The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #255: Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes (KEXP)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KEXP: THe Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #255: Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes.

It is easy to think of the songs and bands/singers that comprise this list of the best music of all-time and tell yourself that their road to stardom was easy and that they were always successful. In some cases, like “The Beatles” or “The Rolling Stones”, success came to the band members when they were still in their teens. But, for many others, success came as a result of years of honing their craft in garage bands, playing in dive bars, releasing songs with lo-fi production values and, only ever gaining attention by chance meetings with influential people who saw a glimmer of potential within the dusty image being presented on stage. Violent Femmes are one such band. They were formed by singer/guitarist, Gordon Gano, bassist, Brian Ritchie and drummer, Victor DeLorenzo in the early 1980s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They were “discovered” busking outside of an arena where Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders were scheduled to perform. The band was invited to play a short acoustic set after the opening act had finished. With that exposure under their belts, they decided to release their debut album which was simply called, “Violent Femmes”. One of the first songs they released as a single was “Blister in the Sun”.

“Blister in the Sun” was a huge hit right off of the bat for Violent Femmes. It sold almost ten million copies alone and ended up being one of the most recognized songs from the entire 80s Alternative music scene. The opening chords of the songs should be familiar to anyone who listened to radio at all in the 80s. As for what the song is about……

I always thought the song was about Homosexuality with lyrics sung by a man, “Hey, big hands, you know you’re the one!”.

Some people have thought that the song is about masturbation (because of lyrics about “Body and beats, I stain my sheets”.

But, according to Gano, the song is about the difference in social/sexual confidence between those who are physically-endowed or attractive, compared with most of the rest of us who are merely average in those regards.

While not exactly a one-hit wonder, Violent Femmes have made a career from this one song. Even though they have played it thousands of times, Gano and Ritchie both say that they still get a charge each time the opening notes are struck and the audience cheers and sings along. Gano and Ritchie formed the band, broke up, re-formed, gone solo and have reunited many times. One of their most acrimonious splits occurred when Gano sold the rights to the song to Wendys Restaurants for use in a commercial, without consulting his band mates. Ritchie was furious with Gano because he was one of those musicians who created music for the sake of the Art involved and didn’t want his Art to be used to sell fast food. Gano countered by saying that they were no longer busking for quarters anymore and that Violent Femmes was as much a business operation, as it was a musical cooperative.

Gano and Ritchie reunited long enough to create a new version of “Blister in the Sun” called “Blister 2000” for inclusion on the absolutely awesome soundtrack to the movie called, “Grosse Point Blank” starring Minnie Driver, Dan Ackroyd and John Cusack. The original version of the song was re-recorded by the Violent Femmes and can be found on the soundtrack album, too.

English singer, Jarvis Cocker of the band, Pulp once introduced his band’s most famous song, “Common People” this way,

“If people only ever know us for this one song then, I am ok with that. I think it’s pretty good.”

The same sentiment can be easily applied to “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes. It was a huge hit that helped define the band, as well as, an entire musical era. I am, also, pretty sure that if you ask the young buskers from Milwaukee, they would echo Cocker’s remarks when it came to their big hit. If you are able to craft, even one perfect gem of a song then, that is something to be proud of. So, without further delay, here is a song I am sure you all know, “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes. Enjoy.

The link to the official video for the song, “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song “Blister in the Sun”, as performed live by Violent Femmes, can be found here.

The link to an interview about the song by the band, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Violent Femmes, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting the best bands/artists of all-time. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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