Dave Greenfield was Punk's Rick Wakeman

Five tracks, Hot to trot in S. Korea, refunds for canceled shows, tech tips, Joe Jackson live

Welcome to New Directions In Music newsletter. Today’s newsletter feature is about Stranglers keyboard player Dave Greenfield who passed away last month. Greenfield was integral to the Stranglers’ sound and made the group suspect in punk rock circles.

This week’s Five Tracks I’m Listening To features a lot of music being released soon. Some of it is new, some of it, like Neil Young’s Homegrown, was recorded long ago but is just being officially released now.

I’m opening some discussion threads for readers, so feel free to comment on the topics—Favorite Neil Young album(s) and Songs that remind you of the time before covid-19. I can’t wait to hear from some of you. Now on we go to the newsletter…

The Stranglers were never a punk band, at least not by any of the normal measurable standards applied in 1977, and Dave Greenfield was a huge part of the reason for that. Keyboard players were few and far between in the first wave of UK punk, allowable in ska bands like the Specials but otherwise verboten. Even Siouxsie and the Banshees, the most Beatles-apologist-psychedelic-before-it-was-goth band to rise alongside The Sex Pistols and The Adverts, didn't have a keyboard player.

The only keyboardist from the era in any way comparable to Greenfield was Steve Nieve, keyboard player for The Attractions. In America, the L.A. punk band X managed to record four albums with ex-Doors organist Ray Manzarek, who was also their producer--but Manzarek was never a member of the band, and when X played live it was guitar-bass-drums only. 

In his book The Words and Music of Elvis Costello, James Perone makes a direct comparison between Greenfield, Naive, and Manzarek:

"Costello's melodic construction and the musical arrangement in the ...song 'Goon Squad," resemble the contemporary work of The Stranglers. The minor-key tune in the piece is based primarily on brief motives, and Steve Naive's electronic organ plays a prominent role in the instrumental accompaniment, much as Dave Greenfield's organ playing did with The Stranglers. Nieve's work on Armed Forces and Greenfield's work on the Stranglers' Rattus Norvegicus and No More Heroes sounds as though it follows in a direct line from Ray Manzarek's work with the Doors. " (p.31)

The very first track on Rattus Norvegicus, "Sometimes" sounds like an outtake from Waiting for the Sun, at least until Hugh Cornwell's brutish lyrics kick in, and even then we hear one of Greenfield's trademarks, the arpeggiated outline of chord progressions. In a rare interview on the band's official website, Greenfield insists that he was initially relatively unaware of Manzarek's work ("The only tracks by the Doors I knew were 'Light My Fire' and 'Riders on the Storm') and was much more influenced by Jon Lord of Deep Purple and, of course, Rick Wakeman. 

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And that was no way to get street creds in '75 when Greenfield joined the fledgling group. No one knew what to make of these blokes, all clearly older than the fans or the other bands. Their lyrics, frequently penned by singer Hugh Cornwell, were dismissive of social niceties and often seen as downright sexist thanks to songs like "Peaches" and "Princess of the Streets." 

But in the warlike world of mid-1970s British punk rock, the band's sound and Greenfield's keyboard setup reeked of the prog and art rock bands that punk was supposed to be replacing with a new sound and a new language. "I hated The Jam and The Stranglers: ghastly retro rubbish, old information," said Jon Savage, publisher of punk zine London's Outrage who became a writer for the major music mags. "The point about punk was that everything should be new." The band wasn't too impressed with Savage; bassist JJ Burnel beat him up one night after the writer gave No More Heroes a poor review in Sounds

“I tracked him down one night to the Red Cow,” JJ explained. “And I punched his lights out right there in front of Jake Riviera, Andrew Lauder – our A&R guy, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe – all these people saw what I did. So yeah, we made a lot of enemies, bless ‘em, and these people got in a lot of influential positions within the music industry and literature…"

The Stranglers began to form in 1974 before punk was a gleam in Malcolm McLaren's eye. They were looking for a different sound and they found it. The fact that their fortunes mixed, briefly, with the likes of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, and X-Ray Spex was somewhat coincidental. 

Before The Stranglers, Greenfield played in a band known as Rusty Butler, an outfit that definitely had prog leanings as you can hear on this clip. According to No Mercy, the group's authorized biography, Dave left school and spent the year he turned 18 in Germany, playing a variety of club gigs and army bases. Not only was Germany an ideal market for musicians to gain a great deal of experience playing live, it was also home to many of the most innovative rock musicians on the planet, with groups like Can, Faust, and Tangerine Dream dramatically expanding ideas of what rock and pop music could sound like.

Neither The Stranglers nor Greenfield felt constrained to remain punk or to continue to put out records like the first two. By the third record, Black and White, Greenfield's keyboards are the most distinctive feature of The Stranglers, and they remained so throughout the band's career. The one-two punch of the band's 1983 opus Aural Sculpture shows how Greenfield could play dirty rock organ one minute ("Ice Queen") and '80s new wave synth lines the next ("Skin Deep"). 

One of my personal favorite Dave Greenfield performances is "Waltzinblack" the solo instrumental that kicks off (The Gospel According To ) The Meninblack. It's a carnival piece with a certain German flair; tosses in a bit of back parlor Goth for good measure, and ends up being reminiscent of one of the more tension-riddled pieces of music ever composed--the "Third Man Theme." 

Another favorite, of course, is "Golden Brown," a song that was based on Greenfield's Adams Family-meets-Deep Purple harpsichord figure. The song grew out of Greenfield's keyboard riff and became the band's biggest hit and perhaps most defining song, even though they rejected it at first and did not think it merited release as a single.

Perhaps the most succinct summary of Greenfield's contribution to the came from original Stranglers vocalist Hugh Cornwall, who left the group in 1990. Cornwall posted the following Tweet on hearing of his band mate's death: "He was the difference between The Stranglers and every other punk band. His musical skill and gentle nature gave an interesting twist to the band."

5 Tracks I'm Listening To This Week

You Can't Hurt A Fool/Pretenders  The Pretenders have a new album coming out, now due July 17th, and just like in the old days, they've been releasing some solid singles ahead of the release. March saw "The Buzz" and the album's title track "Hate For Sale." In April they released this gorgeous R&B-style ballad that emphasizes Chrissy Hynde's ability to write and sing a beautiful song like no one else. This week they released a new single "Turf Accountant Daddy." The new Pretenders album is shaping up to be a must-hear record for me. Hear all four new tracks here

Canyons/Noveller  Guitarist/alchemist of sound Sarah Lipstate has a new album coming on June 12th entitled Arrows, and this is her second single promoting the new work. Lipstate is awash in guitar pedals and effects, but she wields them to create the most human of soundscapes. Inspired by noise rock, no wave, and ambient music, Sarah is the legit successor to the experiments of pioneers such as Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and Glenn Branca. In the words of Iggy Pop (Sarah was a prominent element of his album Free) she produces "symphonies for people who don't have a lot of time." 

Try/Neil Young  Releasing music from his vault is more than an exercise in nostalgia for Neil Young. The prolific songwriter and performer has recorded probably more tape than anyone since Miles Davis or perhaps Bob Dylan. "Try" is a winning little country number featuring Levon Helm at the drum kit and Ben Keith's haunting pedal steel guitar backing a typically laid back Neil vocal. "Try" is from the unreleased album Homegrown, recorded in 1974-75 and shelved in favor of Tonight's the Night. Homegrown will be released in June and I can't think of a summer when we've needed to hear it more.

False Prophet/Bob Dylan  I mean, Dylan is still bringing it at 80, with nothing to prove. This track has the gravitas of Johnny Cash's American recordings without the pathos. Dylan is the ultimate survivor and here he is like the unholy son of Jesus and Howlin' Wolf, crawling through the streets, bringing redemption or maybe just hellfire to the people he meets. "I ain't no false prophet/I just said what I said/I'm just here to bring vengeance on somebody's head. It's scary and reassuring all at once. 

Wade In the Water/Klaus Doldinger's Passport feat. Joo Kraus  Klaus Doldinger and Passport are shamefully ignored outside of Germany, but the legendary saxophonist has been making music since the first Passport album was released in 1971. Here he reinterprets tracks from his solo album Doldinger's Motherhood. This is the dance track the week needed, with an assist from trumpet player Joo Kraus. 

Bonus Tracks

Hot to Trot  Gen Z South Korean music fans are looking backward to 'trot' music, a folk style that was popular during and after the Korean War. Originally melancholy, the style became more pop-oriented, with references to love problems or even outright party music. Read Move Over K-Pop: Korean youth turn to old-time trot music and check out this video for one 'semi-trot' hit, One Shot.

Uncertainty surrounds live music tours and fans want refunds. When Covid-19 shut down the live music industry, there were lots of artists with a long list of tour dates to play and others who never made it out onto the road. But lots of tickets had already been sold for lots of shows. Now a lot of fans who bought tickets are unemployed or just cash strapped and they would like to refund those tickets. But if artists choose to postpone their tour dates rather than cancel them, Ticketmaster and other ticket outlets won't offer any refunds to fans. The level of uncertainty this causes everyone is counterproductive to the idea of getting live music back in the not-so-distant future. In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot hasn't yet announced the fate of this year's Lollapalooza shows even though I can't personally see a way that it will go forward. Read this piece by Vox Associate Culture Editor Allegra Frank to see why it's a complicated issue for everyone involved.  

Meantime, Ohio's current protocols allow for live music or DJs in restaurants and bars as long as the performers maintain a six-foot distance from all bar staff and patrons. So fat there haven't been many (any?) takers, but it gives some idea of where things may be headed. Keep in mind, though, that nightclubs (not yet opened) and bars are among the riskiest venues for coronavirus exposure due to being indoor places where people spend a lot of time together as well as...SINGING. Here's info on live music being reinstated at some places in Jackson Hole, WY and Victor, ID

Here's a deep dive into the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic on the music industry: The 1918 Pandemic's Effect on Music? Surprisingly little   Though the author notes that the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic are already more dire, it is an interesting piece that nonetheless makes a case for the fact that artists and fans are always going to find a way to create a market around music and the arts.

 Tech tips  Cnet shows you how to set a personal favorite song as your Amazon Echo speaker alarm, something you can't do from the app...here's five more music hacks for Amazon Echo...

Leaving you today with Joe Jackson live at the London Palladium 4/17/2020 (the good old days). Jackson performs his biggest hit "Steppin' Out." It's not my favorite Joe Jackson song, but watching this performance made me think about the comfort I used to derive from the song's lyrics in the '80s: 'You can dress in pink and blue/just like a child/And in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile/we'll be there in just a while" Plus there's the humorous schtick about the original drum machine used in the recording of the song. Finally, it's amazing how much Jackson could do with such a simple palette--the arrangement is great and so is the performance.

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