People associate Ministry with their signature industrial/metal sound, but they have a dark past in the world of 80's new wave synth pop. Ministry mastermind Al Jourgenson, or “Uncle Al” as he is affectionately known (probably as much for his crazy, constantly revised stories about his past as for his status as elder statesman and progenitor of the industrial genre of music) tried to erase this era of the band. Their first album, 1983’s With Sympathy was recorded for Arista Records who, according to Uncle Al, was constantly forcing him to compromise his artistic vision. When Ministry moved to Sire Records for their second album, 1986’s Twitch, Jourgenson disclaimed the first record and told fans to burn it.
During my teenage years, I was a pretty big Ministry fan. I once high-fived my friend Billy at the counter of a record store in my excitement about buying In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up (live), causing him to light up with embarrassment. Jourgenson came up with sounds like no one else, despite other industrial music luminaries, like Trent Reznor, following in his wake. I never got into Nine Inch Nails, which a musician in my tenth grade creative writing class called “scary keyboard music.” I could admit the undeniable strength of a single like “Head Like A Hole,” but the rest of Pretty Hate Machine left me cold. Ministry on the other hand, sounded like someone hooked a distortion pedal up to a vacuum cleaner and ran it back and forth over bare floor and carpet (“Stigmata” and “Burning Inside”), creating some warped loop and stimulating my auditory nerves.
Jourgenson, who wouldn’t really admit to playing any instruments, managed to create unmatched soundscapes from some dystopian future that might be fun to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Computers, which even back then, were used by visionaries like Ministry to supplant traditional instruments and come up with something entirely new, sometimes disturbing, but frequently dopamine stimulating. Later on, Ministry lost that creative spark, due mostly to Jourgenson’s increasing dependence on heroin, which almost killed him several times over.
Back to the future
When I was regularly listening to Ministry, I knew of the existence of their earlier work and had heard from friends that it didn’t really sound like the same band. I had limited funds for music discovery, so I stayed away from it, just as Uncle Al would have wanted. I didn’t hear songs like “Work For Love” until I was well into my adult years, and was surprised by how good they were. Fortunately for listeners, With Sympathy is readily available on today’s streaming services. Fans also recorded footage of Ministry playing live during this era. Despite all his objections, Jourgenson looks perfectly happy to be playing these tunes. You can see his excitement when he preps the crowd for the song, with his faux-British accent, seeming like a Johnny Depp character in some futuristic pirate band. Back then, Patty Jourgenson, Al’s wife (before he was married to heroin) played keyboards in the group. The full band sounded cohesive and tight, putting on what must have been exhilarating shows for their audience.
→ Ministry - Work For Love, live in Boston, 1984
I wanted to include a video of the Burger King Super Bowl commercial from a few years ago that featured “Work For Love” but couldn’t find it anywhere on the widest of worldwide webs.