Friday, October 22, 2010

October 22: Dead Boys, "Sonic Reducer"

Artist: Dead Boys
Song: "Sonic Reducer"
Album: Young, Loud, and Snotty
Year: 1977

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Certain songs in music history have become so large, that the band originally responsible for its creation often becomes a bit of a side note to the song itself.  When the band in question was not a "mainstream" act, and therefore did not receive the adoration of music critics, this can become even more of a task, and in some cases, bands that cover the song are actually believed to be the originators.  If one further adds into this equation the band responsible for a "classic" song being one that did not last very long, it in some ways becomes a bit understandable when their name is not known worldwide.  However, these facts are not excuses, as bands who recorded such songs deserve their status, and that is why one cannot overlook the importance of Cleveland, Ohio's own Dead Boys.  Lasting only a few short years, it was Dead Boys who were largely responsible for setting up the groundwork for the "hardcore" movement, as their music injected the violence, nihilism, and dirtier sound of punk rock that remains to this day.  Though the band would splinter off into other groups that would achieve greater notoriety, Dead Boys 1977 debut, Young, Loud, and Snotty, stands today as one of the finest albums of the "punk explosion," and everything that makes them such an extraordinary band can be found within their legendary single from that same year, the unmistakable, "Sonic Reducer."

The song wastes no time in setting the mood and pace, as after the iconic, two-note lead-in, the quick guitar progression is immediately set into motion, and one can easily imagine just how well this introduction would have set off a live crowd.  This is the key to the sound on Young, Loud, and Snotty as it does a fantastic job of capturing the energy and ferocity of the bands' live sound, and the sense of urgency in the music is what sets the record apart from those of their peers.  On "Sonic Reducer," guitarists Cheetah Chrome (AKA Gene O'Connor) and Jimmy Zero bring a dual assault of unmatched proportions, as their tone is tweaked just enough to give it an edge, yet not so distorted that it becomes a distraction from the rest of the song.  Bassist Jeff Magnum adds in a driving, almost stalking bassline, and the speed and attitude with which he plays is the spot from where the entire spirit of the song is taken.  The drumming from Johnny Blitz is as good as any other punk outfit of the era, as he shows a superior ability to switch the rhythm mid-song, and this aspect would be copied by countless bands over the years.  "Sonic Reducer" clocks in at just over three minutes, so this in itself sets it apart from the standard "punk set-up," and the solo mid-song stands as one of the finest in the history of the genre.  The slightly distorted drum break-down that follows is nothing short of legendary, and it proves the talent and musical vision of each of the band members.

The final member of Dead Boys, and one who also served as a bridge between punk and hardcore was vocalist Stiv Bators (AKA Steven Bator).  The snarl and attitude in his voice was clearly derived from the great vocalists who came before him, yet there is a spirit and sense of chaos within his vocals that make them completely unique.  Delivering each line with a grit and growl that is nothing short of perfect, Bators is able to bring the "snootiness" of punk rock without coming off as cliché.  The way in which he delivers the vocals makes them ideal for group sing-alongs, and it is much the reason that "Sonic Reducer" remains an anthem to this day.  However, the song itself was written by O'Connor and his former bandmate, David Thomas (of Pere Ubu).  While many have tried, there is simply no other song in history that defines the uncaring, anarchic spirit of punk rock better than "Sonic Reducer."  With the opening verse of, "... I don't need anyone, don't need no mom and dad, don't need no pretty face, don't need no human race...," the band set the tone for the ultimate song of singularity, and the raw spirit behind it makes it nothing short of sheer perfection.  Even more than three decades after it was first released, "Sonic Reducer" still has a tone and energy that says "fuck off" louder and stronger than any other song in the entire history of music, and this is the reason it has become so iconic and so many bands have used it as a blueprint for their own song.

Truth be told, everyone from Dozer to The Vibrators to Overkill have covered "Sonic Reducer" over the decades, and even Pearl Jam has made it a somewhat regular part of their live shows.  Yet regardless of the band that covers it, there is simply no group that has been able to accurately capture the raw power that is found on the Dead Boys' 1977 original.  The entire album is in many ways where one can see punk rock blending back with the "original" form of rock music, as well as the clear groundwork for the hardcore movement that would explode a few years later.  This unrestrained energy and complete attempt to ignore the "form" that had been set for punk rock resulted in an album that sounds as powerful and fresh today as it did more than thirty years ago.  With "Sonic Reducer" as the lead track on the album, it set a very high standard, and Dead Boys deliver one musical assault after another.  However, no other song on the record demands the respect and attention of "Sonic Reducer," as there is a sense of immediacy to the song that has rarely been equaled elsewhere in any genre from any era.  The fact that "Sonic Reducer" stands as such a pivotal moment in music history makes it almost unfathomable that Dead Boys rarely receive the credit they so clearly deserve, and one can only gather that it is due to the fact that they were not commercially successful.  Regardless, one cannot deny the extraordinary level of energy and superb musical arrangement that one finds on Dead Boys classic 1977 single, "Sonic Reducer."

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