Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18: The Adverts, "One Chord Wonders"

Artist: The Adverts
Song: "One Chord Wonders"
Album: Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts
Year: 1978

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While nobody will argue the inherent difficultly in finding success in the music business, this achievement is made all the more difficult when there are bands who play the same style of music that are so dominant, that they overshadow nearly every other band.  Whether it was The Beatles being given all the credit for the "British Invasion" or Bob Dylan standing as "the" folk singer, artists such as these still define the genre ever decades after the high points of their careers.  Yet it goes without saying that countless bands still persevered even in the reality of such commanding names, and it is often within these groups that were somewhat passed over that one finds some of the brightest moments from a particular genre.  In the late 1970's, unless your band was called The Clash or The Sex Pistols, chances are, if you were a punk band in the U.K., you were going to have a very difficult time gaining any traction.  However, bands like The Ruts, The U.K. Subs, and The Damned among many others, proved that there was true musical brilliance in these music-critic-termed "second tier" punk bands.  Then, there was one band that was able to break-down a number of stereotypes and norms whilst simultaneously staying firmly rooted in the punk style.  Though they only existed for a few short years, one cannot deny the importance of The Adverts, and everything that makes them great can be found in their somewhat autobiographical 1978 single, "One Chord Wonders."

Along with the album from whence it came, The Adverts' phenomenal debut, Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts, the song is a somewhat sarcastic, yet hard hitting punk classic, and it in many ways captures everything that was going on within the punk scene at the time.  As if the song title itself does not imply enough, the mood and urgency within the music drive home the point that "this" is what punk rock is all about.  Truth be told, there really is no single aspect of the music that dominates the others, as all three musicians are given equal space to make their noise.  It is within the musicians strong of The Adverts that the band were extremely significant and important, as their bass player was Gaye Advert, who many see as the first female "star" of the punk era.  The tight rhythm that she locks into with drummer Laurie Driver was everything that made the U.K. punks sound great: fast, un-breaking, and a bit wild.  This was the key to much of the overall greatness of their debut record, and surely what made them a significant draw at clubs throughout the U.K.  Topping off the musical mayhem that is "One Chord Wonders" is the guitar playing of Howard Pickup, and his crunching tone and aggressive style serve as the ideal compliment to the rhythms section.  Keeping any solos or other "non-essential" music to a minimum, "One Chord Wonders" is a true punk classic, and it is in many ways musically superior to some of the more famous peers of The Adverts.

As fantastic as the music is on "One Chord Wonders," it is the final element of the vocals of T.V. Smith that push the song over the edge and make it nothing short of iconic.  Unquestionably one of the most influential voices of the punk era, Smith had the attitude and snear as good as any other, yet his ability to "actually" sing in a superior style is what set him above a majority of his peers.  On "One Chord Wonders," his vocal approach falls somewhere between the monotone style of Mark Mothersbaugh and the detached, somewhat remiss approach of Johnny Rotten, and this combination forms an absolutely superb vocal sound.  While Smith perfectly captures what a punk vocal "was," it is within the lyrics of "One Chord Wonders" that the band pulls no punches and defines the scene in which they lived in perfect style.  Though the lyrics are short, there is a great deal of meaning within them, and there are few more amusingly accurate lines than when Smith sings, "...I wonder how we'll answer when you say, "We don't like you - go away"..."Come back when you've learned to play"..."  One would be hard pressed to find a more indicting verse, and the fact that it came from within the scene not only gives it credibility, but also makes the slightly tongue-in-cheek nature a bit more clear.  Yet one cannot write this song off as a complete joke, as there are countless bands that fit the title of "One Chord Wonder," and one would be doing the song a disservice to write it off as anything less than a brilliant musical statement.

It is a rare occasion when any scene within music turns the pen on themselves, and even more an uncommon occurrence when the resulting song is not only accurate, but condemns certain aspects of that scene.  Making very aggressive statements at the fans of punk rock in the late 1970's, The Adverts took the chance of having the crowd turn on them when they released their debut album with the song, "One Chord Wonders."  Though the band does comment that perhaps the musicians themselves are not always the most talented, the band calls out the fickle nature of the fans in the line, "...we must be new wave - they'll like us next year..."  One can easily make the case that had it not been for the driving, unrelenting musical assault that moves behind these words, it may have had a different reception within the scene, and yet the song itself remains one of the most iconic of the era.  The rhythm section of Advert and Driver stand today as one of the most powerful of their time, and one simply cannot overstate the importance of Gaye Advert, as she served as the model for nearly every female musician that followed who played more aggressively-orientated music.  Howard Pickup's guitar blasts across the track, and the song has a sense of completeness that was often missing from the music of their peers, and the entire album feels far more "finished" that those of many of their contemporaries.  From the music to the singing to the absolutely fantastic lyrics, there are few songs that both describe and indict the bands' own music scene as perfectly as The Advert's 1978 classic, "One Chord Wonders."

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