknowledged by compilers of punk collections; they’re more often than not very UK-centric, with mere lip service being paid to the influence and momentum provided by a wide variety of US-based bands – usually with the inclusion of an obvious track from The Ramones, and maybe something from um, Blondie. This is where F**k Art Let’s Danse differs from the large majority of the many so-called “punk” compilations … and as a 28-track, double CD compilation, it is all the better for not only acknowledging the transatlantic link, but actively celebrating it.

40 years ago this week ...

Take a look at this list of names: The 13th Floor Elevators, the New York Dolls, Iggy & The Stooges, Patti Smith, MC5, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers, Suicide, Television, Pere Ubu, and the Dead Kennedys. Oh, and just for good measure, The Ramones.
That list represents a veritable Who’s Who of the Seventies US underground scene, and all of the above bands feature prominently on F**k Art Let’s Danse. Only the addition of material from the Velvet Underground and/or Talking Heads would have made it something close to definitive in terms of US contributions to the scene. In fact, the album digs deep and travels even further back in time to the decadent mid-Sixties with the inclusion of garage and psychedelic tracks from the likes of The Sonics, The Seeds, Fugs, and The Creation.

But, similarly, if you think F**k Art Let’s Danse is all about those damned yanks and the template they provided, then you’d be wrong. The UK is represented by the not insignificant likes of The Damned, X-Ray Spex, Sham 69, the UK Subs, The Slits, and The Adverts.
Hell, we even get a couple of notable “hit” singles from Ian Dury (‘Sex And Drugs …’) and The Only Ones (‘Another Girl Another Planet’) … neither track being particularly authentic “punk” but the inclusion on here of each nonetheless pays tribute to the role pub-rock played in the development of the genre, and both bands flirted with the fringes of the movement without becoming completely consumed by it.

It could be argued that the album is weakened for the fact that it doesn’t include anything at all by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, or early Buzzcocks, but you can find that stuff practically anywhere, or at the very least on one of the other many compilations on the market. Clearly, the compilers of this album were wholehearted in their commitment to avoiding the bleedin’ obvious, and in truth that is one of its best features.

Overall, F**k Art Let’s Danse is a superb collection, and worthwhile alone for the sheer variety on offer. Punk is often viewed through ill-informed ignorant eyes as being a short-lived entirely British phenomenon; a scene that lasted three years max (between 1976 and say, 1979), but this collection begs to convince you otherwise.

CD1 Highlights: X-Ray Spex – ‘Identity’, Dead Kennedys – ‘Too Drunk To F**k’, MC5 – ‘Kick Out The Jams’, Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers – ‘Roadrunner’, and Department S – ‘Is Vic There?’.

CD2 Highlights: The 13th Floor Elevators – ‘Slip Inside This House’, New York Dolls – ‘Looking For A Kiss’, Patti Smith – ‘Piss Factory’, Pere Ubu – ‘Heart Of Darkness’, and The Slits (live cover) – ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’.

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