Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stiff Little Fingers, "Johnny Was"

I am not a Bob Marley fan. I've heard all of his albums, sometimes on repeat in various workplaces and dorms, seen the Kevin MacDonald documentary, toured his digs in Jamaica and even held down a writing gig writing for Bob's official web site, but to these ears his music is pleasant at best and grating at worst. It's not even the fans or the overplaying that bothers me. It's just that for a supposed revolutionary, the songs are about as incendiary as Hootie & the Blowfish.

Smart people who like Bob Marley tell me that it's subversive, politically charged music that has been appropriated by the frat boy, trustifarian and beach bum crowds. I believe that, but it's hard for me to get fired up about a revolution with lyrics like "Let's get together and feel alright" or a melody that was blatantly stolen from the Banana Splits theme. If Bob Dylan or Mick Jagger had written "Redemption Song," people would cringe.

That being said, I love hearing what Stiff Little Fingers found in "Johnny Was," a deep cut from Marley's Rastaman Vibration. The militaristic drum intro preceded "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by four years, and Jake Burns brings out the manic urgency in the riffs and lyrics, wasted in the lazy keyboards and stoned delivery of the original. I'd also wager that it's the first-ever eight-minute punk song. Not that it feels long--in the Fingers' hands, it's a protest punk bridge from the MC5 to "Killing in the Name."

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