For something different, and because I’m a huge music fan (not sure how often that comes across on the P.E.W.), I’ve decided to start a new feature: MUSIC DISCUSSION! (Well, more monologue than DISCUSSION, but let’s not quibble…)
In 2011, I started using this online site called 8Tracks to post playlists. I haven’t been a consistent contributor to the site, but in the last seven years I have managed to post, sporadically, here and there, almost a hundred different playlists! People who want to listen to a playlist on 8Tracks can just click on them and listen, although the catch is you aren’t supposed to know for sure what songs are coming up next. I cheat a bit with that by posting my playlistings off site… Regardless, you don’t need to download anything to listen, and it doesn’t cost anything, if you’re only listening on occasion. What I LIKE about 8Tracks is that they let me upload MY OWN playlists—songs that I OWN. Basically, anything that I legally paid for is fair game, so the playlists can be anything I want (not just a pre-selected list of random songs that are okay-ed by the BIG WIGS), I can play MY SONGS, and I like a lot of DIFFERENT stuff : new wave, techno, punk, post-punk, goth, industrial, synth-pop, electro, psychedelic rock, ska, dub, novelty tunes…
What I think is going to make this project more fun than just me posting a PLAYLIST, however, is my plan to write a bit about each song that I’m including in each playlist. I’ll talk about what I like about the cut or how it touches me, personally—that kind of junk. Consider these posts a bit like a music diary in which I ruminate on a handful of songs at a time, AND THEN you folks can decide if you want to go listen to the cuts or not—and I’ll have a playable link to the playlist right there, if you want to give the tunes a try! Are we set on the rules? Okay, let’s go…
TEN CUTS – 01 by Richard F. Yates
1. “Zerox” by Adam and the Ants.
This song comes from the first Adam and the Ants album, Dirk Wears White Sox. The album was released in 1979, originally, but the version I first bought was a 1983 cassette tape which had a cover on which Adam Ant looks a HECK of a lot like David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust persona. (That would have been enough for me to buy the tape, even if I had never heard of Adam and the Ants.) This song, “Zerox,” is a punky, surfy, almost spy-thriller sounding cut, with jangly, buzzy guitars. It’s not a super fast song, but catchy, and the high-pitched, unsettling backing vocals (which have more than a hint of banshee wail to them) give the song a very uncomfortable, unearthly, creepy feeling, which blends nicely with the rockin’ surf twang. It’s really just a great cut. Quirky, strange, and fun—like almost EVERYTHING Adam Ant ever produced. He’s still going, by the way, and still one of my favorite recording artists of all time. I always feel happy listening to Adam.
2. “Revival Shadows” by Public Ambient
In the early 1990s, when rave music was huge, but hadn’t solidified into specific sub-genres yet, you got some really interesting experimentation in electronic dance styles, all folded into this single “label,” TECHNO. “Revival Shadows” comes from a 1992 compilation, This is Techno Volume 2 (on Continuum Records) which had some very cool cuts on it. I’d never heard of most of the performers on the collection, and Public Ambient is one of these sort of anonymous acts. The song is a very creepy, loping, tune with a voice over narrator (sampled from some old noir television show or Twilight Zone episode or something) barking these strange statements, while a lazy 4×4 beat pushes the song forward. It’s not really trance. It’s not really breakbeat. It’s just WEIRD. I love the atmosphere and the creepiness of the cut, with sampled screams and odd crashing and whipping sounds peppered throughout over the chugging, off kilter beat. It’s dancy but might creep you out if you ever heard it in a club. Excellent cut.
3. “Invader (Original Mix)” by 808 State
808 State formed in the late 1980s, just as acid house and progressive dance music were about to coalesce into Britain’s second SUMMER OF LOVE, officially making RAVE into a THING. The band were pioneers of electronic dance music, creating some fantastically interesting abstract tunes, which I will no doubt feature frequently in my TEN CUTS segments. “Invader” was released in 1999, and as far as I can tell it didn’t come from any specific LP. (I bought it as a single from iTunes.) The cut is an odd mixture of buzzing, old-school techno, but is also informed by drum & bass and acid techno, with lots of clicking percussion and burbling, bubbly synths. The vocal bits act like samples from some old sci-fi/horror film, but I think they are original to this tune. (I could be wrong.) It’s a very dancy song—one that would really push me to boogie on a dance floor, but it’s also creepy and dark enough to work at a Halloween party. (Yes, I DO listen to Halloween music all year long—but you probably guessed that.) 808 State are always cool, and this cut is excellent, if you can handle an abstract, bleepy techno cruncher.
4. “Darkroom” by Paul McCartney
Not many people know that Paul McCartney had an experimental, new wave phase to his career after leaving The Beatles (and kind of in the middle of Wings), but in 1980 he released McCartney II, which had several weird, synth-heavy electronic songs on it, sometimes channeling Kraftwerk, sometimes a bit of Gary Numan, but also including one or two cuts that most people would probably recognize. (“Coming Up” was a top 40 hit, and the version of the album I bought was a rerelease that included “Wonderful Christmas Time,” which technically came out in 1979 before McCartney II, but I don’t mind.) “Darkroom” is a strange song, kind of short, but very cool. It’s odd and creepy, with a fantastic bassline that pushes the song through a phantasmagoric collection of weird, high pitched voices, clicks, and echoes. It’s like being dragged, blindfolded, by a voodoo funk band through a bayou alive with ghosts and insects…but in a good way!
5. “Something for Your M.I.N.D. (Joe Goddard Remix)” by Superorganism
This cut, which I bought as a single from iTunes, is EXTREMELY good. It’s got a chewy, bouncy electro bassline, cool synths, and an icy female vocalist who is only partially in our reality, breathily and indifferently singing to us, half in a dream and half in some Japanese cartoon that she’s fantasizing about. The song is dreamy and dancy and odd, and I must have listened to this cut about a thousand times since buying it in late December. (The song came out in 2017.) I don’t know anything about Superorganism, but if this is what they sound like, I love them already. It’s nice to see some new electronic music coming out that doesn’t sound like Top 40 pop, but instead embracing a weirdo, hypnotic dance ethos that appeals to us old shamanic music fans.
6. “Lonely Planet Puss’n’Boots” by Selector Dub Narcotic
Calvin Johnson is most famous (I think) for being the head of K Records, the pioneering indie/punk label out of Olympia, Washington. He’s also been a radio DJ, music producer, ambassador for indie culture, lectured on the history of ZINES, and been the vocalist for about a hundred different bands. (I love Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Halo Benders, and more… The dude is good—and he’s very friendly. I’ve talked to him in person several times, and although I know there’s no reason for him to remember me from incident to incident, he’s always been very polite and willing to chat for a few minutes whenever I’ve accosted him.) Selector Dub Narcotic is one of several mutations on the Dub Narcotic Sound System, and this cut, “Lonely Planet Puss’n’Boots,” is a classic of the Narcotic Sound. It comes from the 2016 album, This Party is Just Getting Started, and it’s a FANTASTIC fusion of dub bass, cool groove, quirky humor, and musical nostalgia. Anybody who knows The New York Dolls is going to have a ball with this song, which sneaks Calvin Johnson interpretations of several different Dolls cuts into the mix, along with the pulsing bass, snippets of harmonica, thin guitar, exotic atmospherics, and perfect dub percussion. It’s a real beauty…
7. “Hanging on the Telephone” by The Nerves
The Nerves were a brilliant power-pop / punk band that came up in the mid to late 1970’s L.A. punk scene. This song, which was release on a four song E.P. in 1976, and was later covered by Blondie, is an absolute pop gem. I found it on a Rhino Records collection, DIY – Come Out and Play – American Power Pop I, which was released in 1993. If you’re used to the Blondie version, this cut is rougher, with male vocals (it sounds like Peter Case singing, but I’m not certain,) but it’s also somehow more fragile in this rendition. It’s a great cut from a fantastic band, which unfortunately didn’t last nearly long enough! (They only released one full album!)
8. “I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No” by Blondie
Speaking of Blondie… I’ve been a MASSIVE fan (specifically of Debbie Harry) since Harry’s guest appearance on The Muppets back in 1981! Blondie probably doesn’t need much introduction, as they are one of the truly legendary American rock and pop bands, so I’ll just skip the whole bit about them coming up in the New York punk scene, then hitting big with the disco classic “Heart of Glass,” and bringing rap to the attention of mainstream America with “Rapture” (which name drops Fab Five Freddy in the song and has Jean Michel Basquiat DJing a party in the music video!) and get right to this song… “I Didn’t Have the Nerve to Say No” is from the 1977 album, Plastic Letters, and it’s just a great, fun, playful tune. The feel of the song reminds me of a beach party (for some reason), with fun, chanted child-like lyrics, fragments of guitar chords, synth and organ parts dueling like a pillow fight, and light structural elements that build and build… No single element is overpowering, and the whole assemblage works to create an abstract but cohesive whole. It’s a great song for headphones. Fun and silly and BLONDIE… I don’t remember ever hearing it on the radio, but it could have been (ANOTHER) Top 40 hit, if it had been.
9. “Gut Feeling” by Devo
Devo, like Blondie, is another of my RELIGIOUS bands. I’ve loved them since I was a little kid, and I STILL love almost every song they’ve ever written. It’s a horrible crime that most people only know “Whip It.” As great as that song is, the band had so much f*cking RANGE… All weird of course. Anyway, “Gut Feeling” is a rave-up, a progressive sci-fi, spaghetti western stomper, with what almost sounds like a theremin warbling along with the guitars, piano, and drums. It’s a nervous cut that pushes the listener forward into a progressive breakdown. Things get weirder and creepier and more frantic until it all falls apart—just like in real life. Devo is brilliant, difficult as HELL to understand, but so goddam good once you catch the fever—and this cut, which I took from the 1990 Warner Bros Greatest Hits CD, is damn near perfect. (The song originally appeared on the 1978 album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!)
10. “Polkas on 45” by “Weird Al” Yankovic
What happens when you take Devo, The Police, Deep Purple, Berlin, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Talking Heads, Hendrix and so on…and you do them as a rapid fire, oompah polka cover medley? You get “Polkas on 45” from the 1984 album “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D. It’s very funny, and a cut that I’ve loved since the mid-1980s when my brothers and I first got the tape. Novelty songs don’t get much respect, but screw that. It’s important for people not to take themselves too seriously AND to laugh every once in a while. Weird Al can DEFINITELY bring the laughs. Considering the fact that he’s been doing song parodies since 1976 (!!!) (that’s FOUR DECADES, folks!) and he’s still going strong, it’s safe to say that he’s out-performed (and even out lived) almost EVERY performer that he’s parodied! Let’s hear it for another four decades of Al!!!
And that’s about it for my first TEN CUTS segment. Let me know what you think. I’m probably going to keep doing them whether anyone likes them or not because it’s fun for ME, but if you HATE this type of thing, let me know so I can make fun of you! Okay, thanks for stopping by!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)