Uncle Sam • Heaven Or Hollywood

I got a bee inside my head last night to listen to Uncle Sam. A band maybe only 25 people ever gave a damn about and even then it was a fleeting affair. Before I began the great treasure hunt for the album, I couldn’t recall a single song I could even remember the name of but as with all great quests, it began with a story…

I was at The Marquee one evening — this was in the period when it had moved to Charing Cross Road from Wardour Street, sometime in the late 80s I guess — and bumped into my pseudo friend Ray Zell who was out with Larry (Miller) from the band. I was drunk. Ray was more drunk than I and Larry, presumably unused to the % of alcohol in UK beer, was more drunk than both of us put together twice over.

I said hi to Ray, Ray introduced me to Larry. I told him I really liked their album and Larry eyed me up and down a while before announcing;

“Wow. I could make a great coat out of your hair.”

Which is only odd because it wasn’t like Larry didn’t have enough hair of his own if he was lacking in the wardrobe department.

Still, it always made for a good story and last night while we were out shopping for ‘prom shoes and accessories’ (not something you would catch Larry Miller doing on a Tuesday evening) my small person pointed out a girl in the street with insane hair — hair that could only have been created by psychedelics and glue —so I pulled it out of nowhere to give it an airing myself:

“I could make a great coat out of that hair, Hoss.”

And so that particular legend found a new lease of life. When everybody had gone to bed, I pulled out Heaven Or Hollywood just for the sake of old times and decided the world needs more bands like Uncle Sam, now more than ever.

Why? Because whether we admit it or not, we miss MC5 more than we know or care to admit.

The album eases itself open with a slick, greased up hand that could snake its way in anywhere: Live For The Day reminds me of Lords of the New Church on a day when they could give less of a fuck than all the other days on which they couldn’t give a fuck either. Maybe it’s the song title that makes it so. Regardless, if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into by the time that’s over, there’s little hope for your soul.

Actually, if you didn’t know what you were in for by the album cover alone, you were lost already. It became something of an odyssey when Heaven or Hollywood was released to get the ‘real’ version of the album — the one featuring the girl with no pants and the straight-razor, leaving no doubt as to what she had been doing. Other (read: censored) versions of the album featured either a hard to remove sticker or a pair of pants. I’m not sure which is worse but it matters not. I had a good network and knew my record shops. The version I have here is the real deal that cost me an arm and a leg.

And then The Gods cried “Commercial Suicide” because if there’s one way to get your product banned rather then noticed, it’s like that. We knew from that very first spin we were enjoying a band with a limited lifespan at best. There was no need for them to make it even harder on themselves but I have to admit, it was fun at the time.

Anyway, Heaven or Hollywood continues in much the same way… as does their follow up album Letters From London. For completists, I believe there’s a third album called Fourteen Women, 15 Days but even I had burnt out by then.

Is there a sweeping ballad to make you cry on any of these releases?

No. We don’t do ballads around here. Only songs that sound like you’ve ingested so much of your drug of choice, you can’t remember if you’re still in the band let alone get off the sofa to make it to rehearsal.

Anyway, the reason the world needs more bands like Uncle Sam right now is for kids (I use the term loosely — anything up to 35 is included) to get it into their heads that you don’t need a Def Leppard scale production to make an album.

Sometimes it really is OK to not give a fuck if you dropped a note, sang out of tune, skipped a chord, weren’t paying attention… and it’s OK because your job — your one and only job — is to tell the world what you’re thinking or how you feel, right now.

Like it says in the small print, an attitude is a terrible thing to waste.

The new sleeve for those of a nervous disposition
The original sleeve that cost me a fortune at the time. Despite the best efforts of a marketing person, I’m 99.9% sure the censored cover is a reshoot of the original image. A for effort, but you’re not fooling me.