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The humble eight-holed work boot has won over everyone from postal workers to punks, teens to todays celebrities and influencers. How did it stride to world dominance?

Tony Benn wore them. So did Agyness Deyn. Suggs loved them, also Kathleen Hanna and Joe Strummer. And Jordan Catalano. Hailey Baldwin, Rihanna and Bella Hadid still do. Once you start looking, Dr Martens are everywhere. Sixty years after launching the eight-hole 1460 boot on, as the name suggests, the 1 April 1960 it is an undisputed classic, one of those rare-as-hens-teeth designs that is as likely to be spotted in a museum as it is (until recently, of course) on the streets outside. It is up there with Levis 501s, the Fred Perry polo shirt, the Converse All Star and the Harrington jacket.

And, like these other items, the 1460 is enjoying a fashion moment beyond its classic status. Perhaps because the past decade has been so turbulent even before we had a global pandemic to contend with fashion has returned to the dependable. The Hadids, Baldwin and Kaia Gerber are all endorsing Dr Martens. In other words, as Vogue declared in October, they have become model off-duty staple. While the vegan range and patterned designs have been credited with a 70% rise in profit for the brand in 2019, the 1460 remains the bestseller and it is this history that is likely to have attracted rumours in March of a potential 300m sale to a US private equity firm.

Dr Martens, and the 1460, began with a collaboration. If most modern alliances are between two brands (JW Anderson x Uniqlo, Adidas and Raf Simons), this one was a bit less hypebeast-friendly. A small shoe factory in Northamptonshire partnered with two doctors in Munich. Dr Klaus Mrtens had developed an air-cushioned chunky sole in 1947, after a foot operation following a skiing accident in 1945, and had begun making it with his friend Dr Herbert Funk to sell these comfortable shoes to older women. In Britain, the shoemaking Griggs family saw an ad for Martens soles in 1959. After acquiring the licence, Bill Griggs designed the 1460, the eight-hole boot with the now familiar yellow stitching and chunky Mrtens sole, although when marketing the design for postwar Britain, the umlaut in Martens name was removed at launch.

The Griggs familys Cobbs Lane factory in Northamptonshire, 1930s. Photograph: Courtesy of Dr Martens

Initially, the 1460s took the lead from Mrtens designs, which were worn by those who prioritised comfort and durability. Marketed as a work boot and sold for about 2 (roughly 38 in todays money), postmen, factory workers and policemen wore them, and they became part of the uniform for London Underground workers. However, as with army jackets, jeans, even trench coats, the Dr Martens boot secured its place as a staple in our wardrobes after becoming a uniform for a series of subcultures. Its almost easier to list which subcultures havent adopted Dr Martens over the past six decades, says Andrew Groves, a professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster and the curator of Invisible Men, last years exhibition about mens working wardrobes. The list of those style tribes that took the DM to their hearts includes punks, skinheads, northern soulers, scooterists, as well as (later on) teenagers into grunge, two-tone, and Britpop.

As a symbol of working-class culture, it was the original skinheads before the term equated to the far right who first picked up on the 1460s. When the Whos Pete Townshend wore them on stage in 1967, he put them on the radar of the bands growing fanbase in the proto-skinhead scene. In his classic book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige sees the take-up of Dr Martens as the rejection of the explicitly aesthetics-based mod culture of the early 60s. Instead, this look was aggressively proletarian, puritanical and chauvinist.

(L-r) Dr Martens Vegan 1460 boot; the chunky-soled Jadon; and Bapes camo-print boot. Composite: Guardian Design Team

Groves also points out the inherent rebellion of wearing something practical for its aesthetic value even if that value is about fetishising working-class culture rather than just wanting to look sharp. At their heart, all youth subcultures love nothing better than annoying their parents, he says. What better way to do that than adopting the boots your dad wears for his respectable job and subverting them into the latest youth craze?

During the 70s and early 80s, the 1460s became part of a uniform worn with skinny bleached jeans, braces and, quite often, a bit of a snarl. Images of skinheads either in Gavin Watsons classic photography book Skins, or Shane Meadows This Is England trilogy often feature DMs, and they continued to be associated with the subculture, even as, as Meadows documented, it became darker, as the far right infiltrated it.

Although this association is still there, its now a whisper thanks to Groves litany of other, less controversial, subcultures that also took up the DM. By the time i-D magazines A Decade of i-Deas was published at the end of the 80s, the style magazine had declared them the fashion accessory of the past five years. I remember blisters covering the back of my heels for weeks when I got my first pair in the 90s. Groves says he wore them when I was a mod, a skinhead and a casual Ive worn them polished up with Sta-Prest trousers and scuffed-up with jeans. Ive probably got at least three or four pairs at the moment.

Skinheads in Docs in This Is England, 2007. Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo

The breaking-in that the 1460 requires has now been a rite of passage for young people for more than 50 years. The current generation who would have seen them worn by Kings Road punks, kids in archive rave footage, Damon Albarn in the 90s, as part of queer culture from the 80s onwards, and emo in the 00s have a whole archive of #inspo to explore. Theres a democracy and an everyboot quality to them that appeals the Hadids might have a very different life from a 90s schoolgirl, but they, too, would have had to go through the blisters stage. Sophie Rhind, the senior footwear buyer at Asos, argues the democracy of the style is its strength. The diversity of celebrities and influencers who are wearing DMs further hammers home the point that the brand can be worn by everyone and can be styled any which way possible, she says. On the site, its the Jadon a version of the 1460 with an uber-chunky sole that is the most popular, with 20,000 pairs sold last year. Dr Martens is also producing a remastered series of 1460 collaborations this year the Japanese brand A Bathing Ape and Raf Simons have featured so far.

While tweaks to the boot are OK (camo print from Bape, ring decoration from Simons, the Jadon chunky sole), the recognisable design has to remain. In times of crisis such as we are experiencing now, perhaps putting on a boot that is tough, familiar, classic and (eventually) comfortable is what we need. While we wont be venturing far, they are the choice for your daily walk: Bella Hadid was photographed in Los Angeles this week on the way back from Target, wearing her DMs. The Dr Marten is such an archetypal object that they can be worn in both an understated manner or used to underplay a full-on fashion look, says Groves. Its hard to imagine anything else being worn by your postie and Gigi Hadid, and both looking equally good in it.

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Can the worlds biggest punk band capture the zeitgeist on their new album like American Idiot once did? They talk about staying positive in the age of Trump and how people have forgotten to love each other

Green Day are in their modest rehearsal space in their hometown of Oakland, California, a little haven in a country on the turn. The trio of 47-year-olds still the worlds biggest punk band are posing for photos with singer-guitarist-songwriter Billie Joe Armstrongs prized Triumph motorcycle. Then someone remembers that the bands forthcoming Hella Mega Tour, alongside fellow alt-rock survivors Fall Out Boy and Weezer, is sponsored by Harley-Davidson. The Triumph is put back under its protective sheet.

Welcome to Trumps America, sighs bassist Mike Dirnt when I tell him of my journey via San Francisco, where I was shocked to see so much desperate homelessness. A place where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Sadly, I dont think weve seen anything yet. The band own a number of Oakland businesses its important for us to do what we can to lift up our local area, Dirnt says while Armstrong still goes on protests and attends local punk shows.

Armstrong is a fan of new bands such as ShitKid, the Chats and White Reaper, though is often confused by what he sees. Ill see kids wearing leather jackets and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. How did that happen? Recently, he attended a show only to be confronted by a young punk with giant liberty-spiked hair, looking like hed just walked out of a squat, asking for a selfie on a brand-new iPhone. Its cool and its weird, he laughs. Im just excited people are still doing cool shit.

Green Days new album is titled Father of All Motherfuckers and yet, surprisingly for a band best known for delivering 2004s George Bush-baiting rock opera American Idiot, they say Donald Trump had little influence on the new record. At the same time, they insist it is political.

Its all there in the songs, Armstrong says. Im singing about looking out for the jingoes and heathens or another black kid shot in town. Theres a lyric about bulletproof backpacks designed as protection during school shootings, one of the most absurd ideas Ive ever heard. But Armstrong doesnt want to be on the nose. Everything that is happening in the world is right there on Twitter. Its so confusing and its so depressing. I really wanted to create some kind of escape for people; I didnt want to be so obvious. Satirical punk site The Hard Times wrote a story the day of Trumps inauguration titled Future Green Day Concept Album Sworn Into Office. It was funny, but I didnt want us to do that. It wasnt where our heads were at at all. Where were your heads at? I was listening to Little Richard.

He continues: Its not that Im ignoring it, its just that the current political climate is something I just cant draw any inspiration from. Ive got tons of feelings about it. I think Trump is a piece of shit. I think [Senate majority leader] Mitch McConnell is pure evil. All they care about is looking after the rich and they dont care about the common people. But I find no inspiration there. Its so depressing. Its hard to dance when you cant get out of bed.

And the world has become so divisive, says drummer and band goof Tr Cool. We wanted to try to bring people together. Its become something of a far-out concept to love each other!

Green Day on stage, 1997. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

This year the band will turn 34. No punk band has made it this far. The Sex Pistols lasted three years, the Clash 10, the Ramones 22. Green Day are writing the blueprint while living it, so it is no surprise that they have sometimes made mistakes. Last year Armstrong duetted with Morrissey on his covers album California Son a terrible look in the wake of Morrisseys vocal support for far-right organisations and individuals.

I wasnt aware until the song came out, says Armstrong. We do the song, and he was very lovely, and then the song comes out and a lot of Brits were like: what the hell are you doing? I really did not have a clue Bewitched by the singers status as an 80s indie godhead, he simply failed in his due diligence. Cool pipes up, giggling: Hey, weve all got our Ted Nugents, right? a reference to the US rocker and gun enthusiast.

Green Day have endured major wobbles and are now in uncharted territory, as Armstrong puts it. People get over their high school bands. They dont go on to spend every day in their orbit for the next 20 years.

After two records on the late, great East Bay punk imprint Lookout!, in 1994 the young band signed with major label Reprise. The punk scene was aghast. 924 Gilman Street, the puritanical Berkeley-based all-ages headquarters of said scene banned the group from performing. Green Day released Dookie in February of that year and it sold 20m copies. They wouldnt return to play Gilman Street until 2015.

Old friends and fellow scenesters might not have wanted to talk to them any more, but everyone else did. Along with Smash, the third album by fellow Californians the Offspring (at 11m sales, the biggest-selling record on an independent label ever) and the rise to prominence of the Berkeley band Rancid, Dookie spearheaded an interest in American punk rock not seen since the birth of the New York CBGB scene 20 years earlier but with the sales to match the cultural impact.

We were always thinking about legacy, Cool says. We never wanted songs to sound like wed relied too much on whatever recording techniques were in vogue. We knew we were in this for the long haul.

Then came, if not decline, then some cooling off. The excellent Insomniac arrived in 1995 and struggled on account of not being Dookie. Nimrod followed in 1997; another strong collection of songs that became most notable for featuring a coda, the purely acoustic Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), that suggested there might be more to Armstrongs songwriting than three chords and fuzz. The song soundtracked the Seinfeld finale and became a hit at US high school proms, its melancholy dovetailing with events that marked a passing of time. And yet by 2000s Warning, the mall had been relinquished to the nu-metal kids. Warning became the first release of Green Days major-label career not to go multi-platinum. They wouldnt release an album for another four years.

I find it hard between records thinking what Im going to write about, Armstrong says. I get a lot of self-doubt. I dont think Ive ever realistically thought the band might be done, but I have questioned whether I could do it any more.

Green Day re-emerged amid war in the Middle East under Bush. Young people who might once have been fans were returning in body bags. Sieg heil to the President Gasman, Armstrong sang on Holiday from the album American Idiot, and if punks werent supposed to sign to major labels, they certainly werent supposed to release double albums that became Broadway musicals.

It sent them stratospheric and the weight of expectation since has never truly lifted: 2009s 21st Century Breakdown felt ordinary in the shadow of its predecessor; the release of three albums in a year 2012s Uno!, Dos! and Tr! favoured quantity over quality. An ill-fated festival appearance saw Armstrong, his set about to be cut short, destroy his guitar and rant: Im not Justin Bieber! He subsequently went into rehab for the abuse of alcohol and prescription pills.

Armstrong playing live, 2017. Photograph: Ferdy Damman/EPA

The band slunk into another period of near-irrelevance. They had emerged from the previous one with a genre-defying, generation-defining reboot this time all they had was a good record, 2016s Revolution Radio. Few bands harness the zeitgeist once, let alone twice. Is Father of All Motherfuckers that third moment? No, but it is the closest they have come since American Idiot. At 26min 16sec, it is their shortest album, featuring a collection of songs as fast and furious as any in their discography. It sounds as if they are having fun for the first time in years, without trying too hard.

Armstrong says it is an homage to the roots of rocknroll music, the music that inspired us to do this. That doesnt just mean punk rock. Its Martha and the Vandellas and Mott the Hoople. Old bubblegum music like the Archies. Powerpop. Garage music Playing Motown through Green Day, so to speak.

You might read the fizzing Father of All Motherfuckers as Green Day saying they are not done yet. Ask them if their forthcoming triple-header tour is an attempt to halt a downturn in the bands fortunes and Armstrong will laugh and say, in reference to 80s-themed package tours: There are many differences between Green Day and Kajagoogoo Were going to keep making records that matter. I always want whatever we do to feel like the first time we played at Gilman, or the first time we made a rock opera.

By embracing the bands love of rocknroll, Green Day are also trying to reclaim something at their nations core. Instead of an overt appearance from Trump in the lyrics, there is positivity and make-do spirit; it feels like a record about a beloved US, not the US that presently exists. I think good rocknroll has always had this ability to be transcendent, says Dirnt. A song might be about losing your gal or whatever other misfortune has come your way but the best stuff takes your hand and helps you dance through the apocalypse. Id like to think thats what were trying to do.

Rock as an act of resistance, I offer. Oh yeah, they all chime. I like that!

Father of All Motherfuckers is out on Reprise.

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Given that George W Bushs presidency so enraged Green Day they recorded 2004s American Idiot in reaction, one could be forgiven for thinking that Father of All Motherfuckers might be a nod to the Trump era. Yet their 13th album is startlingly apolitical, more concerned with youthful angst and romance or, as frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has said, the lifestyle of not giving a fuck. Which is all very well, but there is something wearying about hearing a 47-yearold man singing the none-more-tautologous I Was a Teenage Teenager.

Its a similarly counterintuitive picture musically. There are nods to contemporary sensibilities, with a slick sheen of guitar effects courtesy of producer Butch Walker, whose CV includes work with Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen, but these are cosmetic touches. In fact, the roots of most of these songs are in rudimentary rocknroll. Stab You in the Heart steals shamelessly from Chan Romeros Hippy Hippy Shake, while Fire, Ready, Aim sounds uncannily like Nuggets throwbacks the Hives. Meanwhile, Oh Yeah! deploys chanted backing vocals that havent been in vogue since the Glitter Bands heyday. But Green Day deliver everything with such panache that the songs limitations dont really matter, especially when they manage to make tired old tropes seem fresh, as on the swooning brilliance of Take the Money and Crawl and Meet Me on the Roof.

Watch the video for Green Days Father of All Motherfuckers.

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Gills guitar sound would inspire Kurt Cobain, Michael Stipe and Red Hot Chili Peppers, whose debut album he produced

Andy Gill, the guitarist with Gang of Four, whose sound influenced generations of post-punk bands, has died aged 64.

The news was announced by the band on their social media channels on Saturday. No cause of death has yet been announced, but they referred to him as listening to mixes for the upcoming record, whilst planning the next tour from his hospital bed.

The band heralded him as one of the best to ever do it well remember him for his kindness and generosity, his fearsome intelligence, bad jokes, mad stories and endless cups of darjeeling tea. He just so happened to be a bit of a genius too.

Gill was born in Manchester in 1956, and formed Gang of Four in Leeds in 1976. Influenced by Dr Feelgoods Wilko Johnson as well as the New York punk scene that he witnessed after receiving a grant to visit art galleries there, Gill fed taut, funky guitar lines and screeching noise into the bands politically charged music.

When I was young, [Jimi] Hendrix was a big obsession, with his flowing, soloing, colourful, expressive style, Gill said in 2017.

But there were more groove-orientated things that got me quite excited a lot of Motown things which are not guitar-driven at all. With Motown, the way the grooves were put together really got under my skin. And people like [funk and soul guitarist] Steve Cropper, who is an amazing, underrated rhythm guitarist.

While Gang of Four never had a top 40 hit, songs like Naturals Not in It and At Home Hes a Tourist became cult favourites; their 1979 debut album Entertainment! was named by Rolling Stone in 2003 as one of the 500 greatest ever.

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Forty years on from the London Calling album, we rate the best tracks by the genre-hopping punks

40. 1977 (1977)

A historical artefact, not for the proto-punk music, but because the lyrics epitomise the new waves perceived threat to the old guard. No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones / In 1977, sang Joe Strummer, hardly about to let his love of such pop greats get in the way of punks declaration of year zero.

39. White Riot (1977)

Guitarist Mick Jones now dislikes the first Clash single, its lyrics written by Strummer after the band were caught up in the 1976 Notting Hill riots and he concluded white people needed a riot of our own. The sentiment hasnt aged well, but the song exemplifies the amphetamine-fuelled punk the band would leave behind.

38. Whats My Name (1977)

A Clash curio in that its the only one of the groups songs to bear a writing credit for Keith Levene, the bands original guitarist. Levene showers melodic gold dust all over this otherwise shouty punk stomper, but is better known for his work with John Lydon in Public Image Ltd.

37. Know Your Rights (1982)

From Combat Rock, the final album by the classic quartet of Strummer, Jones, bassist Paul Simonon and drummer Topper Headon. The tank was getting emptied, but Strummers black humour brims through lines such as You have the right to free speech / As long as youre not dumb enough to actually try it.

36. Im So Bored With the USA (1977)

This hugely anthemic track on debut album The Clash began life as Im So Bored With You, a song about Joness girlfriend, before Strummers ad-libbed SA took it in a new direction. The blistering critique of US imperialism and exported culture (Yankee detectives are always on the TV) didnt stop the Clashs love of American iconography, cars and clothes.

35. Janie Jones (1977)

Original Clash drummer Terry Chimes uncharitably credited as Tory Crimes on The Clash propels the debuts storming opener, a eulogy to a 60s pop celebrity and libertine who had been jailed for vice offences in 1973. On release, the convicted madam returned Strummers affections in the song Letter to Joe.

34. Charlie Dont Surf (1980)

By the epic three-disc fourth album, Sandinista!, the Clash arguably had too many ideas for their own good, but within the 36-song sprawl are undoubted treasures. Titled after a Lt Col Kilgore quip in Apocalypse Now, theres an element of the doo-wop era to this sweet song about, well, cultural imperialism.

33. Brand New Cadillac (1979)

This bracing cover of a 1959 Vince Taylor and the Playboys track refers to the early Brit rockers glamorous dream car (when most of them probably had to make do with a humble Ford Anglia). From the double album London Calling, the Clashs creative zenith.

32. The Guns of Brixton (1979)

Brixton boy Simonon wanted some songwriting cash and so penned this memorable song about police harassment and discontent in his London neighbourhood, two years before the district exploded into rioting. In 1990, Simonon received an unexpected windfall when Norman Cook (later Fatboy Slim) sampled the groove for Beats Internationals hit Dub Be Good to Me.

In 1978 … (from left) Joe Strummer, Topper Headon, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones. Photograph: Sheila Rock/Rex/Shutterstock

31. Clash City Rockers (1978)

Year zero meant many punks hurriedly buried their pasts in pub rock bands with long hair, but this 1978 single reworks a song from Strummers old pub rock band, the 101ers, around trademark Clash self-mythology. The shift from aggressive guitars (surely copied from the Whos I Cant Explain) to something more mournful suggest musical adventure to come.

30. Rudie Cant Fail (1979)

According to long-time Clash associate Don Letts, this London Calling gem is the fruit of a long hot summer that the Clash spent smoking herb and going to reggae clubs. Its a horns-drenched homage to Caribbean culture, drinking brew for breakfast and the chicken skin suit.

29. Tommy Gun (1978)

A great single from the not universally adored second album, Give Em Enough Rope. Strummer is scathing about the idea that terrorists see their cause as glamorous, yelling: Youll be dead when your war is won, while Headons snare drum rolls resemble gunfire. This didnt stop the singer posing for photos in a T-shirt honouring Italian-based violent leftist organisation Brigate Rosse (the Red Brigades).

28. Police and Thieves (1977)

This cover of the Lee Scratch Perry-produced Junior Murvin hit stands out a mile on The Clash. Its their first attempt at reggae, played punkier, with a new, Jones-penned intro. That summer, Bob Marley (working with Perry) acknowledged the burgeoning punk/Jamaican music love-in with Punky Reggae Party.

27. Londons Burning (1977)

Also from the debut album, this most captures those punk rock summers of 1976 and 1977, with its bone-crunching verse and rabble-rousing chorus. The imagery is a comprehensive list of the band and movements inspirations, from high-rise living above the Westway (where Jones lived with his gran) to a capital city burning with boredom now.

26. Somebody Got Murdered (1980)

According to Pat Gilberts superb book Passion Is a Fashion, the Clash were approached by producer-arranger Jack Nitzsche to provide a song for the William Friedkin movie Cruising, but he never called again. Thus, the song lit up Sandinista! with its effervescent tune and film noir-ish imagery about a random killing.

25. Career Opportunities (1977)

The limited youth employment of the 70s is timelessly skewered (Career opportunities, the ones that never knock) in this gem from the debut. The line I wont open letter bombs for you refers to an actual job once held by Jones, checking government mail for explosive devices.

24. Pressure Drop (1979)

The B-side of the slightly hackneyed English Civil War and one of the Clashs great covers, of Toots and the Maytals 1970 reggae/ska classic (as heard in the 1972 film The Harder They Come). Later, Strummer was at pains to point out that they recorded it in 1977, hence it pre-dates 2-Tone.

23. This Is England (1985)

Headon and Jones had been sacked by now (for heroin abuse and behavioural issues, respectively) as a remodelled, five-piece Clash made a sixth album. The otherwise unloved Cut the Crap did herald this final terrific single. Keyboards and guitars drive Strummers withering take on our national strife.

In Leicester Square, 1978 … (from left) Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon. Photograph: Virginia Turbett/Redferns

22. Gates of the West (1979)

The Clash had been singing about the US since Im So Bored With the USA. Based on Rusted Chrome, an early Jones composition, this stormer from the Cost of Living EP describes their New York experiences, the characters, imagery and anthemic tune all reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen.

21. Hitsville UK (1980)

From Sandinista!, this eulogy to pop is a bubblegum delight that namechecks the UKs emerging independent labels and argues that a great two minutes 59 single can triumph over industry sharp practice. With its Motown (the original Hitsville) groove and sugar-coated duet between Jones and his girlfriend, Ellen Foley, the Clashs remaining hardcore punk fans hated it.

20. Police on My Back (1980)

Another terrific example of the Clashs ability to cover a song (the original was by Eddy Grants old band, the Equals) and make it sound as if they had written it. Joness guitar wails like a siren, and the song has all the adrenalin rush of a police chase.

19. Lost in the Supermarket (1979)

In the tradition of the Rolling Stones (I Cant Get No) Satisfaction and the X-Ray Spex back catalogue, this is a great Strummer-penned/Jones-sung song about the dehumanising effects of advertising and the consumer society. (I came in here for that special offer / A guaranteed personality.)

18. I Fought the Law (1979)

The band reputedly heard the Bobby Fuller Four original on the studio jukebox in San Francisco while recording Give Em Enough Rope. Writing credits aside, this is a trademark Clash smash, full of outlaw rebel posturing and laden with Headons six-shooter drum cracks.

17. Death or Glory (1979)

Strummers ferocious blast at ageing, sellout rock stars builds to a hurtling climax on a lyrical twist as he fears a similar fate himself. Presumably it was ruled out as a single because of the infamous, hilarious line: But I believe in this and its been tested by research / He who fucks nuns will later join the church.

16. Safe European Home (1978)

Strutting around Kingston, Jamaica, in full punk regalia (in theory to stir the creative juices for Give Em Enough Rope) proved a rude awakening, but did produce this untypical example of Clash self-mockery. I went to the place where every white face / Is an invitation to robbery / And sitting here in my safe European home / Dont want to go back there again.

15. Clampdown (1979)

Strummers view that capitalism was endangering people and the planet was sharpened by the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, which inspired this London Calling highlight. The Clash were exploding with musical ideas by now, and packed rock, funk and disco into this fiery, timeless anthem.

14. Garageland (1977)

The rock critic Charles Shaar Murrays dismissal of the Clash as a garage band in an early live review prompted this defiant riposte, which also reflects the bands fretting that signing to a major label would be selling out. Its a furious but somehow melancholy anthem: People ringing up making offers for my life / But I just wanna stay in the garage all night.

13. The Card Cheat (1979)

Surely channeling Joness love of Mott the Hoople, this is the sort of thing that presumably inspired the Libertines. Horns, drum rudiments, a sublime piano hook and vivid imagery (To the opium dens and the bar room gin … The gamblers face cracks into a grin) combine in a song about a card sharp who is shot for cheating.

12. Spanish Bombs (1979)

A favourite of the late INXS singer, Michael Hutchence. The melody is glorious and Strummers lyrics contrast the freedom fighters of the Spanish civil war with modern tourists. The singer partly sings it in what he called Clash Spanish. Ol!

11. Rock the Casbah (1982)

Headon wrote and played most of the music on Combat Rocks club/chart smash, which innovatively combines rock, funk and a slightly eastern feel. Strummers lyrics are inspired by Irans post-Islamic revolution ban on pop music, the singers idea being that the people would rise up and rock the casbah.

In New York, September 1978 … (from left) Strummer, Simonon, Jones, Headon. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

10. Train in Vain (1979)

After a planned NME flexidisc fell through, this sublime Jones unrequited love song was added to London Calling too late for listing on the initial sleeves. Pete Townshends favourite Clash tune, this is the band at their unashamedly poppiest. Headons killer drum intro fires one of the rhythm sections funkiest grooves.

9. Stay Free (1978)

Joness sublime, heartfelt eulogy to his old Strand school friend Robin Crocker, who became known as Robin Banks after a sting of heists landed him a stretch inside. Some fans were delighted to discover that Banks subsequently punched the songs producer, Sandy Pearlman, who had previously worked with Blue yster Cult and is largely blamed for Give Em Enough Ropes not exactly punky gloss.

8. The Magnificent Seven (1980)

Having rattled through punk, reggae, ska, dub and rockabilly inside five years, our boys assimilate the emerging hip-hop sounds they heard while in New York, and Strummer turns white rap pioneer. A terrific groove forms the platform for daft-but-inspired wordplay: Italian mobster shoots a lobster.

7. The Call Up (1980)

Following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, as the US geared up to reintroduce the draft, the Clash spearheaded the resistance with this fantastic Sandinista! single. Its up to you not to heed the call up / I dont wanna die … I dont wanna kill, cries Strummer, over a magnificently eerie reggae-ish backdrop.

6. Bankrobber (1980)

So many great songs poured out of the Clash that this Mikey Dread-produced gem was almost thrown away as an import-only 45, which didnt stop it making it No 12 in the UK charts. Its dub music with folk storytelling Strummers daddy wasnt really a bank robber, but a diplomat.

5. London Calling (1979)

The Clashs highest-charting UK single, until Combat Rocks rather banal Should I Stay Or Should I Go reached No 1 in 1991 after being used in a Levis ad. Years before the climate crisis and flooding sparked public concern, Strummer fears an imminent biblical apocalypse, hence London is drowning and I live by the river.

4. Armagideon Time (1979)

The flip of the London Calling single, this superb reworking of Willie Williams social justice anthem is the definitive example of the Clash playing reggae. Strummers OK, OK, dont push us when were hot is his shouted rebuff to then-manager Kosmo Vinyl, urging him to scrap the allotted three-minute length and keep the tapes rolling.

3. Complete Control (1977)

After CBS infuriated the Clash by releasing Remote Control as a single against their wishes, the band responded with their punk-era high watermark. Lee Perry produces, and Strummers yelled Youre my guitar hero! during Joness blistering guitar solo is one of many goosebump moments.

2. Straight to Hell (1982)

Headons bossa nova rhythm and a haunting hook (later sampled by MIA for 2007s Paper Planes) power Combat Rocks finest. The bands unity was already fracturing, but Strummer rightly called this vengeful tirade against imperialism and American soldiers in Vietnam who left local women pregnant (Go straight to hell, boys) one of our absolute masterpieces.

1. (White Man in) Hammersmith Palais (1978)

Any of the Clashs best songs could grace the top spot without too much argument, but this edges it. The collision of reggae (verse) and rock (chorus) epitomise what the critic Lester Bangs described as the Clashs fusion of black music and white noise. Lyrically, a disappointingly lightweight reggae gig (in the Hammersmith Palais) triggers Strummers blistering state of the nation address, in which he considers everything from music (Turning rebellion into money) to racism and rising nationalism (If Adolf Hitler flew in today, theyd send a limousine anyway). Forty-two years on, it remains a tour de force and as relevant as ever.

Various 40th anniversary super deluxe editions of London Calling are out now on Sony.

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From John Fahey, the Sonics and the Waitresses to Slade, Wizzard and Mariah Carey, we count down the best festive numbers

50. John Fahey

The First Noel

Tiring of the fact that no one wanted to buy albums of experimental American primitive guitar music, but they bought White Christmas every year, John Fahey recorded an album of Christmas instrumentals. It was, by a margin, his bestselling record. Atypical of his work, but beautiful.

49. The Sonics

Dont Believe in Christmas

The Sonics believed some folks liked the taste of straight strychnine, so of course they didnt believe in Christmas. What happened when they stayed up late to try to catch a glimpse of Santa? Well, sure enough, dont ya know / The fat boy didnt show. Cheeky so-and-sos.

48. Emmy the Great & Tim Wheeler

Christmas Day (I Wish I Was Surfing)

Sounding much more like Ash than Emmy the Great and the loudest, most raucous thing on their 2011 Christmas album this is a song that sounds joyous, but is really about the desire to escape, to anywhere that isnt cold. So long as its not alone.

47. Little Joey Farr

RocknRoll Christmas

Rocknroll and rockabilly are a treasure trove of Christmas novelty numbers (try Marlene Paulas I Want To Spend Xmas with Elvis), but weve only got room for one. So, given Christmas is all about the kids, bless their souls, lets have a song by an actual kid who promptly disappeared from the pop world.

46. Lou Rawls

Santa Claus Is Comin to Town

One imagines this would be the soundtrack to Don Drapers Christmas as creamy as eggnog, with a supple swing thats nagging but not unobtrusive, its exactly the sound of an idealised Christmas from the 60s. Rawls made a ton of Christmas albums, but his first from 1967 is the best.

45. Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo & Simon Wright

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How would Christmas sound reimagined by Black Sabbath? Almost exactly as you would imagine, to be honest. The most oddly foreboding of all the big Christmas songs suits the grinding and roaring. And it helps, naturally, that it contains a reference to Satans power.

44. Saint Etienne

I Was Born on Christmas Day

From fire and brimstone to prosecco and chocolate, bursting with optimism for the winter: Getting groovy after Halloween / Mid-November, got back on the scene / Im so glad that I just got my pay / I was born on Christmas Day! A song as sweet as a selection box.

43. The Free Design

Close Your Mouth (Its Christmas)

Probably the song that goes on in Don Drapers apartment after Lou Rawls, when the hip young kids have arrived. Get to know the people in your house, they sing. You might like them. Draper knocks back a whisky, raises an eyebrow and shakes his head.

42. Sally Shapiro

Anorak Christmas

A gorgeous bauble from the mid-00s wave of Scandinavian music that crossed electropop with the feyest indie. Sally falls in love on a Tuesday before Christmas, at a gig with a band that we both liked. But will she end up by herself or in the perfect kiss?

41. Solomon Burke

Presents for Christmas

The king of rocknsoul pitches himself somewhere between a revivalist preacher and Santa Claus: We want to give out a present to everybody this Christmas! All around the world for every man, woman, boy and girl! he exclaims in the intro. One of the few artists whose spoken sections routinely rival the songs (track down a copy of Soul Alive! if you dont believe me).

40. Joy Zipper

Christmas Song

Blank-faced and affectless, heres Christmas for the shoegazers from the duo briefly toasted at the start of the last decade. Kevin Shields and David Holmes produced, and you can bet Beach House were listening.

39. Neil Halstead

The Man in the Santa Suit

Truthfully, this version is only here because the Fountains of Wayne original an homage to the Kinks Father Christmas isnt on Spotify. But what a perfect, sad song: And hes a big red cherry / But its hard to be merry / When the kids are all laughing / Saying: Hey, its Jerry Garcia.

38. The Everly Brothers

Christmas Eve Can Kill You

The Man in the Santa Suit is a laughfest compared to this Everly Brothers number from 1972, about a hitcher alone the night before Christmas. Organ and pedal steel sound like the wind whistling through the trees as our hero trudges on: The sound of one man walkin through the snow can break your heart.

37. Santo & Johnny

Twistin Bells

Do we need cheering up? I think we do. Thank goodness, then, for the twangy guitars of Brooklyn duo Santo & Johnny, the gaudy, overlit shop window that contrasts with the stark loneliness of the Everly Brothers.

36. Run-DMC

Christmas in Hollis

Hip-hop hasnt been a huge source of Christmas songs, but Run-DMC were on top of it back in the first golden age. What would you do if you found Santas wallet on Hollis Avenue? Its a perennial question. Run decides its best to post it back; he is rewarded for his honesty.

35. Shirley & Dolly Collins

The Gower Wassail

Two of the greatest British folk voices combine for a drinking song that, if were honest, is unlikely to be ringing out in pubs this Christmas. The asceticism of the British folk tradition can be a useful astringent amid the sleigh bells and tinsel.

34. Tracey Thorn

Snow in Sun

Originally from Scritti Polittis sublime 2006 album White Bread, Black Beer and reworked by Thorn on her gorgeous album Tinsel and Lights which is enough to qualify it as a Christmas song here is a featherlight breath of winter to freshen your face.

33. Mahalia Jackson

Go Tell It on the Mountain

You cant really have Christmas without acknowledging that someone significant was born on 25 December and not just Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne. The queen of gospel wants you to spread the news far and wide, and she imparts her message with due gravitas.

32. Big Star

Jesus Christ

Big Stars Third is the least likely album to contain a Christmas song, but amid the desperation and despair was this huge burst of fervour. Did Alex Chilton mean it? Was it a joke? Its effect is magnified by the music that surrounds it on the rest of the album.

31. Calexico

Green Grows the Holly

Gorgeous and stern, and undoubtedly the best adaptation by an Americana band of any poem written by Henry VIII. The horns bloom, like the flowers of the song, turning something indisputably English into a desert lament.

30. Jimmy McGriff

Winter Wonderland

McGriff opens with a squall of organ that doesnt lead you to believe Christmas is coming anytime soon, then takes Winter Wonderland at such a leisurely pace that it takes a moment to recognise it. (If you like this, try Jimmy Smiths Christmas 64 as well.)

29. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings

Aint No Chimneys in the Projects

When you live in poverty, certain logistical problems come to mind. Namely, if youre in a big public housing block, how does Santa get the presents underneath the tree? A fabulous addition to the long line of socially conscious soul and funk Christmas music.

28. Sons of Heaven

When Was Jesus Born?

We all know the answer, but when its posed this beautifully, in such impeccable close harmony, the obviousness of the question can be forgiven. There are many versions of this, but its a hard song to do anything but beautifully.

27. Thea Gilmore

Listen, the Snow Is Falling

Yoko Onos is the original version and Galaxie 500s rendition is more celebrated, but Thea Gilmore gets the perfect ratio of iciness to wonder it sounds like a Christmas tree, if such a thing were possible. The 2009 album Strange Communion is highly recommended.

26. The Temptations

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Oh, wrap yourself in the blanket of those glorious voices! Motown took Christmas seriously, with the result that you could probably do this list entirely from Motown tracks. This one gets selected because what is really a fairly dismal song is transformed by a perfect arrangement.

25. Clarence Carter

Back Door Santa

Pure Christmas filth. Back Door Santa can make all the little girls happy / While the boys are out to play. But dont mistake him for Father Christmas: I aint like old Saint Nick / He dont come but once a year. I dare you not to dance, though.

24. Ramones

Danny Says

Merry Christmas (I Dont Want to Fight Tonight) is better known as a Ramones Christmas song, but the sublime Danny Says gets the nod, qualifying on the grounds that the desperate, lonely band are stuck on the road deep in winter and it aint Christmas if there aint no snow.

23. Cristina

Things Fall Apart

No matter how bad your Christmas is, its not as bad as Cristinas. Mind you, given its the early 80s New York art underground, she was probably forbidden from liking something so bourgeois. Even a party cant cheer her: I caught a cab back to my flat / And wept a bit and fed the cat.

22. Joni Mitchell


Joni Mitchell is bereft, too, on this gorgeous piano ballad, when Christmas just makes her mourn her relationship and flee Laurel Canyon for her home in Canada, where there might be a frozen river she could skate away on, away from everything.

21. David Banner

The Christmas Song

Completing the mini-run of joyless Christmases, heres the most joyless of all when the only way to pay for Christmas is to rob and deal and kill. The climactic jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way is not intended as cause for celebration.

20. Lindstrm

Little Drummer Boy

Hans-Peter Lindstrm takes almost 43 minutes to assemble a Christmas song from electronic squiggles, through the martial drumbeat, to the melody coming in at eight minutes. It then spends a further 25 minutes warping and mutating, picking up and discarding musical phrases, before exploding orgasmically in its final 10 minutes or so.

19. William Bell

Every Day Will Be a Holiday

It doesnt actually mention Christmas, but gets counted and not just by me as a Christmas song because of the little horn lift from Jingle Bells, for it being about being lonely waiting for his baby to come home (presumably for Christmas), and because its B-side was Please Come Home For Christmas. Its also a fabulous piece of Stax soul.

18. Belle and Sebastian

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

On the 2000 charity album Its a Cool Cool Christmas which was pretty strong Belle and Sebastian took on the most beautiful of all the Christmas hymns. Something so delicate suited them. Also recommended: El Vez merging Feliz Navidad and Public Image.

17. The Staple Singers

Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas?

The Staple Singers are worried: too many wars, too much space exploration means people are searching for light and cant seem to find the right star. Jesus isnt just another baby boy, they warn. So show some respect. Glorious.

16. The Watersons

Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy

Just listen to the voices: this is Christmas as it must have sounded when it was a religious festival in the depths of winter, rather than an excuse to rack up debt. Make your own fun! Maybe weave an Action Man out of three pieces of straw! And yet its so beautiful.

15. Eartha Kitt

Santa Baby

Were into the start of the big songs now, and Eartha Kitts contribution is the precise opposite of the Watersons vision of Christmas. She wants a sable, a convertible, a yacht, a platinum mine She wants every sensation. And whats Jesus got to do with anything?

14. Otis Redding

White Christmas

Who knew the most famous Christmas hit of all could be so emotionally wrought? Where Bing Crosby sounded as if he was fondly pondering his Christmas, Otis sounds like hes breaking into a sweat trying to will it into existence through sheer force of desire.

13. The Pretenders

2000 Miles

Sometimes simple is best: Robbie McIntoshs guitar playing on the Pretenders 1984 hit is a model of folk-rock restraint, taking from the Byrds, and offsetting Chrissie Hyndes voice and lyric with a sense that everything, somehow, is going to be OK.

12. Bob Seger and the Last Heard

Sock It to Me Santa

Santas got a brand new bag! hollers Bob Seger, who was a Detroit R&B shouter years before he became a heartland American beard rocker. Sock It to Me Santa is a fabulous explosion garage rock and soul brought together into something made for the best bar in the city on Christmas Eve.

11. Wham!

Last Christmas

A big Christmas hit that was unlike previous UK seasonal singles it wasnt wrapped in sleigh bells, there was nothing consciously novelty about it. Perhaps George Michael had been paying close attention to some of the great US Christmas soul singles, because this was a heartbreak song that just happened to be set in December.

10. Darlene Love

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector codified the sound of Christmas: maximal, filled with signifiers of the season (there is nowhere sleigh bells cant be draped). Darlene Loves Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was the standout on a record on which the quality didnt drop from start to finish.

9. Wizzard

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

Roy Woods enduring contribution to the season owed a huge debt to Phil Spector theres almost certainly a kitchen sink section at work somewhere in the mix but it transcends imitation by its sheer verve. It was recorded in summer, with the studio air conditioning turned down to make everyone feel wintry. Attention to detail, right there.

8. Slade

Merry Xmas Everybody

Christmas 1973 brought not just Wizzard but the most enduring of all British Christmas singles. Forty-six years later, people still bellow Its CHRISTMAS! in Noddy Holders face, which, apparently, gets a little wearisome. The whole thing was Jim Leas mums idea why didnt Slade have a song they could release every year? She got her wish.

7. Donny Hathaway

This Christmas

It wasnt a hit at the time, but took off when it was included on a 1991 reissue of the 1968 Atco compilation Soul Christmas. To which you can only say: why did it take the world so long to notice? Its a Christmas song that stands up regardless of the season. And according to the publishing body Ascap, its now the 30th most performed Christmas song of all time in the US.

6. Tom Waits

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Probably not one to play when youre unwrapping the presents. A character study that begins grimly, then offers hope, as the narrator says things are getting better before ripping the rug away without ceremony. Do you want to know the truth of it, she asks: Charley, hey, Ill be eligible for parole come Valentines day.

5. Marvin Gaye

Purple Snowflakes

A song so beautiful its almost otherworldly Marvin Gayes flawless falsetto, the unexpected chord changes, the sense of mystery. Yet its wrapped up in the most comforting of Christmas imagery chestnuts roasting, blankets of white without ever explaining why the snowflakes are purple.

4. The Waitresses

Christmas Wrapping

Like Cristinas Things Fall Apart, Christmas Wrapping was originally written for the Z labels 1981 compilation the most punching-above-its-weight Christmas comp ever. Its a fabulous stream of consciousness, during which Patty Donahue talks herself from wanting to miss Christmas to knowing she cant miss Christmas, that bursts into joy at its horn refrain.

3. Low

Just Like Christmas

Lows 1999 Christmas EP released as a gift to fans was one of the most unexpected seasonal delights: ascetic indie band embracing the season without irony. Its lead track was a joy, the discomfort of touring reminding them of when they were young, and it feeling just like Christmas. Just two verses, and a repeated refrain perfect.

2. The Pogues

Fairytale of New York

Theres almost nothing left to be said about Fairytale of New York, a song that has been impossible to avoid for more than 30 years. Such is the strength of the songwriting and the grace of the performance that, despite the overexposure, it feels fresh every single time. That a scrappy folk-punk band produced something that will endure as long as Christmas itself is a real Christmas miracle.

1. Mariah Carey

All I Want for Christmas Is You


The best Christmas songs should only work at Christmas. They should make you feel festive, in the same way that the 174th repeat of The Snowman does. They should work anywhere in shopping centres, in bars, pumping out of PAs in gig venues after the band has gone off, on the radio in a cafe, in your home or on your headphones. All I Want for Christmas Is You is all of those things. Its a shameless pastiche of Phil Spector thats so brazen and joyful and simple it took Carey and Walter Afanasieff only 15 minutes to write that it transcends its lack of originality. Its the rare modern Christmas song that has become a standard, and deservedly so.

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The punks were sceptical of my presence. One guy even headbutted me. In retrospect, I think it was a sign of acceptance

I was in my mid-20s when Cornell Capa, director of the International Center of Photography in New York, recommended me for a job documenting life in the American sector of Berlin while the city was still divided. As a young photographer, I was so nervous. All of these senior German officials were swanning around my studio inspecting my work.

I blurted out that I wasnt American, that I was born in Canada, almost like a confession. I felt I had to tell them. They just looked at me quizzically, laughed and started speaking in German. I have no idea what they thought of me. But I got the job.

I went to West Berlin in 1982 to document what was called Mauerkrankheit, which roughly translates as wall sickness. It was a disorder, identified in Berlin, caused by the fact that youre living in this divided city, surrounded by the tension between the Soviet and American sectors. Its a slow-motion trauma that culminates in depression. I heard that nearly 10% of people living in the east were diagnosed with it.

In the west, I discovered a different side to the disorder. Every Saturday, punks would hang out, drink beer and blare music through their soundsystems. Cars would be set alight and bank windows smashed in. The cops would arrive, teargas them and send them running to find shelter in nearby bars, and the whole cycle would repeat. They were sceptical of me to begin with. One guy even headbutted me. In retrospect, I think that was a sign of acceptance.

Getting to know them wasnt easy, and it happened in the strangest of ways. I would carry a bunch of bananas to snack on while I wandered the streets. When I found the punks, I didnt know what to say, so I offered them bananas. They just laughed at me. But they must have liked it, because they welcomed me into their crew.

As I got to know them, I realised they fitted into the idea of the wall sickness, but they were the manic side of the depression that reigned in the east. There was something psychotic about punk at the time. These werent just weekend punks and punk wasnt just a look this was their life.

The woman in this shot was called Miriam, and the rat on her shoulder is called Bestia. It was a week or so before Reagan was planning to visit, and there were windows smashed all over the city in protest. Despite the violence and the militancy, she was extremely gentle. She was big, much bigger than me, but she had a soft way of gesturing and moving.

She invited me to her place, a nearby squat. We hung out, drank tea, took some shots and became friends. She introduced me to her rat, Bestia, who lived in her oven. Being a squat, it had no electricity, so it was perfectly safe. Bestia was almost like a guardian angel for Miriam, keeping her safe amid the anarchy. I think it was useful to keep guys off her back, too nobodys messing when you have a rat draped around your neck.

People feel this image represents a moment in Berlins history, or the punk movement more broadly, but to me its a shot of someone I got to know, who welcomed me into a hard-to-reach scene. It was a doorway for me into other activist and protest scenes, and I remember the time fondly.

People seem to think that punk has died, and maybe elements of the aesthetic have. But the spirit of punk was so much more than a look, and I think that lives on, albeit in different forms. I think we saw it in the Occupy movement, within elements of the Arab spring, and I think we are seeing it today in the UK with Extinction Rebellion.

Philip Pococks CV

Photograph: Heike Borowski

Born: Ottawa, Canada, 1954.

Training: Film and television production, New York University.

Influences: Diane Arbus, Brassa, the Capa brothers, Eikoh Hosoe, Andr Kertsz, Dorothea Lange, Helen Levitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Lszl Moholy-Nagy, Gordon Parks, Thomas Ruff, Aaron Siskind, Francesca Woodman.

High point: My 1997 Documenta X commission, Germany.

Low point: A life-changing accident on a film set in 1979.

Top tip: Draw with your eyes. Think like a writer. Earn trust and befriend!

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Poetry reflecting on nationhood, sex and whiskey, written in 1970 after Lou Reed left the Velvet Underground, is to be published for the first time

We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation. Its a line that could have been written by an angry young poet from Trumps America, but it was actually penned decades previously, by the bard of New Yorks grimy rocknroll underbelly: Lou Reed.

A collection of the songwriters previously unseen poems will be published later this year, along with recordings of him performing them at St Marks Church, New York, in 1971 (with Allen Ginsberg in the audience). The book, entitled Do Angels Need Haircuts? and published in April, will also feature an afterword by his widow Laurie Anderson, as well as Reeds own introductions to the poems. Of the 12 poems and short stories in the collection, only three have been published before, one as a Velvet Underground song and two in small-press poetry zines.

The line quoted above is taken from a poem entitled We Are the People, published exclusively for the first time here, along with a recording of it at the St Marks Church performance.

We are the people without land. We are the people without tradition. We are the people who do not know how to die peacefully and at ease. We are the thoughts of sorrows. Endings of tomorrows. We are the wisps of rulers and the jokers of kings.

We are the people without right. We are the people who have known only lies and desperation. We are the people without a country, a voice or a mirror. We are the crystal gaze returned through the density and immensity of a berserk nation. We are the victims of the untold manifesto of the lack of depth of full and heavy emptiness.

We are the people without sorrow who have moved beyond national pride and indifference to a parody of instinct. We are the people who are desperate beyond emotion because it defies thought. We are the people who conceive our destruction and carry it out lawfully. We are the insects of someone elses thought. A casualty of daytime, nighttime, space and god without race, nationality or religion. We are the people. The people. The people.

Reed, who died in 2013 and would have turned 76 today, is one of the most distinctive songwriters of the 20th century, first in the Velvet Underground, whose stark, droning take on rocknroll pointed the way to punk and became hugely influential. His subsequent solo career featured lush pop hits such as Perfect Day and Walk on the Wild Side as well as the uncompromisingly noisy likes of Metal Machine Music. He recorded over 20 solo albums, including Lulu, a collaboration with Metallica that his one-time producer David Bowie regarded as Reeds masterpiece.

The poetry comes from a six-month period in 1970, after he left the Velvet Underground and went to work for his fathers accounting firm. Within six months, he had reversed his decision to quit music and was writing solo material, but the book gives a fascinating glimpse into his mindset at the time.

The rest of the poems are being kept under wraps for now, but the Guardian was granted a sneak preview. Away from the political We Are the People, others reflect on love, sex, and whiskey, and some are droll character studies. Musical references abound one poem is entitled Playing Music is Not Like Athletics, a kind of philosophical inquiry into the reasons for making music, while another, The Murder Mystery, is an epic concrete poem in stereo, with different coloured lines of poetry printed alongside each other, almost like a multitracked song. It was recorded by the Velvet Underground and included on their self-titled third album.

Lou Reed, lower left, with the Velvet Undeground: , John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Nico and Sterling Morrison. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The poems are part of Lou Reeds archive, acquired by the New York Public Library following Reeds death. The Lou Reed Archive has been keen to to publish some of the rare and unique material from the diverse and extraordinary collection of Lous lifes work, and we decided to start with these poems, said archivist Don Fleming, who has co-produced the book. Lou was a writer at heart, and during this period he considered giving up music to follow this path. Finding Lous own cassette tape in the archive, that he recorded at the event, was very exciting because we knew about the reading but had little idea of what he had read. His introductions to the pieces also gave us great insight into his creative process. He added that he was happy to share this lesser-known but important chapter in his life.

The literary critic and head of UCLs English literature department, John Mullan a self-professed Reed fan had a muted response on seeing the poetry, however, saying Reed is not afraid to court banality. He added that some of the poems look like, and read like, the transcripts of songs. We all know what Lou Reeds voice sounds like, and you find yourself projecting that amazing voice onto the poems, backed with some sort of doomy bassline. They almost live as songs but I dont think they survive the journey to the page; what was a heady quality in the songs is not a heady quality in the poems.

Reed is far from the first rock star to with varying levels of dilettantism write poetry outside of their song lyrics. In 1964 as the Beatles career was going supernova, John Lennon published In His Own Write, a collection of surreal, free-associative poems and short stories I typed a lot of the book, and I can only do it very slowly with a finger, so the stories would be very short because I couldnt be bothered going on, he said in a 1968 interview.

Bob Dylans Tarantula, written in 1965, is a Beat-inspired poetic stream of consciousness, while more recently Tupac Shakur, Ryan Adams, Jill Scott and Tom Waits have all published poetry collections. In 1996, REM frontman Michael Stipe and six friends each wrote a haiku poem every day, and posted them to each other 365 of them were collected for the resulting book The Haiku Year.

One of the most significant rock star poets is Reeds friend Patti Smith, who has published numerous collections of her verse. In her speech for the posthumous induction of Reed to the RocknRoll Hall of Fame, she declared that as a poet, he must be counted as a solitary artist. And so, Lou, thank you for brutally and benevolently injecting your poetry into music.

We Are the People is taken from Do Angels Need Haircuts?, published by Anthology Editions, 2018 Canal Street Communications, Inc.

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Kim Deals cult band having returned to the lineup of their classic Last Splash deliver an album that blends ancient monuments and crushed beetles into a spectral brew

A sense of What if? hangs over the career of Kim Deal. It seems a strange thing to say about someone whos been a member of not one but two seminal rock bands, an alt-rock figure so beloved that journalists unironically open profiles of her with the words It is not possible to overstate the importance of Kim Deal and to whom everyone from Kurt Cobain to Courtney Barnett has paid homage.

Nevertheless what if Pixies frontman Black Francis had acceded to Cobains public suggestion that he allow Deal to write more songs for the band? The Pixies later albums would have been bolstered by the material that Deal used in her side project the Breeders, the bands internal strife might have pacified, and arguably the most influential rock band of the 80s might have ended up as commercially successful as they were critically acclaimed.

And what if the Breeders hadnt dissolved in dissolute chaos after their second album, 1993s Last Splash, sold a million copies? Whos to say they wouldnt have ascended to the kind of perennial arena-packing success enjoyed by some of their peers? They certainly had the songs, and in Deal a frontwoman so self-possessed and charismatic she didnt need to do anything much beyond get on stage in her everyday clothes to magnetise an audience.

Instead, there was rehab, a lineup that one member left for my own mental health, sporadic, understated subsequent albums 2002s minimal Title TK and 2008s introspective Mountain Battles and the consolation that, as Breeders producer Steve Albini noted, the whole deal could have turned out infinitely worse: among their contemporary graduates from alt-rock cultdom to platinum success were Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Now, the lineup that made Last Splash has reassembled: bassist Josephine Wiggs marking her return with an icy, perfectly enunciated vocal on MetaGoth, her voice at odds with the warm, husky intimacy of Kim and Kelley Deals harmonies.

Reunion Deal has brought together the lineup that made 1994s Last Splash

Its tempting to say that the lost years hang heavy over some of the songs on All Nerve I hit the hull, oh God, I hit them all, you dont know how far I would go, run the lyrics of the title track but equally, its a brave listener who starts making confident assertions about what any of the songs on All Nerve are about. From the Pixies 1988 classic Gigantic onwards, Deal has specialised in lyrics that manage to be both haunting and elusive, and All Nerve is no exception, throwing up far more questions than answers. Do the words that float over the lulling, hypnotic bassline and torpid guitars make Walking With the Killer (a song Deal first recorded solo five years ago) a latter-day murder ballad told from the viewpoint of the victim I didnt know it was my night to die, but it really was or something less straightforward, more metaphorical? Is Blues at the Acropolis really a stern bewailing of the lack of reverence shown by tourists for ancient monuments? Whats going on in Skinhead #2, which opens with the simultaneously striking and baffling line I need spit to crush these beetles on my lips?

All this is set to music that is rich and deep and repays repeated listening. All the Breeders trademarks are here: the guitar lines that sit at unexpected angles to the chords, the shifts from light to dark, the curious sense of humour. (I always struggle with the right word, sings Deal on Wait in the Car, before proving her point by mewing like a cat.) But theres nothing as sunlit and immediate as Last Splashs Divine Hammer. All Nerve lasts barely half an hour, which means the odd longueur stands out a cover of Amon Dl IIs Archangel Thunderbird is fun rather than essential, although its certainly intriguing how perfectly Pixies-like the tracks ancient, angular krautrock riff is.

The album isnt intense in the raging guitar noise sense of the phrase. Songs frequently unravel into stillness before gathering themselves up again, and theres something tense and deliberately contained about even the brashest stuff here. You expect opener Nervous Mary to explode cathartically, but it never does; Spacewoman switches from quiet to loud in patent style, but does so at an oozing pace. The best material might be the most spectral: Walking With the Killer and the beautiful, barely-there shimmer of Dawn: Making an Effort. But theres a real concentrated power about its sound, which is intimate and raw, befitting its title: the vocals close-miked, the band recorded in such a way that they sound like theyre playing live a few feet away from you. For an album full of space and silence, its remarkably relentless and weighty maybe not the stuff of arena-packing success after all, but formidable enough that, while it plays, what ifs seem beside the point.

This week Alexis listened to

Tracey Thorn: Sister (Andrew Weatherall Remix) Assisted by the vocals of Corinne Bailey Rae, Weatherall turns the standout track from Tracey Thorns new album into ghostly, dubbed-out slow motion electro-disco.

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Despite his image Mark E Smith was no ogre. We bid farewell to a kind-hearted hellraiser

I first met Mark E Smith in 1981, as I waited on the steps of Leeds University, about to see my first ever Fall gig. Suddenly I spied the singer coming out of the building and rushed over to get an autograph. I was a painfully naive schoolboy and had no idea how to approach a pop star or, rather, an enigmatic cult figure with a fearsome reputation for taking no prisoners. Smith wasnt exactly the darling of the music press but he was viewed with a mixture of curiosity, awe and fear: Id already read enough about him to know that he was someone whom one should approach as one might a savage dog.

In the event and this was my first lesson in his unknowability and unpredictability he could not have been nicer. He didnt have a pen, nor did I, but the previous month Id met Captain Sensible from the Damned on the steps of Unity Hall in Wakefield, and hed taken a bite out of my concert ticket in lieu of an autograph. I asked Mark E Smith to do the same and I still have the perfect paper impression of his 1981 dental work, which presumably contains enough DNA traces for a clone. Not that there could ever be another Mark E Smith.


Mark E Smith: his career highlights

From post-punk beginnings in Manchester to racking up 31 studio albums, Mark E Smith has one of the most impressive careers in British indie

The Fall form

Mark E Smith formed the band in Prestwich with Martin Bramah, Una Baines and Tony Friel. By the time of the band’s debut album Live at the Witch Trials, recorded in a single day, only Bramah remained from the initial lineup Baines and Friel the first to go in the band’s enormous number of personnel changes. There have been 66 members in all.

Hex Enduction Hour

One of the most highly-regarded of the band’s albums, Hex Enduction Hour distilled their essence: chaotic sonic mess washing around a driving rhythm section, all of it shot through with Smith’s scabrous ranting.

There’s a Ghost in My House

This cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown track became the Fall’s only top 30 hit. Most of their other singles would skulk around the lower reaches of the top 100, though others from this period like Hit the North, Victoria and Jerusalem would flirt with success.

Works with Michael Clark Dance Company

Smith didn’t only work with the Fall he collaborated with Michael Clark’s contemporary dance company on a work about William of Orange, wrote a play about Pope John Paul I, made a well-regarded album with German electronic duo Mouse on Mars as Von Sdenfed, and guested with Damon Albarn’s cartoon band Gorillaz.

Their Peel Sessions are collected on CD

John Peel said the Fall were his favourite band, and they recorded more sessions for his BBC radio show than any other artist 24 in all. Martin Bramah remembered: “He wanted to admire Mark from afar, and Mark was smart enough to know that.”

Marries Eleni Poulou

Smith’s first marriage was to Brix Smith, later Brix Smith Start, in 1983 she played guitar in the Fall. He later married Saffron Prior, who ran the Fall’s fan club, and then Eleni Poulou, who played synths.

New Facts Emerge

The band’s final album came out last year, and hit the UK Top 40, bringing their total number of studio albums to 31. It was described in the Observer as “a stop-start marriage of demonic rock and kraut-punk in which Smith cackles and appears to speak in tongues” business as usual, then.

I can picture that gig as if it were yesterday. The wilfully unfashionably outfitted Smith was visibly in charge, like a demented building-site foreman, barking out lyrics like they were orders as his band cowered behind him, hammering out a pulverising, hypnotic racket.

Mark E Smith in the Falls early days. Photograph: Gabor Scott/Redferns

Two bands changed my life. Joy Division introduced me to the power of music and the possibilities of sound, and demonstrated that pop songs could be far more and come from somewhere far deeper and darker than entertainment. But the Fall changed everything I felt about words and language. From the moment I heard Totally Wired in a friends cellar at an impressionable age, Smiths lyrics had a seismic effect on me. To listen to my first Fall album, Grotesque (After the Gramme) was to enter an unknowable netherworld of hydrochloric shaved weirds, new faces in hell, hideous replicas of much-loathed dog breeders and a worldview that sneered at Englishmen, councils, rapists, northerners, southerners, students, tourists, dogs and, well, pretty much everyone and everything. This was not the language I knew from pop. It was more like musical science fiction.

I developed an obsession with the Fall that evening in Leeds that has lasted a lifetime. On a good night, with Smith at full pelt and Steve Hanley grappling with the bass like it was a wild animal, they were the best band in the world. On a bad one, they could be an irritable, irascible row. I first vowed to never go and see the Fall again as long ago as 1985, and yet like a dog returning to its vomit, Id always be drawn back.

They were never quite my favourite band, but were always there or thereabouts, a microcosm of their relationship with the rest of pop. The Fall have had scores of charting records. Meanwhile, key incidents in my own life have been bound up in the Fall: first pint of bitter at that first Fall gig; losing my virginity to the girl who gave me my first Fall album. Later, I went out with a girl called Victoria whose name gave our coupling extra frisson because, well, the Fall were in the charts with a Kinks cover called Victoria.

Ive seen Smith deliver a professional performance worthy of Sinatra and gigs that were an epic shambles, with the seemingly drunken singer dismantling the bands gear on stage or singing (or rather, making noises) from the comfort of the dressing room. This, as he well knew, was part of the fascination: you never knew which Smith you would get.

We had two further encounters after that fleeting initial meeting. In 1997, when I nervously conducted a pop summit for Melody Maker with Smith, the Beautiful Souths Paul Heaton and New Orders Peter Hook, the three luminaries ended up trudging around Manchester because it turned out that Smith had been barred from almost all the city-centre pubs. It ended up in a drinking session that went on for hours, and through the haze I vividly remember Smith devouring poor Heaton. His crime? He confessed to liking the Fall.

After the third and last encounter, in September 2005, our worlds collided in a new way. Because Smith had been interviewed countless times in the Guardian, my editor had a new angle: how about getting the singer to talk about the numerous band members hed fired (or who had fired him) over the years, and then get a few of them to talk about Smith? That plan went awry when Smith refused to divulge the whereabouts of any ex-members. Instead, I tracked them down myself scouring the internet, old phone books and remote Lancashire hillsides, ending up finding more than 40.

This epic quest destroyed my 17-year relationship, and my girlfriend even dumped me for a lorry driver (Container Drivers being my favourite Fall song), but by the time the Guardian article became a book, The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britains Most Insane Group, Id uncovered the jealously guarded inner workings of the Fall, which were as weird as the songs.

Smith ran the group like a small industrial factory, hiring and firing on a whim. I heard from wives and ex-girlfriends, whod all been ultimately discarded or abandoned by him (one, girlfriend/manager/kazoo soloist Kay Carroll, exited the van on a freeway in the middle of a snowstorm). I heard tales of guitarists being blindfolded on the way to gigs or dumped in Swedish forests; there were stories of creative tension and psychological torture. Songs had been recorded live in the back of speeding vans. A drummer who hadnt played for years found himself press-ganged into the Fall minutes before they played to thousands at Reading, by a singer and guitarist bloodied from going at each other with knuckledusters.

On stage with the Fall at Glastonbury festival in 2010. Photograph: James McCauley/Rex Features

However, Smith was far too complex or intelligent to be a mere ogre. He could be as hilarious as some of the songs (I love the story that the Falls contract to appear on Later with Jools Holland included a clause stipulating that under no circumstances was Holland to play boogie-woogie piano anywhere near the Fall). Many ex-members had tales of extraordinary generosity and kindness: how hed come to their aid when they needed it, or taken them around the world. Carroll travelled from the US to visit the Smith (as she calls him) and wounds were healed. Almost all said that the Fall experience had been character-building and most that theyd do it again in a shot.

Granted, this probably didnt apply to one particularly incredulous guitarist, who revealed how an entire Fall lineup abandoned Smith and his latest wife after he poured beer over the head of their coach driver, who was doing 80mph at the time. While some former members needed acupuncture to recover from being in the mighty Fall, Smith merely dusted himself down. The great tracks kept coming (if not, admittedly, as frequently as they once did) and the singer would emerge fronting another set of musicians hed stumbled upon in the pub.

Of course, its hard not to think of Smith without thinking of alcohol. He was a hardened drinker (and the rest) from his teens. Interviewing him meant matching him pint for pint (I managed to avoid the whisky chasers) and I can still picture him at that last encounter, cackling as he told me how he used to fine drummer Karl Burns 5 every time he hit the tom tom. After four hours, tape machine off, Smith suggested going over the road for one and I ended up so plastered that it was several hours before I felt able to get back in the car. Ill always remember his last words to me, as he departed in a taxi, as cheery (and, weirdly, seemingly as sober) as he was in 1981: Thanks Dave, Ive really enjoyed it. Then, when the book came out, he annihilated it, announcing: Ive just fucking burned it.

He was ever the contrarian, but if there was one thing that was predictable about him, it was his commitment to the Fall. As long ago as 1979, he said that his aim in life was to keep it going as long as I can. It says everything about him that he kept performing until the very bitter end even visibly ill in a wheelchair. Music has lost one of its most distinctive, inimitable characters.

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