history blurs

More digging in the hometown crates here…

Here’s a somewhat rare cover: the Violent Femmes doing “Positively 4th Street.” The original, you’ll note, really doesn’t have a chorus or a bridge, just Bob endlessly exulting over the comedown his rival’s encountered. The Femmes rearrange the song slightly to create a chorus for it out of thin air (okay: actually, out of the song’s first line).

Another Violent Femmes track has pretty much completely gone down the memory hole. “World Without Mercy” originally appeared on the cassette version of The Blind Leading the Naked (and, I think, as the b-side of the initial single accompanying that album: “Children of the Revolution” maybe?). I can’t find any evidence of its ever having been released on CD…except that this copy of it came my way courtesy of a friend who says it was on his version of the CD. I don’t doubt him – but that version of the CD seems to have eluded every effort to catalog the Femmes’ releases that I’ve been able to find.

Anyway, I think I can guess why the song disappeared. First, it’s not a Gordon Gano song – and even though there are a handful of non-Gano tracks scattered throughout the Femmes catalog, this album already has a cover (the T. Rex song released as a single) and “Candlelight Song” (like “World Without Mercy,” a DeLorenzo/Ritchie co-write – although I suspect that one’s more Ritchie, just like this one sounds more DeLorenzo). And even though the band would occasionally mix up the sound with genre experiments and stylistic sidesteps, “World Without Mercy” is quite different from anything else in their catalog. Probably the most apt descriptor is neo-psychedelic (I’ll note here that Brian Ritchie served a stint as Plasticland’s lead guitarist prior to forming the Femmes): from the shakuhachi intro, to the filtered string chart, to the Arab percussion and DeLorenzo’s becalmed vocal, it’s pretty distant from everything else on the CD/LP version of this album…except for “Candlelight Song,” another oddly arranged track. Still, I think it’s a lovely song, its prettiness just barely saved from saccharinity through the oddness of the arrangement (that is to say, the arrangement is pretty at a 90-degree angle to the melody and sentiment).

Still, I’m surprised it hasn’t shown up somewhere, on a compilation, say. (Perhaps it has, and I missed it.)

Violent Femmes “Positively 4th Street” (Something’s Wrong 2001 digital-only)
Violent Femmes “World Without Mercy” (The Blind Leading the Naked 1986 cassette only)

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2 Comments

Filed under noise

2 responses to “history blurs

  1. Anonymous

    I can’t believe you have “World Without Mercy”! I always loved that song when I had the cassette, and was bummed it didn’t make the CD. I never thought I’d hear it again, but I did a random google search today, May 23 (could easily have been any time in the last five years), and found your post of May 17. Unreal. Now if I could only figure out how to get this into my iTunes (I’m a technical nitwit, I’m afraid).

    Thanks!!!

  2. 2fs

    Hey Anon – You’re welcome. Turns out it was on CD for a brief while: two of my friends have a copy of the CD including the track (probably the original release, manufactured in West Germany even though it was a US release, as was true of many early CDs). As for getting it into iTunes: if you mean iTunes on your computer, that’s simple: just do “add file…” If you’re talking about on an iPod…I confess I still don’t own one.

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