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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Favorite Punk Records - Little Johnny Jewel

By 1976, I was deeply into reading New York Rocker, Creem, Rock Scene and any ‘zine that published info and photos of this punk rock thing.

Patti Smith had already released her album “Horses,” a work that stands up today still, as groundbreaking and genre-defining; it fills in the gaps between rock n roll, poetry, art, punk and the underground. Back then, you couldn’t say “Patti Smith” without also saying “Television.”

little johnny jewel

Some of the now and then legendary singles that you absolutely had to have were Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel” and Patti Smith’s “Piss Factory.” I had them both. Today, my copy of “Piss Factory” is missing in action – but I carried it dutifully with me on every move I made, from Los Angeles to London to Paris to Dublin, back to LA and then to NYC. If my copy of “Piss Factory” found its way into the collection of any of the bands that have camped on my couch in various apartments from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back to Brooklyn again, then I guess it is in good hands.

I am happy to have not one, but two copies of “Little Johnny Jewel.” Why? Well, you could say that having two of a particular item you really love was a habit I picked up from my mom (she used to tell me if I found a pair of shoes I loved and that were comfortable or a pair of jeans that fit right, I should buy at least two pair! Now that woman could shop!) but the truth is, “Little Johnny Jewel” is a 7:30 long song, and on the single, it is divided into Part One and Part Two, over the two sides of the single. I could stack them and listen to the song without having to flip the single over. Pretty clever, huh?

Seven minutes and thirty seconds is completely antithetical to punk rock’s bar set by the Ramones with their 1-2-3-4 furious songs of three minutes and under. But Television weren’t a punk band, even though their insistence on turning the bar CBGB into a rock n roll venue opened the door for punk rock in downtown NYC…as musicians, they were practiced perfectionists whereas their scene peers were spontaneously sloppy.

tom verlaine looking up

Television would play near-jazz-explorations and they’d do it like jazz masters… speaking of which, Tom Verlaine has been playing that Fender Jazz Master for as long as I can remember. It’s a fine machine and not the weapon of choice for rock n roll guitar players until Verlaine popularized it. It certainly wasn’t the Mosrite favored by Johnny Ramone or the super cheap Airline popularized during the Second Coming of Garage Rock by Jack White after he bought it from the all-too-often-unsung genius Jack Oblivian. And all that adds up to all these guitar heroes who aren’t really punk rockers at all…their cues come from early in the 20th Century. Meanwhile…. I’m waiting for the Third Generation of the Rickenbacker (that would be post-Beatles, post-Paisley Underground).

Television have but three studio albums to their credit, and three releases of live performances. Both Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd combined have a great deal more in solo albums. Every groove of that vinyl is worth owning.

And if someone finds a copy of “Piss Factory” backed with “Hey Joe” by Patti Smith and you don’t want it… I might be willing to trade my second copy of “Little Johnny Jewel.”

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