Song of the Week – That’s the Reason & Holy War, Willie Nile

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I’ve been writing the SotW for over 5 ½ years now and have been thinking about selecting a song from Willie Nile’s self titled debut for most of that time. I just never got around to it until today. So why now? The main reason is that he’s reentered my consciousness since he released a new album, American Ride, a few months ago that I’ve been listening to a whole lot. It is very good. Not just for an old timer – it’s good compared to anything currently released! So I’ll include a song from the new album too.

Who is Willie Nile you ask? The New York based Nile first came to my attention when his first album was released in 1980. I heard about it because a Boston based guitarist that I followed, Peter Hoffman, was on the record. Hoffman was also the lead guitarist in Heidi & The Secret Admirers – a band that had a loyal following at Boston’s Elliott Lounge at the time.

Another point of interest for me was that Nile’s band also included Jay Dee Daugherty, the powerful drummer in Patti Smith’s band.

So I gave the Nile record a listen and it turned out to be pretty damned good. The album got very good reviews despite nonexistent promotional support from Arista records.

Nile has a knack for wordplay and storytelling that caused early reviewers to compare him to Dylan and Springsteen. Wikipedia reports: “The New York Times, rock critic Robert Palmer wrote of Nile; ‘Every once in awhile the times seems to produce an artist who is at once an iconoclast and near-perfect expression of contemporary currents. He is one of the best singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in a long time.’” Nice!

His music is very good too. Sometimes it comes on with a force that could measure up to The Clash and at other times is reminiscent of the early rock & roll of Buddy Holly.

In fact the first SotW is “That’s the Reason” the most Holly like song on the album.

But let’s not forget about the new album. You should really listen to the whole thing (several times) on Spotify. It’s a terrific set of rock & roll.

Sometimes picking one song from such a good album is very difficult for me. But choosing a song is easy this week. The news has been filled with 9/11 anniversary remembrances and debate about Syria, terrorists and dysfunction in much of the Middle East. Nile’s new album has an interestingly timely song called “Holy War.”

The song opens with a riff that’s a cross between ELO’s “Fire on High” and Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” The lyrics are somewhat simplistic, but they’re so catchy that you have to love them.

God is great but you’re not
You took dead aim, you fired the shot
Killed my brother, thanks a lot
God is great, you’re not.

Nile’s singing voice isn’t the best, but there’s something about his phrasing that often reminds me of The Clash’s Joe Strummer. And it works well to convey his passion.

I was fortunate to see Nile in the Paradise Club in Boston in 1980. At the time I was going through a photography phase and got a bunch of very nice b&w shots of Nile and the band. Unfortunately they’ve long been misplaced.

Enjoy… until next week.

One thought on “Song of the Week – That’s the Reason & Holy War, Willie Nile

  1. Nile was part of a very vibrant singer-songwriter rock scene that centered around Kenny’s Castaways on Bleecker Street in the late 70s. There was amazing music at clubs all around New York at that time, but Kenny’s was where my friends and I often hung out. I remember Willie as a fine songwriter we saw play from time to time, but didn’t know about his storied and persistent history since.

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