Graded on a Curve:
Crime,
Murder by Guitar

Crime’s 1976 double A-side “Hot Wire My Heart/”Baby You’re So Repulsive” wasn’t just the first single released by a U.S. punk band from the Left Coast; it’s one of the most badass singles ever released period. “Hot Wire My Heart” is a murky rave-up and the perfect amalgam of the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” and the Stooges, and I consider it one of the most incendiary performances ever committed to vinyl.

San Francisco’s Crime only released three 7-inches over the course of their sadly abbreviated career, so it’s hardly remarkable that they’re not a household name. But the 15 cuts on the 2014 compilation Murder by Guitar make a strong case for Crime’s claim to greatness. Guitarists-vocalists Johnny Strike and Frankie Fix and Company produced at least eight or nine songs that should be heard by anyone who loves punk, and I’ll pit at least three or four of them against anything recorded by any punk band anywhere.

Crime made a virtue of sheer volume; in 1978 a critic for The New York Rocker wrote, “Loudness may be Crime’s only musical raison d’etre.” I would beg to differ; I’m of the opinion that Crime were the true carriers of the proto-punk, stripped to the brutal basics banner raised by Iggy and the Stooges. It’s all there on their first single, from the rumbling and slashing guitars to the sheer propulsive thrust to the general spirit of “let’s make some noise” that presides over both sides.

“Hot Wire My Heart” is pure proto-punk barbarism; “Baby You’re So Repulsive” lays a sneering and howling guitar over a slashing guitar and then throws some disgusted vocals on top. Both are enthralling. And speaking of vocals, these guys are changelings; on different songs they sound like everybody from Lou Reed to Joey Ramone to Handsome Dick Manitoba to Andy Shernoff, and I could go on.

And the fun just keeps on coming on the savage “Terminal Boredom,” the rip-roaring “Frustration” (inspirational lyric: “I see your face nearly every day/All you hippies can fade away.”), and the sped-up, laser-beam guitar showpiece that is “Crime Wave.” Both the title track (which boasts some very New Yawk vocals) and the very Stooges-like “Piss on Your Dog” (is that a great title or what?) feature menacing, slow motion grooves and big, ugly guitar riffs; “TV Blue” is an only slightly less successful walk down the same street. Meanwhile, “San Francisco’s Doomed” is a good old-fashioned anthem straight from the Sex Pistols’ school of songwriting. And “Dillinger’s Brain” is a wonderfully ramshackle slice of drum bash and guitar howl that sounds like it was recorded in a sewer.

The final tracks on Murder by Guitar show Crime fishing around for a new sound, with only mixed success. “If Looks Could Kill” is a slice of neo-rockabilly that works, just barely, on the strength of its slashing guitars; “Rockin’ Weird” is a piano-driven fusion of New Wave and rockabilly that doesn’t work period. It was produced by Huey Lewis. That should tell you something.

“Maserati” doesn’t take me anywhere I want to go; “Lost Soul” is the sound of a band that’s lost its direction—I hear Television in it, but it’s not any Television I want to turn on. “Gangster Funk” is at least fun; it doesn’t have much of a bottom for a funk song but it does swing, and how can you go wrong with a song that opens with the lyrics, “James Brown, Iggy Pop, Jesus Christ and Redd Foxx/I slide uptown to the Broadway sound/Like King Kong, I wanna mess around”?

I don’t know that I have anything to say about Crime I haven’t already said. In 1976 they were doing a better job of carrying on the legacy of the Stooges than Iggy Pop (or anybody else) was, and Murder by Guitar is powerful proof of this fact. If you haven’t heard Crime you should check it out. If you have, you probably already own it.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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