Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Big Audio Dynamite

Big Audio Dynamite were guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones' post-Clash band....

This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1985)

....they were an interesting mix of contemporary hip/hop rhythms and vibes with Jones' rock sensibilities and impressive ear for a hook and a melody. He was also an excellent lyricist with a knack for a witty line or two. Jones and co-former Don Letts loved sampling classic movies and their albums are crammed full of sampled quotes from all sorts of films. This made them quite a unique band and always a pleasure to listen to.

Other musical influences were reggae, dance and funk which, together with a few nods to Jones punk background and also to classic pop made for an interesting cornucopia of sounds.
The album's opener, Medicine Showis packed with the afore-mentioned samples, mainly from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and it features an absolute killer guitar riff from Jones. As always with Jones, there is plenty of gentle humour in his lyrics and this is also clear in Sony, a song about  the seemingly unstoppable Japanese technological advances of the time - “soon we’ll be known as “Great Japan”, just like they are in Great Britain” -  and in the riffy, infectious E=Mc2 with its witty references to Einstein's famous theory. The Bottom Line is a stop-start rocker with yet another great riff and hook, as is the heavy, but rousing Bad. 

Stone Thames, about the AIDS epidemic, the rap-influenced A Party and Sudden Impact are all of a high standard too. All of these tracks are blessed with wonderful hooks and entertaining lyrics. Jones really was a most underestimated musician and songwriter and, combined with Letts' rootsiness, they really had something. Funnily enough, though, of the four great albums that Big Audio Dynamite in their original (and best) line up released, this is my least favourite. I feel they got even better after this although this was by far their most successful album. For some inexplicable reason, they sort of went downhill, commercially, from here, which was strange as the next three albums were excellent. 

No. 10 Upping Street (1986)

After a successful debut album, ex-Clash guitarist Mick Jones returned with an even better album with his new band. Once again, it is an interesting mix of musical influences and is full of what were vast becoming their trademark - plenty of movie and musical sampling. It is one of my favourite eighties albums, a positive oasis in a comparatively arid time for music. For me, too, it is slightly more appealing and effective than the band's debut album. The samples are more plentiful and used rally well.
On this album, Mick Jones re-united with his old Clash mate Joe Strummer. From the upbeat, hip-hop influenced opener C'mon Every Beatbox, through the nostalgic, sensitive Beyond The Pale (about Jones' grandparents and their emigration to the UK from Russia) to the fast paced, dance-style Limbo The Law and the Brazilian strains of Sambadrome, complete with authentic football commentary, the old "side one" is impressive. The presence of Strummer seemed to be bringing the best out in Jones, and vice versa.

The next batch of songs are just as good - the melodic 
V Thirteen, the slightly clumsy but equally humorous Ticket and the laid back grooves of Hollywood Boulevard, with its references to Errol Flynn and Oliver Reed, and Dial A Hitman both of which are highly amusing in places, lyrically, and the closer, the urgent, punchy Strummer vibe of Sightsee M.C.. Good stuff all round. It sounds a tiny bit dated now, but not enough to seriously detract from its merits. In a way, it could be possibly be how The Clash would have sounded by 1986, had the most successful line up stayed together. For me, it is a better album than Combat Rock, by far. 

Tighten Up Vol. 88 (1988)

This is possibly Big Audio Dynamite's best album. Another intoxicating mix of hip/hop, rock, reggae, punk, pop, funk, dance and multiple samples, it is totally urban West-South London album, even down to the cover (painted by ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon). It is full of references to places like Ladbroke Grove-All Saints Road and Brixton's Granville Arcade/Bon Marché. Jones even references the mainly underground Effra River.

This is possibly the most melodic and catchy of the BAD albums - some great songs on here and really appealing melodies - particularly the baleful Other 99, the most entertaining Funny Names, the realism of Applecart, the newspaper horoscope-inspired Mr. Walker Said, the rousing Just Play Music! - all of these stick in one’s head for a long time. All of them are hook-laden, addictive and incredibly catchy. Mick Jones had a real pop sensibility in his compositions. The laid back urban reggae and afore-mentioned lyrics about Brixton and South London landmarks on Tighten Up Vol. 88 are really evocative for anyone who knows that area, as is the "rock meets hip hop meets reggae" tour de force that is The Battle Of All Saints Road. This is a rousing, magnificent track. 

The rockabilly-influenced
Esquerita is also fun as is Champagne. 2000 Shoes is, unsurprisingly, about Philippine “first lady” Imelda Marcos's passion for shoes. Again, Jones' appealing wit is highlighted in these songs. 
Hip, Neck And Thigh is equally appealing and Rock Non Stop (All Night Long) is a fine, chunky, punchy opener. An excellent album throughout, full of atmosphere and simply great songs. I love it, even all these years later.

Megatop Phoenix (1989)

In many ways, this is the most impressive of the four albums from the original Big Audio Dynamite line-up. Using samples from movies and other songs even more this time, the album plays as one continuous whole and damn good it is too.
Personal highlights are the catchy Rewind, the similarly attention-grabbing Union, Jack, the atmospheric Dragon Town (about London’s Chinatown - pictured), the pumping House Arrest (about the current house music scene), the equally punchy The Green Lady (which tells of an Asian beauty living in a London council flat) and the infectious, evocative London Bridge.

That old Mick Jones tongue in cheek sense of humour is back in Around The Girl In 80 WaysHowever, this is not to denigrate any of the others, they are all excellent, particularly the funky James Brown. 

The samples are so many and so integral to the feel of the album as a whole that I feel they need listing! Here are some of the samples used:-

Start – Opening moments of Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death. Rewind – Much of what is being tape-rewound during the latter part of the song is from Stalag 123Mr Custer by Charlie Drake. Mink Coat And No Manners Goodness Gracious Me - Peter Sellers & Sophia Loren Union, Jack – Rule BritanniaCharlie Watts' drum opening from The Rolling Stones Honky Tonk WomanShakespeare's Richard II"You wouldn't know Karl Marx from a toffee apple" – from the film Britannia Hospital and "Heritage in motion" etc. from The Knack ...and How to Get It. Contact – Brief use of the main riff from I Can't Explain by The Who. Dragon Town – George Formby from Mr Wu's A Window Cleaner Now" and 'aaah aaah' portion of S.F. Sorrow Is Born by The Pretty Things.

Is Yours Working Yet? – Alfred Hitchcock. Around The Girl In 80 Ways – Right Said Fred by Bernard Cribbins. James Brown – Living in America by James BrownAmerica from West Side Story. House Arrest - Strawberry Fields Forever - The Beatles. Mick's A Hippie Burning – Digging A Hole, again by Bernard Cribbins, and Withnail and I. The Green Lady – Snippet of instrumental break from S.F. Sorrow Is Born by The Pretty Things. London Bridge – London Pride by Noël Coward. Stalag 123 – The Great Escape Theme Music. End – Listen with Mother.

In conclusion, the sheer diversity of this album, musically, lyrically, and in the myriad of samples used it has to be considered Big Audio Dynamite's finest album. I have a personal liking for Tighten Up, Vol. 88, but this is possibly the more fulfilled piece of work. It is a shame that this would prove to be their last truly great moment. The band line-up changed after this and the quality was never the same. Those first four albums, though, were seriously good.

Mick Jones's previous work wasn't bad either, was it? Check it out here :-


  1. I remember some time in the 90s I bought about four or five of their CDs all together because they were real cheap at the used CD store. I think my favorite one was Upping Street. V Thirteen was the song I liked the best. And E=MC2 which I think was on the first album. And there were some good ones on the later albums which must have been their last albums. I can't even remember the names of them. But they have some great songs like I Turned out a Punk and Looking for a Song and a couple more I can't remember. Harrow Road. And the music wasn't as 80s sounding as the earlier ones. The music was actually better I think. And I had Big Audio Dynamite II also but the only thing I remember is Rush.

  2. Yes, Harrow Road was a good one. BAD's music comes to life even more if you know the places they're singing about, but it's not essential, obviously.

  3. Upping St.is just a joke on Downing St., right? Or is it real? I just assumed it was like a pun on Downing Street. Maybe it's real. idk. I checked on the names of those albums and they were Higher Power and F-Punk. I'm going to listen to them cuz I remember liking them. Or at least the songs that I can remember.

  4. Yes, 10, Upping Street is indeed a pun on 10, Downing Street.

    I have the Higher Power album but not F-Punk.

  5. The only one I remember on that album is I turned out a punk. Which sounds like something from Sandinista. So I'm hoping the rest is that good. I listened to higher power and it starts out great with about five good songs in a row but then it starts to wander all over the place with a bunch of slower songs that ain't so hot. They've all got interesting sound effects and stuff but that's about it. I remembered a couple from megatop Phoenix too so I got to check that one

  6. I sort of lost musical contact with Mick around that era, having followed his work from 1977. He got more into dance stuff which isn't really my thing.

  7. Actually, I think it was less dance-y than the earlier ones. It has a lot more guitars and fewer of those fancy beats. And I think he was writing better too. Especially the hooks. which he was always really good at.

  8. I listened to Tighten Up and I think it's the best one of the early ones. And I listened to The Globe by BAD II and it fuckin' sucked. It was like the worst of early 90s music. I haven't decided on Megatop yet.

  9. I listened to the whole thing of F-Punk finally and it's guitar rock, and mostly very good. But strangely a couple tracks have these drum and bass samples glued onto the beginning or end of the song, but they don't appear in the main body of the song. I guess he couldn't give up his old habits of using samples. But almost. But most of the album is pretty good rock and some of them are actually very good songs. And I Turned Out a Punk is easily the best thing Big Audio Dynamite ever did.

  10. Did you ever hear of their album called Kool-Aid? I found it on YouTube and it says it was a UK-only album that was later remixed as The Globe. It has a lot of the same songs but with different titles. And it isn't as cheesy sounding as the Globe. They should have left it like that.

  11. I had the Kool-Aid album back in the day on CD, when it came out. I must have sold it because I don't have it anymore and it doesn't seem to be available these days. The tracks were re-recorded as BAD II's The Globe album. Like you say, it sucks, but then I didn't go for Kool-Aid much either. I feel that incarnation of BAD was a bit like when Strummer and Simonon carried on in The Clash in 1983 with similar poor results.

    10 Upping Street would have made a great 'new era' Clash album, I think.

  12. Oh I see. It was re-recorded. Not just remixed. No wonder they sound so different. A couple of the songs are okay I guess, but otherwise it really doesn't leave much of an impression. I actually think his songwriting improved after that. So did the music. What I don't understand is that since he's a guitarist, why did he push the guitars way into the background? I guess he was really into beats with BAD and wanted to make dance music. but you can make dance music with the guitars up front. A lot of people did.

  13. Yes, Mick was a great guitarist so I too found that difficult to understand. The same applies to U2 when they used The Edge less in favour of beats, keyboards etc.

  14. Did you know that they had an album as late as 1998?? I never knew that. I only listened to it once so far, so I don't know what I think of it yet. but it's pretty speedy and loud and rocking.

  15. No I didn't know that. I wonder what Jones is up to these days? Or indeed the last twenty years?

  16. I have no idea what happened to Mick Jones. I think he just gave up after the record company wouldn't release that last BAD album. They kept rejecting it. That's probably why most of it sounds like it never got past the demo stage or something. It sounds unfinished and unmixed like it never got that far or something. There's two or three that's out finished and I thought they were okay. Ranking Roger joined the group for that album but he doesn't sound good at all. Unfortunately

    Yeah. That guy started to annoy me about Neil Diamond so I just stopped replying. Most people just form their musical opinions from what they've heard people say. If what you've heard people say the most is that Neil Diamond isn't good , then that's the opinion that they will have too. They just repeat whatever they've heard the most. If suddenly tomorrow all the hipsters started saying that Neil Diamond is great, then he would start saying that Neil Diamond is great. LMAO . That's how most people do it.

  17. I reviewed the late Ranking Roger's last two Beat albums. They are good but somehow it is not the same when artists release stuff so long after when they had their moment, such as Blondie's No Exit etc. Sure, it's ok , but it would have been better in 1979.

    I agree about perceived wisdom and usually try to reject it and think for myself. The guy was a musical snob operating on the 'Band cool/Diamond uncool' cliché. Now, I quite like a pertinent sneer or two myself at times, but I thought his was unnecessary. There's a few on that site and on some of the others too. It's always going to be the way.