30 June 2008

Flash and the Pan - Down Among The Dead Men



Date of Release: 1978/ 1983 (flopped both times in the UK)
Label: Easybeat


At this point, I do have to declare that the inclusion of this track on this blog is perhaps unfair - Flash and the Pan were one hit wonders in Britain with "Waiting For A Train" actually sniffing the arse end of the Top Ten, but this track was issued before that. This technically breaks my own rules of only allowing the inclusion of material by acts either on the wane at the time the work was issued, or acts who never entered the charts in the first place.

In my defence, I should say that an optimistic record label did re-issue this single after the band tasted stardom, but it still did no business at all. And anyway, what the hell, it's actually a great buried single with such a preposterous video that you'll all thank me for mentioning it.

Whilst this single is a lyrically unadventurous piece of work, outlining the events on the Titanic in rather dispassionate, list-loving tones, it's still a treat otherwise. The clipped, cold vocals and the dancefloor rhythms and electronic twitterings towards the end make it an actually pretty damn good new wave single from an unlikely source. George Young and Harry Vanda were originally members of the Easybeats (already included on the "Wallpaper" compilation elsewhere on this blog) and this was quite some departure from "Friday on My Mind". Whilst the music press seemed quite happy to ignore Flash and the Pan's output in favour of younger, hipper acts, in retrospect this is a much bolder leap into then-modern production territories than either The Rolling Stones or any of the Beatles managed.

The break wasn't entirely clean as the compilation album "Panorama" proves. Periodically on that disc there's the odd clunker which sounds slightly like men out of their depth (drowning with the Titanic, perhaps) but there's also a lot of interesting material, some of which should actually have been sampled by some forward-thinking person by now. And yep, they did go on to produce AC/DC, their younger brothers.

As for the video, the sight of grown men dicking around in pirate costumes is always worth five minutes of your time. "All You Ever Wanted To Know About Ice and Fog But Were Afraid To Ask" indeed.

6 comments:

Paperback Tourist said...

What's weird is that I remember this record pretty much note-for-note although I don't recall ever hearing it. 1978 was some kind of curious year for me, I seemed to have absorbed every record that came out intimately... It reminds me of 'Airport' by The Motors in some ways too and let's be honest, the vocal is attempting to be Mark Knopfler, who all the straightest groups thought was very cool and very new wave.

23 Daves said...

(*Goes away, tries to remind himself what "Airport" by The Motors sound like* - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baLilwDcjko)

Jesus Christ, besides the shock of seeing Jimmy Saville doing a sinister and possibly slightly fluffed introduction, that's not how I remember the song - that almost sounds like something XFM would playlist as being a top new retro band now. And I don't mean that in a good way...

There are stylistic similarities going on, though, and I agree with the Mark Knopfler comparison, although wasn't Knopfler originally just doing a cack impersonation of Lou Reed? Or was that just the assumption I always made?

The less credible edges of late seventies new wave fascinate me now. It's like some peculiar bastard pop produced by jittery session men on caffeine rushes. You'd get Eurovision entries which sounded like "Airport" as late as the mid-eighties too.

Cocktails said...

I think this was quite a big single in Australia in 1978 (I have it on a Reader Digest Year's Best compil. from the time).

And 'Airport' is a top song. It was actually one of my songs of the week a few months back.

Paperback Tourist said...

Yeah, there's a lot of Lou Reed in male vocalists of that era. And Bruce Springsteen. It's amazing how many 'punk' groups (Geldof, I'm looking at you) wanted to be Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. I must admit I quite enjoyed listening to 'Sultans of Swing' when I cross-referenced it with Flash and the Pan. It's like a groovy version of Television. In my head, I've always assumed that Knopfler was trying to sound like Dylan, but I realize now it's the other way round. Dylan has been 'singing' like Knopfler since 1978. There should be a companion version to Reynolds' 'Rip It Up and Start Again' book that deals with the less fashionable end of New Wave... You should write it!

23 Daves said...

Geldof famously got booed onstage in America for introducing "Rat Trap" by saying "People say this song sounds like Bruce Springsteen - but I want you to know that Springsteen couldn't write a song as good as this if he tried". He said he was on the wind-up at the time, and the audience didn't take the comment in the spirit it was intended.

Anyway, as for me writing a book on this subject, I'm afraid I barely know anything about it. It's a new interest of mine - until recently, I was something of a slave to critical opinion where this era of music is concerned. I'm also not prepared to argue (for example) that The Jags are better than or as good as Wire or XTC. But it might be interesting...

And Cocktails - yes, I think most of F&TP's singles were hits in Australia. I still can't get my head around "Airport" I'm afraid, although it actually gave me weird dreams last night.

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