December 15, 2014

Death - ...For the Whole World to See (1975)


In case you haven't seen anything on this album, it was a masterpiece left in obscurity for 30 years, only recently rediscovered. Death was a group of three black brothers from Detroit, David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney, who decided to start playing rock after creating a funk group. This was rare in the 70's, as black musicians were expected to be in R&B or Soul. David Hackney became the leader of the group, and pushed their sound towards punk rock, a genre which didn't exist at the time. They recorded ...For the Whole World to See in 1975, and were almost signed to Columbia, who wouldn't sign them unless they changed their name. In true punk fashion, David Hackney refused, which essentially blew their hopes at being widely recognized, and Bobby and Dannis gave up on the group. David, always the visionary, predicted that one day they would be recognized as something special, and while he was never able to see this happen (he died in 2000 after battling lung cancer), his dreams were realized.

I've seen a good number of arguments over whether this is actually a punk album or not. While interesting to see the variety of opinions over what constitutes punk, does it really matter? It's undeniable that Death was doing something ahead of their time and they were the only ones doing it, whether that was truly punk before the Ramones, or whether that was just a stage before punk is completely irrelevant. The music is incredible, and unlike anything else I've heard. They have this fascinating style in most of their songs, melding a fast punky section seamlessly with a slower, but still intense part. The best example of this is politicians in my eyes (link below), a social commentary about the corruption of politicians, still very poignant today. It's incredibly sad that David Hackney never got to see his much-deserved recognition, and we can only imagine what they would have accomplished had the band not broken up after Columbia's rejection. I strongly recommend watching the recently released documentary on the group, as their story is one of rock's most interesting.


One listen in and I definitely see this as an essential garage rock album. While it does entertain some punk elements, I see it fitting in more with other 70s psych rock, heavy rock, and even some of the earlier prog. Hendrix is an easy one to compare the band to--especially on those bridges, but taking the distortion, drum rolls, and crossfading the channels into account I'm thinking even more along the lines of Black Sabbath (even the black Detroit singer's yells have something strangely in common with Ozzy). What sets Death apart from Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, or Message is that distinct swift punkiness. A lead vocalist/lyricist that takes influences from Mayfield and the Philadelphia Sound and mashes them with the heavy psych of Black Sabbath sounds dope, and most definitely is. If more people had heard this album, would the American punk scene have been different?


...For the Whole World to See