I Want To Kill You
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, what I really want to do is bring your attention to a song of that headline’s name. It’s by David Peel and the Lower East Side, released on their second Elektra album, American Revolution, in 1970, and it predates the Clash doing punk-reggae-funk by almost a full decade. It’s astounding, and to my shame and embarrassment, I only heard it for the first time last Friday. All things being right with my life, that gives me around forty years’ repeated plays to make up for lost time.
David Peel’s name often comes up when studying/talking about the American underground rock music of the late sixties, but even in his home city of New York, it’s usually cast aside in preference for the Velvet Underground, Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders and others. Ultimately, Peel remains best known for being name-checked on John Lennon’s song “New York City” and for his concurrent third album, The Pope’s A Dope, released on Apple. Not that those are small achievements.
I’m off to interview Peel today, and in preparing for that, I’ve finally spent some proper time with his music. His debut album, 1968’s Have a Marijuana, was recorded live in Washington Square Park, and sounds like it. (And is, also, none the worse for it.) But American Revolution is really quite fantastic. The opening song “Lower East Side” is New York punk at its finest – and earliest, with a cowbell propelling the lovably dumb chorus “We are from the lower east side, we don’t care if we live or die.” Someone could cover it today and have a hit single; it’s as catchy as it is funny as it is actually quite anarchistic. As for “I Want To Kill You,” those comparisons to the Clash have been mentioned elsewhere and for good reason. It’s hard to believe Strummer and co. never heard this song, for it is “Rock The Casbah” meets “Guns Of Brixton” meets “The Call Up,” right down to Topper-like drums, Hammond organ and guttural vocals. But it’s imbued with a sense of humor Strummer often failed to capture in the studio, and on top of all those merits, it’s got a chord change to, um, kill for. (It’s followed on album by “Girls, Girls, Girls.” The revolution was not intended to be celibate.)
If you want to hear “Lower East Side” and “I Want To Kill You” for yourself, go visit BrokenDial, which posted MP3s for a different, and even funnier, reason: Jeffrey Lewis’s eight-minute “History of Punk Rock on the Lower East Side,” which includes elements of both these David Peel songs along with some by the Fugs, the Godz and the New York Dolls. You can watch the full clip below. It’s hilarious genius on a par with the artists that inspired it. To paraphrase James Murphy, there are still reasons to love New York.