Song: "Bad Reputation"
Album: Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em
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As one can see by the realities of the singles charts during the early 1990's, there were so many sounds that were gaining popularity, one can only assume that it was one of the few periods in music history where the buying public were completely open minded to music. Everything from jazz-based hip-hop to a new strain of punk rock to blissfully mellow piano ballads were finding success, and it seemed with every week, there were new, wonderfully creative musical fusions being unleashed onto the world. Yet at the same time, a few older sounds were making a comeback, and among them was the high-energy style of music that has been termed as "psychobilly." Taking the basic musical structure of the early rock and roll sound and then injecting an excessive amount of energy and speed into the song, it remains one of the most exciting and invigorating musical styles to ever appear. Among the handful of acts to perfectly deploy the psychobilly sound, there were perhaps none other of this era that were more important than The Reverend Horton Heat. Bringing an exceptional level of musicianship, along with a legendary stage presence, there are few records that are as impressive as the bands' 1992 debut, Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, and one can quickly understand just why the band remains so highly respected by experiencing one of the singles from that album, 1992's, "Bad Reputation."
From a purely musical perspective, almost the entire arrangement on "Bad Reputation" would have easily fit within the "golden age" of rock and roll, though it would have had to have been slowed down quite a bit. Yet one cannot deny how perfectly balanced the bands' sound is, as there is a wonderfully inviting tone to the song, underscored by an almost maniacal, certainly twisted feeling. The tone from the guitar of Jim "Reverend Horton" Heath brings out the best of this era in music, and yet there is an attitude that comes through clearly, which in many ways is what gives "Bad Reputation" its more modern feel. When Heath tears into his solo mid-way through the song, he quickly proves himself to be one of the most talented players of his generation, and his performance here remains one of his finest to date. The way in which he plays off of bassist Jimbo Wallace is equally fantastic, and it is within the bassline where "Bad Reputation" really begins to swing. Wallace seems to almost throw the bassline from side to side, and the sense of movement this creates is truly unparalleled. Rounding out the band is drummer Patrick "Taz" Bentley, and there are few better examples from any point in history of how many different sounds one can find within a single drum kit. His speedy, high-energy performance pushes the song ahead at a break-neck pace, and it is the way that the song seems to teeter on the edge of chaos that makes "Bad Reputation" such an exceptional musical achievement.
Along with his blistering guitar performance, "The Reverend" also handles lead vocal duties on "Bad Reputation," and in both his tone, as well as the content, his singing here completely defines the band and their mission. Though he tends to stay in the mid-range notes, there is little question on the limits of his voice, and in many ways, Heath shows just how amazing a sound one can get when they truly give themselves to a song. Clearly, it is the energy of "Bad Reputation" that is guiding both the pitch and power of his singing, and yet one can also detect the somewhat tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps even mischievous undertones in his lyrics. It is in these words where the true nature of "Bad Reputation" can be most clearly seen, and they remain some of the most unsubtle, suggestive, and yet outright fun lyrics ever written. Within the song, Heath paints a very vivid picture of the so-called "bad girl," and this image is as relevant and accurate now as it has been throughout almost every era of history, and yet Heath defends her stating, "...you've got a bad reputation that's what you got, a bad reputation but I like it a lot..." Later in the song, one can clearly picture the woman in question, as Heath paints her as, "...you've got bright red lips and a pretty face, a rose tattooed in a private place, spiked high heels and a wiggle in your walk..." Through the way he describes her, one can easily understand and picture the woman in question, and it is the swagger and grin one can detect in Heath's vocals that make it such an enjoyable musical ride.
However, while Heath's description of this rather spicy woman manages to stay "in line" with the spirit of the music, in the final lines, he manages to push the song over the edge and well into the territory of "wonderfully sleazy" when he sings the line, "...you're the kind of girl I'd like to eat..." While this line can be interpreted in a handful of ways, regardless of how one reads it, the song goes from "damn good" to brilliantly sinister, and it is also the edge that the line creates which makes "Bad Reputation" able to retain its impact even after repeated listenings. Taken as a whole, one can see the song as the culmination of the rockabilly transition into the more modern sound, as The Reverend Horton Heat clearly picked up where The Cramps left off, and found the ideal way to blend together the rising "alternative rock" sound with the formula that had been already deemed as psychobilly. While a number of bands would quickly follow the blueprint set here, and yet none would be able to match the sheer energy and fantastic attitude that defines The Reverend Horton Heat. The fact that so much sound and enthusiasm is created here by only three musicians is one of the most impressive aspects of the music, as there are bands with far more members that can't even compare when it comes to these factors. Whether it is the high-speed, hot-rod feel of the song or it is the strangely endearing vocals of Jim Heath, there has rarely been another moment in history as impressive as The Reverend Horton Heat's 1992 song, "Bad Reputation."