Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28: The 101'ers, "Keys To Your Heart"

Artist: The 101'ers
Song: "Keys To Your Heart"
Album: Keys To Your Heart (single)
Year: 1976

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While many may point to the waning years of the previous decade as the most musically creative, one can easily argue that it was the first half of the 1970's where music truly began to expand in countless directions.  Aided by new technologies, as well as a number of different cultural movements, all across the 1970's one can find absolutely amazing musical moments; many of which have been lost in the shadows of the "mega bands" of the era.  Whether these smaller bands were experimenting in heavy metal, electronic, jazz fusion, or simple rock and roll, it was often these unorthodox approaches that led to new sounds and styles entering the mainstream.  Yet there were also a number of bands that were attempting to take the "standard" sound of rock and roll and simply give it a new, youthful energy, and in London, many of these groups became labeled as "pub rock."  Among these fantastic, yet little known bands was a small group of musicians from London that called themselves The 101'ers, and though the group was extremely short-lived, the impact they had on music can still be felt today.  Though the band did not release any studio recordings before they broke up, there is no question that the group is responsible for one of the greatest songs in history, as there are few recordings that are as truly perfect as The 101'ers 1976 single, "Keys To Your Heart."

From the opening notes of the song, there are clearly a number of different influences at play on "Keys To Your Heart," as the song has a classic rockabilly sound, and yet there is an urgency and edge that makes it far more modern.  Much of this unique tone can be heard in the guitar of Clive Timperley, and it his his playing that drives the entire song.  The way that his notes strike a brilliant contrast with the rhythm guitar part is absolutely fantastic, and one can easily hear how this recording led to the punk sound.  The second guitarist was a man who was then calling himself "Woody," but a few years later, he would make his name under the alias "Joe Strummer."  Even as early as "Keys To Your Heart," one can hear the distinctive tone and approach that would become his signature sound with The Clash, and yet there is almost an innocence to his sound here that makes it all the better.  "Keys To Your Heart" also has a rather unique pace, and this is due to the bass of Dan Kelleher, as he gently thumps in the back of the mix, almost giving a human "beat" to the track.  Rounding out the group was drummer Richard "Snake Hips" Dudanski, and it is his "sting" that serves as an ideal finishing touch.  The overall sound that the group presents is a perfect blend of the early 1960's rock and a new, youthful attitude, and it is the type of song that almost demands to be listened to over and over again, never losing its impact or sense of enjoyment.

"Keys To Your Heart" also represents the first recording of Joe Strummer as a vocalist, and there is no question that even after having one of the most famed careers in history, this remains one of this finest performances.  There is a youthful purity and carelessness to his sound on this track, and yet one can also hear how this recording would lead to his iconic tone all across the catalog of The Clash.  The rough, yet someone vulnerable tone that Strummer perfected throughout his career is in top form on "Keys To Your Heart," and this is without question one of his finest lyrics; though it is certainly a far cry from the subject matter for which he is best known.  Yet it is in the fact that the lyrics found here are so different, yet fit perfectly with the rest of his writing that shows just what a diverse talent lived within Strummer, as the unwavering sincerity in his words is as obvious here as on any of his other songs.  However, it is the attitude with which he sings that pushed "Keys To Your Heart" to such a special place, as in many ways, the song can be seen as "the love song for tough guys," as Strummer's matter-of-fact delivery style helps the song to retain its edge, even within such a sentimental theme.  Furthermore, the words are so straightforward and universal that one can imagine the song setting off a room of people singing along, and this would be a large part of the lasting legacy of the performance persona of Joe Strummer.

Though there is no question that the work he did with The Clash casts a massive shadow over this early single, on many levels, it works in the songs' favor.  Due to it being such a different musical sound, "Keys To Your Heart" can easily stand alone and be judged on its own merits, and even without his later work, the song is one of the finest recordings in history.  It is the way that The 101'ers were able to blend together so many different influences, creating a wonderfully unique and exceptionally catchy song in the process.  At the same time, "Keys To Your Heart" has a bit of a "garage rock" feel to it, as the simple, unembellished musical arrangement quickly draws in the listener, and once the hook and lyrics are set into place, the song is impossible to get out of your head.  Furthermore, at the time it was being performed live (and eventually recorded), "Keys To Your Heart" was quite distant musically from what was going on within the mainstream of music, and it is due to this reason that one can see how vital the track was to the development of the punk sound.  Truth be told, The 101'ers were the headliners at a critical show in April of 1976 when a small band called The Sex Pistols opened the show, and it is this performance that many cite as the "beginning" of the punk movement in England.  Regardless of all of the historical significance of the track, at its core, "Keys To Your Heart" is an absolutely fantastic recording, and even more than three decades later, it is difficult to not fall in love with The 101'ers brilliant 1976 single.

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