Suicide's 1977 self-titled debut album turns 45 – Far Out Magazine

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It has now been 45 years since Suicide released their self-titled debut album in 1977. The record was an undoubted hit in the UK but failed to make an initial impression in the band’s native United States. However, since its release, it has been reappraised as a classic in the strange hybrid genre that Suicide occupy: electronic punk-rock.
Producer Marty Thau had signed Suicide to his Red Star Records label after hearing a demo tape and catching the group live, and he subsequently brought in Craig Leon to co-produce the record. Suicide were ready to go on the record and had written most of its content, having played the songs live for the previous five years.
Sonically, much of the album consists of a tense electronic punk sound, although Alan Vega’s love for rock and roll is undeniable. Take, for instance, the album’s second song ‘Rocket USA’ where the tension is undeniably palpable. Vega’s vocals are instantly reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s most introspective moments, and in this light, you can hear how Suicide influenced the bands that proceeded them, for instance, Liverpool’s Echo and the Bunnymen.
That rock and roll influence is also evident on Suicide’s opener ‘Ghost Rider’, where the persistent guitar riff is almost Elvis Presley-like in its simplicity, as are Vega’s vocals. In fact, it was in 2012 that Vega said: “Originally I was a rock ‘n’ roll kid; I was born into the rock’n’roll era of 45s in the late fifties. […] Elvis Presley, to me, is like God, and Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, they’re my triumvirate.”
Lyrically, a number of the songs concern the lower end of American society. Martin Rev once explained that ‘Cheree’, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ and ‘Johnny’ are all about “street people”. In fact, ‘Frankie Teardrop’ had been inspired by a newspaper story that Alan Vega read about a factory worker who murdered his wife and child and committed suicide after he lost his job. Vega made up the lyrics on the spot after trying to get into the mindset of the worker.
That Doors influence shines through elsewhere on the record, too, such as on ‘Girl’, where a Ray Manzarek-style keyboard part relieves the pressure of Alan Vega’s Jim Morrison-esque yearning to be turned on and touched. Arriving just six years after the legendary singer’s death, Vega certainly took on the mantle of music’s most lustful figure.
As for the album’s legacy, it was influential in a number of different genres, such as post-punk, synth-pop and even industrial rock. Black Flag’s Henry Rollins later described ‘Frankie Teardrop’ as “the single most intense song I’ve heard in my life”, and ‘intensity’ is certainly the keyword when it comes to the record’s sound. In this light, perhaps it could be argued that Nine Inch Nails took the sound of Suicide’s debut and took it to the limit on their second studio album, The Downward Spiral
1977’s Suicide is simply one of the most influential records of the decade, so why not celebrate its 45th anniversary by listening to it once again below? And check out our ranking of all the Suicide albums here.
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