Squirrel Nut Zippers

Hell

Composed by Tom Maxwell

Song Review by

When the Squirrel Nut Zippers released their debut album in 1996, it was received with a combination of joy and confusion. Recorded on a single mic in a New Orleans studio and consisting primarily of music that sounded like it predated rock & roll by 30 years (and yet frequently rocked as hard as anything else on the market), Hot came out more or less simultaneously with a swing and jump blues revival in the U.S., which provided a convenient retro pigeonhole for the Zippers to get stuck into. (In a bizarre turn of events, when the swing craze subsided you could often find Zippers albums in the ska section, despite the fact that they've never recorded anything remotely like ska or reggae.) But they never were a swing band, and for an example of how various their influences really are you need look no further than "Hell," a brilliant and hilarious song written by Tom Maxwell in the style of old-school calypso masters like Lord Kitchener and Roaring Lion. Featuring unbelievably hot playing from the Zippers and couplets like "This is a place where eternally, fire is applied to the body/Teeth are extruded and bones are ground, and baked into cakes which are passed around," "Hell" manages to be both a parody and a tribute to an all-but-lost Carribean musical tradition of clever wordplay, eschatological admonition, and bouncy beats. In "Hell" you can also see foreshadowings of Maxwell's post-Zippers project, which focuses on gospel music. This is only one of many exquisite songs on the first Zippers album, but it definitely stands out.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Hot 1997
Hot
Hollywood / Mammoth 3:13