Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!!
Five 12″ singles that combine the talents of the MC5, Jim Morrison, Hendrix, Tammy Wynette and ‘The voice of Rock’ Glenn Hughes under the yolk of a pair of unlikely chancers, Discordians and pranksters in thrall to the Illuminatus! books of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, all wrapped up in driving beats, stadium sized hooks and rather tasty, squelchy 808s and 303s. What me worry?
Cut to 1990 and picture a long-haired farm boy in a big city night club for the first time ever, Ricky’s in Leeds as it happens*, amongst all the excitement of a bunch of new friends, living away from home for the first time is a bit of a musical revelation. Being a bit of a dancer I get to boogie to various tracks I know, including my all-time favourite ever dance track and an artfully sped-up version of Hendrix ‘Crosstown Traffic’ but what I really remember, 25 years later, was KLF What Time Is Love? it came out of nowhere and really lit me up, it was fast, I recognized some of the bits it was made up from, it was funny, it had a rock sensibility to it and it made me dance harder than I’d ever danced before. Perfect.
Okay everybody, lie down on the floor and keep calm!
In my usually proactive way I leapt into action and bought it two years later, but that’s not the point. What Time Is Love? was the first time I heard the original opening of Kick Out The Jams? as nature intended, my dad’s copy was of the doctored ‘Kick out the jams <Audible Click> Brothers & Sisters!’ variety. Between 1990 and 1992 the KLF rode a carefully planned but seemingly preposterous trajectory straight to the top of the UK charts. I’m guessing the more arcane references to elements from the Illuminati novels were possibly a bit lost on most of the record buyers, but whilst most people thought they were a bit weird, they could recognize a freaking incredible dance track when they heard it – whether the ancients of Mu-Mu were justified, or not didn’t really come into the reckoning.
The hits kept on slamming, What Time Is Love, Last Train To Trancentral, 3am Eternal, Justified & Ancient and America: What Time Is Love? none of them bearing any real relation to anything else happening in the world, but all with a warped internal logic, all integral constituents in their own galaxy of odd. Just pick any of the videos, it’s all there – hooded horned figures** rocking out with impossible stringed instruments, choirs of robed singers all bearing the group’s logo of a pyramid surmounted by a ghetto blaster, at least one alluring chick, tribal drummers and a rapper. Dystopia on a platter. Weave in Glenn Hughes on a longboat, Tammy Wynette singing about an ice-cream van and a particularly gnarly model train set and you’re all good to go.
I wanna see you sweat!
Without writing a full book I can’t retrace the KLF’s previous history as novelty hit making provocateurs, authors of The Manual (How to have a Number One the easy way), makers of technically crude but hefty sampled LPs or their later status as situationist art stuntists. I love their 1990 Chill Out LP and Jimmy Cauty was also a founding member of fellow 1537 faves the Orb, whilst Bill Drummond amongst other things played in Big In Japan and managed Echo & The Bunny men and Teardrop Explodes; but these 12″s are very far out from all of that.
Back to the heavyweight, back to the heavyweight, back to the heavyweight jams!
The crowded frenetic videos are a direct corollary for the music, I can’t imagine being able to cram anything more into a track like Last Train To Trancentral, there just couldn’t be any groove room left. It’s packed with ‘All Aboard‘s, ‘woo-woo‘s, ‘Come on boy d’ya wanna ride?‘s and sundry other vocal phrases, wild yelps and shout outs, all piled up on top of each other like a dance orientated Tower of Babel. I love it and whilst you can date it to within a year by the keyboard sounds it just sounds like nothing else before, or since…
… Apart from the other singles here, the KLF were clever once they’d lured you in their stuff was very self-referential, like hip hop, they sampled themselves continually building a kind of structural integrity across their work. Take the Tammy Wynette toting Justified & Ancient, the product of some very strange thought processes indeed a) to write a song about mythic beings travelling the world in an ice-cream van b) to think of, never mind actually getting, Tammy Wynette to sing it. For reasons best known to themselves Tammy’s version, inevitably subtitled ‘Stand By The Jams’, is on the B-side^ and something inside me thrills a little hearing the First Lady of Country, trill:
They’re Justified, and they’re Ancient
And they drive an ice cream van.
I never got around to nabbing a 12″ copy of the most mellow of these singles, 3am Eternal^^ but I did fork out for a remix one of Last Train To Trancentral entitled Last Train To Trancentral Meets The Moody Boys Uptown and wished I hadn’t, it’s a bit too much of its time stick with the proper versions.
The final track in the sequence was America: What Time Is Love? a radically rebooted version of the earlier single, rocked up good style for a supposed US audience but far more probably a snide comment on selling out and dumbing down, which KLF were always far too transparent and far too clever to do. In came Glenn Hughes billed as ‘The voice of Rock’, some wild guitaring and a solemn narration – in the water-drenched video to this one the helmeted creatures play flying V’s and a lady with gaffer-taped nipples does percussion, but I know you’re more interested in the guitars. Again I just love the total lack of constraint, it sounds like a raved up Jim Steinman decided to ditch all that restrained shit he made his career doing and really let rip! At the end a female American voice says, “Are those guys for real? I mean what’s with all this justified ancients of Mu Mu shit, anyway?‘
How to follow that? well by announcing their break up at the Brit awards, after performing with crust-core hooligans Extreme Noise Terror on prime time TV*^, burning £1million for an art project and Bill Drummond wrote a very strange book, Bad Wisdom, with Zodiac Mindwarp and, well, not too much else really. This run of singles was a truly glorious mash-up of silly, chart-troubling, absurdist nonsense you could really dance to, that we’re very unlikely ever to see the like of again. Amen.
All aboard, all aboard, a-woah-ho
All aboard, all aboard, a-woah-ho
*music aside, chiefly memorable for me when I noticed that the burly glass collector had a fair amount of blood, not his own, drying on the forearm of his white shirt. We really weren’t in
Kansas Dyfed any more.
**resembling benign Shoggoths.
^making it the only one spread across these 5 discs worth listening to.
^^have just remedied this on eBay.
*^the 7″ version of their cover of 3am Eternal is my most desired record. Only 100 made, I think.