A long time ago, my next-door neighbor in my junior year dorm at Boston University said that every band had one good song, no matter how crappy they might be otherwise. I don’t know if that’s completely true—I mean, if Panic! At The Disco or Taking Back Sunday or Fall Out Boy have one worthwhile song, I haven’t heard it yet and I seriously doubt it exists. But the bands I’m going to list here have one essential, knockout song that I keep going back to and there ain’t much more, if anything, I desire to hear by them. Oh, there may be some other listenable music from the artist in question, but this is the ONE song that stands head and shoulders above anything else they do/did.
I got the idea to write about this when listening to “King Of Cha-Cha” by the Slammin’ Watusis on my MP3 player today. Who, you ask? They were a Chicago punk/blues/jazz skronk band from the late 80s and they somehow ended up on Epic Records and released not one, but two albums. This song comes from their 1988 debut. A bit of google-ing reveals they actually recorded demos for a third album with Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick producing but it wasn’t released. I was curious about how they got signed, since I’d never heard of them before, and a friend of mine at the time said something to the effect of they knew the right people or got a break. I forget exactly what it was. I first heard of them by seeing a video for that song on MTV’s “120 Minutes.” Vocalist Frank Raven doubled on sax but he switched to harmonica for that particular song and it has a hard-edged raunchier sound. It checks in at under two minutes and it’s the only song you probably ever need to hear from that band. I have it on BOTH CD and LP, motherfucker! There’s the classic band that has one great song. Here are a few others I thought up off the top of my head.
SECRET AFFAIR, “Let Your Heart Dance.” This song appeared on Secret Affair’s debut album “Glory Boys.” Ian Page (aka Paine) and David Cairns were previously in the punk band New Hearts, whose single “Just Another Teenage Anthem” is a lost gem. Then they caught the mod revival bug, put on suits and scowls and dismissed their punk rock past. Page was only 19 or so when cutting this song. It’s introduced with a booming drumbeat and then the horns kick in for this soulful R&B stomp. I didn’t even really like this song when I first heard it in 1980 but it grew on me over the years and the whole song is so goddamned catchy, it gets into your head without fail. Nothing else came close to measuring up to this song.
DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, “Dance Stance.” The single version of this song was called “Burn It Down” but I like the album version a lot better. It’s on Dexy’s debut album, “Searching For The Young Soul Rebels” and it was a different sound before vocalist Kevin Rowland got rid of his bandmates, put together another lineup and turned to Celtic music for “Come On Eileen,” et al a few years later. Rowland was another guy with a punk background (Killjoys) who turned his back on that and also cultivated a chip-on-shoulder attitude. There’s something ingratiating about how he sneers “shut your fuckin’ mouth” during the middle of the song. Punchy horns and Rowland’s voice really carries the chorus hook.
SLAPSTICK, “Not Tonight.” Goddamn did third wave ska suck. It was just awful. Slapstick were part of that whole thing but, right in the middle of the album of theirs that I have is this tuneful punk scorcher. No horns, no skank beat, just one minute and six seconds of joyous energy. People were surprised when I played this on my radio show recently—“you played Slapstick??!!” but I explained the reason—this band’s one good song.
THE BUOYS, “Timothy.” This may also be one of the greatest “one hit wonder” records, as well. From 1971 and a song about cannibalism. That’s right. I’ve discussed this song before but it’s about an accident with three guys “caught in a mine that had caved in” and when they’re rescued, only two of them are left. Sweeping horns and strings melded to a killer pop hook. I have the LP. Trust me—just the single will suffice, even with the album’s cool gatefold sleeve and the picture on the back cover of the band dining with “Dinner Music” emblazoned in the lower left corner.
THAT PETROL EMOTION, “Can’t Stop.” The O’Neill brothers from the Undertones were in this band and TPE were around for quite awhile. David Hannigan, my former co-worker at Rockit Records, tipped me off to this band. While there are a few other OK songs on their debut album “Manic Pop Thrill,” “Can’t Stop” completely and unequivocally blows anything else they ever did out of the water. A nervy 2:50 of manic pop (sorry) grandness, punctuated by Buzzcocksian guitar lines. These guys had a mainly post-punk meets dance pop sound and, as I said, it wasn’t all shit, not as dramatic a case of black and white as the other bands here but “Can’t Stop” is unbelievable.
SLAMBOOK, “Hollywood Ten.” From 1995, indy/math rock following the soft/loud dynamic. Not all of it that bad, either, but this slice of tense Wire-inspired rock really hits home. A throbbing bass and fuzzed out guitar line, a sturdy beat underneath, and the chorus envelops the ears with warmth—but there’s also an assaultive mid-section to shake things up, before fading off into a gentle conclusion. A great late-night song.
SHIRTS, “Poe.” Somehow, this mainly crappy NYC band got lumped in with the punk/new wave thing even though most of The Shirts’ first album was wimpy swill. “Poe,” the album’s closer is the exception. This is the most punk-sounding song they ever did, even throwing in some hearty “hey hey heys.” The vocals hardly have any sneer in them but the mesh of guitar and keyboards work great. In this band’s case, it’s definitely the only song I’d want to hear.
That’ll do for now. I’d like to know if you folks have any songs that fit that description for you. I may revisit this topic at a future date but let’s move on to the reviews...
A GLOBAL THREAT-Where The Sun Never Sets (BYO, CD)
I sat on this one awhile—almost broke it too. Shut up. The coffee hasn’t had its desired effect yet. Getting to the album, it’s a good effort. Not life-changing but decent overall. That may not seem like a strong recommendation—the album doesn’t elicit a strong response but some of these songs catch the ear. AGT have moved away from the shadow of the Unseen (in spite of that band’s vocalist Mark’s appearance here) and found a sound that incorporates fired-up, sometimes melodic punk and also has a hardcore edge at times. That may be due to the fact that Bryan’s voice makes me think of a less-rabid version of Mark from Out Cold and the stripped-down energy of “Scalped By Pop” and “Making Energy” fit that description. That’s where AGT are at their best, here. (PO Box 67609, LA, CA 90067, http://www.byorecords.com/)
ANOTHER BREATH-Mill City (Rivalry, CD)
Recorded about 10 minutes from my house, in Salem, in Kurt Ballou’s studio, so it’s a good-sounding album. Maybe too good sounding. As I’ve said in the past, overproduction may increase the dramatic effect, but the rawness is lost in the translation. Another Breath don’t have much to do with the older hardcore sound, anyway. It’s a more modern approach—fast, heavy, melodic at times and with a howling emotionalism in the vocals. Stone-faced. Overly serious. In other words, a little of their angst goes a long way. (http://www.rivalryrecords.com/)
A WARM GUN-Panic In The Face Of Time (Yellow Dog, CD)
Hammering hardcore/metal/grind, suffering from mono-rhythm syndrome on the faster parts. The type of band people will go “BRUTAL!” There are some hot riffs—the Slayer-ish “Running Into Walls,” for instance. It’s the standard lament—less grind and it’d work better, at least for me. (PO Box 55028, 10372 Berlin, GERMANY, http://www.yellowdog.de/)
BAD BRAINS-Live At CBGB 1982 (MVD, DVD)
One of my favorite stories to tell the young’uns is about how I saw the Bad Brains in the spring of ’82 at a tiny club called Maverick’s. Don’t go looking for it, it’s not there (thank you Marty DiBergi—look it up, if you don’t know what I’m talking about). They show up close to last call, set up, plug in and play one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen in my life. 15-20 minutes of all hardcore. No rose-colored glasses. Seeing the performances on the DVD, recorded at three shows around Christmas of ’82, proves my point. Even with the occasional bad camera angles, lights going out, sound issues, the chaos is captured. In fact, it’s apropos for that to happen because that’s an accurate reflection of a Bad Brains show, at that point, anyway. I’m still not a fan of their reggae songs but that’s what the skip button on the remote is for—OK, I DID watch a bit of the reggae but, sorry, it remains boring. The Brains were in peak form. Incredible musicianship—Earl flailing away with precision even at the high velocity, thundering bass-lines from the invisible Darryl Jennifer (I don’t think he’s in the shot at anytime) and Dr. Know knocking out sick power-chords and lead runs, looking as if he’s having the time of his life playing those riffs. HR, of course, moves around like a maniac, sings out the words at a rapid-fire clip and works himself into a frenzy. I’m using hyperbole here—maybe overdoing it but, damn, it’s killer and one of the coolest things is to see the faces of the people in the audience, dancing, diving, singing along—then there’s one kid playing air drums on the side of the stage. Not too many extras—just a brief interview segment with a few fans. In any case, this is an essential release. A document, not a documentary and just seeing the source material, without commentary, is a better experience. (PO Box 280, Oaks, PA 19456, http://www.musicvideodistributors.com/)
BURIAL-Hungry Wolves (HeartFirst, 7” EP)
The latest from the powerhouse known as Burial. Bruising songs with angrily spat out vocals and a tandem of hardcore, crust and some metal—kind of a modern-day Japanese hardcore sound, if I had to pinpoint it. In any case, the rampaging qualities are in full effect and the cowbell for “Insanity” is a cool touch. (Landsberger Str. 146, 80339, München GERMANY, http://www.heartfirst.net/)
DT’S-Nice ‘N’ Ruff—Hard Soul Hits Vol. 1 (Get Hip, CD)
Rocked-up cover versions of not just soul songs but CCR, AC/DC and Roky Erickson. Diana Young-Blanchard is an over-the-top, gritty shouter and the band competently play through the songs with strong musicianship. One of the people in this band is Dave Crider, late of the Mono Men. Those are the facts—the reality is I’d rather hear the originals although the opposite gender take on AC/DC’s “What’s Next To The Moon” is momentarily interesting. It gives me the same feeling as the Bell-Rays, another hard rock/soulful outfit with a dominant female vocalist—well played but a dirtier, nastier sound with more musical and vocal snarl would be much better. (PO Box 666, Canonsburg, PA 15317, http://www.gethip.com/)
FPO-Giving Birth In Order To Kill (Third Party, 7” EP)
The problem with FPO, who hail from Macedonia, is they have some great slower riffs that are wasted when the blast comes in. A common malady for this kind of hardcore. “You Call It Life,” for instance, flows from moody quietude into double-speed mayhem. Once and for all, CONTROL THE SPEED... slow down a bit. It works a lot better. (21 Nancy Lane, Amherst, NY 14228, http://www.thirdxparty.com/)
PERMANENT TRIP-s/t (Shock To The System, 7” EP)
The vinyl debut for Albany’s Permanent Trip and the last recording with guitarist Nate Wilson. Jason Krak voices the words (warning—alliteration alert) like a bear with his paw caught in a trap. Twists and turns—“Divider” starts as a dirge and ends with some double-speed thrash. “Losing Ground” begins with hammering stop/start riffing and then settles in a mid-tempo jam with wah-wah (is it?) on the guitar—maybe it’s weed-induced because the only thank yous on the list are the guy who put out the record and marijuana. “Stasi” takes on more of a mid-to-fast attack. Not the catchiest songs but they have presence. (PO Box 300991, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, http://www.shocktothesystemrecords.com/)
RABIES-Disease Core (Sorry State, 7” EP)
Skate-thrash-punk and repeat. Actually, these guys have a “Jealous Again” period Black Flag feel, as well and let’s not forget the bass calisthenics for “The Man With The Flute (Is Drilling My Head)”—huh? That’s about as poetic as they get—otherwise, you have sentiments such as “I have RABIES and I fucked you mom.” I remember how snotty some of those skate punk kids could be and carry it over into whatever band they chose to start. Rabies fit that bill and fit it well. (1102 N. Greensboro St., Carrboro, NC 27510, http://www.deepfrybonanza.com/sorrystate)
RATOS DE PORAO-Homem Inimigo Do Homem (Alternative, Tentacles, CD)
Well, I tried to find the English lyrics on-line, but no luck. It doesn’t really matter. You see words like pedofilia, involuntario, apocalipse and forca in the titles, the subject matter isn’t hard to figure out. Neither is the music. RDP went back to the hardcore roots, in recent years, while hanging onto the metal/crossover thing as well. Some of the guitar riffs here conjure up Die Kreuzen and Voivod (and Away from Voivod once told me they got their guitar sound from Die Kreuzen). Gordo still growls as if he’s permanently consptipated, accompanied by the band’s murderous assault. And they look so content in a field of flowers on the back cover. I imagine the machetes are hidden away for later use. Maybe on the audience. (PO Box 419092, SF, CA 94141, http://www.alternativetentacles.com/)
RIBZY-’81-’85 Recordings (Vinehell, CD)
This San Jose band didn’t release much during its tenure but here’s a collection of 30 songs, including one recorded in 2004 and it doesn’t sound dissimilar to the 80s era material. The band were originally called Ribsy. They made an appearance on the “Not So Quiet On The Western Front,” but there’s a different version of that song, “Collapse,” featured here. Snarly skate punk that was certainly influenced by Black Flag to an extent. Interestingly, the band changed vocalists around ’82 and the two voices (Derek Csimma, followed by Dion Trottier) don’t sound radically different from each other—adolescent snot ‘n rant.. Standard west coast punk although they could branch out on occasion—“Sugar Sugar” (not the Archies song) was gloomier sounding, for instance. A punk rock footnote and that’s meant in a positive sense. (PO Box 36131, San Jose, CA 95158, http://www.vinehell.com/)
RIVER CITY TANLINES-I’m Your Negative (Dirtnap, CD)
Another band including Alicja Trout (Lost Sounds, etc) and a wide-ranging array of material—foot stomping boogie/bluesy rock on the first two tracks, taking a poppier direction for “Shoot The Eye Out” and “No Gonna Think About It Anymore,” dabbling in hardcore (not very well) for “Whenever I Rot” and adding a nervier edge for “My Reflection” and “Drowning Dreams.” A lack of predictability and, while not every song is a success—the Richard Hell-ish strut of “Cryin’ Bleedin’ Dyin’” drags a bit—there’s some solid fired-up rock here. (2615 SE Clinton St., Portland, OR 97202, http://www.dirtnaprecs.com/)
RUIDOSA INMUNDICIA-De Ana Vez (Thought Crime, 7” EP)
Heart-racing hardcore. Fast all the way through, with the occasional slowdown. The rabid vocals are along the same lines as Saira from Detestation, except angrier sounding and trading off with a male counterpart. The band is from Austria but the lyrics in Spanish and two of the members are from Chile, originally. Literally no space between songs, one rager after another, applied lethally. (Thomas Franke, Muskauer Strasse 19, 10997 Berlin GERMANY, distributed by HeartFirst, http://www.heartfirst.net/)
SGT. SLAUGHTER-s/t (demo)
There are some good bands hiding in the outlying burbs of Boston and Sgt. Slaughter is one of them. Four songs of raw hardcore influenced by early Boston stuff and Poison Idea, though that’s not the entire story. “Home On The Strange,” the song that leads off this tape, has an ominous intro to get the blood flowing and then it kicks into high gear, where it stays. Good thrashin’ hardcore with hot riffing and string-scraping leads. (PO Box 696, Carlisle, MA 01741, email@example.com)
SOLID DECLINE-Adorning The Void (HeartFirst, dbl. 7” EP)
10 songs spread over two 7”s and packaged in a triple panel foldout for this German band’s latest release. Three of the guys from Solid Decline used to be in Y and I like this band a lot more. The band’s speed is better controlled and there are some killer melodic guitar lines to go along with the burn. The 80s-era German band Inferno used to do something similar—aggression but also managing to add, for want of a better term, a tuneful sting. In any case, it’s impressive. (Landsberger Str. 146, 80339, München GERMANY, http://www.heartfirst.net/)
VERSE-From Anger and Rage (Rivalry, CD)
There’s an “epic” element to Verse’s music. It got me thinking that the term “epi-crust” has come into usage in the past few years, usually referring to bands that stretch out their songs through melodic passages, along with the heaviness and faster elements. There are differences, though. Bands like Verse come from more of a newer-style hardcore realm (i.e. devoid of a punk influence, at least musically) while the crustier bands take their cue from the Scandinavian hardcore punk bands. I tend to gravitate towards the latter because the punk element fuels the whole package. In any case, Verse express strong sentiments about a crumbling world from a personalized perspective, along with a recommended reading/web/viewing list that covers the standard works of Chomsky, Zinn, Leonard Peletier et al. It’s kind of unusual for bands from this side of the hardcore aisle to offer much political analysis, so that’s commendable. But this musical approach leaves me cold. (http://www.rivalryrecords.com/)