Sonic Youth, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Franz Ferdinand, REM, Minutemen, Elastica, Black Flag, Johnny Marr, the Feelies, Guided by Voices, Ladytron, Minor Threat, Fischerspooner, Bloc Party, Low, Ministry, and almost everyone on the planet with a set of ears, who was ever in a band, has been influenced by them. Yet, they remain largely unknown to the world at large, even now. How can this be? How, I ask?
Wire released their first LP, PINK FLAG, in 1977. PINK FLAG was a collection of twenty-one stripped down, econo, punk/pop/art-punk/”not sure but I really like it”/often catchy-as-hell tunes that ran as short as 28 seconds. The longest, the title track, clocked in at only 3:47.
Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called PINK FLAG a “punk suite,” praised its “simultaneous rawness and detachment” and detected a rock-and-roll irony similar to “but much grimmer and more frightening” than the Ramones.
It has since made the list of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Top 500 Albums of All Time” and did the same on the NME “Top 500” list, as well. Pitchfork listed them at #22 for top albums of the 70’s. In short, geeky, pasty, rarely-get-out-of-the-basement, music critics still praise them to high-heaven. And for good reason. They deserve every bit of it. But they are still largely unknown to many a music fan. And that’s just wrong.
It’s not remotely unusual for highly influential artists in any media; music, movies, painting, writing, whatever, to be eclipsed by those who they influenced. I would argue that, most of time, the general public is just not ready to accept anything too different or too new. It’s just too “not the way it’s done.”
People tend to like what’s already familiar to them with just a slight twist. Just think of Hollywood and how they, basically, remake the same basic stories over and over again just changing a couple of elements. Music is no different.
To be fair, a lot of influential bands that never achieve more general public acceptance are just plain weird. Too much so for most people. But Wire? Wire was not that. Yes, it was different and new. But it wasn’t one note played for 47 minutes or anything like that. PINK FLAG contains some seriously catchy stuff. Just listen to “Ex-Lion Tamer” and tell me I’m wrong.
So, who are these guys? Wire consists of four members. Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey and Bruce Gilbert. Newman is the main songwriter and vocalist. Yet, all the members seem to have a major role in the the band. So much so that when the drummer, Robert Gotobed, left in 1990, Wire decided to become Wir to reflect the loss of one of their founding members. Seriously.
Gotobed never would return. However, almost a decade later, he rejoined them using his legal name, Robert Grey. Wir was no more. It was Wire, once again.
Wire celebrated this reunion with a brief tour in the UK and an even shorter one in the United States. That’s when I saw them. Honestly, I was reluctant to go. I had sworn off reunion tours after having my heart broken just one too many times. I still have nightmares of some of the bands I adored waddling out on stage and clearly going through the motions to cash-in while they still could. It was not something I wanted to do again.
But I took the chance. And Wire was sensational. Keep in mind, that’s still twenty-years ago. So, no promises if you see them now. I will not be held responsible for your heartbreak should they fail you. But it’s Wire, so I doubt they will.
While we’re talking about Wire, I should probably mention that there have been some notable lawsuits regarding plagiarism. Most famously, it turns out fun and fantastic Britpop band, Elastica, got influenced by them a little too much and, more or less, stole the Wire song “Three Girl Rhumba” for their hit “Connection.” There was also another Elastica song that was way, way, way, too similar to Wire’s “Strange.” In the end, some money changed hands, it got settled and everyone was friends again.
Wire kept rolling on. There would be some further personnel changes in the band’s later years. In 2010 Gilbert would leave and a Matthew Simms would take over for him. But Wire are still together, over forty years since the release of PINK FLAG. In fact, they plan on releasing their 17th album sometime in 2020.
But don’t buy that one. At least not until after you’ve bought PINK FLAG. That album changed people’s lives. Maybe, just maybe, it could change yours.