Songs that made me Zombie, Part 1

In a thread at Lawyers, Guns and Money, the bunny-eared reformed vacuumslayer asked people about songs that were fused with people’s skeletons.  After teasing a bit, I resurrected this list from a defunct blog, and upon reviewing, I thought it would be appropriate in this venue, as a way of helping to explain why I do this Summerfest thing with such fervor.  Enjoy!

  • – [ ] 1 Keep Yourself Alive, Queen.I’m not even sure I remember when I started listening to Queen.  It was definitely in my cassette phase, because I had to buy them again on vinyl, not to mention having to get them in digital all over again.

    But somewhere along the line, I picked up their first album  On cassette, as I said.  And driving home, I plugged it into the tape deck and the stuttering, propulsive guitar riff came chattering out of the speakers.  I listened in awe.

    I rewound it, and played it again.   Definitely a windows down song.

    The recording quality is sketchy, and the lyrics are kind of  rough (hey, Queen has never been about the lyrics, am I right?)  but the song overflows with nervous, youthful energy and attitude, opening their first album with a hearty FUCK OFF to any bad luck or opposition or hard times.  It may not have the epic grandeur they desired but all these Years later, it still retains that defiant proto- punk attitude.  All these  intervening years, and still it never fails to lift my spirits.


  • I debated listing this as the entire Snap! double album.  But in the end, it was this first song on the first disc that I always wanted to hear.

    The song, just like the Queen song, was a bundle of defiant, youthful energy that oozed spit and anger, but wasn’t simply nihilistic.  The Jam could, it seemed, effortlessly combine discontent with hope, drive it with three chords and finish it in two and a half minutes..  The Jam was labeled punk, but they were always just more of a garage band with an unacknowledged affection for Townshend.

    The later songs, while being more focused, more accomplished, and edging out of the punky territory, never gave up that attitude.  Even as Paul Weller’s voice and songwriting matured  and production refinements were added, like when horns were added to “Beat Surrender”, they never gave in to  compromise, although their original punk fans were brutal in the cries of ‘sellout!’  In the end, they called it quits rather than dilute their work.  Although I never really warmed up to Weller’s work with the Style Council, his more recent releases are a return to the form that I had loved.

    When I bought Snap!, it was constantly, constantly on the turntable.  My roommates would beg me to play something else.  I would, and then I would put it back on.

    I can be hard to live with sometimes.

    – [ ] 3 Satisfaction, DEVO – SNL.
  • There was once a time when Saturday Night Live was not only funny, but within spitting distance of the cutting edge.  It’s True!  And as an added bonus, they would feature obscure bands, often for the first tv appearance ever.  And as a young proto-geek, Saturday Night most often found me sitting around watching TV.
  • The song is a nearly unrecognizable cover.  The band started by playing in yellow hazmat suits, then stripped out of them to complete the song.  They played in jerky, robotic, unmusical fashion, as far from the overproduced AOR rock that was the only thing on the radio.  It was as if they had never heard any Boston or Yes, and if they did, they didn’t care.  Devolution had arrived, and the fact we were watching them on a national broadcast was proof of how far we had already fallen.Even the next day, I wasn’t sure whether it was an actual band or just a parody.  But I still couldn’t get it out of my head.  Damn them.  Somehow, those Foreigner tapes just didn’t sound so good anymore.  I finally found a cutout tape of the first album, and listened to it on headphones; I still couldn’t decide whether I even liked them or not. I played it for some friends, who though it was some weird Firesign Theater type parody album.Now, as we have all become the Spudboys they predicted, they have scored Nickelodeon kid’s cartoons and I have designed truckstops.  We’ve all become mainstream, just as we’ve all become the people we hated.  When my son and I saw them at Summerfest a couple of years back, the sarcasm and satire was just as strong as ever, and even more pointed.

    Devolution, indeed.

    – [ ] 4 1999, Prince

    I was going to college in a small, hick Wisconsin town.  When I wanted new music, I either had to drive to Madison or Dubuque, Iowa (yes it was bad enough that I had to go to IOWA).  Oh, and Dick’s, the town’s big grocery mart, had a rack of albums.  You know, the big black CDs.

    I had already developed a rep as a ‘punk’, or at least as close as you could get in this little town.  The college radio jocks usually gave me all the albums that they found too nasty to play  (The album ‘Boy’ was one of these). And somehow, this garish Purple album found it’s way into that grocery store rack, and having heard some rumblings about this guy, decided it was a cheap double album and couldn’t hurt.

    Oh, but it did.  In all the best ways.    It was all over the place stylistically, but had a groove that all that white boy New Wave never managed.  It was full of everything, just as  enthusiastically overblown as any Queen song, in it’s way; new wave keyboards, Hendrix-inspired guitar wizardry, Motown grooves and sex-drenched lyrics.  I didn’t even know he was black, I just knew it was something New.  Something truly different;  it fit into a hole in my brain that I didn’t know existed.

    You know, there were TWO copies of 1999 in that grocery mart bin.  Sometimes I wonder who bought the other one.

    Another of these Saturday Night Live performances; one that has become iconic.

    I watched, still a kid as a guitarist barely older than I was started a song and stopped it, apologizing tersely to the crowd, and then leading his band into an angry, propulsive song.  I initially figured that they had screwed it up, and scoffed at the amateurs.  But the song…. it was obvious as Elvis spit every word into the mic and violently wrenched chords from his guitar that he meant every word, although I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to the lyrics.  After all, it was the 70’s; lyrics were disposable, for the most part, an exercise in rhyming.

    But you know; even as  a twerp I could see an artist that, although he was succeeding, still hated the price of success.  And someone who was unwilling to knuckle under to be safe, to be compliant.  He didn’t respect the network that didn’t respect him, and was perfectly willing to accept the consequences for his disobedience.  Later, I learned that Lorne Michaels was furious, telling Elvis that he would never play the network again and that his career was over.

    Twelve years later, I tuned in to watch Elvis play SNL. Again. And with typical Elvis attitude, he reproduced the original appearance, this time with the Beastie Boys:

    And a couple of years ago,  I watched as Elvis opened for the Police, and he used his hour-long slot to outperform them, blow them off the stage ( regardless of what the drones at the Urinal-Sentinel thought).  Thirty years later, Elvis is still recording vital music, doing what he wants without compromise; SNL has never reached those heights again, in fact is usually disregarded,  scorned and rarely manages to even be funny.

    …to be continued…


8 responses to “Songs that made me Zombie, Part 1

  • paleotectonics

    Awesome. My dad still reads their sports but he can get that online and screw delivery. (However, he still reads the La Crosse Tribune. Kind of like an adult Highlights. So his taste in reading is not entirely stuff.)

    For me, it would be Saudi Arabian bootlegs my aunt brought back. Powerslave by Iron Maiden, esp. Aces High and Flash Of The Blade. Supertramp – Crime Of The Century. Tull – Benefit. Can’t. Remember. Others. Dammit…
    (And obviously, although incredibly cool of her, she had no clue of my preference in music, not knowing that at that time I HAD no preference in music. Other than the AC Delco channel and Brewer baseball.)

    • zombie rotten mcdonald

      Originally, this series of posts was a mashup of one blogger who listed his favorite songs, and another who did a 50-100-50 series (50 posts, 100 words each, 50 days). Since I don’t have the focus to post 50 days OR the discipline to stick within 100 words, and “favorite” songs change from day to day for me, I mutated the whole effort into this.

      But the thread VS started at LGM fit these nicely, although I just listed the 25 without the short stories. Since I am trying to jumpstart this blog in time for Summerfest to start, here we are.

      …see what I said about the discipline thing? Even mikey said I outstrip him for verbosity.

    • zombie rotten mcdonald

      “AC-Delco” was an abandoned name for Angus Young’s band….

  • Hogan

    There’s a running joke in Gaiman & Pratchett’s Good Omens that any cassette tape left in a car for more than two weeks metamorphoses into Best of Queen.

    “It’s Tchaikovsky’s ‘Another One Bites the Dust’,” said Crowley, closing his eyes as they went through Slough. To while away the time as they crossed the sleeping Chilterns, they also listened to William Byrd’s “We Are the Champions” and Beethoven’s “I Want To Break Free.” Neither were as good as Vaughan Williams’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.”

  • Kathleen

    Awesome! What a great post. I felt like I needed to be drinking beer while reading it and I could feel the afternoon sun on my face!

  • Songs that made me Zombie, Part 2 | SummerfestBlog

    […] [Part 2 of the series.  Part 1 here] […]

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