Deep Cuts

Deep Cuts, Reader’s Choice: Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson

I met Alex Johnson thanks to Why It Matters just a couple of short years ago.  Since then we’ve been fast friends on Twitter (follow him at @koolwriting) and have exchanged mail both real and electronic.

Alex was kind enough to send me a cast recording of Storm: The Musical, written by the man himself.  How cool is that?

What connects Alex and me are the Mods, that wonderfully stylish and R&B obsessed group of mid-sixties English kids that most of us know from The Who’s Quadrophenia.  What separates us is that I always wanted to be a Mod, though I missed the window by a good fifteen years, and Alex was right in the middle of it.  Yep, my friend Johnson is an original Mod.

And so I asked the big man if he’d put together a Mod “Deep Cuts” for you.  What follows is a Mod playlist that Alex put together especially for you along with his memories of the scene.  Although I’m supposed to maintain a pretense of editorial objectivity I’ll tell you a secret:  This is my favorite “Deep Cuts” yet.

Nineteen sixty-three, I was a naive thirteen year old, very much mixed up, teenager. My family surroundings lacked the love and security that a young teen needs. My mother, in her never ending search for money, had rented most of the space in our tiny terraced house, located in the then poor part of Chelsea. My stepfather was such a creep that writing about him would be a waste of time.

The law of the house was that children should neither be heard nor seen, so most of the time I was banished to the four walls of a tiny room which I shared with a lodger. To tell you the truth I have forgotten the lodger’s name, only that he came from the Caribbean. However, it is him I have to thank for showing me the magic of music, for the 45’s he played on his small record player helped to sooth the harshness of my then world. The music that he played also lead to the birth of my Mod soul!

Most of the boarder’s singles were different from the ones being played on the radio or television at the time, who in the few minutes devoted to the teen viewers and listeners would play the usual Elvis and Cliff Richard produce. But here was I, lucky enough to be exiled to a tiny room that opened my being to a universe of sounds that soothed the harshness of my then world.

I was in music paradise, listening to blue beat, soul and jazz, and in the process being introduced to the high priests of music with magical names such as James Brown, Solomon Burke, and of course Ray Charles. At the
time I had no idea who these artists were, but their music filled me with a warmth and rhythm I had never known before.

One song I was particularly fond of was “Mockingbird,” by Inez and Charlie Foxx. I suppose this song has always stuck in my head because it was the only major hit the brother and sister duo had, whereas all the other above mentioned went on to create one classic song after another.

“Going To A Go Go,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.  It was a cold winter’s night in 1965, I just turned fifteen, and after an aggressive argument with my mother’s then boyfriend I broke out of the house and made my way to London’s Soho. All I had was ten shillings, and the thin pullover I was wearing did little to protect me against the icy wind. Somehow I found myself standing at the entrance to a club that I had often heard mentioned by the kids at school, the Flamingo. It was Saturday, and the club had an “all nighter”. The entrance cost all my money but I didn’t care: the hypnotic beat of “Going to a Go Go” coming up the stairwell was too much to resist!

“I Can’t Explain,” The Who. We early Mods had some kind of bush telegraph: we always knew where to buy our clothes, and what club had the newest sound. It was through this Mod pipeline that I heard of a group called The Who and their first single, “I Can’t Explain.” It wasn’t the song that actually got my attention: it was the fact these musicians dressed and acted in a Mod style, which if I think back meant our cult was about to go mainstream. Interesting fact about this song is Jimmy Page plays lead guitar!

“Tin Soldier,” Small Faces. My personal favourite Mod group has to be the Small Faces, the reason being one of those simple happenings that make a day special.

It was a Friday afternoon sometime in the summer of ‘65, and I walked into a working man’s cafe at the back of Kings Cross, London. Who should be sitting there but the Small Faces. Steve Marriott caught me looking at their table, winked and said, “All right, mate.” I just smiled and replied a shy, “yes.”

Through my new Mod friends I had what was then considered gold dust by all Mods: tickets for that nights Mod oriented TV show Ready Steady Go! Who should be appearing but the Small Faces.  I was in the crowd in front of the stage as they came on. Steve spotted me amidst the crowd and asked jokingly, “Are you following me?” Man, was I proud! 

Apart from that, I found the Small Faces to be a great band. You would have to go a long way to find a voice and performer to match Steve Marriott’s amazing talent. Unlike The Who, The Small Faces made you feel as if you were mates. I don’t know of any ’60s Mod who does not have The Small Faces on his or her list of greats.

“Play With Fire,” The Rolling Stones. Obviously we were aware of the super groups of the time such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and each individual had his or her preference. I was more inclined towards the Stones. Not only did I find their music had more raw soul in its fibre, but the fact that they were formed in the pub on the corner of my street made them even more alluring! The little known “Play with Fire” has always been one of my long time favourites.

“Can’t Turn You Loose/Shake,” Otis Redding. In the spring of ‘66 Ready Steady Go! transmitted “The Otis Redding Special.” This was the last RSG! show I attended. Even now as my hair turns to grey and my body starts to show its age, I can close my eyes and imagine I’m sixteen again. The studio was very small; however, even with the ever-present cameras, which were very large, I can still feel the magical atmosphere that Otis created today.

Otis was a name with British Mods, long before it was heralded in his own backyard. His early death was a huge loss to the world of music.

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye. Tamla Motown was an important ingredient in every Mod’s music diet! The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Junior Walker, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and, and…the list goes on forever! At least 60% of our dance floor music came from Detroit City!

With so many platinum sounding songs to choose from, I had to go for the one that has been called the most perfect pop song ever, Mr. Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through The Grapevine.” A huge commendation for The Funk Brothers: a band of musical geniuses, without whom the sound of Motown might not have been created!

“Madness,” Prince Buster. Racism in the early Mod scene was practically nonexistent. Indeed, the cult emulated a great deal from the Rude Boy Jamaican youth movement, such as the pork pie hats, and their preferred music rhythm and dance style called ‘bluebeat’, later renamed as ‘ska’, which in its turn led to the sound the whole world knows as reggae. The stars of this genre were mostly recording on the ‘Blue Beat’ label, who had on their list of session musicians two youngsters, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley, no need to tell you what they got up to years later!

However, the main attractions then were, The Skatalites, The Deltas, Derrick Morgan, and my all time favourite Prince Buster.

In my opinion the following quote only scratches the surface of the decline of the Mod scene; however. it does show that we were a creative group of teenagers! “By the summer of 1966, the mod scene was in sharp decline. Dick Hebdige argues that the mod subculture lost its vitality when it became commercialised, artificial and stylised to the point that new mod clothing styles were being created “from above” by clothing companies and by TV shows like Ready Steady Go!, rather than being developed by young people customising their clothes and mixing different fashions together.”

What the above leaves out is the reason this so called ‘subculture’ came into being, and being an insider, even now many years later, I can allow my self to state my own comments.

The world the we were growing up in was grey, and our parents, and the city we lived in, still bore the scars of the war, most of us were starved of any emotional feelings from our families, and our homes were usually drab, and our future looked as dingy as our surroundings. Therefore, we were a lost generation, with no where to turn to except ourselves, and we found the love we were lacking in our music, and our way of dressing, as a group we had a common bond that, for a while, kept us safe in our own world.

I’m sure that most of the ‘Originals’ out there, no matter what road life has taken them on, have one fact in common: they can close their eyes and dream back to the days when London moved to the rhythm of their beat.

“I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” Otis Redding

Are you interested in writing your own “Deep Cuts” to share with your WIM-minded brothers and sisters?  Leave a comment or send me an email at: jostaffordjr@gmail.com.

1 reply »

  1. Love, love, love this Deep Cuts post. The music makes me feel great and full of yearning for a time when it seemed like music was truly being reborn. I also really enjoy reading the commentary that went along with each selection. Truly a pleasure.

    Like

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