Friday 1 November 2019

Clandestine Classic LXI - A-Punk

The sixty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

There are two Vampire Weekend albums in our house. The first is Contra, bought by my partner on the strength of a broadsheet review. The second is their eponymous debut, bought by me, secondhand, purely to get hold of today's classic. I've listened to both in their entirety once. What I found thereon is perfectly serviceable, if somewhat anodyne; I could see why they were popular, for a while, but they didn't do much for me. I guess I am not, nor have I ever been, their target market.

The exception, of course, is A-Punk, a single that limped to 55 in the UK singles chart. It fared a little better in the US, and made #4 in Rolling Stone's top 100 songs of 2008. You might not know it by name, but you'll probably know it when you hear it... and surely that's a good indicator when seeking to ascribe classic status to a song. Its distinctive intro has made it ripe for commercial re-use in the intervening eleven years, you see - not just for adverts, but also as the kind of song that is used, in instrumental form, as a musical backdrop to all kinds of television programmes. But there's more to A-Punk than commercial ear-wormery.

For starters... well, I don't know what it is exactly, whether it's that infectious, right-up-the-fretboard guitar intro, or the pace of the song, or the vocal delivery, or just the underlying melody, but something in the way the New York four-piece (thanks, Wikipedia) deliver this song reminds me of Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes (a song whose ad-friendliness I wrote about in 2008, coincidentally). I think we can all agree the Femmes track is excellent, and so is A-Punk, for many of the same reasons.

And then - bear with me here - the "Hey, hey, hey" refrain reminds me more than a little of The Ramones' "Hey! Ho!" in Blitzkrieg Bop. Yes, really! No bad thing, right?

I can't pretend I know what the lyrics are about, who Johanna is or whether turquoise harmonicas are a thing or a euphemism. I can tell you that Sloan Kettering is a renowned cancer care hospital, which may give a clue to a darker story behind the upbeat delivery of these words, as might the fact that one half of the ring mentioned ends up at the bottom of the sea. What I can tell you, for absolute certain, is that this song has the power to make me dance (in the privacy of my kitchen). And inappropriately at that, in the manner of the nutty boy dancing I did in my youth, to the sounds of ska and Two-Tone. And that's the clincher, really - any song that can make me dance, simply for the joy of it, has to be a stone cold classic.

You can buy today's selection on the aforementioned debut album if you like, but as I've already mentioned, it's not all like this. So maybe YouTube is a safer bet - good video too, I reckon. Oh - 41 million views. Maybe not so clandestine. Bollocks. But I wanted to write about it, and it's just a bit too long for a Sunday short, so... my gaff, my rules - enjoy!


  1. You are right - how brilliant when a song just makes you dance for the joy of it. Just go for it, eh!
    My Shed(io) where I work is in the garden, only a few feet from the house and where I listen to music all day. If Mr SDS is at home he can see me in there from the kitchen window - and it's more than a few times that I've come indoors to be told, "I saw ya! I saw ya dancing away!" Aargh...! (Although, to be honest, the space is so tiny it's probably more of a cramped, awkward jiggle.)

    You know, I hadn't realised that this very familiar song was by VP. Not really a fan but I did like 'Harmony Hall' - and then liked it even more after I'd seen this particular video for it

  2. I prefer Oxford Comma, but A Punk is OK too. It's all stolen from Graceland, but as Paul Simon nicked most of that himself, I guess I forgive them.

    1. Agreed, Oxford Comma is good. Doesn't make me dance like an idiot though.

      Nothing new under the sun, is there?