I’m nearing the end of the Tuesday Ten series for 2017 (it’ll be back in January 2018, of course), but before it takes a break and I’m rounding up the end of the year, there is just time for a couple more.
This week is about weapons. Not just guns, but they do feature prominently, as there are other weapons and uses of aggression that appear in song. Indeed, I had a great many more songs that I could have featured, but not all were directly about the subject in hand, and I had to cut down the list somewhere.
My own view on gun use is fairly set, I think. If people want a gun, that’s fine – but they should be fully checked and regulated, so that there are strict controls on who can have them, what for, and a register of who has them. You are checked and tested on possession of a great many other items, so why shouldn’t guns be treated the same way? That said, I appreciate that there are other views here.
On a side note, it was illuminating thinking about exactly how many band t-shirts I have that have guns on them
(Stromkern, Failure, Nitzer Ebb, among others) when I was considering what to wear for T-shirt day last week (more on Tuesday Ten: 244, too).
And another question asked along the way – are there any alternative bands that have three albums or more, that *don’t* reference weapons somewhere along the line? I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any suggestions.
Tool and Die
Play More Music
I’m starting where the inspiration for the post this week came from – one of the most strident, political bands of their time. And indeed, 25 years and more from this song, the argument over guns in the US has not changed particularly – even a massacre of young children at Sandy Hook changed nothing. The only thing that has changed are the statistics quoted, and the top-level ones make sobering reading.
One astonishing figure is this: since 1968, there have been more gun-related deaths on US territory (over 1.5 million), than there have been American war deaths (approx. 1.4 million) since the country was founded. Or that, according to CNN, “of the 30 deadliest shootings in the United States dating back to 1949, 18 have occurred in the last 10 years.”
Or another, from the same CNN page: “From 1966 to 2012, nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings took place in the United States. A 2016 study looked at 292 incidents in which four or more people were killed. It found 90 of them occurred in America. Put another way: While the United States has about 5% of the world’s population, it had 31% of all public mass shootings.”
The US – a country in love with guns, and frankly now immune to the cold reality of the death being wrought by shooting after shooting.
Tactical Neural Implant
March to the rhythm / Fists in the air / Statues torn down / Burning flags everywhere
Atrocity starts now / The weapons parade / A nation in turmoil / Reflected by hate
Another one that 25 years on, this is all a bit too familiar, right? FLA’s thundering monster of a track, that gradually rises like a slumbering behemoth coming back to life, examines the extreme nationalists, those that use violence to reach their ends, and those that prefer justice from the barrel of a gun. The chaotic time at the turn of the nineties – where entire nations were tearing themselves apart and reforming anew as communism collapsed for the most part was the original inspiration. But a generation on, there are different reasons for violence and revolution, but the chaos remains, the ugliness remains, and guns are still worryingly being used
A complex story is behind The Sisterhood, but let’s be honest – it was a way for Andrew Eldritch to get shot of Wayne Hussey and Craig Adams, and paved the way for what became the stadium-sized bombast of later-period Sisters. So the slightly odd feel of The Sisterhood – it’s dark, and distant, in some respects, and this track also has a prominent synth chord progression that sounds like it was borrowed – ok, lifted wholesale – from Fade to Grey.
Lyrically, though, is why this lengthy song features. Doktor Avalanche provides a complex, rolling rhythm that backs a deadpan reading of a fair part of an AK47 operators manual. A gun better known as the Kalashnikov, the automatic rifle of choice in just about every insurgency since it was introduced.
Saturday Night Special
The Best of Fad Gadget
Remarkably a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, it is also difficult to tell if it is in sympathy or lampooning the gun-toting masses. Concentrating on the titular small firearm, a relatively inexpensive weapon that meant pretty much anyone who wanted one could have one (whether legally or not), Frank Tovey imbued this song with an odd, carny-esque sound that makes it sound like a throwaway experiment, rather than the comment on gun use that I suspect it was meant to be. Bizarrely enough, too, as I was writing about this the other night, I heard Back to Nature featured prominently in an episode of Stranger Things 2…
Fists of Love
It goes without saying that any Big Black track will be a harsh track about an unpleasant subject, but sadly right now some songs seem rather more in step with the times than others. Steve Albini, a man always unafraid to say the unsayable, or confront the more distressing elements of human nature, certainly did here. Weapons, of course, can be fists, and the unpleasant man here is using his on his wife. As Albini notes about this song in this fascinating interview, abuse in relationships is a power dynamic, and that power can manifest itself far beyond the physical violence, and it was the combination of both that Albini clearly wanted to confront here.
Swords of a Thousand Men
The Best of Tenpole Tudor
They need not be mechanical weapons, either, as Tenpole Tudor’s best-known song proves, with the titular army rushing into battle, swords raised. This is both literally – as the clarion call and sound of rushing feet at the intro make clear – and metaphorically, as the song describes the travails of the army as they prepare and rush into battle. But really, this song is all about that mighty, earworming chorus.
And, yes, I did consider using VNV Nation’s Joy. But in terms of swords and battlefields, Tenpole Tudor was preferred (and yes, is the better song).
I Gave You Power
It Was Written
Of course, I could have probably done an entire Tuesday Ten simply on the relationship between rap songs and weapons, as there are absolutely loads of them, both in critique form and simple braggadocio, too. But there was a much wider story to tell – and there are other blogs and websites far better-placed to write about it. That said, it was difficult to avoid including this song, if for no other reason than for the unusual take on the subject.
Nas, always a little more intelligent than many of his peers, looks at gun culture from the point of view of the gun, and details all the ways that the gun is used and misused, with a distinct feeling of disgust at what has been done.
Careful with that axe, Eugene
Yes, I know I’m featuring Pink Floyd. I’ve never been a fan of the band – in fact I’d go the other way and suggest I outright dislike most of their material – but something about the gloriously threatening title of this track, and the point that I had no other songs in my longlist that featured axes, meant that it had to be included really.
Three minutes into this initially plodding track, and all that threat suddenly comes into focus. The title is hissed like like a grave threat, and suddenly the music bursts into life and the vocals become wordless, terrified howls. Quite what Eugene is doing by this point doesn’t bear thinking about, but going on the time it was written and performed, I suspect hallucinogens may well have been involved.
I Hung My Head
American IV: The Man Comes Around
By the twilight years of his career, the Man in Black had found a new awestruck audience, as Rick Rubin coaxed him into a series of albums taking on other people’s songs, along with a few of his own – the latter resulting in the extraordinary title track (The Man Comes Around) on American IV that is up there among Cash’s greatest songs.
That said, not all of the covers worked, but there were a number that eclipsed the originals to the point that it was difficult to recall that Cash didn’t write them. One of them was this song, originally a Sting song (!). Cash imbued this cover with a depth unmatched by the original, and is a cautionary tale of the misuse of weapons you don’t understand (borrowing his brother’s rifle, and inadvertently shooting an innocent man), but perhaps with a “stock” Western story and ending as the protagonist deals with the consequences and ends up executed.
That’s When I Reach for My Revolver
Signals, Calls, and Marches
Sound can be used as a weapon, of course, and MoB infamously were so loud live that they left one of their band with permanent tinnitus so severe he had to wear industrial ear-protection on stage, before quitting music (and it was some years before he returned, too). The band had an intriguingly randomising effect, too, in their live sound – Martin Swope was their sound engineer and also used tape loops, that were different every time and reputedly the band barely knew what was going on each time either.
This was their breakthrough song, a stark, anthemic track with a bruising chorus that is difficult to forget. The title is infamously from a mistranslated quote from Hermann Göring (“When I hear the word ‘culture’, that’s when I reach for my revolver“), and the lyrics suggest a disaffected soul who is all-too-keen to reach for his gun to solve their problems.
Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do
Finally – and yes, it is track eleven on this Ten (again) – let’s take a trip to south-east Wales, to hook up with a collective who take a more light-hearted look at their beloved hip-hop. But beyond the gentle ribbing of hip-hop and rap cliches, and a great many loving references to classic artists, there is a more serious message being conveyed. That of the image that is made of the genre in the press, that they are all gun-toting, violence-loving maniacs, which is of course some way from the truth and also misses much of the nuance that goes on. Not that you could ever really accuse GLC of being nuanced, mind. I’ve still got “SOUND OF DA POLICE – WOOP! WOOP! WOOP!” spinning round my head now.