The UK punk scene was fast and furious. Unfortunately, it was met with resistance from the powers that be. Bands like The Vibrators, Buzzcocks and certainly The Sex Pistols were banned from many clubs due to indecency laws. The kids were turning the whole punk craze into some kind of fashion statement, wearing safety pins in their cheeks, coloring and spiking their hair. I think the music got lost in the flurry of negative attention.
However, somewhere in London, something was afoot (as Sherlock Holmes might say). a pub rock scene was emerging. Bands were cropping up in small taverns and gaining momentum but gainfully ignored by the massive corporate record companies. A couple of millionaires decided to pick up on this growing trend and started their own record company. In England, when a record didn’t hit the charts it was called a stiff. The artist rarely got a second chance. They just muddled around in the underground scene until they faded away.
With the emergence and hunger for new music, two guys named Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson formed Stiff Records and a new era was born. It was perfect timing for a genius idea. They monopolized on the idea of signing artists that were deemed as “stiffs” by the record companies. Using clever slogans such as “if it ain’t stiff it aint worth a fuck” and releasing singles almost weekly, they were building the future of some of the greatest music to come out of Britain.
Stiff singles would hit Record Stop each week and I bought them in order. Nick Lowe, crowned as the biggest stiff, had been part of a pub rock band called Brinsley Schwartz in the early 70’s and was completely ignored more than any other artist. He quickly became the poster child for Stiff Records. He recorded, produced and served as A & R and PR man, and all around office boy of Stiff.
Stiff #1 had to be by Nick Lowe. The song was “So It Goes” and it was a welcomed change from the previous punk releases from the UK. It was pop music with an edge. I immediately became a fan. I couldn’t wait for the next Stiff single. The first 10 were great. Bands like The Damned, Tyla Gang, Pink Fairies were all great, but it was Stiff #11 that changed my life, at the time.
Stiff #11 – It was a reggae inspired pop ditty sung by this bespectacled nerdy looking guy with a funny name. Elvis Costello, “Less Than Zero”. Elvis Presley died in August of 1977. He was still fresh in the ground and this guy has the balls to call himself Elvis? I became not only quite enamored with Elvis Costello, but a huge fan for years. I have forgiven him a million times over the years, but still find him amazing. More on Elvis coming up in the next post. I loved the whole Stiff concept. Bought every single.
Stiff went on to sign many great acts like Ian Dury, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric, and later dug into the US with acts like Devo, Rachel Sweet and Madness.
Like anything great, egos, money, and fame destroyed Stiff records, but the legacy lives on.
Great music and some of my all-time favorite artists originated from these guys. They saved the punk explosion from becoming a footnote in rock n roll history.
They opened my eyes and ears to another genre of music.
Documentary film “If It Ain’t Stiff” Part 1 (follow it to the last part) http://youtu.be/-iSzS9lGBbo