60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #59


Talking With Taxman About Poetry – Billy Bragg (1986)

The so-called ‘difficult’ third album.

Billy Bragg had very quickly become a hero of mine.  He had been a big part of the soundtrack to my political development at University, and it’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that I hung on to his every word.

As mentioned yesterday,  I had moved to Edinburgh to work in July 1985.  I don’t think I’ve given the details before, but my first job was as a committee administrator with a Tory-led council, one that involved me working directly with a number of folk whose political views were at odds with my own – not that I ever uttered anything in public as it could have led to me being fired!  To be fair, and looking back on it, these particular Tories, with maybe a couple of exceptions, were far from Thatcherites and very much to the centre of their party – back in the mid 80s, the Tories weren’t comprised completely of right-wing nutters.

Billy Bragg’s first two albums were a godsend.  If I’d had a bad day at the office, they could be my go-to records – along with those from Paul Weller and The Clash.  The third album was eagerly awaited.  It had been trailed by the release of a new single, Levi Stubbs’ Tears, whose promo video had been recorded onto VHS tape after it had been shown on Whistle Test on BBC2.  The promo was a single-track shot of Billy playing guitar and singing live until the point that the trumpet solo comes in to end the song.  I thought it was astounding.

I bought the album on cassette for the simple reason that I was going to be heading back and forth to Glasgow a couple of times over a short spell and thought it would be perfect for shoving into the Walkman.

My instincts were right.  It made for a wonderful listen. It was a totally different type of album than his previous efforts, thanks in part to the contributions made by other musicians such as Johnny Marr, Kirsty MacColl, Hang Wangford, Bobby Valentino and Dave Woodhead.  It’s the album which took Billy beyond any one-dimensional caricature of a protest singer and really laid the foundations for a career that is still going strong today.

mp3: Billy Bragg – Greetings To The New Brunette

Given that I’ve seen Billy Bragg play live more than anyone else in all my near 60 years on the planet, it was inevitable that one of his albums would make the longlist.  It was a hard choice between all the early albums and a couple of the later ones.  In the end, I went with the one that I can honestly say was the first to be on constant rotation, if indeed that’s a description you can give a cassette.

I still have the cassette, but I’ve also got this album on CD and vinyl, while it also, in extended form, forms part of a Billy Bragg boxset.  I won’t, however, be shelling out for Billy’s 14-CD Super Deluxe Box Set (RRP £120) that’s being issued this coming October to commemorate his 40th Anniversary as a performer.  Kind of feels like he’s taking the piss……


10 thoughts on “60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #59

  1. I bet that 14 track Box set comes with a sticker saying “pay no more that £119.99”.
    Great choice though, easily his finest album.

  2. Peak Billy obvs. I was in Edinburgh at that time and a Billy gig always gave me the frisson of hearing him sing about the crappy Thames Estuary backwaters of my youth, with the safety of a 400 mile cordon. Had forgotten there was a Tory council in Edinburgh back then. Ancient history.

  3. Great read, JC. It sounds like a superhuman effort to sit with
    those Tories and keep your powder dry.

    The box set, for a Bragg bluffer like me, is almost tempting. It’s a
    lot of cash of course, but I suppose it’s also a way to get Bragged
    up in one transaction. Further rationalisation comes from dividing
    the price tag by the quantity of tracks.

    The prob, as ever, is folk who are completists feeling compelled
    to move on it, despite owning all or much of the material already.
    I suspect your readers are familiar with that emotion. And
    since when did logic ever darken the door of a record collector?

  4. Defining album for me as well. I too have seen him more than any other artist. Even when he is promoting subpar material, his shows are always a treat and never disappoint.

  5. Greetings to the new brunette is a perfect song. Uncountable great songs, only a handful of perfect ones.

  6. Levi Stubbs’ Tears, definitely.
    Probably Brewing Up rather than Talking With The Taxman. Close call though.
    Box set. Think not! As Strange ways says, good way to get a great set of great music, but not a great way to get the same great music.

  7. As others have said, Levi Stubb’s Tears is as close to perfection in a song as you can get. Taxman, Workers Playtime and Don’t Try This At Home are the hat-trick heroes of his catalogue for me, with the latter just tipping it for the wondrous Cindy and the emotion of Tank Park Salute.

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