Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Revolution: Children of the Revolution

Violent Femmes: Children of the Revolution

No matter how much you think you may know about music (or anything), you don’t know everything. Not even me. (Cue loud guffawing from my wife and kids). One of the great things about caring about music, like I assume you do if you are reading this, is that you are always learning something new. Over on the other blog I write for, Cover Me, they just published a group post in which a bunch of the writers wrote about songs that they didn’t know were covers. I wrote about “Ring of Fire,” which was not originally done by Johnny Cash, but by his future sister-in-law, Anita Carter (and written by his future wife, June Carter). This song, “Children of the Revolution” is another one that fits into that category, because when I first heard the Violent Femmes’ version, back in the mists of the 1980s, I had no idea that it was originally by T. Rex. None, whatsoever.

I wish I could remember when I discovered this fact (among the many, many things that I wish I could remember), but I don’t. It is on my “covers” iPod playlist (along with a nice cover by Lloyd Cole), and I have a version of the original, but this knowledge really could have been learned at any time. And one of the great things about writing about music, even just for fun like I do, is that I (sometimes) research my pieces and (usually) learn something I didn’t already know. And you, the reader, are the beneficiary!

Violent Femmes are one of those bands who have one song that pretty much anyone knows, “Blister in the Sun,” and a couple of others that a few people know, but it is a shame that the rest of their output is mostly forgotten. This is, of course, a common thing—I was listening to the radio the other day and heard “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman, and you could probably listen to every channel of Sirius/SM for a month and never hear another song by Thunderclap Newman (even though Pete Townshend is the bass player on the recording, under a pseudonym)  (and, of course the thing that is “in the air” in that song? Revolution!! But I digress, again.)

“Children of the Revolution” appeared on Violent Femmes' third album, The Blind Leading the Naked, and it was produced by Jerry Harrison of The Talking Heads (and before that, the Modern Lovers, whose singer, Jonathan Richman was often referenced as an influence on Femmes’ singer Gordon Gano, which apparently pissed Gano off). The album is maybe a touch more commercial than their first two records, but it was by no means a “commercial” record. It did, however, break into the Billboard charts.

But “Children of the Revolution” was originally by T. Rex (a band that was very popular, but I bet you haven’t heard any song of theirs other than “Get It On (Bang a Gong)" recently). It is about the kind of teenage rebellion that was, at the time of its original release in 1972, a pretty common thing, as the youth culture became ascendant. It was not “Commie propaganda,” but in 1972, there were a lot of people who thought a lot of things were “Commie propaganda.” (Although in 1996, an interesting movie with the same name was made in Australia about the life of a fictional illegitimate son of Joseph Stalin, and it used the T. Rex version over the credits.)

Not only that, in doing my research, I found that there is an incredible version of the song, featuring T. Rex with Elton John and Ringo Starr, from a 1972 documentary about T. Rex, Born to Boogie, which was directed by Ringo. Here is the clip from the film, and if the production (and Ringo’s hair) seems a bit dated (as is the video for the Violent Femmes version), the performance is great, especially by Elton on the piano.