"Machine Gun Blues"

by Social Distortion

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(Epitaph)

At this point, no one thinks of Social Distortion in terms of their first few years as a hardcore band; history has made that period a mere preamble. As the band abandoned its vices and adopted a thoroughgoing professionalism, it has stuck with a very particular, instantly recognizable sound: Leader Mike Ness's droning yowl chews on long vowels over grinding guitars and a beat so steady, single-minded, and unvaryingly midtempo that it makes Neil Young and Crazy Horse sound like they're playing calypso.

Social Distortion aren't an archetype so much as a perennial. That's partly because Ness has become the patron saint for a certain kind of rockabilly-punk sensibility—vintage cars and clothes, the blunt acceptance of a hard life, formalism as its own reward, hit Johnny Cash cover (a terrific "Ring of Fire"). If you're earthy with arty tendencies, he's eminently relatable; in outline, he probably resembles more guys I've known than any rock star other than James Murphy.

Ness is self-knowing as well as single-minded; hats off to him for keeping Social Distortion's 2007 best-of CD to 11 songs, rendering it perfect. "Machine Gun Blues" would fit right on it. "I'm already gone," Ness wails, his voice as much a wall of sound as the guitars. There's a nagging quality to the way he holds those notes, to how the instruments hew strictly to a very particular pace and volume. It's a stance: arms crossed, not budging, stubbornly continuing to be in the world on its own terms. Social Distortion don't make records all the time, and maybe that's why it still works.

"Walk This Way"

by Steven Tyler, Jimmy Fallon, and the Roots

(Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jan 18, NBC)

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Dressed like Run-D.M.C.—unlaced Adidas, hoodies with logos—Fallon and Black Thought joined Tyler for a relaxed run through his greatest hit, doing the video's choreography. It completed a circle. Aerosmith's hard-rock original was a midsize hit, not a big one; it took the rap version to turn it into a standard. Tyler always had an instinct for showbiz corn, and that collaboration's success set in motion a second career that now culminates with his new job as an American Idol judge, which he was doing Fallon to promote. The difference between him and his copanelists is that while on his way to the great schmooze in the sky, he once helped change the world for the better.

Social Distortion play Fri–Sun Feb 11–13 at Showbox Sodo.

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