As the lockdown continues, I had this vague idea that I’d start writing about my favourite albums, or all of the albums by my favourite bands (not Quo, don’t fret, although……..nah), and whilst I toy with that idea, and how to try to do it differently to people who have mused on the same topic before (presumably writing about their favourite albums rather than mine), I remembered a bit of live footage which I used to have on videotape of one of those bands performing songs from one of those albums.
And it occured to me that other than their debut album, released in 1983, but which didn’t even begin to speculate about the merest possibility of crossing my radar until five or six years later, I own absolutely nothing else by them, despite them releasing their tenth album in 2019.
Even then, when I say “own” it took me an awfully long time to actually purchase a copy on CD; I picked that up in Cardiff’s Fopp, and that didn’t open until 2004, having survived with a copy on an old C60 cassette tape from 1989 until then. I was, it’s safe to say, long overdue in investing in a copy.
I speak, by the way, of Violent Femmes’ peerless debut album.
I’ve mentioned it before on these pages, but it’s one of those rare albums with not one duff track on it, each one an absolute pearl.
So how comes I’ve never bought anything else by them?
Well, I’d like to tell you that it was because I’d listened to some of their other releases and just not been fussed, that nothing they did could ever live up to that first record, and so I’d rather my opinion of them remained unblemished.
That’s close to the truth, but still not quite true. I think that, sadly, that first record reminds me of someone.
In my first year at college, before I started actually DJ’ing at it, I would regularly attend the bi-weekly Indie night, Funk Off (terrible name) and it was there, the first time I went, that I bumped into two girls who I recognised as being on my course. They recognised me too, and over the next few terms we got to become really good mates, sitting together in lectures and bars alike. They would always come and sit with me and my male friends at Funk Off, to the point where the boys would refer to me as “Jez MP”, the MP standing for Magic Penis. (Pure jealousy, of course: all this actually meant was that I knew some girls and they were unable to even speak to any.)
Anyway, as was my want when I was that age, I became moderately obsessed with one of them, and it was reciprocated to an extent; after a night out, she and I would retire to my room in the halls of residence, put a record on, turn the lights off and lay on the bed listening and smoking.
Nothing ever happened, for I knew I was firmly in the friend zone, and that any kind of move would not be appreciated. Which was lucky, as I had zero moves in my repertiore.
Come the summer holidays, and I was back at home when I was summoned one evening by my mother to the telephone in the hall. That’s where phones lived back in those days: out of the living room so nobody has to be disturbed by your bellowing conversation.
There was a girl on the phone for me – which seemed to surprise my mother more than me – and when I picked up, it was her, the subject of my unrequited obsession.
“I’ve just heard this record, and I had to call you because you’re going to love it,” she said, disregarding the tradition of saying “Hello” at the start of a conversation.
And then she proceeded to play the Violent Femmes’ first album down the phone to me, like my own personal Dial-a-Disc. When the first side finished, I could picture her – as I can now – cradling the receiver under her chin as she flipped the record over and let side two start.
Neither of us spoke throughout and when it finished she did the equivalent of rolling over and falling asleep: she just said: “Amazing, isn’t it? Better go, this is my parents’ phone” and hung up, leaving me to sit dazed trying to work out how I could sneak the equivalent of a post-coital cigarette without my parents noticing.
When term-time came around again, she thrust the aforementioned C60 into my hands the first time we met up again.
That’s what you want in a partner, isn’t it? Someone who hears something, thinks of you, and makes damn sure you know about it.
And that’s why I don’t think I have ever bought another record by the Violent Femmes: for nothing could be as perfect, so unexpected, so welcome, as my introduction to them.
Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes is a masterpiece, choc-a-bloc full with catchy tunes, sing-a-long lyrics, teenage angst, enough rude words as to offend your parents’ ears, and all played on acoustic instruments which would inspire wanna-be musicians to learn to play their songs. I rarely give money to buskers, but if ever I hear one playing Add It Up I will literally empty my wallet into their flat cap.
So here are my favourite songs from that album; like I say there isn’t a duff tune amongst the ten, so it’s quite tricky to just pick four or five out, but I’ll give it a go:
The next one contains some effing and jeffing; please approach with caution:
Altogether now: “Third verse, same as the first!”:
As covered by Gnarls Barkley (aka CeeLo Green & Danger Mouse):
And finally, possibly the most gorgeously yearning album closer ever; listen to this and you will understand why I didn’t want that phone call to end:
Okay, that was six. Close enough.
Which brings me to that live footage I mentioned earlier. Recorded at London’s Lyceum Theatre back in 1984, broadcast in the wee small hours on regional TV, this is Violent Femmes performing the opening salvo from that album, and demonstrating why, if you’re filming your own gig, it’s essential that you make sure the cameraman is a fan: