This post is part of a series. For the previous post, click here.
We’re well and truly into the mid seventies with this series of five incredible albums that changed the world while no one was listening. Not all of these albums drive me nuts with pleasure, but they are all the best of the best and taught me everything I needed to build a solid foundation in just about every genre I took a fancy to later. This is the time when experimental is moving away from instruments and getting into noise – sounds of television sitcoms become music, and Lou Reed brings Noise to us amid cries of ‘this is a joke right?’
No – It’s not a joke. It is in fact one of the most underrated music revolutions, despite its intense impact on the way we listen. Many of the albums on today’s list of five, for various reasons, are still unappreciated despite their importance and their obvious place in history. I the case of Captain Beefheart – his album still hasn’t been released.
Enjoy today’s five. It’s some of the most important, influential music you will ever hear.
30 Seconds Over Tokyo / Heart of Darkness
Pere Ubu is an experimental rock music group formed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1975. Despite many long-term band members, singer David Thomas is the only constant. Critical opinions of Pere Ubu include, “the most original and important of the new wave bands”, ”the world’s only expressionist Rock ‘n’ Roll band”, and “Pere Ubu will be looked back on as the most important group to have come out of America in the last decade and a half. Either that or they will be entirely forgotten”. It’s not one of my favourite tracks from the Wire list, but there is no doubting the importance and influence of Pere Ubu. The wire had this to say:
Of all human emotions, fear is the hardest to capture musically, but this early single from Pere Ubu simply melts with fearful dread. Angular, uncompromised and shocking, its exterior reference point is the American bombing of Japan, but its real movement is inward, trying both to fathom the minds of those who would commit such an act and to acknowledge the terror, felt by subsequent millions, that it could easily happen again. Not a party record, then, but a landmark one – it created a whole new soundworld of shadowed, industrial grief, taking some musical cues from Beefheart but substituting a gaunt foreboding for his crazy organic optimism. Listening hard in Manchester were those who became Joy Division; their sensibility stems from this record, but never remotely matched its evocation of apocalypse.
Lee “Scratch” Perry
Revolution Dub is an album by Lee Perry & The Upsetters, released in Jamaica in 1975 in very small quantities. It features radical, groundbreaking drum & bass mixes, sound effects (including bizarre excerpts of British comedy recorded from the radio), heavy bass, vocals by Perry himself, and an early use of a drum machine in reggae. The exciting thing about this record, was its context. This music had sounds that didn’t exist in pop – snatches of television dialogue. By being willing to blow sound out of the water, Lee Perry transformed a genre. I am Doctor on the Go”, proclaims Perry to a chorus of canned laughter, and so on. The collision of the British sitcom with the rhythm from Junior Byles’s aching “Long Way” took reggae into retaliatory culture-shock experimentation. Also, this album had some of the most potent dubs ever recorded by Perry. There’s the ultra-heavy version of Bunny Clarke’s “Move Out Of My Way,” the rock-hard reworking of Jimmy Riley’s take of Bobby Womack’s “Woman’s Gotta Have It”; and a juddering dub of “Bushweed Corntrash”. Fierce and funny.
Metal Machine Music
Now we’re talking!
I adore this album and have for longer than I knew the Wire List existed. Some things are just so good they break through all barriers and faux resistance. I didn’t know what Noise was, and metal was that thing angry young white privileged men did when they were trying to piss off their parents. But (i am proud to say) I knew this was special. And I knew it wasn’t a joke. But then, Lou reed is perfectly at home with being made fun of by the music masses. Looking back now, I guess I can claim it as forging some sort of inner pathway with me that allowed the music I love now to foster. I didn’t know how to listen to this back when my parents were making jokes about it at dinner parties. I know now.
As a radical departure from the rest of Reed’s catalog, Metal Machine Music is generally considered to be either a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. The album features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for an hour of over-modulated feedback and guitar effects, intricately mixed at varying speeds by Reed himself. In the album’s liner notes he claimed to have invented heavy metal music and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of that genre. The album made Reed a laughing stock in the rock industry while simultaneously opening the door for his later, more experimental material. Historically, Metal Machine Music is now considered a seminal forerunner of industrial music, noise rock, and contemporary sound art.
The Wire write up on this one is too good to miss:
Q Magazine featured Metal Machine Music in its 50 Worst Records of All Time, describing it as “sadistic, blackboard-scraping feedback”. What higher recommendation could you possibly need? Reed himself reported: “I find it very relaxing – it’s not done as a joke.” The metal machine involved two electric guitars feeding back through mismatched tremolo units. They’re speeded up, slowed down, recorded backwards and layered repeatedly. What results is at once the pre-eminent deranged noise record, an impossibly cacophonous screech of electric torment, and also a classic of Minimalism; some of the most enigmatic, exquisite harmonies ever documented. It’s a pity the CD reissues can’t handle the original double LP’s locked grooves, but even if it doesn’t last forever, the music is infinitely convoluted. It still awaits a proper critical appraisal – even the gleefully enthusiastic Lester Bangs didn’t fully ‘get’ Metal Machine Music.
The Electric Eels
Cyclotron / Agitated
The electric eels were a protopunk band active between 1972 and 1975. They formed in Cleveland, Ohio.
Don’t you always wish you’d been at one of the five only ever live performances of The electric eels? Despite only having five they managed to earn a reputation locally for being angry, confrontational, and violent. They were notorious for starting fights with audiences which drew police attention; members were also abusive to each other off-stage. Their style was a dischordant, noisy amalgam of hard garage rock and free jazz that was generally considered to be very obnoxious. I don’t mean to be a total 80′s chick, but how fucking cool is that? This is nothing but pure subversion, up from the underground primitive art. the rawness of the sound here gives the American punk scene a whole new validity. This album (and band) has that quality that makes you want to start a band in your garage immediately. HIghly contagious, highly raw … highly WTF!
Bat Chain Puller
Where Pere Ubu can’t quite grab me, Captain Beefheart has a solid grip.
The legendary album which has so far not been officially released.
Recorded at the beginning of 1976 by the remains of the 1975 touring Magic Band after Elliot Ingber and Bruce Fowler had left.
John French – drums
John Thomas – keyboards
Moris Tepper – guitar
Denny Walley – guitar
A tape of the album (before production on it had been finished) was sent to Virgin Records in the UK to see if they were interested in releasing it. Unfortunately it got caught up in the legal wrangle that Zappa was having with Herb Cohen so the deal fell through. But tapes of the album had already been sent out to reviewers and radio stations. It wasn’t long before one or several of these found their way onto vinyl and eventually CD. Nowadays the rights to the original Bat Chain Puller album are owned by the Zappa Family Trust. They have considered releasing it, and have even gone as far as getting Denny Walley to finish the production work needed but nothing has yet come of this. In fact, it looks likely that the more recent CD releases of the album have decided the ZFT that it’s not worth releasing. If that’s the case they need a good slap!
The Wire has this to say:
Few rock artists as washed up — and seemingly past it — as Captain Beefheart was in 1974 have come back with new music as dazzling as that on Bat Chain Puller. Having flirted disastrously with commercialism, the nadir of which was Bluejeans and Moonbeams, he took a lengthy sabbatical, returning two years later, aged 35, with an album legendary for the wrong reason — it has never been officially released. Occasionally it harks back to the complexities of Trout Mask Replica but is more measured, with a vivid, plangent, colourful sound. The remit is as wide as anything Beefheart had attempted before: pop songs, poetic narratives and recitals, chamber-style instrumentals and songs in fantastic new shapes. Some material was later reworked as Shiny Beast, but the original album is the more vital example of this late(ish) flowering of Beefheart’s creativity.