Galaxie 500 – Strange

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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.

Galaxie 500 followed up their impressive 1988 debut album Today with 1989’s near perfect On Fire. The tunes were stronger, the lyrics more cutting. It remains the highlight of the band’s all too brief career – Dean Wareham’s affecting unconventional vocals in tandem with his Velvet Underground inspired guitar riffs, Naomi Yang’s slowcore bass, and Damon Krukowski’s perfect drums displaying a band perfectly in sync. Strange is the 4th song on the album and perfectly encapsulates the Galaxie 500 experience. Warbling, slightly out of tune vocals working hand in hand with infectious guitar & bass riffs. The emotional havoc emanating from Wareham’s vocal delivery is a rewarding & exhilarating journey. The lyrics alternate between philosophical & ordinary, tying the two together as one. How can anyone know what someone’s impression is of you or if it lines up with your self view? That’s my take on it, and the song has served me well for years.

Why’s everybody actin funny?
Why’s everybody look so strange?
Why’s everybody look so pretty?
What do I want with all these things?

I went alone down to the drugstore
I went in back and took a Coke
I stood in line and ate my Twinkies
I stood in line, I had to wait

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The Cure – The Last Day of Summer

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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.

As August segues into September, I’m left with a feeling of disbelief; the summer – as in years past – has passed us by again. Officially, Autumn doesn’t begin for another few weeks, but each September 1st I can feel myself mourning the passage of time and resigning myself to all things related to the Fall (totally wired!). Back in 2000 The Cure released what many consider to be one of their best records, Bloodflowers. Band founder / leader Robert Smith called it the “third part of the trilogy”, which was confusing to me as 1980’s 17 Seconds, 1981’s Faith, and 1982’s Pornography had already been called a “trilogy” by Robert Smith in the 80’s (and thematically, that made more sense). No matter – the new “trilogy” was now Pornography, 1989’s Disintegration, and Bloodflowers. I’ll be honest with you – I’m not a huge fan of “back to basics” records by legacy artists. I like watching artists grow, develop, and push themselves to new sounds. Bloodflowers was heralded as a return to form – and I can see why people thought that. For me, it has taken a long, long time to warm up to the record (though the tour was brilliant). It’ll never be in my top 5 records by The Cure, but there are a few gems to be found. The Last Day of Summer succeeds wildly on every count. Originally released as a promo single in Poland, it slots in as the 6th track on most editions of Bloodflowers. Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order gets well deserved credit for coming up with melodic bass lines, but Simon Gallup of The Cure deserves credit as well – he lays down another memorable bass line in this tune. Resignation bursts forth from Robert Smith’s vocals, complimented by melodic guitar strumming and well placed keyboard flourishes (something lacking with follow-up records – Roger O’Donnell was dismissed from the band following this album’s release). Summer slipping away, a broader statement on the passage of time – this is a song that rings true. “But the last day of summer / Never felt so cold / The last day of summer / Never felt so old”

LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out

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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’s hard to believe, but Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J is fast approaching its 25th anniversary. Even harder to believe, LL Cool J is still in his 40’s for a few more years. In 1990, LL Cool J was trying to figure out his place in the hip hop community. 1989’s Walking With a Panther had been a commercial success, but a critical failure. Even worse, LL Cool J’s peers were critical of the “softer” love ballads that peppered the album. LL discussed his plight with his Grandmother – lamenting the rise of gangsta rap and his insecurity in light of harsh words from several up and coming rappers. His Grandma replied “Oh baby, just knock them out!”, which fueled the inspiration for the title track from his 1990 record, Mama Said Knock You Out. Raw and aggressive, the song is a an absolute classic. In some ways, it is an updated version of LL’s 1987 single I’m Bad. LL Cool J spits out the words as if he is being chased by the Devil himself, the music equally frantic. Samples scattered throughout the song are courtesy of James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, and the Chicago Gangsters. As if this song wasn’t impressive enough coming from a seasoned 22-year-old music veteran, LL Cool J delivered a performance on MTV Unplugged that managed to outdo the studio cut. The immortal words “Don’t call it a comeback / I been here for years” still bring me joy to this day. The song hit #17 on the US charts and earned Todd Smith aka LL Cool J a Grammy.

Billy Idol – White Wedding

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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.

By 1982 Billy Idol was on the verge of stardom. Following a brief stint in the punk band Chelsea, he fronted Generation X over the course of several albums and singles. After Generation X came to a grinding halt, Idol released a stop-gap EP in 1981 that featured an updated version Gen X’s Dancing With Myself. Retaining the snarling punk attitude, but layering it with an increased focus on the airwaves, it laid the groundwork for Idol’s self titled hit album of 1982. White Wedding was released as a single on October 23, 1982 and instantly became one of Billy Idol’s most recognizable songs. A propulsive beat married to 80’s synths, punk attitude, and a “Greaser” 50’s vibe, this is an absolute classic. The album and single version label the song as Part 1, and yes there is a Part 2 – you’ll have to hunt down the 1982 12″ release to hear part 2, which is a more synth heavy coda to the main song. The song peaked at #6 in the UK and #36 in the US. The video was somewhat controversial at the time, but seems relatively tame by today’s standards. As great as this song is (perhaps Billy Idol’s best, solo or Generation X), it is worth your time to hunt down Rowland S. Howard’s haunting cover version. “It’s a nice day for a white wedding / it’s a nice day to…start again”

The Desperate Bicycles – Blasting Radio

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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.

The years immediately after the 1st wave of punk resulted in some fantastically diverse musical genres. Post-punk and new wave were great, but I’ve always been enamoured with the DIY scene of the late 70’s (that’s Do-It-Yourself for those of you who are anti abbreviation). Bands took out the middlemen and recorded / released the records on their own. There was some overlap with punk (The Buzzcocks come to mind), but most of these bands had a ramshackle quality that conveyed its own unique charm. The Desperate Bicycles formed for the sole purpose of releasing a record (sample lyric: “It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it!”) and can best be described as the missing link between The Fall and Television Personalities. The band released material from 1977 to 1981, including their sole album, Remorse Code. Released in 1980, it displayed a fuller sound in comparison to the preceding singles from ’77 and ’78. Whereas the earlier material got by on sheer enthusiasm, the album sounded like it was performed by a band with musical chops. I love every single track this band has put out, but I have a special affinity for Blasting Radio, the closing track from Remorse Code. Opening with one of my favorite lines in music “I feel like one half of a sandwich”, it proceeds to find a home in the listener’s heart over it’s 4 1/2 minute run time. A melody anchored to the bouncy bass line, you can’t overlook the guitar minimalism or Danny Wigley’s slithering vocals. A perfect musical document from the late 70’s / early 80’s DIY scene. The band has steadfastly refused offers to reissue any of this material – fortunately their entire recorded output (minus a single recorded as The Evening Outs, after the Desperate Bicycles called it a day) is available for download here. I believe the band is ripe to be rediscovered by another generation (or two or three). Simply perfection. 

The Doors – People Are Strange

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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.

The Doors can be a controversial topic among hip music lovers. Was Jim Morrison a drunken buffoon as some claimed?  (I’m thinking of Lester Bangs as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, may he RIP) Or was he a beat poet visionary? I’ve always leaned towards the latter, even if some of the drunken ramblings bring a smile to my face with their incomprehensible meanings.  Unfortunately, the music can sometimes get overlooked; such is the shadow that Jim Morrison casts. This is another band whose catalog is almost beyond criticism for me – the 6 albums recorded with Morrison on vocals are strange, passionate, and timeless. “People Are Strange” was released as a single in September of 1967, hitting #12 on the US Hot 100 charts. The music is a nod towards European cabaret, lending the tune an otherworldly vibe. At just over 2 minutes, the band (that’s Ray Manzarek on keyboards, John Densmore on drums, and Robby Krieger on guitar) locks into a groove that is essential for the song to make its impact felt. Jim Morrison seems to be relaying the feeling of what it is like not to fit in, to exist neither here nor there. One of my favorite songs by The Doors, everything connects perfectly. Some of my favorite lines…“When you’re strange / Faces come out of the rain / When you’re strange / No one remembers your name / When you’re strange”….”People are strange / When you’re a stranger / Faces look ugly when you’re alone”

The Smiths – William, It Was Really Nothing

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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.

If anything, the last piece on Electrafixion reminded me that I haven’t written anything about one of my favorite bands, The Smiths. I can easily trace the progression, looking back on when I was a 15-year-old wannabe hipster – John Lennon & The Beatles, The Cure, Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, and finally…The Smiths. The Smiths seemed to be an entire universe, a demographic of people. If someone knew The Smiths, you could be sure they were cool (indie hipster elitist alert!). The lyrics of Morrissey seemed to reach out to disaffected youth, the outsiders, the bookworms, the sensitive souls.  The music composed primarily by Johnny Marr was insanely memorable – a nice bonus. For me, it was a Godsend. I have fond memories of singing along to The Smiths at the top of my lungs. Some of those memories are from 20 years ago, some are from last week. How do I choose which song or album to feature, since I love everything? “William, It Was Really Nothing” was released as a non-album single in 1984. The lyrics may or may not be about Morrissey’s brief friendship with Billy MacKenzie, singer for the Associates (another band I adore). A jangly, catchy number, it features classic lyrics that you can sing along with after hearing the song just once. In other words, this is a quintessential song by The Smiths. The track hit #17 in the UK and was later re-released with different artwork as a single in 1988. The 12” record version of the 1988 release was etched with the statements “ROMANTIC AND SQUARE, ARE HIP AND AWARE” and “THE IMPOTENCE OF ERNEST”. The Peel Session version of this track was not included on the laughably titled The Smiths Complete box set, but you can find that on the 1987 single of “Last Night I Dreamt Somebody Loved Me”. That one boasts a slightly fuller sound, and is a nice contrast to the original cut (I prefer the original). At any rate, these songs will apparently be packaged and repackaged endlessly – it doesn’t change the thrill of hearing Morrissey sing “Oh, the rain falls hard in a humdrum town / this town has dragged you down / And everybody’s got to live their life / and God knows I’ve got to live mine”