Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Link Wray & His Raymen - Jack the Ripper (1963)

I think this was probably the first vinyl record I bought in America, which hopefully you'll agree was a pretty fucking solid place to get started. I'd just arrived off the boat, head still spinning. Everything was in boxes and I didn't even have a record player. I stumbled into Hogwild, experienced extreme disorientation, and came out the door with this because, let's face it, you can't really go wrong with Link Wray.

Unfortunately it sounded shit once I got me a turntable, just a distorted twang; but thankfully, as I've subsequently realised, this was entirely due to a crap needle which has since been replaced. Weirdly, it's taken me a couple of years to remember I actually had the thing, but I'm glad I did because it's astonishing. The quality is such as to inspire the realisation that - actually - Steve Albini and Billy Childish were probably right: you simply don't need all of the audio-horseshit, just a microphone, a good ear, and something which captures the sound.

The Link Wray sound, as you will probably remember, is rudimentary but nevertheless pretty fucking tight, in case anyone can't tell the difference between primal and just plain hamfisted. We have drums, bass, and Link twanging away through speakers with holes punched in the cones so as to create a fuzz effect. You may recall it sounding a little like the Shadows, but frankly the Shadows seem pretty weak compared to this stuff. Listen to Rumble and it's really not too difficult to credit the fact of it once having been banned from the radio for fear of causing juvenile delinquency - and keep in mind we're talking about a fucking instrumental!

Wray's music has strong blues roots but you can hear that, even in 1963, it was forever reaching out, pulling in all sorts of strange directions, which is what distinguishes this from Hank Marvin's bunch of teatime entertainers. There are those uneasy pauses on Fat Back - how different parts of the tune seem to hang around a little longer than natural - the weird atonal squawks punctuating Chicken Run, what sounds like a basic monosynth on Cross Ties, and then the truly peculiar Big Ben with a jazzy bass wobble which wouldn't seem out of place on some dubstep number. It takes serious talent to produce something which not only sounds this fresh and this powerful half a century later, but which kind of makes you wonder why we've bothered recording anything since.

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