Robin Gibb – Saved by the Bell

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Think of the Bee Gees in 2019 and the 1st thing that comes to mind for most people is their late 70’s / early 80’s disco hits. To focus on that era is to ignore a fascinating, artistically resonant era from a decade earlier. In 1969 the 1st incarnation of the Bee Gees had split – after several records in Australia, and 4 increasingly complex, masterful psychedelic albums released worldwide. Robin was – briefly – a solo artist. So productive were these sessions, that 2 albums worth of songs were recorded (all eventually released on Saved by the Bell: The Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970). I “discovered” the earlier Bee Gees records through my bookworm nature of consuming anything and everything relating to the 60’s scene. I do love those albums – but Robin’s solo work is another level. Robin’s Reign and Sing Slowly Sisters were both recorded in 1970, though the latter was not officially released until 2015 (I’d like to thank New Hope, PA for providing me with so many bootlegs of obscurities 20 years ago). The songs feel beamed in from another planet – hell, another universe. World weary at 19, Robin sings with a sense of melancholy that feels lived in. Saved by the Bell was the hit single from Robin’s Reign, preceding the album’s release by several months. The song is deceptively simple, Robin singing out his heart over orchestra & piano (courtesy of Maurice Gibb). A heartbreaking tale of a broken heart, it is an essential listen.

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Madonna – Frozen

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

I’ve had this song on my mind over the last week or so – the Puget Sound region has experienced Winter conditions that are very unusual for the region – snow, ice, and well…more snow and ice. It certainly has led to many nights by the fire trying to warm up. Frozen was released as a single in February, 1998 by Madonna – hard to believe, but this single is old enough to drink. It represented a change in direction for Madonna – spiritual yearning, electronica beats, and an overall more mature presentation to the world (one that sadly would not last). The song was lifted from the Ray of Light album with a peak chart position of #2 in the US and #1 in the UK. It also was accused of plagiarism in Belgium, with similarities noted to Ma vie fout le camp by Salvatore Acquaviva – in fact, sales of the single were banned for an eight year period in Belgium, as the case went through the courts (no plagiarism was found). I have fond memories of playing this single (and to a lesser extent, it’s parent album) and noting the strange new direction Madonna’s muse had taken her. Vocally it is vulnerable while lyrically conveying strength as the orchestrations swell at the emotional apex. Perfection.

Tom Petty – To Find a Friend

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

A year ago I was in disbelief as the news about Tom Petty made the rounds. Seemingly invincible, he was on his deathbed – in fact, his death was prematurely announced and quickly retracted. The inevitable was upon us – a musical icon taken much too soon. In the aftermath of his departure I indulged in the works of Tom Petty like I never had before. His biography was enlightening and had me obsessively listening to his 1994 solo album, Wildflowers. The entire Rick Rubin produced album is incredible, but To Find a Friend spoke to me in a way that it never had before. Now I had the back story of Tom’s personal life changing rapidly around the time it was cut. The opening lines are autobiographical somewhat. “In the middle of his life / He left his wife / And ran off to be bad / Boy, it was sad”. It is about as direct as can be. Musically, this a breezy, Beatles by way of the American South tune. It is perfection. It is my absolute favorite Tom Petty song. A year gone today. “And the days went by like paper in the wind / Everything changed, then changed again / It’s hard to find a friend”.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Marvin Gaye. Of course, like most people growing up in the 80’s, I had been inundated with various Marvin Gaye duets and songs on the oldies stations my parents would play. It was only after listening to a cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by The Slits in my late teens that I decided to seek out the originals. And what a treat that was. What’s Going On marked the dawn of the 70’s for Marvin Gaye. In fact, the song was deemed too political and was almost not released. Fortunately, Marvin stuck to his guns and refused to record or release anything else unless this song was released as a single. January 20, 1971 saw the official release of the song – it had been recorded 6 months earlier. The song is directly inspired by – and addresses – police brutality as witnessed by Obie Benson of the Four Tops. Vocally, it is one of the best performances of Gaye’s career. His voice pulls off the trick of sounding relaxed, emotional, and pained – sometimes within the same sentence. Musically, this is classic soul – infectious beats and a strong, strong melody. Lyrically, it is timeless – and modern. Unfortunately so. “Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me / So you can see / What’s going on”. On the full album, the song segues into What’s Happening Brother – the songs tied together lyrically with the beat acting as a segue between the tunes. Embedded below is a live performance of both masterful songs.

Pure Hell – These Boots Are Made For Walking b/w No Rules

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Pure Hell’s tagline is, of course, being one of the 1st all black punk bands – ever. Death (all black protopunk band out of Detroit) may have recorded first, but Pure Hell (to my ears) sound closer to the late 70’s punk music that changed the world. Hailing from my hometown of Philadelphia, PA, Pure Hell came together in ’74 and ended up being managed by Curtis Knight – famous for his association with Jimi Hendrix in the mid 60’s. A move to New York and a successful tour of England weren’t enough to make Pure Hell a household name. The band fell apart and a full length album sat in the vaults for over 20 years. The only official release during the bands original run was a 7″ – a Nancy Sinatra / Lee Hazlewood cover and an original b side. These Boots Are Made For Walking remains true to the punk tradition of taking a familiar tune and imbuing it with punk attitude and speeding up the tempo quite a bit. Singer Kenny Gordon offers up a perfect mix of attitude and chops.  No Rules comes off like The Stooges filtered through the Sex Pistols. In other words, perfect. It captures the essence of the era “no rules / no rules / for you and me!”. These tracks along with the album cut in the late 70’s are available on the Noise Addiction compilation. Absolutely recommended.

Bruce Springsteen – Dream Baby Dream

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It would seem an unlikely cover – Bruce Springsteen, considered not cool for as long as I remember (though that is changing) – giving his own interpretation of an old electro punk classic by the band Suicide who came up on the late 70’s and are about as uncompromising as they come – harsh, minimal beats by Martin Rev and beat poetry sung in a somewhat appealing croon by Alan Vega. But Bruce’s roots go deep with dissonant music and the two would strike up an acquaintance that was founded on mutual respect. In the mid 00’s Bruce & the E Street Band started covering Dream Baby Dream  – a song that perfectly balances hope & sadness, traits right at home on a Bruce Springsteen record. The Suicide version veered towards the sadness and the Springsteen version adds a layer of hope. In fact – some Springsteen fans may not realize it is a cover. Before he passed away, Alan Vegas said this of Springsteen’s cover “A lot of bands have done my stuff, Suicide stuff, and they basically try and copy and do it the way that you do it. Thank God – finally somebody did their version of it. He did it his way, and such a great way, that I’m going to have to sing it that way, or not sing it at all any more.” The song was released on a 10″ single in 2008 and later was re-cut for the High Hopes album in 2014. The 2014 version features Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello on guitar which brings the punk roots of the song full circle. A perfect cover.

Rowland S. Howard – Life’s What You Make It

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Late 2009 saw the release of Pop Crimes the 2nd solo album by Rowland S. Howard. Famous for his stints in The Birthday Party, These Immortal Souls, and Crime & the City Solution – he was sometimes overshadowed by the antics of his band members. Make no mistake about it – Rowland was also a genius. The album arrived in October of 2009 and he was dead by December. Sadly, it was also his most cohesive artistic statement. Recording sessions were quick – he was given a limited time to live based on the condition of his liver and with a transplant unlikely, it became a statement of intent. Every song pulses and sways with abandon. Much like Joey Ramone’s last statement to the world it was clear that Rowland wanted to live. Life’s What You Make It  is the 3rd track on the album and a cover of the song written and originally performed by Talk Talk. The original showed Talk Talk edging away from their synth pop work – here, Rowland S. Howard & company add in some trademark guitar squall and lock into a motorik groove. Having Mick Harvey on drums only adds to the allure – a mini reunion of The Birthday Party alumni. The words ring true and lend the atmosphere a vibe of both euphoria & sadness. “Baby, life’s what you make it / Celebrate it / Anticipate it / Yesterday’s faded / Nothing can change it / Life’s what you make it”. RIP Rowland. 12-30-09.