Dave’s Underrated Albums … “News of the World” (1977) by Queen

During the winter of 1977-1978, I was 8-years-old and my American peers and I considered Queen’s double A-side single of “We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions” the most awesome one-two punch on the pop charts of all-time.  Yes, with nearly 40 additional years on the planet and a more thorough understanding of pop music history, I’ll admit this assertion may have been more than a little premature.  But hearing these songs back to back on the radio during that winter was quite the event for yours truly.

What’s interesting is that when I bought the single, I was only interested in “We Are The Champions” because on most Top 40 stations, that’s all you typically heard.  But … on the “super-heavy” FM stations … “We Will Rock You” always preceded “We Are the Champions” and one night when the car radio happened to be on one of these stations, I heard “We Will Rock You” for the first time, completely unaware it was performed by Queen.  Thanks to my brother, I was already a KISS fan, but “We Will Rock You,” I concluded, was the “heaviest” thing I’d ever heard at that point.  I had no idea what this song was called (or even that Queen performed it … FM DJ’s tended to be very casual about mentioning what they were playing back then), but it was something that completely knocked me off my feet.

Back to “We Are The Champions.”  Getting the single wasn’t an easy task.  I typically spent my $1 per week allowance on a 45-RPM single and every time I went to a record store during that winter, “We Are The Champions” was always sold out.  After multiple weeks of heartbreak, I started calling every record store within a radius of where my Mom would drive me, and asked … daily … if they had any copies in stock.  I finally hit pay dirt in February of 1978, begged my Mom to drive me to a record store that was a little bit farther than she typically drove, and finally acquired the record.  I enjoyed “We Are The Champions” but noticed that the B-side (which I rarely ever played back then) was something called “We Will Rock You.”  Somehow, the synapses in my brain connected and flipped the record over.  And yes, finally, I found the song I loved so much … and even better … I didn’t have to pay extra for it.  My 8-year-old brain had a mental orgasm.

Next task … getting the album where these songs resided.  At some point that spring, my grandparents gave me $5 for either good grades or some other reason and with some additional allowance money I hadn’t miraculously spent, I was able to purchase Queen’s “News of the World.”  This was literally the first rock album I ever acquired.  Yes, I had other albums, but mostly they were recorded by someone named Barry Manilow, who never amounted to much and a singer I’d rather not talk about … ever … especially songs like “Weekend in New England,” “Mandy” “Could This Be Magic?” … Seriously … Those records never existed … especially in my collection … MMMKAY?

So … back to “News of the World” … I wasn’t sure what I was expecting back then, but none of the other songs sounded like “We Are The Champions” or “We Will Rock You.”  There was one hard rock song called “Fight From the Inside” that I liked a lot.  There was also another “heavy” song called “Sheer Heart Attack” which was too loud and fast for me then.  And there was also a really weird, disturbing (to me at the time) song called “Get Down, Make Love.”  But other than that, I thought it was a mixed bag of tunes and I was so disappointed, I didn’t make it past the first song on Side 2.  I was disappointed because it wasn’t like a KISS record, concluded that I should have spent that money on a KISS record my brother didn’t already have or a Barry Manilow record … NO, dammit … I didn’t just say THAT!

Cut to 1991 … I’m in college and working at a campus radio station.  We receive a new CD-single by Nine Inch Nails which has a cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” as its B-side.  By this point, I’d nearly forgotten about Queen’s song, but I play the Nine Inch Nails single and again, the world’s slowest human being (meaning me) put two and two together.  Except that the Nine Inch Nails cover was even more pulverizing and disturbing than Queen’s version.  This discovery made me pull out the old Queen album from my LP collection and I listened to  “News of the World” with new ears.  And I concluded the album is a complete gem.

“News of the World” isn’t a great album, but it’s a very charming one.  Aside from the double A-side every knows, this is one the band’s “heaviest” albums.  “Sheer Heart Attack,” the song I thought was too loud and fast back in the day, was Queen’s attempt at one-upping punk rock by creating something more intense than the Sex Pistols and while it doesn’t completely succeed, is a damn good try.  While I prefer the Nine Inch Nails cover, Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” sounds like a disturbing anthem for the NYC Plato’s Retreat / Anvil / Mineshaft crowd of 1970s sexual hedonism.  “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is a decent attempt of doing an Aerosmith-style blues homage.   And … finally … the last song on the album …Queen’s all-time greatest song … the anthemic hard rock masterpiece “It’s Late.”

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, “It’s Late” should be THE Queen song that’s played ad nauseum on classic rock radio. This is pure, balls-to-the-wall, non-campy hard rock that will peel the paint off the walls. That relentless multi-layered lead guitar sound by Brian May feels like a wool sweater in hell. And let’s not forget that cataclysmic drum sound by Roger Taylor that will shake your molars. Totally epic in every sense of the word. Allegedly this was a favorite of Kurt Cobain’s (given its presence in the Kurt Cobain documentary “About a Son”). It was also put to great use in Jody Hill’s brilliantly demented comedy “Observe and Report.” From the 1977 album “News of the World.”

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“Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” – The Vaselines / Nirvana

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The Vaselines’ most famous song, mainly thanks to Nirvana’s memorable cover on their MTV Uplugged Live performance in 1993. Released in 1988 on the EP “Dying for It,” the song is a bitter answer to the traditional children’s hymn “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” on par with XTC’s “Dear God” and Patti Smith’s psycho-sexual “Gloria” in terms of its anti-religious sentiment. However, “Sunbeam” may be more powerful because the music is so deceptively mellow, the lyrics hit like a fist. You can now find it on the excellent Sup Pop released compilation “The Way of the Vaselines.”

Oddly, the song is called “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” on all the Vaselines’ recordings even though the lyrics say “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam.” Nirvana’s cover is titled the same way as the lyrics.

I’ve included Nirvana’s version below:

Trivia note: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love named their daughter Frances after the Vaselines’ Frances McKee.

“You Think You’re A Man” – Divine

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In honor of the new documentary “I Am Divine,” here’s everyone’s favorite 300-pound transvestite from Baltimore … Divine … singing his/her biggest hit. This was a Top 10 hit in Australia and a Top 20 hit in Great Britain. The producers were Stock Aitken Waterman, the evil bastards behind “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” the Bananarama remake of “Venus,” and worst of all … Rick Astley. Before you start calling for the death penalty for these three, “You Think You’re a Man” is extremely catchy.  In fact, I defy anyone not to let their freak flag fly to this. The fact that an underground legend such as Divine managed to score such mainstream success also brings a huge grin to my face. Sadly, Divine passed on when he/she was on the cusp of major mainstream success in the late 1980s.  The villainess in “The Little Mermaid” was based on Divine … a nice tribute to a comedy legend.

Memorably covered by the Vaselines (one of Kurt Cobain’s favorite bands) in the late 1980s, which … oddly … is how I first heard this song. Their cover is included below:

Fun facts I learned about El Duce, the late lead singer of the Mentors, from Al Jourgensen’s autobiography “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen”

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El Duce was the lead singer of the debauched punk-metal band The Mentors. They became notorious in the mid-1980s during the Congressional hearings over wicked rock music and were called “the worst of the worst” of all bands recording at the time. Lyrics from their song “Golden Showers” are part of the Congressional record: “Bend up and smell my anal vapor / Your face is my toilet paper.” Sorry, but that s–t is funny!

Here are some of the highlights about Ministry’s Al Jourgensen’s brief friendship with Duce during the late 1980s/early-mid 1990s. Considering how debauched Jourgensen’s autobiography gets, the fact that Duce outdebauched Jourgensen is really saying something.

1. Al Jourgensen first met El Duce on the floor of a bathroom in San Francisco, naked from the waist down, lying in a pack of Dorito chips and vomit. Duce announced to Jourgensen that he had gone to high school with Jourgensen’s drum player. Duce then pissed all over himself, threw up, and passed out in his vomit, urine, and Doritos. Jourgensen helped Duce get himself together and take him to reunite with his drummer. When his drummer saw Duce, he almost stormed out and bailed on the show. Apparently, Duce allegedly attacked his drummer’s sister.

2. Duce tried to have sex with Jourgensen’s mom … in front of Jourgensen’s stepdad. Duce said, “Hey, that’s a pretty hot little b—h,” tackled Jourgensen’s mom, and tried to hump her. Jourgensen had to stop him by breaking a beer bottle over Duce’s head.

3. Duce used to go into Walgreens and steal Listerine and Scope because they had alcohol in them. Unfortunately, he would drink the mouthwash in the store, pass out, and then get arrested for theft.

4. Duce got so drunk one night he passed out. Jourgensen and his bandmates put lipstick on him and dressed him in women’s lingerie. They left him underneath the ice machine of the hotel. When the maids discovered him, they freaked out and started hitting him with a mop and spraying him with cleaner. Duce looked down at himself and said “What are you hitting me for? I look godd–n good today!”

5. Duce and his band the Mentors got paid $20,000 in beer to record an album. They got so messed up they never got halfway through a song before passing out. To add insult to injury, they recorded the album on a microcassette (the type of tape that used to be in answering machines) and turned in the microcassette to the record label. I don’t believe that album was ever released.

This clip is from the infamous Nick Broomfield documentary “Kurt & Courtney” where Duce claimed that Courtney Love offered him $50,000 to “whack” Cobain. While Cobain conspiracy theorists believe that Duce’s subsequent death in 1997 was due to his admission of this plot, it was likely due to the types of things that happen when you’re a degenerate drunk and proud of it. Duce got demolished by a train when he was wasted and tried to play “chicken” with an oncoming train to impress some fans. Unfortunately, his leg got stuck on the track and realizing his death was imminent, continued to “Sieg Heil” the train before it demolished him.

By the way, Jourgensen’s autobiography “Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen” is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. It’s one of the wildest rock and roll memoirs ever written and makes Motley Crue’s “The Dirt” look like “The Bridges of Madison County.”

“It’s Late” – Queen

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Forget “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “It’s Late” should be THE Queen song that’s played ad nauseum on classic rock radio. This is pure, balls-to-the-wall, non-campy hard rock that will peel the paint off the walls. That relentless multi-layered lead guitar sound by Brian May feels like a wool sweater in hell. And let’s not forget that cataclysmic drum sound by Roger Taylor that will shake your molars. Totally epic in every sense of the word. Allegedly this was a favorite of Kurt Cobain’s (given its presence in the Kurt Cobain documentary “About a Son”). It was also put to great use in Jody Hill’s brilliantly demented comedy “Observe and Report.” From the 1977 album “News of the World.”

“Coda Maestoso in F (Flat Minor)” – Earth

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Great sludge/drone metal from the band Earth, fronted by one of Kurt Cobain’s best buds Dylan Carlson. This track was memorably used in the infamous Nick Broomfield documentary “Kurt and Courtney.” From the album “In the Pentastar of Demons.”

“Going Blind” – The Melvins

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A terrific sludge metal cover of an early KISS classic, by Aberdeen, Washington’s The Melvins. I’ve never confirmed for sure if this track was produced by an obscure former Melvins roadie named Kurt Cobain, but this is some extremely heavy, artery-clogging s–t that makes Black Sabbath sound like Wham! If you could make music out of a quaalude, it would sound like this.

“Celebrity Skin” – Hole

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Courtney Love has gotten an incredibly bad rap over the years. No matter what her association with Kurt Cobain (personal, professional, or otherwise), she’s a terrific artist in her own right and this song is proof positive of this.  A wonderful “f–k you” to everyone who thought she was riding in on the coattails of Cobain.  Love, love, love this song!!!!