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Catchgroove’s Hall of Fame: John Cale – Sabotage/Live

March 20, 2021

I don’t recall how I got turned on to this album when it came out in December of 1979. It must have been touted in some music magazine like Rolling Stone. I certainly wasn’t a Velvet Underground or John Cale fan at that time. It was more punk than what I was into. But I was completely obsessed with it.

Sabotage/Live was recorded at CBGB, New York on 13–16 June 1979, and released by SPY Records. SPY Records was founded and owned by Cale and Jane Friedman, who was the manager of Patti Smith, and Cale’s girlfriend at the time. The idea of the label was for all the artists to be produced by Cale. The label never panned out, but Sabotage/Live is a masterpiece and a pretty amazing legacy for any label.

“Mercenaries (Ready for War)” is the single and pretty epic rock song. It set the tone for the album: dark, cynical paranoid and apocalyptic. It has this classic opening line:

“Mercenaries are useless, disunited, unfaithful
They have nothing more to keep them in a battle
Other than a meager wage
Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for you
But never enough to make them wanna die for ya”

“Baby You Know” sounds like a cross between The Doors and The Monkeys. “Evidence” sounds like a punk rock version of Santana. “Dr. Mudd“ sounds like the punkier side of the Talking Heads. “Walkin’ The Dog” is a twisted cover of the Rufus Thomas soul song. “Captain Hook” is punkified prog rock – it is epic and awesome. “Only Time Will Tell” is a beautiful ballad sung by Deerfrance. “Sabotage” is darkness – it sounds like a punk rock Black Sabbath song. “Chorale” is a very cool ending to the album: a hymn – it is the perfect walk off song to what must have been an epic live show. The vinyl record ends with an obnoxious alarm sound that plays endlessly in the catch groove – pretty nifty gimmick.

Overall the album seems like the appropriate response of the Velvet Underground alumnus to punk and New Wave. The Velvet Underground were direct influences on the CBGB crowd (The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, etc.). With the exception of The Ramones (who were truly punk), Blondie, Talking Heads and Television were art rock in the grand tradition of the Velvets. Cale’s Sabotage/Live seems like a love letter to the CBGB scene from an elder art-rock statesman.

The album is not available on conventional music streaming services, but it is on YouTube.

P.S. never has the album art been a more perfect match to the music.

  1. Added to the list!

  2. I ate up this and all his music back when. Thanks for the reminder.

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