Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘1977 by Ash.
If their punk-inflected 1994 mini-album ‘Trailer’ was exactly that – a trailer for what was yet to hit our screens and speakers – then Ash‘s ‘1977’ was for all intents and purposes a coming-of-age movie in album form, taking cues from Star Wars, Jackie Chan and the spirit of punk rock, repackaging all three for the Britpop era.
The title pays tribute to two out of three of these influences: 1977 was the year that Star Wars was released and the year that punk broke out and swept away everything that came before it, with the release of seminal albums such as ‘Never Mind The Bollocks – Here’s The Sex Pistols’, ‘The Clash’ and ‘Damned Damned Damned’ among others.
With that in mind, it’s only fitting that the album opens with the supersonic roar of a TIE Fighter from the Downpatrick boys’ beloved sci-fi epic soaring overhead, giving way to a blistering flurry of escalating guitar chords before roaring into the power pop of the opening track Lose Control, setting the tone for the youthful exuberance and energy heard throughout.
1977 is also a reference to the year of birth of two out of three of the founding members of the band, who were fresh out of secondary school at the time of recording. As such, the feeling of adolescent jubilation on display is not only authentic, but far-reaching – it captured an audience of the same disposition and the hearts of the generation whose soundtrack they had rejuvenated for the Britpop era.
‘1977’, for all its punk rock energy via grunge angst, fits comfortably within the Britpop cultural context of 1996. The album was produced by Owen Morris, already noted for his work behind the desk on Cool Britannia pioneers Oasis’ canonical LPs ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’.
While Ash borrowed the Gallagher Brothers’ sleazy, cocksure rock ‘n’ roll swagger on the tracks I’d Give You Anything and Innocent Smile. Gone The Dream and hit single Oh Yeah are embellished with full string arrangements – composed by frontman Tim Wheeler – that recall those that made Whatever, Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back In Anger the anthems that they were and still are.
Simple arrangements like those on Girl From Mars and Kung Fu are sonically enhanced with streamline, glossy mixing; acoustic guitar aided soft-loud dynamics; heavily fuzzed bass guitars and in the case of the Weezer-esque Angel Interceptor and album closer Darkside Lightside, vocal overdubs that add a surf-pop/barbershop quartet-like feel with their perfectly arranged harmonies.
Credit is due, however, to the group themselves – especially chief songwriter Hamilton – for managing to craft a sophisticated yet youthful sound on ‘1977’ by paying homage to both (then) contemporary styles in rock music and those that came before them while completely giving in to their pop sensibilities all the while.
With each listen to ‘1977’ it becomes more and more prevalent that any one of the dozen songs included on the album could have been a charting single release. While the chord structures are simple, they are engaging and infectious. It’s easy to see why Hamilton to this day considers Goldfinger to be the best song that the band has ever produced – while sticking to the reliable verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-guitar solo-chorus song structure that saw the likes of R.E.M., Husker Du and Nirvana before them take over college radio; and in the case of R.E.M. and Nirvana, mainstream radio airwaves; one cannot deny how enjoyable and singable each and every line is. The album is impeccably hook-laden, whether on the punked-up fast burner Kung Fu or on power ballad Oh Yeah, every track is as catchy as if it were composed entirely of choruses.
Lyrically, while not reaching the literate heights of a Bob Dylan or the bizarre, obscure, but intriguing qualities of a Black Francis or Mark E. Smith; the unique selling point of this album is how relatable the content is, celebrating all the things we celebrated as kids and teens: girls, action movies, girls, drinking, girls and girls, from the forlorn feelings of reflecting on a summer fling, to the nerves of a first sexual encounter. It’s an album that people in their late teens can relate to in an immediate sense or that older listeners can listen to and fondly remember their adolescence.
The age of the Ash band members averaging at 19 years at the time of recording, ‘1977’ is proof if nothing else that youth is not wasted on the young. While London had Suede, Sheffield Pulp, Manchester Oasis and Essex Blur as their musical trendsetters; Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland had in Ash a Britpop landmark of its own and a bonafide classic album in ‘1977’.