Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #630:
Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing
Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #673:
Radio Birdman – The Ring of Truth
Hope it’s ok with you if we go with two ep’s in a row. If this 1988 release was a bootleg, as some say (all but one track were subsequently issued “officially,” for what it’s worth), the sound quality is amazing. Recorded ten years earlier at Dave Edmunds’ studio in Rockfield, Wales just prior to the band’s breakup, this captures the Australian garage punks at the peak of their fret-burning, frequently macabre power. Just four songs here, all of them winners, each a good example of the band’s ability to tackle a surprisingly diverse number of styles, considering what a loud, ferocious group they were. If I Wanted You is a creepily pulsing, low-key guitar/organ tune; Dark Surprise is an example of their Stooges-inspired riff-rock style, and the surprisingly mellow Didn’t Tell the Man (a 1979 hit for the Hitmen) features one of the most wrenchingly beautiful rock organ solos ever, courtesy of Pip Hoyle. The centerpiece here is Death by the Gun, a country murder ballad done Detroit style, lead player Deniz Tek’s lightning rampages blasting over Warwick Gilbert’s insanely catchy, punchy bassline (done decently thirty years later by the Horehounds). Here’s a random torrent via thewickedthing.
For fans of long-running New England roots reggae band Lambsbread, seeing three of the members onstage at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center Saturday night playing terse, period-perfect, occasionally savage mid-70s Detroit-style rock must have come as a shock – for those who didn’t know the backstory. It’s well-known now: three Detroit brothers start a soul-funk band, discover the MC5 and Stooges, Dennis Thompson rhythm and Ron Asheton guitar snarl, and a new band is born. They called themselves Death, before any heavy metal band could; signed to Columbia Records in 1975, they were unceremoniously dropped when Clive Davis couldn’t persuade them to change their name. The band themselves released a single, then eventually moved to Vermont where they would turn in a direction about as far from proto-punk as you can get. Nine years after guitarist David Hackney died, Drag City finally released a seven-track cd, For the Whole World to See, last year. And the surviving members, bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney, enlisted their Lambsbread bandmate, guitarist Bobby Duncan (who as a child was given his first guitar by David). The result: a time trip back to a Detroit of the mind, the Stooges at the peak of their woozy, raw power. Forget for a minute that all three of these men are black – this was yet more enduring testament to how music transcends any racial or ethnic differences.
What was most revealing about this show was what a smart band these guys were – and remain. Introducing the ornately scurrying, utterly psychedelic Politicians in My Eyes (the A-side of their prized 1975 single), Bobby Hackney explained that he’d written it in protest of the Vietnam War, watching his friends and neighbors getting drafted left and right. When the band launched into the funereal four-chord progression on the song’s bridge, it was unaffectedly intense. The band’s riff-rock songs – notably the brief Rock N Roll Victim, which could have been early Joy Division, or a cut from the Stooges’ Kill City period – are very simple and catchy. Yet like the Stooges, they didn’t limit themselves to three-minute gems.
And the ghost of Ron Asheton was everywhere. David Hackney internalized Asheton’s bluesy wail and careening riffage as well any other guitarist ever did, and so does Duncan, if with considerably more focus and precision, often tossing off a brief, perfectly executed, barely two-bar lead at the end of a phrase. This version of the band makes every note count, often leaving a lot of space in between guitar fills. Duncan was playing without any effects, which combined with the park’s dodgy sonics to limit his sustain. As a result, a lot of the songs took on a skeletal feel that isn’t present on the album, or in the various live versions scattered around the web. This didn’t pose a problem during the slow, bluesy epic Let the World Turn, with its tricky 7/4 interlude, but it sapped the energy during the chromatically charged You’re a Prisoner and the band’s ridiculously catchy encore, possibly titled Blood on the Highway, to be released by Drag City sometimes this Fall. Like the great Detroit bands who preceded them, Death undoubtedly sound best the closer you are to them. Ron Asheton would approve.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #327:
Radio Birdman – Hit Them Again
Characteristic pyrotechnics from the Australian garage-punk legends’ Radios Appear album, 1979, a co-write with Ron Asheton. Deniz Tek’s excoriating noise solo as the song burns its way out is pure adrenaline. Mp3s are everywhere – and here’s the Visitors doing the song in 2008 live!
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #362:
Radio Birdman – Murder City Nights
Ferocious garage punk from the Aussie legends’ second and best album, Radios Appear, 1979, bandleader/lead guitarist Deniz Tek contributing a characteristically intense, lightning-fast solo.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #448:
The Stooges – No Sense of Crime
In many cases Iggy & co. did the opiated, Exile On Main St. major key bluesy rock thing even better than the Stones and this is a prime example, circa 1972, beginning as an elegiac acoustic ballad and building to a hypnotically pulsing anthem, James Williamson doing a spot-on version of Keith Richards. It’s been anthologized to death (the Kill City lp from the late 70s was the first); mp3s are everywhere.The link above is an imeem stream.
New Jersey garage/surf rockers the Brimstones have earned a reputation for being a great live act, but tonight they were somewhat upstaged by the Butchers, the garage/punk trio who opened the show. It wasn’t that the Brimstones played a bad set; on the contrary, they roared through about an hour’s worth of eardrum-damaging, Pabst Blue Ribbon-fueled riff-rock with a couple of surf-ish instrumentals thrown in for good measure. But the story of the night was the Butchers. This Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based trio – two guitarists, on Rickenbacker and Gibson, respectively, plus a drummer – absolutely set the place on fire. Their sound is raw, pummeling, unadorned, in other words every quality that makes a song catchy and fun to hear live. Their Rickenbacker player took most of the solos, getting the most gorgeous, distorted guitar tone we’ve witnessed anywhere since seeing Scott Morgan with Powertrane when they played Warsaw. That’s what an overdriven vintage Fender amp will do if you leave your effects pedals at home and just turn it up to…about 5. Otto’s is a small place and Fender Twins are mighty amps. Although the stuff on the Butchers’ myspace has bass, they don’t have a bass player. For a band who obviously take their cue from the 13th Floor Elevators, they don’t really need one.
It would have been nice if the Brimstones had played more of their surf stuff, because that’s what they really excel at, and that’s what differentiates them from the legions of other garage bands out there. That, and a completely authentic vintage 60s songwriting style, and an evident ability to consume mass quantities of alcohol and not miss a beat. Their organist/frontman delivered many of their tunes perched precariously atop his keyboard. When they finally called it a night, well past midnight, with a completely out-of-control, completely perfect cover of TV Eye, they’d outlasted many of the people who packed the little back room here. It was nice to see them in such an intimate setting: when they play New York, it’s usually opening for big-name acts like the Ventures or the Cramps.