Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31: The Misfits, "Skulls"

Artist: The Misfits
Song: "Skulls"
Album: Walk Among Us
Year: 1982

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (Walk Among Us Version) (will open in new tab)

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (12 Hits From Hell Version) (will open in new tab)

In nearly every case in history, a band made their name and gained their following by the albums they released, as they were often so moving and unique, they could not be ignored.  Yet there is one case where both in terms of quality and quantity, a band managed to succeed with the completely opposite approach.  Looking back on their history, this band has become notorious for the rough, almost amateurish sound quality on their albums, and for the fact that even later reissues of their music often left key songs difficult to find.  However, even with these factors, few bands in history have been able to cultivate as rabid and long-lasting a following as those who extol to others the virtues of Lodi, New Jersey's own legends, The Misfits.  There is perhaps no other band in history that was able to write as many songs with anthemic sounds as The Misfits, and few records are as powerful as their monumental 1982 debut, Walk Among Us.  Mixing in a penchant for "b movies" alongside the amazingly powerful voice of Glenn Danzig, and while many bands have tried to mimic the sound and style of The Misfits, none have succeeded.  Though they were as energetic and minimally talented as their punk brethren, it was The Misfits that stood in defiance of many of the norms that were quickly forcing conformity in the punk scene, and there extraordinary sound and style are in top form on The Misfits 1982 classic, "Skulls."

One of the keys to the music of The Misfits, and their clear connection to the punk sound, is the fact that the instant their songs begin, the tone is immediately set, and it is almost always with a fast paced, heavy guitar sound.  The guitar riff here, played by Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein (AKA Paul Caiafa) is simple, yet powerful, and the crunch that he toes the riff with is nothing short of perfect.  In fact, Doyle proves on "Skulls" that there can be a superb about of energy and mood set with just a few chords, as if one listens closely, he uses less than six chords throughout the entire song.  Bassist Jerry Only (AKA Gerald Caiafa) plays just as brilliantly, whipping the rhythm along at an amazing pace, and it is within his playing that the sound of The Misfits begins to separate itself from other punk bands.  While the Caiafa brothers play with extraordinary power on "Skulls," the true genius and magic of the song lives within the drumming performance of Arthur Googy (AKA Joseph McGuckin).  As "Skulls" progresses, Googy keeps pushing the overall intensity of the song higher and higher, and his playing is far more forward in the mix than a majority of bands of any genre.  Yet within the combined sound of the three players, there are traces of deep emotion within their heavy, aggressive sound, and this is one of the largest ways in which The Misfits were unlike any of the other punk bands at the time.

Though the sound and energy from the music makes The Misfits distinguishable, there is nothing that defines the band more than the voice of Glenn Danzig.  Without question one of the most misunderstood and underrated vocalists in history, Danzig brings a superb power and presence to every song, and "Skulls" is no different.  Easily able to work a wide-range of the vocal scale, Danzig almost always sings, and this separates him from nearly the entire punk movement, as he has an almost surprisingly beautiful, yet aggressive and slightly gritty sound.  On "Skulls," the punch one finds in the singing of Danzig fits perfectly alongside the music, and it is in his vocals that one can quickly understand why so many of The Misfits songs have become anthemic over the decades.  It is also within the performance of Glenn Danzig that one easily finds the bands' love for horror films and grim subjects, and nearly every line of the song reinforces this idea.  The opening verse leaves no doubt when Danzig sings, "...the corpses all hang headless and limp, bodies with no surprises and the blood drains down like devils rain, we'll bathe tonight..."  While the lyrics are rather brutal, there is also an almost melancholy mood that runs throughout the song, and it is in this aspect that one can see The Misfits are far more than your average punk band, as the voice of Glenn Danzig was able to inject a powerful undertone into the song.

Truth be told, there are actually two full studio recordings of "Skulls" to be found, and they are rather different on many levels.  While the Walk Among Us version is easy to find, two years previous, the band recorded another version that can be found on the VERY hard to find 12 Hits From Hell album.  This release, which was more of a demo version in retrospect, features both Doyle as well as original guitarist Bobby Steele playing, and there is a deeper and louder overall sound.  The vocals of Danzig are far more forward in the mix, and the backing vocals can also be heard better on this version.  The final difference is that the 12 Hits From Hell version is far faster, and there is a more aggressive feel to it, and in many ways, one can hear this version as superior to the more well-known Walk Among Us release.  Regardless, "Skulls" is an absolute classic, as the energy and spirit behind the song are unlike anything else, and it is here that one can see how The Misfits stood in defiance to everything punk, whilst simultaneously making a classic of that exact genre.  The fact that amidst the musical mayhem, Danzig gives a slight sense of emotional vulnerability again distances The Misfits from every band that plays a more aggressive style, and yet it is within this very aspect from which much of the greatness of The Misfits is derived.  While The Misfits boast a large number of unforgettable punk anthems, few pack the style, power, and overall impact as their classic 1982 recording, "Skulls."

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Hey, stumbled upon your blog (last years Hallowe'en post!) searching for Misfits images! Good stuff!