Been floating around in the void we call NO RELIABLE INTERNET ACCESS for faaaaar too many weeks now – but tonight I’m back. To mark this we dive into a
Now there are LA songs, and then . . . there are LA songs. How much more perfect an LA song is there? The why-didn’t-I-think-to-write-that descending riff, the urgent harmonies, the chopping rhythm, and those evocative lyrics (always imagined they were written while speeding 65 mph down the 405 freeway). Just 2 verses, 2 choruses and it’s fucking over with. All brought to you in smelly jeans and a fading t-shirt. Righteous! Here’s 5 versions for you:
1. The Urinals – “Black Hole” (from negative capability . . . check it out! comp. CD, Happy Squid Records, 1998) Written by John (Talley-) Jones. First waxed in 1979 on the URINALS second record – the appropriately titled Another EP. Vitus Matre of THE LAST produced, with an antiquated Dokorder 4-track reel-to-reel, giving their otherwise brittle sound an extra warm, undersea-cave feel. And the best 1 min 18 secs I’ve been able to locate from ’79.
People like to lump these guys in with BPEOPLE, MONITOR, HUMAN HANDS, SUBURBAN LAWNS etc. – you know, that art-punk thing then coalescing around downtown LA at the time. But as Byron Coley points out in the CD liners, these guys also prefigured the whole early suburban invasion perfectly. They were UCLA kids – proudly dress-down, very non-Hollywood nerdy types. They looked a lot like MIDDLE CLASS and sounded a helluva lot like THE MINUTEMEN would come to, in very short order. All you unrepentant HC types out there owe it to yourselves to spend some quality time with their recordings.
2. The Leaving Trains – “Black Hole” (from the Transportational D. Vices LP, SST Records, 1989) Introduced me to this song, this one did. And so what if, in retrospect, it sounds kinda huried and maybe redundant? Do try to recall the context: these were the late 80’s. THE URINALS were long gone, a mere myth to lots of us. One had little access to the em if you weren’t willing to fork out the $60-$100 a pop for the original 45s. Now I suppose I could’ve hit up some recently cleaned-up, ex-punker type for a cassette dupe of this stuff (I admit I did this a lot back then) . . . whatever, lead TRAIN Falling James was simply paying homage to a great song by the guys that had kindly waxed the TRAINS very first recordings. He earned the right to cover it any way he sought fit. Before the internet, it was cover versions like these that helped pass these songs down to us young ‘uns.
3. The Gun Club – “Black Hole” (from the Divinity LP, New Rose/What’s So Funny About Records, 1991) Again, probably a tribute, as the first GUN CLUB recording was released on the Keats Rides a Harley comp. LP by THE URINALS themselves. But overlook the faux-Steve Lillywhite production and you’ve got a real classy version on your hands. Layering the tune over the half-time drums (lifted straight from LED ZEP’s “When the Levee Breaks”!) was just what a remake of this song demanded – that, and the added extended instrumental outro, with Jeffrey’s screamin’ gtr circling the rafters above yr head. Plus, they’ve gotten all lush and grand(iose) with the harmonies, as was Jeffrey’s predilection. I fucking love it. If you’ve never tuned in to later-day GUN CLUB, then you’re missing out on tragic beauty of a rare order.
4. Yo La Tengo – “Black Hole” (from the Little Honda EP, Matador Records, 1998) The most faithful version here – they even try and recreate that cheap trebly gtr sound by layering on the reverb! I got bored with these TENGO guys/gals in the early 90’s, back around May I Sing with Me. It was at a gig of theirs where I began thinking this “indie rock” thing was kinda/sorta repulsive . . . BUT I’ve always appreciated the respect and attention they pay to cover songs. Only non-LA act on this list, btw . . .
5. The Leaving Trains –“Black Hole” (from the Emotional Legs CD, Steel Cage Records, 2002) My pick of the bunch. Falling James decided to right the wrongs of his band’s original cover, rethought things entirely and came up with this mindbender. It might well be informed a bit by all the other versions listed here! In my puny head, James’ tossed-off croon and wildass approach to making music encapsulates the best of what LA rock meant/means. Long my he TRAIN.