72. The Pogues – The Old Main Drag (1985)

OK, so in all of the chaos and confusion in getting set up in London, I sort of let this project slide. And of course now that everyone is here, the whole “countdown” element is pretty much shot. Nevertheless, I want to finish off the list, mostly since some of the best songs I had planned are in the 29 still to come.

And so now: back to our regularly scheduled Pogue-ram.

Here’s one of my favorite Shane MacGowan lyrics, and probably — one would hope — a very different experience of London than the one you guys have been having.

Nobody sings about bodily fluids like Shane MacGowan.

Look who fixed his teeth!

71. The Pogues – Dark Streets of London (1983)

When I think of the songwriters who have done the best work at chronicling London over the years, I suppose my list would probably run: Noël Coward, Ray Davies (from the Kinks), Paul Weller (from the Jam), Joe Strummer (from the Clash), and Shane MacGowan (from the Pogues). At least for starters, anyways.

Don’t be fooled by all the Irishness on offer here — the Pogues are a London band through and through. (Although in some circles, these may well be fightin’ words…)

We’re moving from Wales to London tomorrow, and so I’m a little frantic tonight — but if I had a little more time, I would have used this opportunity to say something about England, Ireland, and The Troubles.

Instead, though, I’ll have to just let the music speak for itself on the next few tracks, and I’ll have more to say once I’m settled in London. Until then, enjoy!

The Pogues (so young! so clean!)

70. Smiley Culture – Cockney Translation (1984)

This is such a fantastic song.

Smiley Culture, born and raised in South London and probably one of the first MCs in Britain, offers a fast-talking class in translation as he juxtaposes two London dialects for us — the patois spoken within the city’s Caribbean community and the traditional Cockney dialect spoken by white, working-class East Enders. The song is hilarious and the video is especially awesome. Check it out:

(If you need a little help, you can find lyrics here.)

It’s worth noting that since 1984, a new dialect has emerged in London, one that linguists now call “Multicultural London English” (MLE), but which is more commonly known as “Jafaican” (as in “fake Jamaican”). In large part, this is a blending of the two dialects we hear in “Cockney Translation,” one that emerged because a lot of East End kids tried to adopt Caribbean accents, only semi-successfully. But in effect, in the past few decades MLE has become an accent unto itself, one that has a great deal more to do with class than it does with race or ethnicity.

And Smiley Culture, I’m sorry to report, died earlier this year, of a stab wound to the heart that he received during a police raid on his home. Police claim the wound was self-inflicted, and an independent commission investigated the matter but found there was not enough evidence of police wrongdoing to prosecute. A great many people remain skeptical of the official account; and some have even cited the death of Smiley Culture to be one of the precipitating factors behind this summer’s riots. A sad story, whatever the truth may be.

Smiley Culture

 

69. Eddy Grant – Electric Avenue (1982)

Growing up, I assumed that “Electric Avenue” was a full-on party song. In fact, I have a vivid memory of rollerskating to this track at my local roller rink in smalltown Canada, along with “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol. It was, I’m sure you’ll agree, a good year for rollerskating anthems.

The verses to “Electric Avenue” were, admittedly, a little depressing, but I assumed that they were just talking about a bunch of negative things (violence in the street, poverty, unemployment) in order to set up the big chorus, when everyone rocked down to Electric Avenue, and then — as if that weren’t enough already — they proceeded to “take it higher.”

My friend Allison, however, recently explained to me that Electric Avenue was one of the focal points for the Brixton riots in 1981. And so it turns out I was 100% wrong about the chorus — it’s not about escapism at all. “Taking it higher” means “ratcheting it up a notch” and escalating the political response to the social injustices catalogued in the verses.

Allison also let me know that Electric Avenue was just a few blocks away from the 121 Centre, a squat that from 1981 to 1999 was a centre for anarchist groups in London. I think this is a place we should probably learn more about (and we’ll find some way to link it in to Shakespeare…)

Eddy Grant

68. Captain Sensible – Wot? (1982)

OK, maybe not all British songs from the early 80s were political. Some, in fact, were just plain stupid.

And despite their inanity, they would get stuck in your head FOR THIRTY YEARS anyways.

When I was a kid, this is what I remember all music videos looking like — I grew up with the impression that in some places (“the big city”?), impromptu parades of random caricatures and cultural stereotypes were liable to break out at any moment.

Sadly, in my experience, spontaneous public mambo lines are incredibly rare. (Even in “the big city.”) But we can always live in hope.

Captain Sensible

67. The Beat – Stand Down Margaret (dub version) (1980)

On their debut record, The Beat recorded a song called “Whine and Grine” that had a little protest song about Margaret Thatcher tagged onto the end. The tag proved to be so popular, they did a dub remix of it and released it as a single.

The lyrics cut right to the heart of the matter:

I see no joy, I see only sorrow
I see no chance of your “bright new tomorrow”
So stand down, Margaret, stand down
Please, stand down

I sometimes wonder if I ever get a chance
Just to sing to my children in a holiday jam
Our lives seem petty in your cold grey hands
Would you ever give a thought? Would you ever give a damn?
I doubt it; Stand down, Margaret

Work. White law. Shell shock. World War.

 If you want to see a great live version (but from a slightly chewed up videotape), check it out below:

The Beat

66. Fun Boy Three – The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum) (1981)

There is one good thing I can say about Margaret Thatcher: her draconian economic and social policies caused the left in the UK to galvanize into something much more coherent and more focused. (Anger will do that — don’t let Yoda tell you otherwise.) British music became politically charged in the 1980s, and so on the BBC, it wasn’t just the talk shows where people duked it out on the issues of the day — it was on the music charts as well. And this opened politics up to young people, especially disenfranchised young people who had not previously imagined themselves as playing a role in the political process.

Here’s something fun. In 1981, three members of The Specials broke away to form their own group, Fun Boy Three, and their first single was clearly a comment on the new Thatcher regime. (The “cowboy” in the song, of course, is Ronald Reagan.)

I found myself humming this one quite a lot back in the Dubya presidency as well.

Fun Boy Three