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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Ghost Rider"

Suicide - Ghost Rider (1977)

The first band to advertise itself as "Punk Music" a term first used by music journalist Lester Bangs.

I first heard this song in 1994. The Rollins Band, fronted by perennially angry man of letters Henry Rollins performed a cover on the soundtrack album for The Crow. They change some lyrics, and add a lot of instruments, but it's raw and powerful and gets at the same point as the original. I actually didn't know it was a cover until I cracked open the book this evening to write this post.

The first time I heard the original version of the song I didn't know it. M.I.A. sampled it for her 2010 single Born Free. It's a powerful anti racist video that attracted tons of controversy. She used the sparse keyboard line as the driving force of the song. Because she didn't sample any lyrics I had no idea it was the same song.

The two and a half minute long song by sculptor Alan Vega and jazz musician Martin Rev kicked off the debut eponymous album by Suicide. Not only is the song about Marvel anti hero Ghost Rider, the band was named after an issue of the skull faced stunt rider. Musically the song is simple. There's a drum machine programed to hit a soft tom sound on the two three and four of every measure. Martin Rev plays two keyboard parts, one matches the drum machine using three notes over and over again. The other part uses one chord and a repetitive syncopated pattern. At one point in the song he plays a different chord along with the first chord but still uses the same pattern. Vocalist Alan Vega sounds like a cross between a out of breath kid trying to tell a story that don't know the ending to, and a lounge singer. His voice is a little scary. When Henry Rollins sings /America is killing its youth/ he sounds angry about it, he wants to warn you to do something about it. When Alan Vega sings the same line he's telling you a secret you already know and are to afraid to do anything about. It's too late.

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