The world lost Gang of Four’s Andy Gill on Saturday. The band’s 1979 debut album Entertainment! both fulfilled the promise of punk while ushering it out of the cliche it had already become. The band blended equal doses of punk, rock, and funk together so perfectly that you might miss their political agenda. As a complete package, few bands have been more influential and Entertainment! ranks as one of music’s finest debut albums.
I struggle to find any records on my shelves released in the last 40 years that aren’t influenced by at least one of these 1979 albums: Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division), Metal Box (Public Image LTD), Cut (The Slits), Fear Of Music (Talking Heads), Three Imaginary Boys (The Cure), and Entertainment! from Gang of Four. This is a staggering run of music for a single year and I could happily live on only these six albums for the rest of my life if forced to. However, then I’d miss the explosion of color and creativity that these pivotal albums inspired. Punk told us that anyone could do it but post-punk taught us why we should do it. And then the New Romantics came along to celebrate it.
As we survey the political landscape in England and the United States of America, everything Andy Gill and his band spoke to us about remains a concern today. Sexism, poverty, and racism are still inflicting damage daily on millions of people. The band’s music spoke to this and more. It was impossibly funky for a band from Leeds and openly embraced styles of music that punk rejected. From the dark synth-rock on 1983’s Hard which reminds me of early Human League albums to the industrial temptations of 2015’s What Happens Next, which only included Gill as an original member, the band always delivered an engaging collection of songs that dared you to think while on the dance floor.
While Joy Division, The Cure, and Talking Heads will be forever adored by music fans, Gang of Four have always appealed to the more obsessive (or as they pompously declare: “serious”) music connoisseurs. Andy Gill was revered so much by Red Hot Chili Peppers that they asked him to produce their debut album. Bands like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, even R.E.M. and countless others have built careers on the angular guitar-style of Gill and the band’s earnest agenda. However, commercial success always eluded the band.
On the brink of stardom in 1979, the band walked out on a Top Of the Pops performance that could have made them superstars because the producers wanted them to change a lyric. The band’s integrity stood firm and they left. As legend has it, the record label, E.M.I., was so frustrated with the band that they decided to shift their focus and look for a new band to sink their marketing dollars into. That band? Duran Duran.
RIP Andy Gill