Various Artists - Millions Like Us (The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-89)

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7.5 Release Date:2014-12-08

For starters, let’s concede that there’s no way this four-CD set is going to escape a knock-down, drag-about argy-bargy among its intended audience. Retrospective genre overviews are doomed to failure by virtue of their very existence. There’s just bound to be too many acts that don’t belong, too many excluded bands that do (a mod revival comp without The Jam, Inmates, Vapors, Jagz, hmmm), and too many 'wrong' songs by the 'right' bands.

Cards and letters to compiler and annotator John Reed, whose 20,000 words in this cardboard box are sure to clue you in on everything you would ever need to know about the who (no pun intended), what, when, where, and why of the mod revival. Admittedly, Reed’s sometimes trainspotting minutiae will interest only the hardcore mod, but the fact that’s it’s all here is a history lesson in itself and a commendable archaeological dig.

For another view of the revival, you can compare and contrast Reed’s essay with Chris Hunt’s editorial 'The Mod Revival' from NME’s 'Mod Revival' special issue in 2007. So let’s just accept that up-front and deal with what we do have, not what we could or should have.

Reed traces his interpretation of the revival back to its punk roots (Sema 4, The Cigarettes, Teenbeats, the Jimmy Pursey-mentored Long Tall Shorty), through its heyday during the cusp of the new wave/power-pop transition (New Hearts, who morphed into the essential Secret Affair, the Tommy Ramone-produced Strangeways, The Donkeys, Squire, et al), the influx of pub-rockers like 9 Below Zero and Red Beans and Rice, and on up to its 'resurrection' in 1985 with bands like The Prisoners, The Moments, and Makin’ Time (I guess you could call it the revival of the mod revival?) You’ll also discover that the mod revival wasn’t just a cliquey lad’s club of parka-clad scooter boys, but actually tickled the charts with the mass appeal of bands like Secret Affair, The Chords, The Lambrettas, The Untouchables, and The Truth, all of whom briefly flirted with superstardom and the - egads - Top 40!

Many of the participants went on to greater notoriety in subsequent projects, and I always enjoy listening to these formative recordings to try and catch a glimpse of their talent early on. So you’ll appreciate (and maybe even enjoy) tracks from a pre-Talk Talk Mark Hollis in the admittedly non-Mod Reaction (1978’s ‘I Can’t Resist’ gets its CD debut). Shane MacGowan’s pre-Pogues band, The Nips, are represented by the classic power-pop of ‘Gabrielle’. The Charlatans’ Martin Blunt’s early days with Makin’ Time are revisited with ‘Here is My Number’. 

You’ll also have a chance to reminisce over early efforts from The Alarm’s Mike Peters (whose Seventeen recorded and released the first single on South London’s Vandetta Records, the brilliant Boys-like power-popper, ‘Bank Holiday Weekend’), Paul Young’s blue-eyed soul crooning on Q-Tips’ scorching cover of Joe Tex’s ‘S.Y.S.L.J.F.M.’, and The Woodentops’ Rolo McGinty’s previously unissued demo with The Upset, ‘Only for Sheep’. You can also try to unravel what the hell 'Modfather' Paul Weller was thinking when he spotted Mick Talbot and invited him to form The Style Council by giving a spin to the Merton Parka’s catchy ‘Plastic Smile’, and relive some seminal James Taylor vibes via his turn in the beloved Prisoner’s ‘Hurricane’. His own James Taylor Quartet’s Booker T.-styled take on Herbie Hancock’s theme from the Antonioni cult classic Blow Up is another highlight.

Selecting highlights from 100 choices is impossible, but I was particularly enthralled with the punky swagger of Sema 4’s ‘Sema 4 Signals’; Glaswegians The Jolt’s crunchy (original) version of Paul Weller’s ‘See Saw’, which predates The Jam b-side by four months; Secret Affair’s anthemic ‘Time for Action’; The Crooks’ punky, pub-rockin’ ‘Modern Boys’; The First Steps’ Jam-(and Jagz)-like ‘The Beat is Back’; The Lambrettas’ giddy, hyperactive ‘Go Steady’ and ‘D-a-a-ance’ (on Elton John’s Rocket Records); The Odds’ sax-driven, Bay City Rollers-ish ‘Saturday Night’; The Most’s infectious, John Peel-approved ‘Carefree’; The Scene’s frat-party-on-vinyl, ‘Hey Girl’, and several selections from the legendary, barnstorming, scene-defining live album Mods Mayday ’79. Another nice touch from Reed is his inclusion of many tracks from seminal mod revival compilations that, like all-too-many of these recordings, are long out of print.

Diving deeper into the box, there’s The Same’s unforgettable ‘Wild About You’; The Vandals’ ‘Bank Holiday’ (like a psychedelic Clash!); The Accidents’ brilliantly evocative ‘Blood Spattered With Guitars’ (another Peel favourite); the funky soul-strutting on Red Beans and Rice’s electrifying ‘That Driving Beat’; The Letters unbearably catchy ‘Nobody Loves Me’; The Fixations’ sharp, yet sadly unreleased ‘No Way Out’, and the very Jam-like Two Tone Pinks’ ‘Don’t Lecture Me’.

The pickings get slimmer as we head to the latter disks (most of these mod revivalists only released one or two singles before disbanding and after the ’79-’80 peak, and the tracks suffered from a sameness and possible bandwagon-jumping, with many bands also embracing the burgeoning new psychedelia and Britpop), but The Retreads’ Beatlesque ‘Would You Listen Girl’ is worth more than a few (listens, not girls). Direct Hits’ tender ballad ‘Modesty Blaise’ recalls Dan Treacy’s TVP and demonstrates why he signed them to his Whaam! imprint, while one of the few female acts in this decidedly all-male club, Dee Walker’s ‘Jump Back’, suggests the Tamla Motown sound was alive and well and could’ve used more plundering.

And then there’s the enigmatic and eminently collectible Eleanor Rigby and her controversial debut ‘I Want to Sleep With You’ (sorry, no condom included). While Makin’ Time’s impossibly irresistible ‘Here is My Number’ did feature female keyboardist and co-vocalist Fay Hallam, Syd McGounden seemed to get the lion’s share of the leads.

I also gave more than a few spins to The Untouchables’ insanely peppy ‘Free Yourself’; The Combine’s ‘Dreams Come True’ (featuring ex-Small World members); The Alljacks’ soul-struttin’ ‘Guilty’; The Co-Stars’ ‘Kiss and Make Up’; The Boss’ decidedly Jam-ish ‘One Good Reason’; the Star Wars-inspired opening to 'the Irish Jam’s (aka The Blades’) ‘Last Man in Europe’ (perhaps the only Mod Revival supergroup, seeing as they included members of The Chords, Purple Hearts, and Long Tall Shorty and were even managed by Weller senior); The Rage’s Motowny ‘Looking for You’, and The Risks’ distinctly Teardrop Explodes-ish ‘Jobs for the Boys’.

The revival continued beyond the seemingly arbitrary bookends Reed imposes (Bradford’s ‘Gang of One’ (1991) may be the best Jam impression this side of The Chords’ ‘Maybe Tomorrow’) and he even includes nearly half-a-dozen tracks released after his cutoff date. But as I said at the beginning, no use crying over spilled scooters and soiled Parkas! Just enjoy the seminal cuts from (most of) the essential revivalists.

And while the phenomenon was mostly a British/Irish one, with representatives from England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and the Channel Islands(!), Reed does reach across the pond to touch upon Southern California’s brief fling with mod via The Untouchables and Manual Scan, as well as New Jersey’s Mod Fun, with further afield exploits from Australia’s leading lights on the scene, Stupidity, naff name notwithstanding.

Now, you may not be chomping at the bit for a four-CD box with 100 tracks by nearly as many artists (and nearly as many you’ve probably never heard of – for the curious, Castle’s single disk SOUL TV tie-in The Mod Revival Generation: Time for Action includes most of the essential tracks featured here and will certainly suffice), but diehard fans in skinny ties and peg-legged trousers will find a lot to love (and hate) about this collection. It will certainly bring back memories and more than a few shouts of “Oi, I remember that ‘un. ‘Aven’t ‘eard it in ages.”

The sound is crystal clear – no needle drops here – and detailed release information (including later compilations and reissues – blatant advertising alert: nearly two-dozen tracks are licensed from or available on Detour Records) will also help you track down most of your favourite bands in case you want to explore their (often limited) output further. Finally, the countless photos, posters and gig adverts are priceless collectables of this by-gone, yet somehow very much alive (and much loved) snapshot of the late 70s/early 80s British music scene.

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