James Knight discusses his song choices for the second installment of his alpahabet mixtape series.
OK, OK, I know I said I’d do one of these a month and I have been super slack even getting to part two of what now seems a hugely ambitious 26 part series but I will try and be more prompt in the future. Promise. Anyway, I am currently laid up in bed with gastroenteritis which I can guarantee you is not much fun but it has left me with not much to do other than puke and crap every 15 minutes which gave me the perfect excuse to sit on the toilet and compile this. I have made it a bumper selection to make up for the tardiness of its arrival so without further a do here is entry “B” of my ongoing alphabet mixtape series.
1. “Pay To Cum” – Bad Brains
What could I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? One of the most perfect examples of hardcore punk and the first side of the first Bad Brains 7” which was released all the way back in 1980. Proof that even when white people develop the whitest form of music of all time black dudes will be still be able to play it better than them. Oh, I thought of something I can say that might not have already been said or at least widely mentioned: “Pay To Cum” briefly makes and appearance in Scorcese’s slightly odd 1985 film After Hours.
2. “Whispering Pines” – The Band
As a pre-teen Bob Dylan acolyte I devoured everything the bard of Minnesota even vaguely had a hand in. As his backing band, co-conspirators, friends and fellow Woodstock refugees the band once known as The Hawks who went on to become The Band loomed large over a lot of my early listening. The early rock & roll grounding they had accumulated as backing band to the legendary Screamin’ Ronnie Hawkins was combined with an interest in the gnarled roots of American music which Dylan galvanised during endless sessions in the basement of a house in Woodstock they lived and practised in called The Big Pink (recordings of which which would become the oft-bootlegged and poorly commercially released Basement Tapes). These sessions gave rise to two hugely influential and indisputably classic records which still resonate today in everything from Bon Iver to the Fleet Foxes to the late, great Jack Rose who sadly left us not so long ago. Part of what made The Band so uniquely special was that every member was adept at playing anything and had a voice to match anyone at any point in the contemporary canon. For my money though it was Richard Manuel with his ethereal and plaintive vocal who always stole the show. It was a huge shame that he didn’t vocal more cuts during The Bands prime and an even greater shame that he was never able to conquer a life-long addiction to booze and drugs that saw him take his own life alone in a room at a Quality Inn motel in Orlando, Florida in 1986. Pick up Music From Big Pink, The Band or Scorcese’s great documentary The Last Waltz and remember Manuel in his prime.
3. “Baby Let Me Bang Your Box” – The Bangers
Like a whole heap of great garage, doo-wop, rockabilly, rock & roll and R&B I discovered this track via the Lux & Ivy’s Favourites compilation series. The series is put together by a person or persons unknown and is composed of songs that The Cramps would play before they came onstage, as they left stage or mentioned in interviews that they were fans of. There are 12 volumes that I am aware of and every track is a gem so get a hold of them. Research on this track reveals that is was something of an r&b standard originally cut by The Toppers way back in 1954 and covered by everyone from Billy Ward & The Dominoes to Daddy Cool Ross Wilson and Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts (allegedly the group the Animal House band were based on). This version was released in 1965 on the R&B label and is a prime example of innuendo laced rhythm & blues. I’ve struggled to come up with any more on The Bangers so if you know anything about them leave a comment.
4. “Black Heart Man” – Barrington Levy
A track from Levy’s third LP Englishman which was released in 1979 by Greensleaves. Levy’s career has been long and varied but I always liked the roots sound on this album that has hints of lovers rock and strange dubby wobbles here & there.
5. “Q-Loop” – Basic Channel
At this stage only sheer ignorance could possibly fail to recognise the importance of Mark Ernestus and Moritz Van Oswald within the realms of electronic music and beyond over the last twenty years. While their myriad aliases, projects and labels (Chain Reaction, Rhythm & Sound, Maurizio, Replay, Burial Mix etc) have always had some footing, however tenuous, in the twin camps of dub and techno it would be short sighted to limit the pairs work by simple genre pigeon-holing. It was by establishing themselves sonically with perhaps their most abstract and innovative work in the form of their initial Basic Channel project that has allowed them to operate outside of any such confines ever since and long may they continue to do so. Rhythm & Sound live at Fabric a few years back remains one of the most enjoyable nights of my life.
6. “Defective Chain” – Bastard
Bastard were a Japanese punk band who operated in the late 1980s early 1990s and had it all. They played fast, were a little d-Beat, had a Cro-Mags swagger (and those little Age Of Quarrel-esque guitar solos), great gang vocals and a bit of blown at crusty distortion. They released a 7” in 1989 entitled Controlled In The Frame that is very hard to get hold of but you can pick up a discography CD that the band themselves put out called No Hope In Here easily enough. I was shocked to see that the band have reformed for a one-off show at Chaos In Tejas. Looks like I’ll finally have to go to Austin.
7. “Hydraulic Beehive” – Bastard Noise
I was going to leave all Man Is The Bastard related stuff until we hit “M” but then I figured fuck it, I love every stage of what Eric Wood has done so much and they all sound different enough to warrant covering every incarnation of one of the greatest sonic legacies of this or any other era. Plus how could I pass up putting a song entitled “Hydraulic Beehive” in the mix? In case you are unfamiliar with Man Is The Bastard they are the band that inspired the name, ethos and attitude of the early 90s ‘powerviolence’ movement, a genre which has been horribly misunderstood and, ahem, bastardised by ignoramuses ever since. At its best though it could be argued that powerviolence is one of the purist forms of musical expression as, rather like grindcore, it takes every element of punk and drives it to (and occasionally beyond) its logical endpoint. Listen to anything by Infest, No Comment or Crossed Out and you will soon understand. While they were very much part of the movement Man Is The Bastard always stood apart. Not only due to their defined, monochromatic skulls and slogans aesthetic but also their unique instrumentation which consisted of drums, dual bass guitars and home made electronics units and speakers made by Henry Barnes (now of Amps For Christ fame) which made them sound like nothing else imaginable. The Bastrad Noise initially began life to explore the electronic side of Man Is The Bastard’s sonic assault and while the lines between Bastard related projects constantly blur and realign it remained a mainly electronic entity until recently when the whole shebang came full circle and The Bastard Noise now resembles Man Is The Bastard all over again. Confused? Don’t be. Just embrace the skull.
8. “In Conspiracy With Satan” – Bathory
While Venom might have coined the term ‘Black Metal’, Quorthon (and his enigmatic producer known only as ‘The Boss’ who may or may not be his dad) gave the genre just about everything else from the production sound to riffs, fonts, artwork and a preoccupation with Satan. This track is from the band’s 1984 debut LP which featured the infamous drawing of The Beast by Joseph A. Smith that you will probably be able to see on a t-shirt any given Thursday night at Jaguar Shoes worn by a kid who’s never listened to a Bathory record in his life.
9. “In Between” – Beat Happening
What with the ginormous resurgence in ‘lo-fi’ poppy garage music that we’ve seen in the last few years I expected this band to be on everyone’s lips, have the whole reunion and ATP Don’t Look Back special and everything but, nope. No sign so far. They’ve remained as strangely overlooked as ever. Good news for me though as I can put one of my favourite songs of all time on this mix and not look like a band-wagon jumping whorebag.
10. “Child Of Darkness” – Bedemon
Bedemon found themselves in the odd position of being regarded as a pioneering doom-metal band purely by being the offshoot band of another pioneering doom-metal. Randy Palmer, Bobby Liebling and Geof O’Keefe were all members of Pentagram (who formed in 1971 and were thus one of the first US doom bands to form in the wake of Sabbath) when they decided to start recording a few songs as Bedemon in 1973. Despite bootlegs of their early demos rattling around for years it wasn’t until 2006 that Bedemon material finally made it out into the public realm officially. Here’s one of their finest odes to the darkness.
11. “Voices Green & Purple” – The Bees
Not to be confused with either the tepid soft-rocking Bees from the Isle Of Wight who play at festivals like The Secret Garden Party or the San Francisco garage band of the same name these Bees are a far more unhinged proposition. From La Varene, California this band cut only one 45 to my knowledge but it is this psych-rock classic that found its way on to the Nuggets compilation and chronicles an LSD trip that’s not going all that great.
12. “We Love You Michael Gira” – Ben Frost
I once wrote a review of the excellent Australian born electronic musician Ben Frost’s fourth album, Theory Of Machines, that is somehow utilised on Wikipedia to describe the guys sound. I’m not sure how I can trump that so I’ll just repeat it here:
“…The compositional complexity of Arvo Pärt and the sonic nothingness of Wolf Eyes…Yes, it is that good.”
The Wire also compared him to Arvo Pärt after my review had gone to print so someone over there must be a big fan of my comparisons I’ve figured.
13. “Down On Penny’s Farm” – The Bently Boys
As mentioned above I’m a pretty big Bob Dylan nut and this song is interesting in Dylan terms because Bob ripped it off wholesale (as he did so often in his early folk career) for his own composition “Hard Times In New York” (which you can pick up on The Bootleg Series: Volumes 1-3). It is likely that he heard it on one of his major sources of inspiration/goldmines for plagiarism: Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music. The version here was recorded in 1929 by The Bently Boys. Again I can tell you little about them other than they hailed from North Carolina and cut this side on a 45 for Columbia Records with a track called “Henhouse Blues” on the flip. The song itself is likely a traditional called “Hard Times” that the Boys adapted. Some commentators have observed that this track may in turn have influenced Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” although of this I remain dubious.
14. “Blues Run The Game” – Bert Jansch
Another fella who, like Bob, I have long been obsessed with. Along with fellow travelers such as John Renbourne, Davy Graham, Wizz Jones and later his own group Pentangle, Jansch was instrumental in the British folk revival and in particular a huge influence on generations of acoustic guitar players to come. There is Neil Young quote that goes along the lines of: “what Hendrix did for the electric guitar Jansch did for the acoustic”. Bombastic comparisons aside Bert continues to perform and record great albums, I have seen him several times over the last few years and he is never less than spell-binding. This track is from the long out of print (though recently re-issued) Santa Barbara Honeymoon LP from 1975 and it is a cover of a song by the American singer songwriter Jackson C. Frank, a friend of Jansch’s and another prominent figure on the London folk revival scene who suffered from tragic mental health issues and sadly remained relatively unknown in his own lifetime.
15. “The Model” – Big Black
While neither as visceral as Rapeman or as polished as Shellac Big Black always were my favourite Albini related project. This cheeky Kraftwerk cover has a guitar tone that sounds like sheets of metal reverberating inside an oil drum.
16. “Thirteen” – Big Star
Big Star are probably best known to a whole generation born post 1982 as the band who wrote the theme tune to That 70s Show, which has always seemed an unfitting epitaph for one of the greatest groups to ever craft bittersweet pop-drenched rock & roll. A bit like The Byrds playing with The Allman Brothers Big Star, the brainchild of former Box Tops frontman Alex Chilton, released a trio of well received records, #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers, during a short period between 1971 and 1974 before disintegrating. They reformed in the mid-90’s and continue to play but the magic lies on those three records. This track recalls the day Chilton saw The Beatles play at the age of thirteen on their first US tour in 1964. It has also been covered to devastating effect by Elliot Smith.
17. “Omega Day” – Bill Fay
Another sublime track by a somewhat forgotten genius (are you sensing a pattern here?). Bill Fay was an English singer-songwriter who cut two LP’s for the Deram label in the 1970’s, a self-titled effort and a sophmore album entitled Time Of The Last Persecution from which this track is taken. Both are masterpieces but sadly they failed to sell and Fay went largely AWOL for several decades until his third album saw the light day in 2005 on David Tibet of Current 93’s Durtro Jnana label. Eagle eared Wilco fans may have realized that the track Tweedy, Stiratt and Glen Kotchke sing backstage together is “Be Not So Fearful” by Fay. I felt immeasurably blessed to witness Fay actually get onstage and duet on a rendition of that song with Tweedy when he played at Shepherds Bush in 2007.
18. “The Actor And Audience” – The Black Dog
The Black Dog was an acid techno project formed in 1989 by Ken Downie, Ed Handley and Andy Turner. While Downie continues to DJ, perform and produce records under the Black Dog moniker both Handley and Turner went on to form Warp Records mainstays Plaid. This track is taken from the outfits’ superlative and incredibly titled second LP Temple Of Transparent Balls which was originally released in 1993.
19. “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” – Black Flag
Again, there is little I can say about these guys that you haven’t heard already. I have the bars on my skin forever so it’s safe to say they mean a little to me. I will say that while Rollins was a great frontman I’d take Chavo, Keith Morris and Dez Cadena over him in that order. In line with that sentiment here’s “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie” as it should be: with Chavo on vocals. If you want to hear what Black Flag is all about go listen to The First Four Years and Everything Went Black. If you want to know what Black Flag with Henry Rollins is all about then My War and Slip It In is you. Damaged, as fantastic as it is, sits somewhere in between these two periods a little uncomfortably to me.
20. “Supernaut” – Black Sabbath
Choosing a single Sabbath song was hard but I went with this one as it has one of the most immediate and brilliant riffs of all time and I play it almost every time I play records out and am still not bored of it. It could have been any one of about 30 masterpieces that they wrote though.
21. “Ritual” – Blasphemy
Fenriz knows about Black Metal. Being a founding member of Darkthrone means that that’s just a fact. It also makes safe to say that the track he chose to open his Best Of Old School Black Metal compilation would be none to shabby. Going with “Winds Of The Black Gods” by Blasphemy may have seemed a bit of a curve ball to some, placed as it was next to established hordes such as Celtic Frost, Mayhem and Sarcofago but as we’ve already established: Fenriz knows what’s up. Blasphemy were formed in Barnaby British Columbia and have been spewing forth ugly, putrid, grim, war metal since 1984. That’s longer than I’ve been alive. Members have also played in such great black/death/thrash acts as Revenge, Conqueror and Domini Inferi and the band occasionally still play live. In fact they played two shows in 2009. This track is taken from their classic 1989 demo Blood Upon The Alter.
22. “Summertime Blues” – Blue Cheer
This Eddie Cochran cover was track one, side one of Blue Cheer’s debut LP, 1968’s Vincebus Eruptum. It is also considered by many to be the first heavy metal song of all time. It beats the first Zeppelin LP by almost a year, the Sabbath LP by two years and even pipped Steppenwolf’s debut LP by a month which was the first record to mention the words “heavy metal” in the lyrics of “Born To Be Wild”. Whatever though, it’s a great track by a great band. Check out any of Blue Cheer’s 70s records for lots more psychedelic, loud blues-rock that would pave the way for metal to come.
23. “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” – Bob Dylan
This decicion is another impossible one and while “Visions Of Johanna”, “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”, “Desolation Row”, “Highway 61”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” etc etc ad infinitum may all be better songs, this is simply my favourite.
24. “She Sings But Once” – Bob Tilton
Bob Tilton remain one of my favourite British bands of all time. By about 1997 I had realised that a lot of the metal that had been fed to me by Kerrang was awful and reading one of those “My Top Ten” list thingy’s by someone (to this day I can’t remember who and it irks me daily as I owe them a hell of a lot, I think it may have been Jello Biafra) I happened upon Black Flag, Minor Threat and Crass. From there I crash coursed my way through late 70s punk, early 80s hardcore and soon hit mid 80s emo. Rites Of Spring, Embrace and Dag Nasty all sounded like the greatest thing on earth when I was 16 (they still do) and discovering things like Moss Icon, Evergreen, Hoover, Navio Forge, Merel and Indian Summer was literally better than discovering drugs at around the same time. The one thing that seemed strange to me was that there were no bands in England making this music. Then I discovered Bob Tilton. The band were from Nottingham and released records on the Subjugation label all of which looked incredible and had the full blown emo buff-card, typewriter, bits of tracing paper and faded old photos thing going on and the music and lyrics were a match in my mid-teen mind to the best Fugazi had to offer. This track is taken from their debut LP, 1996’s Crescent.
25. “Stone Mountain” – Bong
Bong are from Newcastle and they play heavily down tuned doom-metal with, as the name suggests, a leaning towards the stoned end of things. This track is over 20 minutes long and it was one of the best things I heard in 2009.
26. “You Want That Picture” – Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Who’d of though that “B” would chuck up so many people who have made hundreds and hundreds of great songs? Will Oldham is another everything-he-touches-turns-to-gold guy so it was a real lottery and I just went with a favourite of mine that was under the Bonnie alias. This track is taken from the 2008 album, Lie Down In The Light which is my favourite long player of his since the Superwolf LP with Matt Sweeney. It has a nice vocal counterpoint by Ashley Webber that makes the tale the song tells strikingly poignant.
27. “Star” – The Boredoms
I kind of felt I had to include a Boredoms track because in the same way that discovering Minor Threat, Black Flag and Crass at 16 had a pretty big effect so did discovering things like Boredoms, Black Dice and Lightning Bolt a few years later. I am not even sure what you would call all of that stuff. I guess, avant-art-rock or something equally non-sensical. I don’t even like everything those bands have put out but discovering them certainly opened things up a great deal and led to lots of other things for which I have a lot to thank them for. Vision Creation Newsun is a wonderful album that if you have never heard you should go and listen to in its entirety right now.
28. “Mount The Pavement” – Born Against
Possibly my favourite punk band of all time. Born Against had it all and then some. And then Sam McPheeters on top like an angry, screaming cherry. I could bang on about their great graphics and political polemics but just listen to this track instead. It is perfect.
29. “Shivers” – The Boys Next Door
The Boys Next Door were the band before the band before Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Occasionally they sounded a lot like The Birthday Party aka the band they were about to become but this closing track from their 1979 debut LP Door, Door, which opens with the line “I’ve been contemplating sucide”, looks forward to Cave at his balladic best with The Bad Seeds.
30. “Ass Fucking Murder” – Brainbombs
The Brainbombs were formed in 1985 in a place called Hukidsvall in Sweden and have trodden an abrasive path ever since. Kind of like the Whitehouse of noise-punk they have chosen offense and total disregard for and confrontation with taboo as a medium in itself. And in that they have been hugely successful. This track is taken from their 1999 album Urge To Kill which was released by Load Records.
31. “Dunkelheit” – Burzum
A fitting way to finish. Burzum are a band more spoken about than listened to. Which is a shame because the musical project of the undoubtedly slightly unhinged Varg Vikernes is so far ahead of what now passes for black metal and equally what passed for black metal at the time it was made that The Count had and has every right to feel superior to those around him in many ways. It is difficult to describe what makes Burzum so special but hopefully a quote from my good friend Jonathan Rockwell should help clear it up so I’ll leave you with that: “it isn’t like anything else, it’s its own genre of music, it’s just Burzum”.