The Oh’s: Top Whatever (Pt 3): Permission to Land

I can’t believe it, but I can’t deny it: one of my favourite records of the entire decade was the Spinal Tap-py, refreshing heavy rock throwback first record by The Darkness. I loved it from the first hearing, and loved it proudly, but didn’t expect that of all the records that I dug during the Oh’s, this would stay fresh for me.

I like trying to figure out how taste works, especially how early musical experiences influence later preferences – and Permission To Land was a case study in those ideas. Melodic heavy rock was my preference during my early teens, and that style can still hit me right in the guts. I was big into Sammy Hagar when I was 13, 14 – and April Wine, Journey, and Styx were quite formative, for better or worse. I got bored and left the whole thing behind when it became the shrillish hair metal of the mid to late 80’s, but I’m still captured by those old sounds. Matthew Sweet dug it back up – Sick of Myself etc – and Nirvana, the Weakerthans, the Soft Boys, all harken back to that for me. It’s comfort food for my ears.

Nevermind that the Darkness were high-larious. The first exposure I had was the video for I Believe In a Thing Called Love, which was set in a UFO. I was shocked by the yummy riff, pulled in by the arch, almost ridiculous falsetto vocals, and sold when the solo was intro’d by a yelped “Gee-Tah!” I bought the record the next day and then played it for weeks. Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman (“mothafuckah!”) made me howl. The Buffyish scary story of a giant devil-dog called Black Shuck (“that dog don’t give a fuck!”), the boasting and revelling heroin anthem Givin’ Up (“giving a fuck”), and the title alone of Love On the Rocks (With No Ice), all killed me. The early 80s radio song Friday Night is a great formalist experiment in pop writing – the chorus “Dancing on a Friday night” wouldn’t work if it wasn’t a punchline to a list of lame afterschool activities for unpopular kids.

Monday cycling, Tuesday gymnastics,
Dancing on a Friday night
I got Bridge Club on Wednesday, Archery on Thursday
Dancing on a Friday night

And the music around these fine and funny song ideas is a really, really great tribute to a sound I rarely hear anymore. It sends me back to Billy Squire, to ACDC, to 38 Special; to the little receiver my parents gave me when I was 10 or 11 and the local AM station it picked up. It’s ridiculous but earnest music that could only be played by people in leather pants, standing shirtless in an arena pose, devil signs in the air above them like skinny Ozzy fans. I love it.

The second record by The Darkness was a sort of ode to Queen, well carried out – but I didn’t care. This one was all the Darkness I needed this decade. And of course, they couldn’t maintain the thing: after two records and some real success, the singer went down in a rehab blaze out, the band continued with the bass player singing, and while I haven’t bothered to check, I’m sure they’re over. That’s part of the story – a requirement of the Secret Devil Sign fraternity.

Heavy Metal has always been its own parody (the secret to the brilliance of Spinal Tap and the success of its unacknowledged pomo sequel The Osbournes). The only way to do it is to really do it. Done well, it keeps its tongue in its cheek and a cucumber down its pants. It never winks, because it never stops winking.

Here’s a couple of the reasons this record is near the top of this list. First, the video that slayed me:

and its sequel:

And because I want you to hear it, and found this remarkable video, here’s Givin’ Up:


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