The Spinners

♪ Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1996) ♪

In Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing, Track Reviews on April 12, 2010 at 6:43 am

Released in 1996, “Hell” became Squirrel Nut Zippers’ calling card. For better or for worse it defined the band as Hot Jazz stylists. While most people were still dressed in torn jeans and flannel shirts, Squirrel Nut Zippers came out of left field and played something that wasn’t exactly rock, not quite alternative, and somewhat befuddling to jazz purists.

Their first single, “Hell”, is a modern-day Inferno set in a calypso rhythm that features lyrics far too bizarre and dark for many of its mainstream listeners to understand. In spite of the track’s unique qualities, it was a huge hit, due in no small part to the swing revival. Yet unlike many of the songs that emerged out of the neo-swing movement, “Hell” has stood the test of time because it went against the grain of what modern audiences expected from big-band music. While Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Flying Neutrinos, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies borrowed riffs wholesale from the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw songbook, Squirrel Nut Zippers rummaged through the dustbins of music history and took only what they needed. Listening to the song it’s never quite clear if Tom Maxwell’s lyrics are meant to be a cautionary tale or merely a parody of one, but with a song this good, who cares? When it comes to Squirrel Nut Zippers it’s not so much about what the song is trying to say, but how they say it.

– Rex Baylon

Download “Hell”

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