Thursday, September 07, 2006

If Our Records Sound Distorted...

It’s time to bring in reinforcements, so please welcome my good friend Dave to The White Noise Revisited. His musical credentials are impeccable, and he DJ’s as part of the Eclectic Aristocracy at Shuffle in London. Head to their website for details if you’re interested, and if you go down there, shake Dave’s hand and buy the man a drink. Until then, read on as he pops his TWNR cherry – the first of many I hope…

The Sonics - Psycho
The Sonics - Have Love Will Travel

There aren’t many bands I'd consider naming my 5-a-side football team after (it’s a serious business after all), so it’s high praise indeed that The Sonics have received this honour. A 1960s garage band hailing from Tacoma, Washington in the US, over the years they have been name-checked by just about everyone, but if you’ve yet to hear The Sonics, prepare to have your ears blown off.

For me, not one LP I've heard can disseminate the energy that spills right off a Sonics record. The rhythm drives a relentless pace through a raucous and fuzzy guitar riff, backed with a vocal that screams and wails its intentions through your ears and into your brain.

The Pacific Northwest had spawned a number of garage rock bands in the early 1960s, leading some critics to claim that every town had a band like The Sonics. If that’s true then let’s hear them! Influenced by the local successes of the likes of The Kingsmen and The Wailers, The Sonics were a typical 5-piece line-up who cranked it up further than these bands, and it is their pace and energy that sets them apart from their peers. As do the vocal talents of lead singer, Gerry Roslie. “No less than the white Little Richard” is high praise indeed, but the frenzied screams over tracks such as ‘Psycho’ and the growling of ‘Strychnine’ (later covered by The Cramps) do lend an original and raw edge to their sound that still sounds unlike anything else today.

The distorted sound of The Sonics is apparently no accident, inflicted by the straining and creaking recording equipment of the time. “If our records sound distorted, it’s because they are,” says Andy Parypa, bass player of the band. The Sonics pushed studio equipment to its limits and beyond, in order to achieve the “liver sound” they were craving. If they sound like this in the studio then imagine what they must have been like when let loose on stage. I picture, in black and white, the high school dance with all the amps turned up to 10, forlorn parents and teachers shaking their heads in despair as their bewitched and demonised children thrash away with their musical instruments, jumping up and down and screaming.

Some Sonics reviews tend to criticise their cover versions but their breathless renditions of ‘Do You Love Me’ and ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ have now become the standard versions in my memory banks. One of The Sonics finest moments is their version of Richard Berry’s ‘Have Love Will Travel’. If I can get over it being used on a car advert, I might even say it was one of my favourite records of all time.

Norton Records have The Sonics back catalogue available on LP and CD, all with lovely sleeve notes that can tell you more about the band than I ever could here. There is also a compilation, ‘Required Etiquette’, featuring three Sonics tracks, and other tracks from standout bands of the time, including The Wailers and The Galaxies, available from Amazon. However, perhaps the best value Sonics compilation is ‘Psycho-Sonic’ on Big Beat, which features all the tracks from The Sonics first two albums recorded in 1965.

Buy The Sonics catalogue from Amazon
The Sonics at Wikipedia
Norton Records website
The Sonics fan site
The Sonics at My Space