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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

40 Years of Punk & New Wave: Queens of Noise - The Runaways

Queens of Noise - The Runaways
Mercury
Produced by Kim Fowley and Earle Mankey
Released January 1977
US Charts #172
Swedish Charts #28




Side A

Side B

Songwriting Credits
A1 Queens Of Noise (Billy Bizeau)   
A2 Take It Or Leave It (Joan Jett)    
A3 Midnight Music (Cherie Currie, Kim Fowley, and Steven Tetsch)   
A4 Born To Be Bad (Kim Fowley, Michael Steele, and Sandy West)   
A5 Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin (Jackie Fox, Kim Fowley and Lita Ford)   
B1 I Love Playin' With Fire (Joan Jett)   
B2 California Paradise (Joan Jett, Kari Krome, Kim Fowley and Sandy West)   
B3 Hollywood (Jackie Fox, Joan Jett and Kim Fowley)   
B4 Heartbeat (Cherie Currie, Earl Mankey, Jackie Fox, Kim Fowley and Lita Ford)   
B5 Johnny Guitar (Kim Fowley and Lita Ford)

Singles taken from Queens of Noise
Queens of Noise / Born To Be Bad
UK Release

 Midnight Music / Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin
German Release


Heartbeat / Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin
US and Australian Release
US Chart #110

 I Love Playin' With Fire / Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin
Australian Release


Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin / Queens of Noise
Japanese Release

An Austrian version of the single Neon Angels On The Road To Ruin had Take It Or Leave It on the B-Side.

*************************

For as long as I can remember the debate has raged as to the legitimacy of calling The Runaways a Punk/New Wave band or a straight up Hard Rock band. For myself I have no real issue where they fit and I'm sure for the likes of Joan Jett she would be happy to have her band spoken of in the same breath as other excellent American bands that were part of the early Punk and New Wave Scene.

In early 1977 with the release of their second album the band had been lumped in with the Punk scene and had already formed alliances with the likes of the Dead Boys and Ramones and in the UK were often hanging out with the Sex Pistols, Generation X and The Damned.

Like a number of the American based bands The Runaways found success hard to come by at home and it was Japan of all places that they had some major recognition. They were the fourth most imported artist in Japan alongside Led Zeppelin, ABBA and Kiss.

The summer tour in Japan though merely brought a lot of tension to the band with Jackie Fox departing shortly before a slot at the Tokyo Music Festival and later in the year Cherie Currie would also leave the band to record a solo album - Beauty's Only Skin Deep (1978). Joan Jett, who had shared vocal duties on Queens of Noise with Currie then took over as lead vocalist.

Queens of Noise was a little different to the Debut album released 7 months earlier. Firstly because they brought in another producer due to relations with manager Kim Fowley falling apart. Earle Mankey was man brought in to produce and engineer the album, he was most known for his work with The Beach Boys!

Secondly, Jackie Fox actually played on the album whereas on the debut she is credited with being in the band but apparently Kim Fowley did not want her playing on the album! Nigel Harrison (Blondie) plays bass on the album instead of Fox!

Thirdly the inclusion of two "Power Ballads" (Midnight Music and Heartbeat) that would probably set the benchmark for 1980s Hair Metal bands the world over!

The title track was the only song on the album that was not written by members of the band, rather it was penned by keyboardist Billy Bizeau of The Quick, another band managed by Kim Fowley. The lead vocal on the track is by Joan Jett and this caused a bit of bother as Currie had expected to sing it but after returning to the studio after a medical procedure she was infuriated to discover that the vocal had already been recorded. In concert a compromise was made that would see Currie sing the opening verse before turning the microphone over to Jett! The tension regarding lead vocals saw a pretty equal sharing of them between Jett and Currie.

Two other tracks were recorded for the album - Hollywood Dream and C'Mon - but were left off with Hollywood Dream causing a problem as Currie wanted it on the album but Fox and Ford instigated a band rebellion against it and got Jett and West on their side. Both songs would eventually appear on the Flaming Schoolgirls album that was released after the band had broken up. There was also an alternate version of Hollywood entitled Hollywood Cruisin'.




The Runaways and Kim Fowley's thoughts on Queens of Noise Tracks:

The Album as a whole:
Joan Jett: "I'm really proud of this album. It really is a lot more listenable than the first. It still has the ballsy rock and roll thing of the first LP, but it's got some slow songs too".
Jackie Fox felt that it is "not a very good album" overall.
Kim Fowley: "The girls have shown that all the work on the summer U.S. and fall European tours was not in vain. They're showing more interaction as a band, with more guitar soloing and guitar battles. Everybody forgets that this is the youngest rock and roll band in the world. They're hanging in there competing with people twice their age in every area. I admire them for it. These girls want to make it. They won't be satisfied until they're the number one group in the world. 'Cause time is on their side, oh yes it is".  

Queens of Noise:
Kim Fowley: "It's what it's like to be a girl touring and how they act with wild boys screaming in the first three rows. A great opening song and statement." 

Take It or Leave It:  
Jackie Fox:"one of my least favorite Runaways songs".
Kim Fowley: "Pure Runaways".

Midnight Music:   
Jackie Fox: noted that the song was initially unpopular with the other four members of the band, but in 2000 remarked that upon further listening it was "actually one of the better songs on the album".
Cherie Currie: "I sang four or five part harmony on this. It turned out more fantastic than I thought it would."
Kim Fowley: "Bruce Springsteen would be very receptive lyrically to this sentiment. The guitar work here is reminiscent of Roy Wood's work with the Move".


Born To Be Bad:  
Jackie Fox: "almost as embarrassing as Johnny Guitar".
Joan Jett: "This was written when we were a three-piece band by Sandy, Kim, and Micki Steele, the first bass player. A slow ballad about someone who is a born loser".

Neon Angels on the Road To Ruin:  
Jackie Fox: the band's "concession to Lita's heavy metal desires".
Kim Fowley: "Reminds me of a European approach to heavy metal with Cherie's voice having this shrieking quality like Savage Rose - like a witch. It's all about people in the audience who are really destroying themselves in a very charismatic and religious way".

I Love Playin' With Fire:  
Jackie Fox: "always a lot of fun to play" and that she thought that Ford's solo was "one of her best".
Joan Jett: "This was written while we were in the studio. Kim was saying we needed more songs so I sat down and wrote this one". 

Kim Fowley: "Joan singing about getting ripped off and almost destroyed by superficial love".
California Paradise
Jackie Fox: "probably the best song on the album".
Joan Jett: "It always starts out the set on the tour. It's about the state we live in and how nice it is".
Kim Fowley: "The answer to "California Girls" by the Beach Boys although musically it resembles a Gary Glitter record".


Hollywood:
Joan Jett: "It's a fun song about a girl wanting to become a star knowing that you can become one".

Heartbeat:

The song was originally written by Lita Ford and Jackie Fox as a mock love song to Joey Ramone. Fox was going to sing it with Currie but she said, "Cherie's voice and mine didn't blend well at all". Without Fox's knowledge or approval, Currie and Fowley then rewrote the lyrics to be about David Bowie and recorded the vocals without Fox.

Joan Jett: "It's about Cherie, really. A girl in a rock and roll band who sings lead and she meets another lead singer who's a star. They like each other but they can't stay together because each one has to go their own way to help their career".
Cherie Currie: "Kim and I had talked about a song like this. So he wrote something and I rearranged it and wrote the melody. I love singing songs like this".

Johnny Guitar:

Jackie Fox:  "without a question the single worst song the Runaways ever did".
Joan Jett: "A song for Lita to show off her lead guitar work. It's about her guitar. A basic blues song"

Critical reaction to the album was very mixed with Sounds recommended the album, though Barry Meyers did mention that Johnny Guitar was "an unnecessary use of vinyl". The Village Voice in the USA graded it a C- with the line that that they "bimbos whose singing sounds out of tune!"

Whatever you think about the album today it is to my mind a vital cog in the wheel for the development of rock and roll from a female perspective. The Runaways, despite all their issues, set the bench mark for bands like Girlschool who followed in their path.
 

Poster for London Debut at The Roundhouse

Sunday, 15 January 2017

45RPM: #124 I Can't Explain - The Who (1965)


On this day in musical history the debut single release from The Who arrived. We could argue that it was actually their second single as the debut released under the name of The High Numbers had been released in July 1964 Zoot Suit / I'm The Face. But for today's purpose we are saying it's the Debut Single (at least the first released under the banner of The Who).

It would enter the charts in February 1965 at #45 and hit its highest peak (#8) in April before ending a 13 week run on the charts at #29 in May.

The song has been a fixture of the live shows for many decades now and has been the opening number for the past couple of tours (Check out a performance from 2015 in Dublin).

It's amazing to think that the song is 52 years old!  All good music, no matter the age, continues to sound great.

The opening riff of course sounds like they borrowed it from The Kinks (and that's a discussion for another time and place!) and The Clash liked it so much they "used it" as inspiration for two songs - Clash City Rockers and Guns On The Roof. Bowie recorded it for his Pinups album in 1973 and Yvonne Elliman released it adding a woman's perspective to it also in 1973.


I Can't Explain / Bald Headed Woman
Brunswick
Produced by Shel Talmy
Released 15th January 1965
UK Chart #8
French Chart #14
US Chart #93

 A-Side

B-Side


 Personnel
    Roger Daltrey - lead vocals, tambourine
    Pete Townshend - lead and rhythm 12-string guitar, handclaps
    John Entwistle - bass guitar, handclaps
    Keith Moon - drums, handclaps
    The Ivy League - backing vocals
    Perry Ford - piano
    Jimmy Page - rhythm guitar (recording session)

Other Releases of I Can't Explain

Bald Headed Woman was considered the A-Side and I Can't Explain the B-Side on the Italian release on Decca

  
It was also the A-Side on the release of the single in Denmark on Brunswick!


Bald Headed Woman was also the A-Side on the New Zealand & Australia releases on Festival Records!
When reissued 1967 in Australia I Can't Explain was given the A-Side
 

French EP Picture Sleeve released on Brunswick

Notice that Bald Headed Woman is misprinted as Blad Headed Woman (this appears on both sides of the sleeve)!



Picture Sleeve for German release on Brunswick


US Release on Decca
 


Canadian Release on Decca

Rewind: Back In The USA - MC5 (1970)

Back In The USA - MC5
Atlantic 
Produced by Jon Landau
Released 15th January 1970
US Chart #137


Personnel
    Rob Tyner – vocals
    Wayne Kramer – guitar, backing vocals, vocals on first and third chorus of "Back in the USA", guitar solos on "Tutti Frutti", "Teenage Lust" and "Looking at You"
    Fred "Sonic" Smith – guitar, backing vocals, guitar solo on "The American Ruse", lead vocals on "Shakin' Street" and second chorus of "Back in the USA"
    Michael Davis – bass
    Dennis Thompson – drums

Additional personnel
    Danny Jordan – keyboards
    Pete Kelly – keyboards


Side One

Side Two

Singles featured on Back In The USA



A-Side 

B-Side
A-Square Records
Released March 1968
Did Not Chart

The version that appears on the album is different to the original 1968 version.


Was reissued in 1977 in France on the Skydog label as a Double A-Side


(French Picture Sleeve)

Released 15th October 1969
Atlantic

(German Picture Sleeve)

Released December 1969



 Shakin' Street / The American Ruse
13th March 1970


Released April 1970 Germany Only

************************
I was a mere six years old when this was released and so it's fairly safe to say that I knew nothing of the MC5 back then.

Since its release in 1970 it has undergone a number of Reissues on different labels: 1977 (Reissued on Vinyl - Atlantic - UK, France and Australia), 1992 (Remastered and Resissued on CD - Rhino/Atlantic), 2002 (Reissued on Vinyl - Sundazed Music - USA), 2003 (Picture Disc - Atlantic/Warner Strategic Marketing - UK), and 2014 (180gram Vinyl - 4 Men With Beards  -USA).

I think the very first time I heard them would have been the 1977 Reissue and that was maybe because I'd read an interview with some punk band (whom I have forgotten at this particular moment in time) who were talking about their love for the band. These days when such information falls into your lap you just go online, punch the name of the group into You Tube and hey presto there are loads of videos featuring the music of the band. But back then such a thought was a sheer impossibility and it meant that the most important source would probably be the older hippy dude who worked at the local record shop who could probably tell you the inside leg measurements for Syd Barrett and the catalogue numbers for all three 1967 singles by The Chocolate Watchband (by the way incase you were wondering it's (Uptown 740, Uptown 749 and Tower 373! - Yep, I've become that old hippy dude! 😏 )!

The only other thing that I knew about MC5 was that lead vocalist Rob Tyner had released a single backed by Eddie and the Hot Rods in 1977 called Till The Night is Gone backed with Flipside Rock. Both songs were written by Tyner and were recorded over the course of two days in September 1977.


So listening to Back In The USA for the first time in 1977, totally unaware of the the history or the politics of the band (this would all be discovered much later) was quite an interesting experience because it's very different to their live Debut Album Kick Out The Jams (which I don't think I heard until maybe 1978) in that it sounds a lot tamer in places and at first nothing out of the ordinary. 

With a couple of old Rock 'n' Roll classics bookending the album (Tutti Frutti made famous by Little Richard and Chuck Berry's Back In The USA) and nine tracks written by the band themselves it's an interesting mix of sound with almost a ballad with Let Me Try to political songs like The American Ruse and The Human Being Lawnmower which were attacks upon the US Government regarding Freedom and also their involvment in Vietnam.

Inbetween there were songs like Looking At You, which I thought at the time was a cracking song and was so pleased that The Damned took a shot at it on their Machine Gun Etiquette album in 1979. The White Stripes did a version for a Peel Session. The Back In The USA  version maybe doesn't have the intensity of the original 1968 single but it is still one of the standout tracks on the album in my book.


Shakin' Street was another one that I have heard a few cover versions of down through the years. Atlanta band The Weasels used to play it as part of their set.

The discovery in 1977 for me of this album alongside Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges (1975) was a good thing and gave me some interesting insight into the foundations of the American Punk/New Wave scene.

Some people might be put off by the politics of the band and their early associations with the Black/White Panthers but I think there's still a possibility to enjoy what is clearly one of The Classic Albums ever recorded in American music history without going into the pros and cons of left wing politics.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Rewind: Low - David Bowie (1977)

 Low - David Bowie
RCA Victor
Produced by David Bowie and Tony Visconti
Released 14th January 1977
UK Chart #2
US Chart #11



Side 1

Side 2

Singles on Low
(German Picture Sleeve)

11th February 1977
UK Chart #3
US Chart #69

(Dutch Picture Sleeve)

17th June 1977
Did Not Chart

*Was the first single from Bowie since Changes in 1972 not to chart

*******************
Prior to working on the Low album in 1976 David Bowie had been working on Iggy Pop's debut solo album The Idiot (that would be released in March 1977). Bowie and Pop had co-written most of the songs for the album and Bowie had produced it. Iggy turns up on What In The World on backing vocals on the Low album.

The album was recorded between studios in France and West Germany (as it was then) and is more commonly regarded as the first of The Berlin Trilogy ("Heroes" and Lodger being the other two) that featured Bowie's work alongside Brian Eno and producer Tony Visconti.

Although released to very mixed reviews the album has gone on to be thought of quite highly. There seems to have been a real split between those who preferred Side 1 and slated Side 2 and those who despite the puzzlement regarding Side 2 found something charming about it. John Rockwell of The New York Times wrote about Side 2 that, "There are hardly any vocals, and what there are mostly mindless doggerel heard from afar. And the instrumentals are strange and spacey. Nevertheless, the whole thing strikes this listener as remarkably, alluringly beautiful".

Low appears on a number of critics' "best album" lists. Pitchfork placed it at #1 on the website's "Top 100 Albums of the 1970s". In 2000 Q placed it at #14 in its list of the 100 Greatest British Albums Ever. In 2003, the album was ranked #249 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In a retrospective review, The Rolling Stone Album Guide states "it's the music of an overstimulated mind in an exhausted body... sashays through some serious emotional wreckage". Philip Glass based his 1992 classical composition Low Symphony on Low, with Bowie and Eno both influencing the work. In 2013, NME listed the album as the 14th Greatest of All Time.

I actually really liked the album when it came out, and still do, though I think the album does seem to make better sense (especially the more instrumental Side 2)
when you listen to "Heroes" alongside it.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Revisiting Down By The Jetty - Dr. Feelgood (1975)

Down By The Jetty - Dr. Feelgood
United Artists
Produced by Vic Maile
Released January 1975
Did Not Chart




Side 1

Side 2

Personnel
Lee Brilleaux - lead vocals (tracks S1.1, S1.3-S1.5, S1.7, S2.2-S2.6), guitar, harmonica, slide guitar
Wilko Johnson - guitar, piano, backing vocals and lead
vocals ( tracks S1.2, S1.6, S2.1)
John B. Sparks - bass
The Big Figure - drums
Bob Andrews - organ (S1.3), saxophone (S2.6)
Brinsley Schwarz - saxophone (S2.6)

Singles from Down By The Jetty
S1. Roxette
 22nd November 1974
Did Not Chart

 27th March 1975
Did Not Chart

*************************
Dr. Feelgood from Left To Right
 Wilko Johnson - Vocals and Guitar (January 1971 - March 1977)
John 'The Big Figure' Martin - Drums (January 1971 - April 1982)
 Lee Brilleaux
- Vocals and Harmonica (January 1971 - April 1994)
John B. 'Sparko' Sparks - Bass 
(January 1971 - April 1982)

Down By The Jetty is the debut album from Canvey Island natives Dr. Feelgood. Released in January 1975 in Mono on United Artists it was a setting out of the stall of exactly the kind of band these Essex boys were -  mean and moody, capable of doing damage to your worst enemy for a price - and that's just from looking at the album cover! Music wise they find inspiration from the Blues, R&B and streetwise Rock 'n' Roll with a hint of Canvey Island swagger.

I was only eleven when it came and didn't stumble upon it until after I had heard the Stupidity album in 1976. I've said elsewhere that the live album and also the debut from fellow Canvey Islanders Eddie and the Hot Rods had made a huge impression on me as a young teenager. Although neither would ever be considered a Punk band by any stretch of the imagination, they were very influential on the early Punk and New Wave scene and both had played shows with various Punk bands as well!

But back when the debut album came out Dr Feelgood were one of a number of bands making their mark on the Pub Rock Scene with their high energy live shows. They had been on the go since 1971 and by the summer of 1974 they had been signed to United Artists with their debut single getting a release in November the same year.

Most of the songs on the debut came from the pen of Wilko Johnson, the rest were tried and tested covers like John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom and Oyeh! was a Mick Green (from Johnny Kidd and The Pirates) song, and he would also co-write one of the Feelgood's greatest tunes - Going Back Home - for their second album Malpractice.

For an album that didn't make much of a mark when it came to the charts it delivered on influencing a vast array of future stars of the Punk and New Wave Scene like Paul Weller, Bob Geldof, Richard Hell, Ramones and Blondie. Even one of the brightest bands around at present, The Strypes, drew a lot of inspiration from Dr Feelgood.

Whilst the album is good from start to finish there are three songs on it that really towered above the rest of the remaining ten tracks: She Does It Right, Roxette, and All Through The City.

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