I Don't Hear a Single 05
Track-surfing the old-fashioned way
I've always been suspicious of singles, not to mention A&R men; I don't like to be told what to listen to, and I've always found the release of singles in itself to be a redundant way to peddle one's audio wares. With that in mind, I present I Don't Hear a Single: a round-up of non-single tunes that were either (a) too long to be a single, (b) too good to be a single, (c) too obscure/unreleased to be considered for single status, or (d) too jarring in one way or another to be singled out for mass consumption. Let's F-ing do this.
A full-length album can be a truly beautiful thing, as Starsailor, Revolver, and Person Pitch can attest. A full-lenth album, however, can also be a truly boring, indulgent, downright shitty thing. I can't count how many records I've purchased in my life that just didn't have anything to offer other than one or two tracks. Every once in a while additional listens reveal something extra, but just as often I've been duped into buying crap. Crap like, for instance, Morcheeba's Charango, on which “What New York Couples Fight About” is the only song that doesn't make me want to carry a loaded, semi-automatic weapon into a stuffy coffeehouse open-mic night and spray bullets everywhere.
When I think about all the money I've wasted on bands like Relative Ash, I just want to stick my head in Courtney Love's crapper and end it all. Then I realized one day that I can purloin these isolated gems for a column. Now that I've put together four entries, I think the half-decade installment of I Don't Hear a Single is gonna be the best one yet! Not sure why I feel that way; it's just something a man knows. Yew can betcher britches I'm'a impress the hell outta yew with my latest laundry list o' glittery songs, so let's get right to it, shall we? But just so you know: only one of these nine tunes was designated as a proper single (hence the name of the column, HELLO). I am writing about them because I've found them to be strangely noteworthy for one reason or another, sort of like Wonder Years, the career of Gerard Depardeau, dulce de leche, grape-flavored Frooties, and Ed Wood movies. Hey, look, don't judge me ok?
“Never a Know, But the No” by Forced Entry, from As Above So Below, 1991
I go to Ryan Leaf's house after school to listen to this new music he keeps telling me about, which he says will become really popular soon. He plays me Ministry's music video for “N.W.O.,” Pearl Jam's Ten and Bad Religion's All Ages. Then he gets all quiet and serious, arching his eyebrows and looking around suspiciously as if the Patriot Act had already been passed. He takes me to his room and reaches behind a TV stand, pulling out a green CD with a large purple font. “I don't show this band to people because every time I tell people about a band they get too popular,” he says reverently, as if he controls the waxes and wanes of the music industry by way of his likes and dislikes. Although I find myself a bit resentful of his righteousness, he does control the listening habits of half the school, and he's chosen to confide in me. Feeling privileged, I listen intently to what he wants to show me. When he finally plays his prized CD I almost start laughing out loud. “What the fuzz is this?” I think to myself, wondering if the guy that hipped me to Alice In Chains' Sap and Hater had lost his touch. The album? As Above So Below. The band? Forced Entry, from Mountlake Terrace, Washington. As I mentioned, I hate the first few songs, but then “Never a Know, But the No” comes along at slot number four and changes my view. Adhering to the rules of metal, which stipulate that the fourth song of every album be the ‘slow' one, “Never a Know” births the first acoustic guitars of the album before seguing into some hot metal riffage. Then singer Tony Benjamin yells, I hear you laughing in your head when you are right and I am wrong / degradation never ceased / I've suffered so long and I am converted because, like any teenager living in a Golden Era, I had faced tons of, smirk, “degradation.” Forced Entry never became popular — perhaps because Ryan never told anyone else about them? — but they hold a sturdy spot in my <3 of <3s (oh jesus, did I just do that?). Ryan, who would end up becoming the biggest fan of Ben Harper the world has ever seen, showed me Sepultura's Arise and White Zombie's La Sexorcisto a few months later ... and they both became staples of my young life -- and popular! -- soon after. Which brings up the question: Can one man control who gets big and who doesn't? In retrospect, I'd have to say ... YES.
“You Don't Own Me” by Leslie Gore, from Songs of Mixed-Up Hearts, 1963
I allow myself to indulge in one proper single per edition of this column, and “You Don't Own Me” is the pick this time around for one reason: when compared to the rest of Leslie Gore's bubble-wrap songs, it doesn't pop; it definitely doesn't have all the traditional trappings of a tepid 1963 single jingle; and it's certainly worlds apart from Gore's previous album, Boys, Boys, Boys. For one, it's verse is much more haunting than the average girl-group pinky-ring romance number. You could even call it one of the first rock songs with a feminist bent, Gore playing the role of the seemingly easy-going girl that puts the mother-fuckin' smack down when you try to score some panty off her at Makeout Point. “I'm not just one of your little toys,” she sneers as she repeatedly deflects your advances. And you wonder: Isn't this the girl that cried over me at that party last week, 'cause she wanted to and it was her party? Then when you try to lock her up with a promise ring she brings out the big guns: “You don't own me; don't say I can't go with other boys.” While she's breaking your glass-jaw teenage heart, she figures she might as well let you know how the women of the late '60s are gonna play things, too: “Don't tell me what to do / don't tell me what to say / and when I go out with you / don't put me on display.” SNAP. The grease-coifed Fonzes of the world complain about how their sweet, agreeable little late '50s pieces of arm candy don't answer to them anymore. Gore goes back to pap (“Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows”), but the seeds have already been planted; The Ronettes and Shangri Las subsequently take girl-group rock to darker placers, after which Nancy Sinatra provides the knockout right to Gore's sturdy southpaw with “These Boots are Made For Walkin'.” Overly patriarchal men are still reeling ...
“Star Me Kitten,” by R.E.M., from Automatic for the People, 1992
Driving through the Grand Tetons in the midst of a trip from Colorado to Washington, I notice that the giant stone walls surrounding the area cause a strange, warm-fuzzy feeling to pulse through my head. Mike Stipe is talking to me: You, me — we used to be on fire, he says. I flash back to all the craziness I'd left behind in Colorado (where I'd just tripped on acid, for the last time as it turns out, partly because I saw a horrifying dog the size of Sesame Street's Barkley — leash-led by a teeny-tiny old man, no less — on the side of a mountain road) and Florida (where my bright-eyed, naive sensibilities left me open to a million scams, put-ons, hilarious-but-strange offers from pimps, and threats), hoping that the years ahead would finally offer experiences I could put in a scrapbook someday. As the song sways and the mountains allow me entrance into their vast glory I feel as though I might weep, but the power of the moment is too momentous for tears. I let the vibrations course through me like an electric current and realize that I am exactly where I need to be at this point in time. I pull over to the side of the road and stand in silence, leaning up against my car, taking in the vast climes of the area. Stipe's sullen words, despite their cryptic meaning, interact in my head like pink bubbles in Dumbo's drunken hiccup sequence. You are wild and I'm in your possession / Nothing's free / so fuck me kitten / I'm in your possesion / So, fuck me kitten ... I get back in the car and aim my Honda down the road once again, wondering why I'd never listened to “Star Me Kitten” before, realizing that “Man on the Moon” doesn't hold a candle to it; realizing, in fact, that few songs I'd ever heard sounded so intimately personal, so aimed straight at my soul, which wasn't too rubbery to absorb its luster. I decided from then on that things were going to get better for me ...
“Forming” by The Germs, from GI, 1979
I hate to admit it, but Red Hot Chili Peppers are not only a band I enjoy, but also a band that have contributed to my interest in punk. After reading a Spin article wherein Flea and Kiedis mentioned being huge fans of The Germs, I took a chance and purchased an anthology of the legendary late '70s pre-crust act. What I found was partly ‘legendary,' partly legendarily crappy, but “Forming,” along with a few other selections, really laid the punk aesthetic out for me in no uncertain terms: loud, cathartic, sloppy, basic, sneer-inducing, and, most importantly, insanely proficient in the school of I Don't Give a Fuck-All. The Germs literally sounded like a junior high ensemble, barely making it through the most basic of chord changes and hiccup-ing in and out of meter worse than The Shaggs. But something about it makes sense, and that ‘something' has been eternally hard to find for the bands still attempting to make the punk attitude and sound their own. Darby Crash, best known for his on-stage antics, also seemed to have more to say than meets the eye, prattling on about the president in his “big White House” and the Queen right before he proclaims himself an emperor, stating, Us the masters / we rule the game. While they're not my favorite punk band by a longshot, you have to admire Crash's strict adherance to the rock 'n' roll ethos; he died of a heroin overdose at age 22. Cool, right kids? And don't forget Germs guitarist Pat Smear went on to play second guitar with Nirvana; but please DO forget that The Germs reunited with actor Shane West replacing Crash last year ...
“She Watch Channel Zero” by Public Enemy, from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold it Back, 1988
I was accused of being a ‘wigger' for many reasons in seventh grade; tantamount to these taunts was my undying affection for Public Enemy, a group that, because of their whitey slandering and Power to the People politics, were out of the average Spokane citizen's grasp in just about every way. Appropriately, I couldn't get enough of them after renting a cassette of It Takes a Nation... from my local library. I had three different PE t-shirts and looked up to Flavor Flav like a father figure — strange as it sounds in lieu of his disgraceful (and yes, entertaining) forays into reality TV, Flav used to command attention like a superball-sized rock in a crackhouse. The track from It Takes a Nation that hooked me was “She Watch Channel Zero” for one reason and one reason alone: because it sampled a Slayer riff. But not just any Slayer riff; the one from the bridge of “Angel of Death.” For all the credit Faith No More, Run DMC and Anthrax get for bridging hip-hop and metal, Chuck D — who told me a few years ago after a college lecture that the Slayer sample was his idea, not Terminator X's — and Public Enemy, to me, came up with the most natural-sounding mix of the two mediums on their own. And the lyrics, about a woman that watches too many soap operas and ends up lost in a pretend world (lightweight subject matter for PE), were easy to relate to, as many of my friends' moms were practically hypnotized by the plots of Days of Our Lives. But nothing matched the hilarious interjections of Flavor, who sounds majorly perturbed, so much so that he almost stutters, Look, nobody look like that ... no- ... nobody even look like that, you know what I'm sayin'? Then he tells the protagonist to stop watching soaps — which he's going to put on a “rope” — because he's got the Tyson fight on, know what I'm sayin'? Ahhh, classic ... little did we know Flav would become a soap opera star of sorts in ten short years.
“Space Odyssey” by The Byrds from Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968
Bowie enjoyed his first blockbuster hit with a similarly titled song, but I'll take The Byrds' ode to time and space any day. One of the most outwardly — some might even say calculatedly — psychedelic tunes you're likely to hear from any era, “Odyssey” is slow, deep, somewhat ominous, and the musicians' dedication to the material is admirable, no small feat for a band that was ready to splinter at any moment. And splinter they did — the group were reduced to two members when Notorious Byrd Brothers was finally released on Jan. 3, 1968. On an album blessed with Kentucky-fried country-rock gems like “Wasn't Born to Follow” and anti-war musings such as “Draft Morning,” this track is so out of place it begs to be tacked on the end of the record. Luckily it's worth the wait, considering its forward-looking atmosphere and context (it's a retelling of “The Sentinel,” a short story by Arthur C. Clarke that is considered a prime influence of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey). The Byrds were allegedly hoping their trip-to-the-moon tune would land on the soundtrack to said film, but it didn't, and just as well; it makes it all the more pleasant to discover this buried in NBB's tracklisting. Those who see The Byrds as a jingle-jangle-happy folk-rock cover band or a country-rock monolith (as Sweetheart of the Rodeo attests) are only getting a partial view of one of the most influential bands of all time.
“Shoot the Preacher Down” by Bulletboys, from Bulletboys, 1988
Oh man, what a thrill Bulletboys were for a young, taut, Swedish Mormon boy (ok ok, I'm not Swedish, I just like Swedish Fish). Not that I knew anything about what they were referencing in their songs. In fact, a buddy of my dad's was over once and even HE claimed to not understand the underlying meaning of “Smooth Up in Ya,” to which my dad replied (turning to my mom explanatorily), “Well if he doesn't get it ...” And my daddy was right all along! I had no idea what “Smooth Up in Ya” meant; singer Marc Torien could have been shrieking about gutting a fish or taking someone's temperature with an old-school suppository-style thermometer and I would have been none the wiser. Luckily, Bulletboys did write one song I could not only understand but relate to: “Shoot the Preacher Down.” Not only that, but it's a bitchin' camaro of a track that puts the leather-pants sexuality of the band in the backseat for some good-time, rollicking rock 'n' roll in the tradition of Motley Crue's cover of “Jailhouse Rock.” Not that I actually wanted to instigate violence against religious folks; more like, I just wanted to taunt them a little bit, which Bulletboys did: Me and the men watchin' late night TV / Saw a scary man came up to me / And said hey man / And take my hand / Looky here / I said no, no, no mister please / You can't bring a bad boy to his knees / Got a subtle way to save it out of charm / SHOOT THE PREACHER DOOOOWN!!! And when I capitalize the preceding line it's because I can't think of a better way to relate the intensity of Torien's scream to you. Just know that walking around in tight leathers all day tend to help a guy reach the screechiest high notes possible.
“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” by Bob Dylan, from The Times They Are A-Changin', 1964
For a song entrenched at slot number nine on a 10-track record, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” was a ubiquitous presence for Bobby Z, turning up in several different forms on subsequent live releases. There's the fast-forward folk version from the documentary film Don't Look Back, my personal favorite. Then there's the slowed-down, shout-y version from The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6. Then there's the straight-up bad-ayse version found on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 5, which finds Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue delivering a street-savvy hipster take on the song with a bodacious bass line bobbing along underneath the huge ensemble cast of musicians. Strangely, each version of the song sounds definitive and natural; Dylan's work is known for being flexible, but rarely did his straight-up, non-single, topical ‘protest' — a tag he voraciously, smirk, protested— songs see so many apt rebirths, to the point where the original studio version sounds almost ... boring. “The Lonesome Death” is also a premium example of taking a strict subject matter, the retelling of a crime for which its perpetrator served but a “six-month sentence,” and making it sound worlds apart from typically academic songwriting that strains to fit every story detail into tight verses and choruses. The words don't sound like they were forced to fit the confines of a musical composition. Conversely, it almost seems as if Dylan wrote the music to fit the words. If only today's songwriters possessed this brand of cunning ... (and if you just muttered ‘Connor Oberst,' you lose a testicle).
“Orion” by Metallica from Master of Puppets, 1986
After “Pulling Teeth” and “The Call of Ktulu,” I knew Metallica could pull off amazing instrumental sessions that, for me, were the highlights of their respective albums. Master of Puppets floored me from start to finish, but “Orion,” all eight minutes of it, is the only track I've continued to revisit since first hearing it at age 12, searching for it anxiously on dive-bar jukeboxes for several reasons. First off, because it's loooong as hell, thus providing more bang for my jukebox-quarter buck. Second, it's multifaceted and beautiful when it should be and dagger-plunging when it absolutely has to be. Third, its mid-section bass solo is one of Cliff Burton's flagship moments as a four-string innovator, and when those since-Judas'd guys (Hammett and Hetfield) join in things and get all neo-classical on that ass, the trio ducking and dodging around each others' leads like pro swing dancers or figure skaters. Sure, there are a few awkward transitions — the hallmark of any lengthy instrumental jam before post-rock came along — and it's tough to even talk about Metallica these days without, you know, feeling weird. But hey, “Orion” — whose pronunciation caused umpteen debates among my astronomy-ignorant friends and I — doesn't have any words, and most people don't even recognize it, saving you the tired “I used to like them before ____” speech, which is about as original and worthy of discussion as a Backstreet Boys tirade no matter how true it is for those of us reared on metal.