Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes

Synopsis of Pop Music

“Let me go on, like I blister in the sun,
Let me go on, big hands I know you’re the one.”

Lo-fidelity college radio gods, these Milwaukee, Wisconsin natives may not have sold a bejillion records, but if you grew up in the 80’s and fancied yourself misunderstood or disaffected or romantically stomped upon for even one second (and come on, which one of us didn’t?), you know of the Violent Femmes. Lead singer and guitarist Gordon Gano wrote a lot of the band’s most memorable hits when he was in high school, so it makes sense that they would resonate with us while we tottered through grade twelve. The only difference between him and us is that we didn’t get kicked out of the National Honor Society for singing “Gimme the Car” at one of our school assemblies.

A “femme” was another word for a “wimp,” at least in Milwaukee lingo, and it was a good name for a band both sensitive-sweet and macabre. After being discovered by The Pretenders’ James Honeyman-Scott, the Violent Femmes released their debut, self-titled album on Slash. Bittersweet, angsty hits like “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off” and “Add It Up” were ignored by most mainstream radio stations, but they stuck in the collective youth consciousness for years and helped the record go platinum nearly a decade after it was issued.

1984’s Hallowed Ground was less adolescent, but certainly as edgy. Gano’s Baptist upbringing and dark lyric sensibilities (witnessed on the eerie fable “Country Death Song”), as well as the band’s country/folk leanings, were all evident. Their third record, The Blind Leading the Naked, was produced by the Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, and its single, a cover of T-Rex’s “Children of the Revolution,” was a minor hit. Each of the Femmes went his own way at this point—all releasing solo efforts. In 1989, the trio came back together for 3, and in 1991, the group released Why Do Birds Sing?, which included a cover of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”

De Lorenzo left in 1993 and was replaced by Bo Deans’ drummer Guy Hoffman. A couple of record labels and a couple of albums followed, Viva Wisconsin in 1999 and Freak Magnet in 2000 among them. Breakups, shakeups and mainstream radio apathy may have pushed them down for a bit, but a twenty-year legacy and cult band status doesn’t just disappear into the alternative night.

Artist Release History

1980 - Violent Femmes
1985 - Hallowed Ground
1986 - Blind Leading the Blind
1989 - 3
1991 - Why Do Birds Sing?
1991 - Debacle: The First Decade
1993 - Add It Up: 1981 - 1993
1994 - New Times
1999 - Viva Wisconsin
2000 - Freak Magnet

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Essential Music Albums

Add It Up: 1981 - 1993 (Warner Bros.)

Band Members

Gordon Gano guitar, vocals
Brian Ritchie bass
Victor DeLorenzo drums

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