We are the Mods

In honour of Mod cyclist Bradley Wiggins, we go back to the sixties…

Our lugubrious new bicycling hero Bradley Wiggins (above, with Paul Weller and designer Paul Smith) is an interesting character for a number of reasons, not least his self-identification as a Mod, with the haircut to prove it. The essence of Modness is ‘staying clean under pressure’ – and no other expression of working-class male anti-establishment attitude has looked remotely as dapper.

From the RAF roundel to the scooters, everything about 1960s Mod is still cool, except possibly the amphetamines. The music ain’t bad either. Let’s begin with the band for whom this very Lazy Sunday Afternoon feature is named (Gaw’s tribute was the first episode in a series that, primarily thanks to Mahlerman’s masterful guidance, has weaved effortlessly through brows high and low). The Small Faces’ sound is archetypical 1960s Mod in the sense that it’s British rhythm ‘n’ blues overlaid with a huge black soul voice belonging to a skinny little white man – in this case Steve Marriott.

Ray Davies might not have had a vocal talent to match the likes of Marriott, or Stevie Winwood or Roger Daltry, but he sure could write a song. Before the more subtle pop masterpieces like Waterloo Sunset and Lola,  the early Kinks knew how to rock out. All Day and All of the Night was the follow-up single to their breakthrough hit You Really Got Me, and reached number 2 in the UK and number 7 in the US. Like the previous hit it is built on a big riff and a guitar solo rumoured, as these things so often are amongst bearded ageing roadie types, to have been played by Jimmy Page. In fact Dave Davies played it, accidentally ramping up the riff by playing it through an amp with a hole in it.

What separates the pop immortals from the long-forgotten? To my mind it’s pretty simple: you’ve got to have the songs. In every pop movement there are a few great acts who transcend the genre and embed themselves in the national psyche forever after; and then there are all the others. They might have the look, the attitude, the sex appeal, even the musical talent, but without the songs they are destined for oblivion. The 1960s Mod movement spawned its fair share of such bands….the Action, the Smoke, John’s Children… remember them? Still give them the occasional spin on the old turntable? No of course you don’t. How about The Creation? Their biggest hit – here, and as the video shows, in Germany – was Painter Man. Not a bad number, but would it have been worthy of a Kinks B-side?

We must conclude with the greatest Mods of all. The Who’s sound, famously described as “maximum rhythm and blues”, still blows virtually everything else out of the water. The 1979 film Quadrophenia was largely responsible for one of the numerous Mod Revivals we’ve had down the years (most led by Paul Weller in one guise or another), but that’s another story and shall be told another time. I’m sticking with the 1960s today – here’s the witty Substitute, with the boys looking alarmingly youthful and, of course, very clean.

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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

16 thoughts on “We are the Mods

  1. martinjpollard@hotmail.com'
    July 29, 2012 at 08:58

    Where were the Small Faces in the Olympic opening ceremony, then? Tch. In fact I’d have them down as my favourite of the three acts here (not counting The Creation, who of course I hadn’t heard of). I’m none too keen on the Kinks’ twee side (Village Green Preservation Society, yes; Harry Rag, No) but of course their hits are belters.

    Ditto The Who, who were great in the 60s but overrated in the 70s. For my money, Who’s Next contains great songs and a lot of rather dull prog filler, and Roger Daltrey has nothing like as interesting a voice as Jimmy Page. But what do I know? I don’t even know how to wear a suit properly.

    • Brit
      July 29, 2012 at 22:36

      I think they’re all singles bands really, Who included.

      • Gaw
        July 30, 2012 at 07:59

        Quadrophenia? Tommy? The Who never had a number one either. And as for the Faces, what about Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake?

        • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
          July 30, 2012 at 08:43

          Sorry, yes – a personal opinion, not an objective analysis. I find the rock operas unlistenable, except for the best bits.

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    July 29, 2012 at 10:33

    We are talking 1963 onwards here, at the bottom of Wrotham Hill on the A20 there was a watering hole called Johno’s cafe. Sunday afternoon became, in it’s large cinder-laid parking area, the trysting place for those deadly rivals the mods and rockers. Benzine driven tribalism at it’s very best, Black leather clad ton men and their tarts looking for bovver versus cagoule clad, short haired, short arsed twerps with a bad attitude problem. This clash of the titans seemed to frequently terminate with either a lot of Vespas being kicked over or ditto BSA Gold Stars. By 1965 the background music, pumping out of the cafe ‘Whatcha Gonna Do About It’ seemed to perfectly mirror the sentiment at large in the car park. Atmosphere was added by the close proximity of Brands Hatch and, drifting on the wind, the delectable sound of Jim Clarke’s Mk1 Lotus Cortina thrashing the Alfa Giulias and Ford Galaxys.

    Then there was that day of wonder, when the V12 Matra was on the track, on it’s own, hearing it’s erotic snarl the combatants ceased their activities and swooned, given the choice between the mods sneering songs or the Matra’s alluring crescendo, wouldn’t you.

    • Brit
      July 29, 2012 at 22:37

      Erotic Snarl is a good name for a band. Punk though, not mod.

  3. wormstir@gmail.com'
    Worm
    July 29, 2012 at 12:09

    Never got the who, but I can see why other people do

    As for the Kinks, one of my all time favourite bands

    Some groovy sunday tunes thanks Brit

  4. Martinjpollard@hotmail.com'
    martpol
    July 29, 2012 at 12:27

    Embarrassing correction: Robert Plant, obviously, not Jimmy Page.

  5. Gaw
    July 29, 2012 at 15:59

    I idolised Paul Weller, followed The Jam, yea, even to the Shepton Mallet showground, I even genuinely enjoyed the Style Council’s entire oeuvre. But that haircut – he looks like a cross between an Afghan hound and Vera Duckworth.

    Thanks for this, Brit. But please note: there haven’t been any decent Mod revivals since I grew up.

    • Brit
      July 29, 2012 at 20:48

      Isn’t that a bit like saying “I don’t think Santa is very Christmassy”? Are you suggesting that The Modfather should really be The CodModFather?

    • Gaw
      July 29, 2012 at 21:59

      Weller modelled himself on Pete Townsend, down to the Rickenbacker guitar. However, The Who only became mods as a career move…

      Perhaps they were all posers (a term that we youths used to apply to anyone who we suspected didn’t really, really, really believe in… whatever it was we thought we believed in).

      • Brit
        July 29, 2012 at 22:32

        I’m trying to imagine what could be the yardstick of modness – the Platonic Ideal of Mod, if you like – by which we can measure Paul Weller’s modness and find him wanting.

      • jgslang@gmail.com'
        July 30, 2012 at 09:40

        Like much else, all down to age. As one who saw the Who at the Marquee (set concluded, Keith Moon strips off then wrings out his sweat-sodden, target-bedecked T-shirt over the wreckage of his drum kit – bliss it truly was…) the Jam seemed ersatz at best. But irrespective of passing or failing tests for ‘true’ Mod-ness the Who were, like many peers, yet another art-school band. Not all of them of course, but the influential one: Townshend, like Lennon, Brian Jones, etc. The last one I noticed was Talking Heads but having as yet failed to die, I am merely getting old and am imprisoned thereby. Pete Brown (wrote lyrics for Cream) had an album ‘The Art Achool Band Goes On For Ever’ and indeed it does. Someone ought to write a book.

        • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
          malty
          July 30, 2012 at 13:35

          Wonder whatever happened to David Byrne’s big suit?

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