Through 1979 and into 1980 I worked late into the night a lot. I lived and worked in a small attic room in the centre of Dundee. As I worked I listened to music and the radio. On many nights I would listen to the John Peel Show on BBC Radio 1 between 10 and midnight. There would be a blank cassette (C60 by preference) in the tape machine. Record, play and pause buttons would all be pressed down until Peel played something that interested me. I could maybe work out how many tapes were made this way at that time…they are all numbered though not dated. The tapes are a bit of a mess with the signal cutting out, bits of voice over and missing intros. I remember one night the local fire brigade’s radio interrupted and then they appeared in the street outside. Though I wrote down the artists’ names and the track titles, I often misheard things or omitted stuff so the tapes are not a ‘proper’ collection or even a very useful archive. They are, instead, a kind of snapshot of my interests at the time.
One track I recorded then was by a band I had never heard of ‘The Rentals’. (There is a band from the 90s called the Rentals but they are not related). The song was fairly stark, guitar-driven punk performed with some exuberance. Abandon even. The track was called ‘New York!’ and from what I could tell it was a celebration of the musical life of that city. The lyrics were ‘shouty’ rather than sung and some were not clear but I loved the line describing the city’s music ‘like a hammer in the sink’. It suggested rhythm without a tune…a kind of atonality.
On a Sunday afternoon in London in the early 1980s I was walking down Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and I was scanning the scattered detritus of the market. The street was much scruffier then and the market was ramshackle. Maybe I picked up other things that day but the two I remember are: an ex-library book by Isaac Asimov published by Gollancz with the distinctive yellow cover of that imprint and a 7” single with a picture sleeve of ‘New York!’ by the Rentals. It turned out that the song I had recorded on the radio some years before was the B side of the single. The A side was called ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You’.
As time passed I became fonder of this twice found record and I became more intrigued by the lyrics. Raking through my collection of singles I would often play it and try (though not very hard) to work out what the words actually were. Into the 21st century I did some internet research and I tracked down a website for two of the original members of the Rentals, Jane and Jeff Hudson.
After the Rentals broke up they formed an electronic outfit called Jeff and Jane and they still make music and art(and sell antiques). So I e-mailed them to tell them about the sequence of events I have described here and to ask about the lyrics and Jane replied. She said that the bit of the lyric I liked was actually:
‘the stratocaster blasts it
like a hammer in the street’
She didn’t reveal the rest of the lyrics.
When I thought about writing up this series of events I looked for the Isaac Asimov book. I realized I probably had not opened ‘Tales of the Black Widowers’ since the day I found it. Under the title runs the blurb:
‘A collection of finely spun puzzles, posed by the Black Widowers’Dining Club & recorded by SF maestro ISAAC ASIMOV’
One of these stories is called ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’. That could be for another time. In the meantime, you can hear ‘New York’ at: