This month in musical history – the sounds of 10, 20, 30, 40, and even 50 or 60 years ago.
20 Years Ago This Month:
Violent Femmes – Freak Magnet
By the turn of the century Gordon and Brian were older and wiser, and their music had lost some of the angsty punk vibes of their breakthrough 80s work. After a few lackluster albums in the 90s, this one was a real treat and a genuinely fun listen that showed they had some life left. Make no mistake: this thing is short and sweet, with the vast majority of songs well under three minutes.
The record is pretty top heavy, but the first nine tracks are a hoot and at times recall the irreverence and catchy hooks that garnered them a cult following to begin with. Things get started off with a repetitive but undeniable earworm “Hollywood is High”, on which Gordon bemoans L.A and pop culture in general. The title track has a killer pounding drumbeat and finds Mr. Gano sing/screaming in frantic fashion about his misfortune when it comes to the attraction of misfits.
“Sleepwalkin’’’ is my favorite jam here, as Gordon yells about coasting through life (and women) and needing to make a change: “…I wonder, am I too late, am I too far estranged, for what I’ve been doin’ all of these years, sleepwalkin”. A true love song that is disarming and earnest, “All I Want” is pure gold. “In the Dark” would be the perfect theme song for a B-grade James Bond ripoff, and “Mosh Pit” is their thrash-punk homage to the crowd shenanigans they so adore: “most pit, mosh pit, squash it, squash it, eat shit, eat shit… respect your neighbors but expect no favors, attention all listeners, take no prisoners!”
No Femmes record is complete without a religious ditty or two, and “Rejoice and Be Happy” is tremendous and features my favorite facet of this band: Brian yelling his backing vocals as if they owe him money. Speaking of Brian, his “New Generation” isn’t the epitome of songwriting, but it is a fun ride- which basically sums up this terrific band in a nutshell. The deluxe edition of this album includes a great cover of Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street”, as well as live versions of “Rejoice and be Happy” and “Freak Magnet”.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/53fIUHLZMWQTj4HV536tx3?si=KxkD5045Q_qbfxXTIAkuyQ
30 Years Ago This Month:
Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet
If you don’t know what you’re in for, the instrumental leadoff track with its soundbites of media commentary on the “new” genre of rap clues you in. Flava Flav is just fine, but I am all-in for Chuck D, who shines on this piece of history. Socially conscious music with a cause, this is rap music that goes far beyond the common themes of braggadocio and glorification of violence. Throughout, there is production techniques that were trailblazing for the time, and this album has the energy and bombast of punk rock.
There are so many lines and references here that are used in contemporary hip-hop, the impact this music had on young rappers coming up is beyond description. When Chuck D gets started on “Brothers Gonna Work It Out”, its all energy and passion over a perfect early-90s beat. This is, as far as I’m concerned, the sound of classic rap, and it is fantastic.
“Welcome to the Terrordome”, Fight the Power”, and “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya, Man” are highlights, but my two favorite tracks here are “Burn Hollywood Burn” (Featuring Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane) and the killer scathing title track that finds Chuck calling out racism and bigotry head-on. “Don’t you worry about a thing, no your daughter, she’s not my type” Chuck says over snippets of white news anchors saying the phrase “black man, white woman”. When Chuck asks just what is “pure”, cuz he ain’t sure… goosebumps. “What’s wrong with some color in your family tree… All I want is peace and love on this planet, ain’t that how God planned it”?
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/0aFNb4RDk2hmKKLa0bzXNz?si=jdNbhS4ASECV8NnfhXJ1WQ
40 Years Ago This Month:
Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Against the Wind
Seger’s fifth album is a winner, with plenty of hits although it may not have any of his biggest songs. The acoustic guitar that kicks off “You’ll Accompany Me” is instantly recognizable, and I am a sucker for this song. One of his finest compositions, bar none. While it may not sound very woke in 2020 to tell a woman that she someday will be with you, this song has an innocence to it that allows it to age just fine. The man is in love, and he is professing it from the perspective that if that doesn’t happen, he doesn’t have any other plan. As with most of his best songs, the piano is a perfect partner without stealing the show.
The title track which is another one of his ten best songs and an absolute highlight here: “I’m older now, but still running against the wind”. Older and wiser, with more to lose, he still feels like he is fighting a drifter’s battle. “Her Strut” isn’t anywhere near his finest songwriting, but that riff is truly something and is the reason this is a fan fave. This song instantly places you in a late 70s seedy juke joint or gentlemen’s club.
“No Man’s Land” is a perfect guitar ballad and is everything that Seger is at his best, while “Long Twin Silver Line” truly rocks. Speaking of which, when Bob asks “who wants to go to Fire Lake?”, well, I sure do. The immense power and joy that comes from peace and understanding with your lover after a rough patch is all over “Shinin’ Brightly”, which is a beautiful album closer. This may not be his best album, but it is right up there and a classic for sure.
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2Go2GZ8qMznHdAoLO1cG4W?si=yJVy805UTOK_V-5uLfcpDg
50 Years Ago This Month:
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
As I write this, Ozzy just released his first solo record in a decade (and it ain’t bad), which makes it even more difficult to believe the debut from his former band fell from the sky fifty years ago. Down-tuned guitar riffs and proggy arrangements rule the day here, and this is truly the beginning of what we call heavy metal. These five songs (two of which are actually multi-song suites) take you on a glorious 40-minute journey thanks to Tony Iommi and The Ozzman himself.
I find it fitting that the recording starts with the sound of a torrential downpour and a distant ringing bell before the riffage begins. Yes, that striking and jarring bell effect was done long before AC/DC or Metallica famously employed it, and Sabbath don’t get enough credit for how badass and ominous it is. Illusions of a murky figure in black standing before Ozzy as he screams “Oh, no!” and the guitar and drum onslaught intensifies. This is the very epitome of the type of music these guys created, and it is so fucking good. Those three notes on the verses are just perfectly creepy and metal.
“The Wizard” is a bit more complex, with great interplay between harmonica and Tony’s guitar riff- basically the exact type of music I adore from this era. “Wasp/ Behind the Wall of Sleep/ Bassically/ N.I.B.” is a killer four-song suite, and includes what is basically (see what I did there) a glorified bass solo. The last number of this suite is classic Sabbath tucked away at the end.
I dig the jazzy, drum heavy intro of “Wicked World”, and on the 14-minute opus closer, some mellowed out acoustic vibes start things off before kicking into that vintage Sabbath sound. The guitar solo at the 10:00 mark is glorious, and really beyond words. Rawk, folks!
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4ZLy3U2q17Yjw7jkjXPJQj?si=KJA5SPUgRfKWOvTQe0KzRw