Monday, December 22, 2008

THE OTHER GREATEST 45 OF ALL TIME – THE ELECTRIC EELS

A few months ago, right when I’d temporarily decided to pack it in and put Detailed Twang on hold for a while (I do that sometimes), I posted my favorite 7-inch single ever, PERE UBU’s “Heart of Darkness / 30 Seconds Over Tokyo”. Those files have since been removed by my provider, but man, a TON of people downloaded the thing, making me realize that these songs that I pretty much take for granted are still brand new to many folks. That suits me just fine – there’s nothing like hearing a song like one of those to absolutely alter your musical perceptions, scramble your brain, and perhaps change your life. I’d love to think I helped to facilitate that sort of "brain erasure" – even if for just for one child! One tiny, innocent, starry-eyed child!

THE ELECTRIC EELS’ 1978 posthumous 45 “Cyclotron/Agitated” is another one of those records. It might be my other favorite single of all time – and it comes from the same city (Cleveland) and the same year (1975). Wow. In 1997 I wrote the following piece in my fanzine “Superdope”, where I listed it the #2 greatest 45 of all time after the aforementioned Pere Ubu record. Astute readers will note that this is the second post in a week to mention Eric Stone’s “Strictly Disco” radio show on KCSB-FM, thus cementing its influence on my musical development. Wherever Mr. Stone is, I hope he’s smiling for once.

There used to be a fantastic radio show during the mid-80s in Santa Barbara called "Strictly Disco" which was hosted by a guy who owned just about every amazing 45 to ever hit the presses. One night he had Henry Rollins on his show to shoot the shit and spin some favorites. That's where I first heard "Agitated", and it was one of those "Holy Christ, what IS that?!!" moments. I immediately called the show to inquire. Turns out Hank had brought it down to the studio himself, and had long been enamored of the Eels and the raw power of this landmark 45. Who'd have thought?

The Electric Eels were a quartet of socially alienated nihilists from Cleveland in the mid-70s. Their inability to neither win friends nor influence people gave vent to a twisted, confrontational take on "art" that had more in common with guerilla theatre and urban psychodrama than with 70s punk. The fact that it was occurring in a cultural near-vacuum adds exponentially to their lore. Make no mistake, however, these songs are as primitive and high decibel as anything ever released. Obviously semi-live recordings, "Cyclotron" and "Agitated" have been mixed past the point of bleeding and are still a couple of levels in volume above any other records of mine. Electric Eels gigs often ended in violence, sometimes with imposing guitarist John Morton having beat up an audience (or band) member. The Eels vocalist was a developmentally delayed young man named Dave E., an idiot-savant with a genius sense of the absurd who put it to wise use in his lyrics ("Sometimes I think I'd be better off dead / Just like my cousin Fred"). Later he purported to start a record label called "Christmas Pets".

It's also worth mentioning that the drummer on these recordings is Nick Knox, who would soon keep the steady, primitive beat for The Cramps. The world's indifference to such brilliance initially kept these songs from the public, until Rough Trade released them in 1978 under the moniker "Die Electric Eels" & with all credits in German(?). A minor bone of contention I have with the outstanding posthumous Eels collections 'Having A Philosophical Investigation With The Electric Eels' and 'God Says Fuck You' is that both say they include the 45 version of "Agitated", while neither actually does. This record will live in infamy as an out-of-time, mindset-destroying masterpiece.

Good news, folks – the subsequent “Eyeball of Hell” CD on Scat Records contains both songs in their original, pristine, perfect versions. If you don’t have that – and you absolutely need to – you can get the songs right here.

Play The Electric Eels – “Agitated”


Download THE ELECTRIC EELS – “Cyclotron” (A-side)
Download THE ELECTRIC EELS – “Agitated” (B-side)

5 comments:

jove moix said...

This is ART to me.

And what ever would life be without radio shows? thanks god for their existance! i also got into "underground" music thanks to listening to radio, specially to a free radio of my hometown called "radio pica". tons of amazing music i discovered! (i.e.: listening to for the first time ever "mucky pup" by puncture and saying WHAT THE IS THIS? IT'S A COMPLETE MESS BUT I LOVE IT!!! and then instantly being blown away by its raw energy.
so once again, thanks god for radio shows!

and last but not least, merry crassmas and happy new year!
and tons of best wishes as well!
edu

Roc said...

always been a favorite of mine

Chris G. said...

i've got a collection called "The Beast 999 Presents the Electric Eels in their Organic Majesty's Request" as well as "The Eyeball of hell"

Your post was the first i've ever read of Dave McManus having any mental detractions. Kind of makes sense now that i think about it.

Anywho, great post
will you post the X__X singles anytime soon?

Anonymous said...

I concur! This is the best single of all time!

Leatherbag said...

thank you from Texas!