Archives for category: 80s

E’G/Warner Bros., 1984

One could argue that the three albums by the Fripp/Bruford/Levin/Belew lineup, and especially the last two, have the flavour of Belew’s solo albums of the time, just featuring legendary supporting players, but that’s really not fair. For all of the bits of it that are very much of their moment, there’s also a lot of that transcendent KC magic here. The more I listen to it, the more falls together and achieves a kind of unity that Discipline has, but that I feel Beat lacks.

Addressing the album song by song doesn’t do it justice. As a work, the pieces fall together quite effectively.

The Left Side

king-crimson-3-of-a-perfect-pairOpening with four vocal tracks, none of which (on the face of it) is that demanding on the listener. Title track/opener, Three of a Perfect Pair is an interesting one because it stayed in King Crimson/Crimson ProjeKct set lists well into the 21st century, and as a fan, it’s easy to find that it’s just a little overplayed. Belew is right to be impressed with his ability to play the guitar in one time signature and sing in another, but it’s only because he’s the vocalist that this makes him unique in the band. The song itself being about the breakdown of a relationship seems an apt one as this incarnation of KC was on the verge of collapse at the end of the Beat sessions (and after the tour for this album, these four would not reconvene for 10 years).

Model Man, oddly, presents us with another relationship song in which the narrator begs for understanding (‘imperfect in a word…but I give you everything I have’) from the one who always has him on edge (‘look[ing] for the sights…the symptoms…the slight calm before the storm).

Sleepless, the single that should have been a hit. Warners even ponied up for a video in which everyone seems a little uncomfortable. The song is the most distinctly new wave of the album (especially the Clearmountain remix which was used instead of the original on the first pressings of the album). The interplay of the rhythm section is what I find most interesting about this song.

Man with an Open Heart should have been both a single and a hit. Of the four lyric tracks on the album, three address relationship issues and this one seems especially personal. Its changing time signatures anchor it in the KC universe as well.

The most surprising aspect of this album (and Beat for that matter) is how far in the shadows Robert Fripp seems to be. His guitar work through Discipline is always the most distinctive aspect of a KC recording. However, with Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes like Clouds), the instrumental that closes the Left Side, Fripp’s voice comes to the fore. It feels like one of his soundscapes as it flows through the ears, but has a rather non-cloudlike feel for a song with its title. It’s anchored by an almost underwater-feeling percussion.

The Right Side consists of three interesting instrumentals and a decidedly different vocal.

Industry is almost an extended meditation that relies heavily on the interplay between Fripp and Levin. It works on one level, as a continuation of Nuages, not the opening of a different suite of songs. It’s structured more as a bolero – each instrument building in intensity and than slipping away again.

Dig Me, welcomes Belew’s voice back into the fray with an oddly sad follow-up to the previous album’s opener, Neal and Jack and Me. In this episode, what was once a proud automobile stretching out on the open highway is now rusting, unhinged, and what ‘was deluxe becomes debris’. On a certain level, it’s of a piece with the relationship songs on the Left Side, but is also markedly different.

No Warning feels like a more pure KC improv, but kept short and to the point. It has the energy of one of those moments where the band just locks together.

And then there’s the album’s closer, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III. It’s an oddly titled jam that doesn’t seem of a piece with the other two songs that are its namesake. After more than twenty years of listening to this album (as with all the other entries in this series of reviews), never so diligently and with such interest as I have in the last week, I’ve never quite gotten what it was about this composition that invited adding it to the other two. And I’m still not, but I’ve got a feeling there’s something in the musical structure that lends itself or was consciously taken for that reason.

Sleepless has long been my favourite track on the album for purposes of sheer grooving. Of the vocals I’m now more drawn to Man With An Open Heart than I ever was before. I’m not sure I have a favourite of the instrumentals – they all feel of a single piece.

Next up: Vrooom and Thrak, but I’m going to take a KC break first.


E’G/Warner Bros., 1982

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this album as a whole. Beat has the same hard/weird/beautiful combination that we’ve come to know and love from King Crimson, but it also leans heavily on the New York sound of its predecessor. I first had this on CD in about 1987 and I recall listening to a few tracks a lot and not knowing what to do with others. I didn’t have a lot of King Crimson context, but loved Heartbeat when it was on the radio when I was in high school. I at least had a little to go on with Neal and Jack and Me. Two Hands is beautiful, but the instrumentals kind of baffled me. It might be the weakest of the early 80s trilogy and (at least according to Wikipedia) was difficult to make. Belew and Fripp went head to head and Fripp was ready to call it a day on this version of the Crims, but they got it together and toured (and recorded another album).

Discipline pointed at a thematic fascination with the Beat generation writers (The Sheltering Sky), and this album continues with it. Opener, Neal and Jack and Me namechecks Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady in its title. While the lyrics seem to have the point of view of the cars the titular characters drove in On The Road, they could also be spoken by Carolyn Cassady, lover of both whose memoir Heart Beat was published in 1976. A film version was released in 1980.

Which brings us to track two, Heartbeat, which seems to be a love song or a lost-love song. For me it was an evocation of intertwined love and lust and made me want to be landed with someone, which I mostly wasn’t in high school and college. While band members have suggested that this track and side 2’s Two Hands shouldn’t have been on the album, they’re both quite beautiful. They’re just not really King Crimson songs. (Belew would rerecord Heartbeat for his 1990 solo album Young Lions, though I don’t recall that version being wildly different.)

Sartori in Tangier, the album’s first instrumental takes its title from both Kerouac’s Satori in Paris and the city of Tangier where many of the Beats lived, including Paul Bowles, author of the novel The Sheltering Sky. For being only three and a half minutes, it still has the structure of a Crimson multi-part epic. Tony Levin’s Chapman Stick into leads into a strange combination of downtown funk and middle eastern rhythms. Stick Men (Levin and Pat Mastelotto’s project with Markus Reuter) have been performing a version of this recently that works quite well.

Oh, and here’s a really intense rendition which (based on the opening still) is from a Japanese date on the Beat tour. Seems that the string battle is just between Levin and Fripp, because Belew is on percussion.

NC_HB_Germany_1980Side one closes out with Waiting Man, another distinctive Belew vocal which like the title track of the follow-up album seems to have the vocals in one time signature against instrumentation in another. Bill Bruford’s drumming on this piece (as with a lot of the percussion in this period of KC history) seems to owe a bit to Steve Reich’s phase works such as 1971’s Drumming.

Side 2 opens with Neurotica which is an odd combination of spoken word in the style of Thela Hun Ginjeet and something much jazzier. I find the vocal portion, which describes or lists animals roaming the city (heat in the jungle indeed) to be less interesting than the music.

Two Hands wraps a fairly sparse arrangement around a lyric by Belew’s then wife Margaret. The strange point of view (I am a face in the painting on the wall / I pose and shudder and watch them from the foot of the bed) gives the song this weird voyeurism. From one perspective, an outsider of sorts recognizes love in the pair he (she?) sees. From another, the narrator of the song is watching people he doesn’t necessarily know make love. Again, an odd addition to the Crimson catalog.

The Howler poises a generally funky bassline against some rather interesting noise in the service of a relatively abstract lyric. The band doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with it and the song fades out. I imagine that a few live workouts would have made the song more interesting.

The album closes with Requiem, an improvisation in which the members of the band seem to be playing at cross purposes. This isn’t uncommon in KC improvs, but the fadeout at the end seems to indicate that this was going to be the last song of this version of the band. Fripp pulled it together and they gathered for another tour and album.

Next up: Three Of A Perfect Pair

E’G/Warner Bros., 1981

Released in 1981, Discipline was the first album by the reformed King Crimson after a seven-year hiatus. Prefigured by Robert Fripp’s 1980 LP League of Gentlemen, in the dead wax of which was inscribed The Next Step Is Discipline. The League of Gentlemen was an interesting exercise in angular new/no wave and featured Barry Andrews (at the time between XTC and Shriekback) and Sara Lee (who would go on to Gang of Four, the B-52s and a few other acts).

Fripp himself had spent the previous couple of years producing projects with Peter Gabriel (Scratch), Daryl Hall (Sacred Songs), and the Roches’ first album (and later their third) amongst others. Not to mention his own solo release, Exposure which included guest spots from those three and several others, including Peter Hammill.

The act Fripp was putting together after League was to be called Discipline, but at some point, he changed his mind and decided it would be the next incarnation of KC. As was the case with almost all previous releases, this album featured a new line-up. Bill Bruford returned from the mid-70s crew and was joined by Adrian Belew and Tony Levin.

Levin and Fripp had already worked together on Peter Gabriel’s first two solo albums. Belew and Fripp crossed paths on David Bowie’s Heroes – Fripp played guitar on the album, and Belew on the tour and Bowie’s next album, Lodger. Despite his work on the edges of rock and roll as a member of Frank Zappa’s band, Belew brought a distinctly pop sensibility to the proceedings. (On his 1983 solo album, there’s a cover of the Beatles’ I’m Down – he knows his power pop.)

devito_disciplineDiscipline runs the gamut from essentially downtown New York new wave to strangely beautiful downtempo work. Some pieces harken tot the noise mastered by the mid-70s line-up. What’s most interesting about this album (and its two successors) is that Fripp for the first time had a guitar foil in the band who was an equally forceful player. Belew also acted as frontman in a way the earlier singers (including Wetton and Lake) hadn’t. Belew never subsumed his vocal quirkiness to any greater KC ethos. This is also the first album with a co-producer from outside the band. Rhett Davies had recent credits with the second Talking Heads album, Dire Straits’ debut, and multiple Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry albums. It’s possible that he enforced on the band a certain rigid approach, despite what I’m about to say next.

KC to this point hadn’t done an album with a unified mood, and this album is no different. Down tempo pieces such as The Sheltering Sky share sides with rockers like Thela Hun Ginjeet, whilst the meditative Matte Kudesai sits between the bass-driven funk of Elephant Talk and Indiscipline.

It’s possible that the opening track, Elephant Talk, was the first King Crimson song I ever heard. KROQ (Los Angeles’ new wave station which started using the tag line ‘Rock of the 80s’ in about 1978) had it in rotation when it came out even though historically the band weren’t exactly new wave. (Around the same time, they were happy to have Jon and Vangelis’ Friends of Mr. Cairo in rotation as well, even though neither name over the title had new wave cred either.) It’s a strange bit of Belew weirdness in which he rattles off words beginning with the first few letters of the alphabet over a pretty funky bass line.

Frame By Frame might not be the first KC piece with backing vocals, but it’s one of very few, I think. Fripp makes himself known with some of his trademark arpeggios.

Matte Kudesai features a plaintive Belew vocal over a Frippertronics loop. Recently I saw a live video of k.d. lang crooning this, which seemed a really incongruous pairing of singer and song. But in her introduction, she said that it had been an influence on her album Ingenue. Curious, but if you listen to the lang album with this in mind, it’s kind of obvious.

Side 2 opens with Thela Hun Gingeet, a real group effort. Guitars, bass, and drums all play off one another in service of another piece informed by the NY funk scene. The vocal is a tape of Ade talking about meeting some very paranoid folks on the street who think he’s a narc. There are recordings from the time on which he speaks the text found on the tape (like this bootleg from 1981), but in others (including recent Crimson ProjeKct gigs) the original tape (or a digitisation thereof) is used.

The Sheltering Sky, the album’s longest track at over 8 minutes features the interplay of Fripp and Bruford which becomes more complex as the piece evolves. Bruford’s toms are relatively simple and metronomic and might themselves be looped. On the one hand, it harkens to the extended instrumental strangeness of Red and Larks’ Tongues Part II, but it’s really its own beast. Thematically, The Sheltering Sky presages the follow-up’s focus on, well, the Beats, informed by Paul Bowles’ novel of the same name.

Levin and Belew return for the title track which closes the album. Figures from other tracks on the album weave in and out as the musicians take on its complex and ever-changing rhythms.

While Discipline (along with the next two albums) sits uneasily with their previous work, a case can probably be made that the ‘73-’74 albums are also of a piece that doesn’t sit with their other work either.

I give this disc four stars.

Next up: Beat

(Image credit: Chris DeVito’s tattoo of the knot on the cover of Discipline.)

After two pretty flawless major label releases, 1985’s Oil & Gold and 1986’s Big Night Music, Island Records wanted a hit. At the time, I’d heard some of their music but nothing I could have identified as them. Go Bang! came out several months before I moved in with a flatmate who played me the glory of Oil & Gold. I don’t think I heard Big Night Music until about 1991. So really, I knew of them by reputation only. I was working at Rainbow Records on Stanyan and the store manager was very keen on hearing it the day it came in. I recall feeling the affair was all too disco (which I definitely did not appreciate for another ten years or so), not helped by the first single, a mostly faithful cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s Get Down Tonight. I’m pretty sure the manager was disappointed too.

As they’re touring this year for the first time in forever, I’ve started to dig into the catalogue. Go Bang! is the only album I didn’t have in some form or another and which isn’t available on Spotify. Four quid and a week in the post, and some fine Amazon seller has me taken care of. Whereas Oil & Gold is balanced about half and half with hard tracks like Nemesis and softer tracks such as The Only Thing That Shines, and Big Night Music tends very much to the jazzy, Go Bang! is almost entirely hard dance music. Only Nighttown and the closer, Dust and a Shadow hint at Shriekback’s downtempo tendencies.

It’s not as though the album isn’t recognizably Shriekback, though. Producer Richard James Burgess (Spandau Ballet’s Journeys to Glory, Adam Ant’s Strip) has maintained most of their signature sound – Barry Andrews’ tenor augmented with the female voices heard on the previous releases, the bass. Even going back to their stripped down earliest releases, the bass and the funk were always prominent

s-gbLyrically, side one has more of the depth found in their earlier work. I can’t really tell if they arranged the tracks for LP release or CD, but major releases still came out on vinyl at the time. After Nighttown, side two has the disco 1-2-3 of the title track, Big Fun, and the aforementioned KC and the Sunshine Band cover. Big Fun has big horns and lyrics about going out and (long before Daft Punk) getting lucky. The chorus of Well-e-o, well-e-o here we go / We got a bite like a pit bull yeah we don’t let go / Well-e-o, well-e-o under the sun / Everybody looking for…big fun doesn’t really suggest the seriousness of purpose the band was known for. On the other hand, the bass and the brass are used to good effect. Even considering the lyrical silliness of Big Fun, the only real embarrassment of the album is the rap that Andrews injects into Get Down Tonight. (All one can say is that it was a thing at the time.)

Dust and a Shadow very much harkens back to the sound of Oil & Gold, to the point where back to back, it sounds like a brasher but inferior reworking of This Big Hush.

At a meagre 32 minutes, it’s a sugary and tasty confection, but not the perfection found in their other work.


The first point to make perfectly clear is that the act of which Roman Polanski is accused (and to which I believe he has admitted guilt, though I’m not certain) is indefensible. As indefensible as what Prince Philip is accused of this week.

It also occurred in the 1970s.

Calling Hollywood at the time a very different place is an understatement. I don’t even refer to what was published in the tabloids, but what Hollywood produced. I recently saw a publicity still from the 1980 film Little Darlings about two 15 year old girls vying over who will lose her virginity first at summer camp. I’m not certain this movie could be made with that precise premise today. I’ve not seen it since it was first on cable TV. The same is true of A Little Romance (1979), Rich Kids (1979), or Foxes (1980).

These four had a distinct influence on my adolescence, though perhaps A Little Romance is the odd one out because it addresses teen love without being overt about sexuality per se. The others have central plot components that hinge on teenage or pre-teen sexuality. This is especially true of Rich Kids in which the protagonists are twelve. In Foxes, the lead characters are all dealing with coming of age in different ways (but are for the most part at least of their majority).

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 90s film Boogie Nights shows much of what film life in Hollywood in the late 1970s was about. Yes it’s a fiction about the porn industry, but shows a little about the behind the scenes fantasy that was film in general at the time.

Other notable films that engaged in teen or pre-teen exploitation included Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). My notes indicate Caligula as well, but Caligula (which I only know by reputation) is of interest because it was essentially a porno (produced by Penthouse magazine founder Bob Guccione) with duped major league actors (including John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and Malcolm MacDowell).

Blue Lagoon‘s paper-thin plot revolved around two youngsters (played by Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins) shipwrecked somewhere tropical who grow up with only each other for company after the one other survivor (played by Leo McKern – how do I remember this stuff?) drinks himself under with a washed up keg of rum. There’s sex and nudity (though I recall a defense made because Shields’ boobs were played by a body double).

prettyBabyPretty Baby, which starred Susan Sarandon as madame of a (New Orleans?) brothel in the 1917. Again, it’s not one I’ve watched in a long time – probably 20 years. I recall that one plot point involved the auction of one prostitute’s virginity, possibly that of the girl played by (again) Brooke Shields.

The thing about these movies is that they’re from a relatively long time ago. Note that (going back to my opening), I don’t believe there should be a statute of limitations on crimes against minors. My question is: has the sexualisation of teenagers (and pre-teens) increased or decreased since then. Or simply changed. I’m no longer the target audience for such films and am more likely to see a Pixar movie in the theatre than one targeted to a slightly older audience. I’m also aware of how much easier it is to get a kid-friendly rating from the MPAA for a violent movie than for a movie with sexual themes. I’m not sure that makes a difference to my argument. I don’t recall the rating Little Darlings received, but I’m pretty sure Rich Kids got a PG, but Blue Lagoon and Pretty Baby were both R. (A comparison of UK and US ratings system can be found here. Just because they had R ratings, however, doesn’t mean they didn’t sexualise the youth in the movies and exploit that in the marketing.

I’m also not saying that the themes of these movies shouldn’t be addressed in celluloid. Just that the way these themes were handled at the time reflected an entertainment industry culture that found it easy to test the boundaries. I should note that the period in question is the first decade or so after the ratings system replaced the Hays Code (a change that itself was a response to the boundary-pushing already happening in 1960s films). The Hays code (enforced from 1934-1968) pretty much meant that any major movie that made it to the big screen was suitable for all audiences. Wikipedia cites Antonioni’s Blow-Up (denied release for nudity) and Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf‘s use of language as reasons to categorise movies according to audience suitability.

The administration of the ratings system in the US has a questionable history. The process, if I recall rightly, was always secret, and rarely did the committees rating the movies provide reasons why rating A was given over rating B, leaving directors to figure for themselves how to edit a movie to get the rating they were after. My favourite such example regards the South Park movie released in ’99. The original subtitle was All Hell Breaks Loose which earned it an NC-17 (17+, no exceptions) which was the death knell for a film aimed at teenagers. I’m pretty sure the makers were after an R. The more I think about it, the more I’m certain this story is apocryphal, but changing the subtitle to Bigger, Longer, and Uncut earned them the rating they wanted.

A check of Wikipedia indicates multiple issues the studio and producers had with the MPAA, but the title wasn’t one of them. It took a lot of back and forth, however, to get the desired rating. Another film that faced similar issues was Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The solution there involved obscuring a couple of participants in what might have been an orgy.

Note that South Park and EWS had vastly different target audiences and that neither sexualised young people. In the movies, the last couple decades seem to be a little different in that regard than the years that preceded them.

I participated last week in a discussion on the relative merits of Frozen. (Do I need to link to Frozen? I hope not.) Yes, this seems like a big left turn, but hold on. One friend argued that focus in the movie on the relationship between the sisters was markedly different than that of previous Disney movies in which the goal of getting a prince was paramount. She continued that the way the movie handled the central theme of actively rejecting parental restrictions on expression empowers young women to acknowledge and overcome their own experiences in this regard. This may not be apparent now, but wait until this generation of six year olds hits adolescence.

In short, I agree with her, but with the caveat that this depends on how much other Disney product young Frozen fans are exposed to. I occasionally end up on the treadmill at my gym that faces the TV tuned to the Disney channel. (Other choices are TLC, Discovery, and some Dutch channels.) While I don’t listen to the TV audio when I’m on the treadmill (I have to have music or there’s no motivation), I’m always drawn to the video monitors. Live action Disney programmes really trouble me for the way teen and pre-teen girls are depicted. I know sound like Tipper Gore at the PMRC hearings when I say that the way girls are made up and behave on these shows disturbs me. I’m childless, but certainly wouldn’t want my nieces (who are brilliant and not easily swayed by such things) to dress or behave that way. A visit to redirects for me to, but clicking on a link for Violetta, one of the first shows listed, seems to make my point even if I’m doing a poor job of it. I’m sure there’s more to say on this, but I’ll leave it here for the moment.