“Afro” is a swaggering beast of a tune, the opening track from the Blues Explosion’s breakthrough first album on Matador, “Extra Width”. After the dissolution of legendary trash noise provocateurs Pussy Galore in 1990, Jon Spencer formed the Blues Explosion with fellow guitarist Judah Bauer and hulking drummer Russell Simins. Various singles and a couple of low key albums followed before the Blues Explosion signed to the venerable Matador label in late 1992.
Recorded while they also continued to hone their phenomenal live act featuring Jon Spencer as an increasingly electric Elvis and James Brown indebted electric front man, “Extra Width” was released in June 1993. I can remember loving “Extra Width” from the get go; a fabulously raw, struttingly exciting rock’n’roll record. Living in Manchester at the time, a few of us travelled across the Pennines to see the Blues Explosion play live at Leeds Duchess Of York, a gig that was apparently on 13th September 1993, a week after both Stereolab and Oasis had also played there. Anyway, this remains one of the great rock’n’roll gigs I’ve been to, a suitably thrilling introduction to the Blues Explosion live experience.
“Afro” itself was released as a UK only single in early 1994, an obvious choice despite the suitably wide selection of killer tracks on its parent album. Opening with a monster riff, pausing only for a quick “1,2,3,4”, “Afro” then clatters forward, insistent drumming and Jon Spencer’s exquisitely drawling vocals building to a powerfully economical chorus: “All right!…Afro…” – nothing more needs to be said. “Afro”’s release as a single also led to one of the great rock TV performances, when the Blues Explosion appeared on The Word in early 1994. After powering through “Afro” for a minute and a half, the Blues Explosion veer off into another song, with Jon Spencer assaulting a theremin and going full Elvis. This also showcases Russell Simins’ incredible drumming; he hits the skins harder than anyone else I’ve ever seen.
Next album “Orange” followed later in 1994, a more expansive sounding record and probably the Blues Explosion’s best known, due to opening track “Bellbottoms”. A fantastic song that starts off with an extended 70s soul flavoured instrumental before self-referencing vocal nods to the Blues Explosion, “Bellbottoms” then takes another course halfway through, transforming into straight up garage rock. Instantly cinematic sounding, “Bellbottoms” has been used in various adverts and films/TV shows since, perhaps most successfully as the breathless opening to Edgar Wright’s 2017 film “Baby Driver”.
The constant shout-outs to the “Blues Explosion!” – as heard on “Bellbottoms” but also many other tracks – are another reason to love this band; see also the Make-Up and The Hold Steady for other wonderful practitioners of this art. Subsequent Blues Explosion albums, from 1996’s “Now I Got Worry” onwards, didn’t quite do it for me but they remain a fantastic live band, with “Afro” always a raucous three minute slab of rock’n’roll fulfilment.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “Afro” video on YouTube
- “Afro” live on The Word, 1994
- Opening scene to “Baby Driver” film, featuring “Bellbottoms”
- Other great Blues Explosion songs include: Train #1, Soul Typecast, Backslider, History Of Lies, Bellbottoms, Sweat, Brenda.
- “Afro” is featured on my B100 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Punk (and post-punk) Spotify playlist