Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series “Spooktober Edition,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore tunes from the 60’s to today. Enjoy the trip! 🎃
One of, if not “The” most disturbing 10 minute recorded songs of destitution and insanity that culminates in total tragedy, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ is considered by many to be one of the most disturbing songs ever made, with High Fidelity writer Nick Hornby famously describing it as ‘a song you only want to hear once’.
Complete with jarring synth loops from Martin Rev and and Alan Vega’s twisted, contorted vocal performance, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ sees the electro-punk pioneers at their most insidious, and more than 40 years since its release, it still sounds just as ghastly.
Dominating most of the album’s second side, “Frankie Teardrop” is the dark, pulsating heart of Suicide’s self-titled debut of 1977, the most extreme statement on a record many listeners already found too extreme. With Alan Vega delivering lyrics like cut-ups from a Pop Art catalogue in his rockabilly hiccup, and Martin Rev sculpting droning washes of future-noise and bubblegum echoes from cheap keyboards and rudimentary rhythm machines that sounded like they were about to catch fire, Suicide sounded like nothing on Earth.
Formed in New York City in 1969 from a background of avant-garde jazz (Rev) and visual art (Vega), they were against the grain from the first. Their early shows were as much confrontational performance art as music performance, Vega attacking the walls of venues with a bike chain, when he wasn’t himself being attacked by the audience.
In retrospect, their two-guys-and-some-machines set-up drafted the analogue blueprint for music’s digital future, but at the time people reacted as though they were assaulting the very spirit of rock and roll. “We were breaking a lot of sacred rules,” says Rev today. “The amount of people in a group; the instrumentation; the theatre of it. And, of course, the fact we were called Suicide.”
“Frankie Teardrop,” though, was the song that sent people over the edge. A hissing, two-note, proto-industrial nightmare of hypnotic monotony, punctuated by Vega screaming like a man with thorns in his soul, it’s the ten-minute-plus tale of a 20-year-old factory worker who can’t afford to feed his family, cracks up, and kills them and himself: Bob Dylan’s “Hollis Brown”, reimagined by Travis Bickle.
“Yeah,” says Vega. “It got the reaction it was supposed to get. Frankie, Frankie…”
Suicide: Frankie Teardrop. Album: Suicide Released 1977