Scratch The Surface :: Wire, Pink Flag

(Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experience, and if so, how? Scratch the Surface takes a look at particularly interesting and/or exceptional cover art choices.)

There is a temptation to romanticize: a photograph of a barren flagpole; a pink, painted-on banner waving from the apex; a hazy blue summer sky behind; a simple, black four-letter word in block letters in the upper left corner. It seems like the simplistic cover of some boiling manifesto, of some great divination of the future. The solitary word itself: WIRE. An electronic epistle from some time yet unspooled.

Having not been alive in 1977, it’s hard to even imagine what Pink Flag must have sounded like to someone putting it on for the first time. But even when I first picked it up, some 30 years later, the cover told me what to expect. Nothing flashy. Minimal. Spartan. Songs were more likely to speed by in a minute-and-a-half or less than they were to go longer. 21 songs in just under 36 minutes and the cover told it all.

Punk reveled in weird influences. The Ramones owed nearly everything to girl groups and being awkward teenagers; the Sex Pistols to chugging Chuck Berry riffs and a gleeful, if calculated, embrace of self-destruction. Wire took punk’s minimalist stance, its defiant middle-finger to over-production, and made it even more sterile, fractured and studied. Even more like a piece of structured art. Though released in the same year as some of punk’s defining monoliths, Wire was the very definition of post-punk music.

There were no group photos on the cover, no magazine cut-out ransom note text, no Robert Maplethorpe photos or any of that. Just a barren flagpole with a pink, painted-on banner waving from the apex, a hazy blue summer sky behind. The music is the reason Pink Flag (and Chairs Missing and 154) still shape thoughts about rock and roll and what it can do and where it go while doing so little and hardly moving. But it’s tempting to romanticize. A picture is, sometimes, really worth a thousand words.   j neas

MP3: Wire :: 12XU
MP3: Wire ::   3 Girl Rhumba

15 thoughts on “Scratch The Surface :: Wire, Pink Flag

  1. one of my alltime favorite lp’s. the 33 1/3 book does the same for it “scratches the surface”

    i am steadily impressed with your blog.

  2. Super post, and timely, as I’ve been trying of late to be a good post-punk doo-bee and catch up on such treasures. Lovin’ it!

  3. Note to self: always Google before sharing insight.

    I guess the Elastica/Wire connection is well-known.

  4. @ohtarzie – Oh, yeah. In fact, Elastica’s self-titled album was known for three rather famous (and honestly, brilliant) pilferings: Wire’s “Three Girl Rhumba” and “I Am the Fly” for “Connection” and “Line Up,” respectively, and the Stranglers’ “No More Heroes” for “Waking Up.”

  5. Nice. I was alive back then. I played this LP during my radio show at college 1980-81, my friends thought I was insane and the music I liked sucked. The program director thought I was terrible, but I had a great record collection since I lived next to a head shop/record store growing up. Wire…”Three Girl Rhumba”….hearing that again made my week….

  6. i was living in Austin when this album came out. the prevalent persona/archetype was the Hippie. i was getting into punk mainly via reading about CBGBs, but hadn’t cut my hair yet. at a crowded party just north of UT, someone hijacked the sound system which was in a closet, and put on Pink Flag. the place cleared before a couple of songs were done [and they’re short]. the evacuees got together a delegation to retake the sounds but i’d heard enough. next day i went to Inner Sanctum and bought it. probly still in my top 10 or 15 albums.

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