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.