Got The Fever

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

12" Of Raw Power

Was a time when extending a three or four minute single into a long-playing disk was all the rage. Some went to five minutes and some went all the way to twenty minutes and longer.

Actually the point brings me to an opposing tangent – was a time when a long playing track was cut down to an AM palpable three to four minute time – “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers and “Inna Gadda Da Vida” by Iron Butterfly jump up to be noticed. Or, “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors comes to mind along with The Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. There are many, many more you can trump out I’m sure.

But, from the disco era forward (think Donna Summers and over sixteen minutes of “Love To Love You Baby”), 12” singles were wildly in vogue and could be bought at any mom and pop vinyl venue. I touched on this quickly in my Kinks post a short while ago when I posted “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman”. Even long established artists such as The Rolling Stones, Greg Kihn, Kiss, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Echo And The Bunnymen, Gene Loves Jezebel and a slew of others jumped on the fad. And guess what? They sold millions! Matter of fact, I’m amazed that I can’t find more of these on other sites that offer music downloads. Know any?

Anyone with a ‘hit’ single started to release not only the shorter original singles, but a 12” extended play to go along with it. I’m imagining that with the exception of die-hard fans of the band, or compulsive music catalogue completists (ok, I’ll raise my hand), these long playing singles sold mainly within the club scene. And as for myself, I can see why. A great song, a truly great song can withstand the strain of elongating the intro, or the mesmerizing melody, or a haunting phrasing, or an instrument passage that begs to be let loose with expansion.

Out of the flood in the market of these singles I would sometimes find amazing extended plays that today I could never imagine as short singles. Or, if I happen to hear the original studio version, I can’t shake the burden of somehow feeling cheated out of listening to the full 12” version.

Walk The Night
Truth is, I never have heard the ‘short’ version of this song – if one does indeed exist. I only know this 5’21” crusher and I’ll take it. Meant to be played loud and to make you slightly uncomfortable with the content, this has been a top 40 single of mine for years.

How can I begin to describe the brutal cerebral imagery this conjures up or the quickening of pulse that’s so involuntary?

The opening hits you mercilessly and pries your senses agape as effortlessly as you’d bust a clamshell with a hand held piece of granite. The bass is proud but sinister and the beat impossible to resist. The unsettling scraping of a guitar pick on electrified strings certainly makes its presence and its evil known but is still periphery action - like a side kick thug who is just as malicious, but waits and watches for his leader to gesture him into action. And then, at 0'17”, a scream – is it a scream of pain, or a scream of pleasure? Follow this with a deep, threatening, disturbing chuckle (a taunt?), a crisp, precise top hat clicking time and the guitar that is the building lull before razor jawed judgment spews?

The onslaught is upon us. The central drive of all that is the track drives forward with one terrible upward thrust. And the front wavers, with a rippling affect that’s felt right to the back of the line.

And, then comes the scream - ONE of the screams in fact.

But, one cannot but help being drawn into the circling musical vortex, this track is magnificent in its force! As dark of a picture I’ve probably painted, can’t you feel how unceremoniously magnetized you’d be pulled onto the dance floor?

At 2’48” can you almost feel the vertigo, the loss of bodily function as another scream seems to plummet forever through an infinite shaft that can’t reasonably be fathomed.

And then, as your senses have regrouped and begun to coagulate once more, at 3’46” they turn the track onto unmapped territory and transform into something that’s completely at odds with what’s been established - wholly different. What a turnaround and what a surprising and pleasing twist! This is a track that’ll stick to your ribs!

Upon his lips the taste of pain.
Venom kiss of love insane.

He's got a rod beneath his coat,
He’s gonna ram right down your throat.
Make you grovel on the floor
Spit, bump, and scream and beg for more!

He'll whip ya!
And strip ya down.
A hotshot!
Gotcha!

True story: Just before I went back to my pad for the first time with a date (long, long time ago), I played this track in the car – loud, and mouthing the lyrics with a grin. She suddenly opted out of the opportunity to spend the night. In retrospect, I can now see why, what with the gay s/m sheen all over it, but back then I was just so into the music and mood, that it never occurred to me that when playing it for someone else, it might be misinterpreted as ... I don't know, dangerous maybe? To me, it's still just music. A few years later, the same scenario with someone else - but she really dug it, laughing out loud and bopped right along with the beat.

Go figure.

Sun City
I remember I bought this right after I heard it for the first time on one of the local Boston stations – WBCN I think. They played the whole 7’03” and I devoured it. It’s the constant singing of the lyrics “I ain’t gonna play Sin City” that hit me, just as I had mentioned in the opening paragraphs. Over and over, it’s infectious without being sickeningly repetitive.

Long story short, Sin City is (was?) a casino resort in South Africa. South Africa, of course, was still practicing apartheid, but despite that misery, bands would still go and play there – reaping tidy sums of money.

So Steve Van Zandt (Little Steven) of Springsteen fame, wrote this as a square fist against a round face to the artists who reaped rewards playing for segregated audiences. As was also customary at the time it was written, more than a few noted artists played on the track including The Boss himself, Miles Davis, Darryl Hannah (!), Gil-Scott Heron, Kurtis Blow, Ruffin, Kendrix, Ray Barretto – yea, heavy hitters. There’s a
nice article on Wikipedia that talks the details.

For me though, it’s the backing vocals, the screeching horns, the punishing beat and the length that all combine to make this a favored 12” single. Again though, if one exists I never heard a shorter 45 version.

Our Government tell us "we're doing all we can"
Constructive engagement is Ronald Reagan's plan
Meanwhile people are dying and giving up hope
This quiet diplomacy ain't nothing but a joke

I ain't gonna play Sun City
I ain't gonna play Sun City(Everybody Say)
I ain't gonna play Sun City (No baby)
I ain't gonna play Sun City

I have a whole case and a half of these 12” singles buried among the too-large vinyl collection, and I treasure them. Somewhere around six or seven years ago someone offered me (what I thought was) an outrageous sum of money for the whole lot of ‘em. I declined. I still love listening to them!

The Skatt Brothers: Walk The Night
Artists United Against Apartheid: Sun City

5 Comments:

  • "Sun City" is of its time, but still a scorcher. Thanks for remembering it and sharing it with those who haven't heard it.

    I, too, got it when it came out.

    By Anonymous Jeff at AM, Then FM, at 12:07 AM  

  • Jeff, I was amazed all over again when I re-read the list of everyone who appeared on it. Miles Davis for instance! 'Birth of the Cool' with Little Steven? A must-have for that alone. Thanks for stopping by.

    By Blogger wzjn, at 5:54 AM  

  • I must confess that I was disappointed with the song, but bought the single on strength of sentiment.

    Truth be told, by then the boycott-busting had already diminished to a bit of a trickle. A few years before, people like Chris De Burgh were still touring South African cities. With Sun City, the likes of Queen could still disingenuously claim to be playing in Bophuthatswana, and "independent" homeland. De Burgh's likes didn't even have that excuse.

    Having said that, in the '70s, people like Percy Sledge were cheerfully touring SA without any backlash. The rise of the cultural boycott didn't happen until the early '80s.

    But the Sun City single had an effect. What happened next was that anti-apartheid acts started playing in neighbouring countries. UB40 in Botswana, Joan Armatrading in Swaziland (or was it Lesotho), the Human Rights tour comprising Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Yossou N'Dour and Tracy Chapman in the bastion of democracy Harare. The crowds at these concerts were mostly young white South Africans, and a fair handful of activsts. I think a few were even conscientised by the experience.

    By Blogger Any major dude with half a heart, at 12:26 PM  

  • It's great to hear that view. Honestly, I didn't know any of it. Helps me to put in perspective what I wrote.

    Not knowing much about the area there I didn't even wonder if there were alternatives.

    Thanks for the insight.

    By Blogger wzjn, at 9:23 AM  

  • Hmmm...was program director at a radio station in Watkins Glen, NY at the time...completely insane and unbridled on the air...and played this many many times...some big fun was had by all...it's a little blurry. Music Junkie at Fusion 45

    By Blogger Fusion 45, at 6:04 PM  

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