Sunday, 24 March 2013

Motown Junk


So you've stirred up the press, played a few gigs and got yourself a bit of attention - what next?  Ideally release a single that would live up to everything you've been saying and completely blow everybody away.  It didn't quite work out like that yet, but if anything could be that single it's 'Motown Junk'.  I'm really not exaggerating by saying this may be my favourite song of all time, top 5 definitely.  This also happens to be where I join the Manics story.

My older brother used to watch Snub on BBC2 regularly, so I would watch it occasionally too, and I'm fairly certain that I saw the brief interview and performance, although I didn't think too much about it amongst the multitude of other bands that would be on.  What I remember more was seeing a 10 second clip at number 9 in the Indie Charts on the Chart Show, mainly because they seemed pretty funny next to the usual shoegazers, baggy bands and transit van merchants.  At 12 years old I was only just leaving behind my early record collection of Aha, Rick Astley and Wet Wet Wet (unfortunately true), during the course of 1991 they would be replaced by the likes of The Farm, EMF and Flowered Up.

So I'd been introduced but not yet converted.  For 10 years I only owned 'Motown Junk' on record, as the B-side to 'Slash and Burn', and I think it's perfectly suited to listening on record.  The intro and outro, the generally tinny feel - maybe this was what Eddie Vedder was listening to when he wrote 'Spin the Black Circle' (I doubt it).  I picked up the 12" later on, in my early Ebay period, even though I had the B-sides elsewhere it was a gap in my collection that was relatively cheap to fill.  I also picked up the 20th anniversary 7" from Ebay more recently, as well as gaining another identical 7" inside the National Treasures boxset!



As with the other releases so far the artwork is fairly underwhelming compared to their image and press, although obviously a powerful image.  The mostly black back cover contains the lyrics from the chorus as well as an incendiary William Burroughs quote:

"Rock and Roll adolescents storm into the streets of all nations.  They rush into the Louvre and throw acid in the Mona Lisa's face.  They open zoos, insane asylums, prisons, burst water mains with air hammers, chop the floor out of passenger plane lavatories, shoot out lighthouses, turn sewers into the water supply, administer injections with bicycle pumps, they shit on the floor of the United Nations and wipe their ass with treaties, pacts, alliances."

The music and lyrics certainly matched the sentiment of that quote.  As the echoes of 'Revolution, Revolution...' first spring to life it's like all their small town boredom and resentment is being slowly condensed until that little crackle of feedback starts a chain reaction (no pun intended, Diana Ross fans) and it finally goes supernova as the band kicks in.

As far as opening lines go, "Never ever wanted to be with you, the only thing you gave me was the boredom I suffocated in" isn't a bad one, it fits the early Manics mood perfectly (interestingly, I linked the 'Motown Junk' video once to an American friend of mine who was previously oblivious to their existence, she has since always referred to them as the 'Whoo-hoos' after the sound following that opening line).

As good as their output had been to date, I don't think anyone would have expected THIS.  No one around at the time was playing music this wired, this exciting and with the closing line of "we live in urban hell, we destroy rock and roll" you may have just started to believe them.  I have to mention the fact that, even though they have avoided it for quite some time now, I still like the 'I laughed when Lennon got shot' line.  Not because I think it's funny when people die (obviously) but because people who get offended by things like that need offending once in a while.  Although maybe that was taken a bit too far later on....

One of the older songs, 'Sorrow 16', is the first B-side and shows they can do melody just as well as adrenalin-fuelled rock/punk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.  I would go as far as saying this may be the best B-side of any band on any single, with the possible exception of 'Just a Day' by fellow Welshmen Feeder, although that can be ruled out of the running as they came to their senses and put it in its rightful place later on.

So, following the best song of all time and the best B-side of all time must be an anti-climax, right?  Yes and no.  'We Her Majesty's Prisoners' is the weakest track of the three but is still a great song.  Much more understated than the previous tracks, Nicky certainly wasn't stretched recording it, with a mostly one note bassline for a lot of the song.  Piano made an appearance on the chorus too, along with the controversy seeking line of 'Ceremonial Rape Machine', which didn't quite make it as the final title.  It all ends with a big rock outro with a brief vocal appearance from a Mr N.Wire to round things off.


The single was reviewed in the 26th January 1991 edition of NME, described as "the wildest sounding record this week by several universes".  They seem to get the idea, going on to claim it "makes you want to punch some poor bastard out or storm the Winter Palace".  The hype was obviously working on the press.

The Snub appearance I referred to earlier can be found on a DVD compilation (yes, you guessed it, picked up from Ebay) called Televised Propaganda.  It's another one I'll be coming back to over and again as time goes on as it contains pretty much all the Manics' television appearances up until the 'Everything Must Go' era over 3 discs.



It starts off with an interview, talking about topics such as youth culture, with quotes like "we just want to mix politics and sex and look good onstage and say brilliant things" and "we're the most original band of the last 15 years" rolling off Richey's tongue as if he has been rehearsing (he probably had).  But in print it sounds like some brash, loud, arrogant band making wild statements to grab attention.  In reality Richey is talking quietly and self-consciously, making minimal eye contact while the rest of the band stand awkwardly, eyes darting around the room.  Nicky in particular is almost rocking backwards and forwards waiting for his moment before contributing "we'll never write a love song ever, full stop.  We'll be dead before we have to do that anyway".  They then try and alienate themselves further from their peers by claiming they only want to appear in the likes of the Sun, the Star and the Mirror rather than the NME.  Talk about biting the hand that feeds...

It finishes with what will later become the 'Motown Junk' video.  Essentially a live performance with the studio version dubbed over the top it showcases the Manics in full 'stencilled shirts and white jeans' mode, although Sean is letting the side down a bit with his bright blue and yellow top.  The lads give it their all, throwing all their best rock star shapes to match the thrill of the music.  The slow motion ending sums it all up though at this stage, as Nicky flails around with his bass, James does his first recorded spin on one leg....while the crowd just stands there staring.  Still some way to go then before the public is won over, but they have the attention of the press and now, without any shadow of a doubt, the songs to back it up.