REDUX: Those First Impressions – Wall Of Voodoo EP

August 2, 2012

Index/I.R.S. Records | US | EP | 1980 | SP 70401

Wall Of Voodoo: Wall Of Voodoo US EP [1980]

  1. Longarm
  2. The Passenger
  3. Can’t Make Love
  4. Struggle
  5. Ring Of Fire
  6. Granma’s House

This morning I was listening to Stan Ridgeway’s first solo album, and it got me thinking about how I first encountered his music back in 1980. It was a Friday evening and I was holding the antenna to my stereo so that I could boost its gain enough to receive the undoubtedly paltry signal of WUSF-FM, the student radio station at the University of South Florida in Tampa all of 90 miles away from Orlando. Friday nights were the New Wave ghetto and since jiggling with the analog dial [good luck tuning in a signal you weren’t “supposed” to receive today with your digital phase lock loop claptrap!] and coming across the program one evening, I made it a point to listen each Friday from 9 PM to 12 AM as WUSF spun musical gold.

One evening, while airchecking, I heard Wall Of Voodoo’s brain-melting cover of the classic Johnny Cash tune “Ring Of Fire.” This heavy deconstruction of the song was based around a throbbing, industrial organ riff that was probably looped in an AMS digital delay unit while Marc Moreland’s guitar explored whole new realms of menacing feedback. Ridgeway added his dry, voiceover-influenced vocal over the top of it. Flat out, this was the most powerful cover version I’d heard at the time, and 32 years later, when considering what makes a classic cover version, this song is still the first thing to spring up in my mind.

I immediately hit the store [Record Mart Warehouse in Orange Blossom Center] and found a copy for sale within days. It was the fall of 1980 and it was a time of 12″ EPs by New Wave acts hitting the stores with 4-6 tracks and a $5.98 list price attempting to tempt virgin ears with the lure of low price since no commercial radio stations were touching this music with a 20 foot pole. Side one began with “Longarm,” a post-industrial folk song that, like all of Wall Of Voodoo’s early music, was built around chugging rhythm boxes abetted by human percussionist Joe Nanini. Ridgeway offered business-speak clichés as lyrics.

“The Passenger” follows and it’s an urgent, twitchy number that sounds as if the band took the idea of writing a song from the point of view of the mad bomber from the movie “Airport.” Ridgeway’s vocals are taut to the point of nearly shattering. Side one ends at this point after an unlisted instrumental coda.

In the “sweet spot” at side two, track one is “Can’t Make Love,” as Ridgeway channels a protagonist who fails to connect with females in the city “because the girls, say I will use them.” The song is fatally symmetrical in that the verses continue after the bridge with the genders of the song reversed so that the put upon singer equally fails to connect with boys. The tension never released in the song as Ridgeway flatly intones “I’m a nice guy but I don’t love you, I just wanna sleep with you.” The existential problem in a nutshell.

Next is one of the musical instro interludes on the disc that probably date back a few years when Ridgeway and Nanini first teamed up to become Acme Soundtracks and score commercial film and video projects. The WOV ethos is concentrated to its musical essence on this track which features fast tempo canned rhythm boxes firing asynchronously as ominous synth chords add anxiety to the track. Then the air bubbles intercut with a woman’s gasping heighten the cut’s fevered intensity. Listening to a track like this, it’s easy to see how they arrived at a moniker like Wall Of Voodoo.

Just when it can’t get any more tense and claustrophobic, the grinding organ chords of “Ring Of Fire” announce their arrival for a relief of tension over the duration of the sprawling track. The last track is a brief instro snippet called “Granma’s House” which features a return to more agitated themes as a methodical, plodding rhythm box and a wailing tritone synthesizer vie with the ultimate in sonic signifiers of anxiety; a ringing, unanswered telephone.

This record made me an instant fan of their dry, nervous approach. I put their version of “Ring Of Fire” on many mix tapes that I was asked to make since it was an amazing piece of work that everyone should have heard! I made certain to buy each subsequent Wall Of Voodoo album, but the group only managed to release two more before Ridgeway split for that lucrative solo career. I have his first three [easy to buy] albums but owe it to myself to track down the rest of his oeuvre one day since his Ennio Morricone meets Raymond Chandler ethos works like a fiend for me.

One unique factor about this record was that the mastering was cut brilliantly loud. With 8-10 minutes per side at 33 r.p.m., whoever mastered this did a fantastic job of making sure all of the dB available was lovingly poured into the wax without any peril of groove jumping. You put this record on and you know you’re in the room with some serious sound. I got the Rykodisc DLX RM CD of this title some years back and there is no comparison as to which sounds preferable. The CD is polite and emaciated, but this record… this is the kind of record that you can play and believe that vinyl can easily wipe the floor with digital audio. Of course, that 8-10 minutes per side is key.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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11 Responses to REDUX: Those First Impressions – Wall Of Voodoo EP

  1. Echorich says:

    An apt post for an All American day! That debut Wall Of Voodoo albums is a product of the golden waters of the very early years of New Wave and Post Punk.


    • Tim says:

      They certainly nail a distinctly American infused stream-of-consciousness on “Call of the West.”


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Plus they took “Ring Of Fire” to new heights? What could be more American than transforming a Johnny Cash classic? Right now I’m reading Robert Hilburn’s “Johnny Cash: The Life.” Cash was one messed up dude. June Carter wasn’t far behind. More Johnny Cash [and Cabaret Voltaire] on Monday…


  2. Simon H says:

    Love Wall of Voodoo, both Stan and Andy eras…I’ve thought for a long time that they are under-appreciated. A totally unique sound, never really replicated. Stan has made some excellent solo albums too, Mosquitos is great from start to finish. Agree re the anaemic sound on the Cd sadly.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – I never really heard anything from the Andy Prieboy era apart from “Far Side Of Crazy” and their cover of “Do It Again.” I will admit that I thought that “Far Side Of Crazy” was a very slick, widescreen number that cooked like a fiend. Miles away from the Stan R. era but enjoyably for its own reasons. I prefer the Stan Ridgeway solo albums to the full WOV albums. My favorite is “The Big Heat.” Almost every song on there is a classic to me, but I have the first three and enjoy them all to varying degrees. I need to heard anything that came later than that, but they were all tough albums to find.


  3. zoo says:

    Monk, as a current resident of the Tampa Bay area, I have to point out that FSU is in Tallahassee. USF is in Tampa. I’m sure you knew that. WUSF nowadays is all classical, jazz, and NPR. The jazz show, if you you’re into such things, is top notch and airs from 11 PM to 6 AM every weekday.

    Love Call of the West, but never heard this EP. I also have Dark Continent in the vinyl collection but can’t remember anything about it. I suppose that means I should take it out for a spin.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – Thanks for the direction re: USF/FSU! I always confused those two Universities! If you’ve not heard this EP, it’s the WOV bomb! I think it’s way more potent than the two IRS albums were; as good as they are! The Ryko CD is packed with previously unreleased live cuts; all worthwhile.


      • Zach says:

        I absolutely adore Wall of Voodoo! To me they’re one of the best American bands of their time, nay, any era! The Ring of Fire cover is a master course* on how to completely reinvent and make something completely new out of an old standard. Marc Moreland’s guitar solos are just brilliant on RoF, especially how he transitions from his spaghetti Western trademark to atonal industrial churning that sounds like Eugene Chadbourne’s electric rake. The 2 instrumentals make eerie bookends wrapped around RoF. Granma’s House especially ends the EP on a strong note with a desolate ambience that would have made an excellent concert closer for the band leaving the stage.

        The Index Masters is worth picking up for the Riverside, CA show and the liner notes (2 WoV reviews from the LA Weekly around 1979-90). The concert has killer live renditions of Animal Day (superior to the album recording, IMHO), Tomorrow, and Longarm, along with a terrific Ennio Morricone themes medley and some songs that were never recorded in the studio.

        PPM, I understand and respect your wishes for not joining the beast that is Facebook. That said, I hope you won’t mind me sharing a link to the WoV group I run, in case any other readers are interested in joining. I just connected with original WoV bassist Bruce Moreland on FB and have added him as a member. We have 68 members now, along with lots of content (show flyers, concert/album reviews, old TV interviews, etc.) and friendly, informative conversations.

        *Other post-punk/new wave covers that fit this bill: Devo’s and The Residents’ subversions of Satisfaction, The Flying Lizards’ deconstructions of Money and Summertime Blues, The Slits’ groovy take on I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Oingo Boingo’s bouncy madcap version of You Really Got Me, Fred Frith’s minimalist instrumental of Dancing in the Street, Snakefinger’s sinister interpretation of The Model, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s camp and far superior reading of Born to Run, Love and Rockets’ harsher dancefloor take on Ball of Confusion, and Lene Lovich’s peppy update on I Think We’re Alone Now.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Zach – Sorry I’m just getting back to this! Your footnote contains so many classic that I have in my Record Cell, but the Residents and Fred Frith tunes are conspicuous in their absence. And for the record, I thought that “Born To Run” was camp from the get-go.


  4. Like most people, I heard “Mexican Radio” and “Ring of Fire” as some of my first exposure to WOV, but I do remember hearing “Longarm” about the same time and noting that this band had something more than just a one-or-two hit career going.

    It wasn’t until “Index Masters” came out in 1991 that I got to hear all of their early work, and man I loved that CD!

    This is a band that should issue a Ridgeway-era spanning box set. I would snap that up in a heartbeat.

    I’m less familiar with the Prieboy era, but I absolutely love both the song and video for “Do It Again.” Need to dig deeper on that stuff too. Great band.


  5. Simon H says:

    Two box sets would be great! There are some decent sounding Australian reissues of both eras plus Stan’s Mosquitos. Far Side was a hit in Oz so there seems more demand. I’ll admit to having passed to the zone of total fan with them but still believe the Andy era genuinely has a lot going for it, the live album is great (Ugly Americans) one of the few live albums that features booing…! Saw them live a couple of times with Andy and they were flat out great. Re the Index Masters cd, I have the Restless version plus the Ryko, just noticed different mastering credits, the earlier version involved JIm Hill who engineered the original 12 inch, will see if there’s any difference.


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