Straight to Elgin Avenue
So I ordered the new Banksie from Amazon, and to get free delivery, of course, I had to order one or two other things, to bring the price up to the threshold. I tend to have a number of things queued up to buy when the time is right, so I selected some things from that list.
All three items I chose are things that I meant to get at the time they came out, but didn’t, for one reason or another. The book was Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which I’ve meant to get since I read the reviews when it came out. I’m not sure why I never bought it (actually I did buy it once, but that was to give to a friend who had a particular interest in stage magic).
Anyway, my interest was recently rekindled because of the film coming out, of course. I may want to watch it one day, and I’m not going to read or not read something on the reported say-so of some film director. I can’t find a reference for that: the director is supposed to have said, “Don’t read the book before you see the film.” Though I suppose that I will, in effect, be doing exactly that – in a contrary way – by insisting on reading the book before seeing the film. Whatever: books come first.
But I didn’t bring you here to talk about books, for a change. No, this time it’s music. Because I also got two CDs from Amazon.
Regular readers might not be surprised to hear that I’m a huge fan of the late, and sadly missed,Joe Strummer. As such, I want to get a hold of anything he released that I don’t yet have. Now, during his so-called “wilderness years”, Joe did a lot of soundtrack work. I’ve got most of that on record, but I never got round to getting the soundtrack for Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell. I recall hearing a borrowed copy in ‘87 or so, and enjoying it, but not being overwhelmed by it. The one track I remembered was ‘Rake at the Gates of Hell’, by The Pogues, more of which later.
In the intervening years, I mostly forgot about the album. Once in a while I might have poked around a second-hand record shop, but it was low on my list of priorities. Recently, though, I discovered that it had been reissued, revised and expanded. Into my “buy later” list it went, until the other day.
As well, I discovered it was possible to jump back to an earlier part of Joe’s career, namely his pre-Clash band, the 101ers. Elgin Avenue Breakdown was originally released back in 19-something-or-other. At the time I was mildly interested, but saw no need to rush out and buy it. I had the ‘Keys to your Heart’ single, and it was OK, but nowhere near as good as the heights of The Clash. And Joe was still around, and we could expect new music from him in the future.
We are in that future now, of course, and we don’t have Joe anymore. So buying the 101ers’ album is a way to hear him again.
And a damn fine album it is. Straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll, jam-packed with bounce, verve and excitement. What it doesn’t have is the political sensibilities of The Clash. Or actually, it does have the first vestiges of them; and indeed, the first vestiges of The Clash’s excellent ‘Jail Guitar Doors’ (the B-side of ‘Clash City Rockers1'), in the form of ‘Lonely Mothers Son’. And I’m sure that title should have an apostrophe in it, but I’m not sure where.
And the Straight to Hell soundtrack? It’s great. It’s mostly film music, of course: largely instrumentals. There are selections by Elvis Costello and Pray for Rain, as well as by The Pogues and Joe. Among the proper songs are one by Joe called ‘Evil Darling’, which is OK, and the original version of ‘If I Should Fall from Grace With God’, which The Pogues wrote during filming, apparently. Then there’s a version of ‘Danny Boy’, by the cast, led by Cait O’Riordan, and the album ends with ‘Rake at the Gates of Hell’.
It’s hard to express how good that song is. From the opening guitar riff, through Shane’s crazed-gunman-death-worshipper lyrics, to the shouldn’t-work-but-does device of the verse and chorus being exactly the same tune, it struts into your ears and rips your head apart. In a good way. I’ve hardly had it off repeat on my MP3 player since I got it.
Go and buy it. Now.