It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Pavement ripped off The Fall for their sound. Okay, it may not be universally acknowledged, but plenty of people have commented on the similarities over the years, including the late, great Mark E. Smith himself. Here’s what he told Melody Maker in 1993:
“People were coming up to me saying ‘listen to this’, and playing me Pavement records on a Walkman, and I just asked, ‘What live tape is that of ours? Is that from Holland in 1987 or something? That’s a fucking drum riff I wrote. The cheek!'”
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has always been happy to confirm The Fall’s influence on his music, while always stopping short of admitting outright plagiarism. The point is, it’s hardly a surprise that Pavement eventually released a Fall cover. And when they did, they chose one of their most exuberant and bombastic tunes – The Classical.
The Fall’s 1982 original of The Classical opens their album Hex Enduction Hour and it’s a joyous six minutes of cacophonous glory from a line up featuring Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley and two drummers. It’s full of classic Smith lyrics including:
“Made with the highest British attention, to the wrong detail”
“I have never felt better in my life”
and, of course:
“Hey there, fuckface”
There was always a lot of humour in The Fall’s music, but it seems like it was a more fundamental part of their appeal during the first half of their existence. There was a playfulness to them which was more prominent back then.
Pavement’s rendition of The Classical is reverentially faithful – albeit, they sensibly drop the ‘N’ word from the opening of the song. It’s the sort of loving treatment you’d expect from avowed fans.
Pavement’s cover was released on their 1999 Major Leagues EP but was originally recorded for a Peel Session. This is highly appropriate since John Peel, as The Fall’s most notable champion, is the man responsible for introducing them to most of the world, including me. Having found The Fall through Peel in the early-’90s and randomly dipped into their already extensive discography since then, it was only when listening to the 2004, career-spanning collection 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and playing 25 years worth of their material in chronological order that their influence became clear to me. l kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of, “Everyone sounded like this in 1991”, only to then see that the track in question to was from 1986. They were always well ahead of their time. So when MES said of Pavement after they first appeared on the scene:
“It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”
…he was being (characteristically) harsh. That was true of a lot of bands, it’s just that Malkmus and his buddies didn’t bother to hide it.
Following Smith’s death, Stephen Malkmus was asked explicitly about his influence by Pitchfork. He said:
“I wasn’t like the Fall fan compared to a lot of my friends, but I certainly thought Mark was cool, and one of our albums, Slanted and Enchanted, has three or four songs that totally mess with his way of doing stuff. I never denied it—I’ve never been one to deny ideas I’ve taken. They always come out through a prism of me.”
Seems fair enough. And Slanted and Enchanted is a very fine album too. Presumably, this is one of the ‘three or four songs’ referenced above:
This would be the first time someone had pointed out the similarity of Conduit for Sale! to A New Face In Hell.
Apparently, Malkmus never got to meet Mark E Smith. He had the opportunity once at a reunion gig but was too shy. It’s probably just as well. Chances are it wouldn’t have gone well. Here’s the hip priest’s reaction to being appreciated by Fall fans, Fat White Family backstage at Glastonbury, as told to The Guardian shortly before his death:
“They got a bit cheeky so they were taught a lesson, I don’t think they’re fans anymore. They came and sat next to us and thought they were it. Big mistake. I was giving a glass of champagne to the lads before we went on and one of them just walks up and I just threw it in his face. He was showing off and there was a bit of a standoff. I like the stuff of theirs I’ve heard though. It was a pretty weird day that, the Dalai Lama was there.”
Of course there are a million MES stories like this. The man was a true original. Maybe that’s why he found it so uncomfortable and lashed out if he felt he was being copied. Maybe his Fat White Family story tells us that he never lost his playfulness after all. Whatever it tells us, he’ll be missed.
For a brief period in the early-nineties, L7’s abrasive, metallic, punk-rock sound crossed over into the mainstream. They’d already released two albums of their ferocious grunge before they recorded Bricks Are Heavy with Butch Vig. That LP, and in particular, its lead single, the slacker anthem Pretend We’re Dead chimed with the zeitgeist, got a lot of airplay, caught imaginations and become a surprise global hit.
No one would claim that L7 achieved universal popularity, but they were loud, brash, self-deprecating and funny and they put out some of the most memorable tracks of the brief period when grunge was everywhere. L7’s contribution to that particular phenomenon is often overlooked these days but Bricks Are Heavy is an essential album of the genre; solid quality from start to finish and with some moments of real inspiration.
However, that’s not enough for some folks. And some of them have registered their displeasure via the medium of the Amazon review.
Some reviewers, like N in 2018, get straight to the point
“I HATE IT”
That’s the title and those are her capitals. The entire review reads:
“Wasn’t the music I thought it would be. Please take it back.”
No explanation of what she was expecting or why she bought it in the first place, but she gets across her opinion pretty succinctly. As does S, who dismisses Bricks Are Heavy, with the exception of Pretend We’re Dead, as “90s dirge”.
SBS employs a different tactic, lulling the reader in with a little praise to reassure everyone that he’s a considered and reasonable person:
“I respect that this band was an innovator in the grunge movement”
It’s a two-star review, so you know there’s a ‘but’ coming:
“But the songs are not that strong making this more form over substance.”
There it is! In fact SBS is so reasonable that he offers L7 some useful retrospective career advice:
“This band would have been better off steering towards a more melodic direction (the naysayers will call that going “pop”, “selling out”, “going commercial”). When you are a band, a good band, it’s not because you’re in a certain genre, or you are a pioneering feminist movement or anything else. Good songs/musicianship/arrangement are just that. Grunge is fine music but there’s only so much that you can do with it. This band should have taken a hint from what Joan Jett did and sprout some wings and develop and progress. They should have pursued the nuances of the bandmates and pulled from the grunge.”
No doubt L7 will be kicking themselves for not having received the benefit of SBS’s wisdom back in the ‘90s and transformed themselves into a completely different band. Too late now, sadly.
CW is also dishing out free advice; this time to potential buyers:
“Save your money and down load from I TUNES”
As is an anonymous reviewer from 2000:
“Save your pennies… you will be bored with the CD within a few spins.”
That review finishes with this cryptic sentence:
“Courtney Love is still the girl with the most cake.”
Now that’s one to ponder. CLD is also pretty thought-provoking in her review from 2003.
“Feminism is more than just tampons and big boots…”.
And that’s just the title. CLD goes on to credit herself with having her finger squarely on the pulse:
“British fans of the feminist Riot Grrrl movement will, or indeed, should know that it’s taken a good while for this pretty underground phenomenon to reach our shores and get anywhere near the level of recognition it should. L7, along with the likes of Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland, Luna Chicks have been battering away at their guitars and rambling into mic’s about the life of your average everyday riot grrrl for a good few years with only a few of us finely tuned individuals paying much attention.”
Just to reiterate, this was written in 2003, several years after every single one of the bands CLD lists had split up and more than a decade after Riot Grrrl movement peaked. Truly CLD is a “finely tuned individual”. She reckons that “L7 had all the balls but not much originality”, gives Bricks Are Heavy zero stars and recommends that “beginners to the scene”look elsewhere because “the joy is found more in the message than the musical content here and we wouldn’t want to put you off!”
But if you thought CLD was patronising, B’s 2013 review takes condescension to a new level. Look away Riot Grrrls, here’s the title:
“There’s a reason why women and conventional anger is a difficult combination”
Ouch! The review itself says:
“The songs on “Bricks are Heavy” are not genuinely hard or even remotely emotional or “beautiful”; rather they are extremely conventional hard rock with a different lyrical attitude.”
“The vocals of Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner and Jennifer Finch are extremely bland and lacking in any sort of feeling whatsoever.”
“the moodiness is so superficial”
Before this knockout closer:
“Women singing with an angry tone is awkward for biological reasons, and Sparks, Finch and Gardner do not even since [sic] with an “angry” tone here, rather L7 offer ordinary hard rock songs devoid even of hooks.”
B is all over the place here and leaves a lot of questions hanging. Are L7 attempting to sing in an “angry tone” or not? What’s so different about their “lyrical attitude”? And, most importantly, what are these “biological reasons”? We may never know, but it’s safe to conclude that B is just the sort of clueless, misogynistic dipshit that L7 would’ve really enjoyed eating alive.
You can’t fault charismatic London indie punks the Silverfish for their ambition in covering White Lines (Don’t Do It). They take Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s early hip-hop classic and give it an unhinged, noise rock spin. Nobody would seriously claim it improves on the original, but it’s good, raucous fun; like something belted out at the end of a drunken rehearsal, just to amuse the band.
The distinctive bassline is thoroughly distorted but still recognisable somewhere beneath the wailing feedback, rumbling drums and Fuzz Duprey’s squally, phased guitar gibberish. Lesley Rankine delivers the rap in her gruffly aggressive way and most of the lyrics seem to be there. I haven’t checked that, to be honest. That’s not part of the service I’m providing here, which can be summarised as drawing your attention to/reminding you of/making sarcastic comments about this particular cover version. Feel free to compare the two versions for yourself. Here’s the Silverfish.
Silverfish were active between 1988 to 1993 during which time they made quite an impression on anyone who heard them at their thrillingly chaotic live shows or via their various Peel Sessions. Their uncompromising attitude and warped sense of humour secured them plenty of music press coverage too, despite the overriding popularity of baggy, indie-dance and shoegaze bands at the time.
White Lines was one of the highlights on the Silverfish’s first full-length album, Fat Axl, released in 1991, the follow-up to the previous year’s brilliant, 1990 mini-album Cockeye. Like most good things, it was produced by Steve Albini, under the pseudonym of Ding Rollski.
Fat Axl was well-received by critics and fans alike but was too raw, uncompromising and resolutely uncommercial to ride the US grunge wave that was just starting to gather pace – though they did make a memorable appearance in the early afternoon at Reading 1991, sandwiched between Babes In Toyland and Nirvana.
Of course these days the phrase Fat Axl is more closely associated with a series of memes taking the piss out of Axl Rose for being overweight. They’re not that funny – generally featuring painful puns that crowbar junk food items into Guns ‘n’ Roses lyrics – but Axl himself has stepped in to give the situation some humour by demanding that Google removes them from the internet, and seemingly expecting that to happen.
The Silverfish’s next, and last, album Organ Fan (1992) did slightly better commercially than its predecessors, despite a sludgy mix that diluted the band’s attack. It also spawned what may have proved to be their most lasting legacy; the feminist t-shirt slogan ‘Hips, Tits, Lips, Power’ – taken from the chorus of single Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal. This garment quickly became extraordinarily popular with badass indie girls.
That t-shirt and that slogan may have lived long in the mind, but the Silverfish deserve to also be remembered for the brash, witty, aggressive and downright life-affirming majesty of their music.
Whilst ‘researching’ this post I discovered that Duran Duran took a lead from Lesley, Fuzz and the boys and released their own cover version of White Lines in 1995. If you click this link you’ll be taken to the official video for the single. It features Simon Le Bon and whatever the rest of them were called, leaping around, like they’re McBusted or something, despite being immensely old by this time. Probably best if you don’t click the link.
The Rollercoaster tour was conceived as a lower key, British answer to Lollapalooza back in the early ’90s when the American franchise had just begun and was still a touring show featuring cutting-edge bands.
Curated by The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, the Rollercoaster tour featured The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Blur and Dinosaur Jr sharing headlining duties as they played a series of concerts at several large venues across the UK in the Spring of 1992.
Reid explained, “Everyone was talking about Lollapalooza, which to us was pretty crap. We did it, playing at 2pm after Pearl Jam, and it was fairly disastrous. So we thought, Why not do a good version of it? We were just trying to shake things up, to make it not like a bunch of boring blokes standing around with pints of beer. We were sick to death of plodding up and down the UK on our own, playing the same shitholes. It felt more like being a rock star – more a Bowie/Bolan thing.”
Looking at the line-up for Rollercoaster tour now – two and a half decades later – it’s worth trying to give it some context. The Jesus & Mary Chain were of course long-established by this point and had just released their well-received fourth album, Honey’s Dead. At that point it had been seven years since Psychocandy, the album that defined them and, though they were still a big deal, in terms of popularity and cool, you could have said that they were past their peak. Or maybe it just seemed that way because we were just teenagers while the Reid brothers were past 30 by then.
My Bloody Valentine were absolutely at their peak, though nobody knew it at the time. Their hugely powerful cacophony and uniquely beautiful melodies had made them massively popular and inspired a whole raft of bands to try to emulate them. No one could get close. The previous year they’d released the majestic Loveless album. It seemed like they would only get bigger and bigger. As it turned out they wouldn’t release the follow up to Loveless until 2013. This was as big as they’d get.
Dinosaur Jr brought some US glamour to the show – not in a KISS/New York Dolls sort of way, obviously – I mean look at them. It was kudos and variety that they provided, as well as grunge credentials. At that time, when American alternative rock had just crossed over into the mainstream, Dinosaur Jr’s ’80s output had been namechecked constantly as an influence by bands from the scene. They’d also released their successful major label debut Green Mind in 1991 and were shaping up to follow that up with Where You Been in ’93. So they were on good form and very much in vogue; having them on the tour and a lot of sense .
Blur’s inclusion made less sense. Graham Coxon has admitted “I was shocked we were asked, but absolutely over the moon. It provoked quite a lot of passion in people – like “What the fuck were Blur doing on there?”.
Their signature tune had been There’s No Other Way, an irritatingly catchy, baggy, pop number that had jauntily made it into the UK Top Ten in early 1991. By the time of Rollercoaster, the baggy scene was over and Blur were beginning to look like indie also-rans who’d fluked a one-off, big-selling single – like Candy Flip or something. What actually happened of course is that they became leading lights of the Britpop scene that dominated the middle of the decade. I wouldn’t have predicted that. At the time they seemed like the poor relations on the tour, but they turned out to be the only band on the bill to have their most successful years ahead of them.
Me and Millhouse went to the Birmingham NEC leg of the Rollercoaster tour along with Jason, the drummer in our (shit) band, his girlfriend Bianca and her best friend Claire. Bianca was a self-consciously cool indie girl – all flowery dresses and superior attitude. She was in my year at school and we got on fine, but she liked to behave in a mature manner at all times, whilst I was – and still am – fond of getting silly. That’s why she went out with Jason who was a year older than us and was the proud owner of a rusted Austin Metro. Claire was similar, but not as pretty, although Millhouse fancied her desperately anyway. Claire’s made her lack of interest in Millhouse very obvious. My girlfriend at the time wasn’t invited on the trip because there was only room for five in the Metro and I was a crap boyfriend.
Millhouse organised the trip, because that was his role and because he wanted to spend time trying and failing to work his way into Claire’s affection. Jason’s job was to drive. My role was to write it all up 25 years later.
Of course being 25 years later a lot of the details are forgotten. I know it was great and that it started early so everyone could play a full set; not like a festival show where most are abbreviated. I remember J Mascis’s ear-splitting solos and the hooks on Freak Scene and The Wagon; songs that I didn’t know that well at that time. The Jesus & Mary Chain were impressive too; the muscular beats and crisp guitar sound of Honey’s Dead translating perfectly to the vast arena of the NEC. Even Blur were good, maybe conscious of their status as poor relations and keen to prove their worth to an indifferent crowd. Their set was memorable for the film they showed at one point – a reverse chronology of a cow’s life, from kid eating burger, back to abattoir and finally standing, chewing the cud in a field. It was strangely touching.
My Bloody Valentine were the main attraction for us. While the other groups raised their game for the bigger venue and the huge, diverse crowd, you felt like MBV could have played to ten times as many people and kept them enraptured. They could have done it with the same sound system too – this was during their ‘holocaust’ days and shit, they were loud. You could physically feel the swirling, squally feedback take your breath away. It was mesmerising. The cotton wool in Millhouse’s little ears had never worked so hard. I don’t want to take the piss out of people for taking care of their hearing – I know tinnitus is a horrible, horrible condition – but Millhouse was 16 at the time. It wasn’t natural for him to be thinking like that. Besides, he was wrong, my hearing is still fine now.
My Bloody Valentine’s performance of the glorious Soon stays with me to this day. As does the sense of bewilderment that me, Millhouse and Jason shared at their sheer musical competence. As members of a (shit) band ourselves, we were awestruck by their ability to all remember in unison how many times to play the descending riff after the chorus of Feed Me With Your Kiss.
Strangely my clearest memory of the Rollercoaster tour comes from before we even got into the venue.
As well as being a golden era for music, 1992 was a fantastic time to be a smoker. It was still fairly cheap, the packets featured only small written warnings of the hazards inherent in your habit, rather than large, graphic horror photos of your likely future and you could smoke pretty much anywhere. And yet we got the idea from the back of the ticket that cigarettes weren’t allowed in the NEC Arena. Look at the T&Cs below – the second to last line implies it.
At least three of us smoked at that time and we debated the situation all the way there. It was going to be a long gig and we didn’t want to wait until after the concert for a cigarette. But we didn’t want Security to take our smokes off us either. Then, Bianca spoke up. She had an idea. Her vintage suede coat had a small rip in the lining. She would squeeze a packet of B&H into the lining through the rip and retrieve them inside the venue. It was a brilliant idea. Well, no, it was a shit idea, but Bianca was saying it, and she was just so sensible and mature. If she thought it would work, we were willing to accept that.
We parked up and walked the long walk to the venue, joining long queues of German army shirts, cardigans, plaid, combat shorts, flowery dresses, Doc Martens, band t-shirts and tie-dye. Banks of security guards checked tickets by the doors. Bianca remained cool.
We got closer to the front and could see that everyone was being patted down before they got through the doors. Seeing this, Bianca took off her suede coat and draped it over her arm casually. She remained unfazed and we believed in her. Me, Jason and Carl joined the male queue, with male security staff, Claire and Bianca joined the ladies’ queue. Bianca, retained an air of total confidence in her smuggling abilities. She got to the front of the queue before we did and was patted down by a sturdy lady in a black bomber jacket. Bianca remained impassive throughout, even when the bomber jacket woman gestured for her coat.
By this time me, Millhouse and Jason were at the front of the queue and being searched. We stood there with our arms outstretched looking over as Security Lady squeezed the coat and found something suspicious. She stopped smiling. Bianca’s face began to get red. Security lady turned the coat inside out and began talking to Bianca sternly. Bianca got redder. Security Lady found the hole in the lining, reached in and pulled out the golden box of contraband. From five metres away, I could feel the searing heat coming from Bianca’s face. Security lady summoned her colleagues as she opened up the cigarette packet and tipped out the contents into a tray, all the while talking sternly to Jason’s glowing girlfriend. Within a couple seconds Bianca was surrounded by big fellas in black bomber jackets, pointing accusing fingers at her and questioning her angrily about her subterfuge, demanding to know what else she’d hidden and why. We looked on helplessly, wondering if this was the end of our night, as well as our cigarettes.
After a couple of tense minutes the crowd of bomber jackets began to disperse until it was just Bianca with Security Lady admonishing her as she slid the cigarettes back into the tattered packet with trembling fingers. Eventually, Bianca, and the cigarettes were allowed through to join us.
She traipsed over to us, with her sweaty, red face turned to the floor to avoid the sniggering gaze of the many hundreds of people who had witnessed her humiliation. It turned out that while trying to sneak stuff past the security team was frowned upon, you could smoke in the NEC after all – just not in the seats. So that was good.
Although, thinking about it, I don’t think Bianca actually smoked.
A few years later Mrs NoiseCrumbs was working at the NEC and could get us reduced price tickets for shows. Being a massive venue, not that much worth seeing came up, but among the bands we did see were The Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. We had tickets for The White Stripes too, but tragically they split up before they did the tour. Another band we saw there was Blur – the poor relations of Rollercoaster filling the Arena on their own on their ‘Greatest Hits’ tour. I still wasn’t really a fan, but it’s funny how things turn out.
The Lemonheads’ energetic, pop-grunge take on Different Drum now looks like a dry run for their hit version of that other AOR classic Mrs Robinson. The lesser-known Different Drum is so much better though – less obvious, more original, more fun. The feedback and unpolished production contrast beautifully with the baroque rock elements and Evan Dando croons out the ballad with enthusiasm and the requisite emotion. It’s a better song too.
I bought this back in 1990 on the Favourite Spanish Dishes 12″ having heard Different Drum played by John Peel. It was one of my purchases from a rainy afternoon spent in Replay Records in Bristol. I was visiting my big sister at university and she’d stuck me on a bus to the city centre to get rid of me for a few hours. The excellent, subterranean – and now sadly gone – Replay was a real treasure trove and I came away with this, The Boo Radleys’ Kaleidoscope EP and a copy of Lime Lizard magazine in which Mudhoney mocked their interviewer for having long hair, having recently cut theirs. As a Mudhoney fan who was desperately growing his hair, this had me bewildered – why would they do this?
Different Drum, written by Monkee Mike Nesmith and originally recorded by the bluegrass band The Greenbriar Boys, is technically not a cover of a Linda Rondstadt song, but that’s how John Peel announced it on his show, so that’s what it’s always been to me. It’s also how my mum recognised it when she heard The Lemonheads’ version blasting out of my bedroom on my return home. Turns out she’d been a fan of the Linda Ronstadt single back in the ’70s, though that’s not necessarily a recommendation.
A couple of years later The Lemonheads went mainstream with Mrs Robinson and the breakthrough album It’s A Shame About Ray. I once got together with a girl because she thought I looked like Evan Dando. Hmm! I mean I did have the hair by that point but to be honest I think it was more that she really wanted to see it; and I was cool with that!
Mudhoney’s 1995 single Generation Spokesmodel – “Oh I got these looks, That just won’t quit, I got at least, A half of some kind of wit” – is supposedly a dig at Evan Dando, and there are lots of reasons why this would make perfect sense, though they tend to deny it. Despite Mark Arm’s disapproval, I still have my vinyl copy of Favourite Spanish Dishes, long after the Kaleidoscope EP got traded in.
This isn’t a Chris Cornell obituary – just me trying to work out why, when I heard about his sad, sad death a couple of days ago it felt like such a kick in the teeth.
I’ve been listening to his music for more than 25 years. With Soundgarden he’s been responsible for some of my most listened-to songs of all time. Yet when I’ve been asked what sort of music I like and dutifully reeled off a list of band names, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Soundgarden. They’ve been an ever-present, but never an obsession.
1990 was when it started. Someone lent me the Louder Than Love album with its iconic Charles Peterson photograph of a hair-flailing, bare-chested Chris Cornell on the cover. At that time my main jam was baggy, indie pop and Soundgarden just sounded like metal; which it pretty much was. Guitarist Kim Thayil described the sound they were aiming for as ‘Black Sabbath without the parts that suck’. Steady on there, Kim, that’s Sabbath you’re talking about!
The sound grew on me, as of course it did with a lot people at that time. Mudhoney’s garage fuzz was my main route into grunge, but 1991’s Badmotorfinger, and more specifically its three outstanding singles, Jesus Christ Pose, Outshined and Rusty Cage, got me properly interested in Soundgarden for the first time.
Outshined included Cornell’s brilliant lyric, ‘I’m looking California, but feeling Minnesota’. In interviews, the frontman with the Hollywood looks often alluded to the crippling agoraphobia and depression that he’d suffered as a teenager. Though music had been his saviour, this line showed that despite his growing success, he never felt that his problems were behind him.
I loved the Temple of the Dog album that came about after the death of Cornell’s close friend Andrew Wood. The Mother Love Bone singer ‘s overdose was an epochal event for Cornell and, despite it prompting a dive into serious drug and alcohol dependency, he formed the side-project band as a tribute. The album featured the grunge classics Say Hello 2 Heaven, Hunger Strikeand Pushin Forward Back. It was about this time that I started to notice that Chris Cornell could really fucking sing. Strangely, it was his backing singing to Eddie Vedder’s lead on Hunger Strike that particularly brought this fact home for me.
As Soundgarden became more popular than ever in the mid ’90s – despite the demise of grunge following Kurt’s death – I’d tune in to them from time to time. They were the kind of band whose CDs I’d buy in the HMV sale. Black Hole Sun is now being put forward as their masterpiece, but I think they did better stuff in this period; The Day I Tried To Live, Burden In My Hand and Pretty Noose, the title of which has now taken on a tragic new context.
After Soundgarden, Chris Cornell seemed to become more active than ever with Audioslave, solo work and various collaborations. He married, had children and began a charitable foundation. He got himself clean and apparently remained so. When Soundgarden reformed in 2010 and started putting out new material it was heartwarming – a major band from the dominant and most exciting music scene of my teenage years was up and running again, and the singer barely looked a day older, despite the passing of two decades.
On Thursday, when Soundgarden were trending on Twitter and I clicked the hashtag, I was expecting to maybe see a UK tour announcement. ‘Chris Cornell dead aged 52’. Fucking what? Fucking WHAT? Another link to my youth, gone. And this was someone who’d negotiated addictions and a notoriously morbid music scene, apparently unscathed. He’d grown up, become a family man, gained huge respect as an artist, was clean, sober and busier than ever. Surely he was out of danger? People speculated that maybe it was a heart attack – a consequence of those years of addiction, maybe? Later came the suicide confirmation.
Tragically, 25 years on, Chris Cornell was looking California and still feeling Minnesota.
There can’t be many better illustrations of how devastating mental illness can be than this. If Chris Cornell, a lavishly talented, impossibly good-looking, artistically respected, incredibly successful rock superstar with a loving family can’t cope with life, what chance does anyone else have?
I’ve lost other friends to suicide. I know how senseless and devastating it is and how any apparent positives don’t seem to count for anything. It might be that that’s the aspect of Chris Cornell’s death that’s hit me so hard. It’s such a waste.
Music From The Motion Picture ‘Judgment Night’ – Various Artists
In mid-1993, Melody Maker printed news about the soundtrack for an upcoming film, Judgment Night, which would feature collaborations between contemporary rap acts and ‘alternative’/metal bands, including contributions from Sonic Youth, Run DMC, Cypress Hill, Mudhoney and Dinosaur Jr.
The full track listing was unbelievable, featuring top artists from both scenes and some of the unlikeliest combinations since Bowie and Crosby crooned around a baby grand:
Helmet & House of Pain – Just Another Victim
Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul – Fallin’
Living Colour & Run DMC – Me, Myself & My Microphone
Biohazard & Onyx – Judgment Night
Slayer & Ice-T – Disorder
Faith No More & Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. – Another Body Murdered
Sonic Youth & Cypress Hill – I Love You Mary Jane
Mudhoney & Sir Mix-A-Lot – Freak Momma
Dinosaur Jr & Del the Funky Homosapien – Missing Link
Therapy? & Fatal – Come And Die
Pearl Jam & Cypress Hill – Real Thing
The teenage me couldn’t have been more excited without involving Winona Ryder in some way.
When it was released the Judgment Night soundtrack became one of my earliest CD purchases, along with Sub Pop 200 and Freedom Of Choice. This was at a time when CDs were generally 50% more expensive than records – pretty much the opposite of now – so buying a newly-released one was a rare luxury for me.
It’s worth explaining at this point that rap rock had more credibility in 1993 than it does now, in these post-Limp Bizkit times. The earliest hip-hop had happily co-existed with punk in late ’70s New York, in seedy clubs away from the disco establishment, before Beastie Boys, with roots in both scenes, hit the charts by fusing the genres. There were several notable collaborations between highly-regarded rap and rock acts either side of that, but Public Enemy and Anthrax’s 1991 reworking of Bring The Noise might be the genre’s definitive tune. The following year, Rage Against The Machine released their seminal, self-titled first album. It’s fair to say that the early-’90s was when rap rock reached its pinnacle.
This was a time when both ‘alternative’ music and hip-hop were crossing over to the mainstream, and rap was diversifying in many different directions. It was also the time of the first Gulf War and the Rodney King verdict, and as a result, music got angrier. Mixing the expressiveness of rap with the aggression of heavy guitar music was an obvious move. Rap rock hasn’t died since the early 90s, but the likes of Kid Rock have done a fuck of a lot of damage to its kudos.
So the Judgment Night soundtrack came out at a time when rock rap as a genre was at its peak, and most of the bands involved were too, leading to an eclectic collection of unique collaborations. And it was REALLY FUCKING GOOD!
At the heavy end of the spectrum you had Biohazard playing on Judgment Night with Onyx – who at that time, on the back of their excellent Slamsingle, looked likely to fill the void left by the self-destructing NWA. Helmet produced a heavier than normal version of their tight grunge to back House Of Pain on Just AnotherVictim, which is highly effective, despite some clunky rhymes – “Feeling like De Niro in Taxi Driver, with Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel, feels like I’m walking through a living hell”. Therapy? provided an indie-metal background on Come And Diewith (the now obscure) Fatal. Living Colour’s funk complemented Run DMC perfectly on Me, Myself & My Microphone, and Faith No More/Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. provided an unexpected highlight with the brutally aggressive Another Body Murdered – “Bang yo’ head to this!”.
More relaxed offerings came from Teenage Fanclub/De La Soul and Sonic Youth/Cypress Hill, both getting gloriously trippy on their collaborations, Fallin’ and I Love You Mary Jane(maybe, MAYBE a subtle marijuana reference there?). Freak Mommaby Mudhoney and Sir Mix-a-Lot was also pretty laidback. It was entertaining too, though sadly not the delicious cocktail of Baby Got Back and Touch Me I’m Sick I’d been hoping for.
Ice-T seemed to misinterpret the brief, despite having just begun fronting his own rap-metal band, Body Count. I’d been a fan of his hip-hop since the Power album, but on Disorder, his collaboration with Slayer, he chose to shout a bad approximation of metal singing rather than rap. For me, it was the weakest track on the album.
While every cut on the Judgment Night soundtrack is excellent in its own way, Mr Marrow and friends aside, there are two tracks on it that stand out above the rest for me. The first is Real Thing, the collaboration between Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill. Now, I’ve never been a fan of Pearl Jam, but the overdriven, descending guitar riff on this, coupled with the prominent, threatening bassline blends perfectly with Sen Dog and B-Real’s ultra aggressive rap for a claustrophobic classic. From the opening feedback, to the closing “na, na, na” hook, Real Thing sounds like two acts at the peak of their powers pushing each other to give the best performance possible.
The other stand out track is Missing Linkfrom Dinosaur Jr and Del Tha Funky Homosapien. Del is best known for his insanely catchy 1991 hit Mistadoblina(“Mr Dobalina, Mr Bob Dobalina”), and for being Ice Cube’s cousin. Among the things Dinosaur Jr are best known for is J Mascis’s guitar heroics, which are all over this tune. If Real Thing showcased two musical heavyweights coaxing each other to new levels, Missing Link is the sound of a very good rapper desperately trying to keep his head above water under a constant deluge of J’s guitar genius, as one after another, unique and brilliant riffs are casually layered over the track. With a lot of effort, Del manages keep himself heard for the duration of the song, but there’s no doubting that it’s J’s contribution that makes it so memorable.
Despite having one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, Judgment Night the film is a bit of a turkey. It’s an ‘action-thriller’ in which four buddies get lost in the wrong part of town and end up – guess what – fighting for their lives. I only recently got around to watching it and it’s clear to see why it flopped at the box office. The Washington Post‘s review nails it, describing Judgment Night as ‘regrettably familiar’.
The film’s hero is portrayed by Emilio Estevez, who had previously starred in Repo Man, a great film with another fantastic soundtrack, featuring Iggy (with the title track), Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag. He was also in Freejack in 1992, which is only notable for a hopeless performance from Mick Jagger as the baddie. In Judgment Night, Denis Leary is almost as implausible as the all-powerful crime boss, but the film’s biggest flaw is the failure to give any prominence to the soundtrack. There may never have been such a disparity between the quality of a film and the quality of its soundtrack.
So there you go, that’s Music From The Motion Picture ‘Judgment Night’ by Various Artists, an ambitious project that brought together some of the biggest stars of the rap and alternative rock scenes at a time when they were taking over the mainstream. A rock rap collaboration on this scale never happened again – it was the genre’s last stand. Then again, if anger was the catalyst for the first wave of rock rap, maybe the turbulent times we’re living in will create a resurgence; members of Public Enemy, Rage Against The Machine and Cypress Hill performed as Prophets Of Rage at an Anti-Inaugural Ball , after all. If not, then the Judgment Night soundtrack will remain a great document of when the genre was at its best. It really deserved a better film.
There’s a certain symmetry to this cover – a tribute to the premier, righteously angry, White Panther-affiliated, garage punk band of the ’60s by the premier, righteously angry, ‘political action through music’, alt-rock/rap band of the ’90s.
MC5’s brazenly confrontational Kick Out The Jams was first released on their debut LP of the same name in 1969. The album was recorded live in October 1968 over the course of two shows at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom where MC5 had been the house band since its reopening as a psychedelic venue in 1966. MC5 were the default support act for visiting bands and when their local fans felt that the evening’s main attractions were underperforming they would demand that they ‘Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!’. MC5 appropriated the phrase for their most famous song.
Bassist Michael Davis had mixed feelings about the impact of their debut album. “The night we recorded Kick Out The Jams was actually the end of the band for me. Before that night, the MC5 was totally experimental. Every time we went up onstage, it was like we were making the sound up for the time. After October 31, 1968, the MC5 would forever be moulded that way because now we knew what we were supposed to sound like. We were like Play-Doh before that, and then we were an actual form after it, and we were expected to be like that from then on.”
As well as setting the template for the band’s sound, Kick Out The Jams, and specifically the use of the word ‘motherfucker’ increased MC5’s notoriety massively. Though it was a big hit they were dropped from their record label, record stores were banned from selling the album and the band was constantly hassled by police at shows. As a way of introducing the world to a resolutely anti-establishment band, it was a big success.
The way Rage Against The Machine announced themselves to the UK on the (notorious mess of a) TV show that was The Word in the early-’90s was similarly effective. Channel 4’s The Word is remembered for a few musical moments, most famously Kurt declaring Courtney to be ‘the best fuck in the world’ before launching into Teen Spirit and Donita from L7 dropping her jeans during Pretend We’re Dead. Both of these events are regularly dredged up and labelled as shocking, when they really weren’t. Nirvana and L7 were well-known before these appearances and their unpredictability was pretty, er, predictable. RATM meanwhile were virtually unknown when they took to that stage and the power of their heavy riffs, tight rhythms, hip hop beats, intense, lucid anger and repeated ‘fuck yous’ was totally unexpected and truly exhilarating. The performance ended in suspiciously unspontaneous looking chaos – under the watchful eye of super-middleweight world champion, Chris Eubank – but they’d made their impression by then.
Rage Against The Machine’s cover of Kick Out The Jams appeared on their final album, Renegades (2000). Their blistering, self-titled 1992 debut album had shot them to alternative rock royalty but their follow up, Evil Empire wasn’t released until 1996 and was a disappointment. 1999’s Battle Of Los Angeles was a slight return to form but by the time Renegades was released the band was fizzling out. Renegades features a number of cover versions of songs by artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Cypress Hill, Minor Threat, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, Bob Dylan, Afrika Bambaata and Devo. Kick Out The Jams was the best of these. It doesn’t capture the sweaty, spontaneous energy of the original but it does fill it with the intense, tightly-harnessed power that Rage Against The Machine always did so well.
Though Kick Out The Jams had been covered lots of times before – by Jeff Buckley, Bad Brains and The Mono Men, among many, many others – you could argue that it should’ve been left alone. MC5’s will always be the definitive version – there’s no way to improve it – and it defines the band, in the same way that Killing In The Name Of defines Rage Against The Machine. But RATM’s cover is a bold attempt to do it justice and it’s a high point on Renegades. Maybe it’s also helped to keep MC5’s legacy alive, meaning sights like this can become more common:
Remember that? I don’t know how to feel about Rachel from Friends wearing an MC5 t-shirt. Maybe this fictional character was a fan? Why shouldn’t she be? But it doesn’t feel right, somehow. Who knows, maybe it doesn’t even matter. But I bet Rage Against The Machine wouldn’t be happy about it.
The Cramps were playing Surfin’ Bird live before The Ramones. Johnny admitted, “We heard them doing it, so we started playing it”. The unhinged bubble-gum pop of Surfin’ Bird was perfect for The Ramones anyway. It was fast, retro rock ‘n’ roll, comprising three chords and a bunch of lyrical hooks. That IS The Ramones.
It also fitted in with the band’s self-deprecating way of answering the mainstream’s misconceptions about their mental functionality. One time Marky remembered when the band were on tour and stopped at a restaurant. When their tour manager Monte Melnick left the band alone inside to go out to the van a concerned woman approached him and asked, “Are you taking care of those retarded men”. “She thought we were retarded guys in a van, being nursed by Monte. She meant it.”
Whether it was because of their appearance, playing style or the blunt subject matter of their songs, they were often dismissed as stupid or crazy and songs like Pinhead, Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Teenage Lobotomy and Surfin’ Bird were their way of hitting back.
It’s plain to see that The Ramones were in fact geniuses. They wrote brilliant songs and developed a playing style and complete street gang aesthetic – encompassing the clothes, the shared surnames, the logo that launched ten million t-shirts and the stripped back attack of their live performance – that no band before or since has ever matched.
The Trashmen’s original Surfin’ Bird was essentially a cover itself; a surf-rock reimagining of the choruses from two separate songs by the brilliant ’60s doo-wop group The Rivingtons – The Bird Is The Word and Papa Oom Mow Mow. It became a novelty hit for The Trashmen and was famously featured on a January 1964 edition of American Bandstand in which their singer/drummer Steve Wahrer lip-synched solo while doing a chicken dance. He performed solo because the band’s record company had refused to fly the rest of the band to the show’s recording.
The Trashmen carried on performing until 1967 but never managed another hit. It isn’t as easy to make a lasting career out of fast, three-chord, bubble-gum pop as The Ramones made it look.
Ah, Spacemen 3; neo-psychedelic, proto-shoegazing, effects pedal-piling experimentalists from the beautiful British Midlands that Noisecrumbs calls home. And Mudhoney; Seattle’s favourite, shaggy-haired, hedonistic, hard-drinkin’, garage-grunge, party band. Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney might not seem to have a lot in common, other than an audible Stooges influence – what worthwhile band hasn’t go that? – but these are two of my all-time favourite bands. This is in the large part down to their respective guitar sounds.
For me, guitar sound is absolutely crucial – often more important than melody, lyrics or performance. A powerful, roaring, throaty, chord sequence can elevate an otherwise unremarkable song into something sublime. Over the years it’s been my only reason for listening to songs by Metallica and Pantera, it’s why Territorial Pissings is a personal highlight on Nevermind and it’s the main factor that’s sent me back repeatedly to play tunes by wonderful but forgotten bands like Bullet Lavolta, Lovecup, Starfish and Worms. In different ways, both Spacemen 3 and Mudhoney consistently sound like they’re joyously driving their Fenders and Marshalls to breaking point, and in Spacemen 3’s case, never more so than on their cover of Mudhoney’s When Tomorrow Hits.
Mudhoney’s original When Tomorrow Hits comes limping out of the heat-haze like a sinister desert drifter, with a loose, bluesy drone. You can hardly discern the lyrics Mark Arms drawls until the chorus, which consists of nine words – the title repeated three times. It builds over the course of the second verse to a fairly noisy climax – like tomorrow hitting – then it’s done, having clearly made its point. It’s low-key, by peak Mudhoney standards, but it’s a great song and you can see why the simple construction and repetitive elements appealed to Jason and Sonic Boom.
The Spacemen 3 version keeps the same structure, starting quiet with a simple drum beat, two chords and an insistent slide guitar. The vocals are just as impenetrable as on the original, with wobbly, echo effects obscuring the lyrics and, as with the original, there’s a foreshadowing of the climax in the chorus, before the crescendo, heralded by a squall of feedback at the end of verse two. This is where the song explodes. It erupts in a molten cacophony of shrieking feedback, wah-wah and pummelling overdrive, layered into a sound that’s absolutely gigantic. So much so, that the band struggle to bring the racket back under control and the cover runs nearly twice as long as the original while they tackle the chaos. When tomorrow hits in Jason and Sonic’s world, it hits on a fucking spectacular scale.
Spacemen 3’s cover of When Tomorrow Hits was meant to be half of a split single for Sub Pop, with the other side being Mudhoney’s cover of Spacemen 3’s Revolution. The project never happened though, because Sonic was pissed off when he heard Mudhoney’s cover and discovered that they’d changed the lyrics. So the collaboration was cancelled and Revolution came out on various bootlegs and the March To Fuzz retrospective, while When Tomorrow Hits became an album track and stunning highlight on Spacemen 3’s final studio album, Recurring.
Spacemen 3 had effectively dissolved before Recurring was even released, with Sonic and Jason unable to resolve the acrimony that had long existed between them, even with the prospect of a lucrative record deal and American tour to tempt them. They kept the split quiet until after the release then officially went their separate ways, with Jason going on to form Spiritualized and Sonic Boom going solo and recording and performing as Spectrum and E.A.R.
Sonic and Jason had always been incredibly productive – particularly for such dedicated stoners – working on side-projects during their Spacemen 3 days and getting their new ventures off the ground without a pause following that band’s sad demise. They’re both still active today and have released some fantastic music in the intervening years. But despite the acrimony that apparently existed between the two creative forces for much of the time that they collaborated, the material they produced as the seminal, psychedelic, Spacemen 3 remains their best work. It’s not all down to their guitar sound, but shit, as this cover demonstrates, they could really make some noise when they wanted to.