Best tunes of 1993: #29 KMFDM “Light”

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Back in November, I wrote a truly nostalgic post in which I laid out my top five favourite Industrial rock tunes. It was a lot of fun to revisit a genre I hadn’t spent a lot of time with in many years  and one that represented for me a specific time and place in my life. All five of the songs were released within the period between the late 80s and early 90s, a specific span of time that I consider to be that genre’s renaissance. Number three on said list was “Juke joint jezebel” by KMFDM, a single off their 1995 album, “Nihil”. It was likely their biggest ever hit but it wasn’t my introduction to the band. No. That came two years earlier with the band’s previous record, “Angst”.

My friend Tim and I were constantly sharing music with each other back in those days. We’d record the entirety of an album on the first side of a C90 cassette and fill the other side with a seemingly random selection of other music, tunes that were tickling our particular fancy at that given moment. “Light” appeared on one of these B-side mixes at some point and it made such an impression upon my teenaged self that it wasn’t long before I was requesting the whole of “Angst” on the A-side of one these cassettes.

This album was a breakout of sorts for KMFDM, who had formed in Germany almost a decade beforehand and had already released six other albums. Their cult following grew into something more when frontman Sascha Konietzko relocated to the United States in the early 90s, bringing the project along with him and attaching themselves to the burgeoning Chicago-based Industrial rock scene and the infamous Wax Trax! Records. “Angst” was the first album recorded completely in the US and involved a lot more guitars in its sound than was present their previous work.

“Light” opens the album with a faint whir, which builds in volume to an explosion of chainsaw guitars. It isn’t the thrash speeds that are heard elsewhere on “Angst”, more mid-weight heavy, restrained for mass coverage, as the song’s title suggests. Nevertheless, “Light” rocks. It never lets up for its six minute duration. A mix of relentless drum machine beats, layers upon layers of guitars and synth darkness. Frontman Konietzko, in his almost self-parodying, militant, German monster growl, lays such lyrical gems on us as: “Deify data, hard but true, Godlike nonsense being thrown at you” and “Take a good plunge and out from the masses, bend over backwards and kick some asses”. Meanwhile, Dutch vocalist Dorona Alberti adds some noir fun with backing vocal interjections, call-and-response-like at the chorus lines.

On the dance floor, “Light” is pure joy, the message and angst secondary to the moment, and at its ending, leaves you completely out of breath and ready for a new beer to refuel.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.


Best tunes of 2002: #6 Sam Roberts “Don’t walk away, Eileen”

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Do you have a song from your youth that you detest? And I’m not thinking because it was a bad tune or anything but that its sole offence was that it used your name in its title or lyrics and became fodder for use in teasing by your peers.

Yeah? Me too.

Mine came by way of El Debarge’s “Who’s Johnny?” that featured prominently in the 80s film “Short circuit”, another source of teasing (“Johnny five is alive!” Kids are so weird). I also got a lot of “Johnny B. Goode”, which I minded quite a bit less, because, well, that song rocks. And then, in university, I was introduced to a song by Madder Rose called “Beautiful John” that… okay… nobody really used that one to tease me…

Then, there’s the case of a friend of my wife’s and mine who had to grow up with people singing words to a certain hit Dexy’s Midnight Runners song, to the point that she couldn’t abide the tune. We were laughing about this very subject one night over dinner and the physical reaction she had at the mere mention of “Come on, Eileen” was hilarious to behold. But when I asked if she felt the same way about Sam Roberts’ hit tune “Don’t walk away Eileen”, her response was: “No! I love that song!” And she immediately started singing the song and drumming her hands on the table.

I don’t disagree with our friend Eileen’s assessment of the song at all. It was released as the second single off Sam Roberts’ debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and is the second song from it to feature on this very list. Not bad at all for a release that only has six songs in total and one whose artist wondered whether the EP was a good idea for his first foray into music. It is basically a reinterpretation of half the demo tracks he put together to generate industry interest and well, the EP generated a huge buzz on Canadian radio. Then, a bunch of these tracks also appeared on Roberts’ debut long player, “We were born in a flame”, that was released the following year after he signed to Sony Music.

“Don’t walk away Eileen” is a thorough banging and crashing away at drums and guitars, a general racket, really, and Roberts seems less concerned about carrying a tune than emoting the feeling of anger and passion. It is punk without the trappings of being punk. It is a fun tune that many can identify with, a universal kick at a troubled or troubling love interest, a song to scream along with at the top of your lungs, whether in your car, in your room, in a bar drinking with friends, or in the middle of a crowd at a concert.

Yeah, it’s fun. I’m not quite sure it mitigates all those years of “Come on, Eileen” for our friend though.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.


100 best covers: #60 Gnarls Barkley “Gone daddy gone”

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I’m sure that all of you recall a little ditty called “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. I distinctly remember seeing the video for it for the first time late one Friday night in 2006 on The Wedge and being drawn in and mesmerized by the Rorschach style ink blots that formed and re-formed images of the performers and such. And man, was that song catchy. I immediately went on the hunt for the album on which it appeared, “St. Elsewhere”, and learned that Gnarls Barkley was the duo of R&B wonder vocalist CeeLo Green and Midas touch uberproducer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse). Of course, “Crazy” went ubiquitous and intergalactic as a hit but the rest of the album was quite excellent too – a compelling collection of genre-bending and genre-defying tracks – and produced two more singles, the last being the double A-side release of “Who cares?” and this very song, a cover of Violent Femmes’ “Gone daddy gone”*

Now, to close these posts, I typically give my opinion (and solicit your own) on whether I prefer the original or the cover but I am going to get this out of the way right now. Though the cover is quite excellent, I am going with the original here. It appears as track nine on the iconic self-titled debut album by the Milwaukee based trio. It is just over three minutes of punk and folk mashup and with a jazz-type song structure, including not one but two xylophone solos performed by bassist Brian Ritchie. In fact, I love how each performer takes their turn in the solo spotlight in such a short barn-burner and no one misses a beat.

It is amazing though and a testament to the range of music influences that surged through “St. Elsewhere” that CeeLo and Brian chose to cover a lesser known Violent Femmes tune from over thirty years prior and did so, faithfully. The cover is thirty seconds shorter and using digital sounds rather than organic instruments, managed to even speed it up some. It introduced a whole new audience to a great track and like many successful covers, the new audience fell for it, not necessarily even aware of its origins. And man, does that CeeLo have a voice!



The original:

*Interestingly, Violent Femmes’ original is also a cover of sorts, including a complete lyrical verse of Willie Dixon‘s “I just want to make love to you”. Hence, the shared writing credit.

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.