If I was running a Friday overnight AM radio show, this would be the bumper music. What would we talk about if you called into the radio show in question at 1:58am EST? Off the top of my head, I’d say Watergate, Billy Martin’s 1969 season managing the Minnesota Twins, Linda Jenness’ 1972 run for president on the Socialist Workers’ Party ticket, Dave’s Popcorn Stand on 38th and Cedar in South Minneapolis, Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, tapping trees for maple syrup, white pants dos and don’ts (all dos), “noodling” techniques for catching catfish, left-wing critiques of Sex and the City 2, drug phone camera photography secrets, and a special in-studio visit from Au Revoir Simone with guest Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks on guitar playing a set of Phil Ochs covers.
The usual shit we might talk about anyway, except at night, and on AM radio — nothing in stereo, in other words. I mean, I’d listen to it, but that’s the point.
Okay, yes, this song is from 1977 and it’s in French. I know you may feel a bit wary but you’ve heard this bad boy before. So many times. ”Ça plane pour moi” has appeared in a dozen American movies alone (Me, Myself and I, Three Kings, and tv shows like Gossip Girl).
It’s got a new wave/punk feel and it is completely infectious. Who cares about the lyrics, anyway. You’re not missing out on much - the title of the song loosely translates to “It’s all good for me” and contains brilliant lyrics like “one night/a/darling/came to my place/a cellophane barbie.”
I remember reading (in the Pitchfork 500) that ”Ça plane pour moi” borrows its backing track from Elton Motello’s “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”, a risque song with the chorus “he gives me head”. The basic idea in the book was that the ooo-wooo-ooo is Plastic Betrand’s innovation, but you hear it now in covers of “Jet Boy, Jet Girl”. Ooh la la.
With hindsight, many observers cite 1981 as the year “alternative” and “indie” first began distinguishing themselves as distinct genres (as opposed to punk, post-punk or new wave). In America, R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” mixed old and new in a way that suggested those labels were no longer appropriate. In Great Britain, NME’s C81 compilation cassette looked back at five years of independent music on Rough Trade Records and other labels. C81 acknowledged independent success and brought that fact into the consciousness of music fans across the UK. The compilation stands as a fluid crossing point between more arty tendencies of post-punk and the pop sensibilities of “indie.” As far as I’m concerned, the lines only got blurrier as the decade continued.
In the end it doesn’t matter what genre you say it is; a well-written, well-performed, well-produced song with interesting lyrics is the ideal. In either version - the acoustic take included on C81 or the studio recording posted above - “We Could Send Letters” proves its worth. The song first appeared as the B-side to Aztec Camera’s debut single “Just Like Gold,” released in January of ‘81, the same month as C81. The studio recording of “We Could Send Letters” was a centerpiece on the band’s stellar 1983 debut album Hard Land, Hard Rain.
Was C81 that big of a deal? Or is it just a convenient touchstone in retrospect? Opinions wanted!