Certain Songs #799: John Cale – “Gun”

Album: Fear
Year: 1974

There might have been a Pete Frame family tree for all of this, but in the early to mid-1970s there was a cabal of mostly U.K. art rockers who played on each others albums in ever-changing configurations.

Some of the collaborations are famous: Brian Eno & David Bowie grabbing Robert Fripp to play on “Heroes,” or Bowie producing Lou Reed’s Transformer (and bringing Mick Ronson along for the ride).

But some are more obscure: for example, Steve Howe & Rick Wakeman from Yes play on Lou Reed’s first solo album, and the core musicians for Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain and John Cale’s Fear are practically the same: Eno, Phil Manzanera & drummer Fred (or Freddie) Smith.

And while Cale didn’t play on Taking Tiger Mountain, he figured in the follow-up, Another Green World. And so it went.

While I’ve never found what I’ve heard from Cale’s solo albums to be as compelling as Eno’s, (and I’m guessing that I should probably revisit them, cos it’s been years) I’ve always loved the centerpiece of 1974’s Fear, the bouncy, chipper “Gun.”

Over a rhythm guitar pulse that could have been on Taking Tiger Mountain, or even Cale’s most-famous band, he sings a grisly tale of murder that always circles back to the gruesomely catchy chorus:

When you’ve begun to think like a gun
The rest of the year has already gone
When you’ve begun to think like a gun
The days of the year have suddenly gone

The centerpiece of “Gun,” however, isn’t so much the words or the melody, but rather multiple guitar freakouts by Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, which gets added frisson by Eno, who ran Manzanera’s guitar through his synth and added effects in real time, doubling down on the weirdness.

With the guitar getting ever more frenetic and spastic, and Fred Smith’s relentless drumming, “Gun” dares you to look away from the murder scene its evoking, but there’s no way you’re going to.

“Gun”

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