Thursday, 26 July 2012

"AAA Armageddon Songs/Albums" (Top 5 for News, Views and Music Issue 154)

According to the Mayan calendar the world is meant to end in December 2012. Those of you reading this in the future will know that they were mistaken (or more likely our modern-day interpreters were mistaken) but sitting here in July 2012 it seems ever more possible. The Coalition are still in charge for one thing and goodness knows they’re mad enough to actually go ahead and do it (they’re already doing their best to kill the sick and disabled and drive the poor to suicide with unnecessary sanctions). I felt a lot easier once Bush Junior was out of office and Obama got in as president, admittedly, but frankly I wouldn’t trust our lot in the UK not to do it – they seem to have a death wish about everything else. But for a time there, specifically whenever the Cold War suddenly got hot in the late 60s and mid 80s, it seemed a miracle the world would last that long, what with the gurning stand-offs between mad presidents and prime ministers. Naturally all that scary talk of Armageddon day fed itself into the music created by AAA members, as you’ve already read about in the above review (the Jefferson family were kings of writing about death and destruction, incidentally and the most open with their contempt of the human race in the 20th century). Here, in chronological are five other examples of albums or songs where the human race really does wave goodbye to the universe...

1) The Hollies “The Very Last Day” (a song from ‘The Hollies’ 1965)

(See news and views no 83 to read about the album in full) We’ve mentioned before on this site The Hollies’ love-hate relationship with The Bible: more likely to quote from it than your average group in the 1960s, by the 70s they’re the biggest critics of religion and particularly Christianity (especially on solo albums). This example comes from their ‘biblical’ phase and is actually a Peter Paul and Mary song based on the tales of Armageddon spread liberally across the bible. The song’s stark warning (it is, after all, about the end of the world) is dressed up with some typically beautiful Clarke-Hicks-Nash harmonies that make the end of the world sound exciting and compelling, despite the sombre mood. The key line in this song is ‘all equal and the same’, a throwaway line in the 50s original that resonates like anything with the very 60s messages spread across the rest of the Hollies’ third LP, with the warnings about doing right by God diluted to become doing right in the eyes of humanity, a fascinating example of how much the world changed in just 10 years. If the world does end, I hope it’s as thrilling and as humane as this.

2) Neil Young “Like An Inca” (a song from ‘Trans’ 1982)

(See Review no 84 to read about this album in full). Neil’s best Aztec-based song (well, it is to me anyway – fans of Cortez The Killer and Pocahontas can send me a rude email after reading this if they like), this is a history lesson about how ‘if you want to get high, build a strong foundation’, with a whole empire coming apart at the seams because of unwieldy beliefs and superstitions. The song opens with the warning that the Aztecs might fall ‘just like we lost Atlantis’, with a fortune teller who sees nothing for any of the inhabitants in the future. The last verse switches time periods to our own present (well, the Cold War era present when it was written at least) but the scenarios don’t change: the fortune tellers are all prophesising doom and no one in power has learnt from the mistakes of the past, becoming ever more corrupt and distant from their subjects. ‘Why should we care about a little button being pushed by someone we don’t even know? Why should we die if it comes our way?’ This is Armageddon as a warning, a prophesy of the future based on warnings from the past. 

3) Jefferson Starship “Nuclear Furniture” (most of the album of this name, 1983)

(See review no 87 to read about this album in full). Another song clearly inspired by the Cold War hotting up, this work from 1983 is a contemporary of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ and is similarly scathing about how two world leaders are fighting a war that the public on neither side want. A loose concept album, there are lots of warning songs about human betrayal and suffering across the LP, with Grace Slick’s ‘Showdown’ the most doomsday-ish of them all, but its Paul Kantner’s three warning songs that suit our purposes most. ‘Connection’ is a glorious song about everything that’s wrong about the world in the 20th century, with people separated from each other and viewing other countries as statistics, watching news reports about terrorists and snipers on television and wondering if Jesus and Mohammed returned to Earth ‘they would walk and speak like philosophers and thinkers’ or have ‘knives in their teeth’ looking out for another war. The world then ends, with it being ‘such a drag having to build civilisation all over again!’ The other two songs have a happier view of our future with ‘Rose’ – a character who recurs on much of Kantner’s work – inspiring the broken world a post-apocalyptic future to unite in peace and brotherhood. Disturbing and hopeful in equal measure, the record lurches to a final positive note with the lines ‘There is no more order!...’, with Armageddon an opportunity to re-write the future in the name of all the hallmarks of the 1960s. 

4) Grateful Dead “Throwing Stones” (a song from ‘Built To Last’ 1989)

(See news and views no 7 to read about this album in full). A rare piece of political writing from the Dead’s final album, this is one of Bob Weir’s best songs, a surging, ever-restless song about the dying days of the cold war. The first few verses set out the many decades of human struggle and suffering despite the calm appearance of Earth from the outside before a thrilling extended last verse where the politicians ‘throwing stones’ try to end the planet only for the people to take matters into their own hands. Damning petty power struggles, obsession with fashion instead of world events and class divisions then pass by in a flurry before a last chorus of ‘Ashes, ashes, all fall down’, a children’s nursery rhyme from the Middle Ages a metaphor that still works far too well in the modern age. The song then finally loops back to the beginning, as if we in the modern day are just approaching crisis point now. In short, Armageddon from the future is presented to us as fact before leaving it up to us to do something about it.

5) Roger Waters “Amused To Death” (most of the album of this name, 1992)

(See Review no 96 to read about this album in full). The end of the world comes, not from power struggle or evil ends but from sheer boredom, the former Pink Floyd bassist on his best solo album to date presenting a concept album about a group of aliens finding the human race extinct and trying to peace together what went wrong. Songs like the sarcastic ‘Perfect Sense’ and ‘The Bravery Of being Out Of Range’ are the backbone of the work, showing how the late 20th century saw all the worst aspect of human beings coming out, fighting wars for the sake of it and passing power between the same powerful families over and over, with the Gulf War the backdrop to everything going on in the work. The human race dies effectively ‘watching TV’, powerless to stop the politicians making their mistakes – but that idea seems ridiculous to the alien beings who can’t get their heads round it at all. Like the other albums here there’s a sense of the same problems being passed from generation to generation too, beginning and ending with the heartbreaking tale of a 90-year-old war veteran still troubled by the fellow soldiers he had to leave behind in World War One. A powerful work with a strong message, this work deserves to be better known and has in fact been ‘updated’ with a couple of songs down the years about George Bush Junior and 9/11, with Roger clearly still believing that the end of the world is nigh.

And that’s that for another issue. We’ll get back to you next issue – assuming the world is still here of course. Oh and for any alien races reading this website to try to get an idea of why the end of the world came in December 2012, we haven’t got a clue why it came to this either.

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