By Andrew Tanner.
After viewing the rather excellent Big Star biopic Nothing Can Hurt Me it occurred to me that almost from the time I became a fully sentient being, two private passions have endured. I have to confess an undying love for cheese Twisties* and jangling guitar pop.
Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were famously masters of the chiming guitar hook, and Big Star stand as one of the Jingle Jangle Greats. ‘Back Of A Car’, ‘September Gurls’, and especially ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’ are songs that have lightened my spirits and sustained me through testing times. The elegant, spinet-like guitar motif that opens ‘El Goodo’ has launched scores of sing-alongs in various vehicles – its chorus of ‘ain’t no-one gonna turn me round’ remains one of music’s sweetest fuck you’s. Yet without The Byrds, these songs would have been impossible. One Jim/Roger McGuinn and his ever mutating flock were the motherlode, the Ur Janglers.
I must have been 14 or so when I first heard the ringing arpeggios that announced ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. It was a revelation – the perfect amalgam of timeless rustic folk and electricity, and in the hundreds of times I’ve heard it since it’s never lost its appeal.
The sonics of course have been endlessly dissected and lauded. Mix equal parts 12 string Rickenbacker, ethereal harmonies, melodic bass lines & impeccable song selection (thanks, Bob). What can’t be adequately defined is what that sound does to you. For me, it’s a cinematic rush that opens up vistas. I see highways, first light of dawn, smell cold clean air, feel wonder. It’s less a song, more powerful magic.
Without doubt, a big part of the jingle jangle’s appeal is its ability to summon up the freewheeling spirit of the 60’s, something acts like The Bangles and The Go Go’s leveraged to great effect decades on. Both those bands fashioned disposable pop I’ve never disposed of. But my jangling touchstones don’t reside solely in the era of Peace & Love.
The Brits were clever enough to ditch the roots rock antecedents of the sound while retaining its shimmering beauty. UK acts feature strongly in my playlist, which includes the Fab Four’s ‘She Said She Said’. Harrison’s brittle, sitar-like guitar lines snake through the bewildering chord changes to powerful effect. I wanted some of that acid. The British Beat broke from their skanking long enough to pen the rollicking pop gem ‘Save It For Later’, a song still good enough to raise the roof at the band’s 2012 reunion gig at The Corner. ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s could be a hit from any decade post 1950. The Stone Roses’ joyfully cascading ‘Waterfall’ is in there, as are several Smiths’ tunes – Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar playing sublimely against Morrisey’s glum vocals. Even a raccoon eyed Goth like Robert Smith wasn’t immune to the joys of the jangle – ‘High’ and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ remain two of The Cure’s sunniest tracks (albeit with the jingling heavily phased & chorused).
Closer to home, The Church’s elegiac ‘Almost With You’ and The Go Betweens’ ‘Cattle & Cain’ and ‘Bye Bye Pride’ rate highly. Both bands pretty much trademarked guitar jangle locally, while across the pond Flying Nun bands like The Chills & The Clean did the same. Teenage Fanclub proved that Californian sunshine can beam out of the unlikeliest places – even rain swept Glasgow. An album’s worth of almost hits including ‘Sparky’s Dream’, ‘Ain’t That Enough’ and ‘It’s All In My Mind’ are there in the House Of Jangle.
No prizes for assuming plenty of Petty (‘Here Comes My Girl’, ‘The Waiting’) REM (‘Pretty Persuasion’, ‘Cuyahoga’), The Feelies (‘Let’s Go’) and VU (‘Who Loves The Sun’, ‘Here She Comes’). Note the plethora of comings and goings in the assembled song titles (The Pixies ‘Here Comes Your Man’ included). It’s indicative of the sense of motion a good jangling anthem evokes, often literally. Subjects seem to be eternally on the move, leaving or returning, travelling just a little further on up the road.
More recent additions include Arcade Fire’s brooding ‘Suburban War’, which co-opts McGuinn’s Rickenbacker chime for darker themes, Stephen Malkmus’ atypically lovely ‘Us’ and Wilco’s ‘Whole Love’.
There are random picks in the playlist too. Willie Nile may go down as one of many early 80’s ‘New Dylan’ wannabes, but ‘Vagabond Moo’n from his self-titled debut album is a roadworthy anthem built around weaving twin Telecaster jangle. One can be grateful the producer elected not to roll off the Tele’s rude honk. That song made me rush out to the nearest shoe store and purchase my first pair of motorcycle boots, despite the fact I did not own a motorcycle at the time. A good jangler will do that to you. Todd Rundgren’s power pop masterpiece ‘Couldn’t I Just Tell You’ is there, right next to Bram Tchaikovsky and ‘Girl Of My Dreams’. I even claim PIL’s ‘Rise’ for the family, its pretty, circular jangle set amongst the funk scratch guitar and Lydon’s declamatory sneer.
These are songs that will flick your ear, pour you a coffee, toot the horn outside your bedroom window or give you a warm hug. They’re a light touch that can carry a heavy lyric, sweetness sprinkled atop a brooding feeling. The jingle jangle whispers action words in your ear – get up, move, drive, go, go, GO! It’s a crowd of notes that counter-intuitively create wide open spaces. These are songs that have never failed to make me lift my head, nod, smile, get happy. They’ve never let me down.
Four decades of cheese Twisties and the jingle jangle. If I had to choose only one, I’d have to go with the jangle. And I freaking love Twisties.
*For the information of international readers Twisties are a rather delicious snack food available in Australia and New Zealand. In Italy it is marketed as Fonzies but is clearly inferior to the Antipodean original.