It’s no secret that Mark E Smith doesn’t take too kindly to bands that he perceives to be ripping him off…
“Pavement, it’s just the Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.” *
All the more ironic then when one stumbles upon a tune to which a Fall track owes a very obvious (and unacknowledged) debt. Still, Pablo Picasso (allegedly) said ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal and make better’. Let’s see if MES gets away with it with a few of the most obvious examples…
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Gloomy / Wrong Place Right Time
For some reason I’d never got around to listening to CCR’s debut, self-titled LP until recently – mainly because it’s not reckoned to be very good. And it’s not very good – at least not compared to their subsequent releases. It does, however, feature a track called ‘Gloomy’ which bears a very strong similarity to ‘Wrong Place, Right Time’ from ‘I Am Kurious Oranj’. It’s not just the core riff, it’s the sparse, punchy twang of the guitar and bass working in unison which some might describe as a key element of the classic ‘Fall sound’.
MES comes out on top by stripping the riff down to basics, speeding it up and repeating it relentlessly (as usual). ‘Wrong Place, Right Time’ is direct, unapologetic and in your face whereas ‘Gloomy’, a fairly experimental arrangement by CCR standards, is a bit of a meandering mess. It does end well though, with a cracking instrumental section that could (and probably should) form the template for at least one other Fall track.
Spinal Tap – Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You / Athlete Cured
A bizarre place to look for of inspiration but there’s no denying that the main riff in Spinal Tap’s comedy rock paedo number bears a certain, er, ‘resemblance’ to ‘Athlete Cured’ from ‘The Frenz Experiment’. OK, when I say ‘resemblance’ I mean it’s exactly the bloody same. Even though it’s not meant to be taken seriously Tap’s version still manages to rock in a dumbass way. ‘Athlete Cured’ does too, but the version on ‘The Frenz Experiment’ sounds a bit lacklustre and restrained by comparison. It’s a problem with the album (and its predecessor, ‘Bend Sinister’) as a whole. The Peel sessions from the same period are considerably more visceral and a much better record of just how great a live band The Fall were at the time.
And strangely, despite ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You’ being an out and out comedy song, MES’s tale of a German athletic star accidentally poisoned by his well-meaning brother actually manages to be funnier. It’s witty, original, and though straightforward in construction (by Fall standards) still peppered with the typical MES linguistical quirks – this one’s a particular favourite…
“But on returning from his clerical job, Gert
Would park his Volkswagen at the end of the day,
Willy-nilly in the driveway”
Thankfully there’s no happy ending as the Stasi ensure that the athletic star’s ‘well-meaning’ brother disappears without a trace and is never seen again – a paranoid twist reminiscent of that other classic Fall story-song ‘New Face In Hell’.
The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog / Elves
The similarity between ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ and ‘Elves’ from ‘The Wonderful And Frightening World Of…’ is well documented. MES claims that Brix came up with the riff and had never heard The Stooges. This seems unlikely, given Brix’s arts student and garage-band background, but it’s such a basic, primeval sounding chord progression that maybe we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – even though the tempo is practically identical and there’s also a strong similarity in the drawling vocal lines of both tracks.
‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ is a great raw rock track but ‘Elves’ is better. Strange, impenetrable, dark and compelling it’s one of The Fall’s finest moments. There’s that weirdly spooky and disconcerting keyboard line that never quite fits and sounds like some spirit-child noodling on a Bontempi organ, and Karl Burns thundering drum part which seems to be holding everything together one moment whilst threatening to tear it apart the next. And of course that moment when MES spits out ‘Elves’ with such venom that the rest of the band disappear into oblivion, like he’s completely overloaded the multitrack. Wonderful and frightening indeed.
So I guess ‘steal and make better’ applies to all the above. Is it, I wonder, a ‘matter of small consequence’ that all these examples come from a period when The Fall were producing some of their strongest material? Maybe MES should get his notebook out more often…