Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

The Electric Eels - God Says “Fuck You!”

The Electric Eels
God Says “Fuck You!”


AOTM #6, November 2000ce
Released 1991 on Homestead
It has been generally established that it was the music and attitudes of the Velvet Underground which most completely prepared and predicted the way of all future rock'n'roll music, from the 70s clear through to the Millennium. But, writing in 1970, Lester Bangs claimed that the only contemporary Velvets-influenced band of the time was the Stooges. Now neither the Stooges nor the Velvets really sound like 1977 punk rock, and neither should we expect them to. But does this mean that the British and U.S. punk scene's fixation with the Velvet Underground sprang fully-formed out of a general 1976 consensus to return rock'n'roll to its roots? Or were there any other unsung groups after 1970 but before 1977, which predicted punk by wrestling the Velvets' baton from the Stooges and carrying it further? Of course, I'm not gonna count anomalies such as the MC5 or early Roxy Music, or strange blips such as Peter Hammill's ultra-punky LP Nadir's Big Chance from 1975. For these artists had all achieved some degree of success on their own and within their own context. No, this is a brief quest for rock'n'roll artists who, in the pro-muso pro-progressive early-70s forfeited any possibly successful contemporary career by being wantonly and boundlessly anarchic and out-of-step (we must include looking for similar apostate signs to Iggy's cantankerous short hair-do when everyone else was a longhair).

The first place to check out would have to be Boston 1972, where Jonathan Richman was singing a lovesong entitled "I'm Straight" to hippy audiences, in which he berates the girl of his dreams for going out "with Hippy Johnny; he's never straight, he's always stoned." If attitude and self-reliance score heavily in the antistatic kling-klang of the I-was-a-punk-before-you-were-a-punk boxing ring, then Jonathan Richman is Mr. Golden Gloves and everybody else can fuck off. But I would have to exclude those first recordings by the Modern Lovers, which were made in 1971 and 1972 by Kim Fowley and John Cale. Though I love their sound, it is still too rooted in the soul and garage of the 60s, so they ultimately sound like Jonathan Richman working out his Lou Reed fixation over a backing track of the Markeys playing ? & the Mysterians. Magnificent indeed, but not the Holy Grail we're searching for.

So where would that place Simply Saucer from Canada? By 1973, they were claiming to be younger brothers of the Stooges, early Roxy Music and Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. Right Fucking On! But what was the reality? Well, the truth is that they were fucking great and came on like all those bands were put through a blender. Conservative Canada wouldn't give 'em the time of day, so they were left to germinate/vegetate alone and unlistened to, like the Monks had similarly suffered a decade before in Germany. But wonderful as Simply Saucer's music is, it's fairer to call it a post-psychedelic 60s afterflash (made in the same spirit as most Krautrock), than any proto-punk statement. Their songs were long space-punk workouts and, from photos, they also look like their stage presence and dress sense, so essential to punk, was nil (v-necks and curly perms).

How about Debris from Oklahoma, then? Starting out in 1974 as Victoria Vein & the Thunderpunks, they played in suburban shopping centres to no applause whatsoever and howled/stuttered songs of urban alienation over a skeletal backing of scratchy treble guitars, uncontrolled cheap monophonic synths and proto-X Ray Spex shit-sax. Intriguing, 1975 photographs of them in lab coats and aircraft goggles playing white-noise TV sets say they should have been brilliant. Unfortunately, their recordings nowadays sound way too clear to hide a total lack of catchy songs. Really short songs, which is dead punky. But all shit! Unlucky!

Full of great songs and looking 20 times better than Debris were Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell's Neon Boys. Their 1974 proto-Velvets All Night Workers stance was also buoyed up by Hell's pre-Rotten spiky hair, but everything else was unessential retro, from the Beatles-in-Hamburg B photos to Verlaine's choice of a stage surname.

To Germany then. By 1975, Neu! had embraced their proto-punk phase via the first Harmonia album, and side two of Neu! 75 saw them predicting punk rhythms, Sex Pistols key changes and even Johnny Rotten vocal-asides. Hell, if you forgive him his previous Aladdin Sane Bowie fixations, Klaus Dinger even looked like a punk on the album sleeve. Here is the ten out of ten 100% heart of proto-punk, and it's here at its heart where we shall also find the Electric Eels.

Yeah, the Electric Eels from Cleveland. Same place as Rocket from the Tomb, and from pretty much the same period, too. It's the industrialised heartland of North America again, and here that we find the Antichrist's Holy Grail. Legend has it that guitarists John Morton and Brian McMahon were so grossed out by their straight blue collar surroundings that they would enter working men's clubs and start necking just to get a fight going. There was so little facility for the statement they wanted to make that the Eels only played six gigs in their entire career. John Morton was said to have duct-taped large wrenches to his clothes and have operated a gas-powered lawnmower on stage to lively things up, while their singer David E. always had his school clarinet nearby for free-form freakouts in case the audience's reactions were too muted. Those finding Captain Beefheart's Mirror Man-period free form 'first time musette' as the inspiration for David Thomas' Pere Ubu squawking are hereby directed to listen to David E. on this here CD. It seems most likely that Thomas was directly inspired by David E. when his former band Rocket from the Tomb supported the Electric Eels in Cleveland in 1975.

The sound of the Electric Eels is one so snotty, so abrasively degraded, so militantly into its own thing, that their first 45 was only released in 1979 (four years after its recording) and it still sounded advanced! Electric Eels songs were ultra-brief explosions of sticky antipathy condensed into a purely Orwellian 2-minute Hate. In 1975, say-it-quickly-and-fuck-off was a whole new thing in itself. Ask the Ramones. Yet 1975 Electric Eels songs contained all the stock elements that would come to be expected of perfect '77 punk. Traditional bubblegum call and answer verses and choruses butted right up next to pure sonic feedback experiment. Hook-lines as catchy as chicken pox rise out of dreadfully recorded Buzzcockian cissy boy rants about who-the-fuck-knows-what, before being consumed by sheer ear-splitting wodges of furiously strummed twin rhythm guitars. And always at the expense of the rhythm section - hell, there ain't even drums on some of the stuff, though they play it just as hard and rhythm based as if there was.

The Electric Eels never released an album at the time, so God Says "Fuck You" offers 20/20 hindsight and still doesn't answer all the questions. There also seem to be several versions of this record, but as I've got two of the different versions myself, I've picked my favourite with which to lambaste you.

The album opens with the insanely catchy "Cyclotron", which might be about some piece of 60s domestic Americana for all I know, but what the hell - rock'n'roll is meant to be mysterious. Lyrics about Daffy Duck, hating girls and war being fun are bawled out by Pee Wee Herman's jammy-faced nipper brother, as an argument of I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I intellect is acted out over staccato machine-gun guitar and snare drum. It's the sound of two guitarists playing loud through one amp captured on a condenser mike. It's the sound of borrowed recording equipment in a how-long-before-we-gotta-pack-up rented rehearsal space.

"Refrigerator" has the same sound, this time clod-hopping round and round a monolithic "Stand By Me" (they wish) chord sequence, while David E. relates some suburban mystery story. The whole band 'ooh ooh' in agreement, before the riff breaks down into guitar solo surrender like the end of the Buzzcocks' "Friends of Mine" from Spiral Scratch, and you wonder how they managed to submerge the drums amidst the cacophony, when they'd originally started out so loud.

Next up, "Tidal Wave" is just fucking genius, coming on like it's the middle of a guitar solo, then it's stop start complain complain, as David E. tries in vain to keep up with the guitarists, telling how sharks like to bite him, until he has to 'swim like a tuna fish' because 'help, help, help, here's a tidal wave.' Oh, fuck off and drown, you bastard. I never needed my rock'n'roll heroes to be likeable, which is good because I wanna kill this guy. He's Jerry Lewis at a British Library dinner party, dosing the punch with cooking speed and threatening the hostess with amphetamine pessaries. Howling piercing emotional guitar car-crashes the song to its thank-fuck conclusion. And they're off again and on to the next song.

"Ohhhhhhhh, I'm so agitated, I'm so convoluted" whines David E. at the beginning of "Agitated". "It's 5am and I'm crawling the walls, waiting for imaginary telephone calls." Now David's taken all the speed himself and he's run out of domestic appliances to clean, so he's started on the light bulbs, while the band truck along on a Stonesy "I'm a Man" drummerless, twin-guitar riff. Hey, this has musical references!

As does "Anxiety", which takes the maddening boogie drudge-sludge of David Bowie's magnificent "Cracked Actor" and repeats it round and round and fucking round, until enough already! Oh, it's beautiful. The Electric Eels just restore the riff to its netherworld roots in the most clamourous de-glamourising of a song, ever. Replace Mick Ronson's Les Paul with Asda equivalents as played by Alvin, Simon and Theodore from the Chipmunks and you've got this.

The side finishes with the one-minute cyclical hypochondria of "No no", which is the Jaynettes' "Sally Go Round the Roses" without any of its constituent parts whatsoever, and David E. repeating the title as though 'twas the biggest hit since "Hang on Sloopy".

Side Two opens with their most obvious song of all. "Jaguar Ride" is as catchy as "California Sun" or any of those surfing tunes. It's just that there's no drums again, and you get the eeriest feeling that not knowing what exactly happened on this particular Jaguar ride is a big plus.

"Accident" is just hilarious, and is the ultimate example of the city-dweller's self-consciousness. A true Velvets driving riff has David E. complaining to himself: "Hope no-one sees me in this accident, with my feet down through the floorboards and my head up through the busted glass, my face smashed against the dash." But he's too late, because the group happen to be passing and, sure enough, they see him in there amongst the wreckage: "Let's go see who's in the accident, nyah nyah nanna-nanna." Howling squealing strangulated guitars penetrate the entire song, as observances by onlookers clog David E.'s embarrassed brain: "someone said it was a reckless U-turn" and "There's no attraction like a fatal crash." You hate him for being bothered, but you love him so much for daring to register that it does.

What is "Spin Age Blasters" about? A horrible horrible twin guitar riff cycles round and round, as the group tell us "You know what this is" over and over. Like a shit list of turnoffs made by a gang of bored teenagers, this song is written in some heightened ultra-slang, which is comprehensible only to its creators. Then, just as you're sitting more clueless than Job, the guitar riff drops out and the backing vocalist picks up the story with all the confidence and technique of a drunk doing Telly Savalas' version of "If":
"(Aside) Now listen to this … The skin diver dived off the bank. He disconnected his airtank (You know what this is), His face went totally blank (You know what this is), And down to the bottom he sank (You know what this is)." No, I don't have a fucking idea what this is.

Fading out of the ether tunnel comes "No Nonsense" on a riff about as arty as a turd-filled ox cart pulled by giant slugs (eight feet high and with 'Mom' tattooed on their shoulders). Maybe this riff should never have seen the light of day…it's so repellent and underachieving. It's the first riff 16-year-olds play at rehearsal to see if their amp's warmed up, and their mates jam along for a moment before saying: "Okay, let's do something real now."

The album finishes with the ultra-catchy complain complain of "You're so Full of Shit", a song of proto-barbarian avant-garage intensity driven by yet more of David E.'s malcontent ramalama. He hits below the belt. He'll stop at nothing to get another barbed comment in. He stoops to conquer, so low it makes even him look stupid. But he doesn't care. He'll I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I you to death if needs be. For David E., even the most abject Psychic Victory is worthwhile. Besides, he's got the coolest band in the world and no-one's gonna know for twenty-five years. So, fuck 'em all.

Yeah, fuck 'em all. This is an unconditionally brilliant album from a lost time. It's tragic to relate the fate, or non-fate, of the Electric Eels. None of them made it except for their magnificent and sometimes inaudible drummer, Nick Knox, who went on to fuel the Cramps throughout the late 70s and 80s. But the Electric Eels will be one day recognised for their miraculously tuneful noise- against-all-odds. As Chuck Eddy wrote, in New York's The Village Voice, they were: "absolute antisocial provocation as a life force - whether you approve or not."