Radar 1941
Sun City Girls
Radar 1941

Torch Of The Mystics

I remember reading The Pitchfork 500, Pitchfork Media’s comprehensive list of 500 of the most important or influential songs from 1977 onward, and feeling faintly dissatisfied with their choice to include Throbbing Gristle’s “Hot on the Heels of Love”. For those unfamiliar, “Hot on the Heels of Love“ is an eerie, menacing, Giorgio Moroderesque statement stemming from the rise of the nascent disco scene. It’s a compelling song and I’m a huge fan of the album ”20 Jazz Funk Greats” and Throbbing Gristle as a whole, but I felt it was a weak choice because, as accessible and engaging of a song as it may be, it does not represent Throbbing Gristle at all.
Now, of course this (obviously subjective) list wasn’t titled “Pitchfork’s top 001 career-defining song(s) of Throbbing Gristle!”, it was merely a map of the waves and trends that bridged the sonic gap between punk and whatever genre they’re pushing today. That being said, when you choose a song to epitomize a band to designate its spot in music history, I feel that there should exist some continuity between it and the rest of the bands catalogue. If not, it can come across as a deceitful and even confusing first impression.
What also struck me, the first time I listened to “20 Jazz Funk Greats”, was how a song as rudimentary and musically elementary as “Hot on the Heels of Love” can seem like the black sheep. The basic, simple elements end up clashing with those of the rest of the album, leaving something so simple seeming so uncanny. On that note, this song, “Radar 1941”, by Arizona outsiders Sun City Girls is exactly one of those songs.
It is nearly impossible to classify the music of Sun City Girls within the confines of just one or two genres. They’ve covered the grounds of free jazz, spoken word, noise and musique concrète, while incorporating sounds and styles from Africa, South America, and the Middle East. If you think you have an idea of what they’re like, they’ve also released an entire album of 1970s pop covers (with all of your favorites, such as Rush’s “Fly By Night“ and Maria Muldaur’s ”Midnight at the Oasis”), touched on shamanistic soul-searching space rock, a freak folk cover of a Brazilian one-hit wonder, and an album called “Horse Cock Phepner”.
Sun City Girls was made up of brothers Alan and Richard Bishop (also known as Alvarius B and Sir Richard Bishop, respectively) and drummer Charles Gocher, who succumbed to cancer in 2007, ultimately bringing the band to an end.
Sun City Girls approach performance with smug irreverence. They scream and curse about anything from racism, drug use, the Holocaust, prostituion and murder, all with a sense of caustic humour. Shortly before the death of Gocher, the Girls’ tour was led by a masked Alan Bishop, holding a copy of Mein Kampf, donning a t-shirt bearing the face of Osama Bin Laden.
They are not scathing and intimidating; they are playfully antagonistic and mischievously controversial. If “Trout Mask Replica” is “Naked Lunch”, then “Dante’s Disneyland Inferno” is the scrawl in the journal of a mordant loner — the cover defaced with swastikas and plenty of “FUCK”s written in blue ink.
“Radar 1941”, off of their 1990 album “Torch of the Mystics”, which is often considered to be their most accessible, is nothing similar to any of that. It’s a slick and slippery surf-rock vignette. It’s everything Sun City Girls is not: it’s catchy, infectious, and it has an electric guitar. It’s a playfully perplexing rock and roll song, placed amongst Indian raga music and what sounds like Bishop doing his best Tuvan throat singing impression.
Like “Hot on the Heels of Love”, this song is seemingly simple. It’s undemanding and is as singable as an instrumental can be. But as part of an album, its accessibility seems to become inverted. Its quality of normalcy is a stranger in a strange land.

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