May 08

JJ BARRIE – “No Charge”

FT + Popular/381 comments • 12,715 views

#389, 2nd June 1976

I was aware of this song long before I heard it – as a young boy it was quoted at me by my Dad should I ever object to tidying my room. Since my room was rarely tidy, I became very familiar with the central notion of “No Charge”. Like my Dad, I can find immense amusement and pleasure in this style of song – talking country with a sentimental edge – but this is far from a great example.

You might think, at first, that the style stands or falls on the strength of its concepts: not so. “No Charge” has a fine concept – mawkishness and moralising are assets here! – but where JJ Barrie falls down is on development and details. Once our young entrepreneur has presented his list, and been slapped down by Mom, the track has nowhere to go, and explores that nowhere thoroughly for two minutes. Contrast it with something like “Teddy Bear” by Red Sovine, where tears are ruthlessly jerked right up to the final words. Barrie, on the other hand, adds no new details and just repeats himself. This is partly because “No Charge” is a cover version, and you can hear what I assume is the original melody being hollered in the background: it sounds rather as if it’s trying to escape.



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  1. 31
    Tom on 2 May 2008 #

    Fair play Erithian, yes there may well be a thread in which the question “Was punk any good?” can be met more head-on! Of course the question “was “No Charge” anything to do with punk?” can be and is being discussed here.

  2. 32
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    i suspect the recent long and digressive comments threads, plus our generally agreed-on feeling that something WAS wrong with pop as a whole (or a centre, a public space), do actually recapitulate the sense of the time: that pop was clogged, constipated, exhausted — for example even if you loved abba (as i did, before during and after being Mr Full-On Teen Punk), their dominance shades pretty easily into a sense that the charts no longer belonged to “us” (where “us” will turn out to be a highly contestable idea, torn between generations, and between niches, but this torn-ness wasn’t yet clear)

    [apologies: re-edited to be in actual grammatical english]

  3. 33
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    If what’s coming up in the autumn of 1978 is considered ‘punk’ by some people then those people might be pleasantly surprised by my response to it. But I don’t see anything there within a million miles of the Sex Pistols and nothing that I personally would call ‘punk’ (since it isn’t wildly different to a lot of sixties stuff).

    Some have challenged my stance on punk on the grounds that I was a fairly early admirer of the Velvet Underground and have always had a lot of time for Talking Heads (but weren’t the Heads part of what was being rebelled against?)

    I don’t think this period was a particularly lean time for music, just a lean time for the singles market.

  4. 34
    Lena on 2 May 2008 #

    I had no idea a Glenn Miller revival was going on at the time, but this was the year someone loaned some new Miller albums to my dad, who then taped them (letting me choose the order of the songs, as I liked them too)…my father knew the music well but was too poor to buy the records at the time…so I heard “Elmer’s Tune” and “In The Mood” and so on…he also made some Duke Ellington tapes as well, so I heard “East St. Louis Toodle-Ooo” and “Mood Indigo” for the first time as well…

    I don’t know today’s song and I don’t think I’m missing out on much…the current US #1 was “Love Hangover” and just previous to that was “Silly Love Songs”…

  5. 35
    rosie on 2 May 2008 #

    As for musicological analyses, I got my first introduction to the serious study of popular music tby being walked througha musicological analysis of White Riot by The Clash. It was fun, but I don’t really have the time or the ear for musicology. I know, however, what I like!

  6. 36
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    velvet underground = indie not punk!

    (sorry i will NOT turn this into a war for MY defn on punk) (i will try) (haha i will fail)

    i agree abt music as a whole being richer than people think — what yr calling “singles market” is probbly not very different from what i’m calling “pop as a public centre”; a zone of cultural discussion and debate which — for some reason — rock as an intelligent* offshoot of chartpop had after glam dwindled totally ceded to non-rock musics (by no means all unintelligent, but rock shd have been more committed to the public examination of rock-form intelligence in all contexts inc.esp.the charts)

    *for possibly on odd reading of intelligent

  7. 37
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    derek jewell’s musicology is ultra-bogus

  8. 38
    Drucius on 2 May 2008 #

    “I, too, am sceptical about “why punk had to happen”, and I don’t really see how making random loud noises with musical instruments one doesn’t know how to play (presumably music lessons are so terribly bourgeois) while screeching obscenities at toothache-inducing intensity stops people who like novelty and sentimental records from buying them.”

    Good lord, are you a time-travelling Sun journalist from the seventies?

  9. 39
    Drucius on 2 May 2008 #

    “(but weren’t the Heads part of what was being rebelled against?)”


  10. 40
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    i don’t agree with rosie all the time but i’m way more interested in hearing her reasons for disagreeing with what’s become by-the-yard music-crit orthodoxy than pseudo-amazed outrage that everyone doesn’t think the same approved thing

  11. 41
    intothefireuk on 2 May 2008 #

    I would have thought & IIRC punk was aimed at the extravagance & up your own arse musicality of prog bands like yer Yes/ELP/Genesis types. Not at the pop charts. Amongst other things it was back to basics call to arms which sneered at prog for being elitist, over complex & not street enough.

  12. 42
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    Well, in the period immediately prior to punk, the status of the humble 45rpm single had certainly never been lower, at least in the eyes of your average rock listener. Asked to nominate his best single of 1976 in the end-of-year round-up conducted by short-lived inkie Album Tracking (QED!), Mike Flood Page snootily retorted “a contradiction in terms”, while (as I recall) the NME nearly didn’t bother doing a best singles list. So there was this massive schism between “serious” and “disposable”, based on an increasingly absurd premise – and this was certainly one of the reasons why Punk Had To Happen.

    As a late 76/most of 77 punk absolutist myself, I saw it as a rejection of pretty much everything except punk (and reggae), based on the stance that the present was all that mattered, and that punk (and reggae) was the only music that addressed and examined the present in any meaningful (or at least “relevant”) way. All of which felt great to me as a 14/15-year old, gleefully ripping up the past in best crypto-Maoist fashion…

  13. 43
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    i’m arguing it was aimed at a lack or a gap in the charts (which prog sensibility contributed to)*: part of this back-to-basics was an insistent celebration of the “three-minute single” as the primary unit of/for value — ie not just as a loss leader for the coming LP

  14. 44
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    oops that pesky free-floating asterisk again: prog sensibility (and definitions of musicality good AND bad) leading to songs (or non-song work) that are way over three minutes and impossible to put onto singles

    compression as a virtue: not in fact an unmusical idea

  15. 45
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Unstrangely enough, if you look at this particular chart, the most clearly “punk”-sounding single in there is a then 19-year-old rockabilly novelty record – “Jungle Rock” by Hank Mizell – leased and put out I believe by Ted Carroll, from whom McLaren used to buy all his old 45s from his stall right at the back of Shep Bush market before he moved to the Rock On shop in Camden and thus alas helped invent Nick Hornby but never mind.

  16. 46
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    also: Ramones as Eno-esque art rock exercise in short/sharp pop minimalism are arguably UBER-PROG

  17. 47
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    or would have been if they’d been insufficiently smart to know it

  18. 48
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    Re. 43: I disagree that punk was a reaction to the state of the singles charts – perhaps the only area of agreement between old wave and new wave was that the charts were an irrelevant distraction – but I strongly agree that it initiated a change in status for the three minute single. It must have been around about this time – pretty sure it was June 1976, actually – that Stiff Records issued its first release, Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes”: a re-statement of faith in a) the three-minute 7-inch and b) the three-chord song, and as such an absolutely key John The Baptist moment. (The run-out refrain “But where it’s going, no-one knows..” thrilled me to pieces…)

  19. 49
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    “the only area of agreement between old wave and new wave was that the charts were an irrelevant distraction” <— SO NOT TRUE

    haha defn of punk = no two real punks agree on its defn and WILL BITTERLY FIGHT IT OUT UNTIL THEY ARE USHERED INTO THEIR GRAVES

  20. 50
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Most of the June ’76 hits can best be described as stiflingly serene. Lots of album tracks masquerading as singles, lots of reissues and new covers of old songs but few singles as things in themselves (funnily enough, one of the few which qualifies alongside “Jungle Rock” and “Love Hangover” is “Devil Woman” by dear old suddenly revitalised Cliff).

    Wasn’t Chris “Renta Santa” Hill the main man behind the Miller revival (the Lacey Lady club in Canvey Island – I think? – where the definitive schism between future punks and future soulboys would go on to occur)? Siouxsie for one has definitely talked about this in the past – the thrill of dressing up (a thrill which they could not obtain from ’76 Roxy or Bowie) mutating into something greater, etc.

  21. 51
    Waldo on 2 May 2008 #

    With love and apologies to our Canadian chapter but a ruddy Hoser again. And this was a comedy record and nothing else. Dear God, this was fucking bad. In fact it was so wretched that I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing and when it became clear to me that Barrie’s sentiments were serious, my incredulity swiftly gave way to anger. “No Charge” was completely beyond parody, although many notable wits went for it, including Billy Connolly again. They needn’t have bothered. “Deck of Cards” was never this grim. Just stomach-churning.

  22. 52
    Erithian on 2 May 2008 #

    Punctum (#45) ddly enough a letter to Sounds during the period when the Pistols were having their slight record-label difficulties a year or so later suggested that the label best suited to their future progress would be Charly Records – the very label which released “Jungle Rock”.

    Mike (#42) – round about the same time a Sounds cartoon depicted Mick Jones promoting punk/reggae links thus: “Panks, roite, are oppressed the same as blacks, roite, so panks and blacks should get togevver, roite…”

    Oh lumme, we’re getting into all this on the JJ Barrie thread, and it’s all my fault.

  23. 53
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    Didn’t the Miller revival centre around the Hammersmith Palais, rather than the Essex soulboy scene? (Chris Hill’s Lacy Lady was in Ilford, by the way; Canvey Island was certainly a crucible for 1976 creativity, but in an altogether different area.)

    “SO NOT TRUE”: Come on then, Lord Punkrot Wotsit! Unpack your meaning! Let’s have it out!

  24. 54
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Yes Ilford…dear goodness, mixing up Chris Hill with Dr Feelgood (who I note had a number one album in ’76)…I am but months away from the kindly white coated man asking me if I know who the Prime Minister is…

  25. 55
    mike on 2 May 2008 #

    But then, there was never even a single entry-point punk paradigm in the first place. It was riven with factionalism, almost from the off…

  26. 56
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 2 May 2008 #

    at the time i totally absorbed the argument (and cannot merelky have invented it for myself) that singles mattered because they were a format that everyone would hear — not true of LPs, which were always niche-ier — and would hear not by virtue of you the consumer buying them and playing at home but by virtue of their being in the charts and accessible to anyone able to afford a tiny tinny radio

    seizure of the central uplands of media was really really really important (lots of early punk is obsessed with television as a medium also: its awfulness and what to do about it)

  27. 57
    Mark G on 2 May 2008 #

    and somewhere, in a wood possibly, a turntable spins… “playa …. playa … playa …” …

  28. 58
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Stuck up in Glasgow, however, Peel was literally all we had to go by…and I note that the first Ramones beginning of time record was an ALBUM rather than a single (did anything off that first LP ever get released as a 45?).

  29. 59
    DJ Punctum on 2 May 2008 #

    Also, being in Glasgow, I never got to see the Pistols on Grundy at the time; we had to make do with Scotland Today presented by John Toye and featuring young roving sideburned STV reporter Gordon Brown.

  30. 60
    Mark G on 2 May 2008 #

    “Blitzkrieg Bop” was that single. Pic cover? Fortune, mate.

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