Johnny Boy is Lolly and Davo. They’re very British, very punk (in all the best ways), and more in tune with what makes a perfect pop song than pretty much anyone. Their website describes them as “Sandanista-era Clash having a shootout with Phil Spector.” That seems about right, except this is music Phil Spector only wishes he could have made.
Earlier this year, I probably would have called them one of my top 20 favorite artists of all time. Which isn’t saying all that much, except that, at the time, I had only heard ONE song by them. That’s how good the song is.
I got my computer in July of 2004, so I’ve got about a year and a half of iTunes data. I didn’t get this song until March of 2005, and it’s still EASILY my most-listened song. Like, by about 30 plays. That’s how much I love it.
It begins with the drum beat from “Be My Baby” (easily the best thing Phil Spector ever did), and then in come the guitars, the background starts to swirl, and then: “I just can’t help believing, though believing sees me cursed…” After one time through the verse, it explodes and she sings it all again, this time accompanied by the Wall of Sound. Before the next verse, the “oh baby baby”s fly back and forth. And then, at the 2:01 mark, the whole song is set on fire. The fireworks go off (literally), and all she sings is “Yeah, yeah! Yeah, yeah!” but it sounds like poetry. There’s the smallest respite as it cuts back into the last verse when the music recedes, apart from the occasional firework. The verse ends, there are a couple more “yeah, yeah!”s, and then, before you know it, the song is over, and you realize you’re about to pass out because you haven’t breathed in 3 minutes.
And don’t even get me started on the title. How awesome is that? We ARE the generation that bought more shoes and we do get what we deserve. Plus, I’m a HUGE Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, which means I really love the idea that the decline of a civilization can most effectively be measured by the degree to which it is obsessed with shoes.
The thing I love more than anything about this song is that it manages to very effectively express the anger and frustration of living in a consumerist society, without being simplistic. It recognizes the contradictions. After all, it’s a song steeped utterly in pop. There’s nothing wrong with liking the simple things in life: a nice pair of shoes, a great pop record, etc. the song seems to say. The problem is when it becomes a process of consumption, rather that simply being open to the pleasure and the beauty. And THAT’s why Johnny Boy is about as punk as you can get. Sure, they’re just bringing Phil Spector into the 21st century, but punk has never been about the SOUND, it’s about the attitude.
Alright, all that gushing, and I haven’t even come close to doing it justice. Check out this review for even more Johnny Boy love.
This doesn’t soar nearly to the heights of “You Are the Generation…” but not much does. It’s still a very good song in its own right. Same general principle (60s era girl-group goes punk, makes good) but with enough variation that it’s not just “Shoes, 2.0.” It’s full of energy, and her voice is as strong as ever. When she sings/whispers “Johnny, what’s got into you?” it’s quite touching. And the harmonies are beautiful.
Getting a hold of anything by them has been extremely difficult. They have a couple songs that can be streamed on their website, and there are a few more live tracks at XFM. They just released their first album, but it’s only available from Sweden, which means I just paid a rather ridiculous amount of money to have it shipped to me. When it gets here, I’ll probably post an update.