It’s time to wish Jello Biafra a happy birthday! The loquacious frontman of the Dead Kennedys brought a special wit and incisive commentary to American hardcore punk and has continued to comment on injustice, both as a solo act, and teaming up with others, in groups such as Lard. Who knows, maybe someday Jello will become Mayor of San Francisco. In the meantime, let’s pay tribute to Mr. Biafra by grabbing your iPod or MP3 player, hitting shuffle, and sharing the first 10 tunes that come up.
David Kilgour — Nothing’s Going To Happen (Stroke: Songs For Chris Knox): This tribute album came out around the time CHIRP launched the stream, and it was great to play so many wonderful covers of Chris Knox’s tunes. I’ve always enjoyed Knox in Tall Dwarfs and as a solo artist. This track is from the front man for The Clean, and it’s a languid number with the lead guitar being played in somewhat of a Hawaiian style. David layers on a little bit of his patented Velvet Underground inspired drone, but with a mellower vibe.
Husker Du — Dead Set On Destruction (Candy Apple Grey): A riffy rocker from the pen of Grant Hart from Husker’s major label debut. This is a simple rocker, and while some purists at the time thought the band had sold out for including some mellower fare, this number still has an indie aesthetic, exemplified by the thin drum sound and Greg Norton’s overmodulated bass. A solid tune indeed.
Beck — Soldier Jane (The Information): This is probably my favorite Beck album. It’s a perfect soundtrack for late night driving, with lots of spacey keyboard sound effects backing up the solid rhythms and Beck’s melodies and cool delivery. A lot of the song are impenetrable, which isn’t a first for Beck, but they all have great hooks and the production is perfect.
The Knux — The Train (Remind Me In 3 Days): This L.A. by way of New Orleans sibling rap duo came up with some really creative backing, sometimes recalling old school late-‘80s rap. This is a keyboard dominated tune with twang guitar and an insistent rhythm track with the strong personality of both brothers coming through. I can’t wait for their next album, which should be out later this year.
Roy Byrd & His Blues Jumpers — Bald Head (The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll): This is a boogie woogie piano novelty number (#5 R & B hit in 1950) in a style that is somewhere between Big Joe Turner and New Orleans sounds like Fats Domino. Pretty basic, but one of the less amazing tunes on this three disc survey or songs that anticipated or pioneered rock ‘n’ roll.
Gene — New Amusements (Drawn to the Deep End): Based on their album art and the video I had seen on 120 Minutes, I had dismissed Gene as second rate Smiths wannabes. But due to the praise of Jack Rabid and an excellent interview Jack did with Gene vocalist Martin Rossiter, I finally gave their music a shot. And I was rewarded with opulent Britpop. Rossiter is a very engaging vocalist and the band constructed everything from peppy pop tunes to epic tales of romantic longing. This has a bit of pep and edge, but still fits more in the epic category.
10CC — Speed Kills (10CC): A fantastic song from 10CC’s debut. It’s built on a steady drumbeat, an lead guitar awash in effects playing the same figure over and over and a harmony vocals singing a somewhat psychedelic melody. The way these parts interview and the little variations in the instrumental breaks make this a really diverting tune and a great example of how inventive this quartet was from the get go.
E’Nuff Z’nuff — Fly High Michelle (E’Nuff Z’Nuff): It’s this Blue Island band’s own damn fault that it presented itself as a hair metal band, and it certainly paid off short term, as they signed to Atlantic Records. But their hard rock take on classic Midwestern power pop was lumped in with the Warrants and Slaughters of the world, and so when hair metal faded, they never were able to retain much credibility outside of guitar pop fanatics. This song should have been a smash, a melodic ballad that showcased Donnie Vie’s Lennon-esque vocals and had a bit of a Cheap Trick meets Def Leppard vibe.
Wire — 99.9 (Send): After the first two Read & Burn EPs, it was clear that Wire had found a way to take its patented minimalist approach and add some teeth to it. This culminated in Send, a worthy addition to the band’s catalog, with the characteristic clipped melodies sharing room with abrasive guitars. This track is Wire in maximum art-rock mode, with its slow keyboard build up and Colin Newman’s precise, menacing vocals starting things off, with industrial beats faintly in the background. The song eventually builds into a buzzing metronomic rant.
James Brown — Ain’t It Funky Now, Pt. 1 (The 50th Anniversary Collection): Why, yes James, it is. Though this is actually a low key funk work out. One lead guitar and the horns and an organ intertwine around a very basic drumbeat, with The Godfather of Soul periodically repeating the title phrase. In its own way, it’s as minimalist as Wire. Wonder if Wire dug JB?