Friday, October 14, 2011

October 14: The Avengers, "We Are The One"

Artist: The Avengers
Song: "We Are The One"
Album: We Are The One (EP)
Year: 1977

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While one can make the case that one of the more frustrating situations in music is when a truly amazing band does not release enough music before their career ends, one can also argue that this seemingly shortened time-span ensures that their sound and focus are not diluted by time.  This is the case in almost every genre, but it is rarely more clear than in the case of punk rock and hardcore, as time is not a friend in the least of these styles of music.  It is due to this reality that many of the most amazing and powerful bands in the history of these styles released very few recordings, but their impact can be easily seen within the sounds of bands that followed.  While they may not be as well known as many of their disciples, in the entire history of punk rock, there are few groups that come remotely close to the power and presence of San Fransisco legends, The Avengers.  Only releasing a pair of EP's and no full-length records in the few years they were together, the band brought a focus that was far beyond any of their peers, and from Black Flag to X-Ray Spex, the impact of the band is extremely obvious and quite widespread.  All across both of these EP's, the band deploy some of the most ferocious and yet catchy punk rock ever recorded, and there are few songs that are more definitive of the punk rock sound and ethos than what one can experience on The Avengers' brilliant 1977 song, "We Are The One."

The opening note of "We Are The One" is as much of a musical statement as one can hope for, with the distorted, ringing chord from guitarist Greg Ingraham announcing the opening of the EP, and in many ways, the arrival of the band in general.  Yet there is no pretension or posturing within the guitar work, and this is where one is reminded of the true vision of the punk rock sound.  All across "We Are The One," there is a feeling of community and power, without the band feeling it necessary to make themselves the center of attention, and it is the lacking of these qualities that show many of the "legendary" punk bands has clearly missing "the point" of the music.  The intensity with which Ingraham plays is almost unsettling, as it almost sounds like he is trying to jump through the speaker, just to get your attention.  This is perfectly complimented by bassist Jimmy Wilsey, who brings a fantastic precision, and yet he does not sacrifice any power of emotion.  His balance in terms of energy and aptitude show another way that The Avengers were a far cry from their peers, and they proved that one need not sacrifice melody or tone simply to have "more impact."  The group is rounded out by drummer Danny Furious, and his playing perfectly matches his name, as this is one of a handful of drum performances that works with the idea that he is trying to destroy his kit whilst playing.  The three musicians of the band are completely together every step of the way, and it is this cohesive force that gives "We Are The One" its imposing, yet uplifting mood.

However, it is impossible to discuss The Avengers without speaking of their singer, as one cannot overstate the importance of Penelope Houston within the entire world of music.  Perhaps moreso than other genres, female singers within the punk and hardcore scenes were often seen as "lesser" than their male counterparts, and yet the power and purpose that Houston brings to every word makes it impossible not to be completely captivated.  Perfectly walking the line between speaking an singing, it is her almost rant-like delivery that would inspire countless later female singers, and there is no question that this recording was the finest of her career.  Furthermore, it is the strength of the message that she brings which easily put her on the level of any other singer, and "We Are The One" is as close to a "punk anthem" as one can find anywhere.  Leaving all subtlety to the side and penning a brilliant shout against the "assumed" position and goal of "all" punk rockers, there is an almost unsettling strength when she belts the chorus of, "...we are not capitalist industrialists, we are not communists, we are the one..."  Yet it is in the songs' opening stanza that Houston set the entire world straight, when she reminds those that look down on her and her scene that, "...we are the leaders of tomorrow..."  While one can see this as a "warning" to the "powers that be," it can also be seen as a "reminder" to those within the scene that there was a responsibility to who they were and what they represented, and it is the combination of meaning and the superb delivery style of Houston that makes this song so important.

Due to the fact that The Avengers broke up only a few years after the release of the We Are The One EP, it was rather difficult to find for quite some time.  However, the track, as well as the EP in full have been re-packaged and re-released in a handful of different configurations, allowing an entirely new generation of punk rock fans to be blown away by the power and presence of this magnificent band.  Whether it is due to the sheer passion with which every note and word is delivered or the unapologetic, uncompromising lyrics that can be found across their entire catalog, one can easily make the case that The Avengers were in a class all their own.  On many levels, it is these two elements that would define much of the San Fransisco punk scene, and there were few other groups that could deliver as consistently with as high level results.  Even beyond their music and lyrics, The Avengers stood tall in representing the "true" meaning of punk rock, as they made their disdain for the "posers" of the punk world quite well known.  From the "punk look" to the way that such "fans" acted at live performances, one can argue that it was this "merchandising" of the punk ethos that played a large part in the end of The Avengers.  However, even with their short time together as a band, few groups have come close to the amount of influence and impact that they were able to achieve, and there is no better representation of the sheer brilliance of The Avengers than their 1977 song, "We Are The One."

1 comment:

Jamie Cross said...

Great band! Another stunning fact is that Penelope Houston was only 18-19 yrs. old when she wrote those lyrics.