Who Said Rudi Can't Fail?
If only they had recorded just that one song ... pt one
It's been an f of a week. No, don't jump to conclusions! What I mean is that I have been playing some things beginning with f on my walkman travelling to and from work. More specifically the 5th Dimension's Magic
Garden and the Flamin' Groovies' Shake Some Action set have been
my soundtrack to the week.
The former's the fabulous collection of Jim Webb songs and baroque orchestral arrangements that outshines other over-the-top yet maybe more mainstream acclaimed sets from the likes of the Left Banke, Association and Beach Boys (though please someone salvage Thelma Houston's sensational suite of Jim Webb songs Sunshower!). And we should really sing out about the brilliance of the 5th Dimension, and their mentor Bones Howe who would become so synonymous with the remarkable career of Tom Waits. Just thinking actually of that story in Glen Matlock's memoirs, where in '76 Joe Strummer takes the punk in-crowd down to Ronnie Scott's to see Tom perform. And the great man comes to the door, then while they're talking takes a pint of Guinness with a full head from the inside pocket of his Crombie without spilling a drop. How cool is that?
Now that latter record is the '76 set the Groovies recorded with Dave Edmunds, and the title track is rightly regarded as one of the great timeless pop masterpieces, up there with the Lovin' Spoonful's 'Do You Believe In Magic?' and the Byrds with Gene Clark in full flight. Bill Drummond famously argued that Sire squire Seymour Stein should never have allowed the Groovies to record any other song than 'Shake Some Action'. He's got a point. Yet the LP contains a batch of glorious, immaculately messy beat gems which would brighten up any damp winter day, even if on CD they still sound as if they were recorded at the bottom of a fishtank.
Just thinking about what the old Bill said though reminded me of my treasured CD of the best of Rudi. Now if there was one group who could still be at the top table at any pop awards function even if they only recorded just that one song then it's Rudi. And that song is 'Big Time'. What an absolute classic explosion of melody, energy and creativity, and yet when was the last time you heard it?
You still get grown men shedding a tear for lost youth when the closely related Undertones' 'Teenage Kicks' brightens up the radio, but whither Rudi? They were there first. They were the first of the Northern Ireland punk groups. They were the first to record for the great (independent Belfast) Good Vibrations label, and that single 'Big Time' probably sold more copies than any of the current pop idolatry so desperately seeking the big time.
'Big Time' even more than 'Teenage Kicks' captured a very specific spirit and sound. It connected the punk blast of enthusiasm with the ultra-pop spirit of everything from Spector and the Shangri Las to the Seeds and Standells to T Rex and The Sweet. And if you will excuse me coming over all Nick Hornby-ish it has one of the top 10 intros ever (with the Mekons' 'Where Were You?' still up there at the top!) and one of the top 10 guitar breaks ever (with the Buzzcocks' 'Boredom' still out in front).
And there was something about those Northern Ireland punk blasts of garageland noise before the bubble burst. I dunno, perhaps it was a certain innocence due to being so far removed from the industry machine, but the rawness still works. Forget the tired 'Teenage Kicks', you need to check out the Outcasts' 'Self Conscious Over You' and Protex's 'Don't Ring Me Up'. Wasn't there a film made of that scene called Shellshock Rock? Has anyone got a video of it they could copy for me?
Anyway in time honoured Rudi did their best to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to avoid making the big time. I suppose it is only fair to mention that they did go on to record a few more classic pop moments. One being the I-Spy EP for Good Vibrations, which is four glorious explosions of melodic magic. The second being the Paul Weller/Pete Wilson produced 'When I Was Dead', which again suggests (see also the Nips' lost 'Happy Song' & the recently rediscovered Purple Heats recordings) the man from Woking could have been one of the great pop producers.
This single was released on the Weller-backed Jamming! label, run by Tony Fletcher who had championed Rudi in his fanzine of the same name for some time. Actually Jamming! was probably the first fanzine I ever bought, and I remember Rudi in there and the astonishing shaggy bouffant singer Brian Young I think sported. A second Jamming! single 'Crimson' turned out to be another delight but sadly also turned out to be Rudi's swansong. When The Jam split and funding for the Jamming! label disappeared, the group decided this was one cruel twist of fate too many and called it a day.
Yet we still have the wonderful 'Big Time'. It is available on the Rudi compilation which the Cherry Red set-up has just reissued, so if perchance you have never heard it be brave this Christmas and shove it in someone's stocking.
© 2003John Carney