Today is Memorial Day, and Rocks Off would like to honor our brave and beloved dead as we honor everything - through music. At no time in American history have there not been men and women in life-threatening danger trying to protect us, whether it was a declared war or not. This is a sacrifice we cannot hold lightly. These five songs, in no particular order, go out to the fallen. Guadalcanal Diary, "Trail of Tears" Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man (Elektra, 1984) In a just world, Guadalcanal Diary would have the same reputation that their Athens, Ga., contemporaries R.E.M. and the B-52s do. Instead, they quietly faded away with the death of the rise of college radio, although singer Murray Attaway's solo record In ThralI is without a doubt one of the greatest alternative albums of all time that you've never heard of. The band was obsessed with Civil War legends and imagery, and opened their 1984 album Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man with "Trail of Tears," a tribute to the death of those lost in the fighting and the grief of the widows left behind. Anton Szandor Lavey, "Hello, Central. Give Me No Man's Land" Satan Takes a Holiday (Amarilllo/Reptilian, 1995) Tony is best known for starting the Church of Satan, but he was also a highly accomplished pianist, organist and carnival calliope player. He rarely composed, but put out a fantastic album of well-known, dark-flavored hits called Satan Takes a Holiday in 1995. One is "Hello, Central. Give Me No Man's Land." Composed in 1918 by Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, and Jean Scwartz, the song is about a child trying to use the relatively new, and somewhat magical, invention of the telephone to try and talk to his father, who has been killed in the trenches of World War I.
The Doors, "The Unknown Soldier" Waiting for the Sun (Elektra/Asylum, 1968) Named for the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery where U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will lay a wreath this Memorial Day, "The Unknown Soldier" is one of the most famous anti-war songs from one of the greatest period of anti-war music in American history. The Doors were and remain symbols of the fight against a violent worldview, and used the song to stage mock-executions of singer Jim Morrison onstage, only for the Lizard King to rise again in celebration screaming that the war is was over. Never has a song more perfectly summed up a hatred of conflict, but a reverence for those who fight on our behalf.
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Iron Maiden, "The Trooper" Piece of Mind (EMI, 1983) Yes, Maiden is English, but so were the people who died to start this country, so we're counting it. Maiden is known for their eclectic reading taste and love of history. Rocks Off has always felt that each Maiden album should come with a reading list. "The Trooper" is from the band's 1983 album Piece of Mind, and was at least partially inspired by the famous poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Its historical basis however was 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War fought by the British and the French against Russia. The Light Brigade was a force led by Lord Cardigan, which suffered a loss of two-thirds of their men in a courageous effort to capture the wrong set of enemy guns. While Cardigan was initially heralded as a hero, the shocking loss of life, recklessness of the charge, and futility of the act at all, has landed him in his rightful place in military history as an asshat. "The Trooper" tells the story through the eyes of one of the slain.
Grace Jones, "Let Joy and Innocence Prevail" Toys Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Geffen, 1992) Until this point, all these songs have dealt with the fallen, but frankly, we just can't leave you with that. The 1992 Robin Williams film Toys is one of those movies that just never got the credit for its genius it deserved. The film is about the struggle between two owners of a toy factory, one who wishes to make toys for military use, and one who wished to preserve the company's history of whimsy and hope. Included in the film's amazing soundtrack is a song called "Let Joy and Innocence Prevail" by Grace Jones. The song tells the story of a woman whose husband is a Captain of a Calvary who waits for his return. Its place in this list would have her husband never return to her, but instead a messenger arrives to tell her how he lies wounded, and calls for her. She leaves on a dangerous journey to the fighting, where she is certain her love will heal his wounds. Though the end is left open, Rocks Off has never failed in our hope that somewhere there's a flag that wasn't folded into a tight triangle because the love of someone for a soldier was stronger than the bullets of hate. To die fighting for peace is a noble thing. To live to see it, that's better by far. Be careful, guys. And come home safe.