If evidence were needed that all music is connected, this collection could well be it. You might think Australian punk, proto-Krautrock and Sister Sledge could only co-exist on a compilation called “Now That’s What I Call Utterly Unrelated”, but actually, beyond “Before The Fall”’s basic conceit, a few fragile connections start to present themselves. Henry Cow acted as support on a Captain Beefheart tour. Beefheart’s style was significantly influenced by bluesmen such as Leadbelly. Leadbelly and Pete Seeger hung out in 40s New York.
What else? ‘There’s A Ghost in My House’ and ‘Jungle Rock’ were both hits years after their original release. Fall fans wouldn’t automatically associate ‘The Mummy’ and ‘Transfusion’, yet listening to the originals reveals both as satire at the expense of the beatniks. ‘Transfusion’, like ‘Kimble’, owes much of its uniqueness to the innovative use of sound effects. ‘Kimble’ and ‘People Grudgeful’ are connected thanks to the fractious relationship between the artists concerned. ‘Grudgeful’ and ‘$ F--oldin’ Money $’ both play parts in stories of apparently unscrupulous label bosses. ‘$ F--oldin’ Money $’, ‘Rollin’ Danny’, ‘Transfusion’ and ‘Pinball Machine’ were all the work of artists who died before their time, some a little more before their time than others.
It’s fun to spot these connections but, as a Fall fan, I wouldn’t pin too much significance on them. Mark E Smith covered Monks’ tracks without even knowing their titles. He’s covered others without, by his own admission, being able to track down the publishing rights, knowing all the lyrics, or in the case of ‘War’, even remembering the tune. So while in some cases these originals will seem very familiar to Fall fans – the relative commercial success of ‘There’s a Ghost In My House’ and ‘Victoria’ is probably attributable to the fact the Fall didn’t muck about with the originals too much, while Smith’s vocal on ‘Mr Pharmacist’ is remarkably similar to Jeff Nowlen’s original – others are interesting as starting points for very different Fall readings.
These originals also demonstrate a lack of Smith snobbery towards music to which other contemporary bands would rapidly turn up their noses. Pop, blues, prog and daft novelties are all accorded the same respect, or lack of it.
As a fan of 60s garage, the Monks, Other Half and Sonics cuts on this collection were very familiar to me, but the journey into other genres has been a bit of a revelation. The habit of lifting rocksteady/reggae melody lines for retooling on other tracks led to a diverting trip which started with ‘People Grudgeful’ and took in related tracks such as ‘Longshot’, ‘Jackpot’ and ‘People Funny Boy’. Comparing versions of ‘Bourgeois Blues’, dipping a toe into the ocean of trucking music – all of this I would never have found myself doing had it not been for the cross-genre nature of Mark E Smith’s eclectic tastes.
By Dan Maier
As an occasional consultant without portfolio, the odd outside-sourced compilation falls into my ample lap, with varied reactions.
This one was curiosity as much as anything; what sort of group has this breadth of taste and depth of knowledge? I’d bought a couple of Fall 45s on release when I was hoovering up anything punk or new wave, but was sketchy on the group’s history and credentials. I knew about a third of the proposed track list and hadn’t played half of those for a decade or two.
Having worked on St Etienne’s “Dog & Duck” comp and been smitten by the Dylan “Theme Time Radio Hour” series, I was starting to get a feel for these mixed-genre listening experiences.
When the tapes were assembled the first revelation was that the Groundhogs made a good record. Having been bored rigid by their live appearances at early 1970s fresher’s weeks, I couldn’t believe they’d made such a stonking track. The song has substance, a hook and an altogether tough musical feel.
If my mod/skinhead gang had known of the existence of the Other Half’s ‘Mr Pharmacist’ back in 1969, it would surely have been a cult 45 to spin on the discotron while flicking through the pages of Mims prescription drugs catalogue as half-inched from a broken-into chemists a couple of hours previously. How we dreamed of a friendly apothecary.
Reggae’s a bit of a lost world to me – good in principle, but where do you start? ‘Kimble’ by Lee Perry’s a good place. Dub, innit?
Sister Sledge produced brilliant music, but you’ve gotta hear it occasionally and in the right place and context. This is that scenario and why clever compilations are so good.
What’s up with that Steve Bent number? Apparently it’s an all-time bad record, but with a great melody, casual rhythm and feel, a stunning arrangement with beautiful brass and some quirky lyrics Prefab Sprout would have been proud of. What’s not to like?
Henry Cow: I can dig it. One needs to be challenged.
The inclusion of the Saints’ ‘This Perfect Day’ shows Mark E Smith appreciated his contemporaries. I imagine his praise is hard won.
I cut my teeth on that Leadbelly Capitol LP in the 60s (40s recordings, apparently, but who’d guess) so revisiting him is a pleasure. Pete Seeger I wasn’t so sold on, but his lyrical activism and damned fine voice is refreshingly positive.
That’s just a third of the musical eclecticism on show here. Let me know when they do this set live please.
By Ady Croasdell