Gang Of Four tonight. I think we might be going on an 80s excursion this week – sit back and enjoy.
For those of you not instantly familiar: Gang of Four’s music brought together an eclectic array of influences, ranging from the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of social criticism to the increasingly clear trans-Atlantic punk consensus. Gang of Four was named by a member of the Mekons while driving around with Gill and King when he came upon a newspaper article on the intra-Party coup against China’s “Gang of Four”.
The Gang’s debut single, “Damaged Goods” backed with “(Love Like) Anthrax” and “Armalite Rifle”, was recorded in June 1978 and released on 10 December 1978, on Edinburgh’s Fast Product label. It was produced by the Gang of Four and Bob Last and Tim Inman. It was a Number 1 indie chart hit and John Peel radio show favorite. This led to two Peel radio sessions, which, with their incendiary live performances, propelled the band to international attention and sold-out shows across Europe and North America. They were then signed by EMI records. The group’s debut single with this label, “At Home He’s a Tourist”, charted in 1979. Invited to appear on top rated BBC music program Top of the Pops, the band walked off the show when the BBC told them to sing “rubbish” in the place of the original lyric “rubbers”, as the original line was considered too risquè. The single was then banned by BBC Radio and TV, which lost the band support at EMI, who began to push another band, Duran Duran, instead. King’s lyrics were always controversial and a later single, “I Love a Man in a Uniform”, was banned by the BBC during the Falklands War in 1982.
Critic Stewart Mason has called “Anthrax” not only the group’s “most notorious song” but also “one of the most unique and interesting songs of its time”.It’s also a good example of Gang of Four’s social perspective: after a minute-long, droning, feedback-laced guitar intro, the rhythm section sets up a funky, churning beat, and the guitar drops out entirely. In one stereo channel, King sings a “post-punk anti-love song”, comparing himself to a beetle trapped on its back (“and there’s no way for me to get up”) and equating love with “a case of anthrax, and that’s some thing I don’t want to catch.” Meanwhile, in the other stereo channel (and slightly less prominent in the mix), Gill reads (on the original EP version) a detailed account of the technical resources used on the song, which on the re-recorded album version is replaced by a deadpan monologue about public perception of love and the prevalence of love songs in popular music: “Love crops up quite a lot as something to sing about, ’cause most groups make most of their songs about falling in love, or how happy they are to be in love, and you occasionally wonder why these groups do sing about it all the time.” Although the two sets of lyrics tell independent stories they occasionally synchronize for emphasis.
According to critic Paul Morley, “The Gang spliced the ferocious precision of Dr. Feelgood’s working-class blues with the testing avant-garde intrigue of Henry Cow. Wilfully avoiding structural obviousness, melodic prettiness and harmonic corniness, the Gang’s music was studded with awkward holes and sharp corners.= At the time, the band was recognised to be doing something very different from other white guitar acts. Ken Tucker, in Rolling Stone, 1980, wrote: “…rarely have the radical edges of black and white music come closer to overlapping… the Gang of Four utilize their bass guitar every bit as prominently and starkly as the curt bass figures that prod the spoken verses in (Kurtis Blow’s “culture defining” huge summer hit) “The Breaks.”
In 1981 the band released their second LP, Solid Gold. Like Entertainment!, the album was uncompromising, spare, and analytical; such songs as “Cheeseburger,” “He’d Send in the Army,” and “In the Ditch” exposed the paradoxes of warfare, work, and leisure. Van Gosse, in a Village Voice review said: “Gang of Four embody a new category in pop, which illuminates all the others, because the motor of their aesthetic is not a ‘personal creative vision.'”
Dave Allen (who later co-founded Shriekback, King Swamp, Low Pop Suicide and the Elastic Purejoy) had left in 1981, and had been briefly replaced by Busta “Cherry” Jones, a sometime player with Parliament, Brian Eno, and Talking Heads. After working with the Gang to complete their North American tour obligations, Jones left and was replaced by Sara Lee, who was Robert Fripp’s bassist in the League of Gentlemen. Lee was as good a singer as bassist, and she helped give the band’s third studio album, Songs of the Free, a more commercially accessible element. Although “I Love a Man in a Uniform” from the album was the band’s most radio-friendly song, it was banned in the UK shortly after its release because Britain went to war in the Falkland Islands. In the spring of 1983, Burnham left the band after the release of Songs of the Free and formed Illustrated Man. Gill and King continued Gang of Four, releasing Hard in 1983.
And that takes us up to the period of this recording, done during their U.S. tour.
Crank it up.