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April 6, 2009

This week’s review is …For the Whole World to See by Death, an issuing of recordings for a classic record that never was…

Death…For the Whole World to See (Drag City, 2009)

This collection of recordings, intended for an album in 1974 that was never finished, is finally getting an audience. Death (not to be confused with the influential metal group of the same name) were a Detroit trio, comprised of the Hackney brothers, three guys that started out playing R&B, but caught onto rock  (in particular The Stooges) and moved in that direction. The album they were working on, which was intended for major label release, was apparently not finished due to the label disliking the band’s name and the band refusing to change it. The argument halted the work and led to the disintegration of the project. It’s kind of unthinkable now, but that’s how the story’s being told. The group sadly never went anywhere after those recording sessions and eventually left Detroit and moved on to other projects. The only thing they did do before stopping Death, though, was release a single, which, over the years, would circulate amongst collectors and become a very rare and sought after bit of American proto-punk wax.

The story picks up again over thirty years later: a son of one of the members hears the old Death single and asks his dad about it. Turns out, he still has the old master tapes of the unfinished album in storage, and has never really played them for anyone (not even his kids). The tapes are listened to for the first time in decades and everyone thinks, wow, this was really good. They put the word out about the recordings, and eventually it comes to the attention of a collector that knows the old single, and he helps make a connection with Drag City and, now here we are, listening to this blazing bit of why-isn’t-this-totally-classic-by-now goodness.

David Hackney, the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist of the band, died some time ago, but the remaining two members have said in a couple of recent interviews that he always maintained people would want to hear these recordings someday. Indeed they do, and they are now blowing minds everywhere. People are all over this. It’s being written about in every music publication going, it seems, but it’s also being mentioned in numerous other places, from Suicide Girls to the New York Times.

Of the record: seven songs, and a fair bit of diversity throughout. Really talented band, with a raw sound. Great sound, great songs. Of course a release like this is going to make us all think “man, what could they have done…?” And “this band never made it anywhere because of their name?!” Whether that’s entirely true or not is probably lost to time, but whatever happened in 1974 to cause this record to be shelved was a damn shame. If things had gone differently, you can bet we’d be listing Death right alongside The Stooges and the MC5 as one of the most influential American groups of the period. The sound is an excellent combination of what was going on in the early seventies. These guys were tuned in. There are elements of the hard rock of the day, plus a dose of proto-punk garage mania, and traces of some of the harder psychedelic-remnants and progressive-type stuff that, at the time, was providing influence for the early stages of metal in Britain. This Death album would have been someplace in between, and that gives it a really fresh, hard-edged sound today. This record certainly would have been an important part of the proto-punk paradigm (and should be added there without delay), but it’s got a sharper edge than the rest of those bands did, and it could, quite possibly, have caught on with hard rock/metal crowds as well. One has to wonder if the faces of punk and the new wave of British heavy metal might have been even closer than they were if a record like this had been around back in the late seventies. If a new band had just put this out, everyone would be totally into its combination, but the fact that it is of the period has really gotten everyone’s attention.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2009 2:10 pm

    Jian interviewed the two surviving members of Death on his show a little while ago. It’s a great and horrifying story. And I really, really wanted to love this record. When I got a hold of it, I thought it was alright but pretty uneven and the best tracks can’t touch “Search and Destroy” or “Kick Out the Jams.” But then again, very little actually does. Overall it just makes me think that their second or third album would have blown heads off. Sad, sad, sad that those will never be.

    • passerine songs permalink*
      April 6, 2009 7:59 pm

      Oh Jian.

      A horrifying and great story indeed. I think that’s why it’s getting all the coverage it is, really, as a lot of articles are saying more about the story than the music. Which I’ve probably done as well. The problem with the media focusing on the story too much is that, like you say, it results in people really wanting to love this record and, furthermore, leads us to want to make a trifecta of Detroit garage that probably never would have been. Something else I kind of did.

      To me, Death seems like more of a raw hard rock group, and people are maybe focusing a bit too much on the proto-punk thing? It is valid, of course, and they should have a place in that, but I think that Death had much more Kiss, Thin Lizzy, etc. in them, and would have been a totally badass rock group, but in a different way than The Stooges or MC5. Who knows. I bet this record, not to mention those second and third albums, would have been something though.

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  1. 2009 – The Records « Gunshy

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