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Old Music is like a sweet smell

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Are there certain records you heard years ago that sometimes you hear and it takes you right back to those times? You never found out what the song or group was, and so when you finally hear it, you are there in the past?

I have a number that are like this, but of course I won’t remember until I hear them again. The problem in the past was that it was virtually impossible to find out the name of the song or group you liked until you heard it again and asked. The internet has changed that with Youtube and programmes like spotify.

A few weeks ago I finally heard one that I remember so clearly from a nightclub I used to go to with my mates. Raffles, which was in no way a posh establishment, was on two floors, and the upper floor was distinctly chilly. It was a bit of a haven for the punks, new romantics, Bowie Freaks and post punk arty types who didn’t frequent the usual nightclubs. They played the most progressive music, including this one - Fascist Groove Thang by Heaven 17.

Listening now I realise that it is very dated and of its time. In fact I never really heard what the words were, which is why I never recognised the odd title. It seems a little juvenile in its sentiments now, though at the time there was a skinhead – racist – problem in Britain with their own brand of music.

There is also a reference to Ronald Reagan, who was widely despised by socialists and called a fascist in the UK at that time because there was plenty of cold war and nuclear paranoia. We felt we were on the front line with US backed trident missiles aimed at what we were all encouraged to think was an expansionist Soviet Union.

I remember all my mates, on our way to school, excitedly discussing the nuclear alarms clearly going off in Wakefield and my mates thinking it was the three minute warning before a nuclear strike. (I had slept soundly through it all, and no doubt would have soundly entered nuclear oblivion). Funny as this is now, it just illustrates the painful sense of awareness we all had as young kids then. It must have been the same throughout Europe at that time. I think this awareness led to a lot of the politicising of music and comedy in later years.

It is very different now, with the paranoia being directed against terrorists, but Fascist Groove Thang is an interesting historical piece in that it reveals or reminds us of the attitudes of those times. There was a skinhead problem in the UK, but the fact that we didn’t have nuclear or a third world war with the soviets may have been precisely due to the nuclear power balance. I say it may. It is difficult to tell.

Songs are like smells – they have this ability to engender in us the feelings we had at a particular time, especially if they have been unheard, as Fascist Groove Thang was, for a long period.

Hearing Heaven17’s song then reminded me of another song that I really liked - Gil Scott Heron’s The Bottle. I used to love the flute in the song, but had the same problem that I couldn’t make out the words well – except Bottle – didn’t know the artist, and couldn’t ask anyone.(It was a really small but loud nightclub too).

The song is brilliant. I also heard this one in that nightclub, and used to do my facsimile of dancing to it – probably with a caskful in me. It is a testimony to the taste of the music in the club that they led a cultural ignoramus like myself to a tasteful tune.
Enjoy the smell.

Updated 09-15-2010 at 07:30 PM by Paulclem



  1. TheFifthElement's Avatar
    I remember Heaven 17. Wasn't the lead singer blonde and a bit scary/creepy looking? That's about it. It's funny, isn't it, how we always think things are getting worse but, in fact, we're just more aware of the problems right now and forget about the old ones. Strange. Have you ever seen This is England (the movie, I think they're doing a 1980's series version on C4 at the mo)? It's a really good movie about skinheads in the 70's.
  2. Paulclem's Avatar
    Hi Fifth - yes that the chap.

    This is a more modern him, but i think he a had a blonde quiff or something.

    I haven't seen This is England, though I will if i get a chance.

    It is strange - I was reflecting on the 80s paranoia about the nuclear threat. It just seemed to dissipate after the collapse of the soviet Union.