Billy Bragg - Back to Basics (Cover Artwork)

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg: Back to BasicsBack to Basics (1987)
Warner Music Group

Reviewer Rating: 4
User Rating:

Contributed by: rootsradicalrootsradical
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I'm kind of surprised to be the first person to review a Billy Bragg album, but I'll admit I'd never even heard of him until Rancid mentioned him in their song "The War's End". Then I heard Lars and the Bastards cover his song "To Have and to Have Not", and I thouhgt it was a cool song with go.
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I'm kind of surprised to be the first person to review a Billy Bragg album, but I'll admit I'd never even heard of him until Rancid mentioned him in their song "The War's End". Then I heard Lars and the Bastards cover his song "To Have and to Have Not", and I thouhgt it was a cool song with good lyrics. The fact that Bragg was so well-respected by members of my favoite band made me want to find out more about this Billy Bragg. So I went out and bought Back to Basics.

This is a good album. It's a collection of his earliest releases, songs that were released in the early 80s. It took me a couple of listens to get into his style, but it was worth the effort. The only insttuments on this album are Bragg's very British voice and his guitar, but once i got used to that, and started listening to the lyrics, I was hooked.

The songs here fall into two main categories: those dealing with love, and those dealing with politics. Being a politically-mindd punk myself, I enjoyed the political songs more, but there are good songs in both categories. "To Have.." and "A New England were the songs that I really liked the first time through. "To Have.." is the story of a young working class kid with nowhere to go. "Just because you're going forward/doesn't mean I'm going backwards," Bragg sings. "A New England" is Bragg's lament of a lost love and is one of the better songs on the album.

Upon repeated listens, other tracks stand out. "Like Soldiers Do" is Bragg's indictment of Europe's battle-scarred history. "Our fathers were all soldiers/Shall we be soldiers too?" Bragg asks. His cover of the union fight song "Which Side Are You On"(different from the Dropkick mUrphys version) is also very good.

The two best tracks on the album are "Between the Wars" and "The World Turned Upside Down". "Between the Wars" is a working man's plea for peace, and features lyrics that are very relevant today. "I kept the faith and I kept votng/Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand/For theirs' is a land with a wall around it/And mine is a faith in my fellow man/theirs is a land of hope and glory/Mine is the green field and the factory floor/Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers/And mine is the peace we knew between the wars." This is the album's best track, and I do not expect to get tired of it for a long time. "The World.." is an old British song that the British army's marching band played when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. Bragg's voice lends itself well to the anti-elitist lyrics.

Overall, this is a good, not great album, probably because the tracks here were never meant to be released together. Still, this is a very good place to start if you want to get into Billy Bragg. I would recommend this to fans of folk-punk singers like Justin Sane or Ted Leo, and also to fans of the left-wing politics of bands like Dead Kennedys or Propagandhi.


People who liked this also liked:
The Clash - London CallingDescendents - Milo Goes To CollegeWeezer - WeezerRancid - ... And Out Come The WolvesNOFX - Punk In DrublicOperation Ivy - Operation IvyDescendents - Everything SucksThe Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!Jawbreaker - 24 Hour Revenge TherapyNOFX - The Decline

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
Anonymous (August 18, 2005)

Yeah this album is a really good collection of Billy Bragg songs. Love his voice with that english accent, love the guitar, love the lyrics, love this album. Plenty of really good songs on this album. Even though this album is from the late 80's, it's very listenable today. It's punk rock without the bass and the drums.

You should check out The Essential Billy Bragg: "Must i paint you a picture". Very strong collection of the best from this English chap.

Anonymous (January 17, 2004)

this "album" is so good it often makes me cry


Anonymous (May 28, 2003)

Billy is amazing. Nice review, and I'd echo the comments below about starting with "Talking With The Taxman" in addition to this.

Kirsty MacColl (RIP) does a wonderful rendition of "A New England" as well, and sang backups on a lot of Billy's albums.

Mr_Pink (May 27, 2003)

This is a great album. Billy's shows in the late 80s were a blast, just a guy, a guitar and an amp, singing and goofing around with the audience. One night he said that his then-upcoming cd (turned out to be Worker's Playtime) should be called "More Songs About Fucking & Fighting", that pretty much sums up his style. And he always brought along fun opening acts, I got to see Alex Chilton play a set at one of his shows. Newcomers should check out Talking With The Taxman About Poetry first, but after that, take a listen to this one.

Anonymous (May 27, 2003)

What is the Lifetime cover of "New England" on? I could have sworn I have all of their releases...and I love that song. Anyone else ever hear Elvis Costello's version of it? It's amazing also.


Anonymous (May 26, 2003)

Good to see Billy Bragg getting reviewed here...for people who want to get into Bragg, I'd recommend the albums "Talking With The Taxman About Poetry" and "Workers' Playtime". The sound's more polished than on the early stuff, and the lyrics are still pretty edgy and political.

Great review, anyway.

jheisel (May 26, 2003)

this is the first (and hopefully last) time i have seen ted leo and justin sane's name in the same sentence.

Anonymous (May 25, 2003)

to the post below: nobody gives a shit what you think about rancid or the bastards... this review is about billy bragg so quit being a duchebag

Anonymous (May 25, 2003)

You're forgetting the fact the Rancid and the Bastards are both terrible talentless bands.

Anonymous (May 25, 2003)

Joe-Bob Briggs is much better than Billy Bragg.

Anonymous (May 24, 2003)

Amazing CD!!
I have to disagree with the review. This CD is great, and yes lifetime covering new england is mazing as someone metioned down below

Anonymous (May 24, 2003)

dudes back to basics is amazing. its everything music should be but seldom is. so raw so alive. billy sounds like a real person. he confeses that he doesn't want to change the worl and hes not looking for a new england hes just looking foir another girl. and i'm not even going to get into how lovers town revisited is the best song ever written. but for a starting point go with this and talking to the tax man about poetry they are his most importnat works then stuff like don't try this at home which features lots of johnny marr (smiths) is great and workers playtime is great to for a more band sound. the stuff with wilco is great too and his newer stuff has all sorts of world music going on but maintains all the bill bragg charm. in the end his politics are great but its the slightly off sense of humor and sweet also off center love songs that will make you a fan.

Anonymous (May 24, 2003)

whatever you do, don't start with his stuff with Wilco. It's okay, but deffinately not great.

fakesmile (May 24, 2003)

i just borrowed England, Half English from the library, because i heard some song of this man and they were good...

it a good album... anyway... i'm gonna buy his albums..]

Tears of My Tracks is one of the best songs i've ever heard...

eyeball_kid (May 24, 2003)

Brilliant collection of tunes. I think this is as good a place to start as any. Get this first, it's cheap too.

Anonymous (May 24, 2003)

I would recommend his recent "England, Half English" of whatever its called. Its not even close to his best, but it has all kinds of styles on it so you'll definitely hear something you like.

Anonymous (May 24, 2003)

great review
i've been wanting to get into billy bragg for a long time
does anyone who is more familiar with him know a good starting point?

Anonymous (May 23, 2003)

Lifetime's cover of "a new england" is awesome by the way.

Anonymous (May 23, 2003)

Awesome. This review made my day.

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