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Back to Basics

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Audio CD, October 25, 1990
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Editorial Reviews

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This collection of feisty early recordings (the Between the Wars EP and the Brewing Up LP) features England's loudest socialist folkie, usually armed only with an electric guitar and a millennium's worth of outrage, attacking those in power (lazy journalists in "It Says Here," the eternal mining aristocracy in "The World Turned Upside Down") with precision and enough energy to make even the most dogmatic lyrics sound colloquial and persuasive. Bragg is a one-man Clash here, seeking to demolish all he can and then build a better world with his electric guitar and his righteousness as the only tools he'll need. --Jimmy Guterman

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Milkman Of Human Kindness
  2. To Have And To Have Not
  3. Richard
  4. Lovers Town Revisited
  5. A New England
  6. The Man In The Iron Mask
  7. The Busy Girl Buys Beauty
  8. It Says Here
  9. Love Gets Dangerous
  10. From A Vauxhall Velox
  11. The Myth Of Trust
  12. The Saturday Boy
  13. Island Of No Return
  14. The Guitar Says Sorry
  15. Like Soldiers Do
  16. St. Swithin's Day
  17. Strange Things Happen
  18. A Lover Sings
  19. Between The Wars
  20. The World Turned Upside Down
  21. Which Side Are You On


Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 25, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Elektra / Wea
  • ASIN: B000002H4H
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,386 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 30, 1999
Format: Audio CD
"Unrequited Love" is not a 'recurring' theme on Back to Basics; rather it is merely a faint idea that passes through the lyrical stories that Bragg sings about on a few of the CD's songs. And besides, 'Unrequited Love' is very real; ask just about any person who's given too much of themselves and never gotten anything back. First of all, the ideas that Bragg articulates are essential to keeping ht dialectic between right wing and left wing ideology going forward to better refine our own political ideals. Second of all, Bragg's interest in Organized Labour is not 'socialist' anyways. Organized Labour plays a crucial role in our society, as it did in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries in England to alleviate massive amounts of human suffering and child labour in less-than-humanitarian working conditions (and it is from these roots that Bragg is writing about).
Back to Basics is not 'sparse'. If you pay attention to the genre that Bragg plays for, you will understand. Bragg plays FOLK MUSIC. It is supposed to be sparse. Its about a guitar, ideas, and poetry. Not a brass band or electronic keyboard or synthesizer.
Back to Basics is an excellent album for anyone interested in stretching guitar strings and the edgy nature of folk into liquid lyricism. The best songs are "Between the Wars" "A New England" (a punky like folk song about finding a new love or new girl), "Lovers Town Revisited" (an up tempo and catchy tune of a youth's petty addictions), "Turn the World Upside Down" (Bragg's version of an older song that explicates the plight of The Diggers who defied the Lords of 17th Century England that appropriated the common land from the people) and "The Busy Girl Buys Beauty".
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Format: Audio CD
"Back to Basics", a compilation of Bragg's first two albums ("Life's A Riot With Spy VS Spy" and "Brewing Up With Billy Bragg") and the "Between The Wars" EP is the one Billy Bragg CD I find myself listening to the most. Each of the 21 songs sounds rather sparse - largely just electric guitar and rough cockney vocals, with some organ and trumpet here and there. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the raw, spare arrangements are the perfect complement to Bragg's biting protest and heart-wrenching tales of young love. There are far too many standouts to mention (there is absolutely NO filler), but I'll mention a few: "Richard", "From A Vauxhall Velox" and "Strange Things Happen" are pieces of perfect punk-pop. "Island Of No Return" is a bitter Fauklands War protest song. "St. Swithin's Day", "The Myth of Trust" and "The Saturday Boy" are haunting love songs, the latter featuring beautiful, medieval-sounding trumpet. "A New England" and "Between the Wars" are two of Bragg's best known tunes, and perfect examples of his unique urban folk sound.
If you're a new Billy Bragg fan, this is the album to begin with. Even if you're not that enthusiastic about Bragg, I highly recommend picking this CD up. Pure genius!
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By A Customer on September 22, 2002
Format: Audio CD
This CD, a collection of his first two 1980's albums, has without a doubt some of his best stuff. Plenty of great songs, a strong sense of melancholy often, some romantic songs, and for the lefties who buy this CD some great union and leftist songs ("Which Side Are You On" "Between the Wars" "The World Turned Upside Down" etc).

Though I like his more recent stuff with Wilco, Back to Basics seems more consistently enjoyable. With Bragg's mixture of folk and some British punk influence, I can listen to the CD over and over again and still enjoy it.
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Format: Audio CD
If you enjoy a well written song; clever wordplay that doesn't get in the way of a killer melodic hook, all in the service of a timeless, thought-provoking idea or impression, you MUST purchase this lp! It's a compliation of his early work and is simply amazing. If you have ever been listening to a Woody Guthrie song and suddenly thought, jeesus - there's poetry in there?!@ This record will directly appeal to you.
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Format: Audio CD
A lot of music is fairly culture- and even period- specific. Billy Bragg’s debut release is a prime example. For those sitting in damp, chilly bedsits in England in 1983, Spy vs. Spy will always have a special significance. Workers’ rights were being systematically dismantled by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and soaring unemployment meant little or non-existent job prospects even for college graduates. A powerful new political voice was emerging. With the immediacy of Springsteen, the passion of the Jam, and a knack for heartwrenching melodies. Billy Bragg’s charm, of course, lay in his unpolished, cockney delivery and low-budget production values â€" just him and his cheap-sounding electric guitar. But what he played was gold. And we all shut up and listened. A New England is perhaps his most famous tune; the flagship, if you will, of a set of songs that depicted love lost or disillusionment against a backdrop of real-life, unromanticised situations ("I loved you then and I love you still/Though I put you on a pedestal I put you on the pill"). Springsteen is the only other artist who has managed this. To Have And To Have Not is a belting indictment of social inequality and the celebration of personal integrity underpinned by a beautiful melody. "Just because you’re better then me/Doesn’t mean I’m lazy...". Busy Girl Buys Beauty tackles the dreams and needs created by the consumer industry, "A busy girl buys beauty/ A pretty girl buys style/ A simple girl buys what she’s told to buy...". A great song but punctuated with UK-specific cultural references. Man in the Iron Mask is a delicate ballad about unrequited love ("For you I will be/ the man in the iron mask...Read more ›
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