Emily Recommends: “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” by Ezra Furman

“Tell Em All to Go to Hell” is a classic fuck-you song, and as all fuck-you songs do, it riles. It breathes air into deflated lungs. It gets you pumped to go do…something. Anything. Even if you don’t end up actually telling anyone to go to hell, you feel, by the end of those two minutes and thirteen seconds, that you could if you wanted to. And sometimes just the act of listening and singing along feels defiant enough.

In a live performance of the song in 2016, Furman talks about that defiance, of challenging the “false authority” we’re all subject to; he dedicates the song to them when he says, “and to all you out there in TV land who don’t like what I wear, this one’s your special song.” “Tell Em All to Go to Hell” also seems to be about the defiance of being alive when maybe you don’t want to be, or when others treat you like you shouldn’t be: “And I’m too young to die/Or I’m too scared to try,” and “It’s a double-bind, baby, a catch-22/How nobody knows you until there’s no you.”

The song starts with a vampy ’50s sax, an instrument used in several of Furman’s songs, feeding into the early rock ’n’ roll feel. That feel, that vibe, that Chuck-Berry-rollicking, the idea that you’re at some sweaty sock hop –it’s punching in and doing work here. Like, God’s work. Like, ripping something from your chest and shoving it up your throat so you can say what you want to say.

Most especially in the live version, the song explodes towards the end into a rockabilly frenzy, and the whole thing’s got this mix, part “No Particular Place To Go,” part “Quarter to Three,” even part “Goody Two Shoes” maybe, and all of it’s combining into that fuck-you energy, and man, you just have to harness it. Let it keep going in your chest the way a drum at a live show reverberates there, keeping you alive, giving you musical courage. You’re gonna need it if you actually do tell anyone to go to hell.

(Song recommendation by Emily Costa)

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