Friday, January 7, 2011

January 7: The Pop Group, "We Are All Prostitutes"

Artist: The Pop Group
Song: "We Are All Prostitutes"
Album: We Are All Prostitutes (single)
Year: 1979

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While one cannot overlook the importance of the bands that found moderate to great commercial success throughout music history, it was often the lesser-known bands that were truly revolutionary, and were able to make radical changes in music due to the lack of constraints from record labels, the media, or a larger fanbase.  It is with this in mind that one can easily make the case that along with the slightly more obvious influences, there are in nearly every case, a handful of smaller bands that can be found as links between various eras and styles of music.  When one looks into how punk rock transitioned into the hardcore sound that appeared during the early 1980's, there are a few better known bands that can be cited, and yet perhaps the most stunning, and earliest trace of this change can be found in the band that may very well be the winner for the "most ironic name" in music history.  Calling themselves The Pop Group, this quintet of musicians are responsible for some of the most vicious and aggressive music in history, and along with this mood, their songs stand as some of the most creative and impossible to categorize.  Taking their own influence by artists ranging from Captain Beefheart to James Brown to Can, there are simply no words that can to justice to the uniqueness of the group, and there are few songs in their catalog that better define them in every way than one finds in The Pop Group's 1979 single, "We Are All Prostitutes."

At times, "We Are All Prostitutes" may seem to border on pure noise, but one cannot deny the fact that throughout the entire song, The Pop Group are able to keep an odd, yet unquestionably funky groove going.  It is this implementation of the funk sound that separates them from all of their peers, and there are few hybrids of punk or hardcore that meld so perfectly with funk.  This funky mood also enables the song to perhaps become a bit more palatable to a wider range of audiences, as the overall sound is the type that would put off many.  However, it is the musicality of the song that makes it so influential, and it is led by the brilliant guitar work of both John Waddington and Gareth Sager.  The guitars are panned to opposite sides throughout "We Are All Prostitutes," and when listened to in proper stereo balance and separation, this creates a musical experience that truly defies words.  Often taking an almost blues-like approach, the guitarists clearly have an understanding of the idea of where "not" to play being just as important as when they rip across the song.  Bassist Dan Catsis keeps the groove ever-present throughout the song, and taken out of context, this is without question one of the most creative basslines ever recorded.  The way in which drummer Bruce Smith uses his entire kit, as well as a few other percussive pieces is where one can find the link to jazz music, and one can also hear the work of cello legend, Tristan Honsinger.  The fact that there is such a wide range of sounds on "We Are All Prostitutes" would alone set it into its own category, but the fact that The Pop Group are able to mold these instruments into an unparalleled aggression, yet keep the funk intact pushes it far beyond words.

Showing just as much ferocity and creativity as the musicians, vocalist Mark Stewart would use The Pop Group as his introduction to the world.  Over the decades, he has pushed his experimental and avant sound to the limits, and yet one can also make the case that his best work was done within the confines of The Pop Group.  Clearly possessing one of the most instantly recognizable voices in history, there is a sense of drama, if not pure musical anarchy within his voice, and he is able to convey this feeling without ever sounding even the most bit cliché or inauthentic.  Often sounding like a crazed combination of Iggy Pop and Captain Beefheart, it is the unrelenting energy in Stewart's delivery that makes "We Are All Prostitutes" nothing short of captivating, and his equally unwavering social criticism that runs throughout almost all of the bands songs proves that they were far more than "just a noisy punk band."  On "We Are All Prostitutes," Stewart offers a scathing indictment of nearly every corner of society, yet he does so using vast generalizations that are amazingly accurate.  Revolving around the idea of "...everyone has their price...," Stewart takes a full-on attack at the idea of capitalism, stating that, "...department stores are our new cathedrals..."  Bringing a very dark mood to the song, the sense of urgency in his voice is absolutely perfect, and the way in which his vocals blend into the complex musical arrangement is the key to making "We Are All Prostitutes" such a fantastic and massively influential song.

However, Mark Stewart goes even further with his lyrical idea, as he takes an idea that had been made many times before, but on "We Are All Prostitutes," he offers one of the first traces of a lyricist completing the thought.  While many had said that there was a need to "preserve" certain aspects of society for the younger generation, Stewart makes a far darker finish to the thought when he states, "...our children shall rise up against us, because we are the ones to blame..."  The fact that he is able to call himself just as guilty as anyone else is one of the keys to the power of "We Are All Prostitutes," and it proves that to him, absolutely nobody was "safe" from his warnings or criticisms.  In both the vocal work and the musical arrangement, it is the fierce, almost dangerous sound and mood tha the band conveys, as well as the unquestionably pressing nature of the music that makes "We Are All Prostitutes" such an extraordinary work.  Furthermore, after experiencing the musical mastery on this song, one can clearly hear how much influence the song surely had on groups like Fugazi and Rage Against The Machine among many others.  The clarity of this link makes one wonder why bands like The Pop Group have not been given a more prominent space in music history, as without question, they played just as vital a role in the development of the hardcore sound as any other band.  Though every song they recorded shares the unique blend of punk, blues, and funk, there is no song in history that can compare to The Pop Group's stunning 1979 single, "We Are All Prostitutes."

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