John Cale: Mercenaries (1980)

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(from vinyl, some enjoyale surface noise and pops)
John Cale: Mercenaries (1980)

Born of its political era and John Cale's peculiarly damaged consciousness at the time, this menacing live recording captures an embittered spirit, a rare rage and a grim humour.

As Mikal Gilmore noted in Rolling Stone at the time, the Sabotage/Live album this comes from is "without apology, and more importantly, without ideology, something of a rough and ready homage to the business of war itself".

Cale's mercenary here is more than just a murderer for money, but a man who knows he is going down and so is going to take the whole global shit-house with him: "I'm just another soldier boy, looking for work . . . I did some work in Zaire . . . let's go to Moscow, find the back door to the Kremlin, push it down and walk on in and say 'How dee ya dee do da' . . . "

At the time the headlines were all about the Russian army's expansionist pushes south through Afghanistan and towards Pakistan, the US was on a military footing, pessimism was in the air, and Cale -- a great reader of politics and conspiracy theories as well as grappling with alcoholism and heroin -- filtered the whole threatening, global meltdown through this song recorded live at CBGBs.

On an album of dark visions (even his version of Walking the Dog sounded saturated in heroin), this was one of the most grim and bleak: another Welshman raging against the dying of the light.

Played back to back with Pere Ubu's 30 Seconds Over Tokyo (here) and Riot 111's 1981 (here) you've got the start of a very violent, possibly damaging, mix-tape.

For more one-off or unusual songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults

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