In the 12 months between the release of Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes (December, 1973) and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (December, 1974) by Genesis, there was a sense in some quarters in the UK that rock music had become terribly distended, distorted, and stretched out of shape and increasingly imperious and remote from ordinary fans.
At a time when months could be spent dubbing ever more complex bass parts, or preciously tweaking a bit of echo in the mix of an erstwhile magnum opus, Dr. Feelgood’s debut, Down By The Jetty, was released in a deliberately dumbed-down, in-yer-face mono.
It was a political statement as much as an artistic decision, eloquently conveying the simple élan of their back to basics message. Arguably the opening shot of the coming punk war that would soon grip the UK, the Feelgoods slashed and shoved their way out of the pubs and clubs of Essex and beyond with a gutsy no-nonsense, celebratory retro R&B.
Literally inspired by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over”, guitarist and principal visionary Wilko Johnson’s hyper-animated stage antics were a marvel to behold. The glassy-eyed stare and his steroid-chicken strut as he jabbed the chords from his black telecaster held audiences transfixed.
With tightly drilled backing from John B. Sparks on bass and drums by The Big Figure, Lee Brilleaux’s wide boy menace gave his vocals a surly authority that you wouldn’t want to mess with. They had attitude with a capital A and took no prisoners when it came to on-stage commitment.
The studio was another matter. Having found that the usual tracking and overdub regime was draining the vitality of their sound, Wilko persuaded producer Vic Maile to record them live in the studio. It was inspired and audacious and intuitively played upon Maile’s experience as engineer on The Who Live At Leeds. Only when the band played live in the studio was he able to capture the primal edge of the Feelgoods getting into their stride.
“She Does It Right” and the syncopated body punches of “Roxette” hit hard then and still do today. Taut and lean, almost every track fizzes with an explosive energy that would carry the band from cultish obscurity to a number one act (the stunning live album Stupidity) in less than two years.
Though firmly rooted in the pub rock movement that briefly flowered in the mid-'70s, it’s easy to understand why the punks took up with the Feelgoods and their minimalist short-sharp-shock approach to their music.
The urgency of the album is undermined only once by a dreary stroll through “That Ain’t The Way To Behave.” Wilko’s slightly effete vocal on an otherwise consummate reading of “Boom Boom” confirms the wisdom of letting Brilleaux’s rumbling clout front things up.
This expanded two-CD set includes outtakes from the original sessions at Rockfield Studios, a complete stereo version of the record, and a set of live recordings of the band wowing the crowds at Dingwalls circa ‘74.
As welcome as all these extras may be, it’s the punch of original mono Down By The Jetty album that’ll have you reeling.