The Tor Guides

The world´s most flexible label – Stiff Records

In Classic pop on 28 April, 2011 at 16:17

In the heart of the city
Where the alligator roams
I’m a little lost lamb
Ain’t got no place to go
I ain’t got one penny
Just got a shirt on my back
I left home in a hurry
I ain’t never goin’ back

During the mid-70s Dr Feelgood fueled by Wilko Johnson´s choppy Fender Telecaster, took the British music establishment by a great surprise. The up-nosed musician´s music that had prevailed during the previous years got such a hard knock on its chin that it would never recover again When the new scene was set for the future, Sex Pistols and all of their cohorts would get an easy ride to the lamplight.

One of the more interesting aspects of the success of Wilko and his crew, was the establishing of little independent record label Stiff Records, initially financed by a 400-pound hand loan from Lee Brilleaux of the Feelgood´s. The new label would soon sweep the British music industry and its ways of doing business the same fashion as the Feelgood´s themselves sweeped all competition on stage some years before. The label was founded by were the energetic and enthusiastic Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson, both with their feet firmly on pub rock grounds, that were all set to conquer the music world.

A ”Stiff”, by the way, is the name of a record that never took off but rather died. The name itself is then fairly provocative for e record label, as were the countless word plays on the label´s record sleeves and its pins, all aimed to present the label and its staff as someone who never brought any prisoners home – alive!

The choice of artists to initially be signed by the label was maybe equally provocative. The then mouldy old pub rocker Nick Lowe made the label´s first single, with the label identification BUY 1. On the two songs on the single, So It Goes and The Heart Of The City, Lowe was assisted by drummer Steve Goulding of Graham Parker´s Rumour, everything else was played by Lowe. So It Goes was – and is – a nice mixture between Steely Dan´s Reeling In The Years and Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy, which also may have seemed a bit provocative and anarchistic (this was during the days before sampling…). However, it was the other song – the flip side – that got most of the attention: British musical magazine and then weekly pop bible NME choose Heart Of The City as its record of the week!

After some single releases it was time for the world to get acquainted with Wreckless Eric, a colorful person that may have resembled of something that cat dragged in from the street. However, Eric was a great composer and personality and besides his own releases, his songs were also covered by Cliff Richards. Another one of the great, early acts was Ian Dury, a person also with his feet deep into the pub rock scene, and Pink Fairies, with the great Larry Wallis. Even Motörhead released a single on the label (BUY 9)! Did I mention Elvis Costello?

Besides presenting a platform for old pub rockers and hippies, the label was also the first to release punk rock to the record buying public – energetic Damned released some fabulous singles and albums for Stiff. The releases came to be more musically diversified, among the later acts that were first presented by Stiff were Madness, Kirsty MacColl and Devo. Plus the ever lovely Tracey Ullman and of course lots and lots more!

Co-founder Jake Riviera left the label already after 20 singles and some albums in favour of orchestrating the future US careers of Lowe and Costello. The label still continued to release great music until 1986 when it was shut down. Another 20 years later, the label was resurrected, now mainly focusing on re-releasing its old music.

If you want to know some more about ”the world´s most flexible label”, you will find more info here and here – it is astonishing to see how many great artists that have at one time been signed to the label.

Some years ago BBC´s Channel 4 made good documentary on the label. I saw it myself some time ago, duly divided up in several shorter pieces à la Youtube. Below, you can now find it, all for your own taking!

By the way, what´s your favourite Stiff slogan?



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