Once upon a time, when we were younger and more open to the idea of losing money on purpose, my friends Eric and Harris (no Twitter; smart guy) and I were going to start a website in which one of the daily features would have been "Greatest Song of All Time of the Day." I used to do that occasionally on my own blog, but not regularly. I'm here for two weeks, which is pretty finite, so, with a tip of my hat to my friends, I'll be delivering a Greatest Song of All Time every day I'm here.
The Sex Pistols trashed as many of rock's traditions as they could, but they also forged a few. The one that lasted longest was ambivalence about stardom. When punk turned into new wave (which then turned into the Knack), it was easy for the original punks to say they wanted to shun the brass ring. But eventually they got tired of playing to the same 800 people every time they came to a town. The great ones, like the Clash, found a way to keep the feeling but broaden their base. The rest jettisoned punk as being anything but a fashion move; they turned into businesspeople. The Mekons were the only original punk unit to make it into the form's second decade with their ideals intact and their vision clear. With Mekons Rock 'n' Roll, which came out in 1989, they tried for a mass audience after years spent torturing themselves with their inability to secure one.
Mekons Rock 'n' Roll was not merely the group's most clearheaded recording. Their belated first major-label album (in the U.S., anyway), it was a hand held out to the mainstream rock audience. Yet this rapprochement came with conditions. The record's cover art shook down to depicting a defaced Elvis Presley, which perfectly expressed the Mekons' ambivalence. They loved rock 'n' roll, but they hated the means by which the music was disseminated, so they filled their most mainstream album with unremitting rants against the pop-music industry. The record started with the bracing thrash of 'Memphis, Egypt," a terrific, energized tune. It worked on two levels: a nasty tale of how much they hated rock culture (the video pretty much screams "I AM A PARODY!")– and a thrilling example of how great they were at it.
Ah, stop reading; listen to the Mekons. They make the case for themselves far better than I ever could.
(Well, if you do want to read more, Robert Christgau wrote liner notes to Mekons Rock 'n' Roll when it was reissued in 2001.)