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
"I'm Gonna Murder My Baby""
Is this the creepiest record ever unleashed? Hare was best-known as a sideman to Muddy Waters, but the blues singer/guitarist's name will forever live in infamy because of this 1954 solo side. In this bone-chilling little ditty, Hare stands before a judge threatening to murder his baby ("I'm gon' kill that woman!") because she "don't do nothing but cheat and lie." The vocals and guitar work are primal, unglued, psychotic stuff—traits Hare reportedly exhibited after drinking, although by most accounts, he was friendly and reserved when sober. A few years after this record was released, he made good on his threat, murdering his girlfriend. Hare spent the rest of his life in prison, dying behind bars in 1978.
"Why'd Ya Do It"
Faithfull was best-known as the angel-faced, girlie-voiced, fluff-pop-singing girlfriend of Mick Jagger before 1979, when she emerged from a long battle with drug addiction and depression to release the startling comeback album Broken English. Her once-comely voice and features now ravaged by excess, her lyrics brimming with passionate despair, Faithfull had been transformed from fetching rock & roll bimbo to traumatized junkie witch. The album's most notorious track, "Why'd Ya Do It," was the shrieking plaint of a woman scorned by her lover—most assumed the song was directed at Jagger. Still shocking and vulgar even by modern standards, the tune featured such immortal lines as "Why'd ya spit on my snatch?" and "Every time I see your dick, I see her cunt in my bed."
"Ballad of a Thin Man"
There are, of course, dozens upon dozens of classic, pissed-off Dylan tunes, but the one that comes immediately to mind is this cryptic, venomous vessel of sarcasm about the universal Mr. Jones—the conceptual, quintessential square turd. So wide-ranging was the song's impact that Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton wrote about its importance in his book Revolutionary Suicide and John Lennon alluded to "Dylan's Mr. Jones" in his screaming "Yer Blues." Dylan recited an absurdist poetry of horrors over a foreboding chord progression, with each verse concluding, "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?" If the lyrics were enigmatic, the message remained clear enough: if you try to hold back the tides of youth and change, you're in for a nightmare of the worst order.
Lewis Allen wrote this horrifying yet lyrical anti-lynching statement, but the song really belongs to Lady Day, who first recorded it in 1939. Incredibly graphic and political for a repressed and violent era in which African-Americans were still widely treated as one step above barnyard animals, "Strange Fruit" stands in particular contrast to the giddy, popular swing tunes of the day. The song is a dirge-like, minor-key drone, and Holiday intones the ominous lyrics in a delivery marked by unbearable pain and anguish, but the rage is unmistakable as well. A sample of the brilliant lyrics: "Pastoral scene of the gallant South, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth/Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh, then the sudden smell of burning flesh/Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck/For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop/Here is a strange and bitter crop."
The Tom Robinson Band
"Glad to Be Gay"
Tom Robinson was among rock & roll's first openly gay performers and almost certainly its most pissed-off. 1978's "Glad to Be Gay" took a disarmingly cheery music-hall melody (which sounded like late-'60s Kinks) and recited a litany of hate crimes against gays (largely by the British police) over the music. Each outraged stanza culminated in a sarcastic, anthemic chorus of "Sing if you're glad to be gay; sing if you're happy that way." Robinson's vocals dripped with icy disdain and loathing for the oppressors as he sang such lines as, "Don't try to kid us that if you're discreet/You're perfectly safe as you walk down the street/You don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks/To get beaten unconscious and left in the dark." The timbre of Robinson's voice was so filled with disgust he sounded as if he might actually vomit mid-verse.
Mott the Hoople
Perhaps a curious choice, as Mott was known mostly as a tongue-in-cheek flash-rock entity, but a case could still be made that this tune was the first unvarnished celebration of violence-for-the-hell-of-it recorded. Two years before the Ramones hit the scene, Mott unleashed this raging, three-chord punk detonation on a world still suffering from a hippie hangover. Ian Hunter screams, "Get off my back or I'll attack; I don't owe you nothing/Head for your hole; you're sick, and you're old, and I'm here to tell you something," followed by a fey, taunting voice chiming in with "Violence, violence—it's the only thing that'll make you see sense!" over a demented, squealing violin. This could be construed as the initial full-frontal attack on the flower-power generation.
"Boom! Boom! (Out Go the Lights)"
This one comes from the Pat Hare School of Political Incorrectness. By all accounts, Little Walter was one mean son of a bitch who took as much joy from beating people up as he did from playing the greatest blues harp in history. In this tender ditty from 1957, Walter is in search of his woman so he can whomp the crap out of her: "No kidding, I'm ready to fight/I been looking for my baby all night/If I get her in my sights/Boom! Boom! Out go the lights." The "boom booms" were punctuated by reverb-drenched snare hits, just in case the listener failed to get the message. Little Walter lived and died pissed-off—in fact, he bought the farm in 1968 from the results of a street fight, a depleted, alcoholic husk of his former glory. Those gosh-darn blues guys!
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."
"I Hold No Grudge"
Bitter, angry, sensitive, queenly and brilliant, jazz singer Nina Simone moved to Europe to escape the racism she encountered in America, but the scars never healed. Among her crowning achievements were a particularly disturbing cover of "Strange Fruit," her original "Mississippi Goddamn" (an enraged indictment of the South that, like Robinson's "Glad to Be Gay," contrasted caustic words with upbeat music) and "I Hold No Grudge," perhaps Simone's most touching moment. In this slow ballad from 1966 laden with lush strings, she sang heavy-heartedly, "I hold no grudge, and I'll forgive you your mistakes/But forgive me if I take it all to heart/To make sure that it doesn't start again." She never returned to America.
Body Count was rapper Ice-T's short-lived speed-metal group, and a shit storm of controversy followed them in 1992 due to the song "Cop Killer," with its exhortations of "Fuck the police!" and "Die, pig, die!" It all came to a head in San Diego, where the group opened a bill at Jack Murphy Stadium with Guns N' Roses and Metallica. Then-Governor Pete Wilson demanded they be dropped from the bill; the San Diego Police Officer's Association wrote Ice-T a letter requesting that he not perform the song; promoters publicly announced that T had promised to comply. It didn't quite work out that way. Body Count closed their set with "Cop Killer," wherein T produced the Police Officer's Association letter, stuffed it down his pants, and proceeded to rub it lustily all over his private bits as police looked on with rancor in their eyes.
When he first came on the scene in the late '70s, Costello came off like a heckled class nerd returned to pipe-bomb anyone who'd ever tormented him. He had the snarling, splenetic fury of the best punk bands, but he mixed it with clever, literate songwriting that made his bile even more effective. "Radio Radio" was a malevolent stab at the bland, sanitized airwaves, which at the time relentlessly droned the latest spew by the Doobie Brothers, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac (how little has changed) as it attempted to stem the tide of the new wave about to inundate the dinosaurs: "I wanna bite the hand that feeds me; I wanna bite the hand so badly," he growled. Elvis needn't have concerned himself with being fed, since for the past 20-plus years, radio has steadfastly refused to support almost everything he's released anyway.
Is it possible for a song to be pissed-off without even the benefit of lyrics? Link Wray proved it was with this foreboding, 1958 instrumental that conjured up the image of a leather-jacketed, switchblade-wielding juvenile delinquent as effectively as any cheap period hot-rod flick. Wray's guitar tone is positively menacing as he attacks his strings with feral agitation. Whoever it is he's gonna rumble with better run and hide in the hills 'cause this guy is out to kick some serious ass!
Anything by Johnny Rebel
We've given plenty of ink to pissed-off Leftists here, so let's acknowledge the right-wing lunatic fringe for being more hateful than thou. Johnny Rebel recorded for Louisiana's Reb Rebel Records throughout the '60s, releasing mind-bogglingly slimy country songs with titles like "Move Them Niggers North," whose lyrics really warrant no further discussion. Suffice it to say there's nothing in the whole wide world more pissed-off than a stupid white guy needing someone to look down on. And no, we won't even endeavor to dissect the world of Oi! music here.
Anything by G.G. Allin
How does one even begin to try to determine whether "Suck My Ass It Smells" is more rabid than "Bite It, You Scum," "Kill Thy Father, Rape Thy Mother," "I'll Slice Yer Fucking Throat" or "Sleeping in My Piss"? You don't. You just accept the obvious—that Allin was the most pissed-off, anarchistic, psychotic, anti-social man who ever stepped on a stage—and deal with his legacy of atrocities accordingly. Allin was hatred incarnate; all other punk rockers are poseurs by comparison. A G.G. Allin show was a war zone, not a concert. He performed naked, he made doodies onstage and threw them at the crowd, he beat the crowd up, and he sexually molested them. But that was nothing compared with what Allin did to himself: a typical evening might find Allin smashing bottles on his face and rolling naked in the broken glass, shoving barstools up his bumhole until it gushed blood—and, um, letting fans empty their colons right into his mouth. The spectacle of Allin trading barbs with Geraldo and Jane Whitley ranks as some of the best TV of the decade, too (for a brief time, he was all the rage on the talk-show circuit). It's probably a good thing that the psychofreak with the microscopic penis is dead now, but somehow, rock & roll just seems a little too safe without him. His anger is the anger by which all subsequent anger shall be measured.