Bad Brains and Death – Discuss

Last year I watched a BBC documentary called Imagine – The Seven Killings of Marlon James.  Marlon James had won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 with his violent fictional version of the assassination attempt on Bob Marley.  In this documentary, Alan Yentob talked to him about experiences as a writer.  It is a great documentary and worth watching if it ever comes to a screen near you.  In some shots, Marlon was wearing a band t-shirt.  A tweet from a writer I follow, who had been watching the programme at the same time as me, revealed the band to be Bad Brains.  Of course I immediately sought them out.  The album above is their first and eponymous record released in 1982.  It is a furious hardcore punk reggae fusion – I like it for certain occasions although admit to preferring a later album called I Against I, mainly because it’s slightly more accessible and appropriate to play around children, but Bad Brains is an awesome racket.  I love the dub and reggae tracks interspersed between the noise as a bit of relief.

So last week, I was minding my own business, reading an article that referred to Bad Brains and in the same breath name-checked this other band I’d never heard of as being better than Bad Brains and making this kind of music much earlier.  What? Much earlier than 1982? The band is called Death.  I know very little about them other than they were a band made up of 3 brothers from Detroit, they made this album called For The Whole World To See in 1975.  When the record company wanted them to change their name, they refused, so the album never got released; until it was rediscovered in 2009.

Yet again I come to you, ‘Spillers to fill in my gaps and educate me.  What do you know about all this? Are there any other bands like these two I should check out?

Discuss…

 

18 thoughts on “Bad Brains and Death – Discuss

  1. I have two BB albums – I Against I and 1989’s Quickness. I don’t play either as much as I should, so thanks for the prod.
    If I’m in that kind of mood, there are two albums I play much more often than BB:

    Bullyrag – Songs Of Praise
    Released in 1998, scouse raga-metal merchants. I have repeatedly nominated three of that LP’s songs on the mothership, so you might have access to some.

    Dub Trio – New Heavy
    2006 second album from some New Yorkers that I think erstwhile dutch RRegular TonNL put me onto.
    Plenty of D3 on YouTube.

    • I think you would quite like that Death album – whole thing is on that YouTube link I added earlier. It is very, very good. I have Dub Trio on in the background right now. Nice so far!

  2. I don’t have much to offer on the music (I’ll have a listen if I need a break from Contentment and Tranquility over at the Song Bar), but A Brief History of Seven Killings was amazing.

    • Ok – both these can offer you the complete antithesis to your Song Bar stint. Really quite noisy. Not been down the bar since shortly after it opened…only so much you can keep up with.

  3. Sarah: When I saw the reggae references in your intro I, as a lifelong reggae fan, thought ‘wonderful!’ something I can participate in. Sadly not, neither of those two albums share anything with reggae so I’ll pass on making any comment about them.
    Marlon James however I can comment on. I’ve read two of his three books and ‘Killing’ is not my favorite but The book of Night Women is. I’m amazed that ‘killing’ has had such a widespread readership outside of Jamaica, it’s written almost totally in patois which to most non Jamaicans is incomprehensible plus one needs a substantial knowledge of Jamaican history, music and culture to put it all together. I’m baffled by it’s success.
    The book of Night Women is an amazing novel, it should be required reading for all Americans and Europeans. It takes place on a slave plantation in the eighteenth century and it puts it into very clear perspective. Whatever Americans think about slavery it’s probably not anywhere close to the reality of this book. And the current Black American experience is directly related to slavery.
    The BBC documentary is interesting but it spends more time dealing with Marlon’s homosexuality than it does with the Seven Killings or the background circumstances in Kingston.
    You ask for suggestions for bands to check out, if you really want to understand ‘seven killings’ you should listen to Bob Marley’s music of that period, ie. the albums Exodus, Rastaman Vibration and Survival for starters , they were all recorded after the assassination attempt.
    Re. the ‘assassins’, it was well known on the street who they were and who hired them, they all died.

    • Hi gf – thanks for taking the time to write such a long reply.
      There is a reggae element to both albums, but I realise that if you hit play on the track above by Bad Brains you are not going to immediately hear that. This album is mainly a lot of short noisy tracks interspersed with lovely dub reggae which feels a bit out of place when you listen to the whole album through, but it does offer respite and provides a foil to what feels like real fury. It also points to their heritage and is testament to their musical ability as well as being a brave move. Anyway, If you like reggae, you will like tracks 6 & 8 Jah Calling and Leaving Babylon for sure. Check them out.
      I am a huge fan of Reggae and have a large collection including most Marley albums and some great collections. All three albums you mention are great – I also really like the feel of Kaya.
      The 2nd half of the documentary with Alan Yentob did focus quite a bit on Marlon James’s experiences as a gay writer in Jamaica. I thought they spent a good amount of time on The Book of Night Women. They visited several places that inspired the book which I found quite evocative. I liked the interviews with the publishers and his teachers too. All in all I felt it was a good introduction to him and his work and hopefully he will have picked up even more readers from it, who may have been put off by the patois in Seven Killings. Sometimes there is no explanation to why some things get such a momentum behind them. In Marlon James’s case, it was an important step for a literary award like the Man Booker in terms of championing diversity in writing.

  4. I can see why you like the energy of it but punk largely passed me by – though I like Reggae – not that it helps, sorry, can’t add anything helpful!

  5. Two posts in and this is becoming an excellent series.

    A punky-reggae band to investigate would be Ruts/Ruts DC. When they started they could already play really well and during Rock Against Racism they did a lot of work with Misty in Roots. The Crack is a great album but the singer, Malcolm Owen, died and that was the end of that incarnation. The Crack and the inevitable compilation album Grin and Bear It can be found on a single CD usually for next to nothing.

    They then formed Ruts DC but the Animal Now album was all over the place, despite some good songs. But the magic came with the Rhythm Collision album, produced by Mad Professor. (To my shame, I didn’t hear that until decades later.). Rhythm Collision Vol 2 was recorded nearly 30 years later with Mad Professor and Prince Fatty and that’s ace.

    Last year they did Music Must Destroy with Henry Rollins and it veers away from the reggae of the Collision albums to hit the rock and punk buttons, Psychic Attack is a fave.

    For the Death sound of rock riffs and 70’s garage band punk played with panache go to Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.

    There are more, I’m sure Shoey and Wyngate can help.

    Ooooh! The Shoes’ “Crack My Bones” does a very nice job of mixing punky attitudes with house and reggae/dub influences. Get a version with the Hollie Cook bonus track, which neatly takes us back to punk and reggae fusions as she’s sang with the Slits and is the daughter of Paul Cook. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0Dp1ESDoiQ

    • Thanks for your confidence in this new thing…we’ll see how it goes, not sure I can sustain it every week…
      I’ve listened to a bit of The Ruts not nearly enough so thanks for these tips, I will seek them out this week. I haven’t heard of either of the bands you refer to in comparison to Death, so that excites me a bit!
      I know Shoey is around here sometimes, but not sure I’ve seen Wyngate here at all but you are right, I could imagine he would have something to say about this…
      Happy Sunda

      • Sorry, The Shoes are nothing like Death. It’s just their mix of sounds appealed to me, they’re far beyond rock and reggae.. Dance music that steals from everywhere. 😉

  6. You picked another two favourites of mine!

    Bad Brains were hands down the best hardcore band of that era and I agree that I Against I and the first one are their best. They were a hardcore punk band that were also extremely accomplished musicians – I read something once I think from Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi) who said that they were getting ready for a show and all complaining about their cheap shitty instruments. Bad Brains came in, picked up the same cheap, shitty guitars and made them sound amazing!
    There is a new documentary just coming out about singer HR (“Finding Joseph I”) that looks really good – he’s a pretty troubled soul!

    As for Death, I think they have a couple of records out now. For the Whole World to See is great. The documentary “A Band Called Death” is well worth a watch as well.

    Keep em’ coming!

    • Thanks! will try to keep this up – I’m discovering so much good music, there are literally not enough hours in the day to listen to it all. I did actually watch the documentary “A Band Called Death” yesterday, quite moving in parts. Amazing story. Will watch out for Finding Joseph I.

  7. I’m not an expert as is often the way with US bands but Bad Brains are a hugely popular band, and very influential. I’ve got a best of CD and I think I’ve also got their Rock For Light album stashed away somewhere which I remember being 50/50 hardcore punk (albeit very well played) and reggae. They are certainly the best known black punk band and were also Rastafarians, even accused at the time of merely using the hardcore scene as a Trojan horse to smuggle in their religious beliefs.
    This is my favourite track of theirs

    Death I’ve heard of but know nothing about.

    As for other recommendations I can’t really improve on Fuel’s suggestion of Ruts / Ruts DC. I’ll chuck in a personal but quite niche favourite from the 90s, Striknien DC

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