Friday, January 18, 2013

The Friday Five, Volume 5: Celebrating Death via Killed by Death

I didn't get my first iPod until sometime in the mid-to-late 2000's because I played with my Dad's (who is an early adopter of most technology) and fucking despised how it automatically retagged songs on its own. I bring up because during my latter college years, when these devices first popped up, I would still spend hours at my friends houses/apartments going through their collection of mp3's and vinyl rips and burn CD after CD of awesome music that couldn't usually be located very easily (you goddamned kids today are fucking spoiled!) if you didn't have a physical copy or someone to swap tracks with. Sure, there was mIrc but those chatrooms were basically places to cop new rips and Napster had already died and LimeWire just flat out fucking sucked balls.
So after doing some research I settled on something called an iRiver and it was just fucking majestic. The battery life lasted forever (for me this meant a trip to school, walks across campus in between classes, a few hours in the newsroom and then some time in library before the trip back home), it was super easy to navigate and use and best of all, whatever the fuck I labeled a folder is what it spat back out at me. Say, my friends Justin burned me a Devil Dogs mix off of their various albums and I uploaded it into the iRiver it wouldn't separate things by album or whatever but all under "Big Fuckin' Party Tonight!" (I'm pretty sure that's what that mix was called). This helped immensely when I started getting into all of the classic compilation series that have been released throughout the years chronicling some of the lesser known and sometimes forgotten punk and rock 'n' roll bands that crashed and burned before my time: Back from Crypt, Pebbles, Nuggets, Destination Bomp!, all of those (I believe) homemade Songs We Taught the..., Bloodstains and especially, the Killed by Death series.
One day, just out of the blue, my iRiver died an ignoble death while I was listening to the Raveonettes' Pretty in Black and there was no saving it. Apparently, after excessive use (and this thing lasted me longer than ANY iPod I have ever owned) it just shuffled loose this musical coil. I tried in vain to find something similar from the same company to replace but they got bought out or just quit trying or something. I tried out every alternative to an iPod on the market and ended up returning them all within the valid window, pining for my iRiver. I broke down and bought an iPod and was instantly PISSED THE FUCK OFF when it re-tagged basically my entire catalog. Even things that I ripped straight from a CD or the turntable got fucking mangled. It took me forever to fix and then a couple of years later, right before I was to DJ the Spits/Nobunny show at Rudyard's (a little over two years ago), the fucker died. I had spent what felt like an eternity chainsmoking in my room, swilling whiskey and delicately trying to fix whatever the hell Apple and iTunes had done to my library.  I made the iPod serviceable for the show and maybe six months later...BLERG!CRASH!BURN!BLAG! KAW! KAW! BANG! FUCK! I'M DEAD! I haven't had any issues with my latest replacement (so far) but the biggest headache whenever I try to dump my music on a new one is retagging all of those glorious compilations I still either have ripped to my external hard drive or tucked away in the few CD booklets I still have. Lately, I've been trying to rework ALL of the Killed by Death (KBD) comps which brings us to this weeks Five for Friday.
If you're reading this blog I'm sure you're already familiar with these brilliant pieces of punk rock anthropology but if you somehow stumbled here because I ragged on Jack Johnson a few years ago here's the skinny: KBD were a series of bootleg comps put together by a bunch of record collectors featuring some of the forgotten punk bands of the 70's and 80's. Imagine the punk showcase in Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke but with WAAAAY better bands and you've got right idea. Most of these bands released maybe a 7" or two at most but some would go on to produce classic albums in the genre and a few even have seen their songs become part of the modern punk cannon. Originally, the first four volumes were released by a Swedish label called Redrum Record but after that some Australian guy pumped out a few and from then on it all kind of spiraled into people digging through their old 45's and putting out a record with the well established moniker, usually in very limited quantities. At some point during the history of the title curators would collect songs from a certain country and eventually the numbering (after number 7, by most counts) got wildly out of hand and last time I checked there were at least 40 or so versions of the comp in the ether. Rather than dig through the whole catalog (right now at least, I could just post #5 up here in it's entirety because it is that fucking amazing) we're gonna focus on five songs from the initial four volumes. Oh yeah, and once I came up with my list I realized all these songs share the theme of death (I'm stretching to include le petit morte for the first one, deal with it). Crank it up, kids!

Nervous Eaters - Just Head (1979)

When I talked about songs from these comps become part of the punk cannon this was the first one that sprung to mind. The Vikings, New Bomb Turks (who covered ANOTHER great KBD song we'll get to at another time) and countless others have offered their own take of this sleazy Boston classic. I first heard this song on Teengerate's Smash Hits when I think I was 14 or 15 and it became my favorite on the record. It wasn't until a couple of years later when someone pointed out to me it, and most of the album, were covers and turned me onto the Nervous Eaters version. I gotta say, as much as I love the original, is there anything in this world Teengenerate CAN'T improve upon? The Nervous Eaters eventually released a major label record for Elektra that came about after this was released, they added a second guitarist and got Ric Ocaseck to produce a demo for 'em. It's...not very good at all. To be fair, I haven't listened to it in ages because I thought it was pretty weak at the time (maybe it was the drugs or booze) but based on the strength of this underground classic their name still rings out and they even put out a sort of band history thing called Eaterville that, once again, I never bothered to check out because their album sucked so bad. But, hey! They put out an album! More than many on the KBD comps can claim! This is a delightfully filthy song that only young men hopped up on hormones, completely uncaring about their girlfriend's needs, driven by a pure id urges to get BLOWN despite any circumstances, could've written.

Lewd - Kill Yourself (1978)

A great band that started out in the Northwest (an early group featuring some of the members called the Knobs included Tomato Du Plenty of the legendary Screamers) and eventually moved to San Francisco later in their career. According to someone on YouTube the bassist used to get down with Rob Halford and helped form Metal Church. I'm too lazy to look into the veracity of that claim but it'd be pretty rad if it was true. This is one of the best produced and played songs on the early KBD comps. The drums are solid, the bassist isn't walking allover the song and even though the guitar seems to be coming through only one channel homeboy lays the riffs down hard. There's not much to write about this song since it's a pretty straightforward emission of youthful angst against an entity you can't physically destroy or even put a dent in so why not try to berate the fucker into oblivion by their own hand instead? A particularly nasty, morally repugnant little number. Right up my alley!

Heart Attack - God is Dead (1981)

This is a perfect example of a KBD band whose members went on to great prominence. Heart Attack were an early 80's New York hardcore band (even though they sound a lot like what was coming out of California  or DC at the time) fronted by none other than Jesse Malin of DGeneration. The song is short and to the point (as hardcore should be) with curt lyrics and really tight playing. One of the great bands of the early hardcore era you don't hear enough about.

Zero Boys - Stoned to Death (For Sexual Offences)  (1980)

Oh, man, do I love the Zero Boys. I know everyone is familiar with their more hardcore tinged album Vicious Circle but on the Livin' in the 80's 7" they sounded like a cross between Teenage Head and the Boys  (UK) and it's fucking great. What never changed during the bands tenure was their blunt and heavily politicized lyrics about drugs, government corruption, social chaos or, in the case of this song, stoning to death rapists, Old Testament style. Civilization's Dying is still their coup d'grace in their pantheon awesomeness but goddamn this is a close second and by far the best song on KBD3, not to mention a killer way to start off any album. Holy fuck, who would've thought one of the best early hardcore bands would've come out of some shithole like Indianapolis? Or that one of the guys in this band is a yoga instructor now. Actually, that last one makes total sense.

The Wipers - Better Off Dead (1978)

Arguably the most influential band to appear on a KBD comp. Mudhoney, Nirvana, Beat Happening, Dinosaur Jr., Poison Idea and countless others that helped change the course of rock 'n' roll were heavily in debt to this Northwest band masterminded by Greg Sage. Even though Cobain would rant about how much he adored this band to no end and even covered some of their songs the Wipers are, for some inexplicable reason, mainly a cult band in the U.S.. Well, Sage actually prefers it that way even though their albums Is This Real? and Over the Edge are rightfully considered punk classics of their era (fuck, of all time, really). There's always a heavy sense of dread and gloom over most Wipers songs and "Better Off Dead" is a great example not just of the mood the band could set but just how expert they were at constructing a brilliant fucking song.

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