I Don't Hear a Single 04
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.
Full-length albums are great when they're packed with superior songs and/or in-between-song sketches that outline the plot, a flowing narrative, and a really long finale circa “The End” or “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Unfortunately most albums just aren't that sooper-dooper, especially those created for the pop market. Call me pessimistic, but my youthful hopes have been dashed time and time again by one-song squeakers like Zoot Suit Riot, Images and Words, and Cocked and Loaded.
This column is a lullaby of sorts to songs that have disappeared into the endless mix of new releases that often prevent people from looking back at long-lost, non-essential oddities like, say, Gruntruck's Push. Sure, they're not going to change your life anymore than a grape Frootie, but sometimes a grape Frootie is what one needs to flip up the flow of life. With this in mind I've once again compiled 10 tracks. Nine of these were not originally designated as singles — hence the title of the column; stay with me here dingo! — and for good reason; there's no reason to believe most of these songs could have been marketed in any way, shape or form.
And that's why they're tasty! I haven't linked any of these tracks so you'll have to find them yourself. God, isn't life hard? Geez.
“Murder Weapon,” by Hounds Of Gert-Town from Down South Hustlers, 1995
My rap listening career has been fraught with disappointment. Example 1: RBX tore shit up in The Chronic — aside from a few Public Enemy efforts the best rap album of all-time — and disappeared for years before releasing an unconvincing full length. Example 2: ODB; need I say more? Example 3: Brotha Lynch Hung scares everyone and their dog with a flesh-eatingly gory debut and proceeds to lynch his own career with a few dog-tired follow-ups. Add Hounds Of Gert-Town to that list. They released one drop-dead-fine track on Master P's fantastic inaugural Down South compliation — don't let his latter-day sins fool you, the original Mr. P used to rule ass — and quickly disappeared forever. Literally. I've never been able to find evidence that they even existed beyond said comp track, one of the best deep-south (or otherwise) tracks I've ever heard. Oh well, that's life. At least I have my “Murder Weapon,” a song so typical of the early-to-mid '90s period in rap's history it practically sags its pants with flow. It contains screaming synths, bodacious bass and, as you may have guessed, lyrics about murdering people. But it's all about the delivery; the raps of “Murder Weapon” are blessed with an unmistakeable, lisping, stuttering, sloppy cadence that instantly imprints itself on the brain. Add to that stellar production and you have a ghetto-fied winner. Much like the protagonist in “Somewhere Out There,” I find myself wondering if there are others out there wishing for more Hounds material under the same bright star...
“The Ballad” by Testament, from Practice What You Preach, 1989
It's ironic. There are dozens of hair-metal/thrash/buttt-rock bands I listened to much more as an adolescent, but I find Testament to be much more listenable as a semi-adult. Curiously, I'm not digging the trash-thrash they specialized in, but their ballads, which carried a more haunting tone than the ‘slow songs' of their peers. Any number of Testament's surprisingly sensitive goodies could have made this list (especially the stirring “Return to Serenity”), but “The Ballad” hits the number because of its preciousness. Blinking its eyes with a soft acoustic intro, the song springs into life once singer Chuck Billy joins in for a lovely verse, capped by the deliciously metal (aka vague and cliched) sentiment: My heart's feeling like a needle lost in the hay / Restrained to meet again / My friend do you think that we ever will / I know we are free. “The Ballad” eventually segues into a lame-brained — albeit enjoyable — ‘hard' section, but the impression has already been made. Testament never graduated to the upper-echelon of metal with Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax, but considering just how bastardized the once-holy trio have become, perhaps it's best that the loose-limbed quintet never lost their underground status (or their balls, credibility, big hair, etc). So would it be unrealistic to expect a Testament ballads collection in the future?
“San Diego” by Antietam, from Music from Elba, 1986
It's impossible to describe, but some eras just have that feel. You can hear a song from the period and know exactly when and where it came from, mainly taking cues from production trends of the period. The mid '80s fits that mold. The music of the time seemed to have two extremes (and yes, of course there are several notable exceptions): Either glitzy or rootsy, no in-betweens. Antietam definitely shelved themselves in the ‘rootsy' persuasion, and the first cut from Songs from Elba is a perfect representative of the band's mojo, which entailed sassy, riot-girl foreshadowing fem-vocals and clean guitar swipes reminiscent of R.E.M. and other jangly acts of the time like Guadalcanal Diary. How many times the opening riff of this track has been re-shaped, re-used and regurgitated is up for debate, and how well Antietam's recent reunion fared is anyone's guess. I prefer to enjoy this mojo-totin' track and rest on its merits.
“Tattoo,” by The Who, from The Who Sell Out, 1967
There was a time when popular music was even more quality bereft than it is now. I know, it's tough to imagine, but it's true. I found myself hopelessly frustrated with everything I was hearing and music was starting to seem like a hopeless hobby. Then I found a scuffed-up copy of The Who Sell Out, minus case, at a pawn shop for 25 cents. That was it for me; from there '60s music went from being a subject I was tired of hearing about to a phenomenon I could get behind. The track that reigned me in the hardest was “Tattoo” because all my friends had gotten tattoos except me. I'm not sure if I was reading the song's meaning correctly or not — in fact I'm positive I wasn't. But that doesn't really matter because I listened to the track enough to render its true message null, crafting a separate meaning for myself in the process. I figured the idea of proving one's ‘manliness' by getting a tattoo was being satyrized, yet at the same time the line, We went downstairs, past the barber and gymnasium / And got our arms tattooed endeared itself to me in an entirely different way because I, too, never went to the gymn or got my hair cut (Ironically, big, buzz-cut body builders and professional athletes have since ruined tattoos for everyone anyway). “Tattoo” also brings the badness with its instrumentation, which follows the moody crests of Roger Daltrey's voice so perfectly you could sense a rock-opera was on the say at some point. Unsolved Mysteries-style Update: I still never got a tatto and my friends have since added to their collections.
“Reach Out,” by Eleven, from Eleven, 1993
How in the hell did people justify lumping Eleven in with the grunge crowd anyway? What an idiotic idea. Tool's involuntary association with nu-metal notwithstanding, the whole concept of Eleven as a Nirvana/Pearl Jam acolyte still blows my mind more than any other faulty musical association. Sure, they toured with Soundgarden, but c'mon... Eleven were wayyy off the beaten grunge path, investing heavily in strangely futuristic guitar buzz and riffs that spiraled and coiled around themselves. Throw in a crazy-bitch of an organ player (sorry, she's probably not a bitch) to go with the artsy-so-it's-ok-that-he's-nerdy bald-guy frontman and you have quite a trio. Did I mention former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Jack Irons rounded the group out? Now that I have your attention, head to your local Bargain Bin and pluck this album up at once. It doesn't hold together too well but the first few tracks will be well worth your buck or twa. Especially “Reach Out,” which touts a lot of personality and more than a little low end. Check it out and get back to me! Oh, and if you mention grunge you lose a testicle...
“Don't You Fret” by The Kinks, from Kinkdom, 1965
Although Love will always be the Sixties Band That Never Got Their Due, The Kinks still get snubbed for reasons unknown when compared to the legacy of many of their peers. Maybe it's because they were so... British, or because their songs were so simple, or maybe it's because they released so much terrible music in their latter days. In any event, The Kinks belong in the Top 5 (along with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Bob Dylan) because of their vast influence, continued viability and — who woulda thought? — because they wrote boatloads of catchy-as-the-clap tunes. “Don't You Fret” is much less racuous than many of the Davies' early tunes, but it packs just as much power as “You Really Got Me” by dint of its rousing build-ups, first from verse-to-bridge and then with an instrumental crescendo that quakes and crumbles to form what is ultimately the song's chorus. The passion of the song is equally as important; Ray and the gang were obviously forced to leave their loved ones behind many times to hit the road, and that sorrow is expressed with vivid, vigorous vocals. Easy to miss amid an avalanche of great '60s material, “Don't You Fret” is a kinky gem.
“Peace to the Niggas” by Black Sheep from Non-Fiction, 1995
When Native Tongue members Black Sheep offered an ultimatum in the early '90s (“You can get wit' this, or you can get wit' that”) I chose ‘that.' Then when everyone had forgotten about them a few years later I heard a tight song on the soundtrack to the movie Trespass. Sure enough, it was the black sheep boys. Then came Non-Fiction. As an album it's really quite desultory — it almost sounds like church-boy rap to me, all innocence, no balls, with borrrring production — but one of the tracks is good enough to warrant a Black Sheep baptism. And, strangely enough, my favorite Non-Fiction song almost seemed to speak directly to me, a kid hell-bent on listening to the dirtiest, sickest rap albums possible: Yo, this is some positive shit but please don't panic / You can still rock to it so flock to it / Just open your mind, unwind, recline or pop and lock to it / Come and rock with us, all night like Michael Jackson / Leave your guns and knives at home, black, that's all I'm asking. For a dude that hadn't yet been blessed by A Tribe Called Quest's fabulously un-gangster debut, hearing “Peace to the Niggas” was an unlikely boon. They even proceed to mention a goal of holding hip-hop shows in city parks. Unrealistic as the idea seems, you gotta like their ambition. Like most of the duo's tracks, “Peace to the Niggas” is built around a traditional drum beat and a sampled loop of an unusual instrument. It's a simple aesthetic concept that strips back any distractions, allowing the lyrics to grab the chair at the head of the table. Although I didn't stick around for all of Non-Fiction's 17 offerings — conversely, I only wanted dessert over and over and over — I can say with surety that I'm glad I feasted.
“Toy Soldiers,” by Martika, from Toy Soldiers, 1989
God help me. Memories of “Toy Soldiers” still dance through my head from time to time like visions of sugarplums. PLEASE SOMEONE MAKE IT STOP!! OH GOD, OH FUCK, OH LORD PLEASE... ok, that's better! Anyway, this song was huge for awhile when I was just a wee little bastard living the white-trash life in Post Falls, Idaho, where you get beaten up if your dad isn't a logger. To kill the pain of schoolmate-harrassment I made tapes, which were composed of songs I recorded off the radio. The first one I can remember started with “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”, crested on the wings of “Invisible Touch” and peaked with a grainy recording of Martika's one-and-only hit. As a child that loved toys more than pretty much anything, any song titled “Toy Soldiers” was bound to make an impression, but this ditty went beyond that. Sweet, sweet Martika, we never knew ye... she could be talking about drug addiction, lost love, or whatever else; I don't really know and I don't give a lawyer's FUCK because a great song doesn't necessarily have to have great lyrics, especially when you're 11.
“To Sing for You” by Donovan from Catch the Wind, 1965
In the Bob Dylan biopic Don't Look Back a small party finds Dylan face to face with the troubador he's been making needling comments about through the entire film: Donovan. After a small incident involving a broken beer bottle causes a bit of a fracas (a shy and startled Donnie offers to clean it up) Donovan launches into a song. Not just any song, a song about singing songs. Its maddeningly simplistic guitar phrases and seemingly lightweight lyrics don't mean much on paper, but everyone in the room — people that have seen Dylan perform umpteen times — is transfixed by “To Sing for You,” including Bob Zimmerman himself, who can't seem to stop moving while he watches the young folkster encroach on what could be seen as Dylan's territory (don't worry; he answers back with a rousing rendition of “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue”). A lot of Donovan's work could easily get lumped into a lesser category than the more political songwriters of his time, but his ear for moving melodies and catchy choruses sets him forever apart from the flock. “To Sing for You” is just one of many reasons why Donovan deserves to be aligned with the greats.
“I Hate Myself and Want to Die,” by Nirvana, from The Beavis and Butthead Experience, 1993
Anyone that ‘didn't see Kurt Cobain's suicide coming' obviously didn't pay much attention to the frayed edges of his music. Or maybe they just didn't get the original version of Nevermind. Regardless, those that got the extra-loooooong version of Nevermind were privy to a hell-hole of screeches and unhealthy sounds when they fast-forwarded past “Something in the Way.” This tacked-on song foreshadowed the mind of an artist that dove much deeper than the relatively slick, wading-pool rock of his most popular album. In Utero subsequently made Cobain's confusing, push-and-pull persona readily available. But then came “I Hate Myself and Want to Die,” Nirvana's contribution to the Beavis and Butthead Experience album. I remember looking at the title of this track and feeling instantly sad, then hearing its amazing din and forgetting all about the unmitigated angst of the title... for a moment, at least. And how about the growling chorus and jagged shards of rock riffs? Explosive, emotional, cleansing, relapsing, fighting, losing, re-emerging, sinking back down; it all spells the beginning of the end. As with many Cobain lyrics, spelunking for an exact meaning will leave you fumbling around in the dark. Even if I could have discerned them I probably wouldn't have understood them, much like I still mostly don't understand most of Michael Stipe's (a confidante of Cobain's) writings. Besides, they're still under debate. Some say the second verse says: Think of how a castrated horse feels... others posit Think about some capsules of horse pills. But who cares? The line before is much more important: Broken heart and broken bones. At this point I'll just get out of the way of the words and suggest With the Lights Out, which contains this song and many-a Cobain gem...