Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31: The Dictators, "The Next Big Thing"

Artist: The Dictators
Song: "The Next Big Thing"
Album: Go Girl Crazy!
Year: 1975

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Though even in modern times, they are still seen as rather far apart on the musical spectrum, when one considers the evolution and form of the styles, it is impossible to deny the strong connections between heavy metal and punk rock.  The linage of both genres can be traced back to the likes of The Stooges and The MC5 among other bands, and in many ways, the only difference is within the actual musical arrangements and form.  This reality is made more clear by the fact that throughout the 1970's, there were a number of bands that attempted to find the balance between these two musical styles, and few were more successful in this venture than when one explores the music of The Dictators.  Bringing together the heavy, almost pummeling sounds of heavy metal with a stripped down, almost sophomoric attitude, The Dictators did all they could to point out all the irony and hypocrisy within the rock world, and yet they rarely get the credit they deserve for their pioneering musical efforts.  While many bands copied their sound and attitude, it is their 1975 debut, Go Girl Crazy!, that remains the pinnacle of the fusion of heavy metal and punk, and the record stands as an oft-overlooked classic of the 1970's.  Each track on the album reinforces their distinctive sound, and one can quickly understand everything there is to know about The Dictators by experiencing their fantastic 1975 single, "The Next Big Thing."

In every aspect, within the first moments of "The Next Big Thing," the entire personality of The Dictators becomes apparent, and while it suggests a rather comical nature, one cannot deny the powerful musical arrangement that is led by the guitar of Ross "The Boss" Funicello.  As soon as the music drops in, everything from Black Sabbath to Blue Oyster Cult comes to mind, and the progression injects a superb amount of energy into the song.  The band pushes the overall sound to a point that it almost becomes clich├ę, but their ability to stop "just short" proves the genius that lived behind their carefree persona.  The way in which Funicello locks in with the second guitar of Scott Kempner and bassist Andy Shernoff is true musical perfection, and the combined sound is one of the most imposing ever captured on tape.  Drummer Stu Boy Kingadds the ideal finishing touch to the arrangement, and it is within his performance that the unique sway to the song is formed.  It is also the slightly-sludgy, yet constantly driving sound of "The Next Big Thing" that quickly proves to be as good as heavy metal gets, and it is the clear control of their sound and energy that sets the song apart from others.  Yet it is the fact that there is an edge and attitude within the music, and the odd timing of the song, that makes it fit in perfectly with the still-forming punk sound, and one can easily argue that no other band straddled the line between the two sounds as perfectly as one finds on "The Next Big Thing."

Adding what is without question the ideal finishing touch to the bands' sound, there has never been another vocalist quite like Handsome Dick Manitoba.  It is his distinctive ability to bring a gruff growl that is on par with any punk singer, while at the same time working the entire vocal scale as a singer that makes him so impressive, and the shared parts with Shernoff play equally as great.  The amount of swagger and testosterone that comes forth in the vocals is second to none, and the fact that they are able to do so without having to be overly loud or fast is again a testament to the control they have of the mood of their music.  There are even moments within "The Next Big Thing" where one cannot help but compare the vocals to those found on The Stooges', "Gimme Danger," and the way in which the vocals lock in with the music matches this comparison quite well, even if they are a big sarcastic in this instance.  However, while the vocals are nothing short of fantastic, it is within the lyrics of "The Next Big Thing" where the true personality of The Dictators is able to shine.  There is a sense of "rock grandeur" within the words, and yet it is also clear that the band is poking fun at their own, turning the song into one of the finest musical satires in all of music history.  Though some may see the song as a "quest" for rock stardom, the fact that it can just as easily be read as one of excess and arrogance shows the almost hidden brilliance that made The Dictators so fantastic.

Bringing all of these elements together, the fact remains that "The Next Big Thing" is without question one of the most catchy and truly irresistible songs ever recorded.  Regardless of ones musical preference, there is a draw to "The Next Big Thing" that cannot be ignored, and it may live within the fact that one can truly feel the level of "fun" that the band had whilst recording the song.  Whether it is the heavily sarcastic, yet clearly accurate opening tirade from Manitoba, pushing it to the line, "...this is just a hobby for me," or the vivid images of packed arenas, on many levels, "The Next Big Thing" is able to convey rock and roll stardom in a manner unlike any other song.  Yet it is also the fact that the music is powerful and captivating, and after hearing the song only once, one is left to wonder how such an arrangement did not garner regular radio airplay at some point over the past decades.  In almost every facet, "The Next Big Thing" rings of the so-called "classic rock" sound, and aside from the lyrics, one would be hard pressed to separate the song from many others that were released around the same time.  Yet it is this exact fact that enables The Dictators to be so distinctive when compared to their peers, and it is the way in which they blended the punk attitude into the heavy metal sound that remains such a uniquely exciting experience.  Though the entire album is absolutely phenomenal, there is no better representation of everything that makes The Dictators so brilliant than what one can find in their 1975 song, "The Next Big Thing."

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