Posts Tagged ‘Gang of Four’

I thought I had finished listening to and saying stupid things about every band with a number in its name that we collectively thought up, but I was wrong, as I so often am. Loyal reader and Southern industrialist corncobb has unearthed two bands that I’d overlooked: 8-Ball and Infinity. Thanks a lot, loyal reader and Southern industrialist corncobb!

Well, this blog wouldn’t exist without my loyal readers. Actually, it wouldn’t exist without WordPress. So in the interest of completing Let Me Count the Ways Week, which is now in its 10th frakking day, I gave these groups a good listening to. And boy was I sorry.

8-Ball and Infinity were both founded in the 1990s, 8-Ball in Japan and Infinity in Norway. 8-Ball is associated with several songs that are used in video games or with video magazines. “(Need for) Speed” uses unnecessary parentheses and shows how closely these boys have listened to Deep Purple, though Deep Purple wouldn’t spend five minutes listening to 8-Ball. “Can’t Carry On” sounds like Candlebox moving from California to Seattle in the ’90s and pretending to be a grunge act. “Masquerade” is something the Foo Fighters would scrub out of their swimming pool.

That brings us to Infinity. The Infinity gang loves Madonna. To her music they add just enough rapping to keep their grandparents on edge. The only song they have that is even halfway listenable is “Sleeping My Day Away,” and that’s because they didn’t write it – it’s a cover of a song by the Danish rock band D-A-D. No, I am not starting a project where I review bands with capital letters for names. I’ve already done ABBA and AC/DC anyway.

The one thing I like about Infinity is that this summer they toured Norway as part of the “We Love the ’90s!” tour. I have no idea what the ’90s was like in the home of the Norse gods, but it probably wasn’t like what I saw in the first Thor movie. I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia (Special D just put her head in her hands) and if I ever get to Oslo you can be sure I’ll report back on “We Love the ’90s!” I’d be crazy to miss it. Imagine the band merch!

The summing up
A couple of weeks ago, I gave Special D what I’ve written on my novel so far, all 25,000 words of it. She gave me her usual excellent feedback. Since then I’ve been thinking pretty hard about what she said and where I think my book is going. Listening to 110 or so bands with numbers in their names and then unfairly judging them and dismissing their life’s work in a few biting sentences was a fun project for my off-hours.

Despite the crappy bands this project stuck me with (Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, The Four Seasons, and 101 Strings lead that pack), I ended up listening to a lot of music I liked: U2, Three Dog Night, Gang of Four, The Bobby Fuller Four, The Jackson Five, Nine Inch Nails, UB40, The B-52s, Galaxie 500. For once I’m going to emphasize success rather than failure, and that means I want to single out the bands I didn’t know or didn’t know well and that happily surprised me: 2 Nice Girls, Timbuk 3, Sixpence None the Richer, 16 Horsepower, Matchbox Twenty, and 50 Foot Wave. I was pleased to reacquaint myself with 10cc’s “Neanderthal Man” and that Dean Moriarty song by Aztec Two-Step.

A warning: Don’t ever put a four in your band’s name. The 14 bands in that sad category were offset only by Bobby Fuller, Gang of Four, and The Four Tops.

Thanks to everyone who suggested bands and put this list together. I never would’ve gotten half of them without your help. For the record, here they all are, including the acts I reviewed in the two months before Let Me Count the Ways Week started on August 25:

.38 Special

Kenny Rogers & The First Edition
One Direction

2 Live Crew
2 Nice Girls
2 Unlimited
Amon Düül II
Aztec Two-Step
Boyz II Men

3 Doors Down
3 Mustaphas 3
Fun Boy Three
Loudon Wainwright III
The Three O’Clock
Third Eye Blind
Third World War
Three Dog Night
Timbuk 3

4 Non Blondes
Bobby Fuller Four
Classics IV
Four Bitchin’ Babes
Four Men & a Dog
Gang of Four
The Four Aces
The Four Freshmen
The Four Fellows
The Four Havens
The Four Horsemen
The Four Seasons
The Four Tops
The Four Toppers

Ben Folds Five
The Dave Clark Five
Five Finger Death Punch
Five for Fighting
Five Man Electrical Band
Maroon 5
The 5th Dimension
The Five Satins
The Jackson 5
We Five

Apollonia 6
The 6ths
Six By Seven
Sixpence None the Richer

7 Seconds
7 Seconds of Love

Crazy 8’s

Nine Inch Nails

10 Years
Ten Years After

12 Rounds

16 Horsepower

East 17
Heaven 17

Matchbox Twenty

Level 42
Black 47

50 Cent
50 Foot Wave
The B-52s


The Old 97’s

Apollo 100
Haircut 100
101 Strings

Galaxie 500

Area Code 615

1000 Homo DJs

1910 Fruitgum Company

10,000 Maniacs

Do as Infinity

I almost included The Three Tenors. They’re not rock, obviously, but Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, and José Carreras are the premiere tenors of our time. When they’re together, everything they touch turns to gold. People would pay money to hear them sing “Who Let the Dogs Out?” But they never recorded “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and I finally decided against them. Also, I hate opera.

Let’s go 3!

3 Doors Down

3 Mustaphas 3
Paul Simon’s Graceland is as far as I go with “world music,” a term that covers every instrument and musical scale ever played that isn’t usually played in North America. If world music is your thing you’ll enjoy 3 Mustaphas 3, as the members seem to be having a lot of fun playing their various Dr. Seuss string-like things. I find that their singing sounds like the Minions from Despicable Me, but that’s probably my American provincialism speaking. suggests you start with Soup of the Century (1990). I suggest Graceland or The Rhythm of the Saints.

Pioneering rap-metal outfit that helped open the door for Korn and Limp Bizkit. Curse you, 311! Their 1994 hit “Down” is a marriage of rap and Nirvana. Their other hit from that year, “All Mixed Up,” is rap, metal, reggae, and jubilant all at once. That’s the one song I can recommend by 311.


Fun Boy Three

Loudon Wainwright III
I admit that this is cheating. The guy was born with that number, he didn’t pick it! But this gave me a chance to listen again to “Dead Skunk” (“Take a whiff on me that ain’t no rose/roll up yer window and hold yer nose”) and “Lullaby” (“Shut your mouth and button your lip/You’re a late-night faucet that’s got a drip”), two of folk-rock’s greatest achievements.

The Three O’Clock
Bands have been returning to their music’s roots since rock was old enough to grow roots. One such roots movement was “The Paisley Underground,” a loose grouping of early-’80s LA bands that loved the ‘60s. The Dream Syndicate loved The Velvet Underground. The Bangles loved The Mamas and the Papas. Rain Parade loved The Doors.

Then there was The Three O’Clock. (Their biggest fan: Prince.) They worshipped The Monkees and The Association, though to me they sound like their contemporaries The Go-Gos. Their best-known song and the one I like is “Jetfighter,” from Sixteen Tambourines (1983).

Third Eye Blind
They came along in the aftermath of grunge and produced hard rock for a hip college crowd that was thrilled to see them in concert and forgot all about them before they hit 30.

Best known for the catchy “Jumper” and the even catchier “Semi-Charmed Life” from their self-titled 1997 debut; the former is about talking a friend off a ledge, the latter is about trying to escape crystal meth. The suicide song sounds surprisingly upbeat, but the other is downright happy. The singer and his girlfriend are in love with meth and they feel fine, despite the bleak words they’re singing. I don’t know if this emotional disconnect is intentional. It’s definitely weird.

Third World War
No listing on, no music on Rhapsody, but a tantalyzing reference on Wikipedia, where I learned that these Brits formed a sort of proto-punk band in 1970 that produced two albums, toured Finland, and made no money. I found their song “Ascension” on YouTube – it sounds like Jethro Tull had an affair with Joe Cocker. I listened to a couple others, but while my interest declined I can understand why punk pioneers Joe Strummer and Henry Rollins cite Third World War as an influence.

Three Dog Night

Timbuk 3
Forever known for “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades,” which would’ve been perfect for Huey Lewis & The News. “Things are all right, and they’re only getting better,” Timbuk 3 sang on this 1987 release, and though things didn’t get better for them professionally they did turn out a pretty interesting record, Greetings From Timbuk 3 (check out “Facts About Cats,” “Just Another Movie,” and “Shame on You,” another good song for Huey if he had ever learned how to rap). Too bad that the glare from Timbuk 3’s one novelty number obscures the rest of their work.

4 Non Blondes
Joan Armatrading meets Guns N’ Roses with a hint of Heart. Their one album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More (1993), yielded the hit “What’s Up,” which is pleasant enough. 4 Non Blondes eventually featured six non-blondes, one of whom was a guy.

Bobby Fuller Four

Classics IV
Classics IV started out in life imitating The Four Seasons. That’s enough by itself to get them kicked out of this conversation. But they eventually produced three classics (there, I said it) of the ’60s, “Stormy,” “Spooky,” and “Traces.” (“I close my eyes and say a prayer/that in her heart she’ll find/a trace of love there…”)

If you were 12 or 13 as I was when these songs appeared, then like me you occasionally tune in to the Oldies station in the car and you don’t turn these off when they pop up in the rotation. The first slow dance I ever had was to “Traces.” Unless it was “Crimson & Clover.” Whatever the soundtrack was, once I was mashed up against a girl-type person I suddenly understood what everyone in rock was singing about.

Objectively speaking, these songs pretty much suck. “Spooky” is particularly nuts – the singer never knows what his girlfriend is going to do next. Check this out: He asks her if she wants to go to the movies and she says no. Then she rethinks her decision and says yes. Alfred Hitchcock could’ve made an entire movie out of these psychodynamics.

Perhaps because they recorded “Stormy” and “Spooky,” at one point they covered “Sunny.” That one’s not bad!

Four Bitchin’ Babes
Folk-comedy from a rotating cast of bitchin’ babes brought together by Christine Lavin. Their first album, which I have yet to hear, is Buy Me Bring Me Take Me: Don’t Mess My Hair!!! (1993). I’ve heard Fax It! Charge It! Don’t Ask Me What’s for Dinner! (1995), and it’s not all laughs on this disc, as in the first track, “My Mother’s Hands.”

Frankly I’m getting tired of all the folk music and world music on this list, and that includes our next contestants:

Four Men & a Dog
Irish boys playing Celtic music with an international flair. There have been more than four men in this lineup although only four at a time. The dog stays home. If the long-running radio program Thistle & Shamrock is your idea of a good time, you probably already have posters of Four Men & a Dog on your bedroom wall. (For years I wondered why that show only had one announcer, and if she was Ms. Thistle then where was Mr. Shamrock?)

Gang of Four

The Four Aces
Famous a cappella group of the early 1950s that were shot to pieces like a rural stop sign by rock ’n’ roll. I know I don’t get paid for writing this blog but somebody owes me something for listening to their two biggest hits, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

The Four Freshmen
We’re not exactly on a roll here with the number 4. The Four Freshmen are The Four Aces set to music. Eighteen freshmen have sung in their lineup, on such albums as Four Freshmen and Five Trombones, Four Freshmen and Five Trumpets, Four Freshmen and Five Saxes, Four Freshmen and Five Guitars, and Four Freshmen and Five Dr. Seuss String-like Things. Surprisingly, the band existed as a recording unit for six years before they thought of naming an album Freshmen Year.

The Four Fellows
See The Four Toppers.

The Four Havens
I thought this had something to do with Richie Havens and his family, but I was wrong. I’ve heard one track, “One Note Too High,” from somewhere in the 1950s. It’s an uneasy clash of R&B and doo wop. I think they were on to something interesting here but it’s impossible to judge from one song and no context.

The Four Horsemen
Obscure metal act of the early 1990s in which everyone went to jail or died. If they’re known for anything, that thing is “Rockin’ Is Ma’ Business,” which would’ve been done far better by AC/DC. In fact AC/DC can do everything they can do backwards and in high heels. However, for a while the Horsemen had a punk/metal drummer named Chuck Biscuits, which is the second-best drummer name of all time (the #1 spot is still held by punk pioneer Spit Stix).

The Four Seasons
Awhile back I read Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, in which the hero spends 50 pages at the bottom of a dry well. In the dark. I’d rather reread those pages than listen to The Four Seasons.

But, because I am always fair and balanced, I must note that this bland, boring steamroller has been playing and touring and selling records for 50 years. The British Invasion, funk, reggae, disco, punk, grunge, rap, and Lady Gaga have all tried to kill The Four Seasons and all of them have failed. The Four Seasons will still be playing, touring, and selling their bland, boring records 50 years from now (and you can bet your download device of choice that I’ll still be complaining about them).

The Four Seasons’ lineup of past and present members stands at about 40. They will catch 101 Strings sometime before the bicentennial of the Civil War in 2061.

The Four Tops
They’ve lasted just as long as The Four Seasons and they’ve done it with only five guys. Long list of hits, particularly when Holland-Dozier-Holland was feeding them material in the mid-’60s, but my favorite has always been “River Deep, Mountain High” from 1971 (recorded with The Supremes’ survivors after Diana Ross left).

The Four Toppers
Early ’50s singing group that basically broke up when half of them were drafted during the Korean War. They transformed into The Four Fellows on their return. They’re worth remembering because Fellow David Jones wrote “Soldier Boy” while serving in Korea.

Tomorrow night: Rikki. Don’t lose that number, OK?


“At Home He’s a Tourist”
Gang of Four

“Here Come Cowboys”
The Psychedelic Furs

(With thanks to Loyal Reader Barb for suggesting this post.)

I’m lucky. I’ve usually had someone in my life who could explain music to me. In the early 1980s, that someone was my friend David Clements.

David hosted elaborate theme parties. The one I remember was based on junk food, which is probably why I remember it. He ran name-that-tune competitions featuring hundreds of songs he had culled from the backwaters of pop. At one of them I got off one of my best-timed lines: “Yes fans never know the names of the songs,” I said, immediately before the Yeshead playing the game blanked on the opening snippet of “Roundabout.”

David managed the Northgate movie theater in Seattle and was a dj on the University of Washington’s student-run station, KCMU. His handle was “The King of Pop,” and the poppier the better. Listening to his show one night, I became so outraged by the parade of Stings, Boy Georges, and Bangles that I called and requested something from Saturday Night Fever. David recognized my voice and promised he would play it if I would drive over to the station in my leisure suit. You couldn’t top that guy.

When I first heard Gang of Four, probably at somebody’s party, they intimidated me. The guitars are angular. They’re like getting elbowed under the basket or stick-checked behind the net. The singer isn’t singing so much as opening a vein. On “Love Like Anthrax,” which begins with what sounds like a guitar expiring inside bagpipes, the singer competes with someone who simply speaks. Occasionally they sing/speak the same line. When they do, it’s so harmonious it’s startling.

Gang of Four’s lyrics take apart our politics, our consumer culture, even our love lives. They don’t put anything back together again, either. Even on their friendliest cut, “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” they’re not all that friendly:

The good life was so elusive
Handouts, they got me down
I had to regain my self respect
So I got into camouflage

They’re The Clash without the heroin and with a darker worldview. And The Clash weren’t exactly cheery. It was exhausting just looking at the album covers. I didn’t want anything to do with them.

But the King of Pop saw further than I did, and he suggested I try them. I did and over time I became hooked. In fact I even have a Gang of Four listening ritual.

Run-DMSteve’s Gang of Four Listening Ritual
1) Realize that I haven’t played anything by Gang of Four in a long while.
2) Wave away sudden upwelling of dread.
3) Hear first notes of first song. Wince. Consider switching to Madonna’s “Vogue.”
4) Hooked again.
5) Pound face into desk.

I’ve listed the three songs at the top of this post for a reason. They’re superficially similar in their structure and in the way they gallop along. “Barracuda” was a hit for Heart, who had fantastic hair and who made hard rock for people who were cautiously venturing beyond Hall & Oates. “Here Come Cowboys” was a late-period example of New Wave by The Psychedelic Furs. It would’ve made a passable B-side to one of their better songs.

“At Home He’s a Tourist,” however, is fucking unbelievable. When it starts I always think, Oh no, it’s Heart, no wait, Psychedelic Furs, oh right, Gang of Four. The guitar sounds like it wants to throw up. But by the song’s end I can’t wait to click Replay.

I have David to thank for some great musical memories, but David was killed in 1985, at the age of 28, while making a night deposit after closing the theater. Two lives were lost that night – David’s, and that of the 19-year-old boy who shot him and who will wake every day of his life with that knowledge. I think of you often, David, and of that B-52s concert we went to at the Coliseum. I wish we had taken Gang of Four’s suggestion and gotten drunk on cheap wine.