13 July 2005

Flash & The Pan - Down Among The Dead Men

Easy Beat
EASY2 (12inch: EASYT2)
1978, reissued 1983

In 1983 Flash And The Pan had an unlikely top ten hit in the UK with Waiting For A Train. It pulsed along, like if New York white guys did the backing track for Timmy Thomas' Why Can't We Live Together?, but with an oblique vocal about, well, waiting for a train over the top of it dryly delivered by a tinny voice.

The follow-up was the track featured here, Down Among The Dead Men. Originally released five years earlier as And The Band Played On (Down Among The Dead Men) (Ensign, ENY15) it also has that trebly vocal with a cold tone from the American New Wave, but bubbling in the same pot are a bright pop sensibility and that main riff that feels incredibly familiar.

The riff is so sticky, feeling so much like it's already part of your musical knowledge that the song doesn't ever leave you, and indeed it goes round my head periodically to this day. Hence its appearance on the blog.

The lyric is a straightforward telling of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Why was this a single? How on earth did they think this would be a hit?

The weirdness by no means ends there. Flash And The Pan was the project of Harry Vanda and George Young. This Australian duo started out in the 1960s as The Easybeats, scoring a top ten hit in '66 with Friday On My Mind (later done by Bowie on his covers album Pin Ups).

From that humid, brooding yet soaring pop classic, they went on to write and produce the karaoke favourite Love Is In The Air in 1978. Suddenly we have context for that bright ascending bridge in Down Among The Dead Men that seems so incongruous dropping back down into the darker and more strident main body of the track.

Between these two projects, they released commercially unsuccessful singles under various names (Paintbox, Grapefruit, Haffy's Whisky Sour, Tramp; it was the turn of the 70s, after all). However, they are better known during this period for producing the first seven albums for the band that featured George's younger brothers Malcolm and der-ner-ner-NER-ner-ner-ner AnGUS; AC/DC.

How utterly bizarre that in the year at the end of that collaboration, 1978, they made AC/DC's Powerage and the live album If You Want Blood, simultaneously doing Love Is In The Air and Down Among The Dead Men.

This multiple split personality does give me clues as to why I return to this record; I never completely figure it out, I can't ever get where it's really coming from, different ideas and sensibilities surface on different occasions. And then, of course, there's that riff that does a velcro job to your brain.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

Incidentally, I've always loved AC/DC's album title For Those About To Rock, We Salute You. It's so very particular; not for those who do rock, nor those who have rocked, or for those who might rock, not even those who will definitely rock but at some distant or as yet unspecified time. The salute is specifically and exclusively for those who, whilst they have not rocked as yet, will unquestionably begin to do so in the immediate future.

1 comment:

xerxes said...

Got this on 12 inch with Walking in the Rain and Man in the Middle, must have been 25 years ago. Could never understand why they weren't bigger. Check out Hey St Peter as well.