Johnny Cash – God’s Gonna Cut You Down

God'sGonnaCutYouDown

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.

Posthumous albums by major artists can present a challenge to the fans of those artists. Sure, I can appreciate the records Tupac Shakur cut during his lifetime but do we really need an endless parade of archival material that wasn’t suitable for release during his lifetime? So it goes. It was with great trepidation in mid 2006 when I bought American V: A Hundred Highways – the 1st record of unreleased Johnny Cash material that he cut just prior to his death on September 12, 2003. I needn’t have worried so much – not only was the album of stunning quality, it was also his 1st #1 record since 1969’s Johnny Cash at San Quentin. Personally speaking (and this is my site after all), it gave a track that will go on every CASH mix I make until the day I die – “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. The track is notable for featuring an intoxicating mix of militant & gospel based sounds, Johnny’s righteous voice driving the point home with every syllable. The song is based on a traditional folk tune and has been recorded by quite a few artists in the past (Johnny Cash’s Sun Records buddy Elvis Presley being the most notable). None of them approached the material from this angle – this is the best version ever laid to tape. The video is notable for featuring a ridiculous amount of celebrities, driving home the point that the love of Johnny Cash is a universal condition (and one that doesn’t need to be treated). It gives me chills to hear Johnny Cash sing these words:

He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do My will!”

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

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Pet Shop Boys – Electric

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2012’s record Elysium by the The Pet Shop Boys sparked reviews that varied in tone and critique. It was sometimes mentioned as beautifully autumnal and sad but also criticized as sounding tired and slightly bitter (often within the same review) – for me it was a record that grew in stature with each listen. I mentioned in my review that it was “not quite a masterpiece, but has some very special, very Pet Shop Boys moments.” I stand by that statement, 9 months later. I will say that one of the singles from that record – “Leaving” – stands as one of my favorite Pet Shop Boys songs of all time – a perfect embodiment of melancholy and hope. Historical revisionism is a curious thing and appears to be alive and well with the release of the latest Pet Shop Boys record, Electric. It is easy to fall into that trap when faced with a record that is a masterpiece because everything that immediately preceded its release seems dull in comparison. So it goes with the Pet Shop Boys in 2013. I loved last years record, but it couldn’t prepare me for the non-stop delight that is Electric.

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Sunstack Jones – You Can Help Me Out b/w Sunday Comedown

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Sunstack Jones hail from “North of England” (members live in Liverpool & Blackburn) and say that they are composed of “always two, sometimes three but mostly four or maybe five musicians”. That includes Lorcan Moriarty on guitars (formerly of NME darlings Maupa) and Chris Jones on vocals. This 2 song single is my vote for 2013’s summertime anthem. Though the band’s name conjures up visions of an obscure Motown cool cat the tunes bring to mind pop driven Americana played to perfection. The A side is the track begging for radio play whilst the B side offers up a slice of melancholy to give you a break from singing at the top of your lungs. Both tracks are simply perfect and have me really looking forward to the bands forthcoming full length (their 2nd).

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Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City

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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.

In early 1982 Bruce Springsteen demoed songs for the follow-up album to his hit double LP, The River. He holed himself up in his New Jersey home and cut stark home demos that reflected the personal cloud of depression he was going through. Usually the characters on the previous records had found some sort of saving grace – not so on the songs that would become the record Nebraska. The E-Street band versions of the songs were rejected in favor of the stark demo versions and the record was released to critical acclaim in September of 1982. Johnny Cash covered two of the darker tunes just a year later (Johnny 99 and Highway Patrolman) and Sean Penn wrote & directed the 1991 film Indian Runner which was based on the song Highway Patrolman. I love the entire album, but I’ve always thought the track Atlantic City pulled off a neat trick – it wraps a somewhat depressing story to a hopeful melody and layers it with a quality that is hard to capture on tape – desperation.

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John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads

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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.

When you move far away from where you were raised your mind tends to hold onto certain memories, images, and songs that remind you of the innocence of youth. As a kid my brother and I would sing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads at the top of our lungs on our various family outings (at least 15 years after it initially was released). My brother ended up moving to New Zealand and I’m in Washington State – but the familiar folk-country acoustic guitar tune along with John Denver’s unique voice always bring me back to suburban Philadelphia and the mid 80’s. The song was written by Danoff and Nivert with Johnny Cash in mind. Once John Denver heard it, he persuaded the duo to give him the song instead (Johnny Cash & John Denver did an acoustic duet version a decade or so later that is outstanding). A bit of country, a bit of folk, a bit of pop – it made a slow crawl on the charts before finally peaking at #2 in mid 1971. The song is a source of pride for everyone that hails from West Virginia because of the lyrics, though the country road that inspired the lyrics is in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. Isn’t returning to your roots the universal appeal of the song though? When I am on an airplane flying 3000 miles to Philadelphia, I always hear John Denver in my head singing this little ditty. Key lyrics:

I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.

The Lost Patrol – Driven

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ec·lec·tic

/iˈklektik/

Adjective
Deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

So says some reputable website on the world wide web. In my experience though, this term can come off as damning praise. “Oh, don’t mind him – he’s a bit eclectic”. You know what I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ve heard the term in the same way. Not always true, mind you – just my experience. I’ve always been drawn to people, authors, and musicians who embrace an eclectic approach. (True Confession: I love Sandinista! by The Clash). There’s something about the all-encompassing approach that I really enjoy. New York City’s The Lost Patrol are a band that use an eclectic approach to great effect.

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Phil Collins – I Don’t Care Anymore

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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.

All of the hype over the latest Black Sabbath album had me thinking about what a drag it is that Phil Collins is still considered so uncool these days. Phil Collins not only backed up Black Sabbath when Bill Ward couldn’t play for the Queen’s Jubilee a decade ago, he also performed on some of the greatest progressive rock records of the 70’s. Hell, I even like some of his solo pop tracks. My favorite solo Phil Collins song is the single I Don’t Care Anymore taken from his 1982 record Hello, I Must Be Going! It features a heavy drum backing and emotional, angry vocals. In fact – this is probably the angriest song of Phil’s solo career. The lyrics are directed at his ex-wife and make it clear that he had grown tired of the non stop gossip and slander about him that he felt she was responsible for. The track peaked at #39 on the US charts and did not chart in the UK. The studio version of the song involved only two people  – Phil Collins on keyboards, drums, vocals, bass pedals and Daryl Stuermer on guitars. I’d imagine this song would resonate with anyone who has ever had something said about them that they didn’t agree with. The lyrics are almost punk rock in their direct approach and Phil enunciates certain verses in ways that no one else could get away with (notice how he says “no more”, for instance). Key lyrics:

Well you can tell everyone I’m a down disgrace
Drag my name all over the place.
I don’t care anymore.
You can tell everybody ’bout the state I’m in
You won’t catch me crying ‘cos I just can’t win.
I don’t care anymore I don’t care anymore

I don’t care what you say
I don’t play the same games you play.

‘Cos I’ve been talking to the people that you call your friends
And it seems to me there’s a means to an end.
They don’t care anymore.
And as for me I can sit here and bide my time
I got nothing to lose if I speak my mind.
I don’t care anymore I don’t care no more