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