The generally accepted archetype for all heavy music is Black Sabbath, and rightly so. Chuck Klosterman claims that Sabbath is the most underrated band in the history of rock music, and I totally understand where he’s coming from, although in perspectives outside of pop culture it’s not completely true. Without Tony Iommi’s singed fingertips, as a result of an industrial accident, affecting the way he played his sludgy and, for the era, very distorted guitar, along with Ozzy Osbourne’s lyrics concerning psychological disorders, utter devotion to and love for drugs, and, most memorable of all, Satanism, the claims of rock ‘n roll being the devil might have been significantly less legitimate. Black Sabbath opened a door into the deeper shades of rock music, which gave an endless amount of bands a power they would have been fumbling to find otherwise.
Not long before Sabbath’s formation, Jim Morrison was losing control on multiple L.A. stages, mind expanded to the point of senselessness thanks to LSD, and body falling deeper into the possession of alcohol, which served as a sustenance for his publicly exulted and privately exhausting persona. One notable person entranced by this enchanting performer was a kid named Jim Osterberg, more popularly known as Iggy Pop. Although the progenerators of the harsh, discordant, and cacophonous sound referred to sometimes as ‘pigfuck,’ sometimes (more inclusively) as noise rock abounded in the late 60s—from Love’s earlier punk sounding songs to the Velvet Undergound’s occasional exploration into dirty noise, dirty lyrics, and feeble song structures that fall apart and persist to roll around in their mess—no other band has had such a monumental influence on punk, and therefore pigfuck, as The Stooges.
To my mind 1970’s Fun House is the greatest rock record of all time. It’s rare to find an album that bridges the gap between two styles of music that are supposedly at odds with one another – psychedelic 60s rock and punk. The energy and spirit is the same between the two genres, but the presentation divides devoted listeners into hatred of adherents of the other genre. The sound of Fun House’s spontaneity, the capturing of its insanity, and the pumping energy exhibited throughout each and every track all mark it as a milestone in the history of rock music—the moment when the spirit of rock presented itself in its rawest, most destructive form, more so even than Raw Power. A song like “Dirt” gives a glimpse of the warped mania that too much acid, booze, and sex will bury a person under, but it was the chaotic, noisy closer of the album, “L.A. Blues” where I think what would become known as pigfuck was founded. It’s the unorganized sound of animosity lasting beyond the point it has legs to stand on. Eventually, after this record inspired musicians in the mid 70s to form what would become known as the premiere punk bands, kids in the early 80s would try to hold true to the frightening, filthy, muffled, mumbly, and abrasive spirit that was on display in Fun House. Here, in chronological order, are five albums that epitomize the pigfuck aesthetic.
Before he embarked on a solo career with the Bad Seeds, Nick Cave was the frontman of the Australian horror rock outfit The Birthday Party. Their music fused primitive rhythms with a screechy, jangly guitar, topped over with Cave’s deep growls and high pitched demon screams, all moving sonically like an incomprehensible nightmare. Their album, Junkyard, kicked the confrontational nature that their live performances became famous for up a notch, the energy of which was much more apparent on this record. “The Dim Locator” has a catchy guitar lick that etches itself into your mind like fingernails on a chalkboard. Probably their greatest song, the title track, closes the album, and reeks of the depravity and quick fixes of pleasure yearning that drives the genre. David Yow of Scratch Acid and The Jesus Lizard has constantly cited Nick Cave as a major inspiration for his vocal style. To this album we can credit the founding of that hostile, wavering, and overly obtuse voice.
Making sure to pay homage right away to their sludgy godfathers in Sabbath on their frightening acid trip of an album, Butthole Surfers managed to maintain a sordid tradition while breaking new ground with their tape manipulation experimentation on Locust Abortion Technician. They integrated the psychedelic and punk roots that took shape with The Stooges, but added their unique blend of dark humor into the mix. The only somewhat conventional song on the whole album is “Human Cannonball,” and the rest of it is anything from melodies made from growling and stomping to loops of people saying “Hay,” which were later reversed and slowed down on the final track to sound like mooing that could theoretically spin forever on your turntable. They even found an old Thai song about having an itch that needs scratched, and altered the message just a little bit by focusing more intensely on one repeated word. As far as creativity within the genre goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a more unique example than this album.
I can remember the exact moment when Big Black entered my life. I was maybe eleven years old, walking around Borders bookstore in the CD section and I saw this bright green album with bright pink lettering. Everything about encountering this artifact totally blew my sheltered mind. Before seeing this album I really didn’t know that titling something like this, or that dirty cartoons were possible. I wasn’t even sure if there was an artist to this album. I thought it was just called Big Black Songs About Fucking. Years later, after reading something about the production of In Utero, the writer mentioned something about how “Scentless Apprentice” was reminiscent of Big Black, and the experience in Borders came back to my mind. I downloaded a few tracks, eventually got my hands on the vinyl, and became obsessed for quite a while with this beat machine toting noise punk band who had disbanded before the release of this album. Utilizing two common frightening adjectives in the English language without a noun to ground their name, Big Black maintained an image and aura that fit their provocative and rusty industrial sound and subject matter, not to mention the fact that throughout their career they successfully morphed Cheap Trick, Kraftwerk, James Brown, and Wire songs to fit their honed style.
The opening grinding guitar of “Memorial” on Effete & Impudent Snobs is the sound that comes immediately to my mind when I think of the word pigfuck. Definitely one of the more blues inspired acts in the scene, they still hit all the checkpoints within the genre—muffled, sometimes incoherent voice, a beefy bass that could almost pass for a percussive instrument, and the overall sound of lying on a beer drenched bar floor, too intoxicated to get up, but too aggressive to stay down. This album has the sing along anthem (“Big Mickey”), the “Dirt”-like state of hopelessly fighting off self pity song (“Nancy Boy Cocaine Blues”), and the “Fun House”-like song with horns added in for good measure (“The Emigrant Song”). Out of all the bands on this list, Cows has the biggest muscle for pop sensibilities. Some of the songs are so catchy they seep into the listener’s subconscious. Jay Reatard probably had no idea he totally ripped off “Whitey in the Woodpile” for his song “Greed, Money, Useless Children.”
David Yow and David Wm. Sims made the move to Chicago after Scratch Acid broke up, the latter coming in to join Albini on his post-Big Black project. When guitarist Duane Dennison came along a year later, The Jesus Lizard was formed, eventually with the addition of drummer Mac McNeilly, to head the helm as “one of the greatest rock bands in the history of the world” according to Touch & Go Records head Corey Rusk. Their initial Albini produced albums are all gold in their own unique way, but Liar has the energy, dirtiness, crispiness, and mayhem all at the perfect levels. Harkening the unpredictability and gladiator attitude that immediately altered the atmosphere of the room wherever they happened to conjure their art into interactive display, more than any other band on the list The Jesus Lizard is the direct descendent of The Stooges’ spirit. The Jesus to Iggy’s godhead. The tight ferocity of their rhythm section, the psychedelic cowboy soundscapes of Denison’s innovative guitar work, and Yow’s incomprehensible yet constantly urgent vocals melded in the early 90s to make arguably the greatest contribution to the pigfuck sound.