Agit Disco 2 by Johnny Spencer

Agit Disco 2 by Johnny Spencer

Agit Disco 2 by Johnny Spencer

Although there were some exceptional rock recordings that would have some influence on me until Punk came along I grew up listening almost exclusively to black music most of which was from America. The struggles for civil rights by blacks in the USA during the early part of the 20th century was one of the most critical conflicts in the developed west; and up until the late 1960s, much of the music of Afro Americans reflected this. Located within that music was the message of resistance and hope, it spoke, not always directly, of a rejection of the status quo, a refusal to accept, and often of a complete disregard for convention, but also gave out a message of love, and the anticipation of another way of life, a life without burden, a life with justice. It was these sentiments embodied in the music sometimes ethereal at other times concrete that I along with many other working class youth in Britain felt an affinity with, though not necessarily knowingly. Having grown up ‘working’ class in a specific ‘outsider’ community I was sensitive to many of the themes in the music outlined above, and felt a particular empathy with the anger, at the hypocrisy and abuse, that would at times be manifest in the songs. Chuck Berry’s Too Much Monkey Business is a fine example of this, where his anger can be heard spontaneously breaking through at the end of some verses; but rage on the brink of containment can be heard at its most potent on Muddy Waters Manish Boy (first released at a time when black men were still called boy), the anger, self assertion and defiance in this song is quite literally palpable.

At the other end of the spectrum was Sam Cook, and it his A Change Is Gonna Come that represents a landmark in black popular music and the struggle for civil rights. He takes a reflexive and optimistic position, and without being whimsical or over sentimental maintains a critical position. James Brown’s devastating Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud marks something of an end to this period of subject as total outcast. It’s hard now to imagine how problematic this record was to white people, its message was so direct, so uncompromising that most whites, and possibly even some blacks, who heard it would have not only been offended but would also have felt vaguely threatened. In contrast to James Brown’s in your face approach, Marvin Gaye, when he finally broke free of the demands on him to be a crooner of love songs, wrote and sung what is considered to be the first black music concept album (What’s Going On, 1971). His music echoed that of Sam Cooke’s, a generation earlier, with a thoughtful and questioning approach to a wide range of problems, including, the economy, ecology, drugs, and war (he had recently lost his brother in Viet Nam), admittedly he based a lot of it around his religion, but none the less his presentation of the issues helped politicise and agitate me and no doubt many others.

In direct contrast to the largely middle class and bourgeoisie hippy movement that had developed in the UK in the mid to late 1960s, the Skinheads, another British working class youth movement disdainful of convention and authority, took instantly to Reggae, another form of black music still expressing much of the anger and passion that seemed to be slowly ebbing away from Afro American music. These records from Jamaica were talking about the reality of poverty, oppression and the struggle for justice for the underclass, songs like Israelites by Desmond Dekker and Sufferer by The Kingstonians, figured prominently with Skinheads; who while being depicted as anti social were in fact, by accepting the art and culture of the West Indies and its people, doing more for the social relations of those immigrants in the UK than is ever given credit for.

During the 1970s Reggae music was to take over the flame of dissent from the US; and, like its American counterpart, the music from Jamaica had, contrary to general impressions, many different forms. One such form: ‘Roots’, first appeared in the late 1960s. Roots music was characterised by its, often militant, political position, the songs regularly focused on social situations of the underclass, and would mix social comment with a spiritual underpinning (Rastafarian).  When I first heard this music again I felt some kind of affinity, as I knew intuitively these were songs on my behalf. Songs of honesty, in the face of widespread and pernicious dishonesty from capitalism and its running dogs: the state, the media, advertising and etc., One such recording Declaration Of Rights by the Abyssinians, heralded this force for good in popular culture. Roots music steadily grew and became more widely accepted by larger audiences until songs like Get Up, Stand Up, by The Wailers were agitating oppressed people all over the globe.

By the end of the 1970s Reggae music had still managed by and large to stay outside of corporate control, and became part of Punk, the first real politically militant British Pop music that I took to. Punk music sounded a wake up call to a disheartened and demoralised British public subjugated by years of lies from a political movement that had completely lost all integrity with the principles for which men and women had fought and sacrificed for. I was now, after years of musical agitation (yes I am extremely slow witted) beginning to have a clear and informed mind with which to make my own decisions, and amongst the many political, thought provoking and motivational records to come out of the Punk/New Wave era Bloody Revolutions sums up my political thinking at the time. I did decide then that it might be time for me to start trying to do a bit of agitation of my own . . .

1. Too Much Monkey Business – Chuck Berry 1956

2. Monkey Speaks His Mind – Dave Bartholomew – 1957

3. Manish Boy – Muddy Waters 1955 (1977)

4. A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke -1964

5. Where Have All The Flowers Gone – Walter Jackson – 1965

6. Were Gonna’ Make It – Little Milton – 1965

7. Sufferer – Kingstonians – 1968

8. Israelites – Desmond Dekker – 1968

9. Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud – James Brown – 1968

10. Declaration Of Rights – Abyssinians 1969

11. Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye – 1971

12. Mighty Cloud Of Joy – Mighty Clouds Of Joy – 1974

13. Don’t Give It Up – Blood Hollins – 1976

14. Supernature – Cerrone – 1977

15. Baltimore – Ron Pryer – 1978

16. Where Do The Children Play – Horace Andy – 1972

17. You don’t Know – Bob Andy – 1973

18. Fade Away – Junior Byles 1976

19. Get Up, Stand Up – Wailers – 1973

20. Bloody Revolutions – Crass – 1980

28. September 2008, 12:28 details & comments (2) Posted in: Johnny Spencer Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , The permalink address (URI) of this photo is:

Comments (2)

The (URI) to TrackBack this photo is:
  1. Is this a mix? Is there a way to download/listen to it? Let me know… Thanks!

    emmettJune 26th, 2009 at 15:56
  2. Johnny Spencer said…
    a few tracks that didn’t make it:

    My Life Is A Hard Life – Cables 1974
    For The Love Of Money – The O’Jays 1974
    Wake Up Everybody – Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes 1975

    I’ve Got To Help My People – Arthur Adams 1972
    Across 110th Street – Bobby Womack 1973
    Home Is Were The Hatred Is – Esther Phillips 1972
    I Hate The Capitalist System – Barbara Dane 1973

    stefanDecember 21st, 2009 at 22:53

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>