A RANDOM A-Z OF SINGLES : A QUESTION OF DEGREE

The traffic to the blog slows up over the Festive period, and it’s therefore something of an opportunity to take a bit of a breather.

Over a period of 26 days, I’ll be posting a single never previously featured on its own before – it might have sneaked in as part of an ICA or within a piece looking at various tracks – with the idea of an edited cut’n’paste from somewhere (most likely wiki) and then all the songs from either the vinyl or CD.

Q is for A Question of Degree released by Wire as a single in June 1979.

Wire formed in London in 1976.  Mike, from Manic Pop Thrills, provided as good a summary as you’d ever want, when he pulled together an ICA back in March 2017:-

A British rock institution rapidly approaching the 40th anniversary of their first gig as a 4 piece (in 2017). And, after all that time, still making great albums.

For much of their lifespan, Wire have featured only four members – Colin Newman (guitar/vocals), Graeme Lewis (bass/vocals), Robert Grey (nee Gotobed) – drums) and Bruce Gilbert (guitar).

Yet, despite a remarkably stable line-up, intra-band tensions have always played a huge part in the Wire story. Wilson Neate’s book ‘Read & Burn: A Book About Wire’ is a superb telling of their history, portraying it as a struggle for control between principally Newman and Gilbert.

The late 70s produced three classic LPs in ‘Pink Flag’, ‘Chairs Missing’ and ‘154’ on which the band pretty much invented post punk. This purple patch however was curtailed by an acrimonious split, with songs written for a fourth album.

Perhaps surprisingly after several years apart the band came together again in the mid 80s. Their 80s/90s output is less well regarded than the original trilogy, but almost any band would consider the run of records from the ‘Snakedrill’ E.P. to ‘The First letter’’ to constitute a decent career.

Having lost drummer Gotobed during the band’s second incarnation, the internal dynamics of the remaining three members meant that they ceased activity for a second time in 1991.

Unexpectedly, the band reconvened for live shows and to produce another LP ‘Send’ in the early Noughties. Since then, although Gilbert left the band for good after ‘Send’, the band have enjoyed the most active phase of their career, releasing four albums and a mini-LP since 2008 with another album due at the end of March 2017 (and one more for good measure arrived in 2020).

Today’s song was released after Chairs Missing, but prior to 154:-

mp3: Wire – A Question of Degree

It’s an excellent piece of music, and I’d love to be able to tell you that I picked up on it as a teenager back in 1979.  But I was quite late to Wire, albeit I was aware of Pink Flag as it was a favourite album of a flatmate in the student years.    It’s no surprise that the single was a huge flop, but I don’t think the band or the label ever thought it would deliver any mainstream success.  The first two minutes or so move along at a fair lick, almost power-pop in places, but then it changes tempo and seems to go through some sort of machine that forces a change in shape, to something approaching psychedelia; it only lasts 30 seconds or so, but it is quite disorientating and makes it nigh on impossible to play on daytime radio, before reverting to that earworm of a tune.

The b-side:-

mp3: Wire – Former Airline

I’m very grateful that I didn’t buy this single in 1979.  If I’d played Former Airline, then there’s every chance I’d have made a fool of myself by taking it back to the shop and asking for a replacement copy on the grounds that the record was so badly damaged it was unlistenable.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

JC

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