Thursday, November 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The First Punk Band: For the Whole World to See, by Death

Bands like The Ramones and The Sex Pistols like to claim that they were the first punk groups in the 1970's. However, before either of those bands there was another band with such a sound and attitude. Three African-American brothers from Detroit Bobby Hackney, David Hackney, and Dannis Hackney in 1971 formed their own band in their mother's upstairs room called Death. Their sound featured many of the kinds of attributes that punk music as we know it would use as their basic standard for years to come. Most of the songs were fairly short, loud, aggressive, and featured much social and political commentary.

Needless to say, Death had a hard time gaining any real steam due to their radical name. Many people at the time (and even to this day) would not buy records from a group named Death. However, at one point in 1975 the band did record seven of their songs at United Sound Studios with engineer Jim Vitti. Columbia Records president Clive Davis funded the sessions, but when Death refused to change the name of their group, he ceased his support. Death ended up keeping all the master tapes and self-released a single of their songs Politicians in My Eyes/Keep on Knockin'. When the band had made no progress by 1977, they disbanded. 32 years later however, Drag City Records rediscovered Death and released all seven of their songs on an album titled For the Whole World to See. Though founding guitarist David Hackney was dead, they replaced him with Bobbie Duncan and began touring and recording new music again.

The track Keep on Knockin' is one of the best choices they could have made in terms of album openers. It is upbeat, has a catchy lead guitar melody, and gives off the very attitude the band had back at that time. It does sound a little more rock n' roll than punk, but still easily fits into the punk rock category. When you think of the idea of a punk song you can jump around and dance to while having a good time, this is what would come to mind. In a way it almost reminds me of the kinds of underground indie rock that I hear today when I go into hipster cafes.

Freakin' Out is far more straight up punk than Keep on Knockin'. The chord progression and rhythm used to play it set the standard for almost every single band in the punk movement to follow. The lyrics on the other hand sound more like they are out of an acid trip and belong in hippie music or a Black Sabbath song, though none of the members of the band were drug users at that time. From my personal understanding of the lyrics, they talk about things not always being what you think they may be and doubting yourself in terms of your perception of reality. Be that as it may, it is still another fast paced punk rocking good time.

It really is an honest shame that Death never got anywhere when they first got started. They could have changed the course of musical history quite drastically. For the Whole World to See is short for an album, but in this case I will cut the band some slack given the circumstances. They were originally going to record 12 tunes before their funding got cut. I wish I could have heard the other songs they were planning to do, though if they haven't already I'm sure they will release them. That being said, give this album a listen. It's worth a listen. It is a golden piece of music history. For the Whole World to See is pure punk rock and is a fun time while also giving you some food for thought.

For the Whole World to See, by Death receives 4.5 out 5 stars.

Track List:

1. Keep on Knockin'
2. Rock n' Roll Victim
3. Let the World Turn
4. You're a Prisoner
5. Freakin' Out
6. Where Do We Go From Here?
7. Politicians in My Eyes

Buy the album on Amazon:

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