A confession: I mostly hated the popular music of the '70s. With no interest in hand-me-down Rock & Roll, Punk had a magnetic attraction. But shock appeal wanes. Soon The Sex Pistols and The Ramones seemed like Aerosmith and The Who, serving up more of the same old sounds heard daily since the '60s. Sure, Talking Heads and Devo shook things up and suggested new directions. But Rock was dead. Fortunately everything changed in 1979. Gang of Four's Entertainment! peeled the top of my head clean off and redefined my boundaries.
It's easier to describe what's familiar than to list what's different about Entertainment! The closing track, "Anthrax," built on a wall of feedback, would have been at home on many records of the era. Ostensibly a love song ("Love will get you like a case of anthrax/And that's something I don't wanna catch!"), the topic was at least familiar. But this slight nod to convention is snapped when the second, overlapping vocal clinically dissects the entire concept of "love song" in the background. The opening squeals of guitar are familiar in tone but foreign in impact. The rigid drum part that ends the song (and the record) mocks every rock drum solo ever performed, while (respectfully) winking at the huge, open sounds pioneered by John Bonham. I welcomed silence and struggled to get a grip on what had just happened to me after that first listen. Today, it's hard to convey the shock of the experience in 1979. Entertainment! marked a serious departure for Punk. Many earlier bands had challenged the Rock paradigm, but few so completely deconstructed it. Gang of Four's culture jamming was like nothing before it, but it echos in everything since. Bands like Hot Hot Heat, The Rapture and The Liars owe more than a passing debt to them. The accessibility of groups like Brainiac and Big Black/Shellac/Rapeman is tied to this band. For bands like Fugazi and, later, Rage Against the Machine, this record reset the bar. For me, Entertainment! redefined Punk, Rock and politics. They rewrote the rules for my generation, much as The Beatles had done for our older siblings. If nothing else, they prepared us for the harsh, mechanistic, cocksure empire of the Junior Bush, providing a better soundtrack for our current nightmare than most contemporary bands manage.
DAVE DAVIS works behind the music, "redefining the relationship between media and music" with Ultrainteractive (ultrainteractive.com) and "making songs into records" at QCA Mastering (go-qca.com).