My my my, what have we here? We have Black Monk Time by Monks, The. This group of American soldiers based in Germany started playing Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1964. By 1966, their two years developing their native culture in a foreign land resulted in their first album: a milestone in the development of Punk.
Album opener “It’s Monk Time” captures a man screaming about his brother being killed in Vietnam, and it’s no hippy anti-war song like the era is known for: it’s raw exposed nerves. What blew me away was listening to “I Hate You”, which I think must be one first songs to be so openly about sheer hostility. Talk about being the antithesis of the schlager Paul McCartney was pumping into Rubber Soul, these guys taking song writing in a trajectory that is still followed today.
While the Jews may have lamented that in ancient Babylon they could not sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, Monks, The kicked against their new environment with primitive Punk power. Listening to the album more than once, I couldn’t understand why the guitar sound was so percussive - it turned out to be an electric banjo! The keyboard playing across the album can only be described as one thing: demented. Some people in a strange land clearly don’t take it lying down.
Black Monk Time remains a milestone in the history of music that demands to be heard.
Next up was another bunch of punk trailblazers, it’s MC5, The, motherfuckers!!! I know the famously expletive-ridden debut better than I know the back of my hand, so I went to their third and final album High Time for the variety’s sake.
High Time gets a bad reputation as an unnecessary album. I imagine that the people who claim this have probably never even listened to the first track, because otherwise they’d have heard “Sister Ann”, a slab of MC5, The getting in touch with raw Rock ‘N’ Roll roots.
As if that wasn’t enough the album also features “Miss X” in at track three. The debate of how rock bands should handle their balladry is long discussed. Should they do none? Should they have a token one on each album? Is it the kind of filler fit for a B-side or fan-club only release? Fear not, MC5, the have the answer: if they’re going to go soft they’re going to do it begrudgingly.
Thanks to “Miss X”, the debate can now be closed.
As if listening to Monks, The and MC5, The wasn’t enough, the week took me onto Mars Volta, The. Choosing The Bedlam in Goliath, I left myself open to an aural pounding - albums are rarely so intense and relentless. This is a long album and every song features a strange, dark intensity. Some people save something special for album closers, but this feels like an album of album closers. Actual album closer “Conjucal Burns” pretty much had me ready to surrender and fall over.
The album just doesn’t let up, its so relentless that even quite section leave you on tenterhooks awaiting the next onslaught. Onslaught. Onslaught might be the best way to sum up this album.
I’ve been a fan of Mars Volta, The for a while, but I think that this is the first time that I’ve listened to an album all the way through. By God, I don’t know how they do it, I can’t even contemplate how they get that sound on to record: I’m just happy - bruised and happy - that they found a way.
Listening to those three bands was exhausting. Writing up those three bands has also been exhausting. But it has been a concise story arc through origins of punk to the crazy shit that it would lead to.
Seriously, who would want things any other way?
Now I think I need to have a lie down.
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