A couple of weeks ago in the city of Seattle, WA I bore witness to an aural assault not witnessed since the last time I saw Mudhoney live and in the flesh. That I had just taken part in the live Mudhoney experience just 30 minutes earlier has no bearing on what I am saying. The Sonics – forefathers to garage rock, punk, and grunge were headlining a star-studded affair to launch the release of their 1st full length album in 49 years, This Is The Sonics. Rooted in the 60’s, yet sounding delightfully abrasive and modern, it was easily one of the best concerts I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. Do you know how sometimes artists will insist on playing their new songs and the audience is polite until the better known tracks come along? The Sonics didn’t have to worry about that – the batch of new songs slot in well alongside their covers of Louie, Louie and garage rock classics / originals such as The Witch and Strychnine. In fact, I think quite a few younger bands would do well to see The Sonics and take notes on how to deliver raw, energetic songs that still have the ability to engage with the audience on a visceral level.
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 you were to ask me where the roots of Seattle grunge lie (and you are reading this, aren’t you?), I’d tell you to look 40 miles to the south in the city of Tacoma and go back in time to the mid 60’s. The Pacific Northwest music scene was a vibrant community that leaned towards the garage rock end of the spectrum. The Sonics were rougher than all of their peers, sounding truly possessed on their records. Abrasive (though melodic) sax by Rob Lind was part of their signature sound, along with Gerry Rosalie’s unhinged vocals. Rounding out the classic line-up were the Parypa brothers – Larry on guitar, Andy on bass, and Bob Bennett on drums. For the recording of their 2nd record, Boom, The Sonics ripped the sound proofing off the walls at Wiley / Griffith studios in Tacoma to get a rawer sound. The cover photo for the record, of course, is one of the most famous record sleeves in history – the handiwork of Jini Dellaccio. An exhilarating mix of covers and originals, it features the definitive version of Richard Berry’s Louie Louie. Originally an R&B hit from 1955, it was covered in the early 60’s by The Wailers, The Kingsmen, The Beach Boys, and Paul Revere & The Raiders. All of those versions are great and stand on their own – but they pale in comparison to the aggressive version offered up by The Sonics in 1966. A fuzz drenched guitar riff opens the tune with Rosalie’s entering the mix at the 7 second mark sounding like a man absolutely possessed. This is THE definitive version of this song, sounding like a precursor to punk AND grunge. It should be mentioned that even later versions by punk legends Motorhead and Black Flag don’t sound this aggressive. Lind’s sax lines keep the tune from falling apart, while the band creates a storm of white noise. Absolute perfection. I’m looking forward to seeing this performed live by The Sonics at their Seattle show in April (with Mudhoney opening up!).