Top five tunes: The Specials

(We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming today with a special guest post from our good friend Andrew Rodriguez, who was perhaps inspired to write some words by the recent news of Terry Hall’s death. We will return to our end of the year Best Albums countdown on the morrow. Enjoy.)

I met Todd Burnham in 1986. He was an “Old Boy” from the Boarding School I attended for a few years. In fact he was partially responsible for me being sent there in the first place, our fathers were friends, and Mr B had told my father about how ‘impressed’ he was with the school. What impressed me about Burnham most however, was his style. He was a Rude Boy. And he dressed like nothing I had ever seen. 2 Tone Dr Marten brogues, rolled up jeans, Fred Perry, Stingy Brim and a jacket covered in patches. “What is Ska?” I asked. “It’s early reggae – it’s faster tempo”. I cooly memorised all the names of the bands displayed on his jacket and made a note to seek out what albums I could, when I got to go home. The largest of the patches had a checkerboard theme and said simply ‘THE SPECIALS’.

About a year later I bought my first Specials album, with my allowance. It was called More Specials – their second album, though I didn’t know that at the time. From the first needle drop, I was very much hooked. A danceable mixture of styles and themes, characterised by a sort of (my term) pragmatic moodiness.

They formed around 1977 in Coventry England, from a band called the Coventry Automatics. They were key figures in the “2 Tone movement”, also called “second wave ska”, which was based around the 2 Tone record label (created by Jerry Dammers – their Organist). There were several other notable bands on that label but I won’t discuss them here. If you choose to look further into the Specials (you should), do not be confused by the names. Early on they went by the name “Special AKA”, and variations thereof. That name was also used by the second incarnation of the band, so it can get a bit confusing! With various lineup changes they’ve been an active touring and recording band since reforming after their first real breakup in 1984.

For the purposes of this short entry (no-one is allowed to go over word limits here – we are professionals goddammit!) I’ll skip the details of the band, that is what Wikipedia is for (be sure to donate too they are begging for money). I’m also going to stick to their (best) earliest era, lineup, and albums.

OK! They were just such a striking band. Their dress style was heavily influenced by the early 60s mod scene. Their first album was produced by Elvis Costello, and had a punk feel to it, something you really get in their live recordings. By the second album they slowed the tempo down a bit and the sound was fuller and more produced. More Specials also included outside personnel, including the Sax player from Madness and the singer from the Bodysnatchers – both labelmates on 2 Tone. Their lyrics were substantial, addressing daily life, with some political and social commentary elements thrown in for good measure. They looked cool and sounded even cooler. In keeping with the restrictions placed on me spirit of this blog, I’m now going to introduce you to 5 of my favourite Specials tunes. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

“Concrete jungle” (from The Specials, 1979)

Remember I mentioned the punkiness of some of their early stuff? First up is a live version of Concrete Jungle, from their self-titled debut LP. It’s not a cover of the Bob Marley song. The grainy footage is taken from a film called Dance Craze which was a sort of promo for 2 Tone, it and the associated live album are quite good, and feature most of the bands on the label. Both are on Youtube.

“It’s up to you” (from The Specials, 1979)

Now, this is direct from the first album – The Specials. I picked this because it showcases a bit more of their ska/reggae influences. The entire album is worth a spin, it’s hard to select just a few.

“Rat race” (from More Specials, 1980)

Next up we have Coventry’s finest looking very Scholarly, in the video for a tune from their second album (and the one I bought first) More Specials. Rat Race (again not a Bob Marley cover!). Note the slightly moodier tone. Note also, singer Terry Hall and the band don’t look nearly as dated as the 1980 kids in the ‘classroom’ – some looks just don’t go out of style.

“I can’t stand it” (from More Specials, 1980)

Hey – I coined the term “pragmatic moodiness” – so I certainly as EFF can determine this song to be the epitome of it! From More Specials, and a personal favourite, I Can’t Stand It. verbally jousting with Terry Hall is Rhoda Dakar – the singer from the Bodysnatchers.

“Ghost town” (from Ghost town, 1981)

NOW. The final selection, this is from the Ghost Town Ep. It was a single and it went to number 1 in 1981. Shortly thereafter Terry, Neville, and Lynval left the group to form Fun Boy Three. Ghost Town was a 3 song Ep and it is phenomenal. It is more reggae than ska. Since I really can’t make my mind up – you really should check out all three songs, each is very different. Friday Night and Saturday Morning is probably my favourite Specials song of all. But I won’t play it here because I’ve already done a moody song. Why? is also fantastic. But I will take the lazy route and just select the single itself. I drove around town a lot listening to this during the lockdown(s). You might see why it was stuck in my head.

Well that’s a wrap. Thank you for reading. Sadly, the day that I wrote this, I learned (from John) that Terry Hall died. The details are sparse, which generally leads some to speculation. There is no speculation to be found in these pages; merely respect, and appreciation for a fantastic singer and entertainer. Thank you Mr. Hall. You will be missed. On a more positive note I would like to wish the readership a Merry Christmas, and Happy music listening New Year!

A few more stats on The Specials

Years active: 1977–1981, 1982-1984, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–present

Original band members:
Terry Hall – lead vocals (1977–81, 2008–22)
Lynval Golding – rhythm and lead guitar, vocals (1977–81, 1993, 1994–1998, 2008–present)
Horace Panter – bass guitar (1977–81, 1982, 1993, 1994–1998, 2000-2001, 2008–present)
Jerry Dammers – keyboards, principal songwriter, vocals (1977–81)
Roddy Radiation – lead guitar, vocals (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–14)
Neville Staple – toasting, vocals, percussion (1978–81, 1993, 1996–2001, 2008–12)
John Bradbury – drums (1979–84, 2008–15)
Dick Cuthell – flugelhorn, trumpet (1979–84)
Rico Rodriguez – trombone (1979–81, 1982)

Discography (studio LPs only):
The Specials (1979)
More Specials (1980)
Today’s Specials (1996)
Guilty ’til Proved Innocent! (1998)
Skinhead Girl (2000)
Conquering Ruler (2001)
Encore (2019)
Protest Songs 1924-2012 (2021)

For other top five lists in this series, click here.


Top five tunes: Oasis

Who? Oasis

Years active: 1991-2009

Band members:
Liam Gallagher (lead vocals) 1991-2009
Noel Gallagher (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals) 1991-2009
Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs (guitars, bass) 1991-1999
Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan (bass) 1991-1999
Tony McCarroll (drums) 1991-1995
Alan White (drums) 1995-2004
Gem Archer (rhythm and lead guitar) 1999-2009
Andy Bell (bass, keyboard) 1999-2009

Selected discography:
Definitely maybe (1994)
(What’s the story) morning glory? (1995)
Be here now (1997)
Standing on the shoulder of giants (2000)
Heathen chemistry (2002)
Don’t believe the truth (2005)
Dig out your soul (2008)

It’s been a long, long, loooooong time since I’ve done one of these Top Five Tunes posts. The last one I did was on my favourite ever Industrial Rock tunes just over two years ago. In fact, I actually came up with the idea and created a draft for this Oasis post just about a year and a half ago, back in May 2021. It’s definitely time I pushed through the procrastination and just get this one done.

I think I actually got the idea to feature Oasis as my next subject because there were, at the time, rumours that they might be considering re-forming. The Gallagher brothers seemed to be on good terms. There wasn’t the usual animosity and smearing going on in the social medias. Indeed, I feel like I even remember seeing a photo of the two of them together, some time around the holiday season, spreading some cheer. Of course, said reunion never happened and instead we’ve returned to the very publicized battles between the two, especially on the part of the younger sibling. And in just the last few weeks, Noel was asked in an interview about the possibility. He responded that the band is bigger now than when they were together (!) and didn’t see a point. Personally, I think it’ll happen eventually, they’ve just got to get their solo careers out of their system and see enough cash thrown their way.

Oasis was formed in Manchester, England in 1991 when Paul McGuigan, Paul Arthurs, and Tony McCarroll auditioned a young Liam Gallagher to join their band The Rain as lead singer. His brother Noel attended one of their first ever performances together, didn’t hate what he saw, and started seeing possibilities for expanding on his songwriting ideas. When he was eventually asked to join by his younger brother, he said that he would, but only on condition that he write all the songs. They were later ‘discovered’ by Creation Records chief Alan McGee, who signed them to a deal and made a ton of cash when their first two records went monster status.

I got into them with their first album when my friend Tim recorded me a copy to cassette, raving about this Brit band to whom all his friends at Waterloo university were listening. It was love at first listen and I recognized one of the first handful of tracks (“Live forever”) from a CMJ monthly magazine compilation that I had purchased a few months earlier. Then, I had a chance to see them play a small show at Lee’s Palace, their first Canadian show, but I had to give up my ticket because I had an essay due the next day that I had yet to start. It’s a concert I’ve regretted missing ever since because from all accounts, it was a blistering performance. And of course, after that, they went huge, possibly in no small part because of the explosion of ‘Cool Britannia’ and everything British. A scene that became so prevalent that even in the midst of grunge, North America started to take notice.

“Definitely maybe” and “(What’s the story) morning glory” are now modern rock classics. But everything the band wrote and recorded during their first few years in existence was pure gold. Indeed, they even have so many excellent b-sides from this time that, “The masterplan”, the compilation they released in 1998 is still better than many of their contemporaries’ best albums. Like many others, I was pumped for their third record, 1997’s “Be here now”, and remember listening to its first single on the radio with great interest, but unfortunately, it was a bit of a letdown. They were finally completely let loose in the studio given their huge success thus far and it felt to me at the time that the results were overwrought and underwhelming. Of course, nowadays, I can appreciate it more but it just wasn’t the same and I began to drift from the boys from Manchester.

I returned to fold in the early 2000s, initially, because I heard a lot to like in their fifth album “Heathen chemistry” but it was their sixth, “Don’t believe the truth”, that really did it. I was an Oasis fan again. By this point though, the Gallagher brothers were the only original members left. I had almost completely missed Alan White, the drummer that had replaced Tony McCarroll when he was dismissed in the mid-90s. And of course, Guigsy and Bonehead both left just prior to Y2K and were replaced by Heavy Stereo’s Gem Archer and Ride’s Andy Bell.

I finally got to see them live shortly after the release of what would turn out to be their final album, 2008’s “Dig out your soul”. I convinced Victoria that I needed to go to the two day Virgin music festival on Toronto Island and that she needed to come on the second day, when the headliners were none other than Oasis. Of course, some of you might remember what happened that night. We didn’t actually see it happen because we had decided just previous to the fracas that we’d had enough of being right in the middle of the crowds and had started to make our way back during “Morning glory”.

Suddenly, the music abruptly stopped and there appeared to be mass confusion. I turned around to see the musicians shuffling off the stage but before I could make anything out, Victoria was reaching back for me to continue our way out to more breathing room. Once there, we asked someone nearby and they mentioned that someone climbed up on stage and pushed ‘him’ but didn’t clarify which him. I’m not sure why we assumed it was Liam that was pushed but we did. Noel eventually came out and performed a few more songs, with the rest of the band joining him a bit at a time, even, eventually, Mr. Liam. When we got home and watched the replays on YouTube, we learned that it was Noel that had been pushed from behind by a drunken hooligan, which made it more surprising that he was the first one back on stage, especially after the news came out later on that he had come out of it with a few broken ribs.

The band broke up the following summer in 2009. Noel went solo and Liam carried on with the rest of the group as Beady Eye. They released a couple of albums but it wasn’t the same without Noel. In the decade that has passed since, both Gallagher brothers have had a modicum of success on their own but the rumours and the clamouring for reunion just keep growing louder.

Oasis is now the stuff of legend and revisionist history. Their early work is untouchable and their later work more accepted with the passing of time. They will certainly always have place in this music fan’s heart. So yeah, narrowing their long list of great tunes down to a top five was a harrowing exercise but one that I braved for all of you. Enjoy.

The top five:

#5: Lyla (from “Don’t believe the truth”, 2005)

As I said above, the sixth album was the one that truly brought me back into the fold and I likely wasn’t the only one. It was generally agreed upon to be their best album in almost a decade, a return to form of sorts, and their highest charting album since “Be here now.” The first single was the brash and bouncing “Lyla”, a song that Noel Gallagher wrote but didn’t even really like until they got around to performing it live. “Hey Lyla. The stars about to fall so what you say, Lyla. The world around us makes me feel so small, Lyla.” There’s nothing small about this track at all. It’s gigantic and stadium-ready without being bloated. It is full length rock and roll guitar strumming and a banging and bashing rhythm by Zak Starkey that you just can’t escape. And then, of course, there’s Liam, sneering a love story about a girl named Lyla.

#4: The masterplan (from “Wonderwall”, 1995)

Oasis’s primary songwriter, Noel Gallagher has often referred to this as one of the best songs he has ever written. The problem, if you want to call it as such, is that it was just one of many great tracks that came out of a period of incredible productivity by the band in the mid-90s. As I inferred above, this meant so many of their b-sides had a-side written all over them and many of them ended up on their much lauded b-side collection, which took its name from “The masterplan”. First appearing on the “Wonderwall” single, it is a rare early track on which the younger Gallagher brother doesn’t appear at all. Noel takes lead responsibility, both on guitar and vocals, Bonehead plays the piano, original drummer Alan White keeps time, and an orchestra fills in the rest. As great a frontman as Liam is, I’ve always preferred Noel’s voice and here, it’s as epic and big as the sound. “Say it loud and sing it proud today. I’m not saying right is wrong. It’s up to us to make the best of all things that come our way.” The horns, the strings, the muscular guitar, and Noel’s rock and roll posturing are all part of the masterplan.

#3: Live forever (from “Definitely maybe”, 1994)

A whistle, an ‘oh yeah’, a big pounding on the bass drum, and then: “Maybe… I don’t really wanna know… how your garden grows, ‘cause I just wanna fly.” This was my introduction to Oasis. First heard on a CMJ new music monthly sampler, my ears pricked up to the brash earnestness of it all, the solid guitars and the pure joy of the noise. It was the third single released in advance of their debut album but the first to catch the attention of the music world at large. Written by Noel well before he had joined the band, it seems to just explode with optimistic energy and youth. This is a band cranking the volume on all the knobs and laying it all out there, not caring if they make small mistakes or whether they’re letting their influences show too much, they’re just rocking it, man. This kind of music is timeless and eternal.

#2: Don’t look back in anger (from “(What’s the story) morning glory?”, 1995)

From the band’s massive second album, which boasted a ton of hit singles like the title track, “Roll with it”, “Champagne supernova”, and the intergalactic “Wonderwall”, this one here was hands down my favourite of the bunch. It’s a hammering on the piano, like an angry rendition of “Imagine”, and lots of wailing and screaming and mountainous guitars, but most of all, it’s Noel bringing down the house. The was first single to feature the chief on vocals, rather than his younger sibling, and thankfully for all involved not the last. I remember being in a pub one night a good five years after its release and the entertainment that night was a guy with his guitar covering a wide range of popular tunes. At one point, he broke into this particular track and when he got to the chorus, I swear the whole pub joined in shouting “And so Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late, as we’re walking on by” at the top of their lungs and as one. It was anthemic then and it is every time I hear it. There’s good reason that Manchester picked up on it and used it as a rallying call following the bombing at the Manchester Arena in 2017. As Noel has said, it’s about not being upset with past but instead looking forward.

#1: Whatever (from “Whatever”, 1994)

Yes. That’s right. My favourite Oasis tune is from neither of their first two big records but a non-album single released between the two. In fact, it is the only one of the five that I don’t yet have in my vinyl collection, something I would love to remedy should I ever find a copy of the EP out in the wild. For me, the nearly six and half minute tune almost perfectly encapsulates what made Oasis so great in the early- to mid-nineties. It’s big and epic and orchestral, positive and uplifting, instantly hummable, and wears its influences like an obvious pair of cheap dollar store nose glasses. Noel was always forthright in how he lifted directly from his heroes when writing his own songs but in this case it might’ve been too obvious. The shout-along refrain of “I’m free to be whatever I, whatever I choose, and I’ll sing the blues if I want” sounded a little too close to singer/comedian Neil Innes’s tune “How sweet to be an idiot”. Litigation ensured and bam, Innes secured himself a songwriting credit. But who cares? Noel doesn’t and I don’t. You can’t tell me it’s any less of a song. Nobody got hurt. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it’s laissez-faire message has cheered up many a soul. I’ll take it any day. Cheers!

For other top five lists in this series, click here.


Top five tunes: Industrial rock

The context:
I got the idea to do another one of these genre-themed Top Five Tunes posts*, more specifically, one dedicated to the alternative rock sub genre of Industrial rock, back in June when I was writing about how I first listened to Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty hate machine” and naming it my second favourite album of 1989. I got so fired up thinking about the passion I felt and the rage I latched onto when I first discovered this sound and immediately started trying distill all my favourites from the era down to five. I wanted to write the post right away, to forget all the half-written and not yet started posts in the hopper, and unleash this fun upon you all. But I restrained myself. I wanted to finish up my three-part Depeche Mode series I was still working on and you can bet, as soon as I managed that, I got right down to this piece.

If you’ve already read or just now linked back to read the words on “Pretty hate machine”, you’ll know that that album was my gateway to the genre. I loved the term ‘Industrial’.  It so perfectly described the sound. I much later learned that it was coined by one of the genre’s forefather groups, Throbbing Gristle, in the 1970s, when they called own record label ‘Industrial Records’ and adopted the slogan ‘Industrial music for Industrial people’.  Their electronically inclined music (if you can even call it that) and that of their contemporaries, Cabaret Voltaire and Einstürzende Neubauten, was very experimental, eschewing normal song structures for a focus on message and live performance as art. This aesthetic would leak into the head of David Bowie during his Berlin period and then, find itself deeply entrenched in the recordings of Joy Division (and later, New Order) and their post-punk contemporaries.

Arguably, the moment avant-garde Industrial music began to evolve into what would become Industrial rock was when Kevin Ogilvie, frontman of Canadian Throbbing Gristle acolytes Skinny Puppy, started hanging out and exchanging ideas with Al Jourgensen, who was just starting to find his own voice with Ministry. That’s obviously over simplifying things and putting a lot of emphasis on this one meeting. Indeed, there was already a lot exciting things happening in Chicago, home of Jourgensen and Wax Trax! Records, which ended up being the de facto home of all things Industrial rock. However, those two musicians formed a short-lived side project called PTP, and then, each appeared on and influenced the other’s main project’s next releases. This started an incestuous trend (particularly with Jourgensen) of different groups from the Industrial rock world working with each other, sharing ideas, and forming one-off side projects to produce and release new music. This happened a lot during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period I consider to be the genre’s renaissance.

It wasn’t a big leap for me to find Ministry after falling in love with the angst and rage of Nine Inch Nails. And from there, I began to check out every band I could find that had been tagged with the dark and spiky Industrial rock label. KMFDM, Nitzer Ebb, Revolting Cocks, Die Warzau, Laibach, The Young Gods, Front Line Assembly, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, and even, Filter. They all crossed my plate. I even picked up on some bands just because they were falsely identified to me as Industrial rock, Jane’s Addiction being a prime example. By the time Trent Reznor released his sophomore album, “The downward spiral” in 1994, the term ‘Industrial’ was on everyone’s lips. And so began the further evolution and filtering down of Industrial rock into Industrial metal and Industrial dance and the leeching of the sound into the hearts and minds of other alternative rock bands. Just for an example, it was shortly after this time that Grebo stalwarts Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Pop Will Eat Itself both released albums heavily influenced by all that was going on in the Industrial rock world.

It was here that I parted ways with the genre. I still kept my ear to the ground somewhat, still appreciating the new work of some of my favourites, like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. And who could ignore Marilyn Manson’s shock rock brand of Industrial metal once he hit the scene? But that brief seven or eight year period is frozen in time for me. I often go long periods without listening to these bands because my tastes have evolved a ton since those days but whenever one of these tracks slips on, the alternative dance club memories from those days come flooding back.

So if you’re ready for a bit of rage and angst, let’s have a look at my top five favourite Industrial rock tunes. And hey, share your own thoughts, memories, and favourites from this period in the comments section below.

The top five:

#5: “Supernaut” by 1000 Homo DJs (1990)

Yeah. You might recognize a few of the guys in the above photo. 1000 Homo DJs were one of the many Industrial rock side projects that I alluded to above. In this case, the outlet was one for members of Ministry that started around the time of the recording sessions for “The land of rape and honey”. 1000 Homo DJs only ever released a couple of EPs and a handful of singles and in the liner notes for each, pseudonyms were provided in lieu of the real names of the various participating members, though we know for a fact that Al Jourgensen, at different points, enlisted the help of Jello Biafra and Trent Reznor, among others. In fact, Trent recorded the original vocals for this very cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut”. However, his label at the time, TVT, wouldn’t let Jourgensen use them on the release. Some people have always thought that Jourgensen simply added effects to Reznor’s vocals and muffled things up to disguise them but he has always maintained that he re-recorded them himself, doing his best impression of his friend. The version below features good ole Al but you can easily find Reznor’s version out there on the Internet because it was later released on the Black Box Wax Trax! boxset. I’ve always loved both versions of this tune. The chainsaw guitars, the dance floor shaking drum beat, the drug referencing samples, and the distorted screaming vocals. “I want to reach out and touch the sky. I want to touch the sun but I don’t need to fly.” It is rage and ecstasy personified.

#4: “Join in the chant” by Nitzer Ebb (1987)

“Lies, lies, lies, lies. Gold, gold, gold, gold. Guns, guns, guns, guns. Fire, fire, fire.” Whoever else has shouted along with those four lines of repeated words on the dancefloor knows Nitzer Ebb and their brand of dance ready Industrial rock (aka EBM). Despite their German sounding name, the trio of “Bon” Harris, Douglas McCarthy, and David Gooday was actually formed in Essex, England in 1982. The post-punk influenced act self-released a bunch of singles before being picked up by Mute Records in 1986, an indie label known for its roster of prominent electronic artists. Their debut album, “That total age”, was released in 1987 and with it came three of the group’s biggest hits, of which “Join in the chant” was but one. I came upon the group a few years after this album came out when I saw the video for “Control I’m here’ and thought the sound hilarious and compelling at the same time. Then, I remember overhearing classmates talking about them at high school and found myself drawn into them further. “Join in the chant” has since become a favourite of mine, mostly because of the sheer number of times I have drunkenly danced and shuffled and jumped about to its angry rhythms. The song is all manner of synths, at various different levels on the spectrum, all doing double duty as rhythm and melody, computers sampled and filtered as percussion. Other than that and the vocals, Nitzer Ebb’s sound here is quite minimalist and insular. And those vocals, tribal and repetitive, as if indoctrinating their audiences as much as entertaining them, dancing and education, rage and angst. Join in the chant.

#3: “Juke joint jezabel” by KMFDM (1995)

In spite of the rumour that was spread, partly from a joke started by the band themselves, their initialism name does not actually stand for “Kill mother f*cking Depeche Mode”. Instead, it was shortened from an already bastardized German phrase, which meant, “No pity for the majority”. The group was formed in 1984 and continues strong today, though with all the musicians that have come and gone over the years, the only remaining founding member is vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Saschia Konietzko. They are renowned for their live show. I’ve never seen them myself, but by all accounts, it’s mayhem. I always picture something akin to a dark and twisted sideshow circus. This, of course, all stems from their early days and beginnings as a performance art troupe, their message almost more important than having a cohesive song structure, much like the early Industrial pioneers. Interesting, then, that KMFDM got so popular and successful and that they are seen as one of the main groups responsible for bringing Industrial rock into the mainstream. This song here is a big reason why, easily their most recognizable tune, owing mainly to the inclusion of a remix of the song on the “Mortal Kombat” soundtrack. “Be mine, sister salvation. Juke joint Jezebel is coming for my cremation.” It is pure science fiction dystopia with chain saw guitars looping throughout and dark, breathy, pained vocals, pain verging on ecstasy. It is an epic and thunderous booming beat. A backing gospel choir ups the ante to monumental, towering heights. “Juke joint jezebel” is a song seething with sweat and pheromones, sticky PVC clothing, cheap piercings, riding crops, and dog collars. Doesn’t it sound lovely?

#2: “Ministry” by Ministry (1989)

A fine product of the aforementioned meeting of the minds between Ministry head honcho Al Jourgensen and Skinny Puppy frontman, Kevin ‘Nivek Ogre’ Ogilvie, “Thieves” is the track that opens Ministry’s fourth studio album, “The mind is a terrible thing to taste”. Though the material produced around this time is among their fans’ favourites, Jourgensen and the rest of the band don’t think all that much of it. It’s definitely more aggressive and guitar heavy than the previous work and forced Jourgensen to grow the ranks of the band to include two drummers, multiple vocalists, and a platoon of guitarists just to be able to perform the stuff live. I think it was my friend Tim that turned me on to this particular track by putting it on one of the mixed tapes he made for me back in high school. It quickly became a favourite for turning up loud to let loose the pent up teenage rage and angst. The anger and venom and hatred is palpable in the track. It’s Jourgensen at his anti-political best, unleashing his vitriol at the US president at the time, George Bush. “Thieves, thieves and liars, murderers, hypocrites and bastards.” The sampling here is done to great effect as well, filling the gaps in between Jourgensen’s unmistakable message with choice words by R. Lee Ermey’s drill instructor character from the film “Full Metal Jacket”. A frenetic and incessant guitar riff that sounds like a pneumatic drill is interspersed with other whirring sounds that could be saws or rivet guns and punishing drum machines. And then at each chorus, the pace speeds up tenfold into thrash metal territory and all you can do is whip your head around and scream along with the Jourgensen’s crazed, growling chants.

#1: “Head like a hole” by Nine Inch Nails (1989)

Perhaps this choice for number one is an obvious one, especially had you gone back to read the post I mentioned earlier on the album on which this appears. How could this not be my number one though? It was my introduction to the genre. You’re lucky I didn’t stuff this whole list with songs from “Pretty hate machine” and perhaps the “Broken EP” that followed, given that this is pretty much the only music from the genre that I might regularly think to put on these days. “Head like a hole” really is an excellent tune. Apparently, it was written by Trent Reznor in about fifteen minutes and it was the least agonized over track on his debut album. So imagine his surprise when it became so big and has had such staying power. My teenage self definitely identified with it back in the day, as did so many others, and it wasn’t necessarily the words but the feelings they invoked. It isn’t really clear what he is talking about and many have superimposed their own meanings on it but taken in the context of the whole diary of “Pretty hate machine”, you might wager that all this vitriol is aimed at that same woman that broke his heart. “Head like a hole, black as your soul. I’d rather die than give you control.” It is an organized chaos of mechanical percussion, layered and piled at different rates. The underpinned drum beat is explosive, simple but angry, and the menacing synths threaten violence at every turn and this threat turns real everytime the chorus rolls around and the ripping guitars rear their demonic heads. Reznor delivers the goods here, backed up by sampled, tribal chants and unbridled emotion. Not bad for a machine of hate.

*See the one I did on Second wave ska here.

For other top five lists in this series, click here.