My Top 1000 Songs #161: The Classical

When I arrived on campus in fall 1984, my new friend Chris introduced me both to the college radio station (WPRB!) and to a ton of indie bands I'd never heard in my sheltered Chicago suburb. Bands like R.E.M. and the Replacements, of course, became instant favorites; others took a bit longer to sink in. Chris was particularly partial to The Fall, but I found them a little too abrasive and lacking in catchy tunes for my taste (though that would change soon enough as Brix Smith became more of a presence and pushed the band in a slightly poppier--relatively speaking--direction)..

The one earlier song of theirs I really liked was "The Classical," off 1982's Hex Enduction Hour. The band's dual-drummer percussion attack draws you in from the opening beats, a forceful tom sound that bounces around the room. There's a nifty, jangly guitar hook, more immediate than much of their other work. Most of all, Mark E. Smith's bitter rants leap off the written page. Can't say I can make it all out, much less understand what he's so angry about, but the words that landed, landed hard. And, yeah, it was pretty NSFW (or, more specifically, not safe for airplay, even on the college station); but it was also pretty damn funny. "You won't find anything more ridiculous than this new profile razor unit. Made with the highest British attention to the wrong detail." Dunno why that gets him so upset, but you can feel his annoyance. And that "never felt better in my life" refrain was something you could actually sing along with (and we did).

I've since come to love a lot of the band's (massive and unwieldy) catalog, including Hex, but "The Classical" (at high volume with nobody around, of course) still stands out.

Here's Pavement's version from a '97 radio performance, paying homage to their roots: