Debut Albums & First Tracks…

One of the key components to deciding an album’s effectiveness is sequencing- not an easy task. The first song (if done effectively) sets the stage for the rest of the album. For a debut album, that song sets the mission statement, if you will.

As mentioned in other posts, one of my greatest drumming inspirations (when i was regularly playing in bands with folks) was Hugo Burnham of Gang Of Four. The band’s debut album, Entertainment!, is one of the greatest post punk/punk albums of all time. Of course it was one of those albums that contributed to my burgeoning political analysis as a teenager and young adult.

‘Ether’ is one of the greatest examples of a band decisively producing their mission statement. The song (which is about how British imperialist forces stole Northern Ireland) matches the theme of the album’s cover, which plays upon the land and human exploitation by those who came from Britain, into the u.s.: “The Indian smiles, he thinks that the cowboy is his friend. The cowboy smiles, he is glad the Indian is fooled. Now he can exploit him.”

The song has two perspectives; one of the invader/colonizer, and the invaded/colonized.

Dig at the root of the problem (Fly the flag on foreign soil)
It breaks your new dreams daily (H-block Long Kesh)
Father’s contradictions (Censor six counties’ news)
And breaks your new dreams daily (Each day more deaths)

At the end, it addresses the interest in the land is both to control its people, but also to exploit resources:

You’re looking out for pleasure (Under Rockall)
It’s at the end of the rainbow (There may be oil)
The happy ever after (under Rockall)
It’s corked up with the ether (There may be oil)
It’s corked up with the ether (under Rockall)

It does make me wonder how many people were dancing to the reggae and funk-laced punk rhythms of Gang Of Four, The Mekons, Delta 5, The Slits and other bands, without actually listening to the messages- just how people today had no awareness that Rage Against The Machine was a ‘political’ band, despite the extremely clear messages in every song.

And as you may already know, i love a good 16th note disco beat (and some funk bass) in punk and metal. Those discordant guitars add to the counter-rhythms, making post-punk some of my favorite music.

Look Sharp! (as well as the next one or two albums) by Joe Jackson got lumped in with the wave of post punk/pub rock bands of the late 70s, such as Ian Drury, Elvis Costello and Lene Lovich. While each of those artists had a distinct sound of their own, i recognize the similarities enough in how people are able to frame particular artists in particular compartments. Joe Jackson probably departed from a lot of that on the greatest level (with Declan Mcmanus/Costello as a pretty close second), as he fairly quickly began diversifying his craft by covering Louis Jordan, Duke Ellington, paying tribute to Sonny Rollins and Nuyorican culture, adding classical elements (eventually making whole classical albums), adding the great Sue Hadjopoulos on congas, and more.

In ‘One More Time’ (the introductory song of Look Sharp!) Gary Sanford’s intro riff (one of my favorites) slightly echoes Nile Rogers (even if subconsciously). Graham Maby (one of the greatest, most underrated rock bassists of all time) comes in, with one of my favorite bass lines of all time. Dave Houghton comes in strong with one of the greatest uses of the toms in a chorus.

In the earlier years, Maby (who still plays with Joe Jackson, and is the only OG player who does), used to DOWNPICK this riff- and they played it MUCH faster live! He now alternate picks it, which is understandable.

i only saw NoMeansNo live once in the mid 1990s; however, i am incredibly glad i got to see them before their retirement in 2016. They are one of my favorite bands of all time, and while i in no way, shape or form as good a drummer as John Wright, he has definitely been a massive inspiration- i was actually in a band (my first band, actually, where i played guitar) where we covered ‘Two Lips, Two Lungs And One Tongue’ from Wrong.

Speaking of Wrong… While Mama, Sex Mad and Small Parts Isolated And Destroyed (albums i had on vinyl) are excellent ‘modern post-punk’ albums with funk and jazz elements; in keeping up with the theme of this post, ‘It’s Catching Up’ (the opening song on Wrong, released in 1989) came with a different kind of power. My favorite NoMeansNo song of all time is another one that intros an album (‘Now’, from 1991’s 0+2=1); that said, ‘It’s Catching Up’ is pretty solid competition. NoMeansNo are one of those bands who have never had a bad album.

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