Song of the Week – That’s When I Reach For My Revolver, Mission of Burma

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This post was originally mailed to my distribution list on October 11th.

Mission of Burma is one of my favorite Boston bands. (Those of you that have been following the SotW for a while have probably noticed that I write about Boston bands a lot… maybe too much.)

The band formed in 1979 when I was still a post grad DJ at WZBC (Boston College’s radio station). We were giving air time to many of the great local bands (Human Sexual Response, The Neighborhoods, etc.) a little ahead of the commercial stations in the city. That was the niche we were cultivating thanks in large part to people like Herb Scannell (GM) who later went on to a very successful career in the television media and Dave Herlihy who coined the station s “No Commercial Potential” tag line (and was a founder of the band O Positive). But I digress.

MoB consisted of Roger Miller (guitar), Clint Conley (bass) and Peter Prescott (drums). They also would sometimes call on Martin Swope who would work some magic as a sound shaper by manipulating tape recordings. The band only managed to stay together for 4 years and recorded one single, one EP (Signals, Call and Marches), and one proper album, (Vs). This entire output was compiled into a CD titled simply Mission of Burma.

The SotW is “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver”, written and sung by Conley and original on the Signals… EP.

Bill Janovitz wrote a great description of the song at Allmusic.com:

The Mission of Burma original version of “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” opens with a flatly recorded, ringing bass minor-chord line that forms the core of the arrangement. A chiming guitar enters soon after mimicking the hook. The flatness and the minor key portends gloom. The starkly poetic lyrics do not betray this mood; they suggest an alienated man who has reached his limits and who explodes on the chorus, “that’s when I reach for my revolver/that’s when it all gets blown away.”

The songs arrangement and use of “soft/loud” dynamics provide the clues necessary to connect the dots from MoB to Husker Du to The Pixies to Nirvana. Clint Conley’s ranting vocal may even serve as the template for the hardcore vocal style to develop later, but they’re not quite as harsh.

And, at about 2:25, the song busts into one of the coolest bass solos since John Entwistle’s freak out on “My Generation.”

If you want to learn more about the band, try to find a copy of the documentary Not a Photograph: The Mission of Burma Story (2006) on DVD or to stream.

Enjoy… until next week.

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