HENRY COW/SLAPP HAPPY – “War” (from the album In Praise Of Learning)
THE FALL – “War” (from the 12″ Behind The Counter)
Critics as famous as Greil Marcus and Nik Cohn and as minor as me love to talk about pop music as mythic: at its best this stance can be genuinely insightful (Cohn and Peelaert’s Rock Dreams has more perceptual flash in its illustrations and captions than a hundred thousand pages of historicised hackwork), at its worst it gets used to justify, um, Herculaean solo-ing. But “War” seems to be that rare thing, an attempt to actually write or sing a myth itself, using rock as the form. Peter Blegvad’s literate lyrics begin like this: “Tell of the birth! Tell how War appeared on Earth!” and then go on to describe the scenes of tumult and carnage that accompany the coming of said sinister force.

Sung by Dagmar Krause, “War” wishes it was the 30s, has one eye always on leftist intellectual Weimar cabaret. Krause – and the band for that matter – manage the faintly distasteful trick of hamming the song up something rotten while still remaining intimidatingly stern. There is one stunning musical moment – after Krause cries “split the egg and War was born!” (a lyric sadly rendered less impressive to post-70s popculture brats by its resemblance to the theme from Monkey!) there’s a marvellous and unexpected bit of blasted-heath avant-guitar scree from, I assume, Henry Kaiser*, which is the kind of lyric/music interface that made Kitchens Of Distinction’s “Third Time They Opened The Capsule” so very striking.

Anyway, I think I was spoiled for Cow’s “War” by The Fall’s 1993 version, which takes the bones and lyrics of the song and turns them into a vicious, mechanoid and unflinching art-rocker. Recorded at a time when Eastern Europe was sliding frighteningly into conflict, The Fall’s “War” seemed timely and honest. Smith’s singing is just as theatrical as Krause’s, but his brand of theatre is more confrontational and hostile than hers aims at, and more effective. Their best song of the last decade.

(I’m grateful to Josh for Henry Cow’s version: in return he gets another link, which in fairness he also asked for, the tart. Another blog which asked is Jon Hill’s Avenue, which I was going to link to anyway, honest. Jon promises music content. They both asked for it on Blue Lines, but frankly more people read this. Neither blog has yet linked to any sites about breasts, a rare display of restraint in an increasingly smutty world.)

*I assume wrong. It’s Fred Frith. Ta Josh.