Following the release of the (double) album Christ – The Album Crass returned to confrontational, direct music as a direct response to current affairs. The studio was once again a part of the action.
When underway to releasing Christ – The Album Crass had spent a lot of time in the studio. The band had been there for no less than 6 months working on what should have been their definitive message. In the meantime Margaret Thatcher had waged her Falkland war. Crass felt surpassed by time.
Crass always wanted to be relevant and comment on the current times and affairs. The Falklands war and not being able to address it, felt like an utter failure to Crass. In 2009 Rimbaud said: “Christ had been intended as a celebration of our collective strength, a tangible demonstration of possibilities. However, against the backdrop of Thatcher’s vicious, pointless war, it all seemed depressingly empty. We were too late, too late by far.”.
The consequence was that Crass would return back to basics. The next releases would be “tactical responses” to actual (political) situations. The first result was Sheep Farming In The Falklands, a flexi disc, that was available for free, often as a supplement with regular Crass albums. How Does It Feel was the next release (more on that in the article Crass – How Does It Feel).
After the Falkland war Penny Rimbaud started to write. It would result in a long monologue, which was to be called Rocky Eyes. The text would lay the foundation for the next Crass album. The basis for the album was recorded during a 41 minute recording session in March 1983. The very same month Yes Sir, I Will was released. Crass took the return to “tactical response” extremely serious.
Yes Sir, I Will
In March 1983 the fifth Crass album was released: Yes Sir, I Will was an all-encompassing, irrespective attack on Thatcher and what the United Kingdom had developed into under her rule. The lyrics came from a positive place and were hopeful. Many had had their fill with Thatcher and it seemed like change was a genuine possibility.
The music seemed like Crass out-Crassing Crass. The music was heavy and atonal. A hybrid between hardcore anarcho punk and free jazz. To many, the album was completely unlistenable. Opposed to that ‘ugliness’ were the lyrics, which stemmed from anger, yet represented love and kindness.
The original 1983 vinyl release didn’t contain any song titles. The album was supposed to be played in its entirety, resulting in the longest punk song ever recorded. The titles as presented below, were available for the first time on 2011’s Crassical Collection release of the album.
- Step Outside & Rocky Eyes
- Anarchy’s Just Another Word
- Speed Or Greed?
- The Five Knuckle Shuffle
- A Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindler
- Burying The Hatchet
- Taking Sides
- Steve Ignorant – vocals
- Eve Libertine – vocals
- Joy De Vivre – vocals
- Phil Free – guitar
- Gee Vaucher – voices, artwork
- N.A. Palmer – guitar, vocals, voices
- Penny Rimbaud – drums, vocals
- Pete Wright – bass
- Paul Ellis – piano, strings
Of course the message is the central focal point on Yes Sir, I Will. Maybe even more than ever before, a Crass album revolved entirely around lyrics. The album’s title is a statement in itself. It refers to a short conversation between Prince Charles and a heavily maimed soldier, where Charles “Get well soon” said, to which the soldier replied “Yes Sir, I Will”.
The beginning of the album addresses the way Crass is approached by the press and how the group feels trapped within the standards imposed on music.
Words sometimes don’t seem to mean much
Of anyone we’ve used more than most
Feelings from the heart that have been distorted and mocked
Thrown around in the spectacle: the grand social circus!
Up against the rows of grey robots who control our lives
The things we have to offer sometimes seem so frail
As they plan destruction and gain respectability
We offer our creativity and are made outcasts!
We didn’t expect to find ourselves playing this part
We were concerned with ideas, not rock and roll
But we can’t avoid that arena
It’s become a part of us even if we don’t understand it!
This is quickly followed by a crucial paragraph in Crass’s total body of work.
In attempts to moderate they ask why we don’t write love songs
What is it that we sing then?
Our love of life is total
Everything we do is an expression of that!
Everything that we write is a love song!!
That last remark says it all and is, as far as key messages go, rather beautiful. Love is all-encompassing and the motivator for everything. It seemingly detonates with the musical chaos on the album, but is actually a perfect fit.
The lyrics contain parts that can be applied to the present times. Reasonability, nuance and (naive) kindness get snowed under by stupidity, (right-wing political) backwardness, aggression and dogmatic one-liners.
Why is it that the kind and gentle are subjected to violence and ridicule?
How is it that the small and mealy-minded have gained so much power?
What perversion has taken place that we are governed by fools?
They’ve tried to ban our records saying that we’re a threat to decent society
Fuck them! I hope we are!
What kind of depraved idiot thinks they can silence others by denying them their voice?
Resistance is the answer, but the hypocrisy therein is also addressed. Resistance is also accompanied by bias and positions that are upheld stricter than necessary in order to reach the end goal.
Does our own oppression give us the right to oppress others?
Unless we are prepared to oppose all oppression
We stand guilty of direct contribution to it
In a rare confession the lyrics address the effort it takes to live your life according to your own convictions. It can lead to loneliness and the feeling to fight the world all by yourself.
Of course I feel uncomfortable when I’m laughed at in the streets
But I don’t want to be one of them
I want to be an outsider
At the same time I’d like to come in out of the cold
But, the album ends with arguably the most powerful call Crass ever put to vinyl.
You must learn to live with your own conscience
Your own morality
Your own decision
Your own self!
You alone can do it
There is no authority but yourself
Penny Rimbaud once said, “I accept that Yes Sir, I Will is truly one of the most unlistenable records ever made”. Steve Ignorant added “I didn’t like Yes Sir, I Will at all, although I liked what it was saying”. Both statements perfectly surmise Yes Sir, I Will. I love the passion the album holds. Rage and ugliness versus optimism and hope.
Yes Sir, I Will is the exact opposite of Christ – The Album in almost every form. The production, the speed, the passion, the ruthlessly declared message and the music. Was Crass in search of rehabilitation?
But, is the album unlistenable? Yes and no, I still listen to the first musical piece from time to time, but from quiet moment Anarchy’s Just Another Word and onwards, I usually drop out. I think I played the album in its entirety about ten times (at the most), as it tends to get a bit too much and dull. The one-time-only return to the military march of Crass’s early days on The Five Knuckle Shuffle offers some diversion, but it doesn’t save the album.
Even though this album doesn’t deserve the label ‘classic’ or ‘essential’, listening to Yes Sir, I Will is still an unforgettable experience.
After Yes Sir, I Will
Crass became more active than ever before and took part in squat actions, peace manifestations and the great miner strikes that were at their peak in 1984. In June 1983 Crass recorded the single Who Dunnit? and in November 1983 You’re Already Dead was recorded, the single that would turn out to be the last Crass release to feature all the original members.
In the meantime many things were changing. Crass were now under serious scrutiny from security agencies, and not just the English one (also see the article Crass – How Does It Feel). In June 1983 the hope for change and advancement received a huge blow when Thatcher was re-elected by a landslide. Crass started doubting pacifism and its stance to nonviolent resistance. In You’re Already Dead the band even states “You don’t have to be PASSIVE just because you’re a PACIFIST…”. For some, the communal life started to be a burden as well.
On July 11, 1984, Crass played a gig in Aberdare. On the way back guitar player N.A. Palmer announced he was leaving Crass. Palmer bought himself out and left Dial House, the heart of Crass, the farmhouse where all members lived, loved and developed their ideas. Around that time the band was sued by people who took the lyrics to 1981’s feminist pamphlet Penis Envy‘s Bata Motel literally. The lawsuit represented a principle for Crass and a lot of money was spent on very expensive lawyers. The money well soon dried up.
In 1985 the album Acts Of Love, subtitled Fifty Songs To My Other Self, was released under the Crass moniker. In fact, it was a Penny Rimbaud album, on which Crass members Eve Libertine and G cooperated. The music and lyrics were entirely Rimbaud’s. In 1986 the compilation Best Before 1984 was released, a collection of singles and other songs which had never been released on the regular albums. That very same year saw the release of the very last new Crass music, the 12-inch Ten Notes On A Summer’s Day (which was later subtitled The Swan Song). The 12-inch announced the end of Crass :
10 Notes represents Crass’s last formal recording. We shall continue to make statements both individually and as a group, yet no longer feel obliged to be limited by the inward looking format of the ‘band’.
Many of the remaining Crass members stayed on at Dial House to New Year’s Eve 1989, after which the majority left for good.
On May 17th, 2011, Yes Sir, I Will (just like the other albums before) was re-released as the fifth part of the six-piece The Crassical Collection. Remastered, with supplementary artwork by Gee Vaucher and an elaborate booklet, containing liner-notes by Rimbaud.
Unfortunately, the re-releases started a row between the band members. The releases stirred up some controversy within the punk community as well, which didn’t present its prettiest face (not by a long shot). Complaints about the price (still considerably less when compared to current standards) and a feeling of entitlement to free music, because ‘that’s what Crass was all about’. Do They Owe Us A Living? indeed…
But, all in all, the re-releases were great, even though I didn’t particularly like it sound wise, but the packaging was awesome and the liner-notes were informative and a very nice read!
What’s your opinion on Yes Sir, I Will? Unlistenable or an essential link in the (anarcho)punk of the early 1980s? Let me know!
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Yes Sir, I Will: Crass on its way out.
Crass – Yes Sir, I Will – Poster image: ryebreadrodeo.com
Crass – Sheep Farming In The Falklands – Gatefold poster image: crassahistory.wordpress.com
Crass – Yes Sir, I Will image: crass.bandcamp.com
Crass – Yes Sir, I Will – Side A en B & Crass – Who Dunnit? & You’re Already Dead (singles) images: discogs.com
Crass – Live Cumbria May 1984 image: wikipedia.org/rockchix.canalblog.com
Crass – There Is No Authority But Yourself image: etsy.com
Crass – Aberdare 07/11/1984 image: peppermintiguana.co.uk
Crass – Yes Sir, I Will – The Crassical Collection image: amazon.com