I actually wrote this ten years ago for the old blog as I was stunned that a full quarter-century had passed since its release. I resurrected and modified it, again for the old blog, in March 2011 to coincide with the release of a ‘Greatest Hits’ effort and recently found that particular piece of writing among another search of the archives. One of the most exciting things about the discovery was, unusually, being able to see the handful of comments left behind….including one from the mighty Echorich….which must have been among the first of what have been hundreds of shrewd contributions and observations over the years. But I’ll get to that in due course.
As I may have said at least twice before…..
…….Scritti Politti, which in effect was really just a vehicle for the talents of Welsh-born singer-songwriter Green Gartside had been kicking around as a band since the late 1970s. Gartside had a reputation in the music press as a left-wing intellectual, which was maintained with the release of the debut single Skank Bloc Bologna which was regarded as a pro-feminist song that attacked the way that much of society expected young women to conform to a lifestyle of dull humdrum work and then raise families.
I never actually liked the debut single and still don’t listen to it much today. If there was ever such a thing as free-form new wave, then this was it. The production values were non-existent, the vocals are lost amidst all sorts of sharp and abrupt changes in rhythm and you couldn’t really dance to it. So I never thought I’d pay much attention to Scritti Politti again.
A couple of years later, I picked up a free cassette with the NME which featured a Scritti Politti song entitled The “Sweetest Girl”. It was absolutely gorgeous and as far removed from Bologna as you could imagine. It’s not quite a ballad, not quite a full-blown radio friendly pop-song. It was driven along sedately by a piano and a drum machine and a fantastic near-falsetto vocal performance by Green.
It was later released as a single on Rough Trade Records and topped the indie charts. I remember buying the single and after listening to the a-side a couple of times flipping it over to something called Lions After Slumber – a funk/rap number that just blew me away. I spent many many hours trying to decipher the lyric……
Into 1982 and another single came out in the summer. It was called Faithless. And it was joyful, soulful and with a hint of gospel. Three completely different song styles, and every one of them on heavy rotation.
And yet another single appeared later in the summer – a double a-side effort entitled Asylums in Jerusalem/Jacques Derrida – this time there were hints of reggae kicking around as well as a more pop-orientated feel. By now, I was itching for the album to appear.
It was a really brave move to call it Songs To Remember as it left Green (as he was by now calling himself) open to ridicule. It turned out not to be an outlandish statement. The track listing was:-
01 : Asylums in Jerusalem
02 : A Slow Soul
03 : Jacques Derrida
04 : Lions After Slumber
05 : Faithless
06 : Sex
07 : Rock-A-Boy Blue
08 : Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’
09 : The “Sweetest Girl”
There’s not a bad track on this album. My only gripe at the time was the fact it had only nine songs, of which only four were brand new. The new songs showed further musical talents, especially on the jazz-tinged Rock-A-Boy Blue which featured a lengthy double-bass solo.
I thought I was in a real minority falling in love with Scritti Politti in 1982 as I don’t recall them having any real chart success – certainly none of the singles did anything. So I was surprised to learn in doing a wee bit of research that Songs To Remember sold enough to reach #12 in the UK album charts.
Green was now a man in demand, and he signed a huge deal with Virgin Records. Within two years he was a bona-fide pop star crawling all over the UK and US charts with a succession of pop singles that were typical of that decade – synthesiser-led, big big production sounds and topped-up by expensive videos with Green wearing designer clothes and expensive haircuts. These hit singles, and the subsequent album Cupid & Psyche weren’t all that bad compared to an awful lot of the drivel that dominated the charts at the time, but the joy and beauty of the debut album had been left behind.
My vinyl copy of Songs To Remember was pretty much unplayable by around 1990. The only time I heard any of the songs was when they came up on any compilation cassette tapes that I had made up over the years. It wasn’t until 2001 that I again got to hear all of the album in its glory when it was finally given a long-delayed release on CD. It still sounded incredible and timeless. And………..it came with a lyric booklet, so I quickly discovered that I had gotten about 85% of the words to Lions After Slumber spot-on……
I suppose you all know that Scottish popsters Wet Wet Wet took their band name from a line from the song Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’…..well if you didn’t, you know now….
(at this point I posted the vinyl rips of the three singles lifted from the LP – and as mentioned above, there were a handful of comments, including this)
Green Gartside is the epitome of a pop music one off! There is NO ONE remotely like him. Sure he has a bit of a familiar mad genius temperment that we see occasionally in music, but the idea that the same artist wrote songs like Skank Bloc Bologna, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) and Boom Boom Bap is really quite rare.
The two new songs on the greatest hits collection are pure Scritti, right down to the partnership with David Gamson. They will remind of Cupid and Psyche ’85 but are certainly more mature.
And back to Skank Bloc Bologna, this track, over all others is what comes to mind when anyone mentions Rough Trade Records to me. More than The Smiths, more than The Raincoats, Stiff Little Fingers or Swell Maps.
3:54 AM, March 17, 2011
Seems only right therefore to put a wider selection up today:-
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Skank Bloc Bologna
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Lions After Slumber
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
mp3 : Scritti Politti – The Boom Boom Bap
mp3 : Scritti Politti – A Day Late and A Dollar Short
Thanks Echorich for your unstinting support for so many years now. This entire post and its songs are dedicated to you.