Gang of Four are one of the most seminal bands to emerge from the late seventies post punk movement who first formed in Leeds in 1976. The original line-up consisted of vocalist Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill who died earlier this year, bassist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. There have been several different line-ups since, with several notable musicians having joined the ranks. They first split up in 1984 before getting back together again in 1987 after which they recorded two albums before splitting up again in 1997. The original line-up reformed in 2004 and they continued on despite members leaving once again. Gill became the band’s only sole member, and his death marked the end of the band’s career in 2020.
The band were known for their heavy funk influence as well as their highly political lyrics. They are considered to be one of the key bands of the post-punk era. Their debut album Entertainment is one of the greatest British alternative rock albums of all time. After this album they became more musically accessible, abandoning the distorted guitar sound of the first record and moving more into dance-pop territory. Having influenced many bands from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Nirvana, let us look at their top ten greatest songs…
# 10 – Anthrax
Taken from Entertainment, “Anthrax” is a classic piece of distorted noise, it is one of the tracks on the record that uses the political themes found throughout it to challenge the concept of love and love songs. There are two versions of the song, the version on the album and “Love Like Anthrax” from the Damaged Goods ep, which is arguably a superior version, sounding much more distorted and generally has a lot more twisted power to it.
# 9 – Is It Love?
Taken from 1983’s Hard, this track see’s the band moving with the times having embraced a much more electronic dance-rock sound. The progression of the band is shown through the fact that this track, as well as several others on the album contains two female backing vocalists. They were branching off musically here, as this track is easily the band at their most melodic and commercially accessible.
# 8 – He’d Send in the Army
From second album, 1981’s Solid Gold is track that was re-recorded for the album, having previously been released as a single. This album is another highly acclaimed album that very much continues with the challenging sound of Entertainment and expands upon it. The general sound of the album is very much early non-commercial sounding Gang of Four, featuring some very twisted guitar sounds. It charted on the Billboard Pop Albums at 190.
# 7 – I Party All the Time
This track is taken from 2011’s Content album. This album was the last to feature Jon King on vocals. By this point, he and Gill were the only original members left, with the drum stool being filled by Mark Heaney and Thomas MacNeice handling bass duties. This track sees the band updating their sound for modern times, with this track having something of a heavier funk-rock vibe which could be compared to bands such as Queens of the Stone Age and Muse.
# 6 – Tattoo
This is the opening track from 1995’s Shrink-wrapped which features King, Gill and a variety of other musicians playing on different tracks. The great thing about Gang of Four is that they have always reinvented their sound to stay relevant throughout the different eras in which they have existed. Here, they have embraced the lo-fi sound that was a developing style during the ninety’s era, with it being reminiscent of bands such as the Jesus and Mary Chain.
# 5 – Soul Rebel
Up next is this very unorthodox Bob Marley cover taken from 1991’s Mall album. This album was recorded after King and Gill got together to form their own new version of the band after they had originally broke up seven years previously. The album saw the group’s funk sound return to the forefront which was mixed in with much heavy use of synths. Lyrically, it also saw the band return to political subject matter.
# 4 – I Love a Man in Uniform
This track is from the band’s third album Songs of the Free released in 1982. This record marked the debut of Sara Lee on bass who replaced Dave Allen. This song is a prime example of how with this album, the band were going in a vastly different synth-based direction that was more commercially accessible. It was released as a single off the album, where it reached number twenty-seven on the US Billboard and sixty-five on the Uk Singles Chart.
# 3 – Alpha Male
Here we have a track from the band’s final album Happy Now released in 2019. This was the band’s final album after the band was put to rest due to Gill’s death in early 2020. By this point, Gill was the only original member and was also now handling vocal duties and was essentially the only official member, having several other musicians playing different instruments on various tracks. This once again sees the band going in a different direction, having a sound reminiscent of bands such as Air and Beck.
# 2 – England’s In My Bones
This track featuring guest vocals from Alison Moshart from The Kills is taken from 2015’s What Happens Next which was the first album after Jon King’s departure and featured John Sterry as the main vocalist. Once again, the album sound departs from that of previous records, having something of industrial sound, almost resembling a less heavy Nine Inch Nails. It received mixed reviews from critics upon its release.
# 1 – Damaged Goods
And here at the number one spot on our top 10 Gang Of Four Songs list we go all the way back to Entertainment with this track which was cast as their debut single. Along with the aforementioned “Love Like Anthrax” the song was re-recorded to be included on the album. The song is one of the all-time greatest post-punk tracks with Dave Allen’s bass line being a particularly celebrated highlight. It was a big hit at the time of its release, both critically and commercially.
Top 10 Gang Of Four Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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