1970, The sixties were over but the Hippies were still around, at least for the time being and that whole peace and love idealism was still lingering in the air when it came to music but not in New York City man! When the Hippies were grooving to the soundtrack of the “Summer of Love”(1967 not 1969 as widely erroneously perceived) a group of freaks called the Velvet Underground dropped an album, extoling the virtues of heroin not acid and sounding like absolutely nothing that came before it.
In was in this climate that a band called Suicide was formed. I mean to call your band Suicide now would be extreme, let alone at a time when the nation of “cool” people were probably still coming down after their collective Woodstock trip. Suicide is (yes still active) a two piece band comprised of Martin Rev (Synth, Drum Machine) and Alan Vega (Vocals) formed a band, and initially wanted to take the band in a more traditional direction (You know like Guitar and drums) however due to financial constraints (This is New York in the early 70s, watch the movies Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Also why it’s basically the polar opposite of California at this time.) So, basically armed with a rudimentary Synth keyboard and a primitive drum machine, that was actually purchased at a furniture store, the two started crafting their sound. The band was the first to actually refer their music as Punk explicitly. IN 1970. The exact phrasing was “Punk Music Mass”. Their debut album would come nearly a decade later in 1977, when the Atom Bomb that was Punk Rock had been fully unleashed, however Suicide sounded nothing remotely like the bands that were described with the name they basically started. Pardon my French it was straight out of left fucking field. There is a good chance you heard at least part of one Suicide track. Don’t believe me? Ever heard M.I.A’s “Born Free”? Then you’ve heard Suicide, that’s a sample of the first track “Ghost Rider” So now you’ve got some reference material.
There is a good deal of influence from the golden age of rock and roll evident both in the vocal and tempos and structures of some songs “Johnny” sounds like a space age rockabilly song whereas songs like “Cheree” and “Girl” are ‘50s love ballads beamed down from Mars.
It’s Pretty sounding right?
Then there is the first track from side two. “Frankie Teardrop” It’s a little over ten minutes long, the synth and drum machine are sparse and toned down and Alan Vega’s voice is as much as an instrument as they are. The song itself is a narrative of a young man (widely believed to be a Vietnam War veteran) and his struggle to support his family….lets just say it doesn’t have a happy ending and the story is enhanced greatly by Alan going from his Sinatra-esque crooning to horrific and blood curdling yelps and shrieks. Basically the most terrifying songs ever to be recorded ever. So much so that radio host Tom Scharpling of The Best Show on WFMU had a challenge to his audience to listen to the entire song somewhere in complete darkness and see if they could get through the whole song. Suicide was one of the first American electronic bands but was essentially a rock band, that just used electronic instruments. This was a watershed moment in music, Suicide, as obscure as they remain have influenced acts as diverse as poppier electro acts from Pet Shop Boys and OMD to MGMT and Daft Punk, Spacey Rock from Sonic Youth to Radiohead. A very logical antecedent to bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails but also an head scratching influence to Ric Ocasek of the Cars and even Bruce Springsteen. Seriously yes even The Boss.
Give it a listen. Remember it came out in 1977……..It’s groundbreaking and at least half a decade before it’s time.
But I’m still going give this track a “Listen At Your Own Risk” warning. Not even kidding on this one.
-Paul Micheal Sagan
I just learned so much from this post. Especially the band Suicide. I love electronic bands, and so this is a real find. Thanks!