23 July 2014

Jack Flash - Puttin' On The Style/ Measure For Measure

Label: Red Nail
Year of Release: 1977

This is a classic crate-digger's experience of putting two and two together and getting five. I saw the Red Nail record label and the artist name Jack Flash and assumed that this might be a low budget punk cover of "Puttin' On The Style". I was wrong, so terribly wrong, as I realised as soon as the needle got past the run-in grooves - what this actually is, my record collecting friends, is a bare, rootsy jug band take on the classic, pumping and pounding like a Creedance Clearwater Revival or Mungo Jerry demo.

I have absolutely no idea who Jack Flash was (or perhaps were), who ran Red Nail records (they appear to have only issued four singles before giving up on the whole idea) or what the background to this disc is. I can only present you with what I have, which is actually a pretty cheery and likeable take on the 1957 Lonnie Donegan number one.

Of course, way before Lonnie took the record to the top of the charts in the UK, it had a long history. There is no firm agreement on when the song was written, but it seems to have originated in West Virginia and vague Internet sources tell me that the earliest recorded version was by Vernon Dalhart in the twenties and released on the Edison label. It was apparently something of a folk standard before even that period, so the original songwriter is unknown.

It was also the first song Lennon and McCartney ever recorded together in the group The Quarrymen, therefore being a much more significant song to rock history than you might otherwise initially suppose. One can only imagine how music history might have turned out had McCartney in some way fluffed his performance of this standard.  

Jack Flash's return to the tune in the late seventies is a peculiar decision. While singing about what the "young folks" are up might have just passed muster in the twenties and the fifties, it would definitely have sounded significantly more old fogey-ish by this period, though with that jug-band beat behind him it's unlikely Jack Flash was courting the youth. Who, then? Who knows. It's likely that this was a popular gigging band's attempt at a single on a small independent label, and I've heard considerably worse results from such a decision. 

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