Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 30: Fear, "I Love Livin' In The City"

Artist: Fear
Song: "I Love Livin' In The City"
Album: I Love Livin' In The City (single)
Year: 1978/1981

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Though most critics would rather ignore the truth and claim that there are a handful of genres that have no "range" and are all the same style, one will truly miss out on some of the finest songs ever by subscribing to such a thought.  Even within what is often pointed to as the most "simple" musical style, punk rock, there are wide variations on the central spirit of the music, and this truth alone makes it just as important to the development of music as any other genre.  Within the punk style, one of the most critical sub-genres is that of "thrash," as the true ferocity and power of the punk spirit are brought most clearly to light.  While there have been a number of bands who excelled within the "thrash punk" style, few can compare to the intensity and drive of Fear, and at the same time, one cannot overlook the fact that the bands' songs retain a rather unexpected but undeniable pop edge.  Rising from the fiery, fertile Los Angeles, California punk and hardcore scene of the late 1970's, Fear never made any attempt to be subtle or apologetic for their music, and their 1981 full length debut, The Record, remains just as confrontational and provocative today as it was when it was first released.  While there is not a moment anywhere on the record that is anything short of completely intense, it is the bands' re-recording of their first single, 1978's "I Love Livin' In The City" that stands as Fear's finest recorded moment.

The two different recordings of "I Love Livin' In The City" are extremely similar, with the major difference being the overall "cleanliness" of the latter version.  The energy and actual music itself is nearly identical, and for this reason, one should seek out the 1981 recording.  The other difference is that on the original release, the guitar parts are played by both Lee Ving and Burt Good, where the The Record take features Good being replaced by Philo Cramer, yet this change occurred very soon after the single was released.  Drummer Johnny Backbeat also plays on the original, and it is Spit Stix on the full length, and it is the addition of these two that pushes the later recording to such unforgettable heights.  Where many of the peers of Fear seemed to care little for the actual musicality of their songs, all across "I Love Livin' In The City" one can find a brilliant hook and an energy that has rarely been matched.  There is a fantastic tension within Cramer's playing, and it is also his performance that gives the track an amazing sense of movement.  The grinding groove from bassist Derf Scratch cannot be understated, and one can hear this performance as one of the most important building blocks in the development of the hardcore sound.  The combined sound of the group in many ways represents the finest that both punk an hardcore have to offer, and yet they are presented in a manner which easily appears to a far wider audience.

The massive wall of sound deployed by the band is perfectly complimented by the vocals of Lee Ving, and there is no arguing that he stands as one of the finest frontmen of the entire L.A. punk and hardcore scene.  Though his delivery is certainly quite similar to that of many of his peers, it is the strangely natural manner with which the words and sound seem to flow from him that sets Ving so far apart, and it is this authenticity that serves as the ideal balance to the musical arrangement.  The growl that sits underneath his unrelenting voice is absolutely perfect for the style with which he sings, and the spirit he brings to every line makes it almost impossible to not sing along.  It is in this reality that one can easily imagine just how wild Fear shows were, as the combined effort and sound of the band is one in which listeners cannot help but be swept up.  Yet it is also the fact that the lyrics to "I Love Livin' In The City" are such an ideal match for both the vocals and music that make this song such a powerful force, and it is the words that magnify the dark, almost dirty nature of the band.  Exposing the "real" world around them in the city, Ving speaks of everything from vomit and garbage on the sidewalk to the awful smell around him, and yet it is the fact that his words are so unapologetic and vivid that makes them work.  Both in these words as well as his delivery, it is the fact that there is no attempt to gloss or polish reality that makes Fear's "I Love Livin' In The City" such a brilliant and unparalleled musical effort.

Over the past few decades, the actual place and significance of "I Love Livin' In The City" has become quite clear, as it remains one of the most highly respected recordings in both the punk and hardcore genres.  It is almost impossible to list all of the bands that have covered the song over the years, and "I Love Livin' In The City" has also been featured in a number of films and video games.  It is perhaps the fact that the song is so "to the point" and focused that has enabled it to have such a wide appeal and longevity, and yet one simply cannot understate the musical competence that is displayed throughout the track.  The melody itself is unquestionably as punk as one can find anywhere, but the fact that Fear is able to strip away the pretension that ruined countless great punk songs and simply deliver the music itself is what makes them so vital to the development of the genre.  Deploying one of the darkest grooves ever captured on tape, complimented but a high-octane lead riff remains absolutely unparalleled more than three decades later, and yet Fear somehow remain relatively unknown compared to some of their far less talented peers.  The fact that all of the songs on The Record manage to hit just as hard today as they did upon first release is a testament to the unique talents of Fear, and there are few songs from any era or genre that can compare to the sheer energy and attitude found all throughout their 1978 classic, "I Love Livin' In The City."

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