Wednesday, May 12, 2010

May 12: Violent Femmes, "Blister In The Sun"

Artist: Violent Femmes
Song: "Blister In The Sun"
Album: Violent Femmes
Year: 1983

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If there is one thing that has been proven throughout the long history of recorded music, it is the fact that while in some cases it may take awhile, the truly great songs always find a way to "get their due."  While in some cases, a song is created far "ahead of its time," and in other cases, a group needs to gain a bit more exposure before the song gets noticed, in nearly every case, the song in question finds some way to be heard by the masses.  Yet one can also make the case that there is a certain point where an artist can "safely assume" that though they have written an amazing song, for whatever reason, it is simply not going to catch on.  When it comes to enduring this wait, there is perhaps no more patient a band than early alternative music pioneers, Violent Femmes.  Though they are well known now, they spent well over a decade playing in relative obscurity, "waiting" for the rest of the world to begin to embrace their style of music.  Their 1983 self-titled debut record remains one of the finest musical achievements, as there has simply never been a similar recording, and in retrospect, Violent Femmes had a massive influence on countless bands that found their way into the mainstream throughout the 1990's.  Though it was recorded and released in 1983, it would take the better part of a decade before rest of the world embraced this quirky fusion of rock, punk, and folk music, and yet once they did, the group was almost instantly catapulted to a cult status.  Though the entire album is a fantastic and amazingly unique musical journey, there has simply never been another song quite like Violent Femmes 1983 classic, "Blister In The Sun."

There are few songs that are as quickly recognizable as "Blister In The Sun," as it contains one of the most distinctive guitar and drum openings ever recorded, yet the truth of the matter is, this same riff is one of the most unknown rip-off's in music history.  The signature riff of the song is almost a complete copy of The Shadows' 1962 song, "Little B," and the only real difference is that Violent Femmes added lyrics and removed the drum solo that can be found on The Shadows' song.  For decades, this has been one of the best kept secrets in music, yet while it is a fact that cannot be ignored, it in no way makes "Blister In The Sun" any less of an amazing song.  Lifted or not, the main riff on "Blister In The Sun" is insanely addictive, and it remains one of the most eccentric and somehow wild musical progressions ever recorded.  It is not only "what" is being played by guitarist Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie here, but moreso the attitude behind their playing that makes it so distinctive.  The start/stop rhythm that is pushed forward by drummer Victor DeLorenzo gives the song a pace and mood like nothing else, and nearly thirty years after they recorded "Blister In The Sun," there has yet to be another song that even bears the slightest resemblance.  Bordering on an "amateur" sound, the trio keeps things very simple and with a strong "roots" feel, yet the punk spirit behind the song is never lost, and the fact that the group was able to so perfectly mix together such wide-ranging sounds serves as a testament to their amazing uniqueness as musicians.

Playing in perfect compliment to the wild, full-tilt music of "Blister In The Sun," one would be hard pressed to find a better definition of the term "unhinged singing" anywhere else in the history of recorded music.  Gordon Gano is nothing short of brilliant on the track, and it is his almost deranged vocal work that is the true genius behind "Blister In The Sun."  Moving all over the vocal spectrum both in terms of pitch and power, Gano simply refuses to let the listener go, and even after countless listenings, Gano's performance remains just as captivating as the first time.  Whether he is singing full force during the chorus or working a "Shout"-equse, build-up as he does near the end, Gano's quivering, almost loopy vocal work is truly stunning and has clearly had a massive influence on a great number of artists that followed.  It is not his singing alone that makes the vocals on "Blister In The Sun" so memorable, as one would be remiss to overlook the strange, yet almost iconic lyrics of the song.  Easily as eclectic and unforgettable as the music and singing, the lyrics of the song touch on a wide range of topics, working themes as far reaching as drug use and "stained sheets."  The sexual innuendos are all over the song, and one can easily interpret parts of the song speaking to both "solo" and "shared" sexual fulfillment, and the fact that a song with such blatant imagery still receives regular airplay proves just how brilliant and mesmerizing a song lives within "Blister In The Sun."

Though it was first released in 1983, it was not until the "alternative explosion" of the early 1990's that Violent Femmes gained widespread notoriety for their amazing song, "Blister In The Sun."  Such a wait for recognition is nearly unheard of, yet the fact of the matter is, in retrospect, it proves just how far ahead of their time the Violent Femmes were as musicians.  Crafting what remains one of the most instantly recognizable songs in music history, "Blister In The Sun" succeeds on every level, as the music, singing, and lyrics are all perfectly executed.  Keeping the musical arrangement simple and cycling, the upbeat guitar and basswork, punctuated by the start/stop rhythm dictated by the drumming, the song begs to be played at high volumes, and somehow remains just as enjoyable and fresh even after repeated listenings.  Capped off by the truly stunning vocals of Gordon Gano, it is in many ways impossible to consider a world in which "Blister In The Sun" did not exist, as it is one of the few songs that has been able to cross into nearly every genre and musical culture.  With it's sing-songy lyrics, combined with the clearly punk attitude, there is simply no other song that so uniquely mixes together so many different elements, as one would be hard pressed to find another band that sounds quite like Violent Femmes.  While it may not be seen as a "classic" in the same light as the "great" rock or Motown songs, the truth of the matter is, nearly thirty years after its release, few songs are as instantly recognizable or receive as consistent radio airplay on as many different formatted stations as the Violent Femmes' 1983 masterpiece, "Blister In The Sun."


Anonymous said...

I Better Be Good - written by Alice Cooper and Dick Wagner and Eric Scott. Released August 1983, while Blister In The Sun was recorded in July 1982 (according to wiki)(released in April 83). The Alice Cooper album, Zipper Catches Skin, was not toured for, which makes me wonder if Wagner and/or Scott or Cooper heard The VFs playing Blister live.

Anonymous said...

correction : Release August 1982 (Alice Cooper's Zipper Catches Skin), not August 1983.

Steve McGuire said...

Listen to Blues in the Closet by Oscar Pettiford and see if the opening riff sounds familar