Friday, August 20, 2010

August 20: Third World War, "Working Class Man"

Artist: Third World War
Song: "Working Class Man"
Album: Third World War
Year: 1971

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In the case of nearly every genre in history, a handful of bands that unquestionably had a massive impact on the development of the genre did so with nearly no recognition at all for their contributions.  Though these bands are often known to the more well known bands of the genre, to the "general public," they are often the best kept secrets in music.  Case in point: while many people see bands like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground as the "only" signs of what would become punk rock at the beginning of the 1970's, there were a handful of other bands making equally important steps in the genre's development without any sort of fanfare.  Though many of these "unknown" bands were based in the U.S., there is one U.K. band whose 1971 self-titled debut remains one of the most stunning presentations of the fusion between heavy metal, folk, and blues, showing much of the style that would become "punk."  Lasting only a few years and two albums, there are few bands in history that were as quietly influential as U.K. rockers Third World War, and their first record remains one of the most powerful and musically brilliant albums ever recorded.  Overflowing with attitude and some of the heaviest and most aggressive sounds that were being made at the time, the wide-ranging impact of the group cannot be understated, and everything that makes them so fantastic can be found in Third World War's song, "Working Class Man."

The moment the song begins, "Working Class Man" has a tone and attitude all its own, and one can clearly hear the styles it pulls from, while at the same time see where their sound is going.  The brief opening guitar riff from Mick Liber instantly sets the tone, as it is perfectly distorted and has an urgency that moves the song without a rhythm section.  Band founder Terry Stamp quickly joins with a second guitar, and their combined sound is as captivating as it is invigorating, leaving any ideas of the psychedelic movement in the dust.  Bassist Jim Avery is very forward in the mix, and his presence gives "Working Class Man" a superb groove that is rarely found anywhere within the hard rock styles of music.  The final member of Third World War's musical assault was drummer Fred Smith (NOT Fred "Sonic" Smith), and the shifting shuffle that be brings throughout the song gives "Working Class Man" a fantastic depth that enables the song to sound just as fresh today as it did nearly forty years ago.  Throughout the song, Third World War makes it clear that they've no interest in those who were still clinging to the last remnants of the "hippie" movement, as the group brought an unrelenting musical aggression that exemplified the somewhat haunting nature of their name.  Yet even with their confrontational music and distorted tone, there is also an underlying sense of fun, almost to a point of recklessness, that runs beneath the music, and it is this aspect that played a vital role in the development of the punk rock genre.

While the music found on "Working Class Man" is nothing short of outstanding, it is the vocals from Terry Stamp that prove to be the "difference maker" in the overall sound of Third World War.  With a clear ethos that their music was "for the people, by the people," few vocalists in history have as gritty a voice that comes across as an "everyman" sound similar to Stamp.  While many singers both before and since have brought a similarly "dirty" sound to their singing, there is a sense of authenticity in Stamp's voice that is rarely heard elsewhere, and it makes songs like "Working Class Man" have a similar sense of legitimacy, again laying the ground-work for the punk rock style.  Following the varied drum tempo, both the music and vocals on "Working Class Man" have a fantastic sense of elasticity, and this movement within the song easily makes it one of the finest musical achievements of the era.  However, if it were not for the honest, simple yet profound lyrics that Stamp sings, the song would not have nearly the impact that it does.  Again reinforcing the "everyman" approach, the lyrics are as far from subtle as one can get, and the repeated idea of a man working as hard as he can just to make ends meet surely resonated with the English laborers as well as "blue collar" workers across the globe.  Speaking directly to the struggle of workers who find frustration when dealing with the "powers that be," Stamp sings, "'d think five years service is something, but it's not..." as he focuses on a "run in" with these "higher ups."  The entire song perfectly represents the sentiments of underpaid, overworked employees across the globe and across the generations, and few bands have ever composed as perfect a rallying cry as one finds on "Working Class Man."

Though countless bands over the decades have attempted to take the approach of "a band for the people," few have done so as honestly and as perfectly as one will find in the extraordinary 1971 debut record from Third World War.  While they remain one of the great secrets of the history of music, "those in the know" can clearly see the massive amount of impact they had on the overall development of the hard rock and punk rock styles, and many have even gone so far as to describe them as "England's first punk band."  Driving this point home, the great Joe Strummer once said of Third World War's music, that they "...were doing it when everything else was dead..."  Such accolades make it a bit difficult to understand why Third World War has not been given their due respect over the decades, as their first album still trumps nearly everything that has been released in the four decades since it first appeared.  Bringing an unparalleled combination of crushing, yet bluesy guitar work and some of the most creative rhythm work ever recorded, one simply cannot overstate the wide-reaching impact of their musical efforts.  Furthermore, the vocals of Terry Stamp can be seen as influencing nearly every "punk" singer, and one can only assume that the mighty Joe Strummer himself took some of his own stage presence from Stamp.  Though each song on their debut is absolutely stunning, the entire ethos of the band is perfectly summed up in their unsettling, powerful 1971 ode to the unappreciated, "Working Class Man."

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