Five Songs for Manly Men (with Beards)

Woo, it’s the long-awaited (by nobody) return of the Five Songs Series. This entry is devoted to manliness.

Okay, when I say manly, I think I should explain what I mean. I’m talking about music that displays a traditionally masculine sensibility, without being oriented towards the dumb young chauvinistic meatheads of the American frat-house variety. Misogyny is not manly. I’m talking about working class gentlemen, old bearded men in smoky pubs downing whiskey, lumberjacks, miners, bareknuckle boxers… You know, ludicrously-romanticised stereotypes of big, hairy, manly men. While I am fairly hairy, I don’t consider myself especially manly. I do however respect that quality, and hear it in a lot of music I listen to.

The guitar is often seen as manly, but your Steve Vais and your Yngwie Malmsteens are playing intricate complex show-off guitar parts that have more in common with knitting than chopping wood. And besides, those “girly-men” probably spend half their time doing up their ridiculous hair. No, that is not manly. Nor are oiled chests and, loincloths and makeup. Manly men hold the guitar like a tree trunk and play it like they’re sawing it down. Manly men have beards and armpit hair. Manly men smell of mastodon musk and wet soil.

So here’s the list, chumps.

Big Business – Cold Lunch

from Mind the Drift (Hydra-Head, 2009)


(note, this is a version from a tour EP that I like less)

Okay, all Big Business songs are pretty manly, featuring as they do the bristly Jared Warren bellowing his deep rounded vocals over the some hard kicking, hard drinking, bar-room brawl tunes. Except less lame than that sounds. Many have said (not true, but they should have) that Big Business are a band who make you want to go out, pick up a shovel and dig. T’is very true.

This particular Big Business song is from their latest release Mind the Drift, in which their bass and drum duo became a power trio with the addition of Toshi Kasai. At first I was wary, but I needn’t have been because the guitars and keyboards tend to be augmentations to the already epic Big Business duo template – lead parts and flourishes that enhance rather than interfere. This song is the perfect example.

The melody is still carried by the beefy pipes of Jarred augmented by some really great harmonies, the lyrics remain quirky as ever, the powerhouse rhythm is still driven by the ever-spectacular drumming of one Coady Willis. What’s happened now, is there’s Toshi’s quirky guitar which sometimes plays with the tune, sometimes against, adding splashes of colour here and there, but never overstepping its boundaries.

This is music that sounds like it was made by burly men with chest hair drinking ale in a log cabin.

Oxbow – Sunday

from Let Me Be a Woman (Brinkman, 1995)

Oxbow are an acquired taste. Singer Eugene is a big black man (which is important only as a point of contrast) who could most definitely beat the shit out of you, whipping his trousers off on stage, screaming and yelping into a microphone with his ears taped over. The man means business.

The band? Well, by comparison they’re diminutive white folks, but the music they make is a strange chimera somewhere between the blues and some underground hard rock scene. It’s angular and jangly, somehow the perfect accompaniment to the strange vocal histrionics of the aforementioned Eugene Robinson (also an accomplished writer and competitive fighter). This is a man who’s mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore. It’s not what he says, it’s the way that he screams it that let you know, you do not fuck with this man.

This song is one of their less experimental, more overtly rocking numbers, and is the epitome of manliness. I’m sure there are female Oxbow fans out there in the world, but they seem few and far between. This is not a band about subtlety or reflection, but pure unbridled outpouring of emotion in some kind of wonderful mass catharsis. This is not so much music about punching as it is music consisting entirely of punching. Jesus, what the fuck am I talking about? Who knows. Oxbow on the other hand…  This band will kick your ass if you let them. And you will thank them afterwards.

Tom Waits – Starving in the Belly of a Whale

from Blood Money (ANTI-, 2002)

Tom Waits’ music is certainly not exclusively enjoyed by men, but at least in latter years a great deal of hit has displayed an extremely manly tone. This song is appropriately manly, featuring that characteristic rough saturated sound of an old bar room band. And that voice, good lords. If you look up manly in a dictionary, there’s a little button, and if you push it a recording of Tom Waits shouting “Agh!” plays.

This whole album is songs from a musical, and on the basis of this evidence, it was about probably working class men, drinking, and ugly horrible tragedy. This song, seems to be all about the depths of drunken despair, but then again, so do half Waits’ songs. Oh well.

Primus – Shake Hands With Beef

from The Brown Album (Interscope, 1997)

A lot of people are down on Primus’ Brown Album, but I love it. It has shades of Tom Waits, and a real sepia-toned 19th century feel. It smells of smoke and tastes of dust and sounds real damn manly. New drummer Brain pares the sound down to a simpler more pounding crunchy style that I find extremely effective. Les’ already chunky bass tone here sounds like the rumbling belly of a hungry bear. Ler’s guitars are suitably fuzzed up and often more prominent than on previous records (though still taking a back seat to the bass). It’s not explicitly a concept album, but it really feels more consistent and themed than any other album.

Shake Hands With Beef has the typical repeating slap bass of Mr. Les Claypool holding it all down, but the bass tone is more growly and grungy than usual, and the new overloud drums and the general roughed-up dirty feel of the album make it one of their manlier sounding moments. The only non Brown Album Primus song I can think of that comes close to this level of manliness is My Name is Mud.

Harvey Milk – Motown

from Life… the Best Game in Town (Hydra-Head, 2008)

This band is so damned manly. This song, is an especially manly song. That killer repeating vocal hook, and the simple kick-ass riffage. This is band that makes up for what it lacks in finesse with ham-fisted honesty. Not that they’re sloppy or lazy, but there’s a palpable sense of having a few drinks and then just grabbing the guitar and going at it. No slick production, no crazy overdubs, just big burly men gently bludgeoning your brain into submission.

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