Death - ...For the Whole World to See (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


...For the Whole World to See (2009)

Drag City

From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, rock music was in a flux. The culture shock and gross experimentation of the first wave of early rock was dying down. On one hand you had rock by the numbers being released by bands like Chicago, Bad Company and Deep Purple … if any of these bands are unfamiliar to you checkout the used vinyl selection at any record store you go into. You also had artists like Seals and Croft, Gordon Lightfoot and Logins and Messina releasing what Homer Simpson once not so affectionately referred to as “wuss rock.” And then you had the majesty of Detroit, Michigan; between 1969 and 1975 one city would produce The Stooges, MC5, Alice Cooper, Funkadelic... and then there was band called Death.

Death was, by many accounts, one of the finest all African-American rock bands of their time. Despite this they’d remain virtually unknown until Drag City released a collection of their Clive Davis financed recordings, called …For The Whole World To See in 2009. It’s worth noting that the music sat that long because the band refused to change their name, and Clive Davis dropped his financial backing as he didn’t consider the band to be marketable without a name change. While I wouldn’t typically question the musical intelligence of the man who had the vision to sing Patti Smith to her first record deal, not putting this album out is definitely one of the biggest mistakes made in the first 30 years of rock and roll.

One only need listen to the opening track, “Keep on Knocking,” to know this is the case. By 2009, the track certainly wasn’t anything groundbreaking. But, in an era predating the Ramones debut by two years, The Clash and Sex Pistols by three years and Bad Brains by almost a decade this would have taken rock music fans further down the road The Stooges started them on with their 1973 release, Raw Power. The guitars and drums are punishing and unforgiving, and the while the lyrics touch on the typical rock and roll topic of unrequited love, the vocal delivery falls somewhere between full-force-funk-era James Brown, Iggy Pop and Fugazi-era Ian Mackaye. In short, there wasn’t much like this out there in 1974.

The third track, “Let The World Turn,” touches on Bad Brains PMA-influenced lyrics while keep the distorted guitars and funk-informed rhythms going. With lines like, “If your dream is shattered, pick up the glass. Don’t let your head keep running, whatever’s behind you, leave it past.” You find rock music that while rooted in alienation, gives them impression of fuck the people and things that hold you down, keep moving forward. While certainly not a new revelation in music, rock or otherwise, pulling it off without tongue planted firmly in cheek or like an after school special has always proven difficult. Death is able to avoid both pitfalls on this track.

The closing track, “Politicians In My Eyes,” is a classic political rock track. Not classic in the sense of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” suffice to say you won’t hear this played as the backing track at a protest filled with the 50 shades of progressive gray we find in this country. It’s a classic in the sense it isn’t bound to an era or even a region of the world lyrically. When Bobby Hackney sings “They could care less about you, they could care less about me. As long as they get their end, it’s where they want to be. They’re always wearing false smiles, guess it goes with the style. Politicians in my eyes,” he’s freed himself from any of the era specific pitfalls that plague so many political rock songs throughout history.

Gauging the rating for this album is difficult, since aside from one 7-inch single none of these songs saw the light of day until the walls they would have broken down had long been turned to dust … you can’t say without this release certain bands wouldn’t exist. However, everything about this album was ahead of its time. Yes, The Stooges rocked harder, The Ramones were perhaps more influential than any band since The Beatles, and The Velvet Underground went in lyrical directions music hadn’t gone without the veil of metaphor. But, even when it was released 35 years later … it was still powerful, it was still relevant, and somehow it was still exciting. To me, that’s the making of a true classic.