Tag Archives: sex pistols

Song of the Day: “Problems” – The Sex Pistols

“You don’t do what you want.
Then you’ll fade away.”

To me, that is the key line in the Sex Pistols’ “Problems”. Here Johnny Rotten sends a heat seeking missile at his critics. He knows a good chunk of them have given up their dreams and settled down with their lives, with perhaps nothing to show for it when they die. You won’t find me working nine to five,” He spits out with venom.  “It’s too much fun being alive!”

“Problems” is probably my favorite track off of Nevermind the Bullocks, in part because of how the band sounds. The myth about The Sex Pistols is that they couldn’t play. “Problems” find the group locking in together and firing all on cylinders. Paul Cook’s anarchic drum rolls and cymbal crashing are a perfect for Rotten’s rants. Steve Jones’ gives one of his best riffs: a muscular juggernaut that hits hard and pummels you over the head.

The opening section tells you right from the start, the band isn’t fucking around. Cook and Jones lock in together for a wild crash that is the sonic equivalent of a fist fight. Rotten is clearly having a blast her: Telling people off is his favorite past-time, and if you have an issue with it, he knows you probably won’t do anything back. “Whatcha gonna do?!” He demands, knowing full well the answer.

Album of the Week: “Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols”

Johnny Rotten turns 56 today, which would have put him around 20 or 21 around the time Nevermind the Bollocks was recorded. Much of the album’s lyrics are confrontational in nature, which makes sense considering these were young men intent on attacking everything around them. But Rotten’s lyrics also are intelligent social critiques of what was taking place in England at the time of the album’s release, which in a way makes him also wise beyond his years. The problem wasn’t just the Monarch, “the problem is you” as Rotten observed in “Problems”.

Like Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, and Nirvana’s Nevermind, Nevermind the Bollocks isn’t just an album or a mere collection of songs. It’s also a dividing line and a crossroad. To say music and culture were completely different after its release is a bit of an understatement. Youth culture was changing at an accelerated rate (especially in England) and musically rock and roll had become stagnant and overblown.  The older bands that were once rebellious seemed archaic.  Every single song on Nevermind the Bollocks was designed and played like the world around the band was coming apart. The music was chaotic and wild.  Steve Jones’ muscular riffs cast a line through both cultural and musical lines.  Long-winded solos and multi-suite songs seemed obsolete with the opening chords of “Holidays in the Sun”. Johnny Rotten sang every single line, as it was a heat-seeking missile directed at the heart of the English establishment. “God save the queen, she ain’t no human being,” wouldn’t have sounded so sinister if anybody else but Rotten sang it.

For all of their bravado and social critiques though, Nevermind the Bollocks is full of paranoia and even a descent into madness. On “Holidays in the Sun”, Rotten talks about going on the Berlin Wall, but sounds absolutely scared of it and his possessed spewing of the lyrics confirms this.  “Please don’t be waiting for me!” He screams at the end of the song as it to suggest that even he doesn’t know the outcome.  Then there’s “Bodies”, where he condemns a young woman named Pauline for having an abortion, before actually imagining himself as the aborted fetus crying out for help.  If you can write a song that twisted no wonder that throughout Bullocks, Rotten claims to have no feelings for anybody else but himself, declares to be an anti-Christ and wants to be the embodiment of anarchy itself.  With this going on, there’s little doubt that Nevermind the Bullocks is one of the most controversial albums ever put to print.

Despite everything, Nevermind the Bollocks wouldn’t have achieved its legendary status if the music itself weren’t great. The myth about the Sex Pistols is that they couldn’t play. Anybody who suggests that probably hasn’t heard the entire album.  Each song is layered with walls of Steve Jones’ monstrous riffs and blistering solos.  Without Jones’ playing, Rotten would seem like a whiney kid. Paul Cook’s drumming is forceful and pounding – giving the songs extra weight and energy.

In a way, I feel that Nevermind the Bollocks has spoiled me on punk rock. Because it’s so good, everything else in the genre seems to pale in comparison.  I’ll listen to a punk-record and think, “Damn I’d just rather listen to the Sex Pistols.” Even the Clash’s debut (while very good in and of itself) doesn’t connect the same way.  It would take them another two years for them to make a complete masterpiece (London Calling) and that really wasn’t even a punk album. The Sex Pistols could have only existed in that particular era, and even though they themselves saw no future, Nevermind the Bollocks still remains relevant as ever.

Album of the Week: “Empty Glass” – Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend has never been one to run away from the big questions. The early Who albums and singles dealt with a sense of teenage identity. Even the loudest and fiercest Who songs sought out a spirituality and longing that was absent from much of the band’s contemporaries.

For his first “proper” solo album Empty Glass released in 1980 (an album of demos entitled Who Came First came out in 1972), Townshend doesn’t shy away from anything. Whether it’s the press (“Anyone can have an opinion, anyone can join in and jump” from “Jools and Jim”), his battles with sobriety (“My life’s a mess, I wait for you to pass, I stand here at the bar, I hold an empty glass”) or divine intervention – the generally misunderstood “Let My Love Open the Door.”  Freed from churning out a specific type of song for The Who (and to an extent the band’s audience), Townshend is at his most personal and wounded.

“Why was I born to today?” he asks on the title song.  Answering his own question, Townshend cites the Bible as the source of his misery: “Life is useless like Ecclesiastes say.”  To say that Townshend was at a low point in life around 1980, would be a bit of an understatement. Keith Moon, his partner in crime died less than two years before, and the following year, 9 people were trampled to death during a Who concert in Cincinnati. And this isn’t even mentioning his marital and substance abuse problems.

To Townshend’s credit, the music on the album is hardly depressing given the subject matter. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the most aggressive music he recorded since Quadrophenia which was released seven years later.  “Rough Boys”, “Jools and Jim”, “Cat’s in the Cupboard” and “Gonna Get Ya” all rock as hard as anything the Who recorded.  Ironically, it’s Moon’s replacement Kenney Jones who gives these songs the burst of energy which pushes the songs.

Townshend was one of the few “classic rockers” invigorated by new-wave and punk movement (the album is dedicated to the Sex Pistols as well as his wife and kids), and it certainly shows.  Only “Cats in the Cupboard” meanders slightly (though it does show that Townshend is still the master of the power chord), but the rest of the songs are punchy and direct. “Rough Boys” contains some of his fastest playing, while “I Am Animal” showcases how good of an acoustic player he is.

Empty Glass is probably best known for “Let My Love Open the Door”, but if you’re a fan of an album where an artist has an inward gaze than it’s as good as Plastic Ono Band or In Utero.

 

 

 

Why the 2012 Rock Hall Class is Deserving But Least Interesting

For the past 10 years I used to get excited when artists I love would get nominated.  Over the past 10 years we’ve seen The Stooges, Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, R.E.M., Blondie, U2, Elvis Costello and The Clash (just to name a few) all make their way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. For me, we’re getting to the point where the list of really interesting people inducted into the rock and hall of fame is starting to wane. There are always a few people who should have inducted long before they actually were, such as included Darlene Love, Tom Waits, and Leon Russell from last year’s class; and this year there’s Laura Nyro.  But if we’re going to stick to the 25 years since the first official release, the list is going to start to get boring really quick.  This isn’t to say that the Beastie Boys, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Faces/Small Faces, Donovan and Guns N’ Roses aren’t worthy of being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but with the exception of the Chili Peppers I never really listened to any of these artists extensively – I just started to check out The Faces so forgive me for that one. I think in order to understand the artists for this class, you had to have lived through it.  I say this because I can understand their importance in the overall arc of rock and roll.  The Beastie Boys deserve their spot in the history of rock and hip-hop. White guys could never make it as rappers before them, and their use of sampling on Paul’s Boutique was major influence on hip-hop in general. But the songs from Ill Communication sound dated – “Fight for Your Right” and even misogynistic “Paul Revere”.  Even the songs that I do like from their 90s output are so tied to the decade that it makes it harder to appreciate on a broader level. Perhaps I was to young to appreciate Guns N’ Roses and the reaction that Appetite for Destruction had. I have since heard that album many times in subsequent years (never by my own choice) and almost every single song seems stuck in 1987; the exception being “Sweet Child O’ Mine”.  And even the most ardent supporters of Guns N’ Roses admit that Appetite is their best album. It remains to be seen whether Axl will re-unite with his original band or use the “hired guns” he’s currently using as Guns N’ Roses. As far as Donovan goes, my own frame of reference for him is from Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back and “Mellow Yellow”.  It’s a bit shallow, I know. As most of my favorite artists are either in the Hall of Fame already (or have only released debut albums in the last 10 years) the next few years of inductees might be kind of boring.

Kick Out the Jams

 

 

Found this video recently, and in my mind its shows everything that is awesome and strange about The MC5. To say the least, they were definitely a band that existed in their own world in the late 60s. With the exception of fellow Detroit-ians, The Stooges no one was playing music as aggressive as this.

A friend of mine once suggested that the world wasn’t ready for The MC5. If you look closely at the faces of the some people in the crowd there’s a sense of shock there. It’s also amusing to see how the band looks – they still look like hippies but are playing something that is more akin to the Sex Pistols than say, Creedence Clearwater Revival or the Grateful Dead.  Singer Rob Tyner also looks like a pissed off Art Garfunkel with his huge afro.

You can see the beginnings of punk in this video – as the band pushes itself to its limit and test their audience. Of course that musical revolution wouldn’t happen for another five or six years.

Check out the video, and kick out the jams, motherfucker.

Proto-Punk? Yes. Post-Punk? Yes. Punk? Eh, Not So Much

When I was a teenager I discovered The Clash and with them, punk-rock. There was a certain immediacy and urgency that appealed to my teenage self. Everything was vast, loud and angry. Even if I didn’t exactly understand what they were referring to (this was the case for many Clash songs in my younger years) it didn’t matter. It was exciting and visceral.

Sometime later, a friend of mine took me to an Anti-Flag show about ten years ago, and I found the whole experience completely boring. Sure, the songs were played at break-beck speed, but they mostly stuck to their studio incarnations and seemed lackluster. I also didn’t enjoy being shoved every which way as the kids around mossed themselves in oblivion. I couldn’t understand why no one paying attention to the band – they only seemed intent on bashing each other.

Punk-rock it seemed, didn’t fit my personality after-all.

This isn’t to say that I totally dislike punk. I still rate both The Sex Pistols and The Clash among some of my favorite groups. The Clash and Nevermind the Bullocks are some of the most exciting and classic albums of rock and roll. It seems to me that no matter how hard any punk has tried subsequently they’ve never been able to better those two albums. There’s a reason why The Sex Pistols imploded, and the Clash moved on embracing other musical styles. The standard three-chord attack of punk only offers so much for a song.

I however, have a huge fondness for proto-punk and post-punk. Readers of this blog will surely know my affinity for Iggy Pop and The Stooge and of course, the Velvet Underground. The blue-print for punk was more or less created with these artists. As the 60s closed and the 70s began, mainstream rock became a little stagnant with the advent of prog-rock, bands whose names sounded more like law-firms, and other bands who took their names from cities and other locations.

In come The Stooges with their abrasive sound and Iggy’s legendary antics. It should also be noted that their first album also updated early rock and roll, giving it a more aggressive and wild sound complete with tightly controlled feed-back solos. Iggy seemed to be attack the “golden god” singers of the era when he declared, “Your pretty face is going to hell!”  Both the Stooges and The Velvet Underground’s proved that any one could make rock and roll. You didn’t have to be an expert or a virtuoso to get attention.

Punk of course, took that philosophy to the extreme. Naturally, the next groups of artists to emerge would combine punk’s do it yourself freedom, but not completely sticking to its three-chord ethos. Elvis Costello wasn’t strictly a punk-rocker at the beginning, but his first two albums – My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model – combined punk’s punchiness with a songwriter’s mentality. He also looked and acted like Buddy Holly who could punch you in the face and have no trouble stealing your girlfriend in the process. The Police managed infused their punk with tinges of reggae and in the process became one of the world’s biggest bands. The Talking Heads took avant-garde to a mass audience without ever forgetting their roots as a bar-band in CBGBS.

There are dozens of more bands I could list as favorites who were influenced by punk’s attitude, but not so much its sound. For me, punk has always been about freedom and too often a lot of “punk” bands seem stuck in one mode.

 

The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 9. Green Day

In the summer of 2004, I read an article that was previewing what would become American Idiot. It stated that Green Day were working on a rock opera about the state of the nation.  One song, the article said, was about 10 minutes long and would contain multiple sections.  At the time, it seemed quite ridiculous.  Green Day, was after all a band that sang about masturbating and smoking weed.  And who knows, maybethey sang about doing both of those activities at the same time.  Green Day were a good band, a fun band.   Billie Joe Armstrong might have borrowed Joe Strummer’s snarl (and occasionally the accent), St. Joe he was not.  During a drunken night, I told one of my friends about the alleged 10 minute song I read about in the article.  “Shut the fuck up, Matt,” He told me with a bit of disdain.  “Next, ever speak of this again.”  Afterall, who would want to listen to Green Day’s thought on the state of the nation?

As it turned out, Green Day would prove the skeptics wrong. American Idiot, would end up becoming one of the defining albums of the era in part because many of its song were protests against the War In Iraq.  While there plenty of artists making statements and complaining about the war, they seemed to be few and far between.  And it wasn’t just the Dixie Chicks who got some shit.  Dozens of fans walked on  a Pearl Jam concert in 2003 when Eddie Vedder sang the anti-Bush song, “Bushleaguer”.  If artists were speaking out against the war, they certainly weren’t doing it on the radio.  Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief didn’t receive much play, Neil Young’s Greendale only spoke to his devoted fans, and Conor Oberst was too much of a niche artist at the time to make any impact.  But when “American Idiot” came blaring on the radio in the summer of 2004, it suddenly became clear that Green Day were no longer trying to be The Clash.  They were The Clash for this generation.  When Armstrong suggested that ” Everybody do the propaganda and sing along to the age of paranoia” it was a rallying cry to wake people up.  And if the lyrics didn’t cover that ground, the sonic assault of the song was just as arresting.

While many of the songs are a protest agains the War in Iraq, making no pretense about the band’s stance, it’s also much more than that.   In a decade where everything seemed to teeter out of control from every direction.  “Hey can you hear the hysteria?” Armstrong asks. But then he takes it one step further – “The subliminal mind-fuck, America.”   Somehow Green Day managed to tap into the cultural zeitgeist – a fusion of anger and disillusionment.  It was an era where many seemed destined to “fall in love or fall in debt” .

Of course, Armstrong’s instincts and intentions would mean as much if the songs on American Idiot weren’t good.  The aforementioned 10 minute song, “Jesus of Suburbia” combined punk and elements of prog-rock.  Amazingly the 5 pieces of the songs fit together perfectly, and the result became of the band’s best songs.  “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” with that weird feed-back loop managed to be the successful song on the album.  The band managed to cover a lot of ground, without missing a step.  The lyrics may have the focal point of the album, but their content also never got in the way of a good rock song.  Which American Idiot was full off.

American Idiot brought back some of the spirit of the 60s and 70s – when music actually meant something, that it could be a catalyst for change.  If a group that previously known for being dumbass stoners ends up releasing the album that best sums up what it was like to live in the mid 2000s, I’m not sure whether Green Day deserve even more credit than they already have, or if I should point a shameful finger at others for not stepping up.

(And for those who might suggest I’m only basing this off of one album, The Sex Pistols only had one album as well.)