By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The Jefferson Airplane
"We Can Be Together"
It was 1969. The Yippies, Black Panthers and Weathermen were at the peak of their powers. Revolution was in the air. Contrary to popular belief, the Bay Area was not all about peace, love and understanding; some young people were plotting to overthrow the U.S. government during those warm San Francisco nights. The Jefferson Airplane took up the cause in spades on their album Volunteers. "We Can Be Together" was a call to arms, a snot-nosed, communist threat to the standing order ("All your private property is target for your enemy/And your enemy is me"). The subversive animosity of the lyrics was disguised by the sweet, folk-rock harmony of the vocal performance (although Jorma Kaukonen's savage wah-wah guitar work bespoke the underlying wrath), but the message remained, as Nixon might have said, crystal-clear: "We are voices of chaos and anarchy/Everything they say we are, we are/ And we are very proud of ourselves. . . . Up against the wall, motherfucker!"
"It's Time to Go"
This Hell's Kitchen-based group of transplanted Irishmen led by playwright Danny Kirwan has been the most underrated band of the '90s. Mixing traditional Irish folk music with punk, hip-hop, and Springsteen-esque rock & roll, the band spins intelligent, literate tales of Irish political heroes and martyrs and more contemporary unrest with a finely honed fury. A personal fave is by American Chris Byrne, rather than primary songwriter Kirwan. "It's Time to Go" is a simple rap song (with tin whistles and Uilleann pipes accompanying!) about the horror of his family's first visit to Northern Ireland: "Soldiers with guns all over the place/Aiming them right at my little kid's face/An innocent child, 2 years of age/Don't ask me as to the reason for my rage."
"Still There'll Be More"
Harum lyricist Keith Reid was a very morbid man with a gift for laying out his unhealthy obsessions with curious poetry. Just about everything he wrote was steeped in violence, animosity and death, but perhaps no other song captured his twisted muse so effectively as "Still There'll Be More," basically a fantasy of mayhem: "I'll waylay your daughter and kidnap your wife/Savage her sexless and burn out her eyes/I'll blacken your Christmas and piss on your door/You'll cry out for mercy, still there'll be more." Strong stuff indeed for what was essentially a longhair prog-rock group.
"Leave My Woman Alone"
Is there anything that can piss off a man more than sexual jealousy? Not if you're Ray Charles, who's not gonna let the fact that he's blind stop him from jackin' you up in this jumpin' tune from 1956: "Well, I know you are a playboy and you got women all over town/ But listen, buddy, if you ever sweet-talk my little girl, I'm gonna lay your body down." Don't put anything past this man; he even relates in his autobiography how he once drove a car just to prove to himself he could do it.
"Working Class Hero"
You could argue that "Give Me Some Truth" is Lennon at his angriest, but in retrospect, that song's political bent seems a mite trite and sloganeerish in the face of "Working Class Hero's" still-potent, heartfelt rage. Lennon was in the midst of primal scream therapy with Arthur Janov when he recorded the amazing Plastic Ono Band album in 1970; all his pent-up, repressed anger came spilling out on the grooves for the world to hear. Among the many transcendent performances on the album ("Mother," "God," "My Mummy's Dead"), "Working Class Hero" remains the classic. Over a simple, minor-key chord progression, the tune succinctly recounts the pain and trauma of growing up in a repressed and hypocritical environment: "They hurt you at home, and they hit you at school/They hate you if you're clever, and they despise the fool/Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules." Faithfull covered the song wonderfully on Broken English, adding to its legacy.
Just about every punk song ever recorded has anger at its essence, of course, but no group was ever more masterful at being righteously pissed-off than the Clash. This anti-fascist manifesto has a two-chord, fist-pumping hook at its core, which makes lyrics such as "The fury of the hour, anger can be power, you know that you can use it" all the more effective. Joe Strummer's powerful lead vocals are offset by Mick Jones' more restrained bridge, wherein he warns, "It's the best years of your life they want to steal." You could easily argue that the Clash recorded more snarling, hostile tunes than "Clampdown," but their enraged political message never came across more concisely than here.
The Louvin Brothers
Good God, did Ted Bundy hear this song too many times before he went on his murderous rampage? As recorded by hillbilly harmonizers the Louvin Brothers in 1956, the writer's credit for "Knoxville Girl" is listed as "Traditional." Whoever "Traditional" was, let's hope his ass burned slowly and painfully in the electric chair. This is a bizarre and grisly tale of murder, with absolutely no explanation as to its motive. Basically, a guy meets a girl in Knoxville, takes her out to the woods, and beats her to death with a stick for no apparent reason: "She fell down on her bended knee, for mercy she did cry/Oh, Willard, dear, don't kill me here; I'm unprepared to die/She never spoke another word; I only beat her more/Until the ground around me within her blood did flow."