24. “Harmonic” by Unwritten Law (1998)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

I have always loved Track 1s. Got a huge soft spot for ‘em. Maybe it’s because I often love professional wrestling entrances more than the matches themselves. In fact, that translates to my more-introvert-than-extrovert personality mix in a number of ways. I like pre-gaming and getting ready to go out more than actually going out. I enjoy planning a party far more than actually attending the party I’ve planned. I like the anticipation of it. The possibility. The opportunity. When you’re talking about the future – even if it’s a party at your own house starting in an hour – literally anything is possible, and that’s fucking exciting.

“Harmonic” by Unwritten Law is this feeling in sonic form. Two solitary guitar notes. Then five more. Then a pregnant pause. The strumming picks up in earnest. At 20 seconds a few light cymbal taps that continue for 10 more seconds. At 30 seconds the kick drum joins the party. We’re starting to cook. At 39 seconds a distortion screech and then EXPLOSION. Now the band is cooking! It’s a full 1:04 until one more distortion screech that the lyrics come in like a firehose.

Well I’ll see you around!
Don’t wanna stay and drown
The drama got too thick
Makes me sick

For 3 minutes and 45 seconds this song is a fucking anthem. Lead singer Scott Russo’s voice is loud and authoritative. The guitars are shredding. The pace varies, but mostly settles in at breakneck. It’s a song that for me evokes grandeur and scale and deserves to blasted as loud as fucking possible to a raucous crowd of tens of thousands of screaming lunatics who are all jumping up and down shouting back at the band, “I wanna know! Does it show on my face? I’m sick of this place! I wanna move on cuz the feeling is gone, yeah!”

One of the things I like most about myself – that paradoxically also contributes to giving me such inescapable douche energy – is that I have a sense of the moment. I like big moments. They’re fun. Some people shy away from them out of embarrassment, fear, or whatever, but I embrace them. It’s why I write bombastic intros for all of the teams that participate in our Annual Beer Pong Tournament, make them bring entrance music, and have them emerge from my house to my driveway like they’re coming out for a marquee match at WrestleMania.

When I joined The Bi-Polar Show, a two-hour punk rock show on our college radio station KCSU, with my pal Kaycee, we wanted to create a segment that we could more or less center the show around. We wrote a few other recurring segments, but the biggest one was called “The Battle for Bi-Polar Supremacy” which, after a couple of initial format tweaks, saw us state our case for bands or albums we’d chosen to play at the end of the show, which would be determined by the votes of callers to the station. Great gimmick, lots of fun, tons and tons of listener engagement as a result.

Airing each show at the top of the second hour, we created an epic promo that began with 2001: A Space Odyssey Main Theme/Also Sprach Zarathustra which is instantly recognizable because it’s been co-opted a jillion times by everyone to convey epicness, including legendary professional wrestler Ric Flair. Our Production Director Beano then used his booming voice to intone ominously, “It’s now time for the Battle for Bi-Polar Supremacy.” He goes on seriously, “Each week Jonny X and Kaycee battle it out letting you, the listener, decide who reigns supreme atop the punk ruck mountain.” As the song hits that second climax after about 40 seconds, we crash through the gates with “Harmonic” by Unwritten Law at it’s own 40 second mark.

Y’know what, why am I describing this with words? Listen to it yourselves, it rules. Our buddy Beano who produced it was about as good as it gets in that department, and I am forever grateful to him for making this as epic as I envisioned in my head.

If you’re not producing content with the goal of making your audience feel something, you’re not doing it right. Sure, it’s a Friday night punk rock college radio show, but if WE didn’t believe it was important and worth paying attention to, why should anyone else? Why not inject some theatrics? A little bombast? Some pomp and circumstance, if you will?

My co-host Kaycee was the perfect counterweight to all of this. She’s genuine, incredibly sweet, has a deeper of knowledge of punk rock than I do, better taste, and carries herself in a somewhat understated way. She also doesn’t shy away from a big moment, but she doesn’t necessarily seek it. As co-hosts we were like peanut butter and chocolate and the dynamic was fun as hell. She would break my balls, and I’d give it right back. On one memorable occasion she was running the board and turned my mic off to sass me, so I called her a turd burglar.

I met Kaycee in 6th grade at Jefferson County Schools’ Outdoor Lab program, which was basically sleepaway camp for a week with nature-focused activities throughout the day. She went to one elementary school and I went to the other where all the boys from my school instantly had a crush on her. She loves this story. Our paths have crisscrossed ever since, and I’m grateful for it because I still count her as one of my absolute favorite people on this earth.

And in my life, I’ve only ever had one truly marquee public opponent. It was her each and every week on The Bi-Polar Show. Sometimes she’d win. Sometimes I’d win. Sometimes we’d just bust the shit out of each other on air. But every time I’d hear “Harmonic” by Unwritten Law, I’d get those anticipatory goosebumps once again. Let’s fucking go!

Up next: How wonderful life is with you in the world.

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