Odds & Ends: The 1970s
O - Z

The O'Jays -- The Only Ones -- Pere Ubu -- Iggy Pop -- John Prine -- The Raspberries -- The Records -- Lou Reed -- Rockpile -- Todd Rundgren -- The Saints -- Simple Minds -- The Skids -- Rod Stewart -- Sweet -- Television -- Johnny Thunders (w/ the Heartbreakers) -- The Vibrators -- Wreckless Eric -- X-Ray Spex -- Warren Zevon

Quentin Tarintino and all these aging boomers running amok are all morons, there's precious little worth saving from the tackiest decade of the century. Bellbottoms? Pretending to talk to truckers on CBs? Billy Carter crushing beer cans against his head? Pet rocks? Mood rings? ABBA? Kiss? The Carpenters, Cassidys, Osmonds, and Partridges (I can't tell the difference half the time)? Shag carpeting? Fuschia? Don't get me started on how ugly the fashions were....

Truth be told, though, there were a lot of great records released in the '70s - perhaps more than in any other decade, since it wasn't until the latter half of the '60s that people figured out how to make consistent albums and not singles + filler. The music scene was a lot more wildly eclectic than in the hippies-with-fuzzy-guitars '60s, too, which means that this page (and the upcoming '80s and '90s pages) really will cover quite a lot of diverse ground. The small list below is only the beginning....

The O'Jays: Ship Ahoy (1973) ***

In the early '70s, songwriting svengalis Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, along with producer/arranger Thom Bell forged an updated wrinkle on R & B that became termed Philly Soul -- lushly heavier on the orchestrated strings and more drawn out in pace, with a less insistent rhythm than Stax/Volt and a more progressive, less overtly pop sound than Motown. The O'Jays were, along with the Spinners, one of Gamble/Huff's first-string acts, racking up several notable hits such as "Back Stabbers" and "Love Train" on their breakthrough 1972 album, Back Stabbers. The followup simply repeats the formula, though with the expected diminishing returns: of the singles here, only the ultra-funky "For The Love Of Money," measures up to Gamble/Huff's highest standard. From the cover of a slave ship on down to the final track, "People Keep Tellin' Me," the album creates an oddly dark, hostile mood: even the designated hit single, "For The Love Of Money," is an ominous anti-materialist plodder. The only really upbeat song on the album is the opener, the rousing "Put Your Hands Together" (a minor hit single) that would work just dandy as an Olympics theme - c'mon people, let's all get along brothers and sisters, and get up and dance! But the second song, the title track, plods along at a creepy pace, slowly building the atmosphere for the tale of African slaves' trans-Atlantic crossing -- it goes on so long that you could easily fall asleep, but in the end you don't because the atmosphere is so creepy, and few have dared tackle such a shameful period of America's history. And as far as the album goes, that's it -- those three songs are easily the highlights, and while some of the other material is competent and pleasant and never offensive, it's filler. And while as individual tracks nearly all of the songs have their charms -- if as well all of the songs go on too ponderously long -- taken as a whole, one drenchingly slow ballad after the other drags the album into yawning mush. This album demonstrates both the considerable strengths and limitations of the typical Philly Soul product.

The Only Ones: The Peel Sessions (1989) ****

Practically ignored during their short lifetime, the Only Ones released three studio albums between 1978 and 1980. Though they were lumped in with the punk movement because of leader Peter Perrett's bleak view of life, the Only Ones were actually a traditional hard-rock combo that worshipped at the sonic altars of Crazy Horse and the Velvet Underground. Drummer Mike Kelley had in fact served time in the early '70s heavy metal outfit Spooky Tooth, and all of the Only Ones had paid their dues for years in unsuccessful bands on the pub circuit. Perrett isn't a strong melodicist, but he is an interesting lyricist who knows what a hook and chorus are, and guitarist John Perry is very good at tossing off layers of Neil Young-influenced grunge. Heroin addict Perrett possesses a compellingly depressive view of relationships: "Doing drugs is one thing we have in common/That can help overcome the language problem" is a typical lyric; "Why Don't You Kill Yourself," typifies Perrett's despairing cynicism. Luckily the band behind this croaking sub-Dylanesque singer kicks up some meat'n'potatoes classic rock'n'roll, keeping the music from sinking into a manic-depressive murk. When Perrett tackles a creeping ballad, though, the depressive murk still winds up listenable, and often creepily compelling. The Only Ones were seen as too traditional to make much of an impact during the late '70s punk-obsessed scene, but in retrospect their music has held up better than many of their puke'n'pins contemporaries, because it has much more emotional depth. And Paul Westerberg of the Replacements (who covered the Only Ones' greatest song, the power-pop classic "Another Girl, Another Planet") certainly seemed to have learned a thing or two about pouring your miserable depressed guts all over the place the way Perrett does. This collection of BBC radio sessions works as an alternate-version "greatest hits" and is the only Only Ones CD available in the States (the rest are out of print), which is a shame. I always thought the line in "Another Girl, Another Planet" was "I looked killed but I don't care about it," but it turns out on closer examination to be "I look cool but I don't care about it," - much more banal and conventional. I like my version better.

Pere Ubu: Terminal Tower: An Archival Collection (1985) ***

A good argument could be made for Cleveland, OH as the birthplace of '70s punk rock, as its post-Velvets underground scene produced a plethora of abrasively uncommercial, forward-thinking bands -- or so rumor has it, since I've never heard but a handful of them. And that gets to why Cleveland never got its due as the heartland home of the New Wave: it was too far from the glare of the mainstream media, before the underground network of independent labels and college radio stations existed to support uncommercial bands working outside of the major-label mainstream of pop. Pere Ubu, a band responsible for some of the first releases on an American independent label (Hearthan), eventually scored a major-label contract, which is the reason their archives (along with fellow hometown punks the Dead Boys) have indeed been available to average consumers such as myself - unlike, say, Rocket From the Tombs and the Electric Eels, to name two legendary-but-obscure bands from Cleveland's celebrated mid-'70s punk underground. This release collects in one place Pere Ubu's groundbreaking early singles and several otherwise unavailable-on-album B-sides, and it's a necessary exhumation, since early Pere Ubu are one of those bands (like the Velvet Underground) one should give at least one listen to even if one doesn't like the music. Like a lot of groundbreaking music - Captain Beefheart is a good analogy - Pere Ubu are very difficult to absorb at first, and at least to my ears fall into the category of "interesting" more than "pleasurable". Their reportoire of synth blips, lead singer Crocus Behemoth's (aka David Thomas) cartoonish warble, song structures that barely seem to cohere or often even reach a chorus, brief blasts of post-Hendrix guitar rising to the fore and then fading quickly out at seeming random, dinky rhythms, and anti-pop murk aren't for everyone, that's for sure.

Pere Ubu could only have come from one place at one time, a decaying urban center of the Midwestern Rustbelt in the '70s. Their sound is that of formerly bright, shiny efficient machines sputtering and squawking futilely as the factories collapse into a rustheap; Allen Ravenstine's synthesizer treatments, the band's most distinctive sonic feature, are Kraftwerk's autobahn littered with the corpses of burnt-out, discarded machinery, Eno's treatments filtered through the raw sewage of Lake Erie. As no other band I'm aware of has even attempted, Pere Ubu capture the ugliness of decaying industrial cities in a post-industrial age, when all of the factory jobs that once drove the economy have moved to the third world and you're left with a soaring crime rate, unemployment, pollution, and a lot of ugly, empty metal buildings.

Which isn't to say this collection isn't inconsistent - it is, after all, a compilation containing B-sides, and one can easily see why novelties such as "The Book Is On The Table," (a spoken word piece) didn't graduate to albums. So in the end one buys this compilation for four songs: the band's debut, 1975's "Heart of Darkness/30 Seconds Over Tokyo" single (I can't tell which was supposed to be the A-side, if indeed one was intended to overshadow the other), the band's second single A-side "Final Solution," and the later single A-side "My Dark Ages." Darker than any Sabbath (another key influence - "30 Seconds Over Tokyo" is a bald rewrite of "Hand of Doom," only Pere Ubu wound up with a better song), Ubu's first two singles are startlingly ominous creations fueled by rock critic/drug casualty Peter Laughner's troubled soul - I'm not that familiar with the band's post-Laughner work (he died in 1977), but Pere Ubu could only have grown lighter. Such oppressive music would sound positively suicidal if sung by a like-minded singer, but David Thomas' wacky warbling adds a much-needed dose of comic humanism to early Pere Ubu - Thomas' voice can't help but color everything he sings on with a touch of the vaudeville surreal. I mean, Thomas sings like Bugs Bunny! That doesn't stop the anthemic "Final Solution," from being Pere Ubu's finest moment, a raging slacing of teenage nihilism ("Buy me a ticket to a sunny production/Guitars gonna sound like nuclear destruction" - answered by Ravenstine's synth blip imitation of a nuclear whoosh) that for once locks into a standard rock verse-chorus structure and remains all the better for its relative accessibility. The same can't be said for such attempted forays into happy pop territory as "Heaven," which indicates that perhaps pursuing a lighter post-Laughner direction would prove fatal to the band. "My Dark Ages," however, rectifies this, sounding as cheery as the title, as Thomas screams the infectious chorus, "I don't get around/I don't fall in love much/I don't fall in love at all." As for the rest of the songs, they're only B-sides - some are kind of interesting, but all are expendable.

Reader Comments

Eric M. Van, emvan@mediaone.net

OK, I found the Pere Ubu review . . . you've got to pick up The Modern Dance, their debut proper; it's an entire album where every track is of comparable quality to the four songs you like on Terminal Tower, and they show an incredible range of musical style. I think it's one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Some corrections: the "Final Solution" lyric is "Buy me a ticket to a sonic reduction" -- as in The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" (the Dead Boys, like Ubu, being a Rocket From the Tombs offshoot). The synth player on that track is not Ravenstine, who split temporarily, but (I think) Dave Taylor.

And in the Mission of Burma review, it's Clint, not Chris Conley. And "The Ballad of Johnny Burma" is a Roger Miller song, not a Clint one.

And you might be amused to learn that the actual personalities of both Mission of Burma and (from much less observation, granted) Gang of Four were 180 degrees opposite of what they projected in their music and lyrics. Burma interviews were among the most consistently funny in the history of rock journalism, and they were fairly delightful to hang out with. Go4 could drink and party till dawn with nary a Marxist word spoken. Actually makes a certain kind of sense, when you think about it.

Pere Ubu: The Modern Dance (1978) ****

Consisting of tracks recorded in 1976 and 1977, Pere Ubu's debut album proves that deep in the rustbelt heartland a group of oddball eccentrics were busy creating post-punk before punk proper had barely begun to make waves. Some of the dinky Pong rhythms suggest New Wave, but "New Wave" suggests bright and poppy to me, the last things one could ever accuse Ubu of -- here come the cold jets. The album cover of the proletarian ballerina dancing against a backdrop of smokestack factories captures Ubu's aesthetic in a single image: absurdist whimsy in the face of the industrial city's slow post-industrial collapse. Ubu were either the artiest garage band or most conventionally rocking proto-industrial (in the musical sense) band of the past few decades; listening to the opening track, "Non-Alignment Pact," (Cold War boy-meets-girl angst), I'm not so much surprised by the painful whistle of feedback that opens the tune, as to how conventional it sounds as a Chuck Berry-derived garage rocker, with a great slip'n'slide rhythm going up and down the chorus. But that first impression is somewhat misleading, as it's easily the most normal and straightforward slice of rock; the title track similarly sounds fairly straightforward until it breaks down into Ubu's idea of what the modern dance constitutes: a sound collage of a busy urban street -- more interesting than your typical rock'n'roll "insert guitar solo after chorus" tack, yes? "Chinese Radiation," similarly uses a sound collage of crowd noise to arresting musical effect, though I admit that the found sounds of the dirges "Over My Head," and "Sentimental Journey," definitely drag the record down. The strongest musical track, "Street Waves," not so coincidentally combines the experimental art-rock and amateurish garage-rock tendencies of Ubu in equal doses. The stop-start angry ranting "Life Stinks," courtesty departed (from Ubu and this earthly vale) guitarist Peter Laughner sounds out of place, since the rest of the material is more angst-ridden than actively pissed-off. The angst reaches its apex with the album closer, a demented attempt at warped reggae, the definitively dark and sarcastic, "Humor Me," -- "it's just a joke, mon!" David Thomas sneers in his mock rasta accent, which tell the truth ain't all that different from his normal cartoonish warble. Aside from Thomas, whose strange vocals can't help but dominate any song he sings, the main star is synth deconstructionist Allen Ravenstine, whose imitations of Three-Mile Island meltdown are definitely ahead of their time, making him one of the '70s most creative employers of the synthesizer. In sum, an amatuerish garage band attempting ahead-of-its-time, Kraut-rock influenced post-industrial art-punk -- Devo may have had the hits, but any student of '70s Ohio electronic rock will realize which one was the by far superior band.

Pere Ubu: Dub Housing (1978) ***

Critics consider this the band's masterpiece, but I can't seem to get into it - too much goofy experimentation and not enough solid songcraft. The band goes entirely New Wave Electronic on this LP, mixing the rock guitar down in the mix and placing Ravenstine's colorful collapsing synth tones front and center. That is, when the music isn't being dominated by Thomas' yelping, which has progressed from curious oddity to obnoxious novelty - on the first track he flip-flops his arms like a horny penguin. The melodies consist mostly of either sea chanties or dance party chants, which is to say not particularly strong. On the plus side, I can't honestly give this album a bad grade because it's extremely innovative - perhaps more innovative than the debut, even - and the sound sculpted textures can be very interesting to dig into. The problem, though, is that digging into texture is work - where the previous album maintained a fine balance of avant-garde artiness and rocking accessibility, this album tips the balance overboard into weirdness. It's a very difficult album to get into, but after struggling to enjoy this music after 7 or 8 listens, I give up - I'm never going to get more than mild intellectual stimulation (not aesthetic pleasure). But boy, that Ravenstine just keeps getting better all the time - love those sandpaper swooshes. By all means, make The Modern Dance your first venture in Pere Ubu-land; diving into this album first would be a serious mistake, since it's so inaccessible it might turn you off the band forever. However, I hear some of their later albums are even more inaccessible, hard as that is to believe.

Iggy Pop: Lust for Life (1977) ***1/2

Anyone looking for the chaotic thrashy metallic punk of the Stooges better leave their expectations at the door: Iggy's Bowie-masterminded comeback sounds totally removed from those wild days of youth, adopting an almost fatherly tone of an elder bemusedly smirking from the sidelines at the decadence surrounding him, rather than reveling in it as the instigator. An older and wiser Iggy might seem like a bizarre curiosity to contemplate (and not all that accurate -- it's not as if he still didn't snort coke on a daily basis at the time), but what other choice did the man have except to slow down or die, after spending the first half of the decade mutilating himself onstage and briefly consigned to a mental institution. I'm not convinced on the evidence that Iggy possesses unstoppable talent, aside from his powerful voice -- his nihilistic energy made the Stooges a one of a kind experience, but his craftsmanship (so mediocre that "craftsmanship" and Iggy in the same sentence provokes laughter) never matched his inspiration. So when he stopped being crazy (well, relative to his Stooges days), he had nothing to fall back on -- as evidenced by the string of crap records he released post-Bowie. And make no doubt about it, Iggy's comeback owes everything to Bowie: the Thin White Duke wrote the music to all but two of the songs here, which accounts for the album's glammy electronic sound -- more full-bodied and traditional than the work Bowie was doing with Eno in the same Berlin studios, but unmistakably the handwork of Ziggy. However, Iggy deserves credit for writing all of the lyrics, and for establishing a brooding, sinister tone that Bowie himself couldn't achieve; the point is, the album is a collaborative sense in the best sense of the word, with both Bowie and Iggy complementing each other. A point driven home by Bowie's awful reencounters with some of these same songs and those from the Bowie/Pop earlier in the year, The Idiot, on 1984's insipid Tonight. The title track makes the rounds these days due its memorable inclusion over the opening credits of Trainspotting, and the next three songs are all even better. "Sixteen," the only song Pop wrote completely by himself, stomps with the crunch of vintage Stooges, though restrained enough for conventional hard rock (which the Stooges definitely weren't). "Some Weird Sin," one of the more Bowie-esque cuts, finds Iggy in a shockingly poppy mode, and it works. The crucial cut, however, comes next: "The Passenger," the other non-Bowie composed song, a jangly, jauntily sinister ballad in which Iggy watches the city at night from his taxi windows, cackling at its "ripped backside" with the debauchery of Nero surveying Rome. If only the second side matched the first, this album would amount to one of the decade's greatest discs, but the romantic "Tonight," (excessive Bowie melodrama, but it does show off Pop's baritone croon to stunning effect), "Success" (aka "Lust for Life," with different lyrics), "Turn Blue," (more melodrama), "Neighborhood Threat," (terrific intro leading into so-so song), and "Fall in Love With Me," (great lyrics; if only it had a melody) range from fairly good to not-so-good. Who would've thought the Peanut Butter anti-god would learn to settle for competent professionalism?

Iggy Pop: New Values (1979) ***1/2

Answers the question: can Iggy produce a competent and professionally entertaining record without the help of Bowie? The answer is yes, he can fill an entire album with self-penned material, but the results will come out less distinctive and more mainstream minus Bowie's input (as you could have guessed). This only underscores just how far Iggy had progressed from the Stooges' raw, uncompromising caveman punk; none of the music here can really be called "raw", "uncompromising" or "punk" -- it's a slick, New Wave pop record, of all things, with "Angel," and "How Do Ya Fix a Broken Part," the most utterly conventional (and banal) love songs he's written so far. As for "caveman," unfortunately Iggy inflicts us with the album's lowlight, "African Man," which even more stupid and racist than one would expect from the title. Former Stooge shredder James Williamson provides guitar, not that it really makes much of a difference, since except for the yelping title track, the abundantly witty "I'm Bored," and "Five Foot One" (the chorus "I wish life could be like Swedish magazines" cracks me a grin), all not-so-coincidentally album highlights, the songs don't rock, they pop. Unless they get gothic a la "Endless Sea," which nearly ruins the cool mood the music's swirling synths set up with dumb, pretentious lyrics (kids, never use the word "bourgoise" except ironically). As typical with Iggy Pop releases, it's inconsistent -- it starts great with the snappy "Tell Me a Story," that boasts some of the album's best lyrics, but the songs start getting kinda crappy near the end, and even snappy one-liners can't save cliches like "Billy is a Runaway." And yes, the lyrics really do matter, since with the music mixed this thin and New Wave-y -- the guitars are skinnier than a Chinese 14-year-old with acne -- Iggy's vocal charisma naturally becomes the focus. Good thing he's got such a strong presence as a personality, since ultimately that's what makes the memorable songs on this album memorable -- the ways he grunts and croons and spits barbs and throws off cute one-liners that make me snap a grin sometimes. So while objectively this isn't as quite as strong as the '77 Berlin Bowie colloborations, it does make a more convincing case for Pop by letting the cool, wisecracking character he is more upfront, and the music's more easily accessible than the arty difficulties of the previous two records.

John Prine: John Prine (1971) *****

As far as I'm concerned you can keep your L. Cohens, R. Newmans, J. Mitchells, J. Richmans, (gasp) J. Taylors.....this is my favorite singer/songwriter, "New Dylan" record of that decade that spewed out a veritable gaggle (maybe google, who has time to listen to 'em all) of 'em. Prine waltzes on the edges of folk, country, good timin' ole rockerbillity, and I do mean waltz -- before rock rolled, classic C & W waltzed through the dustbowl, as the opening cut "Illegal Smile," moseys around in waltz-time like meself around the kitchen on a blessed sunshiney morn....sorry, the narrator begins his rapture to the joys of pot-smokin' with a description of one of those days when you wake up and the oatmeal stares you down, so I's a got breakfast on my mind. 'Course the illegal smilin' leads to paranoid thoughts about cops bustin' him for possession in the final verse, so Prine covers all the bases of the mary-jane experience. And that's Prine's finest strength: he's a damn fine lyric writer, pointed and topical in the folk-protest tradition, but also capable of tremendous empathy and warmth (most in evidence on "Hello In There", a description of the lonliness that afflicts old folks that I can honestly say was the last song I've heard in a long while that genuinely moved me to tears the first few times I heard it), all delivered with a casual, homespun wit. Oh yes, very witty -- not in an obnoxiously overbearing "comic" way, but with a sly, offhand throwaway delivery that fits in snugly with his more serious sentiments. 13 songs, some classics and most of the rest near-classics of American songwriting, if only Americans had been more in the market for this type of thing in 1971 -- well, they obviously were, it's just that Prine got drowned out in the sea of Dylan-esque singer/songwriters with record contracts in the early '70s. Maybe it was Prine's voice, a nasal, easy-going whine dripping of Appalachia (most in evidence on "Paradise" which definitely sends me back to the hills, way, way back to Deliverance type hills, boy), fine for hillbilly country singin' but uncommercial -- same as Dylan's nasal whine. "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," dates the record somewhat, but the line about reading Readers' Digest in the back of a dirty bookstore is choice, and I find the chorus of "Spanish Pipedream" about eatin' peaches and gettin' to feel Jesus kinda repetitive, but none of that bothers me too much none. The most arresting song, the junkie's lament "Sam Stone," with its creepily memorable "there's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes," can't fail to suck the listener in, but what always gets me is the line, "while the kids ran around wearing other people's clothes" -- it's that one telling detail, suggesting the poverty Sam Stone has inflicted on his family due to his habit, that really nails the image Prine's trying to get at into my memory banks. "Send me a picture of an old rodeo," asks the aged narrator of the oft-covered "Angel From Montgomery," and like his predecessor, Prine longs for an older, more rustic America, which means that underneath the knowing sarcasm and wit he's a sentimental sap -- just like meself, I suppose.

Reader Comments

Philip Maddox, slurmsmckenzie@hotmail.com

I'm glad someone finally reviewed this, and gave it the highest possible score at that. This is one of my favorite records, no questions asked. Certainly the best of the seventies folkies, and better than most Dylan, too, if you ask me. Gorgeous, funny, witty tunes that get stuck in your head, that can alternate between intense sadness ("Hello In There") and pure goofiness ("Pretty Good") on a dime. My favorite is the slow, sad "Far From Me", which paints a perfect picture of lovers growing apart, but almost any of them will do. Not a weak song. I've heard all of the John Prine albums, and he never made an album nearly as strong as this again, though he did make some good ones. I guess because these are songs he'd been writing for his entire life, while later albums were written and recorded in about a year. Still, there are plenty of classics to be found in the Prine catalog. Still, at least 8 of his 10 best songs are here. Great, great album.

The Raspberries: 3 (1973) **1/2

The Raspberries are one of those groups that critics tend to overrate in hindsight to make up for their relative lack of success when they around the first time. Cleveland's early '70s answer to the Fab Four had a handful of really good punchy power-pop singles in them and buckets of rather pedestrian material; nevertheless, the history books have canonized the Raspberries as completing the post-Fab trinity of Founding Fathers of Early '70s Power Pop, despite the fact that they didn't come close to the off-kilter inspiration of Big Star and made even less consistent albums than Badfinger. Lead singer Eric Carmen possessed a modest knack for a nifty hook now and then, but I'm not particularly impressed by his songwriting abilities, which tend towards obvious tunes and repetitious choruses; I'm more fond of guitarist Wally Bryson's Cream/Free-derived slabs of chunky riffage, which give Carmen's pop its necessary dosage of power. After their first single "Go All the Way," smashed through the charts, the Raspberries' fortunes began dwindling, with each subsequent single charting lower and their album releases distressingly off the Billboard Hot 100. In truth, "Go All the Way," was the one song the Raspberries released in their entire career that seemed truly touched by the muses (John, Paul, George, and Ringo) -- an amazingly compressed hard rock riff thunders under smooth trickles of Beach Boys harmonizing while Eric Carmen begs his girl to give it up (don't be naive, you know what "it" is), "Go All the Way," is practically the definition of power-pop. Nothing else in their 4-LP catalog comes close, though some of their songs are worthy followups.

On their 3rd album (wait -- you already guessed it from the title), the Raspberries decide to move in a more hard-rock direction after their first two albums' Beatles/Brian Wilson-isms. The decision cuts in both good and not so good ways. First, the good -- there are no icky Eric Carmen ballads or cutesy-pie bubblegummeries to deal with, things that marred their other albums. However, since Wally Bryson and bassist David Smalley have begun contributing to the songwriting -- Carmen only wrote four of these songs, a substantial move towards band democracy -- the Raspberries' personality seems shortchanged. Bryson and Smalley's tunes veer towards more typical mid-'70s rock than Carmen's retro Beatlisms, with their songs resembling either second-rate Eagles or first-rate Bad Company (cause, let's get serious, is second-rate Bad Company even possible?). None of it's truly terrible except for Wally's noisy and lumbering "Money Down," but only Wally's anglofied-Eagles "Last Dance," is more than pedestrian. That makes Carmen's contributions the album's standouts, naturally; he's a competent, if unexceptional recycler of pop-rock readymades, the best of which is the album opener, "Tonight," an unabashed Small Faces tribute in which Carmen tries out his best Steve Marriot vocal licks, and ends with the blunt final lines, "I wanna sleep with you tonight," which the Small Faces themselves couldn't have gotten away with a scant five years earlier. Carmen's "I'm a Rocker," is a pathetic boogie, and "Ecstacy," gets off to a good start but quickly grows monotonous, which leaves "On the Beach," as the album's highlight, since by building a song around an interesting minor key bridge rather than a chorus, it stands out from the surrounding tracks and qualifies as the sole unique and original composition on an otherwise by-the-numbers album.

The Raspberries: Starting Over (1974) ***

Before they made their final album, the Raspberries made an important lineup change by firing drummer Jim Bonfanti and bassist Dave Smalley, to be replaced by drummer Michael McBride and bassist Scott McCarl. The addition of McCarl is of particular note, since on this album he plays a milksop John to Carmen's oily Paul; together they write or cowrite all the songs (the exception, Bryson's "Party's Over," is unsurprisingly a noisy, lumbering dud). This time around the Raspberries have backed off from the faceless '70s rock of 3 and gotten back to the business of sounding like a unique entity called the Raspberries -- which is to say, America's answer to Wings. The styles are much more varied than usual, which makes the album hit & miss; for every strong track there's an uninspired one. Carmen's most ambitious single, the Sgt. Pepper schmaltzy "Overnight Sensation," is the centerpiece; while it hardly lives up to some critics' claim as one of the great lost singles of all time, it is nice and truly inspired for once. Carmen sits at the piano alone, telling us his dream: he's not in it for the money, he just wants to hear his record on the radio and have people everywhere know it. Suddenly the band blares in and crackles "Hit Record, Yeah!" with pomp and gusto, as Carmen details how he's going to get his song through the music industry to the people; finally, near the end, the track breaks down into the static hiss of a tiny AM radio blaring from under some kid's bed. McCarl's "Play On," is another inspired send-up of pop stardom, with an irresistable bouncy riff; along with the McCarl-Bryson classic throwaway, "Hands On You," it's his best tune. Otherwise, McCarl's "Rose Colored Glasses," shore is purty, but it's also one of the wimpiest pieces of shit I've heard in my life. Carmen's "Cruising Music," recycles Beach Boys competently but pointlessly, while his "I Don't Know What I Want," does the same for the Who in a fine slice of Townshendian teenage angst. And then there's the final track, Carmen's most affecting ballad (which is to say, the one Carmen ballad that doesn't make me want to puke on Diane Warren), "Starting Over": "Used to feel so fucking optimistic," he softly sings on track that sounds like your typical staple of the soft rock station, thereby blowing any chances of this pretty tune from getting airplay on said easy-listening stations; the literal lyrics deal with a romantic breakup, but it's clear that he's really talking about his band's career, which they all knew was coming to a bittersweet end.

The Records: The Records (1979) ***1/2

One of the best singles bands to emerge from the late '70s power-pop explosion, the Records were the brainchild of ex-Kursaal Flyers (mid-'70s pub-rockers from which I've only had the pleasure of encountering one song, so I won't have much to say about them) drummer Will Birch and guitarist John Wicks, who along with bassist Phil Brown formed the core of this tight, crispy outfit (they changed the lead guitarist with each album, so I won't bother mentioning those guys). Like just about every late '70s jangly guitar-rock band worth their salt their sound owes at least an indirect debt to Big Star (and Wicks has obviously done his homework with the colorful guitar textures), and of course by extension mid-period Byrds & Beatles, but perhaps the most accurate comparison would be a modernized Hollies: slavishly obeying the prime objective of the baited hook, purist pop that's somewhat lightweight compared to their contemporaries, clean and refreshingly brisk as the first rustle of autumn. Their singles were as catchy and memorable as anything contemporaneous by the likes of Squeeze or the dB's, but sadly they broke up after two excellent albums and one lackluster one, and are now little more than a footnote to all but power-pop aficionados.

As with many bands, the first Records record is their freshest and probably best; certainly nothing they did ever topped "Starry Eyes", one of the most perfect jangly pop anthems ever recorded -- if you can get that ringing hook-surge out of your head five seconds after hearing the intro, you have no need for guitars in your aural diet -- it's so life-affirmingly rushed and melodic that you almost miss that it's a sneering kiss-off to a sleazy manager. As usual with bands that live and die with a good left pop hook, the material's not particularly memorable (if never inoffensive) when they're less than inspired, so there's a smattering of perfunctory filler separating the potential summer-radio singles. And yes, this jars like a collection of singles rather than flows like a proper album -- the U.S. reshuffling of the U.K. version (titled Shades in Bed with a slightly risque cover) might have something to with that, as would hiring at least three different production teams for differing tracks. Which means that the beefy, almost proto-Def Leppardish "Girls That Don't Exist" (produced by Robert "I get to pork Shania Twain so who cares if I've got stupid nickname like Mutt" Lange), while an powerful pop-rocker, sounds a bit off sandwiched between the Jam-style mod-pop of "Teenarama" and the Byrdsy jangle of "Starry Eyes". But that's a just a minor flaw in an otherwise an album that's practically perfect power-pop strictly on its own modest, non-groundshaking terms. On some objective level I know I should find the shameless twinkly pap of "Affection Rejected" pathetic, but for the life of me it's my favorite song on the second side -- gets me every time. Maybe I really am just a pathetic sap at heart.

The Records: Crashes (1980) ***1/2

Their followup lacks a "Starry Eyes", but otherwise measures up equally to the debut -- if you liked the first Records record, come back for more of the same seconds. The big hit was "Hearts in Her Eyes," though not for the Records -- the single was expressly written by Birch/Wicks for heroes the briefly reformed Searchers; personally it's never done much for me, and the Searchers did a better job on the original cover (odd oxymoron, that). Aside from a somewhat overblown attempt at melodrama "Rumour Sets the Woods Alight" (when are those limeys going to get rid of those redundant u's like us efficient Americans? And BTW, knock off with the Royal Family while you're at it -- serious nations do not have medieval anachronisms as Queens in the 21st century), the Records stick to the same winning formula -- jingly jangles in love with girls, rock'n'roll, and Roger McGuinn, just like Tom Petty. Again, with this type of music, there ain't really all that much to say beyond that some songs are really good and some are just ehh, with "Girl in the Golden Disc" and "Same Mistakes" irrestible standouts. The real keeper for me is the wistfully melancholy "Hearts Will Be Broken", the soundtrack to a hundred nights I've spent walking after dusk alone to a party with friends and walking home alone some vague time after midnight full of half-digested gossip and alcohol. Maybe I really am just a wistfully melancholy bloke at heart.

The Records: Smashes, Crashes and Near Misses (1988) ****

Collecting nearly all of the first two albums, along with three rather dull selections from the lackluster third album Music On Both Sides (from this evidence, at least), this contains all the Records everyone but a completist needs. There's an alternate take of a Bay City Rollers cover (! -- don't run, it's actually the good, if deeply cheesy "Rock & Roll Love Letter") that was released as a non-album single, plus a couple of other alternate versions that aren't terribly essential as rarities. A pair of decent B-sides, "Paint Her Face" and "Held Up High" (an early version of the debut's "Another Star" before they developed a good chorus) round out the 20-song collection. One stop shopping for one the turn of the '80s most overlooked bands.

Lou Reed: Transformer (1972) ***1/2

More than meets the eye. Okay, not really, I just wanted to use that pun on the toy robots as my opening sentence (I mean, Lou looks kind of like Frankenstein, doesn't he? All he needs are a pair of knobs sticking out of his ears). David Bowie produced this album and saved Reed's career, briefly making him a star on the strength of one of the most unlikely hit singles ever, "Walk On the Wild Side," -- how "But she never lost her head / Even when she was giving head," in an ode to transvestite sex ever got serious airplay back in 19freakin'72 I and many other people have wondered for quite some time. Bowie's production, as usual, is too brittle and thin, though the lush pop sound is appropriate for Reed's glam phase. The high points are friggin' fantastic. Aside from the aforementioned hit single, there's the soaring "Satellite of Love," in which Reed watches the moon landing on TV and dreams of parking lots; "Perfect Day," one of the loveliest and most moving ballads Reed has ever written; and "Vicious," rocks harder than being hit by a flower ought to. However, the low points are unavoidable: the campy interludes "New York Telephone Conversation," and "Good Night Ladies," are enough to make me want to go out and beat up some fag.

Okay, I'm joking. Please don't send me nasty e-mails. Homophobia is deplorable. But so are those two songs. I'm sure it's Bowie's influence that made Reed write and perform such cabaret crap. He may be a Jewish guy who wishes he were German, but he ain't no Kurt Veill. Did I mention that Mick Ronson plays guitar? I especially like his work on "I'm Set Free," a rocker that otherwise suffers from Bowie's thin, fey production; really, this disc sure could use some beefing up, give that lower end a little more range and muscle. "We're all coming out of our closets," was a bold statement back in the early '70s, though I think Lou went right back into the closet after his disengagement from Bowie. This is Reed's pop album, his glam album, his gay album, and his biggest-selling and most popular album. It's good, but inconsistent; and unfortunately, it's the best album I've heard by Reed in his solo incarnation -- Uncle Lou the Heroin Addict has released more shitty albums than anyone of his 'rock legend' stature has a right to foist upon the public (have you heard Mistrial?), so approach his solo work with extreme caution. This is one of the good ones, if too inconsistent to be justifiably be considered Classic with a capital C. Maybe classic in lowercase. What say you?

Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (1980) ***1/2

Rockpile played a lot of dates as the backup band for Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the late '70s, but only recorded one album, this 1980 release. It's a minor delight, and makes one wish the band had spent more time in the studio - as is, the album barely clocks in over a half hour (the CD release adds several Everly Brothers covers, but I wouldn't know about them). Normally I have no use for Dave "I Hear You Knockin', But You Can't Come In" Edmunds' musty rockabilly, but alternating between Lowe's Everly Brothers-inspired pop-rock, I don't mind hearing Edmunds' Chuck Berry rips. The other two members of Rockpile are guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams, who aquit themselves well in this tight band, which cleverly updates '50s rock for the New Wave and keeps the energy level high throughout. Or as Lowe puts it, "Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)". They dig up a couple of obscure oldies-but-goodies, "Teacher, Teacher" and "If Sugar Was As Sweet As You," and Lowe generally writes originals to match. If there's a problem, it's that the band leans a bit too heavily on the Edmunds side of the equation - I don't mind generic rockabilly in small doses, 'cause I can ignore it pretty easily. As a bonus, Difford/Tilbrook (of Squeeze) donate the journalist-bashing "Wrong Again (Let's Face It)." And like I said, it's really short, with the dozen songs all getting to the point very quickly, which in my book is always a good thing.

Todd Rundgren: Something/Anything? (1972) ***

Insanely prolific in his twin roles as recording artist and producer (everyone from the Band to the New York Dolls to Meatloaf to XTC), Rundgren has an overabundance of talent. Talent alone won't get you far, though, and what Rundgren obviously has never had is the discipline to properly apply his talent (much like Zappa before him), at least from this evidence. This double album constituted Rundgren's commercial high point, scoring two staples of classic/oldies stations, "Hello It's Me," (a much improved version of his old Nazz tune) and "I Saw The Light," a stunningly accurate Carol King homage (I used to get Todd and Carol mixed up on the radio all the time!). There are several pleasant soft-rock ballads ("It Wouldn't Make Any Difference," "Marlene," "It Takes Two To Tango") and one power-pop barnstormer, "Couldn't I Just Tell You," that scream pop hit material, also. What's more, Rundgren not only produced and wrote all the material, but played all the instruments on three out of the album's four sides (the full-band fourth side is practically indistinguishable from the preceding three of Todd solo). Aside from some weakness in the drumming (which trips up the tempo changes in the otherwise fine "In The Cold Morning Light," - I just adore the line "We sit and drink Victorian tea," for some reason), Rundgren aquits himself so well one would hardly guess that it's a homemade production. Rundgren, unfortunately, badly needs an editor. For every pleasant soft-rock ballad, there are two more wastes of tape -- Rundgren tackles a wide variety of styles, but the sad fact is that pleasantly inconsequential soft-rock is the only style he's any good at. When he tries to rock out, he winds up with second-rate Santana ("Black Maria") - and that's definitely nobody's idea of a good thing. Alex Chilton had the unfortunate lapse of taste to cover Rundgren's obnoxious "Slut," and if "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me," is his idea of social commentary, then it seems like the only political magazine he subscribes to is Mad. He mumbles some "psychedelic" crap, "I Went To The Mirror," that sounds like he recorded it on ludes, and the token dumb car song, "Little Red Lights," is another attempt to rock out that sounds like third-rate Bachman Turner Overdrive - again, not a compliment. The tribute to Wolfman Jack sounds like Meatloaf trimmed. And I haven't even gotten to Rundgren's horrifyingly unfunny sense of humor - this record, more than any other, has convinced me that rockers shouldn't crack jokes. There's a stupid number about VD, "You Left Me Sore," -- that's it, the title is the only joke. Hell, I could have just scanned the jacket title, what's the point in wasting three minutes on a one-note joke? But that's not the low point. No folks, Rundgren reaches one of the all time lows in musical history with this album's low point: "Piss Aaron," which is as juvenile, tasteless, and abysmally not funny as it sounds. Jokes about pissing on the wall - hoo boy, does that ever crack me up! I've got nothing against bodily function humor in and of itself, but howcum nobody ever shows any imagination with these jokes - they're always the same old jokes that got wore out in junior high! Was Geoffrey Chaucer really the last guy to tell a fart joke with the least bit of originality? Final verdict: I find the soft-rock balladry a pleasant diversion, not much more than that, but those are nice pretty melodies. The rest should have been flushed down the Hudson. Is this the best a guy with Rundgren's "genius" reputation could really do? Maybe he's not that talented after all.

Reader Comments

Dave Weigel, ronin2@email.msn.com

Todd's 70s catalogue has been rereleased this year in Britain, and having had the opportunity to listen to four, I agree with your verdict on "Something/Anything?". Anyone who can call it a classic has only heard the dozen good songs or is lying through his teeth. But don't let this turn you off Rundgren forever, as he has at least two single-discs that bury this album. "A Wizard, A True Star" is his best, in my opinion; side one ties together fragments of beautiful melodies with beguiling and funny sound effects, while side two is comprised of three piano ballads, two successful hard rock tunes, a medley of four classic soul covers and one of the best 70s "anthems", "Just One Victory". His "Hermit of Mink Hollow" album from a few years later isn't as eclectic, but in a way, it's better. Imagine the poppiest songs from S/A? isolated with glossier production. I strongly suggest you find either one and have a listen before passing judgement on Todd.

The Saints: I'm Stranded (1976) ***

Legends in their homeland and generally overlooked on the other five inhabited continents, the Saints were kicking up noise in mid-'70s Australia, completely oblivious to likeminded individuals also inventing punk 2,000 miles away in London and New York. O'course, Oz did have the gritty hammerings of AC/DC, which undoubtedly the Saints were not unaware of and probably partially inspired by -- just mentioning this because there's a certain similarity to their rough, ultra-stripped down approach, though AC/DC are more tightly focused (and thereby better). The Saints certainly have more energy, on the other hand, possessing enough raw punk diesel to burn like a hundred outback bushfires, knocking the listener to the floor like a freight train and then repeatedly bodyslamming the senses again and again with no letup. No band in 1976 played this fast and uncomprisingly ferocious, not even the sainted Ramones; this groundbreaking LP points the way to '80s hardcore punk more than any other '76-'77-era punk record, while simultaneously being more firmly rooted in classic snotty white boy R & B (mainly due to lead singer Chris Bailey's Jaggeresque vocals). However, high energy level alone doesn't make a great record, and the brute monochromatic force of the buzzsaw attack grows wearying after a few songs unless you're a punk diehard. Musically the first Saints album offers little more than ultra-raw, grinding punk, pausing only for the mid-tempo "Story of Love" and "Messin' With The Kid," a decent, if lyrically incoherent, Dylanesque ballad (the bargain basement production masks most of Bailey's verbal vitriol on all the tracks, unfortunately). Melodically the Saints are stillborn and only occassionally do they attach their blazing power-chords to interesting riffs, which means that their songwriting didn't fully develop until their second LP (an amazing leap forward, and one of the greatest punk albums of all time, if you'll check the review below). Generic punk boilers like the generically titled "Wild About You" are too generic for this generic reviewer to enjoy in any except the generic sense, and I'm not too crazy about their rhinoceros rip through Elvis' "Kissin' Cousins", neither. The energy level is pushed so far into the red that sometimes the Saints appear to slide off into a maelstrom of pure noise chaos, as in the nearly six-minute final track "Nights In Venice," which is kind of cool in a post-Blue Cheer/pre-Sonic Youth way, but really isn't all that much fun, to tell the truth. That said, the title track is one of those singles that epitomize everything that's great about punk, with its overpowering guitar fangs roaring behind Bailey's inimitable sneers of alienation, homesickness, bitterness, anger, and confusion, making it the greatest single released in that year of our Lord, or at least easily the greatest rock single released in the Southern hemisphere in 1976 (unless there was some killer Argentine punk rock I've never heard of released in 1976, but I doubt that). All in all, pretty disappointing and very limited compared to the brilliant followup, though not bad if you just want to bash your head with a brick. Now 'scuse me while I pogo to "Demolition Girl" one more time...

The Saints: Eternally Yours (1978) ****

Their second album, recorded after a sojourn to the UK to investigate and cash in on the wide world beyond the isolated shores of Brisbane, finds four snot-nosed punks discovering soul horns and attempting to broaden themselves as musicians -- the latter aim which they shared with every '77 punk-era band worth their salt, and the naive breaking of the shackles of punk orthodoxy still crackles with excitement today. Of course, being a transitional record, about half of the album consists of storming three-chord buzzsaw garage-punkers, and the energy level's high even on the three dusty Dylan-esque acoustic pop ballads that not only provide needed breathers, but prove that the principle songwriters, Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper, possess a sensitivity and depth that bodes well for their careers' long run. Bailey bellows and sneers with punk's technically greatest voice, a vox dripping with adolescent snot: picture a very young Van Morrison slavishly imitating Jagger, with an Australian accent. Bailey's enunciation slurs all of the words in proper Jagger-esque style, but generally not to the point of incomprehensibility; the band behind him are less impressive, maintaining the admirable high-energy level of 20-year olds let loose with noisemakers, but ocassionally the basic punk churn doesn't do much to distinguish itself (Kuepper is competent at delivering slabs of grinding noise and some decent riffs, but nothing special). I might as well mention the album's other flaw now, too -- the sound's rather muddy, due as much to band dynamics (an unsubtle roar) as production. But hey, this is punk, and what matters in punk are a)energy, b)attitude, and c)songs. Most punk bands these days forget all about c, but the songs here are nothing short of excellent, crisp and anthemic in proto-Midnight Oil style. In fact, the anti-advertising opener, "Know Your Product," became a staple of Midnight Oil's live set, which immediately springs to mind because if there's a perfect song for the Oils to cover, this is it -- the angry political lyrics, the surging horn lines, anthemic ranting chorus, and Bailey's thick Aussie accent see to that. And it's not even the best song -- that would probably be "Private Affair," a biting putdown of punk conformism somewhat reminiscent of '65 Kinks at their punkiest. "This Perfect Day," managed to enter the UK Top 40, even though it's neither particularly stronger nor poppier than the surrounding material; its ringing bridge makes it another album highlight. "Orstralia," is a peculiarly Australian protest song: the Saints are protesting that they've got nothing to protest about 'cause their country is so perfect and sunny all the time (the closest they come to a real problem is "we support the CIA"). Aw, kids, you're breakin' my heart. The New Wave parody, "International Robots," is a throwaway goof, and "No, Your Product," isn't as good as its prequel/twin (this version doesn't have any horns). The 1997 reissue adds "Do the Robot," an alternate take of you-know-what, and is already out of print and very hard to find in the US, as are all of the Saints' albums. Unfortunately, after one more album, Prehistoric Sounds, the original Saints broke up, with bass player Algy Ward going on to join the Damned and Ed Kuepper forming the Laughing Clowns. Chris Bailey, however, kept the Saints name for his projects with a revolving door of musicians, releasing a string of records in the '80s in that have yet to see US release -- until 1987's All Fools Day, which I have. By the time of All Fools Day the Saints were, as expected, a completely different band, with virtually no traces of punk, but rather a jangly alternative rock vehicle for Bailey the singer/songwriter, who had evolved into an effective Van Morrison acolyte as a vocalist. I'll review that record sometime; it's respectable, but nowhere near as exciting or vital as the early Saints.

The Skids: Scared To Dance (1978) ****

Anyone who entertains the idea that U2 had an original idea in their heads should grab a copy of these Scots' (and yes, the fact that they come from Scotland is significant) debut, who roughly sound like a (much) artier, post-punk Thin Lizzy, thus providing the crucial missing link in the chain between Phil Lynott and Bono. Lead singer Richard Jobson sounds pompous as shite pumping out anthemic tales of glory like he thinks he's the reincarnation of Sir Walter Scott, shouting pretentious nonsense about melancholy soldiers and saints coming like an 18th century Robert Bruce commanding the charge of the light brigade into the valley. But if you can handle his Scots nationalist fantasy lyricism - which anyway is mostly incomprehensible, since like most Scotsmen he never learned to articulate proper English behind his thick bleating-sheep accent (Q: Why do Scotsmen wear kilts? A: Because sheep can hear zippers), you'll find some quite rousing calls to arms to march to. Mainly this is due to guitarist Stuart Adamson, who has an undeniable talent for a smashingly catchy, crunchy riff - here he strikes upon an open-chorded, rich tone that would be imitated to death by scores of '80s imitators (including Big Country, which Adamson formed after the demise of his original band). His riffs create enough excitement to make most of the songs memorable even when the melodies aren't up to par. It's a shockingly overlooked contribution to the development of '80s alternative rock, considering its influence - the Skids were one of the first rock bands that sounded truly and proudly Celtic, not English, with a big, wide-open, throaty sound that unmistakably emenated from the Highlands. It grows tiresome hearing one forceful anthem on top of the other, which shows up the Skids' biggest flaw - they had a powerful formula, but rarely veered from it (the closest they come is the moody title track). However, there really isn't a weak or duff track in sight, and the reissue adds 7 mostly smashing singles, A's & B's. The Skids hung on for a few more albums and even scored a few UK hits before disbanding in 1981, with Jobson eventually winding up as a broadcaster and Adamson forming the more commercially successfully Big Country, who basically sounded like a watered-down Skids ("stylistic variety" is apparently not in the man's vocabulary).

Simple Minds: Life In A Day (1979) ***

One of the first (and most slavish) Roxy Music imitations, Simple Minds began as a fairly interesting post-punk art-pop band and wound up overproduced arena-rock purveyors of slick bombast. At least their debut album shows some talent for striking a precarious balance between moody post-punk and anthemic rock; though incredibly derivative (lead singer Jim Kerr sounds exactly like a junior-league Bryan Ferry) and inconsistent, this will come as a pleasant surprise to anyone only familiar with their mid-'80s dreck. The first two tracks are exciting and catchy: "Someone," is a stomping guitar-rock potential single that recalls Roxy circa Country Life, while the title track ventures into murkily synth-heavy, post-psychedelic territory and wouldn't have sounded out of place on For Your Pleasure. Though they never step out of the heavy shadow of Roxy Music, there are other influences that pop up from song to song. "Sad Affair," is crunchy Jam-style mod-rock; "All For You," shows that they haven't thrown out their Doors albums; "No Cure," sports a bombastic Who-like arrangement; and "Chelsea Girl," is orchestral pop - if only "Sad Affair," is any good, at least the lads show a healthy tendency to branch out a little. It's a debut from musicians with excitement to spare who haven't had the experience to shed the obviousness of their influences, and it seemed to promise a better future once the band got over its Roxy fixation and developed their own style. Unfortunately, that never happened; I've heard some of their later work and it's truly dire. That didn't stop them from scoring American hits in the mid-'80s, beginning with a cover of a song originally written for (and turned down by) Bryan Ferry himself, "(Don't You) Forget About Me."

Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) ****

Shhhh...don't tell your mother, but once upon a time, Rod the Mod used to be good. He used to be a rocker, with cool Dylan and Sam Cooke influences as the foundation of his style. This, supposedly his best album, contains the classic rock staple the title track, a lusty travelogue in which Stewart tramps the globe seducing and discarding women like the underwear he never bothers to change ("Though I stunk/I kept my funk"). It's a hoot, and rocks thanks to Mick Waller's galloping drumming; you gotta love the lines about Shanghai Lil and the pill. Another song about sex, "Maggie May," is the highlight, and the best song I've ever heard concerning younger man/older woman. It actually manages to sound poignant, even though there's no reason to feel sorry for Rod's situation - he had his fun, got taught a little about life, it's no tragedy. The acappella bit in the middle of Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe," convinces me that, for a while, Stewart had the best voice in rock. So why did he waste that voice on all the crap that came later? At least for a few years he merged folk with rock into a genuinely tasty (and tasteful) and emotionally sincere blend (emotionally sincere - you'd never figure to use those adjectives to describe Rod Stewart, would you?). "Mandolin Wind," even has the good sense to employ a real mandolin, and the Faces team up to make "I'm Losing You," rock pretty hard. It's not quite the masterpiece critics make it out to be, but it is a very solid effort with some great tunes, and one of the better releases of the early '70s.

Rod Stewart: Never A Dull Moment (1972) ****

Some consider this a slight letdown from Every Picture Tells A Story, but I don't see how that 1971 release is really any better. There's no "Maggie May," but there is "You Wear It Well," which is almost as good. My favorite track, though, is the opener, "True Blue," that starts off the album with a lie: "Never been a millionare/And I tell you mama I don't care." But, as Rod says, I really don't care; Rod doesn't mean a word, but I love it. Betwixt fine covers of Dylan ("Mama You Been On My Mind"), Hendrix ("Angel") and Sam Cooke ("Twistin' the Night Away") are several fine Stewart originals, including the aforementioned "True Blue," and "You Wear It Well." The self-deprecating "Los Paraguayos," and the lecherous "Italian Girls," are dandy travelogue fantasies that reflect Stewart's life as a travelling rock star. The only real low point is a plodding cover of "I'd Rather Go Blind." This rocks a bit harder than Every Picture Tells A Story, and it's less overplayed on classic rock stations, so I actually play this one a bit more.

Sweet: Desolation Boulevard (1974) ***

Kiss for pre-teens (?), Queen without the operatic flourishes, Bowie without a brain, T. Rex on Jolt cola, pre-Ramones Ramones -- Sweet were all this and less. They had a simple, but effective gimmick, to add a heavy metal kick to silly bubblegum tunes -- and, at best, it worked. But only on singles, and only when producers/svengalis Chinn and Chapman wrote the songs (not the band members), and even then the singles were hit and miss. Luckily two of the singles on this, their most successful album, are as kickbutt as a junior high sleepover: "Ballroom Blitz," which starts off with a giggily fey intro before launching into high-pitched squeals and killer drum-hooks; and "Fox On the Run," which metaphorizes foxes (girls, or birds as they say in the U.K.) with foxes on the run (as in a fox hunt, a popular sport among the aristocracy in the U.K.) - and has a cool synthline, to booty (and the band wrote it themselves!) The third single, "The Six-Teens," is an ill-concieved attempt at seriousness, and winds up sounding like a self-inflated Diamond Dogs outtake. As you'd expect from a crew of teenybopper idols who are the tools of the Chapman/Chinn studio machine, the rest of the album consists of stuff designed to fill up the album. You know, filler, except that's too harsh of a word for most of these tracks, which are enjoyable in a very lightweight manner. There's a song about a bisexual girlfriend, "A.C./D.C.", a speedmetal song (in 1974!) "Sweet F.A.," some decent psychotic anthems ("No You Don't," "I Wanna Be Committed," - that last title sounds like something the Ramones could pen, eh?). I'm not always in the mood for this, but it's kind of a guilty pleasure -- completely meaningless, camp, and disposable, like Elton John gone metal. Of course, "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting," is pretty close to this type of thing, isn't it?

Television: Marquee Moon (1977) ****1/2

Perhaps the most influential record released in 1977 (in the purely musical sense - most punk bands, including the Sex Pistols, were shocking in stance but very trad musically), this isn't the most perfect jewel of an album that some critics might have it. First of all, Tom Verlaine can't sing very well; his scratchy punk yelp can take some getting used to. Also, the production and the band arrangements sound thin. And "Prove It," and "Friction," are practically the same non-tune, boringly composed numbers that remain passable only by Verlaine and Richard Lloyd's snaky guitar interweaving. But composition isn't Television's strong point; the first two songs, "See No Evil," and "Venus," are the most fully realized, with most of the rest sounding a bit sketchy. Fortunately, Verlaine and Lloyd sketch in some of the most amazing guitar interplay and soloing ever captured in rock. As a guitar solo album, this holds its own with Layla, Are You Experienced?, or any other one might mention. Verlaine and Lloyd's revolutionary stance was to shed rock guitar of its blues roots, to arrive at a mathematical, modernistic sheen. Guitar solos minus macho bluster, reinvented sounding as gangly as Verlaine's physique - the Talking Heads and many other New Wave bands have their tightly sprung, nerdy roots in Television's sound. It's impossible to imagine the moody soundscapes of a great deal of post-punk without Television: they throbbed with the beauty and tension of NYC at night, a feat which could only have been achieved by immigrants to the Big Crapple. Jaded hometown boys like the Ramones would never have sung, "Broadway looks so medieval," with such poetic fascination. There are some of the most transcendent moments in rock on this album, as the band soars on the lyricism of Verlaine and Lloyd's steely skyscraper guitars. Perhaps the best record to emerge out of the NYC punk scene (ever), this music isn't punk except in the historical sense -- what it is, in fact, is the first genuinely great post-punk album, far evolved from the simplistic three-chord bashing of the Pistols and Clash. If you play guitar, then raise my grade a half-star - it's essential listening (the Edge of U2 thought so, since he claims to have learned guitar by playing along with it).

Johnny Thunders: So Alone (1978) ***1/2

As one of NYC's most notorious celebrity junkies and all-around fuckup, Thunders spent his post-NY Dolls career bouncing from erratic gig to gig between bouts of smacking up before finally OD'ing in a New Orleans hotel in 1991. Without David Johansen's showbiz discipline as a balance to his hellbent rock'n'roll, Thunders' solo career and life seemed to amount to a case study in sloppy dissipation and wasted talent -- tragic, because he really did have some innate talent as one of the last great '50s-fuelled rock guitarists, unlike fellow, but talent-less heroin-addled punk simpletons Sid Vicious and Darby Crash. His first solo album, recorded after his band the Heartbreakers fell apart (not Tom Petty's Florida rednecks; I mean Thunders' NYC junkie scum), is generally regarded as the high point of his solo career due to the fact that, with a little (or a lot) of help from his friends, he actually managed to stay in focus long enough to cobble together a halfway-coherent musical release. Certainly, it's still pretty sloppy -- how could any Thunders release not be? -- but at least here it's just sloppy enough to fall on the side of roughly charming rather than gratingly amateurish. Thunders only bothered to write four brand-new songs (the reissue helpfully adds three more Thunders orginals as bonus tracks) for the recording sessions, with the rest either covers ("Pipeline," "Great Big Kiss," in all its wonderfully slutty, goofy wonder, and "Daddy Rolling Stone," which trades off lead vocal duties with Thunders, ex-Small Face/Humble Pie Steve Marriot, and Thin Lizzy mainman Phil Lynott on the three separate verses) or recycled Dolls tracks. "Leave Me Alone," is just "Chatterbox" with minor lyrical alterations, despite the different title, and though Thunder's pale wheeze is no match for Johansen's Bronx cheer Jagger, I'm happy to have a version of "Subway Train," with comprehensible lyrics. It's too bad, since the new Thunders songs are pretty good, including the album's only classic, "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory," a self-pitying acknowledgement of the doom his reckless lifestyle inevitably leads to. Even more chilling is the title track (perversely not on the original album, but a bonus track here), which lethargically moans in the gothic abyss; it doesn't go anywhere musically, but as a portrait of falling-apart lonliness and despair, it's not supposed to -- it really gives me the creeps. It would've made a perfect downbeat album closer, but for light relief comes the final bonus track, a cover of T. Rex's "The Wizard", which is a bit of an odd choice for such a rootsy guy as Thunders and doesn't fit into the updated '50s-trash-rock vibe of the rest of the album at all. Backed up by members of the Only Ones, Phil Lynott on bass, and even ex-Pistols Steve Jones & Paul Cook on a few tracks (whose old band gets their comeuppance with "London Boys," Thunders' defensive reaction to the Pistols' Dolls-baiting "New York"), this album hardly qualifies as punk musically -- more like sloppy seconds classic rock updating of '50s and early '60s good time rock'n'roll (in other words, a natural progression from the second NY Dolls album).

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers: Live at Max's Kansas City '79 (1979) ****

Thunders' on-and-off again post-NY Dolls group the Heartbreakers released one studio album, L.A.M.F., the mix of which was allegedly so bad that the band broke up over it. Over the years the Heartbreakers reformed countless times to play sporadic reunion gigs; being composed of 4 seriously drug-abusing heroin addicts, the Heartbreakers simply could never get it together, despite their hometown popularity and undeniable talent as a simple, kickass hard-rock act. This set captures them in their prime, pumping out raw, sleazily stomping, explosive versions of most of L.A.M.F. plus a handful of Thunders solo tunes and the old NY Dolls chestnut "Don't Mess With Cupid," along with a ripping slamdance through the oldie "Do You Love Me" (Ramones, eat your heart out). Thunders was always a limited and technically amateurish guitar player, recycling the same sludgy hot licks over and over with practically no variation in tone - but what great licks they were! And the tone, well, it gets kind of monotonous over the course of this 17-song CD (the 12 songs from the original vinyl; the reissue 5 bonus tracks from a 1982 gig that was planned as a Heartbreakers' Vol. II live album, but Thunders staying true to fuck-up form disappeared after playing only 5 songs, leaving "the kids" as the older, infinitely more jaded junkie scum the Heartbreakers refer to their audience). But if you just want to kick out the jams and rock out to some kickass headbanging, this'll turn the charm just as good as your average AC/DC or Slade. There's loads of cussin' stage patter ("This next tune's called 'Can't Keep My Cock in Your Face'....or mouth, or whatevah..."), guitars loud and sludgy and cranked to 11, the band's drunk, stoned, and gloriously sloppy....what more do you want from a live album? Shootin' up Chinese rocks in a filthy bathroom stall in the dungeon in the scummiest dive on the Lower East Side? Ah, man, dem wuz da days....

The Vibrators: Pure Mania (1977) ****

Perhaps the reason I go so nuts for so many '70s punk records but find punk in the '80s and beyond mainly a tuneless, mindlessly abrasive drag is that punks in the '70s still remembered that "punk" was merely the adjective to "rock". Over 20 years later, the Vibrators' debut can be heard as Eddie Cochran on steroids - the 15 tracks here are nearly all fast, catchy, tunefully hooky and quite tight pumped-up ditties that update '50s rebel rock verities about frustration with girls and the lecherous desire for sexual perversions. Well, those two subjects include 90% of everything Elvis, Chuck B., and the Stones wrote about, and those are basically the only subjects the Vibrators sing about. Being a bit older than most of the other punks - in their earlier incarnation they were (gasp!) hippies - the Vibrators were a bunch of phonies jumping on the punk bandwagon to escape from a career playing low-rent pubs. As such, the Vibrators don't go for Big Statements About The Social Condition a la the Clash or Pistols, but fool around with poppy post-Ramones pogo numbers about girls, girls, girls. But their pop isn't sweet - the Vibrators are nasty little opportunists who worship the Velvet Underground. Lead singer Chris Knox keeps complaining about his girlfriend all the time, even threatening to kill her with a .38, but he's such a wimp he's impossible to take seriously - if he actually did try to beat up his girl, he'd more than likely get his ass kicked. The Vibrators are anti-drugs ("Keep It Clean") and pro-S & M ("I Need a Slave"). London girls are getting them down and they wish they were young again 'cause getting older is such a drag (and they haven't even hit 30 yet). "Stiff Little Fingers," gave a later great punk band their name, but they chose one of the weakest tracks, the midtempo (!) "Baby Baby" as the single (undoubtedly because it's the slowest, most mainstream song here - but that's what also makes it weak). They save the best song for near the end, "Whips & Furs," a number catchy enough to almost-kinda-sorta-well-I-guess-not-really get into leather and chains - but it's really about dancing the night away above all else, which I wholeheartedly endorse.

Wreckless Eric: Big Smash (1980) ***1/2

Stiff Records used to have an advertising slogan, "If It Ain't Stiff, It Ain't Worth A F****". There's actually a point to such hyperbole; Stiff were one of the first and most important independent labels, and if they had been able to hold on to such key artists as Elvis Costello, the Damned, and Nick Lowe, and found others of the same caliber, they might have survived the '70s as one of the most important labels in the U.K. ever. Wreckless Eric was cut from the same pub-rock cloth as Costello and Lowe, but didn't possess Costello's talent or Lowe's craft - the latter in particular he lacks sorely, but that's part of his ragged charm, as is often the case. His scratchy mewl recalls nothing so much as a scrawny alley cat seranading rotten fish in a trashcan, but he writes scruffy garage-pop tunes that benefit greatly from his generous wit and quirky persona. This release is a double album, the first containing a new 1980 LP that tries to sandpaper over Eric's rough edges, and unfortunately succeeds; the songs are sturdy, but sound far too conventional. At least Eric has the foresight to make fun of his own record with the opening "Pop Song." The second disc, however, is a compilation of his first two albums and assorted singles, and is good fun, with a clutch of crackin' tunage. The best number is "(I'd Go The) Whole Wide World," a lookin'-for-love anthem that ranks as one of the greatest songs anyone wrote in latter half of the '70s. There are several other numbers that come close, and nearly all bring some sort of grin to my face. "Take the Cash (K.A.S.H.)" is another witty, classic anthem; "Semaphore Signals," demonstrates Eric's quirkiness with a novel boy/girl relationship; "Final Taxi," shows that it's not all fun and games, and that Eric can write a moving ballad. Hardly an essential record, but a fun one that's hard to dislike.

X-Ray Spex: Germ Free Adolescents (1978) ***1/2

"Some people think that little girls should be seen and not heard," intros lead vocalist Poly Styrene in her little tyke voice, before shrieking, "But I say -- OH BONDAGE, UP YOURS!" It's one of the most thrilling feminist moments in rock, and always tickles me inside whenever I hear "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!" Styrene's ode to independence. Odd ducks in the late '70s punk scene, X-Ray Spex sounded even more raw and unsettling than most of their contemporaries - Jak Airport's standard buzzsaw guitar was more abrasive and crude than the usual punk's, but the guitar was topped by Lora Logic's (and later Rudi Thompson's) saxophone wailings that were unbelievably even more raw, crude, and abrasive. Add that to Styrene's dog-whistle screech and you've got a volatile mixture that rocks in a very unsettling manner - and, truth be told, can be extremely annoying if you're not in the mood or have eardrums sensitive to high pitches. Styrene's melodies are basically nursery rhymes, high-octane sing-songs with the type of inanely catchy choruses that get on one's nerves but get stuck in your head over and over - "I am a cliche and I don't care, I really like it when people stare!" Styrene's lyrics about the social condition aren't programmatic anthems, but coyly concern themselves with consumerism and its plasticifying emotional byproducts. She proudly sees herself as a "Warrior In Woolworths", proclaims that she's "Art-I-Ficial," but so are you (and note how she separates the word). She's worried about "Identity," in a world turned day-glo, where genetic engineers might create the perfect human race and replace us all; her boyfriend tries to strangle her with her plastic beads, but she hits him back with her pet rat. In the end punk rock saves her life as she surfs the London Underground and gets turned on by Richard Hell's icy stare. The album's a one-shot that couldn't have happened in any other place or time, but twenty years from now Germ Free Adolescents still has the goofy, naive, but still angry (as an overweight half-caste female, Styrene has more concrete social problems to complain about than your average white-boy punk) power of the original rriot-grrl.

Warren Zevon: Excitable Boy (1978) ***

A noir-obsessed wise guy with a theatrical penchant for violence (he probably thinks singing about rapist serial killers is square-upsetting cool -- gimme break, those cliches were stupid enough back when William Burroughs shot his wife), it's hard to believe that this scion of a professional gambler was a Jackson Browne discovery (of course, that's easier to swallow than the fact that as a child Zevon took a few piano lessons from Stravinsky). Zevon's not so much ironic as outright cynical, which actually made his venom a relief in the bland L.A. singer-songwriter scene of the '70s. He's a poor but adequate singer; his lyrics aren't as good as Randy Newman's, but much better than the L.A. singer-songwriter norm (at least when he's not so damn self-consciously offbeat); and the musical backing is standard late '70s mainstream rock -- a decent enough backdrop for his songs, but nothing worth remarking about. The album begins strongly enough, with the "rockin' in the projects" sub-Springsteen anthem "Johnny Strikes Up the Band" bettered only by the geopolitical mercernary's tale, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner." From there on, the album becomes maddeningly inconsistent; the rollicking novelty tune, "Werewolves of London," was my favorite song when I was five, but there's the title track about the rapist serial killer. He does okay with the political tunes ("Lawyers, Guns, and Money") but misfires with a foggy love song worthy of Linda Rondstadt ("Accidently Like a Martyr" -- and no, that's not a compliment). This was his biggest-selling album due to the success of "Werewolves," but not his best.

Warren Zevon: The Envoy (1982) ***1/2

For example, this commercial bomb is better than the 1978 release. Zevon's still relatively inconsistent, but in this case the bullseyes outshoot the misfires -- curiously enough, the most strained song is the geopolitical title track, which shows that Warren's been reading a few too many spy novels for his own good (which should balance out his taking Raymond Chandler too seriously). "The Overdraft" is an exciting riff-rocker; unlike a lot of singer-songwriters, Zevon remembers that his music is supposed to be rock'n'roll -- which certainly keeps me from falling asleep (as certain other highly respected singer-songwriters tend to do) if nothing else. In the badly sung "Hula Hula Boys," Zevon woozily calls to mind a margarita-baked Jimmy Buffett (redundancy?); the smarmy folk-gospel ballad "Jesus Mentioned" concerns Memphis, Elvis, and all that Americana rot, and doesn't sound all that sincere; the drug dealer's tale, "Charlie's Medicine," doesn't fill my prescription, either. What makes this album isn't the song where Zevon smashes his head against the Louvre 'cause "I'd rather feel bad than feel nothing at all," (gives new connotation to "head-banging," doesn't it?), but the three songs about finding love - what a surprise, and even more surprising, they're sincere and (gasp!) optimistic. "Let Nothing Come Between You," sounds like some half-forgotten girl-group classic, while in "Looking For the Next Best Thing," Zevon realizes that he can't have his cake and eat it too, so he's reached a reasonable, satisfied compromise - he manages to make such sentiments not sound defeatist. And it's unusual (but encouraging) for such a die-hard cynic to end the album with the sappy cliche, "Don't stop believing in tomorrow."

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