Big Audio Dynamite – “No. 10, Upping St.” (1986)

May 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm (Music, Reviews & Articles)

Mick Jones proved with the first Big Audio Dynamite album that he had moved well beyond his Clash days, Not that B.A.D. topped The Clash’s best work, but it staked out its own sound and style to excellent effect nevertheless. By taking The Clash’s early-’80s flirtations with hip hop and funk and adding the Jamaican dub influences of bandmembers Don Letts and Leo “E-Zee Kill” Williams, B.A.D. blazed trails that were well ahead of their time.

Right before the release of the debut, former Clash mate Joe Strummer chased down Jones and begged him for forgiveness. He realized he had been duped by their manager Bernie Rhodes into getting rid of him, and even though Jones was impossible to work with at that point, he still felt like he had betrayed his songwriting partner. Strummer asked Jones to come back to The Clash, which had continued on without him, but Jones was already deep into the B.A.D. project and turned him down. Strummer heard their album and told him it was terrible and not to release it – that it had no “songs” to speak of, and that Jones needed him. Strummer was wrong on both counts though – the album was groundbreaking and Jones didn’t need Strummer anymore, probably the opposite was more true at this point, as The Clash were just a shell of their former self.

Right after the recording sessions for their second album, No. 10, Upping St. began, Strummer, who by then had finally realized The Clash were a spent force, ran into old friend Don Letts and Letts invited him to the sessions. Before long, Strummer and Jones had patched up their differences and Strummer was asked to co-produce and write the album. This amazing turn of events would have been like if John Lennon and Paul McCartney had made up sometime during the ‘70s and Lennon ended up co-writing and producing a Wings album.

Strummer, as he always did, jumped headlong into the proceedings, and made many lyrical contributions to the album. Surprisingly, he thought the album was great, even though it wasn’t that much different than the debut. It still followed the same basic formula, but perhaps the biggest difference was the fact that the songs did have a bit more structure to them, with classic pop melody choruses, and the lyrics had a bit more of a storytelling aspect to them, which was probably due to his influence. Otherwise, the album, for the most part, carried on where the debut left off, except the songs are a bit shorter and more structured, and the samples are not as integral to each song. Jones brings his guitar into the mix more than he had on the debut, as well, showing off his rock ‘n’ roll roots.

“C’mon Every Beatbox” starts the album off with a bang, and shows a bit more of a hip hop influence, though not overtly. It features Jones and Letts trading verses to great effect, and even throws in a musical quote from Jimi Hendrix‘s “Are You Experienced.” “Beyond the Pale” is one of Jones’ more autobiographical songs, dealing with the prejudice his grandparents faced when they came to England from Russia, and how immigration is what made England the nation is. “Limbo the Law,” one of the highlights of the album, shows off some of Strummer’s lyrical influence – you could imagine him singing the words to the chorus. It has one of the more memorable melodies on the album.

“Ticket” features Letts, more or less, rapping (or toasting, as it’s known in Jamaica) the lyrics, showing off his family heritage. The song deals with unemployment and British sports – basically football (soccer) and cricket. “Sightsee MC!” is another highlight (by Strummer & Jones), and is one of the more hip hop-influenced songs on the album, taking listeners on a tour guide through London.

Another highlight on the album, “V. Thirteen,” has a great pop chorus, and despite Jones’ shaky singing, is very memorable. One of the best songs in their entire canon.

This album contains some of the catchiest songs Jones had written since 1982’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (though not quite on the level of that classic song), and though it’s not quite as consistent as their debut, it’s an excellent album with some of their all-time best songs. This record is in need of a remastered version, like This Is Big Audio Dynamite just received. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Sadly, after No. 10, Upping St., Strummer and Jones never worked in the studio again (as far as I know), and talk of a joint album around this time never panned out. But it was great to see this classic songwriting partnership make up and produce one more slice of greatness before going their separate ways. We are all the richer for it.

Jay Mucci

1 Comment

  1. Five Feet of Fury – Kathy Shaidle – Ed Driscoll: Diversity’s ”vibrant tapestry’ is beginning to look rather threadbare’ said,

    […] of St. Louis, the better; writing with your dick produces predictable results — we have No. 10, Upping St. (1986), with songs by a reconciled […]

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