Tuesday Tunes 45: Breaking The Law

Some weeks, the theme for these posts just drops into my lap. This is one of those weeks. Last Friday, judgement was given at the High Court that the government had broken the law, by not revealing within the correct timeframe the details of contracts it had awarded without competitive tender during the pandemic. This might sound trivial against the background of all that has been going on, but contracts worth many millions have been awarded without the scrutiny of a tendering process, with the claimed justification of urgency. But many of these have been given to people and companies with connections and friendships to the government, raising doubts about their validity – especially when many were awarded to companies with no previous experience in the products and services for which they had been contracted. One such was the contract given to a friend of the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, who used to be the landlord of Hancock’s village pub before setting up a production company – but not for medical vials. Unsurprisingly, the medical health regulator is looking into this one! I thought about writing a separate piece on this, but it would have just degenerated into a rant, so I thought better of it. It did make a great theme for some tunes, though: breaking the law.

I could only really start the tunes with one, but which version? In my usual way, I decided to be indecisive and give you both, so this week there are going to be seven videos rather than the usual six. This is the version of this song which is probably the more familiar one:

I know it is only three weeks since I last featured The Clash, but this is too good not to include it. This was originally released as part of an EP, The Cost Of Living, in 1979: it reached #22 in our singles chart and #24 in Ireland. It was re-released in 1988 as part of the promotion for the compilation album The Story Of The Clash, when it charted at #29 here. The compilation peaked at #7 on the UK albums chart, and climbed all the way to #142 in the US. I love the song and the video, which looks like they had a lot of fun in its making, and it is good to see my old schoolfriend again, before drugs took him over and led to his sacking from the band – he’s doing well now, I’m glad to report.

The Clash decided to play that song after Joe Strummer heard the ‘original’ on a jukebox in a recording studio in San Francisco while they were mixing their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope. That version was by The Bobby Fuller Four:

The song was actually written by Sonny Curtis in 1958, and was recorded by The Crickets, after Curtis joined the band to replace the late Buddy Holly. It was only ever a B-side for them, but the Bobby Fuller version was a hit single in 1966, reaching #9 in the US and #33 in the UK. There have been a number of other cover versions too, notably by Roy Orbison, Hank Williams Jr, Nanci Griffith, and Green Day. It is also a favourite of Bruce Springsteen, who has often played it in live shows but hasn’t recorded it, to the best of my knowledge.

People who break the law often go to jail. I suspect that none of our government will suffer that fate (I wish!) but if they did, this may well be how it would go:

That was the title track of Thin Lizzy’s sixth album, released in 1976, which reached #10 in our albums chart and #18 in the US. It was also a #31 single hit here. I’ve never understood why they didn’t do better in the States, as I would have thought they were made for that market. The best Irish rock band ever (yes, I know of that other one). I saw Thin Lizzy twice, and they really were as tight a unit as this video suggests, and Phil Lynott was the epitome of cool. Sadly, he was one of those who succumbed to heroin but didn’t make it through. Last month saw the 35th anniversary of his passing: such a waste.

Taking the next step with the theme of our government in jail, I guess they could just stay there and entertain themselves:

That was released in 1957, and was #1 both in the US and over here. Those were very much the days when singles ruled, and I think I’m right in saying that the song has featured on compilations but wasn’t originally released on an album. I was never a huge fan, but that song and video are great pop music.

One thing that might not be advisable if you’re in trouble with the law is to admit one crime whilst denying another – it isn’t likely to go well:

Bob Marley was another one taken from us far too young: in his case, the cause was melanoma, and he was only 36. This is one of his best known songs – possibly from the Eric Clapton cover, which was a big hit, peaking at #9 here but hitting #1 in the US. Bob’s own version was on his 1974 album, Burnin’, which reached #151 in the US but didn’t chart here. Conversely, as a single it reached #67 here but wasn’t a US hit. Bob Marley remains a legendary figure in the music world, and it was fitting that his 1984 posthumous greatest hits album, which features this one, was called Legend. To date, that album has spent over 600 weeks in the US albums chart and more than 900 in ours. In total, Marley has sold over 75m records worldwide: few have ever done better.

If our government has been unlucky enough to be found guilty in a court of law, one of the fates that might have befallen them – in other locations – could have been to be sentenced to be part of a chain gang. This gave rise to thoughts that I might feature the Sam Cooke song of that name, or perhaps The Pretenders’ Back On The Chain Gang, but I decided it was a good excuse to include another video from one of my favourite bands:

Breaking rocks in the hot sun, eh? That was on the 2013 album R.E.V.O. by Walk Off The Earth (WOTE), which reached #7 in their native Canada and #90 in the US. It was also a #60 single in Canada. The song is typical of their style, and the video displays their usual creativity, with a few nods to O Brother Where Art Thou. But, joyous though the video is, the final message is that crime doesn’t pay and you’ll end up serving the time in the end. Not that our government cares: they have broken the law before and just stuck up the middle finger to the rest of us.

Which leads me to today’s closing tune. Not everyone who breaks the law goes to jail, and some make their living avoiding it. Here’s the best song I know about that:

Perhaps a route the government shouldn’t go down? Better stay away 🖕

That was the title track of Steve Earle’s third album, released in 1988. It reached #7 on the US Country Albums chart and #55 in the main albums chart, and was his first to chart in the UK, peaking at #42. This track was also a single, making #10 on the US Mainstream Rock chart (which is based on airplay on rock radio stations), and got to #45 here. Earle is very vocal on politics, stemming back to the days when he just avoided the draft for Vietnam due to a law change. It makes him what we here call a ‘Marmite’ figure – you either love ’em or hate ’em. I’m quite partial to the stuff.

That’s all for this week. Hopefully the government will have done something else to give me a theme by next week – the newly announced ‘roadmap’ is likely to present some opportunities. But I’ll just look elsewhere if not. Have a good week, take care of yourself and those you care about 👍