365 Days of Album Recommendations – July 8

Billy Bragg – Back to Basics

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English Socialist Electric Folk Punk? Yep, I’m in.

I first heard these recordings in 1986, just a couple of years after they’d come out. I was flabbergasted. Smart, passionate, angry … real.

It simply hadn’t occurred to me that music like this was possible. Could punk be this left? Could folk be this raw? Could anything be this … English?

This collection actually assembles Bragg’s first 3 albums, and they’re all just him and an electric guitar. Totally genius.

Bragg largely sung either love songs, or labor songs, and there are brilliant versions of each to be found here. “The Man In The Iron Mask” is as beautiful and haunting a lovelorn lament as just about anything ever recorded, ever. And if this version of “Which Side Are You On?” isn’t the best version, I’d like to hear what you think IS the best version, so that I can then play you this version.

“A New England” is probably the masterpiece of the collection, as it manages to touch on both of Bragg’s major themes within a single song:

I loved the words you wrote to me
But that was bloody yesterday
I can’t survive on what you send
Every time you need a friend

I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
It’s wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you’d care

I don’t want to change the world
I’m not looking for a new England
I’m just looking for another girl

For a different kind of proof of what a guitar and the truth can do, go no further …


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