One of the ways the Beeb is marking its 100th anniversary is publishing a series of personalised music mixes by some of their biggest stars on BBC Sounds through the year. One of the early ones is by Martin Freeman, who is doing a splendid job of sounding like a scouser in their current series The Responder.
So splendid that Lord Sugar made a twit of himself by asking why the BBC made Freeman talk with a Liverpool accent. Er, it's set in Liverpool, dickhead! (That epithet is not entirely gratuitous on my part, being frequently used on the programme). Sugar noted he found it hard to understand what the cast were saying and that his wife 'couldn't understand a word'. To which all I can say is "yer wha?" as Scouse is surely no more impenetrable than the Geordie or Glaswegian accents which must be much more frequently used in TV drama. But then I would think that, wouldn't I?
Anyway, I was delighted to see that Freeman's "Happy Mix" of music that makes him feel er, happy, kicked off with the Pistols God Save The Queen and included a track that always makes me smile, Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad from The Clash's album Give 'Em Enough Rope with its sleeve pic blagged from an American postcard:
The reason I know this is I was an avid reader of the music press from the late 60s to the early 80s and it was spotted and printed. Sounds was my preference; I sometimes got but never "got" the NME though both rags went big on punk and new wave, which I also didn't "get" at first. I still recall reading the review by Dave McCullough in Sounds of that eagerly awaited second Clash album. He wrote:
"Julie's Been Working For The Drug Squad is astonishing....this is so funny it would make your dead budgie laugh. Brave and Beatlesque in positioning."
Brave? Well The Clash were one of the archetypical punk bands and their eponymous first album is regarded as one of the classics of the genre. Second albums can be difficult and there was a marked change in style - it's well towards heavy rock. There are five tracks on each side (so not all two minute thrashes then) and the first three are all quick and loud. Julie is track four and isn't heavy rock, let alone punk, before the album gets rockier again. Beatlesque in positioning? Well it occupies exactly the same position (penultimate track on side one) as Yellow Submarine on Revolver and Octopus's Garden on Abbey Road. The difference is the song bears repeated listening and you don't want to skip the track when listening to the album again many years later. You can hear it here and decide for yourself.
Funny? Well not uproariously, but that wouldn't fit with repeated listening. Funny in a sardonic way, absolutely. It's amusing seeing American fans on websites trying to figure out the meaning when it's simply the Clash's take on a real event, Operation Julie, which bust open a huge drug making ring in Wales and eventually lead to over a hundred arrests. Joe Strummer is quoted as saying:
"Operation Julie was carried out near Wales. There were these university graduates, chemists, and they were manufacturing LSD and distributing it. The only way for the cops to bust them was to put in some hippies of their own, who had to take acid repeatedly to maintain cover. This acid was the strongest outside Switzerland. The song is really about imagining tripping policemen."
Whether the undercover cops actually took drugs isn't clear from official accounts and might just be Strummer's invention. But there was a was a real Julie, Sergeant Julie Taylor, who was one of three undercover officers and after whom the operation was named. And the story of one of the other undercover cops has been published in which he admitted smoking cannabis and having to keep up with heavy drinkers in the gang. So join the dots.
Strummer's lyric goes:
She giggles at the screen 'cause it looks so green
There's carpets on the pavement
And feathers in her eye
But sooner or later, her new friends will realize
That Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
And then there came the night of the greatest ever raid
They arrested every drug that had ever been made
They took eighty-two laws
Through eighty-two doors*
And they didn't halt the pull
Till the cells were all full
'Cause Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
They put him in a cell, they said 'you wait here'
You got the time to count all of your hair
You got fifteen years
That's a mighty long time
You could have been a physicist
But now your name is on the mailbag list
Julie's been working for the Drug Squad
Ten years for you, Nineteen for you
And you can get out in twenty-five
That is if you're..
* I think this is a reference to the number of people initially arrested
As I said, always makes me smile. Spot on, Martin!
P.S. Of course I don't remember McCullough's review word for word: sadly I've still got the cutting in with the album. But that phrase brave and Beatlesque I do remember
You can read about Operation Julie at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Julie
The Strummer quote was posted on the youtube link above to some disbelief from American punters who thought the whole thing was made up.
Police officer Stephen Bentley wrote a book about his story including living under cover as a second hand car dealing hippie in a transit fan painted in psychedelic style. It's called Undercover: Operation Julie - The Inside Story: a gripping true story of Britain's biggest drug bust. It's available on Amazon, or you could read summaries in many places, for example an interview with Bentley on BBC at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-37439797