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Baker's Dozen

The Golden Section: John Foxx's Favourite Albums
John Foxx , October 3rd, 2013 04:16

The electronics pioneer pens his own Baker's Dozen and gives us a slightly different twist on the 13 favourites formula

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The Shadows - The Shadows’ Greatest Hits
Finally - an odd one, I know. People will writhe. But this is one component of perhaps the biggest circular connection here - one which spans virtually the entire era of modern music from the 1950’s to the present. It also represents an almost forgotten era of British rock - but one that shaped the future in more strange and radical ways than might be imagined. You have to forget all about Cliff Richards, of course.

Several artists have unexpectedly named the Shadows as an influence – for instance the brilliant Michael Rother of Neu!, La Düsseldorf and an original member of Kraftwerk, who said the ‘Apache’ beat and that Shadows record made him want to take up guitar at an early age. He also says the ‘Apache’ beat is what eventually mutated into the motorik beat of Neu!. This is the beat that still fuels modern rock, over fifty years later. Jean Michel Jarre also named The Shadows as an influence - and even got Hank Marvin to play with him in a [Destination] Docklands performance.

When I hitchhiked around Europe in the early to mid 60s, this sort of instrumental music was on all the jukeboxes all across the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy. It felt space age, spoke of the mysteries of technology and the optimistic view of the future - also being manifested visually by modernist fashion designers such as Courrèges, and artists such Vasarely. It evoked coffee bars, long and low motor cars, neon city centres, cinemas, youth wearing turtleneck sweaters, slimline slacks, shades and horn rimmed glasses, and especially the chrome and Cadillac-inspired styling (and even the name) of the Stratocaster guitars the band used. Echo units were used to make rhythms and lots of reverberant space. The guitar was being removed from its origins and had become an electronic instrument. The Shadows were making new, international, technological, modern music – clean, separated and spacious.

This sort of music was very much the opposite of the later generations of heavily distorted rock we are familiar with now. These seek to give the impression that they are bigger than the medium which carries them - that they are bursting out of the speakers, and ripping them apart in the process. Ironically, the nearest equivalent we have now to this sort of methodical, separated, obedient music, is now made by Kraftwerk – it is, of course, considered to be some of the most advanced music we have. Yet it employs the same technological optimism, the same ordered layout, the same lack of reliance on drama and distortion. Instead, the effect is gained from melody, intelligent arrangements, reverberant spaciousness and a consistent rhythm. To me, it sounds very much like an evolution of The Shadows sound. Consider Kraftwerk and the era they grew up in. The Shadows, or imitations of them, would have been everywhere.

Kraftwerk sought to rediscover what music might be like if the blues, jazz and distorted guitar recording techniques had not become ubiquitous. They made largely instrumental music, using European modes, relying on spacious, undistorted sounds and intelligent arrangements, with evocative, consciously modern, urban titles.

Interestingly, throughout their career, they seem to have chosen to make gentle parodies or homages of early Shadows publicity shots - for instance with their first names in neon and the musicians posed holding tokens of their instruments, while wearing smart, dark suits and shiny shoes, or the classic silhouette shots, and others.

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Oct 3, 2013 9:13am

Hm, the first two-thirds of the list is a bit too MOJO-reader classic albums predictable, but it picks up after NEU! - and the Shadows selection is a genuine curve ball, with an interesting view on their music. But credit where it's due, well written and intelligent thoughts on each selection.

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Daveid P
Oct 3, 2013 1:52pm

the first version of Ultravox... and for some of us the only version..

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Sue in Lincoln
Oct 3, 2013 8:34pm

Saw John Foxx and Ultravox in 1977 - when I listen and read his choices I can see where some of his influences come from - especially the Beatles Tomorrow never comes - which I've just listened to for the first time on his recommendation.

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Sue in Lincoln
Oct 3, 2013 8:37pm

In reply to Sue in Lincoln:

Tomorrow never Knows - now I know!

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Oct 3, 2013 9:51pm

FFS, it wasn't George Martin who was "engaged by new ideas from Stockhausen, Schaeffer and others making the new musique concrète." It was Paul McCartney. Jesus and people wonder why he's so defensive. The tape loops were McCartney's. The drum pattern on Tomorrow Never Knows? McCartney's.

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Oct 4, 2013 1:12am

In reply to caonai:

Yep, the Shadows disc makes a nice break from an all-too-familiar sort of musical biography. I like the connection he makes with Kraftwerk (Michael Rother's 'Katzenmusic' and 'Fernwaerme' make it explicit).

Love those classic-era Shadows sides, and that cover is fab.

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Steven Davey
Oct 4, 2013 5:28pm

And Lou's Walk on the Wild Side was lifted from the Nelson Algren lesbo exploitation novel/1962 Lawrence Harvey/Jane Fonda/Capucine flick.

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Oct 4, 2013 8:39pm

nice list, a lil' obvious outside of the shadows BUT...would this be the 'oh, so ordinary' in 1977, when ultravox released his first? i don't think so...anyway, it's great to discover that mr. foxx talent in prose match his one on lyrics. a fun ride.

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Paul K in Brooklyn
Oct 5, 2013 12:45am

great selection and personalized connections - I'd write more and possibly gushingly so but I Can't Stay Long (says it all really)

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Jim Marshall
Oct 12, 2013 6:55pm

A well written and thoughtful journey - Although I have seen both the Shadows and Kraftwerk live the connections between them completely passed me by. John Foxx makes a convincing and fascinating case.

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Oct 12, 2013 7:37pm

"Kept it in a drawer. Still got it. Evidence." Tremendous.... I love these Bakers Dozen selections and really enjoyed John Foxxes's making of connections. How about getting him to complete his initial list of 40 or so?

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Acre's Bludgeon
Oct 15, 2013 4:04pm

I have never got very excited by John Foxx's music and now I know why. Because he missed his vocation; this is some of the best music journalism I've ever read. I love it when cool people like uncool music and The Shadows is as uncool as it gets. His other choices are faultless and I don't think there's anything wrong with being Mojo-predictable. There's a reason that people rate those Dylan, Beatles & Velvets albums. And that's because they are awesome cultural pinnacles. I'm betting that Mr Foxx was into that stuff when Mojo's journalists were bopping to the Bay City Rollers. Write a book, John. I'd read it.

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Nov 2, 2013 5:44pm

Hope John writes more about music. Puts most music "writers" to shame.

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Sep 27, 2014 1:18pm

What a great top ten! All of them are good, and at least half of them would be in my top ten too.

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Tony Barnes
Feb 6, 2015 12:06am


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Jul 30, 2015 5:28pm

Right after reading some of your articles, I plan to put it both on my Google Reader & page.

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Jun 2, 2016 1:50am

Just discovered this today. I care less about his choices and more about how eloquently and succinctly he expresses his adoration for these records (his piece on Highway 61 Revisited is especially good). Love to hear how someone who has devoted himself to music sees others. Well done.

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