28 September 2009

B.A. Robertson- "Knocked it Off" b/w "Sci-Fi" (1979 Asylum Records)

This one called out to me from the Bleecker Bob's crap bin- the front cover is a fairly ugly and hacky cartoon illustration of, one had to assume, Robertson himself- complete with a frighteningly huge nose and Shadoe Stevens haircut, leaning up against a giant fountain pen looking like he was shooting a promo for his new comedy-drama from 1981 on CBS about a private eye who likes to go clubbing. Then, looming on the back was, in fact, Robertson himself- this time posed with his guitar, his shadow on the wall. Skinniest jeans and a floppy hair cut. Plus, these insane lyrics:

Some of us have talent
And some of us just haven't
Some are super sensitive
Like Mr. Spock

I have my creativity
Think of my sensitivity
You know I really love my art
We think you are boring

Well, turns out Robertson was a fairly successful late-70s/ early 80s pop star on the UK charts- "Knocked it Off," which reached number eight, was the follow-up single to his biggest hit, "Bang Bang," also from 1979 (they're both off his Initial Success album).

It's hard to really land on an opinion for this song. My first reaction was just short of disgust because it had those synthesized disco strings as part of the opening riff, but it does have a really cool hook that's too snotty to be disco. It starts with those strings before leading into a group of singers hush-singing the title over a funky little guitar part.

His vocal performance is pretty cool- the new wave kind of sneer sound there a bit, plus he's a Scot. The start-stop rhythm of that big chorus is great, too. Those fucking string sounds are just terrible though, and not even funky enough to have that going for it. These passages sort of remind me of "Tonight's the Night" era Rod Stewart- just way overdone on the obvious disco touches. That sliding, gilded sound that has a really pallid undercurrent. Hate it. The best you could say for it would be the slight Paul Simon via Graceland influence on the tight little guitar part.

He certainly seems to have a sense of humor- which may shed some light on the disco hybrid of the verse, but I sort of doubt that. Those parts sound dated in the worst way, nothing particularly interesting about the sound of it. The hook comes in and out more as it moves along, and so the new wave half seems to win out over the soul of the song.

If nothing else, this song is far more interesting than the bare printing of his lyrics would suggest. What about these lyrics compelled him to include them on the back cover of a single? During the verses, over his glittery backwash of sound, he does sort of bark out a lot of these words- almost like Stipe in "It's the End of the World As We Know It." I guess it's possible he thought some of these little bon mots ("Tell them they can stuff it/ I'm not gonna ruff it/ In some Granada Ghia/ I was top of the pops") were clever in that concise, brief sort of way. Filling up space?

Either way I think, if nothing else, "Knocked it Off" is an interesting drop in the bucket of my theory that rock lyrics, with some very notable exceptions, are more or less interchangeable, or- insignificant. What appears (and really is, actually) almost painfully stupid on paper can actually stand by and support a song in just filling a simple role. I've always felt a great song can have pretty dopey lyrics. Vice versa, too. I mean, I'd read and was excited about hearing these inane lyrics being performed in earnest... and I still barely noticed them when I put the record on. Well, except the "Spock" line.

I know a lot of people really respond to new wave in general- the best of which I really like too. But in a lot of ways, a song like "Knocked it off" is the worst of new wave- somewhat formulaic, opportunistic (hammering tracks laid already by punk, disco, funk and rockabilly). New wave was, at it's worst, a vulture of a genre, picking off still twitching parts from already-dying styles.

But still, I sort of liked this. Here's B.A. today. As for the song- check it out:


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