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The Thursday Throwback Track - Episode 189: Violent Femmes & "Never Tell"

Welcome to WEEK 189 of 4T! (Video Episode #15)

Violent Femmes – The Early-ish Years (1984-88)

NOT Straight-Up Country Music

Since this week is all about country music (see NEW MUSIC TUESDAY’s post from … uh … Tuesday), I thought I’d continue the theme by discussing one of my top ten favorite bands of all time: Violent Femmes. Yes, that’s right. The Femmes. And country music. They link. Seriously. Read on, and then go listen to the three albums I’m featuring this week, and it’ll hit you like a pickup truck on fire.

Those of you who know anything about the Femmes probably only know the big party hits from their debut 1983 self-titled album, like “Blister in the Sun” or “Add It Up”. That album was a blast of acoustic punk that launched the Femmes as one more post-punk band rewriting the rules of the genre. And if that’s how you know them, then there are at least three things you probably don’t know:

1. Their highest charting single was “American Music” from 1991’s Why Do Birds Sing? (Which also had an awesome cover of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”)

2. They are still around, and in fact released their latest album just last year, which sounds a fuckload like their early stuff.

3. They went through a country music phase. For realz. Their 2nd, 3rd & 4th albums were predominantly country.

You could call it alt country (before the term existed), southern gothic, freak folk, country rock or folk punk. Point is, it ain’t just acoustic punk. Listen to almost anything from Hallowed Ground, The Blind Leading the Naked, or 3, and you’re going to hear country music. “Country Death Song”, “Jesus Walking on the Water”. “Old Mother Reagan”, “Breakin’ Hearts”, “Cold Canyon”. “Fat”, “Lies”. Straight-up country twang, y’all. Not that that’s all they did, then or ever. But the fact that they went there in their own special way – that fucking rocks.

The Femmes have sunk so deep into my subconscious that it’s hard to pinpoint how they’ve influenced me. There’s a chance that – like with the Beatles or Prince – their influence is somewhere in every song I’ve ever written. Throwing in a rogue lyric here & there to keep things honest & fresh. A vocal delivery that runs the range from whispery to strident to plaintive to balls out abrasive, but always with emotion. Unafraid to get negative but still keep it popping. There are so many songs I can use as an example, but DUH I have to go with the one that was named after possibly my favorite Femmes song (from Hallowed Ground):

Listen to the Femmes’ “Never Tell” too and see if you can find any parallels. What songs of the Femmes do you know and/or love? Does this make you want to go deeper into their catalogue? Do you prefer straight-up country music? Or do you hate it all? Discuss dammit!

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