Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Husker Du - Eight Miles High b/w Masochism World

Husker Du
Eight Miles High b/w Masochism World


Released 1984 on SST
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 12/08/2007ce


Husker Du Eight Miles High b/w Masochism World

SST 1984

Later collected in 1990 on the Makes No Sense At All cd single:
1. Eight Miles High
2. Masochism World
3. Makes No Sense At All
4. Love Is All Around

Bob Mould – guitar; vocals
Grant Hart – drums; vocals
Greg Norton - bass

(1) Eight Miles High – Lyrics:

Eight miles high and when you touch down
You’ll find its stranger than known
Signs in the street that say where you’re going
Are somewhere just being their own

Nowhere is their warmth to be found
Among those afraid of losing their ground
Rain grey town known for its sound
In places small faces unbound

Round the squares, huddled in storms
Some laughing, some just shapeless forms
Sidewalk scenes and black limousines
Some living some standing alone

By Gene Clark, David Crosby & Roger McGuinn

(2)

It was quite amusing recently; to read a blog on the Guardian Unlimited website from one Alan McGee, one of the men behind Creation records – a once celebrated indie label that later flogged itself to Sony. In this blog, McGee demonstrated that his finger is on the pulse by writing about the neglected status of The Byrds. Yes…really – the band that’ve had several box sets, biographies and 33 1/3 books, a mass of compilations, everything reissued and bands citing them to buggery in the 80s and 90s are underrated and unsung. Which is cobblers, especially when you consider the alt country odes to a certain part of their career and the way books and reviews have appeared for less celebrated records like ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’ or ‘Untitled/Unissued’ in recent years. There’s only really space for the crap albums they released towards their latter incarnations – which is why folk have moved onto rediscovering later solo ventures like Cardiff Rose, If I Could Only Remember My Name & No Other. The Byrds are firmly part of the rock and roll canon – heck, they were even inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame shortly before Gene Clark and Michael Clarke expired (& around the time Crosby, Hillman and McGuinn set against a Clark-Clarke lead incarnation of The Byrds, which also featured Rick Danko of The Band at one point).

But there was one time when the Byrds were kind of neglected – it was really the early US 80s that rediscovered their work and celebrated it, from the Paisley Underground scene, to REM’s jangly early years on IRS, to more jingle-jangles from Johnny Marr in the celebrated Smiths, and an apparent influence on two key bands from Minneapolis rooted in the US underground and the burgeoning college rock scene: Husker Du and The Replacements. What would become the alternative scene that would climax with the ascent and burnout of the band we know call Nirvana. Meanwhile, Byrdswise, you wouldn’t be able to move for references as the 80s shifted into the 90s: Ride, Teenage Fanclub, Sebadoh, The Jayhawks, Wilco, Manic Street Preachers, Scud Mountain Boys/Pernice Brothers, Matthew Sweet, Robyn Hitchcock, Crowded House, Slowdive, The Milltown Brothers etc etc. I am ignoring Roxy Music’s 1980 cover, incidentally.

(3)

Husker Du are a band very much revered, probably moreso in the States, something I pondered on mildly when they were given about two minutes on that awful Rock of Ages programme the BBC made to flog to Americans. Less time than Black Flag, who were fun, but melody wise were they as influential? The Du were strange ones – Bob Mould, Grant Hart & Greg Norton – starting off as a Ramones-type band in 1979 (e.g. ‘Do You Remember?’), their sound shifted to something akin to Pere Ubu and The Wipers on debut single ‘Statues b/w Amusement’, prior to a shift into what became known as the American hardcore scene. Husker Du too their place alongside bands like Bad Brains, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat and Minutemen – the key acts associated with an indie, slam dancing scene. There were a mass of other bands in this scene, some akin to the dodgy UK OI! Scene and seen towards the end of Don Letts’s excellent documentary Punk: Attitude. But the more interesting bands from that scene began to object to the reductive music and outlook of the audience – there was a limit to this.

The band’s objections and reaction became apparent in the early to mid 80s – Minor Threat disbanding, leading towards bands like Embrace, Fugazi and Rites of Spring and other acts on Washington DC’s Dischord label that remained thoroughly ethical and politically correct. I saw Fugazi in Wolverhampton in the late 90s and Ian McKaye still stopped the band and chastised a slam dancing type somewhere down the front. Minor Threat were fun, but compared to the bands that developed out of them, they are very one dimensional. The early work of Black Flag (then featuring Chinaski who would go on to form Circle Jerks) is fun, like a thrashy version of The Damned (see ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’ or ‘Wasted’), but the later incarnation was much more out there – Rollins growing his hair long as Greg Ginn got into dope and jazz – manifesting itself in the celebrated second side of their LP ‘My War’, which is partly responsible for what would become post rock. No ‘My War’ and probably no Melvins, no Mudhoney, no Tortoise, no Slint etc Bad Brains shifted towards more mainstream rock and dub; Circle Jerks went lounge for their appearance in Repo Man; Dead Kennedys became even more musically inventive, with dashes of what was later called EMO alongside industrial, psychedelia and a blend of hardcore, pop and mariachi music on the hilarious ‘MTV Get Off the Air!’; and Minutemen recorded their epic 43 track double album ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’, covering Steely Dan and Van Halen along the way. The Replacements went from a drunken thrash to something much more melodic and song based on 1984’s ‘Let It Be’, covering ‘Black Diamond’ by Kiss along the way…and the Du? They left behind the unforgiving thrash of ‘Land Speed Record’, ‘MIC’ and ‘Punch Drunk’ for something more melodic – 1983’s ‘Everything Falls Apart’ offering something way more melodic in terms of the title track and the cover of Donovan’s ‘Sunshine Superman’. The psychedelic references would begin to fuse with their prior sound, over the next few years this became apparent on their celebrated run of albums – ‘Zen Arcade’, ‘New Day Rising’, ‘Flip Your Wig’, ‘Candy Apple Grey’, ‘Warehouse (Songs and Stories)’ – and in the cover versions they released: the aforementioned ‘Sunshine Superman’, The Beatles’ ‘Ticket to Ride’ (a free 7” given away with the NME), and ‘Eight Miles High.’

(4)

‘Zen Arcade’, a 23-track Who-style concept double album that took in 13-minute jazz-inspired instrumentals (‘Reoccurring Dreams’), Richard Thompson style folk (‘Never Talking To You Again’), melodic pop (‘Pink Turns to Blue’), psychedelia (‘The Tooth Fairy and The Princess’, ‘Hare Krsna’), ambient style instrumentals (‘One Step at a Time’, ‘Monday Will Never Be the Same’), as well as variants on the Du’s familiar punk/hardcore sound, was recorded at the Total Access studio in Redondo Beach in California in a booze/chemical inflected 85 hours (the last 40 hours straight for mixing). The sleeve notes of ‘Zen Arcade’ stated their were two outtakes – ‘Dozen Beets Eleven’ and ‘Some Kind of Fun’ – but this session in late 1983 also included the celebrated cover of the then uncelebrated Byrds.

Husker Du’s version of ‘Eight Miles High’ is one that has often been cited by music critics, early Ride (who recorded a so-so cover version of it) and Swervedriver’s masterful b side ‘Planes Over the Skyline’ seemed in debt to it. Husker Du’s cover and non cover versions appeared to set up bands that followed, notably Dinosaur Jr and Pixies, in turn Nirvana…and all that. I’m not sure that Husker Du’s version is better than the original, a record I’m still fond of – but for a cover version recorded rapidly by a manic, prolific band, it has seemed to have had a huge effect. Maybe it was the fact that Husker Du dug the influences apparent on the Byrds – Coltrane’s ‘Impressions and Africa Brass’ and probably even got the idea of the wild keyboard solo on ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies. It is a shame that the Du put a slightly dodgy live version of ‘Masochism World’ on the b-side, wouldn’t it have been wilder to hear their version of ‘Eight Miles High’s b-side ‘Why’?

(5)

The 3 minutes 56 seconds that is Husker Du’s ‘Eight Miles High’ still sounds wild stuff, though it would be even wilder to hear a live depiction of it alongside the epic ‘Reoccurring Dreams’ or the experimental ‘Hare Krsna.’ The trio just burning through that material, pointing into many directions across rock music, backwards and forwards. Hart’s drumming is suitably manic, Norton plays subtle bass in the jazz/breakdown section – but it’s Mould’s fuzzed out guitar and screaming vocals that dominate, the song in meltdown towards the end as Mould gabbers and hollers. The song ending all too soon – a seemingly throwaway song that doesn’t last long enough and one that I can play on repeat endlessly. Rumour has it that Gene Clark heard Husker Du’s cover and was impressed, which is cool, especially since it’s hard to pictured clichéd punk rockers digging The Byrds.

Of course, I could pick pretty much any Husker Du record, so it may seem rude to single out this cover version. Perhaps it’s due to the fact it was a lonely 7” single on SST in 1984, or that it’s on a relatively pricey e.p. (considering the length) released in 1990. Sadly, Husker Du have never released a compilation of their stuff on SST or Warners – as people have to hunt separately for their records, ‘Eight Miles High’ isn’t that easy to find (‘Ticket to Ride’ even harder, I only have a copy of that on a tape someone did me in the 1990s). I’d expect obligatory business problems get in the way, though it’s a shame that a compilation for today’s kids doesn’t exist, or that the Du haven’t got the box-set treatment like The Byrds have.

Whatever…I guess. But Husker Du’s ‘Eight Miles High’ remains hypnotic stuff and is arguably the point where they became a sharp blend of the Beatles/Byrds, psychedelia and punk. Their records that would follow, from ‘New Day Rising’ to their double LP adieu ‘Warehouse’, were steeped in the approach nailed on their Byrds cover. A key cover version and a key single then and a record that seems Unsung even when those in the know cite it or it turns up in internet lists.

(6)

Eight Miles High, man!!!


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