Over the past year or so, the Drag City label have quietly embarked on a series of reissues whose provenance is so obscure that I’ve briefly suspected them of being exquisite fakes: my favourite reissue of this year, Suarasama’s “Fajar Di Atas Awan” from Sumatra; the incredible Gary Higgins album; JT IV and so on.
“. . . For The Whole World To See”, by Death, is another such release – a wild and exhilarating garage rock album from the 1970s, with a backstory of such mythological heft that it seems, initially at least, implausible.
Briefly, Death were a Detroit band of three African-American brothers, the Hackneys, who switched from R&B in the early ‘70s when they were turned on to the local insurrectionist rock’n’roll promulgated by the Stooges, The MC5 and so on. They were reputedly almost signed to Columbia by Clive Davis, who wanted them to change their name.
Stubbornly, they refused, and the album they recorded never saw the light of day. One single, “Politicians In My Eyes”, sneaked out and is now allegedly worth about $1,000. The Hackney brothers gradually veered into gospel-rock territory, and then to reggae. The whole fascinating story is here, courtesy of the Burlington Free Press.
The story, of course, wouldn’t be half as fascinating if the ironically-titled “. . . For The Whole World To See” wasn’t such a blinder. For the most part, Death focus on the sort of cranked-up, diamond-sharp rock’n’roll as heard on The MC5’s “High Time”. But there’s plenty more going on here, not least that weird, probably accidental hybrid of garage rock, psych, prog and proto-punk that flourished in isolation and obscurity across North America at the time. I’m thinking of bands like Simply Saucer, or Rocket From The Tombs, maybe, fervid outsiders raging into what evidently seems, at the time, to be the void.
From the opening clang and gush of “Keep On Knocking”, through to the locked, winding riffs which close “Politicans In My Eyes”, there’s a blend of feistiness and clarity, complexity and directness which is mighty intoxicating. Someone mentioned Blue Oyster Cult and The Dictators when we were playing Death the other day, and it occurs to me today that, from another time, it’s not a million miles from some of those old Love As Laughter albums like “Destination 2000” that I cite from time to time.
We often talk here at Uncut about how, when the reissue business should theoretically have exhausted itself by now, something comes along out of nowhere to remind us of the sheer implausible bulk of great records that may yet languish in obscurity, from private press folk jams to the neglected marginalia of feted mainstream imprints like Elektra. “. . . For The Whole World To See” is one of those albums.
I’ve just tried to optimistically find them on Myspace, by the way, with no joy: I suspect Hackney Death Squad might be something else entirely. . .